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Breathing and Baking

At the beginning of February, I started the second half of my 300 hour Yoga Teacher Training at YogaWorks. The timing was perfect, having been teaching in studios for about 6 months, I was excited to return to learning so I could learn and execute simultaneously. 

I learn best by doing. Having spent 10 years in a corporate environment (I do use the term corporate very loosely and yes I realize 10 years is not that long) I was never one to be shown how to do something. I need to have a tactile experience, doing, touching feeling while someone guides me. It's the only way I'll (hopefully) remember anything five seconds later. 

The 300 hour is just that. Three hundred hours of doing, touching, feeling, executing, and I'm extremely tired. And questioning ... everything. It's been a long time since I've made a life changing choice. And deciding to choose this path of a teacher is just that. Everything is changing and with the constant learning, the constant trial and error my confidence is wavering. 

But that's what the yoga practice is for no? There are times where it's necessary to return to the practice, on and off of our mats. Return to the breath. Turn in. Tune out. Listen only to the breath. And then we can see what kind of song is being sung. It's only when we are truly quiet can we hear the truth. And for me, I'm happy that  when all the dirt and debris of my thoughts are wiped clear, the truth that I hear is one without judgement and without question... Letting me know that the only person getting in my way is myself. 

And for a prime example of getting into ones way please check out the time consuming choice I made last Friday night below.

I would not recommend this cake for a quick and easy cake for a forgotten birthday. While not wholly complicated, the steps, from blanching, peeling and then toasting the almonds to making a jammy caramel to baking 6 individual cookies can be utterly time consuming. While I was in denial about the amount of free time I actually had last week, I’m glad I tackled this beast on Friday night. It was freaking delicious. An almond-y tart, flakey and sweet hit every craving I had this weekend. And the leftover scraps I had after trimming my cookies? Got rolled into a tiny 4 layered cookie slathered with nutella. Yum Yum. 

I selected this recipe for a local cookbook club I just joined. This month they chose Smitten Kitchen to tackle and as always her recipes didn’t disappoint. I’m a fan of her older posts where she highlights more classic recipes. This recipe was originally from “Lost Desserts” by Gail Monaghan. You can see the recipe here or in this great article from the New York Times

Neapolitan Cake

1 ¼ cups sugar

1 ½ cups jam, raspberry, apricot, strawberry or peach

Half of a vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds scraped (I used 1 tsp of vanilla extract)

Salt

½ tablespoon lemon juice (I accidentally used 1 full tablespoon - totally fine.)

1 cup whole blanched almonds, toasted (I missed the toasting step. Although totally fine, next time I will toast just to see.)

3 cups flour, sifted (Didn't sift, also, totally fine.)

1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

Finely grated zest of 1 lemon

Finely grated zest of 1 orange

4 large egg yolks, at room temperature

½ teaspoon almond extract

1 teaspoon orange-flower water (optional but would add a nice nuance.)

¼ cup sliced almonds, toasted.

1. Place 1/4 cup of the sugar in a small saucepan. Cook over high heat, without stirring, until all the sugar turns caramel. Tilt pan to distribute caramel. Lower the heat and carefully whisk in the jam, the scraped vanilla bean and seeds, 1 tablespoon of water, a pinch of salt and the lemon juice. (The caramel will bubble violently.) Simmer, stirring, until the caramel dissolves into the jam. Remove from heat.

2. In a food processor, pulverize the whole almonds with 2 tablespoons of the flour.

3. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter, remaining sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the zests until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. Mix in the pulverized almonds until combined. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, and then add the almond extract and orange-flower water. Mix in the remaining flour.

4. Divide the dough into six equal balls. Place each ball between two sheets of plastic wrap and press into an 8-inch circle, using the inside of a pie pan as a guide. Chill the dough rounds in the refrigerator for 2 hours or freeze for 30 minutes.

5. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Remove plastic wrap, place a dough round on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack. Repeat with remaining rounds.

6. Lay a round in the center of a serving plate. Spread with 3 to 4 tablespoons of jam to just before the edge. Continue to layer the rounds, spreading jam between each. Spread a thin layer of jam over the top and cover with sliced almonds. The cake can be served immediately, but tastes even better, and is easier to cut, if tightly wrapped and served 1 or 2 days later. 

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A Sukhasana Life

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A Sukhasana Life

We put so much effort into our physical practice. But often times that effort can turn into stress. I had a teacher ask this week, “Where can we put forth effort, without bringing us stress?” I asked the same of my students and immediately saw their shoulders sink an inch, while their arms still reached higher. We move our physical body to find more ease. We want to find more ease so we can sit comfortably in mediation and not notice our physical body. Any stress that we find in our movements will be doubled by the time we find ourselves in the so-called Sukhasana, “easy pose” for meditation. ’Tis not an easy pose….but regardless….

As you move through your Friday, can you find strength in your day but ease in how you handle it? What’s the end result?

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And in Yoga News - lots of subbing next week! Check out my updated schedule here: SCHEDULE.

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For so long Yoga has been part of my self care routine but now as it becomes a career, I’ve struggled with how to keep the same peace. To not always be mentally jotting down the teachers sequence, noting if I have liked (or not liked) how they worded something, or just wondering how I would do the same thing differently is a constant tug of war. It is a mental struggle to keep peace with myself on the mat more than ever. I know I know, I need to use my yoga. But in an effort to take it off the mat, I’ve made a concentrated effort to return to writing and baking which are two things that give me peace of mind and allow me to find a source of strength.

All of this has lead to me to Irish Soda Bread! Thank you Barefoot Contessa. I was never into Irish Soda Bread until an old co-worker turned me onto it with her homemade version. Bread-y and sweet. Accessible for breakfast, enjoyable for a mid-day snack, and, as J proved last night as I caught him chomping on a slice after his run, great after a workout. This is a great all around thing to have around, says the yoga teacher who is trying to cut down on her sugar…. If you can’t trust me, who can you trust?

This has to be one of the easiest recipes of all time. I used raisins instead of currents because that’s what was in the pantry. No orange to zest? Leave it out. Check out the original recipe here. Enjoy!


Ingredients

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for currants

4 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch dice

1 3/4 cups cold buttermilk, shaken

1 extra-large egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 cup dried currants

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add the butter and mix on low speed until the butter is mixed into the flour.

With a fork, lightly beat the buttermilk, egg, and orange zest together in a measuring cup. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture. Combine the currants with 1 tablespoon of flour and mix into the dough. It will be very wet. This is not a joke. 

Dump the dough onto a well-floured board and give it a snow dusting of flour to allow it the room to be kneaded a few times into a round loaf. Place the loaf on the prepared sheet pan and lightly cut an X into the top of the bread with a serrated knife.

 

Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean. When you tap the loaf, it will have a hollow sound.

Cool on a baking rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.


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A Practice in Patience

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A Practice in Patience

Persimmons, much like our yoga practice, can take what seems to be forever to ripen. If we push too soon, our bodies, our minds (and yes, our permissions) are hard and inflexible. Our movements - not easily digestible mentally or physically and (in the case that a persimmon is thrown at you) injury causing.

It takes time to ripen. It takes time to tune in, draw our awareness inwards, deepen our attentions to our subtler senses. Our goals always seem to be just that. GOALS. If I can just nail that pose, I will be done. But that’s never it. The beautiful thing about yoga, is that one can practice for forever. There is always and consistently something to learn in each pose. You can always move deeper into Virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2) even after the front leg is properly externally rotated and your torso is straight as a board. Where can you soften to explore more? What can you give up so you can gain strength somewhere else? 

The yoga sutras tell us at the asana, our physical practice, is at once steady yet full of ease. Strong yet soft. Comfortable but concentrated. What can you let go of?

In making this cake, I had to let go of the expectation that fruit should ripen at least within a week. I purchased a case of persimmons at Costco a few weeks before Christmas when they are most frequently in the store. I figured they would ripen in a week, I would let them get extremely soft and make an exceptionally sweet fruit cake for Christmas. 

Unfortunately for me, that was not the case. These suckers took SIX WEEKS to ripen. (Yes, I realize this post is extremely dated.) These things happen when one doesn’t buy local I suppose. But consider this a forewarning to those of you who hear next hear the siren call of this bright orange fleshy fruit. Much like achieving handstand, in waiting for a permission to ripen we must practice our patience for a long time, without break and in all earnestness. And just when you think it’s ripe with a touch of give, wait longer. We want them mushy and what we would consider overripe. This is when the sugars are at it’s sweetest.

This recipe is from Beard on Bread by James Beard. It’s an excellent book to have in your repertoire. My big brother gave it to me over 10 years ago and I still take the time to flip through it. You can also see the recipe here at David Leibowitz. It makes two 9-inch loaves. You can also make a round cake or muffins with the batter. I used a scant two cups of sugar because my fruit was so ripe it was basically crystalized. Enjoy!

  • 3½ cups sifted flour

  • 1½ teaspoons salt

  • 2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

  • 2 to 2½ cups sugar

  • 1 cup melted unsalted butter and cooled to room temperature

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature, lightly beaten

  • 2/3 cup Cognac, bourbon or whiskey

  • 2 cups persimmon puree (from about 4 squishy-soft Hachiya persimmons)

  • 2 cups walnuts or pecans, toasted and chopped

  • 2 cups raisins, or diced dried fruits (such as apricots, cranberries, or dates

1. Butter 2 loaf pans. Line the bottoms with a piece of parchment paper or dust with flour and tap out any excess.

2. Preheat oven to 350ºF (180ºC) degrees.

3. Sift the first 5 dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.

4. Make a well in the center then stir in the butter, eggs, liquor, persimmon puree then the nuts and raisins (optional).

5. Bake 1 hour or until toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Storage: Wrap in foil after cooling. They will keep 1-2 weeks. Wrap firmly in foil and plastic wrap to freeze. 


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