Sunday, December 30, 2007

Last hurrahs

Not to appear cold hearted, but goodbyes usually don't faze me. Okay, that's beyond cold hearted - at the risk of sounding inhuman, let me clarify: goodbyes usually don't bring me to tears. If it is an indefinite farewell, I'm usually the one standing there wishing just one tear would roll down my cheek to show some outward emotion!

What I am getting at is that seeing 2007 pass away isn't giving me too much pause. It's been one crazy year, and though some of that craziness will seep into 2008 - and it will have its own set of troubles - I am excited for a reason for personal reflection...what would we humans do without occasions for fresh starts?! I know I wouldn't be who I am today.

I was talking to my mom yesterday about how I want to get my running mileage back up, which led into the whole discussion argument (that always ensues) about women's bodies and how extreme exercise can be harsh on our bodies (i.e. infertility issues). My nineteen year old sister immediately volunteered, "Well, I'm going to do everything to save my fertility by not exercising."

So while Elise continues to sit on the couch this coming year (I'm joking, really. She's a talented dancer and fun-loving, beautiful girl.)...I'm kissing some of my mornings in bed goodbye (I prefer to be up and active by 7 or 8 a.m. anyway). And, fortunately, no one is looking back at me with teary eyes, wondering why I'm not crying too!

Another "last hurrah" I've been enjoying the past week is baking. There's no way I'm completely giving up such things as scone-making, but in my desire to expand my cooking repertoire, I'm going to be spending more time with the stovetop than the oven.

So, when we were invited to a small party on Christmas Eve, I jumped at a guilt-free chance to make one of my new favorite cookies.

My friend Katie introduced these to me this fall, and after listening to her rave on and on, I knew I would like them before I even tasted them. I was wrong. I love them! Made from a simple shortbread dough, they are thin, dainty cookies with little chewy bits of fennel inside and delicate pinenuts on top.

Pine Nut Cookies (Perhaps more accurately called "Fennel Cookies")
Everyday Italian by Giada De Laurentiis

Makes 3 dozen cookies.

1/2 c. unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 c. + 2 T. granulated sugar
1 t. vanilla extract
1 t. ground fennel seed*
1/4 t. salt
1 large egg
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/4 c. pine nuts

*Each time I've made these I have just chopped or partially ground up seeds, which give a subtle texture and chew.

1. In a large bowl, beat butter, sugar, vanilla, ground fennel, and
salt with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Beat in the egg. Add
flour and mix just until blended.

2. Transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and shape into
8-inch-long log. Wrap dough in plastic and refrigerate for 2 hours.

3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two heavy large baking sheets with
parchment paper.

4. Cut dough log crosswise into 1/8-1/4 inch thick slices. Transfer
the cookies to the prepared baking sheets, spacing evenly apart. Press
pine nuts decoratively atop the cookies, and bake until cookies are
golden around the edges, about 15 minutes.

[The cookies can be made 1 day ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.]

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Memory lane

I fear that my theme is beginning to get redundant: Talk about the weather or season. Talk about food. Post recipe.

If I'm causing myself to slump, chin against palm, eyes drooping closed, what must you, dear reader, be doing?! Well, hopefully we'll both feel perked up by the end of this post because I am about to talk about two things that should make any sane person joyful. Mince pie and mulled wine. Okay, sorry, if you are an American who has been deprived of these essentials during the holiday season. Now is your chance to take note, and plan to bring some British flair into your next Christmas.

My childhood memories of mince pie date back seventeen years, which is nothing compared to the years it has been in the homes of England. According to Wikipedia, (I know, I know, not the most reliable source on earth, but I'm not writing a research paper here) even before Victorian times the word "mincemeat" existed. It referred to a combination of spiced meat and dried fruit (though the meat dominated far more than in today's recipes). Today the only meat element usually found in mince pie is suet, though sometimes minced beef or venison is included.

As an American child experiencing Christmases in New Zealand, I had to puzzle over the word "meat" used in a sweet dessert. I do not remember ever getting a straight answer as to whether or not the mini pie I was eating had meat mixed in with the zingy apples, currants, and orange peel. My mom did not seem crazy about them because they never ended up in our own home along with the Christmas tree and summer sunshine, but I have one distinct memory of picking one off a table at our friends', the Tooleys, holiday party and being intrigued by the unique flavors and flaky crust.

You can imagine my delight, then, when Christmas items began to appear on the shelves of the Oxford grocery stores I frequented two Decembers ago, and along with the Cadbury gift boxes came heat-and-serve mince pies (when you use a kitchen that looks like a closet and whose utensils are limited to one semester's worth, the idea of making your own pastries does not enter a reasonable mind).

When my sister joined me in Europe for two weeks, we spent several days in Oxford and there she was convinced of the goodness of mince pie...with the help of a local connoisseur. At least this lady came across as a connoisseur. We had stopped on a street in the neighborhood called Jericho, and as a stranger passed us, she paused to express the "divine" experience she was having eating a warm mince pie she had just picked up from a bakery. She was practically salivating, but in it all continued to gush about how this was the best mince pie she had ever tasted and offered us her second pie if we would promise to go straight to the bakery and buy more. A bit flustered, but completely amused, we agreed! (Once at the bakery, we inquired into whether she received extra pies for doing free advertising, but we only received a quizzical look.)

The second place my sister and I shared in mince pies was at a church's Christmas service, where they were paired with hot and spicey mulled wine. Ever since that day we have been talking about recreating the pair, and it took until yesterday to do just that.

We used good ol' Cook's Illustrated as our resource for the mince pies, since we were looking for a no-fail vegetarian version. I had company in the kitchen for only half the project, though, so I ended up tiring of making little pies after number nine and turned to a 7-inch pyrex dish to hold the remainder of the mincemeat.

The mulled wine was a simple recipe from my mom's 1977 edition of Joy of Cooking, and this is my very favorite holiday drink.

Mulled Wine
From Joy of Cooking (1977 ed.)

Make a syrup by boiling for 5 minutes:
2 1/2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups water
4 dozen whole cloves
6 sticks cinnamon
3 crushed nutmegs
Peel of 3 lemons, 2 oranges

Strain syrup. Add to it:
4 cups hot lemon or lime juice

Heat well, but do not boil, and add:
4 bottles of red wine or Madeira, port or sherry

Serve very hot with slices of:
Lemon and pineapple
*Obviously I omitted this last step. Pineapple-shmineapple. I hate working around things in my cup (e.g. ice, fruit, etc.).

Friday, December 21, 2007

Coming "home" to the kitchen

I can't believe December is already threatening to disappear on us. It's been a whirlwind couple weeks. Granted, this entire semester has been a sort of tornado. It blew me South to a land I didn't realize I had missed.

There I got to relive my Oxford experience through my job (which I found to be a dangerous thing, considering I almost threw away 15 useful credits to go back this coming semester). I actually complained about not getting to share a classroom with nudists (in figure drawing). I rediscovered daily uses for my camera (hence this blog). My Japanese vocabulary expanded beyond three random words that formed the useless phrase "goodnight butt flower." And I recovered from a half-marathon with a cold beer (I would make my Uncle John proud).

Then I came back home and few things looked the same. Instead of our family home in the country, my mom has moved into an apartment on the outskirts of town. My dad is living closer to downtown.

My friend dropped me off on Tuesday, and in the kitchen of this unfamiliar new place I am to live for the next two weeks I found a bit of the familiar, of home, of peace - a little recipe clipping - on top of the Bosch my mom has had whirring and kneading since I was young.

So, after unpacking and putting on a hot pot of tea to ward off the cold, I fired up the oven (unromantically, but thankfully, that only required a turn of a knob).

These muffins did not disappoint. Though reluctant to waste my time on any recipe besides my mom's rummy raisin variation, I believe bananas to be highly redeemable components to any recipe (for example, the curried banana salad that was last night's dinner...never mind, that could be a very long tangent). In this bread/muffin batter the lovely banana-rum combination still existed along with plenty of chewy coconut, and the lime glaze was a nice way to fancy-up the flavor and make it an attractive looking treat. Cooking Light calls this is their best quick bread, and I think I now have the authority to say they're onto something.

Coconut Banana Muffins/Bread with Lime Glaze
Adapted from Cooking Light, September 2003

Makes about 16 muffins or 1 loaf of bread.

2 cups all-purpose flour (about 9 ounces)
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups mashed over-ripe banana (about 3 bananas)
1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt (I had whole milk yogurt on hand, which kind of boots this out of the "light" category)
3 tablespoons dark rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup flaked sweetened coconut, plus additional for tops of muffins
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (lemon works too)

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking soda, and salt, stirring with a whisk.

3. Place granulated sugar and butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended. Add eggs, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add banana, yogurt, rum, and vanilla; beat until blended. Add flour mixture; beat at low speed just until moist. Stir in 1/2 cup coconut.

4. Spoon batter into greased muffin tins; sprinkle with coconut. Bake at 350° for 12-15 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in muffin tin 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove.

5. Combine powdered sugar and juice, stirring with a whisk; group muffins closely together in order to most easily drizzle glaze on top. Cool completely on wire rack.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Menu for Hope

Rain. Cold. Run. Sleep. Study. Draw. Paint.

These activities/adjectives/what-have-you have dominated my life the past few days, and each played into rewarding activities (another final art project completed and my first half marathon behind me) that have left me feeling both accomplished and exhausted.

This blog entry is not about me, though, nor about my kitchen activity. It is about Chez Pim's event Menu for Hope that I am asking everyone to consider supporting. If I had had the foresight and resources, I'd be offering my own prizes. Instead, this year I'm going to point you toward my favorites.

Get your questions about Menu for Hope answered here.

See beautiful pictures of the people of Lesotho, Africa, who are receiving this year's funds via a school lunch programme and the UN World Food Programme's support of local, subsistent farmers here.

And lastly, there are the prizes for those of us who are able to live in daily abundance with little thought of an empty fridge.

...Okay, so I thought I would be able to pick out some extra-special prizes to entice you, but as I scroll down the list I'm completely torn! There are some amazing opportunities and publications available, not to mention food and drink.

You're just going to have to check it out! (Overwhelmed with choices? I have a hunch you can't go wrong with Chocolate & Zucchini's upcoming book Clotilde's Edible Adventures in Paris or Smitten Kitchen's box of cookies.)

Friday, December 7, 2007

The parnsip: not to be underestimated

How is it that I sit here at the end of a busy final week of classes and have more recipes to blog about than I ever have before?

Perhaps it's because my bag of spinach only lasted so long this week, and I had to get more creative with my meals than salad. Maybe it's because unexpected vegetables seemed to call to me from among the produce on my last shopping trip. But I think it is mostly because when I found a rare free hour here or there in the day, I was not quite tired enough to catch up on sleep. Instead, I found my creative juices beginning to drain away as writing assignments and rules of color and composition got to me, and to confirm to myself that I wasn't loosing it, I wanted to touch things with my hands, to create, to capture in time, and to click, click, click away with my little camera.

So, friends, the pictures have piled up and I'm in a bit of a predicament. I think I have made a decision about what to share with you tonight, but I will not describe my other options until after this delicious recipe because they are strong competition.

To sum up my thoughts on this late night, I shall simply say: life is richer and more delicious with parsnips. It is a confirmed fact. Just ask my eyes, nose, taste buds, and tummy. They were quite satisfied Tuesday night when I roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes together and even more delighted when I incorporated these sweet vegetables into a dainty frittata the next day.

I surprised myself with the purchase of parsnips over the weekend, but they had one of those eye-catching yellow tags beneath them and just looked so unpretentious, even though I suspected this to all be a charade. Beyond their appearance, there is nothing modest or plain about parsnips. Their bite is sweet and yet sharp and made for the cold season.

The idea of bringing forth the parsnip's sweetness led me to purchase a few sweet potatoes at the same time, and two nights later I was chopping up these beautiful colors and beginning to melt butter in a pan. I simply added a little brown sugar and balsamic vinegar to the barely bubbly butter until the taste was right, and then coated all the vegetables, sprinkled salt and pepper, and put them in the oven at 425°F until they could be easily pierced with a fork.

The result was plentiful enough to eat half immediately with the remainder of yesterday's polenta (divine!) and store away the rest for the frittata that had been brewing in my head the past twenty-four hours.

Honestly, the reason this frittata earned the adjective "dainty" is because I had fewer eggs than I expected when it came time to chop the sweet potatoes and parsnips smaller the next day. Nevertheless, I dove ahead, beating the five eggs I did have, adding a splash of Half & Half, about 1/3 cup of asiago cheese, dashs of allspice, salt, and pepper and then pouring all of this over the roasted parsnips and sweet potatoes as well as some scallions in the bottom of the pan at medium-high heat.

Tilting the pan to help move the raw egg in the middle out and back under the bottom layer as well as sticking the whole thing in a 350°F oven helped cook it without drying out.

The result was simply delicious!

So, after you have gone out and found some parsnips of your own and tried them in my frittata or told me how you found a different use for them, come back and check out what will be featured during and/or after finals week.

I may do the amazingly dark, cocoa-y cookies that promise either world peace or savage warfare. There is also the batch of cookies still warming the apartment tonight with its fennel-y scent. Or another irresistible pumpkin recipe involving pancake batter sprinkled with walnuts and dried fruit and drizzled with a spark of sweet orange.

Even my mouth is watering!

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Greeting the morning, a pumpkin muffin in hand

Light is dancing upon my bedroom wall in beautiful ways this morning.

I hate drawn curtains (except when commonsense privacy calls for them), and I abhor blinds (there is never an appropriate time for these to be closed -- they should be banned!). My favorite thing to wake up to in the morning is light streaming into my room. It's as if the day has brought me its greeting before I have opened my eyelids. The world is waiting, so wake up!

This morning the world is in a bit of a frenzy, judging by the sunlight projected into my room. It is streaming through the millions of leaves on the oak tree outside my window, and the wind is simultaneously blowing them every which way. The resulting mobile art upon my wall is fragmented light with circular patches and varying gusts of emotion. Frenzy.

Strangely, the frenzy isn't contagious. I suppose the effect is like a thunderstorm -- it is outside my peaceful cocoon, so I am able to sit back and take in its wonder while remaining warm and dry and safe.

I am enjoying a quiet Sunday morning and pondering what do to with the remaining half-can of pumpkin in my fridge. I made half a batch of pumpkin muffins Friday morning in defiance of my better judgement (I had two hours to cram for a quiz, and I used part of that time to prepare these muffins). The quiz turned out fine, though, and the muffins even better. The thing is, I had not been looking for a new pumpkin muffin recipe. My mom has supplied me with plenty that are not only nostalgic but spicy, sweet, chunky, and (always) dreamy...her pumpkin chocolate chip muffins...oh my!

But thanks to my recipe-swapping friend and cooking companion, Katie, I happened upon these muffins. I think the first batch she shared with me had been baked a little longer than the second because it was not love at first sight. But when Katie and I had them together again, and we were agreeing upon their simplicity, sparks started to fly between me and that muffin. In fact, the rest of that morning I kept reliving its taste in my mouth. The straightforward pumpkin flavor, the nutty pumpkin seeds, and the near-gooey center that was almost like a spoonful of pumpkin squash.

I don't usually like to describe my muffins as gooey and that's not really the word I'm going for, but this muffin handles the concept beautifully. It may seem like I went a little overboard with the idea playing on my tastebuds because I put half of the can of pumpkin into my already halved batch (the original recipe calls for 1 cup total), but the result really was perfect! The outside was able to bake up well and hold form, but the texture within still satisfyingly melted in my mouth.

Double Pumpkin Muffins
Adapted from Women's Health Magazine
(also available online)

Makes 12 muffins.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 can canned solid-pack plain pumpkin
3/4 cup skim milk
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
3 tablespoons olive oil*
1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas)

1. Preheat oven to 375°F.

2. In medium bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger, and salt. Set aside.

3. In large bowl, whisk together pumpkin, milk, brown sugar, egg, and oil until smooth.

4. Add dry ingredients to pumpkin mixture in 2 batches, stirring until just incorporated (a few lumps are fine). Stir in seeds.

5. Lightly coat cups of nonstick 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray. Divide batter evenly among cups (each should be about 2/3 full).

6. Bake until toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean and tops are just turning golden brown, about 25 minutes.** (If using silicone, reduce baking time slightly.) Let cool for 10 minutes before removing from tin.

*I got a little nervous during the mixing process because I kept smelling the olive oil, but once baked it disappeared completely.

**To make sure these muffins were still soft in the middle, I pulled them out four minutes early.

Note: These muffins are not particularly sweet, but I like them that way. Nevertheless, I sprinkled some raw sugar on top for looks.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

New familiars

Today is full of new familiars, things that are familiar but have patiently waited as old memories so that they now feel new.

Familiarity Number One is Christmas music. Leigh Nash is back in my life! As a teen I listened to her with Sixpence and coyly sang along to "Kiss Me," but today my favorite song of hers is "Baby It's Cold Outside."

So in the transition from Thanksgiving to Christmas I am listening to new yet old tunes and savoring one of my favorite flavors of this season: cranberries. The mixed berry cranberry sauce I got from Deb at Smitten Kitchen made a delightfully large batch, and even split between Katie and me, is promising to last quite a few more days.

In summary of all things worth giving thanks for, my roomies and I sat down for breakfast together this morning. Pancakes were on the menu with plenty of creamy vanilla yogurt, tangy cranberry sauce, and spicy cinnamon. It was cold and rainy outside, but we were dry and cozy in our apartment with satisfied bellies.

Familiarity Number Two is homemade bread. Though it bears no familiar presence in my own adult kitchen, my childhood kitchen, the one that required a nearby stool to see the countertop, knows the smell and appearance of freshly baked bread well.

My most vivid memories of my mother's amazing bread-making skills are in the land where my brothers, sister, and I drew amused looks for widely opening our mouths to form a long O sound and call out "Mom!" In those years my own culinary curiousity was born. Most likely to distract us from destroying her recipes, my mom/mum occasionally gave my sister and I freedom to experiment on our own in the kitchen. I clearly remember one particular batch of muffins with toothpaste in it!

Maybe that toothpaste flop is the perfect segue into my first ever loaf of bread kneaded, left to rise, and baked all on my lonesome. Not that this was a complete flop, but I'm not declaring gastronomical genius either.

I have much to learn.

For example, barely cutting away at the surface of a doughy loaf before it goes in the oven (with an only semi-sharp knife) probably will not achieve beautiful, true baker-esque slits in the top of my bread. This was probably the greatest flaw in this nervous, exciting endeavor. Somehow, the rest came out deliciously chewy on the inside and with a truly rustic, crusty outside -- fine enough to be eaten with plenty of contented sighs and addicted nibbling.

Thankfully, I am not so discouraged as to push my bread flour and yeast packets to the back of the cupboard. In fact, for now they have a prominent place on the foremost edge of the shelf, where I can more easily and confidently grab them to knead away academic frustration as the last two weeks of classes slip away.

Now...I really can't stay/I've got to go away/this evening has been so very nice...

[To find my bread recipe, visit Smitten Kitchen here and scroll down to the Rustic White Bread.]

Friday, November 16, 2007

Late nights and little lacey things

I'm sure you know the feeling...

"Was that just last weekend?" / "Did we see each other a week ago or a month ago?" / "Today arrived so quickly!"

Time is always on the move. We can't get it back, and we can't control how quickly or slowly its passage is going to feel. It's good to remember that some things are simply beyond control so that I do not waste too much energy on trying to get everything right.

I tend to do this -- when I accomplish something, my next thought is "now, if I can just align that with this and this, then life will be perfect." Silly me.

Last night I didn't sleep. No, I wasn't fitfully twisting in my sheets, staring wide-eyed at the ceiling, or partying till dawn. My bed patiently waited as each hour after midnight came and went, and I sat on the living room couch with research paper materials sprawled across the coffee table and Sigur Rós keeping me company.
It's my fault. And I don't recommend all-nighters, but this morning, as I walked toward the English building with a fat manila envelope in one hand and hot cup of coffee in the other, my parcel looked quite beautiful in a faded, flattened, well-loved-childhood-teddy-bear sort of way.

So, as I look back on this busy week I'm struggling to remember the separate days. Monday seems like ages ago. Sunday even longer.

However, backing up to Sunday brings up a small bridal shower I went to for my dear, dear friend. I made some promises to blog about it and have been anxious to put my pictures up, but I had to get through this week before finding the spare time. So, it's 11:15pm and I'm running on a three hour nap since 5:00am yesterday, but I don't want to wait any longer!

The party was lovely. It was small and intimate and full of laughter, lace, little panties, and brunch-y food. I especially loved our mismatched collection of glasses for mimosas!

Once I got home I had a proper photoshoot with the remaining scones I had made. These scones were a last minute decision as I attempted to work with what I already had in my cupboards and to keep myself from being so adventurous that I was doomed for disaster. I almost always have the ingredients for scones on hand and am perfectly satisfied with a simple cream scone with jam and tea, but many people like theirs less traditional and more fully flavored. I wanted to shy away from anything too sweet, knowing there would be plenty of sugar on the table.

I came up with coffee hazelnut scones based on a cream scone recipe I've been using for a couple years, and I threw in coarsely chopped toasted hazelnuts and added instant espresso to the wet ingredients. They turned out quite delicious!

Coffee Hazelnut Scones

Makes 8 scones.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup granulated white sugar
2 t. baking powder
1/8 t. salt
1/3 cup chilled, unsalted butter
3/4 cup chopped hazelnuts, skin removed, toasted
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 t. vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream (or half & half or whole milk)
1 T. instant espresso granules

1. Preheat oven to 375°. Place rack in the middle of the oven.
2. In a large bowl mix together flour, sugar, bakig powder, and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces (or use a large grater) and cut it into dough until it resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in hazelnuts. In a small separate bowl combine egg, vanilla, cream, and espresso granules. Now stir together wet and dry ingredients until just combined.

3. Empty onto a lightly floured surface and gently knead. Pat the dough into a circle 7 inches round and about 1-1/2 inches thick. Cut into 8 triangular sections. Transfer triangles to cookie sheet and bake 12-15 minutes or until lightly brown.

4. Cool slightly but serve while still warm!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Willing to bargain curry for stain remover

Another week is over. Let's all breathe a sigh of relief, reward ourselves with a sliver of Lindt goodness, turn Feist on softly, and curl up on top of our duvet for a lazy nap.

This was the vision playing through my head a little bit ago, but as I headed for that rumpled, cozy duvet I stopped short and had to laugh/groan. A relatively big spot shone back at me in a hue suspiciously identical to my highlighter pen. The humor was found in envisioning, from a third-person perspective, the early hours of this morning, in which I dragged myself out of bed at 6:22 (after hitting snooze four times) to study for a quiz. My desk chair looked especially uncomfortable at that hour, so I splashed water on my face and propped my pillows up in bed with my book...and highlighter.

I recall being quite alert for a good half hour; then my eyelids started to shut. After fighting half-dreams and random thoughts like I wonder what time it is in New Zealand? I reset my alarm for eight o'clock.

It took until three in the afternoon for me to realized I had left the cap off my highlighter during my morning nap!

Oh dear. The repercussions of college life.

I love the whole college life thing, but I hate it. I hate the exhaustion, but I love the learning. I never want to stop learning. I know that's not a legitimate fear in the broader concept of "learning," but it's wonderful to have hundreds of classes at my fingertips. I don't want to be a full-time student for too much longer, but I want to be able to take French, Islamic history, poetry, gender studies, current issues of Timbuktu, and all subjects in between whenever I can.

I also want to continue living in community. Not in a bleak hall, dependent upon a cafeteria for "nourishment," as a freshman again, but with at least one housemate, a kitchen to share, and enough togetherness that the faulty smoke alarm and homely coffee table don't matter so much.

Currently our apartment possesses one such temperamental smoke alarm that insists upon chirping every five minutes (only new visitors notice it now), but that noise never stops May, June, and me from enjoying a good meal together. And last night it was a sweet, spicy, creamy coconut milk curry (those are six of my favorite words!).

Have I crooned about India yet on this blog? Well, if you know me, there's no need to say more, but if you are not familiar with my sentiments for this exotic, crowded, colorful, poor, joyful, caste-burdened country then you're in for a little explanation...

The funny thing is there is not really an explanation. Sure, my aunt and uncle have lived in Chennai for as long as I can remember. Sure, my mom has brought food into our home from all over the world, including India. But I've never been there. I've received sterling silver jewelry from Chennai since I was little. My brothers and dad traveled to India when I was in high school and brought back stories and pictures. But I've never been there. Visits from my aunt's family meant pirated Bollywood movies and authentic feasts with chapatis for silverware. (And that should turn an American off to Indian food right there! But it didn't.) And I still haven't actually been there.

Oh, do I ever want to go!

I thumb through every Indian cookbook I come across and have begun my own Bollywood collection and try very hard not to stereotype or put a glossy cover on all things Indian as I await my flight across the Pacific.

Last night I pulled out a new cookbook in honor of India and was so excited to try it. I didn't even realize how simple the recipe I had chosen was until I was through with the last step and asking myself, "That's it?"

Yes, that is it. Simple goodness. Don't question, just get a spoon, blow away the steam, and slurp.

Butternut Squash and Green Beans in a Coconut-Milk Curry
Adapted from 5 spices, 50 recipes, by Ruta Kahate

8 oz. butternut squash, peeled and chopped into 1-inch cubes
1/2 c. water
8 oz. green beans, trimmed and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 c. canned coconut milk
2 T. canola oil
1/4 t. mustard seeds (preferably black or brown variety)
2 medium green serrano chiles, minced
3 tablespoons coarsly chopped cashews (I had almonds on hand and they worked wonderfully)

1. Cook the butternut squash in a saucepan with the 1/2 cup of water and pinch of salt. Once done, remove with a slotted spoon and place green beans in, adding water as necessary.

2. Return squash to the pan with beans and pour in coconut milk, adding more salt if desired. Allow curry to come to a boil and then immediately reduce to low. It will thicken slightly over the next 8-10 minutes.
*Ruta advises not to stir the pot during this time since squash may crumble, but you may shake the pan if you can't resist the urge or need to mix the ingredients.

3. Transfer curry to serving bowl(s) and make tadka: heat oil in a skillet on high until it just begins to smoke and then toss in mustard seeds and quickly place lid on top to avoid flying seeds and hot oil. (Confession: I burned my first batch because I let the oil get too hot.) Once the mustard seeds stop sputtering, add chiles and nuts and shake pan over medium heat until nuts are toasted and golden brown.

Pour tadka over curry and serve.

Makes 4 (modest) servings.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Procrastinator? Who, me?

I seem to have become a pro at being unproductive. Seriously, people, I'm starting to scare myself.

I can no longer point my finger at the mid-semester slump (in fact, did I make that whole idea up?). School is coming to a close very swiftly, and I'm anxious about the downward slide. Will I be able to keep up? The pace only seems to be picking up as I'm slowing down.

Where did this weekend go? I started doing homework Friday afternoon but was rescued by some friends who called in search of a pan for cheesecake. I answered their plea, and the three of us set out on a grand cheesecake-making/apple-eating endeavor.

My Saturday simply disappeared. A fifteen mile run in preparation for my marathon cut out four hours in the middle of the day, followed by an essential grocery store trip, granola-making for the week, dinner with June, and an early night in kind consideration of my exhausted, aching body.

Now it is Sunday night, and I have less than half of what I wish I had done this weekend accomplished. I wish I could just slow down time, but I know I'm not being the most efficient with what I do have either. I could take fewer study breaks; I could not be writing on this blog right now; I could have skipped making the pancakes I did this morning (though I certainly wouldn't have been doing schoolwork that early in the morning!) or any other time-consuming meals. "Time-consuming" is very relative, though, and putting in half an hour maximum for a good meal is very worth the minutes to me.

In my defense, I need study breaks to keep my vision from going fuzzy or my artwork from getting sloppy but should be more disciplined about them. I need to allow myself time to crazily type away at the keyboard and get my frustrations out. And I need yummy, nourishing food that stops me in my busy day and demands that I slow down and take in that which is around me and going into me.

Yesterday Highway 351 and cold soba noodles did that for me. Two friends and I jogged out nine miles, across two county lines, encountering nothing but simple homes, mostly-brown fields, and the occasional horse. The plan was to do eighteen miles, but as I hit about fourteen my nagging injury from high school cross country flared up and after another mile I made the decision to stop and walk the rest of the way. Being forced to slow down also compelled me to more fully take in the scenery around me. Those houses had character. Some of those fields stood out from the rest in the most brilliant of greens. And those small mesquite trees were indeed a precious few, often only one to a pasture. I love being surprised by beauty.

Some other beauties from this weekend are, suitably, food related. The soba noodles I mentioned above were June's, and to sit across from each other with chopsticks in hand, a bowl of broth to ourselves, and a larger bowl piled with noodles in between and feast across cultures and languages and lives was entirely rewarding.

This morning my family recipe for whole wheat pancakes brought May, June, and me together again. Lunch was eaten on my own, but as I gazed out the window and slowly bit down on each soft piece of gnocchi flavored with a basic cream and blue cheese sauce I was able to sigh in gratitude for a sun-filled day and bountiful fridge.

My point in writing this post was not simply to procrastinate further but to express my frustrations and ultimately remember all the good that I'm still being given in my life, even if I'll pay the consequences for being less productive this weekend with fewer sleeping hours in the coming days.

So it goes...I'm still learning and relearning and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.

Monday is almost here - I've got nineteen more minutes - and before I call it a night, I plan to get some poetry reading done I should have completed hours ago.

I hope you find peace in this coming week.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The dinner I shall not be writing about OR The cocoa I shall not be baking with

Before I get to display part of my growing collection of food photos, I have to share an inward laugh/sigh over my dinner tonight. Its components are not the focus of this blog and therefore this is "the dinner I shall not be writing about." So let me make this brief...

May and I caught up on our days when we found ourselves in the kitchen together this evening. I spent about five minutes absentmindedly standing in front of the fridge, popping open the freezer, and gazing at the insides of my cupboards as conversation flowed. Upon the point we both agreed a trip to the grocery store was definitely in order, I pulled out a bag of frozen green beans - my only vegetable in the place except potatoes - and began to "snack" on the crunchy, slightly sweet long sticks.

Dinner did not turn out that bad when all was said and done (gnocchi with homemade parsley-walnut pesto, goat's cheese, and pine nuts), but the fact that my first round of pine nuts almost set off the smoke alarm and the second also acquired a rather dark bottom sent me back to nervously nibbling on cold beans.

Now that that exasperation is out of the way, I'll move on to the good stuff!

I baked a classic favorite of mine this week, and I wish I had a new exciting story to share with it, but for those of you who know me well - which, as much as I like to pretend, is basically all my readers right now - you'll have to be patient as I indulge myself by the retelling of an old one.

When I was nine years old I reached the crazy unusual decision that I would give up chocolate for two years. As your atypical nine year old this all seemed like a noble act of discipline (or a way to win the approval of my chocolate-less older cousin whom I admired so). The two year anniversary was supposed to fall on the next reunion of my mother's family, but as it goes with ten grown children spread across the country, two years came and went and an eleven-year-old girl found herself quite content without chocolate.

I was incredibly strict about this decision and only allowed myself white chocolate if the ingredients did not include cocoa (cocoa butter was acceptable, since my mother could attest to the fact that it tastes nothing like chocolate - a scarring lesson she learned by trial-and-error as a child). This did not mean that my best friend did not make her own attempts to trick me into eating a chocolate chip here or there; she used the classic "close your eyes and open your mouth..." routine, but I never fell for it.

My tenth year of non-chocolate-living flew by, and I was surprised when the annual anniversary of August 17th began approaching, and I found myself reasoning that the number ten was quite a pleasant sounding number, a perfectly round number, really, a completely accomplished number, in fact.

That summer I had determined to be an art major...I was about to fulfill my dream of studying abroad...And I was ready to taste chocolate again!

August 17th, 2005 at 10am the dear friend who had tried to sneak chocolate into my every bite as a child accompanied me to a local chocolatier. (Once again, we were two terribly giggly girls.)

I will add that I knew within my first two bites - one of dark and one of milk - that I was a die-hard dark chocolate lover. No questions there. The darker the better.

Are you ready to wrap up my segue into the coming recipe? Well, in one sentence my transition is this: The cake I am about to share has nothing to do with chocolate. Rather, it has everything to do with the absence of chocolate. It has to do with an ingredient called carob.

My mother's kitchen is known among my friends for its oddities, but carob was a perfectly normal ingredient for me to grow up around. Even before I swore off chocolate I knew the taste of carob well. However, when chocolate was forbidden and everyone seemed to be swooning over their chocolate cake, I would itch for my own special version.

This cake is a simple recipe out of Moosewood Restaurant Cooks at Home, which delivers wonderful results with the simple substitution of carob for cocoa. It is usually quite a moist cake, so on the night I made it, when I pulled the cake pan out of the oven and impatiently cut myself a slice, I was disappointed to find the inside crumbly. However, the next morning as I also ate a slice for breakfast I was delighted to cut into a cake I knew quite well. Yes, the night spent on the counter top had caused it to lose its crisp top layer, but it had morphed into a lusciously gooey confection.

I have tried to describe the taste of carob before and always have trouble with it. I am wary of calling it a chocolate substitute because then people expect it to taste like chocolate, and it really doesn't. This recipe seems to bring forth a complex, yet subtle, almost creamy taste. Perhaps you know better adjectives?

Six-Minute Chocolate Carob Cake

1½ cups unbleached white flour
1/3 cup carob powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
1 cup cold water or brewed coffee (I always use instant espresso)
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 Tablespoons vinegar

To make the cake, preheat the oven to 375°.
Sift together the flour, carob, soda, salt and sugar.
In a 2-cup measuring cup, measure & mix together the oil (water or coffee) and vanilla.
Pour the liquid ingredients into dry ingredients and mix the batter with a fork or small whisk.
When batter is smooth, add the vinegar and stir quickly. Stir just until the vinegar is evenly distributed throughout the batter.
Bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Set the cake aside to cool.

½ pound bittersweet chocolate
¾ cup hot water, milk, or half-and-half
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Melt the chocolate in small bowl. Stir the hot liquid and the vanilla into the chocolate until smooth.
Spoon the glaze over the cooled cake. Refrigerate the glazed cake for at least 30 minutes before serving.

*Since this is an all around yummy recipe I would also use it for a simple chocolate cake, in which case you may want to make the glaze included with the original recipe.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Going and staying

I found myself back home today. And that's no simple statement because it means I have made yet another home for myself. It means I have laid down roots somewhere new, and it will take time to re-root when I leave. I know all about re-rooting, though, and often look forward to the new adventure it implies.

On those thoughts, "place" has been a frequent subject in my English class this semester, and I have come to understand that my experience with geographical place helps organize my life:

1. There is my birthplace: Hawaii.

2. There is my first-snow place, Wisconsin, which I will only ever remember through pictures of a toddler bundled in baby pink and perched on a sled with her two big brothers.

3. There is my new-sister place of Seattle where I gained a constant roommate for the next sixteen years.

4. My first-day-of-school place, Auckland, New Zealand, is shrouded in mystery and cannot be summed up in any brief phrase related to my educational journey. The mystery comes from the heap of fading memories coupled with the deep impression those years of my childhood made on my life.

5. My it's-scary-to-be-in-a-spot-this-long place still did not lack shifts in scenery. I spent ten years in Bellingham, Washington, and attended five different schools. I was ready to leave with high school graduation but blew many kisses to my beloved Pacific Northwest from my airplane window.

6. My plane touched down in Texas, and this became my I'm-learning-what-I-don't-like place. With a large amount of grace I was able to make it through my freshman year of college and look back with appreciation.

7. Summers since then have been new-adventure places each defined by their own unique settings and life lessons.

8. Oxford was my let's-slow-time place. Somehow I managed to be dragged onto my return flight after four months of study, travel, and Digestives galore.

9. Without a set plan for following my artistic dreams, I returned to Bellingham, which became my semester-from-hell place. Okay, it wasn't that bad, but my job during this period bordered on daily torture.

10. Next I settled in my pinch-myself-to-make-sure-it's-real place -- Westmont College. Set in beautiful Santa Barbara with an exceptional academic reputation, I had toyed with the idea of attending this place since high school. Though far from an idyllic year, it was essential to who I am as a budding artist and ever-hungry soul.

11. Finally having reached the present...I am clicking away at my laptop in my life-is-full-of-surprises place. It is the same campus on which I found myself a foreigner three years ago. Who knew?

I certainly could not have predicted I would be in Abilene again and calling this place home. Granted, I use the term "home" loosely, but when life involves such brief intervals of familiarity, it is required that one embrace the familiar for as long as it lasts.

I loved the familiar sights I encountered as I entered my apartment tonight. Two roommates moving about the kitchen and dropping everything to say hi and welcome back. A bed covered with an antique sari design and fluffy cream colored pillow. Maple leaves filling my window's view.

And what makes a house a home? -- Good food. (That's an important part of my answer, anyway.) Us girls who live here -- May, June, and me (I'm April. Have you caught on yet?) -- love to share in the enjoyment of food, as anyone could have witnessed tonight as I dumped shopping bags on the counter, and my roomies gathered around to ooh and aah at my treasures with me. Then it was May's turn to show off what she got on her own Dallas trip. We plotted our next meal together.

June most graciously offered to make me dinner as I settled back in, and I could not turn down such a proposition. So about ten minutes later I sat down to a delicious meal of cold udon noodles with cucumber, tomato, tuna, carrot, mushroom, and seaweed. Delightful food accompanied by even more delightful company.

I did not exactly plan out this blog post. Or, at least what I did plan was a bit different from the result. I imagined myself writing about the struggle of being satisfied where one is at, especially when one does not desire to stay there long.

However, I am now reminded that planting roots is worth the risks and pains involved. Even if the uprooting comes quickly, having simply opened up allows one to generously contribute to the present setting as well as humbly gain from it.

Alright, I'll stop preaching to myself...

For my own peace of mind, I promise to post a recipe in the coming week. I'm not sure what, but after my exciting trip to Dallas, and all the hard-to-find ingredients I acquired, I am sure it will be a good one!

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A soup story

I keep hoping that the more soup I make the more quickly autumn will come. This particular week I've been progressively working on one batch of soup.

I combined most the ingredients last Friday.
Ignored it through the weekend.
Ate a small bowl with my roomie for lunch Tuesday.
Dumped it in the blender with some squash and garlic on Wednesday night.
Sat down to enjoy a truly satisfying soup (topped with Gouda and toast) at 12 o'clock today.

Now allow me to back up and share the origins if this creation...

Once upon a time there was a large amount of great northern beans in the back of a resourceful college girl's fridge. They had been quite patient in awaiting their contribution to her menu but squirmed each time she opened the fridge in search of lunch or dinner. The girl noticed this, and it made her nervous as well because no matter how many beans she tossed into pasta or salad they remained an intimidating bunch.

Finally, one Friday evening she pushed past the feta, roasted red peppers, and yellow squash and grasped the smooth rounded surface of their tupperware. With no recipe before her, an otherwise by-the-books sort of girl sauteed some onions with olive oil in the bottom of a saucepan as she set to work chopping the remainder of her carrots and zucchini. Once the onions were soft, in went vegetable broth, carrots, zucchini, and the delighted beans. To avoid a novel, let us just say that the whole thing got a little overcooked and the cumin seeds that were sprinkled in became a little too potent.

Excitement died; outside the leaves appeared greener than ever; soup was forgotten.

Tuesday morning held the promise of fall. Fog descended upon the girl's town and with it all the sentiments that go along with most October days, including a desire for soup. So out came the humble combination of beans, veggies, broth, and cumin; it was heated in two bowls for two girls with hungry bellies. Both bellies and girls agreed the little soup was not a lost cause.

With half of a soft, warm acorn squash in one hand and garlic press in the other, Wednesday night a determined young woman set about rescuing her soup. She dumped the already soft zucchini and carrots along with beans, broth, and onion--oh, and cumin--into a blender and spooned in squash. A small amount of garlic added needed flavor. In no time at all the mixture was a beautiful yellow, like a fall sweater from anthropologie, and silky smooth.

As Texas typically behaves, the next day would not have been considered a "soup day" for it was once again sunny and warm. However, the woman found herself in a soup mood out of sheer curiosity. Would the simple medley of flavors and textures work? Just to make sure, she added two ingredients that never ever do harm: cheese and bread. And this is what she got...

It was quite a lovely ending to a long story!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What to eat when lightning strikes

My run today was shorter than usual. It involved a three minute dash across campus as I raced the elements. I am now safe and (mostly) dry as I curl up on the corner of my couch and face the coming storm through our large window. Lightning is beginning to flash in jagged bolts, and the thunder has been building up for half an hour. I love these moments.

Storms and friends, these are the reasons I came back to Texas. Mostly the friends, actually, and this week has been a wonderful, exhausting, rewarding, stressful juggling act of those I love, school work, and health (e.g. the semi-essentials like sleep, good food, etc.).

Thank goodness it’s Thursday. Especially as I sit here in the semi-darkness and catch my breath with each spidery flash of light. I don’t want this place of rest and wonder to disappear.

I’m going to have to set this blog aside for a little while, though, and get some things done. A research paper and collage await. And lunch.

Speaking of which, I am still working on a delicious pasta dish I cooked up a couple nights ago, and since the pictures of it are idly sitting on my desktop, I think it’s time to share.

Tuesday evening I was envisioning my glorious bed as I crawled walked home. But knowing I couldn’t afford to sleep yet nor neglect my empty stomach, I set about making something a little more elaborate than my standard spinach salad. Actually, my spinach seemed to be taunting me each time I pulled it out of the drawer in the past few days saying, “My days are numbered!” So I decided to do something with those persistent leaves.

On I found the perfect inspiration, only making a few modifications and substitutions.

Pasta with White Beans, Spinach, and Olives
Serves 4 to 6

3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, diced small
3 garlic cloves, minced
20 oz. spinach
¾ c. vegetable broth
1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained
1 can (15 oz.) cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
¾ c. pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped
13 ¼ oz. pasta (original recipe recommends spaghetti — I had angel hair)
2 oz. (1 cup) parmesan cheese, finely grated
Ground black pepper

1. Heat oil in pan on medium-high heat until fragrant. Add onion to pan and cook until starting to brown, about 5 minutes. Add minced garlic. Cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

2. Add half of spinach to pan; toss until it starts to wilt, and then remaining spinach, broth, tomatoes, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Cover. Increase heat to high and bring to strong simmer. Reduce heat to medium and cook, covered, tossing occasionally, until spinach is completely wilted. Stir in beans and olives.

3. Meanwhile, bring 4 quarts water to boil. Add pasta and 1 tablespoon salt; cook until pasta is almost al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add greens mixture to pasta, set over medium-high heat, and toss to combine. Cook until pasta absorbs most of liquid, about 2 minutes. Stir in 1 cup of Parmesan and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.

I feel kind of silly messing with a Cook's Illustrated recipe in an area outside my "expertise," such as pasta that follows a recipe. So I will humbly say that in this case my version is probably not the best. And yet the beauty of this dish was that it felt both fancy and homey. The ingredients weren't exotic but they blended wonderfully and filled the kitchen with a garlicky fragrance.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Granola that never grows old

One delightful thing this semester is that I have my own kitchen. I endured cafeteria food for two years and enough was far more than enough! (There was a year between those two that involved studying abroad and working at home.) So I find myself in a dangerous place because I would much prefer to bake scones or cook curry than study for tests. There is also the matter of my budget, and the looks I get from friends as I drag them through the grocery store in search of currants and instant espresso. (I know, I know. These ingredients shouldn't be that scarce, but somehow here they are!) Thankfully, college students are hungry people, and it's not hard to pawn off my creations, even if they're not typical Texan fare.

This weekend I made granola, which is in my opinion the ultimate comfort food. My mom has been toasting oats and dried fruit and nuts of all varieties in every oven we have possessed--from Hawaii to New Zealand to Washington. In the early years she included bran flakes and a simple mixture of oil and honey. Today the family favorite has cut back on mix-ins but elaborated on syrup.

My mother has kept me faithfully stocked up with this variety, which she dubbed "Blessings Granola" in the family cookbook she put together two years ago. Now that I'm in my very own apartment, I'm saving her some postage and filling my own place with the sweet smell of home.

Blessings Granola
Makes 4 cups

¼ c. honey
¼ c. oil
2 T. frozen orange juice concentrate
2 T. brown sugar (I consider this optional-it increases the sweetness and chewiness only slightly)
¼ t. vanilla

Separately mix:
½ c. pecans
1 ½ c. rolled oats
¼ c. slivered almonds
¼ c. pumpkin seeds

Mix both together. Thinly spread onto rimmed baking sheet. Bake until toasted in 325° oven.

Remove from oven. Stir in:
¼ c. coconut flakes
¼ c. golden raisins
7 dried apricots, chopped
¼ c. dried cranberries

Let cool before transferring to storage jar or container.
*Notes: This is an incredibly loose recipe. I do not even know how much my mom adheres to it, but as I was starting to get the hang of granola-making it was a very helpful guide. The orange juice can be substituted with pretty much anything else (I only had white grape juice concentrate on hand this time) and I rarely ever measure out my fruit and nuts because I always want to put more in anyway. If you want a particularly chewy granola than stick with the ratios given, but I purposefully increase the dry ingredients for economical reasons.

If you've never made granola before then I will warn you that you need to be very attentive! After about five minutes give the mixture its first stir. From there it's up to you how toasted you want it. I tend to let it get pretty brown because I like it that way (this batch is a lighter one).

I would love to hear what variations you have made or are inspired to do. As for me, I'm thinking of throwing in some pumpkin pie spice next time around and plenty of pumpkin seeds (and hazelnuts?!). Quite appropriate for autumn, I think.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thoughts and food

Today it is thoughts first. Then food. After all, this is my first blog entry, and I think you deserve a little introduction.

I discovered my first delightful food blog about a month ago when I stumbled upon Molly's Orangette
through a series of links. I was instantly hooked. Not only is she a talented writer and cook, but she transports me home to the Pacific Northwest. You see, I'm a roaming college student who is currently in the state of Texas this particular school year. I knew I could easily subtitle my blog something like "the culinary adventures of a college student," but when it all came together that idea was set aside. Regardless, I would like to emphasize the adventure it truly is trying to find good ingredients in this barren land of West Texas!

(I also felt like sticking the "college student" line in my header would earn me some grace regarding my haphazard collection of kitchen tools, tight budget, etc.)

The most important thing to me in stepping into this endeavor is to address more than just the relationship of baking soda with lemon juice but the relationship between people and food. It is undeniable.

I'm not going to lie: food gives me sooo much pleasure. The way balsamic vinegar tickles my tongue as it rolls off the leaves of spinach salad. The way the smell of granola fills the whole house as it toasts in the oven. The way a simple apple crisp with a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream can taunt me as its warm and cold contents marble and inevitably disappear from the bowl.

I have been so spoiled by the good food I have enjoyed in my life.

And that's where I pause with this blog and ask, "why me?" Why do I have the privilege of going on about fresh bread, homemade pesto, and chocolate cake? The answer to the why isn't so important as not forgetting the abundance in which I live and being humbly grateful for it all (especially when I'm in the grocery store longingly staring at the most expensive bottle of olive oil).

As much as I want this to be a light, enjoyable blog with tantalizing recipes and beautiful pictures, I do strive to take seriously the gift of food. I hate to eat on a full stomach, even when it's the last crumbs of my mom's banana rum bread because something about that cheapens the act of gratitude. It also perpetuates a natural attitude of immediacy, which, though widely embraced in the West, I would prefer to avoid.

I am sure I'm not alone in this search for balance as a food blogger (and consumer), but it will likely continue to come up in my writing as I process life through challenging risotto recipes, daring salad combinations, and every possible variation on the scone. And hopefully I'll know when to stop and pick up my journal or a book when the flour runs low, or I'll know when my stomach's only pretending to grumble because it wants to distract me from the mountain of homework I have to do.

Bear with me, dear reader. This is a lifetime work in progress. I do not practice what I preach all the time, but I do believe what I say here with all my soul.