Icing on your nose

It is crazy to look back and see how fast time flies!  This past Tuesday, my cousin, Courtney, celebrated her 18th birthday. To think that she will be going off to college in the Fall, I am truly at a loss for words.

Courtney

I am incredibly proud of who Courtney has become; not only is she a funny and intelligent individual, but she is a genuinely kind-hearted person as well.  I cannot believe that I can sit with her and converse with her like an adult when it feels like just yesterday that she was a toddler, that she had found herself climbing atop of a treadmill, and after I lifted her off of it, she bit me.

Needless to say, I wanted to bake my cousin something extremely special for her birthday; I wanted to combine two of her favorite desserts: cannolis and brownies.

IMG_1495 I had researched a recipe for a cannoli cheesecake and quickly decided to add a nutella brownie bottom.  The result?  Well, seeing as it was a no-bake cheesecake, it did not come out as planned.  In fact, it was more of a whipped cannoli cream pie on top of nutella brownies.  Courtney did not seem to mind though!  I am glad that Courtney enjoyed both her birthday, as well as her cannoli, brownie pie.  Although I still cannot believe that Courtney is now an adult, I know that some things will never change, such as one very important life lesson: when you are presented with a birthday cake, you must smear off your name and put the frosting on your nose (always). 

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Easter Sunday Kitchen Custody

What do you get when you mix three Italians, preparing three different meals and one kitchen?

World War III 

Okay, maybe it’s not that drastic, but it isn’t pretty!

This weekend, we had a Saturday and Sunday full of familia festivities.  Despite my mom purchasing desserts of her own, I was determined to contribute to our Easter Sunday gathering.  I cannot cook to save my life. I can barely microwave a steam-able bag of vegetables without burning them; therefore, baking is my go-to.  Baking for others is important to me, and I was excited to share this with my family.  However, trying to reserve time in the kitchen while my mom and grandma were preparing their Easter dishes proved challenging.

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On Saturday, my brother and sister-in-law visited with Peanut. Although I wasn’t baking for their visit, trying to bake while Peanut napped proved to be an interesting feat.  My lemon bars were easy enough to prepare, but the real challenge was my caramel stuffed cookie bars.  When it comes to our oven, baking can be a little tricky.  If I try to bake cookies at 350 degrees, within six minutes the bottoms burn and the middle is left raw.  Anytime I bake, I have to reduce the heat and cook it for longer.  Heading into this recipe, I knew a thirty minute cookie bar wasn’t going to be a thirty minute cookie bar.  My reserved time slot in the kitchen was ending, and I felt bad that I was missing out on Peanut time.  Hoping for the best, I removed the caramel bars from the oven.

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Unfortunately, as good as the caramel bars looked, upon cutting them, the entire top-half came pouring out.  Frustrated is only one of the emotions I was feeling, but I wasn’t going to give up, especially with Easter just a day away.  There was only one problem: I was completely out of caramel (and there was no way I was running out to the grocery store the day before Easter)!

Early Sunday afternoon, I made sure to reserve my spot in the kitchen.  My mom and I came to an agreement: if I was going to bake another dessert for Easter, I needed to be out of the kitchen by 2pm.  Walking into this challenge, I figured I would make a chocolate chip cookie cake: it was quick, simple and I had all of the ingredients.  But then, I had an idea! Maybe I couldn’t stuff my cookie bars with caramel, but I could stuff it with cheesecake!

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I had never made cheesecake cookie bars before, and with time against me, I did not want to make the same mistakes as the caramel bars.  As the clock continued to tick, my anxiety grew as I removed the cookie bars from the oven and found the middle still jiggly.  The only thing I could hope for was that it would settle after chilling.

A few hours of chilling and a very messy cutting session later, the cheesecake cookie bars were ready to serve (and they were edible)!  All of the stress was completely worth it.  I have never had the chance to contribute to any holiday meals; being able to be apart of our Easter preparations, even if it was just for dessert, truly meant a lot to me.  Perhaps I’m one step closer to hosting a holiday of my own.  Almost. Maybe? One day! 

Aw, nuts

They say it’s your birthday!

Well, no – not my birthday but it was my dad’s birthday!

Dad and baby Watson

(Aw, look at baby Watson)

But yes, before we head into Easter egg nation, we needed to celebrate my padre’s birthday.  My dad is an easy going guy, who has taught me everything I need to know about the Beatles.  However, when it comes to gifts, he can be just as difficult as it is easy to purchase for.  If you ask him what he wants, he says, “nothing, save your money!”  Naturally, we default to the usual Beatles t-shirts, Miami Dolphins paraphernalia or a gag gift of sorts.  This year, I wanted to do something different.

My dad is one of my many faithful taste-testers, often going for seconds or thirds and I am forced to chase him away with my spatula.  More often than naught, he finds himself frustrated that I give all my treats away.

I can’t have any of these?” is a question I normally hear every time I am baking.

For his birthday, I wanted my dad to have a baked treat of his very own.  His request, after much deliberation, was a chocolate and banana walnut bundt cake.

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Sounds easy enough, right?  That’s what I thought as well; however, after following each step of the recipe, there was just one little problem: the cake would not come out of the pan!

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According to my dad, the cake tasted great; the banana and chocolate flavors mixed quite nicely, and the cake was soft and moist.  Maybe too moist, as crumbs desperately clung to the metal bundt pan.  After much confusion, my mom had a possible theory: perhaps the chopped walnuts stuck to the pan.

When it comes to certain recipes, such as crumbles or cakes, it is often said that you need to flour your toppings before adding them to the recipe (to prevent them from sinking).  I seemed to have forgotten this helpful hint.  Luckily, my dad isn’t too picky.  Knowing him, this will be a great excuse for him to dig into his cake spoon first (with a heaping scoop of ice cream on top).

Happy Birthday Dad!

Kiss me, I’m Sicilian.

This weekend, while many were heading out in shades of green and shamrocks, my grandmother was steaming her artichokes.  Happily established in her new apartment (that was built onto the second floor of our home), my grandmother, wrapped cozily in her purple bathrobe, bustled throughout her small kitchen and tended to her teal saucepan, with only a few intrusions of her sleeve.

When I describe my grandmother to others, they often believe I’m describing a character from a novel, performing said descriptions with an exaggerated New York accent.  She has certainly coined a few hilarious (yet wise) Nanny-isms.  Being the matriarch of a family is no easy task, and my grandmother is surely an Italian force to be reckoned with.  There are several qualities in her that I admire (and dare I admit, similarities between us as well):

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We’re both independent (and stubborn as hell):  One of the reasons my grandmother and I probably bump heads so much is that we’re cut from the same cloth.  Despite our differing styles and beliefs, we’re not afraid to be our own person.  Something I do admire in my grandmother is that she’s not afraid to go after what she wants.  While I tend to step back and accept what has been dealt to me, my grandmother isn’t afraid to stand up for herself and speak her mind.

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We’re both daydreamers:  As a fan of all things Turner Classic movies, my grandmother will describe several outings and adventures that she wishes we can take part in; however, these outings often sound like a scene from a movie.  As far-fetched as some of her ideas may seem, I recognize the same meanderings of the mind within myself.  My mind is constantly moving, constantly dreaming, most likely in an unrealistic fashion; still, I love our ability to dream and hope.

Nanny and Me

She’s generous: The number one thing I admire the most about my grandmother is her willingness to always help her family.  Whether it was when we were young children or even now as adults, she never stops worrying and never stops caring (even if that means waiting up until 11pm for me to come home. Yes, at 27 years old, that is late for me!).

Seeing as this past Sunday was Saint Joseph’s Day, and we were celebrating with a lounge around the house, I knew I wanted to prepare something special for my grandma.  Another similarity between my grandmother and I is our need to feed people, to make others happy through our cooking/baking and to bring others together through our meals.  While she was gifted with the culinary talent, I stuck to my baking roots (because I can’t even cook vegetables in the microwave without burning them) and prepared her favorite dessert: Zeppole di San Guiseppe.

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Unable to fry zeppoles in my kitchen, I was unsure of how well these pastries would bake.  The recipe itself was simple enough to follow, but every step was met with bated breath.  As I removed the pastries from the oven (on my second attempt), I was relieved to see a light and fluffy puff before me.  The dough had baked with a slightly eggy consistency, but I felt more confident after hollowing out the pastry.

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The next step would be executing the cannoli cream; every Italian understands the importance of a perfect cannoli cream, so the pressure was on!  Although I forgot to strain the ricotta cheese, I was pleased with the way the cannoli cream turned out.  It was smooth and rich, and the cinnamon gave it a nice (but subtle) kick.

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After a quick assembly and a dash of powdered sugar, these pastries were good to go!  My grandmother has done so much for me over the years, more than I can ever hope to repay her for; if one small thing I could do was bake her favorite dessert on Saint Joseph’s Day, then I was happy to oblige.

There’s No Place Like Home

This past week, a coworker invited me to a wellness retreat that was set to take place at Sands Point Preserve.  Knowing that I practice yoga, I thought it was very kind of her to tell me about the retreat. The retreats were designed to enhance our health by improving self-knowledge and self care.  Seeing as outside thoughts and emotions have been creeping into my yoga practice lately, I thought that a wellness reset at a new and neutral location would be beneficial.

Plus, it gave me something to write about this week. (Do it for the blog!)

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Pulling up to the preserve, which looked like something out of the Great Gatsby, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Once we began, the day flowed smoothly: we practiced light yoga (using our chair as a modifier), we were led through a guided meditation (which was quite interesting; I have never done savasana under a blanket and with a bolster before!), we completed a quick journal exercise, and we finished our day with a discussion on “spring vitality.” This is how I would rate the day:

Retreat PROS:

  • One of the things that I really enjoyed about the retreat was our quick discussion of Ayurveda (the belief that health and wellness depend on a balance between the mind, body and spirit). Remembering my friend Steph mention this at the studio, I was eager to learn more.  During our journal session, the instructor had us breakdown the different elements (earth, water, fire, air and space) and where we felt we landed within them.  The instructor explained that this wasn’t for judgement, but to be used as a tool to build and strengthen our yoga practice.
  • There was one thing the instructor said that really stuck with me: we often surround ourselves with statements of “I’m trying to…” and by doing this, we surround ourselves with “trying” energy.  By using declarative statements, such as “I am a baker” or “I am a photographer,” we can change the energy that surrounds us.
  • The coffee was delightful.

Retreat CONS:

  • I wish I had learned more.  I felt that the Ayurveda discussion was cut much too short.  Instead of the “spring vitality” discussion (aka: how to grow your own wheat grass), I wished that the instructor explained how we could strengthen ourselves within the elements.  I felt like our discussion only touched upon the surface of the topic; instead of elaborating on Ayurveda, the instructor simply plugged a separate set of workshops that we could register for.
  • It wasn’t home. As I mentioned in a previous post, I have truly found happiness within the community at HotYoga4You RVC.  Despite trying to keep an open mind, I missed my studio (and the HEAT!).  Every movement, every posture, every moment during the meditation felt unnatural.  Dorothy Gale had it right when she said, “there’s no place like home.”

The way that HY4Y has become like a second home to me, I have to remember that baking is my wellness.  Baking keeps me calm and in the moment, protecting me when my mind and emotions are on overdrive; it helps me connect to others, even if it is only for a second;  and if my baking can brighten someone’s day, even in the slightest way, I know that all of the time and effort was well worth it.

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One thing I am also thankful for is how willing my yoga fam is to be taste testers for my baked treats.  With Spring just around the corner and wellness on the brain, my mind settled on the idea of making something fruit-based.  This week, I decided to bake a Blackberry-Raspberry (“so good it should be illegal”) Crumble.  Between the tartness of the fruit and the sweetness of the oatmeal crumbs, I feel like crumbles are a perfectly balanced dessert (and they’re almost healthy, right?). IMG_0965

Overall, I had an interesting (but enjoyable) adventure in wellness.  I do truly appreciate that my coworker thought of me and invited me to join her.  I’m glad that I was brave and decided to give it a shot.  Although it is comforting to know, that no matter where you go or where you may venture off to, you can always come back home (especially when you come equipped with berry crumble).