The sweetest sour

Three different bourbon soursThe weather this summer has been all over the place. Scorchingly hot, pelting with rain, muggy and cloudy, thundering like mad, and just about everything in between. Thankfully, my favourite cocktail pairs well with all weather and all seasons!

I’m a big fan of bourbon sours and I think I’ve perfected the proportions: two parts booze (bourbon), one part sour (lemon juice), and one part sweet (simple syrup).

I like them with just about any bourbon, from pricier options (like Woodford Reserve, which might be my all-time favourite) or common duty-free finds (like the Jack Daniels currently in my cupboard), to relatively inexpensive bottles (like Jim Beam).

The secret to matching the sour to the season is in the garnish.

Summer, with its plethora of produce, calls for raspberries or blackberries, a few leaves of basil, or (best of all) the rummed cherries from the recipe below. Fresh cranberries or a slice of apple are perfect for autumn. While maraschino cherries, a twist of orange zest, or a slice of lemon carry the drink into winter. And spring means a sprig of mint, a wedge of grapefruit, or an early strawberry.

Amp up the impact of any garnish by including some with the liquids, letting it rattle around and infuse as the drink comes together, straining it out with the shaker ice, and then anointing the final product with a non-shaken specimen.

The process of making a bourbon sour is pretty standard:

  • Put a few cubes of ice in a shaker (or Tupperware container if your kitchen isn’t bar-focused)
  • Add two parts bourbon and one part each lemon juice and simple syrup – along with a flavour-enhancer if desired
  • Shake thoroughly and strain into a glass with a couple ice cubes
  • Garnish as seasonally appropriate or enjoy unadorned

I always add the bourbon to the ice first and let it chill while I juice the lemon and measure the simple syrup, but I suspect there’s no wrong order – I just love the smell of bourbon when it hits the ice!

Freshly squeezed lemon juice is essential. Use room temperature lemons and roll them on the counter first to help release the juice. Then squeeze like the dickens. Do not use purchased lemon juice (like RealLemon) or, god forbid, bar lime (aka lime cordial). I once ordered a bourbon sour at a bar and it came out bright green – turns out bar lime was to blame. Ick.

The simple syrup really is simple to make:

  • Pour a cup of white sugar into a clean jar
  • Add a cup of very hot water
  • Slap on the lid and give it a mix
  • Let sit until the sugar is fully dissolved – shaking a few times
  • Store in the fridge

Making the rummed cherries is just about as easy… pitting the cherries is the hard part!

Rummed cherries

Ingredients

  • 50g (1/2 cup) soft brown sugar
  • 125ml (1/2 cup) water
  • 50ml (1 & 2/3 oz) fresh lemon juice
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
  • Half a vanilla pod, scored
  • 450g (1 pound) sweet cherries
  • 250ml (1 cup) rum (amber or dark work best)

Method

  • Wash and pit cherries (cursing as cherry juice splatters everywhere)
  • In a saucepan, combine all ingredients except cherries and rum and bring to boil; when liquid begins to boil, reduce heat to a light simmer
  • Add cherries and simmer for 5 minutes
  • Remove from heat and add rum
  • Transfer cherries to jars and cool completely at room temperature, about 2 hours
  • Refrigerate up to 2 weeks (they’ve never lasted beyond a weekend in my fridge!)

The cherries are a fantastic boozy topping for ice cream, an excellent garnish for drinks beyond sours (like piña coladas), and great paired with anything chocolate. The liquor makes a wonderful cocktail when mixed with a splash of vodka (or vanilla vodka for a sweeter concoction) and topped up with sparkling water.

Some drinks only seem appropriate at certain times of the year (like piña coladas on tropical vacations or rum and eggnog at Christmas), but I find a bourbon sour is perfect regardless of the season! They’re pretty simple to make, fun to garnish, and easy to drink… sometimes maybe a little too easy!

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Retreat ahead

Laura during Prana yoga teacher training

Serious concentration or bad red eye correction? Me in my Prana t-shirt on our last day of teacher training

This time next week I’ll be at Sklenářka in the Czech Republic on a week-long retreat. Seven days of yoga, vegetarian meals (eaten in silence!), workshops, and meditation in the middle of nature (meaning an isolated villa 130km east of Prague) with Shakti and Pepe from Prana Yoga College.

Much like tidying up before the cleaning lady arrives, I’ve been practicing more regularly in anticipation of the retreat’s daily yoga classes. My yoga practice has been pretty sporadic since moving to Munich, so this preparatory kick in the pants has been very welcome.

I suspect the retreat will bring some discomfort (whether physical, social, spiritual, or all three!), but hopefully my time on the mat beforehand will ward off the worst of the aches.

Many days, my practice involved a class from the Prana YouTube channel. I spent five weeks with Shakti and Pepe three years ago for my initial yoga teacher training, so these online classes feel a bit like returning to my yoga home.

Shakti’s consistent instructions (lots of reminders to breathe!) and Pepe’s subtle accompaniment are reassuringly familiar. There are no jolting surprises in the flow of poses – I know what asanas to expect and understand the sequencing. The setting is familiar as I spent many hours there during teacher training and in the months afterwards. There’s even a barely-on-screen cameo from Milo, Shakti and Pepe’s little dog who was so much like Sofie!

While I’m a bit anxious about the retreat, I feel certain that the comfort I’ve felt following the online classes will continue in person. I may not know what to expect in terms of the facilities or other students, but I do know Shakti and Pepe! And I know what to expect from their teaching.

I’m hoping that sense of yogic home-coming continues through the retreat with its silent meals, unfamiliar location, and bug-filled wilderness. And that seven days with Shakti and Pepe energizes my yoga practice long after!

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Let tension dangle

Laura dangling on a Mediterranean beachThere’s a spot in my mid-back that sometimes feels as though it holds all the tension in my body. Like every keyboard stroke, knife cut, sponge scrub, page flip, steering wheel turn, and slouch collects between my shoulder blades and knots together.

The best method I’ve found to release that tension is a long-held standing forward fold. The yin version of the pose is different than an active standing fold (called uttanasana) as the focus is on holding for a minute or more, relaxing the back body and releasing the shoulders. Bent knees, supportive arms, and resting against a wall are all welcome!

A yin standing forward fold is known as a dangle and that’s exactly the hope: that your upper body hangs and allows the muscles and fascia loosen.

Because your head is below your heart, this pose isn’t great for people with high blood pressure and anyone with low blood pressure should come out of it really slowly. Be cautious and slowly release the posture if you feel any pain.

Dangle

Why it’s good

  • Releases tension from the shoulder blades, mid-back, and neck
  • Helps decompress the lower spine and sacroiliac region
  • Stretches the backs of the legs – if you straighten them
  • Promotes good balance
  • Compresses the digestive organs, which can improve digestion and alleviate menstrual cramps
  • Encourages relaxation and can reduce anxiety and stress

How to do it

  • Start by standing tall with your feet parallel and hip width apart
    • let your spine stretch upwards and your shoulders drop away from your ears
    • feel sturdy and balanced – your hips stacked atop your feet, your shoulders square above your hips, and your head floating above your shoulders
  • With an exhale, bend your knees and allow your torso to drop towards the fronts of your thighs
    • don’t feel any pressure to have your chest rest on your legs; most people will have significant space between upper and lower body
  • Straighten your legs to intensify the stretch along the backs of your legs or keep your knees bent to encourage the stretch in your back
    • do not lock your knees
    • try leaning against a wall for additional support
  • Experiment with arm positioning to find what works best for you
    • clasping each elbow with the opposite hand draws more of a stretch into the upper back and shoulders and can make your torso feel heavier
    • resting your hands on your thighs lessens pressure through your lower back
    • allowing your hands dangle freely or rest softly on the floor helps open the mid-back
  • Let you head release and encourage the muscles in your back, shoulders, arms, and neck to be heavy
  • Soften your gaze or, it’s comfortable and doesn’t mess with your balance, close your eyes
  • Stay dangling for at least a minute and up to five minutes
    • mindfully move your arms and bend or straighten your knees to find the best version of the pose for you, but try not to fidget
    • if it helps, visualize your spine flowing out of your pelvis like water flowing out of a pitcher, allowing tension to ebb away
    • if the pose doesn’t feel right, you can get a similar stretch in a seated forward fold with a rolled blanket or bolster under your bent knees

To come out of dangle:

  • If you’ve held the pose for several minutes, be cautious! Slowly come out of it using any of the methods below, then take a few deep breaths to regain your balance before moving to your next pose
  • Option 1:
    • Engage your abdominal muscles, bend your knees, and take several breaths to roll up to standing
  • Option 2:
    • Bend your knees and lower your hips downwards to come into a squat. Rest in a squat for at least a few breaths before lowering onto your seat or slowly moving to standing
  • Option 3:
    • Rest your hands on your shins and straighten your back; strengthen your abdominal muscles and inhale to come halfway up with your back parallel to the floor; exhale and let your upper body and hands release down again. Repeat this halfway raise a couple times before inhaling up to standing with your back straight.

It’s normal to feel some dizziness after your head has been down for a while. Take a few moments to regain your composure and allow the blood to flow throughout your body before progressing with your practice or continuing with your day.

As dangling is a strong forward bend, it can be nice to follow it with a back bend. Even standing and simply drawing your shoulders back as you lift your face and chest to the sky can be enough to release any tension in your front body that may have built up as you dangled.

Repeat whenever that congested mid-back feeling arises. This is a great pose for airports and offices because it requires no mat and no props!

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Magnetic nature

Believe in the subtle magnetism in NatureIt was quiet on the Heide (heath) this morning. Just a handful of other walkers and a few joggers in the distance. The flock of sheep that appeared a few days ago had vanished, leaving only droppings and scents to entice my dog, Sofie.

Sofie ran and sniffed; alternating between joyously sprinting and burying her nose in the grass. I ambled along, taking whatever path struck my fancy or following Sofie when she ran ahead.

We had nowhere to be and nothing to do. Free to drift along enjoying the wide open space and revelling in a bit of solitude.

I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.

~Henry David Thoreau
American author and naturalist

Sofie on the HeideIt’s wonderful having the vastness of the Heide so close. Sofie loves her daily off-leash walks here and I love the directionlessness of the space. It’s possibly to feel truly lost, despite the buzz of an unseen highway along the edge of the field and the knowledge that the Heide is enclosed by development.

At the centre of the Heide the surrounding apartment buildings and nearby stadium are no longer visible. There are few markers, which makes navigating fairly random, and often paths peter out, leaving us wading through tall grass.

In the end, though, we always find our way back home.

Maybe it’s Sofie’s homing skills or maybe it’s the subtle magnetism of nature.

 

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Off-season travels

Crowds at VersaillesSummer is just around the corner and spring has brought with it warmer weather, longer days, brighter sunshine… and far more tourists. I already miss the off-season.

When we were in Paris in April, it was clear that tourist season had started. A morning at the Musée d’Orsay and a trip to Versailles confirmed it (see photo on the right).

I know that Paris is pretty much always busy and that the Easter holidays probably pumped up the number of visitors, but I found myself bemoaning the crowds.

From November through April, we enjoyed exploring new places with very few other travellers – lower prices, less waiting, more available tables. No jostling with tour groups, no line-ups for museums, no concerns about squeezing onto a train, no problems finding parking.

Of course, the tradeoff is generally colder, rainy-er weather but it’s hard to complain about the temperature outside while gaping at the Ghent Altarpiece in an almost deserted room, leisurely strolling through the Rijksmuseum, or joining vinters for a private tasting. Hailstorms and the necessity of mittens are concessions I’m generally willing to make.

But throughout the summer, there will be no mittens and lots of other travellers.

One of our goals with our grown-up gap year is to explore as much as possible and that means joining the throngs of tourists visiting Europe during high-season. I’m hoping we’ll be able to find a few places that aren’t so hectic in summer (like Strasbourg outside of Christmas-market time, the Alps without the skiing crowds), but I know I’ll be waiting for the colder weather of fall to help the crowds to dissipate!

Vive le hors-saison!

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Lotus in the mud

Rise like the lotus from the mud

Background photo from Adn! via Compfight cc

The first studio I taught yoga at, Bound Lotus Meditation & Yoga Centre in North Vancouver, is closing on June 30. While I no longer live nearby and haven’t taught there for more than six months, I acutely feel the sadness that comes with its end.

I took some amazing classes at Bound Lotus with some phenomenal teachers. I was honoured to teach incredible students and still keep in touch with a few. I attended many wonderful events and even slept over as part of an overnight gong bath! I spent hours there helping with administrative tasks, working with the founder on planning, or simply sitting at the tea table chatting.

Even my dog, Sofie, loved being at Bound Lotus. She enjoyed participating in meditations, relished the adoration she received from students and teachers, and eagerly came with my husband to pick me up after teaching. I know Sofie picked up on the energy of the space and felt welcome at the studio, just like students did.

Sofie relaxing at Bound LotusBound Lotus felt like my yoga home for many months – I lived just a couple blocks away and it sometimes felt like I spent more time at the studio than I did at home.  Although geographical distance now means I won’t notice its absence so acutely, I will certainly feel a void knowing that the space is no longer there.

If geographical distance isn’t an issue for you, I hope you’re able to get to Bound Lotus for a yoga class, meditation, or the Summer Solstice event before the end of June. Breathe in the smell of the homemade Bound Lotus tea chai tea, luxuriate in the wealth of colour-coordinated props, soak up the atmosphere… and maybe think of me.

I hope that the community will carry on in some form once the studio doors close and that something beautiful will come out of this sadness.

There is the mud – and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need the mud in order to make the lotus.

~ Thích Nhất Hạnh
Vietnamese monk and teacher

My wish for every that person who ever attended a meditation, practiced yoga, taught a class, drank tea, celebrated an event, or simply passed through the doors at Bound Lotus is able to rise gloriously and beautifully – just like the lotus from the mud. And my wish for Heather, the founder of Bound Lotus and the person who loved it most, is that whatever comes next is made even more magnificent through the grace of all the goodness that was Bound Lotus.

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Wine and a wall

Legs up the wall with a glass of wineOur flat in Munich is a ways out of the city and U-Bahn construction at the closest station means that cycling is the most efficient method for getting around. It’s been a long time since I’ve done any pedalling and my leg muscles are struggling with this newfound exertion.

Thankfully, our flat has a lovely open wall that’s perfect for my favourite restorative yoga pose – legs up the wall. Pair the leg-relaxing posture with a glass of wine and the strain in my lower body disappears!

The pose itself is super-easy (see my how-to in a previous post) – the most difficult part is managing the glass! I’m careful to make sure the wine is safe coming into and out of legs up the wall and set the glass within easy reach for the 10-15 minutes I’m laying on the floor.

Sipping while supine is challenging, but the relaxation is well worth it!

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Celebrate with ice cream

Mint chocolate ice cream cakeOne of my favourite ways to celebrate someone is by making them an ice cream cake. In honour of one of my favourite person’s birthdays today and because I no longer have a springform pan, I thought I’d share… and maybe inspire an ice cream celebration!

The process of creating an ice cream cake is easy – all it takes is smoothing layers of softened ice cream into a springform pan – it’s just time-consuming. Often the hardest part involves standing in the ice cream aisle at the grocery store deliberating which flavours would go best together, taking into account which brands are on sale and the preferences of the cake recipient.

The cake in the photo is mint chocolate (great combination!); I’ve also had success with chocolate cherry, caramel chocolate, and straight up chocolate. I haven’t used the same flavours twice and haven’t tried anything not chocolate-based.

Layered ice cream cake

The proportions are a little loose as I’ve never really measured and I tend to buy more ice cream than necessary – it’s not a bad thing to have some leftover 🙂

Ingredients

  • Day-old brownies and/or crushed wafer cookies (or purchased cookie crumbs) for the crust and, if desired, between layers
  • At least three different flavours of ice cream (minimum 1.5 litres total for most sizes of springform pans), preferably in contrasting colours and complimentary flavours
  • Chocolate, fudge, or caramel sauce for the top of the cake and/or between layers – or homemade ‘chocolate shell’ (recipe below)
  • Candies, nuts, and/or sprinkles if desired for the top of cake and between layers

Method

  • Wrap the bottom of a springform pan with foil (to prevent leaks) and clear out space in the freezer for the pan to sit perfectly flat
  • Press crumbled brownies into the bottom of a springform pan, creating an even crust (if using cookie crumbs, mix them with a little melted butter or softened coconut oil to get the crust to stick together); put the crust-filled pan in the freezer for 5-10 minutes to firm up
  • Soften ice cream for the first layer by removing it from the carton and leaving it in a bowl on the counter at room temperature for about 20 minutes; when the ice cream is soft enough to allow it, beat it into smooth creaminess with a wooden spoon and a lot of arm power
    • Don’t overdo it, though, you want it spreadable, not soupy!
  • Using a spatula, spread the first layer of softened ice cream onto the crust, tapping the pan onto the counter to work out air bubbles; put in the freezer for an hour before adding the next layer
  • Repeat with additional layers of ice cream – softening each flavour before beating it and smoothing it into the pan; then letting each layer freeze for an hour before adding the next one
    • If you’d like to have fillings between the layers, freeze the ice cream for only 20 minutes before sprinkling on cookie crumbs, brownie bits, nuts, or other toppings so the toppings stick to the ice cream; then re-freeze for a full hour
    • If you’d like caramel, chocolate, or fudge between the layers, use a gooey sauce that won’t get too hard when it’s frozen and let the cake freeze for an hour before and after smoothing on the sauce
  • Once you’ve added all the layers of ice cream (and any sauce or fillings between the layers) freeze for at least 8 hours to allow everything to set
  • To unmold the cake, first slightly soften the ice cream using either use a hair dryer on the edges of the springform pan or by lowering the still tightly foil-wrapped pan into a few inches of hot water, then undo the ‘spring’ and gently wiggle off the sides of the pan; place the unmolded cake back in the freezer for at least an hour
  • Cover the top of the cake with chocolate, fudge, or caramel sauce if desired and decorate with bits of brownies, cookies, candies, nuts, and/or sprinkles; place the decorated cake in the freezer for another couple hours
  • Let the cake sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before cutting using a metal knife run under hot water to help it slide through the ice cream
  • Eat, enjoy, and look forward to the next celebration you can use as an excuse to make an ice cream cake!

Homemade ‘chocolate shell’

  • 7 oz chocolate, roughly chopped
  • 2 tbsp coconut oil

Place chocolate and coconut oil in a double boiler; heat over water on medium high until fully melted, stirring frequently. Set aside to cool for 5-10 minutes before pouring over ice cream… or ice cream cake!

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Small complaints; big picture happiness

Forest looking like a watercolour painting

Photo credit: VinothChandar via Compfight cc

Yesterday was one of those days where all the little things were a bit off. I woke up feeling discontented and uneasy. What I thought would be an easy shopping expedition proved fruitless. One of our bikes blew a tire, necessitating a long walk on what may have been the hottest day of the year and resulting in seriously sore feet. Doing laundry was needlessly complicated and involved way too much to-ing and fro-ing.

It was a day filled with small complaints that made it easy to forget that two major things went right: we successfully registered ourselves in Munich and got some very good news from Vancouver.

The Anmeldung process was even easier the second time around (and our first ‘permanent’ address registration was pretty simple), although the system is a little different in Munich than in the rest of Germany. No questions at all from the government clerk, just a few words exchanged in German and an official stamp. The hardest part was the over-heated 45 minute wait and managing that nervous feeling that something would go wrong.

Then later in the day, very good news came from my parents that made me feel like my decision to return to Germany earlier this week was the right one.

With all of my small complaints, it was easy for me to feel as though yesterday was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day… but it wasn’t. It was a great day.

That’s the joy of perspective. Looking close up at all the little things, I was unhappy. Looking at the big picture, I was exactly the opposite.

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Easter bliss

Homemade bliss ball treats in front of potted flowersEaster (or Ostern) is a big deal in Germany. There are Easter specials and corresponding displays in every store, just about everything closes over the holiday weekend, residential windows show off Easter decorations (like branches hung with decorated eggs), church bells ring, and there’s tons of chocolate!

As a slightly healthier alternative to all the Easter chocolate (which is fantastic… but sometimes a bit too much), I made a couple batches of bliss balls – although I’m calling them Glückseligkeit Bällchen in keeping with current surroundings and because I love the word Bällchen 🙂

I followed the recipe below as written for one batch (the ones coated in cocoa and chopped almonds in the image at right) and switched in shredded coconut for some of the ground almonds in the second batch (the coconut covered ones). I also used dried cranberries in addition to the dates in the coconut Bällchen.

These are easy to make (especially with a food processor) and the recipe is easy to adapt to whatever nuts or dried fruit are in the cupboard. While they are sweet and chocolate-y, they’re also full of fibre (thanks to the dates) and protein (thanks to the almonds).

Have a blissful Easter! Frohe Ostern! 

Glückseligkeit Bällchen mit Kakao und Mandeln
(Cocoa almond Bliss Balls)

Makes about a 18 balls. They keep beautifully in the freezer for a few months – just wrap in waxed paper and tuck into a ziptop bag.

Ingredients

  • 125g (about 20) dried dates, pitted
  • 125g (1 cup) ground almonds
  • 2 tsp honey
  • 1 tsp oil (coconut, canola, or another neutral variety)
  • 2 tsp cocoa
  • 2 tsp water (reserved from soaking dates)
  • cocoa, coconut, chopped nuts, or a combination for coating balls

Method

  • Soak dates in warm water for 20 minutes; drain dates (reserving some of the soaking water) and chop into small pieces
  • Combine chopped dates, ground almonds, honey, oil, and cocoa; add water as necessary to make a thick mixture that comes away from the sides of the bowl and forms a moldable paste
    • This is easiest with a food processor, but totally possible with a wooden spoon and a bit of muscle
  • Using your hands, roll teaspoon-sized globs of the mixture into balls; cover with cocoa powder, chopped nuts, or shredded coconut
  • Refrigerate for at least an hour to allow Bällchen to firm up

 

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