The Sublime

I thought when I got older that I’d finally get some answers, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

A few weeks ago, I found myself standing on a soggy forty-yard line, bedecked in a black robe, covered in regalia. Surrounding me were the people who had filled my life for the past four years. An idea struck then.

“This is it,” I realized. “After tonight, I will never see most of them again.” We were headed off to every corner of this globe. All of us had ideas. Dreams. Goals. Plans. But truly, we had no idea what was next. After four years of college, there were still more questions than answers. A lot more questions.

It got me thinking about the sublime.

For a graduation present, I was given a copy of Caspar David Friedrich’s Wanderer above the Sea of Fog. The painting depicts a man with shoulders squared in confidence, standing on a craggy precipice, looking out over unknown. There are mountains in the distance, but you don’t know how far away they are or what lies in between. You don’t even know why the man is standing on the precipice in the first place. When it comes to this particular painting, you don’t know anything. And that’s kind of the point. It’s sublime.

The Sublime

We don’t use “sublime” very often anymore, and when we do, we often use it as a substitute for “awesome” or “cool.” But it’s so much more than a word. It was once the earmark of Romanticism, an intellectual, literary, and artistic movement that began in the eighteenth century. In an essay, Romantic poet William Wordsworth defined the sublime as the “mind (trying) to grasp at something towards which it can make approaches but which it is incapable of attaining.” That is, at its core, the sublime is something that cannot be fathomed. It can only be recognized, acknowledged but never understood. It impacts without being impacted.

Concerning it, the only thing you can know is that you never will. It’s terrifying, yet beautiful. It’s heavy. Fierce. Deep. It draws you in, and once it catches you in its grasp, you can never be free.

It is found in the oddest places. Sometimes you discover it in a jungle halfway around the world. More often, it’s in your own backyard looking you straight in the teeth. But regardless of where you find it, for better or for worse, you will never be the same.

It takes many forms. It’s the face-to-face confrontation with the truth that you are beyond miniscule in a world you will never fully grasp. It’s the height of the Rockies and the depth of the seas. It’s looking up at a starry sky, and understanding that you are looking back in time, that the light just now reaching your eyes left those stars hundreds to thousands of years ago. It’s a final breath, a debut cry—life and death in the blink of an eye. As my professor would say, it’s realizing how precariously we’re perched on the edge of eternity.

It’s sacrifice. Forgiving the unforgivable. The sum of all the victories and even the defeats. The memories that haunt you and never quite leave. The curious hellos and the aching goodbyes. The sneaking suspicion that, maybe, when you’re fifty years old, you’ll still be just as confused as when you were eighteen.

It’s just being alive.

I have this theory that we all get a taste of the sublime.

On the night we graduated, I was struck by my own insignificance, by how little I actually knew. All of us had dreams and goals, but none of us knew what the future held. We all had questions. Would we be able to get a job? Should we go to grad school? Which grad school? What happens if we don’t get into grad school?

But maybe we aren’t meant to have answers this side of heaven. And maybe that’s okay.

Because the sublime is what you do in the face of it, how you act when you are confronted with the unknown.

So what if don’t know the future? It’s no excuse to sit on our hands. All we are asked to do is be faithful with what we are given today. In a universe that exceeds the scope of our comprehension, what could be more exhilarating than recognizing our insignificance and making a conscious decision to press onward in spite of it all, to jump without knowing how it ends. So we stand on the precipice of tomorrow with shoulders squared, and with confidence we face unknown.

Life. It’s sublime.




Dye-free Red Velvet Donuts

 

Dye-Free Red Velvet Donuts

“I love bright red drinks, don’t you? They taste twice as good as any other color.”—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

It’s kind of a terrifying thing, truly, how books weave themselves into our souls. We each have just one heart, but tucked away within its fibers is an unfathomable tangle of lives. With each new book we open, our hearts are imprinted afresh with another set of characters that return to haunt the silences and orbit the recesses of our minds. One of the very first characters to haunt me was Anne of Green Gables. She was one of the first I ever met and has remained a favorite ever sense. I loved Anne’s spunk and how she always knew exactly who she was. A wise man once told me that when you know who you are, you know what to do. Anne always knew exactly what to do and it usually proved hilarious.

The above quote is taken from the scene when Anne invites her BFF Dianna over for tea and serves her what she thinks to be raspberry cordial–hence the comment that she loves red drinks.

We may not be talking about drinks today, but Anne is still right. For some reason, red foods just seem to taste better. It’s almost like we have taste receptors for beauty. Red velvet cake, for instance, always seems twice as special as just about any other cake.

The problem with red colored foods is that they are often dyed with Red 40, a dye that has been implicated as a carcinogen (a cancer-causing agent).  Red 40’s real name is 6-hydroxy-5-[(2-methoxy-5-methyl-4-sulfophenyl)azo]-2-naphthalenesulfonic acid–and you thought “Worcestershire” was hard to say. It is classified as a “coal tar dye,” and it is, like many other artificial dyes, derived from petroleum. But wait! It get’s better (and by better, I mean worse). A few years back, the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) did a study on the toxicity of different food dyes entitled, “Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks.” The findings indicate that nine artificial dyes are likely carcinogenic, the biggest culprits being Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6.

Even though Red 40 has been deemed “safe” by the Food and Drug Administration, I still try to avoid eating “coal tar dye” when possible. But, like Anne, I love red foods—especially red velvet cake. Most especially red velvet cake. So I began searching for other ways to make vibrantly red confections without sketchy petroleum colorings.

My answer? Beets.

In stark contrast to Red 40, beets are really good for you. They are packed with fiber, manganese, folate, potassium, vitamin C, iron, and powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties, which can actually help to protect against disease. And the best part: in this recipe for Dye-Free Red Velvet Donuts, you can’t even taste the beets! I used my family, friends, classmates, and professor as guinea-pigs and they couldn’t even tell. The donuts practically evaporated because everyone ate them so fast.

Dye-Free Red Velvet Donuts

 

Dye-Free Red Velvet Donuts

Dye-Free Red Velvet Donuts

  

Dye-Free Red Velvet Donuts: 

Makes 16 donuts

Ingredients:

For the donuts:

  • 2 medium beets (you will only use 1 ½ for the donuts, but it is easier to roast two whole beets for even cooking time)
  • 3 1/4 cups flour
  • 4 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 2 ½ teaspoon yeast (approx. 1 packet)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 4 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup water
  • Olive oil, for roasting beets
  • Oil for frying (canola, corn, sunflower, grape seed, or other high-heat oil)

For the icing:

  • 2 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • ¾ cup powdered sugar

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

Wash the beets, remove leaves, and peel off skin. Lightly brush beets with olive oil, wrap in foil, and roast until tender and easily punctured by a fork (50-60 minutes). Allow to cool.

Microwave water for 15 seconds, or until warm to the touch (note: warm! Too cold, and the yeast will not grow properly. Too hot, and the yeast will die.) In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine the water and 1 tablespoon of the sugar. Sprinkle yeast over the top and allow to rest for five minutes.

Cut one of the beets in half. You will only need 1 ½ beets for this recipe (the remaining half would be lovely sliced over a salad!). Roughly chop the 1 ½ beets and place in a food processor along with 3 cups of the flour, the remaining sugar, and the salt and cocoa powder. Blend on high until it becomes an even, fine red powder. Sift this powder to ensure no large chunks of beets make it into your donuts. If a few chunks remain, discard them. If many large chunks remain, return them to the food processor with a little of the beet/flour powder and blend until fine.

Dye-Free Red Velvet Donuts

To the yeast mixture, add the eggs, butter, and vanilla. Beat until incorporated. Add half of the beet/flour mixture and mix slowly. Once incorporated, add remaining mixture. If dough is still very sticky once everything is combined, add remaining ¼ cup of flour.

Turn dough out on a floured surface and knead for 3-5 minutes, or until it is smooth. The dough will be slightly sticky, but it should be manageable and easily handled. If it is too sticky to be handled, add a tablespoon or more of flour. Transfer dough to a bowl lightly greased with butter or non-stick spray and cover with a clean cloth. Allow dough to rise in a warm place for 30 minutes to an hour, or until noticeably increased in size. (Note: an hour is better, but if you are short on time, it is better to cut off a few minutes here than skimp on the final and more important rise. )

Dye-Free Red Velvet Donuts

Punch dough down and knead again. On a floured surface, roll dough out into approximately ½ inch thick sheet. Lightly flour a donut cutter (I got mine on Amazon) and cut out as many donuts as you can. Transfer the fledgling donuts to a greased cookie tray and set in a warm place to rise. Gather up the scraps, knead well, roll, and cut again. It’s best if you do this no more than two or three times, as the dough will become increasingly tough the more times you have to roll it out. I saved a few of the donut holes to use as the cake crumbles you see atop my donuts, but I recycled most of the holes to achieve a maximum number of donuts.

Allow donuts to rise until doubled in size, approximately an hour. No skimping here! Don’t cramp their style. Let them do their thing and rise to puffy pillows of perfection.

Once donuts have risen, cover the bottom of a Dutch oven (or other large pot or deep pan) with 3 or so inches of oil. You don’t have to use canola oil, but it is important that the oil you use can withstand high heat (i.e. olive oil would be a poor choice). While oil is heating, cover a large plate with paper towels. The oil should be around 350 degrees when it is ready. You can use a thermometer, or you could check using one of those donut holes that you’ve saved. Once you think the oil is hot enough, drop in a donut hole. If it begins sizzling immediately, you are good to go. If not, restrain those horses and let it heat some more.

Once oil is heated, gently drop in a donut. Try not to drop it from up high because it will likely splash and burn you. Hold the donut right above the surface of the oil and let it slide in. Allow donuts to cook for 15-20 seconds on each side. I found it’s easier to cook them one at a time, since they cook very quickly. Remove donut with a strainer or slotted spoon and allow to drain on the paper towels. Cook the donut holes approximately 10 seconds on each side.

While they cool, make the icing. In a small bowl, whisk together softened cream cheese, milk, vanilla, and powdered sugar until smooth. Dunk donuts into the icing facedown, give them a gentle shake to remove excess icing, and transfer to a serving tray. Crumble donut holes over the top for a lovely pop of red.

Enjoy knowing that your gorgeous creations are utterly devoid of “coal tar dye” and are rather packed with fiber, antioxidants, minerals, and vitamins. In this case, donuts=salad. Am I right? A delicious, cream cheese frosted salad…

Dye-Free Red Velvet Donuts

Dye-Free Red Velvet DonutsDye-Free Red Velvet Donuts

After making the comment about red drinks, Anne goes on to say, Marilla is a famous cook. She is trying to teach me to cook but I assure you, Diana, it is uphill work. There’s so little scope for imagination in cookery. You just have to go by rules. The last time I made a cake I forgot to put the flour in. I was thinking the loveliest story about you and me, Diana.”

I love Anne, and while I wholeheartedly agree with her about the delightfulness of red foods, I have to disagree with her here. Sorry Anne, but there’s plenty of scope for the imagination in “cookery!”

 

<3 Hannah

Matcha Mousse and Superoxide Dismutase

Warning: this is not your average recipe post.

Matcha White Chocolate Mousse

In my book, my protagonist’s long estranged uncle tells him, “…the world is a fearsome place, Theseus. It is filled with twisted hearts and hopes and dreams.”

The world is indeed a fearsome place. As a biology major, I am constantly reminded that, after all of these years, we still know so little about this place we inhabit or even how our bodies work. Sometimes, we don’t even fully understand the phrases that we use to describe the few things we do know. It makes one feel so very small.

One such rarely understood catch phrase in our culture is “antioxidants.” We are constantly reminded to eat/drink foods containing antioxidants, namely tomatoes, blueberries, pomegranates, and perhaps most notoriously green tea. We all talk about antioxidants. We all try to eat antioxidants. Yet, why are antioxidants so important anyway?

Fortunately, this is one of the things that we do know. If you will, allow me to whisk you back to your high school biology class. Remember when you learned about atoms? You probably learned that atoms consist of three components: neutrons, protons, and electrons. At the core of the atom (called the nucleus) are densely packed protons and neutrons. Farther out, electrons orbit around this nucleus (kinda like what seagulls do when you’re eating your sandwich at the beach). The outermost electrons are called the valence electrons. When an atom has a full set of valence electrons, it is stable and happy. But if it loses any of those valence electrons, it gets launched into an unhappy, unstable state.

Why the throwback? To truly understand how antioxidants work, we must first understand the significance of electrons. We must also understand a couple things about oxygen too.

Oxygen is vital to our lives. We breathe it in our air. We drink it in our water. However, every time oxygen enters our body, it is introduced to certain metabolic processes that sometimes rip off some of those valence electrons we just talked about. This creates intense separation anxiety on behalf of the oxygen. Essentially, oxygen pulls a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and becomes a “reactive oxygen species.” Nice, friendly, breathable/drinkable oxygen morphs into unstable, greedy, reactive oxygen that will do anything to get its electrons back. Oxygen begins to steal electrons from the surrounding tissues. This is disastrous because it creates a cascade effect. When oxygen steals electrons from other molecules to stabilize itself, the other molecules become unstable themselves. In turn, they go on to steal electrons from the molecules nearest them and so it continues. If this were left unchecked, your body would be swiftly launched into chaos.

These thieving, unpaired valence electrons in oxygen, called free radicals, are known to cause a whole host of problems, including carcinogenesis (cancer development), premature age, atherosclerosis, DNA mutations, and many others.

And this is the great irony: oxygen is essential to our existence, but the very thing we need to survive is actively killing us from the inside out.

But don’t despair just yet! We have a built-in protection mechanism against these reactive oxygen species, these free radicals. It’s called superoxide dismutase. Very few people have ever even heard of superoxide dismutase, but it is actively preserving all of our lives. Whenever we talk about antioxidants, this is our guy. Superoxide dismutase is an enzyme (a protein with chemical properties allowing it to effect change) that neutralizes free radicals. It stops greedy, reactive oxygen atoms dead in their tracks, protecting your body from that host of nasty problems I just listed. Whew, am I right?

 

Superoxide Dismutase

So now, where does green tea fit into this equation?

Green tea contains chemical compounds called catechins. These catechins stimulate your body to make more of the gene for superoxide dismutase (the SOD gene). This is kind of like being able to clone your own army to increase your offensive power. When catechins cause your body to make more superoxide dismutase, your fighting power grows and you become better protected from the harmful effects of free radicals/reactive oxygen species.

We live in a fearsome world. The very things most essential to life (air and water) would ultimately kill us save for one enzyme scarcely known by anyone. What insanity it is that we even exist!

All of this is to say that catechins are awesome (because they tell your body to make more superoxide dismutase) and because this recipe I have to share with you today is jam packed with them!

Matcha Mousse and the Wonders of Superoxide Dismutase

 

Matcha White Chocolate Mousse

Serves 4

  • 2 cups heavy cream, divided
  • 4 ounces white chocolate
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 1½-2 teaspoons matcha powder

In a medium saucepan over low heat, combine the white chocolate and ½ cup of cream. Stir occasionally, heating until chocolate is completely melted and smooth. Remove from heat.

Separate the egg yolks from the egg whites. Whisk egg yolks into melted chocolate mixture. Return to heat, stirring constantly (so that egg yolks do not scramble!) until thickened. Turn off heat. Transfer to a heat proof bowl and allow to chill in refrigerator until cold, approximately 1-2 hours. Do not begin the next step until chocolate mixture is completely chilled, or your mousse will be runny!

In a large mixing bowl, combine egg whites and remaining cream. Beat on high until stiff peaks begin to form. Sift in matcha powder. If you are a matcha lightweight, I recommend sticking to the 1½ teaspoons. If you are a seasoned matcha consumer, however, by all means amp it up. Beat an additional 30 seconds to combine matcha.

Add a dollop of whipped egg whites/cream to the chilled chocolate mixture and gently fold together. Add half of the remaining whipped mixture to the chocolate mixture and repeat folding. This may seem tedious, but the slow addition is an attempt to preserve as many of the air bubbles as possible so that your mousse is voluminous rather than soupy. Lastly, add remaining whipped mixture and fold until thoroughly combined.

Transfer mousse to a piping bag and pipe into ramekins, teacups, or small serving bowls. Lightly dust with additional matcha. Enjoy immediately or refrigerate for later consumption.

Mmmmm…antioxidants 😉

 

<3 Hannah

 

 

 

 

Purple Pasta

It was nearly two years ago now that I first learned purple sweet potatoes existed upon this earth. After seeing a recipe on Pinterest for ube ice cream, I was immediately smitten. That same week, I went to the grocery store in search of my very own purple potatoes. To my premature relief, I did find purple potatoes (which I purchased with great enthusiasm). They were purple on the outside. When I cut them open, they were purple on the inside too. Everything looked promising…until I baked them. The purple color faded to a dull lavender-gray and I was more than mildly devastated.

Sadly, I must admit that I lost faith in finding truly purple potatoes. Pictures of gorgeously vibrant edibles continued to float through my Pinterest feed, but my hopes of ever creating a purple masterpiece of my own seemed dashed. A few weeks ago, however, I learned something that shattered my culinary worldview. I learned that there is a big difference between purple potatoes and purple sweet potatoes.

What I bought two years ago were simply your average starchy potatoes with purple skins and slightly purple flesh. As I have already mentioned, the flesh did not retain this hue when baked. In order to create vibrantly purple food, you need to use purple yams or sweet potatoes. Here there are two choices. You can use ube (purple yams) or the vibrantly purple Okinawa sweet potatoes.

Upon learning this, my dear friend Brooke and I began scouring the internet to learn where we could procure our own. We discovered Stokes Farm  online and seriously considered having 20 pounds of their purple sweet potatoes (the smallest quantity available) mailed to my dorm room. However, 20 pounds seemed a bit much for one little dorm room. Frustrated, Brooke and I took a dinner break and went to Whole Foods. While we were there, the darnedest thing happened. Whole Foods had Stokes sweet potatoes right there in the store! We didn’t have to order 20 pounds after all. After two-ish years of off-and-on searching, they practically fell on our heads.

IMG_0225

Unlike purple starchy potatoes, purple sweet potatoes are not very purple on the outside. They are more of a brownish-red. IMG_0252

Inside, however, they are a bright magenta. This color only deepens when they are baked.

Mashed Purple Potatoes

Even the skins turned a brilliant purple! Never in my life had I expected to find myself standing on a chair straining to take a decent picture of potato skins, but that is exactly what happened. And aren’t they beautiful? I was positively awed.

Purple Potato Skins

I decided to make pasta with my new treasures. Working with sweet potatoes inherently involves dealing with an excess of moisture and stickiness. Accordingly, the dough turned out to be stickier than most pasta doughs I’ve worked with in the past. This necessitated choosing a type of pasta that could be made with slightly stickier dough. Spaghetti was definitely out as it was too slender and fragile. I opted to make farfalle (bow-tie pasta). Here’s how I did it.

Purple Sweet Potato Pasta

 

Purple Pasta:

  • 3/4 cup mashed purple sweet potatoes (approximately one sweet potato)
  • 1 1/2 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup semolina flour
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tbs olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake potatoes until tender (mine took about 40 minutes, but it will depend on the size of your potatoes). They should give when you press on them. Allow the potatoes to cool and then peel off the skin. Mash potatoes until smooth with no clumps remaining. Stir in egg yolks, oil, and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk together semolina and all purpose flours. Sift in half of the flour into the potato mixture and thoroughly combine. Sift in remaining flour and knead until smooth. If dough is still sticky, add 1-2 tablespoons all purpose flour, or until dough is stiff enough to handle.

Purple Pasta Dough

Normally, it is best to let pasta dough rest at least 30 minutes so that the gluten can absorb liquids and relax. However, due to the moisture of the sweet potatoes, this rest period is not necessary. On the contrary, actually, I found it was much easier to begin rolling the dough out immediately without allowing it to relax.

Cut the dough into two portions. Flatten dough between your hands, lightly dust dough with excess flour, and begin to roll through pasta machine on the largest setting. Lightly dust and roll again, this time on a smaller setting. Continue to do this, rolling the pasta thinner and thinner until it forms a workable sheet. Repeat with second portion of dough.

Cut pasta sheets into rectangles 1 1/2 inches wide and 1 inch tall. Pinch in the middle to form a bow-tie.

Purple Pasta

 

Purple Pasta

 

You now have two options. You can cook the farfalle immediately. Or you can set them out to dry to be gifted or eaten another day.

I chose to dry mine. I left them out on a cookie sheet and covered them with a paper towel for approximately 48 hours. The deal with drying pasta is that you want DRIED pasta. If any moisture remains, the pasta is at risk of molding (yikes!). So in the case of uncertainty, it is always better to allow your pasta to dry longer. The pasta begins to take on a subtle magenta hue as it dries.

Purple Sweet Potato Pasta

 

If you don’t have a pasta machine, you can make trofie instead.

Purple Trofie

Trofie is a kind of pasta that is formed by rolling a small bit of dough between your palms. Sometimes, it is also twisted or wrapped around a skewer to give it more of a spiral shape. Check out this YouTube tutorial I found for more detailed instructions.

Due to the fact that the pasta is made from sweet potatoes, it is a bit sweeter than your average run-of-the-mill. But it is ever so delightful when served with a light cream sauce! You could also try serving it with brown butter instead.

As a sort of epilogue, Brooke and I went back to Whole Foods and bought a lot more purple sweet potatoes, so there is a fair chance this will not be the last you hear of them 😉

Cheers!

 

<3 Hannah

John Milton: Renaissance Man

“Abduction by aliens?”

No.

“Eaten by bobcats?”

Sometimes we see bobcats around the school, but still no. Not that either.

What, then, accounts for my absence from blogging?

Not bobcats or aliens. I have simply been applying to medical school. There has been little time for writing—or so I have thought.

Something happened recently, however. I met a wise lady who challenged me not to give up writing. She said that I didn’t have to choose between writing and medicine, insisting rather that I could do both.

I intend to do both.

 

Over the past two years, I have been privileged to study under Dr. Grant Horner, an extraordinary English professor at my school. Horner’s favorite author (who has since become my favorite as well) is John Milton. Dr. Horner has spent much of his career studying the life and works of Milton. He has even written an excellent book on Milton’s life and education. The curious may find it here.

Horner’s enthusiasm for Milton has bled over and onto me. My friends are well familiar with my new obsession. My mom even got me an antique copy of Paradise Lost for Christmas (she is literally the sweetest).

Paradise Lost

Milton’s writing is truly amazing. Moreover, Milton was amazing. Milton, quite simply, was a guy who did everything and endured everything.

Born in 1608, Milton was a prodigy. He mastered English, Latin, and Greek at a very young age before going on to learn approximately two-dozen languages. He also began writing from an early age. His sonnet, “On Shakespeare,” was published at the front of a second folio addition of Shakespeare’s newly completed works when Milton was still in his early twenties. This was a prodigious honor for such a young author, but Milton was not satisfied. In his own words, he began to train so as to “leave something so written to after-times, as they should not willingly let it die.” He wanted to write a masterpiece—something that would rival the great epics of Homer, Virgil, Ovid, and Spencer—that would continue to speak out for him long after he had left this earth. So Milton trained hard.

After studying at Cambridge, Milton went on to spend the next five years reading everything that he could acquire. His reading list included every book ever registered as published. Apparently, someone actually found said list and, beside most of the items, there was not only one check mark but two. This is to say that Milton read practically everything ever published…twice.

He began stretching his literary wings by composing lyrical poetry, elegies, and essays. He quickly amassed much critical acclaim and wealth as a writer. Milton, however, was so much more than a writer. World traveler, theologian, and political activist, he was a true Renaissance man. Milton participated to a degree in the English Civil war and apparently attended the execution of Charles I, the first English king beheaded by his own people.

Enter tragedy. In 1652, Milton’s wife Mary died from complications during childbirth. Their baby son, John, died only weeks later. In 1653, Milton began to go blind. This was akin to a deathblow for an eidetically oriented author still in training to write his masterpiece. He channeled his reflections on this into what has become my favorite sonnet, “When I Consider How My Light is Spent.” By 1654, he was totally blind. Still, Milton continued to write. He got remarried, but less than a year later, his second wife, Katherine, perished also, and was followed soon after by their baby girl. And still the heartache refused to depart from Milton’s life.

Charles II came to power. He began tracking down everyone who had been implicated in his father’s beheading. The blind and aged Milton was imprisoned and sentenced to death by drawing and quartering. The hangman publically burned Milton’s books. When hope was hardly mentionable, Milton’s fellow writer and friend, Andrew Marvell, swayed parliament to spare Milton’s life. Destitute, humiliated, having lost not one family but two, Milton escaped with only that—his life. Milton, now in his late 50s, was betrayed, bereaved, and blind.

And despite all of this, Milton still wrote Paradise Lost. He did exactly what he had set out to accomplish from youth: he penned a piece of mastery that we still read five centuries later. And mastery it is. In certain single lines of Milton’s epic are puns in three languages at the same time. There are abundant acrostics and chiasms—absolutely stunning given the authorship of a blind man. Paradise Lost features references to hundreds and hundreds of authors—not works but authors who often wrote multiple works. Milton scholars are still tracking down such references to this day. Paradise Lost has influenced and inspired countless authors over the centuries, not the least of whom was Mary Shelley when writing Frankenstein.

 

Milton wasn’t just one thing. He was a Renaissance man. Surmounting incredible odds, he persevered, ultimately accomplishing his life-long goal. Despite everything, his piece of mastery still speaks out for him to this very day.

I am no prodigy. I do not speak two-dozen languages and I will never read every book ever written. I will never be a Milton, but it would swell my heart to overflowing if I could be just a little bit like him.

In truthfulness, there is nothing stopping any of us from being a little more like Milton.

Milton aimed for excellence and he worked hard. We mere mortals may not have an eidetic memory or Milton’s degree of brilliance, but we don’t need either to work hard. And like Milton, we don’t have to settle for just one thing if we’re willing to work at it.

So here’s to a man who inspired the decades and here’s to working hard.

 

Hannah <3

In Memoriam

I lost a good friend this past week.

Over 15 years ago, a small tabby kitten was born under a bush in my front yard. Why someone would purposely choose to name a gray cat “Marshmallow” may seem silly now, but back then, in my five-year-old mind, it somehow made sense.  We became fast friends.  Marshmallow never quite learned how to meow–she always sounded more like a creaky door than a cat. I began to grow older and began trying new things and Marshmallow was always right there to try them with me.  When I was learning how to play the piano, she would hop up on the piano bench next to me and gnaw on my fingers as I struggled to play.  When Easter basket hunts rolled around, she would go “hunting” with me, always tagging along at my ankles. And when I grew still older and began writing books, Marshmallow would sit, curled up by me on the couch, and gnaw on my fingers, purring, as I tried to type.  Portions of my last book were written in such a fashion.

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A little over a week ago, Marshmallow took ill very quickly.  Within a matter of days, she could no longer walk, eat, or even meow, and soon after, she was gone.  Only her weak, limp body remained in my arms.

My mom used to tell me that goodbyes are part of life.  Well, I hate goodbyes.  I mean it too!  Goodbyes are hard, and painful, and sometimes you wonder if they are even worth it.  I mean, why would anyone choose to love someone or something that might be taken away from them? Why would anyone logically choose to open themselves up to being hurt?

Answer: because a life without love and loss is a shallow, empty thing, and because it’s worth it.  Because, at least in the case of Marshmallow, the hello was worth the goodbye.

I can probably guess what you’re thinking, and yes, maybe this is a bit melodramatic for the death of one cat, but Marshmallow was my friend. I honestly can’t remember what life looks like without her, since she had been with me for literally as long as I can remember and I will miss her greatly.  She was a great gift for as long as I was permitted to keep her.

And still, life moves on.  School starts tomorrow–biochemistry, this year.  And strangely, I’m excited.  It will be a challenge, true, but I intend to rise to it.

Oh, and I nearly forgot: today, as part of Champagne’s Labor Day Sale, my book, Labyrinth of Lies, is 50% off here.

Till next time,

<3 Hannah

Handcrafted Sodas

As some of you already know, I spent the first six weeks of this summer in Togo, Africa, in a missions hospital.  We were able to participate in a mobile medical clinic and to shadow doctors and see surgeries.  I saw and learned so much! The trip included many surprises, including 127 degree weather, hippos, camel spiders, and, perhaps most surprising of all, amazing sodas.

The local water was ridden with parasites and unsafe to drink, but the sodas were incredible, oddly enough.  At first, I was puzzled as to why they tasted so remarkable, but then, one day, I happened to glance through the bottom of the bottle and I found real fruit pieces floating around.  I also found that the sodas were made with real sugar–real fruit and real sugar.

When I came home, I didn’t miss the heat, but I missed the missionaries and the people and…the sodas.  So I decided to learn how to make sodas so I could recreate them myself.  The research and experimentation that followed has now been turned into a eBook, now available on Amazon.  The recipes included are entirely free of artificial flavorings, dyes, preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup, and they range from ginger ale to grape to rose petal to white chocolate peppermint. The following recipe is taken from my book on handcrafted sodas and it is one of my absolute favorites.

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Pomegranate Blueberry Soda:

Pomegranate and blueberry have always been a killer combination.  Not only are they packed with antioxidants, but they are pretty darn tasty too.  No less can be said of this soda.

What you’ll need:

  • 2 cups pomegranate juice
  • ½ cup blueberries
  • Juice of ½ lime
  • Sugar*

What you do:

Combine all ingredients in a saucepan and heat over low until simmering.  Allow to simmer for around 10 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by at least half.  This should give you a little over one cup of syrup. Allow to cool.

Pour 2-4 tablespoons of syrup into chilled, carbonated water and mix well.  Makes at least 4 individual servings.  Enjoy!  (No seriously–enjoy it!)

* I personally like this recipe without sugar (I like things a little tangy), but if you are a fan of sweet, consider adding a tablespoon or two of sugar!

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Like this recipe? Feel like taking a stab at some more adventurous recipes like Chocolate Coconut Cream?  Check out my latest eBook for more!

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You’ll find all of these inside–and more!

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And don’t worry!  I haven’t forgotten about the Togo pictures I promised.  Those will follow in a blog post soon!

<3 Hannah

 

Pompeii

Hello again!

I’m back at last from Africa.  It was absolutely amazing–it was crazy hard and scorching hot, and I had a brush with malaria, but it really was amazing! I saw and learned so much and I met so many incredible people I will never forget.

For now, today’s post is about summer–the few weeks of it that’s left before school starts once more. I’ve been trying to mow through a long list of projects and get some studying done for the MCAT.  Again, more on that later.  In addition to all the work, there has been some fun too.  My brother really wanted to go to the Pompeii exhibit at the Science Center, here in LA. So last week, we went and it was really good.  And guess what? We found a surprise!

There, hanging on the wall, was a fresco of Bacchus and Ariadne–our old friends!  See?

10589125_519634008169642_2145340111_nFor those of you who have read my book, you will recognize these characters from Greek mythology. Bacchus was the god of wine and Ariadne was, well, there are many different theories as to Ariadne’s identity.  If you’ve read my book, then you know of at least one… (cue dark, foreboding music).

Now, I know what you’re thinking: wasn’t Pompeii a ROMAN civilization?

Well, yes it was.  However, there are some major overlaps in Greek and Roman mythology.  For example, many of the Greek gods also have Roman counterparts.  Aphrodite (Greek) is the same as Venus (Roman), Zeus (Greek) is the same as Jupiter (Roman), and so on. In the same way, many of the other characters of the Greek myths bleed over into Roman mythology too.

In addition to the fresco, we also found an amphora from Crete.  There would likely have been wine in jars like this at the feast Theseus attends in Chapter Five.

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We also found a bathtub.  Haha, I guess those are about the same no matter what country or what age you live in!

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That’s all for now, but I will be writing again soon with details on my latest projects!

<3 Hannah

 

Adventures Await

Hello everyone!

I know it’s been a while (sorry).  The culprit this time? Finals.  Lots and lots of finals.  And, of course, other forms of end of the year madness contributed too.

But guess what? The madness continues!  I am leaving very soon for a medical missions trip to Africa!

Some of my fellow pre-med students and I are going to be serving overseas for six weeks in a hospital. Isn’t that insane? I am so excited!

I have to run now–packing and prepping and such, but hopefully, I will write again in the not-so-distant future.  I am also hoping to work some on my next novel while we are there.

At some point, I will sit down and write some updates for you to read. I don’t know yet when that will be, but until then, adventure awaits!

 

<3 Hannah

 

The Last Bookstore

Hi, friends!  It’s been a while, I know.  The first wave of midterms has struck and is now subsiding just in time for another wave of exams to crash overhead. It goes without saying that the time left over for writing after my studies has been sorrowfully small.

I want to share an adventure from several weeks ago with you, because if you’re able to, it’s definitely an adventure you should undertake yourself. I first discovered The Last Bookstore on Instagram.  I saw pictures of crazy tunnels built out of books, as well as all kinds of book-based sculptures and art. Frankly, I was a little dubious that such a place could exist in real life. Based on the pictures, it looked to me as though The Last Bookstore was the “Wonderland” of bookstores, and as most of us know, Wonderland isn’t exactly real.

But then I had a free day several weeks back and I convinced one of my friends to go with me to LA to see it for ourselves.  And guess what? The Last Bookstore is every bit as amazing as real life as it seems in pictures–maybe even more so.

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It’s located on Broadway in Downtown LA, between 4th and 5th, so basically it’s in the belly of the beast.  Traffic can get a little crazy down there, but it is definitely worth the trip. There’s plenty of meter parking right outside the store, as well as a fairly inexpensive parking lot nearby.

As I was getting close, I was struck by the awesome sight of an old, ornate, massive, stone building and at first, I kept driving, thinking, “Wow, that was a cool building.  I wonder how close we are to the bookstore.”  And then it dawned on me. The cool stone building WAS the bookstore. And just you wait: it gets better.

When you first walk inside, a strong and gripping whiff of dust, old books, and endless possibilities rushes to greet your nose. Even before you’re through the foyer, you can glimpse books upon unending books.  As soon as you enter, there is a man standing at the checkout counter.  This, of course, seems fairly normal–that is, until you realize that even the counter at which he stands is crafted entirely out of books.  Once inside, you will find yourself surrounded by a forest of gigantic white pillars that tower over you, holding up the roof.  You’ll find that, sporadically, the store is sprinkled with worn leather arm chairs in which you may sit and devour books to your heart’s content. The books themselves are very artfully arranged by categories, and by “categories” I mean “every category under the sun.”

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The Last Bookstore sells mainly used books, but most of them are in excellent condition. It also sells old records, CDs, and even some movies. I was shocked by the sea of old vinyl albums sold there, as there were literally thousands to choose from. All of the wares are sold at reasonable prices. And if you have books to sell, The Last Bookstore will gladly buy them from you.

My favorite part is the top floor, a section which is referred to by the workers as “The Labyrinth.”  Kind of makes you think of another Labyrinth, doesn’t it?

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Why the name? Well, it is literally a maze of bookshelves with no apparent rhyme or reason. A good portion of them are sci-fi, but then there are the thrillers. After several lengthy minutes of browsing, you reach a wall of books with a hole just big enough to see through.

After that is the tunnel of books. (Lighting inside was not conducive for photography via my dumb smartphone, so a glimpse of the outside is as good as this is going to get.)

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Once through the tunnel, though, there are even more shelves. This part is my absolute favorite because this portion is where the bargain books live.  And it is HUGE, folks.  There are probably millions of books up there.  You could spend your entire lifetime reading up there, and then your neighbor’s lifetime, and then your first grade teacher’s lifetime, and probably the lives of nearly everyone you know just browsing through books in The Labyrinth. There’s even a color coded section that is literally a rainbow of books! I got two books from this section, The Intelligencer and The Dream-Maker’s Magic, for a total of $2.18.  If they’re any good, I’ll let you know, but you certainly can’t beat the price.

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In addition to books, there are works of art and sculptures scattered all throughout the bookstore. There are succulents growing out of broken stereos, a chalkboard wall complete with drawings of all the employees, strings of lights, pages flying out of a floating typewriter, books flying off the shelves, and even a wooly mammoth head hanging on the wall. There is also an entire art gallery up there on the second floor also.

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I was expecting to be underwhelmed, but completely on the contrary, I was overwhelmed instead. The Last Bookstore is amazing.  If you’re a book enthusiast living anywhere near LA, you should definitely take the time to go experience it for yourself.  I know personally that time can be a rare commodity in the craziness of life, but in my opinion, it was worth the time. I will definitely be going again. As Rudyard Kipling so rightfully stated, “you can never have enough books.”

<3 Hannah