March 31, 2010

Ooops - Chop the Hazelnuts!

My last post, which was a recipe for chocolate hazelnut biscotti, had a mistake: I forgot to add that the roasted hazelnuts should be coursely chopped.

I fixed it.


March 30, 2010

Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti

Amazingly, nothing funny or embarassing has happened to me for several days, unless you could L inquiring hopefully if she gets all our money when we die.

Therefore I am going to take this opportunity to document a secret family recipe for Chocolate Hazelnut Biscotti that taste divine in the morning with a cuppa.

Ready for bliss? Here we go:

You'll need:
7 oz (200 g) hazelnuts
7.5oz (215 g) flour
3.5 oz (100 g) sugar (and remember that raw is more ayurvedic than white)
dash of salt
half tsp cinnamon (optional)
half tsp baking powder
2 eggs
block of dark baking chocolate

Roast half the hazelnuts in a non-stick pan until a bit browned and grind the other half.

Chop the roasted hazelnuts into smaller pieces - just spread them on a cutting board and use a knife to chop them coarsely.

Mix flour, sugar, salt, baking powder and ground nuts in a bowl.

Add eggs and mix - you probably need to use your hands. It's worth it.

Make two long, flat loaves.

Bake 20 minutes at 375 F/190 C.

Remove and cut the loaves into individual biscotti.

Now bake again (biscotti means 'baked twice, get it?) at 275 F/140 C for 25 minutes.

Allow to cool while you melt the chocolate, ideally using a double boiler or put one pan on top of another pan that has boiling water in it.

Spread the melted chocolate on the biscotti.

Stick in the fridge so the chocolate can harden - once hardened you can put them in a cookie jar or tupperware.


March 24, 2010


L (my 4-year-old): Mommy did you go to the dentist when you were a kid?

Me: Sure, honey.

L: Did you go to my dentist?

An uncomfortable silence.

Me: Ah, no. I don't think she was born yet.

March 23, 2010

On God and Ayurveda

My 4-year-old daughter L has this to say about God: I want to be God. He doesn't have to wear socks.

I think that sums it up way better than that stupid Lord's prayer about dying in your sleep.

Last weekend I attended a class on Ayurveda cooking. The instructor was in her mid-to-late 40s and had clear, unlined skin and calm, alert eyes that caught my attention. In the past I have pondered why so many health food junkies who eat lots of raw vegetables always look gamey instead of healthy. Ayurveda philosophy answers this question and others.

Ayurveda boils down to three key points, or at least these are the three points I came away with:

1) Love food. Prepare food with love, eat with attention and enjoyment. (Parents of small children have permission to laugh here.) When you cook, the food receives your energy, positive or negative. Stir with intent.

2) Be satisfied after a meal. This means you have to include all flavors (sweet, sour, spicy, salty, bitter, etc.) or you will be left wanting. Order is also important - for example, it is best to end a meal with a bitter flavor so you feel satisfied and don't keep eating, which means salads do better as a final course than a starter.

3) Take care of your digestion. Eat foods that are quickly digested in order to get rid of inevitable toxins as quickly as possible. This is the key to staying healthy. Completely raw food is not recommended because it takes longer to digest. Ditto cold food.

Some of the healthiest foods are: organic chicken, olive oil, radiccio (that bitter purple cabagey thing you use in salads), tumeric, garlic, organic milk, oats, walnuts, broccoli, salmon, herbal tea, apples, lentils.

Some general tips for more Aryuvedic eating:

1. Drink warm water once or twice a day.
2. Don't cook honey. (It's apparently toxic)
3. Speaking of toxic, don't cook with olive oil or butter, either. Olive oil is very healthy but not when cooked. Use ghee or coconut oil to cook.
4. Never use sunflower oil, cooked or otherwise.
5. Avoid eating animals that can't sweat, such as pigs and mussels. They build up toxins.
6. Eat dairy products alone, don't mix with, say, fruit. An exception is mangos, so mango lassis are very good - just throw fresh mango, plain yogurt and a bit of water in the blender. Yum!
7. The fresher the better.
8. Eat real food, not processed. So, raw sugar is better than white processed sugar.
9. Go easy on raw and/or cold food. Don't mix fruit with other foods, give it time to digest first.
10. Try not to use a microwave - it pretty much kills the food. Best is fresh cooked meals, if you must reheat use a pan or a steamer.
11. Don't eat until you're hungry, then eat until you're satisfied.
12. Your stomach is about the size of two fists. Try not to eat more than that at each meal.

How to make your own ghee:

Ghee is butter that has been cooked to produce curds then filtered to remove them. The curds are basically animal fats and additives and are toxic when cooked, not to mention high in cholesterol. Starting with a good organic butter, cook it in a small pot on the stove. As it melts scoop off the foam with a spoon. It will boil and slowly clarify, producing small white curds. When the curds just begin to brown, filter into a jar using an unbleached cheese cloth or coffee filter. You can cook with this - nice flavor - and it never goes bad.

Now, this is a lot of work but what convinced me is that the remaining curds can be used as a moisturizing facial scrub and mask. Of course, if you don't wash it off thoroughly you will smell like rancid butter but your skin will be luminous.

March 10, 2010

Scheisse happens

I've been reflecting on how I ended up in Germany. The obvious answer is that I'm married to a German but it's not that simple. It kind of evolved through a series of events.

Years ago I was an application developer, managing a small team responsible for designing and implemeting an HR solution for the Japanese market. About midway through the development cycle someone had the bright idea to split up the functional and technical teams, both of which I managed along with the QA team.

I resisted as long as I could and since my team was working on the biggest and most complex product requirements of the release I had a lot of say - until the release was over, that is, and then they calmly carried out their diabolical plan to make me specialize. Everyone else had already made the switch and I was the last hard core generalist standing.

Given the choice between functional work (i.e., defining requirements and designing solutions) and technical work (implementing solutions) I chose the functional path because it seemed to be the rarer skill, by which I mean that fewer people seemed to be good at it. Most of the people I worked with were either subject matter experts with no design skills or technical experts who designed like engineers - i.e., for other engineers. Few of them were what I considered great application designers so it seemed like a promising niche.

(For an example of engineer-driven design, go use gmail. I hope Google doesn't blow up my blog or delete all my contacts for saying that - and I'm thinking I won't be Blog of Note any time soon - but it needed to be said.)

Not long after I felt underchallenged in my new specialized role so I made a decision to leave the US and spend an exciting year or so abroad. Oh, and I also planned to marry Ralf, whom I'd met on the job, but I couldn't count on that happening so mostly I was inviting the universe to fall in with my ideas.

The tricky bit was finding a job in Europe when my only other languages were Japanese and Russian. I put my name 'out there' and was offered a job in the European sales team at the same company, which I eagerly accepted. Accordingly, I quit my job as functional analyst and put the paperwork in motion to move abroad.

Then disaster struck.

A couple of weeks before my planned departure date the offer was withdrawn! They decided to give the job to someone else already living in Europe, AFTER making me a formal offer. Rotten, I know, but believe it or not people pull crappy stunts like that all the time. Unfortunately, this particular crappy stunt left me jobless, homeless and with not much of a savings.

The good news is that I was also single, mobile and good at my job so I didn't despair. Much. And sure enough, about three days later I got a call from the manager of the German sales team with an offer. A bit less money but based in Germany. The only catch was that I had to learn German but they would pay for lessons.

What, am I stupid? I jumped at it! Ten days later I was in Munich struggling to learn German well enough to do a passable sales demo as well as learn a completely unfamiliar product area, because right after hiring me my manager was demoted to head up the financials product, rather than all products. Now, I'm a smart cookie, but there are limits to human ability and there was no way I'd be up to speed any time soon.

That's a fancy way of saying I sucked.

Meanwhile the manager of the consulting organization adopted the strange and offputting habit of coming to the door of the sales room to glare at me several times a day. We're talking resentful glares of hatred here and I really didn't understand what I'd done to offend him. My German manager soon clarified the matter: One of the key projects was dying a slow hideous death and they needed someone with my skills to save it - and meanwhile here I was wasting everyone's time trying to sell products I knew nothing about in a language I couldn't speak!

When he put it that way it kind of made sense. So, to make a long story short, I was soon after absorbed into the consulting group, helped save the project, got promoted to project manager (accompanied by more glares of hatred - I learned later it was his only expression), managed another project then joined the product strategy group. And married Ralf. Over time we had two kids and left our jobs to join a start up company.

Blah, blah, blah.

Anyway, my point is that some of these changes were planned by me, whereas others just kind of happened. And really, that's the way things go in life. You're never prepared for the sucker punches and you never know what will turn up when they happen. Also, there are a lot of great people out there, like my awesome German boss who offered to stand up for me and even get fired if I didn't want to change jobs.

(He has since emigrated to Ireland and is now a professional chef. Not because of me. Probably.)

You just never know. That's what faith is for.

March 3, 2010

The Help and The Bachelor

My book club just read The Help. At first I thought, Oh, no, not another book about oppressed blacks. I mean, I grew up in LA where people mainly oppress the Mexicans, so black oppression is not a topic that is near and dear to my heart. Plus I was afraid it would be sad and I'm all about happy down time.

Still, both my book clubs (California and Germany) are reading this book so it was like a twofer and I dutifully ordered it and started reading. And it was AWESOME. What a fine, well-written book. I highly recommend it. That's all I'm saying.

Last night I watched The Bachelor at my friends' house. It was the final episode where Jake chooses Verruca over Placenta, or whatever their names were. After several clearly scripted dates, the main point of which was to show off three sets of oversized fake white teeth, we were treated to a drawn out taking leave of Placenta, during which she wept and thanked Jake for showing her how to love again. After Verruca got her ring and recited a touching speech about soul mates there was a talk show to discuss why on earth Jake prefered Verruca over Placenta.

The talk show host actually said, 'America is talking about this,' and I thought, 'Yeah, right, people don't have anything better to talk about.'

Little did I know. This morning in the car Jake's controversial choice actually was the big topic on every radio station I tried.

I feel so current.
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