Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Little History Lesson

I've loved history ever since I was a little girl. My mum used to let me watch Titanic, Marie Antoinette, Elizabeth, and the Duchess (all with some scenes fast-forwarded) for  girly movie nights. After watching the movies, I would go to the library and try to find a book about the topic of the movie. It was always one of my favorite things to do. So today, I figured it would be fun to do a little history lesson on my favorite eras in history.

Image courtesy of Movie Mail, Quo Vadis
Ancient Rome.

Fate will find a way”- Virgil, Roman Poet

What People Think: WAR! Murder! Assassination! And oh, let's get drunk while we do it.
Reality: While the Romans were very much so into war and conquering, their society was so much more than that. For starters they had very strong religious beliefs. The Romans were what we would consider polytheistic, meaning they believed in many gods. There was Jupiter and Mars; Venus and Minerva; and lastly, Pluto (of course the Romans had way, way more gods than this, I just can’t possibly list them all).  Most of you probably know of these gods interesting moral standards, so I’m not going to delve into any of that. 

Also interesting about Rome is their rigid class system. Back in those days it was near impossible to move up in the class system, even through marriage (often times, restrictions were place on who you could marry). At the top of this system the emperors and Patricians sat. They were the super rich, and spent most of their time listening to poetry, hanging out in their villas, etc. Below them were the Plebeians. Today they’d be consider blue-collar workers, but back then you called them Plebeians. At the very bottom were the slaves, and hopefully you’re smart enough to figure out what life was like for them. 

Image courtesy of Les Femmes Velours
The French Revolution & Marie Antoinette 

“Great and memorable night, we wept and hugged one another. What a nation! What glory! What an honour to be French!” Ernest-Francois Duquesnoy on August 4th 1789 

What People Think: People go starving. A lady says: “Let them eat cake!”
Reality: Contrary to popular belief, Marie Antoinette was not a cold-hearted devil queen. Born into the Habsburg family (a.k.a people who ruled most of Europe until WWI), the French queen was married by 15 and crowned at 18. She was known for her extravagant spending habits (she bought over 300 dresses a year), and was reviled by the people. However, Marie Antoinette was also a compassionate person. She funded and oversaw the education of a poor boy as well as tended to an injured peasant, something most nobility wouldn't dare do. 

Marie Antoinette, in my opinion, is a victim of history. Despite her relative ignorance in state affairs, she was blamed for the debt issues in France. Often slandered by papers as an "Austrian whore", Marie Antoinette was depicted as doing everything possible to bring on the downfall of France, including vetoing tax acts made to improve the overtaxation of the poor. In many ways, this bad press was the reason she lost her life on the guillotine in 1793.

Image courtesy of Confessions of a Ci-Devant
Oh, and by the way, Marie Antoinette never said "Let them eat cake!"

Want more? Marie Antoinette (highly recommend!)

Friday, March 21, 2014

Pumpkin Cupcakes: A How To

As most people know, I like talking about my opinions (which generally contradict others). But after last week's super serious controversial post, I figured I'd write about something lighter: baking. As I mentioned when I first started this blog, I love to bake. It's so calming and peaceful, and I never get the chance to do it! So after I finished up all my Friday errands, to the kitchen it was!

Today I'm going to be making my favorite recipe of all time: Pumpkin Cupcakes. I originally found this essay on the Food Network for a cooking class at school. We were being forced to make recipe with pumpkins in it. Originally, I balked at the idea. Pumpkins? Yuck! However, after searching everywhere  for a good pumpkin recipe, I found this one. Originally they were pumpkin bars, but I made them as cupcakes because they're easier to eat. I've made these in many different climates and altitudes and they've always turned out amazingly. Everyone enjoys them, even pumpkin haters (like me). Another great thing is most of the ingredients are easily found around the house. 

Here's what you'll need (edited from Paula Deen's original): 
  • Four eggs
  • 1 2/3 cups granulated sugar (code for table sugar)
  • 15 ounces of canned pumpkin (you might have to by more than two cans of pumpkin, as they generally come in 8 ounce cans). 
  • 2 cups of all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon powder
  • 1 teaspoon of salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ~1 cup of water (this is just a starting point, I add more or less depending on the thickness). 
  • Cupcake holders
  • Cupcake baking tray(s)
And for the yummy delicious icing...
  • 8 ounces of cream cheese (I like the Philadelphia brand)
  • 1/2 cup of butter
  • 2 cups of powdered sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

First things first, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. I know it's lame, and sometimes I forget, but life is always easier with a preheated oven. 

Now you can start by mixing together all your "wet" ingredients (the pumpkin as well as the sugar, oil, and eggs). Then add your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda and powder, ground cinnamon, and salt). You will need an electric mixer to do this. This is the least interesting part of this recipe in my opinion. The pumpkin doesn't smell too good, either. 

The next step is to to organize the yummy cakes into cupcake holders. I bought the super fancy cupcake holders from Whole Foods (they're called tulip cupcake holders). Since it's Whole Foods, I shouldn't have been surprised that I paid $4 for them and only got about ten. I didn't use them all for this recipe, because I like how much cupcake they can hold, but I wouldn't recommend them. They're not worth the cost. 

Let your cupcakes bathe in the oven for about 15-20 mins. Don't take them out yet though! After the 15 minute mark, I check on my cakes every five minutes. Every oven cooks differently and you don't all your hard work to go down the drain. 

Once your cupcakes are ready you can ice them. Simply mix all your icing ingredients together, and spoon it onto the cake. Perfection! 

I hope you enjoyed this post. It's a bit different from what I usually do, but I feel like it was a good break from all my political ranting. Let me know if you'd like to see more of my baking adventures!

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Friday in the Life of Alexia

I've been thinking of doing this post for WEEKS now, and I've only just gotten around to it. Basically, the premise is that I'm going to show you what a day in my life looks like, and compare it to that of others around the world. Please note that I'm trying to include snippets of other people's lives that relate to mine, but sometimes I can't find one that's 100% perfect. Also, this is a rough idea of what my day looks like. I might've fudged some details (like times). 

6:17 AM
Dad wakes me up in the mornings, as I am always too sleepy to force myself out of bed. I brush my teeth, do my hair (quickly, I tend to not draw out my hair-care experience like my mum), and throw on the first comfortable thing I see in my closet. After I pack my stuff, I trot upstairs for my oatmeal breakfast. As I'm sitting at the breakfast table I think back on a video I'd watched the night before about the Russians marching into Ukraine. The entire thing seems so remote to me, yet it isn't happening all too far away. Could I do something about Ukraine?

"Everyone loathes getting up in the morning. However, I am not as fussy about it as my brother, who, despite being in medical school, still refuses to set his alarm and depends on the entire household to wake him." - Mahnoor S, Pakistan. 
7:35-9:05 AM
First period I have English class. We spend most of the period discussing To Kill a Mockingbird. In some ways I find it kind of strange that we're tiptoeing around the issue of racism like church mice. I wonder if things would be different if some of us were African American. Then I notice- not one of us is. What is it about race that causes the Honors English class to be filled with white children, whereas "regular" English is primarily made of a mix of ethnic groups? 

"Most citizens of Argentina aged 15 or older can read and write. The country has one of the better educated populations in Latin America. Indeed, education is prized as one of the most important assets people can have."- Country Reports Argentina

9:10-12:20 AM
Math & Human Geography
Second and third periods I have Math and Geography. Math goes by as usual. We are given a partner and a booklet to fill out. Then my math teacher reviews it with us. Human Geography is a little different, as most of our class period is spent discussing the previous night's reading. We always get a little off topic and end up talking about world issues instead. 
This little guy sits on my bed all day!

"Generally, classes are held in classrooms, and occasionally outside for Physical Education and sporting activities, Natural Science laboratories, and Technology. The classes are taught by lecture, and are the only source of information for students who are financially unable to purchase the text"- Marguerite, Foumban

12:20 PM

4:00- 7:00 PM
From 4-7 I do volunteer work at my local hospital with my friend Stella. Usually I go to track before hand, but today I had to go home a little earlier. We ferry food trays from the kitchen to patients, manage the front desk and gift shop, and talk about silly things. I really enjoy my work at the hospital because it means that I get to hang out with Stella and eat lots of good food. But seriously, I do enjoy interacting with patients. Most of them are really nice and bring a smile to my face. 

"After school and on non-school days, we work with the family on domestic and field tasks. With my classmates, we study in the school's library. We study our lessons alone or in a group. We do our homework. Sometimes we take long walks." - Marguerite, Foumban

Well, that's it for today! Sorry today's post is a little longer than usual, I just wanted to be able to flesh out the differences and similarities between my day and that of anothers elsewhere.