Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sweet Saturday: the best fudge brownies ever

Are you one of those people who like the corner brownies? 

I have a little bit of a reputation among my friends when it comes to my brownies. One day, two of my friends CD and MK were moving to a new apartment. I went over to help them pack and move, and of course brought some food to keep our energy up. I brought a pan of cornerless brownies. And I mean all four corner slices were gone. And it turns out MK also liked the corner brownie. Oops. But, I call it quality control. It needs to be done, right? ;-)

Anyway. I'm not exaggerating. This is the best brownie recipe. I don't know why it took so long for me to post a brownie recipe - I guess I always assume everyone has a go-to brownie recipe. But even if you do, give this a try. It's worth it.

The Best Fudge Brownies Ever (adapted from the recipe printed on the sack of King Arthur flour - and yes that is how the recipe title reads in the package)

1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter
2 cups sugar (original recipe states 2 1/4, but I always reduce by a little bit)
1 1/4 cups Dutch-process, unsweetened cocoa
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1/2 tablespoon instant espresso powder (my addition, a la Barefoot Contessa)
4 large eggs*
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup bittersweet or semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup chopped walnuts**

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly grease a 9x13x2-inch pan. I always line the bottom with parchment paper, just to make my life easier. Because there is nothing worse than chocolaty goodness that you can't get out of a pan.

2. Using a heavy-bottomed sauce pan set over low heat, melt the butter, then add the sugar and stir to combine. Return the mixture to the heat briefly, just till it's hot, but not bubbling; it'll become shiny looking as you stir it. Heating the butter and sugar a second time will dissolve more of the sugar, which will yield a shiny top crust on your brownies. Transfer the mixture to a mixing bowl and let cool slightly.

3. Meanwhile, mix the flour, salt, and baking powder in a separate bowl. Whisk to make sure that the salt and baking powder are distributed throughout the flour.

4. To the melted butter, stir in the cocoa, vanilla, and espresso powder. I like to sift the cocoa powder to break up the lumps and make it easier to incorporate with the other ingredients. The little bit of espresso powder enhances the flavor of the chocolate - a tip I learned from my BFF Ina Garten/"Barefoot Contessa" (only she doesn't know it, haha). Add the eggs (or "flaxseed eggs"), beating till smooth, then mix in the dry ingredients, chocolate chips, and nuts.

5. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

6. Bake the brownies for 28-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out dry (though it may have a few crumbs clinging to it, which is fine). The brownies should feel set both on the edges, and in the center.

7. Allow to cool slightly, then after 5 minutes, loosen the edges/sides with a table knife; this helps prevent the brownies from sinking in the center as they cool.

8. Cool completely before slicing.

* I also was able to substitute "flaxseed eggs" when making this for someone with egg allergies. For each egg, mix 1 tablespoon ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons water.

** Some of you may be purists when it comes to brownies, and prefer not to have nuts in them, in which case you can use 2 cups of chocolate chips. I've also tried other variations such as chopped chocolate covered espresso beans, and cacao nibs.

These brownies are excellent either cold out of the fridge or warmed slightly in the microwave and topped with vanilla ice cream.

See how dense and fudgy they are? It's like biting into a bar of dark chocolate. I mean, this is maximum chocolate density per square inch.

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Friday, March 30, 2012

happy birthday, Mom!

Happiest of birthdays to my mom - my confidante, role model, and all-around inspiration.

Much love to you on this day and always.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

"spring cleaning" yoga

So it's that time of year... in which everyone talks about "renewal" and all things fresh and new. I've been thinking about my own process of renewal and how I've been spring cleaning my life lately.

A dear friend says I "spring cleaned" in cyberspace when I moved by blog to this new URL and did a lot of blog reorganizing. True enough :)

Twisting poses in yoga are said to be cleansing. When we twist in a yoga asana, it's almost like massaging our internal organs especially in the abdominal area, stimulating them to do their thing. Here are a few twisted poses I've been practicing. I start with 3-5 sun salutation A and 2 sun salutation B on each side to warm up, then sequence the rest from standing to seated to supine poses then a final relaxation.

Twisted Chair/Revolved Chair Pose

Start in chair pose:
chair pose (source)

Then, keeping the weight on your heels (so you don't feel like you're going to fall forward!), inhale, then exhale and initiate the twist from your spine into revolved chair/twisted chair:

revolved chair/twisted chair (source)
 In revolved chair, you'll want both hips to be level or parallel to the floor, if that makes sense (meaning one side isn't jutting upwards, as is the tendency in this twist). In this pose, you can keep your drishti (gazing point or point of focus) on a spot on the floor (as pictured on left). Or if you're comfortable, look toward the side wall or past the top shoulder. As in any pose, if you're breathing in a relaxed way, then that's a good indication that you can stay in the pose or even deepen the stretch. But if you're feeling short of breath, ease out of it. To come out of the pose, inhale, then exhale to engage the abdominals (thus protecting the spine) and then return to a neutral spine. Then relax in a forward bend - you can keep the knees bent a little -- or a lot --which is nice too if you just want to relax your torso over your thighs. Do a neutral forward forward bend also in between sides.
revolved chair, variation (source)

Here's another fun variation, which is great for tight shoulders (which I almost always have from working at the computer all day): -->

 And yeah, the beach would be great too...

 Revolved Triangle

revolved triangle (source)

I have to admit that revolved triangle is not one of my favorite poses. Especially on the left side, because of my tight left hamstring and overall weakness on my left side. But I know this pose is good for me to work on stability along with the twisting and the hamstring stretch.

Remember also to keep a tiny bend in the front knee by moving the front shin bone forward eeeeever so slightly. 

When I do this pose, I ALWAYS use a block as a prop. When I'm on my right side, I position the block on the outside of my front foot. When I'm on my left (always the more challenging side), I position it on the inside of my front foot (which is another modification). Depending on how I feel and my range of motion that day, I position the block either on the tall side or the short side as necessary. A stack of books will suffice too if you don't have a block.

block on the inside of the front foot (less range of motion)
block on the outside of the front foot (more range of motion)

(Those aren't my veiny hands and feet, are you kidding me?!? *wink*)

I also keep my gaze on the floor for revolved triangle, since this pose is challenging enough for me. Also, most of the time I start with my top arm on my hip instead of extended upward as in the picture - keeping my hand on my hip encourages me to think about the position of my torso and to really initiate the twist from the core rather than forcefully trying to stick my arm up in the air (which will probably make me huff and puff or feel a side cramp or get lightheaded, or all of the above).

Oh, and I don't think I ever get to that extension as pictured above with his chest nice and open, the bottom hand flat on the floor, and both arms almost in a straight line. But I'm ok with that, as long as I feel a sense of opening or expansion in my torso as I twist according to my own range of motion.

One of the most important things I learned when we studied anatomy by Paul Grilley is "don't let the tail wag the dog" - which, he explains in other words, don't compromise the extremities for what the axis (center) of the body can't do. With these twisting poses especially, we initiate the movement from the spine and the abdominal area, keeping our abdominals engaged to protect the spine. Sometimes we may have a tendency to try to force our bodies to achieve the external form or look of the pose (which is not really a safe thing to do), but it's usually safer to just modify so we can achieve the function of the pose in a way that is best for our bodies. Don't get me wrong, form is important too in terms of safe alignment - but the form of one person's fullest expression of the pose is different from another person's.

Seated Twist
gentle seated twist (source)
seated twist (source)

In either of these seated twists, you'll want to keep both shoulders relaxed and down, away from the ears.

And here is my favorite twist, below. It's such a relaxing pose.

Reclined Twist/Supine Twist

reclined twist (source)

Other variations are having both legs together and bent, or both legs straight and out to the side (although that is not always the most relaxing variation for me). If your knees don't get all the way to the ground (which happens to me when I'm reeeeaaaally stiff and my lower back is troubling me), prop up your knees with a yoga block, a pillow, or even a stack of books - at enough height off the ground that you can keep both shoulders relaxed on the floor. Once again - don't let the tail wag the dog!

Hold for several deep breaths, then slowly come out of it (supporting your knees if necessary) and hug your knees to your chest by holding the back of the thighs close to the knee joint. Being prone to knee issues, I always do it this way rather than holding the front of my knees or kneecaps and pulling them in. 

Twisting is like wringing out your body of toxins. So as I twist, sometimes I also visualize wringing my self of mental or emotional toxins as well - it's like mental spring cleaning.

What thoughts am I holding on to that don't serve me or others?
What habits am I holding on to that don't serve me or others?
What emotions am I holding on to that don't serve me or others?
How can I let go of these thoughts, habits, or emotions?
Of course, after all that yoga detox I tend to re-evaluate my food choices as well, along with lightening up my favorite recipes in time for the warmer weather. I am excited to put together my favorite refreshing salads, cook some lighter spring soups and lighter bean-based dishes this weekend - hope to post some new recipes soon! (This will keep me from giving in to Cape Cod salt & vinegar chips, my big weakness. Reminder to self: internal spring cleaning!!!)

OK now I need to spring clean my home this weekend too... I must manage my work clutter and repurpose some old things for a more functional and aesthetically pleasing space.

What kind of spring cleaning do you do? Any favorite spring rituals? Do you make any changes in your life along with the change in seasons?

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

love letter to spring

Aaah, Spring. You really are magical.

I start sensing your subtle hints as the days get longer, the sky looks infinitely bluer, the sunshine feels warmer, yet the breeze still stays cool and refreshing. So I wait in joyful anticipation.

And then one day I wake up, and you are in full bloom.

It seems that you are always even more glorious than the last time. I know...I say that every year.

You always come, year after year, yet I never tire of seeing you. From the humble, hopeful beginnings of your budding blossoms to your fullest expression.

And just like that, you are gone before we know it. Perhaps it is your fleeting nature that makes me appreciate your magic even more.

And so I wait, again. For another year. And sure as the sun, about twelve months from now, you return, and grace us again with your magnificent presence.

Just once around the sun*, I remind myself. Just once around the sun.


* From a scene in Gattaca, one of my favorite movies. Vincent: "It's funny. You work so hard, you do everything you can to get away from a place...and when you finally get your chance to leave... you find a reason to stay. A year is a long time." Irene: "Not so long.... just once around the sun." (watch here)

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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

bee pollen

I've been exploring some natural supplements recently, one of which is bee pollen. I get mine from our farmer's market, and it's sourced from a local beekeeper.

 Natural News has many informative articles, such as this one (there are other articles too if you search within the Natural News website). It is mind-blowing to me how bee pollen - tiny unassuming-looking little things, are considered superfood. Here's some information from Natural News:

Bee pollen consists of 55% carbohydrates, 35% protein, 3% vitamins and minerals, 2% fatty acids, and 5% other substances. It also contains 14.2% fiber. Bee pollen contains 5 to 7 times the amino acids found in equal weights of beef, milk, eggs or cheese. It is also very high in Vitamin B-complex, which is needed in order to help the body function correctly, and several antioxidants including lycopene, selenium, beta carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. It also contains lecithin, which has been shown to normalize cholesterol and triglycerides, and it decreases LDL cholesterol, the "bad cholesterol," and increases HDL cholesterol, the "good cholesterol."

That's pretty impressive. In addition, it can help prevent allergies - another great bonus for this time of year. I don't have a history of having respiratory based allergies (knock on wood), but I do tend to get skin allergies in the warmer months. In fact, before I go out for a walk, I apply hydrocortisone cream on my exposed skin - but I realize I probably shouldn't do that on a regular basis. So I've been trying this bee pollen more regularly this past week. I take about a teaspoon and blend it into my fruit smoothies, but you can also add it to your cereal, granola, oatmeal, etc.

 It does have a distinct flavor, but not overpowering, especially since you would only use a small amount - and in a smoothie or mixed into granola it works out just fine.

Do any of you use bee pollen?

More on bee pollen here and here
Here is a local supplier of bee pollen.

~ This is not medical advice, just personal experience. ~

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Monday, March 26, 2012

Monday musings: an exercise in patience

Last Saturday night, A. and I had dinner at a nearby Lebanese restaurant. What started out as a pleasant dinner ended up being a test in patience and acceptance for me.

There was a foursome right next to us, seemingly of the yuppie twentysomething set. One of the girls in the group kept using the "R"-word as part of her conversational/slang vocabulary. And by R-word I mean the words "retard" and "retarded" - as in "what a retard" or "that's so retarded". I would say she used it at least 3 times within less than a 10-minute period.

I quickly felt the heat rising to my cheeks, and my heart started to race.

There's not a lot of things I get angry about. But as a special educator, I do feel strongly about this issue.

One of my first lessons in special education came from a parent herself, who responded with so much grace, compassion, and understanding towards a not-so-good decision that I made with regard to the instruction of her child with a disability exceptionality. It's something I will never forget, as a fresh-out-of-college graduate then (thank you, Mrs. K., wherever you are). This actually happened before my formal training in early childhood special education, and compared to everything I've learned about curriculum and instruction and behavioral methods etc etc, I would say the lesson I learned back then is by far the most important. A human being is a human being. It's diverse ability, not just disability.

Probably the second most important thing I learned, when I finally went to graduate school, is "person-first language." At the time I went to undergrad x number of years ago, I had not heard of such a concept. So learning about "person-first language" made an impact on me. Here's what the Ohio Developmental Disabilities Council says on the matter:

"Put the person first in word and thought. Emphasize the person rather than the disability."

Person-first language means that we see the person first and not the label. Truly, a child is a child first and a child with a disability second. That goes for any individual regardless of age, diagnosis, etc. So, we would say, "a child with Down Syndrome" and not a "Downs kid". It also means we emphasize the ability and not the handicap or limitation; for example, "wheelchair user" rather than "wheelchair bound" or "confined to a wheelchair." A few years ago the county boards of Developmental Disabilities in our state removed "mental retardation" from their agency name - it used to read "Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities." Now they are "Board of Developmental Disabilities." The terminology "mental retardation" is now being phased out.

I actually got into a semi-debate with someone else about this topic. The other person I was talking to said, "What does it matter? It means the same thing. You're just trying to be politically correct."

Well sure, why not be PC and appropriate? But more than being PC, it's about dignity and respect. Our language is a reflection of our attitudes.

"Our attitudes affect outcomes."

So back to the incident at dinner. There I was, trying to enjoy my Lebanese jibneh and garlicky spinach, but each time I heard her use the r-word I felt the heat rise to my cheeks again. Thank goodness A. was there to calm me down. So I took some deep, albeit garlicky (sorry, TMI) breaths. She wasn't doing it intentionally, after all. She just didn't know. The r-word has just become part of the conversational slang, perhaps so embedded into culture that it is no longer questioned. But the good thing is, many do question and challenge that.

I seriously considered approaching her calmly and diplomatically - not in an accusatory way but in an increasing-awareness-kind-of-way. A. on the other hand thought I should just let it go; he put things into perspective for me as he always does, and reminded me that it was just a lack of awareness. I wondered, had I not had interactions with children/individuals/relatives with disabilities, would I have known not to use those words?

And, there was a bottle of wine on their table after all, and who knows if that bottle was their first or fifth. They weren't rowdy by any means, but I also tend to avoid confrontation, let alone a confrontation with someone who's had an unknown number of drinks. I also don't want to appear high and mighty. So I didn't do anything else, except continue with my deep breaths.  I am much more comfortable keeping the peace, though I wonder sometimes if I compromise for the sake of harmony. And I do tend to replay the scene in my mind over and over later, imagining what I should have said.

Once again, our language is a reflection of our attitudes. Please, let's take the r-word out of our vocabulary.


Ok, I'm stepping off my soapbox now. Thanks for letting me have my little moment of advocacy (and a moment of venting).

What would you have done if you were in my situation? Would you have talked to a stranger about not using offensive language, intentionally or not?

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Friday, March 23, 2012


I think, after about 10-ish years of practicing yoga (I've had some "off" phases, to be perfectly honest), I've found my ideal yoga practice.

At least for now. And I say "for now", with the realization that life situations and circumstances change. So I'm finding ways to adapt and go with the flow of these changes until I settle into a sense of equilibrium, whatever that is in the given situation.

And by an "ideal" yoga practice, I don't just mean ideal poses or asanas. What I mean is a mix of practices on and off the mat that complement each other and help both my body, mind, and spirit.

In my early years of yoga, I was in my early twenties and charging full speed ahead. Full-time teaching job, watersports on the weekends (aaahhhh the sweet luxury of living in a tropical country). I practiced yoga at home in the evenings following a video, to slow down and help my body repair after the physical demands of teaching children and teaching gymnastics.

Then I left home to come to the US for graduate school. Still charging full speed ahead. I found that my change in lifestyle (many hours sitting in front of a computer) resulted in a lot of pent-up twentysomething energy, having been used to being active all day. So I went to either a Vinyasa or Ashtanga-like class four times a week, and ran and/or practiced Pilates on other days. Sometimes I did all three, one after the other. I know. Those were my Energizer bunny days. Sigh.

enjoying a sun-dappled patch of grass, post-run

And that went on for a while, until I got so inspired by yoga that I decided to sign up for yoga teacher training. And my awareness of other styles of asana grew, as my awareness of yoga philosophy grew as well. As I learned more, I started to reflect more on compassion and nonviolence and how that plays out in my life. I learned that there's a reason for yin and yang, as there is a reason for an active practice just as there is a reason for a slow restorative practice. As I grew older, I started to learn to listen to my body more, and decide what I needed that day. I still kept fairly active, walking/running (ok, more walking than running), swimming during the summer months. I learned that yoga is so much more than just the physical practice; it fed my body as well as my soul - to unload, decompress, and recharge after the emotional demands of teaching (I tend to get attached to "my" kids, what can I say...). I fell in love with the quieter, softer, yin style of asanas. I started feeling a sense of balance in my life - career, friendships, wellness, discovering art, a developing spirituality. And I felt a sense of balance in my yoga as well.

And then I moved, again. For grad school. Again. And my yoga asana practice went on the back burner.

my life nowadays

I went to a class once a week, and practiced asana at home maybe two other times during the week. Sometimes 15 minutes was all I could do. Then there were even times in which I just went to class once a week and maybe did 5 or 10 minutes of stretches before bed. I was in a yoga rut. There, I said it. As much as it would be great to feel all enlightened and blissful and energetic, "my" yoga just wasn't quite there. I was feeling anything but enlightened and energetic. Truth be told, I was nervous, worried, and anxious because of a lot of external expectations - and my own unrealistic expectations of myself. But, as is always the case, the times when I need yoga the most are when I practice the least.

my poor neglected yoga mat was gathering dust for a while

During this time, I felt that many things were out of whack in my life. Something was not quite "right". It was two years of crazy transitions, but also crazy-good transitions. But what was not quite right, or so it felt, was my heavily left-brained life. I lost time for art. I missed my circle of friends (and social support system), having moved to a different city. I lost time for movement and wellness. Or I can say I just made poor excuses. It just felt... uneven. Which is hardly surprising.

Then I found a yoga class called "sacred geometry of the body" (isn't that a beautiful way to conceptualize the human body?). The focus of the class was on structural alignment. And I'm not just talking about alignment in terms of wrists under the shoulders for cat-cow pose or having the feet lined up just like so for warrior pose. Those are important too, but this class is most especially about pelvic alignment. And it opened my eyes (and pelvis, pun intended) to a whole new world. Everything begins in the pelvis. All my structural unevenness - and resulting aches and pains - can be traced to the unevenness in my pelvis. I've never been to a class in which I worked so hard to do "only" 3 poses in an hour - all in an effort toward pelvic alignment. It's definitely a much more subtle practice than doing multiple sun salutations, chatturangas, and headstands.

This class has really been a welcome departure from my earlier full-speed-ahead version of vinyasa or ashtanga(ish) practice. Don't get me wrong - I love the grace and fluidity of a mindful vinyasa practice and how the breath flows with the movement and energizes the pose. But all too often (especially when I practice at home in my distracted state... and ok, my work-cluttered environment), it becomes difficult to really practice with 100% intention, and I end up falling into my same old patterns and habits - favoring certain poses over others, and my misalignment. But most importantly, I was not practicing with 100% attention. Yoga truly is mental as much as, or quite arguably more than, it is physical.

After several months of this class and focusing solely on pelvic alignment, I returned to a vinyasa class with fresh eyes. And it felt really, really good.

Recently, I went to an evening vinyasa class in which no one else showed up. The instructor went on with the class, much to my delight. Private class! Score! 

But man, did I work in that class. And I mean shaky-quadriceps-in-warrior-pose kind of work. It's amazing what a one-on-one class can do, which I actually have not experienced prior to that day. Within the first 5 minutes of movement, she diagnosed me and my structural unevenness and imbalance: I see you have some hyperflexion here and imbalance there and uneven strength here and that can create problems everywhere. (She didn't quite state it that way - she was definitely more kind that that, but that was her "diagnosis" in a nutshell). With that observation, and because I was the only one who showed up to class that evening, she proceeded to morph the Vinyasa class (which was what the class was supposed to be) to more of an alignment and stability class. Which is what I needed.

So, I am now trying to continue on with my routine of alignment on Mondays and vinyasa on Wednesdays and Fridays, then yin yoga at home in between. I think this makes for a nice balanced physical practice.

my wellness calendar: yoga classes at a studio 3x a week, home yoga practice in between

Somehow, I'm starting to feel a greater sense of... integration. The dictionary defines integration as "the coordination of mental processes into a normal effective personality or with the individual's environment" (thanks, Merriam-Webster... pardon my geek moment.). Been thinking about this for a while. I think the hard part was getting past the word "normal" (being in the world of special education, I'm not a fan of that word. I think in this context, I prefer "balanced"). But anyway. It's amazing how the alignment I'm working on in my body during my asana practice is finding its way to the rest of my life as well. And that's the beauty of yoga.

As much as yoga asanas happen in the outer body, so much of it is mental as well, happening in the "inner" body. The focus. The intention. The awareness. The appreciation for the perfectly imperfect body and self. Coordinating the inner body and outer body. To integrate mind, body, and spirit in an intelligent, mindful practice, in spite of and in response to the often disintegrated and uncoordinated outer world of stresses and pressures, is so powerful. 

So I'm re-discovering "my" yoga that is right for me at this time. Because life is about change and constantly re-discovering ourselves in the ebb and flow.

 I've started to work on balancing the other areas of my life, and (hopefully) making more positive choices as I try to adapt to my new external and internal pressures. It's ok to not charge at full-speed in life - as it is ok to not expect that of myself. I'm learning to let go of certain expectations and instead settle into a place that's just right for right now.

I'm actually writing and reflecting more too. Trying to "make" more photographs and not just "take" them (although I have to admit, I've been loving Instagram lately... but that counts, right?). I'm spending less time doing mindless surfing on the Internet and more time making personal calls or even writing snail mail to friends. Replacing negative self-talk with positive. Trying to balance dreaming big and having realistic expectations of myself. Re-focusing on my health, and taking the necessary steps to achieve health. Investing in wellness, rather than "things".

Integration. I like that word.

I think, I have it figured out. For now.

Long blog post, I know. But that's a result of 10(ish) years of my yoga journey. I wonder what the next 10 will hold. For now, I'll just celebrate "my" yoga, one ujjayi breath at a time.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

anniversary dessert: olive oil tangerine pound cake

A. loves almost anything orange. One of his favorite desserts (not made by me, that is... heehee) is the cake Tangerine Moon from the Bonbonerie, in my previous stomping grounds when I used to live in Cincinnati. I actually used to walk to the "Bonbon" sometimes to pick up some scones, complete with clotted cream. Those were the days...

I personally find their Tangerine Moon cake a tad too sweet, but that's probably because of the frosting. As dessert-loving as I am, I have to say I am very picky about frosting. I almost always find it way too sweet. I don't mind the occasional frosted cake or cupcake, but I much prefer simple desserts with basic, yet quality ingredients with lots of flavor.

Recently, A. requested I make my own version of a tangerine cake. And since it was our anniversary, how could I say no?

So I took one of my favorite citrus-inspired dessert recipes - Smitten Kitchen's blood orange olive oil pound cake, which I've made quite a few times. I've always loved olive oil-based cakes - they are always so moist, but I feel *a little* better eating them compared to butter-based cakes. Not that I would refuse the latter, of course. Anyway. I really find Smitten Kitchen's recipe to be such a great go-to recipe because of the simplicity, which allows the flavor of the fruit to really shine.  No overpowering or overly sweet frosting here. Fresh citrus + olive oil... what's not to like?

A few revisions: Instead of 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour, I used 1 cup all-purpose and 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour (not whole wheat bread flour!). I also reduced the sugar by maybe 2 tablespoons, as I usually do with most recipes. I used plain Greek yogurt instead of buttermilk, because I almost always have Greek yogurt on hand, and it's a great substitute.

The tangerines I had were a little bigger than most blood oranges and veeeerrry juicy, so I used 2 eggs instead of 3 to reduce the amount of liquid in the cake. I used 1/3 cup olive oil instead of 2/3 because I had so much tangerine juice as I was breaking up the orange segments. I didn't measure how much juice I ended up with exactly, but as I was mixing, I went with my intuition and reduced the amount of olive oil. It  turned out to be a good decision or else the batter would have been too thin if I used all 2/3 cup of olive oil. I also zested 3 tangerines instead of 2 for an extra boost of tangerine flavor. I told A.: "you ask for it, you got it!"

So here's the recipe, with my revisions. I know. I'm long-winded.

Olive Oil Tangerine Pound Cake (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

3 tangerines (when choosing citrus, always choose fruits that feel heavy for their size - that means they are juicy!)
scant 1 cup sugar (1 cup minus about 2 tablespoons)
scant 1/2 cup Greek yogurt or plain yogurt
2 large eggs
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

Follow the directions here.

This cake is so simple, yet so delicious. The consistency is very moist, thanks to the generous quantities of Greek yogurt and olive oil.

check out the crumb of this cake - doesn't it look so moist? (and yes, it is!)

You can see the bits of tangerine pulp throughout - this is what really gives the sweetness and flavor to this cake. If I could make this a scratch n' sniff photo for you, I would...

 The citrus flavor is really bright, with the addition of zest, juice, and pulp. It needs nothing else, except perhaps a cup of tea.

a healthy breakfast, snack, or dessert, if you ask me... hey, it's got fruit, right?

Wedding anniversary flowers preferred, but not required. :)

anniversary flowers from A.

We had a quiet celebration of our first anniversary last night - I made a simple dinner of yellow dal (Indian lentils) and roti - A.'s favorite comfort food. I was so proud of myself for making the yellow dal just by feel, having watched A. cook it before. (I hope to pass the "test" when I attempt to cook for his family when we visit India.) We've been having perfect weather, so after dinner we went for a walk around our neighborhood, talked, and laughed at the corniest of jokes as we always do... then came back home to have some cake.

Sometimes, the simplest of celebrations is the best... as it helps me focus on what's most important: time with the ones we love.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

a year later...

Tomorrow is the vernal equinox - the first day of spring! Oh, the joy. Here comes the sun, doo doo doo doo... (quoting The Beatles)

This time of year is especially meaningful for me... as A. and I got married on the eve of the first day of spring last year - just the two of us plus eight of our nearest and dearest as witnesses, on a sunny, end-of-winter day in a beautiful winery, with the whole space to ourselves. I love that we had a quiet, intimate wedding before our "big" church wedding  (and by "big" I mean 90 people).

I never really posted our "first" wedding photos here other than the picture of the happy yellow flowers I held as my bouquet. I guess the memory was something I just wanted to hold close to my heart. But here are a few more pictures of that very special day...

exchanging rings... photo by this friend

This song, by the Beatles, just puts a smile on my face. And... I recently found out that Coldplay has a live version too!

Can't wait for longer spring days, and more warm sunshine! The first day of spring has always been magical for me... but even more so since March 19th, 2011.

Happy first anniversary, A... you light up my days.

officially married!
happiness in a sun-drenched room
(Photos c/o my brother)

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

weekend recharge

This weekend has been amazing - sunny, breezy 70-degree weather! It can't get any better than this. 

I had been craving the food at the Greenhouse Tavern for the past week, so early last week I made reservations for a Saturday dinner. Not having grown up here, I did not realize that Saturday the 17th was St. Patrick's Day. We decided to go ahead and brave the craziness downtown to go to one of our favorite restaurants. In the end we were both glad we went, as the food did not disappoint.

Citrus salad: grapefruit, fennel, Chef's Garden field greens and racing onion soubise; Very, Very, Very Spicy Greens n' Beans with pickled red chili paste, crispy shallots and white beans

Mushroom Risotto with truffles, candy cap mushrooms, chives, and Parmesan. The most earthy-delicious mushroom risotto I have ever tasted.

Buttered Popcorn Pots de Creme with Caramel and Sea Salt. No, there wasn't any actual popcorn in it, but popcorn was steeped in the cream. The dessert really captured that sweet and salty goodness.

 Then Sunday started with a quick breakfast...

blood orange olive oil cake with an extra pat of butter and orange marmalade

Then an afternoon hike at the South Chagrin Reservation...

light and shadows
I can hear the water!

getting closer to the river

green and yellow moss

muddy trails and happy feet

And lastly...our favorite pasta dish for Sunday dinner.

whole wheat spaghettini wtih wilted arugula, garlic, toasted pine nuts, and parmigiano-reggiano

Ending the weekend on a very thankful note. Ready for the week ahead...

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