Pumpkin Tea Cake

pumpkin tea cake 6

These days, a lot of the food I make is to be shared with friends. You probably already know that there’s a sort of magic in that. Watching someone’s eyes or face light up just a little when they bite in. Knowing that you’re quite literally nourishing and nurturing others. I swear to you whatever type of food it is, it tastes better when shared.

I’ve got a little dinner get-together planned for tonight. As for this cake, I shared it with a friend on a working morning. It’s actually quite light, similar to a pumpkin bread. It’s a bit sweeter and spicier, and just about perfect for the winter season. Dear friend, if you lived near me, I’d share it with you. I’d make you a hot cup of tea. Our worlds might be a bit brighter if only we could. But for today, I’ll just give you this recipe.

pumpkin tea cake 5

pumpkin tea cake 4

Pumpkin Tea Cake
1/2 cup AP flour
1/3 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tbsp EACH ground cinnamon, ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground clove
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup butter, melted (or browned!)
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp powdered sugar
Optional: handful of pepitas/pumpkin seeds

Preheat oven to 350°F. Oil a 9 * 5 loaf pan.
In a bowl, combine AP and whole wheat flours, baking powder, and salt. In a large bowl, combine cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, pumpkin puree, butter, sugar, and egg. Whisk the wet mixture until completely combined and slightly fluffy. Gradually incorporate the dry ingredients in the wet mixture, being careful not to over-mix (as this will result in a crumbly and mealy crumb). Pour the batter into the prepped loaf pan. If using pepitas/pumpkin seeds, sprinkle them on top of the cake.
Bake cake until tester poked into the center comes out clean. Test at 30 minutes.* Remove from pan after cooled, and sprinkled powdered sugar on top.

*My oven runs cool, which is why I advise to test early.

Blue Hokkaido Pumpkin Stuffed with Wild Rice, Kale, Mushrooms

Fiji Water with dished stuffed pumpkin

If you are so lucky as to be in the Fiji Islands, you’ll truly notice how perfection takes time. There is a lovely sense of slowness all around the islands: in the friendly, relaxed demeanor of the Fijian people, the pristine white sand beaches, the ancient rain forests, the still more ancient volcanic rock that makes up the islands themselves. This slow perfection is reflected in the water of Fiji: water that begins as a tropical rainfall and is filtered gradually by Fiji’s ancient volcanic rock. If you’re not so lucky as to be in the Fiji Islands themselves, you can get a small taste of this feeling with a sip of Fiji Water. And you may want to consider visiting.

That perfect slowness of the Fiji Islands, reflected so exquisitely in the soft, smooth taste of Fiji Water, was at the forefront of mind while creating this dish. The water of Fiji begin high above the tropical jungles, comes down through the tropical green tangles, and picks up minerals and electrolytes through its rock. Thus, the water captures the very essence of Fiji. Although this dish isn’t something traditionally eaten in Fiji , it does capture something of the spirit of Fiji and its water, as all three perfected over time. In Fiji, food is something to be savored, and meals are long, involving many dishes, almost always eaten with friends and family. Perhaps most famous is the Fijian lovo, dishes of meat and vegetable wrapped in banana leaves and cooked in an Earthen pit lined with heated volcanic rocks (the same volcanic rock that filters Fiji Water). Instead of roasting in an outdoor pit, this stuffed pumpkin is slowly roasted into perfection.

I chose the blue Hokkaido*** pumpkin for its beautiful pale sea blue color, a color that reminded me of the clear waters of the Fiji Islands and Fiji Water. After roasting for over an hour, the flesh of this pumpkin becomes very creamy, sweet, but retains a slight nuttiness. The scent of the browning onions evokes the dishes that my Fiji-born mother created, a scent that always takes me back through time to childhood. The heavy cream and cheese added the richness and depth to this dish, while the kale and mushrooms deepened the flavor.

Fiji Water and dished stuffed pumpkin_


For the full recipe, go to Fiji Water’s website (click HERE).


**Yes, you might have guessed that this post is sponsored by Fiji Water. It was a great opportunity for a company who’s product I enjoy and a company that is helping build the country my parents and grandparents were born in (good thing in my opinion).

All opinions are my own.


*** I recreated this dish later using sugar pie pumpkin, and it was equally delicious. Different, but still pretty good.

What Happened

At Samovar 2 | Darjeeling Dreams

Samovar 2 | Darjeeling Dreams

The first two shots were taken at my favorite tea lounge. Just because tea is essential to me, and that particular spot is a place I find comforting.

It has been a while since I last wrote. What’s there to say? Everything and nothing. Do you think it’s possible to wake up one morning and be an entirely different person? A month ago, maybe more, on the phone with the ex, I was crying or panicking over something or other. He hardly pauses before telling me: “You were frozen and closed off for the last seven years. Now you’re starting to feel again. It’s like someone removed your skin – you’re raw. It’s going to hurt for a while.”

My reality is a little more complicated than that. Yes, the shell that hid me in some low-level depression is gone. I don’t know if I hurt, but there are times when I do. There are moments when I feel inhaling alone is enough to kill me. There are nights when I feel the most desperate existential loneliness I’ve ever known. I think this is to be expected: when you deliberately cut away almost everything that made up your life, you might feel moments of sadness and an existential crisis may threaten to engulf you. You will feel panic, doubt, and despair. Of course. This is part of it, of your becoming.

No one really explains what becoming is. I talk to everyone I know about being more yourself, true to yourself, and following your heart and dreams. Seems to me that I am saying I should go boldly and confidently towards my goals. But what else can I say to that when I just figured out what those are? Or when those dreams are still tender and brand-new and I am not completely comfortable with them? Has anyone ever told you how utterly ridiculous you feel talking about whatever this is? And yet you persist. And you feel absolutely, positively fucking crazy through this whole process. It’s exhausting. It’s thrilling and exhilarating. It’s the best way to live your life at this moment.

For that, friends, is the crux of this story. At this moment, I know in my heart of hearts that it has to be this way right now. That the next few months, the last few months of this year, will push and test me in ways I haven’t yet imagined. That there will be a lot of soul-searching and digging into the deepest parts of soul and self to find them and put them out in the light. There will be madness and happiness and fear and joy, and alllll of the feels will continue to ache and thrill and scare. I don’t have a clear picture of what it will be, and because I don’t know, I’m not sure how much of it I will be sharing. Right now, the other parts of my messy, messy life take precedence. I will tell you that at the end of it, I hope to be a kinder person, make new friends and strengthen old relationships, learn lots of new knowledge and skills, and most of all, very much to be my own person.  The person I should be. The person I want to be. But most importantly, to be the person actually am.

P.S. If you want to “see” me “in real life”HERE

Bestest Chocolate Chip Cookies

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies | Darjeeling Dreams

These cookies are in NO WAY healthy. What they are is sweet, comforting, and the best darn chocolate chip cookies I’ve made so far. And I’ve made A LOT of chocolate chip cookies in my day. They are also one of the few things I’ve eaten in the last week and a half. I’m dropping pounds like Dre drops beats (or at least Beat headphones, these days, I guess). Given the odd mental state I’m in, anything I write comes out sounding like a long self-pitying whine. Trust me, you don’t want to hear it.

Anyways, I hope you’re well, and that you try these out. I promise you that they are really, really good. I made them for a group of friends who told me so. Take their word for it if you don’t believe me.
Best Chocolate Chip Cookie | Darjeeling Dreams


The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes about a dozen large cookies
1/2 lb good-quality chocolate*
1/4 lb butter (1 stick, 1/2 cup), softened
1 cup Turbinado sugar (raw sugar)
1 large egg
1 tbsp molasses
1 tsp vanilla extract (I used this)
1 1/2 cup AP flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
Fleur de sel (or other chunky/flaky good salt), for sprinkling on top

Use a serrated knife to chop the chocolate into roughly 1/2 inch pieces. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Prep a large baking sheet with Silpat, parchment paper, or grease with butter and flour.
In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar. Make sure it is light and fluffy.
Add the egg, molasses, and vanilla extract. Then, add the flour and baking powder and incorporate thoroughly.
Add the chocolate chucks, and stir to incorporate. Do not over-mix, or you’ll start breaking up the chocolate pieces (which are more fragile than store-bought chips).
To form cookies, scoop out 1/4 cup of dough, form a ball, flatten slightly, and lay about 1 – 2 inch apart on your baking sheet. Sprinkle with a pinch of fleur del sel.
Bake for 12 – 13 minutes. The cookies will look almost underdone when you pull them out, they will firm up as they cool.
*It is crucial that you use chocolate chunks, not waxy chocolate chips.

Heirloom Apple + Baby Kale Salad

Heirloom apple + baby kale salad 2 | Darjeeling Dreams

So, yes, a kale salad, a “natural and wholesome foods” cliche, isn’t it? Yet, this salad is fairly special. It has baby kale, which is more tender and has a nicer raw texture than mature kale. Besides, isn’t “baby kale” fun to say? I thought so, anyway. Other than the kale, there are heirloom apples, which are my favorite. I ate twenty varieties last fall and winter, and hope to top that number this year. Heirlooms are more flavorful, and less mealy than their ordinary year-around counterparts. They provide a nice contrast to the hearty and flavorful walnut dressing, the crunchy rye crumbs, and the cheese – I’m fairly sure that I don’t need to convince you how delicious cheese is, or how wonderfully it pairs with good apples and greens. I think this might become my go-to green salad.

Also, a simple, tasty apple cake that’s a rift on this. It’s topped with sweet Empire apples and tart Pink Surprise apples. It led to small adventures and fun times. Here’s to more of that.

Heirloom Apple + Baby Kale Salad
1 tbsp olive oil
1/3 cup day-old rye/whole wheat bread, finely crumbled
4 cups of baby kale, washed
3 heirloom apples, cut into quarters, then thinly sliced
Walnut dressing (see below for recipe)
1 oz. hard, aged cheddar, shaved
Heat the olive oil over medium-heat high. Add the rye/wheat crumbs, turn the heat down to medium, and fry the crumbs until browned (time will depend on how dry or fresh the bread is).
When ready to serve, combine baby kale, apples, and walnut crema in a large mixing bowl. Top with rye crumbs and shaved cheddar.
Walnut Dressing
Adapted from A-16 Food + Wine
1/2 cup walnuts
1/4 cup + 1/2 tbsp olive oil
1 small shallot, diced
1 garlic clove, minced finely
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 tbsp thyme leaves
Bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Add walnuts and cook for 8 – 10 minutes, or until the walnuts are tender through. Reserve 1/4 cup of walnut-water, and drain the walnuts.
In a saute pan, heat 1/2 tbsp of olive oil. Add shallot and garlic, and a pinch of salt, and cook until golden brown and tender – about 5 minutes.
Combine the lemon juice, clove, nutmeg, thyme leaves, shallot mixture, walnuts, and reserved walnut-water in a food processor, and grind until the consistency is similar to that of hummus. Slowly add the 2 tbsp of olive oil.

Heirloom apple + baby kale salad 3 | Darjeeling Dreams

Heirloom apple cake | Darjeeling Dreams

Heirloom Apple + Cardamom Apple Cake
Butter, for greasing pan
2 large eggs
1/2 c. sugar + 1 tbsp sugar
1/3 c. milk
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 1/2 c. AP flour
2 tsp. baking powder
3-4 heirloom apples (about 1 1/2 pounds)
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter a circular 8-inch pan.
Cream the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl, until lighter and fluffy. Beat milk and olive oil. Beat in cardamom, flour, baking powder.
Core and peel the apples. Thinly slice the apples (from top to bottom). Starting at the edge of the cake, arrange the apple slices in a circular pattern, making the apple slices overlap slightly. Make sure the slices completely cover the cake batter.
Bake, testing for doneness with a toothpick at 45 minutes.

Turmeric-Roasted Chickpeas with Black Quinoa and Tomatoes

Heirloom Tomatoes | Darjeeling Dreams

Roasted turmeric chickpeas with black quinoa and tomatoes 2

There are times when I think I was born with this feeling of ennui. My mother can tell you that when I was little, I’d be complaining of boredom by the second day of summer vacation. Sometimes, she’ll still ask me if I’m bored. Nowadays, there’s more to it than boredom. Smiling, my mom will also tell you with of a small me who constantly, constantly asked “But why?” I’d bring home a pile of books from the library, looked for recipes to try on the backs of boxes, and studied the flowers as I wandered in our backyard. Looking for something, trying to learn some things.

You know, I have found it, that magical thing that makes me feel complete. It feels the other way other people say falling in love feels. Ecstasy and fear, and a kind of exhilaration. I know my writings have a melancholy, lonely quality, but after the frustration dies down, the writing fill me with a sort of a surreal joy. Something so big I can’t put it into words.

And yet, even with the writing and living with what might be the world’s loudest little cat, there’s still a sort of loneliness. That loneliness is so much a part of me, for so long that it will probably echo eternally in my writing. If anything, it is less a part of me than it was for most of my life. Still. That adolescence desire to be understood hasn’t left me. I’d like find the sort of people who want to sit around late at night sometimes and talk about lonely Kawabata and Nabokov’s cleverness, about dreams and beauty, and the rest of big, important things. The sort of talk that would be forgotten by morning light and remembered again in quiet thoughtful hours or the next time we got together.

Heirloom tomatoes H | Darjeeling Dreams
About this recipe: Channa masala – or chickpea in masala sauce – is one of my go-to comfort foods. It’s one of very few dishes I prefer paired with quinoa instead of rice. This dish is a fresher, summery version of curried chickpea-quinoa combination. Chickpeas and quinoa together are a wonderful flavor pairing – and packed with vegetable-based protein. The tomatoes, tamarind, and goat cheese add freshness and tanginess to the hearty proteins, the parsley adds a fresh, almost mineral-like note, and the spices keep it interesting. It’s a great balanced meal in a bowl, and quite perfect for lazy late summer days and nights.

Turmeric-Roasted Chickpeas with Fresh Tomatoes and Black Quinoa
1.5 tbsp turmeric powder
1 tbsp garam masala
1 tbsp smoky chili powder (adjust for personal heat preference)
Salt, to taste
1/4 cup olive oil , divided (2 tbsp portions)
¼ cup minced shallots
2-3 garlic cloves, minced
½ tbsp. cumin seeds
12 oz. cooked chickpeas (about 2 – 15 oz. cans, drained; or ¾ cup dried, then cooked)
¼ uncooked black quinoa (approximately ½ cup cooked)
1 tbsp tamarind paste*
1/3 cup minced flat-leaf parsley
1 lb tomatoes, quartered
2 oz. of crumbled goat cheese (or not-too-salty feta)
Additional parsley leaves and salt, for serving
Preheat oven to 400°F. Combine the turmeric, garam masala, chili powder, and salt in a small bowl/jar. While the oven heats, heat 2 tbsp of olive in an oven-safe skillet**. Add the shallots, garlic, and cumin, and cook for about 3 minutes, or until the mixture barely starts to brown. Add the chickpeas, then about ¾ of the turmeric mixture, and mix together. Roast in warmed oven for about 20 minutes.

While the chickpeas roast, cook the quinoa***. Also, make the dressing by combining 2 tbsp of olive oil, tamarind paste, and remaining ¼ of turmeric mixture.

When the chickpeas are done, combine with quinoa, tamarind dressing, and parsley. Top with the quartered tomatoes and goat cheese. Add additional parsley, and salt (if needed – I didn’t find it necessary). Can be served warm or cold.
* FYI: Tamarind paste is the pulp of tamarind seed. It has a unique fruity-sour taste, and is common in Latin American, South Asian, and Southeast Asian cooking. It’s commonly used in fish/seafood dish. I used this brand. It’s much cheaper in a gourmet grocery store – you can also try a Latin-American, Indian, Southeast Asian grocer.

** If you don’t have an oven-safe skillet, cooked the shallots and garlic in a pan, and transfer to roasting pan, then combine with spices and chickpeas, and roast.

*** How to cook quinoa

Roasted turmeric chickpeas with black quinoa and tomatoes

Breakfast Cookies

Breakfast Cookies 5

No, no these are not mere oatmeal cookies. They include blueberries and apricots. They use dramatically less sugar and significantly more oats.  Which makes these cookies the closest thing to a hand-holdable, portable form of a bowl of oatmeal that I can imagine. They are like, totally healthy and balanced, or at least, that’s what I told myself when I ate three of them in rapid succession. So yes, they’re still pretty delicious.

Breakfast Cookies, or A Bowl of Oatmeal in Cookie Form
Makes about one dozen
1/3 cup chopped walnuts
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup AP flour
1 1/4 c quick-cook rolled oats
1/2 tsp fine-grain salt
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground clove
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/3 cup turbindo sugar
1/4 cup dried apricots, chopped into roughly half-inch pieces
1/4 cup frozen wild blueberries *

Preheat oven to 350°F. Toasted the chopped walnuts on a large Silpat/parchment-covered baking sheet for 10 minutes, or until lightly toasted and very slightly tanned. Use the prepped baking sheet for baking the cookies.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Add the ground cinnamon, clove, and vanilla extract. Set aside to cool for a few minutes. While the butter cools, combine the AP and whole wheat flours, quick-cook oats, and salt in a large mixing bowl. In a smaller bowl, whisk together the egg and sugar. Once the
butter has cool, whisk it into the egg-sugar. Whisk the wet butter mixture to the dry flour mixture. Fold in the chopped walnuts, chopped apricots, and frozen blueberries. Let the mixture sit for 10 – 15 minutes.
When ready to bake, scoop a generous 1/3 cupfull of batter, form a ball, flatten the ball, and place on baking sheet. Repeat until the batter is finished, but make sure the cookies are about 1 inch apart. Bake for 12 – 14 minutes, or until the cookies are set. Cool on the baking sheet for at least 5 minutes before handling the cookies.

*Wild blueberries are smaller, which makes them less likely to burst while mixing or baking.