Italian Inspired Cabbage Rolls

 

 

Cabbage Rolls
Servings: 4
Per serving:
370 calories
27g (46%) Protein
13g (22%) Fat
19g (32%) Carbs

 

Ingredients:

  • 16 oz Ground Beef (the leaner the better)
  • 2 ½ cups Broccoli Florets
  • ¼ tsp Minced Garlic
  • ½ medium Purple Onion (diced)
  • 12 oz Pasta Sauce (of your choice)
  • Olive Oil
  • 8 large Cabbage Leaves
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)
  • Parmesan Cheese (optional)

 

Hallo again, little kitchen dwellers. I chose today’s recipe because… well, honestly, I’d already written most of it out for a friend and so it was the quickest and Mondays are my busiest days, so here we are. These cabbage rolls are easy and pretty quick to make. Also, quite good. And, you know, healthy. But let’s cut the chatting and get right to it. Are you ready?

  1. Grab a skillet and set in on a burner, then turn that burner to about medium to medium-high. When the skillet gets all nice and toasty, throw your ground beef on it. While the beef is cooking, go ahead and blanch the broccoli florets. After the great blanching, chop the florets up. You want pretty small chunks, so maybe dice instead of chop. Once the meat is about 95 percent done, drain it, throw it back into the skillet, and add the broccoli.
  2. If your purple onion isn’t already diced, then make that shit happen. Grab a new skillet and heat about ½ tsp of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add garlic. Sweat the garlic for about 30 seconds. Add your onions (which at this point should definitely be diced). Sauté onions for about three minutes, then add them to your beef and broccoli mix.
  3. Pour pasta sauce into the mix until heated throughout. Add salt and pepper to taste.

(Side note: If you want to fancy it up a bit because the sauce you chose just isn’t giving you the flavor profile you want, then feel free to add your preferred herbs/spices.)

  1. Cool, so, set your meat mix aside and grab a large pot so you can start boiling some water. You should have eight large cabbage leaves that have been thoroughly rinsed so you don’t die of dirt and pesticides and such. Boil each leaf for about 3 minutes (or until leaf is soft). Depending on the size of your pot, you can boil several leaves at once. This is your show, do it how you want. As long as it’s right. I mean, I’m going to assume you know enough to make educated decisions. Are your leaves done yet? Jesus, finally!
  2. Add about ½ cup of the meat mixture to each cabbage leaf. You want them full, but not exploding. As you roll the cabbage leaf, remember to tuck in the ends. If you don’t know how to roll a cabbage leaf, check out this 20 second video.
  3. Since technically these are already fully cooked and ready to eat, the finishing cook is really for texture. Mine, pictured above, were finished off in my air fryer, which gave a crispy texture to the rolls. You can also finish them for about five minutes on medium-high in a skillet with a little olive oil (suggested). Or, you could finish them in the oven on 325˚ for about seven minutes. Totally your call here.
  4. Top cabbage rolls with parmesan cheese (optional).

 

 

 


 

 

 

Review of Return to Wonderland, by Tanya Lisle

 

Tanya Lisle’s Return to Wonderland catches up to Alice years after she first fell down the rabbit hole. She has since endured a barrage of doctors and learned to put her adventures in Wonderland behind her. She’s finally free to attend the prestigious Lucena Academy to get a fresh start—and make friends her own age.

Unfortunately, a purple-haired boy appears at the school, revealing himself to be the Cheshire Cat. He speaks in riddles about how Wonderland is a much different place than when Alice last visited and tempts her with a visit back.

Lisle managed to modernize the world in and around Wonderland in a way that doesn’t detract from the story. It feels like a legitimate expansion of the original and, though a children’s book, is not boring or cumbersome for the adult side of the reader equation. It’s a very quick and easy read. The quality of prose is engaging, and the book has great pacing overall.

Alice is an easy character to cheer on. Her moments of doubt and her bout of nerves when meeting new people are easily relatable during the target age-range for this book, and her strength makes her all the more endearing. The supporting cast, Adrianna and her brothers specifically, feel like parallels of characters in Wonderland—so they are at once new and familiar. The Cheshire Cat himself seems to represent the changes in Wonderland. As the story progresses, Cat’s actions mirror in the normal world the changes occurring in Wonderland.

There are, of course, familiar faces in Wonderland, as well. As Alice goes through Wonderland she begins to see the changes of which the Cheshire Cat hinted. Although she is more prepared for Wonderland this time around, the changes present fresh new problems for Alice to navigate.

 

 

 

 

Fajita Power Bowl

 

Fajita Power Bowl
Servings: 4
Per serving:
575 calories
43g (40%) Protein
32g (30%) Fat
33g (30%) Carbs

 

Bowl Ingredients:

  • 2 cups Riced Cauliflower
  • 1 cup Cooked Black Beans (you can use fresh, canned, or dry)
  • 1 large Red Bell Pepper (thinly sliced)
  • 1 large Orange Bell Pepper (thinly sliced)
  • 1 large Yellow Bell Pepper (thinly sliced)
  • 1 medium Purple Onion (thinly sliced)
  • 4 tbsp Sour Cream
  • 1 tsp Minced Garlic
  • Olive Oil
  • 1 packet Fajita Seasoning
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

 

Guacamole Ingredients:

  • 4 oz Avocado (after peeling and pitting)
  • ½ medium Purple Onion
  • ½ medium Tomato
  • 1 medium Jalapeno
  • 1 tbsp Lemon Juice
  • 2 tbsp Cilantro
  • ¼ tsp Dill Weed
  • 1 tsp Oregano
  • Salt and Pepper (to taste)

 

Alright you beautiful cooks … no, chefs! Let us begin. First up: The guacamole! Now, I make my guac using a food processor, but if you don’t have one (we’re equal access here at the blog that apparently discusses everything) I would suggest a blender. If you’re using a blender, I’d advice blending the onion, tomato, and jalapeno first, then adding the avocado, cilantro, and lemon juice. Otherwise, here were go!

  1. Add avocado (peeled and pitted), purple onion, tomato, jalapeno, lemon juice, and cilantro to your food processor (see above fore blender suggestions) and pulse until smooth. (Side note: For creamier consistency, add more avocado. If you’re looking for more of a salsa-guac, add more tomato.)
  2. After your guac is at your preferred consistency, mix in salt and pepper (to taste), dill weed, and oregano.
    (Side note: I like to add a pinch of Hellfire Salt for a smoky flavor.)
  3. Got your guac all to taste now? Good! Go put that shit in the fridge!

 

Now, lets move on to the bowl components. First of all, you’re going to need to rinse out your food processor so you can rice some cauliflower. Unless you bought that shit already riced at the store, in which case, I mean … that’s cool. Why put any effort into it? Just kidding, I know you’re busy. Anyway, let’s get moving!

  1. Get your steak. Rinse it, pat it as dry as you can, then rub a little salt and pepper on both sides. Heat a skillet to high. Once the skillet is hot, add in your olive oil. Once the oil is nice and hot, place your steak into the pan. Let it hang out for about two minutes on each side, then remove it. You don’t want it completely cooked yet, just a nice sear on the outside. You’ll be finishing the cook on it later. For now, just set it aside on a plate and forget about it. Don’t slice it. Just leave it, whole, on a plate somewhere, and forget it.
  2. The pan you just seared the steak in? Keep it on that hot burner, and don’t rinse it out yet. You’re about to do some sautéing in it, so if you think you need to add a little more olive oil, go for it. First, add your garlic to the pan and sweat for about 20 seconds. Add onion slices. Sauté onion for about 1 minute. Add red, yellow, and orange bell pepper slices and sauté for another minute, constantly stirring. Turn the burner to down to medium, stir in salt and pepper to taste. Cook for about five minutes, then turn the heat to low and forgetaboutit.
  3. Get another pan. Heat that mofo up on medium-high. Add a smidge of olive oil to the hot pan. Once oil is hot, add cauliflower. Stir constantly. Cook for about 3-5 minutes. Remove from heat.
  4. Go back to your peppers and onions. Take them out of the pan and set them on a plate. Slice your steak (can be as thin or thick as you want), then add it to the pan from which you just removed the peppers and onion. You should not need to add any oil at this point. Turn heat to medium-high. Add ½ cup of water to the pan and half of the packet of fajita seasoning. Stir thoroughly. Once water is boiling, reduce heat to low. Cook until water is absorbed. This should give you medium-rare steak slices. Once done, remove from pan.
  5. So, your cauliflower and your cooked black beans. You want to mix these together. I’d suggest using the steak and peppers pan if it’s large enough. On medium-low heat, mix cauliflower and black beans. In a bowl, mix ¼ cup water with the remaining fajita seasoning until the seasoning is completely dissolved. Pour seasoning into cauliflower/black bean mix. Cook until seasoning is completely absorbed. Remove from heat.
  6. Now the fun part! Assembling the bowl! Divide cauliflower/black bean mix between four bowls (or containers, if you want to save a serving or three as leftover meals). Add the pepper/onion mix, again dividing four even portions. Next, add the beef slices. Plop on your sour cream, then top it off with your homemade guac. Voila! You’re done!
  7. Eaaaaat iiiiiiit.

 

 

 


 

The Subject That’s Making a Killing

 

Serial killers! We’re interested! Why? I’ve been meaning to write this post for a little over a week now, but I’m a writer so … procrastination is part of the job. Luckily, I’ve got Dave here to keep me on track. Sometimes. Well, when he feels like being a productive member of society.

So, serial killers—a topic that never goes out of style. In fact, we tend to make celebrities of serial killers. You want proof? Look no further than the numerous podcasts, books, documentaries, and movies that discuss the lives and works of these murderous bastards.

In his 2017 article, Why Americans are so Fascinated with Serial Killers, David Schmid says:

Without wanting to minimize the difference between celebrating fictional and real-life serial killers, the impact of Silence [of the Lambs] demonstrates vividly the American obsession with serial murder, which by the 1990s had developed to a point where the serial killer had become a dominant presence in our popular culture, a figure that inspired not only fear and disgust, but also a mixture of fascination and even a twisted kind of identification.

Consider the fact that Charlize Theron played the homely Aileen Wuornos, that Jeremy Renner played Jeffrey Dahmer, that former teen heartthrob Zac Efron is set to play Ted Bundy. That attractive A-listers are playing such loathsome characters is a Hollywood gimmick to capitalize on people’s interest in serial killers. People tend to like—and are better able to sympathize with—attractive people. On top of that, we’re juxtaposing the character onto the actor and if we like the actor, that only makes us more receptive to sympathizing with the character—you know, the serial killer.

 

potatoes-1760763_640

Oh, God, Kermit! Why!

 

But, what sparks that initial interest? Why do we all recognize the names John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy, and H. H. Holmes, the noms de guerre Son of Sam, Jack the Ripper, and Boston Strangler? Why are these boogeymen so prominent in our culture?

 

Media Influence

Society’s interest in serial killers is not recent and, in fact, started well before the term ‘serial killer’ was coined. “When the crimes of H.H. Holmes […] came to light in 1894, it seemed that America had its very own version of Jack the Ripper. The fact that Hearst newspapers paid Holmes $10,000, an extraordinary sum at the time, for his confession testifies to the immense public interest in the case,” says Schmid. The mystery serial killers present forces us to ask our favorite question: Why?

This is a question media platforms were only too happy to answer. In his 2017 article, Our Curious Fascination with Serial Killers, Scott A. Bonn, Ph.D. explains, “Highly stylized and pervasive news media coverage of real-life serial killers and their horrible deeds transforms them into […] celebrity monsters.” Add in the fact that fictional serial killers are now just as pervasive in pop culture as actual serial killers and things start getting, dare I say, catawampus. “Exaggerated depictions of serial killers in the mass media have blurred fact and fiction. As a result, real-life killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer and fictional ones like Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter have become interchangeable in the minds of many people.”

This mingling of fact and fiction helps us distance ourselves from feeling threatened, as we can now place this larger-than-life monster in an entertainment context and forget that there’s around a dozen distinctly not-Hannibal-Lecter-type serial killers operating in the US at any given time. Much like going through a haunted house during Halloween, we can watch movies about serial killers and enjoy the thrill of fear, but ultimately that fear is removable, it’s distanced. It’s only entertainment.

 

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Are you not entertained?

 

Prevailing Theories

One theory regarding our interest in serial killers is that the topic tickles our survival instinct. That instinct, when it comes to serial killers, revolves around that pesky question again: Why? According to Bonn:

The average person who has been socialized to respect life, and who also possesses the normal range of emotions such as love, shame, pity, and remorse cannot comprehend the workings of a pathological mind that would compel one to abduct, torture, rape, kill, engage in necrophilia, and occasionally even eat another human being. The incomprehensibility of such actions drives society to understand why serial killers do incredibly horrible things to other people who often are complete strangers. As such, serial killers appeal to the most basic and powerful instinct in all of us—that is, survival. The total disregard for life and the suffering of others exhibited by serial killers shocks our sense of humanity and makes us question our safety and security.

 

Another theory is that, well, we’re kind of morbid. In Andrew Hankinson’s article, This is Why We are All so Obsessed with Serial Killers, criminologist Elizabeth Yardley explains: “It’s that train wreck, car crash sort of thing, where you don’t want to look but you do anyway. It’s something we call ‘wound culture’. We’re drawn to the trauma and suffering of other people and there’s an awful lot of that around serial murder.”

The idea that we want to see something gruesome—as long as it involves someone else—can be repugnant, but the evidence is there to support it. There are myriad videos of beheadings, automobile accidents, extreme sports accidents, and websites like Documenting Reality. Just Googling a serial killer will pull up images of crime scenes and victims. Media, survival instinct, and wound culture may play roles in our interest in serial killers, but my own theory is that our interest strikes a little closer to home.

 

human-189282_640

Wait, empathy can cause physical pain? No thanks, I’m out.

 

There but for a Head Injury go I

It’s estimated that about one percent of the general population suffers from psychopathy and four percent from sociopathy. Sounds small, but that’s over seven million people and over 300 million respectively, worldwide. That’s a lot of goddamn crazy. Not all psychopaths and sociopaths are violent and—specifically in the case of sociopaths—violent tendencies have a lot to do with upbringing. I don’t want to dwell on the nature vs nurture aspect—because Jesus Christ that would last a while—but many serial killers have the common thread of shitty, sad, abusive, and in some cases downright horrific childhoods. Another common thread? Head wounds.

An abusive childhood and a head injury … Things that could happen to anyone. We tend to see these commonalities and dismiss the neurochemical or neurophysiological aspects of psychopathy and sociopathy. According to Bonn, “The serial killer represents a lurid, complex and compelling presence on the social landscape. There appears to be an innate human tendency to identify or empathize with all things—whether good or bad—including serial killers.” The more similar we are to an individual—whether real or perceived similarities—the easier empathy becomes.

This empathy leads us to question our own capabilities. Professor Alexandra Warwick states: “Being interested in why other people do things is always being interested in what we’re like ourselves. The projection onto others and the consideration of what that is, it’s absolutely about what we’re like. Are we capable of those things?” There’s something about tapping those dark thoughts that’s enticing. Everyone gets angry at one point or another and many people have reached the point of rage. For the most part, we shake it off and move on. But what if we didn’t? What if we couldn’t?

Our interest in serial killers is a mirror of our interest in our own darkness. “Could I murder someone?” “Do I have what it takes?” “Are my own morals keeping me from this behavior or is it the law?” “Could whatever drove that other person to murder also drive me to murder?” They are questions you don’t want ask out loud, and yet it’s a curiosity that bubbles up. “Arguably, the serial killer identity is a mirror reflection of society itself,” says Bonn. “As such, there are things the rest of us can learn about ourselves from the serial killer if we look beyond the superficial ‘monster’ image depicted in the mass media.”

Since the question “why?” isn’t likely to be answered anytime soon, society’s interest in serial killers probably won’t be on the wane for quite a while.

 

 


 

Review of The Scavenger, by J. L. Willow

The Scavenger is a YA coming-of-age story that revolves around four primary characters: Catherine, Samuel, Frank, and Nathan. After a series of teens OD, Nathan, an NYPD investigator, works to find the culprit dealing a new, deadly strain of marijuana. Meanwhile, Frank, a long-time drug dealer, already has his next client in his sights. He uses Samuel to peddle the drugs to high schoolers. Their next target? None other than Catherine.

I had two key issues with The Scavenger: structure and believability. The Scavenger follows four different first-person POVs and a random third-person POV of two of the characters it’s already following. The narrative never stays with any one character long enough for the reader to connect. The short chapters mean we’re switching characters too quickly. If the book had an additional 100 pages or so, this might be less of an issue for me. Each character had an intriguing history that was mostly hinted at instead of really fleshed out.

The book’s plot, the catalyst of ODs leading to the climax, is believable and a good subject to work with. However, believability stops with the drug causing the ODs: marijuana. While marijuana can cause dependency in some young individuals, it’s not widely considered addictive. Also, according to the DEA, there has never been a marijuana overdose. Technically, the marijuana in The Scavenger is a new, high-THC strain laced with cocaine. Ingesting a high content of THC does have side effects, including increased anxiety and paranoia, lethargy, hunger, cotton mouth, sleepiness—generally the effects of smoking a blunt. Of course, lacing marijuana with cocaine does make a dangerous combination because it stresses the heart, but it’s questionable as to if that would increase addiction. A healthy teen would have to smoke a lot (a lot) of cocaine-laced marijuana to OD.
(Side note: Cocaine isn’t invisible, so the buyer would be able to see that the weed was laced)

Having said that, if you suspend your belief (or have never really dealt with drugs) then this won’t be a problem. It wasn’t enough of a problem for me to put the book down and, as I said, it’s a good premise overall.

The Scavenger is easy to read. It’s well written and the relationship between Catherine and Samuel screams “teenage hormone-driven relationship.” There are great moments throughout the book and if this is J.L. Willow’s first novel, then I can only see her work getting better and better.

 

The Shill and the Purblind (renewed)

 

Hallo, my succulent little morsels. I’ve previously posted bits from The Shill and the Purblind, which is the first in my fantasy series. My goal with this story is to present mental health issues in the context of a fantasy novel. Because of that, I’ve decided to take it from a 3rd person narrative to 1st. So, here are the first two revamped chapters (as drafts).

Enjoy!

 


 

Chapter 1—Einar the Ungelīc

I sit back on my haunches, elbows resting on my knees, and take in the view. The top of the scorched-black hill offers a good vantage point into valley of the dead. Heat rises in soft waves from open bodies, turning the cold air foggy. Even the rain takes on a red glint as it crosses the warm front.

“And for what was this done?” I ask.

“Blood feud,” the androgynous wind hisses behind me. “Wergild unpaid.”

I stand and stretch. “What has this to do with me?”

The air pressure changes sharply and I shiver.

“There are others,” says the wind.

The air in front of me moves, mini-cyclones distorting the scene to show something new. The ice country. Ísigstān castle. Two figures.

“The king,” the wind whispers. “And the slave.”

Reluctantly, I watch the scene playing out before me. The old, haggard king, with white skin and whiter hair and coal-black eyes, so insecure he wears his crown in his own bedchamber. He squirms and thrashes atop a young, painfully thin woman. She stares out at nothing with dead eyes. Her muscles and joints all locked with the attempt not to move, not to push the elderly king away. Her silver-white hair spreads around her head like a fan, the ends dipped in black. A scar runs along her face, from cheek to cheek, right across the bridge of her nose.

I touch the ragged edge of one long ear, not even noticing the motion until the wind laughs from behind me. The bedroom scene fades as the valley of the dead reappears. I drop my hand to my side and cock my head. “Let the feud end here,” I say, motioning to the valley below.

“It will not,” hisses the wind. “It cannot.”

“Then find another. This is beneath me.”

More laughter at this. Laughter that starts at one shoulder and blows around to the other. I feel the wind become solid enough to touch my face with threatening fingers. Then nothing.

“Nothing is beneath you. Go to the slave. Take her to the eard-stapa wiga.”

I look over sharply, trying to pin the voice with my gaze. Useless movement. The wandering warrior. “You’d have me run in circles. For what? Kill them both and be done with this.”

No!” the wind picks up to a whistling scream with the word, then abruptly dies. The new quiet left in its place is unnerving. “The slave must kill the king. After, can the slave be killed.”

The muscles in my mid-back stiffen. I breath deep, commanding my body to relax. “Send another,” I say through clenched teeth. My lips peel back from my teeth, the upper right corner pushed into a snarl.

The wind screams, howls. It spins down the hill, picking up the dead and throwing them aside. I watch this tantrum. In the end I will do as I was bid. Without reason. I am never given a reason. But defiance is irresistible. Even considering the punishment to follow. So, I watch and smile and enjoy the whirlwind of corpses.

I will go to the slave.

I will take her to the eard-stapa wiga.

And once she kills the king, I will wash my hands of her.

 

Chapter 2—Idun Verdandi

My mother was a slave. The recitation comes as a form of habit more than conscious thought. My mother tried to hide me. She cared. She cared. She cared. My mother tried to steal me away. She cared. She cared. She tried. She died. She died because she cared. She cared. She cared. My father did not care. He died just the same. She tried. She tried. They died.

No one deprives the hēahcyning of his property. The high king is all. He is all. He is death. My nails bite into my palms. He is soon dead.

There is one truth I have known from the beginning: In the cold of Ísigstān, the only way to truly keep warm is through hate. Having been born a slave in Ísigstān kingdom, in the house of the Vetr Sun, living in the very same castle as the hēahcyning himself, I am nearly always warm.

I hug my knees to my chest and lean back against the ice-flecked stone wall of the chamber as the other slave girls sleep. I will not sleep. Not if I can help it. I fight the exhaustion washing over me.

To sleep is to give in to the night fevers.

I recite the story again, my warmest story. I brush my hair toward the front of my face to give myself some semblance of privacy from the sleeping slaves. I blink hard to squeeze out the welling tears. Don’t let them catch you if they wake. Don’t let them catch you.

I watch the silver-white strands that hang in front of my eyes. Dull, stringy. From shoulder to waist the hair is in worse shape. The black dye, a slave marker, dries the hair. Turns it brittle. The more valuable slaves—those more usable, treated like pets, treated like whores, and pranced around in front of nobility—can keep half the natural growth. It is no comfort.

Still, that mark of ownership is much less humiliating and much less permanent than the other—the brand inflicted on slaves in early childhood. The brand that runs from one cheek to the other, curving over the nasal bridge in a down-turned crescent.

Many of the slave children die from the brand. I was not granted such mercy.

I touch the smooth, raised skin of the brand before my hand falls heavily away. Tiredness eats at me. Sleep will soon take me no matter how hard I fight. Another choice made for me.

I grab the piece of cloth I ripped from my bedding and place it in my mouth. I let a corner piece of the cloth stay pressed between my lips so that, once I awake, I can yank out the rag before I choke. For nearly a month, I have slept this way. If my night screams ever wake the hēahcyning again, I’ll pay with my flesh.

Was I not already paying that price?

I fight to keep my eyes open. The wind kicks up outside. I feel the gusts come in through the small, high-set window. The window will close over with ice soon. Again I take stock of my warmest story.

I feel myself begin to drift. The skin on my arms starts to burn, handprint shapes glowing along my biceps.

Every night, this is how it begins.

*****

Sweat breaks from every pore. My skin is too cold, but inside … Inside I am on fire. Around the rag come whimpers that I can’t suppress. My chest burns and every muscle in my body is wound so tight I think I might burst. I shoot up from the straw-stuffed mattress. I scream. The rag muffles it. I try to close my eyes, but I can’t. It is here. I feel it. My stomach turns, trying to empty itself of something that’s not there. Out of the corner of my eye I see a tall, dark shape. I do not know what it is or what it wants. I have to move. My stomach clenches painfully. I have to move.

I leave the bed, nonsense syllables spilling around the rag, and clumsily put distance between myself and the shape.

I have to get out. I have to get away.

I stumble my way to the door, feet dragging. My heart is beating too fast, too hard, and the pain of it radiates through tightened muscles.

Not here. It should be here.

The door is gone.

I walk along the wall, trying to feel through frozen-numb fingertips. Beads of sweat run in lines down my neck. I am too hot, too cold.

I need to get out.

There is no door.

I circle the room, each time getting closer to the shape, each sweep showing me a little more. The shape is wide at the top and narrow at the bottom. Humanoid with large white eyes and red running under its skin. What is it waiting for?

I can promise you … A voice. Its voice. It whispers around me, through me. Sleep.

The word is a command I sense more than understand. The tension in my muscles evaporates so quickly that I find myself on the floor before I realize it.

Then there is nothing.

*****

Pain spikes like lightning through my shoulder, jolting me awake. I cough, gagging as I pull the rag from my mouth. I am … on the floor. The edge of the door slams against my shoulder again, and this time I cry out and scramble backward on my hands and feet, the cold, rough stone scratching against my palms and calloused feet.

Why am I on the floor?

“What are you doing down there, stupid girl?” Grettna, the keeper. Her head pokes around the door. Her words are at odds with the warm tone of her voice.

“I … I am not sure,” I answer. I look around and see that all the girls are starting to rise from slumber. One by one, they all looked at me.

“Come on then,” Grettna says, holding her hand out to me. I take it and let her lift me to my feet. “The rest of you, sod off.”

The air comes to life with the rustling of scratchy wool blankets and the girls quickly shuffle out of bed and file out of the room, heading next door to the wash stall. The last girl hesitates. Vera, short and thick of frame, if not of actual meat, looks down at me. Her silvery eyebrows slope together, concern flashing in her black eyes before her short, black hair sweeps over them. I nod, but Vera hesitates still.

“Get yourself gone now, girl,” Grettna says.

“I am fine, Vera. Go on,” I say, and it is a good lie. A slave must learn to be a good liar to survive here. Vera finally nods and leaves me and Grettna alone.

Grettna sets down the basket of clean blankets and sits down, her legs out to the side of her. Her hair is wrapped up on top of her head, bound by rope and mostly covered by a towel. A few black tendrils poke through. She takes my hand, dragging me back down to the floor. I go readily, not trusting my legs to hold me any longer.

“It’s happened again, hasn’t it?” Grettna asks softly, gently, her whole demeanor changed  now that none are here to see. She does not wait for an answer. “What did you see?”

“I don’t know,” I say. I try to remember, shake my head. The night escapes me. I remember feeling the burning on my arms, but nothing after. “I … I don’t remember anything.”

Forgetting might be a blessing.

“Is there not something that can be done?” I ask. “There must be something the Red Folk can do.”

Grettna cups her hands around mine and squeezes. She smiles sadly, pitifully.

“Slaves aren’t to be bothered with by the Red Folk, ye ken. We’re just not worth it, love,” Grettna says.

“I am exhausted, ealdmóder,” I say, taking my hands from hers. “What good is a slave who cannot work? And what happens if I wake the hēahcyning again? How long do I have to live if I can’t control myself?” I hold up the cloth, still damp with spittle. “This will not work forever.”

“I kennit well, girl” she says grabbing my arm and squeezing. “Don’t think for a second I haven’t thought about yer fate. ‘Course I have.” She drops my arm and runs her hand across her brow. “No, the Red Folk will be of no use to you. But someone else might.”

“Truth, ealdmóder?” I ask. I try to keep my voice level.

“Aye, girl, truth. Another slave, though he wasn’t born to it.”

“How can he help if he is only a slave?”

“He was an apprentice to the Red Folk before …” she said, waving a hand around the room. Before his fall. “If we can get the two of ye some time and some privacy, then maybe he can help.”

“Maybe …”

I look down at my hands as my fingers work the skin around my nails to open small wounds that sting. Grettna takes my hands in hers again, stilling my agitated movements.

“Don’t you lose hope yet, love. We’ll find a way.”

“Yes, ealdmóder,” I say, extracting my hands so I can embrace her. “We will find a way.”

 

 

This is Your Brain on Ultrasonic Frequencies

 

Hallo, you beautiful bastards. It’s been a while since I’ve done a post that needed some research, but—just for you—I dusted off Dave’s research boots and put him to work. Today, I’d like to discuss ultrasound! You’ve no doubt heard of ultrasound as it applies to medical imaging—peeping the unborn babes, assessing muscle trauma, generally viewing those soft, delicate inner tissues. Huh … That came off a little weird.

Anyway, I’m not talking about ultrasound as an imaging tool. I’m talking about ultrasound as a treatment. For instance …

 

Ultrasonic Frequencies Stimulate Intact Brain Cells

In a 2010 study, scientists investigated “the influence of transcranial pulsed ultrasound on neuronal activity in the intact mouse brain [and in deeper subcortical circuits] used targeted transcranial ultrasound to stimulate neuronal activity and synchronous oscillations in the intact hippocampus.” Oh, kids, isn’t science fun?

This study aims at finding a non-invasive brain stimulation method that does not suffer from the limitations of current methods, which include low spatial resolution, low spatial precision, and genetic manipulation.

 

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Not that there’s anything wrong with genetic manipulation.

 

Using transcranial pulsed ultrasound on the motor cortex and hippocampus could have several medical applications, specifically regarding Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Speaking of …

 

Practical Applications

In 2016, the FDA approved a similar treatment—called focused ultrasound thalamotomy—to treat people suffering from essential tremor (ET). According to the Focused Ultrasound Foundation, focused ultrasound offers the following benefits:

  • It is a non-invasive, single treatment that enables patients to recover rapidly and quickly return to activities of normal life (usually the next day).
  • Compared to radiofrequency ablation or deep brain stimulation (DBS), focused ultrasound offers a reduced risk of infection, of damage to the non-targeted area, and of blood clot formation.
  • Focused ultrasound offers rapid resolution of symptoms.
  • In contrast to lesioning performed with stereotactic radiosurgery, focused ultrasound does not use ionizing radiation, thus avoiding the side effects of exposure to radiation.
  • Because it is non-invasive, focused ultrasound could be an option for medically refractory ET patients (those who do not respond well to medication) who do not want to undergo surgery.

 

So, focused ultrasound thalamotomy uses MRI to aim ultrasonic waves at the thalamus. According to W. Jamie Tyler (who took part in the 2010 study), “We can focus the ultrasound through the skull to a part of the thalamus about the size of a grain of rice.” Ahem: precision. From there, the ultrasound kills ET-causing neurons in the thalamus, according to Esther Landhuis’s article Ultrasound for the Brain.

Landhuis goes on to explain that scientists are branching out to focus on treating psychiatric disorders with an emerging technology called focused ultrasound neuromodulation. This technology can boost or suppress small groups of neurons to “potentially treat other movement disorders, as well as depression, anxiety and a host of intractable neuropsychiatric disorders.”

 

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Note: Not a brain.

 

Minimally Invasive is Still Invasive

When discussing surgery in general, the phrase “minimally invasive” is a good thing. Well, you know … It’s not a terrible thing. However, when it’s your brain you’re talking about, minimally invasive is still pretty fucking invasive. DBS, for example, is a minimally invasive form of neuromodulation. While DBS has been around longer, focused ultrasound offers a more precise, non-invasive means of treatment.

The brain is pretty special organ and it’s, you know, important to your being able to function.

4-Star Review for Rise and Run

Reviewed by Lit Amri for Readers’ Favorite

Rise and Run (A Broken Man Novel, Book One) by RJ Plant is set in 2042, where protagonist Felix Quinn is working for illegal trades mogul Rian Connell, who’s also his adoptive father. When Connell receives a tip that his niece, Kaitlyn Henderson, could be in danger, he sends Felix to track her down. In disguise, Felix infiltrates Government Directive International (GDI). Unfortunately for him, GDI used Kaitlyn as bait. A GDI agent brings Conor Quinn, the byproduct of Felix’s chimerism, to the surface by injecting him with a virus. Now it’s up to Conor to decide his fate and Felix’s.

The story started with an intriguing chapter one, bringing the chimerism concept to light right away. Perhaps genetic chimera is not a subject well known to some readers, but it’s definitely not science fiction and not something new. RJ Plant used this concept exceptionally well to develop the story. The world-building is interesting as readers are given a glimpse into a world after the War of 2026, the outcome of the war on terror. It’s not nearly as dire as most post-war worlds that I’ve read, but it’s still undesirable and the fact that it’s a realistic outcome made it more alarming.

The characters are credible and have enough depth. In essence, Conor is not a bad man, but not perfect either. His circumstances contribute to his flaws. I don’t want to give away any critical plot developments, so suffice to say that it’s a tale of resistance, where a living product of genetic engineering strives to survive and live freely as any living being desires. The prose is an easy read and to the point. This makes the story flow well. Overall, Rise and Run is an impressive thriller. I look forward to the continuation of the story.

Cofax: Deservedly Lauded

If you Google “Best Breakfast Burritos in Los Angeles,” or if you make the same search in Yelp, Cofax is one of the first places that pops up. Cofax’s Breakfast Burritos have been featured by Thrillist, LA Eater, LAist, and numerous online city guides. But what is perhaps most remarkable is that not every article or list featuring Cofax’s Breakfast Burritos refers to the same burrito.

Crazy.

That’s because Cofax sells not one, but two of the most lauded Breakfast Burritos in LA (and they sell two more variations as well). There is the Chorizo Breakfast Burrito with the oft-mentioned smoked potatoes and the Pastrami Breakfast Burrito which has deli mustard, a surprising and effective choice.

 

Where…?

Although their signage is bright blue, Cofax blends into the line of high-end skater shops, diners, coffee houses, and thrift stores densely packed into the Fairfax area. So, you’ll probably need to do a bit of scouring to spot it on the East side of Fairfax between Oakwood and Rosewood. Parking is hit or miss, but there is some non-zoned residential parking you could use as a last resort. The inside is minimal to the point that there are only a few places to sit and eat, which can be a problem because Cofax is justifiably popular. Not only do they have well-reviewed Breakfast Burritos, they have a fresh assortment of pastries and an impressive selection of rotating coffee roasters. In addition to their tasty offerings, every member of the staff that I have encountered has been really welcoming and knowledgeable about what they sell.


What’s in it?

As I mentioned earlier, there are two (sort of four) Breakfast Burritos at Cofax. Neither is too straightforward, but the less surprising one is the Chorizo BB. It mostly contains what you would expect in a BB: a grilled flour tortilla with chorizo, scrambled eggs, jack cheese, potato, and pico. But there are a few exciting twists: the potato is actually a smoked potato hash with grilled onions and bell peppers; and, as a little bonus, corn tortilla pieces are crumbled into the burrito, giving each bite a slight but satisfying crunch.

Then, there is the Pastrami BB, in which you will find pastrami (of course), tater tots, pickled jalapeños, a fried egg, and yellow deli mustard. This one is a major point of reference whenever I think or talk about clever BB, because the pastrami and mustard are downright startling to see included in a breakfast burrito, but the pickled jalapeños provide just enough tang and heat to tie the disparate elements back together.

The other two BBs which are sadly mentioned so infrequently are the Veggie and the Bacon BBs. The Veggie contains pretty much the same ingredients as the Chorizo, sans chorizo. If you don’t eat meat, it’s a great way to still enjoy the most exciting parts of that burrito, like the smoked potato hash. The Bacon has more in common with the Pastrami, but with different meat, no mustard, and a scrambled egg (though I’m sure they would fry the egg if you asked).


But wait … There’s more.

A serious dilemma arises when you look in the bottom of the bag and see two plastic ramekins of salsa. The red salsa has the slightest amount of heat and the roastiness pairs well with the smoked hash on the Chorizo. But the milder green salsa complements any of the BBs with a contrasting tang. The dilemma is not only which salsa to use for each bite, but whether to use the salsa at all. Both salsas are tasty, but the burritos are already so complete on their own. It’s a tough decision to make, but I trust that you can handle it.


Classic or Clever?

When it comes to how classic or clever Cofax’s burritos are, it depends on which one you’re talking about. Again, the Chorizo and, therefore, Veggie contain much of what you would expect in a Breakfast Burrito, but the smoked hash and the corn tortilla crumbles make these ones still pretty darn special. So, from classic to clever, they’re around a 7.

The Pastrami BB is a bit more adventurous. The mustard, pickled jalapeños, and the fact that it works so delicately make Cofax’s Pastrami Breakfast Burrito one of the cleverest BBs I’ve ever had. The fried egg doesn’t hurt either. From classic to clever: 8.5.

But, as always, a disclaimer:

These numbers are not reflective of how much I enjoy these burritos. I [bleep]ing love them. They’re both 10s.


How much?

$7-8, depending on the burrito you choose, which is a really good deal because, not only are these burritos smartly assembled, they’re pretty big too. And, no matter which you go with, I’m pretty certain you’ll be happy.


When …?

You can get these burritos any time Cofax is open. And they have donuts and cookies as well. And good coffee. They frequently post pictures of all of these things @cofaxcoffee on Instagram.

Cofax has seriously become one of my favorite places to enjoy Breakfast Burritos and absolutely deserves to be as ubiquitous on Best LA Breakfast Burrito lists as it is (if not more so).

 

 

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Brett Blaylock is an LA-based actor,
writer, and breakfast burrito enthusiast.
Find out more about Brett and his fantastic
breakfast burrito blog.

California Lunch Room

The old, green Pontiac bounced down the two-lane highway off the main road near the outskirts of North Fork, California. A tear rolled down Mabel’s cheek as she drove up the gravel road to the empty, crumbling building that once brought her abundant happiness. As she parked near the front door, the weathered building seemed smaller than in earlier days. Taking a deep breath and opening the car door, Mabel stepped out and stared at the chipping white paint and old signs. A faint smell of cat urine made her wrinkle her nose.

The morning’s events were still fresh in Mabel’s mind. The somber funeral home, the whimpers of hushed tears, the soft organ music…he was really gone.

Mabel had met Jack, her husband of 52 years, at this very place. He was a dusty stranger in need of a cold drink. As he stumbled through the screen door and took an open spot at the tiny counter, Mabel brought him the tallest glass of ice water. Jack smiled. That’s all it took—a smile and a glass of water had brought two people together. Mabel kept his glass full of water that day, and every day thereafter, until Jack’s illness took him home.

With the key in her hand, Mabel opened the screen door and unlocked the wooden door. Looking around, she remembered the store front sold the basics, such as tobacco, candy, soda, and a small assortment of gloves and caps. A small hallway led to the back of the store to the dining area and kitchen. The humble surroundings came to life when dinner and supper were served. The locals and the occasional passerby were treated to the best home-cooked meals and the latest news. The walls buzzed with laughter and the aroma of pot roast drifted through the open window screens.

Jack and Mabel made North Fork their home, and with the purchase of the California Lunch Room, they started a life together. Thirteen years separated them in age, but they were a matched pair in spirit. The day the diagnosis of cancer came for Jack, the California Lunch Room closed its doors. Jack needed daily support.

No one saw Mabel slip out the back of the funeral home. She needed some space away from the grieving. The store seemed the perfect place to reflect on her past, present, and future. Sitting at the counter, Mabel heard a soft meow. Turning to the screen door, she saw a gray kitten saunter in and sit at the sunlight’s edge on the worn floor.

In that moment, Mabel bowed her head and placed her hand on the weathered railing.

“I hear you, Lord.”

Mabel opened her eyes as the kitten brushed against her leg.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do to reopen, Jack.”

The kitten purred in agreement.

 

 

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Donna Campbell is a Northern spirit in a Southern zone, capturing short story fiction. Nicknamed “raptor” by her best friend many years ago, she’s better known in her role of tracking life from every angle. You can follow her on Instagram @imraptorbhm.

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