about bliss

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

daily bliss: tea latte

My friend H. makes Earl Grey Lattes at home, and so I've giving it a try. I steep half a mug of tea quite strong, and pour in steaming, frothy milk, laced with raw sugar. I've been wanting to try a homemade Chai Latte for some time, and have been slowly building up my spice collection. I also needed a flavorful black tea to start. I bought an organic breakfast blend by Stash, and heated up some milk with a cinnamon stick, a few green cardamom pods, allspice berries, and a touch of vanilla extract. I drizzled in some maple syrup from my friends' farm and whisked away. Delicious! Spicy, satisfying, and special. A perfect Friday afternoon treat.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

daily bliss: public radio

As I've mentioned before, I'm fortunate to have a rather flexible schedule that allows me to work from home sometimes (blessedly so--I've tried reading for class and grading papers in my office to no avail...every 5 minutes there's some disturbance and I have to start all over). At home, I work to the soundtrack of classical music on my local Wisconsin Public Radio station. The music creates a calming background without too much distraction, unless the piece is one I played during my years in symphony orchestras. Then my fingers are itching to trace out old patterns on my my violin.

In the mornings, I listen to the news and weather, and wait for Garrison Keillor's The Writer's Almanac, sharing a daily dose of poetry and important literary history and birthdays. In the evenings, I listen to the news again, and wait for the classical music to resume, so my evenings can end where my days began.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

daily bliss: discipline

I'm a rather creative, spontaneous type who loves to dabble and wander about in the grey areas between things, whether ideas or academic disciplines or genres or religions...which can make adhering to any sort of discipline rather shaky. And yet, I've exercised great discipline on several occasions:

*completing my dissertation: my friend M. and I would meet for coffee at least one evening a week and work. No chit chat, no procrastination, but real work. It helped that M. is the most disciplined person I know.

*training for a half-marathon: this involved rigor not only in exercising, but in eating. If I was going to run more than 5 miles the next day, the previous evening's dinner needed to be rather bland and easily digestible. And, I needed to carefully plan my days around said running and eating schedules.

*daily bliss: my practice of cultivating gratitude and looking for something positive every day.

*my yearly TV diet in honor of Lent: no TV at home. The only exception is when I'm visiting someone else, which always happens during Lent because of Spring Break.

This year I'm reprising the TV Diet, not because I'm observing any certain religion (see above), but rather because I need the practice of discipline. I need to eliminate one rather mindless pleasure in order to devote my time to other, more mindful pleasures. I want to read more, and write more, and work on a few literary projects.

I'll miss the What Not to Wear Marathons, the manufactured drama of Food Network Challenge, the nerdy fun of Chuck, and the realistic drama of Friday Night Lights, but I'll enjoy connecting more with myself and my thoughts and words on pages and text boxes:)

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

daily bliss: king cake

When I lived in Alabama, my students introduced me to King Cake. During Carnival season, they would take weekend road trips to Mobile or New Orleans and come back laden with beads and occasionally, a King Cake, which they would bring to class. And so, as we read Kate Chopin's startling, heart-wrenching novella The Awakening, set in New Orleans and Grand Isle, we would munch on the cinnamon scented and brightly bejeweled cake, soaking up Creole culture.

The history of King Cake is as intricate and layered as the braids of the cake itself, stretching back through the Catholic church to Roman times--perhaps Saturnalia, as wikipedia suggests, or a more ominous connection to ritual human sacrifices as this website suggests. Either way, the traditional cake is a simple coffee cake/bread, sometimes filled with cinnamon and brown sugar or candied fruits, or nothing. The authentic insert is a bean, coin, or plastic baby to either represent the Christ child who was honored with the King's Day Cake (Epiphany) or to crown whoever found the trinket King (or Queen) of the day.

After moving back to the Midwest, I considered making a King Cake, since no one seemed to know what it was. In Michigan, the Fat Tuesday treat is Pascki, a jelly or cream filled donut of Polish descent. I always waited too late and didn't have enough time to make the brioche base. Not so this year. I planned ahead a bit, and spent the last few days creating this cake.

I searched the internet for recipes and settled on this one by Burt Wolf (of PBS travel show fame). I started the dough on Sunday, let it sit in the refrigerator overnight, and last night fashioned and baked the bread. My dough was so soft and stretchy, the long, cinnamon filled ropes seemed to stretch into infinity as I braided them into a rather messy mass.

The bread baked and cinnamon filled the house, and spilled out of the ropes.

After the bread cooled, I brushed it with a simple sugar and confectioner's sugar glaze, and then added the traditionally colored sprinkles:

Green for Faith
Gold for Power
Purple for Justice

I couldn't find purple sprinkles anywhere, but my friend M, a native of Louisiana, told me to dye regular sugar with food color, which worked splendidly.

The cake is now packed up and ready to take to work to share with friends and colleagues.

And I am more excited than before to travel to New Orleans in April for the Popular Culture Conference--I can dream of a warm, humid, afternoon at Cafe du Mond, sipping cafe au lait and eating Beignets, catching up with old friends, and leaving with powdered sugar stuck to my sweaty arms as I walk and drive through new New Orleans.

"There were days when she was very happy without knowing why. She was happy to be alive and breathing, when her whole being seemed to be one with the sunlight, the color, the odors, the luxuriant warmth of some perfect Southern day." Kate Chopin, The Awakening

twd: caramel crunch bars

Turn to page 113 of Baking: From My Home to Yours and Dorie's ice cream sandwiches made with caramel crunch bars and wrapped in wax paper look like summer and fun and utter indulgence. The view outside of my window on Sunday when I made these bars was anything but summer and fun and utter indulgence. Nine new inches of snow blanketed everything, and the din of snow blowers and plows was my baking soundtrack.

My caramel crunch bars, sans ice cream, look rather like toffee. They're tasty but almost too buttery--who knew anything could be too buttery? I suspect that pairing them with ice cream would create a lovely complement to tamp down the butteriness and mix up the textures...and so I'm going to tuck these bars safely in the freezer for warmer days when ice cream is a welcome treat and not another way to make me shiver.

These bars are simple to make, use everyday ingredients, and look luscious. I made a half batch and baked them in an 8 inch square pan; I used my Ghiradelli discs once again--they melt like a dream! And I followed HappyTummy's suggestions and used chopped, toasted pecans for the topping (I made the mistake of reading the ingredients list on the bag of toffee bits! eek!).

Thanks, Whitney, of What's Left on the Table, for choosing these bars! Check out the blogroll on the TWD site for other creative approaches to this week's recipe.

Monday, February 23, 2009

daily bliss: panera cinnamon crunch bagels and coffee

Last fall my friend H and I (not the same H as in the previous post--shall we say Wisconsin H versus Michigan H:) met two mornings a week to run/walk, chat, and drink coffee before starting our busy days. Last week we decided to start again this week as the weather was beginning to thaw...

And so, this morning, my excitement to start again battled with the temperature on the thermometer: 9 degrees. I checked my facebook page and read a nice message from H, written last night, telling me she was ready to hit the sidewalks this morning. I layered on three warm sets of capilene and fleece and drove to her house. We didn't run very far as we're out of practice and the wind was sapping our breath, but we probably logged two miles total.

With rosy cheeks, we returned to her house for coffee and--a real treat--Panera bagels. Now, here in small town Wisconsin, Panera bagels are a real luxury, brought back from travels to distant cities. I wavered between a healthier trail mix or multi-grain bagel and decided to go with the sugar crusted cinnamon crunch. Delicious, if not the most nutritious, and a wonderful start to renewing a routine.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

daily bliss: organic ancient snow sprout tea

This past summer, my friend H and I spent a day in Glen Arbor, Michigan, shopping, eating, climbing the big dune at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and tasting teas at the Great Lakes Tea and Spice Company. We sampled the organic ancient snow sprout tea and were smitten. I bought a large canister and drink it very, very sporadically since it's a) expensive and b) time and labor intensive.

To prepare a cup of Organic Ancient Snow Sprout:

Boil filtered water. Let sit for three minutes. Pour water over 2 TBS tea for 8 oz. water. Let steep for 8 minutes. Enjoy. Think of summer days and best friends, sunshine and connections that never end.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

cooking through a snowstorm...

After digesting my delicious pancakes and grading a partial stack of papers, I bundled up, grabbed my tennis shoes and my grocery bags, and headed out to exercise and grocery shop. Driving a few short blocks convinced me to go only to the grocery store, as the roads were barely plowed and the G6 was dragging and sliding.

This afternoon I soaked, cooked, and stored a pound of black beans; roasted a butternut squash and made soup; made pasta dough and filling; searched for King Cake recipes; and mused over how to approach this week's TWD treat. The rhythms of the kitchen were a welcome distraction from the never ending snow fall--it's been snowing all day long, with no sign of stopping. Snow bands are hugging the lakeshore, eager to share a soft, quiet blanket with lakeside dwellers. Only now is the wind beginning to pick up, invariably creating undulating drifts of snow that will make tomorrow another stay-at-home-and-keep-cozy kind of day.

Butternut Squash Soup

Roast 1 whole squash, cubed.

Roast several cloves of garlic.

Saute diced onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil. Add salt and pepper. Add roasted garlic--mash around a bit. Add roasted squash and water to cover. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, adding more water and salt for desired texture and flavor.


I use Lydia B's pasta recipe and roll it out by hand with my trusty French rolling pin.

For the filling, use a good ricotta--try to find one without any weird gums or preservatives. Here in Wisconsin this is fairly easy:) Add roasted garlic, if you like; a drizzle of honey; black pepper; rosemary or sage.

Bring a pot of salted water to a boil; form the ravioli; toss them into the boiling water, a few at a time; scoop out when they float to the top.

The Meal

Place several ravioli in the bottom of a soup bowl--cover with soup. Garnish with finely chopped walnuts. Enjoy with a crisp white wine, like my favorite: Torrontes.

daily bliss: pancakes

Yesterday morning I started working on my paper presentation for the popular culture association conference in April. I'm writing about food and romance in Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer's novel Agnes and the Hitman. The first step is re-reading the novel and writing down pertinent scenes and random ideas.

I couldn't stop thinking of those pecan sour cream pancakes Agnes makes for a whole kitchen full of mobsters and misfits.

And so, this morning, when the snow kept me away from my plans (yoga class and brunch at the Craverie with my friend A), I decided to make pancakes. I googled sour cream pancakes, and several of my fellow TWD bloggers popped up. They're also part of the Barefoot Bloggers, baking through Ina Garten's recipes, and this recipe was one of hers.

I followed Ina's recipe with a few modifications--I omitted bananas and lemon, and added cinnamon and pecans. Topped with a smidgen of organic butter and maple syrup from my friends' farm, these pancakes are a light, delicious treat and a delightful diversion from my everyday oatmeal!

Friday, February 20, 2009

daily bliss: metaphors and other analogies

I love to teach in metaphor and analogy: the quote sandwich, the amusing story about being chased through the woods by a bear to show the importance of bridges (i.e. transitions), the diction levels as dress code are some of my best bits.

Just today, I was thinking of a new metaphor. I want students to understand that you simply can't approach every writing situation in the same way, and to understand that our class provides a variety of tools to use as needed.

Rather like Blossom, and her attachments. I didn't know, at first, to only use the whisk for actual whipping. No wonder my inaugural baking projects fell flat. The paddle attachment is by far the most versatile, but still not always appropriate. And then there are all the special attachments with highly specialized uses--ice cream maker, pasta machine, meat grinder...

The whole kitchen is filled with tools that are either multi-purpose or highly specialized, and, as one grows in skill and ambition, one just may need more tools to approach all tasks OR the critical thinking skills to know when and how to improvise.

Now, if only my students cooked, I would have a whole new approach to teaching writing:)

Thursday, February 19, 2009

daily bliss: ice skating

1988: I'm watching the Olympics on our small TV, anxiously waiting to see who prevails in the "Battle of the Carmens," my favorite, Debi Thomas, or Katarina Witt...As Debi faltered, I cried. I knew she would not be the Gold Medal Champ. I thought about how I could start skating and someday compete and bring Golden glory to the US...

Oh, the pure, irrational dreams of childhood! I was 13 at the time, with no skating background other than the simple leans and edges I learned from a book checked out of the library and put into practice on the bumpy surface of my Uncle's pond. I never took lessons, and my friends and I would skate sporadically on local ponds and makeshift rinks.

And yet, there was and is something thrilling about flying across the ice, balancing precariously on single blades. As I laced up my rental skates and took to the ice for the first time in two years last night, I could feel that familiar nervous anticipation. After a few circles around the rink, I felt the urge to fly, to spin, to dance across the translucent surface grow stronger. It is this same force that drove me to take beginning ballet in graduate school. To seek out challenging vinyasa yoga classes. To turn up the music and dance across the living room.

To dance, to twirl, to flow, to fly.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

daily bliss: quick hot meals

More snow! More cold! More winter!

After a day of cake eating--the TWD cake was a HUGE hit on campus--I was ravenous for "real" food, quick.

I put salted water on the boil, then threw in a handful of whole wheat pasta to cook. Meanwhile, I sauteed garlic, broccoli, hot pepper flakes, and cannellini beans, adding pasta water to deglaze. Towards the end I added crumbled feta, the cooked pasta, and a tad more pasta water.

Quick, hot, and delicious on a frigid winter night.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

daily bliss: new growth

new growth, lingering ice, and brave birds, february 2009

I'm in reflective mode as my 35th birthday approaches...

While it's easy to be sucked into a downward spiral, contemplating the shoulda-woulda-coulda's and the I-thought-I-would-be's, I'm focusing instead on all that I have accomplished by this, to me, momentous age.

And I'm thinking of the continuous new growth I'm trying to nurture...

twd: devil's food white out cake

I come from a long line of bakers. Birthday cakes were always homemade, and always delicious. I usually chose German Chocolate cake, and one year I asked my Grandma to teach me how to make it for my Mom's birthday. Some years I deviated, like the time I obsessed over the cakes in my Mom's Betty Crocker cookbook, settling on an angel food cake that had chocolate whipped cream stuffed inside. What a feat of cake making--I was so impressed with the cake Mom made!

My Mom and Grandma don't bake as much anymore as concerns about cholesterol and blood sugar make baked goods a treat rather than a necessity. Each week they ask what I'm creating for TWD, and eagerly await my posts. Sometimes I send a few goodies their way to share with my Dad and Grandpa.

As I've mentioned before, I started baking in earnest while I was writing my dissertation, and haven't stopped since then. My Grandma has been indispensable over the years, giving me Blossom (my newly named trusty pink KA) for my doctoral graduation, a set of vintage pink pyrex mixing bowls, and Baking: From My Home to Yours. We stared at that cover cake and imagined how delicious and wondrous it would be.

pink pyrex

And so, this week, this post is dedicated to my Grandma C. for all of her lessons, love, and support in the kitchen and out. I only wish she were here in Wisconsin and not on the other side of the lake so we could cut into the cake together!

I baked the layers on Sunday afternoon as a pot of dried chickpeas bubbled away on the stove. Once again, I opted for my Valrhona cocoa powder, and used these new Ghiradelli 72% chocolate disks as the melted chocolate and the add-in bits. They remind me of European style chocolate chips, and are also quite delicious eaten by the handful out of the bag...

a surprise find in the grocery store!

My cakes baked nicely in my new cake pans, although they didn't rise as high as I would've liked. After they cooled, I wrapped them up and placed them in the freezer until this morning when I set about assembling the cakes.

new cake pans, properly parchmented

After reading through the icing directions and the P&Qs on the TWD site, I decided to make the Swiss Meringue recipe from Amanda Hesser's delightful book Cooking for Mr. Latte (a book I dub "foodie romance" in a published article about food and chick lit:). I've made this icing many times and felt more confident about my success taking a familiar route.

Here's my adaptation of Hesser's recipe:

4 egg whites
1/4 c. honey (she calls for corn syrup but I refuse to use it)
2 TBS water
2 1/2 c. confectioner's sugar
pinch of salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract

Mix together the first 5 ingredients in the top of a double boiler or in a bowl that you place over a pan of hot water kept on moderate heat. Beat with an electric mixture until peaks form when the beaters are lifted, about 5 minutes. Scrape the mixture into another bowl to stop the cooking process. Add the vanilla. Beat until the mixture is smooth, thick, and glossy, about 5 minutes more. Voila!

swiss meringue

I carefully sawed my layers in half, discovered how flat they were, and decided not to crumble a whole layer but rather to crumble the bits that fell off as a result of my sawing (try as I might, the layers were rather uneven), and create a four layer cake. The cake frosted easily, and I decorated it with the smattering of crumbles and a few of my chocolate heart cookies.

a love-filled cake

Although I won't be able to share this cake with my family, I'm going to bring it to campus tomorrow and share it with the literati, a new group of students who are interested in reading and writing literature. Perhaps I can win over a few more majors and minors with this gorgeous cake:)

Thanks to Stephanie of Confessions of a City Eater for choosing this high profile cake, and, as always, thanks to the TWD bakers for their kitchen fellowship. Finally, thanks to Mom and Grandma for all of their kitchen wisdom (and forgive me for posting this photo of the three of us:)

three generations

Monday, February 16, 2009

daily bliss: flexible schedule

Lately, I've been thinking about how my chosen career shapes each day of my life. While there are many aspects of my job that are taxing--reading many, many student essays, with varying degrees of quality; no separation between work and non-work--I know I enjoy many benefits.

One of these is a flexible schedule--outside of posted office hours and class times, I can decide when and where to work. And so, this morning, I was able to catch up with my friend H over coffee at M-Coffee. What a lovely way to start the day!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

daily bliss: kitchen therapy

a cold, crisp, February night

Last week I succumbed to the darkness of February...the gloom and chill, the relentless winter, the never-ending routine, the bad student papers...it was all too much.

I knew I was in a particularly bad place when I couldn't think of anything I wanted to eat outside of refined white carbs! masses of sugar! piles of chocolate! junk food! Anyone who's been reading bliss knows that with the exception of the next-to-last item on the list, that just isn't me.

Another roasted root veggie or bean dish would do me in.

And so I decided to turn to an old favorite--veggie quiche--for a start. I found a disk of pastry in my freezer and fashioned a crust. I combined frozen organic spinach, roasted peppers, and caramelized onions with eggs, milk, basil, and some local raw milk cheese. With a side of balsamic carrot curls and citrus and dried fruit salad, I felt rejuvenated.


And yesterday, I decided to make a tapas style dinner--a little bubbly to drink, a spinach dip inspired by Cathy's recent spinach artichoke dip post, and a chipotle white bean hummus made for a delightful v-day feast.

But tonight, oh tonight, I am beaming. I made homemade falafel patties (with chickpeas I cooked myself) with tzatziki, and, the crowning achievement, homemade PITA BREAD. I used a Cooking Light recipe for falafel patties as a guide, and Mark Bittman's pita recipe. I made a chopped greek salad on the side: romaine hearts, red pepper, cucumber, feta, and kalamata olives in a lemon balsamic dressing. Now, my falafel are nowhere as tasty as those at Sultans in East Lansing, but I made them myself. The pita, well, it's scrumptious. Poofy, flavorful, and so very simple to make.

overhead lighting=weird colors, but I just had to include a photo

Saturday, February 14, 2009

daily bliss: hearts

When I was halfway finished writing, nay, agonizing over my dissertation, I splurged on the Elsa Peretti open heart necklace from Tiffany's to mark this symbolic accomplishment. And, to remind me of the transformative power of love. When I graduated with my Doctorate, my Aunt, Uncle, and cousins gave me the matching earrings. For these five+ years, they have been my signature look.
There are good hearts and bad hearts, tasteful hearts and tacky hearts, full hearts and broken hearts.

But best of all is an open heart.

Today I made chocolate heart cookies bejeweled with hot pink sanding sugar. I used Deb of smitten kitchen's cookie recipe, mixed up a very simple "glaze" of water and powdered sugar, and sprinkled the cookies judiciously with the sugar.

Yesterday, I received crinkle edged heart sugar cookies decked out in large crystal red sugar from my Mom.
One of my favorite quotes about love from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh:
"It is essential that we learn to love in a way that preserves our beloved's freedom and allows us both to maintain our individuality."

Friday, February 13, 2009

daily bliss: lavender

lavender flowers, photo courtesy of wikipedia

Shower with Dr. Bronner's lavender soap

Clean the kitchen with vinegar/lavender solution

Moisturize with lavender scented almond oil

Wash hands with Jason lavender hand soap

Relax with lavender and flax seed filled eye pillow

My day in Lavender: tranquil, calming, healing, fragrant.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

daily bliss: anne of green gables

lake of shining waters, prince edward island

When I was in middle school, I discovered the Anne of Green Gables movies on PBS, then the novels by L.M. Montgomery and a new world of possibility and imagination unfurled. From time to time, when I'm feeling a little blue, or when the world seems just too full of ugliness and bickering and hate (or when I've read too many vampire romances), I select one of my worn paperback Anne books down from their special shelf and start re-reading. Instantly, I'm transported to a world of intuition, of anthropomorphic flowers and trees, of simpler times and deeper connections. I suppose it's also a way to connect with that younger self, so bookish and so awkward, and to reach out to those lingering parts of myself with a hug of compassion and hope for the future.

Re-reading the Anne books is a homecoming.

In June 2004, I finally journeyed to Prince Edward Island, the setting for the stories and home of their esteemed author. I presented at an academic conference, and then spent the rest of my time roaming the island with my two best friends S and H. We walked on the seashore, dined on tea and scones, foraged for lilacs, chatted and laughed late into the night to a soundtrack of Norah Jones.

S, H, and I, on the ferry from Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

daily bliss: dried cherries

a gorgeous summer day at sleeping bear dunes national lakeshore, empire, michigan, august 2008

As an avowed locavore, I find winter eating challenging in these parts. I don't yet have a freestanding freezer, so I don't have a cache of summer fruits and veggies at my disposal. I have a dwindling supply of homemade strawberry jam, and a bag of peach slices I stuck in my freezer for a winter's day when I really needed a boost of sunshine. I eat florida and california citrus this time of year, because they're seasonal and domestic, if not local. I've tried to cut back on non-domestic fruits like bananas and pineapples after reading about the environmental impacts and true costs of such fruits.

So, what's a hungry, carbo-crazed SADed locavore to do? Dried fruits! Wisconsin cranberries and Michigan cherries are my treats this time of year--instant fuel, delicious taste, and true to my locavore ways! My Mom and I buy 4 pound boxes of Traverse City, Michigan dried cherries and split them up, and some times I splurge on a bag of dark chocolate covered cherries from The Cherry Republic. Now I'm really wishing I had a bag now, reminding me of summer adventures in Northern Michigan with family and friends...blue skies and warm breezes, walks along a non-frozen Lake Michigan, and shopping trips in Glen Arbor...soon, soon, those days will return.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

daily bliss: wade imre morissette

After a demanding, sweat-inducing yoga class a few weeks ago, I sank into the floor during savasana, soothed by the melodic vocals of Wade Imre Morissette. Little did I know that Alanis a) has a twin brother; b) has a twin brother who is a yogi; and c) has a twin brother who's a yogi and a talented musician.

I came home and downloaded one of his albums, and I cannot recommend this music highly enough IF you're interested in the spiritual aspects of yoga and meditation. Morissette creates songs built around classic mantras, useful for yoga practice, relaxation, and walking meditation.


twd: floating islands

I'm gracefully bowing out this week...after a weekend spent wrapped in blankets, drinking tea, and waiting for this latest stress-induced cold to pass, I didn't have time or energy to make this intriguing dessert. Please check out the fabulous TWD baking team, and Shari, of Whisk: a food blog, one of my favorite blogs and the one responsible for this week's recipe, for their stories of success. I'll see you next week for the COVER CAKE--hooray!

Monday, February 09, 2009

daily bliss: jennifer crusie novels

Have you ever read any of Jennifer Crusie's novels? They sparkle with witty dialog, complex characters, satisfying emotional conclusions, and fast paced plots. My friend K. introduced me to Crusie's works back in grad school, and since then I've waited for her new releases.

This past week, Dogs and Goddesses, Crusie's collaboration with Anne Stuart and Lani Diane Rich was *finally* released. I spent Saturday night and Sunday morning entering this fantastic fictional world that bridges myth, reality, and fantasy with lust, love, and canines.

Crusie shares her writing process with readers through a series of blogs, and it's delightful to watch the creative process culminate in the published work. Check her out! (warning: these are *not* "sweets," i.e. romances w/o sex)

I should admit that I'm going to be on a panel with Crusie at the Romance Writers of American Conference/Convention this summer...and am thrilled...and terrified, since I'll be discussing her works. With her sitting there, moderating the discussion. No pressure. And, the other panelist happens to be Pamela Regis, romance scholar extraordinaire, whose work I also discuss.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

daily bliss: rest

It seems my body is yelling "de-stress" and "rest" and "stop worrying in advance," as I feel under the weather again. And so today has been a lazy day of doing a little work--reading papers, reading for class, a load or two of laundry--and resting. Endless cups of tea. A stack of blankets. Soothing music on NPR. No more fighting myself (do I feel sick? no! fight! fight!)--instead, quiet acceptance of this moment, which too shall pass. Remembering that it's okay to slow down and not be productive in any of the myriad ways I aim to be accomplished...

Saturday, February 07, 2009

daily bliss: lipstick

Most Februaries, I feel like quibbling with T.S. Eliot about which month is really cruelest--April, as he argues, or February. Somehow, February seems worse, as winter lingers, greyness seeps into my thoughts, and cold wraps around my cheeriness like a wet blanket...

And yet, this February is not as cruel as usual. Near record warm temperatures, sunshine, and snow melt definitely lift my spirits. And so it would seem that I would not need my usual February lift: a trip to the department store cosmetics counter(s).

But, dear reader, can you blame me? It's a rare occasion now that I'm in a department store with a posh cosmetic counter...and so yesterday I took advantage of the Clinique bonus days... and stopped by the MAC counter for a look at their latest lush lipstick colors. In an eerily quiet mall filled with subdued recession fashions, lipstick seemed the easiest solution for a boost of color and a small gesture of economic stimulus.

Not that I need more lipstick...

I have quite a collection.

But even if February isn't cruel right now, it will be another day.

And a little petite indulgence (the new bubblegum-barbie-mac creamshine lip gloss) will make me smile a little wider and greet the remaining days of winter with sass.

Friday, February 06, 2009

daily bliss: cinnamon toast + tea

Ahhh, it's Friday night and I'm *finally* relaxing with...cinnamon toast and tea.

And I'm comfortable enough with you, dear readers, to admit the truth about my quiet, un-glamorous Friday night.

After spending an excellent day with some fabulous colleagues, I'm happy to be home, settling in with a new, delicious book.

Oh, and cinnamon toast and tea.

The tea is Margaret's Hope, a darjeeling from the aforementioned plantation, and my favorite weeknight tea. It's a satisfying alternative to hot chocolate when you're already in your pj's and discover you're out of milk...

The cinnamon toast is nowhere near as tasty as my Mom's--she works magic, coating the bread with just the right amount of butter and cinnamon sugar--but comforting nonetheless.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

daily bliss: engagement

Not the kind with sparkly rings (although those are swell too).

Rather, the kind where people are jazzed up by ideas, by connections, by possibilities.

Today, my campus held a Teach-In on Climate Issues, part of a National event. Instead of our usual classes, students, faculty, staff, and community members attended a variety of panels, noshed on snacks, and chatted about environmental issues. The energy and comments from students are pouring in, and they're all showing some level of engagement, whether they think climate change is crap or are dedicated to eating sustainably, either way, they're thinking. Hooray!

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

daily bliss: cookies

molasses ginger cookies

Who doesn't love a cookie?

So round, so perfect.

So full of sweetness and pleasure.

Sometimes filled with goodies.

Sometimes simple and austere.

Always good to share.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

daily bliss: spices

I treated myself to a chai latte at S'bucks after a trip to the gym this morning, and while I prefer chai that isn't so processed, I love the spice and the heat, especially on a chilly morning...

And tonight I baked a batch of molasses ginger cookies (Dorie's recipe) and everything smells warm, and comforting, a virtual hug.

Although I am dedicated to eating local foods, I am ever so grateful for access to a world of spices to elevate everyday foods, and will always make room for the whole world in my mostly local kitchen.

*Does anyone have a favorite recipe for homemade chai? I've been stocking up spices to create a batch once I find the right recipe...

twd: world peace cookies

Thrilled. Giddy. Hands-clapping-Toes-tapping excited.

That was me upon seeing World Peace Cookies on the list for TWD. Thanks to Jessica of Cookbookhabit for selecting these little bites of bliss. When I first read Dorie's cookbook over a year ago, I was intrigued by the history of these cookies--the lineage from Dorie to Pierre--and the nickname (the cookies were originally called Korova cookies in Dorie's book Paris Sweets) made me yearn for a taste.

I raided my cupboards and fridge for the finest ingredients since the cookies are so simple: Valrhona cocoa powder and chopped chocolate for a French connection; Organic Valley Pasture Butter for a taste of the Dairyland state; and crushed Maldon salt for a bit of Great Britain. Wordly cookies, indeed.

French chocolate, in honor of Dorie and Pierre

I mixed up the dough on Saturday afternoon as I prepared a talk on local foods (the irony is not lost on me), and then baked them Sunday afternoon between my successful talk and a long walk along the lake and through the puddles of melted snow. Once again, the smell of warm chocolate wafted through the house and brought a smile to my face.

one sweet world peace cookie

I waited, patiently, for the cookies to cool. And then sampled one.

And one more.

And another.

My only quibble with World Peace Cookies is how utterly addictive they are. The hint of salt elevates the chocolate and provides a delightful counterpoint. Subtle, but noticeable. Very seductive.

I had another narrative composed in my head, and all day I was looking forward to writing my entry about these sweet, sultry cookies with mythical powers. And somewhere between the guest radio spot, the aching neck muscles, the attempts to describe wikis and blogs to college freshmen, and reading the heartbreaking story "Only Goodness" by Jhumpa Lahiri, my ideal post slipped away...

...but the delightful cookies remain, and the blissful sense of well-being as I pop another one in my mouth, testing its pairing with pinot noir (very good).

i would never eat this many cookies at once...

Monday, February 02, 2009

daily bliss: pizza

I know, pizza is ubiquitous. Pizza can seem mundane.

But not if you do it right, like my friends over at Il Ritrovo, who have been certified by the Vera Pizza Napoletana Association as purveyors of authentic Neopolitan pizzas. (would you believe that three of the twenty-six certified pizzerias in the United States are located right here in Wisconsin?). Although they offer scads of delicious offerings, I most often choose the Margherita Classico for its utter simplicity and purity of flavor: basil, tomato, mozzarella, olive oil, crust.

Il Ritrovo's Gorgeous Pie

At home, I make pizza from scratch.

The crust is a recipe from an old Cooking Light:

1 1/4 c. warm water
1 packet yeast

Combine--let the yeast proof.

Add approx. 3 1/2 c. flour and 1 tsp. salt. Add the salt, and then the flour 1 cup at a time, until the dough is sticky but forms a rough ball. For crispier dough, work with the dough as sticky as you can handle it. Knead for 10 minutes, and then place in an oiled bowl. Let the dough rise in a warm spot in your kitchen. After about an hour it will be voluminous and ready.

I make a simple marinara in small amounts, but you can make a vat if you'd like. I'm not including amounts here--let taste be your guide.

Saute garlic in olive oil. Add canned crushed tomatoes, red pepper flakes, Italian herb mix (from Penzey's), a chunk of peeled carrot (to add sweetness), a glug of red wine. Simmer until it tastes delicious. Remove the carrot--I like to eat it:)

Roasted red and yellow peppers, caramelized onions, blanched broccoli, and kalamata olives is my favorite amalgamation. I use a combination of "Parm" and Mozzarella and sometimes Provolone (all Wisconsin, of course)

To assemble and bake:
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.

Coat a pizza pan with cornmeal, and then spread out your pizza dough into a round. I make individual pizzas--my crust recipe yields about five Dharmagirl sized pizzas. Prebake the crust for about 5 minutes, until just starting to puff up and the bottom just setting.

Remove the crust from the oven and cover with sauce and toppings. Return to oven and bake until cheeses are browning.

*for a crispy crust, bake the crust and pizza on the lowest rack of your oven, or, if you have enclosed heating elements, you can actually set the pan right on the bottom of the oven.**

Sometimes I top my pizza with arugula--it wilts nicely and adds a bit of astringency to all that richness.

a New Year's Eve Delight!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

soup bowl sunday!

winter minestrone at il ritrovo

Call me un-American, but this year I'm not going to pretend that I actually like watching either the Super Bowl or the much-hyped commercials. I plan on watching Sense and Sensibility on PBS--now there's some edge-of-the-seat action and suspense! I suppose fitting snacks might be a cream tea, or at least a pot of Earl Grey with cream and sugar and one, no, two, no, a handful of World Peace cookies...

But, before that, I'll likely cook up another pot of soup. Most soups I make are spur-of-the-moment, foraging in the freezer, fridge, and cupboards kind of affairs. I'm amazed at what delicious soups I can make out of scraps.

Dharmagirl's Soup Starter

saute two cloves of garlic in olive oil; add one carrot, diced, some diced celery and onion to taste. sprinkle with salt. once the base starts to soften and release sugars, add water and a bay leaf or two. toss in whatever cooked beans you have on hand and more water. bring to a boil, then lower heat and simmer.

lentils with curry powder and chickpeas
navy beans with crushed tomatoes and italian herbs
cannellini beans with greens, rosemary, and small pasta (cooked separately), garnished with parm
navy beans with diced potatoes and sweet potatoes and rosemary

The possibilities are endless, nutritious, and delicious...have fun, and happy soup bowl Sunday!

daily bliss: local foods

This morning I spoke about local foodways at the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in town, which was great fun. I was pleased to know about half of those in attendance, so I wasn't quite as nervous as I thought I would be. And, if there's one topic I'm über passionate about, it's local foods.

This time of year, local foods are scarce, if you're a vegetarian like me. However, the little store in between Field to Fork and Il Ritrovo in Shebyogan is stocked with goodies, such as:

Sassy Cow organic milk

Yuppie Hill Poultry Eggs

Saxon Creamery Cheeses

And, more of those delectable local organic dried beans. And, some non-local but organic Lacinato (or Tuscan or Black) Kale! Yippee!

What a bounty on this winter day! What blessings! What deliciousness!