28 Jan

Four Things

It was Matt’s BIG 30th birthday this weekend! Happy birthday husband! To celebrate, we spent Friday night with a big group of friends, an event which can be easily summed up by this photo:

Matt's Bday celebration

My gift to Matt was tickets to see Varekai, the Cirque de Soleil show that was in Windsor this weekend. This wasn’t my first Cirque show but I was still unbelievably impressed by the acrobatics that these performers pull off and make it look so goddamn easy.
It’s especially impressive when they do things that you’ve actually attempted in your life so you know how much work it takes (e.g. I can hardly hold a handstand, so it was amazing to watch this).

Varekai
(Source)

I really like my new agenda from PocketSquares. It’s the one I asked for but didn’t get for Christmas. I’ve never been much of an agenda person and have always been good about keeping up with my schedule in my head, which is less of a testament to my memory retention than to my non-existent social life.
No, I haven’t gotten any more social, but I have been busy teaching and it’s been helpful to have a way to keep track of it.

Agenda!Agenda!

My agenda also gave me a place to write in this upcoming endeavour: Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training! Believe it or not, I’m going to get certified to teach yoga to mommies-to-be. It is going to be a challenge for me to get up to speed even before training starts, because my knowledge of pregnancy is non-existent. As much as I’d like to keep the mysteries of gestation and labour just that, mysteries, everyone around me seems to be getting pregnant and I really want to be able to teach them yoga too.

Prenatal Teacher Training

26 Jan

Links for a Sunday Morning

Money Is a Terrible Way to Measure the Value of a College Major – The Atlantic

“There’s also something to be said for encouraging students to study something that they enjoy, or have a natural talent for. Namely, they’re more likely to stick at it. When a bored or frustrated student switches majors, whether it’s from engineering to biology or economics to sociology, it often increases their time to degree, which in turn makes it less likely they ever graduate.”

How Inactivity Changes the Brain – NY Times

“When the scientists looked inside the brains of their rats after the animals had been active or sedentary for about 12 weeks, they found noticeable differences between the two groups in the shape of some of the neurons.”

This Incredible Chart Explains Almost All Of Recent Economic History – Business Insider

“The chart allows you to see how various income groups have thrived or stagnated over the past few decades.”

Having A Higher Purpose In Life Reduces Risk Of Death Among Older Adults – Science Daily

“The finding that purpose in life is related to longevity in older persons suggests that aspects of human flourishing—particularly the tendency to derive meaning from life’s experiences and possess a sense of intentionality and goal-directedness—contribute to successful aging”

Amsterdam’s pragmatic approach to problem alcoholics: pay them in beer, let them work buzzed – Windsor Star

“The idea was simply that troublemakers might consume less and cause less trouble if they could be lured away from their park benches with the promise of free booze.”

We Need To Take Meditation More Seriously As Medicine – Time

“Researchers are increasingly demonstrating the measurable influence of meditation on the brain, proving that mindfulness programs can make us feel happier, have greater emotional resilience and take fewer sick days.”

Meditation Transforms Roughest San Francisco Schools – SFGate

“An impressive array of studies shows that integrating meditation into a school’s daily routine can markedly improve the lives of students.”

Want a better work-life balance? Exercise, study finds – Science Daily

“The idea sounds counterintuitive. How is it that adding something else to our work day helps to alleviate stress and empower us to deal with work-family issues? We think exercise is a way to psychologically detach from work — you’re not there physically and you’re not thinking about it either — and, furthermore, it can help usfeel good about ourselves.”

14 Jan

Swedish Tea Ring

This is the first recipe that I made out of my new cookbook: The Great Scandinavian Baking Book and it did not disappoint.

In the past I worked on finding the recipe for the perfect cinnamon bun.

I made Peter Reinhart’s Cinnamon Buns which I like in texture and flavour, and which were well received by everyone who tried them. They’re good (I’ve made them multiple times) but not The Best.

I made Finnish Cinnamon Buns or Korvapuustit (yes, I do have an obsession with Scandinavian baking, thankyouverymuch). I liked these a lot because of their small, cute shape, and that they weren’t super sweet but the dough wasn’t quite tender enough for my liking. And they didn’t get the same reception as Peter Reinhart’s.

Then I made Brioche Cinnamon Buns (and sticky buns) and thought that they were the most perfect and delicious thing in the world. Everyone loved them, especially me.

…and then I never made them again.

Because they are so rich and sweet and decadent they’re something that I can’t have around the house very often. Deliciously impractical, squarely dessert territory, and not at all appropriate for breakfast.

Enter the Swedish Tea Ring.

Swedish Tea Ring (2)

I think this recipe solved all my problems.

It makes a wreath of cinnamon buns that are not too sweet or too large or too decadent. They’re soft and chewy, spiked with cardamom for that Scandinavian flair, and heavily drizzled with almond flavoured glaze.

They’re a breakfast, they’re a coffee snack, they’re dessert. They’re perfect.

Swedish Tea Ring (4)

My sister said to me, with a mouth full of cinnamon deliciousness, “These might be the best things you’ve ever baked.”

If that’s not reason enough to try them, I don’t know what is.

Swedish Tea Ring (6)


Swedish Tea Ring (Vetekrans)

from The Great Scandinavian Baking Book

Dough Ingredients

2 pkg active dry yeast
1 c. warm water (105*F-115*F)
1/2 c. melted butter
1/2 c. sugar
3 slightly beaten eggs
1 t. salt
1 t. ground cardamom (optional) <–this shouldn’t be optional
4 c. all purpose flour

Filling Ingredients

1/2 c. softened butter
1/2 c. sugar
1 T. ground cinnamon
1 c. blanched almonds, finely chopped (optional) <–I opted out of this

Glaze Ingredients

1 c. powdered sugar
2 T. hot coffee or milk
1/2 t. almond extract <– it’s a game changer

Directions

In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in the remaining dough ingredients until the dough is smooth and refrigerate 2 to 24 hours.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and roll it into a 20 to 24 inch square. Spread with a thin layer of softened butter right to the edge. Mix the 1/2 cup of sugar and the cinnamon and sprinkle over the butter. Sprinkle the almonds (if using) over the cinnamon sugar. Roll up as for a jelly roll.

Grease a baking sheet and place the roll on the sheet, shaping it into a ring. Pinch the ends together to close the circle. With scissors, cut almost through the ring at 1/2″ intervals. Turn each piece so that the cut side is exposed.
Let rise until almost doubled. (Umm…. I just noticed this step as I was copying the recipe from the cookbook. It goes without saying that I skipped it. I might have to have a recipe redo, just to perfect it even more . . . and to eat more cinnamon buns).

Preheat the oven to 375*F. Bake for 15-20 minutes or until just golden. While the ring bakes, mix the glaze ingredients. Brush while hot with the glaze.


This recipe was submitted to Yeastspotting
12 Jan

Links for a Sunday Morning

Doctors Claim Meditation Can Beat Pain and Depression – Daily Mail

Scientific studies have now shown that mindfulness not only prevents depression, but that it also positively affects the brain patterns underlying day-to-day anxiety, stress, depression and irritability. This means that when distressing thoughts arise, they dissolve away again more easily.

How Body Size Shapes our View of Exercise - NY Times

Overweight women’s brains were put off by exercise. . . Emotionally, the brain scans suggested, they anticipated disliking physical activity much more than they expected to disdain sitting.

16 Reasons to Go to Detroit Now – The Delicious Day

Yes, Detroit has a side of it that is in an incomprehensible state of decay, but it also has absolutely amazing corners, people, food, architecture, culture, art, music, diversity and all things that make great cities – great. 

Instead of Dressing Her Daughter as a Princess, this Woman Dressed her as 5 Distinguished Ladies – Jaime C. Moore

It started me thinking about all the REAL women for my daughter to know about and look up too, REAL women who without ever meeting Emma have changed her life for the better.

Does Prince Charming Really Need to be Reinvented – The Atlantic

What the Prince Charming fantasy does is encourage girls to aim for good guys. It is aspirational, the way superhero films encourage boys to emulate honor and honesty. Unfortunately, though, it has become all too common in our culture to shame girls for their fantasies.

How Much Weight Should You Lift – Stumptuous

Middle-class North American ideas of what women “should” be doing have no basis in physiological reality. In other words, we are told by “celebrity fitness trainers” and fluffy “fitness” magazines that women “should” only lift a few pounds at most. And that is total. Bullshit.

Yin Yoga 101 – Mind Body Green

Yin Yoga is unique in that you are asked to relax in the posture, soften the muscle and move closer to the bone.

It Was So Cold In Canada, the Ground Exploded – Gizmodo

Even before the polar vortex put large swathes of the US into a deep freeze, subzero temperatures in Canada were causing frost quakes. 

09 Jan

Arches National Park – Favourite Places

This is part of my series on Visiting Utah in November including Zion National Park and Moab.

Arches National Park is absolutely gorgeous. The landscape is so varying that you can see ‘petrified’ sand dunes, snow capped mountains, hoodoos, buttes, desert brush, and rock fins all in one sweeping vista. Oh, and arches too.

La Sal Mountains

Most of the hikes in Arches aren’t overly strenuous. There are the ‘Devil’s Garden’ hike which is a day-long hike with steep inclines and declines and lots of scrambling as well as the ‘Fiery Furnace’ which is a challenging ranger-guided hike, but aside from those the other hikes are pretty tame.
So hike here for the views and not necessarily for the challenge.

Park Avenue

Park Avenue 2
Park Avenue

A simple and easy stroll, this was surprisingly my favourite. It’s only about 3km (out and back) from the Park Avenue parking area with little change in elevation overall but the views make it worthwhile.

Park Avenue
Park Avenue

The trail takes you through a canyon with sheer, towering rock structures that are imposing and awe-inspiring and give you a sense of the grandeur of nature. I’d walk here over the real Park Avenue any day.

Sand Dune Arch

Sand Dune Arch
Sand Dune Arch

A flat, easy trail from Sand Dune Arch parking area only about half a kilometre from the parking lot. I liked this one because the arch was located basically in a sand pit that was secluded by sandstone fins. It felt like a secret place (although I’m sure during the busy season it doesn’t quite feel this way).

Delicate Arch

Delicate Arch
Delicate Arch

This is probably the most popular arch in the park; it certainly photographs well. The 5km out-and-back trail and the arch itself were very busy with people of all capabilities which surprised me considering that the path to the arch is nearly entirely uphill, which can be strenuous, and the last 100m or so are along a steep rock ledge.
Seeing the arch standing alone and surrounded by nothing but sky, makes it worth the hike.

Partition Arch

Partition Arch
Partition Arch

This is just a stopping point on the trail to Double O Arch, but for me it was a destination in itself. I thought it was the most perfect place, a window to the beautiful landscapes beyond. I wish that we had brought some food to picnic here because I felt like I could just sit under this arch all day and soak in the views. We didn’t stay for long, but this was by far my favourite place that we visited in the park.

The trail to Double O Arch is 6.4km round trip and takes you past Landscape Arch, the widest in the park, and then becomes more challenging as it takes you up steep rock before leveling off. There are small side trails that lead to Partition Arch and Navajo Arch (also worth seeing). Then the trail to Double O crosses narrow rock fins. If you’re okay with heights the views are amazing.

Because of the snow and frost on the slickrock, we had to turn around just before making it to Double O but what we did experience was fantastic.

Landscape Arch
Landscape Arch

Rock Fins
Rock Fins

 

07 Jan

All the Cookbooks

I was fortunate to receive so many awesome gifts this Christmas from my husband, my family, and my friends, many of which were cookbooks. I’m up to my ears in cookbooks right now, baking books to be more specific, and I like it.

All the CookbooksAll the Cookbooks

500 Desserts

My mother-in-law bought me 500 Desserts which has a recipe for pretty much every dessert that you can imagine. This will be a good reference when I need a dessert idea on a whim, since there are so many to choose from.

Recipes I’m Eyeing: Layered Lime Sponge Cake with Lemon Frosting, Rich Chocolate Pots de Creme with Coffee Cream.

The French Baker

Just before Christmas I received a review copy of The French Baker from which I’ve so far made one recipe. The book is full of recipes for classic French breads and pastries and even some hearty French meals. I’ll do a full review soon and post a recipe.
Between this and the Bouchon Bakery cookbook I foresee my kitchen pumping out a lot of French baked goods in the near future.

Recipes in Progress: Sourdough starter. The author is a proponent of sourdough breads so many of the bread recipes are based on homegrown natural yeast (ie. sourdough).

Recipes I’m Eyeing: Bouillabaise, Death by Chocolate, Croissants

The Great Scandinavian Baking Book

I also received The Great Scandinavian Baking Book from my Secret Santa Micaela which has been on my must have list for a while. There are even more recipes in this book than I expected including recipes for breads, both savoury and sweet, cookies, and cakes. Each recipe is introduced with a little cultural information about the food and how or when it is eaten, and I like having that kind of background. I’ll be sure to post as soon as I try a recipe.

Recipes I’m Eyeing: Norwegian Browned Butter Cookies, Icelandic Jewish Cakes, Swedish Soft Spice Cake, Swedish Ham Pie with Mushroom Sauce

Bouchon Bakery

Matt splurged on the Bouchon Bakery cookbook for me which I have been talking about for the last year. I’ve already made the oreos in the past and I’m looking forward to making a few more cookies from this book. But it’s not all cookies; there are recipes in the book for cakes and tarts and macarons and breads (yay!) and quite a few extraordinarily-complicated-looking treats which I am looking forward to making over the next little long while. I like that the instructions are very detailed and the authors tell you why you’re doing something, which means you actually learn the significance of the recipe steps and don’t just follow recipes blindly, hoping for the best.

Recipes I’ve Made:

Pear Feuilletés. This recipe involved so many steps and components (including homemade puff pastry) that it was a several day process. I made them for a New Year’s Eve dinner party but I forewarned my friends not to ask questions if, in the end, I showed up without them.

Pear FeuilletesPear Feuilletes

Luckily, they were a success, although I wish I had a larger cookie cutter to make big ones that could hold more of the delicious filling.

Bran Muffins. Probably not the first recipe people jump to when they open this cookbook, but because they use a small amount of the pear filling from the aforementioned feuilletés I decided to make them.

Bouchon Bran Muffins

They’re good. Matt liked them and he hardly likes muffins, let alone bran ones.

Recipes I’m Eyeing: Better Nutters, Pain Palladin, Tropezienne, Caramel Nut Tart, Croissants

30 Dec

Top Posts of 2013

Here is a list of my favourite posts from 2013 and readers’ favourite posts from 2013. I tend to favour reading over my body image or fitness posts as a reminder to be good to my body and to find happiness in it. I prefer writing about things I’ve cooked or baked and places I’ve travelled, which makes up more of my content.

My Favourites

These posts didn’t make it in the top 10 number of hits, but I loved writing and re-reading them.

Fitness

Lifepower Yoga Teacher Training
Work Out ‘Like a Man’
Waist Goals Update – One Year Later 

Body Image

Stop Telling Your Daughter She’s Fat
‘You Look Like You’re Lost Weight!’

Life

On 90 Years and Being Happy
New York City Cookies
Tips for Visiting Zion

Food

Lemon Orzo Soup
Finnish Oat and Rye Rieska

Most Hits Overall

10. All About Chiffon Cake

9. How Heavy Lifting Works for Me

8. Torta Margherita

7. 5/3/1 For Women

6. Martin Picard Tourtiere

5. Chiizukeiki

4. Coconut Cardamom Macarons

3. Celebrity Look Alike

2. This Body Wasn’t built for Asana

1. Super Soft White Bread

Super Soft White Bread

27 Dec

Christmas with Samantha

Typically my sister and I host an appetizer party on Christmas Eve at my dad’s house for all of our aunts and uncles and cousins. It’s a lot of work– a few days of cooking at least– and always exhausting but I love it. It gives me something to do (I feel incomplete when I’m not busy) and it makes me happy to cook for people.

It was quite a change this year when my uncle and aunt decided to host the Christmas Eve festivities. A welcome change, since my sister is currently pre-occupied with a 6 week old baby and not entirely willing to simultaneously nurse her child and roll sushi for 25 people. And, of course, it would have been a lot of work for me to take on myself.

Christmas Eve

So I find myself with nothing to do on Christmas Eve day. It is actually pretty nice to spend the morning lifting weights and shopping for things I plan to buy on Boxing Day and spending the afternoon drinking coffee and watching British television until it is time to get dressed and leave.

Christmas Eve is my favourite celebration because all 20 of us dress to the nines, drink, shout, and nosh informally on enough appetizers to feed 100 people. This year is like every other until shit gets extraordinarily depressing as we learn of an unexpected death in my cousin’s family that puts a dark cloud over all of us. So there’s that.

Christmas Morning

Christmas morning is perfectly relaxing for Matt and I. With no children or family to speak of we wake up late and exchange presents (more on those later) while watching Muppets Christmas Carol, my favourite Christmas movie. Later we get dressed and stop by my dad’s house for coffee and a rum cake that’s more rum than cake (Merry Christmas indeed!). He gives us our presents (which is dad-speak for “envelope of money”).

Christmas Night

Later in the day we head to Matt’s aunt’s house for Christmas dinner. Here I’m required to drink half a bottle of prosecco and/or practice my meditation skills as the conversation trails from the ‘damn socialist government’ to the ‘damn gays’ to <insert controversial, socially conservative opinion here> while Matt does his best to try and steer us toward lighter yet equally upsetting topics like the Detroit Lions.

We leave relatively early, partly to avoid being roped into watching The Trailer Park Boys Christmas Special but mostly to open presents at my in-laws’ house. I use the term “open” loosely since Matt’s mother is overly generous and there are far too many gifts for her to bother wrapping any of them. Our presents are put on display like raffle prizes at a church bazaar, and you’re never quite sure which is yours. We take all of our loot home in garbage bags (we really have that much stuff) and hide the chocolate and cookies from our voracious sweettooths in the deep recesses of our kitchen cupboards.

Boxing Day

I head to the mall just after it opens so I can pick up the clothes that I had already scoped out for myself on the 24th. I impulse buy a pair of skinny pants from The Gap even though I still don’t know how I feel about the “skinny” style on myself. It might look weird. Of course I buy a cardigan too. I spend most of my time at SportChek picking out a spring/fall coat and then trying to decide which of the funky workout tights to buy (they’re one of the things on my wishlist). I leave the crowds after an hour of shopping with my purchases.

After returning home Matt and I take down the Christmas tree and box away the decorations. That’s why it’s called ‘boxing day’ amiright?

And then the rest of Boxing Day becomes a repeat of Christmas Eve– hot beverages and British television. Matt asks me if I want to watch Star Wars and I’m so bored that I oblige, but only agreeing to watch it in one hour intervals.

How was your Christmas?

20 Dec

Moab in November

This is part of my series on Visiting Utah in November including Zion National Park and Arches National Park.

Arches National Park

Driving

Moab seems like one of those places that would please everyone. Even if you’re not the hemp-wearing, granola-eating, tree-hugging outdoorsy type you can just pile into your gas-guzzling vehicle and drive around to see some pretty world-class vistas.

Just one part of Arches' Scenic Drive

Arches National Park has an extensive scenic drive that can take you 4 hours if you stop at each scenic viewpoint. And why wouldn’t you? The views here are some of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. Matt and I had to do the drive a few times to make sure we hit all the overlooks.

Canyonlands National Park has its own scenic drive which looks gorgeous in photos but unfortunately we never made it there because we were so wrapped up in seeing Arches! In the late fall and winter when the days are shorter it can be hard to fit in all that you want to see during daylight hours. Something I sort of forgot about when planning the vacation.

If you’re slightly more adventurous you can take your vehicle off-road which is also pretty popular, especially among the Jeep crowd, but you don’t even need an off-road vehicle (not that I would ever attempt such a thing without one).

If you are the hemp-wearing, granola-eating, tree-hugging outdoorsy type like me, then there’s even more to do. Unfortunately, we hardly put a dent in the long list of things to do in and around Moab.

Mountain Biking

Mountain biking is huge here. Huge. Apparently Moab has some of the best mountain biking in the world, or so I was told by the locals, and hosts lots of races like this endurance race which looks like it could be fun if you’re not terrified of falling off your bike.

Popular area for mountain bikers

I’m barely stable on a bicycle (I blame my parents’ prohibition from letting my bike leave the driveway as a child) let alone on this kind of terrain, so we skipped out on any sort of mountain biking.

Hit the Rocks

Rock climbing and rappelling are both popular activities as well, and you can even climb up some of the towers and hoodoos.

I'm a naturalGeared up to drop down

Matt and I opted for a 1/2 day canyoneering trip with the outfitter ‘Moab Cliffs & Canyons’ at Ephedra’s Grotto.

It was fun and gorgeous, but it was basically just 2 rappels and a bit of hiking– not nearly as exciting as canyoning in Switzerland (but that’t a whole different story for a whole different day).

Boating

The town of Moab is located on the Colorado River so there are plenty of boat tours to be had.

But I hate boats, so I have nothing to suggest to you here. You’ll have to google it yourself if you want to take a boat tour. I’m sure it’s nice, but I still have yet to grow a pair of sea legs.

Hiking

Hiking here is pretty good too; at least it is in the nearby national parks, particularly Canyonlands which has some remarkable backcountry hiking, especially in the Needles area of the park (which, like I mentioned, we didn’t get to)

A rock fin can be a slightly scary place

We did do some hiking in Arches which was great. I love hiking here at this time of year because (in spite of the shortened days) the weather is perfect for spending an entire day hitting different trails (or one big one). Because of the desert environment– the low vegetation, lack of shade, and dry heat– I can imagine it being torturous to hike here during summer. Late autumn however was perfect.

Fins of rock on our hike in arches

We did run into a snag when we tried to hike the Devil’s Garden. Because of the cold temperatures and the (unseasonal) snow that the area experienced before we got there, the rock was icy and frost covered in some areas and we had to turn back. It’s called slickrock for a reason and in spite of my awesome hiking boots I was still too chicken shit to venture out onto steep, icy rock.

DSCF5128

…stay tuned for my next installment in the Utah vacation series where I point out all my favourite places in Arches National Park.