Beauty All Around Me – Grand Canyon & Zion

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“ With beauty before me may I walk.
With beauty behind me may I walk.
With beauty below me may I walk.
With beauty above me may I walk.
With beauty all around me may I walk.”
~ Navajo Blessing

For all the many countries and parts of the world I have traveled to I have always been slightly remiss in not traveling around my own country of America. It was not for a lack of interest or curiosity but it always seemed so close and other places seemed so far and I figured someday I would get around to seeing my own back yard. I have driven cross country in a blurry rush just after 9/11 when planes were still grounded, I have seen cities from coast to coast and some in the great expanse of the center; but when my German or European friends would inquire about our countries wonders like the Grand Canyon or our National Parks I would have to humbly admit to never having been. That was of course until recently.

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I worked a job in Las Vegas last month and I had the idea to finally take the road trip to see the Grand Canyon, the trip happened to coincide with my father’s 70th birthday and I invited him to join me on the road trip. We decided to center our weekend trip around the North Rim of the Grand Canyon and a trip to Zion National Park. For as many places as I have visited nothing could prepare me for the views of this weekend, for the enormity of vistas, for the wide land and majestic red monuments towering, the light and how it moved and changed and gave each view an entirely new appearance.

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We hiked along steep cliffs and over smooth and ancient red rock formations, we drove and sang to the radio, we learned more about Navajo culture and were reminded how rich and complicated (and often overlooked) our history in this country is. I was left speechless at the beauty all around me in Zion and felt inadequate in gratitude to nature and our National Parks. I promised myself I would return and that I would also try to explore more of the beautiful places (especially our other National Parks).

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I returned home to last week’s news out of Charlottesville and feel so sad that the news just seems to become more and more bleak if that could even be possible. Our country is large, it is diverse, it is beautiful, but it also holds a history that we need to address and admit to or we perpetuate it. We have some of the most beautiful nature I have ever seen but we risk losing it because we have learned to not look at it, or appreciate it, or recognize how important it is. We walk in beauty all around us but we threaten to destroy it ourselves. We must look and see the beauty that is around us and work to preserve it, but we must also call out and protest that which is not our proudest moments (both in history and today) and work to recognize and rectify the wrongs.

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I discovered walking beneath the red caverns of Zion and viewing the wild deer and goats that I need not travel so far from home to view beauty and wonder (although I will continue to travel as far as I can) because there is beauty before me, behind me, above me, below me, and all around me.

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18

08 2017

SIMPLE CHIA BREAKFAST PUDDING

IMG_0367“It is not in the starts to hold our destiny but in ourselves” ~ William Shakespeare

For as much of a Shakespeare fan as I am I have only found this quote recently and rather loved it. And in these long days of summer, of work and life in this strange and off kilter world we all find ourselves existing in here are a few other things I have loved.

I read all of these books recently and loved them and found I was so happy and moved to be a part of each page I read.

HOMEGOING – one of the most beautiful series of unfolding interconnected stories told by extraordinary characters.

OPTION B – because resilience is something we have to keep working with and towards in life.

LOVE WARRIOR – powerful book about love that made me examine the stories we tell in our society about men and women and relationships and the courage to form our own lives and stories and relationships.

I also loved this short film JOE’S VIOLIN about the power of music to heal; a holocaust survivor who shared his violin with an inner city girl in the Bronx and the bond it formed.

I was lucky enough to go and see INDECENT on Broadway and it was one of the most spectacular and unique plays I have seen in years that speaks to the power of art and how much it matters in our world and history.

On a recent call with my sister she asked me what I did to take care of myself and she reminded me of what I had told her once, that we all need to take care of ourselves. This simple chia pudding is what I have been eating these last weeks to take care of myself and loving each bite. I found chia puddings only this past year but once I discovered them I have not been able to stop eating them. They are fast to put together (less then 5 min), don’t take many ingredients, and are a healthy delicious way to start the long summer days.

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SIMPLE CHIA BREAKFAST PUDDING:

Ingredients:

¼ cup chia seeds

¾ cup milk of your choice (I like almond, soy, coconut or a combination of any of these)

a pinch cardamom

toasted coconut flakes

nut of choice (I like toasted almonds or walnuts)

fruit of choice (I like berries and banana but also have loved it with mango or nectarine or peach, whatever looks good or that you happen to have on hand)

  • In a bowl or mason jar combine chia seeds, milk, cardamom. Stir for a couple of minutes until well combined and starting to thicken.
  • Let sit in fridge overnight or up to 48 hours. Before serving stir and add fruit and nuts as desired.

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20

07 2017

Luisa Weiss’s Simple German Rhubarb Cake with Streusel

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The world and news has seemed awfully bitter this week. Yesterday I inadvertently stumbled back upon John Lennon’s song Give Me Some Truth and as I listened to it and I kept hitting repeat and finding how eerily and aptly it seems to fit our current times. I think it needs a resurgence – singers should be bringing this back into their repertoire plus it seemed a perfect song for sing a long at any political gathering where health care is being discussed!

“I’m sick and tired of hearing things
from uptight, short-sighted, narrow-minded hypocritics
All I want is the truth
Just gimme some truth
I’ve had enough of reading things
By neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians
All I want is some truth
Just gimme some truth”

I ask is the truth too much to ask for these days? But the thing that is amazing is this song also appears on the same album as Imagine and its hard to not listen to one and then the other and recognize it as 2 sides of the coin – one side demanding truth in a broken world and the other hoping and imagining for a better world we could create together.

“Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion, too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace….

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one”

That was the genius of John Lennon the ability to see and say things about our bitter world and critic it but still dream of a sweeter world and express his hope. It is the thing about life it can be sour but that sourness is what makes the sweet  shine through.

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The sour sweet combination is one I have always loved (I love contradictions!). As a kid I enjoyed Sweet Tarts candies and the way they would make my mouth and cheeks pucker at first and then revel in the sweet with each small pastel candy. As an adult I love it in other places but one of my favorite ways to enjoy the tart and sweet at this time of year is in rhubarb.

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I took a walk through the park on Saturday and after a few days of rain and gray the sky was blue and the air smelled of sweet fresh green grass, a favorite smell of mine and one that especially in New England always makes me happy. The farmers market had huge piles of green/pink rhubarb and I knew that I had to bake it into something sweet and I had just the recipe.

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This recipe comes from Luisa Weiss’s CLASSIC GERMAN BAKING for her Rhabarber Streuselkuchen (Simple Rhubarb Cake with Streusel top). It is the perfect vehicle for rhubarb – a simple delicate and only slightly sweet cake. Just as it is the complexity of John Lennon to sing both Gimme Some Truth and Imagine when you take the sour rhubarb and sink it into a sweet cake covered in streusel and then top it with an only slightly sweet whipped cream you find that the sour and sweet in life work well when we can see and hold and taste them both together. This cake was so delicious I brought it to a friends house and everyone enjoyed it.
Here is to both the sweet and sour in life and here is to hopefully more truth always and never ending capacity to imagine.

Love,
Ramona

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Luisa Weiss’s Simple German Rhubarb Cake with Streusel

Streusel:

¾ cups all purpose flour

½ cup granulated sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

7 tablespoons butter softened

½ cups almonds ground or chopped optional

  • In a large bowl combine all of the ingredients and working with your fingers rub flour and butter into the size of small lima beans or a pea. Set Streusel aside until after the cake has been assembled.

Cake:

1 pound rhubarb trimmed

¾ cup granulated sugar

7 tablespoons butter

2 eggs

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

Grated peel of ½ lemon

1-1/2 cups scooped leveled all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ cup whole milk

  • Preheat oven to 350° F. Line 10-inch cake pan or I used an 8×11 pan with parchment paper, letting the sides hang over the edge to function as a sling.
  • Chop rhubarb into ½ inch pieces and toss with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Set aside.
  • In a mixing bowl cream together butter and remaining 1/2 cup  sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Then beat in the vanilla extract and grated lemon peel.
  • In a separate bowl sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat half the mixture into the butter mixture, and then beat in the milk. Continue to beat in remaining flour mixture until well combined.
  • Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, distributing it evenly.
  • Scatter the rhubarb over the batter and press it lightly into the batter. It will seem like a lot of rhubarb, but Luisa promises its just right, and it is.
  • Sprinkle streusel evenly over top.
  • Bake  for 65-70 min until batter has puffed up and streusel is golden brown.
  • Cool the cake on a rack. Serve cake at room temperature or cold the next day with a generous dollop of Whipped Cream or as my mom would say “Mit schlag”

Schlagsahne:

1 cup whipping cream

2 teaspoons granulated sugar

  • Beat with an electric mixer until the cream is stiff. 

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30

05 2017

Super Green Spring Smoothie

IMG_2935Spring has been a tease this year. With cherry blossoms and a seemingly endless pink profusion of flowers, with blue skies one day and thunderstorms and heavy rains the next, with days of warm weather followed by freezing days when my buildings noisy heat kicks back in. It feels like an ebb and flow of spring and then not spring but the promise always along the edge of what might come soon with warm days and nights.

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As for me I have been busy with work and my usual spring projects. A few people have recently mentioned they had noticed I haven’t posted anything here lately and I admitted that life and work had been keeping me busy the last few months (and that is not necessarily a bad thing). I used to feel so conflicted about this space and what to do after an absence or what to say when I had fallen off of the cycle of checking in. I felt it necessary to keep checking in and then when life got in the way I would feel guilty and stay away because I felt like I had no excuse and no way to slide gently back into the routine or pattern of what this space is to me – a place to be somewhat creative, to share what I am thinking/feeling/doing and in many cases all of the above. But in the time I have been away I have not only worked I have also had a milestone birthday and don’t feel the same need to apologize as much. I want to be in this space as often as I can but sometimes things get in the way, and my life in better balance might mean just picking back up where I left off without any need for explaining, not to others but to myself. I don’t have to explain to myself why things at times lie fallow even though I wish they didn’t and I don’t need to have a reason to pick them back up, perhaps its just what I do let things go and then pick them back up when time allows.

So in this new decade of my life and with my last few min of time off before diving back into work tomorrow morning here’s to less excuses and a recipe for my favorite green smoothie!

Happy sipping and with every hope I will be back very, very soon.

Love,
Ramona

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Super Green Smoothie
Ingredients:
1 Banana
1 cup fresh baby spinach rinsed
1 cup light coconut milk
1/3 cup cold water (more or less depending on desired texture)

Blend all ingredients in blender until smooth and to the texture you like. Sip and enjoy, so easy and delicious! Happy Spring.

Makes 2 smoothies

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10

05 2017

April Bloomfield’s English Porridge

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New York City and the East Coast is tucked in under a layer of snow that continues to fall hour after hour. It’s the perfect day for slowly working, reading in bed, countless cups of tea, and the perfect bowl of Oatmeal!

I grew up eating a ritual of overly sweetened oatmeal made in enormous 60 quart heavy pots, bursting with plump raisins and spooned hundreds of times each morning before my carpool would pick me up from the breakfast shift at Martin de Porres where I worked along side my mom. At home I never remember eating oatmeal but rather the smooth even bowls of Farina cream of wheat. As an adult I have experimented with oatmeal of many varieties – instant in college, quick cooking for years, steel cut with its hearty bite, and cold oats in the summer, but all of my hot bowls of oatmeal have left me wanting something, that is until recently.

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All of my oatmeal dreams came true in one recipe from April Bloomfield, its not complicated, doesn’t take much time, and ultimately changed how I look and feel about my morning bowl of oats. I have loved this warm and hearty bowl of oats a combination of both rolled oats and steel cut leaves a consistency both soft and smooth with just the right amount of bite and give between the teeth. Cooking them in milk and water makes them richer and more flavorful. I have made them lightly sweetened at times or completely unsweetened at other times; I have finished them with a slick of syrup, or some berries, or a banana and peanut butter, or completely on their own. The recipe makes 2-3 servings and I like to make it and then warm up each bowl on the following mornings. Sometimes the easiest things are the best things.

I hope you are warm, dry, and if you are lucky I hope you will be able to snuggle down and eat a bowl of these oats in the very near future.

Love,

Ramona

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April Bloomfield’s English Porridge from Food 52

Ingredients:

1½ cups of milk (any kind of milk – I have used coconut, almond, soy, and dairy and they are all great) 

1½ cups of water

1½ teaspoons salt

½ cup rolled oats

½ cup steel-cut oats

Optional – about 2 tablespoons of sugar during cooking process

  • Combine the milk, water, and salt in a saucepan and set over high heat. As soon as liquid comes to a gentle simmer, add both kinds of oats and lower heat to low.
  • Cook the oats at a steady simmer, stirring frequently and lowering the heat as necessary to maintain the simmer but not bubble over.
  • After about 20 min the rolled oats will have turned soft and almost melted, while the steel cut oats will be tender and have the slightest bite, and all of the liquid will have been absorbed.
  • If you wish to sweeten the entire pot of oats use 2 tablespoons of sugar when you add the oats.
  • Finish with berries, banana, nuts, maple syrup, or anything that makes you happy.

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15

03 2017

Recipe Index and Pumpkin Cranberry Loaf Cake

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My Purple Sky now has a Recipe Index! Yay!

Yes, that means that now you can search for that favorite cookie (Anne’s Ginger Snaps) or a soup (Cauliflower, Mustard, and Cheddar Cheese) or just find some inspiration in one easy place. And to celebrate I made one of my favorite winter cakes – a pumpkin and cranberry cake! Let’s celebrate and eat cake!

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I found this cake a few years ago and have been a devote the last few years but kept forgetting to post the recipe here. The original cake was made with buckwheat but I am not a huge fan of buckwheat and have found it just as delicious with my regular everyday flour. I love the earthiness from squash or pumpkin ever so slightly spicy, not too sweet and studded with bright and tart cranberries. Its perfect sliced and next to your morning coffee or after dinner with tea, and perhaps there is recurring theme of that it pairs nicely with a warm beverage, but be not fooled it is just as good in thick slices as a snack between meals or snuck in bites late at night.

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Pumpkin Cranberry Loaf Cake

Ingredients:

1 stick of butter

1 cup of muscovado (dark brown) sugar

2 large eggs

1 + 1/8 cup flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

1-teaspoon baking powder

1-teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup squash puree or pumpkin puree (whatever you like)

¾ cup cranberries (fresh or frozen, but not dried)

  • Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat oven to 350°F.
  • Line a loaf pan with parchment paper so that it is overlapping all of the sides and will later be used to pull the entire cake out of the pan in one move.
  • Combine butter, sugar, and eggs in the bowl and beat on medium speed until light in color, about 2-3 minutes.
  • Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, pumpkin puree and beat on low speed until smooth.
  • Fold in the cranberries.
  • Bake the loaf for 45 -50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
  • Cool the loaf in the pan for 30 minutes before using the parchment to lift the cake up and let cool completely on a rack.
  • The cake keeps for several days on the counter, wrapped loosely in parchment or plastic wrap.

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09

03 2017

My Soul Sister’s Potato, Kale, White Wine Soup

“Nevertheless she persisted”

Well hello there! I have found it hard to figure out what to say or how to say anything lately that feels it could properly convey what I am thinking or feeling. The world feels strange and in equal amounts dark with small light but transitory bubbles of hope. I have thought about what to say and if I should say anything here and if so how when everything feels sad, confusing, scary, frustrating, and infuriating, and did I mention sad. And in this not knowing I have kept coming back to silence, my silence in not knowing what to say or do. 

Nevertheless I have and will continue to persist in small (and some larger) ways however I can. I march, I volunteer with organizations and communities I believe in, I see communities growing and taking root every where I look, I spend time with friends, I bake and cook, and I continue in daily life. Last month I went to DC and marched with friends as part of the Women’s March on Washington and it was one of the most historic and extraordinary days of my life. The collective, peaceful, and profound outcry for finding a way to work together has to be one of the most inspiring moments I have ever witnessed, it also reminds me to look for these people and these moments whenever I can.

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On our walk back to the bus in DC my friends and I passed a storefront with the sign “Soul Sisters & Brothers We Support You!” and it made me think of my beautiful, strong, and compassionate soul sister September. My soul sister is an advocate and ceaseless warrior for children, both her own two sons, and in the work she does. She is one of the smartest people I know, and one of the most fun people to talk to. September came into our family’s life when I was a young self conscious teenager and she was in her early 20s; we have always looked similar and as a teenager who felt uncomfortable and self conscious in her own changing body I looked at September and thought if I could grow up to look like her I might be beautiful. She was the first glimpse I had of self acceptance at a time when I needed the hope most, and she has continued to be that glimpse of possibility in my life to this day. 

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Years ago, shortly after my mom died September stayed with me for a few days and on a particularly hard night she made a simple but delicious soup of potato, kale, and white wine. Recently I made that same soup and it comforted me as much now as it did on that night years ago. The delicate balance of only a few ingredients brought together to make a rustic, warm and enjoyable bowl of sustenance, the earthy notes of potato and kale, the sweet hint from carrot, the complexity from wine, and a dash of heat from red pepper flakes. It may not answer any of my questions or be the thing I was struggling to say but it also served as a moment of hope and light and reminded me to look toward that and persist towards that no matter the silence, the confusion, or any set back. 

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With all my love now and ever to my soul sister September and here is the recipe for her Potato, Kale, White Wine Soup. In other news of encouragement my sister recently published her first book of poetry that can now be purchased on Amazon and shared. Its a beautiful book and I am so tremendously proud of my sister for her eloquent words and her strength in sharing so honestly about the truly darkest days of life.

Wishing you love, light, and persistence, 

Ra

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My Soul Sister’s Potato, Kale, White Wine Soup

Ingredients:

1 tbs Butter

1 medium onion chopped

2 stalks of celery chopped

1 carrot grated

2 russet baking potatoes thinly sliced almost until transparent

1 ½ cups white wine (use whatever white wine you enjoy drinking)

1 ½ cups water or vegetable stock

½ bunch (approx. 2 cups) of kale chopped

Pinch of red pepper flakes

Salt & Pepper to taste

  • Chop and sauté onion in the butter.
  • Add celery and grated carrot to the onion and continue to sauté until soft.
  • Slice potato on a mandolin or using the widest angle on a box grater, ultimately looking for thin slices of potato that are almost translucent. Add potato to the vegetable mixture and sauté until soft.
  • Cover with equal parts wine and broth, you may need more depending on the size of your potatoes. Salt and pepper to taste and add red pepper flakes. Bring to a slow simmer.
  • Stem and chop kale and then add to the soup until wilted.
  • Serve and enjoy.

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25

02 2017

Turmeric-Roasted Cauliflower with Coconut-Lime Forbidden Rice

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For the past few years I have liked to start the new year off with a small detox, nothing crazy just being more mindful after the holiday food extravaganzas; something to help my body bounce back and feel a little fresher and less sluggish. I use recipes from Goop and Bon Appétit, I’ve done them for varying amounts of time anywhere from a week – 2 weeks and the longest was about 18 days. In reality I try to do these detoxes every time the seasons change if I can to varying degrees of commitment and success. 

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I had intended to start 2017 off with the detox and I had planned my way through the first two weeks as I work and what I could take on preparing. And then before we even reached 2017, on new years eve in fact, I received a beautiful gift of a cookbook I had been wanting Classic German Baking (thanks Bari!)….and well, I started January 1st by baking cookies from said cookbook. But I stayed on the plan other then the cookies (no diary, no caffeine, no alcohol, no wheat or grains other then some rice)…that was of course until this weekend. All to say I didn’t do as well on the plan as I did at the start of 2016. 

Then I went to yoga on January 2nd and my class that ranges in size normally from 5 people to maybe 10 was brimming with over 15. The teacher started by acknowledging the larger class and welcoming new people, she also talked about new years resolutions and yoga. She talked about the practice and how its less about each pose and being there every week and more about listening to yourself, meeting yourself each day where you are, accepting yourself, and forgiving yourself. I have a tough time forgiving myself or others (but especially myself). I give people a lot of chances in life but I tend to give myself less chances – I should master it right out of the gate, work hard but do it and do it well, and every slip I judge and ruminate over. I need to give myself the chances and the benefit of the doubt that I give other people (thank you to my wonderful soul sister for imparting this gem on me). So I did my yoga practice on January 2nd and again later in the week, I ate mostly clean and followed mostly my detox that first week, and I loved my German cookies all the while! And most importantly I tried to see it not as a failed attempt but for all the good I did my body in what I did put in. 

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And while I am talking about some detoxing, some forgiving, and some starting 2017 off on as bright a note as we can all muster how about a delicious recipe that is detox friendly but tastes and feels perfect all of the time. This recipe comes from Goop detox and I have to admit its so easy, quick, and wonderfully satisfying that after making it once it has become a regular recipe in my kitchen no matter what else I am cooking or eating. Warm, exotic notes of turmeric and ginger elevate the already delicious nature of roasted cauliflower, and black forbidden rice with coconut and lime feels exactly like its name – forbidden and luxurious. The entire thing comes together in about half an hour and uses only one pan and a cookie sheet. Its forgiving in your time, in your effort, in the ingredients it uses, and while I feel forgiven with each mouthwatering bite I also feel like I am indulging and enjoying with each grain of rice and floret of cauliflower. 

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Turmeric-Roasted Cauliflower with Coconut Lime Forbidden Rice from Goop

Ingredients:

For The Coconut Lime Forbidden Rice:

1 cup vegetable broth

1 cup coconut milk

1 cup forbidden rice

zest & juice of 1 lime

2 tablespoons flacked coconut 

For The Turmeric-Roasted Cauliflower

1 cauliflower stemmed and chopped into florets

1 tablespoon coconut oil

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

  • Preheat oven to 400°F
  • In a medium pot, bring vegetable broth and coconut milk to a boil, add forbidden rice and cover.
  • Reduce heat to a simmer, cover, and simmer until all liquid has been absorbed (about 30 min) stirring occasionally. 
  • Remove rice from heat and uncover, add lime zest, juice, and coconut and stir until well distributed. Fluff with a fork before serving. 
  • Meanwhile, rub the cauliflower with the coconut oil and all spices except for black pepper until its well coated. Place on parchment lined pan (this is important because turmeric will leave some yellow behind), keeping pieces from touching each other.
  • Roast for 20-30 minutes or until cauliflower is golden brown and tender. 
  • Serve Cauliflower over rice. 

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11

01 2017

Magical Cartagena For Christmas

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For the second year in a row my sister and I traveled south of the border for Christmas and spent the holidays together overseas, this year we ventured to Cartagena Colombia for a week. We wandered and wondered our way through the dreamlike and beautiful colonial streets of the old walled city, we swam in turquoise waters, we basked in the magic of a city I have always dreamed of visiting.

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Our holiday excursions have become a new and memorable way to celebrate the holidays together all while deeply imbued with the memory of our mother. Christmas growing up was a special holiday in our house with dozens and dozens of guests, with pots of coffee, eggs, bagels, and more cookies then one could possibly eat, at the holiday’s very beating center was our mother in her slippers and her generous smile. To say the least a traditional Christmas together has seemed hard to contemplate these last 7 years but the last 2 years being together in a warm and foreign destination has felt like the best way to make a tradition of our own or at the very least a stepping stone from one deep tradition to the next. And to say our mother’s memory is with us is an understatement, especially in Cartagena we both kept saying to each other “mom would love this!” We could see our mom sitting with us in the cool shade of Plaza de Bolívar, we could hear her exclaim how beautiful the colorful houses with draping bougainvillea are, and we could feel her smile as we soaked in the hot sun.

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Cartagena is called the crown jewel of the caribbean and for good reason the stunning colors of the houses, the cobblestone streets that wind and keep you gasping at the beauty around each corner, the hot air that is refreshingly cooled by sea breezes. We spent our first day getting lost along the streets and wandering from Plaza to Plaza eating Paletas and then walking along the old wall that stretches between the old city and the ocean. We soaked in our small rooftop pool and ate fish and coconut rice as we sipped coconut lemonades. For the record next summer I will be making coconut lemonades all summer because where has this been all of my life?!

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We spent the next few days on a small Island in the Rosario Islands about an hour boat ride from the city. We stayed at a wonderful small eco hotel that felt more like staying with the most gracious hosts in their home. We swam in turquoise waters right off of any number of docks, we kayaked amid different islands with the sun kissing our shoulders and the warm water gently rocking us, we napped and read in hammocks, and one night we even went swimming with bioluminescent plankton in an enchanted lagoon. The days were long and slow and beautifully rich in nature. We enjoyed one of our favorite nightly pass times watching sunsets with no distractions or rush.

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We came back to Cartagena in time for Christmas in the city with Zumba in Plaza de La Trinidad and a walking street food tour on our last day. Our days were filled walking from the Getsemaní district and looking at murals to the old town and back again. We spent our time wandering and taking pictures, sitting in Plazas and drinking fresh coconuts in front of brightly painted houses.

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But this would also only be part of the story. Travel is one of my favorite things but it is not always the easiest thing, I have suffered my share of traveler tummies and achy muscles from too much walking on trips from Vietnam to Spain and in between. But after a particularly harrowing boat trip back to Cartagena on Christmas eve I was struck with one of my worst illnesses yet. Between a brutal stomach bug and body that felt like it had been hurled across the ocean (my sister got off of the boat looking like she had taken a full shower in her clothes) we moved slowly stopping often to sit on benches and just look around us at the beauty while I caught my breath. I moved slowly but also saw how kindly my sister could take care of me.

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It would also be hard to ignore the greater context in which we took this trip as we approached a new year and one that seems rather strange at first glance. As I walked through the unfamiliar streets of a new country it was hard to not think about travel and what travel might be like in the new year. I have always considered myself first and foremost a citizen of the world and I understand that in 2017 how the world might see people from America may change. I have traveled to 31 countries, that number sounds hard to believe and truly fortunate; along those trips I have talked to people my own age in Cambodia about Pol Pot, in Panama about Noriega, I have talked to people my parents age in East Germany about living with half of their family on one side of the wall and the other half on the other side, I have talked about Snowden and the Holocaust with friends from Germany, France, and England, I have been humbled, enlightened and at times flat out yelled at because of where I am from. I have always learned from the exchange and it has always broadened my view and my understanding about my own country and the world.

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I thought a lot in Columbia about travel and what it means to me and what it might look like in the years ahead. I also thought a lot about how much travel gives me and about the exchanges it brings into a life. I thought about considering myself an ambassador for the United States that I believe in (if not the one in the news). An ambassador for an America that believes in acceptance, inclusion, hope, curiosity for other people and cultures, a country that is trying to move towards love and peace. Because at the end of the day wherever I travel that is the message I wish to carry with me and leave with the people I meet.

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Helpful Cartagena Travel Links:

Casa La Fe – Hotel

Les Lezards – B&B in Getsemaní

La Mulata – Restaurant

Demente – Restaurant

La Cevicheria – Restaurant

Cafe Del Mar – Drinks and Restaurant

La Paletteria – Palletas

 

05

01 2017

Yotam Ottolenghi’s Spice Cookies

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Growing up my one of my favorite Christmas books was The Sweet Smell Of Christmas – a scratch and sniff book about all of the scents of Christmas. It was a magic book filled with every fragrance I loved from the season – apple pie, pine from trees, ginger from cookies. I would scratch and smell and smell and smell, in fact I used the book so much it all started to smell alike, the sugar and ginger from cookies, the pine from trees, and oranges from little bears stocking all became one larger scent of Christmas. I loved that book and how it all became one big sensory seasonal explosion. A few years ago Bari found a copy of the book and bought it for her kids, immediately upon seeing it I yelled it was my favorite holiday book and everyone laughed.

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I may have outgrown a book with scented stickers but the smell of Christmas never grows old to me – the fresh pine on the streets where trees are sold, the ginger and sugar of baked goods, and the citrus from bowls of oranges immediately bring a smile to my face. A few years ago I ran upon a recipe for Spice Cookies from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s cookbook Jerusalem, these cookies became a yearly staple and possibly my favorite cookie to bake on dark December nights. They are loaded with warm spices, flecked with chocolate, enlivened by citrus they remind me of my favorite German cookies Lebkuchen that I literally load my bag with on visits to Berlin.

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Baking these this year for a friends holiday gathering the scents of spice, citrus, and a touch of Grand Marnier reminded me of the book The Sweet Smell Of Christmas and the joy it brought to me as a child. The nostalgia for childhood smells baked into an adult cookie could there be anything more perfect for a Christmas memory, I might say no. I have made these cookies both with the currents and liquor and without as a kid friendly alternative and both are great. They are warm from spice, hinted of chocolate and citrus, and sweet enough to create a holiday memory for anyone.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Love,

Raimg_0078Ottolenghi’s Spice Cookies
adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook

Ingredients:

¾ cup currants

2 tablespoons Grand Marnier (the original recipe called for brandy but I made this swap and rather liked it)

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 ½ teaspoons best-quality cocoa powder

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon each ground cinnamon, allspice, ginger, and nutmeg

¼ teaspoon salt

4 ounces good-quality dark chocolate, coarsely grated or chopped

½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

2/3 cup superfine sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

½ teaspoon grated lemon zest

½ teaspoon grated orange zest (plus juice from the orange)

½ large free-range egg

Glaze:

3 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

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  • Soak the currants in the Grand Marnier (or brandy) for 10 minutes.
  • Whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, spices, salt, and dark chocolate.
  • Beat the butter, sugar, vanilla, and lemon and orange zest to combine about 1 minute. With the mixer or beater running, slowly add the egg and mix for about 1 minute.
  • Add the dry ingredients, followed by the currants and brandy. Mix until everything comes together. I usually squeeze the juice of the orange as the dough is very dry and this added moisture helps hold it together and adds some nice flavor echoing the zest.
  • Gently knead the dough in the bowl with your hands until it is uniform.
  • Divide the dough into size of golf balls and roll each chunk into a perfectly round ball.
  • Place the balls on 1 or 2 baking sheets lined with parchment paper, spacing them about ¾ inch apart, and let rest in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, until the top firms up but the center is still soft.
  • Remove from the oven. Once the cookies are out of the oven, allow to cool for 5 – 10 minutes, and then transfer to a wire rack.
  • While the cookies are still warm, whisk together the glaze ingredients until a thin and smooth. Pour a tablespoon of the glaze over each cookie, leaving it to drip and coat the cookie.
  • Repeat the glaze step for a thicker glaze. Leave to set and then serve, or store in an airtight container for a day or two.

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09

12 2016