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oatmeal, maple syrup, denmark

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There is one food I will never tire of and it’s oatmeal. Oatmeal doesn’t photograph well. But oatmeal is really comforting, and that’s why I had it for my final breakfast before leaving for Denmark. I mean, let’s be real, I have oatmeal a lot anyway. But I’ve spent the past month eating peaches, cherries, blackberries, blueberries, and everything else summery and fresh from the farmer’s market, and ol’ oatmeal was calling. I tried the overnight oatmeal phenom that’s been making the rounds in food blogs and I think it’s perfect for hot summer – you get creamy oats without the heat. Another tip I recently tried is to boil hot oatmeal with a tea bag in the water or milk, which gives it a mild but really good flavor depending on what type of tea you use! (I tried chai, and earl gray.)

When I went to New York last week to visit family we took a trip to Crown Maple at Madava Farms. Basically the place is trying to become the Napa Valley of maple syrup – complete with beautiful grounds, a garden, a restaurant with food from the garden & maple syrup baked goods, and an extensive and informative tour of the … factory? distillery? I have no idea what to call it, but I recently toured a gin distillery in DC and I have to say the maple syrup facility looked about twice as complicated — a long way from the ol’ tap & bucket routine. But, as a result, the maple syrup is by far the best I’ve ever had, and I come from a family where I didn’t have fake syrup, period. It was banned in our house (my dad is from New England) except for that one time my diabetic grandma came to visit and we bought sugar-free maple “syrup” but even then my parents sort of sighed about having it in the house. At least that’s how I remember it. Anyhow, during the tour we “sipped” different maple syrups after smelling them like wine. So…good! More pricey, but if you can find Crown Maple and are totally into maple syrup and/or breakfast foods, do not hesitate to buy.

Finally, I landed in Denmark. I’ve spent the past two days fighting the tough battle against jet lag, driving into the city to check out my future apartment, and spending time with some of my host family (my immediate host family comes back from Italy tomorrow). In some ways Copenhagen is very familiar but living somewhere is very different from visiting as an abroad student – it will take a lot of patience and flexibility on my part. It’s been nice, but also challenging, especially after a summer spent at home. Life as a foreigner certainly isn’t very easy at the beginning, but of course I knew that this would happen and this is why, in part, I went!

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Recipe

Peach ginger blueberry crumble for June

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June is flying by faster than ever and I’m barely holding on – in a good way! I both amaze at when time flies and fear it. It’s been a great summer, but I also have such a good year ahead of me. So many adventures and currently, so little time to prepare for them! am heading to Minneapolis next week, and then am trying to cram as much work/shopping/packing as I can before another trip to New York and then … I get on a plane to meet my host grandparents in Denmark. Anticipation is coursing through my veins!

The moments I wish could last forever, though, are many. Like discovering my dad has been cultivating a bush of raspberries behind our basketball hoop. I’ve snuck out there several times after work, foraging for berries. At least, foraging is what I tell people. In reality it’s me standing waist-high in flowers getting my work pants wet with dew as I rather unceremoniously stuff raspberries in my mouth with one hand while swiping away prickly branches with the other. Love it, guys. Love this nature. I mean check these out, these glowing orbs of ripeness and the sticky, alien-like quality of the plant itself.

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20130629-001111.jpg My sister is now working at a farmer’s market, much to everyone’s delight – half because we get a discount and it’s really cool to hear her talk about the produce and farm, half because she’s a self-described introvert so her first foray into the wonderful world of a customer service job is here. (Although she’s lucky because barely anyone is unhappy at a produce stand, unlike my first customer service job: Gap during the holidays.) Today we bought peaches and blueberries and ginger and lemons and set about making a crumble – aka the fruit dessert for people who are scared to/are too lazy to tackle a pie. I love the somewhat strong tartness with spice. Use fresh, good fruit for this. It’s a highly seasonal pie. Low quality ingredients mean it will taste bland, under sweet, and generally blah. If you’re really patient, take this out of the oven and let it sit overnight, it will be 300% better after everything has a chance to marinate together.

blackberry ginger peach crumble

adapted from yankee magazine

Filling:

6 medium peaches, diced large

1 lb blueberries

1 1/4 tablespoon lemon juice

Zest of one small lemon

2 tbsp corn starch

3 tablespoons honey

Dash cinnamon

Crust:

1/2 cup almonds, coarsely chopped

1/4 cup roasted buckwheat groats

1/4 cup flour ( if you don’t have buckwheat just use 1/2 cup flour )

1/2 cup oats

1/4 tbsp salt

3-4 tablespoons olive oil or butter

1 inch section grated fresh ginger

1/3 cup honey

3 tablespoons molasses

Preheat oven to 350. Combine filling ingredients and pour into a greased pie pan, approx. 8 or 9 inches. Combine crust ingredients, stirring until a coarse, wet crumble forms. Sprinkle on top of fruit, avoiding overly large chunks and covering most of the entire surface. Bake for approx. 40-45 minutes – crust should be brown and fruit bubbly. Best enjoyed with a scoop of ice cream or, better yet, for breakfast with yogurt!

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Food, Links, Musing

slutty brownies, craigslist poetry, germs

DAMN DC YOU REAL HOT N’ HUMID RIGHT NOW

Guys, my Danish host family is the cutest. My birthday was last week and they made me a virtual birthday cake! I didn’t even have to take in the calories because I just looked at it!

Okay, here is a list of things that I have been doing lately:

1) Hot yoga. Which is incredibly refreshing and energizing in the winter, but takes a whole other level of mental fortitude in the DC summertime. I get sweaty just walking to yoga, then I enter a room that heats up even more, then I work out for an hour, at which point cool air would be nice to evaporate some of my sweat, but then I head right back outside and now I am just sort of hot and humid and my clothes are all “moist” (I hate the word moist!) and there is NO relief. So, the whole “calm your mind” thing is really coming in handy when I have to wait and all I want is a shower…

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Here is a summer ratatouille made with FERMENTED CABBAGE & BEETS ON TOP, so clearly my bio-germs will be at 100% and I will live until I am 95. Haha, suckers!

2) Cooking with farmer’s market produce while simultaneously trying to maximize my GERMS. My mom and I both read Michael Pollan’s article on the importance of bacteria and now fermented/probiotic food is slowly creeping into our diets. We’re both obsessed with this KeVita drink that has popped up at Whole Foods and is sort of the stevia-sweetened water version of kefir. It tastes like a refreshing, more tasty kombucha that is super good cold and comes in very trendy flavors. But at 2 for $4, I’m not sure how long this addiction will last. Plus I’m a little skeptical about the whole crazy health benefits thing. Buuuut me and the fam have been eating a lot of fermented cabbage and herring. It’s as if we suddenly turned Danish! This will be good training for next year. 😀

3) Revamping my brand. Or, my personal website. I use Behance to host my portfolio but I’m growing a wee bit tired of the templates. I’m thinkin’ Squarespace might be where I move next, although it is a bit pricier. Hmmmm.

It's wrong how good these bad boys look.

It’s wrong how good these bad boys look.

4) ‘Slutty brownies’ happened*, thanks to a friend who sent them in the mail today. Thanks Rachel! Your brownies fulfilled their promise: they are extremely crazy, everybody wants a piece, and there are more than enough to go around.

5) I’ve been experimenting with found poetry after reading a New York Times piece on writing poetry “fridge magnet style”, using just the words in a particular article. It’s fun to use the more creative side of my brain, a side that often gets stifled or forgotten during one’s 40-hour work week. I started writing Craigslist poetry using only the phrases from actual DC Missed Connections posts. The best one I’ve been able to come up with so far is:

I coughed

Feel I might have missed
a good opportunity,

I coughed,
and your
dog stared at me.

0

Mushroom.

0-1

Blueberry.

6) I have been taking very detailed photos of my produce. And I really love this iPhone macro lens. It’s a steal deal.

*Slutty brownies (noun): an insane mixture of cookie dough/blondies, DoubleStuf oreos, brownie batter with chocolate chips, all layered together and stuck in the oven. Mouthgasm. For the quick and dirty version see here.

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Musing

same question, different answer

“Everyone eventually comes to yoga seeking an answer. You may come for the body, but you stay for the mind.”

One of my yoga instructors mentioned this in a sort of off-handed way last week as we discussed his yoga practice and why he became a teacher. It’s something that’s really stuck with me.

“For a while I was teaching yoga by day and bartending by night. Ha! I’d go from detoxing a class in the afternoon to helping people intoxicate themselves a few hours later at 12 AM.”

(Something another yoga instructor at my studio said to me about her past life in Portland. And that’s stuck with me too, but mainly because I find it funny and catchy!)

I came to yoga originally for the body. I saw it as a great way to get in shape and get more “bendy”. The rush of adrenaline I experienced when I worked on and achieved a new poses was exhilarating. Finding the perfect combination of strength and flexibility gave me energy, and with that the accompanying triumph, power, and self-esteem.

But what about the poses that aren’t so dynamic? What about the rest of one’s practice, the monotonous positions we flow through to get to the exciting ones? What about positions we hold for a long time, seemingly for no purpose? That’s when the mind becomes essential. I began to realize I’ve stayed with yoga because, while it does challenge me, in the end it often asks the same ol’ thing of me. The more you learn, the more you become familiar with. And what do you do with something you must do that you’ve done before? Do we see it as stagnancy? Do we see it as stillness? Serenity? That familiarity should be given just as much weight as novelty. The mind is what we rely on for the in-between, the day-to-day. We don’t realize that life is mostly made up of these small, perpetual motions that are easy to overlook. We can wish them away, or grow bored, or tired, or frustrated. Or we can engage them.

I also realize that if you allow your mind to stay in a knot, you only end up hurting yourself. I’ve had times where:

  • I couldn’t move past the fact that I felt frustrated I couldn’t accomplish a pose, or
  • I felt annoyed that I was sweaty, or
  • I felt tired and became stressed that I was tired, or
  • I was so freakin’ bored of moving through chataranga

But it’s essential that you learn to move on. You acknowledge the feeling, you “give it a chair” so to speak, and you move past it. It stays put. I’m slowly beginning to learn that I can control those emotions. I can recognize them, I can nod to them, but I don’t have to invite them into my very being. My emotions come from me but they are not necessarily me if I don’t want them to be. I experience them, but I can direct them, too. (Cue the part where I talk about sending energy and vibrations out into the universe…well…maybe not today…)

What do you stay for in your life? What is it you truly enjoy about the things you do?

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Musing

The right to be happy

I’ve been thinking a lot about happiness lately.

Perhaps it’s because spring is in full force in D.C. and I’ve begun crawling out of my turtle shell of winter and the types of thought-patterns that came with it. Perhaps it’s because it’s almost been a year since I graduated from college, and with that time comes a lot of reflection.

What did the founders mean when they stated that the pursuit of happiness was a divine, inalienable right? How have we as a country come to interpret that? How does that play a role in my every day life?

When I was little it was very common for me to happy, at least in the way that I interpreted it. I loved things — being outside, friends, dinnertime, sports, etc. Things were fun until they weren’t — getting in trouble, getting hurt, having a crush, etc. But I certainly didn’t spend a lot of time analyzing a path to happiness and what that meant. I sort of just experienced the emotions as they came.

And then gradually as I got older I noticed people peppering their speech with “happy”isms. Like, “Do what makes you happy” and “Find your happy place” and such. There was such an emphasis on feeling happy, and if you weren’t, you were clearly doing something wrong. And then I reached a point where I began to feel very differently due to the changing of the seasons and the existential crisis that is post-college life. Not only was I not happy, I wasn’t really feeling anything.

After a period spent in that mind-frame, I remember thinking that when I reached the other side, it wouldn’t be a happy world of happy. Instead I just had a desire to experience the complex state of emotions that constitute normal life. And in going through a period of dulled emotion, I began to realize the importance of periods where I had felt sad, or frustrated, or angry. They were experiences that had also shaped my life. Life wasn’t just about the “happy” moments, it was a mosaic of every true emotion experienced that I could later reflect on and impart personal meaning from.

Here is a little, sub-par, Microsoft Paint chart that illustrates what I mean. Faced with the spectrum of human emotion, are we meant to be fully planted in the yellow all the time?

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I think there is sort of a wild, crazed desire to “be happy” in America that often translates to doing a lot of things that make it harder to us to actually feel good. “Happy” is what has fueled the entire advertising industry and rampant consumerism. “Happy” has been translated into a car, new clothing, body image, experiences, etc. We’re constantly running around putting happiness at the top of our list, and then panicking when things aren’t so happy. When I reached the end of college, and especially this year, I’ve realized that to emphasize happiness above all other things is to ultimately set yourself up for failure.

But what are you saying, you ask me. To give up on being happy?

Well, not necessarily. I’m just saying that that thing we’ve been telling ourselves, that life should be happy all the time, is not realistic. It’s not realistic because a whole bunch of shit happens — called life! Life happens. And it isn’t pretty all the time, or fun, and is often monotonous, and sometimes amazing, and cruel, and everything else. And you have to learn to be okay with that.

I say this as I read an article about the new “disorders” added to the DSM-5 that include grief. When we label human emotions as disorders, we only add more weight to the American industry of happiness. Buy this! Do this! See this! Are! You! Happy! Yet! NO?! PILLS!

I say this as I remember that most Danes, when asked what makes them the “happiness nation in the world”, seem a bit confused, and then offer that it might be because their expectations are set lower.

I say this as I remember the Swedish concept of lagom, which roughly translates to “just right”. A concept that seems to have no bearing in modern America as we swing wildly from overindulgence to under-indulgence. Look at our food systems, for example. “Everyone either seems to be on a strange diet or eating cheeseburgers all day,” a foreigner once mentioned to me about the U.S. We’re never just right. We’re never just right because apparently it’s not okay to be just right. It’s not sexy. It’s not fun. It’s vanilla.

If there is one piece of advice I’d give to this year’s graduates, it would be to seek contentment for that first year.

Bear with me.

Don’t compare yourself to others too often. Social media is probably the #1 destroyer of self-esteem for most people. Do your personal best. Don’t give in to the pressure of having an awesome life, 24/7. Don’t settle for things that you can change that are taking away from your experience. Don’t panic when you go through rough periods, or when life just sucks. Okay, panic a little, but know that it, too, shall pass. Do what you need to do. Try to loosen the grip of what society tells you you need, such as Stuff and Things and That One Thing You Probably Should Have, Otherwise You’re a Loser.

Hint: seek things that are free and don’t have advertisements, like friends,  being outside,  doing a favor or deed for someone else, or volunteering. Seek simple. Find what makes you tick from the inside.

Do things that are hard, because you don’t learn that much about yourself when everything is easy.

So as you can see in my little chart, perhaps the focus should be setting a personal calibration, a zero if you will, to contentment. Then we can realize happiness is just as much an emotion to dip into as any other feeling, and that it shouldn’t be the starting point.

Whereas happiness always seems to be focused on external factors (“If I could just have a boyfriend, if I could just have this job, if I could just have more money”) contentment conveys a sense of inner thinking that paves the way for self-expression, self-realization, and ultimately, self-improvement. You should never stop changing or pursuing new things, scary things, weird things. But also remember to stop every once in a while and be in the space you’re in.

Yesterday I took a long walk on the way to yoga, winding through the leafy neighborhoods surrounding my former elementary school. I was both excited for an upcoming class and to spend time thinking to myself as I walked. The sun was still up at 7:30, the air was slightly warm, I was slightly tired, and nothing remarkable happened on my walk. I was so content. It was just right.

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Food, Review

Tomato Tart

This is a wonderful, easy, French-inspired summer tart — and it will be better when tomatoes are actually in season, but I couldn’t wait to start making it. It’s adapted from the Spring Hill Community Farm Cookbook, courtesy of a friend’s housemate who offered to sell it to us after I told him I was sort of obsessed with it. It’s full of community recipes, farm wisdom, seasonal stories, a few songs and poems, and general food happiness.

Tomato Tart

1 frozen roughly 8×10-inch puff pastry sheet OR 9-inch pie crust (puff pastry sheet is ideal, in this case I used pie crust and it was still delicious, but more thin crust pizza-like)

2 1/2 tablespoons either honey mustard or dijon mustard

1/2 cup either parmesan, gruyere, or gouda cheese, grated

3 medium tomatoes, sliced thin

1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 tsp of all of the following: rosemary, thyme, oregano

pinch of salt, twist of ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 425. Defrost puff pastry or crust according to the box. Unroll onto a pie dish or a normal cookie sheet (size doesn’t really matter here). Spread mustard over the surface. Layer cheese over that, followed by tomatoes (arranged so that the majority of them don’t overlap). Drizzle olive oil on top, followed by the spices. (Optional: sun-dried tomatoes also add a lot of flavor for this tart, either layered alongside fresh tomatoes or cut up and sprinkled on top.)

Bake for 15-20 minutes — it will be done when the tops of the tomatoes look slightly dried and the crust/pastry is browned.

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Recipe

Blackberry “cheesecake” smoothie

I’m not the biggest meat eater and I was a vegetarian for two years in high school, so I’m surprised it has taken me this long to really play around with tofu. I picked up tempeh for the first time this week and have instantly fallen in love– it is so, so good fried up with either ginger and a dash of curry or with smokier spices such as Cajun seasoning. Tempeh’s nutty flavor is delicious and it is an excellent protein source.

I’ve been putting sprouted tofu in my smoothies to great effect. It adds the creaminess I’ve been looking for! You can’t taste it at all but it lends a silken texture that enables one to keep the rest of the smoothie dairy free and relatively healthy. (I.e: you don’t have to rely on sweetened yogurt and can easily blend in lots of fruit and even spinach while maintaining the creaminess.)

The following smoothie is my new favorite: it tastes sort of like blackberry cheesecake in a drink.

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blackberry “cheesecake” smoothie

1/2 ripe banana
1/2 cup frozen blackberries
1/3 cup almond milk
1/4-1/3 cup water (depending on how thick you like your drink)
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or vanilla stevia
1/2 cup firm silken tofu
1 teaspoon malt powder

Blend in a blender – let blend for a bit longer than usual to ensure it whips up well. Drink!

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