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dessert

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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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Refilling

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Refilling

Going through yoga teacher training is exhausting and exhilarating. You leave with a love of movement, a respect for your body, a peace of mind and most of the all, the intense drive to share yoga with everyone. I left my first teacher training exhilarated. I have never felt so open and free to be in my life. My skin tingled with sensation every time a loved one brushed my arm. The sky was always blue, the sidewalk GOLD. I wanted everyone to feel how yoga has made me feel. 

Simple right?

Not so simple. Being a great teacher takes time. It takes experience, knowledge, the ability to keep constantly learning and failing and doing it all again. All of that leads to exhaustion - physically and mentally. I started this journey two years ago and now I’m into IT. It requires one to always be a student even when you are the teacher. And as I delve deeper and deeper each day, I’m learning more and more how to listen to myself. There are times when I am so drained, I feel like an empty vessel ready to float away. Often after a day of teaching and studying, the mere act of talking can be a chore worse than cleaning the bathroom. 

The thing is, is that I do love teaching. I love being tired at the end of the day from working hard and not from being irritated from whatever office politics I had to deal with. I worked my body, my heart, my soul fully. But when one does that, we must refill our coffers so to speak. We have to refill so we have more to give. When something speaks to us, we have to go for it. And for me, that’s baking. Yesterday specifically, graham crackers. 

I first made them for Valentines Day. My Valentine is into them, specifically when they are layered in-between chocolate pudding. I made both from scratch, because that’s what I like to do. I used this graham cracker recipe from Food52. It was good but the graham flour made things a bit too nutty for me. Yesterday I delved into this recipe from Nancy Silverton's Pastries from the La Brea Bakery as found on Smitten Kitchen and 101Cookbooks. The result was much much better and while it required the extra step of re-chilling the dough before baking,  it was totally worth the extra time.  Next time I will replace a 1/2 cup of the flour with graham flour to see how that effects things. The bake time calls for 25 minutes. This makes a very crisp cracker. I would check after 20. I pulled mine out after 22 minutes. Enjoy!

Graham Crackers

2 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour

1 cup dark brown sugar, lightly packed

1 teaspoon baking soda

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

7 tablespoons (3 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1-inch cubes and frozen

1/3 cup mild-flavored honey, such as clover

5 tablespoons whole milk

2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract

For the topping:
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade or in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the flour, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt. Pulse or mix on low to incorporate. Add the butter and pulse on and off on and off, or mix on low, until the mixture is the consistency of a coarse meal.

 

 

In a small bowl, whisk together the honey, milk, and vanilla extract. Add to the flour mixture and pulse on and off a few times or mix on low until the dough barely comes together. It will be very soft and sticky.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat the dough into a rectangle about 1 inch thick. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm, about 2 hours or overnight.

To prepare the topping: In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon, and set aside.

Divide the dough in half and return one half to the refrigerator. Sift an even layer of flour onto the work surface and roll the dough into a long rectangle about 1/8 inch thick. The dough will be sticky, so flour as necessary. Trim the edges of the rectangle to 4 inches wide. Working with the shorter side of the rectangle parallel to the work surface, cut the strip every 4 1/2 inches to make 4 crackers. Gather the scraps together and set aside. Place the crackers on one or two parchment-lined baking sheets and sprinkle with the topping. Chill until firm, about 30 to 45 minutes. Repeat with the second batch of dough.

Adjust the oven rack to the upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Gather the scraps together into a ball, chill until firm, and reroll. Dust the surface with more flour and roll out the dough to get about two or three more crackers.

Mark a vertical line down the middle of each cracker, being careful not to cut through the dough. Using a toothpick or skewer, prick the dough to form two dotted rows about 1/2 inch for each side of the dividing line.

Bake for 25 minutes, until browned and slightly firm to the tough, rotating the sheets halfway through to ensure even baking.


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