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

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

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!

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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
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*combine the above in a large mixing bowl.
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1 cup olive oil
2 eggs
1 cup brown sugar
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*mix wet ingredients; fold into the dry ingredients.
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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.
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Bake at 350 for ~50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.