Saturday, September 28, 2013

2013 in pictures: September

And just like that, we're already at the last weekend of September. Hope y'all have your spicy teas, snuggly blankets and fat pillar candles ready for cozy evenings in October!
{ Lavender-Peppermint muscle relaxing & boo boo balm  |  Sep. 1, 2013 }
{ Dante's layette  |  Sep. 3, 2013 }
{ Bittersweet  |  Sep. 4, 2013 }
{ Waltzing waterfront walks  |  Sep. 6, 2013 }
{ Sicilia Selvaggia, Wild Sicily  |  Sep. 9, 2013 }
{ End of summer pullover  |  Sep. 10, 2013 }
{ The art of imperfection and choco-buckwheat-banana bread  |  Sep. 12, 2013 }
{ Good things, lately  |  Sep. 13, 2013 }
{ Escaped again  |  Sep. 16, 2013 }
{ Raw cacao & cashew crunch cups  |  Sep. 18, 2013 }
{ Postcard from St. Lucia  |  Sep. 23, 2013 }
{ There will be pancakes  |  Sep. 24, 2013 }

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

There will be pancakes

Yesterday was a bit of a doozy.

Forget the fact that we had a bumpy re-entry, but I woke up with yet another set of maladies which made for a rough first-morning-back-to-work. Then of course the actual act of going back to work. Followed by a semi-big decision that R and I had to make. And then a few hours later, an even-bigger decision was made for me, which throws everything back into the blender again.

All of that equals a somewhat rumpled in body, mind and spirit J returning home last night.

But, there was wine waiting. The discovery of new-to-me White Collar episodes available online. And, comfy pajamas. All of which were at least a temporary panacea to my blue spirit.

R went to bed, but I stayed up glued to my screen doing research to counteract the aforementioned myriad of somewhat disturbing decisions. As I clicked around online, I also kept a chat box open. Typing here and there, simultaneously. A friend reminded me that every down is followed by an up and all we know is that. And all we have is the ability to enjoy the moment that we're in. Wholly, completely, unquestionably.
There will be pancakes on *sparklingly
Who needs to meditate when you can make pancakes?
Which is why I woke up early today to make the most of my morning, cooking a proper breakfast for R and myself while he was still sleeping. His weekend started today and he's worked every day since we came back from vacation, including a 7AM start when we arrived home only 6 hours previously, so I don't know who was more excited about this, me or him.

On the menu were a batch of silky, eggy, proper French crepes with apricot jam for him, and butternut squash flapjacks (making use of my abundance from Sunday) with a side of bacon for me. A piping hot moka and a pitcher of cream rounded us out.

In the name of doing more kind things for ourselves, R met me in the evening in Soho, looking dapper in his white dress shirt edged in purple (my favorite). He took my bag and we ambled down Mulberry Street, finally able to take nice deep breaths as we walked. Autumn in New York is conducive to proper inhales. Summer, with its ability to turn garbage bags lining the sidewalk into highly odoriferous obstacles, not so much.
Di Palo Fine Foods, Little Italy, NYC  |  There will be pancakes on *sparklingly
Never was a wait so enjoyable
We turned left on Grand Street and popped into Di Palo Fine Foods and took a number. And then we waited. And waited. The neighborhood salumeria doesn't care if you're tired or have heavy bags. The proprietors talk to most everyone. Chatting about nothing and everything while they weigh your provolone, your sausages, your fresh ravioli and fettuccine. I people watched, surprised as always to see how encroaching neighborhoods create unexpected mixes. The Italian-American man with a Chinese-American wife making a quick trip down from their apartment upstairs because they forgot something for their dinner. Both speaking the others language. The Indonesian tourists on the border of Chinatown, hungry for Italian.

R ambled about the display cases, waiting for number 80 to be called. Watching a mother try to calm her daughter who wanted nothing to do with a taste of almond cookies. When he was finally called up he placed our order and watched as a little tub of burrata was snapped closed, a satiny pile of mortadella and prosciutto crudo was sliced off of the weft on the counter, and the exact right cotoletta was chosen.

Then home, the long way, on foot.

Another glass of wine. Another escape to Puerto Rico-cum-Capo Verde. A few squares of dark chocolate with chili. And then a few minutes here, capturing the day for myself and to share with you.

And even though the balance doesn't seem quite right, somehow today's goodness far outweighs yesterday's lack of it.

I think I'll sleep just fine tonight.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Postcard from St. Lucia

Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
And...we're back! (With lots of photos to share!)
Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Our first sunset in St. Lucia at Rendezvous Resort
And...I'm a naughty blogger. Or, at least a less-than-committed one. I tried to be so very mysterious about my whereabouts, and then, spurned on by prevalent Wi-Fi and gorgeous scenery, ended up Instagramming my photos. Mystery solved.
Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Pretty beach curve at Rendezvous Resort
Remember how I mentioned here that I was interested in exploring the Cocoa Trail of the Caribbean (as written about in the NYT article I linked to)? Oddly enough, the name of the hotel must have stayed with me (how could it not, really), because we did in fact spend part of our time in St. Lucia at Boucan's Hotel Chocolat on the Rabot Estate. It was a bit of a splurge, but, if not now, when?

(Clearly there really is something to writing down your dreams, hopes, ideas, etc., and having them manifest! Nudge, nudge, Sweden!)

But let me backtrack. After R steered me away from Cartagena, the idea of St. Lucia started to grow gradually stronger in my mind. For all the reasons I mentioned before, it seemed like the perfect fit. And, funnily enough, a few agencies ago, I did some work on the tourism brand of the country—so it was such a treat to actually experience St. Lucia after working on its branding!
Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Glorious morning view at Rendezvous Resort
Once we had agreed on St. Lucia, and found reasonable flights, we had to decide where to stay. Since the country has such gorgeous and varied terrain, we thought of splitting our time between the beach and the jungle/mountains. We've never actually stayed at two places on one island before, so that was a first. We rented a car so we could drive between them and around a bit, and I was freaking out beforehand because R's Italian license has expired and I didn't want to be "forced" to drive the rental (they drive on the other side of the road there). Luckily, they didn't even check, so I was spared dealing with that frightening scenario, which would have been greatly compounded given the whirly-turns of the island's topography.

Rendezvous was our first stop—directly on the beach, colonial style architecture, and a more mature/sophisticated crowd. We decided our time there would be a proper (lazy) detox. No more than 20 minutes a day online, lots of beaching, reading, lazing about and sandy walks as the sun set.

All was going well until Day Two when we came back to our room late and fell into bed without realizing the A/C was turned on (and very high), which means we both woke up with horrifically sore throats that later turned into fevers. Quite a damper on the vacation. We both did our best to not let it slow us down too much, but sadly, I'm only just now getting over this nonsense. I'm not sure if I'm more mad that I was sick while on vacation or that I ended up being sick so long. The whole point of my commitment to improving my wellness every chance I get is to avoid piddly things like this—clearly there's a breakdown somewhere. Sigh.
Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Morning coffee is for (and with) the birds!  |  Rendezvous Resort
Rendezvous Resort in Malabar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
St. Lucian boys racing wild horses down the beach  |  Rendezvous Resort
But, back to the trip: the highlight at Rendezvous was definitely seeing local St. Lucian boys racing wild (at least they seemed wild to me) horses along the beach. There were about 10 or so of them and the thundering of hooves crescendoing and then descendoing as they passed was quite thrilling. Other highlights: taking breakfast on the beach (oh so peaceful), and tea time. That's something I love about visiting resorts on English-influenced islands like St. Lucia, and Antigua (where we spent our first honeymoon). Tea time is so proper and civilized.

We also indulged in a little Hobie Cat-ing, one of my favorite things to do when in the Caribbean. I learned how to wield the little boats ages ago (much before I met R), but he always seems to forget that I know how to captain them. I like to remind him once he's sailed us out of the harbor area and then laid down on the netting for a little nap. Then I scooch down the sides, wind the sail rope around my hands and start feeling around for a breeze while I maneuver the rudder thingy. Nothing better than seeing him pop up in surprise when we've started to zoom over the water.

The thing is, I don't really have any idea at all of what I'm doing. R grew up on a proper island (unlike Manhattan), and also served in the Navy, so he actually knows how to man everything from a canoe for fishing off the coast of Sicily to a sailboat to an actual, you know, military boat. I, on the other hand, approach Hobie Cat sailing as I do everything else: try a little of this, a little of that, and if it doesn't work, try a little of something else. Tweaks and whatnot.

And, it works. I'm pretty good at finding a good wind and steering into it so we can get moving. Also fairly good at steering around other boats and mini land outcroppings. What I'm not so good at, though, is slowing down. Which is why almost every time I take over the captain-ing, everything is lovely for a bit until I pick up way too much wind and the speed (and the fact that HC's tilt to the side when going fast) gets to be too much and I freak out and shove everything over at R.

That's my version of the dreaded "pie/cheese wedge" method of stopping when skiing. I should probably learn how to gradually slow down and stop, versus my throwing-of-the-rope and releasing-of-the-rudder, which creates a crazy fast turn and immediate stop. I should also learn the terminology so I can stop saying rudder thingy and rope thingy.

Maybe next time.
Pitons |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
The road from Castries to Soufriere, passing by the Pitons
After three days at Rendezvous we headed down the western coast of the island just past Soufriere to celebrate my birthday. We passed the looming Pitons along the way—which ended up playing a starring role for the rest of the trip.

Hotel Chocolat was our second stop—a modern, chic, eco-lodge—where we had finally detoxed enough (nasty illness aside) to have the energy to do a few (brief) hikes, tours of the cacao groves (the national product I alluded to!), and enough of an appetite to indulge (regularly, overly, abundantly) in the cacao-infused menu at the hotel's on-site restaurant.

But first, we had to actually check-in, which involved walking up to the outdoor restaurant / terrace / reception area, where we were faced with this view:
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
View from the terrace at Boucan Hotel Chocolat
That's the famed Gros Piton of St. Lucia. It and its sister, the Petit Piton, were up for consideration as the 8th wonder of the world. Beautiful, right? As soon as I shut my mouth, which had dropped open when "surprised" by the sight of it at the top of the stairs, we sat down to check in, accompanied by a  refreshing glass of local rum and coconut water. Yes, we were both ill, but when on vacation, right?
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Boucan Hotel Chocolat reception and gift shop all in one!
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Cacao, cacao everywhere!
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Gorgeous restaurant terrace with the most stunning view
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Jungly wilds between the main building and all the lodges
Then we were escorted out to our room, and that's when we realized that those nice folks had upgraded us to a Luxe Lodge—an individual villa bigger than our apartment and with a ridiculously huge terrace with a straight on view of the Pitons. Cue another jaw drop:
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Looking up to our lodge
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
View from our lodge, featuring R's foot
The views from our jungly perch to the island's most iconic feature was surreal. Like, smack you in the face with its massiveness, surreal. Now combine that with the gorgeously dark, teak-like furnishings and creamy, gauzy linens (my favorite combo!) and I was in heaven.

Our terrace, besides having that glorious view, came equipped with a nice little tea/coffee-time corner of our own. First order of business that afternoon was indulging in some. And then a few local friends swung by to join us:
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Coffee and chocolate and chocolatey-nut break on our terrace...
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
...where we were joined by this little cutie
My other favorite part of the Luxe Lodge was the indoor/outdoor shower. I'm a clean person, but even I don't need to take three showers a day...which I definitely did while there. A less-favorite part of the lodge was the antithesis of a favorite part: all that nature during the day is wonderful. At night? Less so. There are these frogs and birds that create a racket as soon as the sun begins to dip. I'm someone that has learned to more or less sleep through the non-stop insanity that is NYC noises at night, but even I had to dutifully shove the complimentary ear plugs in so I could sleep. Actually, I had to put them in much earlier, as the show began at dusk. Still, there was something pretty magical about sleeping with that view at the foot of our bed—we chose to keep the louvered doors open all the time (which also made sleeping with a mask a necessity).
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Where I spent a good ten minutes, three times a day. New love of my life: indoor-outdoor showers.
While on that part of the island we took a day trip to Sugar Beach to fit in a little more sand time. There was a little kerfuffle since we were accidentally on the Viceroy's part of the beach (which apparently costs $100 to sit on if you're not a hotel guest—?!?!). We smoothed things over (and then hightailed it out). But before all that, at least we enjoyed this:
Sugar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Sugar Beach cliffs
Sugar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Sugar Beach
Sugar Beach  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Sugar Beach cabana
But the rest of the time, aside from that hike and a cacao tour, we spent right here. Relaxing on those chaises and facing the Pitons:
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Boucan Hotel Chocolat pool & terrace area (once again, featuring R's foot)
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
The view from where we sat (and R's knees/book)
Oh, there was also a bit of that cacao-tasting menu I mentioned. Can I tell you how nice it is to sit in a restaurant that not only has the usual sea salt and black pepper grinder, but also a cacao grinder? So very nice. The menu included lovely dishes like gazpacho with cacao nibs, micro-green salad leaves with white chocolate, pan-seared tuna with cacao pesto, risotto with portobello mushrooms and cacao nib oil, a red lentil savoury hot pot with cocoa flatbread, angus prime beef with a dark chocolate port sauce, curried and cacao chicken, and on and on it went. And then came the desserts (followed by a decadent breakfast the next day). Surprisingly, despite the deluge of cacao, we never felt uncomfortably full, just pleasantly satiated. Must be the purity of product?
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Pre-birthday dinner cacao spread (cacao balsamic, cacao butter puree, cacao oil and herbs)
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Hello cacao grinder, where have you been all my life?
I also did a little extra indulging in cacao while at Hotel Chocolat. I looked into their Cocoa Juvenate Spa before leaving and the massages they offered are done with cacao-infused oils. You could choose from: pure cacao, cacao-peppermint, cacao-rose or (drumroll) cacao-nutmeg-cinnamon. It's like they know me! I obviously had to do a massage with that heavenly-sounding (and smelling) cacao-nutmeg-cinnamon oil. Afterwards I broke into a coconut on our terrace hoping the double whammy of deep tissue massage + hydrating coconut would make me feel better. It did, but it didn't knock out the fever like I hoped it would.
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Self-medicating with a freshly-cracked coconut
I've needed a good soaking in nature. Our last trip was decidedly a beachfront extravaganza, but this immersion into jungles and cacao plants and volcanic mountains was truly grounding (earthing!). After inhaling fresh island air, digging my toes into actual grass and moss, hiking through animal habitats, immersing myself into mineral-tastic waters and reveling in pure cacao I actually felt a bit radiant—at least in spurts between feverish spikes.
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Pitons at daybreak, as seen from our terrace
Boucan Hotel Chocolat  |  Postcard from St. Lucia on *sparklingly
Hike near some potent sulfur springs
We know that we sleep better on vacation–but it's not just because we're relaxed and far away from demands, although that helps. On vacation, especially a beach one, you're barefoot. Your body is connecting with the earth and grounding the electrons within you. You're swimming for good chunks of the day, getting natural doses of healing minerals like magnesium. You're frolicking on the beach, playing and moving uninhibitedly, dousing yourself with Vitamin D. No wonder we sleep deeply and soundly (with ear plugs) and wake up with the sun and birdsong naturally (if not wearing an eye mask or ear plugs).

I wonder if I could swing a trip back now that I'm feeling better?

Although, I have to say, New York is pretty amazing right now. Crisp 55-60F weather, clear strong sunlight, light breeze. Everyone's got their tights on and belted sweaters and I even saw a few boots today. No heavy coats and gloves just yet, just the first plummy, autumnal layers are being applied. We welcomed fall our own way at home yesterday with a roasted butternut squash (alongside green beans in garlicky olive oil with crushed red pepper and...a shared steak. No dessert though!).

If this weather carries on, though, I don't mind sticking around for a bit at all.

PS. If you're curious about our path around the island:

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Raw cacao & cashew crunch cups

[Still off on our escape, but since y'all seemed so interested in how I whipped up that homemade chocolate a few weeks ago, I experimented again, this time actually writing down what I did so I could share it with you. Enjoy!]

While last time's chocolate was tasty, I wanted to do something a bit different for this batch. The basic chocolate recipe is still in tact (so you can just use that and the toppings to make what I showed you before), but I wanted to try my hand at my own nut butter cups.
And, it only seems fitting that I post this today, since the national product of the country where we are right now that I alluded to is front and center here.

// Raw cacao & cashew crunch cups
Makes 10 cups
 
 1.5 oz  Organic Raw Cacao Powder
  65 g    Raw Cacao Butter (I bought mine on Amazon, but doesn't seem to be there anymore)
   3 oz   Organic Extra-Virgin Coconut Oil
   3 T    Maple Syrup
   2 t     Vanilla Extract
1/2 t     Himalayan Salt
4/5 oz  Goji Berries (optional topping: use whatever you'd like!)
4/5 oz  Pepitas (optional topping: use whatever you'd like!)
 10 t     Cashew Butter (Or your favorite nut butter. Make your own if you can—I haven't tried again.)

+ Melt everything together, except for the last three items, in a double boiler.

+ Once it's all silky smooth and blended and yummy, pour the "batter" into your muffin / cupcake pan, being sure to only use half of the liquid.

+ Pop your trays in the freezer for about 5 minutes to harden.

+ In the meantime, chop up your pepitas and goji berries (or whichever topping you choose).

+ Once the bottom halves are solid, remove from the freezer and scoop a teaspoon of cashew butter into each of the 10 filled cups, smushing down with a teaspoon so you create a disc of nut butter goodness.

+ Pour the rest of the chocolate into each cup, completely covering your nut butter discs and then some.

+ Sprinkle your topping(s) on the surface of each and put the trays back into the fridge to harden.

Then: enjoy!
Note: you'll want to keep these cool in the fridge until ready to eat. No storing in the cupboard!
Raw cacao & cashew crunch cups on *sparklingy  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com

Monday, September 16, 2013

Escaped again

I've been keeping something from you...

For the last few days R and I have been relaxing on a beach somewhere far, far away from NYC to celebrate my birthday.

I originally thought the only way to welcome in a new decade would be for a bit of adventure, or as I call it, a trip to do some traveling (vs. vacationing). Like our most recent trips, I was still set on sticking to our hemisphere and after lots of consulting of route maps and research into up-and-coming places, I picked Cartagena.

I loved the way Bon Appetit described the seaside city as,
"A place where one can check out for a week or two of utter relaxation; but in recent years, it has also become one of the chicest and most action-packed weekend destinations on earth."
"It also doesn’t hurt that some of the best food in Latin America can be had there, whether it’s the piping-hot arepas (delicious cornmeal disks) sold by street vendors or the fresh seafood in its many world-class restaurants. Lots of picks to visit when you’re not boat-hopping on the islands, touring the Inquisition museum, or shopping for mochilas (colorful woven totes native to the area)."

Travel & Leisure also had good things to say:
"Take a dash of faded colonial grandeur, then add a dose of sultry nightlife and an influx of cosmopolitan travelers seeking the next great Caribbean hot spot...this emerging Colombian getaway delivers all this and more."

So, you might understand why I was so into it. As soon as I decided, I went about my usual scramble of researching to death: hotels, excursions, restaurants, caf├Ęs, etc—I have a massive Google Doc with all my notes, in case anyone's interested.

But then R pointed out that perhaps a week in a city, where the most charming bits can be covered in a few days, would be too much. He had a better suggestion: a proper Caribbean island that's lush, hilly, gorgeous and volcanic (that unexpected power looming beneath the surface calls to me—maybe that's why I felt at home in Sicily?), with a national product that I'm supremely interested in learning about and enjoying in all its forms. Combine that with a dash of glamour and luxury, plus the chance to do lots of hiking, swimming, and indulging in alluded-to national product, and I was sold.
Any guesses as to where we are?

{ First image (c) http://allinclusiveguide.wordpress.com }
{ Second image (c) Zach Stovall / Caribbean Travel Mag }

Friday, September 13, 2013

Good things, lately

View from Pera Soho Rooftop  | Good things, lately on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
+ A date last weekend with R: Super novel since given his schedule (which you've heard me whine about before) we don't have the same weekends and he goes to work quite early, which makes nights out tricky. Friday evening we planned to have cocktails on Pera Soho's rooftop and then go home, except after two stiff drinks we just meandered downstairs to the restaurant and had a proper dinner.

+ Being tucked in: I've been having a wee-bit-o-trouble falling asleep lately. Could it be stress related? Methinks so. No matter that my usual routine is generally pretty sleep-supporting, but neither that nor my go-to bag of tricks has helped lately. I'm so very tired, yet can't manage to fall asleep until 1-2 hours after getting in bed and I don't sleep all the way through the night anymore. I fill those hours list making (which is probably what kept me awake anyway). Oddly enough, I sleep my deepest for about 20 minutes in the morning, right after R leaves. And no, it's not just because he's gone, but he does this thing where he'll get up, go get ready, and then come back to the bedroom just before leaving to say goodbye and retuck the sheets around me. And then I'm OUT until my alarm wakes me up. Now how to get him to go to bed after me at night so he can do the same?
View from Pera Soho Rooftop  | Good things, lately on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
+ Hurraw Vata lip balm: I popped this in my little Currently sidebar, but in case no one reads that but me, y'all have got to get some of this goodness from Hurraw. After my first order of organic, raw, and vegan goodness was packaged, received and used so lovingly, I placed another order in June for some more: another Chai Spice (become it's that good), Coconut (perfect for summer) and one of their new ayurvedic balms, Vata (um, cardamom, rose and almond? yes, please!). I waffled between Vata and Pitta (lemongrass, coconut and peppermint), but ultimately the cardamom and thoughts of autumn won me over, but no matter, those nice chickadees sent me Pitta anyway! (After two orders with two freebies, I think this is their standard practice). So. Good.

+ Order from Nuts.com: More recently, I also placed an order for some goodies like macadamia nuts, hemp seeds, chlorella and spirulina from Nuts.com and while I didn't pay for it, they shipped it overnight in the most adorable packaging. Super cute and cheery.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The art of imperfection and choco-buckwheat-banana bread

The art of imperfection and choco-buckwheat-banana bread  |  *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
I'm a bit of a perfectionist, which you might not realize from that less than perfect picture above (grumble grumble at my apartment, which I'm currently sick of with its lack of photograph-able spaces plus my general lack of certainty over how long I'll have to stay here...plus my lack of camera skills). Maybe as I get older, though, it's finally starting to sink in that not everything has to be perfect all the time, and sometimes the best stuff isn't perfect at all.

Take this bread. Which is by no means perfect. But it started with a perfect intention. R bought a huge bunch-o-bananas for post-boxing smoothies, but they were languishing on the counter top. Before they went too far, though, I came home from work and decided that banana bread must be made.

(We already had a Pyrex dish full of frozen banana slices in the freezer, otherwise I would have shoved them in there, as I'm not a fan of after-work baking.)

Now, gluten-free baking is a little tricky, especially for people like me who can't be bothered with measurements, and therefore don't really have any business being bakers at all. But, like all my other cooking and creative endeavors, I had at it and hoped for the best.

And, this came out...okay. But with a few tweaks, it's elevated all the way to super yummy:

(1) It tastes infinitely better when warmed up. Buckwheat is dense, and since I only used buckwheat flour, these loaves came out pretty compact and a little warming up helped amp up the coziness factor and tamp down the why-am-I-eating-a-brick factor.

(2) You need to serve it with either a dollop of good yogurt or swiped with a rash of butter. Either way, you'll also need a sprinkle of sea salt on top because, oopsie, forgot that below (so if you make this and add salt to the batter, no need to when serving).

// Choco-buckwheat-banana bread
Makes two 9-inch circular pan loaves

5      bananas (1 lb 5 oz)
2.5   cups buckwheat flour
2.5   teaspoons baking powder
2      tablespoons cinnamon
2      eggs
1      cup milk
2      teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2   cup chopped hazelnuts (optional)
5      tablespoons cacao powder
2      tablespoons maple syrup

Preheat oven to 375F. Whisk together your wet ingredients. Then sift together the dry ingredients before combining all together. Pour into pans and bake for 30 minutes. //

Next time doing this I'll include salt in the batter, put in a little less cacao, and perhaps use a mix of almond flour and buckwheat flour. I might also add in some coconut oil, so they have more of that traditional banana bread texture and mouthfeel.

But the thing is, even with all the changes I'd make next time, this bread is still perfect just as is when enjoyed at home, with R, after sharing a nice meal together and chatting about what comes next.

(As long as it's warmed up with the requisite toppings, of course).

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

End of summer pullover

End of summer handmade knit pullover on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
I think what I love most about knitting, when I don't have a ton of redo's to do, is the crazy transformation of a ball of fiber into something I can wear out into the world. I know it seems from my scribbles here that I watch a lot of TV/movies, but in reality, 95% of the time that there's something playing, I'm doing something else. The only times I'm ever really solely watching a screen is if it's a specific movie with R. Otherwise, it's usually a program or documentary on in the background, while I do something with my hands. For a long time they were hovering over a keyboard of some sort, but for the last few years they've been immersed in a fluff of woolen bits. Stitch by stitch, from a lap full of yarn, alongside a mug of Sunday morning coffee or weeknight glass of fizzy water (or...wine), to a drawer full of sweaters and tanks.

While I used to stay up late to finish a good book, now almost every time I pull an all-nighter, it's because I made a mistake in whatever I'm knitting and want to redo it, or I'm just on a roll and have to keep on rolling, or I have a ball of yarn to wind—which takes concentration so I don't create a tear-inducing snarled mess. Granted, now that I share my bed, I can't really stay up late snuggled between the sheets immersed in a good book (and late-night page turning on the couch just isn't as good), but I'm pretty sure that it'd be the case, regardless.

Unlike sewing, knitting requires quite a bit of forethought—which of course isn't something I always excel at doing because I'm so impatient to get cracking. You can't just rip a seam and redo. Knitting requires that you plan ahead, unless you want to unravel all your work and start over. It's not nearly as forgiving as other crafts, and maybe that's why I like it: you have to work (really) hard for it, especially when it comes to something to wear vs. something to use, and it forces you to either love it or hate it. I don't think there's really an in-between—I suppose you could say there are some parallels with that sentiment and with how people feel about me, but we can talk about that later.

Knitting is addictive, too. As soon as I bound off that baby set, I cast on for this (literally, the same evening). And, when I bound off these stitches, I cast on later that day for another project.
End of summer handmade knit pullover on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
It can be a little daunting to have multiple pieces of a knit creation floating around, because any time you hold stitches aside and pick them up later to knit (as you would for a sweater when you start at the shoulder and continue down the body, holding stitches aside for the sleeve), you (well, maybe not you, but certainly I), risk that you might pull at the structure and inadvertently muss up the lines.

Which is why I'm crazy for projects that are either worked in the round (as you would do a sock) and / or worked flat, and then seamed up at the edges to create something wearable. The latter is how this pullover was created.
End of summer handmade knit pullover on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
Do you see those diagonal seam lines? The way this is constructed, you knit one long rhomboid, with a hole in the center for your neck and funny batwings hanging off either edge. Then, because this stitch creates a diagonal pull like a bias-cut dress, you have to wind the flaps around themselves to create the tubes that become the body and sleeves. So those seams you see across the arm and midsection aren't design elements, but the foundation for turning a misshapen blob of fiber (both R and I were thinking that I had just wasted a whole week when we saw what I was left with before seaming) into something that actually resembles a sweater.

I could have stood to make this a wee bit bigger at the hemline so it lay flat instead of that little foldover, but, as usual, I worried that it was going to be too floppy, so I erred on the smaller side and luckily it juuust fits. Any fewer stitches and it would probably have been too uncomfortable to wear.

And: a few more vanity shots, just because. Now, what to knit next?

End of summer handmade knit pullover on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
End of summer handmade knit pullover on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com

Monday, September 9, 2013

Sicilia Selvaggia, Wild Sicily

The view from Erice, Sicily  |  Sicilia Selvaggia, Wild Sicily  on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com
"I'm so glad that I fell in love with a Sicilian. There's something about the uninhibited, but many-times-over-inhabited land that makes sense to me. The fiery spirits and fiery food, the wildness of the plains, the roughness of the rocky crags, the introvertedness of people living in small, remote hilltop towns where they only speak Ancient Greek, the hooded glances and double-voweled and -consonant'ed dialects that echo Arabic origins, the fierceness and protectiveness of a much-conquered people. I don't think I'd ever set foot in a place that I recognized as much as I did as when I first rode the night train from Reggio Calabria on the mainland to Messina, the port of entry into Sicily.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Waltzing waterfront walks

Waltzing waterfront walks on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com

I have a bad habit of cocooning myself at home on the weekend—give me an uninterrupted block of 48 hours and I'll fill them up with projects and cooking and cleaning and reading and planning and exercising and nesting to my heart's content, all from the comfort of our apartment. R does not understand this at all. He rarely spends an entire day at home when he's not working, whereas I do it quite often.

But last Sunday I had it in my head to take an early morning walk along the waterfront with a good classical radio station playing. I meant to head out for half an hour, but instead, I meandered about for almost three times that, weaving amidst families and dogs and couples and runners and toddlers while listening to Chopin's Mazurkas and Mozart's Rondeaus. 
Waltzing waterfront walks on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com

I started off at Pier 15 on the East River Esplanade, wound my way around the southernmost tip of Manhattan, up through Robert Wagner Park and in and around Battery Park City. Doggie heads were patted, new construction was noted, and the rest of my day was planned.
Waltzing waterfront walks on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com

I had told R the day before that I was making a roast chicken for dinner that evening, and he begged me to roast it over a pan of potatoes, but I insisted that I couldn't, since I had already decided the rest of the meal and potatoes played no part. Plus, I had already done the shopping and no potatoes were to be found in our fridge.

Before we went to sleep he said, "really, no potatoes?". I stood firm.

But of course before I made my way home Sunday morning I took a loop by the market and picked some up. Although, if potatoes had to be had, they'd be done my way, so I also scooped up some sweet potatoes and parsnips to combine with the carrots and onion wedges at home. Altogether I had a nice little bed for my chickadee to roast over.
Waltzing waterfront walks on *sparklingly  |  http://sparklingly.blogspot.com

There was also a cabbage salad with a mouth-puckering vinegar dressing dotted with mustard seeds and tossed with bacon, its renderings and pickled onion, plus a roasted puree of eggplants and poblano peppers. Followed up by a platter of blueberries and homemade chocolate.

The mister was delighted to see some crispy-skinned potatoes and I was delighted that he let me have all the best bits of the chicken, including the parson's nose, as he was too busy spearing his tubers to notice me taking it all for myself. Turns out a little break from the weekend cocoon is a good thing.