Saturday, November 28, 2015


This will be a short post, but important for me to share none-the-less.

As I get older, I think one of the hardest things for me to deal with is acceptance. Acceptance of all the negatives in the world around me, of flaws in myself, in other people. I tend to get worked up over things I can't change, and it distracts me from all the good things in my life. I think we all know how crazy the outside world can be, what with the violence and fighting, political skirmishes and natural disasters. And the worst part, perhaps for me, is the lack of control we have over it all. I think back to my youth and ache for the days when I was blissfully ignorant of the seemingly endless tragedies that occur. They make me feel so weak and helpless, and even guilty that I can't give up more of my own life to help others who are struggling. I notice that my symptoms come back much stronger when I expose myself to these tragedies and try to become too involved. For me, it feels as if the weight of other people's problems sits entirely on me. I can't explain why, but I tend to drop my own health and happiness if I think I should change suffering that is actually not mine to change.
But the truth of the matter is, I am not in charge of other people's lives. I can offer support, advice if they want it, but I can't stop bad things from happening. None of us have that ability, even though we want it desperately. It's heart-wrenching, but acceptance of this fact is key to enjoying what we do have control over in this life.

I think its important for me to acknowledge acceptance as a constant goal, as I recently decided I would look into grad school! (OOOO AAAAAHH) I realize that I have a great interest in psychology and contributing to the growing mental health revolution. Don't get me wrong, I still love to bake, but I miss doing it on my own terms. When you bake for a career, a lot of time you're just mass producing the same things over and over. There are changes, but depending on your work place you don't necessarily get to provide a lot of input. Or maybe not the amount you were picturing. I think when it really comes down to it, my passion really lies in helping people. It's a drive, one that might take me down an amazing path (I hope). That being said, its going to be a major struggle for me to allow others to suffer through their own challenges. I can be there to help, to support, but not to take the hurdles for everyone else. Its going to be hard, but I know I'll keep trying and keep making progress.

Something specific that I try to work on everyday is to focus on listening rather than immediately offering advice. Sometimes when someone begins talking about an issue that is troubling them, I respond too quickly and end up overtaking their words with my own. Unfortunately, this causes me to miss what they are really saying and doesn't allow them to vent. Most of the time, while people do appreciate advice, they are looking for a space to share and unload some of their troubles. If you are too busy planning your response, you might miss an important factor or part of what they are sharing (not just words, but movements and facial expressions as well).

Acceptance and listening, both seem passive but can require a lot of active effort. A LOT. I'll keep you updated on the grad school front. As of now, I have made zero progress, besides the all important task of deciding to go.


Monday, November 9, 2015

Life at Dandelion Chocolate

Remember when I said that I was going to update you about my new job and then promptly forgot? Yeah, I do to. I offer my most humble apologies and will get right to it.

When I first started writing this post, I was going to give you a full play-by-play of what I do every hour of a day at Dandelion. But to tell you the truth, that just seems like as much of a pain to write as it is to read. So, I think I'll just give a summary and include some snazzy pictures.

I started working in mid-September, so its been almost two months in the land of high-end chocolate. When I began the work, I noticed that as nervous as I was the start a new job and make the unavoidable mistakes of such as undertaking, I already had enough experience in the kitchen atmosphere to feel semi-comfortable. I met all the people on the pastry team, (4 total, other than myself) and they were(are) all wonderful people with the usual sass of the foodie crowd. Over the past two months, I've been learning the entire menu, pastries and drinks, as well as the specifics of how are department works.
I'm under the wing of pastry chef Lisa Vega, who is the creative mind behind all the pastries you enjoy at the Dandelion cafe. Its been really awesome to try out a way of baking that I hadn't been introduced to, one fueled by a pastry education. Its all about the specifics: weighing out ingredients, proper technique and execution, and attention to creative detail. I hadn't exactly learned to bake that way over the years, and I took this job partially so I could get a closer look at the process. There are both pros and cons to this world, but I'm appreciating the experience.
Here's a few photos to catch you up!

Rolling up our Nib-buns (roll filled with chocolate custard, brown sugar, and nibs). These are part of our morning bake-off, alongside some buttery fig scones. 

Starting the Euro, or European drinking chocolate. We make a thick ganache with Camino Verde chocolate, which is then combined with whole milk to make a super rich hot chocolate. Seriously, this  drink is not for the faint of heart. 

Here I am tempering chocolate. In short, you heat and cool chocolate to specific temperatures to change the chemical structure. This is what gives it the creamy texture we all have come to know and love. Its a pretty crazy process!   

Freshly made toffee. Simple recipe, but tough execution. I've never met such a fickle dessert in my life (and yes I know that this is truly only the beginning) 

Key lime tarts. This has a graham crust, coconut ganache on the bottom and a lime filling. Garnished with a dab of coconut cremeux (love this shit), a candied lime peel, and nibs

Sinful dulce de leche bars, I actually just made these today! You're looking at a feuilletine crust, handmade dulce de leche, and a layer of caramel ganache. On the top are some maldon salt flakes (casual). 

 If you want to see the full menu of treats and drinks, visit the Dandelion website.

I've actually started working at a very special time for the company. They are in the midst of opening two new locations, not to mention we're entering the holiday season. Its going to be a crazy whirlwind of changes coming our way, I'll try to keep you updated on everything thats going on.

Speaking of changes, as part of a brainstorming exercise we each worked on a pumpkin jar to present to each other a few weeks ago. We were given a time limit, a size limit (it had to fit in a jar, obviously), but everything else was up to us! I chose a no-bake pumpkin cheesecake with a chocolate-toffee crust and a caramel ganache. The three others: a pumpkin cremeux with a chocolate ganache, a maple meringue, crushed speculous cookies and candied cranberries, a pumpkin semi-freddo with honey comb folded in and topped with pureed persimmon, and a pear hazelnut chocolate cake layered with pumpkin custard and topped with candied pear peel and hazelnuts.
Don't worry, I have pictures.

Well I guess by pictures, I meant picture... But hopefully you can still get the magnificence of these desserts from this slightly burry one. It was a really fun event for us, especially because we got to taste everything!

Please stop by and visit me if you can. I tend to be toiling away in the back all day so its great to have visitors. Plus....its a chocolate factory. Enough said.

Lia <3

Monday, October 5, 2015

Body Love

I've recently made some changes to how I relate to my body, changes that I'd love to share with you. But first, I should give a little background to my relationship to my body. It's been a long time coming , and its not something I generally fully share with people. But I'd like that to change
I don't know exactly when it started for me, but as far back as I can remember, I had "body issues". I learned early on that there was a standard and that I wasn't measuring up to it. In elementary school, I was chubby. I was starting to show the first signs of a irregular relationship with food, but I couldn't decipher that at the time. All I knew was that next to my thinner friends, I felt uncomfortable. I felt like I couldn't match their delicate femininity and I would never get that attention that I desperately craved. I didn't know the beautiful soul that fluttered just beneath the surface.
As time wore on, I continued traveling down the same path, struggling to make my body fit the mold that society had made for it and always coming up short. I remember throughout junior high and high school there was a war raging internally, constantly questioning why everyone seemed to be comfortable with their body and food, and yet I could never let myself get to that place. Of course, much later I learned how common it was for people to struggle with their body image, yet no one ever discussed the true core to those struggles. I think that past the obvious desire to fit in, I wanted control. There seemed to be so many things in life that I didn't understand, so many hurtful and disastrous things in the world, so many people who I couldn't quite connect with though I wanted to. Deep down, I think forcing myself to focus on food and my shape shielded me from other confusing aspects of existence. It was my own little bubble that I never let others penetrate.
In high school, I dealt with a form of bulimia. It was a terrifying binge/ purge cycle that lasted up until junior college. At that point, after breaking up with my first boyfriend, I started struggling with anorexia. I had never let anyone as close as I had let him, and when that blew up in my face, I burrowed even further into myself. I restricted my food intake, and drank to numb any emotional extremes that were taking place. I specifically remember one time I was standing in the kitchen of my apartment, and I thought to myself, "I wish I could disappear. I want to grow fainter and fainter until I don't exist." That was my low point. When my mom finally mentioned to me that I looked extremely skinny, it kind of shocked me out of my state of denial. I needed help, and I decided that it was finally time to reach out for it.
Its been about 4 years since that point, 4 years of intensive therapy and a diagnosis that made everything a little more clear. I've worked very hard, and I think I have made an immense amount of progress. I still have ups and downs (definitely) but I try my best to listen to my body and give it what it desires even if that scares me. There is no perfection with that process, and I believe that I will always have some form of that same fear lingering beneath the surface. But I have finally learned how to refocus my energy on things that really nourish me, body and soul.
As I said, I've made a change recently. I've decided to forgo any substances for about a month. No alcohol, no weed, and very minimal amounts of coffee (making some allowances on that one heh). I decided that I wanted to fully face my anxiety, and as well as take it easier on my body. I actually have a relatively sensitive stomach, so alcohol and caffeine don't fare very well when consumed in mass quantities (or even pretty small ones). I've only gone about two weeks at this point, and I have to say its been...interesting. It definitely makes my stomach feel better, but I notice an increase in anxiety. I suspect that is because I don't have that small buffer of substances, as well as the idea of restricting myself. I don't really enjoy giving myself restrictions, though I understand they can be helpful sometimes. Overall, I think the experience will be good for me, and help me function a little better without a reliance on alcohol or drugs. And I'm proud of myself for trying it out, not shying away from the possibility of increased anxiety. Its evidence of huge progression on my part.
Its not easy to be good to your body, both physically and mentally. But its worth it <3

P.S. I actually didn't even know Sober October was a thing. Coincidence, but stoked that I'm not the only one doing it!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Relapse Maintenance and a JOB UPDATE!

So, first off, I'll start with the good news. Remember that new job that I hinted at last time? Well, it's officially been offered to me! I'll be starting at Dandelion Chocolate in two weeks. I can't believe I'll actually be working full-time for a chocolate company. If you had told me that when I was younger, I would have just stared at you, mouth gaping, a little bit of drool escaping down my chin. It's going to be a trip, not to mention a huge change for my life. I'll be spending much more time in San Francisco, which I'm really interested in exploring. Plus, this is the real deal, full-time experience. I'm officially no longer a student, but a baker who is actually getting paid for things I make. Talk about identity change. I'll try to take as many pictures as I can manage, especially those first few weeks. ITS FUCKING DANDELION CHOCOLATE. Okay, I'm good, just needed to get that out.

Another thing I wanted to talk about (if you couldn't tell from the title), is mental health maintenance. Even though sometimes its hard to admit, relapse happens. Life is full of triggers, and unless you want to lock yourself in your room for the duration, you are going to be exposed to a lot of things that might not agree with you. Recently, a close friend of mine started suffering greatly from some deep-seeded mental health problems that have risen to the surface. It's one of the most difficult things for me to watch a friend in pain, especially when it comes to emotional/ mental distress. It hits really close to home for me. I've tried to be as supportive to them as I can, but honestly, its extremely draining of my own mental energy. I've been noticing some of my own symptoms coming to the surface more and more due to the stress and worry of caring for my friend. I realized that, even though I want to fix what is broken for them, there is only so much that I can do. And moreover, I need to make sure I'm not neglecting my own mental health in the process. I've been thinking about a lot of ways that I can accept relapses as a natural part of recovery, and move forward.

Last post, I mentioned that I was going to get more into meditation and exposures, and I have been working on that. I'm not perfect, but I try to set aside at least 10-15 minutes a day for one or the other. Right now, its harder for me than usual, but I'm going to keep at it as long as I can. I like to be constantly moving, mentally/ physically, so its a big feat in itself just to make myself sit still for that amount of time. But I know its good for me, especially the long-term benefits of that practice. I think that that, plus exercise, and reinstating therapy, will help me get through the transitions and this rough time with my friend.

I think it is a very Western mentality that once you reach a certain point in recovery, you will be completely healed and should never relapse. But how can that possibly be true when life has so many ups and downs? Recovery is the same way; there are times of joy and times of pain. Times of progress and times of backtracking. I think the point is that you get stronger each time you experience pain/ relapse, and you know how to handle future bumps in the road. I don't have to be ashamed that I'm experiencing symptoms again, I can use it as a time to further practice my skills/ techniques that I picked up through therapy. Relapse isn't failure, its just part of the process. It also teaches me a bit about my limits, even though I will continue to test them as I move forward.

And, I guess I'm really into the photo dump method. Here's some pictures from a pretty crazy few weeks:

Natty Cakes Bakes 

Guess who? 

Eazy E, Biggie, and Tupac, together again. 

Life Happenings 

M & M cookies (with banana substituted for egg) and a smirk 

Post-Birthday Adventure 

First stop: Doughnut Dolly 

Next: Brunch at Sam's Log Cabin 

Candid photo at Tepco Beach 

And continued along the Bay Trail. 

That's all for now! But you know I'll be back when my new job starts :) 

Friday, August 21, 2015

Slamming into the Workforce

The working life.
Its like everything I thought it would be, and yet not at all what I thought it would be. 
To put it simply: never have I been so exhausted in my entire life. It's been two weeks and a full-time job has already knocked me on my ass. 
I realize that as I was lamenting on the fact that I was still knee-deep in classes, I was also gifted with a very flexible schedule with ample nap time. Well, that's probably an exaggeration. But I know I had time for naps or just laying in bed before the next thing on my t-do list. In the working world, naps are a distant memory. So beautiful, yet so elusive. Five days of baking a week is no joke, and my legs/ back/ brain are definitely in agreement on this fact. I've been spending two days a week at Three Babes Bakeshop and three days a week at Natty Cakes, with average wake up times between 5:30 and 7:30 AM (that's right, AM, bright and early, the butt crack of dawn). After spending a whole semester at school with classes that started at noon or later, I was not exactly prepared for this. To be honest, I know that I will adjust to this new life, but for now it is making my mood a little haywire. I like to be open and honest about my good and bad times, because I wish to be an observer of my emotions rather than a judger. I don't want to be ashamed, and I don't think I should be. 

So yes, transitioning into full time work, along with moving from a home I've had for two years has been a little bit of a struggle for me. Not devoid of good times by any means, but a struggle to be sure. But now that I am recognizing that and allowing that to exist ( or trying to), I want to talk about what I can do for myself to help with the an anxious time. 

MEDITATION: This is such a tough one for me. I know I've talked about it in the past and how hard it is to stay committed. I notice that consistency with treatment for mental health is a huge wall to climb over. It's not impossible, I've seen many, many people hold a very stable relationship with meditation, but it is tough. So, I always seem to do better with external motivators. And, right now, this blog is a great external motivator for me. As soon as I put something out there, I feel like I need to do it! So as not to disappoint the average of 2 people that probably occasionally read this...maybe. 
Either way, it is helpful to have somewhere to write my progress and experience down. And I think it will be helpful to do a little check-in every time I do it. Even if its only a few sentences. We'll see how that goes! 

EXPOSURES: I believe I've talked about exposures before, but they are basically time set aside to focus on my biggest fears. It's an OCD tactic that I picked up in therapy, and it exposes you to the possibility of these fears materializing and forces you to sit with that anxiety. I've now done it many times, and yet subconsciously avoid doing it when things get hard. I think that, while you know rationally how silly your fears are, you still wonder if this is the time that you're going to physically explode from the anxiety. That the "bad" feelings will literally swallow you whole. They never do. Exposures are important, they allow you to face your fears and move forward. 

REACH OUT: This could be done in so many different ways.  But put simply, reaching out to people when I need support, and offering support to those who need it. I just came across The World Needs More Love Letters, and I'm looking forward to sending out some letters to people who need it. Its very little effort from me, but could mean the world to someone else. And, I'm not ashamed to say that it's very therapeutic for me as well. 
I've also decided that therapy will always be an essential part of my life, and I think I would like to return to that. I wasn't sure if I should continue going to therapy, if it would be a crutch while trying to learn how to process my own emotions. But, I think everyone needs time and space to talk openly about what they are feeling, and I am no exception. 

LET GO: Just breath. Allow mistakes. Try new things. Dance, flail, create as much skin-to-skin contact as you can, without judging. Observe. Reset. 

I remember reading a blog written by the sister of Kath Younger from Kath Eats Real Food, and it was about how to claim your life back post-graduation. I didn't exactly connect with it then, but I finally understand that entering the workforce can totally consume your life if you let it. Not that there aren't useful skills/ joys to gain from work itself, but there is so much more to living than work ( though some days it doesn't seem like it). I think this blog is claiming my life after many years of a life focused on depression and anxiety, and perhaps only on the negative parts of existence. 

Thank you so much for reading! 
I'll be back soon 

Monday, August 10, 2015

Post-Grad Life

This is the first time I've really sat down to take a breath since I crossed the stage to receive that all-important (fake) diploma. My mind has been spinning with the new trials of "adulthood". Get a job, find a place to live, feed yourself, attempt not to move back in with mom and dad. Not to mention you're basically floating in this strange abyss, simultaneously more you than you've ever been yet struggling to figure out your path.
Even now, I feel a wave of anxiety wash over me as I sit in my somewhat quiet house. Coming from a co-op of sixty people, this new four-person abode feels like such a foreign place. It's a beautiful home, one that I'm lucky to have found, but its new. It always takes my system awhile to adjust to new surroundings.
But lets back up.
After I graduated, I was struck with the task of finding housing and a job (any job really). It was extremely nerve-wracking, so I put it off for about half of the summer. But you can only procrastinate for so long. Eventually, it was time. After an extremely short searching period, an opportunity dropped in my lap. A beautiful house in West Oakland, with four people I barely knew. A younger me would have never jumped on such an unpredictable housing situation. But, at this point in my life, with so much uncertainty, I figure I have to take a few leaps. So here I am, the second night in my home, getting used to the new sounds, smells, and people.

As for my therapy, the last time I checked in I was attending CBT in my hometown once a week. My therapy included constant exposures, where I would purposefully think about or bombard myself with visuals of things that absolutely terrified me. Suicide, insanity, global warming, any uncertainty, etc. There were days that I avoided them as much as a could, and days that I tackled them as soon as I got up. I'm not going to deny it, it was tough to commit to such a rigorous therapy course, especially in the midst of a stressful, transitional time in my life. But I can truly say that I'm proud of the progress I've made, even when I felt like crawling in a hole most of the time. It's paid off, in so many ways. I feel more capable to handle my life than ever before. I can't really believe that I've gotten to this point. I completed my last session last week, and I actually feel good about venturing into the world without therapy. I can't say I won't go back, but I'm testing out the waters with my newly found skills. Wish me luck!

On the job front, I'm awaiting a new position opening up in Sept. I don't want to say what, just to be safe, but it's going to be an amazing experience. I was walking around SF today in a daze, so proud/ stoked/ blown-away at my post-grad life! I was so afraid that I wouldn't have my shit together, that I would have to move back home, that I couldn't hack it as an adult. Sometimes your fears are just...fears.  In the meantime, I'll continue to work for Natty Cakes and Three Babes Bakeshop, two of my favorite businesses. I'm glad I get to continue with them for a bit longer, its rough to leave jobs when you're so attached to your bosses (You guys reading this shit?)

So life is moving, I'm just along for the ride.

In other news, here's some pictures from Natty Cakes, Three Babes, and a very special birthday.

Flutin' for The Babes 

Rich Chocolate Gems made with Bittersweet Chocolate Pecan pie 

Working on a lemon buttermilk cake for Loretta's 1st Birthday <3

For now, that's all I have to report. I'll be back, hopefully with some job updates but definitely with some mental health updates. 


Monday, June 15, 2015

New Bakes and a Meditation check-in

It's been quite awhile since I've posted any pictures of desserts.... yeah, its a travesty. I am deeply sorry, and (slightly mad at myself) for not being better at documenting all the baked goods I encounter on my day to day. They deserve to be seen!
So, that being said, I have a few pictures lined up to get you right back up to speed.

First up, birthday treats! Both my friends Avi and Leah (the first) had birthdays in the past few months. And what better gift than sweet sugary bliss? For Avi, after some prodding, I found out that he liked the peanut butter/ chocolate combo, and decided on a layer cake. I need all the practice I can get with layer cakes, so it was a two-birds-with-one-stone situation.
Here she is!

Truth be told, I did go a little crazy with the side decoration. Once I started I just couldn't stop! 

I also ended up with a bunch of extra batter, so I made cupcakes for my house mates. They were demolished pretty quickly. 

For Leah's birthday, I made her a batch of salted caramel brownies. I've been making a lot of salted caramel at work, so it felt pretty comfortable to incorporate into her present. 

Whaddup sexy. 

Ta da! I didn't get a chance to try them but it sounded like they were enjoyed. Leah had to wrap them up and hide them at one point so that she was guaranteed the rest. 

My aunt had a paella party/ graduation celebration to honor my recent entrance into the "real" world, so I made a huge pan of brown butter blondies. For some reason, I rarely ever make treats to bring to my relatives house, and they bug me about it every time. This time, I came prepared. 

This is the browned butter. You can see how the butter solids separated and browned, giving the blondies a delicious nutty, almost caramel flavor. 

Big ol' pile of dough. 

I didn't take a picture of the finished product, but here they are about to head into the oven! 

I also baked some standard brownies while babysitting (or sitting around while the baby slept), but I wasn't super impressed with how they came out. I think I could tell from the recipe that they weren't going to be the dense, fudgy kind that I am addicted to, but I went for it anyways. Oh well, you win some, you lose some. I'll just post a picture of the batter, because that was certainly on-point. 

I like making brownies just so I can get some of that batter. Drool. I can imagine that being killer with some vanilla ice-cream...

A quick update on my meditation so far. I think I have been doing a pretty good job incorporating it into my day. I do miss somedays, especially if I have to wake up early and feel too rushed to fit it in. I had been doing 5 minutes at a time, but now I'm increasing it to ten minutes. I'm finding that I need a little more time to sink in to it, and allow my mind to move freely. It's not as if it really stops my thoughts, but it allows them to soften, to detach from the constant flight-or-fight response that they tend to activate. It's pretty amazing to watch my mind from an observant perspective. It's capable of so much, but it gets caught up in certain small aspects of my day. I'm learning to keep moving forward, to let uncomfortable feelings exist. 
I have used a guided meditation through UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center, and it can be really helpful if I'm having a particularly anxious day. 
It's not perfect, but I'm willing to keep trying. I'm excited to see what else I find in the practice. 
<3 Lia