Monthly Archives: February 2010

Bikram Yoga

It’s 105 degrees in here.  Sweat drizzles off my body like I’m a lawn sprinkler.  Both knees are locked with one leg lunged back behind me and my hands stretched out in front with my whole body balancing precariously on my other teetering leg and I say to my self, “I paid for this.  Yeah.”

Jill said I would hate Bikram Yoga the first time.   What a funny thing about us, about our culture, that when we here of some exercise that our friends say we will surely hate, it makes us want to do it even more.  It’s like when someone says not to look at something the temptation to stare increases all the more.  But it really shouldn’t be that way with something that our friends say we will hate.  “But it’s good for us.”  And that’s the clincher.  Come hell or high water, we will determinately pay huge amounts of money to do things we know we will hate in the name of health.

I wanted to write about Bikram Yoga after my first time there.  But Jill did say I would hate it the first time, implying that the second or third time might give a different impression.  So it would not have been fair to write about it after one try.  I was also busy/lazy/etc., but that’s another story.

I didn’t actually hate it the first time.  When someone says I am going to hate something, I expect it to be pretty bad.  It turned out that the hard part was only the first forty-five minutes, where you go from difficult pose to difficult pose.  The next forty-five minutes switches between a resting pose and stretching pose.  According to Bikram, this is where you get all the benefits, in the resting pose.  Fine by me.  Just as long as I get to lie down, (is what I was thinking at the time).  As a result, it really wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought.

Then again, I was sore for a week.  I guess that means that there must be gain as there was significant pain, but I always wonder if it was worth it.   In addition to the soreness, there is also a detail I really should mention about this activity, and that is the smell.  The whole idea might be really great, focusing on breathing deeply and cleansing the body.  Problem is that when they tell you to breath deep, you say to yourself, No Thanks.  It positively wreaks of sweat in that facility, and I find it so hard to even think of cleansing effects when in such a stinking environment.   I guess you get used to it.  No.  Not really.

I do like yoga, and doing it in a hot room certainly puts a new spin on it.  It’s quite a change of pace in winter, too, since there is really nothing wrong with being warm when it’s so cold outside.  If you are going to try it, there is no better time than the dead of winter.  You end up going out into the 15 degree day with your jacket hanging open, a purple face still sweating and a popsicle hanging out of your mouth.   The irony amuses, even if the yoga doesn’t.

I’ve done Bikram Yoga four times now.  I gave it a good honest try.  I think that’s fair.


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Second Christmas

Was your Christmas not what you expected?  Need another try? Or perhaps do you love Christmas so much that you wish you could celebrate it more than once?  Well, luckily, you can.  This, friends, is the phenomenon of Second Christmas.  It may not be in the church calendar, but I am sure Jesus doesn’t mind having a second birthday party.  Who would?

It’s quite simple really.  It’s Christmas.  Just all over again.  We had a tree, lit and ornamented.  We had excellent company, to be sure.  And food.  So much food.  An excellent meal.

This past Saturday my friends and I celebrated the second annual Second Christmas.  It all began last year when one friend approached another friend and said, “My Christmas was sucky.  Can we have a do over?”  Since the other friend is more than keen on Christmas, rather like obsessed (though lovably so), he obliged with gusto.  They developed an elaborate menu, an assembly of guests, some Christmas decorations, and set Nat King Cole going on Pandora.  Thus was the birth of Second Christmas.  Apparently, it was such a success, that my friends made it an annual event.

This year, given my strange Israeli Christmas experience, it seemed like a great idea to have another go at the holiday.  I soon realized that Second Christmas is a great excuse to pull out all the stops on the menu, sparing no expense nor substituting anything from any recipe.  Here was our fare with links to the recipes:

Second Christmas Menu

To Begin

Apple Chestnut Soup

Greens and Apple Salad with Dried Cherries and Walnuts

Stuffed Mushrooms*


Roast Chicken with Double Cranberry and Thyme Sauce


Scalloped Yukon Gold and Sweet Potato Gratin with Fresh Herbs

New England Sausage, Apple and Dried Cranberry Stuffing

Pan Browned Brussel Sprouts in Garlic Butter


Gramercy Tavern Gingerbread

Lavender Chocolate Bars

Apple Pie with Brandy-Soaked Cranberries and Currants

I starred* the recipe for stuffed mushrooms because, I am pleased to say, they were my invention.  I based them on the stuffed mushrooms they serve at Maggiano’s, or at least as best I could from memory of how they tasted.  Here is what I did:

Emily’s Stuffed Mushrooms

Preheat oven to 400 Degrees.

Wash mushrooms and hollow them out, reserving and dicing the stems.  Arrange mushrooms on a baking sheet lined with foil.

Dice 1 medium shallot

Wash 1 bag baby spinach

Mince 2 cloves Garlic

Mince 3 strips of bacon.

Heat a skillet on medium and sauté bacon bits until crispy.  Add shallot and garlic and sauté until translucent.

Add Spinach and cover until spinach is wilted.

Wisk one egg.  Add cottage cheese (enough for however many mushrooms you have). Add salt, pepper, and Italian seasonings and stir until well mixed.

Once vegetables are done, add them to the egg and cheese mixture and stir.  Spoon mixture into mushrooms and form a nice heap.

Mix together bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, salt and pepper in a small bowl.  Sprinkle this mixture on top of the mushrooms.

Bake until cheese starts to brown, about 20-30 min.


Alas, I have no pictures of these because they were gone faster than I could remember I ought to have photographed them. 🙂

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Avatar: A Lamentable Waste

In every interview with a Pixar director they stress over and over the need for a good story.  If the story isn’t good enough, they say, the audience loses interest.  You could have all the special features in the world but if the story doesn’t carry it through, it’s not worth it.  James Cameron should have had lunch with some of the Pixar directors.  Hear this, Mr. Cameron:  Avatar wasn’t worth it.

I look at the Avatar enterprise as a tremendous tragedy.  What a huge waste of money, talent, and time!  Since seeing the film last week I’ve been telling people that if they go see Avatar, they should bring some earplugs—it would be much better if they didn’t know what was going on and could just drink in the beauty of the 3D film.  In the case of the Avatar story, ignorance is bliss.

To be fair, I am happy I saw the movie because it is, as many other reviewers have mentioned, spectacularly stunning and unique in genre.  It pummels over precedents with its impressive special effects and animation, drawing you fully into this alien world.  I loved how they played with the idea of bioluminescence, creating plants and animals that glowed hazy blues and pinks and greens, an effect which, especially in 3D, bedazzled all aesthetic sensibilities.  Let me not forget the floating mountains—oh the floating mountains—how gloriously you gave new meaning to majesty.  And this praise means a lot, especially considering I still don’t understand what’s up with the blue cat people.  Regardless, I congratulate Avatar’s artists for their vision.

Avatar’s writers, on the other hand, ought to be drawn and quartered for their implicit racism, lack of creativity, and extremely twisted and disturbing understanding of human nature. Many of you might have heard or noticed for yourself that the plot line for Avatar is practically identical to Disney’s Pocahontas.  The basic gist is a soldier arrives in a new world and wants to explore.  He comes across a female of the native people and learns from her aspects of her culture.  As is the way with predictable stories, they fall in love.  Despite their relationship, the two peoples are fated to war, and a battle ensues.  Fine.  Whatever.  Very nice.  But Pocahontas manages to have one up on Avatar.  The story of Pocahontas is a woman rescuing a stranger and managing to bring peace between nations.  Avatar assumes a paternalistic tone in that the male protagonist must go in and save the natives who supposedly couldn’t possibly fathom the coming threat.  In this sense, the movie came off as shockingly racist, especially given that all of the native people spoke and dressed as African tribal peoples.  Somewhere in the design of this film these writers and designers said to each other, “OK, they are supposed to look savage.  Let’s make them African.”  Oh please tell me, where are the finger-pointers?  Or are we suddenly supposed to be OK with this association between Africans and savages? “But they aren’t really portrayed as savages,” says Avatar’s hypothetical defense, “they are actually a superior species in their values.”  Sorry, guys, but I’m afraid that doesn’t actually make it better.  In fact it makes it worse.  Not only is the film racist, it also achieves a hefty amount of reverse racism, in that it portrays Americans (all of them white, by the way) as being simple-minded imperialists drowning in avarice and destroying environments in the process.  What kind of statement did Cameron wish to make here?  Does he do any service to anyone by portraying almost all of his human characters this way?    It seems as far as Cameron is concerned, to be a white American is to destroy the world.  Great.

Ah, but you might say, not all of the humans were portrayed this way.  There were some who stood their ground in defense of the natives.  But here Cameron fails again.  None of the characters in the whole movie were developed sufficiently as to evoke any sympathy from me.  Maybe I am a tough audience, but once again I can’t help but look at this as another wasted opportunity.  The protagonist, for instance, was a cripple.  They could have done so much in developing that—his motives, his longings, his history.  As far as we know, he had no history besides being a marine and having a dead brother.   Where did he come from?  Why should we care?  Where is the exposition?  Now let’s look at Sigourney Weaver’s character.  She was a scientist; they could have done so much more with her as a heroine or a defender of knowledge or a source of enlightenment to both cultures or something.  But no.  She dies.  Big whoop. Her character struck me as completely tangential to the plot, what little there was of that to begin with.

Overall, the movie was neither moving nor uplifting nor enlightening.  Just pretty.  And that’s about all I’ll say on that.

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