Gluten-Free Chocolate Banana Layer Cake And Kitchen Days

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Today we made walnut blondies for eighty people, chestnut génoise and ginger loaf for sixty, plus cherry almond biscotti for one-ten. Karmapa’s visit this year is the first time we’re cooking for so many guests at the Lama house. We debated about hiring a catering company, but we wanted to offer our own labor of love. Even with the incredible changes to the kitchen, it’s still a family kitchen and not a professional one. All the materials and cooking spaces are far away from each other, and the oven is the size of a postage stamp. This means preparing in advance.

Everything that can be made ahead without sacrificing the integrity of what we’re serving is being made now. Pastries, savory tarts, salad dressing, even a couple main dishes. We’ve set up a camping kitchen with a giant bunsen burner on the terrace and we shuttle things back and forth from the Lama House to the oven in the main kitchen.

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It’s hectic, but it’s joyful. We get the pleasure of working all together without the direct stress that comes with being in the heat of a major event. It’s tiring, but there’s an end in sight–final make-ahead dish is scheduled for the 26th of June. After that we have to start deep-cleaning. So it’s all for a good cause, and I’m often astounded by the reserves of energy we unearth when we are committed to what we are working for.

In the meantime, I’m still trying to figure out when I can squeeze in a little pastry for my homies around here. This cake was to celebrate the last day of our Bodhi Path studies on Wednesday. It’s surprisingly light, almost refreshing if you don’t think too much about the cream, and really easy to make with all the glamour of a layer cake!

I got a request from the collective of July birthday folks for “real American layer cake,” like wedding-style with tiers. Fulfilling such a request will require much more effort for the necessary glamour points, hehe. If you’re looking to impress without spending four days in the kitchen, this is the way to go. As for me and my July birthday buddies…we’ll just see how that goes!

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GF Chocolate Chip Cookies And Working With The Heart

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Week five of study retreat. Each week has been steadily less and less in retreat mode, as regular life needs creep steadily in. Around week three I started panicking about all the things that would need to be done if I left them till the end. Around week four I realized that a lot of things couldn’t be left till the end. And now I am just trying not to feel too feckless or lacking in diligence for the fact that, beyond attending the formal teachings and rereading the transcript or maybe my notes once, I’m not devoting my time to studying. Four hours a day is already a lot, but it’s not enough to memorize what’s being given, which is what I would like to do and what feels like doing justice to the teaching.

I know I’m not wise enough and I haven’t studied the prerequisite subjects enough to truly understand the Abhidharmakosha, but I’m convinced that if I could just solder all the lists of associated faculties and mental activities and types of sovereign mind into my memory now, I’d be able to make sense of it all properly in some future time. Only I can’t.

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Partly because the groceries and the new steam-infusing vacuum machine and the pre-Lhosar deep clean and next month’s schedule and departmental meetings and new tasks with the communications team (yours truly may be contributing to a Dhagpo blog in the near future!), not to mention life, like teaching English classes, paying doctor’s bills, and studying for my French driver’s license (speedbumps are called donkey backs here). So yeah, partly all that. But partly also my heart.

Every time I study seriously, intensively, I live this. And every time, I forget. I always tell myself it’s the schedule, the being with people all the time, the intellectual gymnastics. But no, actually, if I can say it this way, I think it’s my heart.

Last night at dinner, Micka said, “After a certain amount of time with the teachings, I start to only see the flaws in everything.”

The first of the Four Noble Truths is that the nature of conditioned existence is suffering. The teachings go far beyond this, to its cause, to its ending, to the means to achieve that. Becoming free from suffering is the whole goal after all–well, half, anyway, getting everybody else free too is the whole goal. But for my part, when I start really looking and listening, I can’t help it, I tend to get a bit mired in the first part.

I am SO far from anything resembling clarity, one-pointed focus, or non-self-referential love. My faith is emotional and my understanding is personal. My discipline is superficial and mostly neurotic when it does function. That long list of mental activities that accompany afflicted mind…yaaah, I know them well.

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Whenever I reach this point, I tend to think of three things. Well, no, actually what happens is that I tend to start slipping into motionlessness, into the grey static where no act is meaningful enough to combat the hugeness of it all, and I no longer know how to greet the day or my mind or other human beings. Trying to be fair, this overwhelmption is maybe part of me, and I will have to accept it perhaps at many turns in my life. But Shamar Rinpoche said that if a person practices calm-abiding meditation long enough, she will no longer experience depression. Until my efforts take effect, I’m building a toolkit for when reality becomes overwhelming.

Here are my three things:

1) Some enlightened being in some treatise or sutra (maybe Gampopa in The Jewel Ornament of Liberation?) once said, “Ordinary beings cannot perceive the true nature of reality, of emptiness. It is too vast for the ordinary mind.” Which helps because it means that it’s normal that touching on this vastness through the teachings sends me spinning. I’m an ordinary being. I can only understand as much as my mind can take, and increasing my understanding means working the edge. Vertigo is part of the process, and I need to rest with that.

2) Dhongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche said in his book Not for Happiness that true compassion is like a dagger in the heart. So all this pain and this vision of anguish perhaps simply mean that I’m headed in the right direction. And practice is learning to see them and keep moving.

3) The Buddha gave us this one directly, and in the Heart Sutra no less: “Form is emptiness. Emptiness is form. Form is no other than emptiness. Emptiness is no other than form.” Though I am far from understanding it truly–speaking of that emptiness too vast for the ordinary mind–I try to remind myself that for all of its sharp edges and smothering weight, suffering has no essence. That if I keep going, the illusion will fragment on its own and I will be able to see suffering and its formlessness at the same time. And from there, I will truly be able to act, and act for the benefit of all.

It’s not exactly a monkey wrench or a tape measure, but it’s what I have for now and it helps, even if it doesn’t silence the static completely. And like always, the little worldly things that make up my worldly life are still here for me. They are what I know and where I’m at and maybe I am learning to be kind about what gives me solace on the path. I made cookies almost completely without feeling frivolous, and much more with gratitude for something simple and solid that I understand and touch and share. It’s not ultimate anything, but it might be relative something, and I think it’s going in the right direction.

Recipe…

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Pumpkin Scones And Identity Politics

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Scones because sometimes you just need a baked good to bring it all home and pretend you have nothing else to do than sit in a cozy room and drink tea. Scones because sometimes a lot of things happen in one week that point to the same question and it’s a hard question. Scones because I usually keep my mouth shut about politics because what could I say in light of the vastness of it all? But especially scones because I’m about to go out on a limb and actually talk about politics so first a food offering to show that I come in peace.

How do we talk about politics without pointing fingers?

I think this is my question for the week. Underneath it is a bigger question. How do we relate to our individual identities–to diversity–and to the inequalities, and yes violence, that we can experience based on these without pointing fingers?

The media does not report the news objectively. It does so based on categorization of gender, race, class, religion, sexuality, and more…you name it. The media is written, read, and created by ordinary human beings. We do not regard each other objectively. We regard each other based on the aforementioned distinctions and so many others.

Both daily inequality and largescale violence arise from these distinctions. Examples in my mind this week (it’s been a hell of a week for violence and inequality): the shooting at Charlie Hebdo, the bombing of the NAACP in Colorado, Scarlett Johanssen’s latest casting, and one’s woman’s experiment on walking down the street. There’s religious and ideological aggression, there’s race aggression, there’s the silencing of race and religious aggression, there’s gender aggression. And in all cases the aggression tends to go both in the direction of aggressors towards victims and victims towards aggressors. Which makes us all aggressors in the end.

If we generalise, we can maybe sum it up like this: extreme religious groups versus liberal cultural groups; racial majorities versus racial minorities; men versus women. This week’s prime aggressions range from the grave taking of lives and the attempt to do so, to the silencing of a certain group’s experience by erasing them from the media, to the daily antagonisms created by generations-long habits (because apparently men are used to having space made for them and do not get out the way when walking in the street).

At the end of the day, it’s a lot of violence. What I wonder is this: does outrage at violence do something other than create more violence? And if it doesn’t, then how do we react differently to create something other than violence?

I see all this stuff and it makes me heartbroken. It also makes me exhausted and angry. Looking at my own experience, I would postulate that positive change happens when we work from the heartbreak, because this is our love for others. When we fall into frustration and anger, we only sow the seeds for further violence and aggression. Can we rally for each other without rallying against some one else?

Still waiting to find out. And trying to start by keeping my finger pointed firmly at myself; change begins here. Because until I clarify my own aggression, I don’t think I can do much for the rest of the world.

Other than make scones. Recipe…

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Hazelnut Lavender Bites and Representing “Real Life”

IMG_0508I’m having stylistic questions. For instance, I just started this post with a conversational, self-referential statement. It’s friendly and easy and lots of days I feel like that. The ability to just start talking makes showing up here simple and manageable. And yet, some days I feel like I start to sound a little redundant. Blogging is a form of writing that has developed its own style, and friendly conversation is generally part of it. However, sometimes it makes jotting off an idea quick and dirty, instead of allowing or forcing the space to reflect and refine both my thoughts and my words a bit more.

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Lately, I have been discovering more writers who use the web as a place for deep reflection, storytelling, literature even. They inspire me. They also shed light on my own yearning for something…I dunno, more elaborate? More crafted and researched. Thus, I wonder, “What else or how else might I want to write?” and, “Is that writing a natural evolution of this blog space, or is it a new project that will happen somewhere else?”

IMG_0510Another big question that’s been coming up: what is the gap between real life and what gets represented here? This is a topic that many others have broached–recently and eloquently: Joy, Sarah, and Ashley. Related questions include…Am I interested in trying to close that gap? What would it even look like to try to represent “real life?”

As a genre, food blogging and lifestyle blogging tend to be about creating and expressing a life that is beautiful and satisfying. The light is always soft, the rooms are always neat, and everything looks delicious. While we all know that life (our own life, at least) isn’t this way, there is something comforting and inspiring about this kind of beauty. And, let’s face it, unless you’re cracking up on Cakewrecks, hideous, badly-lit pictures of life, food especially, are not that engaging. There’s a certain aesthetic minimum that goes along with blogging; pictures help to draw people in and keep them invested.

IMG_0545And yet, there’s something engaging about chaos and struggle, too. It’s not that I have a macabre fascination with suffering. It’s just that rough times do happen. Emotions get hairy. Sometimes, the kitchen is a mess and it makes me cry. Sometimes, the kitchen being a mess is the least of my problems. I am not interested in miring myself in pain and making more of it. I am interested in expressing a life that leaves space for frustration and hardship to arise with as little judgment as possible.

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IMG_0529Does putting artistic pictures of the madness that is my cupboards and the unfortunate consequences of that madness (Rule #3 of Jacqui’s kitchen: everything falls. Watch out.) achieve this? I dunno. It is, at least, a start to considering the question.

Maybe all that’s needed is are minor, nearly imperceptible shifts. I could choose this:

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That’s at least a slightly more complete vision of my dining room table and my life. Not lacking in objects I shove aside to photograph cookies or thoughts and things to do that I brush away, at least for a moment, to focus on prettier, more presentable aspects.

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At the same time, there’s something terribly sweet and fun about taking cute pictures of my beribboned hazelnut lavender bites and then taking them to friends. There is amusement, affection, and offering. And ribbon, ribbon is important! This is part of life too. I am trying to strike a balance, both in my life and in this space that I share, between striving to create joy and remembering to be patient with what is less than joy, when it arises.

Recipe after the jump…

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Plum Poppyseed Cake and Friendship Thoughts

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Lately I have been thinking about friendship. I made this cake for my friend Joy’s birthday party yesterday. Joy’s kind of a bad ass. She wears a lot of lace but also rides a motorcycle, is a blacksmith, and has agreed to come whisky tasting with me. Since I’ve been home, I’ve been getting in touch with all of my friends in the States, and I keep being struck by how awesome they are.

My one friend is part of an art show put on by the Getty in LA. Another is planning a trip to Sweden to do cutting edge soil chemistry research (okay, I think this is rad; if you don’t, you can just go kick rocks). Somebody’s helping open a new farm-to-table restaurant here in town. Somebody else is a fleet captain in the Caribbean, teaching kids to sail and study ecology. It’s super wonderful, but it’s also kind of alarming.

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Too many awesome people; not nearly enough time! I am trying to cram in as many morning coffees, baking parties, and yoga dates as I can in the next six weeks. I’m not doing badly, but at the same time, if I’m lucky, I’ll see most people once or twice. Which is hard for me.

So much of friendship is small, simple things over time; the accumulation of coffees drunk, goodies bakes, asanas posed and then later discussed. Little pieces of good times and also bummer times that weave our lives together and let us know and be part of each other’s stories.

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But as I get older–live more places, meet more people—so many friendships become a single coffee, a long phone call, a periodic e-mail. There’s part of me that wants to rail against it. I want to spend a whole lifetime watching foreign films, traversing mountain trails, dusting off my dancing shoes—doing whatever we do together–with every person I know.

But of course, I don’t get a whole lifetime with each of you fabulous folks.  If I’m lucky, and I have been, I get a few months or a few years in proximity to build shared memories, rack up inside jokes, learn everything I need to know to blackmail you, should ever the occasion arise. And then. And then I hear your voice or see your face for a couple hours or a couple days every few months or every few years. And I miss you and I think of you and I hope that you feel the joy and love that I feel for you even when we aren’t sharing it or making it in the same time or place.

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If you want to feel some love, or share some love, this cake is a good place to start. It is homey and grounding and a little surprising; like a good friend, perhaps. It also happens to be gluten-free, not because I combined a bunch of random things to make it that way, but just because it’s an awesome cake that’s not made out of wheat. Poppyseed and buckwheat give the cake its fragrance and earthiness. Honey and plums add sweetness and tang. We eat a lot of poppy seeds in France. I dunno if that’s a regional thing or just ‘cuz Chef likes them, but it got me thinking.

They’re a little floral and a little herby and I happen to love them. They don’t get a lot of play, but I’m out to change that. This recipe was adapted from a cake that mixed buckwheat with almonds, but I’m swapped out the almond meal for ground poppy seeds. It’s a win. More experiments to come!

Recipe after the jump…

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Busy Days and Breakfast Bites (Gluten-Free!)

Oh boy. I started this post last week, and now it’s already Tuesday! Autumn is running with a vengeance, maybe trying to to burn off the excess energy that’s giving us ninety-degree weather in November? I dunno. It’s nuts.

This month is gonna fly. I’m heading to Santa Ynez tomorrow to participate in and cook for a four-day meditation retreat about developing compassion. Then I’ll be back for a week, during which I’m throwing my big annual shindig, which is also my favorite holiday of the year: Friendsgiving! It’s the Thanksgiving that comes before Thanksgiving that you celebrate with friends. Pretty great. Then I’m heading to Colorado to celebrate actual Thanksgiving, also with friends.But for now, it’s Election Day! Time to get some healthy food in me and steel my nerves for the excitement. Yeah breakfast bites! No matter what the results of today’s election are, I’ll still be grateful to live in the United States of America. I know this country has many flaws and inequities, and that the people living in it disagree about pretty much everything, but we also have a lot going for us. We live in a country where we are allowed to disagree, where we have the right to work to change what inequities do exist, even if the balance of power is not always fair or transparent, and where basic rights are acknowledged, if not always guaranteed. We also live in a place with some of the most diverse landscape in the world, both culturally and ecologically. Heck yeah, dudes!

Whether or not you are from the US, whether or not this election matters to you, I hope you have a great day and if you want a great breakfast, you’ve come to the right place! These tasties are what I imagine would happen if a scone and some killer granola had a baby. Check it out…recipe after the jump. Continue reading