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The Passion of Latin Lovers

Even if you ignore ( from ignorare — to not know, disregard) the Romans’ influence ( influere — to flow in) on our culture ( colere — to foster, cultivate or respect), architecture ( architectus, from the Greek arkhi — chief + tekton — builder, carpenter), literature ( littera — letter), government (gubernare — navigate, pilot, govern), military (miles — soldier), legal ( lex — the law) and judicial (iudex — a judge) systems and medicine ( medicus — physician), there’s still the fact ( factum — something done, a fact) of Latin’s presence ( praesentia — presence) in English itself.

As might be obvious, getting to write a feature about Latin for the Washington Post Magazine was a treat for my inner dork.

Breast Friends

Me, my ladies, and the mechanical milker.

If you spend two weeks in close proximity to goat udders, it’s inevitable that you’ll think differently about your own breasts.

Or at least that’s what happened to me. My husband and I had signed up to spend two weeks volunteering on a French farm where the farmer took one look at our soft hands and assigned us to what he considered his easiest job: milking the family’s 27 dairy goats. And so once in the morning, once in the evening, Peter and I wheeled out the milking canisters and pumping gear (this was not a hand-extraction affair), lined up the goats at a feeding trough, and worked our way through the herd.

The monotony of the task was strangely satisfying, and I found myself looking forward to my time with the ladies, as I called them, skittish and ornery, with soft ears and narrow,Avatar-like pupils. Much like women’s breasts, their udders came in all shapes and sizes. Some were huge and swollen, bumping into the goat’s back knees as she waddled up to the milking station. Others would barely have qualified for a training bra. Some goats had lopsided udders, including one young animal whose left teat was so tiny that we didn’t bother to milk it.

Usually, there’s a clear distinction in my mind between the pasteurized, cereal-friendly stuff I buy in the grocery store and the baby-nourishing liquid that may one day emanate from my chest. But as I worked my way up and down the goats’ ranks, massaging their udders to help the flow, the difference between the two became less obvious. I found myself suddenly very curious about milk.

For Slate, I write about Deborah Valenze’s new book, Milk: A Global and Local History, and how it has forever changed my view of goats.

The Limits of Locavorism. Or, The Time I Ate Sheep Intestine.

As I took a bite, the flavor that greeted me revealed another important distinction between American and Mongolian cuisine. In America, even a dish as straightforward-sounding as “Fat-Wrapped Liver Chunks” would probably include a few unnamed, yet complementary ingredients like onions, or salt. But in Mongolia, the title says it all. Like everything we ate that night, my first bite had not been salted. It contained no herbs or spice. It was exactly what I knew it was: the liver of the sheep I’d just watched die.

For Slate Magazine, I write about what it really means to attend a traditional Mongolian feast — and why I’d prefer never to do so again.

Eating Tarantulas in Phnom Penh

When my husband Peter ordered the fried tarantulas at Romdeng, a restaurant in Phnom Penh that specializes in traditional Khmer food, he was hoping that he wouldn’t notice he was eating spider.

I know that sounds delusional, but lots of fried foods bear little resemblance to their original ingredients. Think of popcorn shrimp. Or a corn dog. There was a chance that the spiders would arrive so coated in batter that their true arachnid nature would be camouflaged, nothing but a stomach-turning afterthought.

“I bet they’ll be dipped in tempura,” said Peter, as we waited for them to arrive.

“Like a zucchini fritter,” I said supportively.

But neither of us was convinced.

Peter and I had many adventures during our seven months on the road. One of them: eating deep fried tarantulas in Phnom Penh. I wrote about the experience for National Geographic’s Intelligent Travel blog.

On the Road

As part of our transition between California and the east coast, my husband and I decided to take several months to travel the world. From volunteering on a French dairy farm to biking through the Baltic States to taking the Trans Siberian railroad to doing a homestay with Mongolian nomads, it’s been quite an adventure.  I’m trying to keep up with it all  here.

101 Places Not To See Before You Die — on NPR’s Morning Edition

A quick post: I have an interview about 101 Places Not To See Before You Die on NPR’s Morning Edition today. For details, see here.

Mindfuless Meditation for O

I’ve been meaning to start a daily mindfulness meditation practice for a long time, but thanks to this assignment from O, The Oprah Magazine, I actually started one. (And then got to participate in a full-day photo shoot that involved almost getting attacked by a bull.)

We’ve all had the experience of sensing time decelerate naturally when we’re not so thrilled about what we’re doing (think torturous spinning class or hour-long “synergy workshop” at the office). As my dear grandmother would have said, it takes only one colonoscopy to prove that time is relative. But what about the more enjoyable times in life? I hoped that practicing the popular and proven type of meditation called mindfulness—which focuses on bringing awareness to the present moment—might help me slow those times down as well.

White Whiskey

I’ve got a small piece in Men’s Journal about the resurgence of small batch distillation. It’s called White Whiskey:

If the greater number and variety of local and regional spirits at your neighborhood liquor store have you tempted to call micro-distillation a cool new trend, you’d be half-right — it’s more of a comeback. Early Americans were masters at turning harvests into hard alcohol using corn, potatoes, grain, apples, grapes — almost anything they could get their hands on. Converting food to booze didn’t just preserve the value of perishable crops; it also created a rich repertoire of homemade liquors, from rye whiskey, vodka, and bourbon to applejack, peach brandy, and unaged fruit spirits known as eau-de-vie.

I also did a big package about the spine called “The Complete Guide To Your Back” — also for Men’s Journal — but I can’t find it online except for this mention. Suffice it to say that you usually don’t need surgery, and that if you’re really hurting, you can ease the pain by sampling some small batch spirits.

Rebooting the Immune System

A sign rests on the windowsill in the office of Jeffrey Bluestone, director of the Immune Tolerance Network and the Diabetes Center at the University of California at San Francisco. Measuring nearly three feet across, it reads “Club Bluestone” in pink and blue neon. It’s the sort of artifact you’d expect to find in a bar. But Bluestone is a world-renowned immunobiologist; his father-in-law had the sign made for him in the late 1980s when Bluestone was working long hours in his lab at the University of Chicago. As the night wore on and their energy faded, he and his colleagues would turn out the lights, turn on the sign and, propelled by the power of Bruce Springsteen, push forward with their research. “It was our version of partying,” he says.

As you may already know, auto-immune diseases like Type 1 diabetes or multiple sclerosis occur when your immune system malfunctions and mistakes part of your own body for a foreign invader. In the case of Type 1, it’s when your body decides to kill off the cells that produce insulin, a hormone necessary to absorb the energy in your food. I think I speak for all Type 1 diabetics when I say that destroying these cells is not the body’s smartest move.

I was lucky enough to participate in a trial for a promising new drug — created by the aforementioned Jeffrey Bluestone — that attempted to stop my system from killing off the rest of my insulin-producing cells. What’s more, I recently got a chance to write about this drug — and others like it — for Popular Science. The article’s called “Rebooting the Body.” Here’s a link to a digital copy.

I also got a chance to speak about the piece on the New Hampshire Public Radio Show, Word of Mouth. You can listen to the interview here.

A Taste Of Chocolate At a Former Army Post

Last weekend I had the pleasure not just of attending a workshop about chocolate, but of writing about it for the New York Times.

Wearing a short-sleeve shirt embroidered with his name, Mr. Recchiuti, whose shop is in the Ferry Building Marketplace, looked more like a mechanic than a fine chocolatier — albeit one with cocoa powder on his hands instead of grease.

He greeted each of his 19 students with a spoonful of liquid chocolate and a white plate holding eight samples arranged like numbers on a clock, with a small bowl with two roasted cocoa beans and a pinch of chocolate-covered barley — a “taste project” — at the center. The students would taste single-origin varieties of chocolate from around the world, and watch Mr. Recchiuti transform chocolate into confections that presumably could be replicated at home.

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