Peas, Pregnancy and Partisan Pundits

UC Riverside experts are available to discuss new research and issues ranging from immigration reform to keeping New Year’s resolutions

Holiday decorations

Brighten the holidays with these stories from UCR.

RIVERSIDE, Calif. — Faculty experts at the University of California, Riverside are available to discuss their latest research and topics ranging from immigration and immortality to black-eyed peas and holiday movies to watch when your New Year’s Eve plans fall apart.

Pregnant? Forget the Eggnog

In a groundbreaking study, UC Riverside neuroscientists discovered that prenatal exposure to alcohol significantly altered the expression of genes and the development of a network of connections in the neocortex — the part of the brain responsible for high-level thought and cognition, vision, hearing, touch, balance, motor skills, language, and emotion — in a mouse model of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders. In essence, prenatal exposure caused wrong areas of the brain to be connected with each other. These findings contradict the recently popular belief that consuming alcohol during pregnancy does no harm.

Kelly Huffman, assistant professor of psychology
(951) 827-4805

Optimism is Key to Keeping New Year’s Resolutions

For many people, the new year brings with it new resolutions to improve health and happiness. Such resolutions are fraught with expectations: Will I be able to stick with my new exercise regimen? Am I likely to find love this year? Can I possibly achieve my ambitious career goals? When forming resolutions, optimism is a must, says psychologist Kate Sweeny. Without hope that one can successfully reach these goals, resolutions are dead on arrival. However, as the year goes by and resolutions become more burden than breakthrough, a dose of reality may be just what the doctor ordered.

Kate Sweeny, assistant professor of psychology
(951) 827-7165

Christian Sacred Dance

Dance is usually not a traditional part of the Christian worship service and is often forbidden as too sexual or too worldly, says Michelle Summers, a Ph.D. student in dance. The dancers have to surmount many obstacles in order to use dance as a form of worship. Summers is available to discuss how Christian sacred dance allows women to occupy roles of religious leadership within a male-dominated world of religion; historical conditions that allowed the possibility for sacred/liturgical dance to arise, such as the Second Vatican Council; the emphasis on modern dance as expression, the Christian dance fitness craze; and the work of Ballet Magnificat! — a full-time, professional Christian ballet company whose current production of “Ice Queen” is touring venues in the South.

Michelle T. Summers, Ph.D. student in dance

Immigration Reform: Can the President Ban Deportations?

Does President Obama have the authority to ban deportations? The use of an executive order to accomplish that surfaced as a possible course of action in a November speech in San Francisco. Doing so would not provide a long-term solution to immigration reform and could pose legal and political risks , says Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor of political science at the University of California, Riverside. But threatening the use of executive power to ban deportations and change enforcement priorities could spur Congress to pass more durable and comprehensive reform measures.

Ramakrishnan co-authored an op-ed on the subject, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times on Dec. 5 (,0,7655062.story#axzz2mcc2f2yy).

Karthick Ramakrishnan, associate professor of political science
(818) 305-4865

New Year’s Eve Plans Went Bust? Try These Movies

If your New Year’s Eve isn’t shaping up quite the way you’d planned, media and cultural studies professor Derek Burrill suggests these holiday movies for a laugh. Or not.

  • “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” — Holiday travel is hell, and this movie knows it.
  • “Bad Santa” — An alcoholic, foul-mouthed criminal.  Billy Bob Thorton’s finest performance.
  • “Joyeux Nöel” — When your holidays seem rough, remember that you’re not fighting in the Great War.
  • “The Hebrew Hammer” — This guy says L’chaim with his fists!
  • “Black Christmas” (“Stranger in the House”) — A holiday serial killer?  I’ll have seconds, please.
  • “Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale” — Supernatural Santa sets out to punish bad little children.
  • “Groundhog Day” — When things start to feel repetitive …
  • “Nightmare Before Christmas” — For those dark and smart souls who like Halloween better than Christmas.
  • “This Christmas” — Family dysfunction was never funnier.
  • “Sint” (“Saint”) — Ancient murdered Santa returns from the dead, and he’s not bearing gifts.

Derek Burrill, associate professor of media and cultural studies
(951) 827-1261

Holiday Foods:  Love at First Bite Must Also Have Chemistry

It’s the time of year when many of us loosen our grips on our diets to succumb to the temptations of festive foods like candy canes, sugar cookies, eggnog and chocolate fudge.  What’s the chemistry behind our favorite candies?  Could a short lesson on understanding the science of sugar this time of year be in order?

Sugar is the basis for many holiday treats including divinity, peanut brittle, toffee, candy canes, toffee and caramels. Though all of these items start with a simple mixture of sucrose (table sugar), corn syrup and water, many different tastes and textures result!  As a sugar syrup is heated, the amount of water present decreases. Key stages are indicated by the behavior of the syrup when dropped into cold water (e.g. soft ball, hard ball, soft crack and hard crack). Getting the syrup to the correct stage is key to making candy with the proper texture. Once all of the water has been evaporated, the temperature of the syrup increases further and the caramelization process begins. This occurs when the sucrose begins to break down chemically, generating a mixture of chemicals that give rise to its rich flavor.

Cindy Larive, professor of chemistry
(951) 827-2990

There’s a New Princess in Town

Meet the Guardian Princesses, a group of seven African, South Asian, European, East Asian, Pacific Islander, Latina and mixed-race princesses who stand up to greedy kings, deceitful villains and polluters who harm marine life.  Created by Setsu Shigematsu and a team of UCR students and alumni, these princesses aren’t waiting for Prince Charming to save the day. They are taking charge in their efforts to make a better world. This new series of books is published by the Guardian Princess Alliance and is designed to meet the new Common Core State Standards for language arts.

Setsu Shigematsu, associate professor of media and cultural studies
(951) 827-5679

Is There Life After the Party?

What would it be like to live forever? Is there life after death? Why do some people report a welcoming light at the end of a tunnel and others a beautiful garden during near-death experiences?  Researchers in The Immortality Project are looking for answers to these and other questions. Philosophers John Martin Fischer and Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin continue their own research on near-death experiences and oversee a three-year, $5 million research project that brings together scientists, theologians and philosophers in addressing questions related to immortality.

John Martin Fischer, distinguished professor of philosophy

Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin, postdoctoral fellow

Duck Dynasty or Partisan Pundits? Americans Prefer Entertainment TV Over News

Partisan cable media is far less polarizing than many people think. More people watch mainstream broadcast news than MSNBC or Fox News, and more viewers prefer entertainment shows over news programs, says political scientist Martin Johnson. A far bigger problem than polarization is people tuning out entirely, suggesting that the bigger divide in the country might be between the engaged and the disengaged rather than partisans on the left and right. What to do? Encourage the cable industry to work harder to get more news programming to audiences who do not necessarily choose it, in the form of news breaks on non-news channels.

Martin Johnson, professor of political science
(951) 827-4612

To Eat or Not To Eat:  Staying on Track During the Holidays

Pumpkin and apple pies, cheesecakes, gingerbread cookies, candy canes… soon, many of our homes will be filled the aromas of these seasonal foods. With all of these temptations, how can we stick to our healthy lifestyle goals? Here are four simple techniques to help keep you on track this holiday season:

  • Choose smaller plates, bowls, and glasses when serving food – this will trick your brain a bit, it will make it seem as though your portions are larger which may increase satiety. This trick alone may end up saving you 150-300 calories!
  • Take your time – eating food too quickly often leads to overeating. Enjoy the time with family and friends as well as the smells, textures, and taste of the food. Plan to spend at least 20 minutes enjoying your meal.
  • Eat these foods first – proteins and vegetables. Commonly found protein sources around the holidays would be turkey and ham. Vegetables are a good source of vitamins, minerals, and fiber. This will likely result in fewer calories coming from other refined and/or sugar-laden  foods (like dessert)… foods that typically pack on the pounds.
  • Wait 10 minutes before going back for seconds – this will allow your brain to determine whether you are truly satiated or if you are still hungry. If you do go back for seconds, go back to the proteins and vegetables.

Neal G. Malik, UCR Occupational Wellness Specialist
(951) 827-4721

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year for Black-eyed Peas

In some parts of the country, eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day is thought to bring prosperity in the new year.  UCR has experts who can talk about how improved varieties of black-eyed peas — with higher yield and quality, disease resistance, pest resistance and drought tolerance — can be developed.  The university also has an accomplished chef who has delicious recipes of black-eyed peas to share.

Science of developing new black-eyed pea varieties:

Phil Roberts, professor of nematology
(951) 827-7332

Timothy Close, professor of genetics and geneticist
(951) 827-3318

Black-eyed pea recipes:

Reuben E. Herrington, culinary manager/catering chef
(951) 318-8160

Braised Black-eyed Peas

1 lb black-eyed peas
4 qts water
1 qt veg stock
.5 c diced yellow onions
.5 c diced green pepper
1 tsp minced garlic
1 smoked turkey leg or thigh
1/3 tsp kosher salt
1/3 tsp cracked black pepper

  1. Soak peas overnight in cold water.
  2. In a large pot sauté onions, peppers, garlic, until translucent.
  3. Drain and add peas to the pot , then add the stock and water and bring to a boil.
  4. Once boiling turn down to a simmer and add the smoked turkey.
  5. Cover and let cook for 3 hours on a medium to low heat.
  6. Once peas are soft add salt and pepper to taste.
  7. Remove smoked turkey and shred the remaining meat from the turkey and add to the peas.
  8. Serve hot with jasmine white rice or cornbread.

Traditionally served as a side dish or on New Year’s Day for most southern families, with fried chicken, catfish, or smothered pork chops.

Black-eyed Pea Fritters  ( Accara) w/ Hot pepper sweet relish

Ingredients for fritters:

1 cup black-eyed peas, soaked overnight, then rinsed and drained
1/2 medium onion, diced
1/2 cup raw peanuts
1 tsp thyme, minced
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup + 2 tbsp water
Salt to taste
1 bell pepper, finely chopped
1 tbsp cornmeal
Oil for frying

  1. In a food processor, combine the beans, onion, peanuts, thyme, cayenne, vinegar, water and salt and puree until you have a smooth mixture.
  2. Transfer to a bowl, cover and refrigerate for an hour.
  3. Remove the batter and add the chopped bell pepper and cornmeal and beat with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes.
  4. In a saucepan, heat the oil to about 350 degrees. Spoon the batter into the oil, taking care not to overcrowd the pan. Fry, stirring around, until the fritters are golden-brown, about 2 minutes.
  5. Transfer the fritters to a paper-towel-lined plate to drain. If you’re not eating them immediately, keep them warm in an oven warmed to 200 degrees.
  6. Canned black-eyed peas can be used to save time.

Ingredients for hot pepper sauce:

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, diced
1/2 tsp cumin
1/8 tsp cayenne
Salt to taste
1 large clove garlic, minced
1 habanero chili, minced
1/4 cup tomato paste
1/4 cup tomato sauce
2 tsp apple cider vinegar
1/4 cup water
1/4 tsp freshly ground white pepper

  1. In a saucepan, over low heat, warm the oil. Add the onion, cumin, cayenne, and 1/2 tsp salt and saute until the onions start to caramelize, about 8 minutes.
  2. Stir in the garlic and chili and saute another two minutes (Make sure you have your exhaust on because this can cause some serious coughing). Add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, vinegar and water. Mix well and simmer until it starts to thicken, about 5-7 minutes.
  3. Transfer ingredients to a blender, add pepper if using, and puree to a smooth paste. Add more salt if desired.

Black-eyed Pea Salad

1 lb black-eyed peas
4 qts water
1 c diced tomatoes
1 c diced red and green peppers
1 c diced red onions
1 c chopped parsley
.5 c white corn
.5 c champagne vinegar
.5 c olive oil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/8 tsp cracked black pepper
1/8 tsp crushed red pepper
1/3 tsp sugar

  1. Let peas sock in cold water over night.
  2. The next day cook peas until tender about 1.5 hours.
  3. Drain and let cool.
  4. In a large bowl combine all the ingredients and toss well coating the peas thoroughly.
  5. Season with salt and pepper and taste to adjust if needed.
  6. Let sit in the refrigerator until service. This will go well with any type of Southern Picnic or BBQ.
  7. Canned black-eyed peas can be used as well to save time.

UCs Go Tobacco-free

The University of California says “no” to tobacco use on all UC property, at all 10 campuses, beginning Jan. 2, 2014. While non-smokers may welcome the change, smokers may find the new reality a tough adjustment. Campuses are discussing how it will impact recruitment of students, staff and faculty, how to sensitively inform visitors who come on campus for events, and how to handle discipline for frequent offenders.

One big question is whether other major employers in the state will follow the example of the University of California, an institution that boasts more than 418,000 students, staff and faculty. More than 1,100 other colleges and universities across the country have banned smoking on their campuses.

Julie Chobdee, director of Wellness at UC Riverside, is available to discuss the impacts of tobacco on health, and preparations for the change across the UC system. Contact her at

Prue Talbot, a professor at UC Riverside, studies the health impacts of e-cigarettes, and can explain why even nicotine vapor can be a health hazard for smokers and those around them. If smokers think “vapes” are a safe alternative, Professor Talbot says think again. She can be reached at

Bob Slater is a longtime UC Riverside employee who has quit smoking to prepare for the campus tobacco ban. He can be reached at

John Cook is the director of Sustainability at UC Riverside, and well versed on the environmental impact of discarded cigarette butts. He can be reached at

Kris Lovekin, director of media relations
(951) 827-2495

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Kris Lovekin
Tel: (951) 827-2495

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Tel: (951) 827-6050

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