Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Brownie Coconut Bars

These bars originally made an appearance on the Georgas table for one of our "family dinners" in which my favorite sister-in-law, Kaitlyn, and long time family friend slash awesome guy, David, join us for dinner on Tuesday nights. I chose the recipe based on my very scientific method of pairing dinner and dessert: what sweet treat can I make with the ingredients I already have. They were delicious so I decided to whip them up again thinking some girlfriends were coming over tonight to hang out. I changed up the recipe just a little bit this time, again for empirically proven reasons: I was lacking some of the called-for coconut.

I think I figured it out. The thing that makes these so delicious. Brownies with some coconut mixed in? I mean I'd eat 'em. Coconutty blob things with a little chocolate mixed in? While they don't sound great, I hate to see food wasted. But the perfectly sized layer of brownie supporting the floofy, delicious cloud of coconut? Heavenly.

Start by getting out a 9x9 pan, or 8x8, whatever you have. I'm pretty sure mine is 8x8. Line it with foil, leaving a little extra foil hanging over the edges so you can pull it out in one piece later. Spray the foil with nonstick spray or butter it if you're less lazy than I.

Mixing up the brownie layer is really as easy as melting butter in the microwave and then stirring in sugar, salt, an egg, cocoa and flour. Pour this layer into the foiled and sprayed pan. Bake it in a 375 degree oven for 10-15 minutes, until the sides start to pull away from the foil. 

While it's baking, mix up the coconut floofiness. Again, it's as easy as stirring 5 things together in one bowl with one fork or whisk. No mixer required! Combine eggs, sugar, vanilla and flour then when it's smooth mix in the coconut. Also, the coconut weight does not have to be exact. I realize maybe not everyone is as in love with the food scale as I am. 

When the brownie layer comes out, plop the coconut mixture over the top a little bit at a time. With the hot brownies and the thick coconut, spreading is no easy task so resist the temptation to dump all of the coconut on at once. I find that spreading with the fingers works best. Now it looks like this:

I forgot to take a picture after sprinkling the last little bit of coconut on top, my bad. Put the whole thing back in the oven for 25-30 minutes until it's browned on top and a toothpick stuck in the center comes out with moist crumbs. 

Once it is cool enough to touch simply grab the foil and lift the whole square out of the pan. 

The verdict is in. Kevin and I liked this batch better. Having less coconut made the whole bar more moist without sacrificing coconut flavor or floofiness. It really is up to you how much coconut you want to add! 

The Recipe
Brownie Layer:   
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup all purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 375. Foil and spray a 9x9 pan (or 8x8). Melt butter in the microwave then stir in sugar and salt. Stir in egg then cocoa and flour. Mix until smooth. Spread evenly in pan. Bake for 10-15 minutes.

Coconut Layer:
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1 cup all purpose flour
  • 4 ounces sweetened, shredded coconut plus a little extra for the top
Stir together the first four ingredients until smooth then fold in coconut. Spoon little plops onto the brownie layer and spread gently with fingers. Sprinkle coconut on top, about 1/4 cup. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Allow to cool before removing from the pan by lifting the foil edges.

Recipe adapted from here

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Yoga 101- A New Series

Since I started studying to be a teacher I have had multiple people mention to me that they are afraid or intimidated by yoga because they don't know how to tell if they're doing it right. Teachers often just name poses and students are expected to know how to get into them and how they should feel. I have taken this as my personal mission to make my classes accessible to someone who has never done any yoga at all. I thought it would also be fun to have a weekly (ish) series here going over the basics. My hope is to present a pose or concept that is sometimes assumed to be easy and break it down so a first-timer can master it! These posts can be used to help remind experienced yoga students of the basics, they can serve as an introduction to new students, or they can be used individually as a stretch after you do your jump squat throw-ups.

Before we get started, let's just establish that I'm not a photographer (you probably noticed this with my food pictures yesterday). My Nikon Coolpix on self-timer in the cleanest room of my house is the best I can do. To be honest, when I practice yoga alone it is usually in the living room. We have a pretty sweet backyard/courtyard area behind our house that would be perfect for yoga if this was like New Haven or something. But this is Texas. We're still in the 100s everyday. Ok so I don't know where New Haven is, maybe that was a bad example. Or maybe I made it up, I'm good at that.

So Yoga 101, day 1: Downward Facing Dog

If you've ever seen a dog do this, you know exactly where it got its name. Downward dog is an excellent pose for building strength in the arms and stretching the back of the legs. It also releases the weight and pressure out of the lower back. Our lower backs carry so much weight all day so it's nice to take the weight off for a little break.

The Hands- should be about shoulder width apart, flat on the floor and all the fingers spread out wide. Leaving a tiny space between the base of the palm/wrist and the floor relieves the pressure on the wrists that some feel in this pose.

The Head- should be between the arms. The ears are directly between the biceps but not touching them. If your biceps are even close to touching your ears it's because the shoulders are hunched up.

The Shoulders- are pulled away from the ears. Imagine that you are trying to touch the shoulder blades in the middle of the back. Teachers often call this "shoulders back and down."

The Back- is straight and flat!

The Legs- are extended and the heels are reaching to the floor. The feet are about hip width distance apart.

Focus on: The hips should be the definite highest point of the body. The back is straight and the shoulders are not hunched.

Still working on it? Bend the knees and lift the heels to slowly work towards straight legs. Especially if you are a runner, the hamstrings can be very tight so straight legs may not be possible at first or at all.

The most common misalignment in downward dog comes from thinking that it is crucial for the heels to touch the floor. This leads to hunched shoulders, rounding in the back and possibly some serious pain in the legs!

Now everyone on the mat! Have you tried Downward Dog? Do you love it or hate it?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Applesauced on a Sunday

The painter extraordinaire and our dear friend Kate is having a solo show at the Croft Art Gallery in October (for us art-ignorant folk, that means the gallery will be displaying her work and her work only for a whole month with the hopes that people will buy it). On opening night there is a reception and I have been tasked with making cupcakes. I have some ideas for the different kinds I want to make but I am going to test the recipes ahead of time to avoid a day of catastrophe.

The first recipe to try is Applesauce Spice cupcakes. Allison and Mom raved about these cupcakes last fall and I thought it'd be nice to have a seasonal flavor. Now, you may or may not know that sometimes I like to think of myself as a pioneer/pilgrim/Laura Ingalls Wilder type. Yesterday was one of those days. So I decided to make the applesauce from scratch. Apples are super cheap right now and I had the time. I just realized the opening paragraph of this post may have been misleading because its actually going to be all about applesauce. The cupcakes will be a different story for a different day because they are not frosted yet.

Some quick googling told me that a pound of apples will make a cup of sauce. I cored and sliced 2 pounds of apples. Peeling them is optional but since this sauce was destined for cupcakes I wanted a smoother texture.

Throw the apples in a pot and put just enough water to cover the bottom so they don't scorch, about 1/4 cup should do it. Put the lid on and let them cook over medium heat until they are soft and falling apart, about 30 minutes. You really can't overcook the apples so make sure they are good and mushy. You should be able to mash them with a fork or potato masher. Mash the apples in the pot and if there's too much liquid for your liking, take the lid off and keep cooking for about 5 minutes.

Voila! You have homemade applesauce. If you feel so inclined you can add sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, honey...whatever you like to sweeten the sauce. I kept it plain because, once again, going in cupcakes.

As the applesauce simmered I was faced with a dilemma: can I really throw this big pile of apple peel away? Such a waste! I munched on a few pieces while brainstorming, texting Allison for ideas and eventually googling (of course).

Bam. Vinegar. I just put the peel in a jar, covered it with water and topped it with cheesecloth (held in place by a neon hair tie, classy). After sitting in a cool, dark-ish place for 3-4 days this will supposedly be apple vinegar. On a different note, let's pretend you didn't see the dirty window sill.

There was some applesauce leftover after making the cupcakes so this morning I enjoyed it blooped on top of some homemade yogurt with agave nectar (jury is still out on this stuff) and cinnamon. Delish!

Friday, September 23, 2011

My Yoga Story

My love affair with yoga began while I was in Macedonia as a Peace Corps volunteer. I had taken a few classes in Fort Worth before I left but really found my groove in Macedonia. This can probably be attributed to the fact that I had time. Nothing but free time. I began with the yoga DVD I had packed with me, then moved on to trading DVDs with other volunteers to learn new things. As the DVDs became routine I started researching online. I spent hours upon hours on Yoga Journal's website reading through their pose descriptions. I would read about a pose then practice in my living room. Having friends that enjoyed yoga too allowed it to become both a form of exercise and an entertainment for us (many Friday nights spent laughing hysterically as we tried to pull off crazy poses like side crow and scorpion). Some light yoga felt great after a long run or fast paced, intense yoga was awesome strength training in a country devoid of free weights. 

As I was falling more and more in love with yoga, my coworkers and I were trying to decide on the new schedule of classes/events/workshops to have at our "youth club" (basically the same idea as a Boys and Girls Club). The long and short of it is that a conversation about what we were all interested in, what would benefit our teenage clients and what would draw people in led to the decision that I, the out of place blonde American in a sea of tall, beautiful, dark haired Eastern Europeans, would teach a yoga class for teenage girls. Was I nervous? Very. Did it turn out to be the most awesome, enjoyable, rewarding experience I had in Macedonia? Yes. Exercise was a new concept in Macedonia and I was very upfront about the fact that I had completely taught myself and was not at all an expert so I didn't feel too bad about teaching the class. The girls and I had so much fun learning together, talking about trying to be healthy in the Macedonian society and sharing our thoughts as we tried to love our bodies. Every week after class I would find myself daydreaming about getting trained for real when I got back to the US. I thought a lot about if it was an isolated event that I was connecting with my students and enjoying every second of it. 

Fast forward 2 and a half years to newlywed Caitlin who has continued personal yoga practice, running half marathons and many different forms of exercise over the years. All this time I had yoga teacher training on the back burner of my mind. As life started to calm down after our wedding I couldn't get the thought out of my head. Kevin, always Mister Supportive and my best cheerleader, encouraged me to go to the first training, scope it out and then make an informed decision about if I wanted to pursue yoga teacher training. I went, I learned, I loved, I decided. I love helping people realize that yoga is not some crazy religion, yoga is not some sissy "workout" for athletes to scoff at and not all yoga is about chanting and omming and meditating. Yoga is a very versatile form of exercise with amazing benefits, both physical and mental. Yoga will work out muscles you didn't even know you had and doctors, scientists (I don't know, "They") have proven over and over that all the new ways the body moves in yoga help with anxiety, depression and a whole slew of other mental/emotional states. A power flow yoga class will leave you drenched in sweat, heart pounding and cursing the dozens of squats, lunges and push ups. A gentle flow class will make you feel more relaxed and de-stressed then the best pill out there*. Do some people get really into the ancient traditions of yoga and the spiritual side of it? Yes. Do we have to to gain all the health benefits? No. 

Moral of the story: Yes, yoga seems trendy, but it really doesn't require us to become Buddhist vegans or something crazy like that (life without cheese?!). I just gave all the reasons I love it, have you tried it? 

*Just to be clear, I'm not saying the "best pills out there" are not needed in some cases. Some bodies need the pills. Don't mistake me for a pill expert. You get the point.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Diving Right In

So I started a blog. I'm a blogger. I instantly feel pressure to be funny and quirky and to eat oatmeal for breakfast. While I'd like to think I'm funny sometimes, I'm not quirky and I only eat oatmeal when the fridge is literally empty. Otherwise I'd be fat. I bake a lot of delicious things, which is part of the reason I wanted to start a blog. But let's not get confused, if I don't exert a little self control around the baked goods, I get fat. I won't be one of those bloggers joking about how I made 3 dozen brownie sundae cupcakes with mile high frosting and then ate nothing but said cupcakes for four days straight. I would be so fat. And constipated.

My words to live by: workout hard enough to be able to eat dessert and do what it takes to stay regular.

Aren't you glad I started a blog?