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. ;-)


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.


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


...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.


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