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Yoga: A 5,000-year-old practice, beloved by millions the world throughout. Beloved, possibly, by everyone but me. Or so was the case until a few months ago.

My gripe with yoga had nothing to do with the practice itself; my fundamental lack of skill was to blame.

Yogis everywhere are shaking their heads right now. I understand that it’s called “practice” for a reason. It’s not called “yoga perfect”, there are no yoga champions; people don’t travel across the US to participate in timed yoga trials. Slap each other on the back after sweating it out through a particularly grueling yoga marathon. Yoga is not a competitive thing.

However, I recognized the purported health benefits and felt that I should give it some time. I tried my hand at Hatha, breathed my way through Vinyasa. I learned to salute the sun, mimic a warrior, pose like a tree, a frog, and a fish. I even experimented with Bikram (hot yoga) before realizing that any athletic activity that requires a mid-afternoon nap isn’t sustainable.

But I couldn’t get past one issue: I have the natural flexibility of a yardstick, and I just felt so completely incompetent.

So I dropped the practice, gave away my yoga mat, burned my pre-Lululemon bootcut stretch pants. I figured that I’d still have tennis for my later years. Maybe join a bowling league. But yoga wouldn’t factor, that I knew.

Fast-track 10 years and I was at the dentist, complaining of some jaw pain. A recent experience with a glazed donut suggested that my mouth would no longer open more than a crack without pain. I expected the worst: root canal, immediate tooth extraction, perhaps some invasive laser head surgery.

The diagnosis surprised me: TMJ.

“Have you been under a lot of stress lately?”

Er, I’m living out my dream of working with food and getting to spend time with my three lovely children…So I suppose that my answer would be no? How stress-derived TMJ was the culprit is still beyond me. But it was there. And it needed attention. Hiring a personal masseuse, however dreamlike, wouldn’t fit my budget. And talk about not getting to the root of the problem.

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I was reading a biography at the time where the subject – at one time hooked on drugs and married to a dysfunctional Hollywood actor – found her salvation through yoga and meditation. And I realized that my old friend yoga might have the answer for me as well.

This time….things could be different. After all, I’m more mature, with a slew of folding elbow wrinkles to match. Being the least flexible person in the room wouldn’t be the worst of my problems.

I searched for yoga studios in my neighborhood that would emphasize the meditative aspect of the practice. I wanted to relax, focus less on strength, channel my energy towards mindfulness and inner peace.

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All roads lead to Foragers Market….

Or so the story goes, at least in my world where a humble little grocery store went into an abandoned art space on the corner of 8th Avenue and 22nd street in Chelsea and changed my world forever.

Maybe I’m being overly dramatic, but really, this place….my love for it runs deep.

Although it’s only been in the neighborhood for a few years, I can hardly remember a time when I didn’t shop there once (if not twice) a day.

It’s my primary destination for produce, bread, yogurt, heritage pork shops and all manner of fancy cheese. Dram Apothecary bitters, Jacobsen salt, Mina harissa, they’ve got it all. Name the latest chef obsession, and you’re just about guaranteed to find it there. They even sell kombucha on tap. (can you sense my silent tear of gratitude?)

The icing on the cake is that the back seating area morphs into one of the best and most affordably-priced restaurants in the city for weeknight dinners and weekend brunches. Chef Nickolas Martinez trained under Alain Ducasse and Joel Robuchon and sources his ingredients from Foragers’ own farm in Upstate New York. That single tear of gratitude occasionally turns into a stream.

A benefit of having a store like Foragers in the neighborhood is that I’ve gotten to build relationships with some of the food makers themselves. Like microgreen grower Good Water Farms in Long Island, who I’ll talk more about in tomorrow’s post. And Siggi’s, one of the fastest growing yogurt brands in the US. One bite of their skyr (Icelandic strained yogurt) and you’ll never want to eat any other yogurt again.

At least according to yours truly. And my Dad, who ate a spoonful and promptly grabbed the container to inspect every inch of the packaging.

I was visiting Foragers Market in late November when I bumped into Yasaman Vojdani, co-founder of Oat My Goodness Craft Granola.

Yasaman was providing samples for her three lines of granola, and it was pure chance that I stopped to give them a try. I’ve always shied away from buying pre-packaged granola because previous versions have tasted dusty and old. Chewy when they should be crunchy. The flavors, meh. If I want crunchy flavorful granola packed with interesting ingredients, I’ll make it at home.

I politely declined her offer, and was about to move on when Yasaman urged me to try the Sunrise variety – “it has orange, coffee, mango and macadamia nuts”.

Hmmm. That does sound good. And odd flavor combinations are my Achilles heel; I squinted at the packaging, agreed to try it, and the rest is history. I’ve become the unlikeliest of granola promoters but it’s hard for me not to start my day with this kind of food.

It was my passion for their product that led to an organic relationship between the two of us: me, in the role of chief consumer (and photographer), and them as an upstart brand, building a business and taking the artisanal food market by storm. I signed on to develop a portfolio of Oat My Goodness product photography, and have been playing with granola ever since. I’ve baked with it, I’ve layered parfaits, I’ve even roasted fruit to accompany it. The best part? There is more to come. It’s the kind of work that breakfast dreams are made of.

I wanted to share some images from the past few months. I’ve never known the versatility of granola until this year, and it’s my hope that you’ll likewise be encouraged to play around with it as well.

You can find Oat My Goodness craft granola in several states or through their website. They sell it, of course, at Foragers Market, where you’re likely to spot me lurking by the refrigerated case, investigating the latest shipment of farm-fresh eggs.

And if you can’t get your hands on this particular brand of granola, I’ve got a recipe for butter pecan granola that you can use in a pinch.

If you’re interested in finding the recipes for the dishes below, check them out on the Oat My Goodness website. I’ve also copied the recipe for the granola chocolate chunk cookies below. They’re truly the best cookies I’ve ever made. Enjoy!

Sunrise:

Orange, coffee, mango and macadamia nuts

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With the exception of getting dumped on Valentine’s Day, I may win the title for V-Day disaster stories.

Actually, this was worse than a breakup.

I waivered about whether to tell this gruesome tale, but in the effort to make this a full-disclosure website, it would be wrong not to tell.

How could I lyricize my love for Valentine’s Day when the mere mention of the name sends shivers down my newly limber spine. (thank you yoga)

It all began innocently enough….my brother-in-law and sister-in-law were in town for a few days last February. It’s rare to get the teams together, so when we do, there’s always cause for celebration. The morning of February 14 was glorious with fresh, still-white snowfall from the previous evening.

My sister-in-law had booked us a table at a new local restaurant. I’m reserving the details around when and where. That quaint little restaurant doesn’t need to get dragged through the mud.

Our plan was to meet Kelly and Keith first for a drink at their hotel. They were staying at the Soho House, a swank hotel located smack dab in the middle of the Meatpacking district. It’s the kind of place where your outfit is never respectable enough for the front desk crew. Somehow these gatekeepers are always several feet taller than me, giving them the advantage of what I’ll call “nose-peering”, making me feel infinitely smaller than my size would suggest.

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Where I come back in spades is my ability to orchestrate an immediate cocktailing session. Nobody gets down to business faster than I do. Thus, nobody can out-drink me in the first hour of an evening. Perhaps I could go toe-to-toe with the fictionalized James Frey, but aside from him (it?), the competitive landscape is pretty slim.

Fortunately, my second secret weapon is that after an hour, I swiftly dial back the drinking and enter a self-imposed maintenance mode where chatting becomes the priority, and booze is all but forgotten.

I wish that I could say that it’s intentional; I’d make a fortune peddling self-help books and safe consumption podcasts. The world would be a better place, filled with happy drunks and fewer injuries.

But something went terribly wrong last Valentine’s Day and my body’s normal tailoring response was nowhere to be found. Perhaps it was partying with the front desk crew.

I fault the Soho House for messing with my usual program.

This hotel knows how to ramp up the excitement for an evening. What other hotel sends you a bartender, plucked from America’s Next Top Model central casting, with a drink cart, straight to your room?. So while we were sitting there on velvet couches, surrounded by opulence and exposed brick, our very own She-Nymph was mixing up custom Moscow Mules. Right before she opened a bottle of champagne. Because hey! It’s Valentine’s Day! We’re all celebrating!

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I’m going to cop to a few facts here. These brownies:

  • with the exception of a few minor tweaks, are an exact replica of the recipe created Gaby Dalkin for her blog What’s Gaby Cooking. Don’t mess with perfection. Unless you’re adding espresso powder and swapping in bittersweet chocolate. 
  • were not meant to be eaten solely after winter sledding activities. Although this would make an optimal time for consumption.
  • are the tastiest baked good you’ve ever laid eyes on. Although if you’re one of those hedonists foolish/brilliant enough to wait 2 hours for a Dominque Ansel original cronut, you may have encountered a baking miracle a ½ notch above this.

Here’s another admission: these aren’t really called Sledding Brownies. Meander over to Gaby’s website looking for “Sledding Brownies” and you’ll get an ominous looking “NO RESULTS FOUND”. SO JUST BE AWARE OF THAT AND READ ON. I WILL ANSWER YOUR QUESTIONS IN DUE TIME. But do visit Gaby’s website for all manner of delicious food. Really, she has everything: gluttonous treats and healthy eats. Check out her roundup of 10 healthy dishes to start 2015 before you get into trouble with the molasses cookies and brown sugar blondies.

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I saw Gaby post these brownies a few months ago, and they’ve been a bee in my bonnet ever since. I hesitate to use that expression since my Dad’s ex girlfriend used it ad nauseum when she referred to a vexing list of nonessential needs. His bathroom needed fluffier towels!  The bedroom walls required a crisper shade of white! The masonry over the fireplace!!! Well, couldn’t you see that it wasn’t wide enough? So, with that…brownies, chocolate cookie layer, Oreo-stuffed. [bzzzz]

My parents were at the lake over Christmas, and every time my Mum comes to visit, she brings two bags of Oreo cookies. These aren’t just ordinary Oreo cookies. They’re Canadian Oreos. Made with different ingredients altogether. The center is creamier, the cookie layers, richer. If you don’t believe me, I urge you to write to Kraft or Mondelēz or whatever they’re calling themselves these days and ask them why the Canadian version is superior.

Or, if putting pen to paper seems like an arduous task, enlist your favorite Canadian friend/relative/Parliament Member to send you a box and conduct a taste test in the privacy of your own home.

That’s what we did. Double blind. Rodney + the kids acted as the official judging panel to ensure accuracy and more important, eat the leftovers. The Canadian Oreos won by a landslide.

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Lauren’s birthday is four days before Christmas, which makes for some interesting challenges around the holidays. Just when I’ve gotten through November which includes Sam’s birthday and Thanksgiving, we’re bearing down on the end of December, full-throttle.

I’ve never been one to throw big birthday parties for my kids. We usually go the homemade birthday cake + celebrate at home route. Lauren especially loves to spend the day with me in the kitchen making a big layer cake and planning her birthday dinner courses.

This year her selections are 1) chicken tostadas with guacamole (as Emma likes to say, “mock ‘n molé” and I will die a silent death when she stops referring to it as such), 2) beef and bean nachos, and 3) a candy cane birthday cake.

With 3 boxes of unwrapped Christmas gifts stashed in my room yesterday and my parents’ imminent arrival from Toronto, I felt like my head was spinning when we arrived at the lake for our 2-week stay. Holidays are challenging. The world’s tiniest violin is playing softly in the background, I know, I know. To be burdened with too many birthday dinners to cook and gifts to wrap. But the holidays always take me off guard. I know that they’ll be busy, but I never anticipate the kind of frenzy that sweeps through my home and keeps me on my feet for days on end.

Luckily the holidays come with a few perks. Yes, I’m the chief giver in the house, orchestrating a mass distribution of gifts that are seamlessly ordered through Amazon and then painstakingly unboxed, categorized, wrapped and given on Christmas morning. But I also receive a few gifts that put a smile on my face.

One of those gifts this year was a box from Quarterly. Quarterly sends a box of hand-picked items every three months (hence the name) from one of its well-known curators including Food 52, Chef Ludo of Top Chef fame, Grace Bonney, the talent behind the popular blog Design Sponge. If you’re still looking for unique holiday gifts, check them out at Quarterly.co.

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(included in box: Ana striped tapers, Rifle floral composition notebook, Cotton + Flax coasters, A Heirloom cutting board, Kusmi tea, Furbish studio matches)

I received Grace’s Design Sponge box, which came just in time for Lauren’s birthday marathon, which aside from cooking more Mexican food than I have in the past year, included her Christmas-inspired candy cane birthday cake. I had reservations about the cake idea (vanilla peppermint buttercream anyone?), but it was her creation and it was surprisingly good. Sam had three slices, after claiming post-Mexican feast that he was too full for dessert. Perhaps Lauren should help me write recipes more often.

Fueled with tea, our day looked a little something like this…

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