Saturday, January 23, 2010
Adventures have never been easy for me. I was always the timid, cautious child who just as soon stay inside reading books and drawing pictures than go outside and get my hands dirty. I was sweet and thoughtful but shy and self-conscious. My parents always made a concerted effort to make me more well rounded. They enrolled me in soccer teams, encouraged me to run for elementary school president (which I won thanks to brilliant campaign managing on the part of my father), and forced me to play in the school band. They taught me that taking risks, while not something I would naturally do, is fun, rewarding, and builds character through invaluable life experiences.
When I was old enough to make decisions on my own, these values stayed with me. I got a job in high school, played all kinds of sports, tried out for school plays, joined clubs, coached soccer, and eventually went away to college at UC Berkeley. These were not easy things to do for me. If I followed my instincts, I would have been curled up on the couch watching old movies. But I've come to realize that pushing the outermost limits of your comfort zone, while scary, can be fun and exciting too. Experiences like those are the ones you remember, and that those same experiences shape your perspective, your character, and come to define you as a person.
I have been fortunate enough to have travelled a considerable amount for someone my age. I've been to Europe twice, where I saw Spain, France, Italy, Austria, and the Czech Republic. I've been to Guatemala, Costa Rica, and have seen a fair bit of the United States (including the island of Maui). I've since become addicted to traveling. The interesting thing about visiting new places is you never seem to satisfy your want to see new things but only increase it. The more you travel, the more you want to travel. And I absolutely love every minute of it.
But that doesn't mean it isn't difficult for me. Despite the risks I've taken and the experiences I've had, a part of me is still very much wed to the identity of a little girl staying indoors and reading. I have adventures because I make them happen, I know that despite my misgivings and anxiety I will be proud and grateful that I pushed my boundaries and tried something new. That's the type of person I want to be, and I acknowledge that because I'm not naturally a risk taker, being that person is more challenging for me.
This coming semester I'm going to be studying abroad in Cordoba, Spain. I'm excited, but also unbelievably nervous. I am a creature of habit. I relish in familiarity and find comfort in routine. This is by far the biggest risk I have yet to take. I know that like any time I travel, the minute I set foot in Madrid I will be over the moon excited and completely thrilled with everything Spanish. I know that I'll love it, I know I'll have an amazing time. But until that moment when my adventure truly begins, I'm nervous with anticipation. It's hard to leave your family, friends, and loved ones, the familiar faces, places, and customs that you hardly notice in life to immerse yourself in something completely different. Before I left for Guatemala, I was considering breaking my leg or contracting a serious illness so I wouldn't have to go, but once I got there I was one of the most excited interns on the trip. Once my comfort zone if broken, I'm really quite adventurous, the problem is getting past my longing for familiarity.
Before I go, I've been savoring moments with my family and friends. Moments where you realize that there really is no place like home. Moments that give you warm fuzzy feelings and a sense of complete peace. To me, one of the perfect ways to celebrate those moments, is with a cup of hot chocolate.
I don't think there's anything quite as comforting as a cup of hot cocoa on a cold winter's night. Making it yourself is simple and mindless. I hardly measure anything, just taste as I go. Putting this up as a recipe seems almost silly, I mean, how much easier can you get than hot chocolate? But I suppose I wanted to share not what hot chocolate consists of, but the way it makes me feel and what it's come to represent for me. It's joy in a cup, cradling the warm mug between your fingertips and inhaling deeply as you bring the cup you your mouth is certainly one of the most wonderful feelings in the world. Here's the recipe I use, but I know that everyone has their own. Feel free to take it or leave it, but at least let it remind you of simple pleasures, of warm cozy nights, and of home.
Serves one (but easily doubles for two!)
3/4 of a mug full of milk
1/4 of a mug full of half and half
2 spoonfuls of high quality, unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 spoonfuls of sugar (maybe a pinch more if you want it a bit sweeter)
A splash (1/2 a teaspoon?) of vanilla extract
A pinch of salt
2 marshmallows, torn in half or whipped cream (optional)
Measure the milk and half and half in your favorite mug (mine probably holds a cup and a half of liquid). Pour into a small saucepan set over medium high heat. Add chocolate, sugar, vanilla, and salt. Whisk until the mixture is very hot and all the ingredients are dissolved. Pour hot chocolate back into your mug. Top with marshmallows (store bought is just fine by me) or whipped cream. Serve next to a fireplace and someone you love.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Every once and a while, I stumble upon an interesting word in my daily reading. It's something called "weather." I think I may have experienced it a couple of times. You know, changes in the temperature, air pressure levels, or humidity in the atmosphere and the space around you, sometimes accompanied by precipitation, or moisture in the air, which can result in a phenomenon called rain. These changes are often associated with "seasons," which, according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, is a "period normally characterized by a particular kind of weather." Interesting stuff.
Let's be honest, as a San Diego native I have grown accustomed to weather forecasts to the tune of "72 degrees and sunny." All. Year. Long. When I moved up to the bay area I certainly was surprised by rain and temperatures that dipped below 60. What with our Indian summers and thick fog until August, the Bay Area certainly does not follow the traditional seasons we all learn about in kindergarten, but it's more weather than I'm used to.
Yet the past few days in San Diego have been unheard of. Pouring rain? Whipping wind? Tornados? Yes, it's practically the apocalypse here in Southern California. Ironically enough, I've spent a fair bit of that time up north in Monterey where the weather was in fact better than it has been in San Diego. Cold, rainy, and thunderstormy, yes, but not nearly as earth shattering as San Diego's climate.
Weather like that isn't good for much but what it is good for are rare treasures to San Diegans. Stormy weather is ideal for fireplaces, for handmade quilts, for good books. But most of all, weather like this is perfect for soup. Split pea soup is one of those foods that people either love or hate, like Brussels sprouts or meatloaf. It's thick, rich, comforting, and honest. I love it slow cooked with a hambone. My mom always served it with potato pancakes (her version of latkes that are pureed and really look much more like pancakes than anything else) but this soup is just as good with some toasted French bread. It doesn't take much time to throw together, although split-pea soup purists may scoff at the fact that I only let the ham bone simmer for an hour of so. Nonetheless, this soup is just what you'll want in weather like this, just perfect for curling up on the couch with a special someone and listening to the rain.
As a side note, please dismiss the terrible, terrible picture shown here. Hungry people should never try to take pictures of the food they're about to eat. I thought the earth colored bowl would add a rusticness to the soup but clearly it just made the soup look dull and drab. Not to mention that the steam kept fogging up the camera lens. In short, I was to lazy to change anything after I took this shot, which is probably the very reason that no one is reading this now. Anyways, please enjoy.
Inspired by this and this recipe, both from Martha Stewart
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion
3 celery stalks
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 ham hock or shank
2 tablespoons fresh thyme
3 tablespoons fresh parsley
1 dried bay leaf
1 ham hock or ham shank
1 can (14 oz) chicken or vegetable broth
5 cups water (more if needed)
Salt and pepper to taste
1-2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (to taste)
Dice the onion, carrots, and celery. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat and add vegetables and chopped thyme. Season with salt and pepper and cook until just tender, 5-8 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about another minute. Then add lentils, stock, water, and ham bone. Stir in parsley and bay leaf. Bring to a boil and then lower heat, cover, and simmer until split peas are very tender and fall apart, about an hour.
After an hour or so, uncover and stir, seasoning with salt, pepper, and lemon juice to taste (the lemon juice really makes a big difference here. Just a tablespoon or so brightens flavors that can be heavy and bland and adds a barley detectible bite. Some people use vinegar for the same purpose). Serve immediately with potato pancakes of toasted French bread. Serves 6.
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Oh my, has it really been almost four weeks since my last post? Where has the time gone? It's not that I wasn't busy, and it's certainly not that I wasn't cooking, I suppose it was just the narcissistic irony or writing a blog nobody reads sinking in. I've never purported to have blogged for the stardom (if that was the case I would have quit long ago). It's just that writing like this can get a bit monotonous sometimes with no avid and interested readers to keep it exciting. Nevertheless I have always said that I blog for myself and myself alone. The sound of crickets won't stop me.
Anyways, I do have a lot to share. I've made quite a few delicious dinners and some fabulous desserts since I've been away. One of the big events that occurred over the past few weeks (including having my wisdom teeth removed and living on vanilla milkshakes and mashed potatoes for three days) was one of my best friend's weddings. It was an absolutely beautiful occasion as I knew it would be and when she asked her guests to bring a dessert to share I knew whatever I made had to be just as lovely (but not take attention away from the bride, of course).
When I saw these cupcakes on Sassy Radish a few weeks ago my jaw dropped. They were beautiful, elegant, and simple. The colors would look gorgeous as part of the dessert spread. They turned out quite tasty too. The cupcakes themselves were outstanding - fluffy, moist, and sweet. I was a little hesitant about adding coconut milk (I've never worked with it before) but it turned out perfect. The frosting was sweet and creamy but with a light tang from the cream cheese. And can you really go wrong with silver drages and raspberries. I urge you to give these a try. Whether you have a fancy dinner party to bring them to or not, these cupcakes are sure to bring special to you.
I followed the original recipe almost exactly, although I did add a little bit of powdered sugar to the frosting for texture and extra sweetness.