Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Erica Rivera Invited Back To Macalester College

Erica Rivera was invited back for the second time this year to speak to students at her alma mater, Macalester College, about Insatiable: a young mother's struggle with anorexia, a required text in this semester's Psychology of Gender course.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Erica Rivera Reviews Mojo Monkey Donuts

Mojo Monkey Donuts Emblem Tagged

Nestled in the middle of several old-fashioned store fronts on West 7th Street in St. Paul, you’ll find your mojo. Mojo Monkey Donuts, that is. I stopped in for a nibble at this brand new bakery, where owner Lisa Clark told me she waited for a year to find the perfect space for her delicious vision. “This neighborhood was the right fit for us,” she said.

Mojo Monkey Donuts Dining Area

The interior space encourages lingering. With baby blue walls, exposed brick, big windows and plenty of small round tables to nosh at, Mojo Monkey feels like a bona fide neighborhood bakery with a hip twist.

Mojo Monkey Donuts Case

In addition to a gourmet coffee bar, the bakery had over a dozen different varieties of fragrant doughnuts on display. I indulged in the trademark Maple Bacon Long John, the popable Chai Doughnut Holes, a decadent Red Velvet, a moist Chocolate Glazed Old Fashioned sprinkled with crushed Oreos and a sophisticated Mocha Mousse Filled Doughnut.

Mojo Monkey Donuts Maple Bacon Long John

In brief, these pastries are ridiculously delicious; not too sweet but perfectly pillowy. Our taste buds were totally blissed out. A return trip will be mandatory to try the Crullers, Cinnamon Twists, Cranberry Mousse Filled Doughnut or an Old Fashioned topped with Toasted Coconut or Peanuts.

Mojo Monkey Donuts Crullers

“Come back Saturday and Sunday for beignets!” Lisa insisted. Mojo Monkey will be serving up the fried delights hot and fresh on weekends…as long as supplies last. “We’ll try to make it until noon this week,” Lisa said with a laugh.

Mojo Monkey Donuts Chai Donut Holes

Even if an early weekend pit-stop won’t fit in your schedule, the bakery is open Tues. through Fri. from 5:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and Sat. and Sun. from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

My advice—come hungry and leave your willpower at home. These doughnuts are highly addictive! If only these pictures were scratch n’ sniff…

Mojo Monkey Donuts Assortment

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Oct. 2011

Sunday, October 16, 2011

There's No Place Like "Om"

Yoga is more than a trendy way to stay fit; it’s a mind-body tradition rooted in centuries of history. Whether you’re looking for a place to unwind, a workout that will leave you soaked in sweat or just a reminder to breathe when life gets overwhelming, there’s a yoga studio in the Twin Cities to meet your needs. I checked out the hottest (and I don’t just mean popular!) local venues for pretzel people of all persuasions. Minnesotans, it’s time to come "om."


BODYFLOW™ is a combination of yoga, tai chi and pilates that focuses on incorporating mind, body and spirit. Consisting of 10 pre-choreographed tracks of popular tunes (which rotate every three months), BODYFLOW™ is more than a traditional asana class; it’s a workout that starts with a gentle warm up, moves into sun salutations, then builds flexibility and strength with exercises focusing on hips, abs, back and hamstrings. Balance, twists and brief meditation are also included in the 50-minute routine.

BODYFLOW™ is offered at all Twin Cities YMCA locations, meaning you can usually find a class that fits your schedule any day of the week. The convenience factor is the major draw here, as is the competition-free setting. This is a great introduction to mind-body exercise for the yoga-phobic, though instructors also offer options for more advanced students as well as those with injuries. The student body leans toward the mildly fit, mostly female, 30-and-up crowd, so leave your self-consciousness at the door and just enjoy.


Hardcore yogis, this is your haven. Featuring challenging classes that combine music, movement and high temps, CorePower is where the pretzel people go when they want to sweat. Try your hand at Power Yoga, Hot Yoga, Hot Power Fusion, Yoga Sculpt (a Vinyasa flow class combined with weights) or CoreRestore (a restorative practice). All classes are taught by certified instructors and include a variety of asanas. As one of the largest networks of yoga studios in the United States, CorePower also offers Teacher Training and wellness programs. Experienced yogis will appreciate the spa-like environment without the oversized price tag.


One Yoga is a non-profit organization that aims to bring the healing powers of asana to those experiencing financial hardship. One Yoga also partners with government organizations and other non-profits as part of their Outreach Program which provides on-site yoga classes to clients, employees and volunteers of those organizations.

Drop-in classes are held for all levels of students and in several styles including Ashtanga, Chanting, Hatha, Mysore, Restorative, Vinyasa, Yin and Yoga Nidra. Upcoming workshops will feature a week-long Total Detox Intensive, Spark Your Intuition, Laughter Yoga and Therapeutic Yoga for Neck and Shoulders.

Prospective students are encouraged to complete a sliding fee application (available at the studio or online) which will be approved depending on household size and income.

One Yoga partners with other nonprofit and government organizations to provide weekly on-site yoga classes to their clients, volunteers, and employees. To learn more about our Outreach Program or to find out how you can help, click here.


Aerial yoga takes everything you know about asana and flips it on its head. Becky Stella, one of the first instructors to offer Aerial Yoga in the Twin Cities, creates a calm, nurturing environment for students to explore the initial, often frightening, experience of being airborne and upside down. Once you get over the awkwardness of binding your limbs in sashes that hang from the ceiling, you’ll fall head over heels for the refreshing sensation of lightness that aerial yoga allows. Because the joints are relieved of weight-bearing, students find themselves able to fully embody the poses and reach a deeper stretch. Stella currently teaches at Yoga Center Minneapolis. More information is available on the Aerial Yoga MN website.


Tucked cozily on the border between Minneapolis and Edina, Yoga House specializes in Ashtanga ("a precise sequence of postures with a controlled breathing technique") and MySore (characterized by a silent sequence of poses that are tailored to the practitioner’s need) styles of yoga.

Chris Balser, who will teach Intro to Ashtanga on Sundays this winter, describes Yoga House’s philosophy as "finding the posture based on individual needs, not book-based aesthetics. We embrace the beauty in a person's expression of that posture, rather than his/her flexibility."

Emphasis is placed on the sensation (or, in yoga speak, "vibrations") of the experience rather than whether or not you can touch the floor in Triangle or find lift-off in Crane Pose.

Because the Ashtanga method is most effective when practiced daily, students are encouraged to make a commitment to attend class at least three times a week.


If you’re a yogini eating for two, this is your studio! Blooma specializes in yoga for women and families with prenatal and postnatal yoga classes as well as workshops tailored for new moms, like the Kundalini based “Rebuilding After Birth” class. Blooma is also one of the few studios in the Twin Cities that offers childcare (for a small fee). With locations on both sides of the river as well as in St. Francis Hospital in Shakopee, classes are convenient and spaces can be reserved online. Even if you’re not a parent, visit Blooma’s website for information on their prenatal DVD, massage services and gift cards; finally, a baby shower present that the mom-to-be in your life will appreciate!


Because yoga is as much about the mind as the body, many studios feature wellness services in addition to asana. Devandi Yoga, founded by Tanya Sowards, has some of the most diverse mind-body offerings in the Twin Cities. Whether you want to readjust your aura in a 50-minute Energy Work session, iron out a kink through Thai Massage or re-evaluate your eating habits in an Ayurveda consultation, Devandi Yoga has you covered.

These alternative therapies can help those suffering from chronic pain or injuries, ease psychological issues such as anxiety and depression or simply provide much-needed down time for the over-stressed among us. Tanya’s down-to-Earth demeanor instantly puts clients at ease and the studio’s Linden Hills location is blissfully beautiful.

Another tidbit that makes this studio unique: Tanya’s husband, Jason Sowards, is the owner of Harriet Brewing Company and Devandi Yoga has been to known to host "Yogi Pint Nights" in the past.

Published on Metromix Twin Cities in Oct. 2011. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Erica Rivera Interviews Rachael Yamagata

Rachael Yamagata

Rachael Yamagata is a force to be reckoned with. Heartbreak is her forte, as evidenced by her studio debut "Happenstance" (2004) and its follow-up "Elephants…Teeth Sinking Into Heart" (2008), a 2 CD-set of both unflinchingly raw break-up songs and guitar-driven anthems about moving on.

For her latest release, "Chesapeake," Yamagata appears to have purged the pain of the past, embracing a wiser, more confident attitude paired with a lush, string-infused sound. Yamagata’s trademark longing and unapologetic honesty are still on display but longtime listeners are in for a few surprises as Yamagata showcases a more complete picture of her personality, sans desperation. Though Yamagata may always remain, at least musically, addicted to unrequited love, the songstress has certainly matured on matters of the heart.

Thanks to a PledgeMusic Campaign and "the stash of cash that Dad put away for my wedding," Yamagata gathered her dream team of musicians to bring "Chesapeake" to fruition. Released on her own label, Frankenfish, it seems Yamagata’s independence has allowed her an unprecedented amount of artistic exploration.

I talked with this spitfire musician in anticipation of her return to Minneapolis on Nov. 11.

"Elephants" was like the breakup album of the century. How did you come down off of that and move into "Chesapeake," which sounds a lot more confident, more grounded, more hopeful?

Rachael Yamagata: I think it’s about me getting used to the heartaches of life. "Elephants" was about diving into the pain, submerging myself in it and exploring it to the point of explosion. "Chesapeake" was about the layers of life and taking that positive route again. Even though "Elephants" was dark, it was still about optimism for love and hopefulness but "Chesapeake" is more of me digesting the heartache. It’s like a rebirth. I’ve never been able to be plugged into it like that before. I mean, a song like "Saturday Morning" is all about "I love you, let’s make up and have a good time." Obviously, there’s trouble in the relationship that’s mentioned in the song but it’s not the concentration of the song. I’m not sure what’s behind the change. I was going through another terrible breakup at the time I wrote it but I think I’m translating it differently this time.

Is confessional songwriting incompatible with happily ever after?

RY: I sure hope not! I don’t know that they’re exclusive. What I write about is the universal conflicts of relationships and that can show up in any context, either between two people or in the world, like politics between countries. The thing I feed off of are definitely the down times, but I also think you are the most true and the most raw when you’re in love with someone. When you have that trust, you really show who you are. That potential for insight exists everywhere, but for me, it’s most clearly seen in love. I hope that I can be super in love and still get to the crux of challenges. I hope I don’t have to go through a breakup every time I want to write a song! [Laughs]

One of the standout tracks on the new album is “The Way It Seems.” It’s fun and flirty and all about the contradictory nature of, presumably, your personality. Talk about how that song came to be.

RY: I wrote it as a joking exercise for myself as a writer. I’m so used to these heart-wrenching ballads that I took that song on almost as an experiment, like "Let me talk about how ridiculous I can be." I’m the kind of person where the greatest thing and the worst thing can happen on the same day, so that song was me investigating that contradiction.

Sometimes people see me onstage and think I’m a madwoman or I’m crazy or I’ve had one too many. But I also have three cats, I watch DVDs at home, I go to bed at 8 p.m. Other people don’t get to see that side of me.

I was actually still undecided about whether or not that song would go on the album up until the last minute, but I played it live a few times and the response was so great, I couldn’t ignore it.

Where do you think "Chesapeake" falls on the radio-ready spectrum? Are you hoping to get more airplay? Is that even important to you?

RY: "Elephants" was such a different type of album. It was so dark, I didn’t have my hopes up about getting those songs on the radio. What’s different about "Chesapeake" is I didn’t have to try to make these songs that way. I hear "Saturday Morning" and "Miles on a Car" and they seemingly fit for radio, at least in my ears. Then again, I’m never right about these things. [Laughs] I hear other artists’ music and I think, "That’s going to be a smash!" and it’s not.

Speaking of other artists, you’ve done duets with some incredible people like Ryan Adams, Jason Mraz and Bright Eyes. Is there anyone you’re dying to collaborate with now?

RY: I’d love to just sit in a room with the guys from Journey. Patti Smith is one of my new faves now that I’ve read her book. Elton John is someone I’ve been so influenced by for so long. And…Kanye West! Someone just showed me his 34 minute film “Runaway” and I thought it was so brilliant. I said, "I get it. I understand the ego."

Let’s talk about string instruments on "Chesapeake." It seems like they’re a very important component to your music.

RY: Choosing all of the musicians for this album was very strategic. The ones who came to record on it are so unique. The strings are super super important to me. They feed the lyric in the songs. Oli Kraus played so many instruments on this. He would sit and play the violin between his legs, because he’s originally a cellist, and the result are these gorgeous backdrops for the album. Strings add a cinematic quality to the music. It’s ridiculously beautiful. I love how the arrangements turned out. When I heard "Full On," I started crying because it was so magical. I’m so grateful for the PledgeMusic Campaign for making this possible.

You’ve been to Minneapolis at least a couple times. Any particular memories or favorite places you’d like to share?

RY: The times I’ve come to Minneapolis to do songwriting, Dan Wilson would take me around. I’m terrible with names, so I couldn’t tell you which restaurants, but he was my guide. I love the Fine Line, of course, and I'm looking forward to coming back. Will there be snow in November?

Oh, yes.

RY: [Laughs] Yeah, the weather! And the tunnels! I don’t know how you do it. I would starve and die if I was trying to find a Starbucks in that tunnel system. I’ve lived in Chicago and upstate New York, so I know snow, but you are better people than I am for living there.

You’re an active presence on Twitter. Have you found that a good way to stay connected to your fans? Any regrets about tweets?

RY: I once found this site with the most regrettable tweets and they were mostly historical musicians who said, “God, I wish I hadn’t tweeted that” but I have a terrible memory so I forget what I tweet. Twitter is a quick way to reach everybody. It’s easy, it’s fast, it’s on a phone, so it’s good for me. Otherwise I’d have these thoughts and write them on a list and get to them three months later. I’m enjoying it. I’m fighting the pressure to be funny and interesting all of the time. The truth is, I’m super boring. If I tweeted every thought that went through my head, 80% of them would be about my cats and the rest would be business.

Cigarettes and tequila; are these really the secret ingredients for a sexy voice?

RY: I had this husky tone before I became a smoker. And I hate that I’m a smoker now. Tequila, however, is lovely. Who was it…Karen Carpenter? No…some singer with a distinct voice who said she got it from yelling at her brother while she was growing up. I have my vices, but I’m also an extremist, so I’ll go for nine months when I’m not touring and I won’t drink. But I also suffer from terrible stage fright, so that’s part of the tequila. It’s a complete crutch. I recommend none of these things for anyone else! [Laughs]

On the topic of vices, there’s a surprising lack of profanity on "Chesapeake."

RY: I know, right? One of my friend’s parents who wasn’t familiar with my music was looking me up online and she said, "You have a beautiful voice, but I’m not into rap music." I guess she just saw some of my lyrics and made an assumption about what kind of music I write. I do curse in conversation but I use profanity in songs like sex scenes in a movie: only when crucial to character development. It’s either for emotional expression or if I come up with a really creative phrase like "Don’t fuck me in front of me." I mean, that’s brilliant! [Laughs] Some emotions don’t deserve a graceful word. I wasn’t consciously not cursing on this record. I’ll save that for the shows!

Published on Metromix Twin Cities, Oct. 2011