Monday, March 14, 2011

Finding Happiness at the Bottom of a Measuring Cup: Banana Nut Scones

So I know I've been kind of delinquent with the blogging.  It's not that I haven't been cooking or baking, it's just that I've been neglecting to photographically document the process for your viewing pleasure.  But lucky for you guys I'm back on my game.

My roomie had a bunch of over ripe bananas in need of a home, so I thought I would oblige by baking something delicious with them.  I mean who doesn't love the challenge of finding a purpose for an ingredient before it passes to compost only status, and god knows there are a million yummy ways to dispose of spotty bananas.

I've been baking a lot of banana bread the last few months, so I thought I would mix it up and also make use of the open carton of buttermilk in my fridge (yeah, I'm thrifty, respect it).  Hence was born the banana nut scone!  I actually only used 2 bananas in mine and ended up wishing they were a little more chock-full of bananas, so I've adjusted the recipe below accordingly.  These are good plain, but I think they would be even more amazing with some honey drizzled on them or maybe some peanut butter spread across (yes, I'm also nuts for nuts).  Enjoy!

Banana Nut Scones

Adapted from “Our Finest Buttermilk Scones” in The Canadian Living Baking Book

    * 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    * 2 tbsp granulated sugar
    * 2 tbsp brown sugar
    * 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    * 1/2 tsp baking soda
    * 1/2 tsp salt
    * 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    * dash of nutmeg
    * 1/2 cup cold butter, cubed (1 stick)
    * 1 cup buttermilk (can sub 1 cup milk w/ 1 tbsp lemon juice/vinegar added)
    * 1 egg
    * 1 tsp vanilla
    * 3 ripe bananas chopped
    * 3/4 cup chopped and toasted walnuts
    * 1 tbsp brown sugar for topping
    * 1/4 tsp cinnamon for topping

1. Spray a full sized cookie sheet with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. In large bowl, whisk together flour, both sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Using pastry blender, or two knives, cut in butter until crumbly.  Alternatively you can throw all dry ingredients into a food processor and pulse until mixed.  Then add the butter and pulse until the butter is the size of very small peas, then transfer mixture to a large bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk buttermilk with egg and vanilla. Pour over flour mixture. Stir to make a soft, ragged dough. Then gently mix in bananas and walnuts

4. With lightly floured hands, press dough into ball. On floured surface, knead gently a few times to bring dough together.  Pat out into a long rectangle.  Cut rectangle into 6 smaller rectangles, then cut these diagonally to form 12 trangle shaped scones. Place on prepared pan.

5. Mix together the brown sugar and cinnamon for topping and then sprinkle evenly over all 12 scones.

6. Bake scones in center of oven until golden, 15-20 minutes. I like to rotate the cookie sheet half way through baking since my oven is small and doesn’t heat very evenly. Remove scones from oven when done and transfer to rack and let cool.

Ready to hit the oven

All baked and ready to munch on : )

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Life is still out there and I'll live it when I'm ready

I haven't been very happy lately, but I desperately want to be.

I want to have fun when I'm doing things I know are fun. 

I want to feel loved and not alone when I'm surrounded by friends.

I want to feel in control when I know I'm already doing the things I need to do when I need to do them.

I guess I want a lot of things and most of those things are based on some standard of what I think the normal person is supposed to feel or experience.  But maybe there is no normal and what I really need is a breather from all these expectations that I set for myself.

Life really is grand and the world really is beautiful, but I think it's ok to forget that sometimes because when I come back around it still will be and I'll actually be ready to appreciate that. 

Right now I'm just going through the motions.  My life is like the cliffs notes of a novel.  The basic plot and major devices are there but the real heart and soul are missing.  I have moments of clarity and joy but they tend to be effervescent.  I'd like to think that the brevity is made up for by the fact that those feelings are genuine.

I don't need to be anything, I just need to be.  When I'm ready the rest will happen.


Sunday, March 6, 2011

Antibiotics for the Soul

Confession: I started seeing a therapist about a month ago.

I tell all my friends therapy is a great thing.  I was deeply involved in my college’s peer counseling program.  I’m about to be a health care professional and I really do believe that therapy and mental health support services can change and help people in immeasurable ways.

Despite all this, going was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made.

Now that I’ve started seeing someone it doesn’t seem like a big deal at all.  I talk to my friends about it openly and don’t feel self-conscious.  I even told Samuel Whiskers, back when I was still emailing him and I hadn’t completely walled myself off, that I was going and even now it doesn’t feel like a loss of face.  It really was just getting over the hump of picking up the phone and making an appointment.

So why did that seem like such a huge, insurmountable task which I couldn’t possibly bring myself to do at the time?

I guess I was just too proud. 

I thought that needing to go to therapy was admitting defeat.  That it meant the life and support system that I had built was not enough.  It meant that I didn’t have enough friends or they didn’t love me or tolerate me enough to get me through a rough patch.  It meant that my willpower wasn’t strong enough to put aside the hurt and carry on with my life I after I had tripped and fallen.  It meant that this really was a big deal and something I just couldn’t handle.

But here’s the thing.  When I did call it was because I was defeated.  I just needed to realize that this was my Waterloo.

Even though I’m glad I’m in therapy and I really do look forward to that hour every week, I still struggle with the idea that this was my breaking point.  It was three months.  It was fun and made me really happy, but I think mainly in a superficial way.  I was not in love.  So why does this feel like the denouement of my life and not of a passing relationship?

If I had felt this way after my previous relationship I tell myself that it would have been easier to swallow.  I had invested not just three years of my life, but my whole heart and being in him.  I thought I was going to marry him and that was going to be the rest of my life. 

It wasn’t, obviously. 

So shouldn’t having my whole life plan turned on end have been the great event which sent me to my knees?  Surprisingly it wasn’t and I can’t figure out why.

Right now I tell myself that it was a combination of stresses that weighed on me.  I still had unresolved feelings over my last relationship and probably still do.  I constantly have doubts about the career path I’ve chosen.  I’m overworked and under rested.  But in reality I feel like those are generic umbrella excuses which don’t come close to explaining why I was so cut to the quick.

I’m obsessed with finding the answer because deep down I feel like it’s the key to a cure.

Once upon a time people thought germ theory was crazy.  The concept that something tiny and virtually invisible could cause so much death and destruction was inconceivable and the institution of medicine resisted this theory for decades if not centuries, allowing and probably being the cause of thousands of deaths.  It took so long to find cures for diseases because physicians refused to believe that there was a sincere cause to be found.

I am looking for my germ. 

It may be invisible now, but I am determined to use every avenue available to find it.  I know it’s na├»ve to think that I will be able to pinpoint the source of all my vulnerability and suffering so accurately, but the thing is simple answers are discovered every day, and they were missed before because people didn’t have the faith and simplicity of mind to believe they could exist.

I’m not afraid to look.  If there's a germ then maybe there's a penicillin too.          


Thursday, March 3, 2011

The little things in life, 3/3/11

So I know I'm a day late. 

I'm totally ok with that by the way.  I'm trying this whole staying on top of the major things in life without being a total nazi and feeling guilty over all the little things that I can always get back to later.  It's actually working out pretty well...

You know those nature videos where they film a plant for a month and then they speed up the film so you can actually see the plant growing and flowering even though in real life the whole process was excruciatingly slow?  I'm hoping my life will be like that.  On a day to day basis it seems like I'm going nowhere.  But maybe when I look back in a year or multiple years from now I'll say, "wow, a lot really did change and I really did grow and it was pretty cool." 

We'll see.

Someone making a real movie out of my life and cutting out all the lame parts like me having to write inane pointless term papers and picking up hair tumble weeds off my bedroom carpet would also be pretty good.  Hint, hint, future blockbuster makers of America.  Maybe Anne Hathaway would be a good choice? 

But anyhow, this week:

1) I racked up enough rewards points on my credit card to get a free $100 gift card to bloomingdale's.

  See, sometimes you don't even have to buy happiness, corporate America will give it to you for free or in exchange for your undying loyalty.

2)  Finding a super cute Hawaiian themed bar, Lani Kai, which not only serves awesome drinks but also has my favorite fake-chinese food appetizer: crab rangoon. 

If you go by the way they call them "crab wontons" instead.  Apparently they're crab rangoon's slightly classier fraternal twin, made with mascarpone instead of cream cheese and real crab instead of imitation crab stick.  They tasted just as good.  I'm totally going back for happy hour when they're half priced.

3) Going to a super fun dinner at my professor's house with some classmates.

She and her husband were great, the antipasti, brownies and wine were phenomenal and it renewed my fairth that you really can grow up to have a successful career and a family and look good, be happy and be yourself while doing it.  I guess the feminist movement really did change things.  Thanks ladies, I owe you one.

- Cottontail

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Finding Happiness at the Bottom of a Measuring Cup: Carnitas Tacos

Being from the Golden State, I often find myself lamenting the lack of good taquerias in Manhattan.  Sure there are Mexican restaurants, but they mainly seem to divide into dirt-cheap and practically dirt-quality Tex Mex or upscale restaurants that produce respectable, but not awesome food at prices that would still seem laughable in California even if those numbers were pesos, not dollars.

So the solution to this dearth of quality, cheap, south of the border eats?  Make your own!  My sister and I decided to embark on this project by tackling a taqueria staple, carnitas.  For those of you who haven't had the privilege, carnitas is pork that has been slowly braised until tender and then is crisped at the end to give juicy, crispy pork morsels that make an unbeatable filling for tacos, burritos, you name it.

After cruising a few recipes on the internet and making a survey of what ingredients I actually own, I came up with this recipe.  The cooking time is a while, around 2.5 hours, but the amount of active work is quite minimal.  Also the leftovers reheat really well.  I usually toss mine in a nonstick pan to get it extra crispy the second time around.

Carnitas tacos

For tacos:
Corn tortillas
Canned black beans (or homemade if you're like that)
Guacamole/sliced avocado
Whatever other toppings your heart desires

For Carnitas:
3-4 lbs pork shoulder divided into thick slices/segments
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1/2 large yellow onion cut into thick wedges
3 cloves of garlic peeled
1/2 orange cut into two wedges
3 cups chicken stock
Garlic salt
Fresh ground black pepper

1) Preheat oven to 350 F
2) Generously season pork with garlic salt and pepper on all sides
2) Melt butter and olive oil together in a large heavy pot like a Dutch oven.  Once oil and butter are very hot add pork and sear until brown.  Turn the pieces periodically to brown all sides.
3) Squeeze juice from oranges onto the pork and then add the rinds to the pot. Add onion, garlic cloves and top off with chicken broth.
4) Arrange the pieces of pork so they are mainly submerged in broth. Cover the pot tightly with a lid (cover tightly with foil if your lid fits loosely, before replacing the lid) put the pot in the oven and let braise for 1.5 -2 hours, until the pieces of pork are tender and can be shredded with a fork.
5) Remove pot from oven. Remove orange rinds from pot and discard. Using a fork or tongs shred pork into small pieces and mash onions and garlic cloves into the pork
6) Place pot back on burner and over medium-high heat allow the liquid to boil off, stirring the pork periodically to prevent burning until almost all the liquid has been absorbed by the pork or has evaporated.
7) Assemble tacos: Heat a tortilla and place heated beans, carnitas, salsa, avocado and any additional toppings in a row down the center of the tortilla. Fold in half and eat!

These Carnitas would also make a great base for other dishes like quesadillas, the filling for tamales or a yummy braised pork sandwich with barbecue sauce.


Monday, February 28, 2011

I hate Mondays

I hate Mondays. 
Specifically I hate Mondays where you wake up and the sky is still dark because there are so many rainclouds.  Memo weather gods: It’s almost spring, please work on that. 
I hate Mondays where it feels like the weekend never happened and you have tons of work hanging over your head like a guillotine about to drop.
I hate Mondays where no matter how cute your outfit is and cooperative your hair is you still don’t feel pretty on the inside.
I hate Mondays where the button pops off your coat and you have to chase it along the sidewalk like an idiot.  I know I should be thankful that it just barely got caught in the grate instead of falling into the abyss known as the NYC sewer system, but I’m having a tough time appreciating the half full part of life today.
I hate Mondays when none of my favorite TV shows have aired yet, so I have nothing to watch to cheer me up, or at least to escape from my own life for approximately 43 minutes plus the time taken up by those annoying hulu commercials.
And worst of all I hate not knowing how to shake off being unhappy. 
I’m sincerely hoping this is just a Monday thing.  Orphan Annie you best not be lying to me, I could use some rays and I promise I wont even worry about the skin cancer risks.  I wear sunscreen even on cloudy days anyhow.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Under Pressure

Last night I spent some time with my good friends Flopsy and Mopsy.  We’re young, we have our careers on track, we live in Manhattan and we have great friends who are around to celebrate the good times and to hand out tissues and hugs during the bad.  We are living the dream of most 20 something American girls.

So why don’t I feel like my life is a movie?

I’m starting to think that getting to this point in life, or just being successful in general can be a catch 22.  Yes part of it’s luck, anyone who’s ever gotten one of those ridiculous “you were great, but we just couldn’t take you” rejection letters knows that, but most of it is drive. 

I would argue that everyone grows up with an image of who they want to be whether they’re conscious of this or not.  This image will change and grow as we do, but ultimately there’s always an ideal, a prototype of the self you want to become.

As a kid I was painfully shy.  I just wanted people to like me and to think that I was smart and fun and pretty, and maybe even have people wish they were me.  I mean imitation is the most sincere form of flattery right?  And honestly as weird as it sounds, I don’t think I’ve ever stopped being that awkward, uncomfortable kid.

As I grew up I pushed myself to work harder in school.  I pushed myself to just do things because I liked them and to put aside my fears of what other people would think or say.  I pushed myself to act like the ideal that I had in my head and through the process of learning to take on that role it stopped being a role and I really did find me.

I realized I am smart and I am pretty and if I just act like myself and let go it’s easy for people to like me.  But the thing is, even though I’ve met all those goals for myself and I’m finally that girl I’ve always wanted to be who juggles school and a social life and who gets what she wants, all while looking charming and collected and I would even go as far as to say pretty damn stylish while doing it, I can’t stop the push. 

In the end no matter how many life tasks I check off my list or how much validation I hear from others all the pressure and anxiety that I feel to be that perfect self is still omnipresent and it’s all coming from inside me.

I once thought that I would become this person and then I would feel happy and settled, but that’s not the case at all.  Now that I’m here I feel the need to constantly defend my position, like some fire breathing dragon sitting on a golden egg and anytime a potential crack in this image starts to snake in I’m sent into a complete panic.

Of course I know that screwing up and forgetting to go to a class or a meeting I was supposed to attend doesn’t mean I’m a complete failure who can’t cut it in school or in life.  Of course I know one jerk of a guy dumping me isn’t an indication of me not being beautiful or not being good enough.  But in the moment, that’s exactly how I do feel and no matter how many times my painfully logical brain tells the pit in my stomach these things it often seems impossible to chase those feelings of failure and inadequacy away.

When the majority of your life is in order it just makes the screw ups stand out that much more.  And being a person who works hard and wants everything, when those screw ups happen I’m not going to shrug my shoulders and walk away, I’m going to say, “how could I have been better?  How could I have done that wrong? What is wrong with me?”

But sometimes I can’t do better, because I’m a girl, not a robot.

Frustrating right?

I’m not saying I’m not happy with who I am or the life I have.  When I sit down and tally everything up and look at what I have and the person I’ve become I really am proud.  But when you’re running from class, to a study session, to the gym, to the shower, to dinner, to the bar to meet your friends when will you ever have time to stop and pat yourself on the back and say “wow, I’m pretty awesome and the life I’ve built is pretty awesome.”  I really don’t have that time, because that would require stopping and coming up for air.

So maybe I need to work on being more forgiving of myself.  Maybe I need to ease up on all those internal deadlines or at least ask myself if trying to stick to them is really helping me along or just creating more guilt and disappointment because I’m not on schedule.  Some things in life can’t be scheduled, and getting angry at myself because a whole month has passed and I’m still not over Samuel Whiskers or because I still don’t know exactly what specialty in my career I’m in love with in the end just makes it that much harder to be happy with myself. 

Some things in life aren’t perfect, something’s in life take time and I need to realize that there will always be enough of it in the end.  What’s the point in being young anyhow?