A Journey Completed, A New One Starting

I am back and excited. So many things have happened over the past few month, the main being COMPLETING the AIDS Ride for Life. I have posted here before about my previous ride, a year ago, my accident and healing and now I am VERY proud to say that I got on my bike and completed the 100 miles (160 km) ride.

I am constantly asked why? why is it so important to me to do it, and it is not an easy answer. My reasons for this journey are that last time, exactly a year ago, I got on my bike after raising $1,000 for STAP and meant to do this great ride, for a great cause but at mile 40 flew off my bike and that changed my life. I wanted to complete it. To feel that here I am a year later, and got to the finish line. 6 month I was not myself. Surgery, broken hand/jaw/teeth, pain and discomfort. Stress was a huge factor during this whole year, not working seriously for 6 month, feeling my life was re-directed to a different path and then deciding that this new path will take me further and that this shift, and change, are good. It took me a long time to build my confidence on and off the bike. I got on the bike pretty soon after the fall and found that everything is closer and more fragile. The first time I went down a steep hill I literally heard my jaw breaking and got very nervous. I thought I would never go fast again. Going uphill, after 6 month of slow recuperation was just as hard. Every leaf that flies in front of my, made me lose a beat. But as time progressed, and miles accumulated, so did my comfort on the bike. I do love biking.

I biked the first 15 miles of the AIDS Ride, to remember the feeling, I biked the last 40 miles (rt. 89) to remember what is ahead. Biked with friends 30 and 40 milers and even got a wonderful 50 miler in for another great cause.

It is not a journey I took alone. The support and love I have received from family and friends, near and far, has overwhelmed me. I am so blessed to have so many loving, caring, funny people in my life that made this all possible.

When I signed up for this year AIDS Ride, I knew I had to raise the minimum $300 but had no clue that the love and support of my FB family and community would within days get me close to $1,000 in donations. All writing how they are proud of me and rooting for me. I mean, with that kind of love, how could I NOT get back out there?!

But life has a humor of its own. And whoever is running my show, has a real wicked sense of humor.

The 16th AIDS Ride for Life took place on September 13th, 2014 around the Cayuga Lake. Up until the 13th, the weather had been beautiful. In fact, I rode the week before 40 miles on the most-perfect, sunny day. I woke up at 5:00am on the Saturday of the ride to 40F (5C) and cloudy skies. It was cold. I do not have real bikers gear as I refrain from biking in rain…. not the adventurous type I guess. I put on my sports jacket, the AIDS Ride t-shirt above, the biking pants and leg warmers. Last minute I remembered my ear warmers. At 6am we gathered at Stewart Park and by 7 we were ready to start. the first 35-40 miles are mostly hills and I was mentally ready. At 7 we left the park, and at 7:10 the rain started. At first drizzle, then a real Ithaca rain- the strong, never-ending, big drops rain that followed us for about 7 hours. It was miserable! 7 hours of biking in freezing winds, never stopping rain, wet shoes, wet clothes, wet roads, trucks splashing and hills. Slow climbs but also slow descends because of the rain. At mile 17 we reached King Ferry Winery for our first stop. I could not stop. I was cold and needed to keep on going. Just before mile 35 my back leg muscle tightened up from the cold weather and It stayed that way, all the way! it was too cold to loosen up.

The ride took me 8 hours with all the stops. 7 hours in rain, cold winds and more rain. The last hour, the rain stopped and the sun even came out. I had planned to stop where I flew off last year and take a moment to say that I’m good, to connect to myself and feel blessed. But the weather was so horrible that I just flew by, this time on my bike, and did not really feel my heart beating, loosing a breath or anything. That is a good thing, I think. The last 50 miles were really just mental. Staying on the bike, not giving up to my rational side saying “this is insane! you will be sick” but just staying focused on why I am doing this. Remembering it is the end of one of the most intense journeys I have been on and this is needed to feel I can do anything. I saw cars drive by with bikes on the back and felt total respect for those who stopped and decided it is too much. But I kept on going. 15 miles before the end, my family drove by and cheered me and that totally shifted my mind-set from feeling miserable and sorry for myself to proud and excited to finish. And Finish I Did!

I passed the finish line in sun. I was still soaked and very cold, my kids gave me a towel and warm fleece to change into. I went home before the evening ceremony and dinner to get a very long hot shower and feel my toes again.

I did it. In rain and wind. I am proud to say that I did it!

10348307_10204019979916330_5723145349521297285_nWith Noga and Itai at the finish line- don’t be fooled by their short sleeves!

At the dinner, I saw Jim Orcutt, the dentist who was biking behind me last year, and whom I will always be grateful for. Jim is 70 and has done the AIDS Ride for many years now. He completed the whole 100 miles this year as well, and I got to go up to him and got a big hug at the end of the ride and thanked him again for being there, back then, and afterwards when I needed advise and had questions.

What I take with me from this year is that life is so much more than what we think and plan for, and that we need to be flexible and willing to change out paths. I think that I am a different person today that I would have been, and on so many levels, in a different place.

I feel truly blessed and grateful for the people in my life and the people I have met because of this. I say again that this is my journey but not one I have been on alone.

I feel that although I still have medical things to do, this is now a part of my past that I have completed. I still love biking and feel honored to be part of this years ride and to continue supporting STAP for their wonderful work and dedication.

I have now started a new journey, my culinary journey, that I am excited to share here, and my first post will be posted very soon.

Thank you all, be blessed and remember – flexibility and humor are the most important qualities we can embrace as humans.

As always, I welcome your remarks, thoughts and sharing.

Do Good!

**** And YES! I did get very sick with fever, a bad cold and sore throat. I’m just now getting over it, a week after…. But it was totally worth it and in support of people who are really sick, and to educate and prevent others from getting sick……!

The First Memory

I have been away from my Blog for way too long. Life took over. Days fly away, and I could not find the quiet moment needed, to sit down and write.

It is not that there were not many stories to share. For example the 4th year of Mimuna  celebration with more than 150 people coming into our house,  spending time together, while eating many delicious treats. I also made many different birthday cakes, and food and sweets for other events. I’ve thought often how I’d like to share all this with you all.

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But here I am and I wanted to share a story.

Yesterday I participated in a workshop led by Dave Makar, as part of the Referral Institute of Ithaca. It was an intense day where we did many different exercises and got to think about what we do in a new light. Or rather a more focused light. Towards the end of the day, Dave asked me why I love baking and cooking and want to do this as a business. I thought immediately of the joy I have when I bake, especially for others, and about how I have invited people to celebrate the Mimuna for the past 4 years. I explained about this wonderful tradition, and how although I did not grow up celebrating it, I have adopted it because of the idea of open door and sharing sweets with so many people who come.

Dave smiled, and then said. OK. But go further back, find the first memory that led you to baking. I literally saw hundreds of moments in front of me: birthdays, friends coming over, baking with my kids, baking for my mom or dad on their birthdays or when they would have friend over, teaching baking to kids. I thought of all the volunteer events, and I thought of Avital. Avital is one of the sweetest girls  I know. Every Friday I bring her and her family a fresh-baked raisin Challah. Her face lights up, she always tells me how much she loves my Challah. From time to time, I surprise her with  an additional treat – red velvet cupcakes, cookies and more and she is so happy. Her sweet, beautiful face, I told Dave, is why I love baking for others. Delicious treats make everything better. Home-made fresh-baked treats make people happy. I love making people happy.

Dave asked me to go further back and then I remembered my first real baking memory. I was 6 or 7 years old, we lived in Denmark at the time, in a rented apartment with a rather big kitchen. I would always fool around in the kitchen mixing and blending things together and ask my parents and sister to taste. I loved the kitchen. One day, my parents were asleep and I mixed up cookies I invented. I remember it was with coconut, sugar, cocoa and eggs. I turned on the oven and baked them, by myself, and when they were done I waited patiently for my parents to wake up.

I did not think of the option of them waking up angry because I had turned on the oven when I was alone, or the most-likely very messy kitchen I had left, I only thought of making them happy. They got up and came into the kitchen. I do not think they got mad. I  only remember them tasting the cookies and smiling. They loved them and I was over the moon.

Thinking back, it was my first version of macaroons, and till this day, coconut is my absolute favorite ingredient. I guess that my passion and love for baking has always been a big part of me and mostly because of how happy people are when they see fresh-baked cookies, or a table full of delicious things to try. That is probably also why my catering and events are all about having variety of things to try and enjoy, and why I always try to surprise, or spoil, the ones I love with something extra.

And a recipe.

One of my family’s favorite cookies are Turkish Delight Filled Cookies. There is something about the crispy, not so sweet dough, folded over a nice piece of sweet Turkish Delight to make these irresistible, and very fast to disappear….

This recipe is based on a recipe by Yonit Zucker.

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1 kg. (34 oz) flour

200 gram (7 oz) unsalted butter or what I did – a mix of  coconut oil (melted in the microwave) and margarine – melted or soft.

1 cup oil

1 cup orange juice

2 tbsp. of powdered sugar

1 tsp. baking powder

vanilla

I also added a tbsp. of Rose Water that give the cookies a wonderful aroma.

Filling:

I chose Turkish Delight, but you can fill with anything you like – Marzipan, Dates and Nuts, Nutella or Peanut Butter.

Making the dough:

Mix all the wet ingredients well together.

Blend in the flour, add baking powder and sugar powder as well.

Mix until you get a nice sift dough.

How to make the cookies:

10006200_748741085159799_7329500618074106892_nCut the dough into 3 pieces and roll each piece out and cut as shown above. If you are going to use Nutella or peanut butter, spread it on the whole circle before cutting.

Place the filling on each triangle

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Then roll them into croissant shaped cookies

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Bake at 350F, 180C for about 20 minutes and sprinkle sugar powder after they cool a bit.

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These will NOT last long. They are just that good…..

Let me know what you think.

The Great Food Bloggers Cookie Swap 2013

photo(48)This was my first year participating in The Great Food Bloggers Cookie Swap. I was excited to take part in this fun community building activity, and all for a great cause. Who could ask for more?! This activity raised more than $13,700 for Cookies For Kids Cancer!

The organization and communication was spotless. Just enough emails, just enough communication to keep it exciting, but not over whelming.

I got my 3 matches and went on their blogs to get to know them better. 2 of them I had already been on their blogs, 1 I was following so that was fun. They had great ideas and recipes and I found myself spending quiet a long time on their websites and blogs.

Then came the hard part of deciding what to bake. I had a couple of ideas but kept changing my mind as time passed. Finally I went for a new cookie that I had just tried to make, adjusted, and fallen in love with. The Almond Caramel Cookie. I had just received a book from a friend by mail a couple of weeks before Inside The Jewish Bakery, and found it really interesting. In that book I found the Lace Cookies that I played around with and the final cookie was better described as Almond Caramel cookie.

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I made it a couple of times before making the batch for the swap, but they were eaten too fast and I never had enough. Finally, I decided to bake the cookies late at night when everyone was asleep….

I decided to make a combination of 1 layer cookies, and some filled cookies. I needed a total of 36 cookies (a dozen for each blogger) and decided to send 4 plain and 8 filled. Some with white chocolate, some with milk truffle and some with chocolate mint. This meant that I needed a total of 60 cookies. Busy night was ahead of me.

photo(56)The house was quiet and I started chopping and mixing and baking. The smells these cookies spread are wonderful, and I thought that everyone probably had some great dreams…

I made a double batch of the cookie dough and started.

The recipe for these truly wonderful cookies is:

2.5 cups Almonds (or other nuts you like – Hazelnuts is wonderful as well).

1 cup brown sugar

70 gram (2.5 oz or 3/4 cups) Unsalted butter

3-4 tbsp. honey

1/4 + 1 tbsp. cup water

1/2 cup All purpose flour

2 tsp. cinnamon

How to prepare the dough:

First turn on the oven to 190C/375F.

I like to lightly roast the almonds (or hazelnuts) on a dry pan before I grind them. It adds a depth of flavor to the cookies. Then you need to grind the almonds to a fine texture.

In a saucepan combine sugar, butter, honey and water and bring to a boil over medium heat. Stir continuously. Add the flour, nuts and cinnamon and stir well until you get a thick paste. To get a caramel consistency, you need to let it all boil for more than 60 seconds while constantly stirring.

Turn off the heat and let cool but this paste must be pipped or spooned while still hot. Once it cools it is very hard to work with.

I tried pipping the cookies but soon found that using 2 spoons is easier and faster.

Arrange at least 3-4 trays and place baking paper on them.

With 2 spoons spread cookies on the baking paper leaving a lot of room in between as these cookies spread out a lot. Pat the dough down a bit to get thin lace like cookies.

Bake for 5-6 minutes only. As soon as they are light brown, take out of the oven. They burn fast. Once out of the oven, take the baking sheets with the cookies on them, off the baking trays and leave to cool on a table or cool surface. Leaving them on the hot baking trays will keep them baking.

Once the cookies are cold they harden you can take them off the baking paper, and only then can they be filled with chocolate.

I melted white chocolate, milk truffle and chocolate mint and filled 48 cookies (total of 24 double layered cookies).

photo(59)       Filled with white chocolate

photo(60)Filled with chocolate truffle, and Chocolate mint.

Then the cookies were wrapped, boxed and shipped to the Food Bloggers. All that was left was to enjoy packages and look forward to feedback from the recipients…..

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Thank you Lindsay and Julie for organizing and to Imperial Sugar and OXO and Gradmas Molasses for the great gift we got  and for matching the donations!

For inspiration visit the wonderful bloggers I sent cookies to:

Aesthetic Eats

A Couple in the Kitchen

Beth’s Blue Plate Special

I really enjoyed the cookies I got from the bloggers like Chocolate and Carrots  (great website), Cupcakes and Bakes and also from Food, Pleasure and Health.

I’m already looking forward to next year

Have a great Holiday Season with your loved ones!!

Sweet Treat

We all have our favorites, but when it comes to my middle girl, her favorites are very well known, so on her birthday I don’t need to think long about what to make for her.

The hard work is making all the birthday treats in sync to her celebrations. Her birthday starts early morning at home, but the first treat is always for her class. It needs to be special, sweet and something I can prepare in the morning, fresh and fast. This year, because of the proximity to Chanukah, I baked Sufganiot and decorated cupcake style with whipped cream, just like she loves.

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After school she loves to celebrate with all her after-school friends (yes all 70-80 of them) so I made a strawberry shortbread take, dairy free, in small cups to be easy to give out to 80 kids.

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And then the highlight of the night, was creating her ultimate favorite Pavlova- Meringue with Strawberry Mousse (recipe here) and Chocolate….. what can go wrong there ?

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All this for a sweet 10 year old girl! Happy birthday baby girl!

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Until next year…..:)

Gløgg & Marzipan For A Cold Night

Whole Blanched Almonds

The days are getting shorter, the mornings colder and the evenings are really cold.

Whenever the winter is getting closer I want to curl up on the couch with a fleece blanket and drink Gløgg.

The Danes are supposedly the happiest people in the world and one of the reasons is that they have invented Hygge.  Hygge is a term that describes the state of mind the Danes get into when the days get dark early and they spend time indoors. While other cultures might turn on more lights, blast music and watch television, the Danes light candles, get cozy and eat and drink together. Favorites for this time of the year are Gløgg and marzipan. Well…. there are many favorites – most come in 100 gram bags in the form of Likrish- sweet, salty or hot, but others are cardamom baked rolls, and marzipan just cut with soft Nougat chocolate.

For the past couple of days I’ve been in the mood for some Gløgg and decided to inspire you all to make and enjoy some as well.

Basically Gløgg is red wine, warmed with blanched whole almonds, spices and additions to make it perfect for you.

For 6 servings you need:

1 cup almonds

1/2 cup raisins

1/3 cup Port, Cointreau or  Rum

1 bottle red wine

1 cup Brandy or Port wine

1/3 cup brown sugar

Orange zest from 1 orange and some small cut orange slices

5 cloves
1-2 cinnamon sticks

Soak raisins in about 1/2 cup Port, Cointreau or  Rum for at least 2 hours.

Toast the blanched almonds on a dry skillet – I like to keep the almonds whole, but you can also cut them in half.

In a heavy pot combine all ingredients but the red wine and fresh sliced oranges. Bring to a heat and then reduce the heat and add the red wine. Cook for at least 15 minutes- but don’t boil it. Let it simmer 30 more minutes.

Serve in clear glasses with a spoonful of raisins and spoonful of almonds. Very recommended to add fresh sliced oranges on top. You can strain the Gløgg so you don’t get all the spices in your glass.

Why Marzipan you ask? And I say why not?! Probably the best companion for Gløgg, anytime. With chocolate or on its own.

Enjoy and stay warm….. Let me hear how you

keep warm and your favorite winter comforts….

Being Grateful

photo(35)Thanksgiving is about being thankful and grateful and a great opportunity for each of us to think about what we are grateful for.

I lost my grandparents, from my father’s side, when I was young and we lived on a different continent at that time. I loved them greatly and losing them that early, without being there with them, is something I think of often. I also lost my grandfather, from my mother’s side too early and he was one of the most amazing people I have ever had the privilege to know. I am grateful for the years I did have with them, for the wonderful memories we created and I am mostly grateful for my grandmother, whom I love deeply and for my husbands grandmother who is amazing. Those 2 ladies mean the world to me, and my family.

Being a mother, for me, means constant fear and worry and eternal happiness and love for seeing them grow and following life, through their naive, creative, curious eyes.

I am grateful for being able to see some positive in September’s fall, to the healing I’m going through, to remembering everyday it could have been worse and that nothing has been taken away from me because of the fall. Healing is a process that demands patience that I do not always have, but where the small positive steps give a great feeling.

I am grateful for new beginnings, for every recipe I create and try, for bringing smiles and happiness to so many through baking, volunteering and just in daily life.

I have a wonderful support web created by friends, family, the community and the virtual and real world of FB and the Blogging world. All these make me more knowledgeable, caring and feeling alive everyday.

I have the most amazing parents, wonderful husband, best kids, great sister and some of the best “sisters” in addition to her.

I am grateful to live in the free world where I can be what I want, chose those I believe in, let my voice be heard and make a difference. I have lived through too many wars, seen too many casualties of hatred and suffering, and can only try to make this place a better one for future generation.

I am truly grateful and thankful for my life.

What are you grateful for?

Homemade Marshmallow Fondant

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I’m not a huge user of fondant, but from time to time I feel like making something with fondant. The high prices of ready-to-use fondant and the long list of ingredients, are just 2 reasons for me not being a real fan.

For the past couple of days though, I’ve been in the mood to explore more fondant and read a lot of recipes. Some for regular sugary fondant and some for marshmallow based fondant. The last one sounded fun to make, and I decided to try.

I based my trial on a recipe from candy.about.com  and got some white marshmallows with not too many ingredients…

I adjusted the recipe to half the amount of everything called for, as I did not need a big amount of fondant.

My final recipe is:

2 cups small marshmallows (4oz, 120 gram)

1 tbsp. water

1.5 cups powdered sugar

Food coloring – if needed

Combine the marshmallows and water in a bowl and placed in the microwave for 1 minute. Make sure the marshmallows are puffy and melting soft. With a rubber spatula stir the marshmallows until you get a very smooth (sticky) cream consistency. Add the color you like, and mix well.

Here is where the fun begins. Add 1/4 cup powdered sugar and mix well. Continue adding 1/4 cups of powdered sugar until you get a smooth dough like  consistency or as my kids defined it- feeling like a huge bubble gum. It is fun to mix-in the powdered sugar. Best to give yourself enough room to knead in the powdered sugar. Take your time and check that it is nice to work with and not too sticky. To shape the dough, dust some more sugar powder on your work surface.

photo(29)If you don’t need it right away or have some left, wrap well in plastic and place in a tight zip-lock bag.

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It is fun, fast and easy to make. No more store-bought fondant in this kitchen…

Feel free to share and let me hear from you.