Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Lemony ricotta bundt cake

The long weekend is over  and the sunshine is back. Besides one day, it was rather cold and gloomy, and most people resorted to the first rule of long weekends: shopping.  I had some stuff to do around the house and then baked a lemony ricotta cake which was to die for (people went back again and again to cut off another small slice, it was so addictive). Accidentally, I overbake it a bit but it added to the flavor with a bit of a dark ‘crust’ almost and the moist, lemony, sweet interior.

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Lemony Ricotta Bundt cake

  • 1  stick unsalted butter At room temperature
  • 8 oz part skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • dash of orange extract
  • dash of vanilla extract
  • zest of 1 large, organic, untreated meyer lemon (save rest for glaze)
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 1  cup all-purpose flour
  • 1.5 Teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

For The Lemon Glaze:

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • juice of half lemon
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the bundt pan.
  2. In a large mixer bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the ricotta cheese and blend well. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well between each. Add the extracts and lemon zest and mix until fully combined.
  3. Add the sliced almonds and gently mix in.
  4. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and soda.
  5. Add the dry ingredients in several smaller parts, mixing just until incorporated.
  6. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with a spoon as needed.
  7. Bake 40-45 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean.
  8. Let cool in the pan for at least 15 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack.
    Cool completely.
  9. Whisk together the powdered sugar and lemon juice until smooth and thick.
  10. Drizzle the lemon glaze over the top of the cake.
  11. Let the glaze set for 30 minutes and then cut into wedges and serve.

 

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I poured the cake batter into a regular 10 cup bundt form (the amounts are for a 6 cup bundt cake pan), and it came out like a large ring with smaller slices, just right for the afternoon coffee.

BabyCat approves.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Sunshine in my pocket

The day started off with blue skies and bright sunshine. Everyone in the neighborhood was on the clock: things needed to get done before the scorching heat of 90F would set in around noon, kicking off the Memorial weekend. I tied on my running shoes, put on my old Sony headphones that don’t fall out of my ears when I run, turned on “Can’t stop the feeling” and set off, finally feeling the easy spring in my step again when I run, after getting back into the routine of running for a week.

After mowing the lawn by 10am, I jumped in the shower and put on actual clothes for the day. A long summer weekend feels like getting handed a cocktail --- promises  of unending fun. I tried not to get carried away, skipped the deals in the stores, and settled for lunch at Chipotle.

Enjoying my late lunch, bathing in the little summer traffic that reminded me of life in the big city, I realized I did not have plans, really, for the rest of the day, so I meandered back home, and unleashed myself on the chaise lounge with a book. 

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I aggregated a whole stack of new books since I started listening to the “Creative Live Genius” series. I usually don’t get around to read books, my hack are audiobooks in the car, but it was so interesting, how could I not to. Amazon, tsha-tshing, and another book on the way. One side of me says, wisely, with a wagging finger  “No! No more books! You are not reading them!” and the other side says, “Well, maybe, I make time in my day. I tone down my to-do list, and make room for my to-be list.”

And so, this stack is waiting, for me to make good on my promise.

Summer is a tough. Living in Maine, I feel I wait all winter long for warm weather, for long, sunny days. Instead of life being dictated by work, it belongs to my own direction again. With unstructured days on my hands, I feel like a kid in the candy store and can’t decide what to do, maybe just all of it?  Summer FOMO sets in.

But there will be another summer, and I will  miss out on some stuff. I just need to accept it. And then I can focus on what I really want to do. Today.

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(by Ella Luna, Instagram)

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The search for a summery turquoise running shoe

In the summer I love love love the color turquoise or aqua, a gradient mix between blue and green, that reminds me of the ocean. A few weeks ago I wanted to get a pair of running shoes in this color. But it was actually not that simple to decide.  Which kind of aqua? More on the blue side, or more on the green side? Which complementary colors? Yellow!  A fresh lemon yellow, for summer.  And for running shoes, it needs to be a reasonable brand.

So, I ordered a whole bunch of shoes, and yesterday they finally had all arrived and I went through the sorting process, with a glass of wine, to narrow it down. These were the contenders:

The first ones to be eliminated were the Ascics Gel-Kayano.  They fit really nice, but I really liked a darker contrast color.

The three contenders that survived the first round. The Ascics FuzeX look really nice from the color schema, but they are a bit flimsy for running shoes, there is very little cushioning and they just feel a bit ‘cheap’. 

Down to two contenders. Now, it was difficult to make up my mind. If I could only keep one pair I would keep the Ascics GT-1000 (upper pair). However, they run small. My typical size in Ascics is size 8, but with these my big toe hit the shoebox, and I don’t like that for running shoes. They are going back for a different size.

Love! Really nice, the right type of blue, the blue laces, the yellow shoe box and the purple low color.

But --- how can I say no to these? So cute! More aquamarine, with the darker turquoise as the shoe box, and the  flower-type pattern and the grey mesh. So elegant, and a great running shoe.

I might be in for 2 pairs of shoes…..

Friday, May 20, 2016

Palak without the Paneer

Spinach is a great vegetable that is available in the winter (frozen) as well as in the summer (fresh), and it is really affordable. Typically, I’ll prepare fresh spinach sauted with other vegetables but I rarely make it creamed because it seems rather bland done in a conventional, Western way. There is one exception: the palak part of the Indian dish palak (spinach) paneer (soft cheese).   The other day,  I made my own version at home and it will definitely become a staple in my house.

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Palak witout the Paneer

  • 2 bags of frozen spinach, thawed, not squeezed
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 Thai chile diced (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon ghee
  • 5 to 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 cardamom pod
  • 2 cloves 
  • 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek leaves
  • pinch of cinnamon 
  • 2 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
  • 1 cup diced tomatoes, about 1-inch pieces 
  • 1/2 teaspoon agave syrup (or sugar)
  • 3/4 to 1 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 cup ricotta (optional) 
  1. Put the thawed spinach, the ginger and the thai chili in a blender with 1 cup of water, and puree into a smooth puree. Set aside.
  2. Roughly crush peppercorns, cardamom and cloves in a mortar and pestle and throw out the cardamom skin. If using a spice grinder, remove the cardamom skin and use only the seeds (save the cardamom skin for chai). Add the turmeric, fenugreek leaves, and cinnamon and stir.
  3. Heat a thick-bottomed pan with the heat at medium. Add the spice powder and roast for 1/2 minute to make them fragrant. Add the ghee and wait until it is melted.  Add the chopped onion, and garlic and saute for 3 minutes until translucent. Add the tomatoes and agave, and sauteed for 1-2 minutes.
  4. Pour the spinach into the pan. Add salt and 1/2 cup water to adjust consistency. You can add a little bit more if you find the sauce is getting pasty.
  5. Once the spinach mixture boils, reduce the heat, and let simmer for about 10 minutes.
  6. Add garam masala. After 4 to 5 minutes, pour ricotta.
  7. Eat with naan or over rice with a curry, or just as palak.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Avoiding toxic creativity

Over the last 1-2 months I found a new balance in my life: my usual long list of tasks, work and responsibilities balanced out each day with the activity of something fun, new, mind stopping and pay attention, actively exploratory (new shows on Netflix don’t count), trying out something new that is meaningful to me and that I am truly interested in at that time. If it is making a linoleum stamp, printing tea towels, making aged wood board photo backgrounds, or learning a new tool such as ‘how does graphic design work?’. All these activities seem to stop time for me, at least for 1-2h, and I pay attention, and get lost in the flow, and then I am really happy afterwards and feel I really lived. The echo of the experience carries along for a few days, and make me smile thinking about it later on, looking back.

When for some reason life gets too hectic again and time scarce, when I am required to show up at many events but there is not much more required of me than showing up, when I feel busy but don’t get the sense of “I’ve been challenged and I did something.” this energy gets pent up and finds no release.  It sneakily pours out of me, just in different ways such as sending me me to the mall, and scouring for new clothes. Or it sends me to Target, which always lead to finding something. This results in a buzz for the moment, but then, poof, it is gone again and I am back to being bored. If I do this too often I get cranky and a bit desperate about life.

This week I made the connection that in the end, it is really the creativity that looks for an outlet. If I don’t actively do something where I can apply myself, learn something, or get my teeth into an interesting new ‘problem’,  it will send me to the mall or Target. If I’d live in NYC I would probably scour for new stores, restaurants and exhibits, looking for new stimulation, and new (passive) experiences.  If I’d be Mindy Lahiri I might look for a new date.  If I’d be a runner I might look for a new half marathon to focus on. Or we click endlessly through social media. In the end, it can be misdirected creativity. There is new-ness, stimulation but it is like a glass of champagne, and the buzz does not last. It can result in endless ‘activity’ and feel like running in a hamster wheel (but often we are too busy to notice).

I think real creativity involves taking risks, focus on something that is not necessarily safe (buying clothes is safe!), but has the potential to break us open like a melon, and the insides of us exposed, our fears, vulnerability, facing the things we really want but are sometimes afraid of going for because we are not sure what the outcome will be. Will we fail? Will be succeed? Will we even like what we produce, or where we end up? But deep inside, this ‘thing’ really matters to us. And the experience and outcome will be transformational, for ourselves, and others.

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Yesterday, I saw this wonderful documentary “Artifact’” by Jared Leto. I saw him on the “30 Days of Genius” series on Creative live and was drawn in by his raw creativity. He does creativity on a big scale: music, acting, directing, editing and more. He mentioned that  a few years ago they were sued by their own record company, EMI, for breach of contract for 30 Mio Dollars, after they wanted to get out of their 9 year contract after 7 years. Despite several Million Dollar selling albums they were in debt for 1.7Million to EMI and had not seen a dime. They made a documentary about this time,  when they worked on their new album (“This is war.”) and fought the lawsuit at the same time. Despite the head-scratching and aggravating information of how the music industry works, I found the back story of how Jared Leto and his brother being exposed to music and creativity early on much more fascinating.

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And there we go, redirecting to creativity. Maybe, this will put the retail industry even more into a funk (but I think they could also use some return to creativity).

Have a good week!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Curried hummus

Whenever I go to the farmers market, I am enticed by these great non-traditional hummus variations: with cilantro, with artichoke, and with curry. I made my own version of the curried hummus and it is really nice --- Indian notes with the curry, spicy and a hint of sweet. Basically,  it is like hummus with curry, a dash of maple syrup and some red pepper flakes or cayenne.

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Curried hummus

  • 2 cups of chickpeas (ca. 1 cup of dried chickpeas cooked in the slow cooker with a bay leaf for 4-5h)
  • 3-4 garlic cloves, peeled (or less)
  • 2 TB olive oil
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 2 TB maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 TB curry powder
  • salt to taste
  • Optional: 1/2 tea spoon garam massala, 1/2 ts roasted sesame oil

Place all ingredients in a blender and blend until smooth. Add water if mixture is too thick. Serve.

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Stamping tea towels–the whole story

I am coming full circle: finally, I uploaded all the photos from my tea towel stamping adventure. It started out with store bought stamps and the perfect summer aqua.

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….and French provincial looking tea towels (I have a thing for the Provence).

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But what I really wanted was a tea towel with tropical leaves. After much deliberation of how to find leaves, I did the obvious – check out Home Depot.

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The tricky question was: how to transfer the design on the linoleum block? First, I pressed the leaves flat in a book. Then, I photographed them and thought I could transfer the photo outline to the block. In the end, I was too lazy to print out the photo. Instead, I glued the leaves to a piece of paper, and with a tracing pencil traced the leaves’ outline. Then, turned the paper around and traced the outline again, so that some of the original tracing would rub off on the linoleum block. Afterall, it has to be a negative-positive design. To be honest, there was only the faintest outline, and I made up the rest.

With an hour of evening sun on my desk and caring about nothing else in the world I carved the leaf design into the linoleum block. I was so in trance I got it done in one go.

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A few days later, it was time to stamp. First, a few test stamps.

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Then, the real thing.

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It was not perfect, but it is hand-made by me. 

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And then, just  as I imagined it….  Below is Tracy’s original inspiration that set it all off. I still love her rounder, softer shapes of the leaves more, and the white line in the middle. Time to go back to the stamp, and make some more changes. But for the first try, it was very good and rewarding.

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Saturday, May 7, 2016

A leg to stand on

It is “30 Days of Genius” on Creativelive currently, a series of interviews of Chase Jarvis, the founder of Creativelive, with 30 ‘influential’ people.  In the spirit of “I need keep my creativity engaged”, every day, like going for a walk every day, I try to do something creative/playful/exploratory every day. It can be something artistic or taking time and cook a new dish with new ingredients or flavors. I can stuck in the rut of just doing the same thing, day in, day out, feeling like a work or house wife machine.  But for me to be happy, a little bit of creativity makes a big difference of how I feel about life. It is as someone lit a match to my imagination and dreams.

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The people on this Creative live series are very different from each other, different energy, different insights, different backgrounds, different experiences. I am three interviews in, so far. Sometimes it really is just a little thing that click and it can trigger all kinds of insights.

(The series is free, but you need to sign up to get an email with the course link. )

Otherwise, the weather is good, it’s the weekend, the lawn needs to be mowed (how can this always be the first ceremonious act of summer?), and I am getting my second pair of the Lululemon Studio pant III today; the III  are less bell bottom then the II, and they are shorter, and more light straight jeans. Love!  My favorite hiking pants! And I got them in pink, because… it’s summer.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Hand-stamped tea towels

Besides bringing plenty of work, April was a month of creative adventures. I was inspired by the most beautiful dishtowel in had seen on a blog, with tropical leaves. I wanted this towel so much but, nothing similar was to be found, not on Etsy or anywhere. So, I googled the next best thing: how to make hand stamped dish towels?

Turns out it is fairly easy to do and I found the most beautiful hand-stamped towels ideas (this is a good tutorial, this one, too). I bought some inexpensive flour sack towels on Amazon for $8  and a liquid (Liquitex Professional Fabric Medium) that I mixed with my acrylic colors to create fabric dyes, and then scoured for some pretty rubber stamps at Michael’s and Hobby Lobby.
On a sunny afternoon, I mixed my paint, a nice Martha Stewart like aqua, and tried to figure out how to get a crisp stamp imprint. The first tea towel inadvertently  became the ‘test towel’. It worked best using an inexpensive foam roller that I soaked with paint and then rolled over the stamp.  So, I stamped away, amazed. The towels dried for 48h, and then I ironed them to make the color permanent.

A great mother’s day gift idea… and the ideas are endless. Potato stamps, even cutting rubbers into triangles for geometric stamps, or using lemons.

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Sunday, May 1, 2016

A whiff of summer

Yesterday there was no denying it: it was time to leave town and head to the coast. It was sunny, not particularly warm, but sunny and dry nonetheless. And it was Saturday. My routes take me to Acadia National park or to Belfast and Camden. Yesterday, it was the later. I added another stop: Unity. The Amish charcuterie in Unity with its large selection of hand-crafted  meats and smoked cheeses make the detour necessary. I got ‘ramp sausage’, a type of chorizo with local ramps. I’ve been trying to find local ramps for years, but Mr. Amish ‘has someone’ who knows where they grown. Hmm. I continued on the rolling hills towards Belfast, listening to Oliver Sacks telling his life story, and arrive just in time for a wonderful beet soup (and french carrot salad) at Chase’s.


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After the obligatory round through the Belfast shops, and a first wine tasting at Cellardoor winery in Lincolnville it was time for the first hike of summer 2016, up Maiden Cliff.
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The winter was the mildest on record, but the trees took a beating, with high wind storms.
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Poor trees. Their roots are on top of the mountain boulders, and a whole cluster of 3 wiped out.
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Sun!
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I finally made it to Long Grain in Camden, one of the 10 bucket-list worthy restaurants on this list that I had not been to. Long Grain is a hole in the wall kind of restaurant, easily overlooked but once I heard that it is one of the favorite restaurants in Camden of my chef-friends I decided it is time to try it out. I never made it last year, because it was always full with tourists when I got there. Yesterday I was more lucky, and snagged a seat at the bar. The Thai beef salad completely wow-ed me. It was quite spicy but with vibrant flavors and the meat so buttery soft it must have been a really good steak. 
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The tourists are still mostly local, the ships still in their larva, but summer is coming. Definitely.