Thursday, January 30, 2014

Forbidden Rice for Mother and Baby

Since my daughter has started solid foods, I've wanted try cooking some fresh homemade baby foods for her. It allows me to introduce her to some unique flavors which will hopefully expand her palate, as well as offering healthy foods outside of the typical apple-pear-banana combinations.

I've loved forbidden rice, a type of black Chinese rice, ever since I first tried it at a dinner with some friends of ours. Its texture is similar to brown rice, but it has far more antioxidants and other nutrition than any other type of rice. Best of all, it has a slightly sweet flavor that makes it much more delicious than brown rice. It's commonly used in Thai desserts like forbidden rice pudding. Because it's so healthy but still yummy, I decided to try making a forbidden rice puree for Anwen to try once she was old enough to eat brown rice (around 7 months). She loved it, especially when I mix it with some pureed mango (just like in the Thai pudding!). Since I love eating it too, I decided to my set of mother/daughter recipes for forbidden rice.

Pureed Forbidden Rice for Baby


1/4 cup forbidden rice
1/4 cup liquid (juice, formula, or breast milk)
fruit puree

Put the rice in a pot with four cups of water, and bring it to a boil. Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Continue cooking rice for 40 minutes or until the rice is very tender. Drain the rice, and let it cool until it's cool enough to handle (at least ten minutes). Put the rice in a blender (I used a nutribullet) with 1/4 cup of liquid and puree until smooth. I used apple juice for my liquid, but formula, breast milk, or any other juice should work just as well--if your baby is old enough to eat coconut milk, that would be delicious as well. Mix the pureed rice with a bit of your baby's favorite fruit puree (my baby loved it with pear or mango) and serve. 

Note: The pureed rice can be a bit sticky, but don't worry, it comes off the blender really easily if you rinse it with hot water.

Forbidden Rice Pudding for Parents


1 cup forbidden rice
2 cups of unsweetened almond-coconut milk blend (regular almond milk is fine, too)
1 can of low fat coconut milk
1/3 cup sugar
1 mango, diced

Combine the forbidden rice and the two cups of almond-coconut milk in a pot, and bring it to a boil (watch carefully that it doesn't boil over). Reduce heat to low and cover the pot. Simmer rice for twenty minutes, or until it absorbs most of the almond milk. Stir in the can of coconut milk and continue simmering for another ten to fifteen minutes, or until rice is tender and coconut milk is mostly absorbed (I like mine a little on the wet side). Mix in the sugar and the diced mango. You can chill the pudding if you like, or eat it hot. I think it's delicious either way:) 

Monday, January 27, 2014

David's Sweet Sprouts and Bacon

My husband and I love cooking, and he's a very talented chef. He invented this recipe one night and it is by far the best recipe for Brussels sprouts that I have ever tasted. It's sweet, salty, and tangy, which beautifully complements the earthy taste of the sprouts.


10 oz. Baby Brussels sprouts
5 strips of thick cut bacon, diced
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of butter
1 1/2 tablespoons of Champagne vinegar (or whatever vinegar you like)
2 tablespoons of honey

To prepare your Brussels sprouts, trim the end and remove any loose leaves, then cut them in half.

Fry the diced bacon in a medium pan over medium heat until it's crisp and its fat runs off.

Remove the bacon, leaving the fat in the pan. Melt one tablespoon of butter in the pan with the bacon drippings, then add the Brussels sprouts. Saute the sprouts in the butter and bacon fat until they're browned and fragrant, then add the minced garlic and cook for another minute. 

Reduce your heat to low, return the bacon to the pan with the sprouts, and add the champagne vinegar and the honey. Sautee for a few more minutes, stirring constantly to make sure the Brussels sprouts are well coated with the honey and vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste, and devour immediately. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Classical Music Isn't Dying--It's in a Recession

As a classical musician, I can't tell you how many times I've had people tell me that classical music was dying. I've been performing and teaching violin and viola for over twenty years, and throughout that time I've had "The Death of Classical Music" repeatedly announced to me. In fact, one of the most interesting articles I've ever read on "The Death of Classical Music" came out in 1992. Is classical music dying but taking an incredibly long time to leave the stage, like a Wagner Heroine? Or are all these articles about as obnoxious and fact-free as the weight-loss advertisements that seem to pop up everywhere after the Holidays? I'm guessing it's the later.

That's not to say that classical music isn't struggling, or that it doesn't face some profound challenges, but reports of its death are greatly exaggerated. In fact, I think the decline of classical music really reflects the struggles of middle class Americans in the face of gross economic inequality and ruthless corporate robber barons. And yes, there are definitely some ways that classical musicians can evolve to face the challenges of the 21st century.

How then, has classical music been harmed by our current economic climate? Let me count the ways.

1. Deunionization

It sometimes surprises people that I'm a union member, but many musicians, from classical to rock, are members of the American Federation of Musicians. Yet, union membership is declining, and many orchestras are hiring union-busting lawyers to drive theirs out. This has had a devastating effect on classical music, particularly orchestras. For one thing, management tactics like lock-outs drive away audiences and keep musicians from performing and recording (see the Minnesota Orchestra). Worse, without a strong union, orchestra boards often push changes that leave musicians and their audiences with fewer performances and a greatly reduced orchestra, while giving lavish salaries to conductors and management. One local orchestra I knew was completely destroyed when the board cut musicians' salaries to give their conductor a huge raise. It's important to note that there are several successful chamber orchestras who don't even have a conductor, who is arguably the least important person on the stage in terms of the music (after all, you can't hear conducting), so short-changing musicians to pay a conductor is utter nonsense. 

2. Ineffective Real World Training for Young Musicians

More and more, a college degree comes with a crippling amount of debt and very little real world knowledge or experience in how to function at a real job or build a career. As someone with a Bachelor's and a Master's in music, I can attest that music programs are especially horrible at preparing students for the real world. So many programs train students as though they are going to have a career as a violin soloist or at least play in a major symphony orchestra. Music education is frowned upon as an option for the less talented, because those who cannot do, teach (which is one of the most destructive mentalities I can ever imagine). This completely ignores the fact that there are only around a hundred professional violin soloists in the entire world. Some of the greatest musicians throughout history, including Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Haydn, supported themselves by teaching music lessons, yet music schools treat teaching with disdain. Teaching music is an art that requires intelligent, thoughtful, and talented people, and without it we cannot pass on our great artistic legacy to the next generation. 

Personally, I'm hugely excited by teaching artists--people who put on innovative classical programs for children and other people in the wider community who don't normally attend formal concerts. I've seen some incredible work in arts organizations on outreach programs that bring classical musicians to schools, libraries, and rural communities. When I worked at the Santa Fe Opera, they had teaching artists engage kids in creating their own student-produced operas. Music schools should start preparing young musicians to work on outreach and building audiences, instead of following a now defunct career path.  

3. Lack of Government Support

In his Slate piece "Is Classical Music Dead?", Mark Vanhoenacker mentions declining audiences for classical concerts and radio (seriously, radio? who under thirty listens to radio anymore?) as evidence for classical music's inevitable demise. But what he fails to mention is that affordable access to classical music has dramatically declined as well. Why are American orchestras going bankrupt while orchestras in Europe, Asia, and the rest of the world thriving? Simple. In those countries, the government heavily subsidizes classical music, while here we don't. That means that ticket prices for concerts in the US have sky rocketed. In 1960, the average classical concert tickets cost the equivalent of ten dollars. Today, the cheapest seats cost around sixty dollars, and many seats are over a hundred dollars. In this economy, that prices the average classical concert well out of range for the middle class. Other countries have far higher concert attendance because government subsidies keep ticket prices affordable and orchestras financially solvent. In the US, the GOP stripped away funding from the NEA, which had supported most orchestras, especially small regional ones. That began a horrible cycle of bankruptcies that have plagued US orchestras ever since.

To take Vanhoenacker's beloved (and very successful) Tanglewood Festival as an example--one of the things that makes Tanglewood so popular is affordable ticket prices, which includes free tickets for concertgoers' children (for some concerts). As a veteran of many free concerts in the park, I can attest that free concerts are usually packed. That tells me that many Americans do enjoy classical music--but they can't always afford it.

4. Arts Programs in School

Music education is a beacon of hope in the world of classical music. There are many thriving orchestra programs in schools across the country, and plenty of independent music schools or studios where students take private lessons. Yet these programs are at risk of budget cuts due to inadequate funding for education. This is a terrible problem that should concern all Americans--but it's not a result of a lack of interest in classical music. It's because we're in the midst of a nasty recession and we have a crop of politicians willing to destroy public schools in the name of austerity.  This tragic situation can deprive poor and middle class children of music programs, despite compelling evidence the music education dramatically benefits them.

Of course, I have many adult violin students too. No one makes adults take violin lessons--they decide to learn violin and play classical music on their own, which is a sign that there is still quite a bit of interest in it. If there are fewer adult students learning now, that might have more to do with how the recession is eroding the middle class than a lack of interest. Sadly, I've lost several excellent students after they could no longer afford to pay for lessons after the loss of a job.   

5. Spotify, iTunes, and Pandora

Vanhoenacker points his finger at declining classical music sales, but the truth is that the entire music industry has lost half its value since the dawn of the digital age. Napster, iTunes, Spotify, and Pandora have contributed to a society that expects to listen to music for little or no money. As CD and record sales collapsed, the music industry as a whole lost billions of dollars. Yes, perhaps some genres of music lost more than others, but in the face of crippling industry-wide losses, is it fair or reasonable to complain that classical music hasn't sold more CDs? Besides, one of the difficulties of recording classical music is that you end up competing with dozens of other recordings of the same piece.

In short, like many industries in recession-era America, classical music is suffering. But its suffering is a sign of the recession and the declining fortunes of the middle class, not a lack of interest in music. Maybe not everyone listens to classical music or attends concerts. After all, not everyone watches indie art-house movies, or professional cricket, or even a fantastic TV show like Game of Thrones. But classical music still has devoted fans, and so long as there are still people who love Mozart more than Justin Bieber, it's premature to declare it dead. Trust me, the old girl's got plenty of life in her yet.

Related articles on Suzuki Method and Violin/Viola teaching or performing:

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

More Apps for Musicians and Music Students

In a previous post, I discussed some of the apps I use on my iPad or iPhone (sometimes Android as well) to help students learn music. Many of the apps are useful for professional musicians as well. In my teaching, I've started using several apps to help my students (and sometimes myself) hone musical skills. As before, these are helpful for both student or professional musicians.

1. Rhythm in Reach

So many of my students struggled with rhythm that I started using this app to help them. It shows students a short musical passage and has them tap out its rhythm on the iPad. It has a metronome accompaniment, so students have to keep a steady tempo to get a good score. This app is easy to customize to the level you want, and it has students take a test to get to the next level. It's done wonders for many of my students who struggled to remember the difference between quarter notes and half notes, or keep a steady beat. It's amazing how an iPad app captures student attention far more than a workbook or my repeated instructions:) I would highly recommend this to any music students who'd like to improve their rhythm.

2. Musical Ears

This app is available on both Android and iPad. It's an ear training app that plays a short melody, and then has the student choose the notes. It's easy to customize for different levels of students, from easy to challenging enough to make a professional musician work hard. I've had both young children and adult students try this app, and they've all enjoyed it. Ear training is an important aspect of musical training, and this app is a useful tool for helping students develop their aural skills.

3. PlayByEar

This is a very challenging app on violin, so I'd only use it with advanced students (it might be easier on piano). It plays either intervals, chords, or short melodies, then has the student play the notes back. It can detect whether or not they're playing the correct pitches. I think this app would be useful for advanced jazz students or any advanced student who wants to improve their ability to play by ear, but it's too difficult for beginners or intermediate students. I wish it was easier to customize--for example, if the teacher could set it to play in one particular key, or could limit the range. Still, I found it fun to use.

Related articles on Suzuki Method and Violin/Viola teaching or performing:

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Poem: The Sleeping Lady

i remember a mountain 
called the sleeping lady
after a mother 
who lost her son

she sleeps forever
a snow covered goddess
grief unending
ice numbs her pain

until the day
her precious child returns
his laugh echoing
again the mountain stones

the spring will come
ice will melt 
into clear water
like tears of joy

she will bloom
with flowers
her voice is
the song of the birds

Friday, January 10, 2014

This Year's Books 2014

There are many books that I'd love to read, reread, or finish reading this year. Here's a list of the books currently sitting on my nightstand. I'll hopefully end up reading many more books, but these are a good start.

1. Ulysses, James Joyce

I began my James Joyce project in 2012--my goal is to read Joyce's complete works and blog about them. Thus far I've finished Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and now I'm working on reading Ulysses. It's an intense book, but so far I've made it to Chapter 7, and it's totally fascinating. 

2. Dangerous Women, Anthology Edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois

My husband gave me this book for Christmas, and I was so excited to read George R.R. Martin's novella The Princess and the Queen that I finished it that same night (and it's a brilliant story--if you are waiting for the dragons to show up in A Song of Ice and Fire, then this story will give you a taste of just how much dragons can change the battlefield). I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the stories in here, which I've heard are really great. 

3. The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien

This is another Christmas present from my dear husband. I had an old copy of The Silmarillion, but it was so well read all its pages were falling out. Now I have a shiny new copy and I can't resist reading it again. There may be some people who never reread beloved books or re-watch their favorite movies, but I am not one of those people. And Tolkien is worth re-reading--each time I catch something new about his world, and how it relates to our own. 

4. City of Dark Magic, Magnus Flyte

I bought this book because I heard good things about it, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet. Still, I'm excited to try out some new fantasy authors, and this book sounds intriguing, especially to a musician. It takes place in Prague, a city I've always been fascinated by, and the main character has a job cataloging Beethoven's manuscripts. To a musician/fantasy lover, it sounds amazing.

5. The Voyage Out, Virginia Woolf

I wrote my undergraduate thesis on the works of Virginia Woolf, so I've read most of her books. Except this one! So I'm glad to have a new book to read by an author I've read deeply in the past. This book is one of Woolf's first novels, and many of its elements foreshadow some of her later works.

6. The Name of the Wind, Patrick Rothfuss

Everyone keeps telling me to read this book, so I figure I should give it a try. I've listened to parts of it on audible, but lost interest fairly quickly. Still, I've been assured that it gets better, and ends up being a great book, so I'll give it another try.

7. Back from the Abyss: The Autobiography of a Low-Bottom Alky, Kieran Doherty

After I wrote a post on Seven Excellent Biographies two people recommended this book to me, and the publisher sent me a copy. I've started reading it, and so far it's been a good book--a very intense memoir on addiction. I'll hopefully finish it and write a review blog by the end of this month. 

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Thursday, January 9, 2014

Finishing My First Draft (The Endings Blogfest)

In honor of the Endings Blogfest, I'd like to celebrate completing the first draft of my novel. It may still need editing and revising, but I'm thrilled that I've got it all down at least. It represents the end of over a year's worth of work, yet hopefully the beginning of many new projects. I'm already writing a new short story I had in mind, and I'm hoping to write several more short stories and start writing another novel soon.

In terms of how I write, I do usually have my ending in mind when I start writing, but that doesn't mean I know everything that happens on the way. Sometimes my characters seem to have a mind of their own, or the story seems to naturally go off in a certain direction. While I did outline my novel, for example, I didn't always stick to my outline--I wanted the emotional pacing of the story to feel realistic, not forced. Giving my main character space to think about his situation gave my novel greater depth (so I hope anyway :).

While I've had other significant life events this year, like the birth of my beloved daughter, I consider those to be great beginnings, not endings. Although I suppose that in a way beginnings and endings are two sides of the same coin. Having a baby changed me so completely I know a part of my life did end, but it's also the beginning of my new family, and the beginning of Anwen's life journey. So exciting!

1.Writing Off the Edge2.Laura Clipson
3.Fragile words4.Sydney Aaliyah Michelle
5.Shah Wharton's Wordsinsync6.Tyrean's Writing Spot
7.Estrella Azul's - Life's a Stage8.The Wise Serpenty
9.CarrieAnne's Magick Theatre10.Getting Up For The 8th Time
11.The Beveled Edge12.Krista McLaughlin
13.Writing Worlds

Friday, January 3, 2014

For the New Year 2014

Looking back at 2013, I realize that I've had an amazing, life-changing year. My beloved daughter was born in June, and we have a beautiful little family. I finished the first draft of my novel, started writing poetry for the first time, and continued playing violin and viola (maybe less now that I spend so much time taking care of my sweet baby, but I'm still going). In honor of the New Year, I've come up with a few goals for myself I'd like to share here.

1. Cook Healthy Food with My Family

My husband and I enjoy cooking, but we get busy and tired at night. It's really easy to start relying on take-out or fast food when you're a new parent, but it's much, much healthier to cook at home, and it saves tons of money. Most importantly, I want my baby to grow up eating fresh, healthy food. I got a great food processor for Christmas and I've started using it to puree fresh fruits and veggies for her. Apple-Mango puree is delicious!

2. Write Every Day

I've recently finished the first draft of my novel and had a story accepted into an anthology. That's an amazing feeling. But I know I need to keep going. For one thing, now I have to edit and revise everything! I also have tons of ideas for short stories and other novels, and I want to continue writing poetry. "Write every day" is cliche advice, but that doesn't make it any less valid.

3. Read to My Baby

  My little one loves it when I read to her. She bats at the pages of her books, and plays with her board books even without my prompting (granted, she mostly chews on them, but it's a start). I want her to love reading as much as I do, and reading to her is this special moment we can share.

4. Save Money

I've had some serious financial struggles in the past, and I'm grateful that my husband and I are doing well right now. But we're still spending all of our money almost every month, and we need to start saving. Right now we're using to help us manage our finances and set budgets. I hope someday we can afford to get a bigger car or even (gasp) buy a house.

5. Exercise Regularly

I like to take walks, but it's hard to get out with the baby. Still, I've been trying to take her for walks in her stroller or in the baby bjorn every day this week. Hopefully I can keep it up, since I think it's great for both of us. Maybe I can even get my husband to come along.

6. Practice My Violin and Viola

Writing is one thing, but practicing a musical instrument feels extremely hard when you're a parent. I'm afraid I'll wake her up if I practice at night, and it's tricky to manage when I'm the only one watching her. But I'm determined to find the energy, and I got at least an hour and a half in today while my husband watched our baby. I want to learn Mozart's D Major Violin Concerto, No. 4. Such an interesting and exciting piece should keep me busy. 

7. Stay in Touch with My Friends

At some point this year, I realized I hadn't seen or talked to many of my friends since my little one was born. I've been busy and exhausted, so it's been hard to make the effort to stay in touch. But I want to make more of an effort this year to see or talk to all my friends, especially my single/non-parent friends. It's so easy to become isolated when you're a parent, since you have so little time and energy. Friendship is truly important, and just like any relationship, you need to make an effort for it to grow.

Looking over this list, I realize I've set a lot of goals for myself. I realize I probably won't be able to keep up with all of them the way I'd like, but I'm glad I'm writing them down. Everyday we get to wake up and start fresh, and I hope this list will remind me what's most important to me.

If you have any goals or resolutions for this year, feel free to write them in the comments!