Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Spring fling

This year I avoided one of the pitfalls of spring: over-exuberance about the warmer weather, abandoning winter clothes, wearing sandals, jeans jackets and tees instead. This often results in being thrown down with a cold. I am still wrapping myself in my winter coat, like a plant, weary when it is really safe to bust out the buds. The bike had a ‘super deluxe’ tune-up, the cables, gears and the brakes are newly adjusted, cables replaced and it is time to ride to work again, without horse powers, just human power.


Meanwhile lawns have turned green. Crocuses and daffodils line the still barren landscape as the first messengers of a much more lushes season. A wave of spring blooms will capture the landscape soon. By that time all the students will be gone, and the slow summer pace in a college town will start.

As for now, it is the pleasure of teaching final classes, graduating students, and planning end of semester parties.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Brownies on a Sunday

It is one of these Sundays. The work pile is sky high. The weather is dreary, cold and rainy, and all the new outdoor cushions only look good, and looking at them has to suffice. Plus, the new work week is near. One day ahead.


With sadness I read this morning that friends from Switzerland had to put down their wonderful dog today. She was hanging in there, loving everyone and life, but had many health problems in her 16th year of life. I spent much time with them when they just adopted her, and fondly remember the days I spent ‘puppy sitting’.


To infuse my day with a little bit of comfort, I baked brownies again. Typically I share my baked goods at work. but these I cut up into bite size pieces, and freeze them. They are really good, right out of the freezer with hot coffee. Or a desert snack.




Chocolate Brownies, almost vegan.

Makes large 17 by 11 inch cookie sheet of brownie, or 2 regular sized brownie pans.

  • 4 tablespoons +  4 teaspoons ground flax meal
  • 1/2 cup + 4 tablespoons warm water
  • 2 cups pure cane sugar
  • 2 1/2 cup + 4 tablespoons gluten-free flour  (oat, or a glutenfree all purpose flour like Trader Joes)
  • 1 1/2 cup almond meal
  • 1/2 cup + 4 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/4 cup unrefined coconut oil
  • 1/3 cup buttermilk
  • 9 ounces dark chocolate chips, about 1 1/2 cup standard sized chocolate chips
  • 4 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  1. Preheat your oven to 325* F and lightly grease the bottom and sides of a 17 x 11 pan.  In a small bowl mix the ground flax and water and set aside so that it can thicken and gel.
  2. In a medium bowl sift and stir together the flour, almond meal, cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt together until fully combined.  Set aside.
  3. Melt the coconut oil and chocolate together in  a microwave-safe bowl in 30 second increments —stirring each time, until fully melted.  Stir to combine.
  4. In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine the sugar and the flax mix. Add the instant espresso powder, vanilla, and almond extract until fully combined.  Now, add in the melted chocolate/coconut oil mix, mix until fully combined.
  5. Slowly add in the dry ingredients. Use a spoon, and add spoon by spoon so that it does too much. Keep the stand mixer on low speed. A thick but soft dough will form. 
  6. Spoon the dough batter into the pan and evenly distribute to the edges with a spatula or your fingers.  The dough should be very soft and easy to press/spread.
  7. Place in the center of your oven and bake for ca. 35 minutes. The sides will rise slightly higher than the center.  Allow to cool for 30-45 minutes.
  8. Once cooled it can be cut into bite-sized pieces and frozen.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Friday morning and shoes on my mind

It’s Friday. Time to unwind is close. The sun is out again. The mood barometer is ticking up. Much necessary downtime before the final mile. Friday mornings are also a good opportunity to explore the sales emails in more depth, not to buy necessarily but to get in the mood for summer.

When I perused the new collection from JCrew this morning, this look captivated my attention:


What do I see?  Birkenstocks?! At JCrew? …. Indeed, Birkenstock for J.Crew. Aren’t they beauties?


The clean white look. For those brisk summer days in the Hamptons. The same model in navy blue is also a classic, especially for jeans.


Or maybe metallic silver? I can only think of kale eating hippie and sputnik had a baby in the 90s who now wears cool birkenstocks in 2014.


Or this cool wet stone patent leather look? For all the natural color looks, the whites and beiges and turqoise.


Obviously, JCrew picked up on the trend that Birkenstocks are chic again.…… and time to wait for a sale and trying them on in person in the store.

My heart has been pretty much set on these babies since I saw them in the catalogue in March:


Jeans colored slingback pumps…. for the casual summer look. Unfortunately they are also $278 so I will have to pass.


Then, there is also the Sophia Webster Shoe Collection on JCrew. The Lola kitten-heel pumps in blue leaves is my favorite.

have a good weekend!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The last few miles of the marathon

The countdown is on. The weeks, half weeks, are counted until finals week. Somehow, the work seems to pile up before everyone leaves for summer. It sometimes feels like the last miles of a marathon. You are exhausted already, but determined to make it to the glorious finish line. Then, collapse, recharge, and don’t want to run another marathon for a long, long time.

The weather changes between wonderful, warm days, still surprisingly mild after this long winter, and mild, gray, rainy days like today and the next few days. I started to run again, with the Couch to 5k program, now conveniently time-able via iphone apps, and the bike is in the shop for a tune-up. This will be a ‘in shape’ summer again, where free days are spent hiking up mountains instead of perusing antique stores and restaurants like last summer. You have to be in shape for that, since huffing and puffing up the mountains, sweating profusely,  is no fun. The elegant mountain gazelle looks more appealing…..


Yesterday I walked home after work. While all I wanted was to collapse in front of the TV with hot cocoa and one of these donuts, I had to pack up again and venture out for a midweek grocery shopping haul since the fridge was blaringly empty. That typically does not propel me into going shopping until one item is running low: milk for the morning coffee. 



There was time to bake on the weekend. Ashley’s baked donuts became edgy mini bundts with the beautiful heritage mini bundt cake pan.

Onwards to another mile….. 24!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Guide to Portland, ME


Found this this morning on designsponge--- an guide to Portland, Me, 2014 with its ever changing scene of the local community.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Deal alert

The sun shines. The work week is almost over, today is prepared (until 11pm last night); it just needs to be served out, and then it is the Easter weekend. On cue, my lust for all things shopping returned, and emails from retailers are read again instead of deleted in batches. ---

Shopping carts at JCrew factory are filled, and left unattended with artist’s tees, short sleeve navy sweaters and new necklaces. Aldo sandals are checked out. Then my real shopping instinct is peaked by an extraordinary deal--- the Le Creuset saucepan for $79.  $79!!!! When I bought the same sauce pan in the winter, it was “on sale” for $139. This size (1 1/4 qt) is excellent for 1-2 person meals, the smallest useful le creuset, and the quality is just superb. Risottos don’t burn and come out creamy without having to constantly stir (like with stainless steel pots), pasta dishes come out great and stay warm for a long time, and, keeping the lid on, dishes cook energy-efficiently on low heat. It is my new favorite pan. I should get another one!

But, the voice of reason says, one is enough. At least, you know about the deal. (comes in flame, indigo, marseille and rosemary).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014


While yesterday it felt like spring….


Today, it was a white awakening.

It happens. It is April. The sun is out again and melts away the snow. The clusters of black and red-bellied birds are hopping in the white lawn in front of the house, which delights V. who is looking out from her cat throne while taking a sunbath, and worries me that I might have grubby snacks under the lawn.

Oh winter. You are not going easy this year.

On a more interesting note:
If that does not make your day, maybe this time-lapse video of Lotte from age 0 to 14 will.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spring has arrived

My heart was pounding.

Sweaty palms.

I breathed heavily and my stomach cramped up.

Then, I walked into the bedroom, scooped up V., placed her in the un-mounted cat carrier, placed the top back on while holding her in place, and clipped the safety locks shut. She was too surprised to protest and claw her way out again. The worst was over. Then, we drove to the vet for her annual exam. I had tried other ways of getting her into the carrier before, like stuffing her in through the open top door. We were both battered and clawed after that, she won and I had to maneuver her out from under the bed again. I wonder how long the surprise scoop will work in the future.

All signs these days point to Easter and Passover. Recipes for deviled eggs abound. Or baking an easter bunny.

Painting Easter eggs.


Or crocheting little daisies for the table d├ęcor.


The weather decided it needs a little bit more winter, and it will snow tomorrow morning. The weather in April is known to be undecided. The lawns look like lawns in California at the end of summer: sandy brown. The first mint, chives and the rhubarb are bursting through the ground. The bicycle is pumped up and waiting as new transportation to work.

Spring has officially arrived. Mostly.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Lemon Almond Teacakes (GF)

Within 2 weeks we went from 4 feet of snow and freezing temperature to summer. Yesterday it was so warm, people had lunch at the tables on the sidewalk. I put the patio chairs and the first umbrella on the deck, and cleared out the garden from winter debris, uncovering the first herbs. It was so warm it was time to wear shorts. Life is good.

For the first patio Saturday afternoon coffee and cake get-together, I made individualized GF lemon almond cakes and coconut rum cakes.


The first cakes were inspired by the still ripening Meyer Lemons. One of them I had used in a wonderful lemon asparagus risotto. The zest would be wonderful in these tea cakes to infuse them with lemon aroma.



The second batch was inspired by coconut and rum --- a similar base dough but with different flavors. The texture of both is wonderful fluffy, not too sweet and slightly caramelized on the outside.


Individual cakes are a really good idea because not all of the cake might be eaten with a small group of friends, and the rest can easily be frozen for another time. Perfect to partition. The slightly bigger cakes are great to share for 2 people.


Lemon Almond Tea Cakes (glutenfree)

special equipment: Nordic Ware Garland bundt pan

  • 5 TB softened unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup blond cane sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup almond milk
  • juice of 1/2 Meyer lemon
  • zest of 1 organic Meyer Lemon
  • 1/3 cup almond meal
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds
  • 2/3 cup glutenfree all-purpose flour (King Arthur)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Fleur de sel

Preheat your oven at 350 F. Spray your mold generously with a baking spray.

In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and Fleur de sel; and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one after the other, incorporated well before adding the second egg. Add the lemon zest, the lemon juice, and the almond milk.

Add the dry ingredients and mix until homogeneous.

Fill the molds 3/4 full and bake the teacakes for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until the toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out dry. Let cool for 10 minutes before unmolding (important! they are kind of soft and will fall apart otherwise), leaving them to completely cool on a rack.

Coconut Rum Tea Mini Cakes (glutenfree)

special equipment: Nordicware rosebud platinum pan

  • 5 TB softened unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup blond cane sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 TB almond milk
  • 3 TB dried unsweetended coconut
  • 1/4 ts of coconut extract
  • 1/4 ts of rum extract
  • 1/3 cup almond meal
  • 1/3 cup glutenfree all-purpose flour (King Arthur)
  • 1/3 cup quinoa flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Fleur de sel

Preheat your oven at 350 F. Spray your mold generously with a baking spray.

In a bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and Fleur de sel; and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter with the sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one after the other, incorporated well before adding the second egg. Add the almond milk, extracts, and coconut, and mix well.

Add the dry ingredients and mix until homogeneous.

Fill the molds 3/4 full and bake the teacakes for about 30 minutes, or until the toothpick inserted in the middle of the cakes comes out dry. Let cool for 10 minutes before unmolding (important! they are kind of soft and will fall apart otherwise), leaving them to completely cool on a rack.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Lemon, Asparagus and Saffron Risotto

It was time to harvest the Meyer Lemons. Yes, growing lemons indoors in Maine in the winter. They had turned yellow in January, and felt soft when squeezed a few weeks ago. They never developed that deep fragrance I would smell when entering the house, their sign that they are indeed ripe, but the tree developed new blossoms. So, I saw this as a sign that it was time to harvest.

Spring time and lemons --- a nice asparagus lemon saffron risotto would be the dish to make.


Meyer Lemon, Asparagus and Saffron Risotto 

Makes 2 servings

  • 1/2 TB butter
  • 2 shallots or 1/2 white onion, peeled, small diced
  • 1 garlic clove, microplaned
  • 1/2 cup arborio rice
  • juice of 1/2 Meyer Lemon
  • zest of one organic (home-grown) Meyer lemon
  • 1 1/2 cups of beef stock or vegetable stock (preferred: home made)
  • about 10 stalks of frozen, grilled asparagus (or fresh asparagus)
  • pinch of saffron
  • salt to taste
  • some grated parmesan


1) Preheat the stock so it can be added hot, and does not bring down the temperature of the risotto. Set aside.

2) Heat the butter a heavy bottom sauce pan (Le creuset pots are perfect for the task) on medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic and sweat until translucent. Add the rice, stir and ‘toast’ for 30 seconds on medium heat. Now, add the lemon juice, and stir in until well-combined. 

2) Turn down the heat to medium-low, and start ladling in 1/4-1/2 cup of hot stock to the risotto. Also add the lemon zest and the saffron. Cook the risotto gently on low heat until the liquid is evaporated (4-5 min). Once the stock is cooked off, add another 1/2 cup of hot stock. Repeat until the rice is soft and cooked (about 25 min). During the last 10 minutes, add the asparagus.

3) Add the parmesan cheese and gently stir in. Taste for saltiness and either add more parmesan or salt to taste. Serve!


Tuesday, April 8, 2014


It is mild, windy and rainy. The last remaining snow has not much of a chance after this. We will add new lakes, pond and puddles, maybe, even in the neighbors’ garden. Yesterday, it was so mild and ‘warm’ that I shed my winter coat while walking across campus. A sweater was more than enough. It has been since October since I walked around without a coat.

The river was covered in ice on Sunday with a few small open holes. By Monday the wide river was ice free. Spring is catching up rapidly.

The garden is soggy and squishy. There is not a single green anything yet. Tomorrow, the sun and the blue sky are back, but today it might be time for a hearty meal, like spaghetti and meatballs (by Donna Hay).


Sunday, April 6, 2014

Baby (bundt) cakes

Sunday. Time to kick off the shoes, make coffee, and eat a mini bundt cake baked on Saturday. Enjoy a sun bath in the French door windows.


The sun slowly melts the snow piles in the garden, the circles around the tree become larger every day. The deck floor emerges. It will still take weeks, …..weeks until there are buds on the trees. Last summer I planted a plum tree; it shed its leaves earlier than any other tree. With hope and slight concern I wait for it to come back to life this spring, to grow and blossom. Buds. Blossoms. Plums?


The bird feeder was empty again this morning. Hoof marks around the feeder, leading into the woods in an elegant line. Likely one of the hungry deer that decided to look for alternate food resource after a too long, too cold winter.

Time to melt some chocolate, glaze the ‘mother’ bundt cake, and to type up the recipe.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Reading for some spring shopping

In the morning, the cats enjoy sitting on the windowsills of the east facing windows. The warm April morning sun is warming their black fur. They blink contently, smell the fresh air and listen to the birds, their eyes following them switching the branches in the barren trees. Their minds going, click-click-click, “Hello, lunch….”

I am contemplating bringing out my bike from the storage. It could use a summery update, maybe a new market basket? I cannot decide which one: this one, with some of my favorite colors, orange and plum. 


Or, this one, looking so rustic and antique? It might be perfect for the rides to the farmers market, but how do I get my laptop in it?


Decisions, decisions. But good decisions.

Since it is link Friday,…. Recently I discovered this natural hair conditioner, the Aussie Moist Conditioner. A few years ago, I switched from silicone-based conditioners to more natural, phthalate-free, silicone-free conditioners and low and no poo shampoos. The Tresemme natural conditioner became my go-to inexpensive conditioner. They changed their formula and so I was looking for something new. I only used the Aussie Moist Conditioner once but I am in love with how soft and shiny my (straightened and colored) hair is.



This morning when I open my shopping emails to prep for the weekend, my browsing gaze stopped the Old Navy advertisement:Not the cardis captured my eye but the necklace. I knew that necklace…... it is a JCrew necklace. Since when does Old Navy cross advertise for JCrew?


(BTW, love that necklace, too).

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

And so spring comes

The weather is milder. The snow along the freeway is gone, but the snow in my garden is still 2 feet deep. But when I drive the car I open the windows and let the fresh spring air in. Transitioning. When I drove home from work last evening, a car in front of me pulled out of the parking lot. On second glimpse something registered: “They took down the roof of their BMW convertible!”. I shook my head and smiled (remembering my own LA convertible days).  "”Only in Maine.” “Only in Maine will people ride with an open convertible when it is sunny and 40F/5C outside.” That spring feeling… it can make you do wild and ridiculous things. But so understandable.

Which ridiculous spring things is spring making you do today?