Friday, August 31, 2012


What. A. Week. this has been.

The first week of the semester is always a frenzy, for me at least. I worked nonstop on Sunday and Monday to prepare for teaching 2 classes. Thank goodness it was a course I've taught before, but still there are always things to rethink and improve upon. Kaizen is a part of my manifesto, after all. So it was still tons of work. Note to self: Procratinate less!!! (But sometimes I think I do better under pressure too, so who knows...)

Now that it's Friday, this is where I want to be right now:

photo by cheeksandchubs - love this feeling of quiet and mystery...

So, unfortunately no new recipes or interesting stories to share this week.

I slept GREAT for 2 nights in a row this week - went to bed around midnight and got up at 7 am. A milestone for this gal who on most nights fall asleep at 3 am. Except last night I couldn't stop thinking again, and fell asleep around 2:30. Ugh.

Hope to do some fun cooking this weekend... a big pan of dense, fudgy brownies are in order. I sense a chocolate emergency coming up. Oh, but I also have some plums I want to bake into a buttermilk cake...half a canteloupe that I'd like to make into a granita or sorbet...

Decisions, decisions.

Happy Friday... And happy long weekend, for those of you on this side of the pond.

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Monday, August 27, 2012

a whole new meaning to "busy"

I recently read a couple of bloggers talk about this concept of "being busy" (here and here). How we tend to respond with "good, but busy" when asked how we are; how in this culture "being busy" equates to thriving, successful, fulfilled... and how we tend to wear our busyness as "badges of honor" - a "boast disguised as a complaint" (Kreider). And although on one hand, busyness is a natural part of living; we all need to take care of family, make a living, pay the bills, exercise, make time for ourselves, etc etc... And there are those who are really and truly, genuinely busy. But it also makes me wonder how I add things to my plate to perpetuate this constant busyness. When in reality, some things that keep me "busy" are self-imposed and unnecessary, and removing them from my life would create "sacred space" or downtime to let me linger over a cup of tea.

Last week a friend of mine asked me to babysit her 2-month old daughter, as she started at her job and had to be away all day for the first time. I was honored that they trusted me. I thought, oh, I can bring a boatload of work; she's just going to eat, poop, and sleep. I'm going to get tons of work done. No biggie.

WRONG. I think the only productive work (meaning my own work) I did in my 8 hours of babysitting was to add one page to my syllabus for teaching this fall.

Somehow, the hours seemed to fly by as I played with her (I couldn't get enough of her smiling and cooing), fed her, burped her, changed her diaper, soothed her when she fussed, and rocked and bounced her to sleep. Oh, and speaking of diaper changing... why is it that babies poop just minutes after you change a wet/soggy diaper? So I felt her diaper, thought it was time for a change, went over to change her then set her down on her boppy pillow. Minutes later, she pooped big-time, and gave me a big gummy smile. The joke was on me. :)

thought this was pretty funny (image source)

So yes, time just flew. Adding one page's worth of work and reading 2 (short) chapters was a milestone.

Don't get me wrong; I'm not complaining. It was fun, albeit tiring - though I didn't realize I was tired till that evening when I got home. I've always been humbled by mothers who do it all so well. Well, I'm humbled by mothers in general. I know this isn't revelatory, bu moms are busy, no doubt about that. How do you do it???

So I did squeeze in a bit of work. Sure I was busy taking care of little Beatrice. And sure I had tons of work left to do.  But the thing is, it was a different kind of busy. Time ceases to matter when a tiny infant falls asleep on your chest. It's an entirely different feeling. I thought, forget about work. Just be fully present with this tiny, precious human being who, at this moment, depends on me completely. There you have it - sacred space.

PS: Interestingly, I woke up with very sore arms the next morning. While I knew I wasn't in great shape, I didn't think I was in terrible shape either. But I'm discovering that the strength needed for multiple chaturangas (yoga version of a push-up) and bakasanas doesn't quite compare to the strength needed for caring for a growing baby all day. Like I said: how do you moms do it?

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Saturday, August 25, 2012

panzanella and warm marinated olives

We've been getting a lot of different tomatoes lately, including grape tomatoes, yellow pear tomatoes, and beautiful heirloom tomatoes. It truly is one of the best things about summer. If I were really smart about this, I would have turned all these wonderful tomatoes into a marinara sauce to freeze and save for the winter ahead, but lately I just can't help myself. I can't stop eating them! Whether sliced and doused with olive oil and basil...

Or in a sandwich, with a schmear of mayonnaise, coarse sea salt, and lots of cracked black pepper...

Or in panzanella, which is an Italian bread and tomato salad. All this salad needs day-old crusty bread, and gorgeous tomatoes and fresh basil, and just a simple vinaigrette dressing. I made mine a little differently based on what I had in the kitchen; you can always play around with the ingredients. Maybe swap feta for the fresh mozzarella (it may not be traditional, but it's good!). Maybe add some shallots. Do what you like!


For the bread:
  • a little shy of half a loaf of day-old, crusty artisan bread
  • olive oil
  • salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Slice the bread into cubes (about half an inch or so). I would estimate that I had about 4 cups of cubed bread (maybe!). Spread onto a baking sheet pan, then drizzle olive oil on top - not a lot, just a little bit to help the bread brown nicely. Season with salt and pepper. Toss everything together with your hands to distribute the olive oil, then bake for about 10-12 minutes until they are crunchy and golden brown around the edges.

This may seem like an unnecessary step; you might be thinking, why toast it and let it get crunchy only to soak it in dressing later? But I think letting it toast in the oven lets it dry out even further so that it can soak up all that flavorful dressing more.

For the rest of the salad:
  • lots of tomatoes - I used one very large heirloom tomato, one medium red tomato, and about 10 sun-dried tomatoes, rehydrated in hot water for 10 minutes, then chopped (sun-dried tomatoes aren't necessary here, but I like them)
  • 1 large garlic clove
  • 1 small onion (shallots would have been better, but I didn't have any), chopped small; about 1/4 cup
  • about 1/2 cup of fresh mozzarella, in small cubes
  • about 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • about 1/4 cup of your best extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • lots of fresh basil

While the bread is in the oven, make the dressing. In a large bowl, mix the red wine vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper (you can season generously as this makes a large salad!) Mince the garlic clove with a little salt - whenever I use garlic for a raw preparation, I like to do it this way because the salt helps break down the garlic a little bit. Chop the onion (or shallot). I didn't want raw onions in here as they might overpower the tomatoes, so I decided to roast the onion slightly in the oven as well (the oven was already hot anyway!) to sweeten them a bit and make them less pungent - probably not even 10 minutes. If I had shallots, I probably wouldn't have roasted them as they are more mellow than regular onions. Add the roasted onions (or shallots) to the dressing.

Chop the tomatoes and add them (including any tomato juice that collects on your cutting board) to the bowl. Add the crunchy bread as well, and toss everything together so that the bread soaks up the dressing. Toss in the fresh mozzarella, and simply tear the fresh basil leaves over the bowl.

Check for seasoning, and adjust as necessary. Allow the salad to sit for about 10 minutes (it gets better!), if you can wait that long :)

The salad was a study of contrasting textures and flavors: croutons softened by a slightly tangy, fruity olive oil dressing, plump, juicy tomatoes at the peak of their sweetness, chewy sun-dried tomatoes, and mild, creamy mozzarella, and fresh, sweet basil. Yum. As I was eating it, I was already thinking about how much I would enjoy the leftovers for lunch the next day. I know. I think ahead like that. 

This was an easy weeknight dinner, along with some warm marinated olives - simply a mix of a variety of olives from Whole Foods' antipasto bar, which I packed into a glass jar (with the olive oil it comes in), and set into a small pot of simmering water for about 20-30 minutes. This was inspired by a visit to Flour (a nearby Italian restaurant) last weekend. Warm marinated olives are a part of their appetizer list; and interestingly, we never ordered them before, thinking, oh, it's just olives - I can have them at home anytime, why would I order it at a restaurant? But we decided to get them on our last visit and it was a revelation. We were in olive heaven (a little dramatic, I know).  I've always loved olives. Little did I know that enjoying them warm takes them to a whole other level. (I'm not the last one to learn about this, am I?) Letting them sit in a hot water bath allows the flavors to bloom, and it's just worlds better than the usual cold olives in typical antipasto platters. I guess it's a similar concept as letting cheeses sit at room temperature for a little bit - not serving it straight out of the fridge - before enjoying it on a cheese platter. Believe me. Give it a try. You'll never go back to cold olives.

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Thursday, August 23, 2012

Filipino mung bean stew (vegetarian version)

I have to (embarrassingly) admit that, for as much as I love to cook, I don't cook a whole lot of Filipino food. Many of the "classic" Filipino dishes are meat-based, like the popular adobo which is a stew of pork or chicken, slow-cooked in vinegar, soy sauce, lots of garlic, and black peppercorns. They say that there are as many versions of adobo as there are Filipino households, and I don't doubt that. But this is not a post on adobo; rather it's about the humble mung bean stew.

I know many of us might not want to say goodbye to summer and think of stews just yet. But I'm starting to feel a little chill in the air now during my after-dinner walks with A. Fall is in the air, folks. At least in the Cleveland air, that is. :)

Given my love for lentils, mung bean stew is frequently part of our rotation of legume dishes. It's cheap, protein- and fiber-packed, and so good for you.

I make a very different version from what you might encounter in non-vegetarian Filipino households. In the traditional version(s), you'll see bits of pork and maybe tiny shrimp, perhaps the flavor of shrimp paste and/or fish sauce. Some add a chile pepper for a little spice; some add a little greens. I think the traditional version also calls for fish sauce as a seasoning; although I have started to eat fish 1-2 times a week now, A. doesn't, so I use a low-sodium tamari instead (or any reduced-sodium soy sauce). Balsamic vinegar is not a traditional ingredient, but I find that it works in here. Lemon juice would work too, but I like the sweet-tart flavor of balsamic vinegar.

It does take a bit of advanced planning to soak the mung beans 24-30 hours, or at least four hours; although you can cook mung beans without soaking, soaking makes it so much faster to cook. I actually soak mine at least overnight to about 30 hours, at which point you'll start seeing the white insides of the mung beans begin to push out of the green covering. Soaking and sprouting makes them more digestible as well. For those of you who are not used to consuming large amounts of legumes or lentils, this is really helpful in reducing your chances of... you-know-what. You're welcome.

Of course, before doing that just make sure you sort the beans, picking out any pebbles or unwanted items - easiest to spread it out on a light colored dish or baking sheet pan. Then rinse a few times before soaking, and if you are doing a long soak, change the water a couple of times. After soaking the mung beans will have plumped up. Even if you just start out with a cup of dried mung beans, it will triple in volume at least after a long soak, so in the end this recipe can probably serve 4.

Filipino-Style Mung Bean Stew (vegetarian)

  • olive oil - a healthy glug (I'm offically making that a technical culinary term now), enough to cover the bottom of the pot
  • half a large onion, chopped
  • half a head of garlic, chopped (I know... I'm pretty unapologetic about my use of garlic. Except before yoga class.)
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 cup mung beans, soaked 24-30 hours (or at least four hours), then drained and rinsed
  • water or vegetable broth
  • tamari or soy sauce - I think I used 3 or 4 tablespoons
  • balsamic vinegar - about a tablespoon
  • salt and pepper

In a heavy-bottomed pot, heat olive oil over medium heat. Saute the onion, garlic, and tomatoes (the trio that makes up the traditional sofrito, or the basis of many Filipino dishes) with a little salt and pepper. Once the onions are soft and the tomatoes have broken down, add the mung beans, and pour in enough water or vegetable broth to cover the mung beans by about an inch.

Bring it to a boil, then cover and lower the heat to a simmer. Let it cook until the mung beans are soft. Season with tamari or soy sauce, balsamic vinegar, and pepper (be sure to taste for saltiness after adding the tamari or soy sauce). The stew should be somewhat thick; if it's too watery, continue simmering uncovered to reduce the liquid. I like mine pretty thick, as you can tell from the photos below; but you can just cook it until you get the consistency you want.

I'm not sure if this is traditional, but for extra nutrition I sometimes add some chopped leafy greens (spinach or kale) at the end, and cook through briefly till they wilt. 

And because I'm also unapologetic about my use of olive oil, serve the mung beans in bowls with a drizzle of good olive oil. I don't think that's traditional either, but I learned that from my late grandfather, who liked to drizzle olive oil over his bean stews. We Filipinos typically eat this with rice, but A. enjoys it with roti (Indian flatbread). It actually works out that way too. We are a Filipino-Indian household, after all.

A few notes...
~ The napkin in the upper right photo above is from betsygrace on Etsy. I splurged on this set of rustic linen embroidered napkins and asked for a custom set embroidered with "welcome" in different languages, but I asked for Filipino and Hindi as well to represent mine and my husband's language and culture. "Kain" actually literally translates to "eat" in Filipino. This is how we welcome people into our home; we don't say "welcome", we invite them to eat. :)

~ Here is a great book on Filipino food: Memories of Philippine Kitchens by Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan. Gorgeous photos and lovely stories about the history of Filipino food. 

~ Here is an informative and entertaining blog on Filipino food: Burnt Lumpia

~ My friend Dianne writes much more about Filipino food than I do, such as in this post.

Update on 11.12.12:
I made mung bean stew again tonight, and I added something to a whole other level: homemade garlic confit! It was SO.GOOD. I had some leftover garlic confit that I made last week, so at the last minute I decided to add some. While we were eating the stew, every now and then we would find these creamy, soft, sweet garlic cloves in our bowl, which we then mashed into the stew. Yum.

Here are a few recipe sources for garlic confit:
Epicurious - just garlic and olive oil
Food and Wine - garlic, olive oil, thyme, and chiles 

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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

not your typical green beans... and a recipe for loubie bzeit

I know it must seem like I don't eat anything else but shortbread, ice cream, and cake, but I do eat real food. I mean non-dessert food. I promise. If in doubt, check out my food page here, and you'll see some variety in what I eat, beyond dessert.

Recently we got these beautiful dragon's tongue beans in our weekly produce bag from Fresh Fork Market.

Aren't they pretty? I love the purple striations against yellow. I've never cooked or tasted these before, so I was really excited thinking about what to make with them.

Unfortunately, after some reading on the Internet I found out that the purple striations disappear after cooking. Sad! Just like how the striations in Chioggia beets disappear after cooking as well.

At any rate, I suddenly thought of the Lebanese dish called Loubie Bzeit - a slow-cooked green bean stew with tomatoes, onion, garlic, tomato and spices. 

We also had these gorgeous tomatoes, which I thought would be perfect for this dish. I know - sometimes I think it's a crime to cook summer tomatoes, when they are at their juiciest and sweetest state best enjoyed as is, sprinkled with a little sea salt to bring out their sweetness, or in a caprese salad with basil and creamy, fresh mozzarella or the even more indulgent burrata.

However, A. also recently started requesting heartier "cooked" meals besides the light/raw summer salads I've been preparing. And you know me - when I get a culinary request, I deliver. Except when he almost threatened (in a good way) to enter me into the Food Network's Chopped. Highly unlikely as I don't have a single competitive bone in my body. And, forget about competing, I might just (shamelessly) join the judges at the judges' table and sample all the delicious meals cooked that day.

Anyway, I digress, as always... the stories just somehow sneak their way into my recipe writing.

So here's the recipe. I don't know if it's perfectly authentic...lest I offend any Lebanese cooks out there. Let's just say it's my version. Feel free to play around with the measurements; the spice measurements are only approximations as I didn't measure precisely. When in doubt, start with a small amount; you can always add more later.

Loubie Bzeit

  • 1 lb green beans or, in my case, dragon's tongue beans, washed, trimmed, and sliced into 1-inch pieces (no need to be too precise here)
  • olive oil - a generous glug, enough to cover the bottom of the pan
  • half a large onion, chopped
  • ground cinnamon - about 1/4 teaspoon
  • ground allspice - about 1/2 teaspoon
  • ground cumin - about a 1/4 teaspoon
  • half a head of garlic, peeled and cloves left whole, or cut in halves if they are large cloves (I know it sounds like a lot of garlic, but I promise this makes it so good)
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • a pinch of sugar

Heat olive oil in a heavy-bottomed skillet, over medium heat. Saute the onion with a little salt and pepper (season as you go!) until soft. Add the cinnamon, allspice, and cumin; saute to bring out the flavors, but be sure to keep scraping the bottom so the spices don't burn or stick. Add the tomatoes (and any tomato juice that collects on your cutting board) and the garlic, and let cook until the tomatoes break down somewhat and the garlic infuses the tomatoes. Add the beans, season again with a little salt and pepper as well as a pinch of sugar, then add about 1/4 cup of water to help soften the beans. Cover the pan, then once the sauce is bubbling lower the heat to let it cook gently.

Unfortunately I didn't time how long this took - I would say at least 15 minutes after the beans are in, but possibly more (I should be better at noting these things down!). The beans should be very soft, but not mushy, and the sauce should have thickened (but it shouldn't be too saucy). If the liquid is too thin or watery, let it simmer uncovered to reduce the liquid. The garlic should be soft as well. Check for seasoning and adjust as needed.

Serve with steamed basmati rice or crusty bread for mopping up the delicious sauce. The beans were soft and sweet, but not overly so; the tomato flavor made more complex by the spices.

As A. is my daily food critic, I always ask: "Do you like it enough for me to make it again?" To that he mumbled, yes, in between mouthfuls.

I had the leftovers for lunch today, and discovered it's good even when cold or at room temperature as well.




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Monday, August 20, 2012

redirecting the self-talk

Hindu temple, Ujjain, India | May 2012

"When we judge ourselves, we break our own hearts."

Something I've been thinking about after hearing a yoga teacher talk about this last week... so I'm committing to observe my thinking - whether I'm judging myself or not - for the next few days. Anyone care to join me?

I know it won't be perfect (aaack, judging again... see? Case in point.). I know I'll slip up and find that I'm judging myself. It's so easy to do. But it can be so destructive - the more we judge ourselves, the more we stay in the shadow of negativity and doubt. 

So when it does happen, I'll try to just observe what I'm thinking, rather than judge.

Then I'll let it go.



We'll see...

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Friday, August 17, 2012

"Mia and Jeni" doesn't really have a good ring to it, but...

...I think I have a new culinary idol, a bit like Julie Powell's admiration for Julia Child:

Jeni Britton Bauer of Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams scoop shop in Chagrin Falls, Ohio
photo by my brother Carlo

photo by my brother Carlo

I am not much of a cookbook hoarder. I remember browsing through Half-Price Books and purchasing a few cheap, not-that-great cookbooks that ended up gathering dust (and ended up being either donated or sold back to Half-Price Books). Apart from cookbook "classics" like Julia Child and Marcella Hazan, I am more inclined to get books on the fundamentals, such as Ratio by Michael Ruhlman (I want to get this one as well, also by Ruhlman.). And by the way, whoever said Cleveland is the "Mistake By The Lake" is so wrong - we have an acclaimed food writer, and a food scene that can rival any other city here in the US. We have amazing restaurants, excellent pastries and French macarons that I'm certain can hold their own against Ladurée in Paris (not that I've been there, but...) and community-supported agriculture. And we have an Iron Chef.

(I'm not even a born-and-bred Clevelander nor Ohioan, let alone a born-and-bred American. Still, I always think it's good to appreciate the gifts of any city/state I live in. But let's not get into the Cleveland winters.)

Ok, I deviate. Back to the original topic.

When I saw that Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home cost just $14 on Amazon, I decided to go for it.

Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams at Home

It is a lovely, lovely book. I've tried two recipes so far (just simple ones for now - vanilla frozen yogurt, roasted strawberry buttermilk) and they are spot on - just like the ice cream you would get at her scoop shop or her website. I personally think that it is in the simplest concoctions, with relatively few ingredients, that you can see the value of a really good, fundamental recipe - that when all these ingredients are mixed together in the right proportions and work together in perfect chemistry, the flavor of each ingredient truly shines. So yes, maybe it's a little premature because I've only tried a few recipes - but ice cream calls for the same custard/ice cream base to which flavors, fruits, nuts, etc are added. And I already know, this basic recipe is a winner.

And the thing about really good ice cream is - when you use quality ingredients (no nonfat or other shortcuts here!), the fresh flavor and lingering, creamy mouthfeel is just so exceptional that it doesn't take a whole lot of ice cream to feel satisfied*. So our freezer is filling up! Help?

My next project though is Scarlet and Earl Grey ice cream, because I love anything Earl Grey. Yup, I've been bonding with my ice cream maker.

But more than the recipes, Jeni also wrote about the backstory of business, her commitment to local farmers, artisans, and suppliers or vendors at her nearby North Market in Columbus. She included stories, pictures, and descriptions of the farmers themselves. I think what the book highlights, aside from the recipes, is that "it takes a village" to make these splendid ice creams.

It's something I've been thinking about as well for my little cookie venture. I contacted a family-run dairy farm for butter - as shortbread calls for the best butter you can find.

So yes, I kind of feel like Julie in the book/movie "Julie and Julia", wanting to cook my way through a great cookbook. Though I won't try to do what Julie Powell did and cook a new recipe every day for a year, I know this is a cookbook I will thoroughly enjoy.

Homemade vanilla frozen yogurt with strawberries. Take that, Pinkberry!

Roasted Strawberry Buttermilk ice cream. It's not the perfectly sculpted, rounded scoop, but it was SOOO good.

* I have to admit to enjoying my homemade version of Jeni's ice cream at 11 am. That counts as lunch, right?

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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

web-aholics anonymous?

I've talked about this before, and it's on my mind again.

The Internet.

Ah, my I-can't-live-without-you relationship. Sad, I know.


Hello, I'm Mia, and I'm a web-aholic.

Anyone else with me?

Or am I hearing crickets in the background? I know you're out there...

Recently I read an article about how the web is driving us mad. I do understand that the title is a bit inaccurate as it's not the internet itself, but how we use it (and the author does say this - that it's how we use it that creates problems).

I started thinking about this as I move forward in my new little venture that I wrote about yesterday, and how I would need to strengthen my online presence, my network, yada yada yada. And yes, I know it's important in any business.

Instagram. Pinterest. LinkedIn. Blogger. Facebook. And crap, now I have to tweet? (shudder)

I'm not against any of these things. In fact I use most of them (so far, except Twitter. Not quite ready for that). I don't know how we managed before Skype or Facetime, especially to keep in touch with family and friends who are half a world away. And I'm not afraid to say I love using these tools - though some more than others. Duh, I write a blog, right? And I'm a self-proclaimed Instagram-aholic.

It used to be (years ago) that I went on the Internet for a very specific purpose. To send an email, for example. Going online meant waiting for a dial-up connection that was spotty at best (do you all still remember that somewhat annoying sound when connecting through dial-up? Those were the days...). I would send off my email then disconnect and turn that clunky computer off. And now we have information right at our fingertips, 24/7/365, all in sleek, fast, tiny-yet-powerful devices. How many of us check our email on our phones even before we get out of bed? (slowly and guiltily raising a hand here)

I've been thinking about this as Kristin has been writing a series on intentionality over the past several days (starting with simplifying our lives - go catch up here if you're interested - it's good stuff!)

But that's the key - it used to be that I got on the Internet because of a specific intention or purpose. Now, I sometimes catch myself realizing how it can really become an almost mindless, endless time-suck. It's no longer very mindful or intentional because it's something that is just always there. Being online has now become a default state. Just think about all those smartphone apps that have "push notifications" that make something pop up on your screen every second of the day (ok, I'm exaggerating) unless you choose to turn it off in your settings.

"In less than the span of a single childhood, Americans have merged with their machines." (Tony Dokoupil)

 No wonder it's so easy to get overwhelmed.

I've gone through phases of taking breaks. Several months ago I took a Facebook break, and I've since lessened my use of it once I got back on. Last week I didn't write anything on my blog. I felt the need to be away for a little bit and unplug, and just do something else. I also didn't want to write just for the sake of posting something on the blog. Interestingly, a couple of my friends also talked about how they felt the need to do the same last week, and I've even read other bloggers write about the need to take a break. Funny how I heard this from so many people, at the same time I had been thinking about it for the past couple of weeks. There must have been something about how the planets were aligned recently or what phase the moon was in, I don't know.

Regardless, I think it's great when that happens. It's good and healthy to recognize when we need to turn off. Though I think it would be even better if I learned to manage it from the start before I get overwhelmed.

I think the key is to remember how the Internet is a tool, after all. A hammer - or any tool for that matter - is only as good as its user; if the user has the skill to manage it and use it toward a specific end or outcome. The next step then would be to keep our intention or outcome in mind, then be selective about the online tools we use, and finally to manage how we use it. It becomes problematic when the Internet controls us, when it really should be the other way around. The problem is that it's just so.freaking.addictive. (I'm looking at you, Instagram.)

So in thinking about my Internet use, I started to feel a sense of dread, almost, as I thought about the need to do more online marketing and be even more plugged in once I "officially" launch my business. But in the end, it's also a choice. I read an interesting take on Facebook from a successful blogger who chose not to use it (see here - part 1 and 2). So maybe I won't have to start tweeting, after all. Whew. I can choose not to.

Yes, my use of the Internet comes from a desire to connect with others. I've started making some great connections online and I do enjoy my (small) online blogging community. The Internet is only one of the tools to meet that end. I actually enjoyed my Facebook break - I decided I would more intentionally re-connect with others by making more phone calls or sending a card via snail mail. (I still enjoy doing that... don't you?). But a certain amount of being plugged in is inevitable, and it's up to me to make healthy choices and manage my online time.

On "Sacred Space"

I loved this article on the need to reclaim sacred space. Such a great reminder to allow ourselves time to be free of interruptions and enjoy just being alone with our thoughts without the constant dings and beeps from our mobile devices. This friend recently told me about how she started sketching and drawing again - what a great example of creating sacred space.

I'm looking forward to my sacred space on my yoga mat today - I'll be teaching a class tonight (yay!). Then there's my after-dinner walk with A., when we talk about our dreams, exchange even more childhood stories, or laugh at the corniest of jokes. And my sacred space in the kitchen to experiment with a new shortbread flavor or bond with my ice cream maker. ;-) All great times to be mindful, intentional, and present.

How do you unplug? Do you intentionally create a "sacred space" for yourself?

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

just do it already!

It's been quiet here on the blog over the past week or so, but life has been anything but that.

I've been (happily) covered in flour for the last few days.

I've had a new page in draft form for a while now, and for the past several weeks I had been debating with myself whether to publish it or not. Me and my indecisiveness... if you know me, you'll know that this isn't the first time you've heard me say that.

But over the past year I had been thinking, thinking, thinking about this little project... and I've vaguely mentioned it before...and finally, I thought, why not?

A. is always the one who gives me that extra little push in the right direction... he's the one who tells me, just do it already! And then I was even more inspired by Jen who is courageously going on her new venture, Kitchen 452. My other friend Anne who has gotten her work published in 513{eats}. And then there's Krishna, who launched her own catering company (though on hiatus during her 3-year European adventure). Sharon's writings on the zone of excellence and zone of genius. There is greatness all around me, from which to draw inspiration.

So I'm doing it. Here it is... click on the tab "SHOP" on the upper right corner to see the new page!

As you'll see, this is just a "teaser" announcement while my actual website is in the works.

Baby steps. Sometimes they are the hardest. But once you get over them, you just keep on going. :)

More soon!

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Paulina the Mechanic

Paulina, age 3. Photo by Debra-Lynn Hook

 My brother Carlo emailed me this story this morning. It was the best start to my day. In his words:

Paulina the Mechanic

This morning, my car battery died.  I borrowed my Dad's car and got the battery replaced under warranty.  After they replaced it, I had to go back to my parents' house to pick up my Dad so we could both get the car and I'd then drive my car home.

My Dad and I were by the driveway already when I heard Paulina running after me from inside the house.  She opened the door and looked at me with beaming eyes, "Daddy, I have the battery!!"  Clasped tightly in her tiny hand was one Energizer AA battery.  "Will this work?" she asked.  "We can try," I said. She asked to come along so I took her with me. 

When I entered my car, Paulina gave me the AA battery and told me to try it.  I put it inside the car ashtray then turned the ignition switch.  When the engine started, Paulina just gasped in excitement - "It worked Daddy!!!"  

Despite the hassle and stress of what happened, Paulina had her way of cheering me up.  I drove home with a wide grin on my face. 

I had a good day after all.


The sweet innocence of children... always a reminder of all that is good and hopeful and special in this world. I miss my nephews and nieces... sigh. They just grow too fast.

Thank you Carlo for sharing this! I hope this story also gives you a great start to your weekend!

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Friday, August 3, 2012

Ethiopian food

When I lived in Cincinnati, there was a family-owned and operated Ethiopian restaurant I used to frequent with friends, called Emanu.  Emanu is actually the matriarch in this family. They had AMAZING food. Now, I have never been to Ethiopia or anywhere remotely close to there, so I have no basis for comparison. But regardless, their food was some of the most delicious I've had. It also helps that the people there have been nice to me, and I love the restaurant's minimalist aesthetic. Oh, and the restroom. I even told my friend Anne specifically to check out their restroom and on one visit she actually photographed it! That modern sink...anyway, check out her photos here (not just of the bathroom sink, but the food!)

(I've heard people say that the state of the restroom in a restaurant, I think, is a good indicator of cleanliness in other areas. But I'm not an expert restaurant critic.).

Going back to the topic... At Emanu I would usually get the vegetarian sampler dish which consisted of lentil stew, collard greens, stewed cabbage, and carrots and green beans, served in separate piles on top of injera (soft flatbread made of teff flour - actually a bit more like a spongy crêpe). The lentils had a nice earthy fragrant-spicy (not hot-spicy) flavor... the collards were tender, and the carrots and green beans were soft and almost caramelized from what I suspect is a slow-cooking process.

Ethiopian food | image by eyesopenwide

I haven't had the opportunity to visit this restaurant again, as it is four hours away after all. But recently I got hit by a strong craving. And if there's something you probably already know about me, it's that I do act on my cravings. Sometimes to a fault, especially if it involves Cape Cod salt + vinegar chips. Or Jeni's roasted strawberry buttermilk ice cream.

But my cravings for Emanu's food...something about the flavors of Ethiopian food are so distinct, yet comforting and strangely familiar.

So I was on a mission to make some. We were getting a lot of greens from our CSA, including collard greens, and both A. and I were starting to get pretty tired of my usual sauteed-greens-in-garlic-and-olive-oil staple.

I found these recipes for lentil stew and collard greens and set off to work. Thankfully I had a lot of the spices already thanks to our pretty extensive spice cabinet that could rival a Penzey's store (yes I'm pretty proud of it too!). I chuckle as I type this, as I am actually notorious among my friends because of my (in)famous spice cabinet. Three years ago, I left my apartment in Cincinnati and moved in with my friends CD and MK for about three months while I was in transition between leaving Cincinnati and coming to Kent. Most of my stuff went into storage. My spices, on the other hand, stayed with me. I moved into my CD's spare bedroom and instead of filling the armoire with clothes, I filled it with spices. I'm serious. My friends even photographed the said armoire-turned-spice-cabinet. They called it the "second pantry" in addition to their existing kitchen/pantry. Such that, when one of us was cooking and we needed an ingredient, the other would say, "go check the second pantry." Now I wonder if they can unearth that photo of the second pantry...

Anyway. This isn't so much a recipe post as much as it is just me sharing my experience making Ethiopian food at home. The lentil recipe called for a spice mix called berbere ("bayr-beray"), a complex, heady spice mix with such depth of flavor, made up of about thirty different things. Ok, not really... but thirteen, to be exact: coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, black peppercorns, whole allspice, white cardamom pods, whole cloves, dried onion flakes, dried chiles de arbol, paprika, ground nutmeg, ground ginger, ground cinnamon, kosher salt. Whew. I know it's a long list, but don't give up on it yet. I promise, it's GOOD.

Clockwise from top: white cardamom, whole coriander, black peppercorns, whole allspice. Aren't they pretty? I know... the things that amuse me...
 Thankfully there were only two things I needed to buy; first was white cardamom. Because I live in a half-Indian household, we already had green cardamom and black cardamom, but not white. I did not even know prior to this that there was such a thing as white cardamom! The second ingredient I needed was dried onion flakes; I typically use fresh onion in cooking, but of course that wouldn't work in a spice mix and I had no intention of dehydrating onions myself. I know I get a bit really crazy in the kitchen but I don't go that far.

Now I know that the spices listed above are probably not in everyone's kitchens - depending on what you like to cook - but let me tell you that making this spice mix is SO. WORTH. IT.

Fenugreek, in different forms (clockwise from top): ground, seed, and dried leaves. Seeds and dried leaves (methi) are from the Indian grocery store. I used the ground and seed form for these recipes.
Be forewarned though that your house will smell like fenugreek and other spices for maybe... um, 2 days. Even with our sliding doors open while I was cooking, the smell lingered. But again - so worth it.

I always like starting with whole spices to the extent possible - I can buy them in larger amounts and store them without the risk of turning stale or losing flavor. I read somewhere that ground spices start to lose flavor after six months. Of course some spices are just convenient to have already ground though, and I do have those as well - I just store them in airtight glass jars and keep them away from light and direct heat (do not store them in those wall-mounted spice shelves right above your stove!).

Dried Indian red chile peppers. I didn't have chile de arbol, but had a large bag of this stuff. I think it worked out well. I actually grind these into red pepper flakes as well, for Italian cooking. 

Cooking always comforts and grounds me. The process is part methodical, part intuitive, and part creative. And just plain rewarding in the end!

I toasted the spices in a skillet, added them to my spice grinder, gave everything a good stir and stored them in small glass jars (and gave a couple of jars to my friends). I took a whiff of the mixture and the fragrance of the spices resulted in a sneezing fit. This is potent stuff, people. Click here for the recipe.

berbere (Ethiopian spice mix)
"How can I describe the result of this blend? It was both masculine and feminine, shouting for attention and whispering at me to come closer. In one sniff it was bright and crisp; in the next, earthy and slow." - Marcus Samuelsson, Yes, Chef: A Memoir (p. 223)

Once the spice mix is done, everything else is so incredibly easy that I couldn't believe it took me so long to try making Ethiopian food. For the Misr Wot (lentil stew): Onions and garlic, sauteed in a combination of olive oil and butter. Red lentils go into the pot with enough water to cover by about an inch or so, along with some tomato, and about a tablespoon of the spice mix. Then it is left to simmer slowly until the lentils are soft, then the spices and seasoning is adjusted before serving.

Good thing the spice mix makes about 3/4 of a cup, and you only need a couple of tablespoons each time -  so you would have enough to make these lentils again several more times before running out.

Red lentils

Next, Ye'abesha Gomen, or the collard greens. Slow-cooked in aromatics (onions, garlic, ginger), chiles, and spices (black cardamom and nigella) until the leaves are so tender, and the flavor is slightly smoky and spicy, and slightly sweet.

Left: black cardamom pods; right: nigella seeds

Both recipes call for Ethiopian spiced butter, but I left that out because I didn't have enough butter on hand at the time (horror of horrors!). I bet it would be out of this world with this special butter mixture.

We ate the lentils and greens with brown rice instead of the traditional injera - what can I say, I'm Filipino and a rice girl through and through (though I'm sure my roti-loving and naan-loving husband would love injera... but that will be a project for another day).

It was so unbelievably good. I was so addicted I made both dishes twice in a week. Then I made both  again a few weeks after that. As you can see, these dishes have been in heavy rotation recently - which is great because it gives us another flavor profile in our already bean- and lentil-centered diet.

If this isn't comfort food, I don't know what is. I know slow-cooking doesn't sound all that appealing during the summer months, but it's also nice to have some variety aside from cold soups and salads.

I won't re-post the recipes here as they are so nicely laid out in the links above - and I really didn't do anything much to adapt the recipes other than to omit the spiced butter in favor of olive oil.

Now if only I can recreate the cheesecake that the restaurant's matriarch makes. As dessert-loving as I am, I'm actually not a cheesecake person - especially most restaurant cheesecakes. I usually find it too dense, heavy, and cloyingly sweet. Emanu's cheesecake on the other hand is like nothing I've tried before - it's unbelievably light and just heavenly. It's made of a mixture of mascarpone and ricotta and goat cheese (I think) with a touch of honey. It is hands-down the best cheesecake I've had. I guess you can't go wrong with a grandmother's cooking. Oh, and the pine nut pound cake...which caused quite a ruckus when I was with two of my friends one time. But let me just blame that on the Ethiopian espresso we had with dessert.

Why I torture myself dreaming of dessert like this when the restaurant is four hours away from me, I don't know. But at least I can now make the lentils and greens and be transported to fond memories with friends in this restaurant.


Once again, here are the links to the recipes:
Misr Wot (Ethiopian Lentil Stew)
Ye'abesha Gomen (Ethiopian Collard Greens)
Berbere (Ethiopian Spice Mix)
Nit'r Qibe (Ethiopian Spiced Butter)

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

things I'm thinking about + sleep hygiene

"...that is what learning is.
You suddenly understand 
something you've understood all your life, 
but in a new way."
- Doris Lessing

The words above are from the book Transitions: Prayers and Declarations for a Changing Life by Julia Cameron.

Things I'm thinking about as I try to gain clarity on my future direction:

Our necessary path becomes clear.
Such breakthroughs into clarity can be shocking, even painful. 
What I now see is an uncomfortable truth.
I must change to accommodate my unsparing vision. 
- Julia Cameron, Transitions 

I felt goosebumps reading that. I think I'm still at a phase where I'm feeling - and resisting - that discomfort.

Meanwhile I'm trying to work on my insomnia. Those of you who experience this know how challenging it is. It's to the point where even breathing techniques have been frustrating, but then I realized that because of my frustration, I'm actually trying too hard to sleep, rather than letting myself fall asleep. And that's why it's been stressful.

One of the things I've started to commit to doing is improving my sleep hygiene. I've never heard it called that way up until recently, but it makes perfect sense.

One of the aspects of my sleep hygiene is to turn off or set aside electronics and anything with screens an hour before bedtime.

For many years I used to have light reading on my bedside table - usually books of meditations or reflections. Then for a long time I was in transition and many of my things (including non-academic books) were in storage. Over the past year or so I've finally felt more settled, but somehow I lost the habit of reading something light and positive before bed (instead of news and such on the iPad... yup, those dang screens...). Then I realized how much I miss books - actual books on paper - and how much they have helped me in the past.

So, along with my other "stuff" (much to the amusement of my husband), including aromatherapy spray and lotion (both made in Cleveland by a yoga instructor), as well as my Bedtime Hug, I took out my stack of favorite books.

From top:

Transitions: Prayers and Declarations for a Changing Life by Julia Cameron
Blessings: Prayers and Declarations for a Heartful Life by Julia Cameron
The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi
365 Yoga: Daily Meditations by Julie Rappaport
(plus a notebook to write on)

In a couple of yoga classes I've attended, I got to try small sandbags over my body for relaxation. I know it sounds strange, but they are pretty amazing stuff. The additional ten pounds over me just eases me into a grounded, relaxed state, especially for someone like me who has difficulty "turning off" and needs a lot of grounding. I considered trying out these weighted sandbags for sleep, but then I wonder if perhaps I might develop a dependence or even a "tolerance" for all my props until such time that they no longer make that much of an impact. I think meditative books will always be a safe thing though, because it gives my mind something else (positive) to focus on and end the day with - at least until I can learn to let go of my thoughts. Because in the end, it's really all about the mind.

What do you do for your sleep hygiene?

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