about bliss

Sunday, January 31, 2010

daily haiku: tiresome

tiresome winter
cold sunless barren landscapes
dreaming of springtime

*inspired by the haiku challenge word of the day, tiresome*

Saturday, January 30, 2010

daily bliss: solo saturday

Sunlight peeks through the edges of the blinds as I stretch, reach for my phone to check the time. I unstick myself from flannel sheets, pull on my workout clothes, remote start the car, gather my hair into a messy ponytail, and drive to the gym.

I curve past Walgreens, dodging shoes and what looks like a plastic flower lei lining the center of the road.

Plugging myself into my ipod, I cue up the Iowa Road Trip Summer 09 mix, program the treadmill, and start walking. Muscles alive, I increase the speed and run. Despite too old shoes, broken down and dirty, my feet find that old familiar rhythm. My breath evens out even as it speeds up. "Just like Heaven" begins to play, and I speed up the pace, aiming for something just short of breathless. Exhilarated. I spend a few minutes on the weight machines, challenging my muscles with more reps and weight until the edge of hunger begins to grow into something more vital and necessary.

I drive home amid traffic, winter weary neighbors seeking sunshine and an escape from cabin fever on this, the penultimate day of January, a month that has stretched and lingered longer than any I can remember...

Breakfast, and then journal writing, sudoku, internetting. Talking to my mom. Listening to NPR slip from Classics by Request to Live from the Met. Daydreaming ahead to the Chicago Lyric Opera in March. Imagining G's comments on the Opera music spilling through the house.

After eating a late lunch of roasted veggies and couscous, I plan my love story writing workshop. I jot down a few paragraphs for an article I'm writing. I watch old episodes of Gilmore Girls. I suit up again, start the car, drive to Walgreens to pick up photos I sent in a few hours earlier. The plastic lei is now a series of scattered blossoms, the shoe a lone white, simple lace up sneaker.

In Walgreens I watch, I observe: a teen girl buying a package of Pampers and a 200 minute Tracfone card. A young couple walking in the door together, looking both furtive and hopeful. An older woman walking slowly between the automatic doors, smiling.

I navigate the grocery store as quickly as possible, scooping up ingredients for tonight's dinner (pizza with potato, rosemary, caramelized onions, olives, gruyere) and a few staples for the busy week ahead.

Drive home. Shower. Heat milk, brew coffee. Toast English muffin half, spread with natural peanut butter and dot with chocolate chips. Pull my bed pillows together behind me, wrap up in the blanket best friend S made, sip coffee, nosh snack, and read for Monday's class. Watch the sun begin to set off in the distance. Snap a few photos of a world romanticized through lace curtains.

And then the quiet. The familiar quiet. The quiet of 15+ years of weekend days spent mostly alone. I know this quiet. I've grappled with this quiet. I've alternately balked against and made peace with this quiet.

And I'm glad this quiet is an anomaly.


G's "Up Nort" this weekend, enjoying a frigid festivus celebration with his buddies. The highlight of the weekend: snow golfing on the frozen lake, "sponsored" by Miller Brewing Company.

I was kindly invited to attend, but an especially heavy week ahead (not one but two writing workshops, hosting an all-day long, all-campus/community event, two teleconferences, and one meeting, in addition to my regular class schedule) combined with my aversion to cold weather lead us our separate ways.

Since we generally spend most of the weekend together, I wondered how I would feel with an entire weekend to myself, a throwback to my single girl days (recent enough (eight months yesterday to be precise) that one might think no real adjustment would be necessary). Would I revel in the utter freedom? Would I be crippled by loneliness and longing? I hoped that neither extreme would be true.

When I was single, I made many declarations, whether internally or externally, about not being that girl. You know, that girl who:
a) focuses on her new, romantic relationship and lets other connections slide
b) needs reassurance
c) falls apart over non-relationship stuff in front of boyfriend, becoming a teary mess
d) initiates conversations about the future
e) misses said boyfriend during the week when work keeps them apart
f) misses said boyfriend when they spend a few days apart for holidays or weekends
g) enters conversations with "we" and "us" instead of just "I" or "me"

I'm discovering, though, that it's human and necessary to be that girl, Cosmo advice (which is admittedly crap! anti-feminist, anti-man, anti-happiness, anti-healthy adult relationship crap!) be damned.

Building a relationship, as I'm arguing in my analysis of Jenny Crusie's novel Agnes and the Hitman, is akin to building an elaborate, multi-tiered cake. Foundation and embellishment. Sturdiness and frills. Not everything is attractive or delicious (have you seen the supports they add to the insides of these cakes?) at all times. It takes work. Acts of love. A willingness to get messy. To play around.

To make it up as you go.

It's Saturday night. I'm filling the silence with music, Layer Cake shiraz, and homemade pizza.

I wish G was here to share with me. To fill the silence with his hilarious stories, his laugh. To enjoy the meal, the wine.

But, I'm also glad that he's with friends.

I'm glad that I've found someone who believes, like I do, the relationship math where one + one = three. This weekend, we're living our ones. And there will be more weekends, more times when I'll be the one to leave him here, alone. Work conferences and classes beckon to distant locales...St. Louis, Paris.

What a comfort to come home to that happy three, the space that expands when our ones add up to something more than two.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Thursday, January 28, 2010

daily bliss: healthy mac and cheese

Feeling sleepy but relatively chipper, I decided to make a veggie laden mac and cheese for dinner. Though mac and cheese is my staple comfort food, I didn't feel in the need of culinary soothing tonight. I just craved something cheesey and veggietastic.

I sauteed leek, garlic, red chard. I added broccoli florets and stalks, roasted red and yellow peppers. I cooked whole wheat pasta. I made a cheese sauce: melt a dab of butter and stir in flour to make a roux. Add skim milk, coarse pepper and salt, reduced fat mexican melting cheeses, 10 year aged cheddar, and bellavitano (a fruity parmesan style produced in Wisconsin). Mix all the ingredients together, pour into a buttered casserole (le creuset!) and top with buttered panko. Bake. Pour a small glass of Layer Cake Shiraz.

The dish tasted delicious, both decadent and healthy all at once.

The only problem is that in this case, it seemed to cause the blueseyness that it usually cures.

Suddenly, the cold, dry, winter air seemed interminable and unbearable. The noise of sitcoms I usually find humorous grated on my nerves. Sudoku puzzles, my latest interest, seemed ridiculous, annoying, and pointless. I turned off the TV and the silence reverberated, filled with my own thoughts, which quickly turned into a series of unfounded worries, since, to quote Holden Caulfield, "When I really worry about something, I don't just fool around" (rest in peace, Salinger, literary man of mystery).

I'm tired, after my first week back of teaching after break. Next week I'm hosting a campus wide event *and* leading a workshop on writing your own love stories. Projects, small and large, loom over me. The coldest air of the year is parked here for a few days. I have a stack of student essays to grade, an article to write.

I really want to curl up in front of a fireplace (which I don't have) with a 500 page novel and leave the world for a little while.

Such is winter.

And so, I seek solace in laughter, in conversation. In an earlyish bedtime and sweet dreams. The promise that tomorrow will start a happier day.

Goodnight, my friends.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

daily bliss: one mile

at five miles per hour.

a full twelve minutes.

on the treadmill.



Tuesday, January 26, 2010

daily bliss: cinnamon scented coffee

Someone, somewhere, sometime told me that they add cinnamon to coffee grounds, creating a delicious brew without the artificial notes that perfume flavored beans.

Last week I finally tried this trick, and fell in love. The mingled scents of cinnamon and coffee wafted through the house, promising a luxurious brew. Today I used my French press for a particularly decadent caffeine fix.

This is the perfect winter beverage—warmth from the spice, energy from the caffeine, and an extra dose of kindness on cold, dreary days.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Sunday, January 24, 2010

daily bliss: sunday breakfast

Dip homemade milk loaf in a mixture of egg, milk, cinnamon, brown sugar, vanilla, and bourbon. Cook in skillet filmed with butter until crisp.

Meanwhile, combine frozen local peaches, sugar, vanilla bean, and butter in a saucepan. Cook until peaches are thawed, and sauce thickens.

Toast pecan pieces.

Warm local maple syrup (if, like me, you eschew a microwave, you can place the little pitcher atop your coffeemaker and the escaping steam will gently warm the syrup).

Enjoy, while looking at a wet, grey day of snowmelt and watching ESPN game day preview (laughing at the goofy graphics and hokey interviews since this channel is still a strange, new land).

Taste summer. Taste luxury. Taste love.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

daily bliss: a saturday

morning: wind grey mist
food and coffee: afternoon
evening: dreams future

Friday, January 22, 2010

daily bliss: homemade bread

Nothing smells as comforting as homemade bread baking.

Nothing tastes as satisfying as a loaf made by hand.

(thanks to nancy for introducing me to dan lepard's milk loaf. my loaf is nowhere nearly as beautiful as hers, and i really need a kitchen scale to make this quickly and expertly, but this bread is absolutely delicious.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

daily bliss: simplicity

The past few days have contained varying emotions and moods: wracked nerves and unstoppable tears before my third year review; confidence and relief after a successful review; giddiness and comfort in recounting my review to G; joy and accomplishment upon receiving the news that my retention vote was a unanimous yes; sleepiness and lethargy after a morning back-to-school meeting; lack of inspiration for any kind of creative work, whether writing, dinner making, or syllabus creating.

Twice this week I've chosen to cook utterly simple dishes, with few flourishes. And, these have been my favorite meals of the week:

* Thick red lentil soup with carrots, tuscan kale, and roasted chickpeas, topped with a drizzle of olive oil, and scented with bay leaf

* Roasted sweet potatoes, yukon gold potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic, and chickpeas seasoned with olive oil, black pepper, and salt served on a bed of red-pepper flake and garlic sauteed tuscan kale, finished with a skiff of bellavitano cheese

Both meals were accompanied by a glass of Jargon pinot noir. Both meals were absolutely delicious. (this may be because of my seeming addiction to tuscan kale and roasted chickpeas).

This time of year, winter begins to feel interminable. Winter foods begin to lose their appeal. The desire to hunker down with endless sugar and carbs and junky TV can be indefatigable. And yet, somehow, I refuse to give in. My moods may rise and fall, my emotions may seem anything but steady, but I will not be defeated by...weather.

I fight against the seasonal tugs and take refuge in sustainable simplicity. Bliss.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

daily bliss: relief

I have a more in-depth post about today, but I'm too tired to write it tonight...

Instead, I offer you a self-portrait of me as Dr. J, glasses in hand, after a successful third year review (the half-way point on the tenure track).

Bon nuit!

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

twd: chocolate oatmeal addictive almost candy bars

Warning: Do not bake these bars if you are simultaneously trying to re-establish fitness and healthy eating AND suffering from carb craving brought on by seasonal affective disorder.

To me, this week, these bars are insanely delicious. I made a few additions: I used pecans, and toasted them before tossing them into the cookie crust and creamy filling. I used dried cherries in the filling. And, I added toasted coconut to the filling as well. Over-the-top decadence.

This lone bar, long gone, was my last taste. The rest of the bars are packaged up in the freezer, ready to be mailed to far-flung friends for belated holiday gifts.

Thank you, Lillian, of Confectiona's Realm, for selecting this wonderful recipe. I enjoyed baking with you this week!

Monday, January 18, 2010

daily bliss: discipline and epicurianism

chicago half marathon, october 2006

One of my nascent resolutions or goals for 2010 was to eat vegan one day a week. Already vegetarian, I figured this would be an interesting experiment in dietary discipline. I read delicious vegan recipes on friends' blogs. I started psyching myself up for giving up my twice-daily cafe au lait. I purchased my first vegan cookbook, Veganomicon.

I read the cookbook. I admired some simple, delicious recipes. I considered vegan accoutrements.

And then.

I looked at Earth Balance spread at the grocery store. I considered common vegan protein sources (seitan, tvp, tempeh).

I balked.

My desire to eat whole foods, unprocessed foods, natural pure close to nature foods trumped my vegan aspirations.

Plenty of delicious vegan meals do not require such processed goods–vegetable soups, bean and grain dishes, salads, etc. And I will continue to eat these meals, both mindfully and spontaneously, much as I do now.

As my resolution wavered, I thought about my motivation for the Vegan project. I did not have a clear reason other than as a form of discipline. When I became vegetarian twelve years ago, I had a clearer reason—a growing dislike of cooking meat. But veganism as discipline? This reminded me of my relatively recent foray into...running.

Running was a way to deal with heartbreak. Running challenged me to push myself farther. With each mile, I became stronger and more confident. With each mile, my body became leaner. When I started adding miles to my long runs, I realized that my body was sensitive. Spicy tofu stir-fry the night before a run longer than five miles meant indigestion. My days revolved around my runs—when they would be and what and when I would eat. I became picky. A simple dinner invitation suddenly meant shifts in schedules. And, I pared down the treats I ate.

And pounds disappeared.

My heart began to heal.

I kept running. I went shopping for new clothes. I ate pure, wholesome.

I was disciplined.

I disliked my job. I reveled in my personal development time and the downtick of the scale.

Discipline. Power.


And then, I landed the job I had been looking for some five years.

I tried to keep up with my disciplined running and eating.

But life really started happening.

These sconnies, with their exquisite cheeses, their clean refreshing beers.

My job, with its demands on my time.

My desire to excel.

I worked. I cooked. I baked. I socialized. I exercised.

I gained weight.

I joined a baking blogger group and baked more.

I reveled in an array of delicious, local, real pure honest foods.

My heart healed. And reached out again, this time whole. This time knowing the risks. Guarded at first, but receptive. Then open. And my whole world shifted.

I enjoyed a happiness so deep I forgot to eat whole meals.

I became more adventuresome in the kitchen.

I struggled into my old skinny jeans until I couldn't any more.

I concocted a vegan plan as a way to include more discipline into my life.

And abandoned said plan.


Instead, I'm taking each day as it comes.

I try to eat whole foods when I'm hungry to nourish my body.

I incorporate pleasant activities into each day to regain physical strength and toning.

I make time for relationships, old, and particularly new, to nourish my soul.

I write and photo daily to nourish my mind.

I cook everyday, and try to share as many meals as possible, to nourish all of me.

To be an epicure.

To live a simple life, full of pleasures.

kavarna coffeehouse, january 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010

daily bliss: blue

Sometimes it comes out of nowhere

Sometimes it rises unbidden

I close my eyes so tears won't spill but they trickle out anyway

Silence overwhelms

I long to hear my mom's voice, my best friend's laugh, G's jokes to make me smile instead of my own tangle of thoughts

I take refuge in rituals:
cleaning the kitchen, automatic cycle of unloading, storing, loading, washing, drying
showering with lavender dr. bronner's soap and hot, hot water
brewing a cup of margaret's hope tea in a too big mug
folding back the sheets and turning on classical music on npr
mentally plotting my monday to-do list
writing a few too honest words here and there
reading something, anything
curling into the center of my bed, amidst too many pillows...sleep.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

daily bliss: 100 things i love

In her awesome writing advice book, The Right to Write, Julia Cameron includes the following writing activity: "List one hundred things that you, personally, love" (43).

Sitting in our new favorite local-ish coffeehouse, Kavarna, G and I spent 30 minutes writing down our lists, then swapped and wrote comments on the other's list. Fun.

A few items from my list...

1. lilacs
7. samuel barber's "adagio for strings"
11. cashmere sweaters
17. a certain pair of hazel eyes
28. bare feet and pink toenails
32. epiphanies!
48. serendipitous encounters
59. heart to heart talks with my mom
68. peonies
74. cooking for loved ones
86. myself—most of the time
92. aprons
97. one perfect moment
98. beauty
99. truth
100. love

Friday, January 15, 2010

daily bliss: panko

Panko! A fun word to say! A crispy, flaky addition to a delicious winter greens gratin! New culinary territory!

Panko is a Japanese style bread crumb that is apparently specially processed to achieve maximum flakiness. Mixed with a little melted butter, these make a super crispy, faux-fried topping.

Anyone have any ideas for other uses of panko? I'm threatening to try panko crusted tofu cutlets (and thoroughly scaring G).

Thursday, January 14, 2010

daily bliss: whole foods

I know Whole Foods isn't perfect. I know local co-ops are better (for the local economy, for including local foods, etc.). But, to cut down on driving around a city I'm still learning, today I opted to shop at Whole Foods.

You know what they say about kids and candy shops?

Yeah. I go to a Whole Foods/Co-op about four times a year. It's *exciting.*

organic garnet yams (2)
organic yukon gold potatoes (6)
organic red bibb lettuce (1)
organic red pears (3)
organic lacinato/tuscan/black kale (3)
vosges barcelona bar
country dairy whole milk
king arthur unbleached white flour (cheaper than my regular grocery store!)
nature's gate toothpaste
seventh generation fragrance free dish soap
seventh generation fragrance free fabric softener
seventh generation unbleached paper towels

happy dharmagirl:)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

daily bliss: the sound of...

friends laughing

coffee brewing

humidifier misting

blackberry alert dinging

northern exposure theme music playing

ujjayi breathing

my heart racing

bon iver playing

tea kettle whistling

one hand clapping

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

daily bliss: winter poetry

A certain slant of light...

Winter afternoons...

A mind of winter...

(with thanks to Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens)

Monday, January 11, 2010

daily bliss: fava tea

One of the most difficult days of my life was the day my family left me in Auburn, Alabama.

It's not like they abandoned me. I chose to move there for school—doctoral work in English Literature. We drove the 900 miles in caravan, my worldly belongings fitting into the back of the Suburban pulling a medium U-Haul trailer and my purple chevy cavalier. They stayed a few days, helping me navigate my new life, setting up my cinder-block wall grad school apartment. And then they left. We were all teary eyed. The sight of their grey vehicle pulling away seemed the end of the world.

I went inside my hot apartment (September in Alabama is akin to, well, no month in Wisconsin!), pulled out my journal, turned on NPR, and made a cup of tea. I wrote. I listed to Kiri Te Kanawa sing my favorite aria, "O Mio Babbino Caro." And, I sipped the steaming darjeeling.

The tea worked its magic, and I was momentarily centered.

While I've waxed poetic before about the joys of coffee, I love tea. Tea parties, sweet tea, iced tea, hot tea. Nearly every night I drink part of a mug before drifting to sleep. Tea comforts and soothes in a way that coffee just can't.

Last Spring my friend A mentioned a tea shop in Appleton, and I filed the information away into a corner of my mind. Before our epic Christmas shopping trip last month, I did a little research and discovered Fava Tea Company, which, according to their website, carries over 300 different types and varieties of tea! G and I added it to our list of stops for the day.

As the shopping began to take its toll, and some of us started becoming a little unhinged (me), we headed towards Fava. We stepped into the busy shop, and somehow all that tea began to work its magic again. I felt reassured and soothed.

This past weekend we visited again, and I fell even more in love with the place.

The shop layout is striking and simple. Shelves on all walls hold large silver canisters with the tea name, origin, and price displayed on the front. Small tables located by each section—black, green, white, non-caffeinated, red, other—hold little sample jars of the tea. You select a tea menu, write down how many ounces you want of each one, hand it to one of the helpful Fava employees, and wait for them to expertly fill your order.

Fava Tea also stocks tea pots and tea accessories, which we browsed while waiting for our order to be filled. From gorgeous Mikasa porcelain pots to squat, cheery bee house tea pots to German brewing baskets, Fava offers quality accoutrements. Samples of brewed tea are available. They offer a membership so they can keep your favorite tea selections in their database, and after spending a certain amount of money, you receive discounts on future tea purchases. Genius!

We waited about twenty minutes for our order to be filled on both occasions, but didn't mind the wait. The employees are happy, knowledgeable, friendly, and are clearly enjoying their work.

When I lived in Alabama, my friends and I would visit a fancy tea shop in one of the malls. This store, part of a national chain, featured an aggressive and elitist staff that would cajole customers into purchasing fancy teas. I fell victim to their charm and purchased a tea that I didn't actually like once I brought it home. I was put off by the shop.

Fava, on the other hand, delivers a perfect moment of tranquility and zen. It is all that a tea shop should be. Soothing. Comforting. Home.

I can't wait to return and explore more teas...

Sunday, January 10, 2010

daily bliss: french press coffee

Grind Alterra Cafe Votaire beans.

Dump into new french press pot.

Add steaming water.


Wait. (froth milk, add sugar, find mugs)




Add hot milk.


Savor. (rich bold complex creamy)


Luxuriate in a sunny Sunday.

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Friday, January 08, 2010

daily bliss: confrontation

Anyone who knows me well knows that I hate confrontation.

After I moved back to the Midwest from a seven year sojourn in the South, I realized I would need some serious coping strategies for, oh, a good five months of the year.

Passive-aggressiveness doesn't work with Winter.

Denial doesn't work.

Avoidance doesn't work.

Confrontation works...sometimes.

Somedays, the only way to escape the greyness pressing into the remote corners of the mindheartsoul, is to go out into the greyness.

And then, to discover a shaft of sunshine.

To make a shadow.

Somedays that's enough.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

daily bliss: vegetable pot pie

"What are you making for dinner?" my friend A asks as our conversation draws to a close.

"Vegetable pot pie!"

"Have you ever used tamarind? We just discovered it and are putting it into all kinds of dishes!"

"Um, I'm making pot pie, not pad thai," I laugh, stirring the caramelizing veggies a bit more and chatting a few more minutes before setting down my pinkberry (affectionate name for my newish pink-be-skinned blackberry).

I had super intentions of giving you all a real recipe. I searched the interwebs. I compared recipes. I wrote down my own adaptation.

And then I left my notebook on the couch, took off for the kitchen and started my usual process of improvisation.

What you'll find here is a rough approximation of what I did. And what I did was...delicious. Just the hearty, flavorful comfort food I needed on a snowy day full of January blahs.

Vegetable Pot Pie
olive oil
2 small carrots, cut into small chunks
1 yukon gold potato, small dice
1 sweet potato, small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/3 red onion, chopped
1/2 bunch swiss chard, chopped
2 tsp minced fresh rosemary and sage
3 cups veggie stock (or a mix of stock + water + wine)
1 TBS butter
2 TBS flour
milk (enough to make a thick roux)

biscuit topping:
(adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

2 c cake flour
1 tsp salt
1 TBS baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
freshly ground coarse black pepper
minced fresh rosemary to taste
4 TBS cold butter
7/8 c buttermilk or yogurt or both

mix dry ingredients. cut in butter with your hands until the mixture is pebbly. add the liquid, and mix until just combined. the dough will be very sticky. gather into a ball, then gently knead 1o times. pat out into a 3/4 inch thick rectangle. cut into rounds.


preheat oven to 400 degrees.

saute vegetables in olive oil until just browned. place in prepared (buttered) casserole dish.

heat veggie stock.

make a roux with butter, flour, and milk. add veggie stock. cook until reduced and thickened. pour over vegetables. place in oven. bake until sauce is bubbly and veggies are tender, about 30-45 minutes.

place as many biscuits as will fit on the tender, bubbly veggies. bake for 15-20 minutes until tops are golden brown and edges/bottoms aren't doughy.

enjoy with a glass of pinot noir.

daily bliss: possibility

I've been letting my mind wander, searching for a word to fit this new year.

Last year, I developed this daily bliss feature as a way to cultivate gratitude for those moments tiny and big that beg for grateful recognition.

This year, the word that keeps flitting in my mind is possibility.

Last year brought so many changes and so much new goodness into my life. I'm still working on integrating these changes, cultivating the goodness, transforming the possibilities. What an exciting, amazing time!

What I most like about possibility is the sense of openness, of ever-expansiveness. While I seek contentment and calm, I do not want to become complacent or settled to the point of stagnation. I want life to always hold open to me wonder...and more.

I think Miss Emily captures this best:


I dwell in Possibility--
A fairer House than Prose--
More numerous of Windows--
Superior--for Doors--

Of Chambers as the Cedars--
Impregnable of Eye--
And for an Everlasting Roof
The Gambrels of the Sky--

Of Visitors--the fairest--
For Occupation--This--
The spreading wide my narrow Hands
To gather Paradise--

Happy 2010, everyone.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

daily bliss: banana bread

Today felt like my first real day of vacation...between end of the semester grading, holiday traveling, visiting with friends and family, prepping for a little new year's gathering, and preparing my third year pre-tenure review folder, I didn't have much time to be lazy.

And so, this morning, I lingered in bed in my new soft, warm German flannel sheets. I ate a leisurely breakfast. I watched The Gilmore Girls. I went to the gym, where I walked on the indoor track for fifty minutes whilst listening to podcasts of The Splendid Table. I braved the grocery store on double coupon/senior citizen day. I sifted through cookbooks. I read short stories. I made pumpkin ravioli.

And, I made banana bread. I haven't made this former staple in ages, partly because in my quest to eat local foods, I eschew buying tropical fruits most of the time. But banana bread beckoned. I looked around the blogosphere for recipes, and found Heidi's post at 101 Cookbooks. I decided to adopt the banana caramelizing technique she writes about, but to use my favorite recipe, from my friend H. She found it in the Best Recipe Cookbook published by the Cook's Illustrated folks. I've made a few alterations in the name of health and increased flavor, which I've included in the recipe below.

Banana Bread
adapted from The Best Recipes Cookbook

1 c. unbleached all purpose flour
1 c. whole wheat flour
1/2 c. brown sugar
1/4 c. natural cane sugar
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/4 c. toasted walnuts, chopped coarsely
3 very ripe bananas, caramelized in the oven (bake at 325 for 12 minutes, until very dark and bubbling), then mashed
1/4 c. plain Greek yogurt
2 large eggs, beaten lightly
3 TBS melted butter
3 TBS canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare loaf pan (butter + flour) or line a muffin tin with papers.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, salt, and nuts in a large bowl.

Mix mashed bananas, yogurt, eggs, butter, oil, and vanilla in a medium bowl.

Lightly fold wet ingredients into dry until just combined. The batter will look thick and chunky. Scrape batter into prepared pan.

Bake until golden brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about 50-55 minutes for the loaf and 15-20 minutes for muffins.

Cool in pan 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack. Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

twd: cocoa-buttermilk cupcakes with malted chocolate frosting

Happy Birthday to TWD! While I haven't been a member from the beginning, and while I've missed my share of recipes, I am a proud to be part of this baking blogging group. I've met many inspired and inspiring bloggers who are passionate about baking, and generous in sharing their experiences online.

To celebrate this special anniversary, TWD members voted on recipes. Tarte Tatin was the winner, with the cocoa buttermilk cake a close runner up. Laurie, our spirited leader, allowed us to choose from either recipe. After a caramel fail on Christmas Eve (using the caramel recipe from Dorie's Tarte Tatin), I was not eager to try again. Caramel is my Waterloo...

I decided to make 12 cupcakes. One half of the cake recipe made a perfect dozen standard sized cupcakes. And, I roughly halved the frosting recipe, which was more than enough frosting for the cupcakes, the freezer, a graham cracker, and my fingers. Mmmmm.

A few interesting notes about my baking adventures: While I set the butter out to soften, I forgot that Wisconsin kitchens in January (or January kitchens in Wisconsin) are just chilly. My butter never quite blended well into the cake batter, despite my best efforts at creaming, and little butter bits remained un-emulsified in the batter. This made for interesting spots of runny goodness in the finished cupcakes.

When I made the frosting today, I discovered that my Carnation Malted Milk Powder, purchased for those delightful chocolate whopper cookies in the fall 2008 baking rotation, had a best by date of September 09. A little research on the internets showed me that my King Arthur non-diastic malt powder, purchased for bagel making and stowed in my freezer, would be a fine substitute. Hooray! Several bakers noted that the brown sugar in the recipe made the frosting grainy. I used some of my favorite Florida organic cane sugar instead, which was still a little grainy. However, because I like the soft malted creaminess of the frosting so much, I don't mind the graininess this time. Next time I'll omit the sugar altogether.

These cupcakes are delightful, simple, and delicious. Everything a cupcake should be.

Here's to another fabulous year with my favorite baking friends:)

Monday, January 04, 2010

daily bliss: new year's simplicity

What to make for supper on a cold, lazy New Year's Day, when one is resting from revelry?

Beans, greens, and cornbread, of course. This Southern tradition of eating greens—symbolizing money—beans—which swell when cooking, symbolizing prosperity—and cornbread—symbolizing, um, deliciousness is well documented. If wikipedia is to be believed, and I'm not sure it is, these foods link back to early Jewish settlers in Georgia, and their tradition links back to the Talmud, and celebrations of Rosh Hashana.

Regardless, this meal delights with utter simplicity, heartiness, and nutritiousness after indulgent holiday excesses.

I used Mark Bittman's recipe for Hoppin' John, a simple preparation of black eyed peas with white rice, a little onion and garlic, seasoned with bay leaves and a shot of tabasco (or sriracha) at the end. Sauteed lacinato (or black or tuscan—it's the kale of many names!) kale, and cornbread (all be-flecked with flax seed meal as i was out of eggs, so i used the handy flax seed meal + water egg replacer trick) rounded out the meal. A perfect glass of Rombauer Zinfandel, left over from New Year's Eve revelry elevated our peasant food to a meal fit for royalty.

G indulged my veggie-foodie rant about the wholesomeness, simplicity, and frugality of such meals. Not a vegetarian, G is an adventurous/adventuresome eater who has encountered many a strange food in the last seven months. (he was a good sport for the scary looking and so-so tasting roasted cauliflower and broccoli soup i concocted Sunday night, even pulling an Oliver Twist impression, "please, madam, may i have some more?"). I delight in sharing old favorites, food traditions, and new finds (minus the aforementioned weird soup) with him, as I trust he will give the food a chance, and also provide me with a fair critique of the meal.

The New Year's Day feast was a success, filling our tummies and bringing us hope for the year to come. The dessert of molten chocolate babycakes and eggnog ice cream was a delicious and decadent counterpoint to the utter simplicity of the main meal, a sweet ending to a new beginning.

Sunday, January 03, 2010

daily bliss: tears and laughter

Laughter bubbles, floats, roars, builds, and effervesces. It's easy.

Tears trickle, stream, pour, streak, leak, gush. They too are easy.

And yet. It's always been difficult to share both laughter and tears, to be fully me—the sensitive, feeling, emotional self that cares so much, often too much...

And so. I tried to fight back the tears, to drown them in laughter. To stay breezy and light.

Until a few years ago, when I realized that shuttering those emotions, keeping them only to myself and a very few trusted souls, was keeping me from living at true capacity.

Not that I wanted to cry openly and often with anyone—that wasn't my goal. Rather, I wanted to be as emotionally authentic as possible given the context. To trust that others could handle me. To trust that I could handle me.

And so. The laughter comes and goes. The tears trickle and flow.

Living an authentic, messy, emotional life isn't easy, or for the faint of heart. It requires me to be vulnerable. To treasure those special people who are there for both the tears and laughter.

And to let them be there, with me. Mascara streaked, red-eyed, anxious me. Goofy, giggly, dorky me. Me.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

daily bliss: vegetarian coffeehouse

A frigid January morning. A long winter weekend. Cabin Fever threatens to descend if we stay home all day, and so we head north, in search of a bookstore, Target, and a nifty place to eat lunch and do some work—blogging for G and pre-tenure dossier for me.

I suggest Kavarna, a vegetarian coffeehouse my friends have told me about. We drive, stop at gourmet cheese and wine shops, Target, before hunger leads us to the coffeehouse.

Most people can peruse a restaurant menu and choose from all offerings. Not me. Anytime I go to a new restaurant, my eyes dart to the vegetarian possibilities, often only an entree or two, a few salads, or side dishes. Imagine my glee at a restaurant where everything on the menu is a possibility! How to choose when everything is a choice, almost equally delicious and gloriously meat free?

We claim a table and select our meals: southwest wrap for G, and a falafel wrap for me. The wraps arrive, toasted crispy on the outside, and stuffed with deliciousness within. G eats spoonfuls of strawberry banana wheatgrass smoothie, and I fill my mug—endless refills!—with Alterra coffee.

For the next three hours, we eat and work, soaking up the cool coffeehouse vibe. With a high tin ceiling, hardwood floor, and local handmade art lining the walls, the space welcomes you to settle in and stay. A bookcase filled with board games promises hours of friendly competition.

As I work on my dossier—an intensely detailed (and rather repetitive) document due on Tuesday (and the cause of much stress), I sip coffee and relax to the eclectic music—from Carole King to the Smiths.

I can't wait for my next visit, to sample another selection on the menu!

Friday, January 01, 2010

daily bliss: revelry

Saying goodbye to 2009, a year to remember...

My first NYE in Wisconsin...

An intimate soiree—G and I, B and S...

Mini top-your own pizzas...

Spicy roasted nuts, marinated olives, roasted chickpeas...

Micro-brews from MI and WI...

Wine from New Zealand, California, and Michigan...

Assorted board games—taboo, apples to apples, guesstures...

Smiles, laughter, and plenty of bliss.

Happy New Year, everyone:) Thanks for reading bliss!