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?


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'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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Saturday, February 2, 2013

those darn codes

So I changed my comment settings recently and added the captcha code requirement.

I read somewhere that those pesky codes discourage people from commenting; and since I love hearing from you and enjoy reading your (real) comments, I decided not to require the captcha code. But hundreds of spam comments later -- I decided, captcha code it is. I figured, it doesn't discourage me from commenting on my friends' blogs or other blogs I enjoy; and I'd like to think that those of you who do respond here want to do so regardless. So I hope I don't echo here in cyberspace, and that you continue to comment and have conversations here.

That said, I also hope those letters and numbers don't drive you crazy. It's for the good of the order. ;-)

Thanks all!

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grapefruit yogurt cake

Grapefruit must be one of my favorite things about winter.

And I'm not a winter person. But there's always something to appreciate every season. For me, winter = citrus. Perhaps there's a reason nature intended it to be this way - so that we get a healthy dose of vitamin C at the time of year when we're always cooped up indoors and susceptible to catching a cold or flu.

I just realized that there's been a grapefruit theme all over our home lately. I've been loving grapefruit hand soap, dish soap, dishwasher detergent (all from Method - and no, I'm not getting paid to write this), and most recently - a grapefruit scented candle.

Caldrea citron ginger (grapefruit, ginger and basil), purchased at clearance price. Target does it again...

But back to the real grapefruit.

There's something about the refreshing scent of the fruit as you slice it open...the beauty of the jewel-like pink segments with teardrop-shaped pulp that just burst with juice and flavor in your mouth.

Whether I eat it as a snack by itself, juice it for a "mocktail" (homemade grapefruit IZZE!), add segments to a shaved fennel salad - somehow it makes me feel all virtuous despite the chocolate/ice cream/Cape Cod salt + vinegar chips I had not long before.

The other way I enjoy it, is in cake.

I started stress-cooking last night; you'll see why here. Then I decided, after making 2 batches of soup -- split pea and pumpkin coconut curry (don't ask) -- that cake was in order. 

This cake is adapted from the Barefoot Contessa's (my imaginary BFF) lemon yogurt cake. It's one of the easiest cakes ever -  you don't even need an electric mixer. I've professed my love for olive oil-based cakes before, such as this tangerine olive oil pound cake. Citrus and olive oil together are just a match made in heaven. Those Mediterranean folks were definitely on to something.

Along with the olive oil, the yogurt adds moisture - as well as tang - to the cake. I actually had Greek yogurt on hand, but I only had 3/4 cup remaining, and the recipe calls for a full cup. But, since Greek yogurt is generally yogurt that is drained of whey, I decided to just add enough water to make it a full cup, and it worked out just fine. But whatever you do, please do not use nonfat yogurt. For that matter, let me go on a soapbox for a little bit: please don't use nonfat anything unless nature intended it to be nonfat. Consider this my public service announcement.

When zesting the grapefruit - or any citrus fruit for that matter, make sure you just use the outer layer, not all the way into the white bitter pith. I love the Microplane for this task - it makes really fine zest; it's so sharp that you only need a gentle hand, so there's less risk of going into the bitter pith.

Grapefruit Yogurt Cake

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup sugar
  • zest of one grapefruit (a little over 2 teaspoons)
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
  • 1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Grapefruit simple syrup
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (I got about 1/2 cup from my grapefruit)

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a loaf pan (I used 8x5x3) and line the bottom with parchment paper. I use a long narrow strip of parchment so that the paper goes up the sides of the pan for easy removal later. No one likes cake stuck to the pan, right? (Then again, I have eaten cake straight out of the pan before...) For good measure, grease and flour the pan.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into one bowl. Whisk it together so that the baking powder and salt gets incorporated into the flour.

3. In another bowl, add 1 cup of the sugar and the zest. Mix them together with your fingers, rubbing the zest and the sugar together so that the oils from the zest perfume the sugar. The original recipe didn't call for this step, but I like doing it to make sure that a) the grapefruit flavor permeates throughout and b) there are no lumps of zest sticking together. I actually enjoy doing this - I tend to use a lot of citrus for cooking, and the zest is just great for flavoring a lot of things. I do the same with lemon zest and salt - rubbing them together to make a citrus salt, which you can then add to salads or other dishes that need an extra boost of flavor.

4. Crack the eggs into a large bowl and lightly beat them to break the yolk, then whisk in the yogurt and vanilla. Add the sugar and zest mixture and whisk everything together to make sure there are no lumps of sugar throughout. Every time I bake, I make sure that I mix the wet ingredients really well, so that once I add it to the dry ingredients, I don't overmix the batter.

5. Slowly whisk the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. With a rubber spatula, fold the olive oil into the batter until it's incorporated but not over-mixed. Pour the batter into the pan. Bake for about 50 minutes, or until a cake tester/toothpick/knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

6. Allow the cake to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, on a cake rack.

7. Meanwhile, cook the 1/3 cup grapefruit juice and remaining 1/3 cup sugar in a small pan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside.

8. Place the cake rack over a sheet pan. Loosen the cake from the pan, and lift it out of the pan (the excess length of parchment paper up the sides of the pan helps with this!) and place it on the cake rack. While the cake is still warm, pour the grapefruit simple syrup over the cake and allow it to soak in.
You can use as little or as much of the syrup as you want, but I probably only used half of it as I didn't want the cake to be too sweet. I figured I can use the syrup for a mocktail later, with sparkling water and perhaps some fresh thyme or rosemary, either of which pairs very well with grapefruit.

I actually debated whether to add herbs to the syrup for the cake -but I decided against it for now, so I can just have one main flavor in the cake for this first try. I might give it a try the next time. If you do, let me know how it turns out!

Barefoot Contessa's cake also calls for a glaze, which is 2 tablespoons of lemon juice (or grapefruit, for this cake) and a cup of confectioner's sugar, mixed together and poured over the cake. I'm not a huge fan of glaze, and didn't feel like I had to add even more sugar to the cake - but if you like glaze, go for it!

And on that note, I am off to have a slice of cake. Grapefruit and yogurt - that counts as breakfast, right?

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Friday, February 1, 2013

ebb and flow

When it rains (snows)... it pours.

I have 4 big projects with deadlines that somehow all seemed to merge into the same week. Next week, to be exact.

I've come to realize that there is an ebb and flow to everything. Like last week, I think I posted 3 times on this blog. This week, zero, until today. Since this blog is more for a creative outlet and space for random musings, I don't hold myself to any particular number as far as frequency of writing here.

Or one week, I might walk some, practice yoga, try an online barre3 video. On another week, I may not have the energy for anything else but yoga.

Or, I might spend a whole afternoon cooking and baking up a storm (I like how Faith calls it a "kitchen rampage"). Then a week later, I just want takeout, when the only effort I can muster goes into opening the bag of food.

It's true with work as well. Some weeks are better than others. Some weeks, I feel like I have it all together and other weeks, I ask myself, "what the heck am I doing???"

I've come to realize that the balance also comes from being ok with this ebb and flow. Accepting what is.

Because it's all a matter of perspective. Or so I remind myself, when the anxiety hits. Life is never perfect. We'll never "reach" that so-called perfectly balanced state. I don't think it's a balanced state as much as it is a balanced perspective.

It's balancing the expectation of the task with my knowledge of myself. Not this lopsided view of overestimating the task and underestimating my abilities, as I tend to do.

Boracay, Philippines | December 2012

As I sit here watching the infamous "lake effect" snow fall outside my window, I am reminded of my time at the beach in the Philippines this past December and January. The ebb and flow of the tide, and how soothing it was in its rhythm.

I remember inhaling and exhaling with this ebb and flow, feeling this sense of calm just wash over me with every gentle wave that laps at the shore. Aaaahhh. The magic of the ocean.

But without this beloved tropical beach outside my door, I rely on my breathing once more. I visualize the steadiness of the tide.

And slowly, with the ebb and flow of my own breathing, I notice my heartbeat is no longer racing. My jaws loosen. My shoulders start to relax away from my ears, bit by bit.

Somehow, my breathing also silences the inner critic, and I find hidden underneath the anxiety is a source of energy and wisdom. 

And that was my short-but-sweet five-minute yoga practice. 

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