Mandarin Coconut Cake (& A Happy Lunar New Year!)

I’m going to be totally honest: I don’t remember how I made this cake.

Seriously, the whole experience is a blur. Luckily, there are photographs to piece it together.

But, to preface, happy Chinese New Year! It’s a glorious event. This is my first year experiencing the celebration of Lunar New Years and, to be honest, the event I attended was mostly just an Asian food fest accompanied with red envelopes and lots of cheer.

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I was invited to a family gathering, a room full of people eating dishes I can’t pronounce alongside crab puffs, mandarins and mochi.Our entry fee was an Asian contribution, so I brought with me a Mandarin Coconut Cake thrown together earlier that afternoon. My roommate brought a bottle of Sriracha.

The photos of this mandarin cake were awesome, but when I tried to piece my recipe back together I found I couldn’t even remember turning the oven on.

Cooking like the wind, in a blur of flour and orange sugar.

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I will tell you this. I started with a basic cake recipe, a standard flour-egg-sugar white cake platform. I added fresh-squeezed mandarin juice, a few tablespoons of mandarin and lemon zest.

I then baked the cakes at 375 until golden.

In the meanwhile (I do recall this part vividly) I boiled down the mandarin peels, sliced thin, with water and sugar until they were syrupy and tender. I coated them in sugar and used them as garnish.Voila! Candied mandarin peel.

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The glaze was easy, just powdered sugar and coconut milk stirred into a lovely, loose consistency.

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Once the cakes were cooled, glazed and garnished, it was party time.

(Which just goes to show, sometimes the best party tricks are spontaneous and totally unplanned. Piece of cake! Pun intended.)

Happy Chinese New Years! May this year bring you plenty of luck.

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In Search of Wild Places

Oregon is known for its mysterious, misty woods and the beautiful Cascade Range that cuts across the landscape. Portland and the surrounding area are neatly located between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, giving the pine trees a lush jungle feel and dotting the landscape with rivers and waterfalls.

When I moved to Oregon, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to get my boots damp. I was prepared to hike through the drizzle, explore the deep and wild places the way Lewis and Clark did long before me.

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From my childhood, I recalled a pleasant visit to Multnomah Falls, one of Oregon’s most famous landmarks. It had been a decade since my last visit, but I was eager to see it again and explore its mossy old bridge. I wanted to stand in front of the falls and feel the spray of this massive, tall, beautiful natural wonder.

I prepped, packing warm clothes and wearing my adventure boots. I made hiking granola bars, jam-packed with energy-sustaining deliciousness. I was ready to face the wild.

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Instead, to my deep disappointment, I was met with crowds upon crowds of people in rainjackets, braving the 35 degree foggy weather with lattes clutched to their chests. It was a sea of neon windbreakers, families clustered near the scenic photo spots posing with selfie cameras, ignoring the imposing, thundering falls behind them in favor of their photographs.

I was disappointed and let down. I stared up at the falls, feeling myself get jostled among the tourists who were looking at Multnomah Falls as a checkmark on their list, an Instagram post trending #waterfall.

Is anyone looking? I thought, staring up at the 600 foot wall of churning water. Flashbulbs were going off around me. Somehow, the crowds made the falls feel small. I was frustrated.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

Wholeheartedly, Isaac agreed. We had a backpack full of hiking food – homemade granola bars, fresh coconut water. We had no appetite to eat it here. There was no hike, no exploring, just crowds clutching balloons.

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We drove away, leaving families and strollers in our wake.

Driving aimlessly, looking only for a lone backroad or forgotten trail, we lost ourselves deep in a state park. It was the opposite of the falls – completely deserted and cold. The wind had picked up, the temperature had dropped to near freezing.

Still, determined not to be deterred, we left the car and hiked out onto a jetty that stuck out into a huge body of water. White-capped waves splashed up against icy black stones. This was the polar opposite of our last encounter.

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“Shall we?” I asked. It was freezing out. Our faces were chapped and fingers going numb. Almost out of spite, as if to prove this was really what nature was like, we spread out a blanket on a fallen log. We pulled out our provisions, the homemade granola bar of gargantuan size and a young, white coconut.

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I hadn’t split the granola bar into individual pieces. In the cold weather, it resisted separating in my hands. Isaac hacked at the coconut with a large hunting knife, yielding sweet, fresh coconut water unaffected by the cold.

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And so we sat as the wind howled, eating our granola bar, drinking coconut water, laughing at how ridiculous the scene must look. There were no latte stands around. There were no gift shops selling ponchos or postcards. In fact, I’m fairly certain hardly anyone has ever stood in the spot we found ourselves.

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I felt a little hypocritical as I snapped pictures of our setup. I had just been lamenting everyone who went to beautiful places for the sake of photographs.

But there was something coldly beautiful about the scene. It was deserted, the conditions uninhabitable. Still, we were there, picnicking in midwinter weather along an empty jetty. I had no intention of hashtagging it online to check off of my list. I wanted to live it, full and real and raw. The photographs were a reminder to myself – you sometimes have to seek adventures of your own, abandoning the footsteps of others. The wild places are the ones least photographed. That’s where the adventure begins, when you leave the trail.

 

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We rolled up the blanket with numb hands. Piling back into the car with rosy faces, we cranked the heat up and breathed in the still air of the car.

“Worth it?” I asked.

“Worth it.”


 

Wholesome Adventure Bars:

Ingredients:

¼ c peanut butterIMG_8298 - Copy

1 c oats

½ c honey (preferably local)

¼ c cranberries

½ c chocolate chips

Nuts optional – almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, etc.

 

Directions:

  1. In a pot over medium heat, melt peanut butter, stirring well.
  2. Stir in oats, honey, nuts, cranberries and/or ¼ c chocolate chips. Stir until the mix clumps together – there should be no dry oats. If necessary, add more honey. The mix should be damp and able to cling together.
  3. Remove from heat, let cool until just warm enough to handle. Form into a large rectangle.
  4. Let cool. To speed the process, use a refrigerator.
  5. Melt ¼ c chocolate chips. Spread over the bar. (This acts as a “glue” for crumbly parts of the bar as well as making it delicious.) Stud with nuts, extra chocolate or berries.
  6. Let cool completely, allowing chocolate to harden. Refrigerate if necessary.
  7. Cut into smaller squares if desired. Pack on your next hike and enjoy!