Finding a Silver Lining

Vegan Chili 1Temperatures are slowly rising, the days are becoming longer, and the welcome comforts of spring are nearer with every passing day. And yet…we’re still steeped in what has proven to be one of the more brutal winters of recent experience. Ever the optimist, I look at winter with the lens of a “silver lining” perspective. It has a number of perks: an excuse to bundle up with a great movie, a reminder for our constantly changing world, and (most importantly) an excellent reason for cooking up a hearty meal. My dearest friend (and former roommate!) Jennifer Berg is visiting Boston right now. She currently lives in good ol’ Texas, playing English horn with the San Antonio Symphony. Since Boston and Texas are total opposites weather-wise, I wanted to give her a “warm” welcome back with a filling meal. My pantry just happened to have all of the essentials for making this delicious Vegetarian Sweet Potato ChiliVegan Chili 3There are multiple “camps” when it comes to making chili – some swear by the use of tomatoes, other claim that authentic chilis should be nothing more than meat and beans. Jenn is a die-hard Texan when it comes to chili, and lovingly called this gem “Northeastern chili”. I used two different types of beans – black beans and kidney beans – and a whole mess of veggies (see below). I’m an avid reader of ingredient labels, and always opt for canned items with as few added ingredients as possible. This often leads me to the “organic” options. Even though it’s a little pricier, I’d rather avoid the cheaper varieties with added “calcium chloride” and/or “maltodextrin”.
Vegan Chili 4What I love most about this chili is that it’s chock-full of vegetables. You could throw in some kale to up the nutritional scale, but these add-ins were perfect for our needs. The original recipe called for canned tomatoes…but seeing as how I only had canned tomato sauce, I had to improvise. I’d just purchased some fresh cherry tomatoes, which ended up working much better than I’d imagined. The key to this chili is allowing ample time to simmer and settle (basically refrigerating the chili for a night or two). This allows the flavors to develop, lending a savory depth to this chili that is simply to die for – meat lovers won’t miss the beef for a second. Click HERE to see the recipe for this hearty dish!
Vegan Chili 2 This winter has been a great example of why it’s not always easy to find the “silver lining” in situations – our clothing and shoes have been defeated by salted walkways and knee-deep slush, and our sleeping rituals disturbed by the creeping chill that’s impossible to ignore. But then something occurs to remind us that spring is SO CLOSE, and soon we’ll be rid of all this silly winter gear. Music can have a similar effect – one moment you feel anxious or weary, and the next you feel refreshed and inspired. What better way to seek a JohannesBrahms“silver lining” in a less-than-admirable context than through music? This inspired my musical pairing for this post: Johannes Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D Major, Op. 77. Brahms wrote piece in 1878 for his dear friend, violinist Joseph Joachim. The piece itself can be viewed as a journey, with a protagonist (the violinist) and a setting (orchestra). The Allegro non troppo opens with a fervent exposition, and the violin introduces itself with a fearless resolve. From there, the soloist takes an extemporary lead – the orchestra willingly follows, alternating between the opening’s intensity and ethereal reveries. It finally ends on a literal “happy note” following an ardent cadenza. The piece then transitions into an Adagio that is both passionate and gentle in character. (Since this dinner was cooked for my former roomie oboist, Jennifer Berg, it’s worth acknowledging the beautiful oboe solo that starts the movement). The Allegro giocoso, ma non troppo vivace is a celebration, as the “silver lining” is finally realized. When spring arrives, I’ll probably listen to this finale over and over again. The below recording (of the first movement) is with my favorite “protagonist,” Itzhak Perlman – enjoy!

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Sources Cited:
“Violin Concerto (Brahms),” Wikipedia.com
“Johannes Brahms – photo”, Wikipedia.com

Rise and Shine: Part I

French Toast 5The majority of the recipes on this blog have a dinner and/or dessert connotation – sadly, there is little to no representation of my favorite meal: breakfast. It is the only time of day that encourages both creative ingredients and caloric liberties. Breakfast can make or break your day, depending on how “scrambled” you feel once you walk out the door. As such, I’ve decided to introduce a new series on this blog called “Rise and Shine” – these posts will showcase morning favorites, and natural light is the BEST lighting for foodie photos…so this series is a total win-win. Last weekend I was in NYC for Valentine’s Day, and rather than risk the crowds/drama at local restaurants, Tom and I spent the weekend cooking at home. We ended up making some great meals, including this Whole Wheat French Toast with Bananas Foster.
French Toast 4French Toast is a breakfast icon, and thankfully it’s a cinch to make. The history of this dish is somewhat nebulous, though it finds an affinity with recipes dating all the way back to the 4th century (only the most delicious recipes stand the test of time). It was and still is a great solution for using up stale bread. You basically soak individual slices of day-old bread in an egg & cream mixture, then frying the bread until browned and cooked through. It creates the perfect canvas for any number of toppings, from maple syrup to fresh fruit. We sadly had grabbed a bad batch of raspberries (hate when that happens!) and had to ditch almost the entire crate. The weather outside was discouraging, but we needed a new plan…
French Toast 3Tom decided to brave the wintery slush to grab a few bananas from the corner store. He had some rum in the apartment, which led to my suggesting bananas foster…and Jamaican coffees, which were stellar. Bananas foster is fairly simple, and though I personally believe that the flambé makes all the difference it is optional: you can safely add the rum and allow it to cook down for a few minutes with a simmer alone (and avoid the concern of setting fire to your kitchen). Right towards the end, Tom suggested adding the few raspberries we had salvaged, and it gave the dish a nice Valentine’s Day touch 🙂 I drizzled some clover honey over the plated slices of toast and foster, and the result was…well, I’ll let the photos do the talking. Click HERE for a sweet recipe to start your day!
French Toast 1Have you ever eaten a meal with others in total silence? Granted…there are times when this implies an extremely tense situation (as I imagine celebrity family dinners in the wake of a PR scandal must be), but silence is more often than not an indication of a delicious meal. Once we started eating the French toast, very few words were exchanged. The ability to appreciate without disruption – whether it be food or music – allows you to more fully experience that which you are enjoying. There honestly should be no need for words. This led to my choosing Felix Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words (Lieder ohne Worte): a collection of short solo piano pieces, written between 1829 and 1845. Much the way that the foodie photos above speak for themselves, Mendelssohn was adamant that these works needed no written clarification – he felt the musical messages were far clearer than any program notes could express. The following statement captures his thoughts exactly:

People often complain that music is too ambiguous, that what they should think when they hear it is so unclear, whereas everyone understands words. With me, it is exactly the opposite, and not only with regard to an entire speech but also with individual words. These, too, seem to me so ambiguous, so vague, so easily misunderstood in comparison to genuine music, which fills the soul with a thousand things better than words. The thoughts which are expressed to me by music that I love are not too indefinite to be put into words, but on the contrary, too definite.

While some might believe this is a matter-of-course statement for classical composers, his music fully supports the sentiment. The pieces in this collection aren’t overly complicated – in fact, many find them lacking in technical dexterity and difficult to interpret as a consequence. Their subtle melodies come across as spoken dialogue, with gentle harmonies that neither overpower the music nor overwhelm the listener. The music’s message is clear and quite literally needs no words. The below recording is the full collection with pianist Daniel Barenboim (this recording is over 2 hours in length…so feel free to listen in shifts). Enjoy!

Sources Cited: 
“French toast,” Wikipedia.com
“Songs without Words”, Wikipedia.com

A Natural Charm

(I would like to dedicate this post to my friend, Sarah Knapp Kidd – Sarah passed away earlier today, having lost a hard-fought battle with cancer. She was loved by many, and will be truly missed. We will forever keep her joy and smile in our hearts.)
Rosemary Tart 1I’ve never had much of a sweet tooth, which is ironic given my love of baking! While many see desserts as a godsend, I am often more inclined to choose natural sweets: fresh fruits, floral honeys, maple syrup – all possess a great deal more character than Mary Poppins’ beloved “spoonful of sugar.” We often forget the simple beauty of organics ingredients, and opt for convenient and distilled substitutes. Though I’ve yet to forgo the joys of making cookies and cakes, I’ve been steadily moving more towards rustic alternatives…like this Almond & Mascarpone Tart with Honeyed Fruits.
Rosemary Tart 3This crust is by far one of the best I’ve had – the almond flour adds a crumbly lightness to the texture, while the rosemary lends a savory hint. The two pair quite beautifully with fruits, making it the ideal crust in this setting. This was the first time I had made an actual tart crust, and it was breeze! I just purchased this pan, to which I owe most of the credit – the crust came right out, and the ruffled edges were perfect.
Rosemary Tart 2This tart does little to hide its agrarian beginnings – fruit, rosemary, and honey are discernible in every bite. The beauty of this dessert comes in the preservation of these ingredients, which are easily interchangeable – figs in lieu of apricots, thyme instead of rosemary, maple syrup rather than honey (to name a few!) The trick here is to give yourself enough time since the fillings need to chill prior to serving. It’s even better the next day – in fact, I had a slice for breakfast the next morning (which is when I snapped the below photo). Click HERE to see the recipe for the beautiful tart!
Rosemary Tart 4Given the organic qualities of this dessert, I was compelled to consider a piece of music that had been inspired by nature. Of course…there are TONS of options in the classical repertoire – how can there not be? Music has an ideal voice for capturing nature’s most breathtaking elements. I wanted a piece with a pastoral character, and thus chose Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. Premiered in 1920, the music is highly evocative of an English countryside, with a violin solo portraying the flight of a lark. While Vaughn Williams certainly drew inspiration from his surroundings, English folk tunes and works by the English poet George Meredith played key roles. In fact, he included the following poem by Meredith in the final publication of the work:

He rises and begins to round,
He drops the silver chain of sound,
Of many links without a break,
In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

For singing till his heaven fills,
‘Tis love of earth that he instils,
And ever winging up and up,
Our valley is his golden cup
And he the wine which overflows
to lift us with him as he goes.

Till lost on his aerial rings
In light, and then the fancy sings.

Vaughn Williams never forces the orchestration, giving this poem an ideal musical setting – the strings and winds play beneath the aerial violin, which renders the image of a balletic lark soaring above the rolling hills and valleys of the countryside. It ends on serene note, where the orchestra is silent as the violin line drifts into the distance and becomes “lost on his aerial rings.” The following recording is with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and David Nolan on the violin – I hope you enjoy it!

Sources Cited:
Heninger, Barbara. “Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending” http://www.barbwired.com

A New Year of Cookies!

HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! At some point, remind me to share with all of you how crazy/wonderful/beautiful 2013 was – but for now, I’d like to kick off 2014 with something we all know and love: NUTELLA.
NutellaThe chocolatey hazelnut spread has become a worldwide phenomenon, and this is not an exaggeration. Every 2.5 seconds, a jar of Nutella is sold to a chocoholic in the world. To put this into context: the total number of jars sold in a single year can cover the Great Wall of China 8 times, and can be spread over more than 1,000 football fields! If that’s not enough to convince you, there is an annual World Nutella Day – on February 5th, fans across the globe post drool-worthy foodie pics and share what they love most about the sweet spread. Needless to say, Nutella is pretty amazing and (for some) worth more than its weight in gold. With that in mind, let me introduce you to these two “drool-worthy” cookie recipes: Vanilla Bean Macarons with Nutella Buttercream and Nutella-Stuffed Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies. (Word of warning – these do NOT adhere to any New Year’s Resolution efforts).
Nutella Macarons 6French macarons are a project I’ve been meaning to try for quite some time – each cookie consists of two almond-meringue shells with a filling of choice (ex: buttercream, jam, ganache). It’s often confused with “macaroon” –  a similar cookie that lacks a filling and is popularly made with coconut (scroll to the end of this post!) The French macaron has a more distinct shape: its top is smooth and round, with a ruffled edge (called the pied) and a flat base. Flavors and colors are easy to customize, hence my choice of vanilla bean and nutella. Every baker has his or her own opinion about how to make the perfect macaron, but it really comes down to preference and experience – if the “macaron” shoe fits, stick with it.
Nutella Macarons 5While some people have the ability to pipe perfectly-sized macarons, I don’t trust my own skills just yet. To make a visual guide, I traced small circles on to a piece of parchment paper and then flipped the paper ink-side down. Aside from this, there are two other tricks for getting the right shape and look. The first is rapping the pan against the counter – not so hard that the cookies goes flying, but with enough force to loosen any air bubbles trapped inside. The second is to allow the batter to sit for 15 to 30 minutes: this creates a shell (the batter should not be “tacky” before going into the oven) and allows the coveted pied to form while baking.
DSC_0288The filling is perhaps the easiest part – you can go plain Jane by choosing your favorite jam, or you can whip up a flavored buttercream or chocolate ganache. As you already know, I made a Nutella buttercream for my macarons…which I proceeded to lick out of the bowl once the cookies were done (no shame). It took me a while to give macarons at try, but they are really quite simple once you get the feel for it – click HERE to see the recipe, which also includes some helpful tips.
Nutella Chip Cookies 2These.Were.Ridiculous – browned butter, Nutella, chocolate chips, GAH! These cookies are so intense that the recipe takes two days – you will be chomping at the bit by the time they’re ready to eat, but the wait is worth it. Browned butter sets these apart from your typical chocolate chip cookies. It’s similar to creating a caramel or dry-toasting nuts and spices – you’re basically “toasting” the butter, which in turn gives the cookies a nutty, buttery finish. I plan to give this chocolate chip cookie recipe a try on its own, but the Nutella filling is what makes this an A+ cookie…
Browned ButterOne thing I absolutely recommend is freezing the Nutella, and then eating it directly out of the freezer. The original recipe calls for chilling the spread in your fridge, then using a teaspoon measure to scoop it out. Our building’s heat is kept at tropical highs during the winter (thanks to a disengaged management company) so I needed a better solution. I froze teaspoon-sized dollops of Nutella the night before baking, which resulted in a much friendlier process. The Nutella “coins” could easily be wrapped with the cookie dough, mess-free.
Nutella Chip Cookies 1These cookies with bursting with a nutty, chocolatey aroma when pulled out of the oven. Once cooled, I wrapped as many as possible into candy bags for gifting…because I would have eaten all of them, and needed to save myself from a “Garfield sees lasagna” moment. Carrying them into work was comical, considering people on the train were visibly intrigued by the smell of chocolatey goodness. This is not your average chocolate chip cookie, but it will quickly become one of your favorites – click HERE to learn how to make these devilish treats!
Coconut Macaroons 2New Year’s bonus cookie! I also made some Coconut Macaroons drizzled with Nutella.  I had several parties to attend on New Year’s Eve so…the more the merrier! This is one of my favorite cookie recipes – they are a cinch to make, with only 5 ingredients (minus the chocolate). What better way to treat your friends than with a platter of macarons AND macaroons?? Click HERE to see the recipe for these delightful cookies! 
Coconut Macaroons 1January 1st brings with it a fresh start – unknown adventures and new opportunities await. It is a cause for celebration that’s echoed across the globe. New Year’s Eve is filled with excited anticipation, and the day itself seems somewhat brighter and clearer (even if it’s painfully cold…like it is today in Boston). The festive ambiance is contagious, as cities and entire nations join together to welcome a new start. One neujahrskonzert_wien_new_years_concert_Vienna_wiener_philharmoniker_musikverein_golden_hallcelebration that’s worth noting is the New Year’s Concert with the Vienna Philharmonic – a tradition that dates all the way back to 1939. Today, the performance is broadcast to an audience of nearly 50 million people! On the morning of New Year’s day, the Vienna Phil gives a concert that showcases a number of classics by Austrian composers. Most of the program includes pieces by the Strauss family. In fact, the 1939 performance contained works by only Johann Strauss. This brings me to my musical pairing: Johann Strauss’ Overture to the operetta Die Fledermaus. This piece – which was on the original 1939 New Year’s program – is the perfect example of “light music.” It contains some wonderful gems, and gives you a taste what’s in store for the operetta itself. That being said, the technical aspects and musicality of the overture are quite demanding on the musicians – what better orchestra to meet the challenge than the Vienna Phil! The below recording is from the New Year’s Concert with the Vienna Philharmonic in 2010. Both exciting and cheerful, this overture is a lovely way to ring in the New Year!

Sources Cited:
“8 Things You May Not Know About Nutella,” MentalFloss.com
“Vienna New Year’s Concert,” Wikipedia
Photo courtesy of the Vienna Philharmonic

Three Winter Delights

Squash is such an underrated food – you can basically prepare it however you want, and know that the outcome will be (more or less) outrageously delicious. This is the time of year I eat winter squash with practically everything, and wanted to share three fun recipes I’ve enjoyed thus far: Quinoa Stuffed Acorn Squash, Spaghetti Squash with Kale-Pepita Pesto, and Butternut Squash & Apple Soup.
Winter SquashWinter squash is somewhat of an anomalous title – they are actually grown during the summer months, alongside the well-known “summer” squash varieties. The main difference is that winter squash is harvested only after it reaches full maturity, which traditionally falls in September or October (depending on the region). At this stage, the fruit has developed a tough, shell-like rind that ensures preservation into the winter months (hence the title!) The flesh and seeds are the edible components, making them a coveted source of food across the western hemisphere. Because I’m a total nerd: winter squash are of the genus Cucurbita, which was originally cultivated within the Andes and Mesoamerican regions. But enough with the “science”, let’s get to the good stuff 🙂
Acorn SquashWhen I was a kid, acorn squash was one of those “side dish staples” in my mother’s cooking repertoire. Her recipe was simple, but terribly addictive: a large pat of butter, a spoonful of brown sugar, and a dash of salt. 40 minutes later a candied bowl of goodness would be ready to eat. While my adult self would love to believe this is good enough for a meal, I knew that something heartier (and a little healthier) would be a safer path to follow. So with that in mind…
Stuffed Acorn Squash 1Voilà! Quinoa Stuffed Acorn SquashMy grown-up take on an acorn squash. Though they aren’t as tough/sturdy as “practical gourds” (inedible fruit whose rinds are used as food vessels, musical instruments, etc) the shape and size of acorn squash make them ideal serving “bowls”. Many a soup, risotto, and casserole has found its way into this charming cup, so basically anything that be used for stuffing. My recipe consisted of quinoa, red lentils, raisins, and spinach – the result was fantastic, and were even better the next day. Click HERE to see the recipe for this hearty and nutritious meal!
Spaghetti Squash 1Spaghetti squash – the “paleo pasta” that Pinterest can’t seem to get enough of. I’ve actually been curious to try this for quite some time, and was pleasantly surprised at how easy and delicious it turned out. You can cook it any number of ways: boil, roast, microwave (though the thought of exploding squash comes to mind on the latter…) Once done, you simply rake a fork through the strands to yield a fiber-packed “spaghetti” with half the carbs.
Kale PestoMy sister sent me an edible arrangement for my birthday, which was jam-packed with chocolate-covered everything. Surprisingly enough, the basket’s “filler” was a massive heap of curly kale! My initial excitement wore off once I discovered there were nearly 6 cups of the stuff hidden in the basket. I toyed around with a few ideas, recalling how I still have way too many pepitas in my house (but can you ever have too many pepitas? We’ll shelve this discussion for later). That’s when it dawned on me: Spaghetti Squash with Kale-Pepita Pesto!
Spaghetti Squash 2It is definitely not your typical pesto, but my god was it good!  The kale creates an even deeper green than the traditional herb varieties, and the pepitas are a lovely alternative to the pine nut and walnut norms. A word of caution – I am known to enjoy atypical fare, and this certainly falls into that category. Sticking with a traditional pesto might be a safer bet for those who know their limits. While the resulting dish looked a little bit like something Nemo might eat, it was really delicious – click HERE to see the recipe!
Butternut Squash Soup 2In considering the innumerable ways of preparing squash, hands-down my favorite preparation is a warm soup with fall spices.  There have been time I’ve sprinted to the subway post-work knowing that a warm bowl of pumpkin soup could be mine as soon as I got home. This thought alone has abated even though most oppressing winters in Boston. I may be unique in my obsession, but this Butternut Squash & Apple Soup has the potential to make anyone a believer. Butternut squash has a naturally sweet taste, but is more subtle than sweet potato or acorn squash. It pairs well with a number of spices, such as nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger (to name a few!).
Butternut SquashThere is one thing worth mentioning about this fabulous food group…certain squash can be a real pain in the butt when it comes to prep work. Trying to halve one of these takes the skill of a samurai, and peeling the rind is something I try to avoid at all costs. Luckily, this butternut squash recipe is fairly straightforward and you can make it days in advance (but if you’re like me, it won’t last long). The result is a soup that can bring warmth to even the coldest of winter days – click HERE to see the recipe for this cozy dish!
Butternut Apple Soup 1The contextual possibilities of squash make it an eclectic food source – soups, pies, pastas, muffins, you name it! What’s remarkable about this fruit is the ease and suitability it lends to each of its applied settings: whether it is a savory casserole or a candied treat. An appropriate analogy for classical music can be applied to the many hats that composers are often encouraged to wear throughout their career. One unique example is Jacques Ibert: a French composer whose style (both musically and professionally speaking) never adhered to a specific theme. Musically, Ibert’s compositions never adhered to a single style – he claimed that “all systems are valid provided that one derives music from them”. From operas to incidental music to chamber settings, Ibert’s music run the gamut of genres and styles. Professionally, Ibert had multiple careers – he was the director of the Académie de France à Rome for over 20 years, served on professional committees for the arts, and was an active conductor. In homage to the three recipes of this post, I chose Ibert’s Trois Pièces Brèves for the musical pairing. Written in 1930, this charming work for woodwind quintet is less than 10 minutes in length. The unique sound and texture of this ensemble is captured quite beautifully, with Ibert previewing the strengths and nuances of each instrument. The opening is lively and exuberant, which then transitions to a pensive duet between the flute and clarinet, and ends with a somewhat serious yet joyous finale. The below recording is by the Wind Quintet from the Danish National Symphony circa 2010 – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Winter Squash,” Wikipedia.com
“Jacques Ibert,” Wikipedia.com
“Stanford Woodwind Quintet: April 6, 2008 – Program Notes,” Friends of Chamber Music

South of the Orient: Part IV

Salmon Curry & ParippuA major benefit to dating a fellow foodie is that home-cooked meals are rarely boring – Tom and I often create something unique and delicious. Just the other week, we were at a coffee shop and (naturally) began to discuss what we could make for dinner that evening. The hope was to make something healthy and packed with protein – that idea led to salmon, and lentils slowly found their way into the discussion. Not surprisingly we decided to give this pairing an Indian twist, and the result was perfect: Salmon Curry over Parippu (Red Lentil Dal) and Spinach.
Parippu 3As per usual with Tom’s cooking, these recipes are permeated with a variety of spices…which reminds me to briefly discuss the term “curry”. Many assume that “curry” is a specific type of Indian spice, when in reality it is a generic term for a mixture of spices (flavors). The word is of English origin, with its creation dating back to the British Colonial government – during their colonial administration of India, British officials had come to know and love the flavors of the local cuisine. It is alleged that the mixture was created by an Indian chef for a single colonial magistrate: while preparing for his return to England, the magistrate announced that he couldn’t bear to live without the flavorful fare. The result was a spice powder that has become wildly popular throughout the British Isles, as well as across the globe in “fusion” settings.
Parippu 1 Indian cooking is often inspired by Ayurveda: a holistic practice of Indian origin that encourages well-being through physical and emotional awcareness. This practice relies on the understanding of the three doshas (or elemental energies that constitute each individual): Vata (motion), Pitta (metabolic), and Kapha (growth). Pitta espouses the life-giving properties of certain spices and foods, and legumes are seen as especially potent. This particular recipe uses red lentils (also known as Parippu or Masoor dal) – they cook more quickly than your standard brown lentils, with the difference being that these have been stripped of their outer hulls and split in half. The result is a protein that serves as an excellent thickener for stews and curries, making them a popular choice for Dal. Learn how to make this flavorful Dal by clicking HERE!
Curry SalmonSalmon with Indian spices was definitely a new one for me. Swordfish is Tom’s preferred choice for curries (more on that later), but we both agreed it might be interesting to try the oilier fish for a change of pace. I was in charge of making this dish, and it was actually fun to cook. Connecting to the previous dish, Ayurveda certainly applies here as well: salmon provides whopping dose of Omega-3’s, vitamins, protein, and amino acids. I decided to cook the salmon skin-on, but you can certainly go with your preference. For plating, we placed the Dal onto a mound of baby spinach, and topped it off with the salmon and extra sauce. The resulting dish was stunning, and needless to say our “dosha” were fully satisfied – click HERE to see the recipe for this beautiful salmon!
Curry Salmon & Parippu 2The life-giving properties of food are absolute – nutritional choices are a requisite for any healthy lifestyle. That being said, a person’s well-being is incidentally influenced by countless elements, and music certainly has a place in the formula. Think back on all of the times that you’ve turned to music: special occasions with family and friends, moments you were sad or nervous, times of laughter and joy, an instance of inspiration. These are experiences you’ll never forget, as they were integral to your personal wellness and psyche. Composer Marc Neikrug thoroughly believes in the power of music, and his work Healing Ceremony reflects this philosophy. He says of the piece:

“I thought about the power music has over people; I wanted to write something that would change how your body feels — helping you calm down, handle stress, get in touch with inner feelings and inner thoughts…This [composition] is not a treatment, but it surely can put you in the right place.” – Marc Neikrug

Neikrug has been living on a Pueblo reservation in Sante Fe for over twenty years, and has been greatly inspired by their cultural perspectives on healing and connectivity. From the three dosha of Ayurveda described above, music is perhaps most connected to Vata: a dosha that involves your breath, heart rate, and blood circulation. Exposure to music can influence all of these elements, and Neikrug’s intention with Healing Ceremony is to invoke calmness and  through the music:

“People should be much more conscious of the power that music has upon all of them — meaning your body and everything that’s going on inside of you…It’s not just, ‘Oh this is cool — it makes me want to dance,’ it’s much more complicted than that.” – Marc Neikrug

Nearly 40 minutes in length, the piece consists of 8 movements: North – Air – West – Earth – South – Water – East – Fire/Love. The following recording is with the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra performing “Earth”. Enjoy 🙂

Sources Cited
“Curry,” Wikipedia.com
“Ayurveda,” Wikipedia.com
“Ayurveda & Dosha Types for Beginners” MindBodyGreen
“Marc Neikrug, ‘Healing Ceremony’ Composer, Talks The Power Of Music” Huffington Post: Lifestyle

The Treats of Travel

After what has felt like nonstop traveling, I am BACK in Boston 😀 It was an awesome three months do doubt, though it’s nice to finally have a moment to relax and enjoy my own apartment. I feel like I haven’t blogged in forever! Of course, the traveling has meant little to no chance for foodie adventures and photography…thankfully, I had photographed some sugary treats a while back that had yet to be featured on this blog!
Truffles1Chocolate Truffles are perhaps one of the most luxurious sweets, and yet they are so easy to make! My recommendation: use THE best chocolate that money can buy – Ghirardelli, Godiva, Scharffen Berger, Green & Black’s, etc. It’s the main ingredient, and will make all the difference in the world (especially if you don’t plan on using any added flavors). Adding a flavor is where the fun really begins – peppermint, pecans, bourbon, cinnamon, Grand Marnier, espresso (I could go on…). Just be sure to stick with ingredients that won’t entirely overwhelm the taste of the chocolate (after all, these are chocolate truffles).
Truffles2From there, you can roll them in any coating (that’s edible) – we went for a combination of sprinkles, chopped nuts, powdered sugar, and even coconut! Some other ideas might be crushed cereal, decorative sugar, pretzels (but don’t get crazy!) The result was is quite stunning, and so rich! They can be a little messy, but I was recently given a trick: coat your hands in cocoa powder, then roll them into balls – so simple! Have several bowls set out with your desired coatings, and I would quickly washing your hands in between coatings, unless you want a truffle that is covered in every one…which is OK! Click HERE to read more about these bite-sized treats.
CinnamonRollCookiedThese Cinnamon Bun Cookies were such beautiful cookies! At first I was skeptical, and not really convinced that they would work. It can be a little tricky slicing the rounds, so be sure to use a good, sharp knife. I rolled the dough as tightly as I could, then placed it in the freezer overnight. The next morning, I carefully sliced the logs using a chef’s knife. I also would recommend making a touch more of filling than you need (just in case!)
CinnamonRollCookies2The original recipe calls for icing, yet I felt these already have the perfect balance of sugar and spice. For fans of a sweeter cookie, then you would love the icing – and it would also bring these even closer to their pastry inspiration. If you are bringing these to a party and want to box them up, I would recommend icing the cookies once you arrive. Just make sure your guests don’t steal any while you’re working – I can guarantee they will be tempted to try. Click HERE to read more about these beautiful cookies.
PBThumbprintsAll I can say about these Peanut Butter & Fudge Oatmeal Cookies is that they are dangerous – once you’ve had one, you’ll want at least 3 (or 12) more. They are actually gluten-free, which is a great option if you or a friend is sensitive to gluten products. Everything else about them is pure indulgence: peanut butter, chocolate fudge…they are just really good. I could talk more about them, but wouldn’t want you to accidentally drool on your keyboard – click HERE to read more about these chocolatey bites.
PBThumbprints2Since this large chunk of  tours that was practically taking me across the country, I felt like a bit of storyteller with friends and colleagues by sharing “tales of distant places” (heck, even the middle of nowhere Ohio can feel like a fairy tale…) Needless to say, this thought inspired my musical pairing for this blog – Aleksandr Glazunov’s Chant du ménestrel, Op. 71 pour Violoncelle et Orchestre. This is a piece I only recently heard performed, and have ultimately fallen in love with. A minstrel was a medieval bard whose songs of faraway lands and heroic feats were highly sought by Europe’s high society. The minstrel tradition was eventually replaced by court composers and musicians, which led many of these bards to travel for work – hence the “wandering minstrels”. The picture of a traveling performer is a romantic ideal (and, in a small way, define my own work in the arts world!) A number of artists have drawn inspiration from this ideal, including poets…

O for the gentleness of old Romance, the simple planning of a minstrel’s song! (John Keats) 

playwrights…

Consort! what, dost thou make us minstrels? an
thou make minstrels of us, look to hear nothing but
discords: here’s my fiddlestick; here’s that shall
make you dance. ‘Zounds, consort!
(Romeo and Juliet: Act 3, Scene 1 – Shakespeare)

And painters…(to name a few!)

Supper-With-The-Minstrel-And-His-Lute-large

So where is the connection to these cookies? Cookies in and of themselves are edible stories – each has its own history, whether it be your mother’s beloved chocolate chip recipe or from a holiday cookie swap at your office that was a lot fun. The original below recording is with cellist Yuli Turovsky and the chamber orchestra I Musici de Montréal – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Minstrel,” Wikipedia.com
“John Keats quotes”, Thinkexist.com
“Romeo and Juliet” Shakespeare.mit.edu
“Supper With The Minstrel And His Lute,” Gerrit Van Honthorst: The Complete Works

Victory Never Tasted So Sweet

Superbowl Cupcakes 1Superbowl – a word that, for sports fans, is synonymous with “event of the year”. It’s the one time that you can actually get away with having nothing more than nachos and beer for dinner…with a side of buffalo wings and mozzarella sticks and guacamole and…well, you get the picture. I always take advantage of these occasions to make something fun and delicious – so for Super Bowl, I made adorable Touchdown Cupcakes!
SuperbowlCupcakes4I have always wondered what the “grass” piping tip would produce – I personally am reminded of silly string…but maybe that’s just me. It’s actual “spout” resembles a shower head. I would recommend using a standard buttercream recipe, but you might be able to try it with cream cheese. The piping tip has very small holes, so a stiffer frosting will be difficult – adding some milk or cream can help loosen the consistency. You start to get the hang of the piping pattern after a while, though it is time-consuming.
SuperbowlCupcakes3At first I thought the piped frosting would look silly, but it actually made a very convincing “grass.” As for the cupcakes, I used my go-to chocolate cake recipe – it’s a quick recipe, and makes a cake that is all things you love about chocolate 🙂 What’s even better about these cupcakes is that they freeze beautifully – I always have a few in my freezer for unexpected guests (or chocolate cravings…). You can easily sub out the buttermilk for plain milk, and use plain boiled water if you prefer to not have coffee (my good friend Tim, for example, is allergic – I use this alternative whenever making this cake for him!)
SuperbowlCupcakes5For the footballs, I had some leftover dough in my freezer for rollout chocolate cookies (remember these beauties!?) These were arguably the most difficult part – I don’t have a football-shaped cutter…so I buckled down and used a paring knife to carefully carve out 2 dozen small football shapes. They baked in less than 8 minutes, and made perfect little toppers! Overall, these cupcakes are quite simple – the assembly and decorating are (obviously) the best part 🙂 Here are the basic components you will need:
Chocolate Cupcakes
Basic Buttercream Frosting (like this one) + green dye (enough to get your preferred hue) and a touch of lemon (to help cloak the dye’s flavor)
Cookie Toppers (omit the peppermint filling)
Frosting Tools: Grass piping tip, Round piping tip, disposable pastry bags OR ziploc bags (with corner snipped), paring knife
SuperbowlCupcakes2The promise of victory and ecstatic crowds are cogent factors to what defines the Superbowl. Thousands upon thousands cram into a stadium in hopes of experiencing the ultimate sport fan’s dream, and each and every player on that field is dedicated to triumph. The energy is both electric (no pun intended…considering the power went out at this year’s Superbowl!) and contagious. This helped lead to my musical pairing : Bizet’s “Toreador Song,” from the opera Carmen. Much as this event is the highlight of the football season, this aria is perhaps one of the most famous in all of the opera repertoire. It describes the “gory glory” of the bullfight, citing the rush of excitement and ultimate triumph. To give you an idea, here is a translated excerpt from the aria:

The crowd goes mad, edgy from waiting,
Breaking into noisy arguments all around!
People shout, people yell and holler
With a din that tears the place apart!
They’re celebrating men of valor!
Celebrating the brave of heart!
Let’s go! On guard! Let’s go! Ah!

Why this aria for cupcakes? A toreador (also known as a “torero” or “matador”) is a theatrical profession, and the act of bullfighting is considered to be more of a performance art than a sport. The fighter wears elaborate garb decorated with gold or silver embellishments, and enters the bullring in hopes of achieving a higher status in society; much as I hoped these cupcakes (a mixture of recipes that are essentially “back-of-the-box” basics) could be more appreciated once decorated. I should probably add that I arrived (late) at a Superbowl party, just following the power outage – I was surrounded by Ravens fans (with one die-hard 49ers fan), and we were all on the edge of our seats up to the final minute. As the Ravens’ win became imminent, we all felt that “victory had never tasted so sweet.”

My roommate Synthia Pullum (a ridiculously talented soprano…and Anime enthusiast!) recommended the following recording with baritone Dmitri Hvorostovsky – enjoy!

Sources Cited:
“Toreador Song,”Wikipedia.com
“Torero,” Wikipedia.com

A Chilly Finale

BakedAlaska2It is COLD outside. Granted, I do come from the South (where cold weather is somewhat of a foreign concept), though I take pride in my acclimation to Northeastern winters. Yet it is currently 10° F outside…and I am not built for this kind of chill. Because I often need a touch of humor in moments like these, I thought now would be the perfect time to feature my Baked Alaska. I made two different varieties of this classic (during a much warmer December) and both were equally awesome.
Baked Alaska3I was surprised when I found out that Baked Alaska’s origin is French – they named it omelette norvégienne, or “Norwegian omelette” (a reference to Norway’s frigid climate). The name “Baked Alaska” was first coined in 1876 by chef Charles Ranhofer at Delmonico’s Restaurant in New York, NY. The name was meant to honor America’s recent acquisition of the territory from Russia just under a decade before (similar to the French model, the name is meant to reflect Alaska’s chilly clime). It feels a bit like Alaska in Boston…
BakedAlaska4I mentioned that I had made two varieties of this cake – the first used Strawberry Sorbet and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream (pictured below), while the second had Peach Gelato and Butter Pecan Ice Cream (pictured above). You can use whatever flavors you want, which is why I love this cake – the possibilities are endless! Rocky Road and Chocolate Chip, Pumpkin and Caramel…have mercy. The trick is patience, and taking the time to refreeze the cake after each assembly. The other trick is, of course, to be cautious when setting this thing on fire. It’s an optional step, but the effect is stunning – click HERE to see the secret to this showstopping dessert!
BakedAlaska1This cake, though frozen, is quite beautiful – it has a surprisingly light taste (depending on the ice cream you choose) the overall result is almost refreshing – chilly yet elegant, a beautiful illustration of winter itself. What better pairing than Antonio Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in F minor, RV 297 “Winter”! A set of four violin concertos, Le quattro stagioni (The Four Seasons) are perhaps Vivaldi’s most famous works. They are based on a series of sonnets, each ascribing the qualities of a respective season. Below is an excerpt from the sonnet for Winter.

Trembling with cold amidst the freezing snow, while a frightful wind harshly blows, running and stamping one’s feet every minute, and feeling one’s teeth chatter from the extreme cold.

The performance of “Winter” is programmed as the final piece, giving the program an exciting and stunning finish. This dessert is certain to do the same at any meal – the below recording is with the master himself, Itzhak Perlman – enjoy 🙂

Source Cited:
“Baked Alaska,” Wikipedia.com
“Vivaldi’s Four Seasons: Winter – Sonnet Text,” About.com