Tuesday, July 31, 2012

recovering



I don't know about you, but somehow it's taking me longer than usual to bounce back after a weekend of traveling.

I recall how, a few years ago, I traveled from Cincinnati --> New Jersey --> Columbus --> Kent --> Cincinnati --> Asheville --> Cincinnati in maybe... um, a week and a half. It felt like the Amazing Race. I'm sure other people travel way more than I do (how they do it is beyond me), but to me that was a lot. And yet, back then, I recovered quickly and was at work the very next day back. Somehow it's not happening for me now anymore, even after just traveling for one weekend to Cincinnati and Lexington. I was sleepy all day. I was so tired I skipped yoga class (not a class that I teach, but attend). My Monday night yoga class is not withing walking distance, and I felt like I was in a daze. Which meant I should NOT be driving, even for yoga.

Yesterday I tried to spend some time away from the Internet and mobile devices in the hopes of gaining some clarity on some thoughts I've been having. I'm not quite there yet... it really takes a lot of practice and focus to be able to sit quietly with yourself.

Meanwhile, my mind is spinning. There are so many things I want to write about.

Barefoot Works yoga studio, Lexington, KY. A happy, light-filled place.



An amazing yoga workshop last weekend in Sharon's lovely yoga treehouse. Learning how to teach yoga in ways that are supportive and therapeutic for each person's individual anatomy. Observing students with curiosity and compassion.

Getting out of my head (and all the doubting talk) and back in my body through yoga.

Sensations of floating unsupported to feeling fully supported and grounded, physically and energetically. Amazed at how the body just knows what is true.

And how yoga brings me back to that truth. Something I'm re-learning after my yoga plateau phase a few years ago. (Contrary to popular belief that people who practice yoga are always so zen and blissed-out. But maybe I'm the exception to the norm.)

And other random things like thinking about this article that poses a question on the effects of our Internet use and another article on sacred space.

Great times being reunited with my old friends EB, ML, and this couple, and talking until 4:30 in the morning with this friend - about food and art and friendship and finding our voice as women in society. Pretty heavy stuff. Really good stuff. (Thanks, AS.)

Sunset views from EB's rooftop and an evening walk in a tree-lined street. 

Sky over Lexington


Cracking the code of awesome Ethiopian food. I know. It isn't really a code. But that's how I feel about my cooking moments of triumph. :) Will write more on that soon.

And the thought that has taken up much of my brain energy and taken over my emotions lately: how my realization that the kitchen is where I am fearless actually has me feeling... afraid. Afraid that I'm not doing the right thing in my life right now. Even the thought of finally putting that in words right here is scary. Because I'm scared that maybe this is my truth. Scared that I've invested so much in something else when I have been skirting around my truth all these years. And at the same time not quite being 100% sure what is my truth - because isn't there a reason that things happen? A reason that opportunities knock? And isn't graduate school the reason I came here in the first place?

Scared to give up when I'm actually pretty close to the finish. And yet also fearful because those last few miles in a marathon are the hardest (not that I've ever run one and would want to run one, but you know what I mean). Wondering whether I should keep plowing through knowing that this happens to everyone... right? ABD ("all but dissertation") folks out there?

Scared because of that old voice from my childhood/adolescence, that I'm not as good a "finisher" as I am a "starter". And how that's showing up as patterns in my life, as hard as that is to admit. Hmmm... another symptom of vata imbalance? But despite that, I've done and completed many other things I've set out to do.

Scared about the truth in A.'s observation and insight about me, when I had a little (?) meltdown last week. That it may not be the situation that is my true enemy, but my way of thinking. And worrying.

Scared about whether I can be at peace with my decision, whatever it is.

Ok, so that was more than what I intended to disclose today. I know it probably sounds a little cryptic. But I had to write it for me.

Over and out.

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Friday, July 27, 2012

yoga on my mind

I cannot believe it's almost the end of July. How did that happen?

In the meantime, I've been working on a few things... trying to get back into teaching yoga, for starters. I team-taught a class with another instructor/yoga studio director last night. As this was my first time to teach a group again (meaning, other than my husband!) after three years of not teaching, I *think* it went quite well. I taught a Vinyasa sequence (Sun Salutation A and B with variations) as well as introduced yin yoga at the end.

Interestingly, when the studio director and I talked after class, she asked me how I thought the class went. My response was that I *thought* it went ok. Typical...

I have to be honest and say I'm not the most confident person. I've had some people say that they wouldn't have thought that about me, but it's true. Mind you I'm not fishing for compliments here. I'm always thinking I did just ok and there are a million things running through my head about what else I could have done, what I could have done better or differently. I have also adopted the "mantra" of "fake it till you feel it". Ha! But sometimes, even when you fake confidence, in the end, you do feel it. Anyone else with me on this?

And interestingly, when the teacher and I talked after class, she said she intentionally did more core exercises during her part of the class to help me with my confidence (or lack thereof). Solar plexus chakra issues, I know. 

Anyway. She thought I did well teaching the vinyasa sequence, but her first instinct said that I would do great teaching a yin yoga class. And interestingly, when I taught yoga years ago, I taught more yin than vinyasa - although I do love both in my own practice.

Before I go any further, you might be asking, what the heck is yin yoga?

yin yoga "shoelace" pose | image source

Yin yoga is a more restorative and relaxing style of yoga that takes the stretch into the deeper connective tissues in the body, rather than the muscles, through long holds (3 minutes or more) with the muscles relaxed. Relating it to the Eastern philosophical concepts of yin and yang - which are opposing qualities that are present in all phenomena - yin types of movement refer to movement that is passive, cooling, and restorative, whereas yang types of movement refer to those that are active, warming, and dynamic, such as vinyasa yoga in which you flow in a moving sequence while linking the breath with every movement. Relating these concepts to the body, the connective tissues (ligaments, fascia) are yin, whereas the muscles are yang. Yang tissues (the muscles) are best exercised through repetition and movement to strengthen, whereas yin tissues are best exercised through slow and gradual traction. Yin yoga also focuses on the connective tissues around the lower back and hips, which are places in which we experience a lot of compression through our daily activities such as sitting at a desk for hours.

And why the connective tissues anyway? Paul Grilley, who wrote a book on yin yoga, explained: if you think about the careers of competitive athletes, many of them don't retire because of weak muscles - they retire because of problems in their joints. So through yin yoga, we put moderate stress on the connective tissue, thus gradually making it more elastic to protect our joints and maintain range of motion. Otherwise, "our connective tissues shorten to the minimal length necessary to accommodate our basic activities" (Grilley). So if our basic activities are largely composed of sitting, then, well, you get the picture.

Anyway... I won't go further into this topic other than to say that yin yoga has been such a great complement to my vinyasa and alignment yoga practice. It's a quiet, meditative practice. If you practice yoga and have not tried a yin class, go for it. Your body (and mind) will thank you!

I don't want to count my chickens before they are hatched, but I'm hoping to teach a vinyasa and yin yoga class soon...

I'm also going to a yoga workshop this weekend at this friend's delightful studio. Since it's all the way in Lexington, I'm going to make a quick trip out of it and stop by Cincinnati to see these friends as well as spend time with my friends EB and ML in Lex.

Lots of yoga talk today... now go get up from your desk and stretch for a bit.

Happy Friday, everyone!


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Monday, July 23, 2012

cashew and almond pâté

I usually make a lot of hummus and bean-based dips, like here and here. It's a quick and easy source of nutrition for snacking, workday lunches, picnics, or a crowd-pleasing appetizer for a party. Every now and then, I like to mix it up with a nut-based pâté.

Just a quick note, this is not meant to mimic liver pâté; it has distinct flavors in its own right. It's also quite filling due to the protein content of the nuts.

This recipe does require some advanced planning, as the nuts need to be soaked for a few hours or overnight. Soaking raw nuts makes the enzymes in them more active, thus making them more digestible.

Other than that, there's not much else to it - everything goes in a food processor or blender. What's not to love?



Cashew and Almond Pâté

1 cup raw cashews, soaked overnight then drained and rinsed
1/2 cup raw almonds, soaked overnight then drained and rinsed (you could also use just cashews, but almonds add a nice flavor)
1/3 cup chopped scallions/green onion, or 1/4 cup chopped yellow or sweet onions
1 clove of garlic, chopped with a little salt
2 tablespoons Bragg's liquid aminos (here is some good information on this product) 
6-8 sun-dried tomatoes, soaked in 1/4 cup very hot water
zest of 1 lemon
juice of half a lemon (more or less)
a generous handful of fresh basil leaves, or other fresh herbs of your choice
sea salt and pepper

Place the onions in a small bowl. I usually prefer green onions for an uncooked dish, but last weekend I didn't have any so I just used a small amount of regular yellow onion. If using regular onions, add the Bragg's liquid aminos to it to let it marinate for about 10 minutes. If you don't have Bragg's liquid aminos, just use regular sea salt and lemon juice. Marinating in salt and lemon juice will help make the onions less pungent. Add the chopped garlic to this as well.

Soak the sun-dried tomatoes in the hot water as well, until rehydrated and plump. Be sure to save the soaking water!

Add everything - including the soaking water of the sun-dried tomatoes, but excluding salt and pepper to the food processor or blender. Let it run until you have a creamy consistency, scraping down the sides with a spatula to make sure everything gets incorporated. You'll probably end up with some pieces of sun-dried tomato here and there, but I also like having a little texture. If you want it creamier, just let the processor run a bit longer.

Check for seasoning at the end and add salt and pepper to taste - note that Bragg's liquid aminos are a little salty so be sure to taste first before adding more salt.

This gets better after sitting in the refrigerator for a few hours to let the flavors marry.

You could also experiment and mix other flavors into this pate; I would imagine black olives would be good in here as well. Or you could sub some roasted red pepper instead of sun-dried tomatoes. Add some red pepper flakes if you like some heat. It's a versatile recipe! 

Serve with crudités, crostini, or pita chips.

(Personally, my favorite part is the remaining bits stuck to the food processor, which I scrape with a spatula. Yum. Just helping the dishwasher out. :))







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Sunday, July 22, 2012

a picnic, and Mozart under the stars


Summer whites (+ orchid + turquoise)
Last Saturday the weather finally broke and we had perfect summer temps. I enjoyed an afternoon on the balcony, with iced coffee and the New York Times on the iPad.




Then A. and I spent Saturday evening at the Blossom Music Festival, which is where the Cleveland Orchestra performs during the summer months. I love summer outdoor concerts. Here is another place for outdoor concerts (every Tuesday till August 14th) - and best of all, they're free.

The lawn was getting packed!

 I love this place. It's only $20 per person for lawn tickets (those under 18 get in free) and you get to listen to some world-class performances. There will be an opera in August - I'd love to go to that one as well.



You could opt for actual seats closer to the stage too (at a higher price), but I personally prefer the lawn -- for me it's also about the opportunity to enjoy a picnic.


 


We used 2 yoga mats side-by-side as our picnic "blanket". Works for me.

Our picnic spread (part of it, at least): mixed olives, summer fruit, aged cheddar, and nut pâté (recipe to follow soon!). Not pictured here is a chunk of crusty Italian bread, pistachios, and a mango-pineapple sparkler (just mango juice and pineapple juice diluted with sparkling water)

Homemade rosemary and pine nut shortbread for dessert



The sky was amazing.

Stripey and dotty clouds (technically these are cirrus clouds, right? Geek moment.)




Perfect summer evening

Hope you all had a great weekend! Stay tuned this week for the nut pâté recipe.




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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

the gifts of summer



There is no doubt that summer is upon us in full force. It is mid-July, after all. While it's easy to complain about the heat, summer is most certainly a gift here especially when we are prone to tons of snow during winter (thank you, lake effect). But enough about that. I'm not ready to think about the cold yet.

I'm grateful for summer because of...

... the scent that lingers on my fingers when I pick fresh herbs from the balcony.
...wildflowers.
...alfresco lunches.
... long days and cool evenings, when A. and I can take a walk outside after dinner.
...the summer harvest: Zucchini. Beets. Cucumbers. Mint. Basil. Tomatoes. Berries. Stone fruit.
...the daily opportunity to wear breezy dresses and sandals on pedicured feet (and related to that, toenails painted in bright summery colors, like here and here.).
...icy-cold green tea with honey and lemon, and fresh fruit smoothies.
...energizing sunshine on my bare arms.
...afternoons to enjoy ice cream while sitting on a bench outside.
...outdoor summer concerts, like here (did I mention they are FREE!) and here, where you can sit on the grass and enjoy a picnic while listening to some great music.
...weekend road trips.
...the breeze through the car's sunroof. 
...the chance to be by the water. Even if it's Lake Erie and not my beloved tropical beaches back home. It's still water!  
...sunlight through the trees.
...the tickle of warm grass beneath bare feet. 
...no-fuss meals, like here and here.
...the sound and smell of summer rain.


What are you savoring this summer? I'd love to know...


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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

no-cook, heat-wave-friendly dinner



Whew!

It is HOT today in Cleveland. And I say that with great tolerance, being a girl from the tropics. But it is quite unusual for these parts. I had a feeling this would happen after our unusually warm winter.

Regardless, I hope you are all finding ways to stay cool - whether you enjoy some popsicles, run among the sprinklers, whatever. Because summer goes by in a blink of an eye.

For tonight's dinner, I decided not to turn on the stove at all.

Massaged greens (mustard greens and kale), roasted beets (from last night), chickpeas (also cooked last night), avocado, and feta - everything except the chickpeas and avocado are from Fresh Fork Market




We all know dark leafy greens are good for us, and thankfully we get some generous bunches from our weekly produce pickup. The greens this week were mustard greens and kale. Typically I would do a quick saute in olive oil and garlic, but even that did not sound appealing to me today. I wanted a filling, no-cook meal, but raw kale and mustard greens sounded a bit too much even for a veggie-lover like me.

This friend told me about massaging raw greens for a salad, so I decided to give that a try. So after washing and drying the greens, and tearing them up into bite-size pieces, I sprinkled some sea salt, squeezed a little lemon juice and added a dash of olive oil, and actually got in there with my (clean) hands and massaged the greens until they were soft and wilted.

Afterwards, I wondered why I waited so long to try it. All that TLC (along with the salt and the acid from the lemon juice) made the raw greens more palatable, yet they were still flavorful. I wouldn't do it for more delicate greens like spinach and arugula, but for kale and mustard greens this is a great technique.

I added beets which I had roasted the night before (here is a tip for roasting beets - no need to peel beforehand!), as well as some chickpeas. We tend to eat a lot of chickpeas and other legumes in our household as our main source of protein, so every week or so I soak about 2 cups of dry chickpeas overnight and cook them in a pressure cooker the next day - four whistles and it's done. Then I store them in smaller containers (immersed in the cooking liquid - great for thickening stews and for improving the texture of hummus) - some in the freezer, and some in the refrigerator for more immediate use. Sometimes A. snacks on them as is (drained of the liquid of course), with nothing but salt and Indian red chile powder. 

This was a really satisfying salad with great contrasting flavors and textures. That's what salads are all about in my opinion. Peppery greens, sweet yet earthy beets, mild chickpeas, creamy avocado, salty feta, tangy lemon juice. It was so flavorful, it didn't even need more dressing - just a little more salt and pepper (though you could always add a dressing of your choice).

What required the most effort in this meal was trying to get all my salad elements in one forkful.

The second most effortful thing about tonight's meal would be keeping myself from eating the entire pint of Jeni's roasted strawberry buttermilk ice cream. It tempts me each time I open the freezer door. But that's another story...



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Thursday, July 12, 2012

nostalgia...and the things I learned (and continue to learn) in the kitchen

my mom and my niece, baking in the kitchen that was once my playground


This photo warms my heart like you wouldn't believe. My parents sent this photo recently and I couldn't help but Instagram it (That's a verb now, right? Just like "I Google-d it."?).

I look at this photo, and each time I just can't stop thinking, "Awwww".

It just brings back such warm memories of learning to cook and bake from my mom. I was probably three years old, just like my niece in the photo above. And I too stood on a stool to watch my mom measure, pour, and mix as I made my own mess on the countertop (and ok, the floor too). I wrote more about it here.

In the years that followed I learned to be fearless in the kitchen. Mistakes and all.

I learned that sometimes you can have beginner's luck and turn out perfect gougères the first time -- a little triumph for my teenage self, before the advent of the Internet and on-demand, step-by-step video tutorials on food blogs and youtube. And at other times your efforts can result in a complete flop, like my first attempt at risotto at age 15 (or 16? can't remember) that resulted in a massive, sticky glob of arborio rice. Or meringues that turned into one solid layer of egg whites -- that were NOWHERE near the looks of "stiff, glossy peaks" -- hopelessly stuck to the baking sheet when I pulled it out of the oven. Apparently it caused quite an imprint on my brothers' memory as they still recount this story to this day, and we all get a good laugh out of it.

I learned that you just have to laugh at yourself (ok, maybe cry over spilled milk for a little while - er, wasted arborio rice or egg whites), move on, and try again. And clean up your mistakes, of course. Because the dishes don't magically wash themselves.

And when you have a big family waiting in anticipation of your first risotto -- or I should say the unrecognizable mass of what was possibly arborio rice -- I learned that it's important to improvise. To have a "plan B".

I learned about when you have to go at full-speed, when to pace yourself, and when to slow down. Like how vigorously stirring your custard causes bubbles, and results in unsightly little air pockets  rather than perfectly smooth, creamy flan that is the outcome of slow, gentle stirring.

I learned that sometimes shortcuts are ok, but at other times they are disastrous.

I learned that there's value in waiting. It was often while waiting for a cake to do its thing in the oven that my mom and I had the best conversations.

I learned about when it's important to follow a recipe to the letter, and when it's better to use your intuition and cook by feel.

I learned to treasure yellowed, stained, hand-written recipes in a falling-apart notebook more than an untouched, glossy, for-display-only cookbook.

I learned about the pleasure of making something from scratch and nourishing others with it. About the memories built when a family sits down together to dinner. Dinners that seem to naturally stretch into a few hours as we talk and reminisce and laugh. And listen to my grandparents' stories about the war. (It's my late grandfather's birthday today...happy birthday, Papa)

I learned that life's too short to sacrifice quality and short-change yourself. My mom always said to use the good china and silver even for everyday meals. Matching placemats* for everyday, and elegant chargers for special occasions. She even had cloth napkins on which she handpainted little designs on the corners. Little ways to infuse beauty and art into the everyday. So she set the table nicely, thus giving importance to family mealtime. Although it wasn't just about the "things" on the table. It was setting the scene for something essential.

Because life's too short to not spend quality time with the people you love.

I learned to listen to the wisdom of someone more experienced - in the kitchen, and in life. And now, years later, I also know to trust in my own wisdom. Kitchen experiments** and otherwise.

 Life's lessons, indeed.



* My parents always chuckle when they re-tell the story of how we were dinner guests at an aunt and uncle's house. I was maybe three or four years old, and apparently I put my aunt on the spot because as we sat down to dinner, I asked loudly, "Mom, where are the placemats?" Oh, for shame. Shame on me.

** My risotto turns out consistently creamy and al dente now, thank goodness. But I'm still not a huge fan of meringues.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

where are you playing small in your life?

digging into my books

I read that question today and it was like a kick in the gut. (If you need a little cheerleading in your life, read the article here.)

So I'm taking the leap.

I went ahead and approached the yoga studio where I take classes, and told them I was interested in teaching. It took quite a while for me to get to this point. I completed my 300-hour yoga teacher training in 2006, but I haven't taught in.... let's see. Three years.

Generally I don't do well with decision-making. I don't read or follow astrology but I think indecisiveness is the stereotypical Gemini trait. It takes me forever and a day to make decisions sometimes.

I consider myself a THINK-DO-THINK person (rather than a DO-THINK-DO person) - to a fault, because I tend to overthink until sometimes, I make a bigger deal out of it than it actually is, then I end up talking myself out of it. Do any of you do this? Tell me I'm not alone. Anybody?


(Crickets)


I'm not sure why I had been holding back for so long. I was so much more fearless in my twenties, I think. (Geez it feels weird saying that: when I was in my twenties....). But that's partly the reason for this recent kick in the gut. Time is passing us by whether we like it or not. As cliche as it sounds, life is short. The longer we hold back to do something, the more time (and opportunity) passes us by. And I think that's when we become stagnant. Playing small means we stay in our comfort zone. I know "going beyond your comfort zone" tends to be an overused phrase, but it's true, isn't it?

image source


Sometimes I just need to tell myself, "do it." Well actually, it was A. who told me, "if you don't do it, I'll keep nagging you." I just need that push sometimes.

So one day I finally approached the studio owner to make an appointment to talk to her. When we finally met to talk, one of the first things she said was, "you're already part of the family!"

For the next few weeks I will practice teaching again, then the studio will offer a free community yoga class which will serve as my teaching demo. "Free" community yoga classes are typically donation-based; so donations from students are encouraged (but not required) and I can choose my own charity to which the proceeds will go.

In my "other" life, one of my professors said, "teaching is a privilege." And this is coming from a professor who has been at it for more than 15 years, and yet is still working to continuously improve, keep abreast with new or current strategies, and inspiring others to do the same. It's true though - teaching is a privilege. I've taught in different capacities (in my other life) and I take teaching very seriously. I just need to not take myself too seriously.

It's amazing though how opening yourself up to one experience or endeavor tends to open up another. It's almost like the courage you put into one decision spreads into the next. I have another "project" brewing right now which has been in my head for quite some time, and then just yesterday I thought, "what the heck, just do it!" I'll wait to share it as it's still in the works, but as you might guess, it is FOOD-related. :)

Where are you playing small in your life?

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Tuesday, July 10, 2012

resting like a child

In yoga, there is a pose or asana called "child's pose" - or in Sanskrit, balasana.

image source


It's one of the things I look forward to the most in a yoga class or my own yoga practice. Child's pose is a resting pose - so during a guided yoga class the teacher might lead the group to rest in child's pose or to let you know that you can come to child's pose anytime you want to rest.

There are many ways to modify and customize this pose to suit the needs of your body at any given time, depending on what feels good to you. Hands by the hips or outstretched past the head. Knees together or apart. Placing blankets or pillows under the torso. Whatever's comfortable is how it should be for you.

Sometimes, a five-minute child's pose is my yoga practice for the day. Just being honest.

But there's something refreshing about coming back to this fetal position, in a way that lets you really feel and listen to your breath and allow it to slow down. To just stop whatever you are doing and unselfishly give yourself this time. Even if it's just a few minutes to scan your body or simply take a break. Or to give yourself time to respond to a stressful situation (or yes, even a stress-provoking interaction with someone) without saying or doing something you'll regret later.

I realize that when I'm in child's pose during a yoga practice, I never think about what the next pose is or should be. I don't question what I did prior to coming to child's pose. I don't watch the time. I don't try; I just let myself be. It really is blissful. Even if it's just for a minute.

Interestingly, outside of my yoga practice, beyond the mat -- this is a harder thing to master.

I was feeling burned out and unmotivated the last few weeks after completing a big project. I had been wondering why I couldn't shake off this feeling, this academic "writer's block". I finally decided to call a friend of mine who graduated from her doctoral program (thank you, EB for hearing me out... I am so grateful). She asked me, "have you allowed yourself to really rest?"

Then the light bulb came on. I really haven't. I was still trying to meet deadlines while on vacation time zones away in India, for crying out loud. 

Then once I completed the said project, I jumped on to the next one.

It's funny how we may tend to give ourselves fully to a task or project, but do a half-baked job at resting. I realize that even when I think I'm resting, I'm actually not. Because while I'm trying to rest I'm still thinking about work or feeling guilty about not working. I never truly shut off. So the rest time becomes counterproductive, because the guilt -- and all the other things going on mentally that keep me from resting -- are taxing. 

It's called child's pose for a reason:

image source

Babies... they do this so well. They rest 100%. No half-baked job here. Sigh.

I never thought resting would be hard to do. Yet it is. Somehow, eating chocolate chip cookies is much easier. ;-)

How to rest without the guilt. That is the question.

I'd love to hear from you, friends.



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Monday, July 9, 2012

beat the heat

...with cold, fuss-free summer meals.

As much as I love to cook and bake, there are days when even turning on the toaster seems to heat up the kitchen. I did very minimal cooking this weekend - one meal involved a couscous salad (boil water/broth, add couscous, stir, turn off the heat, cover, and let sit for 5 minutes, and it's done... add vegetables and herbs of your choice, some kind of dressing, maybe some feta cheese). This is another one of those "non-recipes" as I like to call it, as you can do whatever you want! Choose a different vegetable. A different grain/starch. A different flavor profile with other herbs. During the colder months I would use a heartier grain like barley or spelt berries, but in the summer couscous is just perfect. I chose these vegetables because these are what I got from last Friday's produce pickup.

The trick here, I think, is to flavor everything from the start - for instance, instead of cooking the couscous/pasta/grains in plain water, I cook it in vegetable broth. If I happen to not have broth and just have water, I add other aromatics (garlic, onion, herbs, whatever) and salt in the cooking water too. And, in either situation, some olive oil. A little olive oil never hurt anybody. (And actually, having a little fat, like olive oil, with vegetables helps our bodies absorb the fat-soluble nutrients in the vegetables. It's a good thing!)

whole wheat couscous, chickpeas, carrots, tomatoes, kale lightly sauteed in garlic and onions, parsley + basil from my balcony (Yes they are growing! There's hope for cactus-killing, non-green-thumbs like me!), and sheep's milk feta (from Lucky Penny Farm), dressed in extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, salt and pepper


Other meals involved cold soups just using the blender.

Cold soup #1: Cucumber Soup

There is a reason cucumbers are harvested in the summer.




  • 2 cucumbers, peeled, seeded, and chopped
  • 1 cup plain yogurt (I extended the yummy Velvet View Farmstead yogurt by saving a bit to use as a starter for homemade yogurt!)
  • 1-2 cloves garlic, depending on how garlicky you want it
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped spring onions
  • half a jalapeno pepper, seeded and chopped (optional, but I wanted just a tiny bit of a kick)
  • a cup or so of vegetable broth (cold!) -maybe more, maybe less... just enough to get the consistency you want
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh herbs of your choice (mint, dill, parsley are good choices... I had some parsley on my balcony so that's what I used)

The most work here (which really isn't a lot of work) is prepping the cucumbers and garlic. When a dish calls for raw garlic, I like mincing it with a little salt so that it becomes pasty. Sometimes, big garlic pieces somehow escape the blades of the blender, so mincing it into a paste avoids that. The salt seems to tame the flavor a bit too. (I do the same for raw onions, like for guacamole - though I don't mash them, just sprinkle salt over chopped onions and let it sit for a few minutes).

Whizz everything in a blender until smooth, and it's done.



You might chill it in the fridge some more, but since all my ingredients were cold to begin with, I didn't have to.

Cold soup #2: Sopa de Ajo Bianco (Almond and Garlic Soup)



This soup is not for those who are lukewarm toward garlic. Even A., who really likes garlic, said it was a little much. Two cloves of garlic (instead of 3) would be just fine here. Feel free to adjust to your liking.

  • 1 cup of almond meal (available at Trader Joe's; some grocery stores also carry the Bob's Red Mill brand of almond meal)
  • a cup or so (around 2 slices) of cubed day-old white country bread, crusts removed, and soaked in enough milk to cover
  • 3 cloves of garlic, minced with salt until pasty
  • a dash of sherry vinegar
  • salt and pepper

Again - whizz everything in a blender until smooth. To make it extra smooth, pour it through a sieve into bowls. I did this, but ended up not wanting to waste the almond bits that collected in the sieve. So I slathered it on bread. It was already flavorful, so why not?
 
Technically, this recipe calls for blanched almonds so you probably wouldn't even have to run it through a sieve since you won't be dealing with the almond skins anymore. But I didn't have blanched almonds, so it had to be almond meal. I think it worked out.

This soup also calls for green grapes, as a garnish or served on the side - like in this recipe. Unfortunately I didn't have any, but I imagine that would be really good here as a contrast to the creamy and garlicky soup. Note to self for next time.

Chill in the refrigerator before serving.

Hope it cools off this week! 







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Friday, July 6, 2012

happy song to usher in the weekend... and a vitamin D update





On another note... this song is about sunshine after all...back in May (before we left for India), I went to see my doctor again. I had my vitamin D levels checked again through a blood draw, and a few days later my doctor called back to say my vitamin D levels are now normal... after 3 months of high-dose supplementing when I was severely deficient this winter. She said she didn't think I would need to supplement in India (it was the height of summer there). I won't be needing it this summer either... then she instructed me to resume supplementing (but with a lower dosage than my mega-doses early this year) this coming fall and winter.

Yay!

"That's the sound of sunshine...coming down..." (Michael Franti and Spearhead)

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

chocolate zucchini muffins

Summer brings an abundance of zucchini. There were 2 zucchinis (thanks to Fresh Fork Market) in my refrigerator crisper drawer, staring at me. Having already made two loaves of zucchini bread, I decided to adapt my zucchini bread recipe and add chocolate. You can't go wrong with chocolate, right?

For me, most muffins call for chocolate chips or nuts. I like the contrasting textures of the moist crumb and the crunch of chocolate chips or nuts together. So, I searched my pantry high and low for chocolate chips... and unfortunately none turned up. And I already used up my last 2 bars of Green & Black dark chocolate for my fleur de sel chocolate chip cookies yesterday. Really??? No chocolate in this household???

And then I found a box of dark chocolate coated marzipan. It was a gift to us, but neither of us are actually huge fans of marzipan. So in my determined-to-have-chocolate state, I decided to cut up all these chocolate marzipan bars and use the chocolate coating. I initially felt bad about tossing the marzipan interior (I hate throwing food away - that's the Filipino in me), but...voila, I had chocolate "chips"! After this long process, I ended up with about 3/4 cup of chocolate pieces. And I had a little shy of half a cup of walnuts. Score! (But I suggest you just grab a bag of chocolate chips while you are at the store.)

Chocolate Zucchini Muffins (makes 23-24 muffins)

  • 2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose flour)
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 tablespoon instant coffee powder
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 cups turbinado sugar (or regular brown sugar)
  • 3/4 cup virgin coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
  • 3 tablespoons ground flaxseed, mixed with 6 tablespoons water (or 3 eggs)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 cups grated zucchini (grated in a food processor)
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips, nuts, or a combination
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two 12-cup muffin tins with paper muffin liners, or grease and flour the muffin tins. I actually just used one muffin tin and just baked them in two batches (Technically I think that once the wet and dry ingredients are mixed together, the batter has to be baked without delay... but I figured this wasn't such a delicate recipe and the second batch can wait a half hour or so before going into the oven. Anyway...)
  2. In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cocoa, salt, baking soda, instant coffee, allspice, and cinnamon. I now mix a little bit of coffee into almost any chocolate recipe. Not that you actually taste the coffee, but it just adds even more depth of flavor. Coffee makes chocolate taste better! (Thanks, Ina Garten)
  3. Measure out about a half cup of the flour mixture and place in a bowl with the chocolate chips or nuts. Mix together to coat the chocolate chips/nuts. This process (I think the technical term is dredging) prevents the chocolate chips/nuts from sinking to the bottom of the muffins as they bake.
  4. In a large bowl, mix the sugar, oil, ground flaxseed mixture (or eggs), vanilla, and grated zucchini. As a side note, for those of you who are wary of coconut oil... you actually don't detect the coconut flavor in here. And virgin, cold-pressed, unrefined coconut oil is actually good for you!
  5. Mix the flour mixture into the wet ingredients, just until combined (do not overmix!). Fold in the chocolate chips/nuts and the remaining flour mixture.
  6. Using an ice cream scoop or measuring cup, divide the batter into the muffin cups (fill about 2/3 of the way up in each muffin cup). Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a small knife/cake tester/toothpick inserted into the center of the muffin comes out without any liquid batter sticking to it (moist/dry crumbs are ok).
  7. Cool in the muffin pan for about 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Well, the cooling process didn't quite happen for me. I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into one of these.



See how incredibly moist and chocolate-y they are?

Not that zucchinis are a bad thing, but you can't even detect them in here. Surely a great way to use up zucchini. I think my next zucchini experiment will be to make them into latkes.



PS: As a side note, my wire rack (middle ground of photo) looks like it's glowing!


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Wednesday, July 4, 2012

freedom and independence

Earlier today I had a conversation with someone who asked me, "so how are you celebrating the Fourth of July?" Nonchalantly, I responded, "well, I'm not too big on the Fourth of July... It's an American holiday." Granted, I was in the middle of dusting and doing 3 loads of laundry.

But, I ended up thinking a little more about it. The truth is, my not being a born-and-bred American does not mean that the Fourth of July isn't important in my life. I came here nine years ago in the hopes of professional growth and opportunities. And without a doubt, I have grown tremendously here. I am incredibly thankful for every opportunity, even every challenge and setback that made me who I am today.

Perhaps my recent change of status to "permanent resident"  helps me feel more "free". I have to admit that after recently traveling overseas (finally!) and returning to the US, it felt great to go through immigrations at the airport with just a passport and greencard in hand, without having to pull out document after document that proves our legal status. I'm grateful that I was able to experience this freedom after what seemed to be a several-year journey in uncertainty.

But in the grander scheme of things, I am thankful for so much more. Thankful that I was free to experience higher education with a scholarship, have a fulfilling job, and go through higher education (yet again) in a field/profession of my choosing. I am free to pursue the hobbies and activities I want, be it the arts and culture, volunteering, a social life. I can exercise my independence and I'm free to walk or drive alone, realizing that in some other contexts or cultures women cannot be out unchaperoned. I'm free to go outside and not fear for my safety. I am free to believe what I want to believe, and practice my faith without persecution. I can read what I want to read, say what I want to say - verbally or in writing. I am free to have my own identity, even as a woman in an ethnic minority.

Despite not being an American, I too am celebrating my freedom today. Because I'm free to make choices and to evolve into the person I want to be. I am free to create my future.

photo by Jenni from Story of My Life

Sure, I miss home and my home country terribly. But just like Americans, today I will say: Happy Fourth of July!

May we not take our freedoms for granted...

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Monday, July 2, 2012

monday comic relief: when a man gets between a food lover and her food

So I have a reputation for loving food. So much that, at our wedding reception, both the best man AND bridesmaid's speeches made reference to it - they recounted, through one story or another (ok, there were multiple stories), that my love for food trumps my love for anything else.

Then my husband, who was watching TV one afternoon over the weekend, called me to show me this commercial.

He said, "Watch this. This is you".




Hmmm. Really? That bad??? (with the most innocent face I can muster... between mouthfuls, that is.)

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