Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Dreaming of Palm Springs

It is dreary outside, dark, gray, cold, windy, raining, and I feel like the weather is now really getting to me. Normally, I am such an optimistic trooper, even in the longest winter, but this endless array of weather that wants me to be cuddled up indoors when I see people with Magnolia trees on the west coast makes me want to cry. I can’t take it anymore. It is these moments when I want to uproot and move back to a drought stricken California, like here in Palm springs, and yes, after 10 years in Maine, it does look a bit dry and not green at all. Nothing much seems to grow, naturally, while there is an abundance of green, trees and lushes lawns and coastal waters and lakes in Maine without anyone having to do anything. If…. you can cope with the winter.

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But the light, the wide horizons, the freedom, of Palm Springs and the desert, get me every time.

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Maybe, just a vacation, for a few weeks, to recharge those depleted happy hormone reservoirs.

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Monday, April 27, 2015

Inspirations for the week

The weather is dreary and I am not in the spring menu mode, inspired by the farmers market. It is still, well, more comfort food. Beans, stews, tomatoes. Here are a few inspirations that I cannot wait to try out.

Five Ingredients, One (Pressure) Pot, 30min goodness

Chicken, raw tomatoes, potatoes, onion, a bay leaf and a bit of salt and pepper, cooked to soupy, intense flavor deliciousness in the pressure cooker. Sign me up.













Chili Verde


Same idea -- pressure cooker stewing up intense flavor and juicy textures --- chicken, poblano, tomatillos, green bell peppers, some garlic, and onions.














Giant Bean Tomato Soup

Love Giant beans. Why are they so expensive?




















For desert, this Pear Walnut Cake


Sunday, April 26, 2015

Wolfgang Puck mini rice cooker

The spring is on retreat again, oh well. So, it is still time for some comfort food. I am a great believer in small cooking pots and pans if you cook for only a few people (e.g. 1-2 people). Also, I like fresh cooked items better because they taste better and have more nutrients.

A few month ago I saw this mini rice cooker by Wolfgang Puck on HSN. I already have a 3 cup neuro-fuzzy rice cooker and I had a hard time convincing myself whether I need another, even smaller one. In the end, I gave it a go since it is just $24.95. To my pleasure, I have been using it often for cooking rice. It comes with a 1/2 cup sized measuring cup.

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Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Chocolate Coffee Stout Cake

The other day I picked up the new, small version of the beautiful NordicWare heritage bundt cake pan at Williams-Sonoma. Just the right size for a cake for a few girlfriends coming for the afternoon, or a cake for the weekend.

So, which cake to make? A local microbrewery makes really good beer, and that says someone who would always prefer red wine to beer, but they changed my me. My favorites are the stouts, and when I brought home a growler with coffee stout, more than drinking it ... a cake came to mind I had made a few years ago that featured chocolate stout beer. With a few tweaks, this came out really well.

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Chocolate Coffee Stout Cake.

(makes 2 small bundt cakes or 1 regular size)
Cake:

  • 2 cups coffee or chocolate stout beer
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, plus more for the pan
  • 3/4 cup natural cocoa powder 
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup Greek yogurt
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 3/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 TB black strap molasses
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

Chocolate glaze:
  • 1 cup chocolate couverture (or chocolate chips)
  • 1 TB creme fraiche
  • 1 TB butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Preheat oven to 350F, with a rack in the center. 
  2. Spray 2 x 6 cup or a 11 or 12-cup capacity bundt pan with baking spray. Make sure to only fill any bundt cake  2/3 - 3/4 full. 
  3. In a saucepan, simmer the stout down to 1 1/4 cup. Remove from heat, cut the butter into small pads and to the hot beer, use a whisk and stir. Now, add in the cocoa powder, and also whisk in. Pour the mix into a metal prep bowl, and place into ice water to cool it down (if you add it too hot, it will curdle the eggs).
  4. In a separate prep bowl, mix together the flours, sugar, baking soda, and salt and set aside. 
  5. In a the mixing bowl of a stand mixer, combine the eggs, Greek yogurt, maple syrup, molasses and vanilla. Whisk well, until nicely blended and uniform in appearance. 
  6. Gradually add the (cooled) stout mixture, while stirring on a slow speed. 
  7. Spoon in the flour mixture, folding until just blended, using as few strokes as possible.
  8. The dough will be quite liquidity, don't worry.
  9. Transfer the batter to the prepared pan(s).
  10. Bake for 40 minutes if using a small bundt pan, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean (45min for a large one). You don't want to over bake this cake - err on the slightly moist side. 
  11. Remove from the oven, and turn out onto a cooling rack after seven minutes.
  12. Cool completely.
  13. In a double boiler, mix the chocolate couverture chips with the butter and the vanilla extract until the chocolate is melted. Now, stir in the creme fraiche.
  14. Keep stirring and glaze the cake with a small silicone brush. 


Saturday, April 18, 2015

Boston Strong

It is a bit eerie and sad to walk around the Boston Marathon finish in 2015. The sidelines and audience benches are all up, it is another 2 days, the runners’ expo tents are busy, the tourists pouring into town, many people obviously runners, the European ones clad in adidas gear, and there is a great excitement in the air. I never knew what a big deal the Boston marathon for Boston really is. Still, the nerves are raw from 2 years ago, the memories too vivid. Special, make-shift memorials are erected where the bomb exploded, but in true Boston strong fashion (similar to the NYC tenacity), the show (and life) does go on.


Monday, April 13, 2015

Light and warmth infused humans

Sometimes I feel humans are not much different from plants. When do the plants in the garden know that it is time and safe to grow those precious leaves and flowers? They don’t have a calendar. It must be sensing based --- sensing that it is warm and that there is plenty of sunshine. Humans are similar --- as soon as we ‘feel’ (sense) that the temperatures rise to a certain degree, the sun shines long hours and it is warm consistently for a few days it seems like we are infused by some life nectar, too, which provides energy to run long distances and want to go places.

At least that is what happens to me and what brought me to Boston.

In Boston, a lot more people seem to feel it.




Friday, April 10, 2015

Kale, cherry tomato, chickpea and feta salad

A step in the right direction, finally making my own lunch salad again.

I need a new day routine. Maybe, it comes with spring? The winter has been so long, and the days were too much the same with too cold, too short, and a routine set itself up, and I am burnt out on it. Making my own lunch I pushed to the side. Not sure how to get my motivation back on track....

This salad was good: black chickpeas from the India store cooked in the rice cooker, romaine with a layer of lacinato kale, cherry tomatoes from Trader Joes, the last leftover feta from the farmers market and sprinkles of Thyme and home-made balsamic vinaigrette.

Maybe, it is just a salad at a time.


Small trends in the right or wrong direction

It is always surprising to me that little things can move so much. Often we think to accomplish anything we need to make a 100% commitment and do 100% the right thing all the time. Make this 120% or 150% commitment, when we failed before. “I will pull this off!” Well, the end of this story is only that we will fail again, and our self confidence and self worth are shot.

So, for a while now, I am a supporter of ‘small commitments’. Small commitment are like getting or asking for a sample of this new makeup you are interested in at Sephora. You can try it out, your curiosity is fulfilled, and you will know more if you really want it. Then, you can commit to make spend the money, and not regret. Small commitments
  • to learning new things in school/work, or
  • more fitness in my day,
  • new friends/dates, or
  • ‘getting into my skinny jeans’.
We can all start with a ‘test balloon’ to see if something works (for us) or if we even like it. It might have worked for someone else, but who says it actually works for us? We can all try something out for 1-2 weeks, 1-2 dates, 1-2 gym visits, walk on the treadmill only when we are thinking about starting the Couch-2-5K program, and then we know more. Know more if it worked, if we liked it, if we ‘feel it’, and we can throw a little more commitment towards it.

Those 100% commitment won’t get you anywhere. Not in the long run. It just seems to be a measure of how desperately we want it, but not a guarantee for success.

less_commitment_is_more

“Small habit changes” is what popsugar calls it, and it is true. Small changes can accomplish a lot. I am a big support of small changes. Too often have I seen people throw themselves 100% at something (“I go to the gym every day for 1.5h, because I really want to get fit by summer’') (“I will commit myself 100% to learning this.”) only for life to happen and them running out of steam, and feeling like a failure.

Now, they feel they have to make up for that failure and be 150% on target.  Give more than they are. Another way to damper on that motivation, starting out already feeling flawed, until that precious motivation peeters out altogether and stuck in the back of one’s mind as “I cannot do this. This is too hard.”

I could see from the beginning that this would be the natural way of things unfolding, and the problem was not the ‘not being able to keep it up’ but to set such a lofty goal to begin with.

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Little changes. Little trends. Walk more, drive your car less. Park the car farther from your work and walk a little bit more. Walk, don’t take the bus. Make it a habit. Cut down to 1 glass of wine a night, or a half. Drink only cappucino at Starbucks, but omit the sugary syrups. Just like the end of a week, when I think “where has my money gone? I did not buy anything!” the little things add up. And the little things won’t change that much of how we do things already.

The walking on the TM can lead to starting with the first week of the C25K, and adding a minute of running here and there. The 1 glass of wine a night can lead to no wine at all, or only on special occasions or in a restaurant. The cappucinos can lead to simply drinking coffee like in the good old days (also, a third of the price).

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However, it can also go in the other direction. We finally fit into the skinniest jeans we have, we dropped those 5-10 vanity pounds, and we even kept it up for a while. We are really happy, clothes look good, fashion is fun, picking out the clothes in the morning is fabulous, and then we think, “oh, I am safe. I know I should not have that roll at the business lunch, but one time won’t hurt.” And it won’t. The next day we go to a new store and the crusty, fresh baked bread looks so good that we take one home, or we are hungry and there are only pastries, not salad, and we say, ah, one time won’t hurt. Or we are out too late in the evening, and ravenous, and pick up a sandwich at panera bread instead of cooking at home. Or there is a birthday party or a trip or a vacation, and everyone makes exceptions at parties, right? At one point, there is an exception every day, a small exception, and still it feels like an avalanche after a while, because the weight goes up again, slowly but surely.

So, keep little trends in mind.

They actually make a big difference. One way, or the other.

Every decision has a consequence. Everything decision counts.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Maine in Early Spring

Spring slowly tries to make its way into Maine. The snow piles are getting lower, the sun comes out once in a while and shines warm, and then there are the nights when 2 inches of snow fall. It is not the ravenous spring of places like DC or South Carolina, with daffodils and tulips and brunch in the garden and leaves in the trees. Nevertheless, it is happening, and it won’t be long until the summer will engulf all of Maine with its rapturous beauty.

Nevertheless, there is always beauty to find in the usual places.

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86_5

86 this has moved to a new location --- including sit-down tables. Since Cleonice closed this will be a hot new spot to get great food in Ellsworth.

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Saturday, April 4, 2015

Goddess Green Kale Hummus

Waking up this morning, the light coming in through the bedroom window was so low that I knew I would need to keep the lights on all day. In an effort to make the best out of this rainy, snowy, dark Easter Saturday, I designated it to be a ‘pajamas day’, an in-house day, cozy in front of the tv with endless netflix movies, never needing to wear any ‘real’ clothes and no need for make-up either, getting some work done, and otherwise just lingering. Sounded great.

kale hummus_g


Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Hello April

The spring is slowly forthcoming this year. The days are longer, sunnier, but there are still 2 feet of ugly snow on the ground almost everywhere. Not in the south of Maine, though. They are snow-free, mostly.  It is April and I have hopes that by the end of the month it might actually feel like spring. I try not to be one to complain, because, afterall, this is life, and every day wasted with looking at the negative and wanting something else, is never coming back. So, why not make it a day to remember.

With the lack of blog posts, you probably have realized that I have been less than inspired to cook lately. A real inspiration slump. I do not care to bring lunch and I do not even care to grab lunch, and then I eat a candy bar I have in the office. My excitement went on spring break and never came back. Maybe, I just need a major change, but I don’t know what this could/should be. Summer?

So, I leave you with things I found on the internets in the hope they might inspire me (or you);

eats_april

Eats in April. And meals.

palat_schinken

Ready for Austrian Royal sweets? These are crepes, the Austrian version. The dough is sweeter than the dough of crepes, but otherwise they are quite similar. Always filled with some apricot or strawberry or raspberry jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar. (Original name: Palatschinken, for instruction check this post). (Equally fabulous: Kaiserschmarrn, Nocken and Viennese Apple Strudle. This one deserves a photo of its own. )

apfelstrudel

Easter is on its way. Please only buy chocolate bunnies for the kids. Not real ones.

BDSC_0498

And now I will enjoy the sunny day and a half, because the weatherman says, the Easter weekend will be a big natural make-over, with plenty of rain and then a new layer of immaculate snow. Old man winter is still refreshing his make-up. His real name seems to be Dorian Gray.