Sunday, April 29, 2012

leaving on a jet plane

I can't believe it.

I am going to India. INDIA!!!

Photo: Sweepers at Taj Mahal, India
photo by Adam Gruchala via National Geographic

photo by lark & linen

 My first international trip in SEVEN years. Which for me, is quite sad - considering I've traveled internationally every 2-4 years since I was maybe... 4 years old? (for which I am extremely thankful to my parents for giving us the gift of travel!)

Thanks to our green cards, we can now travel internationally, and this marks such a huge milestone for us. I am meeting my husband's family for the very first time - well, besides meeting on Skype video calls (thank goodness for technology).

This blogger's posts and photos of her trip to India have been absolutely inspiring. And although we are not going to those same cities (we're spending our time in my husband's hometown), I am beyond excited (and a little nervous, I admit).

As you can tell, I have been a little bit panicky since last week. And my panicky state manifests itself in weird ways. Like a few days ago, I just decided to make mayonnaise. From scratch. For no particular reason other than to whisk something until I would feel like my arm would fall off. As a side note, I will say that it was SO.GOOD. (I followed this recipe.). And for those of you who don't like mayonnaise, this is nothing like the jarred stuff. I ended up making a lemon garlic aioli as well out of it. For no particular reason. If Forrest Gump runs across America for no particular reason, I get into the kitchen and make totally random things.

Anyway, back to our trip. Our bedroom is in complete mayhem right now with bags of gifts and things that need to be packed, as well as clothes, personal care and health care items to sort through and check off our list. Even the load of laundry I did last WEDNESDAY is still sitting in the basket and has not been organized in the closet. Aaaaaack!!!

Meanwhile I am trying to write, write, write and get my work done. I still co-teach at the university until 10 pm the night before we have to leave.

So needless to say, I am doing my very best to stay healthy. Taking lots of fruit smoothies with this hemp protein powder I just discovered (no processed soy, lots of omega 3's).  Eating my greens, and maybe half my weight in hummus, avocado, and this raw nut pate I made last week. Getting enough sleep. And ok, having some dessert doesn't hurt. I have to thank my husband for running out at 10:45 pm one night to run to a nearby restaurant and get takeout creme brulee AND tiramisu before the restaurant closed at 11 pm (A., you are the best!)

Although I'll still take my laptop with me and squeeze in some work when I can (this just isn't a choice in my life right now), I'll also do my best to soak it all in. The experience of setting foot on international soil again. The culture. The language. The food. And most importantly, my new Indian family.

Just a few more days... 

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Thursday, April 26, 2012

happy birthday, dad

Happiest of birthdays to you, Dad...

You deny yourself things, yet you give the world to Mom.
You were a tough disciplinarian, yet you let us experience life and make mistakes.
You taught us to have high ambitions, yet keep our feet on the ground in gratitude.
You worked hard and came home tired, yet you gave us quality time.
You raised us with simple things, yet you gave us the luxury of traveling the world.  
You stand tall, yet you are not afraid to shed a tear (or two).

You have every gadget, mobile device, and communication app imaginable, but we know it's because you want to be present in our lives, no matter where we are... you are the glue holding us together.

my dad "giving me away" at my wedding, photo by Debra-Lynn Hook

You "gave me away" to get married, yet I know... you'll always be there to move mountains for me, as you always have.

Thank you, Dad. Much love.

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Wednesday, April 25, 2012

miracle in a jar

And no, it's not a $200 jar of designer skin cream. Read on...

I feel very fortunate that I don't have a lot of health issues. Sometimes however, I forget that I am vulnerable to certain things.

Like spring allergens, for one. As you can probably tell already, I absolutely LOVE spring. But one thing I don't particularly enjoy about it is the allergens.

A. and I took our evening walk tonight, after dinner... and within 15 minutes, my skin was itching and burning up like crazy. So we power-walked back home. True enough, my skin was red and hot to the touch.

And then it hit me: high winds = high pollen. We've had crazy blustery winds the past couple of days.

I remember getting this uncontrollable, almost unbearable itchy sensation around this time of year. Not so much during early spring, but more like mid-April to May, and sometimes through the summer as well.

I took a long, warm shower with my Dr. Bronner's soap (unscented, instead of my usual lavender, just to be sure) to wash off whatever was on my skin. Then, while my skin was still damp, I put this all over my skin:

image via The Kitchn

It was the only thing that gave me relief. And relief came within about 10 minutes.

Before you think I'm crazy, believe me when I say this stuff WORKS. Last fall, my parents came to visit and my dad experienced a similar skin allergy to some unknown allergen. Virgin coconut oil was the only thing that worked as well. And no worries - it doesn't give you an overpowering coconut smell like the fake coconut scent in suntan lotions. It actually absorbs very quickly into the skin as well, much like extra virgin olive oil (which I also use on my skin). Coconut oil is also anti-bacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-fungal.

Oh, and I am happy to note that Trader Joe's organic virgin coconut oil is sourced from the Philippines - YEAH! Before TJ's started carrying this in their stores, I used to get the Nutiva brand (from Amazon) - which I was loyal to for YEARS because it was also sourced from the Philippines. It comes packaged in a glass jar, instead of plastic. And, TJ's coconut oil is also hexane-free.

This is probably the most versatile ingredient I have in my pantry, for both food and non-food uses:

  • Virgin coconut oil can be used for sauteeing and high-heat cooking, because it is stable at high temperatures (unlike most other vegetable oils like canola). Coconut oil used to get a bad reputation for being a "saturated fat", but more recent research found that the saturated fat in coconut oil is different. Coconut oil has medium-chain fatty acids (MCFA) that are broken down by the body into energy, rather than stored as fat. I use coconut oil for Asian recipes as well as for basic frying, like for fried eggs. It does not have a strong aftertaste in food cooked with it, but I do choose what to cook with it - I don't use it for everything. (I still use olive oil for Italian cooking, ghee for Indian cooking) 
  • I also use virgin coconut oil for some desserts like homemade fudge - it's great for the recipe because it's solid at room temperature, but it adds a great texture to the fudge. Although I do love a good butter pound cake and butter shortbread, coconut oil is great in other baked goods as well (such as muffins).

  • I use this coconut oil once a week as a deep conditioning treatment for my hair. It's such a relief especially during the long, dry winters here in Cleveland - though I do use it throuhgout the year. I massage my scalp with it, put my hair up in a bun and then let it sit for half an hour or longer. Then I wash it off in the shower. I have fond memories of sitting in our garden with my mom in the hot tropical sun, with fresh coconut oil on our hair (from our own coconut trees!). I don't like to do self-promotion here, but I do get compliments from stylists when I go for my haircut - they always comment on how healthy my hair is!
  • Relief for itchy skin! As I'm typing this, I have no itchy sensation whatsoever - compared to the almost unbearable, prickly itch I had an hour ago. 
  • Low-dose sunscreen with natural antioxidants
Read more about the health benefits of virgin (meaning not bleached, refined, deodorized) coconut oil here.

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Friday, April 20, 2012

driving essentials

I'm not a huge fan of driving. I joke that I probably wouldn't run a half-marathon because I don't even like driving 13 miles. I am fortunate that despite living in suburbia, there are actually quite a few walkable places in my neighborhood; and we have sidewalks. I can walk to the grocery store, drugstore, home goods store, coffee shop, and yoga studio.

Today I spent 5 hours driving (round trip) to do some volunteering work for my professional organization. It was a lot of sitting in a nearly immobile state (not fun). So, I was armed with everything I needed:

  • full tank of gas (duh)
  • GPS 
  • water bottle
  • dark chocolate
  • iPhone hooked up to audio system (so I can listen to music and take calls hands free - love this feature)
  • lumbar support
  • comfy driving mocs

It's not often that I just sit and do... nothing. I think that's why driving isn't fun for me. I certainly prefer to move or keep busy.

But today I thought, I'll just savor the music. It's not often that I can just sit and listen to music on regular days.

This song was on repeat several times on this trip:

 I don't know what it is, but I always get goosebumps when listening to this song. I can't play music to save my life but I LOVE the cello. And while I love the traditional cello, this electric cello is just equally haunting. I had four or five tracks like this. This cellist even came to Cleveland some time ago for a live performance - and I was so disappointed to miss it because I had class!

I remember the first time I listened to a solo electric cello performance. The cellist did this really interesting live looping (I *think* that's what it's called?) in which he played for a bit and then it recorded so that it would loop while he played another set of bars (?). And it went on until there was this amazing, multi-layered music. The lights were turned off during part of the performance and the music was so beautiful, I was in tears.

Anyway. So it was me, Ziva (that's my car - and yes, I name inanimate objects - this one named after Ziva from NCIS, one of the coolest female characters on TV in my opinion) and some really, really good music. Nice and loud. :)

And I can't sing to save my life either, but here's a little secret: I sing while driving (alone)! I do. Nice and loud. It keeps me awake. :)

Here are a few more of my favorite driving songs that help me savor my alone time on the road:

(in no particular order)

  • Where the Streets Have No Name - U2
  • The Fly - U2
  • Electrical Storm - U2 (and oh, this official music video has free eye candy - U2's drummer, Larry Mullen Jr., who seems to defy aging after decades of U2's music history. Just saying.)
  • Gone - U2 (watch your speed limit while listening to this song. ;-))
  • Ultraviolet (Light My Way) - U2
  • 40 - U2 (yes, it's from Psalm 40! LOVE how they ended their 2005 Cleveland concert with this song. Amazing live experience!)
  • Fear - Sarah McLachlan (album version) - one of the greatest songs ever made, in my opinion
  • Fear - Sarah McLachlan  (Mirrorball-live version)
  • Possession - Sarah McLachlan  - this song was my first introduction to Sarah (yup, first-name basis). 1994. Sophomore year of high school. I saw this music video on TV and bought the album the same day, and have been hooked ever since. This live version is amazing too)
  • Crucify - Tori Amos
  • Precious Things - Tori Amos - most haunting vocals and piano ever.
  • Tear In Your Hand - Tori Amos
  • The Verb - Swell Season (Love this duo. Marketa's vocals at the end totally makes this song.)
  • Freedom - Bird York 
  • Wicked Little High - Bird York
  • The End of Outside - Duncan Sheik
  • Reasons for Living - Duncan Sheik
  • Galileo - Indigo Girls
  • In Your Eyes - Peter Gabriel
  • Les Portes Du Souvenir - Les Nubians
  • Princesse Nubienne - Les Nubians
  • Voyager - Les Nubians
  • I Have The Touch - Heather Nova
  • Crazy - Seal
  • Crazy - original by Seal, performed by Alanis Morrissette for The Devil Wears Prada soundtrack
  • Hare Krishna - Donna De Lory (a bit of trivia: she was Madonna's backing vocalist!)
  • Om Nama Shivaya - Donna De Lory
  • The Flower Duet (Lakmé) - Léo Delibes (a bit of an unusual choice for driving, I know)
  • Pure Shores - All Saints
  • Free Your Mind - En Vogue (I have very fond memories associated with this song... high school senior year, dancing a kickass routine with the gang for a competition. Oh to be able to dance this with my friends again... yes, I'm looking at you, cyberlaundry ;) - but we'll probably regret the splits at the end - OUCH!)

What are your favorite driving tunes? Do share!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012


my nephew, 2006

So as it turns out, I need corrective glasses.

I didn't realize that you could have both astigmatism and farsightedness at the same time. Well, I do.

I was a little concerned about needing eyeglasses. I know there's nothing wrong with them. But I wondered if this is now the start of that slippery slope when my vision becomes progressively worse. I also didn't want to have to think about another health-related "thing" ("thing" = expense).

But I realize it's like yoga props. A sticky mat. Blocks. Straps. Sure, the yogis from hundreds of years ago didn't have all of those things that we now use (and that yoga equipment companies make $$ for), but we use them now to maximize the benefits of our practice. A block can make a world of difference, from struggling in a pose (or worse, being unsafe in a pose) to achieving comfort in a supported stretch. A strap can help with alignment and can help you stretch safely in ways that you couldn't have otherwise. I do love yoga props.

And I will love my glasses. Last Friday I lost a whole day's worth of work (and this is the last time I will stress out about "lost time") due to a headache. Seeing that I spend about 14 hours a day, on average, in front of a computer screen, I need some "props" that will help me work productively and comfortably. And not get headaches or annoying throbbing eyelids. So I'd say that's $ well spent (Now if only I can find the most ergonomically perfect chair for my ~5 feet height, for increased comfort and productivity at work.).

It will take 5-7 business days for my glasses to be ready (apparently the glare-free lenses take longer). In the meantime, let me crunch on some more carrots and load up on Vitamin A.

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Monday, April 16, 2012

Monday musings: rest

"Sometimes the most urgent thing you can possibly do is take a complete rest."
- Ashleigh Brilliant

Last Thursday I started feeling a terrible headache. Thursday is my longest day as I co-teach an evening class at the university from 7-10 pm... and last Thursday I was scheduled to lead the class. I'm not sure if my headache was a result of hunger and eye fatigue or both, as I tend to not eat very well on my teaching days. And then I had to drive about 45 minutes home - so on Thursday nights, I usually get home around 11 pm. By that time, I had already taken four 200 mg Advils over the course of the day, which is highly unusual for me as it is already unusual for me to even take one.

I don't know what it is, but somehow it takes much longer for me to recover from fatigue nowadays. Gone are my Energizer bunny twenty-something days... and when Friday rolled around, I still had my headache. I could not even stand to look at my computer, or any screen for that matter. Ugh. There goes one entire day of work. (Well, at least my blog post went up, as I had scheduled it earlier in the week to publish automatically on Friday. But then my blog isn't really work, but recreation...)

So I ended up laying down and resting. And then I started feeling guilty. I don't know what's worse, stressing out while working and feeling sick, or stressing out about not working. So I tried my best to push guilty thoughts aside.  I rested. I did nothing. I even took a nap, which never happens on a weekday.

The next day, I felt much better. I needed it. I can't continue running on empty.

So this week I am hoping to regain my work momentum, and check things off my to-do list.

And tomorrow morning, I am going to see an optometrist. I'm hoping I don't need corrective lenses...

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

Sweet Sunday: fruit, oat, and nut bars

It was one of those weekends when I really wanted to bake - only to find out that I didn't have any butter. Not in the refrigerator, and not even any extra stocked up in the freezer. Gasp!

So I surveyed what I had in the fridge and pantry... and then I remembered these fruit, oat, and nut bars that I made a long time ago.

I've been loving this very versatile recipe. It's like a cross between a granola bar and a cookie -- it's less dry than most packaged granola bars, but it's still not as rich and indulgent as regular cookies. I've made them with fig preserves and had someone comment, "It's like fancier Fig Newtons!"

But my favorite combination has to be orange marmalade and dark chocolate, which is one of the flavor pairings that I truly love, as you can tell from here and here.

Anyway, here is the recipe. It's not a very delicate kind of cookie, so feel free to play around with flavors. Berry preserves would be wonderful in the summer, and I bet apple butter (plus cinnamon mixed into the crust) would be great in the fall. If you don't have almond meal, you can sub with flour. I would probably also adjust the sugar in the recipe depending on how sweet your fruit preserves are.

Fruit, Oat, and Nut Bars


  • 1 jar fruit preserves (about 12 ounces), at room temperature - my favorite for this recipe is Bonne Maman orange marmalade; I love it because it doesn't add too much sweetness as the marmalade is on the bittersweet side
  • 1/3 cup chopped dried fruit of your choice AND/OR
  • 1 3-oz dark chocolate bar, chopped (I use Green & Black dark chocolate; you can also use about a half cup or so of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips)

Crust and Topping

  • 1 3/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats (not the instant oats - you'll want the texture of rolled oats)
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup almond meal
  • 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup chopped nuts (I used a combination of walnuts and almonds)
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin coconut oil, melted OR 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten OR 1 "flax egg" (1 tablespoon ground flaxseed mixed with 3 tablespoons water)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13x2 inch baking pan, then line with parchment paper (enough paper so that you have excess on both ends of the pan).  

2. Combine all the dry ingredients for the crust. Mix well so that everything is incorporated. Add the vanilla to the "flax egg" or the lightly beaten egg, then mix into the dry ingredients until clumps start forming.

3. Take half of the mixture and press into the baking pan with your hands until you have an even layer. Bake it in the oven for 10 minutes.

4. Take the pan out of the oven and spread the fruit preserves over the top, then add your dried fruit or chocolate pieces. Spread the remaining crust/topping mixture on top to cover the fruit and chocolate.

5. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes.

6. Let cool slightly in the pan, then take a butter knife to loosen the sides from the pan. Cool completely then remove from the pan and slice into bars. This process is much easier if you use the parchment paper - so you can lift the entire thing out of the pan. It's also much easier to make clean slices when it's cold or at room temperature than fresh out of the oven.

This cookie has such wonderful flavors and textures playing together - the slightly sweet, crunchy oats and nuts, the sweet and sticky preserves, and dark, slightly gooey chocolate (if you eat it warm). The nuts in the topping get nice and toasted, adding another dimension of flavor. 

A sweet reward after getting tax filing done!

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Friday, April 13, 2012

quinoa patties

baked quinoa and vegetable patties

I just discovered this recipe for baked quinoa and vegetable patties. I was drawn to it because it reminded me of the goodness of a homemade veggie burger, but in a tiny package. These patties are a little different; they are more bite-sized and can be eaten as an appetizer or on top of a big vegetable salad.

I made my own modifications to the original recipe:

  • used just a quarter of a large red onion instead of a whole onion (I don't have an aversion to onions necessarily; a whole onion just seemed like a lot for the amount of quinoa, which in the recipe was 2 1/2 cups)
  • used only 2 eggs instead of 5 (I figured since I'm not using nearly as much onion, the mixture won't need as much egg to hold that is all the eggs I had left!)
  • used ground flaxseed in place of breadcrumbs
  • omitted the cumin: I love cumin, but since I am now in a half-Indian household where Indian meals are made at least twice a week, I wanted a different spice for a change
  • added garlic (does a Filipino eat anything without garlic?)
  • added more chives
  • added a little more feta
  • a splash of freshly squeezed lemon juice and some lemon zest - amazing what a little citrus can do

I also used a shortcut: I did not have fresh kale, but I did have a bag of frozen chopped greens (mixture of collard greens and kale) that A. picked up at Whole Foods recently. It was perfect for this recipe since the greens were already chopped small - so I started thawing out about 1 1/2 cup (which of course ended up being less than a cup after thawing - so just adjust depending on how much greens you want). 

I tried both ways of cooking as she specified in her recipe: I baked most of it, but cooked a few patties in a cast iron skillet. I do love how using a skillet makes the patties develop a more crunchy crust. Also, whenever I make something that requires egg mixed in, I cook one small piece to check for seasoning. I decided that I would bake the rest (as it has raw egg) to save for later, then I can always warm them in a skillet when I want to enjoy a few (or several). The patties didn't get quite as brown in the oven, but I didn't want to bake them any further as they might dry out. It seems that they tend to hold together better in the oven though, which will make it easier to brown in a skillet later.

browning the patties in a skillet adds a delicious crunchy crust

An "easier" way to get that deeper brown crust might be to place the baking sheet on the top rack and broil the patties for a minute, keeping a close eye on them. But despite knowing my way around the kitchen (or so I thought), I am afraid of broiling things due to a kitchen mishap several years ago. In an effort to achieve that deeper golden brown color, I set my beautiful, painstakingly-made spanakopita on fire once. I thought I would just watch it, then I got distracted and started doing something else (multi-tasking FAIL). Just a few minutes later there were flames on top of my spanakopita. So there. Lesson learned. No. More. Broiling.

Going back to these quinoa patties: these are a nutritional powerhouse - protein, iron, and fiber from quinoa, the vitamins and minerals of dark leafy greens, more protein from the egg and feta, plus lots of herb-y flavor.

They are great on their own, but I also experimented with a faux "aioli" - just some good-quality mayonnaise mixed with lemon juice, lemon zest, finely minced garlic, salt, pepper, and chives.

I imagine I could easily make modifications on this recipe based on what I have available - maybe spinach instead of kale, maybe some grated carrot (to add a little color as well), maybe try different herbs like parsley, etc.

Unfortunately, A. - my biggest food fan and *kind* critic - was not jumping with joy over these, as he's not the biggest fan of quinoa. He does like millet though, so I might try it another time using millet instead.

Oh well. More for me. And that's not such a big problem to have, right? ;-)

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012


Whew... what a busy week it's been! And it's only Wednesday. Not much to post today, except for a few Instagram snapshots...

neighborhood tree
spring pink
veggie fajitas at our favorite Mexican restaurant
A. and I have been enjoying our evening walks around the neighborhood
inspired by this friend, who wrote about panini in a recent blog post

Sun-dried tomato and olive pesto, feta, and spinach panino - made in a makeshift "panini maker" using my grill pan and a heavy cast-iron skillet on top to press the sandwich.  Not bad!

I can do animal print in very small doses.

Decided to try the work-at-home trick of getting (somewhat) dressed up to hopefully work more productively at home. Even if it just meant jeans, a cowl-neck sweater, and flats.
Except I ended up taking a quick trip to my happy place to pick up a few things I've been eyeing. I finally upgraded my bakeware (commercial-grade bakeware on sale - a great deal for how much I bake). No more cheap warping cookie sheets for me!
But I digress. Yes, I worked too...

weeknight dinner: kale and white bean soup
The above soup is typically in my regular soup rotation - beans/chickpeas with lots of veggies.
A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and shards of parmigiano-reggiano cheese right before serving/eating make this humble soup even more delicious.

Because weeknight dinners should be savored too, right?

Follow me on Instagram: mgsharma

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Sunday, April 8, 2012


i thank You God for most this amazing
day:for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

- e.e. cummings 

a blue true dream of sky ~ e.e. cummings

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

fennel and grapefruit salad

Sometimes I like being able to transform a certain ingredient - it's what makes the cooking process fun and exciting for me. At other times though, sometimes I just want to leave it alone, and let the natural flavor of the ingredient really speak for itself. This salad is one of those really simple dishes - in which the flavors really shine.

I actually didn't think I would like fennel, until I tried it a number of years ago. It's not a vegetable that's common to the Philippines, where I grew up. When I came here to the US, I heard that fennel has a licorice-like flavor - which is not one of my favorite flavors. I think it's because I associated it with Twizzlers. Eeeewwww (sorry, just my personal opinion). However, for those of you who also don't like Twizzlers and thus stayed away from fennel for fear that the two things might taste the same, please reconsider. For me, fennel is NOTHING like Twizzlers. It's become one of my favorite vegetables. I've sauteed it, roasted it, braised it, used it in soup, used it in risotto, and eaten it raw - as a "dipper," or in salads like this one.

For this salad, just cut off the stalks of the fennel and the outer portion of the bulb (since we are using it raw, I take off the outer portion as it can be a bit tough). I slice it as thinly as I possibly can - the slices become almost translucent. A mandoline would be great for this purpose, but I don't have one as I'm trying not to clutter our already tiny kitchen. (But a very sharp knife does the trick; I usually sharpen my knives every week or twice a week depending on how much cooking I do). Then just scatter the fennel slices in a bowl. 

The grapefruit in here really shines as well - I love grapefruit to begin with, but the little bit of salt really enhances its sweetness and tang. Peel the grapefruit, then you can do the French supreme technique of taking the segments out, or do it by hand. I did mine by hand; as you can see the pieces are not perfectly segmented, but that is ok. It doesn't always have to be fussy. :) They are such pretty fruit anyway. See?

Then the next thing is the olive oil - do yourself a favor and choose the best, fruitiest, most flavorful extra virgin olive oil you can find. I used to be loyal to Paesano unfiltered EV olive oil, which I used to get at my favorite market. It's a little pricey, but it's a big bottle, and it is SO GOOD. I can't even explain it. I find that Trader Joe's (yes, Trader Joe's) California EV olive oil, while not really a close second, can be an ok substitute at a fraction of the price. I've just run out actually, though I gladly had enough for this salad. The next olive oil I want to try is Olio Santo, also a California olive oil, recommended by Ina Garten and available at Williams Sonoma. Even more pricey, but I've been really curious about this particular "liquid gold."

Lastly, the salt... if you can, try not to use regular table salt. Often regular salt has a somewhat metallic taste; I prefer kosher salt which is "softer" (I don't know how else to describe it). But for this dish I love to use a finer sea salt like fleur de sel, or Himalayan pink salt. 

When you have such few ingredients for a dish, I am willing to splurge a bit on quality ingredients. It's so worth it. It must sound like food snobbery, but it does make such a difference.

I would use 1 fennel bulb and 1 grapefruit for two people. What's in the bowl above is just half of each - a pretty good size serving as a starter.

Simplicity, at its best.

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Friday, April 6, 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

my love affair with dips continues...and, a recipe for bean dip

As food-loving as I am, there are times when I feel like I could happily live on popcorn (lately it's homemade rosemary and garlic popcorn), grapefruit, and brownies for a few days. Especially when A. is out of town for work for days on end... like the past week. During these times, I tend to not have defined mealtimes, and instead favor grazing and snacking. But I try to make the best of it, and not subsist exclusively on those three things above.

As you can probably tell, I love dips, as seen in this post here. I love the simplicity and versatility of it, and it makes me feel better about myself when I snack on crunchy things like pita chips when I dip it into something healthy. In most cases, the dips I like to make are legume/bean-based. But after making maybe 3 or 4 flavors of hummus (plain, roasted garlic, roasted red pepper, spicy...), it gets old after a while.

Which is why I was intrigued when I saw this recipe for a "cheesy" bean dip. I don't use nutritional yeast much, as required in this recipe. The distinct smell of nutritional yeast takes some getting used to, so I've only used it twice - once in a mac and cheese and another time in a baked spinach artichoke dip, either to supplement the cheese (and make it lighter) or replace the cheese entirely. I went through a phase in which I wanted to avoid dairy, and nutritional yeast came in handy as it adds a salty bite - an almost cheesy flavor especially when you can "disguise" it in baked dishes like mac and cheese and artichoke dip (you don't really smell it in the finished product). Plus it has vitamin B12, which is always good to have in a vegetarian diet - so I appreciate seeing recipes such as this one I'm writing about, because I have to admit I'm not too adventurous with nutritional yeast.

This is a great way to incorporate beans into your diet, without having "heavy" bean stews. Now that it's officially spring, I'm trying to lighten up my recipes. 

So here is the recipe...with some changes. I tend to like stronger flavors so I added a few other ingredients to make it to my liking. I try to avoid using canned beans but I resorted to canned for this recipe - Emily suggested a canned 3-bean blend, so I wanted to try it that way, but I didn't have time to make 3 different kinds of beans from scratch when I wanted to make this dip. I actually took a break from beans for the past couple of weeks - the spring-fever weather we had recently made me crave lighter salads. After that I then had an intense craving for beans (tell me I'm not the only one who experiences this???) recently - and I heard somewhere that when the body craves something, it's an evolutionary response to a body's actual need for specific nutrients. I like that :) Hmm, now that I think about it, I believe I heard that from House. Oh well, they must do research to produce a medical TV show, right? ;-)

bean dip with multigrain pita chips

Bean Dip (adapted from Daily Garnish)

  • 2 cans of beans (I used a 3-bean mix of black beans, red kidney beans, and pinto beans, as suggested in the original recipe, but you could certainly use all black beans or pinto beans, etc), rinsed and drained
  • 1/4 cup nutritional yeast (I bought in bulk at Whole Foods)
  • 1/4 cup water (I used less than the original recipe, for 2 batches)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons lemon juice (the original recipe called for lime juice, but I only had lemon)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus maybe a pinch more
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin (either in the powder form or ground from whole cumin seeds)
  • freshly ground black pepper

One of my good friends is from Turkey and she taught me a trick to take hummus to a whole other level - she toasts spices like cumin and paprika for a few minutes in a small skillet, then adds olive oil and lets it cook on low heat until the olive oil is warm and infused with flavor. Then she drizzles this mixture on top of the hummus (thanks for the tip, E.B.!). I used the same technique with the cumin and olive oil. The toasting intensifies the flavor of the spice, and is a great technique for this dip if you want a little more intense flavor.

Then add everything, including the flavored olive oil, to a food processor and process until smooth... then dip away!

You can certainly just use half the quantities as in Emily's original recipe. I doubled her quantities because I'd rather make a bigger batch when I dirty up my food processor. Plus, beans are our main protein source and we eat a lot of it in our household. I wouldn't be surprised if a bean was suddenly sprouting into a beanstalk in my stomach.

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Monday, April 2, 2012

Monday musings: self pep talk

So I've had a fairly tough weekend and Monday so far. Ok, pardon me while I rant about my first-world problems.

I've been writing, writing, writing a manuscript for hopeful publication and it's been quite a process. Just when I think that my draft is ready, my advisor thinks that I have some pretty significant re-organizing to do. True enough, sometimes things make sense to me in a certain way and I write accordingly; but my organization and logic may not make the most sense to readers. And writing is communicating. So I've been back to the drawing board; cutting out sections of writing entirely (but saving elsewhere so I don't panic later in case I need the information), re-organizing, and doing additional research.

Another colleague and I submitted a manuscript several months ago only to get rejected due to some flaws in our research design. 

Seriously, how does anyone get published? It really is such a complex process that starts about 1-2 (or more) years before finally getting published, if you get there. We worked so hard on planning and carrying out our research - and granted we've had to make some design changes due to extenuating circumstances (as such, the less-than-stellar design). But when you are doing research with human participants and especially children, there are variables that are difficult to control. But we ended up carrying out the research as far as we could anyway. Then we wrote a manuscript, went through 154,762 rounds of edits (ok, an exaggeration), submitted it to a publication last fall, and after waiting 6 months, got rejected. Granted, reviewers did suggest another outlet for publication that would be a better fit - which means we need to re-write (again) following a different format to suit a different publication, go through another 45,947 rounds of edits, submit to the publication, and wait. Again. With chronic lower back pain and shoulder tension from sitting at a computer all day.

So anyway, I've been working on another manuscript in tandem (because time is of the essence, we always have to have projects in the hopper) and I'm feeling pretty discouraged. Sometimes I can't help it and the Negative Nancy part of myself just says, "this is just so hard."

I was definitely in need of a self pep talk. And then I came across this video, which fit the bill. It has gone viral already, but I thought I'd re-post here. I couldn't stop laughing.

After almost a minute of laughing, I think I'm ready to get back to work. Hope this helps you get through your Monday as well!

"I can do anything good..." (repeat 10x every hour of writing, ideally while doing a happy dance in front of a mirror)

What do you do for when you need to give yourself a pep talk?

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