Saturday, November 30, 2013

the recipe that made me a pumpkin pie convert

Happy Thanksgiving weekend everyone!

I hope you all had a great time giving thanks with your family and loved ones over delicious, coma-inducing food.

I have to admit I was never a big fan of pumpkin pie. Or sweet potato pie. It may sound like a crime to those of you steeped in Thanksgiving tradition, but I only started celebrating this holiday when I moved to this country ten years ago. So I don't have a lot of memories attached to pumpkin pie. Apple pie, however, is a different story, but pumpkin pie just didn't appeal to me that much.

Until I tried this bourbon pumpkin pie from Harvest Moon Cafe , this delightful cafe and restaurant (with an attached garden herb shop) in Columbus. Since then, I've been determined to re-create it at home. A friend of mine joked, "maybe it's the bourbon?" Ha! Maybe it is. The funny thing is, I don't even like to drink (alcohol). My body just does not tolerate it well at all. I do like to use it in my cooking and baking though, as the heat allows the alcohol to evaporate, leaving behind some good flavor.

This recipe has been adapted from a couple of different recipes, including this one and this one. I use a deep pie dish for this as I like a thick crust, and also because the recipe makes a pretty good amount of filling.



This pie is insanely addictive. I even had it for breakfast. You've been warned. (Hey, pumpkin is a vegetable, right?)

breakfast of champions


Bourbon Pumpkin Pie with Gingersnap Crust and Pecan Streusel

-->
Crust:

  • Crushed/ground gingersnap cookies (about 1 ¼ cup crumbs, ground in a food processor)
  • 10-12 graham crackers (ground in a food processor) - you could also use more gingersnap cookies in place of the graham crackers, but I found that the cookies were already very sweet and I didn't want an overly sweet crust. I suggest you taste your ginger cookies first :) You'll want to end up with about 2 cups of crumbs total (gingersnaps and graham crackers combined)
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • ¼ teaspoon salt



Filling:

  • 1 ¾ cup whole milk
  • ¼ cup bourbon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg (freshly grated makes a world of difference, trust me)
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • a dash of allspice
  • ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1 whole egg
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • ¼ cup granulated white sugar
  • 1 ¼ cups pumpkin puree (from one 15-ounce can)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at room temperature



Streusel:

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup packed dark brown sugar
  • ½ cup flour
  • ¾ cup chopped pecans


Topping:

  • 1 cup heavy cream, whisked to medium peaks (make sure your cream is very cold when you start; I also like to keep the bowl and beaters in the fridge to keep them cold before I whip the cream)



  1. Make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Combine gingersnaps, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Stir in melted butter. Press mixture into bottom and up sides of a 9-inch pie dish (use a deep pie dish). Refrigerate for 15 minutes, then bake until the crust is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Let cool.
  2. In a medium bowl, combine 4 tablespoons of the butter and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar with the flour and pinch into moist crumbs. Stir in the pecans.
  3. Make the filling: Bring milk, bourbon, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and salt to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks and whole egg with cornstarch and granulated white sugar in a medium bowl.
  4. Gradually whisk about 1/2 cup milk mixture into the egg mixture. This process of adding a small amount of a hot mixture to eggs is called tempering - instead of mixing the egg mixture directly into the hot milk (which can result in the eggs getting scrambled in the hot liquid), we need to slowly bring up the temperature of the egg mixture. Slowly add a little more (about a quarter to a half cup) of the milk, stirring to blend. Gradually whisk in remaining milk mixture. Return entire mixture to saucepan. Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly, until bubbly, about 3 – 5 minutes. Remove from heat. 
  5. Immediately whisk in pumpkin, stirring until no longer lumpy. Then add 1 tablespoon of butter, for good measure. Julia Child would approve.
  6. Pour the filling into the cooled gingersnap crust, smoothing the top. Sprinkle the pecan streusel evenly over top. Bake for 45 minutes, then let cool on a wire rack.
  7. Refrigerate until set, at least 4 hours. Serve with whipped cream.   

Recipe adapted from Camille Styles and Food & Wine magazine




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Tuesday, September 24, 2013





Love so vast, love the sky cannot contain.
How does all this fit inside my heart?

~ Rumi

Happy 2nd (2b!) anniversary, A. You are the best part of my day.





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Saturday, June 22, 2013

taking a break

I've missed writing here, but work has been eating me alive lately. 

 

Follow along on instagram:



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Wednesday, May 8, 2013

stress relief, two ways

When I'm under stress, there's something incredibly gratifying about making homemade mayonnaise. I don't know what it is - perhaps it's the act of whipping something by hand until my arm feels like it will fall off. But most likely it's about creating simple magic in the kitchen.

It's amazing how you can transform the humble egg yolk with a few other simple ingredients -- salt, a little water, a little lemon juice, and vegetable oil (and some arm muscle) -- into something so luscious and decadent. Even the word for the process to make mayonnaise sounds luscious: emulsion (in general terms, a mixture of ingredients that generally don't mix - like oil and water). Come on, say it to yourself. Doesn't the word "emulsion" sound like something so silky-smooth?

Ok, I know, I'm a bit strange like that. Kitchen chemistry just fascinates me. I actually never liked chemistry, but I bet if I learned chemistry in the context of food, I would have aced that class.

I use Michael Ruhlman's foolproof method and recipe, though I usually go a bit heavier on the lemon juice. And I added some fresh lemon zest for good measure. Occasionally I might add some minced garlic and chopped fresh rosemary -- so good. After making homemade mayonnaise a few times, the store-bought kind just doesn't compare. Since we actually don't use mayonnaise very often, I just don't buy it anymore, but every now and then I crave mayonnaise. I can't wait to slather it on toast with some slices of fresh summer tomatoes.

homemade mayonnaise

But, the problem with making homemade mayonnaise is when one makes it after dinner for no apparent reason, and decides that some roasted baby potatoes would go so well with it, and proceeds to roast said potatoes with some olive oil, salt, and pepper and then dip them in the mayonnaise... after dinner.

Or one can also go to Krav Maga class, which is what I did last night, after work.

I don't know why, but I always feel somewhat nervous walking into the class. I arrived early, and for a while I was the only female there (aside from the receptionist). Thankfully another woman arrived and we talked for a bit before class. The Padded Guy (see the back story on my previous KM update here) saw me and jokingly told the other woman, "Watch out for that girl," [meaning, me] "...she's vicious." Haha!

The other girl and I decided to partner up for the drills. I know it's important to also train with men - who are bigger and stronger - but I'm almost always the smallest one in the room anyway, so man or woman, they tend to be bigger than I am.

But the nervousness goes away. We are all just learning and doing the best we can.

Last night we did "focus mitts" for punching and elbow strikes, as well as kicks, knee strikes, and defense for choking. We also practiced a situation in which you had to do punching practice on focus mitts and then someone comes up to you from behind to simulate a choking situation - in which case you had to defend yourself against not one, but two people.

After all that punching, I realized I needed something like these:
hand wraps, photo from here


...Otherwise, I might come in to work and have people look at my knuckles and wonder what kind of fights I'm getting into. :)

And despite my nervousness coming into class, I always - without a doubt - feel so great afterwards. Tension just seems to dissipate with every punch, strike, and kick.

A yoga class would have been perfect after this, but they weren't offering it on the schedule that day - so I just drove home, took a shower, and laid in savasana for several minutes. Aaaaaahhhhh....

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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

meyer lemon mini cakes

Before I went home to the Philippines last December, my childhood friend T. told me: "you HAVE to try the calamansi muffins in Real Coffee in Boracay!"

Calamansi is something I most definitely miss here. It's a citrus fruit that's smaller than a key lime and native to the Philippines. We use it in almost everything - squeezed to make lemonade (although that is a heck of a job to squeeze so many tiny fruits to get enough juice), as a marinade for seafood and meats, a flavor enhancer for grilled food, and so many more. In fact, many times a plate of food at a Filipino restaurant would include a calamansi, sliced in half, for you to squeeze the juice over top. We also make fruit shakes out of it. The taste is quite distinct - it's like a cross between a lime and a tangerine.

I'm shaking my head in disbelief now because I was going through my many photos from my trip and could not find a single photo of it. Perhaps because it's something I grew up with? Here is a photo from the Filipino food blog Burnt Lumpia. My good friend K, who came with us on this trip, took a photo of it - scroll about halfway down this post and you'll see it right beside a heap of noodles. Thank goodness one of us took a picture :)

So when T. told me about calamansi muffins, I was intrigued. This was not something I remembered from previous trips to Boracay island (and I do have a good food memory).

I imagined something like a lemon poppyseed muffin, like what you would get at many coffee shops nowadays... but so much better. Biased, I know.

The first time we attempted to go to Real Coffee and Tea, I was disappointed to see it was closed. I wasn't online much during this trip and didn't check the website for their hours. It was after dinner after all, and apparently it is only open during the day. We were leaving the next day, and I wondered whether we could still make it there. The day before, we got rained on all day so we missed out on being able to explore further.

Thank goodness the sun came out.


The day we were scheduled to leave, we booked morning massages for all four of us right on the beach. Let me tell you, there is absolutely nothing like it. And for the equivalent of... maybe $8 for an hour of massage, with the sound of the waves, the sea breeze, and the warm sunshine... oh what I would trade to have that right now...

A massage with a view.

And of course, after the massage, I had to maximize my time in the water, down to the last possible  minute. I found out that Real Coffee offers delivery, so it was the perfect solution. Tracking down this muffin was important business, right? I thought, "go big or go home", so I went ahead and requested a dozen muffins for delivery.

When the much-anticipated muffins arrived at our resort, I went ahead and sampled one immediately. It did not disappoint. (I don't have a picture of it either... it was so good). It had the perfect sweet-tart flavor of calamansi, and a moist crumb.

If I remember correctly, the four of us took turns schlepping this precious cargo box of muffins through multiple modes of transportation (hotel shuttle, bus, plane, and finally the car ride home from the airport).

So this is a long story to say that I have been craving these calamansi muffins. But I think Meyer lemons can stand in for calamansi for now, because that's all I have. And this might be my last hurrah with Meyer lemons until next winter. This isn't a recipe for muffins, but they're just as good, if not better.


Meyer Lemon Mini Cakes
(adapted from Cooking Light, August 2007, lemon buttermilk cake)

3/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp Meyer lemon zest (zest of 4-5 meyer lemons)
1/4 cup butter (half a stick)
1 1/2 tbsp Meyer lemon juice
1 whole egg
1 egg white
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup buttermilk, shaken

Glaze (optional)
1/4-1/3 cup confectioners sugar
Meyer lemon juice

  1. Preheat the oven to 350. Butter and lightly flour your pan. For this recipe, I used a 6-cup mini-cake pan which I scored on sale and absolutely love. It's no longer available, but here is a similar one. You could also use a muffin pan or perhaps even a loaf pan, though I haven't tried it in those.  
  2. Add the flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda to a bowl and whisk together.
  3. In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, rub the sugar and lemon zest together. I like doing this step, just as I did with the grapefruit yogurt pound cake I wrote about a few months ago. This step helps perfume the sugar and also separates the clumps of zest so that they get thoroughly incorporated into the batter.  
  4. Add the butter to the bowl and cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy.
  5. Add the lemon juice, followed by the whole egg and egg white, beating well after each addition.
  6. Mix in the dry ingredients in three parts, alternating with the buttermilk in two parts (so you begin and end with the dry ingredients).
  7. Mix together just until the wet and dry ingredients are combined. Do not overmix - excessive mixing activates the gluten in the flour, resulting in tough or rubbery cakes - which is a tragedy in my book.
    Spoon the batter into your prepared pan. Bake for about 25-30 minutes or until the tip of a knife inserted in the center of one of the cakes comes out clean (a few crumbs sticking to the cake are ok).
  8. Place the cake pan on a wire rack to cool for ten minutes, then loosen the cakes from the pan and allow them to cool further on the wire rack.
  9. While the cakes cool, make the glaze: add enough Meyer lemon juice to the confectioners sugar to make a thick liquid. Whisk together until smooth. When cakes have completely cooled, drizzle the glaze over the cakes. 

These cakes turned out so moist, thanks to the buttermilk. The Meyer lemons impart a sweet, almost floral and citrus flavor that is just so distinct from the tartness of regular lemons. Although not exactly the calamansi muffins from sunny Boracay, I'd say it's close enough, being on the opposite side of the world where the earth is just waking up from a long winter*.


As a final note - you'll be zesting more lemons than you'll need for juice for this recipe, so might as well go on a Meyer lemon-themed meal after making these cakes. I am craving a Meyer lemon vinaigrette over some roasted asparagus or blanched peas... sounds like the perfect winter-to-spring meal to me.

*I know it's nearly May, but Cleveland always gets the memo pretty late. We still had a brief moment of flurries last week!



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Sunday, April 28, 2013

krav chronicles

So recently I wrote about how I started Krav Maga.

As I've said before, this is unlike anything I've ever done. Right now, I'm bruised in three places and my knee is skinned raw after practicing knee strikes on a 6-inch-thick pad.

I will admit that I'm kind of a wimp when it comes to these things. Which was why med school was out of the question for me. It's a bit strange, because I can watch my blood getting drawn for yearly check-ups and such, but I just don't like injuries of any kind (then again, who does?) and I have to admit I don't have a high tolerance for pain. Like I said, wimpy. And really guilty of it. A. was a bit amused by my situation, and jokingly asked why I need to put a gauze bandage as thick as a mattress over my skinned knee. What can I say, he exaggerates sometimes... and in my defense, I also had to wear jeans over it and didn't like the idea of denim rubbing against, um, exposed flesh. Still, his jokes are pretty funny. ;-)

ouch.


But the learning is so worth it. It definitely pushes me to do what's uncomfortable - because in a real-life attack situation, "uncomfortable" would be understating it.

At the 2-hour class I attended recently, we practiced self-defense and offense moves in response to a variety of attack situations specifically targeted towards women -- including chokes, getting pulled by the arm, "bear hugs" from behind, as well as mounts (which is probably the most uncomfortable one - meaning the situation in which you are down on the ground with the attacker right on top of you).

I met another girl there who was about my size, and she has been going to class for about 2 months now and I was just so amazed by how strong she was. We partnered up for the drills, and her strength just really inspired me to try harder.

On a lighter note, the highlight at the end was when the instructor asked for any volunteers who wanted to try "beating up" this fully padded guy (who is actually one of the instructors there). I have to say, I'm not the type to be the first one with a hand raised whenever an instructor asks for a volunteer, no matter the setting. (Think of Monica from Friends, in that episode in which she was in a literature class and kept raising her hand. Um, no. Not me.)

After a few participants went, my fellow-petite-partner volunteered. She was awesome. After her turn, she told me, "how often do you get to beat up a padded guy??". After a few more people went, I thought... what the heck. I raised my hand.

So I went. It was a bit intimidating with - I don't know - maybe 40 or so people watching. Here I am, five-foot-nothing, in front of a guy who was six-foot something with full padding and a protective helmet. The situation was that an attacker (the said padded guy) was going to pull me by the arm. We were taught that when you are pulled by the arm, instead of resisting (which would likely be the reflex response) you actually move into it with more speed/force - almost like you're using the attacker's energy to counter-attack with more energy. And I just went, punching and kicking until he was on the ground.

(Granted, I knew it was partly largely theatrical that this guy ended up on the ground. But still.)

It was a rush of adrenaline! It's not that I really had to think of what to do. Even if I never thought of myself as aggressive in any way - they actually encourage you to channel your inner aggression. You'll need it to save your life. As the instructor said, you need to want to survive more than they want to hurt/kill you.  

That said, it's certainly not about unnecessary aggression, or picking fights for no good reason. Many times, there are situations that are better avoided and prevented in the first place. But, when an attack does happen, they say that "the best defense is a good offense" - to eliminate the threat and escape the situation. That being the case, aggression (along with skill, of course) is necessary.  

Although I'm still really new, this already has been such an empowering experience. Even if I had been nervous going into it, I never regret it afterwards. Skinned knees and all.

~


Just as a disclaimer... I'm absolutely no expert on Krav Maga by any means. I'm just writing about my own experience and perspectives, and I am not speaking for any Krav Maga school or instructor. All that said... if you find a school near you, give it a try. :)

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Tuesday, April 16, 2013

praying for clarity

Big day today... I'm finally defending my dissertation proposal! This was 2 years in the making...when I went through all those hiccups (and emotions) last year, I actually considered quitting. But I'm still here. Still going. So as nerve-wracking as today is, I'm actually quite relieved to be at this stage.

If all goes well, I can officially start my research and maaaaybe get done next year. Collect data this summer, analyze data in the fall, write up my last chapters in the spring, defend and be done. But if there's anything I've learned in this PhD program, it's never such a clear-cut process. If anyone has had a really straightforward experience from point A to point B, I'd love to know that secret.

In the meantime, I need some peace and calm. I get all nervous and jumpy about these things.

If only I can simply transport myself to the ocean, sink my toes in the sand, feel weightless in the water...

But since I can't do that, I'll post a picture instead.

Boracay, Philippines | December 2012

Despite having grown up in the tropics, the clarity of this water never fails to amaze me.

I'm praying for this same clarity right now... and reminding myself that I am absolutely privileged to be in this place. That I can pursue an education and the causes that are important to me, and find solutions to problems in ways that will positively impact issues I care about. I know people sometimes resist this notion of privilege for fear of appearing "high and mighty" or "more-than". On one hand, I think it's because there are those in positions of privilege that use power in the wrong ways or feel automatically entitled to certain things.

On the other hand, I think it's important for me to keep in mind that what I do now, where I am now... while certainly not privileged by way of material wealth or fancy titles (um, I call myself a doctoral slave if that gives you any idea!) - still puts me in a position of being able to change things. To make things better. Even in little ways. And that is a privilege.

One of my mentors said, "teaching is a privilege." It truly is. And so is this. So it's only right that I put forth quality work and strive to be the very best version of myself.

A. always gives me the best pep talks before "big days" like this one. A few minutes ago he said:

"We have a saying in India, 'No one can stop a rising sun.' YOU are a rising sun."

He's amazing like that. I am so incredibly thankful.

And for even more inspiration...

if your dreams don't scare you, they're not big enough
Image via Pinterest


 P.S. If the last few blog posts were any indication, I've been addicted to "pinning" inspirational words on Pinterest lately...

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Monday, April 15, 2013

Locks of Love haircut, v.4.0

This is no longer news to those of you who know me, but...

Every few years, I grow my hair really long and donate it to Locks of Love. Although my hair is generally healthy and grows well, it does take some time to reach ten inches (the minimum requirement) and also have enough hair left over.

Usually, I just go to a salon that offers Locks of Love haircuts as part of their services - meaning they will cut your hair (for free!)  and send your "locks" to Locks of Love for you.

But this year, I really wanted a haircut from the expert hands of Drea, a good friend of mine in the Philippines with whom I went to college. She's actually uber-successful back home, and my other college friend and I joke that we can now say that our claim to fame is "we went to college with Drea!"

Since I was in the Philippines in December and January, I thought, might as well get my haircut then. So I went to her salon, armed with a little zip-lock bag where I can place my cut locks until such time that I can mail it myself to Locks of Love. This was my fourth time doing this, but I've always just had it done at an affiliated salon and never mailed it in myself.

SNIP!





Drea joked that my hair was so thick, it dulled her scissors!


Needless to say, we had a great time catching up on our lives while she cut and styled my hair, not having seen each other in years!

~

I thought it would be funny if my baggage got searched at the airport upon arrival in the US and an officer found my little plastic bag of hair... just imagine: "Ma'am, can you explain this organic material???"

Thankfully, that did not happen. So the week I arrived back here, I went ahead and mailed my locks.

I kept wondering if they received it or not, and finally last month I received this:






Since this was my first time mailing it in myself - instead of the salon mailing it for me - I was pleasantly surprised to receive a little "thank you"!

(It really had my legal name on the certificate, but I'm not posting that here.)

Consider donating your hair to Locks of Love! Click here for more information. 



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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

overcoming fear

Ditch that comfort zone!
image from Pinterest

I did it!

So last week I talked about trying Krav Maga. And last weekend, I gathered my guts and finally went to my first class.

Before I go any further... in case any of you are asking, "Krav Ma-wha???", here is a brief excerpt from the website:

"Krav Maga is the official self defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, and has been taught to hundreds of law enforcement agencies and thousands of civilians in the United States.

Krav Maga is a simple, effective self defense system that emphasizes instinctive movements, practical techniques, and realistic training scenarios."
 
I was really nervous, I have to admit. The night before, I only got 4 hours of sleep (me and my overthinking again).  I almost chickened out and talked myself out of it that morning.

But I'm glad I didn't.

I have to say that this is unlike anything I've ever done before. I'm probably the most non-confrontational person and I don't think I have an aggressive bone in my body. I've always been somewhat adventurous, having tried various things like skydiving and wakeboarding and gotten certified in scuba diving (in my previous, more active life, that is). But I've never been into intense workouts, always preferring yoga, walking, and non-competitive swimming. I'm someone who loathes the gym and has never been a member in one, ever (not unless you count my childhood gymnastics gym, but that is different). Generally I'm not a fan of weights and counting reps and all that (ugh). What I do love, is movement, but I don't like it to feel like "exercise". 

But this is more than just exercise for me. It's self-defense, which as I've said before, I think everyone (especially women) should learn and feel confident in. It's not about being violent... it's about being safe. It's about keeping your promise to go home safely to the ones you love.

I knew I was pretty out of shape, and I am definitely feeling it now. I went to class over the weekend, and now it's Tuesday and I'm still sore.

Needless to say, my routine weekend baking did not happen. And neither did my boatload of laundry, as I stare at the full basket and wishing it would just magically get done.

But all that said... my first class was an empowering experience. The place is owned by a woman (who also taught the Level 1 class I attended). She is quite petite, but she is strong. So, there's hope for me!

It's amazing what happens when you set an intention to do something. It could be anything - big or small. It could be something you're afraid to do.

So. I'm putting this out there and expressing my commitment.

How about you - do you keep a list of intentions? What's on your list?



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Friday, April 5, 2013

discombobulated

...is what I'm feeling today.

You know how there are just certain words that sound just like what they mean? Discombobulated is one of them.

Ok so I have to say right from the start that I don't really have a point today other than the fact that I'm feeling out of sorts, and I can't put my finger on why.

But even if I don't have a real point, I thought I'd write here, as it calms me.

I feel tired yet restless, if those two could even co-exist.

My sleep routine got messed up again this week - I was doing so well for almost a month - getting to bed and waking up at decent hours like a normal human being. Then one day this week I started overthinking about a decision I made, and then the tossing and turning came back. 

The sun is shining today, and typically when the sun comes out I'm practically running out the door to be outside and soak it all in, since sunshine has been in short supply for several months.

And then I see these words:

"It's only cold if you don't let the sunshine in."
(from Unmiserable Cleveland's facebook page)





It's always a choice.

As I write, I'm starting to feel some motivation coming back in.... I'm going to hit "Publish", tie up my shoes and head out. It would be a shame to waste a sunny (albeit still cold) day like this. 

So maybe I did have a point after all.

Fatehpur Sikri, Agra, India | December 2012


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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

wishing for green

As always, Cleveland has missed the memo that it's supposed to be spring already. On Monday morning, I woke up and it was flurrying! Cleveland's version of April Fool's.

That said, I am so happy to see more sunshine the past few days, compared to the monochromatic gray days we've had. I can't wait to see more green though - the thought of baby leaves makes me beyond excited in anticipation for spring.

It's not quite green outside yet, but I'm having my own dose of green at home. Enter my new obsession: matcha green tea smoothies!

Matcha is supposedly really good for you. It's the whole green tea leaves ground to a powder, and unlike regular green tea leaves that you steep, with matcha you actually consume the whole leaf (though in ground form), and so you get all its benefits.

Typically I get most, if not all of my teas from Essencha, this lovely specialty tearoom in Cincinnati - a favorite of mine when I used to live there (and I always make a trip every time I visit my old stomping grounds).

But recently, I couldn't wait for the shipping time if I had ordered it online, so I decided I would check our neighborhood grocery store to see if they carried it - and they did, so on my last grocery run I came home with a tin. I love our grocery store - it's within walking distance, and it's cozy and not too big like the big-box stores that are so common in suburbia. They also keep their shelves well-stocked with everyday staples as well as specialty items, but because it's a smaller store I don't get overwhelmed with too many options!

It's actually still too cold for smoothies (30-something degrees out), but usually when I'm working from home I eat alone, and I don't really have much of an appetite. So liquid lunches, in the form of smoothies, become my go-to meal.

my dose of green


Matcha Green Tea Smoothie

~ 1 cup vanilla almond milk
a squirt of honey (~ half a tablespoon or so?)
1 small frozen banana*, cut into pieces
1/2 - 1 tablespoon matcha green tea powder (start with the smaller quantity if you're unsure)

Just whizz everything in a blender, and you're good to go!

*I buy bananas but tend not to eat them as is - something about the texture bothers me. But I love them in smoothies and baked goods, so I let them ripen on the countertop. Then, once they're very ripe, I peel and cut them into chunks and store in a zip-lock freezer bag. Whenever I want a smoothie I just take out however much I need, and it makes the smoothies so creamy - no need for ice! I also thaw them out for banana bread or muffins. 

As a warning, I do think that you have to like green tea to begin with to like matcha. But as a lover of green tea anything - hot tea, iced tea, green tea ice cream, green tea scents.. this was right up my alley.

matcha green tea powder

The only downside is that the smoothie doesn't stay bright green for very long, as you can see above - likely because of the banana that has oxidized . If you're like me and very visual when it comes to food, I would try and drink it pretty quickly before the pretty color changes. You can also opt to leave the banana out and add ice instead, and that might keep it a brighter green. But it makes me wonder what's in that green tea frozen drink in that popular coffee shop that will remain unnamed... and how it is just so green - like a pastel shade of green that almost looks a bit too perfect to make me suspicious. I feel better off making it at home, also so I can control how much sugar goes into it.

Slurp.


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Friday, March 29, 2013

student for life

So I'm supposed to be on spring break this week. But only in theory. It feels like I haven't stopped working... and I'm exhausted.

Finally had a quick break and thought I'd stop in here...

I'm often asked what I want to do after I graduate. It's funny because as wonderful as finishing (finally) would be, life outside of school can be scary. Every new degree takes you further into your career, and life after a PhD sounds... intimidating. I'm not quite sure yet what I'll do. I know what I don't want to do, but I'm certainly getting ideas as to what I would enjoy doing given the opportunities I have now to try my hand at certain things, like consulting.

All that said... if I had a choice I would really want to keep on learning. I want to be a student in some way for life. I know that sounds weird, but perhaps it's my desire for kaizen, as in my manifesto here.

I started making a list of all the (other) things I want to learn...

1. How to speak Hindi conversationally. Meaning not just the words for food so I can order a meal in Hindi in India or at an Indian restaurant (which I can do). Apparently I mistakenly impressed my mother-in-law when we first talked on the phone years ago and I rattled off the Hindi words for Indian dishes. Except I couldn't really carry on a real conversation as I may have led her to believe! I'm hoping that being bilingual already (Filipino and English) and having learned other languages somewhat (French and Spanish, in college) offers an advantage - at least in terms of language-learning readiness -  but there are just some Hindi sounds that are difficult for me because I did not grow up hearing or being exposed to those sound combinations. It's so true how they say babies are "citizens of the world" and their brains are ready to learn any language, but all that changes as they get older and especially in adulthood. But never say never!

2. Photography. I still haven't taken any formal classes, and I do want to learn the technical aspect of taking pictures. I did download some tutorials and e-books and such, but I'm embarrassed to say I haven't really dug into them yet. I'm still neck-deep (or maybe over my head is more accurate) in educational research, for my day job(s).

3. Krav Maga or some other self-defense training. I love NCIS and think Ziva David kicks ass with her Krav Maga moves. I even named my car Ziva. :) Just like reverse parking skills (which I'm proud to say I've been doing almost for as long as I've been driving), I think every woman should know how to defend herself in some way. Krav Maga is designed for practical, real-world self-defense, unlike other martial arts. I just can't believe it's taken me this long to gather my guts and do it. There's a training center about a half hour from where I live, and they have classes on Saturday mornings. There goes my lazy Saturday mornings (or crazy-baking mornings), but I think it will be so worth it. 

4.  Total Immersion swimming. I remember putting this on my list years ago, when I still lived in Cincinnati and discovered there was a TI instructor in Cleveland! And now I'm living here, and I still haven't gotten into it. I love swimming - it's like meditation in motion for me, but I'm sad to say it has been on the back burner as well. But this friend has really inspired me to get back into the water.

5. Other random things, like calligraphy. I know -  I sound like I'm all over the place, but really I want to learn this too. As much as I love the digital age, the old-fashioned ways appeal to me as well.

It's funny how I list all these and yet feel so exhausted with my main job(s) that I don't know when I'll get to these "other" stuff. But, a girl can dream. And work. One thing at a time.

dream + work
image via Pinterest

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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

i will be your witness

Ok, so before our Catholic wedding ceremony, and before our Hindu ceremony (I promise, we are not really wedding-crazy ;-) )... this happened exactly two years ago. A. and I made a promise - to be a witness to each other's lives.

I realize I haven't shared pictures from that amazing day - March 19th, 2011 - except for a few here. Partly because I wanted to treasure the memory to myself or to just the two of us (and the few people who were there), but partly because it was hard to choose which photos to share here on the blog. Even if I only have a handful of readers, A. had some reservations about posting "people pictures" on cyberspace - especially close-up shots - and I don't blame him. In fact, I also don't post many pictures of myself here either, so this is me going out on a limb. But I also want to look back at this, years later...

So, all that to say that this is the reason the pictures here don't show us directly looking at the camera, or were taken from a little more discreet, not so in-your-face close-up angles. I had to be selective :)

Auburn Twin Oaks Winery, Chagrin Falls, Ohio. A. and I had been to this family-owned winery a few times before and met the owners, who are just lovely people. They are not actually open to the public every day, but on some weekends they have food and wine tasting events. We talked to the owners to reserve this location, and had the whole place to ourselves! It felt like we were in Northeast Ohio's best kept secret.

It was a beautiful, clear day, on the cusp between winter and spring. So fitting.




I think "walking with a purpose" would be a fitting caption for this photo, don't you think?

The interior of the winery was drenched in sunlight. I had to squeeze in a few minutes to take photos of my own. :)
My bouquet of happy yellow flowers. My sister-in-law took care of this, aghast after hearing me say I would just pick up flowers myself from the store (I was trying to keep things as simple as possible). She had it executed perfectly. When asked what kind of flowers I would like, all I said was, "yellow and spring-like". I couldn't have asked for a more beautiful arrangement. Thanks so much, G.!

Photo-op of photo-op. I can take pictures at my own wedding, can't I?


We stood in a room on the top floor, with large windows that give you an almost 360-degree view of the grounds. The room was bathed in afternoon sunlight. We took turns reading verses of Oriah's The Invitation, which is one of my favorites. No matter how many times I've read the poem, reading it aloud on this important day got me all choked up and teary-eyed. We said our vows and exchanged rings, then we were married in front of 8 witnesses (8 including the marriage officiant, that is).

After we exchanged vows, we took a walk outside. My brothers asked A. to carry me for some goofy pictures.

It was a beautiful day - the sun was out, but do not be deceived... it was actually quite cold!
We went back inside to enjoy wine (for them) and cake (for me! Ok... for them too). I had no idea my friends were baking a chocolate cake in my kitchen while I was out that morning getting a haircut - which, in my world, is my version of getting my hair "styled" (I know... clueless.). It didn't occur to me when I got back home, why they were both standing in the kitchen, leaning strategically on the oven door so I couldn't see what was baking inside.
So happy.

(Photos taken by my brother, a dear friend, and me.)

As I look back, I think one of the reasons this day was so special was that the whole ceremony was stripped down to the bare essentials - without any extraneous details that could potentially take away from the essence of what was happening. And yes, this is coming from a detail-oriented person such as myself. Even my mom was amused that I didn't buy anything new to wear. We only bought very simple wedding bands. The place was already beautiful and needed no additional decorations. And everything else (flowers & food) was taken care of by family and friends. 

It wasn't about the details this time.

~

I'll end with one of my favorite quotable movie lines - from the movie Shall We Dance.



Susan Sarandon: "Why is it, do you think, that people get married?"
Richard Jenkins: "Passion."
Susan Sarandon: "No."
Richard Jenkins: "It's interesing, because I would have taken you for a romantic. Why, then?"

Susan Sarandon: "Because we need a witness to our lives...there are a billion people on the planet, I mean, what does any one life really mean? But in a marriage, you're promising to care about everything...the good things, the bad things, the terrible things, the mundane things...all of it, all the time, everyday. You're saying, 'Your life will not go unnoticed, because I will notice it. Your life will not go unwitnessed, because I will be your witness.'"

~


Happy anniversary, A... here's to being each other's witness.

All my love.

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Monday, March 4, 2013

little milestones

So happy that the sun is out today!!! Even if it snowed here all weekend, I am so happy with the thought that spring is just around the corner... hope the sun is shining there too, wherever you are...

The past few weeks have felt like a marathon of sorts, work-wise. Surprisingly, things seem to have settled down by the end of last week. Last Saturday, I did have one work-related conference call on my schedule in the morning. After it ended, I actually said to A., (but really, more to myself), "I'm not going to work anymore today."

This may not sound earth-shattering to you, but it felt like a breakthrough to me. A little milestone. To actually say it out loud: "I am done working today" and then turn off my laptop, and not obsess about work-related emails the rest of the day. And more importantly, to not feel guilty about it. Because feeling guilty about not working keeps me from fully enjoying periods of rest.

This time, it felt really, really good. 




Do you have trouble "turning off" or letting go of work on weekends? Or are you able to set boundaries between work and rest? I'd love to know.


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Friday, February 22, 2013

macro-inspired mindfulness

Ok, so before I say anything else beyond the title of this blog post, let me just say that I am not following the macrobiotic diet by any stretch of the imagination. Um, hello caffeine! Bread! Sugar! Spicy food! (all of which are generally not prescribed in a macro diet)

That said... there's something inspiring about the macrobiotic diet lifestyle. I say "lifestyle", because I learned that there's SO much more to it than what you put on your plate. It's not simply about the ubiquitous "macrobiotic bowls" that you might see in vegetarian restaurants; you know, the brown rice, vegetables, sea vegetables, sesame seeds combination.  You might even hear more exotic-sounding ingredients like umeboshi plum and burdock.

Rather, it's an approach, a process, a way of thinking and sensing, of being in harmony with the seasons. Balancing yin and yang. Let me also say that this is my oversimplified description - it's a very, very, old philosophy that people study for years - and so I will not even claim to know the tip of the iceberg. And most macro folks (I think) seem to follow it as close to 100% as possible. My sweet friend Debra-Lynn writes about her macrobiotic healing journey and recipes on her facebook page, Going Macro. She even makes macrobiotic veggie burgers. Yum!

She and I had a recent conversation about spirituality in relation to food. But that will be for another blog post.

At any rate... a huge part of the macro lifestyle is the approach to eating - to really pause while you eat, engage the senses, and - gasp! - chew your food until nearly liquid (because digestion starts in the mouth). How's that for mindfulness?

Ok, that part stopped me in my tracks.

Does anyone do that? Chew food till nearly liquid? Do you? If so, I'd love to know how you do it.

Clockwise from top left: the scene that greeted us in the morning on our trip to Boracay (a small island in the Philippines). Breakfast meant tea and a HUGE plate of the world's best mangoes and papaya (biased much?). And, a rare occurrence on this blog - an actual photo of me, thanks to this friend. I was chewing on the center, stony part of the mango. I had one side, my friend the other - as we say in  our language, "hating kapatid" (sharing between siblings). I definitely savored every last bit. 


Sure, I get the part about pausing. I get slowing down and engaging the senses; I do try my best to practice all that as I chop vegetables, stir ingredients in a pot, watch and wait as the heat gently transforms the food, and then sit down to eat. But there are times when I do just scarf down my food, standing beside the kitchen counter. Tell me I'm not the only one?

(crickets)

Part of it, I think (or as I understand), is learning to be in tune with your body and what it needs to be nourished and healed.

I think it's why I favor certain foods while I'm sick. For me, that's miso soup, homemade ginger-honey-lemon "tea" (I think "infusion" is the more proper term), and - get this - brown rice. Probably the most commonly known macrobiotic food.

I don't know what it is, but when I'm sick, probably second to soup I instinctively want brown rice. When I have an upset stomach - yes, brown rice. When I'm stressed out and don't have much of an appetite (shocker) but know I need to eat something to avoid passing out - you guessed it, brown rice. Even plain - just cooked in either plain water or homemade veggie broth and a little bit of salt.

It turns out, when I started reading more about macrobiotics out of curiosity, brown rice is just chock-full of good stuff. I always knew brown rice was generally better than the polished white variety (well, except for Indian food... in which case it just has to be the fluffy white basmati rice).  I've been eating it for many years now and I knew that it had more protein and fiber and all that good stuff. But it also has trace minerals like manganese and selenium, as well as B vitamins.

So when I was sick last week, I seemed to just naturally gravitate toward pausing to eat slowly and mindfully. Almost as if my body just knew what it needed, without any reminding. To gently heat water for miso soup (it should not be boiled!), cook some brown rice and rhythmically chop vegetables. I think there's so much innate wisdom in our bodies, we just tend to forget in a world of fast food.

miso soup




And ok, a poached egg too. I know, it's not macrobiotic. But a lot of things are just better with a poached egg in my opinion :)

Regardless - that bowl of rice felt even more satisfying, and so deeply nourishing... simple as it was, with just some chopped carrots and scallions and a touch of sesame oil and tamari sauce. I held the pretty bowl, cupping it in my palms and letting its heat warm my hands. I watched the steam slowly rising from the mound of rice; and smelled the hint of nuttiness from the rice and toasted sesame. And I really, really tasted how sweet the carrots were. And how chewy the grains of rice felt against my teeth. Right then and there, my very simple meal seemed to taste infinitely better.

But whether you practice a macro lifestyle or not - I think there are so many lessons to learn from it. To be mindful about your food, to savor and appreciate it, and be grateful for it as much as possible. And that just elevates any everyday experience to something... sacred.

Macro or not. But I can say, macro-inspired.

Even when it's cake. You know what, let me correct myself. Especially when it's cake.





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Friday, February 15, 2013

happy flowers

These just brightened my day... yellow flowers are just happy-looking, don't you think?

Thank you, A.

I never liked the cliche of red roses anyway...it's just not for me. But yellow tulips make me do a happy dance.



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Thursday, February 14, 2013

plans derailed

So I had all these plans of making a nice meal for tonight. Warm marinated olives, spaghettini with garlic, arugula, lemon zest, and pine nuts (a dish in our regular pasta rotation, and one of A.'s favorites), and chocolate chai pots de creme - essentially a French-style custard or pudding, made with some good quality chocolate and chai spices (cardamom, ginger). We first had this chocolate chai pots de creme at one of our visits to the Greenhouse Tavern two years (minus 5 days) ago. I don't think I ever posted pictures of that meal...and I thought today would be a good time to go down memory lane.

Greenhouse Tavern dinner, two years ago. Clockwise from left: bread and housemade ricotta, grilled padron peppers (with lots of garlic! How's that for a romantic meal), tofu, and "very very very spicy greens n' beans". Apparently my photography style at that time was influenced by the misconception that I should get as close as humanly possible to the food all the time. Ha!

After a delicious meal, we decided to just split one dessert. It was so good, that we decided to order another, stat. Much to the amusement of the server, listening to us claim we were already so full and yet couldn't help ourselves.

Left: chocolate chai pots de creme. Right: each table has a bottle of water like this. No more waiting for the server to come around and refill your glass!


And actually, if my food memory serves me right, this is the weekend he proposed... (ok, so my memories revolve around food... don't judge.)

And then I decided to re-create the chocolate chai pots de creme at home, and A. said it was even better (he's sweet like that). And since chai is such a big part of his food culture, being Indian, he just LOVED this.

[Side note. Please, for the love of all that is delicious, it is not "chai tea" because chai = tea, so the "chai tea" that you see in coffee shops is like "tea tea". That was one of the first lessons in Hindi that I learned. (End rant.)]

So anyway... that was my plan for today. We really don't do anything elaborate on V-day - we don't do expensive gifts and fancy dinners out. I usually just like to cook/bake something delicious for dinner. Unfortunately, this is the second day of my cold (ugh). Four cups of tea and half a box of tissues later, and I am resigned to this stuffy feeling in my head. I wanted to go to a yoga class this morning for some self-care, but that got derailed as well because my almost-incessant sneezing will be very distracting to everyone else.

If I had all my ingredients, I would have gone through with my plans, but on this freezing day I really didn't feel like going out to the grocery store with this cold, headache, and body aches. So instead, A. said he would get soup and sushi on his way home from work. When I'm sick, there's nothing better than miso soup. So takeout it is. 

At least I have a really great greeting card to give him...

It doesn't always have to be grandiose displays of love. Although I must say, this is quite spectacular:


The Mughal emperor Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal really must have had something special. 





But... so do we. Thank you, A.



(Photos taken during our recent trip to India last December)


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Monday, February 11, 2013

is it only Monday? (and, reminiscing a family lunch in the Philippines)

First working day of the week, and I'm already tired. Is that what happens when you approach your mid-thirties?

I shudder just saying that. Mid-thirties.

I could use some of this in my life right now:

chocolate souffle | Antonio's, Tagaytay, Philippines


And this:



Chocolate and coffee should give me more energy, right? Right. Of course.  ;-)

Looking at these photos, I'm remembering the lovely lunch I had with my family back home. It was in this place called Antonio's, and it is a beautiful, old (but maintained/restored) Spanish-Filipino style house with a lush tropical garden.



My brother and sister-in-law had their wedding reception here - I still regret not being able to go home for that milestone of an event - I didn't have my green card yet at the time, and my family told me not to leave the US and risk not being able to re-enter. So I was happy to be able to finally see the place.


More details...



 I loved being able to see everything so GREEN in December.



And then I remembered, that's what I grew up with 23 years of my life. Funny how being away changes one's perspective so much. I saw these sun-dappled patches with new eyes.


 Glorious sunlight. Yes, this is what December looks like in the Philippines.


More details...


She-and-He labels for restrooms


And A. having a moment with my niece P.



And let's not forget the food...interestingly, this was one of the few non-Filipino meals I had during our trip.

I don't eat a ton of cheese on a regular basis, so the raclette was a treat. The pickled vegetables cut through the richness of the cheese, which was a nice contrast. Of course, you can't go wrong with buttered and toasted baguette. I'm also not a huge fan of kohlrabi, but the soup was quite good.

L: raclette; R: cream of kohlrabi soup

Salads, below. I made it a point to eat kesong puti (this amazing creamy local cheese) every chance I got. I kind of met my cheese quota at this point already with the raclette I had prior, but what the heck...

L: baked kesong puti with arugula; R: mesclun with gorgonzola

And the rest of our meal... between courses, we had a pineapple sorbet, followed by the main course, which A. and I shared. And yes, I ate chicken. I believe it was a local chicken. Don't worry, I didn't go all Portlandia on the server (and if you haven't seen that video, it is hilarious). That said, in the interest of full disclosure, I did eat chicken during this trip - there were some traditional dishes that you just can't get anywhere else. This one was quite good (but not quiiiite the best) - crispy outside and juicy inside... accompanied by a romesco sauce and the creamiest, most indulgent risotto. Yum.


Quite obviously, there was no shortage of chocolate.

Clockwise from left: chocolate souffle with cardamom creme anglaise, muscovado sugar, coffee from local beans, a trio of panna cotta - chocolate, hazelnut, and vanilla, and another chocolate dessert with pistachios

And on that note... I need to prepare dinner now. Except it's our usual bean-and-vegetable dinner (tonight it's a Greek lima bean stew and caramelized brussels sprouts), and nothing like this decadence... and just a quiet table for two at home, not a long table for 8-10 like the many family meals shared during our trip.

In the meantime, I am wishing for this right now:

(See the word I'm thinking of?)





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