Sunday, July 25, 2010

Peach Pie

Alrighty kids, this next post is not for the faint of heart. I've been inspired by the beautiful fruit at the Union Square market, as well as by my budding courage on the yoga mat. What's up my sleeve, you ask? A homemade peach pie...from scratch. I know what you're thinking; "Chrissy, we love you but you're crazy. Thanks but no thanks." It's the same response I get when I ask you to do a handstand (or, for those of you seasoned handstanders, the pangs of fear and disbelief that follow my request to hop up in the center of the room). Be brave, you can do it! My confidence comes from my complete and utter lack of experience in the pastry department, so as a fellow novice I can tell you first hand that A) it's fun to delve into something you never thought you could do and B) if you screw it up, you can always buy the pre-made pie dough from Pillsbury (or, a pre-made pie).

I'm not sure what prompted me to start making my own pastry dough, but I think I just got tired of playing if safe. I'm noticing the same thing in my yoga practice. I've been exploring inversions in the center of the room, dropping over backwards (by accident and on purpose) and generally sticking myself in situations that scare the bujezus out of me. It's exhilarating.

So here's what you need:

-a brazen attitude and complete detachment from the results
-a food processor (if you're waiting for a "special day" to buy one, then buying one is most definitely part of this practice)
-a rolling pin
-a pie dish
-peaches (6-8)

My advice is to move all of the necessary supplies to a table so you can sprawl out. The key to all of this is to be organized and yet relaxed. It's the abhyasa (diligent practice) and vairagya (letting go) of baking.

So let's do this! Rule number one: don't panic. Rule number two: keep your ingredients cold and your oven hot.

1) Cut 2 sticks of butter into small cubes. Place in a bowl and stick it in the freezer about 10-15 minutes before you're ready to start. Drop some ice cubes in a cup of water; you'll need that water later.

2) 2 1/2 cups of flour, 1 t sugar and 1 t salt go into the food processor.

3) Add the cubed butter to the food processor and pulse for 8-10 seconds. You want to break up the butter into pea-size pieces.

4) Ice water at the ready, turn the food processor on and slowly pour in between 1/4 and 1/2 cup. You'll start to see the water pull the flour into a dough. This takes about 30 seconds. Don't panic and over mix. While it may look like a mess, just trust me...the heat from your hands will give it shape and you don't want the butter to fully dissolve into the dough. Those little bursts of fat are what make the crust crispy, and we definitely want crispy.

5) Scoop out your dough and separate it into two round balls. Wrap each in plastic and put them in the fridge. (If all else fails, just keep putting things in the fridge.)

6) Now you wait. That dough needs to rest in there for 20 minutes or so. Here's what you can do in the meantime: preheat your oven to 425 degrees. Peal and cut your peaches, adding 1/4 flour and 1/2 cup of sugar. (Note: The flour helps to soak up the juices, so if you're dealing with especially juicy peaches, you can experiment with adding more flour. Same goes for the sugar. If your peaches are ripe and sweet, you can add less sugar.) I know it's not specific, but remember, making a pie from scratch is a ridiculous said it yourself. Whip out that brazen attitude and work it out.

7) Flour your working surface and your rolling pin. Roll out just one of the dough balls. Always roll in one direction. Going back and forth will get you into trouble. Just keep turning the dough as you roll, making sure that it rolls into some semblance of a circle (double-checking that it doesn't stick to the board). Re-flour as necessary. Place the dough into your pie plate and pour in your peach filling. Dot with about 2 T of butter, cut into small pieces and scattered throughout. Stick the pie back in the fridge while you grab the other dough ball and repeat the rolling process.

8) Lay the second crust over the pie and crimp the two layers together with your fingers. You can decorate the edges any way you like. I happen to love the thumb impressions, but you can also go around the edges with a fork.

9) Cut 4 inch-long slits in the top of your pie to let out the steam while it's baking. Brush the entire thing with an egg wash (code for an egg thinned out with a splash of water). This gives it a nice brown, glossy look.

10) Pop the pie in the fridge for another 10 minutes or so. Do some handstands while you wait. At this point you should be either overly confident or completely defeated, leaving you with nothing to lose. Inch yourself away from the wall and see if you can kick up without touching. When you feel yourself flipping over, reach your chest and your eyes towards the wall and try to land both feet on the wall at the same time. Once you've done a few of those, pop your pie into the oven and bake for 40-50 minutes.

Like a true beginner, I have no idea what I don't know. I've heard murmurings of how humidity and temperature dictate the final results, but I can't be bothered by that right now. I'm just lucky that it tastes good, and I kind of like how "homemade" it looks. Getting over the fear is nine-tenths of the battle. You have to believe that it's possible. "Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness" (Sutra 1.14). I'm sure that time and experience will reveal a lot about the secrets of pastry and I'm excited for that journey. One thing's for sure: there'll be lots of good pies along the way!

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lemon Mint Water

I have to be honest with you...I'm not really into those aluminum water bottles. I've tried, trust me, but I just can't make them work. Maybe it's the fact that they're hard to clean, or that they get that weird smell. It's probably because I'd rather be drinking coffee (ok there, I said it).

This got me thinking about how to make water more exciting. Steering clear of flavored powders and plastic bottles was a priority, and yet I had to find a way to make a ritual out of drinking H2O. I found a glass bottle in my cabinet and filled it with lemon slices and fresh mint. I threw the bottle in my bag, water free, so as not to break my back on my commute. Once I reached my destination, I filled it with cold water and let me just tell you, it was fabulous! I think I may have found a way to hydrate that's both refreshing and good for the environment. No, this doesn't mean I'll be cutting back on the lattes. Please. One thing at a time.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Parchment Paper Bouquet

When it comes to offering the gift of flowers, you don't have to spend a fortune. Browsing the selection at your local grocery/convenience store is, well, convenient (and cost savvy). The cellophane and wad of rubber bands, however, leave much to be desired in the presentation department. Stick with one flower, like a dozen roses, or buy flowers within the same color scheme. I bought these flowers from Whole Foods today and wrapped them in parchment paper, then tied them with some kitchen twine. So simple and yet so classic, it looks as though I picked these by hand. I adore the Queen Anne's Lace with the hydrangeas. I couldn't choose between the two photographs; I'm desperately in love with both.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Yadda, Yadda, Yadda

I'm not really that big into quotes. I don't have a portfolio of handy-dandy one-liners to go with every situation, so when I come across a good one I start applying it to everything. At the moment I'm mesmerized by the following; "Communication isn't what's said. It's what's heard." There's an element of accountability embedded in this quote, which is perhaps what sparked my interest in the first place. I've often thought of communication as the willingness to talk, but it seems that in order to be heard we need to consider how we package our truth. Communication is a two-fold meditation, implying that we be mindful of how someone else might best absorb our words and more importantly, that we be very clear with ourselves about what it is that we want to say.

Hindsight being 20/20, I can look back on some of my more unproductive conversations and pinpoint a fairly obvious trend ... I wasn't really listening. I mean, all of the necessary ingredients were present, none the least of which was my actual presence and willingness to pay attention, but I was too busy having my own little conversation in my mind to hear what was being said. In fact, the best examples of my worst attempts at communication are those in which I was reliving the past (and subsequently predicting the future). Instead of actually participating in the conversation, I brought all my baggage to the table as evidence of how I expected the discussion to unfold. My adversary could talk and talk and not one bit of it would soak in because my version of the story was far easier to believe. It's like communicative craft time: cutting and pasting the parts that supported my agenda and inserting them into my well-written plot. Somehow my deepest fears and my darkest thoughts felt more comforting than the truth of the moment.

These seeds (or samskaras, as they're called in sanskrit) of our past experiences filter the words of another in ways that serve to validate our experience. Every time we water them we invite them to take over, like weeds in a garden, suffocating the healthy plants and making it more difficult for us to see the reality of the moment. BKS Iyengar writes in Light On Life, "We all know that a scab that we constantly pick will not heal. In the same way we have to let old wounds in memory heal over. This does not mean repressing them. It means that what is not fed will wither." Our efforts in communication can either serve our samskaras or our higher truth. It's a constant, moment-to-moment choice and one that requires practice.

Going back to my handy-dandy quote, we must acknowledge that this whole weed infestation problem most likely exists in the minds of those with whom we're trying to communicate. Telling someone how we feel is great, but we often underestimate the power and consequence of our words. Satya (truthfulness) must be tempered with ahimsa (non-violence). Compassion and patience are necessary to identify the most effective modes of transportation for your message. Learning where their seeds are planted can help you navigate the path and shed light on what your words sound like on the receiving end. The skill of hearing and being heard is a tool to affect positive change. As darkness from the past starts to brighten and anxiety about the unknown dissolves, truth becomes a two-way street.

My samskaras usually keep me one step behind or one step ahead of the conversation and so my work is to do my best to leave the baggage at home and sit in the truth of the moment. Then, and only then, am I really living in the now. Anything else is simply a fabrication of the mind. I'm learning that interactions can be intimate, real, and uplifting when I keep my heart open to giving and receiving truth. "Communication isn't what's said. It's what's heard." Great quote.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Dear John

There are those people in the world who see things you never thought to see before. They're our sources of inspiration and our gurus of possibility. In the world of style and home decor, I gravitate towards designers who embrace my ideal of the home (more on that as this blog evolves) and who empower me to break the rules and trust my instincts. As my students often remind me, it's important to tell these people how they inspire your life. Dear John, this one's for you.

I don't think there's anyone who has cast an influence so far-reaching in the design world today as John Derian. His hodgepodge of collectibles and oddities are arranged in such an organized mess that you feel as if you've stepped into a story rather than a store. Beyond his impeccable taste is his eye for the unusual and his talent in mixing the obvious with the unsung heroes of a room. Browsing his store on 2nd and 2nd takes me hours, as I have to loop around more than once just to soak it all in. Like wandering the streets of New York, the trick to spotting John's talent is to look up. He manages to fill every square inch of space with objects that seem to reflect his heartfelt devotion to hearth and home. He reinvents the idea of versatility, appreciating a piece for what it is and yet trusting that it can take on an unexpected role.

Derian's vision has infiltrated the product lines of well-known brands (I've spotted reproductions of antique rope buoys on more than one occasion) and has redefined the art of propping merchandise. After visiting his store, I'm motivated to reinvent what I already have by arranging my home in a new way. It's the "beginner's mind" of decorating: seeing everything as if for the very first time. What I love is that his innovation seems to be almost by accident. As a bystander, I get the sense that John is just being John.

I wanted to ask him about his yoga - the things/places/activities that connect him most to himself. "Nature keeps me very connected," he told me. "Wherever I am I take note and reflect. I also think the flea market on Saturday mornings keeps me inspired." (Agreed! A post on Alan Miller from The 25th Street Garage is coming soon!) John's philosophy on life informs his design philosophy. "My work, which is all about natural imagery, is another way for us to relate to nature. It sort of brings nature indoors." Derian's decoupage pieces are stunning and reflect his art-imitates-life mantra. (They're also the perfect gift and can reincarnate from serving cheese to adorning your walls.)

His top five cannot-live-without items should come as no surprise: nature ("I am feeling like my theme song could be 'Nature Boy' [by] Nat King Cole"), friends and loved ones, his bike, his house, and a tub. "Taking baths brings me peace," he explained. Some of his favorite things: his computer and his iPhone (which perhaps explains the need for peace), RRL clothes, Astier de Villatte dinnerware and flatware, and (my personal favorite) nice bedding. He sells Mateo sheets at his store; one word ... divine.

His respect for what "is" -- the recognition of an object's true nature -- and his desire to let it shine are what I admire most about Derian. Seeing the beauty in all things, after all, is what yoga's all about. Thank you, John, for reminding me that style has no rules and that really good things happen when you do what you love.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Homemade Headboard

When it comes to buying furniture I believe in investing in versatile pieces that you adore. Accumulating what you love is a slow and deliberate process. It also requires the art of prioritizing...knowing which pieces are necessary to "make" a room and which ones can wait. Following this mantra has allowed me to decorate my home without breaking the bank. That said, there are still some big items I'm living without...namely, a bed.

The last time I had a headboard I was sleeping in my childhood bedroom. I've always thought it would be nice to have a bed but I certainly wasn't losing sleep over it. I had survived just fine without one and, despite bouts of longing, could never really find what I was looking for. So, I decided to wait.

Fast forward ten years and my bedroom was looking naked. I needed something to anchor the room and it occurred to me that maybe I could pull off the structure I was looking for without actually buying a bed. My story now takes us to the plumbing department at Home Depot. The first things on our shopping list were three black iron pipes cut to our specified lengths (measure both the width of your bed and how tall you want your headboard to be) and two elbows to connect them all together.

Two bases (called "flanges") provided the foundation on which our homemade headboard could stand. Billy bought four U bolts to attach the headboard to the bed frame (genius man).

Ok, so that's the boring part. Bring someone with you to Home Depot who likes that sort of thing. The fun started when I got to rummage through my antique linen sheets to find something beautiful to drape over the hardware! I have tons of monogrammed sheets, none of which have my initials on them but I don't really care. The hand-stitched embroidery is so gorgeous that my name can be whatever goes with the sheets. We covered the top of our "headboard" with foam pipe insulation to keep the sheet clean (and to add some depth).

The finished product is so unique and versatile, as I can always change the color and texture of the backdrop. I love the industrial look of the hardware juxtaposed with the softness of the linen. A little creativity goes a long way!