Week #14: The Brethren, Cauliflower Pizza and Ryan Heffington’s Dance Party Workout

Remember a few weeks back when I co-hosted a bridal shower?  Gina got married last weekend!

Cake is always my favorite part

Since I’ve moved to Cincinnati, my Playhouse in the Park co-workers are essentially the only friends (besides Mom) that I have down here for which I can engage in social activities.  Part of my starting this blog was to get me out of my comfort zone and experiencing more and engaging with my fellow man more.  So, in that sense, Gina, thank you for including me in your special day.  I had a blast!

From left, ME and coworkers Josh, Patrick, Tara and Sandy

The night before the wedding, I also went (with MOM!) to see Tara in Cover of Life at Falcon Theater in Newport.  I would describe the play as a WWII era Steel Magnolias.  Only on for one more night (til 4/25) so catch it if ya can!

On to the essentials:

The Workout

Speaking of my Playhouse co-workers, we’ve even started our own quasi-fitness routine.  Everyday this week, Don the boss and Tara and I (and anyone else who’d like to join…we’re actively recruiting) did the steps down to the art museum and back up. It’s a good 50 steps (I’ll count and have a picture for you next week) and the first day, we did three trips, extending to four on the second and third days.  My calves are aching, but I suspect that may have been more a footwear issue.

For the Official Workout, this week, I selected Ryan Heffington’s Dance Party Workout.  I had no idea before this who Ryan Heffington was, I came across the video on an internet wormhole, saw the pants and thought I had to try it.

How could anyone wearing those pants cause me pain?

Apparently, the mustachioed hipster clown (and I mean that in the most flattering of senses) is an up-and-coming choreographer.  I like him, he’s nice.

“Get fit and have a ball!”

He did, however, lie to me.  Or at least PopSugar’s FitSugar program lied to me when they promoted this workout as a “Dance Party.”  There’s some dancing.  Of course, like most of the “dance workouts” I’ve tried so far, there’s a fair amount of grape-vining and the usual repartee of shuffle shuffle clap.  But half way through, we started doing yoga.  Emphasis on the PLANKING, emphasis on the perpetual push-up, emphasis on the suspended cat-pose that made me moderately suicidal.

And then…there was this hooker: 

The girl you see in the purple is Anna Renderer with PopSugar.  I think they put her there to comment relentlessly on everything happening in the workout.  If she’s so worn out by the end of the routine, it’s probably because her mouth does not stop running the entire time.  For more, visit the YouTube comments, you won’t be disappointed.

But the guy in the gray in the back?  Never says a word.  No one references him.  It’s like he’s not even there.  Like a fitness apparition.

I had another small SNAFU with this week’s


Curious about the carb-relocation program, I decided to try this Cauliflower Pizza recipe.  I went to the store, got all the ingredients and came home only to realize I didn’t purchase parchment paper.  I decided aluminum foil would be a viable solution:


The pizza came out looking relatively similar to the sample photo, right? Well…It was impossibly stuck to the tin foil!  Jason had to come and peel it off.  He rolled sections into balls and said, “Look, honey! You’ve made pizza rolls.”

I still have another head of cauliflower, but I dunno if I’ll try this one again.  The taste was ok (though I think I put too much cheese) but not mind-blowing.  The really ironic part?  We had wax paper the whole time.

The Book

Coming off of Crime and Punishment, I thought there’d be no better week to try a John Grisham novel.  Jason’s an avid fan and I asked him for a suggestion.  While standards like The Pelican Brief and The Client were kicked around, since I’d seen the movies, he suggested a lesser known title: The Brethren.

The story follows three corrupt judges in a federal prison just outside Jacksonville, Florida (where I, incidentally, lived until I was thirteen).  The judges have concocted a scheme to place a gay personal ad in a similarly attractant periodical, lure in rich types with lots to lose and then extort them out of their money by threatening to out them.  They reel in a Big Political Fish with their scam and that’s when the CIA gets involved.

The CIA of The Brethren are personally backing a new candidate for POTUS who would double defense spending.  In order to secure his nomination (and subsequent win), they flood him with defense donations and make bad shit happen to the US and its allies.  This novel was published a year before 9/11.  It’s eerie in the coincidences.  In fact, once I’d all-the-way finished with the novel, I visited the Wikipedia page to try and discover the windfall from such parallels and there wasn’t any.  I was shocked.

I was also shocked by the blatant homophobia.  I’m not really sure what Grisham’s actual stance on the issue is, even his website has very little to say about the novel.  But for something written fifteen years ago, it might as well have been set in Harvey Milk’s 70’s.  I found myself chanting at certain bits “Come out, come out wherever you are!” so unaccustomed was I to men so vehemently in the closet.  Did the omniscient voice of the novel think they should stay there?  Did he/she/it have an opinion on these circumstances?  It’s hard to say. No one in The Brethren is punished for their bad deeds, and yet seemingly every character commits them.

While I don’t necessarily want every story to give me a warm-fuzzy moral, nor do I believe every story has to have a happy ending, I was really shocked by this one.  Five percent from the end, I said aloud to the empty room, “Are they really going to get away with this??”  Perhaps I should try a different Grisham?  The Goodreads profile on The Brethren would have me believe so.

Next week:

Book: Grapes of Wrath

Workout:  Bollyrobics

Recipe:  Spiced mini-burgers with couscous salad


Week 13: Crime and Punishment via Jillian Michaels and Kentucky Bourbon

Some days I really do think I enjoy suffering.

I decided to pack one of the more dense, lengthy books on my list with a super complicated and time consuming recipe and then threw Jillian Michaels on top of it.

At least there was booze.

The Workout

I knew eventually I’d run out of reasons to try a Jillian Michaels workout.  I picked this guy out from my local library.  I didn’t have a good attitude about it going in and I’d spent the majority of the week reading Russian poverty literature, so it’s no real surprise I didn’t care for it.

I mean really? Does she look happy?

For starters, this was the first time that I did a workout that the trainer themselves did not do along with me.  I didn’t see Michaels lift a single, metaphorical fitness finger.  All she did was play cheerleader to a bunch of Biggest Loser alums.  But, though I’ve only seen a few episodes of the show (it exploits fat people and really…it’s just terrible), I could tell Michaels was doing her best to seem like the Shiny, Happy, FitnessAngel you should want her to be (in order to buy her videos), rather than the pestilent CrossfitSuccubus featured on the popular show.

If you look at the faces of her marionettes, they tell a different tale.

“I’d hit you if I weren’t on camera right now.”

In all seriousness, though… while the Basic Set of Calisthenics that is being squeezed for profit here is useful (dear God, my thighs!), it’s so terribly boring.  White background, no music, no countdown clock.

I did three of the six circuits and quit once the DVD stopped working.  I figured it’d probably had enough of that shit, too and was trying to tell me something.

The Recipe

To be honest, I tried to find a Russian or Crime and Punishment themed workout for this week to go along with the book, but alas…I guess Russians don’t like workout videos (or maybe there aren’t any in English? More like).  But Russian recipes were choc-a-block on the net.  I wanted to challenge myself, as I knew the book would be challenging.  I picked out this recipe from Olga’s Flavor Factory for Belorussian Potato and Cheese Souffle Babka.

Mistakes were made.  The biggest and most inhibiting one was the size of the glass pan I used.  I either needed a much bigger pan or a much smaller interpretation of 2.5 pounds of potatoes.  But there was also the issue of overpowering onions and smushed potatoes (which could also go back to the pan size issue).  I poured the egg mixture over everything after I’d sprinkled cheese on the top and not before and, now that you mention eggs…it seems I have a problem with yolk separation.

I didn’t even take a picture of the finished product.  By the time the fucker was finally finished (after boiling and peeling and shredding and spreading and baking) I was just so happy to have it behind me.  The finished product?  Tasted like almost any other run-of-the-mill potato and cheese recipe you could find.  Would it taste better if I try again with less (if no) mistakes?  Maybe.  Will I act on this hypothesis? Who has the time?

But I cooked something Russian and that’s not nothing.

And I even have battle scars!

Actually, this was more a dishwashing mishap. The box shredder bit me when I tried to clean it.

The Book

I walked into the liquor store with this recipe for a Crime and Punishment cocktail.  I found the bourbon relatively easily (I do live in Kentucky, after all) but once I discovered that the cordials were going for $30 a bottle, I abandoned the idea.  Instead, when I told her I was reading Crime and Punishment, the liquor store clerk suggested the wine, 19 Crimes.  I got the bourbon as well.  Don’t they look good together?

Alas, my idea of reading this book while completely sauced wasn’t entirely cogent.  The more inebriated I became, the less I wanted to chain myself to this pre-existentialism.  So I read most of it completely sober, but got some really cool booze out of the deal.

Obviously, it’s a miserable book.  A great one, but dripping with misery.  The premise, if you haven’t read it or seen an adaptation, is that young Raskolnikov murders an old pawnbroking woman in the belief that her death may mean life for so many more and that it is his duty, as someone of extraordinary caliber, to do the (in his eyes) altruistic deed.

I feared very much that Crime and Punishment would be too similar to Heart of Darkness, especially when I learned that Dostoevsky wrote it in installments published in a magazine (while destitute after gambling away all his money).  But, rather than philosophical word-salad, the plot was actually quite engaging.  The women, especially considering they were written in the 19th century by a man, were particularly well drawn.  I still don’t quite get nihilism (which is odd, because I really love Chuck Palahniuk), but the book was very thought provoking.  I think it will stay with me.

But the names…Did you know that Russians always use both first and middle names, as the middle name gives reference to the father?  The suffix ‘-ich’ indicates a boy child and ‘-ovna’ indicates a girl child.  Hence, Rodion Romanovich and Avdotia Romanovna are brother and sister.  But they are also called Rodia and Dunia.  And Dutia.  And Raskolnikov.

It was more confusing than a damned Game of Thrones novel.  I tried explaining it to Jason, saying “There’s THREE characters so far surnamed “Petrovich.”  And they’re all cops.”  Ten minutes after I told him that, I shouted from the other room: “FOUR characters named Petrovich!”

But, going along with the theme, I used my down time to watch The Jinx on HBO.  It complimented the book so well.  Talk about murder-by-entitlement!  If you’re not familiar, the show is a docuseries that follows a reclusive billionaire who…just can’t stop murdering people.  It’s so good.

Must. Not. Confess.

I just watched the last episode this morning as a break from this week’s reading material.  Cinematic Serendipity and quite possibly the best illustration of karma one might be able to witness on film.  If you can, check it out, or at least take a look at the movie All Good Things, which is based on the same guy and also has 100% more Ryan Gosling.

Next week:

BOOK: The Brethren by John Grisham

WORKOUT: Dance Party Workout

RECIPE: Cauliflower pizza 

Week #12: Heart Shaped Box, Boot Camp Calorie Burn and Classic Banana Bread

All I have to say is…

I’m back, bitches!

The Recipe

This week I made up for the lackluster past couple of weeks with the Classic Banana Bread.

I feel like this is a thing most reasonable adults know how to make.  I hear people saying all the time how, “oh, my bananas were going bad so I just made banana bread!”  But I’ve never made it.  And I had a buttload of quickly ripening bananas.  So I googled and discovered this.

Now…we didn’t have a long, tube like pan to cook them in so my loving husband suggested ye olde faithful muffin tin.

And, as it turned out…this idea was the best thing that happened to me this week.

And just so you know…yesterday, Jason texted me that these little guys were the “best thing (I’ve) ever made.”  And then again today that I needed to make more of them.  I’m sure the most winning factor was my decision to add four bananas rather than the suggested three.

I’m such a goddamned rebel.

The Workout

The companion workout to my indulgent little fat-nuggets this week was the Boot Camp Fitness Workout.  Another in the series from Exercise TV, this was an asskicker.

PRO: It had that handy-dandy little countdown clock in the corner so I knew exactly how long until I could stop working out and start eating a banana muffin.

CON: It had that annoying little countdown clock in the corner of the screen so I knew exactly how much longer I was to suffer.

Notice how the women behind him appear to be dying.

PRO: The Instructor was a man instead of a chirping, annoying, Barbie FitnessBot.  The Instructor was also easy on the eyes.

CON: The Instructor was a chirping, annoying Ken FitnessBot

His name’s Kendall Hogan. In case you were interested.

PRO: The workout is only 30 minutes long.

CON:  There was WAY too much jumping in the routine.  I have downstairs neighbors, Kendall!

PRO: According to the YouTube description, the average person burns 400 calories in this half hour.


The Book

This week, I followed up The Shining with Heart Shaped Box by Joe Hill.

When I was talking to Jason about what was next on my reading list, this is what our conversation looked like:

ME: What do you think is next?  Who would naturally follow Stephen King?

HIM: I don’t know, Tom Clancy?  Is this the week you do the Grisham novel I suggested?

ME: No, honey.  I’m reading Joe Hill.

HIM:  Joe Hill?  Who the fuck is that?

ME: Who the fuck indeed!  I’m glad you asked…Joe Hill is

Stephen King’s son.  Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King and this was his first published novel.

Stephen on the left, Joe on the right.

In fact, interesting piece of trivia: when Stephen and Tabitha checked into the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, Joe was two-three years old and King later stated the following:

“That night I dreamed of my three-year-old son running through the corridors, looking back over his shoulder, eyes wide, screaming. He was being chased by a fire-hose. I woke up with a tremendous jerk, sweating all over, within an inch of falling out of bed. I got up, lit a cigarette, sat in a chair looking out the window at the Rockies, and by the time the cigarette was done, I had the bones of the book firmly set in my mind.”

So…if you look at it a certain way, Joe Hill could be considered the inspiration for Danny “Doc” Torrance.  And now he’s a novelist.

Ok, ok, ok.  Enough Geekdom.  What’s the novel about, Sarah?

Heart Shaped Box focuses on an aging rock musician named…Jesus, what was his name?  I’ve already forgotten.  (It’s Jude Coyne–thank you, Amazon).  Anyway, the rocker likes to collect odd, creepy trinkets.  One day his overeager assistant stumbles upon a “ghost” for sale on the internet and together they click the “Buy Now” option (as though there are a warehouse of ghosts at the seller’s disposal).  The ghost arrives in the form of an old suit (shipped in a Heart Shaped Box) and proceeds to reek havoc on the life of Jude, his assistant Danny and his playmate Georgia (nee Marybeth).

Heart Shaped Box has some genuine thrills inside.  As the ghost is making himself comfortable on Jude’s farm, his interactions with the protagonist are pretty disturbing.  Once we get better acquainted with who the ghost is and why he has specifically come into the rocker’s life, circumstances spiral into violence in a way that builds some pretty impressive tension.  There is a thumb wound that grows significantly worse throughout the story, in a way I haven’t seen since Aronovsky’s Requiem for a Dream.  Everybody in the book gets beat up, gradually worse and worse until one truly can’t tell  if anyone will make it out alive.  For a ghost story, it plays more like Die Hard.

A lot of fans will likely ask the inevitable question: Is Joe Hill as good as his father? I’m not going to address that, really.  I think the author himself would like to be a stand-alone force outside of his connection to the most prolific novelist of our time, hence the pen-name (His full name is Joseph Hillstrom King).  I think the important question is: Is Joe Hill good?  The answer is yes, in my opinion and I think he’ll only get better with time.

Speaking of which, if you’re a Netflix subscriber, Joe Hill also wrote the book Horns, which is now a movie starring Daniel Radcliffe.  Enjoy!

As for me, I have to get back to Dostoevsky.

Next week:

Book: Crime and Punishment

Recipe: Belorussian “Souffle” Babka

Workout: Jillian Michaels for Beginners

Week 11: The Shining, Hip Hop Cardio, Botched Chicken and Political Wedding Cake

This was a special week for me.

It is so because Stephen King is my very favorite.  Perhaps you think that cliche or contrived (especially if you’re a hipster–how dare I pick someone so POP!), and you go right on ahead thinking that, but I own my fandom with not one ounce of shame.  King has moved me, made me laugh and made me think over the years.  And I had never read the novel that, arguably, sent him into the stratosphere of popularity: The Shining.  So I put it on my schedule and this week I sucked the marrow out of that novel.

But more on that later.  One of the legion reasons that I so adore the man who wrote Carrie is that he participates actively in…everything. He is involved not only in his relationships with his fans (he writes for Entertainment Weekly, even!) but also in his role as a citizen.  He was in the news recently for flouting Maine governor Paul LePage for claiming that he did not pay his taxes and then, later this week he published this tweet.

***If you hate when I get political, just scroll on down to the picture of the Chicken Tostadas***

By now, many of you know about the social media tornado that is the Indiana RFRA.  I personally have become mildly obsessed with it from many varying and lovely angles.  I have decided I am THRILLED that Mike Pence signed Indiana’s blatantly antagonistic RFRA.  Why?

1.  It has drawn attention to the idea of Tricky Legislation.

There are magicians living among us and they’re called lawyers.  After all the time spent on Facebook reading link after link discussing RFRA, I decided to sit down and actually read the damn thing. (You can also read the Indiana Religious Freedom Restoration Act here).  Then, I compared it to the Federal 1993 Clinton Religious Freedom Restoration Act that many of the Indiana RFRA defenders are saying it is, for all intents and purposes, identical to.

They both essentially say that the government cannot impose a “burden” on the exercise of any “person’s” religious freedom  unless it’s, like really, really necessary. (Sidebar: the Federal law cites some SUPER interesting court cases that establish what exactly a “compelling government interest” is that would conflict with religious freedom). The difference, the only one I noticed, was this phrase in the Indiana legislation Section 7 (a): “A person whose exercise of religion: 1. has been substantially burdened (I had to make a cake for a gay couple and I really like Leviticus); or 2. is likely to be substantially burdened (a gay couple has asked me to make a cake and I don’t want to because I really like Leviticus); by a violation of section 6 of this chapter may assert the violation, or impending violation, as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding, regardless of whether the state or a political subdivision of the state is a party to the judicial proceeding.”

In the Federal law, the wording goes like this: “A person whose religious exercise has been substantially burdened in violation of this section may assert that violation as a claim or defense in a judicial proceeding and obtain appropriate relief against a government.”  Nothing at all about whether or not the state (or government) is a party to the judicial proceeding exists in the Federal law.

From what I understand (and I am by NO MEANS an expert), this means that the playing field is open to disputes between private citizens in the Indiana Law, whereas the Federal Law is really only talking about instances where the government is “burdening the exercise of religious freedom.”  The Indiana Law, as I understand it, means basically that those discriminated against on the basis of religious freedom no longer have standing in court.  This chart helps a little:

2.  It’s drawing attention to the evil that is Lobbying:

I’ve been saying it for what seems like a century.  Politicians make the calls they do because the people who donate to their campaign (or help funnel donations to their campaigns) are telling them to make those calls.  In many cases, said lobbyists are actually writing the legislation:

3.  It’s giving me faith in the media again!

For a good long while now, because of issue #2 above, I’ve kind of adopted a skeptical naysay toward the mainstream media.  Because they don’t focus on HUGE issues like lobbying and corporate tax breaks, I just assumed they were in the pocket of the MoneyChangers and therefore would only tell us that which our Most Holy Corporate Overlords thought we needed to know.

Let’s be honest:  I still really feel this way.

But I was encouraged when the Indianapolis Star flagrantly chastised Pence with its front page.

As for my personal stance on RFRA?  Of course, I stand with Stephen King (along with my many beloved LGBT brethren).  And now…on to our regularly scheduled programming.

The Recipe

Speaking of frosted dog turds…I had planned to make these Chicken & Summer Vegetable Tostadas this week for a weeknight dinner in front of the television.

I wanted to watch Survivor.

I got home from work late.

The puppy destroyed her cage.

So I was in a hurry.  I gathered my ingredients quickly.  Too quickly.  Here’s what the recipe called for:

2 teaspoons canola oil
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
12 ounces chicken breast tenders
1 cup chopped red onion (about 1)
1 cup fresh corn kernels (about 2 ears)
1 cup chopped zucchini
1/2 cup salsa verde
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro, divided
4 (8-inch) fat-free flour tortillas
Cooking spray
3 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (about 3/4 cup)
Cumin is a red spice, it starts with a “c” and ends with an “n” and there’s an “m” in the middle.  I would soon learn the irony of the fact that CINNAMON also meets all of these criteria.
While it was cooking, I did think to myself, “Gosh, why does that smell so sweet?  Like a pastry?”  But was rushing around chopping things too quickly to think too much about it.  Until Jason walked in and said, “Honey.  Did you put cinnamon in the chicken?”
And I did.  I made cinnamon chicken.  Once I discovered my capricious mistake, I tried to counter-balance with a sweet, mango peach salsa instead of salsa-verde.  And also added a metric shitload of cheese and sour cream to try and mask the taste.  We both ate it.  But it remains one of those things we likely shan’t speak of again.
The Workout
This week, I completed the Adrienne White Hip Hop Cardio #2  You guys, this is the first time I can say that I think I actually did better than the instructor.
Ok, of course I didn’t.  But it is the first time I’ve seen an instructor get mixed up in the middle of the video (multiple times, it’s really kind of a hot mess).  All hatery-ness aside, it kind of reminded me that the trainer is an actual human.
The music on this one, though…blech.  I chose it because I was so fond of the Hip Hop Belly Dance video that included, I dunno, actual hip hop music.  The music here was a strange, generic house type music.  I’m sure this  happened because of the wonders of copyright infringement laws.  And maybe it sounds like a strange thing to be picky about, but I wasn’t feeling the music and that made it hard for me to move my body to it.
In all…I’m not sure I’ll go back to this one.  Although, I may give her alternate workout a shot.

The Book

All told, I’m getting a little obsessed with The Shining.

So, Wikipedia informs me that this was the third novel King ever published and, by and large, the first one to go really, really big.  He wanted to get away from Maine for his third, so he did the random-spot-on-the-map thing and came up with Boulder, Colorado.  Stephen and Tabitha checked into The Stanley Hotel in Estes Park the day before Halloween, 1974.  They were the only guests in house, the hotel was closing for the winter the next day.  Fate was sealed.

Why, then, did I wait so long to read this book if I am such a Stephen King fan?  The answer mostly lies with the Stanley Kubrick film of 1980.  I learned long ago that if I’d seen the movie, I probably wouldn’t be able to finish the book.  Plus, I found the Kubrick film so disjointed and…bizarre, I just couldn’t muster the interest.  Similarly, because I saw movies (or miniseries) based on them in my juvenile years, I have also never read ItCujo, Christine and only half of Pet Semetery.  I may have a whole lot of catching up to do after this.

Obviously, I loved The Shining.  I watched the Kubrick film (and the subsequent documentary about the Kubrick film) right after I finished reading the book.  And I stand by my earlier statement (that I made to a lot of my friends and loved ones) that I prefer the TV miniseries.

Alas, a movie poster just as treacherous as the original book cover!

Ok, if you’re grabbing your pitchfork, let me make my case:

The miniseries was supervised by Uncle Stevie himself, whereas Kubrick pretty much took the book and pissed all over it (Room 237, the aforementioned documentary, confirms this; it’s the doc’s only real redeeming quality).  The book was a tale of a marriage disintegrating due to alcohol abuse.  The hotel was a metaphor for the bottle, both things crept inside of Jack Torrance and made him do things his conscious mind would never allow.  In the Kubrick film, the alcoholism is relegated to the side, mentioned maybe twice in the film.  In the book, every chapter has a reference to Jack’s drinking.  The amazing part about all of this?  Stephen King himself battled alcoholism and (wait for it…) didn’t even quit drinking until ten years after The Shining was published.

Now, is the miniseries perfect?  Hell no.  Like most made-for-tv miniseries, it’s cheesy and a bit strung together at the seams (I haven’t been able to get my hands on a copy since reading the book, though I did watch the little bit on YouTube that I could find).  In my humble opinion…there hasn’t been a good, realistically stylized production of The Shining yet.  It’s due for a remake, which will never happen because Hollywood worships Kubrick.  (Though, if you want a laugh at how deep this devotion to the director goes-and you really like conspiracy theories-do watch Room 237.   It’s a bit like Jesus Camp).

In a day or so, I’ll post my review of last week’s activities.  The Shining was actually slated for two weeks ago, but I was enjoying it so much, I stretched it into last week:

BOOK: Heart Shaped Box

WORKOUT: Boot Camp Fitness Workout

RECIPE: Classic banana bread