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Part confession, part cooking.  Or might cooking always be “part confession”?  (Note to self: future post.)

Confession first:  I am officially switching things up.  Consciously shifting.  Not the Gwyneth Paltrow type (which she now claims was foisted on her by an editor), but instead just a shift in my world’s vision.

Cooking next:  Unlike Anna, I LOVE cooking, but find baking onerous, overly demanding with its measuring-with-precision, and usually my results are an enormous disappointment, especially when you take into account the angst that went into the burned refuse end products coming out of the oven.

New world vision?  Why not match it with a new cooking vision?  BAM!  I switched things up in the kitchen this weekend, tackling two surprisingly successful baking projects!

My initial weekend foray into baking started with Florentines, pictured above, deliciously light almond cookies that DEMAND to be eaten with your first cup of coffee in the morning.  The recipe is simple and straight forward.  You don’t need to be a pastry expert to get great results.  Bonus:  you can also lack precision in your measurements, unheard of when baking!  (Click here for the recipe.)

muffinsWith newfound confidence, and an apron dusted with confectionary sugar, I dug out another recipe I have been meaning to try: Banana mini-muffins.  What attracted me to this recipe was 1) it is gluten free, 2) there is no sugar involved, and 3) those blackened bananas in the fruit bowl now have a final destination.  My new world vision also includes the proverbial empty nest, you see.  We have adapted well to that nest – it tends to be much neater now, but I am discovering that my shopping patterns desperately need to be altered, what with no human food-vacuum teenaged boy at home.

Back to the banana muffins – once again, you can make these muffins with a careless look at measurements.  I substituted pecans for the chocolate chips, and used natural peanut butter, reducing the sugar content even more.  The end result?  Tasty little bites that can serve as breakfast on the run, or a quick snack during the day.  They are utterly and entirely healthy, too!  (Click here for the recipe.)

My world vision has expanded so much!  Who knew that baking could be… not burned?

In form of supplemental confession, I feel some need to explain my silence over the past year plus.  My intention is not to condemn or criticize.  This blog has intentionally been a place to invoke smiles and memories, to have quiet conversation over a glass of wine and a plate of shared food.

Teaching is a vocation, and teaching, for those with the vocation, is possibly the most fulfilling profession in the world.  When I enter the classroom, magic begins.  I don’t claim to wave the wand that creates magic; it is my students that are the creators and wizards.  Inside those rooms, joy is not only possible, but also boundless.  We create, we co-create, we laugh and we learn.

For some 15 years, I experienced that energy and creativity both inside and outside of my classrooms.  In retrospect, that is a very uncommon occurrence: teachers and administrators often have very divergent viewpoints and objectives, and relationships between the two tend to more often be strained than wildly positive.  I have struggled with the loss of “wildly positive” over the past year-plus.  It has left me feeling negative, a sentiment that does not belong in this blog.

My new world vision: what happens inside the classroom is still magical, and outrageously fulfilling.  That IS enough, and that IS still an exceptional way to feel about my profession.

And the baking thing… well, sometimes being overly confident can get you in trouble.  The weekend’s baking fail eventually happened: Brookies, cookie and brownie all in one.  (Click here for the ill-fated recipe.)  I’m not sure if it is because I didn’t use the called-for vegan butter (I’m not vegan, so I used real butter), or the called-for flax milk (I’m not sure how it got there, but I used almond milk that was in the fridge).  The end result was floppy cookie-brownie things that were clearly not going to stay in one piece.  I tried baking them like biscotti, going for a hardened, dip-me-in-coffee result.  They did harden after 2 hours at 250 degrees.  They still taste like chocolate cardboard, however.

Anna, I think I will stick with cooking, and haul out these two “measure willy nilly” baking recipes when I need sweets.  In the meantime, today’s shopping list includes eggplant (parmesan perhaps??) and spaghetti squash.  Much more fulfilling!  Just like my students!

About Claire Ziamandanis

Claire Ziamandanis is Professor of Spanish at The College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY. Over her 20 years at the college, she has been a champion for study abroad, establishing the first affiliation for Spanish students, and then working with the Study Abroad office to open the doors to students from other majors. Claire loves travel, food, wine and Spanish but not necessarily in that order!


  1. I’ve missed you. Welcome back.

  2. Welcome back! Thanks for the recipes, both of which pair with coffee more than wine.
    As teachers (at any level), we owe it to our students to try things that we feel we are not good at. Hopefully, we are pushing them to do that every day in our class rooms. Its good to remind ourselves what it feels like to not be the expert, to try something and not get it, then try again.

    • Claire Ziamandanis

      Correct on pairing the two baking results – coffee. Note, however, that if baking in the evening, the process goes well with wine.

      Love your outlook on how we must challenge ourselves, too, as educators, and remember what it is like to not know “everything”.

  3. Keep up the positivity! I plan to try the florentine recipe – it sounds great!

    • Claire Ziamandanis

      Advice for florentines – glass of wine, and take your time with them. They do require patting down and reforming with patience and often before hitting the oven. That’s where the wine helps out.

  4. I want to try the Florentines. They look delicious! I loved reading this post. Your voice shines through.

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