Sunday, August 23, 2015

Spicy Bacon Cheddar Muffins

After our visit to the annual Roswell Farmers' Market only a week ago my husband and I were tempted to attend as vendors. We only had a couple of days to decide what we wanted to offer to visitors and I came up with a few recipes for muffins and cakes. We baked the goods in our kitchen and brought them to the market last Saturday. The response was much better than I expected. A real success, to be true. 

In this post I am sharing with you my, now famous, Spicy Bacon Cheddar Muffins recipe. Since more and more people are becoming sensitive to gluten, I used a high quality gluten-free baking mix. You can use regular flour to bake them, but remember to adjust the amounts of ingredients and add baking powder.

Ready for the market! 
Spicy Bacon Cheddar Muffins

  • 4 cups Pamela's Baking & Pancake Mix
  • 8-10 slices of smoked bacon
  • 3 eggs
  • 2 cups shredded sharp Cheddar cheese
  • 1 cup milk (use water if you prefer)
  • 1/2 cup melted butter (you can use the fat from frying bacon if you prefer)
  • 2 Tbsp crushed hot chili pepper
  • 1 tsp Celtic sea salt
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp dried crushed thyme 
  • 1 egg, beaten until liquid
  • 1/2 tsp crushed hot pepper

  • frying pan
  • large mixing bowl
  • balloon whisk
  • 12 medium cup muffin baking pan 
  • pastry brush
  • cooling pastry rack 
  • Preheat oven to 350°F/around 176°C.
  • In a frying pan fry bacon slices until crispy. Remove from pan and allow to cool on a sheet of kitchen paper. Once bacon slices cooled off crush them with a wooden spoon into a small chunks. Set aside.
  • Transfer the baking mix into a large mixing bowl. Add eggs, milk and melted butter. Using balloon whisk mix the ingredients until you obtained a smooth, flowing batter. Add crushed bacon, shredded cheese, and spices. Mix well. The batter should be slightly flowing, but not too thick and not too thin.
  • Depending on the type of your baking pan you may want to use paper cupcake liners or melted butter to prevent the muffins from sticking to the pan. Prepare your baking pan accordingly and fill each cup about 2/3 with the batter.
  • Place the baking pan in the preheated oven and bake for 18 minutes.
  • Remove the pan from the oven. Using a pastry brush spread the beaten egg over the muffins. Sprinkle some hot pepper flakes and place the baking pan in the oven for another 2-3 minutes. 
  • Insert a toothpick to test whether muffins are fully baked. When toothpick comes out completely dry, your muffins are ready. 
  • Remove the muffins from the baking pan and place them on a cooling pastry rack. Allow to cool for at least 30 minutes.

These muffins will kick you out of your socks. They are perfect for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Eat them instead of your traditional bread rolls with fried eggs, soup or salad. Enjoy in good company!

By Dominique Allmon

Dominique Allmon©2015 


Thursday, August 13, 2015

How to Pack Luggage For a Flight

He who would travel happily must travel light. - Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

If you travel a lot you probably have your own luggage packing routine. You know what you will need during the trip, you know what to expect in your hotel, or what you will need when you get stranded at some airport when your connecting flight is delayed because of bad weather condition or a technical problem. 

When you travel as much as I do you are probably amused at the size of luggage people are carrying. Sometimes it seems that they have packed their entire household and if you asked them, they were not moving to another country, they were only going for a two-week vacation. 

Thanks goodness, airlines have a weight limit for the passenger's checked-in luggage and also a size and weight limit for their carry on. But there is always the giant sombrero someone bought in Mexico, or a fragile Balinese wood carving that make their way to passenger cabin and a surprised look on passenger's face when he learns that there is no space for such items in the overhead bins. 

So how to pack for a trip? 

What ends up in your suitcase depends entirely on the type of trip you are making and the duration of the trip. You pack differently for a vacation in the Alaskan wilderness than for a business trip to New York. As you can imagine, you probably do not need evening attire in the woods and you definitely do not need trekking boots at a board meeting, but there are things like undergarments, socks and personal care items that should always be in your luggage. 

It may also seem to inexperienced traveler that the longer the trip the more one has to pack. This is not necessarily true. When you plan to spend three weeks at a resort in Bahamas you can be sure that they have laundry and dry cleaning services, and that there is enough time to get your stuff washed or dry cleaned. This, depending on the hotel you are in, may not be possible on an overnight trip.

To minimize the size of your luggage try to pack items that match and can be worn together in different combinations. Pack enough socks and underwear and always make sure that you are prepared for the eventuality that the airline lost your bags. Here a story of a fellow passenger comes to mind. It happened many years ago on the flight to Novosibirsk, Russia. The man was greatly concerned because his luggage did not make it on time from another destination and he went to Russia without his suitcase. The airline promised to deliver his luggage with next flight. The next flight, however, was six days later. This might not have been a problem in London or Paris, but in Novosibirsk in the late 1980s there was not much you could buy. The only luck that this man had was the fact that this was August and not December. He probably went to his meeting in his not so fresh T-shirt.

Stories like this one are very common. To avoid unnecessary stress, have a change of underwear and socks in your luggage, a clean shirt, a pair of slacks, and a few other items you might need right away. Always plan enough time between the connecting flights. Your travel agent may not be as travel savvy as he claims. A little delay here and bad weather over there and your entire trip goes down the drain. Also remember that making a short connection when you have to run from one gate to another with three or four pieces of hand luggage is not as easy as you imagine.  

One last thing. Check the current security requirements and luggage regulations of your chosen airline. There are certain items you are not allowed to carry in your hand luggage and some that you are not allowed to put into your checked bags. Also check customs regulations for your final destination. This will tremendously help you to avoid unnecessary stress.

By Dominique Allmon

Dominique Allmon©2015


Images source here

Sunday, August 9, 2015

What is Wabi Sabi

 Gold leaf in concrete by Catherine Bertola, 2007

By Tadao Ando
Pared down to its barest essence, wabi-sabi is the Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection and profundity in nature, of accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay, and death. It's simple, slow, and uncluttered-and it reveres authenticity above all. Wabi-sabi is flea markets, not warehouse stores; aged wood, not Pergo; rice paper, not glass. It celebrates cracks and crevices and all the other marks that time, weather, and loving use leave behind. It reminds us that we are all but transient beings on this planet-that our bodies as well as the material world around us are in the process of returning to the dust from which we came. Through wabi-sabi, we learn to embrace liver spots, rust, and frayed edges, and the march of time they represent.

Wabi-sabi is underplayed and modest, the kind of quiet, undeclared beauty that waits patiently to be discovered. It's a fragmentary glimpse: the branch representing the entire tree, shoji screens filtering the sun, the moon 90 percent obscured behind a ribbon of cloud. It's a richly mellow beauty that's striking but not obvious, that you can imagine having around you for a long, long time-Katherine Hepburn versus Marilyn Monroe. For the Japanese, it's the difference between kirei-merely "pretty"-and omoshiroi, the interestingness that kicks something into the realm of beautiful. (Omoshiroi literally means "white faced," but its meanings range from fascinating to fantastic.) It's the peace found in a moss garden, the musty smell of geraniums, the astringent taste of powdered green tea. My favorite Japanese phrase for describing wabi-sabi is "natsukashii furusato," or an old memory of my hometown. (This is a prevalent mind-set in Japan these days, as people born in major urban areas such as Tokyo and Osaka wax nostalgic over grandparents' country houses that perhaps never were. They can even "rent" grandparents who live in prototypical country houses and spend the weekend there.)

Daisetz T. Suzuki, who was one of Japan's foremost English-speaking authorities on Zen Buddhism and one of the first scholars to interpret Japanese culture for Westerners, described wabi-sabi as "an active aesthetical appreciation of poverty." He was referring to poverty not as we in the West interpret (and fear) it but in the more romantic sense of removing the huge weight of material concerns from our lives. "Wabi is to be satisfied with a little hut, a room of two or three tatami mats, like the log cabin of Thoreau," he wrote, "and with a dish of vegetables picked in the neighboring fields, and perhaps to be listening to the pattering of a gentle spring rainfall."

In Japan, there is a marked difference between a Thoreau-like wabibito (wabi person), who is free in his heart, and a makoto no hinjin, a more Dickensian character whose poor circumstances make him desperate and pitiful. The ability to make do with less is revered; I heard someone refer to a wabibito as a person who could make something complete out of eight parts when most of us would use ten. For us in the West, this might mean choosing a smaller house or a smaller car, or-just as a means of getting started-refusing to supersize our fries.

The words wabi and sabi were not always linked, although they've been together for such a long time that many people (including D. T. Suzuki) use them interchangeably. One tea teacher I talked with begged me not to use the phrase wabi-sabi because she believes the marriage dilutes their separate identities; a tea master in Kyoto laughed and said they're thrown together because it sounds catchy, kind of like Ping-Pong. In fact, the two words do have distinct meanings, although most people don't fully agree on what they might be. 

Wabi stems from the root wa, which refers to harmony, peace, tranquility, and balance. 

Generally speaking, wabi had the original meaning of sad, desolate, and lonely, but poetically it has come to mean simple, non-materialistic, humble by choice, and in tune with nature. Someone who is perfectly herself and never craves to be anything else would be described as wabi. Sixteenth-century tea master Jo-o described a wabi tea man as someone who feels no dissatisfaction even though he owns no Chinese utensils with which to conduct tea. A common phrase used in conjunction with wabi is "the joy of the little monk in his wind-torn robe." A wabi person epitomizes Zen, which is to say, he or she is content with very little; free from greed, indolence, and anger; and understands the wisdom of rocks and grasshoppers.

Until the fourteenth century, when Japanese society came to admire monks and hermits for their spiritual asceticism, wabi was a pejorative term used to describe cheerless, miserable outcasts. Even today, undertones of desolation and abandonment cling to the word, sometimes used to describe the helpless feeling you have when waiting for your lover. It also carries a hint of dissatisfaction in its underhanded criticism of gaud and ostentation-the defining mark of the ruling classes when wabisuki (a taste for all things wabi) exploded in the sixteenth century. In a country ruled by warlords who were expected to be conspicuous consumers, wabi became known as "the aesthetic of the people"-the lifestyle of the everday samurai, who had little in the way of material comforts.

Sabi by itself means "the bloom of time." It connotes natural progression-tarnish, hoariness, rust-the extinguished gloss of that which once sparkled. It's the understanding that beauty is fleeting. The word's meaning has changed over time, from its ancient definition, "to be desolate," to the more neutral "to grow old." By the thirteenth century, sabi's meaning had evolved into taking pleasure in things that were old and faded. A proverb emerged: "Time is kind to things, but unkind to man."

Sabi things carry the burden of their years with dignity and grace: the chilly mottled surface of an oxidized silver bowl, the yielding gray of weathered wood, the elegant withering of a bereft autumn bough. An old car left in a field to rust, as it transforms from an eyesore into a part of the landscape, could be considered America's contribution to the evolution of sabi. An abandoned barn, as it collapses in on itself, holds this mystique. 

There's an aching poetry in things that carry this patina, and it transcends the Japanese. We Americans are ineffably drawn to old European towns with their crooked cobblestone streets and chipping plaster, to places battle scarred with history much deeper than our own. We seek sabi in antiques and even try to manufacture it in distressed furnishings. True sabi cannot be acquired, however. It is a gift of time. 

So now we have wabi, which is humble and simple, and sabi, which is rusty and weathered. And we've thrown these terms together into a phrase that rolls off the tongue like Ping-Pong. Does that mean, then, that the wabi-sabi house is full of things that are humble, plain, rusty, and weathered? That's the easy answer. The amalgamation of wabi and sabi in practice, however, takes on much more depth. 

In home decor, wabi-sabi inspires a minimalism that celebrates the human rather than the machine. Possessions are pared down, and pared down again, until only those that are necessary for their utility or beauty (and ideally both) are left. What makes the cut? Items that you both admire and love to use, like those hand-crank eggbeaters that still work just fine. Things that resonate with the spirit of their makers' hands and hearts: the chair your grandfather made, your six-year-old's lumpy pottery, an afghan you knitted yourself (out of handspun sheep's wool, perhaps). Pieces of your own history: sepia-toned ancestral photos, baby shoes, the Nancy Drew mysteries you read over and over again as a kid.

Wabi-sabi interiors tend to be muted, dimly lit, and shadowy-giving the rooms an enveloping, womblike feeling. Natural materials that are vulnerable to weathering, warping, shrinking, cracking, and peeling lend an air of perishability. The palette is drawn from browns, blacks, grays, earthy greens, and rusts. This implies a lack of freedom but actually affords an opportunity for innovation and creativity. In Japan, kimonos come in a hundred different shades of gray. You simply have to hone your vision so you can see, and feel, them all.


Image source here 

Text source unknown

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Prayer for Hiroshima

In order for us to live together, we need to end the use of all nuclear weapons, the ultimate in inhumane, pure evil and the moment to get this done is now. - Hiroshima Mayor Kazumi Matsui

Tens of thousands of people gathered in Hiroshima at the Peace Memorial Park on August 6th, 2015, to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the dropping of the nuclear bomb by the United States. The bomb obliterated the city and killed around 140,000 people. Another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki only three days later and caused ca. 70,000 deaths. 

In 1945 the United States government argued that the nuclear attack was the only way to end the World War II in the Pacific. It probably was, since Japan was not willing to surrender.


Sunday, August 2, 2015

Reaching Out For the Unreachable Fruit

There are no mistakes. The events we bring upon ourselves, no matter how unpleasant, are necessary in order to learn what we need to learn; whatever steps we take, they're necessary to reach the places we've chosen to go. - Richard Bach

Sometimes our goals may seem like a high-hanging, unreachable fruit. No matter how hard we try, the fruit remains elusive. 

Too often we are tempted to give up. Too often we are willing to compromise and settle for much less than we really deserve. 

Too often we have not even tried.

Too often talent is wasted out of fear. Too often dreams and ideas are smothered before they even start to blossom and produce fruit...

But this is not a way to achieve greatness. This is not a way to achieve anything at all. You can only achieve your full potential when you try and try again. 

A failure remains a failure only when you stop right there and give up. But if you pick yourself up and try again, your failure becomes a stepping stone, an exercise necessary to the mastery of your final goal. You may have to start over and over again, but you will only profit from the lessons you have learned. 

Just remember: "Strength and growth don't come from what you can do. They come from overcoming the things that you once thought you couldn't."  This is a really brilliant quote from Sandy Botkin's mother. I have never met Sandy Botkin, but I know that he is quite successful in his field. With a mother like this, probably no wonder.

You might have to work a bit harder than others, or at least you have the impression that you do. At the end of the road things will begin to make a lot of sense, just keep reaching out for that high-hanging fruit. A day will come and you will be able to touch it.

By Dominique Allmon

Dominique Allmon©2015


Image: High-Hanging Bananas in Fort Canning Park, Singapore by Dominique Allmon©2015