The Calm of the Coast

Oregon Coast

“I actually attack the concept of happiness. The idea that - I don’t mind people being happy - but the idea that everything we do is part of the pursuit of happiness seems to me a really dangerous idea and has led to a contemporary disease in Western society, which is fear of sadness. It’s a really odd thing that we’re now seeing people saying “write down 3 things that made you happy today before you go to sleep”, and “cheer up” and “happiness is our birthright” and so on. We’re kind of teaching our kids that happiness is the default position - it’s rubbish. Wholeness is what we ought to be striving for and part of that is sadness, disappointment, frustration, failure; all of those things which make us who we are. 

“Happiness and victory and fulfillment are nice little things that also happen to us, but they don’t teach us much. Everyone says we grow through pain and then as soon as they experience pain they say “Quick! Move on! Cheer up!” I’d like just for a year to have a moratorium on the word “happiness” and to replace it with the word “wholeness”. Ask yourself “is this contributing to my wholeness?” and if you’re having a bad day, it is.”

― Hugh Mackay

Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast

In August, my boyfriend and I took a long drive along the Oregon coast. It is the third time I have taken this trip in the last five years, which feels remarkable since this small stretch of coast is so far away from the place I call home. Though the company for each drive may have changed, the shoreline has stayed the same. It is the same whispering waves and coniferous trees that call me back to them, reminding me that I can never stray for long.

Reminding me that this place is a space where I belong.

The air hung heavy with fog during the three day's drive, obscuring the ocean from the vistas and beaches. I have long felt that the ocean holds many mysteries and this time it seemed to be holding its cards close. Surrounded by a thick, unrelenting fog, the world felt smaller and intimate. I could hear the vast ocean roar with its melodic fierceness, but I could not see it. Periodically another person would walk by along the beach, a shadowy ghost in the distance, the fog disguising any details. 

It was beautifula heart-wrenching beauty that drills into your very soul.

Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast

Despite the fact that it was late summer, the beach was cold, accompanied by an uncomfortably brisk wind. I had my windbreaker zipped up to my chin, hands in my pockets to keep in the warmth. With the fog wrapped around me, I was more or less alone, left to my own thoughts with little distraction. 

After dealing with feelings of depression on and off for the last year, the smell of the ocean brine and the rhythmic waves brought on a sense of calm. I did not feel the joy I thought I would when I planned this trip months earlier, but I did feel more at peace. The beauty of nature has its own restorative powers. The laughter at the sea lions' bark, the disappointing hunt for a sand dollar, the loneliness of the fog, and the sadness of the sea all brought me closer to myself. 

I felt whole.

Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast
Oregon Coast

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Just out of reach

When I lived in England, I was introduced to nutella for the first time. Since discovering in high school I was highly allergic to tree nuts , I kept the jar of a hundred hazelnuts at arm's length. My friends considered it the most heavenly flavor of our semester overseas (and I enjoyed wafting the smell beneath my nose), but it would never be for me. It was easy enough to acceptwithout so much as a spoonful to taste, I would never know what I was missing out on.

But then, after an accidental encounter with hazelnuts and everything turned out okay, I began to change my tune. Hazelnuts were an exception to my allergy. After a moment's hesitation, I reached for the jar.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Around the same time my non-allergy to hazelnuts was uncovered, I discovered I was lactose-intolerant. Since Nutella is made with skim milk, it was awarded its own place on my "forbidden foods" list.  It seemed so ironic at the time; just as the jar was firmly in my hands, I would have to set it back down again. This time, though, it was much more difficult to let go. After the few, fleeting spoonfuls, I now knew what I would be missing. I laughed so I wouldn't cry.

Just out of reach.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

For the last two years, I have been on the hunt for a nutella substitute, a dairy-free version that I could spoon out of the jar or spread onto my favorite rolls. After a fruitless search, I finally realized it would be up to me to create what I desired. With a package of roasted hazelnuts and a can of cocoa, I set to work. I would call this a success.

I have been asked half a dozen times whether or not it tastes like the real deal. My answer to you is that it depends.

Pulverizing nuts into a silky smooth paste can be hard work for any food processor. Without a top of the line piece of equipment, the hazelnuts will not reach that coveted texture, but they can come close. My food processor worked better than I expected. The final product was slightly grainythe ground nuts are the "sparkles" you see in the photographsbut I found I did not mind it. Your texture will depend on the equipment you are using in your own kitchen.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

The second factor comes down to the cocoa powder. I have made this spread with two different brands of cocoa powder: once with Ghirardelli, once with Valrhona. I have no idea which brand Nutella uses, which makes it nearly impossible to directly match the cocoa flavor. I prefered the spread made with Valrhona most (but that may be because I prefer the flavor of that brand to begin with). My suggestion to you is to let go of the idea that yours will taste exactly like Nutella and use your favorite brand of cocoa instead. Since the flavor of the spread comes almost exclusively from this ingredient, it is important to use what you already enjoy.

The last factor is the sweetness. Nutella is sold at different levels of sweetness to different countries depending on the region's preference.  For example, Italian Nutella is generally regarded to be less sweet, focused more on the flavor of the hazelnuts than the sugar. American Nutella is very sweet, reminiscent of buttercream frosting on a spoon. The Nutella I had smeared over crepes in France was somewhere in between, more chocolate than anything else.

The Nutella in my grocery store may very well be different from your own, which is why I hesitated on my initial answer. I prefer the spread made with about three-quarters cup powdered sugar to spread on whole grain toast. It seems the right sweetness for a weekend breakfast. However, for eating straight out of the jar, I like to bring the sugar up to a full cup so it feels a bit more like dessert. Your personal preference (and purpose) plays into the sweetness. Start low and you can always add more if needed.

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread
Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread can be whipped up in five minutes, which makes it an incredibly accessible spread. The cocoa flavor is warm, the sweetness can be adjusted to your palate, and the ground hazelnuts provide just the right base. Serve on toast, prepare for use in desserts, or simply eat it from the spoon. After so many years without, I could not be happier to hold the jar in my hands again.

Finally, finally within reach.

One Year Ago: Honeyed Apricot Granola Bars
Two Years Ago: Summer Berry Pavlova, Mango Striped Coconut Popsicles, French Silk Pie, and Blackberry Sour Cream Coffee Cake
Three Years Ago: Butterbeer, Butterbeer Cupcakes, Cherry Almond Muffins, and S'mores Ice Cream Sundae
Four Years Ago: Jean Talon Market, Blueberry Tofu Smoothie, and Strawberry Shortcake

Homemade Chocolate Hazelnut Spread

Yields about 1 1/2 cups

1 1/2 cups (225-250 grams) roasted and skinned whole hazelnuts
1/4 cup (22 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 to 1 cup (95 to 125 grams) powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons olive oil

In a food processor, process hazelnuts until they turn into a smooth paste, about 3-6 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and continue to process until evenly mixed. The spread should have a spreadable texture; if it is too stiff, add more oil 1 teaspoon at a time until the ideal texture is achieved.

Store refrigerated or at room temperature in an airtight container. At a minimum, it keeps up to a week. It may keep even longer, but I have never had it last longer in my kitchen.

Citrus Zucchini Muffins

Citrus Zucchini Muffins

August disappeared with the blink of an eye. At the beginning, I was lying in the sun, reading a book, and everything since then has been a bit of a blur. I've been traveling again; this time I spent a week in California and another driving up the coast to Seattle. I'll share the pictures with you once I get settled back in. With school starting this week and fall just around the corner, it all feels too soon. 

For now, I'm going to enjoy the end of summer harvest and hold on to the last of the warm summer days.

Citrus Zucchini Muffins
Citrus Zucchini Muffins

The garden at my parent's home grows two vegetables very wellzucchini and rhubarb. Due to a shady tree, the onions stay small, the cucumbers are few, and the cherry tomatoes are nonexistent, but those two vegetables grow so quickly and so large that it is easy to believe they are trying to make up for the other's flaws. My parents kindly let me use whichever vegetables I please, but even I can't find a use for all of the zucchini. 

If you want to lend a helping  hand, do let me know.

Citrus Zucchini Muffins

Though plentiful in the Upper Midwest, I still have not made my mind up about zucchini. While I could take or leave most savory dishes (except this one), bread is where this vegetable shines. Every year I make loaves of zucchini bread and every year I want to share the same recipe with you again because I love it so. While zucchini bread is wonderful with cinnamon, spices, and chocolate chips, this year I challenged myself to find a new way to enjoy it.

With citrus zest for bright flavor and chopped almonds for a hearty bite, zucchini found another way to capture my heart.

Citrus Zucchini Muffins
Citrus Zucchini Muffins

Citrus Zucchini Muffins make for a wonderful end-of-summer breakfast. The muffins are loaded with lemon and orange, a touch of nutmeg, and almonds to make them filling. The muffins are great with a spread of butter, a spoonful of jam, or simply left plain. These muffins surprised me with how much I enjoyed them. The flavors may be simple, but the experience is certainly not.

One Year Ago: Date Flapjacks, Nordic Pancake Cake, and Vanilla Ice Cream Cake
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Cherry Cake, Coconut Scones, Roasted Strawberry Coconut Ice Cream, and Almond Butter Cupcakes with Mocha Buttercream
Three Years Ago: Blueberry Hand Pies, Black Bean Salsa, Harry Potter Treats, and Cauldron Cakes
Four Years Ago: Espresso Chocolate Chip Shortbread, Whole Wheat Wild Blueberry Muffins, and Bittersweet Chocolate Pear Cake

Citrus Zucchini Muffins

Yields 1 dozen muffins

3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar 
Zest of 1 lemon
Zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup (118 ml) vegetable oil 
Juice of 1/2 orange
1 large egg 
1 teaspoon vanilla extract 
1 cup (about 180 grams) grated zucchini, lightly packed 
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg 
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 
1/2 teaspoon baking powder 
1/2 teaspoon salt 
1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour 
1/2 cup (63 grams) all-purpose flour 
1/2 cup (113 grams) whole almonds, coarsely chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Line a muffin pan with baking cups.

In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, lemon zest, and orange zest until fragrant. Whisk in the egg, vegetable oil, orange juice, and vanilla until well combined. Stir in the grated zucchini. Mix in the nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Fold in the flour, mixing until the batter becomes uniform. Mix in the chopped almonds.

Fill baking cups 3/4 full and bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the muffins cool briefly before eating. Serve plain or with a spread of jam.