International recipe conversions made easier

Converting measures the old-fashioned way
Converting measures the old-fashioned way

Sharing recipes with friends and acquiring cookbooks while traveling and living overseas has occasionally left me playing the conversion game. This isn’t so bad when you’re converting similar measurements (like volume, cups to liters). But it’s maddeningly slow work when you have to cross between the U.S. standard of measuring dry goods by volume (like cups of flour or sugar) to a metric weight standard. One cup of flour doesn’t weigh the same as one cup of brown sugar. In the past, I’ve patiently measured out my ingredients in cups, then dumped them onto an electronic kitchen scale, before faithfully recording the weight into a translated recipe. I’ve done the same in reverse, translating recipes from other countries for my American friends. It can be slow and tedious work.

If you’re nodding your head sympathetically as you read this, then you’ll want to click on the Convert-me.com link that is winking at you in the sidebar. This is no ordinary conversion site because it has a unique tool just for international foodies — it’s called the On-line Cooking Converter. With one click this tool will instantly give you 7 conversions from US/British pounds, ounces, fluid ounces, pint, cup, teaspoon or tablespoon to European metric kilogram, gram, liter, mililiter, cup, teaspoon and tablespoon, or vice versa.

But that’s not even the best part. There’s a menu of almost 200 different wet and dry goods (different types of flours and sugars, even) from which to choose before making the conversions. As you would expect, the differences can be dramatic. One cup of regular flour is 99 grams, one cup of brown sugar is 201 grams. Now all you have to do is take a copy of your recipe and go to the Cooking Converter at Convert-me.com, and call up your ingredients and plug in your values. Voila, your measurements are converted!

This tool is available for use on the Convert-me,com site for free! When you click on the link, look in the right-hand column for “Cooking Conversion” to try this tool for yourself.

When I was preparing the Double Mango Bread recipe for World Bread Day, I knew our host, kochtopf, has many readers in Europe and Asia so I wanted to provide the metric measures for those readers. I checked my manually-weighed measurements against those on the “Cooking Conversion” tool and it checked out. I hope that many other people will find it useful, too. I’m happy to spread the news about any tool or product that makes it easier to share recipes, and that might make people more likely to cook (or bake)!!

There is also a free Google gadget from Covert-me.com that will calculate simpler like-to-like measurements (lengths, volumes, weights, etc.) which you can make available on your website or load on your Google homepage. I tried to put it in my sidebar here but it was much too big. But you can still try out this cool little converter for yourself at the Test Kitchen. If you like it, you can download it for yourself at the Convert-me site.

World Bread Day: Double Mango Bread

(Rezept auf Deutsch hier)

Mango Bread for breakfast
Mango Bread for breakfast

There are few things that call to mind Home and Love more readily than home-baked bread. Even people who don’t grow up with home-baked bread (like me) will feel emotional strings tugged when the aromas and textures of baking bread are evoked. Bread-making also invites Taoist mindfulness and a visceral connection to our food: the frothy wakening of yeast; the rhythmic meditative kneading; the long anticipation of the rises; the glorious aroma of baking bread filling the kitchen; and the simple happiness of having homemade bread in the house. So when I heard about World Bread Day, it was just the catalyst I needed to resolve to start baking again. I’ve dusted off my baker’s apron, scrounged around for the oven thermometer, pulled out my favorite fruit yeast bread recipe and bought some bread flour — so here we go!

When we moved to the hot and dry Leeward side of Oahu 2 years ago, we opted to forego air conditioning. Cool island tradewinds provide comfortable living temperatures 85% of the time, and we’ve learned work-arounds for the 15% when it’s either cloudy and humid, or scorching and windless. One thing we learned early on is: don’t use the oven unless you absolutely, positively HAVE TO. So far, we haven’t had to. T has become a master roaster with the outdoor propane grill, even roasting the Thanksgiving turkey to golden perfection last year. Our large capacity toaster oven does the bulk of the roasting for our small household, everything from whole chickens to loaf quick breads and brownies to roast potatoes and veg. The two things I haven’t made since we came to the Islands are bread and cookies because these both require the large capacity of a full-size oven for proper air circulation and distance from the heating elements.

First, the recipe. I’ve often made the Banana and Cardamom Bread from 1000 Classic Recipes — it produces a mildly sweet, fragrant and dense loaf with a lovely surprise of cardamom in the nose. Now that I have something I’ve never had in my life — access to fresh tree-ripe mangos — I want to substitute an equal amount of mango pulp for the bananas, and ground coriander for the cardamom and see what we get. I also want to add some dried mango because I know from all these years of oatmeal-making that the combination of fresh and dried fruit adds complexities in flavor notes. I think that will really be true in this case because 2 different mango varieties (dried Manila, and fresh Pirie) will be featured in this recipe. I’ll also take notes on measurement conversions for our friends who are metric.

Second, the timing. To do this and not live IN an oven for the rest of the day, I’ll have to plan to bake in the wee small hours of the morning. Which is OK, because I’m usually up early anyway. But to allow the dough a proper rise, I’ll have to start at least 3 hours before baking. Thank goodness for French Roast coffee.

Third, take advantage of having the oven on. My dad always says, if you’re going to turn on the oven, you better make full use of it. He’s right, of course. Pre-heating an oven consumes most of the energy spent in its use. So if we’re going to turn on the whole oven for a loaf of bread, then we’re going to make cookies too. I want to try using wolfberries in something other than oatmeal or soup, so I’ll make a batch of oatmeal cookie dough, using wolfberries and blueberries instead of raisins. These can bake while the bread is in its last hour of rising out of the fridge.

DAY OF BAKING
It’s six o’clock on a cool Oahu morning, I’m on my second mug of French Roast and the dough is in the oven. I’m a little surprised how easily it all came back — the mixing, the kneading rhythm, checking the “proof,” even the clean-up.
Sticky mango dough out of the bowl Dough after 10 minutes of knedaing
When the dough first came together in the bowl, it was pretty wet and sticky, but I loved its deep orange color. I heavily dusted my work space with flour, dumped out the dough, then sprinkled it with lots more flour and floured my hands before starting to knead. Once the kneading started, it was very easy to fall into a meditative mode. Watching the dough start to come together and take form as something so much more than just the sum of it parts; to see the flour proteins stretch and gather, stretch and gather; it was al kind of mesmerizing. I had set a timer for 10 minutes and was startled when it went off. I was happy to see the lovely color was retained and evenly distributed through the dough.
Rolled dough in loaf pan Place pan in oiled plastic bag Risen dough after 2 hours
Looking at my pictures, I didn’t do a very good job of the final shaping of the dough before placing it in the loaf pan and tying it off. If the ballooned plastic bag thing looks too complicated, use your own favorite method for covering your dough while it’s rising.

The biggest stickler I encountered was with my oven. Since I’ve never used it, I’m not at all familiar with its heating properties, and I found out after the first batch of goji-blueberry oatmeal cookies came out that it tends to run cool (the oven thermometer said it was running a hefty 30 degrees cooler than the stated temperature — that’s a lot!). Luckily, there was still time to get the heat up to the right internal temp before the bread was done proofing.

After a 2-hour rise, the dough was ready for the oven. I was so excited that I forgot to add the glaze (I’m a little out of practice). That’s OK, I have a work-around for that. When the aroma first hits you, it’s the simple earthy smell of baking yeast bread — the fruit doesn’t develop until it’s actually out of the oven. (Fresh unsalted butter over the top of the hot loaf provides some shine and helps to soften the crust a bit.)

Cooling Mango bread Melted butter glazes the hot bread for shine

Now the hardest part of the whole operation: waiting for the bread to cool before slicing. You can try slicing it while it’s still warm, but I tend to smoosh the bread and then am left with an unattractive, if still delicious, loaf for the rest of its days (or hours). I think I may try this recipe again as rolls so I can eat it hot and not have to worry about the slicing thing.

THE VERDICT
Dense and fruity mango bread

We loved it. It was the chewy, dense, mildly sweet and very fruity bread we were expecting. The mango flavors are great, but we started with tree-ripened Pirie mangos, so it’s hard to go wrong on that note. Whatever your mangos smell like when you’re adding them to the dough, that’s what flavors and smells you’ll get in your loaf. The dried Manila mangos added intense flavors that were very distinct from the Pirie flavors. I think if you can get fresh Manila (they were called “champagne mangos” in the Mainland) mangos and can bear not eating them straight out of your fist, then the fresh and dried Manila mango will really make this bread sing. One disappointment was that no coriander came through at all, so I would up the amount to a full teaspoon next time.

A word to the wise, while this IS a fruit bread, it isn’t a soft, fluffy, sweet bread, the way a cinnamon-raisin bread might be. You can see the recipe calls for only 2 Tablespoons of brown sugar. In the original recipe, the bananas (especially overripe bananas which is what I would normally use) provided a lot of sweetness and the 2 TBL were just enough to give the bread a boost. I liked the delicious mango flavor that carried through in this loaf, but I would adjust the recipe to add 2 more Tablespoons of brown sugar to make it more like the original banana recipe. This is still not enough to make it a “sweet bread” just closer to the original.

Also, this is a chewy loaf, provided by the heavier bread flour. We had thick slabs of bread with a bit of unsalted butter with breakfast, and it was onolicious. It’s also a great toasting bread, and makes a novel grilled cheese (try mozzarella or provolone) or grilled peanut butter sandwich.

I’d like to try this recipe again using plain flour (instead of bread flour) to get a lighter, airier loaf. If anyone does it before I do, I’d love to get your feedback on how it comes out. Until then, Happy World Bread Day, Everyone! To see more wonderful bread recipes celebrating World Bread Day, visit our host, kochtopf.

(UPDATE: 11/11/07
Lavaterra made this bread too, and I liked how hers had lots more dried mango pieces, so I would recommend the maximum amount of dried mango, even up to double this amount *)

Double Mango Bread
Mis en place
In small bowl, mix together:
1 packet dry yeast
2/3 cup (150 ml) lukewarm water
1 Tbl. (15g) brown sugar

Dissolve yeast completely and leave for 5 minutes.

Sift together:
3 1/2 cups (500g) bread flour
1 tsp. (5g) sea salt
½ – 1 tsp. (3-6g) ground coriander
1 – 3 Tbl. (15-45g) brown sugar (depends on sweetness of mango, see notes bove)

Place in large bowl and make well in center. Once yeast is foaming, add to center of flour, and mix well.

Add
Fruit from 2-3 mangos (about 1/2 cup or 150g)
¼-½ cup (70g – 140g) chopped dried mango * (1/2-3/4 cup [140g-210g] dried mango)
and mix again.

Flour your work surface and turn dough out. Knead for 5 minutes or until smooth and elastic. If dough is too sticky, sparingly sprinkle additional flour over dough, one tablespoonful at a time, incorporating well after each addition.

Shape dough and turn into loaf pan. Place in a clean plastic bag, “balloon” bag to trap air and tie off. Leave in a warm place until double in size.

Preheat oven to 425°F (220°C).

Mix together
2 Tbl. (30ml) milk
1 tsp water

Remove pan from bag. With pastry brush, gently glaze top of dough.

Bake for 10 minutes, then lower heat to 400°F (200°C). Bake another 15 minutes or until loaf sounds hollow when tapped underneath. Transfer to cooling rack and cool completely before slicing.

See also Mango-Stuffed French Bread and
Double Mango Wholewheat Quickbread

Doppelmango Brot: Das Rezept auf Deutsch? (With apologies to native German speakers, this translation was an exercise for me to practice reading and writing German)

Celebrating culture, honoring our ancestors

25th Anniversary Okinawan Heritage Festival
25th Anniversary Okinawan Heritage Festival

Everyone loves a good fest. Food, music, drink, maybe dancing — what’s not to love? Earlier this month the Hawaii United Okinawa Association held its 25th Anniversary Okinawan Heritage Festival at the beautiful Kapiolani Park, between Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head. We were there only on Saturday evening for the bon odori, or obon dance.

Obon is a Buddhist festival of gratitude towards and celebration of one’s ancestors. Traditional group dances of colorfully dressed professionals and enthusiastic hobbyists alike circle a tower, called a yagura, ringing with drummers, musicians and singers. I love watching the dancers’ faces. Some seem contempletive and serene, whether they are thinking of their loved ones now gone or simply intent on the music. Others are clearly enjoying the camaraderie of the present, laughing and teasing someone nearby. Still other brave souls venture into the fray not knowing the dance steps and openly copying the movements of a more confident dancer in their view. All are welcome and encouraged, which is what makes bon odori so much fun.

Singers lead the dancers at this year's festival
Singers lead the dancers at this year’s festival
A more traditional yagura at the 2006 Okinawa Festival
A more traditional yagura at the 2006 Okinawa Festival
This little guy knows that if you don't know the steps, you just follow someone who does!
This little guy knows that if you don’t know the steps, you just follow someone who does!

Before the dancing begins at dusk, the festival is alive with markets, exhibits, games, and food booths. There’s a craft market, a nursery, an open farmers’ style market, and a food market of Okinawan favorites: black sugar cookies, bittermelon teas and beverages, Okinawan style noodles and kombu.

So many food and drink booths from which to choose
So many food and drink booths from which to choose
okinawa_andagi_mkg
These dedicated andagi makers go non-stop to fill the demand for the delicious doughnuts
Ashibitchi and Andadog — does it get any better?
Ashibitchi and Andadog — does it get any better?

To build one’s stamina before putting on the dance togs, fresh-cooked Okinawan specialties are also available: aschibitchi (pigs’ feet soup), chanpuru ( tofu scramble), yakisoba (fried noodles), and andagi (fried doughnuts). Last but not least, there’s the piece de resistance — the Andadog, Hawaii Okinawans’ answer to the corn dog.

Heal yourself, heal the world

crystal_dragonTwo years ago this day fell on a Saturday, and I went with T to a Reiki class that was taught by a colleague from work. He had come home from work a couple of weeks earlier with a brochure for this teacher’s class, and said he would like to sign us both up to learn the technique. What was it, a type of massage? I asked. He wasn’t really sure, something about energy transfer, he thought. I read the brochure, and said, why not. With no other preparation or understanding of what to expect, I went.

Six years ago this day fell on a Tuesday. It was a clear cool New England morning and I was excited about the prospect of my parents finally meeting T’s parents in their home in Maine. T’s parents were not able to attend our wedding so this was a much anticipated first. We lived in Boston at the time and my parents and my mom’s best friend were visiting from Guam and Okinawa, respectively. As we began the drive north, the radio was reporting strange events in the skies around the East Coast. It was unclear, but it sounded like there was a plane crash in New York City and a building was hit.

Our instructor, CB, talked to us about the history of Reiki, its precepts, and how it worked. Reiki is a form a energy healing and balancing that was developed and named by Japanese researcher and teacher, Usui Mikao, in the late 19th century. Dr. Usui studied many ancient healing arts in Asia, including India. He distilled what he learned into the practice he called, Reiki — a term coined from the Japanese word, Rei, meaning “universal” and Ki, meaning “life energy.” For me, the most intriguing thing CB said was that in Reiki, the healer does not direct or in any way control the energy — she is only a conduit; instead, it is the patient’s responsibility to accept the energy, which flows always where it is needed most.

We were not expected at T’s parents’ house until the late afternoon, but planned stops at the LLBean store and a visit to T’s adolescent home near Bowdoin College for a lobster lunch. At Bean’s, there was a wall-sized TV screen that was tuned to CNN and was following that strange story we heard on the radio. While my mom and my “aunt” and I trolled the floors, T and my dad gravitated to the TV. After about 20 minutes, T came looking for us with the horrific news — another plane hit another building, maybe a third in DC, more somewhere else. There was speculation it was all coordinated. As we all headed to the TV, the first tower in New York collapsed on screen and cries and gasps filled the store. Everyone stood dumbstruck. Many people started crying. Someone mentioned Pearl Harbor, and looked right at us.

More Reiki instruction and a meditation session preceded lunch, after which, revived in mind and body, we were initiated into healing. Immediately afterward, each student took a turn as a “patient” to receive Reiki from the others. This was our opportunity to see what Reiki felt like as a recipient, and gave us 5 chances to practice hand placements in healing others. Although a patient may lie (fully clothed) on a massage table, as we did that day, Reiki may also be administered to someone sitting upright. When I took my turn, I was surprised by how relaxed I felt. The second thing I noticed was the different degrees of heat I could feel in different parts of my body, except at my feet. Gentle pulses of coolness radiated from the tops of my feet and up my leg. Around the other five parts where a healer had placed his or her hands, although no one was physically touching me, I could feel heat. Some felt as hot as an electric hot pad on the high setting (one was T, I learned later), another a milder but more focused warmth. The overall feeling was one of deep relaxation. Half of the students fell asleep when it was their turn on the table.

T’s dad was the head of aviation safety for the state of Maine six years ago, and as the extent of the disaster dawned on us, T knew his dad was going to be called to coordinate the state’s response. A call home confirmed that he was already on his way in and that there was talk about completely shutting down US airspace. Given the uncertainties of the day and the days ahead, we all decided to postpone the meeting until a more auspicious time. Instead, we found ourselves like everyone in the country, in the world — glued to our TV and watching in disbelief and anguish the 24-hour coverage. It was planned. It was coordinated. It was an attack. It was aimed at us.

Before our Reiki class ended, CB extracted from each of us a commitment to practice self-healing for at least 30 consecutive days. After that, it would either be a practice we couldn’t live without or we might find it didn’t do anything for us and leave it. The night after that group healing session I had the best night’s sleep of my life, I think. At the time, I was averaging about 6 hours sleep each night. That night I slept for 9 and woke feeling rested and with a wonderful sense of well-being. What I wanted most was to become a Reiki master so I could teach my family and friends how to do self-healing every day, too. I couldn’t believe I had been given such a profound gift so unexpectedly.

11 September. September 11th. 9/11. It will always be a day tinged with grief and memories of horror. I‘m grateful that it also came to mark a day that was filled with healing and the gift to share healing. The second in no way erases the first. But the knowledge that healing is available to us — as close as our own hands — is a comfort in a world where evil can imagine steering a plane into a building on a cloudless autumn day, and a gift in a world that still needs so much healing. Reiki teaches that before you can heal anyone else, you must first heal yourself.

5Precepts