Making changes, Taking chances.

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Meet the French “cookie”

This blog seems to be unintentionally morphing into a photo-baking blog.  The purpose after all was to discover myself and the things I enjoy and these two pasttimes (baking & phography) are certainly ranking on the top of that list.  After all, opening my own bakery has always been a dream.  If I do not tire of this amateur side-profession I am currently pursuing (as I typically tend to), perhaps it is time to reawaken the sleeping beauty that is my dormant business plan and to reactivate those ideas.

As a departure from the American baking I have done over the past few weeks and in memory of my recent days in Paris, I decided to try my hand at the famous interpretation of the French “cookie” – the Madelaine.

France’s incredibly popular Madelaine is a scallop-shaped tea cake that is in fact nothing too out of the ordinary – just a light, buttery, spongy yellow cake easily identified by its unique shape. But, as is the case with most French foods, there is no doubt a charming history to accompany this delicacy. 

There are several different versions surrounding who made the first madeleines and why. In one version, Madeleine was a young servant girl who had been requested to create a special treat for Stanislas Leczinski, the deposed king of Poland who had sought refuge in France in the 17th century. Special cakes were supposedly made to soothe the spirits of the poor unwanted king and when asked who had baked these wonderful delicacies, she gave him her name and so he decided to name them after the young maiden: Madelaine de Commercy. It is said that Stanislas was so fond of these madelaines  he sent a dozen to his daughter Marie who was married to King Louis XV.  Madelaines were hence popularized by the nobility in Versailles and have grown to become of mass appeal.

In a different version of the story, another girl, also aptly named Madeleine created the special cakes in the shape of a scallop to feed to pilgrims making their way to Saint Jacques’ burial site. The scallop shell was a sign of protection which has long been associated with Saint Jacques in France.

Whatever the true origins of this treat, both stories carry much whimsy and evoke strong history.  Today, Madelaines can be found in most French or Parisian bakeries or patisseries and while they started as a basic lemon-flavored cake, they have evolved to many different flavors and colors: pistachio, chocolate, orange…  Most famous for them is Fauchon, the fabulous French brand.

My Madelaines – fresh out of the oven.

They turned out to be just perfect.  Spongy, buttery and bursting with flavor from the lemon zest.  Unfortunately this batch produced only 10 large-sized Madelaines.

Note to self to double the quantity next time! 

Bon appetit! 

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A birthday surprise

The vanilla cupcake has become a regular staple in our kitchen lately.  I baked my third batch in 2 weeks the night before last.  These were particularly special because I was finally able to reward H for her 1-year of patience waiting for the cupcakes she had requested, but even moreso because I turned it into a surprise belated birthday given I had missed her celebration when I was in Beirut last month.  The look on her face was priceless and rewarded the giddyness I felt all day yesterday as I plotted and schemed and purchased candles and gifts to set everything up. 

H’s favorite cupcake – the vanilla frosted vanilla – happy birthday! 

On other fronts, life has been good to me lately.  I am exhausted this week due to much lack of sleep but work has been good, I’ve been managing my workload valiantly and juggling a healthy balance of work and life.  On matters of the heart, we recently started video skype sessions that i never imagined would be such an amazing way of bridging the distance.  I have grown to love those sessions and him more. 

I feel blessed and grateful for so much.  Thank-you God.

A baking disaster…

I baked again yesterday.  What a disaster that turned out to be and it’s driving me nuts because I cant figure out what went wrong.  I decided to make cookies as a refreshing change from the cupcakes Ive taken to baking lately.  I settled on a classic chocolate chip cookie with walnuts.  They turned out to be flat and crispy at the edges, so far from the moist, dense, chewy chunky cookie I envisaged.  They tasted incredible but looked absolutely awful.  Why didnt they rise!?

Chocolate Chip cookies – ready to enter the oven

First batch out of the oven – a flat disaster!

My first reaction was that I had made the cookie dough drops too big and they therefore had no room to grow so I spaced them out more and shrunk the cookie dough drops for the second batch and surely that helped…

Second batch – defined cookies but still flat!! 

but the BIG question remains: why didn’t they rise?  Why did I end up with cookies that were chewy on the inside and crispy around the edges?  Why did they look burnt when they tasted incredible?

Is it something to do with the chemistry of the baking soda with the moist ingredients?  Did I over mix the batter?  If any bakers out there have any knowledge of what I did wrong, please let me know!

The faliure of these simple cookies was a blow to my (amateur) bakers ego.  I will not let this go until I have produced the perfect chocolate chip cookie. 

Ideas, suggestions and comments are very welcome.

What’s your word?

I’ve been thinking about “Eat Pray Love” a lot lately.  I have the tendency to get a tad bit obsessive when I am drawn to something and this book has been at the top of that obsession list although it’s probably been a year since I read it.  For those who are unfamiliar with the book, I found it to be a treasure trove of insights and amazing words that you want to remember and quote – so much so that I have dog-eared a good chunk of the pages in it.  What has gotten me thinking is the scene set in Rome when they refer to each city or person as having a word.  In the movie, Julia Roberts eventually discovers that her word is “Attraversiamo” – Italian for “let’s cross over”.  A woman who left everything behind to travel the world for a year in search of herself.  She found not only herself but friendship, love and balance.  Sometimes you need to take a crazy leap of faith and to go down the more difficult road to find the best things in life.

Perhaps the biggest learning for me was that our perception of balance is often skewed as she learns is the case for her towards the end of the story.  My favorite quote in the whole book is that “to lose balance for love sometimes is part of leading a balanced life”.  And what greater imbalance is there than to welcome the gushing emotions of love into your life, whatever crazy imbalances they may cause. 

Do you know what your word is? 

(For those who havent yet read the book or seen the movie, choose the book.   It is rich in words and emotions and is incredibly contagious.)

Making changes, taking chances

In honor of my blog theme, I am thrilled to announce that I am the proud new owner of a professional Nikon D90 camera!  This purchase brings me great joy because I can finally pursue one of my favorite pastimes: capturing moments.  I must admit that despite the fact that I secretly enjoy being the subject of a camera, I take genuine pleasure in hiding behind a viewfinder, with the lens as my window to the world, constructing the perfect frame and making a memory.  I have always been the friend in the circle that ‘remembers’ her camera (dont know how one could forget it!) at special occasions, while travelling and even on an everyday basis.  I feel somewhat privileged because I have access to so many memories made over so many years that immediately grant me a memory advantage over others.  Through the photos I have taken I feel as though I have frozen moments in time. 

I am enjoying playing with my new toy.  Here are a few photos I took using the D90 after baking a new batch of cupcakes last night.  Once again, vanilla frosted vanilla cupcakes.  I love the crispness and color of these photos vs those of my last baking post.  They breathe more life.

Freshly baked

With vanilla frosting

Frosted with sprinkles

Vanilla frosted cupcakes ready to eat!

What do you think of the photos?

I am loving the exploration of these two interests and am committed to pursuing them further.  I am signing up for a professional photography class in early August.  In the meantime, I will continue to experiment with my baking and to take beautiful food pictures.

I’d also like to take a moment to say please forgive the negativity of my last post.  I was feeling deflated after my dental procedure and the overall stress of my week.  I will no longer let silly things pull me down and my new motto is the old cliched adage that where there’s a will there’s a way.  Today we had our first Skype call.  Long-distance may be trying but it’s not impossible.  After all, the best things in life require the most work.  Or so he says. *smile*

A travelers soul…

I have come to discover that I have eternal wanderlust.  My heart is unable to settle in one place.  I have the constant urge to be on the move and to be discovering.  My inability to commit extends to many facets of my life Im discovering.  This has been an emotionally difficult week for me.  With the stress of yesterdays appointment (thank God all went well) and just the overall feeling of anxiety connected to the long-distance relationship I am in, I feel exhausted and alone.  I am finding myself in the usual place I run to a few months into a relationship – the need to escape.  Is this trend a fault of my own?  Do I create illusions in my head that prompt me to run?  Or am I finally accepting the reality that it is difficult to build a relationship over 1000 miles apart?  I watched “Eat, Pray, Love” again yesterday while exercizing my required bed rest and I feel the urge to go on the same journey of self discovery that Liz Gilbert did.  Am I fooling myself into thinking that a blog and new hobbies will do that for me.  I am still in the same environment, surrounded by the same daily pressures, the same work stress and the same lack of balance.  I am desperate for an escape and for clarity and I know not how to find it.

September will bring some form of salvation as we make our way to Europe for a much needed family vacation.  August I hope, with the arrival of Ramadan,  will allow me to practice some spirituality and to find peace of mind and peace of heart.  Until then I battle internal conflict.  People say the answers are all within but it seems that I am either unable to reach the core of me to find these answers or that I am truly blind. 

For this reason, I have decided to consult a greater power.  The art of Reiki.

The “apple” tree

I stumbled across this online and fell in love with it.  What a lovely way of describing the difficulties of finding the sacrosanct ‘one’.  I wonder if its better to be a low hanging fruit than an amazing one thats very hard to reach.  Funny how karma works, the rotten apples usually have an easier life and a happier ever after than the amazing apples whose suffrage resides in the knowledge and reality that much effort is required to find and keep them.  May we all find and keep tall guys who can easily “pick” us from the very top, place us on a pedestal and treat us right.

Summertime and the living is easy…

This has turned out to be exactly the weekend I needed.  Restful.  After the travelling of the past two weekends, and the stressful meetings of last week, my mind, body and soul finally got a chance to rest.  Not as much as I would have liked but enough to feel somewhat renewed.  I noticed earlier this afternoon that alot of my weekend has happened in twos.  I sat by the pool both yesterday and today, watched two movies and had a burger twice (me! the junk food hater!) – Gourmet Burger & Shake Shack.  I cant believe I lived in New York City for 4 years and was oblivious to the existance of Shake Shack!  Yum! 

Being a stickler for efficiency and a self-confessed loser at wasting time, this weekend has been particularly rewarding because I was able to rest AND be extremely efficient… I managed to cross three things off my to-do list that have resided there for at least 3-4 months:  1. I finally renewed my drivers license (over 2 months expired!)  2. I finally hung up the three frames I bought months ago (beautiful! love my new bedroom) and 3. I FINALLY baked those cupcakes for H! (a year late request!). I havent baked in a while and this morning reminded me how much I enjoy the process and the rewards of seeing raw ingredients transform into heavenly delights.  I must say that these are probably the best tasting cupcakes I have made.  I made a few changes to the frosting that kicked up the yum factor significantly.

(Vanilla cupcakes fresh out of the oven)

(Frosted and decorated)

Now here’s the bummer.  My intention with these cupcakes was to surprise H at work.  The always reliable H who picks up the phone without fail and answers BBM messages faster than you can believe happened to have a busy day today!  I could neither reach her through messages or by phone and after much effort and patience, my baby bro received a special cupcake delivery that put a huge smile on his face!  At least I managed to tickle someones tastebuds!  What this means however is that point 3 above is back on the to-do list!  Whether or not I had to bake them for H, this is definitely something I want to further enjoy and explore.  Look out for more baking experiments and lots of photos.

Miral

It is not very often that a book touches me and so I felt compelled to share this with you.  I finished the book this morning sitting poolside in ridiculously hot temperatures and it is still top of mind.  This is usually a positive sign as it is rare that I reflect over a book I have finished for long.  Perhaps I am somewhat biased being a Palestinian girl with no country to call my own, still I am a huge fan of foreign films in general (although I’m not sure this classifies as such for me, given its in my native mother tongue!) nonetheless, it has been shown at several film festivals including the 2010 Venice Film Festival and the 2010 Cannes Film Festival and  has garnered a lot of acclaim from movie critics the world over.  I saw the premiere of the movie at the Abu Dhabi Film Festival last October and was very lucky to meet both Rula Jebreal (the author) as well as Frieda Pinto (who plays Miral in the movie) before reading the book.

Miral is a compelling and incredibly touching true-story set in Jerusalem in the days of the Intifada.  The backdrop of the story alone is so beautifully captured it managed to successfully transport me back there to relive the beautiful white stone houses, the hustle and bustle of The Old City and the beautiful Mount of Olives.  How stunning my Jerusalem is.  The book begins with Miral’s mother Nadia as a young girl who we learn was sexually abused as a child and fled home at a very young age throwing herself into dangerous and ethically questionable professions to make a living.  Miral loses her mother at a very young age and is sent by her father to Dar El Tifl, an orphanage started and run by the legendary Hind Al-Husseini whose plight to serve the women of her country began as a gesture of kindness – after the first Israeli-Arab war of 1948 – and lasted her whole life as she urged the girls she took in to choose education over conflict.  As Miral witnesses the effects of the Israeli campaigns against the intifada, she draws closer to the political fringes, finally choosing to join the struggle in full and falling for the man who helped her become more actively involved. She exposes the truths about living through war, the hard-to-accept realities of the refugee camps where time is forgotten and alot of passion for a cause that is dear to many peoples hearts.

There are few novels that showcase such a personal conflict in such depth and complexity. She is a brave story-teller and gives an honest portrayal of the daily difficulties and loss of innocence of growing up in a hostile environment that continues to break the Palestinians down every day.

May we one day have the right to return to our Holy Land so that our children can experience what we never had a chance to.  A country.  An anthem.  The familiarity of a place.  The sense of belonging.  (Ya rab)…

Back to life

I dont know what it is about these big meetings.  They are so draining and take so much out of me everytime – emotionally, mentally, physically – I’m just shattered.  Still, despite finishing today and very happily so, there is always a strange void that follows the joy of success.  The preparations for this meeting have occupied my every waking hour (and there have been very few!) over the past week that I suddenly feel like I dont know what to do with myself.  It’s an unhealthy way of life and now that this is behind me, its time to make a drastic change.  I need to go back to my very first post and the essential purpose behind this blog: taking the time to find myself and more importantly to find balance.  I would love to enjoy life in the slow pace – and that doesnt mean vegetating in front of the TV but taking the time to savour the things I do.  My life is happening too quickly, I often feel like I dont know how I got from one day to the next. 

I am considering what to tackle this weekend.  Friday will most definitely be spent poolside to recover from the physical and mental blows of this week.  Any thoughts on which point from the list in my 2nd post I should tackle first?  Maybe I will finally bake those cupcakes for H.  That’s been on my to-do list for months.  Yes…that’s a good plan.  Vanilla cupcakes with vanilla frosting.  Boring i know but so H loves. 

I’m excited…back on Saturday! ( :

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