Thursday, June 22, 2023

Happy Vesak Day!

At the end of May, my fiancé and I went to Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, New York for Vesak Weekend, to celebrate Buddha's Birthday. "Siddhartha, or Buddha Shakyamuni, was an enlightened being whose teachings have helped millions of people touch the peace, love and understanding inherent in each of us."1 Over the weekend, we practiced mindfulness to celebrate and remember the Buddha. Blue Cliff Monastery is one of the Buddhist practice centers in the Plum Village tradition, founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay).

It was a busy weekend. We arrived Friday afternoon, in time for dinner and orientation. Saturday morning, we began with a guided sitting meditation, followed by exercise, breakfast, a lay friends Dharma talk, and walking meditation. After lunch, there was working meditation and a Food Fair Celebration! At the Food Fair, there were tables after tables of different Vietnamese foods. The food at Blue Cliff Monastery is 95% vegan, and it was delicious. Although I do not normally follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, I was not hungry all weekend. 

Then we enjoyed a Musical Be-In with live performances of music, poetry, and more. They also spoke about their Moon Lake Nunnery Project. Due to the poor conditions of the Moon Lake Building, the nuns who used to live there are temporarily located in buildings meant for guests. They are building a new building for the nuns, so that the guest rooms can accommodate visitors once again. Read more about the Nunnery Project here, and please consider making a donation.

Sunday, we began again with sitting meditation, exercise, breakfast, and a Dharma talk in the morning. We concluded the retreat with a beautiful Bathing the Buddha Ceremony and lunch, with yummy Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches.

Blue Cliff Monastery

We had a restful and busy weekend. Although Blue Cliff Monastery is a few hours away from where we live, there are ways to participate virtually. Live streaming is offered for quite a few of their Dharma talks and events, and you can subscribe to their YouTube channel. Interested in other ways to practice mindfulness at home? Try the Plum Village Mobile App, a free app that offers guided meditations and more from the Plum Village community. If you're interested in practicing mindfulness in person, check out the eleven monasteries worldwide that practice in the Plum Village tradition, or find a local group near you.


Saturday, April 1, 2023

Onigiri Rice Balls

In February, my fiancé and I attended a Let's Make Onigiri program at the Morrill Memorial Library in Norwood. Onigiri are convenient and tasty Japanese rice ball snacks. Ms. Masayo Kawaguchi from the Japan Society of Boston taught the class.

Masayo Kawaguchi

Ms. Kawaguchi began by discussing the history of onigiri, and she explained how onigiri differs from sushi, which more people are familiar with. While sushi is made with rice seasoned with vinegar, sugar, and salt, onigiri is prepared with plain or lightly salted steamed rice.

To make onigiri, all you need is Japanese short-grain rice, which is often labeled as sushi rice. It's important to use short-grain rice, because other types of rice, such as long-grain jasmine rice, will not stick together.

After you cook the rice, wet your hands with water so the rice doesn't stick to your hands, shape a handful of rice into a triangular shape with your hands, and you have a basic onigiri! 

There are endless ways to make variations of onigiri. Wrapping nori seaweed around onigiri is common, and you can add fillings to the middle of your onigiri before shaping it if you'd like. Popular onigiri fillings include canned tuna with mayonnaise, umeboshi (Japanese pickled plum), and okaka (bonito flakes mixed with soy sauce). Ms. Kawaguchi said leftovers are great to fill onigiri. Add some flavor to the rice if you'd like, such as by mixing in some salt or furikake rice seasoning. You can be creative by molding the rice into different shapes, and they even sell molds to make fun onigiri animals and characters.

Onigiri is best enjoyed at room temperature and the day it's made. Making onigiri is a lot simpler than I thought it would be! For some more reading and entertainment:

Monday, January 16, 2023

Asian Cakes

Lately I have been missing Asian baked goods and snacks that remind me of my childhood. Since I don't live or work near an Asian bakery, I decided to take matters into my own hands! 

I took out the book Mooncakes and Milk Bread: Sweet and Savory Recipes Inspired by Chinese Bakeries by Kristina Cho from the library. Author Kristina Cho is a food blogger, and she shares recipes on her blog Eat Cho Food. Her book was a 2022 James Beard Award Winner for the Baking and Desserts and Emerging Voice categories.

I made the Fruit Cream Cake, which is a cake we often had for birthdays in my family when I was young. It's made with vanilla Chinese sponge cake, whipped cream frosting, and fruit.

Chinese Fruit Sponge Cake

The cake is very light and not too sweet, and whipped cream frosting is my favorite.

Another light cake that I just learned about is the Japanese steamed cake, Mushi-pan. These cakes are steamed and not baked. Steaming was a common cooking method in my household when I was growing up. I learned about Mushi-pan and found the recipe online at Just One Cookbook, a website featuring Japanese recipes by Namiko Hirasawa Chen (Nami).

The steamed cake recipe contains only a few ingredients, is quick to make, and is easy to adapt! So far I have made the basic steamed cake and the corn and cheese steamed cake. However, Nami also has recipes for a double chocolate steamed cake and a matcha green tea steamed cake that I need to try. Mushi-pan is a delicious snack.

Basic Steamed Cake, Mushi-Pan

Corn and Cheese Steamed Cake

I can't wait for my next cooking adventure! 😋

Sunday, October 23, 2022

From Seed to Table

In my previous position as Assistant Food Service Director for Hingham Public Schools, I had the wonderful opportunity to lead the Hingham High School Farm to School team. One of my responsibilities in that role was to grow lettuce for the high school cafeteria lunches!

At the high school, we grew lettuce with the EvanLEE Organics' Grow Towers, which are indoor growing racks. We had grow towers in the cafeteria kitchen, classrooms, and even the high school greenhouse.

The grow towers use a terraponic system. In this system, plant trays are planted with soil and seeds as usual, but instead of watering the soil directly, water is added to the water pan that the trays rest in. Holes in the bottom of the planted trays allow the soil and plants to take up water as needed.

Students and staff helped to plant, maintain, harvest, and serve the greens that we grew. The lettuce was offered in the high school cafeteria lunches and donated to the Hingham Food Pantry. I enjoyed working with the community to offer fresh, delicious, and nutritious meals. In the 2019-2020 school year, we served over 150 pounds of our own organically grown lettuce!

To learn more about the EvanLEE Organics' Grow System at Hingham High School, please watch this video.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

Inspiring Reads

I am very excited to be working at the Wellesley, Dedham, and Westwood Public Libraries! Lately I have been reading inspirational books, and I have found them to be so hopeful, thought-provoking, and motivational that I wanted to share some with you.

The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, with Douglas Abrams 

How do you find joy in life with the difficulties we face everyday and all of the suffering in the world? Spiritual leaders Archbishop Tutu and the Dalai Lama meet for a week in Dharamsala, India, to discuss how they live joyful lives through their different practices, and how you can do it yourself. 

Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh shares his stories and wisdom, to teach us how to increase our awareness and find peace in every moment even during stressful times.

The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times
by Jane Goodall and Douglas Abrams

It is not easy to feel hopeful with the global climate crisis that is affecting humans, animals, and the environment. Through Jane Goodall's experiences and conversations with Douglas Abrams, discover more about hope, Jane's four reasons for hope, and Jane's thoughts on how we can live in harmony with nature.

The Gift of Anger: And Other Lessons from My Grandfather Mahatma Gandhi
by Arun Gandhi

Arun Gandhi recounts living with his renown grandfather, Mohandas “Mahatma” Gandhi for two years, when he was just twelve years old. Each chapter provides a different lesson on how to live peacefully and create positive change in the world.

Happy Reading!

Friday, February 25, 2022

Fermentation: Make Your Own Sauerkraut!

If you are interested in making your own fermented foods and don't know where to start, sauerkraut is a great first project. It's very easy and requires only two ingredients: cabbage and salt. Here I will share with you how to make your very own sauerkraut!

Sauerkraut Recipe

Ingredients and materials
  • Cabbage, shredded (1 pound per pint jar)
  • Sea salt or Himalayan salt (2 teaspoons per pound of cabbage)
    • Please note: do not use iodized salt
  • Glass jars (for example, wide mouth 1-pint mason jars)

  1. Add the shredded cabbage and 2 teaspoons salt per pound of cabbage in a mixing bowl.
  2. Mix and knead the mixture until the cabbage releases its juices.
  3. Tightly pack the mixture into clean glass jars and leave at least an inch of headroom at the top.
  4. Cover the jar(s) loosely and place in an undisturbed, dark spot if possible.
  5. Press the sauerkraut down once a day, so that the liquid rises above the top of the kraut. 
  6. Let the cabbage ferment for 4-5 days, then taste the kraut. If you like the taste, store the sauerkraut in the fridge. Otherwise, continue to ferment for as long as you would like. The sauerkraut can be stored in the fridge for many months.
    • Tip: I usually like to ferment my sauerkraut for about a week, because the liquid in the sauerkraut tends to evaporate off over time, and the cabbage should be submerged in liquid during fermentation. But adjust the fermentation time depending on your personal preference, the environment, and your experience.
  7. Enjoy the sauerkraut when it's done!
  • Add Color: Try combinations of white and purple cabbage, or add some other root vegetables, such as carrots, beets, turnips, etc.
  • Add Spices: Caraway, anise, and fennel are all good candidates. Add 1 teaspoon per pound of cabbage, or more or less according to taste.
Sauerkraut made with green cabbage (top jars) and red cabbage, carrots, and caraway (jars below and to the right)

Fermented foods may provide health benefits, such as boosting the immune system, decreasing inflammation, and more.

Looking for more fermentation projects? Check out the book Real Food Fermentation by Alex Lewin, which has just been released with a revised and expanded second edition. Learning how to make sauerkraut from Alex at a Slow Food BU workshop in 2009 was how I first got inspired to make it on my own at home! The book covers how to ferment foods and beverages of all kinds, with beautifully illustrated step by step photos. And if you enjoy the fermented tea kombucha, don't forget to read my contribution in the book with tips on the kombucha "mother," which is also known as a SCOBY, or symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast.

Happy Fermenting!

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Bread Baking

What's better than a homemade loaf of bread? Here I will share with you three bread recipes that I love to make.

First is one of the most recent bread recipes that I learned about. It's a homemade Italian bread, that produces a soft and fluffy loaf. It doesn't require kneading and takes only a little over 2 hours to make, so it's a great recipe when you're short on time! Find the recipe here from Amanda's Cookin'

Homemade Italian Bread

Next is Cook's Illustrated Almost No-Knead Bread. It involves very little kneading, but it does require some planning ahead, with a first rise of 8-18 hours and a second rise of 2 hours. The bread is cooked in a dutch oven, initially with the lid on, and then cooked for the last 10-15 minutes with the lid off. It makes a loaf with a very crunchy crust, which is delicious! Learn how to make the Almost No-Knead Bread here. Pictured below is the white flour recipe, which is the one I usually make. 

Almost No-Knead Bread

Finally there is my fiancé's great-grandmother's bread recipe. This recipe uses a traditional hand kneading method, with a first rise of 1.5 hours and a second rise of 1.5 hours. The recipe yields three, traditional white bread loaves. We made this bread for my fiancé's grandmother a few weeks ago when we celebrated her 101st birthday, and she loves to eat this bread that she used to make when she was younger! The recipe is below. Since cake yeast isn't readily available, I substitute the 1 cake yeast with 2 tablespoons and 3/4 teaspoons dry yeast. 

Great-Grandmother's White Bread

Great-Grandma's White Bread Recipe

Grandma's 101st Birthday!

I hope these recipes have inspired you to go and bake some bread! :)