Tuesday, October 20, 2009

TWD-Sweet Potato Biscuits

Knowing that today's Tuesdays with Dorie project was to be "Sweet Potato Biscuits", I purchased some gigantic ones at the Farmers Market over the weekend. You know how they say, "Everything's Bigger in Texas"? Well, these things were ridiculous! Each one weighed in at over 20 oz and they were shaped like enormous bulbs of garlic. Here is a photo of one after it was oven roasted:

I just washed these two big boys and popped them in a 425 degree oven for an hour and 15 minutes. The skin got all nice and charred and the first layer was soft, sweet and mushy. However, because these were so big and thick, the middles were still kind of hard. So, when I went to mash them in my food processor, they were still a little solid. No problem! I added a little bit of orange juice and made a truly delicious sweet potato puree. The recipe called for canned sweet potatoes, but I couldn't use canned when it is sweet potato season. It almost feels like fall around here. It has been cool in the mornings and evenings and gorgeous and one can imagine that it is autumn (except for the fact that it hits 80 every afternoon).

I happened to have some White Lily flour on hand and used that because it is supposed to be the ultimate biscuit flour. I added about 1/4 tsp of cinnamon, about 1/8 tsp of freshly grated nutmeg and a pinch of cayenne pepper. Working the butter into the flour felt so good, though I may have overworked it because I was having so much fun! When I stirred in my sweet potato puree, it looked like this:

All it took was a couple of good smooshes and the dough came together. Rather than work it more and develop the gluten, I just flattened it on the countertop with my hand. I then used my recently acquired biscuit cutter and cut out 20 cute little biscuits from the dough. I thought that I had been gentle and had minimized handling, but they didn't puff up all that much. Here they are before baking:

And after:

All morning I thought about what I would make to go with my biscuits. Funny to pick the bread first and then go from there, but, as I have said, the bread is my favorite part! Anyways, I wanted to make chili but then thought that my kids wouldn't eat it as neither is any good with a spoon nor can handle the spiciness I would use. Anyways, I got lazy and just bought a store roasted chicken from Hubbell and Hudson and served it with their very tasty barbecue sauce and made some garam masala spiced green beans. The biscuits tasted great, though I wished they had been lighter and flakier. They were utterly divine dipped into the barbecue sauce.

Z man had 4 of them and kept asking for more "cookies" (they were that flat).

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Outerwear solved!

Here in Houston, there are about 20 days a year that it is cold enough for a jacket. Last year I didn't even wear my little leather blazer one time here because with two little kids to buckle in and out of the car, it was one more thing I didn't want to deal with. However, we do travel to colder places, for our annual ski trip and to see family in NJ. For all of these trips, I usually only have an inappropriately light jacket, the aforementioned leather blazer, or an inappropriately bulky and casual jacket, my snowboard jacket.

Well, in today's NYTimes Style magazine, I found the perfect thing! The RainForest packable down coat.

It comes with its own cute little hobo, into which it can be packed. This way, when traveling to a colder place, I can still have everything in my carry on, pull my coat out and have a bag to use while I am there. There are a couple of other styles, but I am partial to the simple down coat. It is available in a chocolate brown and black. Knowing me, I will pick the black one. I always end up going with black. But, I am so excited about this find!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Hawaii, Quick Recap

It already seems like weeks ago, but DrRuckus and I had a truly fabulous week away in Hawaii! I can't believe we have been back for four days already and I fear that if I don't post something about it now, it will be too far gone. It was so needed and the help that our parents gave us by coming to our home to care for our kids so that we could get away was really appreciated.

DrRuckus and I honeymooned in Hawaii in 2002 and then lived there for his first year of residency, but we haven't been back since we moved to Chicago in 2003. My aunt and her husband still live there, but not for long! They are getting ready to move to Arizona and we thought that if we didn't go back while they were still there, we would regret it immensely. So, their impending move was our excuse for going.

We spent the first night in our old neighborhood in Waikiki, revisiting old haunts and then having a wonderful sunset dinner at the Halekulani Hotel. There is something about the light in Waikiki that is magical. The next morning I had one of my best runs ever up and around Diamond Head and then we hightailed it out of there and to Kauai.

We spent 8 nights of our honeymoon in Kauai and returned to the same place for our three days this time. The hotel was just taken over by St. Regis and redone and reopened the week before we arrived. The resort already had one of the best locations and views in all of the world, and the redo makes it seem much more in keeping with the location. The old resort was too formal and palatial while it now feels warmer and more Hawaiian.

Our stay at the St. Regis was wonderful, even though the resort is still working out some kinks. The staff there were really friendly and for the most part did everything they could to make guests feel happy and relaxed. Well, we were certainly those things. Sitting on those turquoise chairs gazing at Hanalei Bay, reading a good book and sipping one of their divine El Fresco margaritas with my beloved, I couldn't have been more content. This is how we spent the majority of our three days on Kauai, even though there is so much more to do. We only had those few days to just chill and we took advantage of that. Our big adventure was stand up paddling on the Hanalei River, which was really fun. It was a really great workout and something totally new to both of us. It must be really challenging to do in the ocean and something I want to try next time I have a chance.

The resort's fine dining restaurant was not yet open, but we had some incredible meals on the island. The iPhone is really the greatest thing ever for travel (and everything else) and we found some delicious spots:
Best Sandwiches I have ever had (seriously): Deli and Bread Connection in Lihue
Fresh Sushi, laid back vibe: Hanalei Dolphin
Creative Tapas, cool atmosphere: BarAcuda
Local Ingredients, Old School Hawaii: Hukilau Lanai

After our three days, we flew back to Oahu to stay with my aunt and uncle. We had an action packed 48 hours with them, touring the island and all of the best spots to eat. (Oh yeah and I did my 13 mile training run one night.) We had an out of this world meal at Chef Mavro's justifiably famous restaurant. revisited many of our old favorites, like Giovanni's Shrimp Truck, Dave's for ice cream, and Mariposa at Neiman's (for consomme, popovers, and a great view).

I will not lie, though. A highlight of my trip was searching out and then walking along the beach to the "Lost" beach camp set. I love that show more than any other and it was important to me to make a pilgrimage while we were on the island. We encountered a major rainstorm as we were walking back and were sandy and soaked, but it was so worth it.

We also used miles to fly first class and I don't know how I will ever go back to coach! It made travel so much more relaxing and comfortable. We actually slept the entire red eye flight and had no problems adjusting back to Houston time.

Aloha, ya'll!

Happy World Bread Day!

world bread day 2009 - yes we bake.(last day of sumbission october 17)

When I got an email from King Arthur Flour a couple of days ago announcing something called "World Bread Day", I knew I would have to celebrate it. Baking bread is my favorite kind of baking because I find it so magical to watch it rise and change shape. Plus, I just llllooooooooooovvvvvvveeeeee bread but only eat the white flour, really yummy kinds as a special treat. Otherwise, it is all whole grain, high fiber for me. Not too exciting. So, when I bake bread, it is pure joy.

As soon as I got that email, I thought, "what kind of bread"? I had so many choices, but then I realized that World Bread Day fell on a Friday. So, naturally, a Challah was in order. Though are Atheist non-practicing Jews, we are Jews culturally, and food is a big part of that culture. And Challah, a rich, dense egg bread is one of my favorite aspects of that culture. So, it was "basheret" (meant to be) that the Food and Wine magazine that I got in the mail on Wednesday afternoon included a recipe for Sephardic Challah. Our families are not Sephardic (these are Jews originating in the Iberian Peninsula as opposed to Eastern Europe like our families, who are considered Ashkenazic). Anyways, the challah looked amazing, and I was excited to try it.

I always use instant yeast rather than active dry yeast (just decrease the amount of yeast by 20%) and then don't need to proof it before mixing. I dumped all of the ingredients into my beloved Kitchenaid Stand Mixer and let the dough hook go. Really, this would have been an arduous hand knead, but with the Kitchenaid did all of the work. That thing is amazing! All I ever use it for is mixing, but I am thinking of finally getting some other attachments to see if it really is a jack of all trades. After about 7 minutes, the dough was smooth and elastic and smelled so good. Ladybug and I were very excited watching it go round and round.

I put it in an oiled bowl and left it to rise for a couple of hours while we ran to the gym. When we came back, it was huge and beautiful.

It divided in half really easily and stretched out into a rope as though it was made of elastic. It was truly easy dough to handle and to work, so coiling it up was super easy. I have tried to make round challahs before and always find the coils collapse onto themselves. This dough held its shape but was really pliable. According to the instructions I coiled them on the baking sheets and then let them rise under an inverted bowl. They looked so cute!

After a rich bath of egg yolks and a sprinkling of the seed mixture, they went into the oven. Just half an hour later, they came out and they were gorgeous!

All I wanted to do was eat bread and butter for dinner, but I thought that it would make me a bad mom, so I made some quick, ultra healthy turkey and million vegetable meatballs to eat with the bread. Oh so good!

Happy World Bread Day!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

TWD-Comfort Food Needed

DrRuckus and I got back from a great and much needed week in Hawaii this a.m. (more on the trip later). Our red-eye was pretty painless (despite the woman with the child who screamed all night in the row behind us) because we had cashed in miles to fly first class and had comfortable seats. ( I actually don't know how I will ever go back to coach again after the comfort, service, space, food, and make your own sundae bar. But I digress . . .)

Anyways, though we were better rested than we might have been had we flown that red eye in coach, we were still pretty tired when we got home. However, we were not nearly as tired as my poor mother in law was! My parents watched our kids for the first part of our week away and then my MIL flew down halfway through to take over for them. She had been looking forward to some alone time with the kids, though I thought she was nuts for taking it on herself. Well, so did she after two days because not only was the Z-Man holding on to the bug that has caused him to run a fever every day for over a week, but she also got sick. I always think that the hardest part of parenting is not being able to take a day off when you don't feel well. I called on some friends to help her, but she persevered on her own and made it through the day and a half before we got here.

So, this gray morning, she was eating her 800th piece of toast as it was the only thing that seemed agreeable to her. The Z-Man was feeling fine but stir crazy, and DrRuckus and I were a little bit jetlagged. I had no intention of baking, but when I saw that today's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe was for muffins, I decided that there was nothing that sounded more comforting than fresh muffins. These Allspice Crumb Muffins were intriguing because Allspice is not something I use frequently. The jar smelled delicious, like cinnamon and clove cigarettes (oh how much fun those were back in the day), so I decided to give it a whirl. As soon as everyone went for their nap, I whipped up the batter.

Because I went way off of my healthy eating plan about halfway through the vacation (though it was soooooo worth it), I thought that I better make these a little bit less fattening. So, I substituted all of the flour in the struesel topping and half of the flour in the batter for whole wheat and half of the butter in the batter for Fage fat free Greek yogurt. I did use the optional lemon zest because I think that it adds a zing to everything. The best part of making these was making the struesel topping. I did it all with my hands, mixing the flour, sugar, and allspice and then kneading in the pieces of butter. In my jeglagged state, it felt really good and relaxing.

I divided the batter in the muffin tins and then really smooshed the topping onto each one. I had heard that the topping slid off the muffins in some cases, but I didn't have that problem at all. These are them before they went into the oven.

I added 5 extra minutes to the cooking time because at 20 minutes they seemed raw. However, at 25 they seemed a tad dry and overdone. Might just be the proportion of whole wheat flour though. Tastewise, they are delicious. The Allspice has a subtle kick and a really delicious flavor. The Z-Man thought it was a "good cupcake, Mommy" though he did ask for a cup of hot chocolate to drink with it. I know that it is 80 degrees out, but the kid knows what's good!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Finding Balance

Our local Bikram studio is hosting the Texas Yoga Asana Championship in a few weeks and they requested submissions for the magazine they are putting out for the event. They wanted personal stories about how Bikram fits into our lives. I have submitted the following story. (WARNING: it is long. They promised they have an editor, but you are seeing the unedited version.)

Growing up, I was never an athlete - zero coordination, less than zero skills on the field, the court, etc. I was always one of the last ones chosen in gym class. When I tried to play softball in high school, I was cut from the JV squad because they didn’t have enough uniforms. But, really, who could blame them? I would close my eyes when a ball came towards me.

Things changed somewhat when I matriculated at Middlebury College, a small liberal arts college in Vermont. There, amidst the glory of the Green Mountains and surrounded by shiny, happy people, it was impossible to be sedentary. I first shucked my non-athleticism there on the slopes of the Middlebury College Snow Bowl. It was on that little hill that I learned to snowboard. Having been stuck as an intermediate skier for years, snowboarding was a revelation to me. I was skilled and graceful for the first time in my life. It remains, to this day, my absolute favorite thing to do.

Bolstered by my confidence on the slopes, I took up running that first spring at Middlebury. I certainly was not fast but was mentally strong and so could run far. On those hilly back roads of Central Vermont, I could run for miles in perfect contentment. I still recall some of those runs, which I used to escape and find my own head space.

After college, knowing that distance was my strength, I decided to train for a marathon. I ran my first marathon a year and a half after graduation. Training for it and completing it was one of my proudest accomplishments. I could never again say, “I am not an athlete.” In subsequent years, I completed four more marathons, slowly and steadily. I developed great and lasting friendships through my training and truly gained a respect for myself and my own body. Where I had always hated my heavy thighs, I learned to love them for being able to carry me 26.2 miles.

I completed my last marathon about a year and a half before my son was born. Going through pregnancy, childbirth and breast feeding, I gained new respect my body for all that it could do. But, as a new parent, it was difficult to find the time to focus on myself and I did so sporadically.

Then, when my son was almost two years old, I discovered Bikram yoga here in The Woodlands. After my first class, I felt an euphoric feeling of both peace and accomplishment. It was almost better than completing a marathon because I experienced those feelings but felt physically wonderful rather than the post marathon pain. I loved everything about Bikram and was doing it as often as I could. Right away, it was a good fit for me, a definite “Type A” personality, because it is so organized and requires intensity of focus and discipline.

I told everyone who listened that “Bikram is great for the body, mind and spirit. It is an amazing workout that targets every muscle in your body, gets your heart pounding, but encourages you to keep your breath measured and controlled. It is meditative because you block out your own thoughts so that the only thing in your head is the instructor’s voice. Then, after class, you are so much more centered than before.”

A few weeks after my daughter was born, my doctor gave me the OK to return to exercise. The first thing I tried to do was run because I could just step out the door and go. It was awful! I was barely able to complete two miles and every yard was excruciating. However, my first Bikram class back was wonderful. I surprised myself by being able to not just stay in the room but practice every posture in the series. It felt great to be back. Unfortunately, my daughter was extremely colicky and I was nursing her all the time for many months, so I was not able to make the time commitment and attend class much at all.

It was about this time that I attempted my first Pilates Reformer class. I had done some mat Pilates here and there, but had never tried the Reformer and wanted to try something that offered the intensity of Bikram. For years I had heard that nothing transforms your body as quickly as Pilates. Knowing that I was definitely NOT having any more babies (colic ensured that it was out of the question), I was ready to not just lose the baby weight, but to transform my body completely.

I lucked out and found a trainer with whom I work incredibly well. She is a kind and skilled instructor who right from the beginning has encouraged me to go farther each and every time. I work one on one with her twice weekly, and each and every time I feel like I get better, stronger, leaner and longer. Pilates, like Bikram, utilizes the breath to encourage the muscles to go deeper into every movement. Many of the movements are similar to ones that are done in the Bikram series, though there are so many more postures and variations that even a year into twice weekly sessions, I have yet to not try something new each session.

My trainer specializes in rehabilitation after illness, and she knows how crucial it is to be physically active for one’s mental and emotional health and well being. In the beginning of our practice together, she encouraged me to find the time to do my cardio as well as our practice. I made a commitment to myself to work my heart and clear my head daily. When I was in the studio, I pushed myself to the limit each time. Thus, I began to see a difference very quickly. I was stronger and leaner each and every week. It was truly amazing! Because of this, I took up running again.

Getting back to running was so difficult at first. I didn’t want to do it, and did it because I “should”. Then, I began to recall why I loved running for so many years. No other workout allows you to just lace up your shoes and go, getting your heart racing, allowing you to push yourself harder, faster, longer without having to use any special equipment. I once again was able to find some head space, much needed for a mother of two very demanding little children. Even better, I found that I was a much better runner than I had ever been before. I can now run so much faster than I ever thought possible, thanks to being stronger and leaner than I ever thought I would be.

It was only this past Spring that I really returned to Bikram. I had really missed it, the 90 minute active meditation that had always left me feeling euphoric. Though I had been away from it for so long, my first class back went incredibly well. It was amazing to see the evidence of how much more flexible I had become. I could see small differences, such as how much better my toes were able to spread and support me after being used to grip the bar on the Reformer. I could see large differences too in how much deeper I was able to go into each pose. My practice took on a whole new dimension.

Now, I am at a point where I am more fit than I ever thought possible for me. Like they say at Lululemon, I sweat at least once a day. I do a little bit of everything - gym classes, spinning, weights, cross training - in addition to my three favorites. The amazing thing to me is how each of the activities that I do informs the others. I now regularly run at a sub 8 minute pace, something I never thought could do. I am much more flexible and graceful when I practice Pilates. And, in Bikram, I am so much more advanced. I am now able to put my forehead on my locked knee in Standing Separate Leg Head to Knee Pose or, more recently, being able to get my hips all the way off the floor in Locust.

Better than all of this is the way that I feel. I have never felt so great about myself as I do now. I have so much pride in all that I have accomplished, and I am able to push myself to accomplish more every day. One of the things that they teach in Bikram is that the goal of your first class is to just stay in the room. Then, when you do more, you have really done something. Well, applying that to my every day, my goal is to just get there and move, but then I end up doing so much more than that once I get started.

I am planning to run a half marathon in a few weeks and actually have a time goal for the first time. I feel confident that I will beat it. I am considering becoming certified as a Pilates instructor. And, with one child in preschool three days a week, I can actually find the time to be able to practice Bikram much more regularly and try to advance my practice. The athlete in me is here to stay; I just can’t wait to go snowboarding!