How do you ground yourself?

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Operating in harmony with the universe does not come naturally to me. There are key elements I’ve tuned into over the years that ground me, give me joy, expand my creativity, cultivate peace, foster (and maintain!) good, healthy relationships. Here are a few that I find essential to living a full-bodied existence.

Getting outside

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I need to spend at least an hour in nature on a daily basis, whether it’s a run, a leisurely walk through the neighborhood, a hike either solo or with friends, or camping along the beach. Sometimes I’ll listen to my favorite podcasts or music, however lately I’ve enjoyed immersing myself in the sounds and sights around me. Little things like noticing how the figs are ripening on the trees in the neighborhood, discovering a great blue heron rookery, watching sea snails scooting along the sand, seals swimming in the distance, or marveling at that California blue sky that never fails to intoxicate me. The benefits of being outdoors has actually been quantified! Research led by the University of Exeter, published in Scientific Reports and funded by NIHR, found that people who spend at least 120 minutes in nature a week are significantly more likely to report good health and higher psychological wellbeing than those who don’t visit nature at all during an average week.

Travel

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Traveling reminds me that there is literally a whole world out there to explore. It helps shape perspective by stretching oneself out of her comfort zone. Traveling is the antidote for getting caught up in the microcosm of my universe. Experiencing other cultures, navigating the terrain, appreciating the architecture, landscape and natural beauty; not to mention, the food! It helps me become more culturally aware. It helps in cultivating respect and reverence for the world around me, and it helps shape how I engage with people back home. I love to hear and share stories about travel, or listen to an acquaintance share how life is/was experienced growing up in another region of world. An added benefit: travel exposes us to different environments and microbes, thereby creating stronger antibodies and an ultimately more resilient immune system. It’s good for your health!

Meditation

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A daily (well…most days-TBH) meditation practice is something I’ve embraced as one of the most important acts to increase my overall well-being. It helps with stabilizing my emotions, finding respite from an overactive mind, and increasing awareness and presence throughout the day. I credit meditation for the moments in my day where things are feeling a bit out of control and I have the ability to pause, connect with my body and experience a more rational and harmonious existence.

Love/Community

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We are not meant to navigate this world alone. For years I thought self-sufficiency was empowering, and vulnerability a weakness. Now I find it my saving grace. Having people in my corner, and me in theirs, has been strengthening to my soul. Being open to new friendships, or nurturing existing relationships is key. How this shows up in my life is myriad: something simple like enjoying a little one-on-one time with a dear one, or sharing a meal with my daughter and talking/listening without distraction, or maintaining good social relationships by calling a friend (vs sending a text) to let them know I’m thinking about them. Remembering little details that I can follow up on later to show that I care. Research has demonstrated that engaging in joyful activities such as love may activate areas in the brain responsible for emotion, attention, motivation and memory, as well as reduce stress.

Creativity

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When I’m feeling tapped energetically, engaging in a creative project always pulls me out. Baking and pastry-making are extremely special to me. I dream about dessert most days! When I bake, I get lost in the moment, pouring love into something beautiful and delicious that family and friends can enjoy. I take pride what I create, and am not afraid to experiment, which means that things don’t always turn out the way I anticipate. On those infrequent occasions, I have a good laugh and then usually serve it anyway, with my head held high, making no excuses. I know that I set incredibly high standards for myself and have been working on this! I have the honor of making treats every week for my book study and I honestly obtain as much joy out of making these special deserts as they do eating them. Leftovers are always a bonus.

Above all, cultivating gratitude and appreciation every day helps to bring in the joy. That, and a good night’s rest! Thanks for reading.

J

Resurrecting a Dinosaur. (and soup!)

Well, Hello! It’s been a while.

When I first started this blog, I wanted to convey the creative and experiential process I underwent when it came to cooking. These inspirational endeavors stemmed from a desire to create something; to share my talent and passion with loved ones and friends, old and new.

A blog seemed infinitely more manageable than a cookbook per se, as I’ve always had a yearning to branch out into more culinary or holistic endeavors, and served as a platform for me to explore the creating process as it pertained to the things I loved most: making something sumptuous to be enjoyed by myself and those around me. For me, cooking is one of the many ways I express joy. 

This last year had me growing and stretching myself in incredible ways. I relocated to a new city, got a new job, new climate, new life. Finding community in a new space and navigating social situation was at times very exciting and wonderful and at others, lonely and isolating. It took a while to reengage and be inspired with the creative process that cooking would provide. I took trips, stayed connected with friends and family, sought challenges and achieved personal milestones, including a trek across the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu over Christmas. That hike was probably one of the hardest physical challenges I’d ever endured, yet somehow I find myself toying with the idea of doing it again. I am forever grateful for the all-encompassing beauty of the trail, the year, the challenges and triumphs.

While my career as a clinical pediatric dietitian has been quite impressionable, the past several years I have had this undercurrent of desire to return to my more holistic roots. As I move into a new arena of private practice, I want to continue this blog and all of its sweetness; and hopefully catalog this new and exciting journey. I’m looking forward to growing myself within new levels of comfort and discomfort. There’s a wellspring of creativity waiting to bloom and express itself; I can feel it percolating.

I still plan to maintain the blog’s focus on the experiential process of culinary art, continuing to write about my food lover’s journey, as well as incorporating some of the new adventures that are shaping my existence today. Stay tuned! 

But for now. I’ll leave you with a recipe for a warming soup I made the other day, whose inception came from a typical lack of desire to venture out to the grocery store. Anyone with a decently-stocked pantry can make this soup, or a variation, depending on how flexible one chooses to be. My approach to recipes are to use them more like a template, adjusting to suit one’s personal taste. This particular soup contains coconut milk and red lentils for substantive staying power, and lots of ginger to give heat. I’ve included both stovetop and instant-pot versions of the recipe for those wanting to shave a few minutes of meal preparation.

Enjoy, and much love, J

Carrot Coconut Ginger Soup

Method:

Melt 2 tbsp ghee or coconut oil in a large pot set to medium heat, or in an instant pot using the sauté function.

Once ghee is melted, add the following and sauté until soft; ~3-5 minutes

1 c diced yellow onion

1 garlic clove

Add the following to pot and allow to bloom until fragrant; ~1 minute

3-4 tbsp grated ginger

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp turmeric

1 lb carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

Once everything is nicely aromatic, add the following:

1 lb carrots

1/2 cup red lentils

4 cups vegetable stock

Bring ingredients to a boil. Simmer ~25 minutes. If using instant pot, cook on high pressure for 6 minutes. Remove from heat or vent pressure valve on instant pot and add:

1 can coconut milk

Blend with an immersion blender until smooth. Garnish with red pepper flakes, toasted coconut chips and cilantro, as desired.

Seeking Perfection (and Cake)

Theres a new NYT column from Yotam Ottolenghhi titled: Eat Your Sugar in which he speaks to the wonderful experience of sharing food with another human being. That “moment of bliss that you see when someone bites into something sweet and delicious for the first time”.

I know exactly how he feels. It’s the same joy I get when I enter into a sweet experiment and then offer my creation to friends and family. Watching the recipient close their eyes and smile as they taste notes of love that were part of its preparation are one of the most rewarding experiences I can testify. It’s on par to how I feel when I get inspired by something and then set about making it my own.

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A month ago, a friend sent me an Instagram pic of an insanely gorgeous crepe cake. I couldn’t get it out of my head. Layers of cream and marmalade between whisper-thin golden crepes. Having made marmalade recently, I thought this would be the perfect foil, and so a sort of experiment ensued. I made a pastry cream steeped with ginger and saffron, prepped a tower of crepes, and gathered my blood orange marmalade. My expectations turned ever so slightly to disappointment as the resultant cake appeared less glamorous than I’d anticipated.

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And yet, I served it anyway; with minimal apologies, because it was made with love and some damn fine ingredients, to say the least. The response was no less than sincere appreciation and enjoyment.

It’s only through tactile experience that we learn what works and what doesn’t, as well as how to improve upon the task the next go-around. We also learn that perfection is not necessarily the endgame and that expecting perfection can be a bit misguided. Sometimes things are a bit messy; just like life. I can’t think of a better metaphor.

But not to worry! I’ll leave you with something delicious:

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Take these cookies, sub in half brown sugar, fold some melted chocolate into the dough, as well as a healthy handful of dried cherries, and sprinkle generously with Maldon or fleur de sel before baking. Bliss is guaranteed! (just ask MKN)

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Enjoy, and much love,
J

Must. Have. Cake.

I’d like to say this post was full of lyrical ingenuity until…I accidentally deleted it.

Ergo, the runner-up:

Not having responsibilities can be a bit of a mixed blessing. See, I’ve been feeling a bit stretched over the past month, so when Dad said not to worry about contributing to the holiday nibbles this year, I took it with a measured degree of welcome. I’d been attending to the holiday tradition of homemade marshmallows over the previous week, finding most kitchen surfaces blanketed with wisps of powdered sugar and fondant and really didn’t mind putting my feet up and enjoying the ambiance while someone else was wiping beads of sweat from their brows. A fantasy for most home cooks, I realize.

Regardless, I don’t feel like myself unless I’m doing some sort of culinary excursion, and I didn’t want to miss out on the fleeting opportunity to engage with some cranberries.

I could wax on about the health benefits of cranberries, however I must admit that the majority of my culinary endeavors have more to do with what I’m craving, along with something that provides a certain aesthetic. I shop with my palate, and well, my palette. I’d found a bag of these pert little orbs languishing about in the market and took them home with the idea of making a seasonal chutney or compote and then promptly forgot about them for a week, only to rediscover them when I was feeling a bit cakey.

I thought about making something along the lines of the oft-prepared ricotta olive oil plum cake that I love so much, then decided to go for something a little juicier, a bit more of a sparkler. Macerating the cranberries with some oranges and a bit of sugar and vanilla to sweeten them up, I wanted a cake with a dense crumb that would act as a perfect foil for the fruit. A simple sponge, similar to pound cake, that requires equal weight flour, sugar, butter and egg.

The cake is quite elegant on its own, however dressing it up with a bit of Greek yogurt drizzled with syrup made the perfect excuse for breakfast snacking. I mean, honestly, I can justify cake most any time of day.

Enjoy, and much love,

J

PS – Happy Holidays! Here’s to snowy adventures. 

Cranberry Upside-Down Cake

~10 oz fresh cranberries

1 orange, peeled and diced

1 tsp orange zest

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 c. sugar

Let the above mingle for a bit, then preheat oven to 350 degrees while preparing the following:

2/3 c. butter (at room temperature)

3/4 c. sugar

1/2 tsp salt

*cream until light, then fold in:

2 eggs

Beat until airy and well-incorporated

Sift the following into a bowl:

1 1/4 c. flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp orange zest

Briefly incorporate the dry ingredients into the wet.

Pour the fruit into a buttered 9-inch cake pan, then spread the cake batter evenly over the top of the fruit.

Bake for ~30 minutes until done; the cake should be golden and have a light spring in the center (inserting a skewer or knife in the center should come out clean).

Let rest for ~20 minutes, then run a knife around the edges of the pan before inverting onto a serving plate.

Serve on it’s own, or with a little whip cream or yogurt, as desired.

 

Temporary Indulgence.

Write. just….write. Tasking myself in this art that is my therapy, can be challenging. Writing sometimes feels like a beast; words don’t readily reveal themselves, and yet there is a fluidity in movement, in ideas, in form and inspiration; so much activity that begs to be shared.


It’s easy in the kitchen, creating; weaving beauty into the flavor and fabric of the food I make and share with loved ones. This past month has been full of inspiration from the farmer’s market parcel that arrives at my doorstep weekly. Urban living doesn’t preclude me from wanting to enjoy local, seasonal foods. There’s a fair amount of diversity in the PNW, and it’s relatively easy to eat within the seasons, though I do get smitten by the pomegranates and Fuyu persimmons when they hit the local brick and mortars. Disassembling a pomegranate to unearth those sweet and juicy-jeweled orbs is worth a bit of splash along the counter and apron.


And the persimmons! I give each one a daily squeeze until they’ve got just enough give before my teeth into their glossy skin and inhaling the succulent flesh beneath.


I’ve been incredibly indulgent with them, eating one nearly every day. It’s such a short season. And I need little excuse to bake. With a party on the calendar, I readily offered to bring dessert. As usual, inspiration comes when I am out on a run, or in the mountains, away from the daily grind. There is such clarity in those moments of pure movement, fresh air; it primes me for new genius. Last Friday, for example, I was in the woods when the idea of a persimmon frangipane confection came to mind. Simply an adaptation of the pear and almond tart from this post  I’d made a while back and have served more than once, to welcome recipients.


Pistachios have also been my jam lately, and the exotic persimmon pairs well with their distinctive flavor. A few mini-tarts with some pistachio cream and fresh persimmons seemed the next logical creation.


For the pastry cream, I just borrowed M.S.’s pastry cream , omitted the vanilla bean, whisked in 1/2 cup finely ground salted pistachios and proceeded with the cream. I used about three persimmons for the almond tart, two thinly-sliced for the mini tarts with pistachio cream.


What makes these desserts so comely is the love behind them. Made with good intention and beauty, they are an extension of gratitude and sweet indulgence to be shared with good company. Let this ignite your passion to create and serve beautiful food. (And for those with more exacting inclinations, I promise to include recipes next time).


Enjoy, and much love,

J

Gathered.

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I’ve been busy this week. During the summer months, it’s typical I’ll find myself with a bounty of fruit that begs to be transformed, post-haste.  I’ll be out running or hiking and will come across a bevvy of ripe fruit and can’t help but take advantage of it. Friends know that I’ll willingly take a parcel of fresh fruit or veggies off of their hands. I’ll spend hours canning, baking, jamming and sharing the vintage that comes from many well-spent hours of toil.

5A1CB076-9F04-4FDC-93EA-FC8F583B86B0.JPGSweating it out on a hot summer night in my steamy kitchen; it’s what I love. It fuels me; nourishes my soul.

And who doesn’t want an excuse to eat cake for breakfast?

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almond and apple cake

This week I’ve been busting my way through crab apples, cherries, and what looks like a variety of McIntosh apples. My ability to judge the pectin content of crabapples could stand for improvement,  as what was meant to be a stunner jelly was more akin to a simple syrup. A gorgeous siam-hued creation, but quite viscous, none the less.

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No matter; I’ve passed jars  along to willing and appreciative recipients. I also made a voluptuous and silky smooth apple butter with vanilla and ginger undertones that’s so heavenly I’m reluctant to share, though I’ve dutifully gifted a jar to the generous apple donor (she deserves at least one, right?).

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I’ve taken the surplus and added them to an incredible almond-olive oil cake; something reminiscent of my pear and almond cake from this post. Needless to say I couldn’t trust myself around it’s seductive scent and had to share the love with my colleagues so as to save my waistline. Thank goodness for these willing recipients…and for rigorous physical activity!

cherry polenta crumble


All that aside, when I started this blog, my intention was to share with others a little extension of me; a window into the quirks and inspirations that are part and parcel of my personality. I’ve been admittedly out of practice for some time, working through bouts of feeling uncreative and not taking time to share what fuels me. And ultimately, what fuels me is exactly that – creativity. It’s the antidote.

Expect to see posts with a bit more frequency in the near future. For now, take a few minutes out of your day to make this cake, and by all means, share it!

Enjoy, and much love,

J

Almond and Apple Cake

 

1 cup almond flour

2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 c. chopped candied ginger
*
*combine the above in a large mixing bowl.
*
1 cup olive oil
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
*
*mix wet ingredients; fold into the dry ingredients.
*
1 cup peeled, chopped apple and 1-2 peeled apples, sliced into thin crescents
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* add chopped apple to cake batter; pour into 8-9 inch springform pan, or other cake pan. Top with apple slices.
*
Bake at 350 for ~50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

 

Soup as Temptress.

There are synchronistic moments when an idea will come along that aligns with what I am needing and craving right now. Like a soup that mandates a long, slow pause in the frenetic activities of the day; something to draw out and accentuate the slowness of things, while simultaneously rewarding one with something of deep satisfaction and flavor.
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I remember tucking away a recipe I’d discovered for a spicy pork soup about a month ago; I was completely drawn to the flavors, however laboring over a soup for two days was simply not something I was in the space for. But there was something about it that held me, and I knew that I would draw upon it for inspiration, when the timing was right.

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Therefore, upon waking up from a hasty nap to find grey Seattle skies and buckets of rain, making an unctuous, warming soup felt like the most natural thing to do.
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What I loved about this soup is the layering of flavors to build complexity. Meaty pork bones are caramelized, then set to luxuriate with umami-rich seasonings and aromatics in a long-simmering broth. I embellished it a bit by adding warming spices like cinnamon, ginger and chile, along with star anise, which imparted an intoxicating aroma and heat.


I’ve never made a stock this sexy, with velvet undertones and a sheen that glimmers like gold in the moonlight.
It was worth every second of my attention and was definitely a labor of love.
For something this good requires time, patience, generosity, nurture; much like that of a lover, along with intuition of what will ignite the senses; bring one to their knees in adulation and appreciation.
And ultimately, begging for more.
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At first glance, this recipe may seem rather laborious, however once the stock is prepared, the remaining components are fairly straightforward and easy to pull together. There’s minimal chopping and actual hands-on time. As usual, I made modifications to suit my taste and intuition, however i highly recommend pounding the furikake with sesame oil into a paste to release the intense bitter-sweet oil that mingles so nicely with the seaweed.

I could see how additional condiments like toasted coconut, slivered black garlic and a healthy squeeze of lime would only add to the delight of flavors coming from this dish.

Enjoy, and much love,
J

Spicy Pork Noodle Soup with Aromatics
*Inspired by Gingerroot’s Spicy Sesame Pork Soup with Noodles

For the stock:
1.5 lb bone-in pork shoulder
1 ham hock, smoked
1 small bunch scallions
1 onion, quartered
2 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 3-4 large pieces
3 whole star anise
1 cinnamon stick
1 tsp red chile flakes
1 2-inch piece of ginger, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
1 tbsp tamarind paste
2 tbsp tomato paste

Method:
Preheat oven to 400. Place meat on an oiled roasting pan and roast for ~30 minutes.
Turn, then add to roasting pan the onion, carrot and scallions. Roast further for ~20 minutes, then remove from oven.
Scrape meat and vegetables into stockpot, using a little water to deglaze pan and add any remaining bits to the pot.
Add ~14 cups of water to pan, then toss in the remaining spices. Bring to a boil, then simmer, uncovered for ~2.5h, or until the meat begins to pull away from the bone.
Remove meat from broth, and test for doneness, if it easily shreds into pieces, then it’s done. If not, continue to cook for ~30-60 minutes longer until the meat is ready. Set meat aside in refrigerator for later soup assembly.
Let broth cool in the refrigerator overnight to allow fat to separate from stock. Setting the pot in a large ice bath will expedite the cooling process. Once cool, remove layer of fat from the surface.

To prepare the soup, you will need the following:
1 tbsp mirin
1/4 cup furikake (sesame-seaweed blend)
1 tsp sesame oil
2 tbsp of red miso paste
1/2 head Napa cabbage, shredded (~4-5 cups)
1 tsp sesame oil
reserved pork
~8 oz rice vermicilli noodles
chopped scallions
cilantro
sambal oelek (chili paste)

Method:
Set stock over medium high heat and add mirin.
Grind the furikake and sesame oil into a paste with mortar and pestle, then add miso.
Add to that miso paste; whisk into stock. Let simmer for ~30 minutes.
While stock is simmering, prepare cabbage. Place a large pan over medium heat and add sesame oil and cabbage, allowing cabbage to wilt for ~5 minutes before adding the reserved meat. Cook for a further ~5-10 minutes.
In a separate stockpot, boil water for noodles; prepare per package recommendations. Set aside.

To assemble the soup:
Layer rice noodles, then pork/cabbage mixture in large soup bowls. ladle hot broth over each bowl, then top with scallions, cilantro and a healthy dose of chili paste. Add additional condiments, as desired.