Supta Bowl

February 6, 2016

“To accomplish the grand, you have to focus on the small.  To exist in the eternal perspective, you have to live in the moment.”
~ Pete Carroll, Head Coach for the Seattle Seahawks

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The word “supta” is Sanskrit and means, resting, reclined or inactive.

Unlike the athletes they will be watching on TV, most people spend Superbowl Sunday reclining on their couches for several hours.  All that lying and sitting in one position can make hips, lower backs and knees cranky.  Taking a moment for a few restorative yoga poses during the halftime show can soothe sore muscles and help put space between vertebrae compressed by hours of posing as a couch potato.

If you think that yoga and football don’t go together, you might be interested to know that professional football teams such as the Seattle Seahawks, football players such as Russell Wilson, Vernon Davis and Victor Cruz and basketball players such as LeBron James, Kevin Garnett and Blake Griffin all credit yoga and meditation with improving their games and lives.

So do like your favorite players and use halftime to make the necessary adjustments and get yourself ready for the win.  You need not be a practicing yogi; here is a short, easy sequence of simple, restorative, seated poses anyone can do to stretch the muscles and open up the spine (and you don’t even have to get up off the couch):

Cat and Cow Stretch

For cow stretch: sit up straight with your feet planted flat on the floor.  Inhale slowly and deeply and arch your back, dropping your shoulders and looking up slightly.
For cat stretch: on the exhale, round your spine back, bringing the shoulders forward, the head forward and down and tilting the pelvis up.  Continue with cow stretches as you inhale and cat stretches as you exhale for about 3 or 5 full breaths.

Seated Upward Salute (Touchdown, Field Goal, Extra Point Pose)

Inhale as you look forward, raising and reaching your hands and arms toward the ceiling.  Make sure your shoulders are relaxed. Exhale, slowly bringing your arms back to rest above your knees. Repeat this sequence for 3 to 5 breaths.

Seated Forward Bend

Take a deep breath in, raise your arms overhead and, as you exhale, move your body forward and bend over your legs.  If your hands can reach the floor, let them hang.  If not, you can wrap them gently around the front of the legs or underneath the upper legs. Relax the neck.  Take a few inhales and exhales as you let your body hang over (or between) your legs and allow your spine to open up. On an inhale, raise your arms overhead and repeat the sequence through a few breaths.

Seated Spinal Twist

Begin by sitting up straight, knees together, looking forward.  Inhale and turn your head to the left and gently twist your torso toward the left, reaching your right arm across the front of the body and around toward the back of the couch or chair.  Let your left arm rest behind you.  Exhale back to center position.  Repeat, this time turning toward the right and moving the left arm across and around the body.  Exhale back to center.

Extra Credit: Chant mantra for your favorite team!

For the Carolina Panthers: the seed mantra that corresponds to the color light blue is “Ham” and is pronounced “Hahhhhm”.

For the Denver Broncos: the seed mantra that corresponds to the color orange is “Vam” – pronounced “Vahhhhm”

Inhale deeply and exhale, singing one note and extending the “ahhh” sound and then holding the  “mmm” sound at the end of each mantra as you fully exhale the breath.  The act of making a humming sound has been found to help reduce stress, so if the team you are chanting for doesn’t win, at least you will be able to take it in stride.

You did it! Don’t you feel better?  Take a few moments to close your eyes and simply breathe slowly, fully and deeply in and out of the nose (if possible).  Now you are ready for snacks and the second half.

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Polenta Fries with Parmesan Dip is a wholesome and tasty snack for the game.

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Polenta Fries with Parmesan Dip
You can make “french fries” out of pre-cooked corn polenta from the grocery store.  Surprisingly easy to prepare and fun to eat, they will make a unique addition to your game day or awards season snack table.  If you want to avoid genetically modified corn, be sure to buy organic polenta, which can be found at your local Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or other well-stocked grocery store.

For 2 servings (double or triple for more):

1 (18oz) tube of organic pre-cooked polenta
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing (less than 2 TBL)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Parmesan Dip (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 425°F

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Open tube of polenta and blot with paper towels to reduce moisture.

Slice tube lengthwise in half.  Slice each half horizontally, making 4 pieces.  Slice each piece into 8 rectangular french fry shapes.  This will give you 32 total pieces.

Brush each piece on all sides lightly with olive oil.  Season lightly with salt and generously with pepper.

Place fries in a single layer on a baking sheet.

Bake uncovered for 35 to 45 minutes, until crispy on the outside and golden brown on the edges.

Serve hot with Parmesan Dip.

Parmesan Dip

1/2 cup organic mayonnaise
1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
(or a blend of Parmesan and Romano cheeses)
1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
2 tablespoons milk
1 small clove of garlic, minced fine
A tiny pinch of chili powder
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Mix all ingredients together well in a bowl and chill until serving time.

Space Station Oddity

January 21, 2016

“The truth is, of course, that there is no journey.  We are arriving and departing all at the same time.”
~ David Bowie

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Scott Kelly/NASA – First Flower to Bloom in Space

 

It seems like we’ve lost too many creative artists already in 2016.  Alan Rickman, one of my favorite actors, and Glenn Frey, who helped to write “I Can’t Tell You Why”, one of my favorite songs by the Eagles, both passed beyond the veil recently.

But the loss that has touched me most deeply over the last week has been the death of legendary singer and actor David Bowie.  As someone who has always felt like a bit of a “Space Oddity” myself, David Bowie seemed like a kindred spirit.

My favorite Bowie tunes run the gamut from the experimental and ethereal “Aladdin Sane” to rock classics like “Ziggy Stardust”, “Moonage Daydream”, “Heroes” and “Panic in Detroit” (which contains one of the coolest bass lines of all time) to the downright funkiness of “Fame”, “Golden Years”, “Stay” and “Fascination”.

“Fame” was the first Bowie song I remember hearing on the radio.  I was hanging out in my backyard with the low rider girl who lived next door, listening to the local AM station.  When its rhythmic guitar riff began, she turned the sound up and we all started dancing.  A year later, Bowie appeared on Soul Train to perform “Fame” and another funk/soul inspired tune “Golden Years”.  I used to watch Soul Train every weekend and was as shocked as the dancers on the show seemed to be when this skinny white English guy took the stage to sing such a funky song.  Bowie was always an innovator.

His innovation and artistry are what drew me to him when I reached High School.  From my earliest memories as a child, I’ve always felt a bit outside the mainstream, more like an observer than a participant here on Earth.  Once the hormonal and emotional challenges of puberty began to set in, those feelings of “not fitting in” only magnified.  I was a dedicated art student at the time and Bowie’s album Scary Monsters, showcasing his New Romantic/Pierrot look, inspired me both artistically and personally.  Alone in my room, I would listen to the track “Ashes to Ashes” over and over again.  Too young to understand the lyrics fully (about the artist’s battle with addiction), I nonetheless related to the emotional beauty of its melody and poetry.  The song “Fashion”, another from Scary Monsters, served as background music for my appearance in a High School fashion show, wearing spiky-short hair and dressed in a purple metallic avant-garde jumpsuit (thankfully, smart phones and YouTube had not yet come into existence).

In the days after his death, I found myself watching clips from Labyrinth (1986), the Jim Henson fantasy in which Bowie played Jareth, the Goblin King.  At the time of the movie’s release, his spiky mullet-like hairdo and leggings seemed more than a little 80s geeky, but looking back on those scenes now, he was the coolest and best-looking Goblin King ever.  Bowie wrote and recorded the soundtrack to the movie, including “As the World Falls Down”, which has become one of my favorite love songs.

Music Videos are now automatic with a song’s release but this wasn’t always the case.  David Bowie was a true music video pioneer from his earliest days.  In 1969, he made a promotional short film for “Space Oddity”, a song recorded just five days before Apollo 11, the flight of the first moon landing, was launched.

44 years later, Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield, creating the first music video ever made in space, filmed a cover of “Space Oddity” aboard the International Space Station.  Here is a fascinating interview with Commander Hadfield on the awe-inspiring experience of singing “Space Oddity”, while sitting in his “tin can” in actual space:

It’s understandable why a modern astronaut would relate to Bowie’s classic song.  Who can think of traveling to outer space without recalling the lyrics, “This is Major Tom to Ground Control”?  It seems only fitting then, that the very first flower to be grown in space bloomed aboard the ISS just days after David Bowie’s passing (see photo at the top of this post), a golden-hued, edible zinnia with 13 petals.  Maybe it should be renamed Zinnia Stardust.

“Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in a mirror.”
~ Khalil Gibran

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Eel River Ranch is a small family-run operation in Humboldt County California.  Eel River Ranch cows are grass-fed and grass-finished, freely roaming on on thousands of acres of certified organic pasture, always with plenty of open space, fresh air and clean water.  For more info and where to buy visit the Eel River Ranch website.  I used their delicious, healthy, Step 4 ground beef to make the meat sauce for Lasagna di Pane, the ultimate in comfort food.

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Lasagna di Pane
Made with slices of bread instead of sheets of pasta, Lasagna di Pane is the comfiest of comfort foods.  I used a meat sauce in this recipe, but vegetarians can substitute eggplant, mushrooms or zucchini in place of beef or turkey.  Lasagna is one of the rare pastas that is even better the next day and can be frozen and reheated with excellent results.  Simply cut portions and wrap individually before freezing.  Reheat in the oven at 350°F for about 20 minutes or in a microwave for 3 to 5 minutes.

28 oz can of peeled tomatoes with basil
2 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 lb beef or turkey
A pinch of crumbled, dried rosemary
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
15 oz can of tomato sauce
1 (16oz) loaf of French Bread or Italian Bread, thinly sliced
1 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese
(or a blend of Parmesan and Romano cheeses)
8 oz package of grated organic mozzarella
1/2 cup organic free range chicken broth
Butter for greasing pan

Mince one of the garlic cloves.  In a large bowl, using a fork or potato masher, smash peeled tomatoes with the garlic until mostly smooth.  Set aside.

In a large skillet, over medium-high heat, brown the beef in 2 tablespoons of oil, stirring until browned and crumbly.  Mince the remaining clove of garlic and stir into the meat with the rosemary, fennel, parsley and a bit of salt and pepper.  Add the tomato sauce and the smashed tomatoes.  Stir to combine.  Bring just to a boil.  Lower heat and simmer 10-15 minutes (don’t reduce the volume of the sauce too much; a thinner sauce is better for this dish).  Taste and add salt and pepper to your liking.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Butter a 9″ x 13″ x 3″ lasagna pan.  Cover bottom of pan with a thin layer of the sauce.  Layer bread slices over the sauce (about half of the loaf) using torn pieces to fill in gaps.  Cover bread slices with about half of the remaining sauce and spread evenly.  Over this sprinkle half of the Parmesan and half the mozzarella.  Cover the cheeses with another layer of bread slices and pieces (this should use up most of the loaf).  Cover the bread with the remaining sauce and spread evenly.  Pour the chicken broth into the sides and corners of the pan, to moisten edges.  Sprinkle the remaining half of the Parmesan and Mozzarella over the surface evenly.

Cover the pan tightly with foil and bake 40 minutes.  Remove cover and bake an additional 10 minutes or until cheese is browned and bubbly.  Remove lasagna from oven and let it rest 5 minutes before cutting into portions.

8 servings

New Year’s Sky

January 4, 2016

“Nothing exists until or unless it is observed.  An artist is making something exist by observing it.  And his hope for other people is that they will also make it exist by observing it.  I call it ‘creative observation’.”
~ William Burroughs

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There is a lovely bit of poetry by Indian philosopher Sri Aurobindo that profoundly touched me from the moment I first read it:

“What, you ask, was the beginning of it all? And it is this… Existence that multiplied itself for sheer delight of being and plunged into numberless trillions of forms so that it might find itself, innumerably.”

What an elegant, romantic origins story of the Universe!  The idea that God, wishing to observe itself, wishing to admire itself, wishing to experience love, exploded from a singularity into a multiplicity, thereby manifesting itself into the Universe we know.  This would mean that each one of us, as participants of this Universe, are both observers and the observed.  We are all parts of God, experiencing itself.

Even if this idea resonates with you, we individuals, as merely parts of the whole, can never truly know for certain how the Universe actually came into being.  But with the coming launch of the much anticipated game No Man’s Sky, there will soon be an opportunity to explore and experience a universe whose origin is documented and whose creators are known and giving interviews about their creation on talk shows.

No Man’s Sky (set to launch in June of 2016) is a video game world which is generated by the observer.  Created by 10 designers using mathematical formulas, it is an explorable universe containing over 18 quintillion planets, every one of them with its own atmosphere and unique plant and animal life.  Each player is on an explorer’s adventure of discovery, able to name places and creatures and collect natural resources.  These galaxies, solar systems and planets are mathematically generated as individual players explore them.  However, the universe of No Man’s Sky is so vast, its players may never come into contact with one another within it.

The creator of No Man’s Sky, Sean Murray, recently demonstrated the game on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, commenting that our own sun and solar system would be long dead before all of the planets within No Man’s Sky could possibly be explored.  So, in theory, this mathematically created universe and its inhabitants will still exist when the universe of its creators is long gone.  With no knowledge of how they came into being, I wonder how accurate their own theories about the creation of the world in which they live will be.

Here is the YouTube of the interview with a demo of No Man’s Sky.  It is fascinating.  I’m not a gamer, but this looks like it would be an infinite universe full of fun to play:

To check out the game further, you can visit the No Man’s Sky website.

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Several hundred years ago, explorers thought our world was flat.  This Homemade Italian Flatbread is a world of delicious that is worth discovering.

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Piadina – Homemade Italian Flatbread
Piadina is the name for a popular flatbread in Italy.  It’s easy to make at home and requires no yeast.  There are many versions of the recipe, depending on the region and preference of each cook.  Piadina is traditionally made with lard, which I’m not a fan of.  This is my personal version of the recipe, made with butter.  You can substitute olive oil, if you wish.

3 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (plus some for rolling out)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 egg
5 tablespoons butter, softened
2/3 cup milk
1/3 cup warm water
1/4 teaspoon baking soda

Optional:
Additional warm water
Extra virgin olive oil

In a large bowl, add flour and make a well in the center.  Add salt, egg and butter and mix with a fork until crumbly.  Make a well in the center again and mix in the milk, warm water and baking soda.

Knead with your hands until soft and smooth, but not sticky (if too sticky, add a bit of flour; if not soft enough, add a small amount of olive oil and/or warm water).  Continue kneading for 10 minutes total.

Make a ball with the dough, wrap it in plastic wrap and let it rest at room temperature for 30 minutes to 1 hour (you can also refrigerate it at this point and let it come to room temperature for one hour before rolling it out).

Make the large ball into six smaller balls.  On a clean, lightly-floured surface, using a lightly-floured rolling pin, roll each of them out into large, thin circles.  Put plastic between each as you make them, to keep them from drying out.

Heat a large griddle pan or skillet over medium-high heat.  Prick the piadina all over the surface with a fork.  Cook 2 to 3 minutes or until brown spots appear all over the bottom.  Flip over and cook the other side.

Serve warm (I reheated them the next day with great results).

You can cut into triangular pieces and use to scoop up dips or dunk into soup.  You can use as a base for a quick pizza.  You can also top or stuff them with various fillings.  Here are some suggestions:

Grated mozzarella, mortadella, saffron mayonnaise

Bacon, arugula, burrata cheese, balsamic glaze

Scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, chives

Sautéed mushrooms, soft goat cheese, thyme

Roast chicken or turkey, pesto mayonnaise, Parmesan cheese

Peanut, almond or sunflower butter, banana slices, grated chocolate

Makes 6 piadina

The Light Awakens

December 23, 2015

“Fear is the path to the dark side.  Fear leads to anger.  Anger leads to hate.  Hate leads to suffering.”
~ Yoda, from Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace (1999)

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Winter Solstice has arrived. December 21 or 22 (depending on what time zone you live in) was the longest night and shortest day of the year for those of us in the Northern Hemisphere.

The Winter Solstice also signals the rebirth of the Sun, as the days begin to lengthen from now until the Summer Solstice in June, bathing the Earth and its inhabitants in ever-increasing light.

Adding to the season of light will be a rare Christmas full moon, peaking at 3:12 a.m. Pacific Daylight time.  The last time a full moon lit up the Christmas Sky was in 1977 and the next won’t be until 2034.

This expansion of light comes at a time when our national and global conversations have been provoked by fear.  The news media of today is driven by “clickbait” – headlines, stories and programs designed to grab the viewer’s attention by any means, driving page views and television ratings in order to increase advertising revenues.  When we let our responses be driven by fear, anger and voyeurism, we become tools of our own emotional and spiritual oppression.

In keeping with the season, let us look toward the light.  Joy, kindness and good news shine brightly all around us; we need only open our eyes to see it.

Here are just a few examples:

An anonymous man recently paid off more than $106, 000.00 in layaway bills for shoppers at two Wal-Mart stores in Ohio.  He told the employees at the store that he likes to do something special to celebrate his birthday each year and, this year, he decided to help struggling shoppers to have a Merry Christmas.  Layaway is a form of credit where you buy the item but leave it at the store, paying a little money every week until you have paid the bill in full.  Only then can you take the item home.  One woman came into the store to make a $10 payment on a bed for her 3-year-old daughter, only to be told that her remaining balance of $80 was paid and the bed was hers to take home.  She was overjoyed and remarked that the kind gesture of this stranger was “like Santa.”

A young girl in Ontario, Canada spent her seventh birthday selling hot chocolate to raise money to help Syrian refugees.  Setting up a stand at the end of her driveway, Abigail MacDonald poured cups of hot cocoa with marshmallows, collecting $1,800.00 in donations, which will go toward sponsoring a family in need of refuge.

Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, Sheriff’s deputies in Orange County, California recently gave out Christmas surprises instead of tickets.  The deputies pulled over dozens of unsuspecting motorists who, assuming they were being pulled over for a traffic violation, initially reacted with worry, asking why they were being stopped.  The deputies then handed each of the drivers an envelope which contained a $100 bill instead of a subpoena.  One woman said her electricity was about to be shut off and that the $100 surprise would enable her to pay the bill.  A teenager who was stopped while walking down the street with friends gave the officer a hug after receiving his holiday surprise.

There are so many wonderful points of light illuminating life on Earth each and every day. To quote another Jedi Master:

“Your focus determines your reality.”

Don’t give in to the Dark Side.  Awaken to the Season of Light.

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Ever had a pancake shaped like a cupcake? Pancake Cupcakes with Maple Caramel Glaze are a Holiday-worthy breakfast treat.

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Pancake Cupcakes with Maple Caramel Glaze
These unique cupcakes will brighten up your Christmas breakfast and the buttery-rich maple syrup caramel glaze will make you want to lick the spoon clean.  Use your favorite pancake mix in the recipe (I used Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Pancake and Waffle Mix).  For a sweeter cupcake, use vanilla yogurt.  For a saltier, more savory cupcake, use plain yogurt.

1 cup plain or vanilla flavored whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup milk
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 cups of your favorite pancake mix
Maple Caramel Glaze (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 350°F

Line a muffin pan with 12 cupcake liners or grease muffin cups with butter.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine wet ingredients and mix well.

Add pancake mix and stir until combined but do not overmix – a few lumps are o.k.

Divide batter between the 12 muffin cups.

Bake for 14 to 16 minutes, or until top springs back lightly when touched.  Let cool for a few minutes in the pan, then remove to a wire rack to cool.

While cupcakes are cooling, make glaze.

Maple Caramel Glaze

8 tablespoons butter (1 stick)*
1/2 cup pure, real maple syrup
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 tablespoons milk
2 cups confectioner’s sugar, sifted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

*I prefer salted butter for this glaze, as it compliments the caramel flavor.

Place the butter, maple syrup and brown sugar inside a medium-sized heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring, until the mixture comes to a boil.  Stir in the milk and let the mixture return to a boil.  Remove the pan from the heat and add half of the confectioner’s sugar.  Using a wooden spoon or a heat-proof silicone spatula, stir and smash the lumps until the mixture is mostly smooth.  Add the remaining cup of confectioner’s sugar and continue stirring and smoothing until no lumps remain.  By this time the glaze should be firmed up.  If you wish to thicken it more, you can let it sit a bit more.  Stir to smooth again before you glaze the cupcakes.

To glaze the cupcakes:
Dip and swirl top of each cupcake into the glaze.  Let set for a few minutes and serve  or store in a covered container.

If you have leftover glaze, save it and use to top ice cream or fruit.  You may be tempted to eat it all with a spoon, but resist that urge and save any remaining amount of this superb topping for another use.

Makes 12 cupcakes

Joy to the Worm

December 10, 2015

“EDIBLE, adjective:  Good to eat, and wholesome to digest, as a worm to a toad, a toad to a snake, a snake to a pig, a pig to a man, and a man to a worm.”
~ Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary

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I should have titled this post “Joy from the Worm” because joy is what I felt when I read that the Styrofoam packing popcorn, cups and other items considered to be environmentally evil can be naturally biodegraded by worms.

Yep, you read correctly. According to research published in the journal, Environmental Science & Technology, and co-authored by a senior research engineer at Stanford University, the mealworm, a tiny worm that is the larvae of the darkling beetle, can survive on a diet of Styrofoam and other forms of polystyrene.  Even better, thanks to microorganisms that live inside their guts, the worms’ digestive processes transform the plastic into waste that is biodegradable, which is then safe to use in soil as a fertilizer for plants and crops.

Every year Americans throw away 2.5 billion plastic foam cups.  Those cups are merely a fraction of the 33 tons of plastic that gets tossed into the garbage every year.  Unfortunately, only 10% of that gets recycled.  Styrofoam and plastic foam products are also used in packaging the endless stuff that we buy and have shipped to us, especially now that so many consumers shop online instead of in their neighborhoods.

How joyfully ironic that the environmentally harmful waste produced by our consumer-driven culture can now be consumed by mealworms and transformed into food for plants and crops, which will eventually become our food.

“At home I serve the kind of food I know the story behind.”
~ Michael Pollan

Once upon a time there was a Styrofoam cup and a little worm….

Thanks to these tiny, squiggly little creatures, we just might live happily ever after, after all.

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Homemade Marshmallows might not be as tasty to mealworms as Styrofoam, but for us humans, they are delicious!

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Homemade Marshmallows
These marshmallows have no corn syrup and they are incredibly soft and light with a delicate vanilla flavor.  They melt easily and are ideal to top a mug of hot cocoa. Funny thing is, modern marshmallow candies do not actually contain any marshmallow root.  For the ultimate in comfort foods this Holiday season, give some of these homemade marshmallows along with a box of marshmallow root tea, which helps sooth upset tummies and sore throats.

2 tablespoons gelatin (2 Knox envelopes)
8 tablespoons of cold water
2 cups organic granulated sugar
1/2 cup cold water
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Plenty of powdered sugar, for dusting

 

Dust an 8-inch square pan with powdered sugar.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, add the 8 tablespoons of cold water and sprinkle the gelatin over the water.  Set this aside to “bloom”.

In a large, heavy saucepan, combine the granulated sugar and 1/2 cup of water and cook over medium heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved.

Add the bloomed gelatin and bring to a boil, stirring.  Watch constantly and carefully so that it doesn’t boil over.

As soon as the mixture is boiling, remove from heat and pour into a large mixing bowl.  Let stand until it cools a bit (about 10 minutes).

Stir in the salt and vanilla extract.

Using an electric hand mixer, beat until soft and double in volume (begin on low speed until mixture is cool; then increase to medium, then medium-high).  This process will take about 20 minutes.  Note: the mixture will not be a stark white, especially if you are using unrefined sugar – more like a very light caramel/cream color.

Pour mixture into the prepared pan to about 1 inch thick.

Set aside to cool until the mixture no longer sticks to your finger when you touch it lightly  (the surface may still be a little sticky, but will not come off on your finger).  Mine took about 2 hours.

Rub powdered sugar over the surface of the marshmallow.  Cut marshmallow into 16 squares or 24 squares, depending on what size you prefer.

Roll all sides of each marshmallow in powdered sugar, to coat completely.

Variation:  Mix powdered sugar with cocoa powder for chocolate-dusted marshmallows or melt some semi-sweet chocolate chips/pieces and dip half of each marshmallow in chocolate.  Let cool and harden on a lined baking sheet before wrapping.

Makes 16 to 24 marshmallows

Alternative

November 23, 2015

“Human energy is always in communion with heaven and earth in the alteration of exhalation and inhalation.”
~ From the book, Taoist Meditation: Methods for Cultivating a Healthy Mind and Body, translated by Thomas Cleary

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Yoga practitioners and even those with a superficial knowledge of yoga are familiar with the term pranayama, referring to the various forms of breathing exercises that are part of most yoga classes.

The word pranayama is a compound Sanskrit word made up of prana, meaning life force (or breath) and ayama, meaning “to expand or extend”.  The word yama, which means “to restrain or control” is often mistakenly given as the second part of the word pranayama, causing many to incorrectly define the term as referring to “breath control”.  Although the compound form drops the extra “a”, the actual term is “prana-ayama” and means  “breath-expansion” or “life-force extension”.

Being open to alternate ways of thinking or of doing things is a way of expanding our minds and our experience of life.  These alternatives don’t have to mean big changes, they could be simple actions or meditations.  For example, an article in the April 26, 2013 issue of Psychology Today recommends squeezing a ball with your right hand to increase your memory and with your left hand to stimulate creativity.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana, in Sanskrit), an equally simple yogic breathing exercise, can also be beneficial to both body and mind.  A quick search on Google Scholar provides the scientific back-up.  Practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing can help to balance the right and left brain hemispheres, reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular and respiratory function, memory function, performance of spatial tasks and even hand grip strength.

A few minutes a day helps to calm and benefit the mind and body and, best of all, it’s super simple to do.  Here’s how:

Alternate nostril breathing exercise (Nadi Shodhana):

Step one:  Use your thumb to close off your right nostril.

Step two:  Inhale slowly through the left nostril.

Step three:  Now close the left nostril with your ring finger and release thumb off right nostril.

Step four:  Exhale through your right nostril.

Step five:  Now inhale through your right nostril.

Step six:  Use thumb to close off right nostril.

Step seven:  Breathe out through left nostril.

Step eight:  This completes one round.

Step nine:  With your thumb still on the right nostril, you are back at step one of a new round.  Continue to step two, etc.

Start with 1 or 2 rounds and gradually increase, according to your comfort level.  Breathe slowly, deeply and fully.  Sit quietly for a few moments after you have finished.

Practicing on an empty stomach is preferred; so take a few moments to yourself and do some alternate nostril breathing before the family arrives for Thanksgiving dinner.

“Smile, breathe and go slowly”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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Need a veggie alternative to Turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner?  Portobello Mushrooms with Farro and Feta will have everyone giving thanks.

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Portobello Mushrooms with Farro and Feta
These flavorful stuffed mushrooms would be a delicious main course alternative to Turkey for your veggie guests.  The filling by itself makes a scrumptious and nutritious side dish for the holidays or main dish the rest of the year.

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing portobellos
2 cups thinly sliced cremini or button mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 cup farro
1 & 1/2 cups vegetable, mushroom or chicken broth
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
4 oz tub of crumbled goat cheese, such as feta
1/2 cup toasted, unsalted sliced almonds
6 (4-inch) portobello mushrooms

Prepare mushrooms:
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy, non-stick skillet and sauté over high heat for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Lower the heat to medium and add the garlic, sherry vinegar, lemon juice, smoked paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms have softened.  Add the chopped parsley.

Add the farro and stir until coated.  Add the broth and stir again.  Bring to a boil and stir once to make sure everything is evenly distributed.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover pan and cook farro according to package directions, 20 minutes or so.  Check farro for doneness (tender, but with a nice bite in the center).  If farro is done and there is still a lot of excess liquid, stir uncovered for a minute or so to evaporate excess (a bit of liquid is o.k., as it will make for a creamy filling).  Stir in Parmesan, then feta and almonds.

While farro is cooking:

Preheat oven to 400°F

Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment or foil (for easier clean up).

Clean portobellos and remove stems.  Brush surfaces with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Arrange gill side down and roast for 10 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and turn portobellos over.

Fill each portobello with some of the cooked farro mixture, mounding into a nice domed shape.  Bake about 10 minutes more, uncovered, until filling is heated through and cheese is melting.  Serve warm.

These are delicious as leftovers, reheated the next day.

Makes 6 stuffed portobellos (3 to 6 servings)

 

Creepy, Crawly, Chocolaty

October 31, 2015

“Nature composes some of her loveliest poems for the microscope and the telescope.”
~ Theodore Rosnak

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This Halloween, don’t give all of your candy away to the kids.  Be sure to save some dark chocolate for the microscopic creatures that are living in your gut (in anatomical terms, gut refers to the alimentary canal, which includes the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine).

The gut of a healthy human being provides a home to some 100 trillion bacteria.  If that sounds creepy, try to imagine yourself not as an individual but rather as an ecosystem.  There are both “good” and “bad” bacteria living in your gut.

The harmful bacteria, such as Clostridia and E. coli, can cause gas, bloating and other unpleasant symptoms.  The “good” bacteria (also known as “probiotics”) help to keep your digestive system healthy by controlling the growth of harmful bacteria.  These helpful microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus, also love to binge on chocolate.

The health benefits of eating dark chocolate have been praised for years, but until recently, no one knew exactly where the benefits came from. Turns out, the beneficial part is thanks to the creepy, crawly friends living in our digestive systems.

Cocoa powder contains antioxidant compounds, but humans can’t adequately digest or absorb them.  Once they reach the colon, however, our “good” bacteria take over and begin to “brew” them until they are smaller and more easily absorbed by our bodies.

Research presented last year at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) found that when a person eats dark chocolate, these helpful, human-friendly microbes gobble it up and ferment it, producing beneficial anti-inflammatory compounds.  When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, thereby reducing the long-term risk of stroke.

So, be sure to enjoy some dark chocolate this Halloween; it’s good for your heart.  And, while you are at it, give a heart-felt thank you to the bugs in your belly.

~~~~~~~~~

I ain’t afraid of no ghost peppers, especially when they spice up a rich, dark chocolate ganache in Blackout Chocolate Cupcakes with Ghost Pepper Ganache.

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Blackout Chocolate Cupcakes with
Ghost Pepper Ganache
Ground Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia) can be found online or at specialty stores.  It is one of the hottest chile peppers in the world.  If you’re not feeling that brave, you can substitute cayenne.  Either way, the combination of chile and chocolate is a delicious and memorable one!  

Remember: at Halloween time and always, to avoid scary eggs; always buy free range, organic or pastured eggs.

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup organic sugar
1/2 cup strong coffee
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Ghost Pepper Ganache Frosting (recipe follows)

 

Line muffin pans with 12 to 15 cupcake liners.

Preheat oven to 350°F

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat egg and sugar until creamy.  Beat in coffee, yogurt, oil and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to the wet and combine.  Batter will be thin.

Divide batter between 12 to 15 lined muffin pan cups (dividing between 12 produces domed cupcakes and dividing between 15 makes flatter topped cupcakes).

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean (about 18 to 22 minutes).

Let cool and frost with Ghost Pepper Ganache Frosting (recipe follows).

Makes 12 to 15 cupcakes

 

Ghost Pepper Ganache Frosting

10 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 & 1/2 cups)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ghost pepper
(for less heat, substitute cayenne)
1 cup heavy cream

Put the chocolate chips, cinnamon and ground ghost pepper (or cayenne) into a medium-sized stainless steel mixing bowl.  Set aside.

In a small, heavy saucepan, over medium heat, bring cream just to a boil, stirring.  As soon as cream comes to a boil, turn off the heat and pour the cream over the chocolate and spices in the bowl.  Wait just a minute or two and then stir continuously until melted and smooth (this takes a bit).

Let frosting stand for a half an hour, until thick enough to spread (you an chill for ten minutes or so in the fridge, if necessary).

Frost cupcakes and enjoy with an ice cold glass of milk (milk soothes the taste buds when eating spicy foods due to the fat-loving casein it contains.  Casein combines with the capsicum oil in chile peppers to wash it away).

 

The Earth Plus Plastic

October 12, 2015

“The planet will be here and we’ll be long gone…
And if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well,
the planet will simply incorporate plastic
into a new paradigm:

‘The Earth Plus Plastic’…
Could be the only reason the Earth allowed us
to be
spawned from it in the first place.
It wanted plastic for itself,
didn’t know how to make it,
needed us.

Could be the answer to our age-old,
egocentric, philosophical question;

‘Why are we here?’.”
~ George Carlin

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House in Bolivia built from PET bottles, dirt and debris.

 

Houses made from discarded plastic and/or glass bottles, like the one pictured above, are currently being built in countries all over the world by innovative architects and locals, addressing housing shortages while reducing waste.  Projects in Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Senegal, Uganda, Nigeria, Germany, Serbia and the United States also include schoolhouses, greenhouses, guest houses, water storage tanks, aqueducts, sculptures and churches.

A two-bedroom plastic house requires about 14,000 discarded bottles to complete.  If that sounds like a lot, ponder these numbers:

1500 plastic water bottles are consumed every second here in the U.S.

Out of the 50 billion bottles of water being bought each year, 80% will end up in a landfill, in spite of existing recycling programs.

17 million barrels of oil are used in the production of plastic water bottles each year.

In Nigeria, where 3 million plastic bottles are thrown away daily, there is a 16 million home housing shortage.  These innovative plastic bottle houses are helping to address that shortage.

The walls of the two-bedroom bottle houses are built using bottles filled with sand and held together with mud and cement.  This type of wall is stronger than cinder blocks and makes these homes bulletproof, fireproof and earthquake-safe, in addition to maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature year-round.  Plastic bottle buildings, such as these, can go as high as three stories.  In addition, the cost of building one of these bottle beauties is 1/4 that of a conventional house.

Although glass bottles have been used to construct small homes here in the U.S. since 1902, and houses utilizing empty vessels in construction date back to ancient Rome, Andreas Froese, a German environmentalist and inventor of ECOTEC, the art of PET bottle construction, has been the recent driving force behind plastic bottle projects around the world.  To read more about the possibilities of plastic bottle construction or to organize a project in your own country or town, visit eco-technologia.com.

Or, if you’d like to start small, you can use your discarded water and soda bottles as planters and transform a wall or a fence in your home into something both beautiful and beneficial:

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I’m planning to decorate the fence around my patio with these, using drought tolerant plants and succulents.  Let me know if you do the same.

~~~~~~~~~

Make Soda Pop Chicken Wings for the next game and then transform the empty bottles into planters.

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Soda Pop Chicken Wings
Be sure to use a premium brand of naturally-flavored orange soda with real sugar for this recipe.  Artificially sweetened soda or diet soda will not work.  You need the real sugar to create the proper caramelized wing sauce texture.

1 (12 oz) bottle of naturally-flavored orange soda
(made with cane sugar)
1/2 cup pineapple juice (unsweetened)
1/2 cup organic soy sauce
1/4 cup light brown organic brown sugar, packed
2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup hot sauce, such as sriracha
3 lbs chicken wings, drumettes or drumsticks1/4 cup salted butter

Rinse chicken wings and pat dry.

In a large bowl, combine soda, pineapple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and hot sauce.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.  Reserve 1/2 of the marinade and set aside.

Toss wings in bowl with remaining half of marinade and stir to coat well.  Cover and marinate in fridge for 2 to 4 hours.

To cook:
Pull chicken wings from marinade.  Discard used marinade.

In a large, heavy frying pan, over medium-high heat, melt butter.  Brown chicken wings on all sides.  Add 1/3 of the reserved marinade to the pan.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until done (about 25 minutes), turning and basting every 10 minutes.  Add more of the reserved marinade, as needed, to baste and moisten the pan.

Keep warm in a low oven.

Serves 4 to 6

Shine On

September 26, 2015

“For this is what America is all about.  It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge.  It is the star that is not reached and the harvest that is sleeping in the unplowed ground.”
~ Lyndon B. Johnson

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A full Moon symbolizes potential realized, a dream fulfilled and a harvest ready to be gathered.

Earlier this week we welcomed Autumn, the season of the harvest.  Sunday night (or Monday morning, for those in Europe), we will be treated to a very special lunar event.  This year’s Harvest Moon will be a Super Moon.  To make the event even more spectacular, there will also be a total Lunar Eclipse.

The Harvest Moon is the full Moon that happens closest to the Autumnal Equinox, the first day of the fall season in the northern hemisphere.  Many crops ripen during this time of year and farmers often have to work to harvest their crops into the night. Long ago, before electricity was discovered and light bulbs were invented,  farmers relied on moonlight to guide them while they worked.  Thus, the first full Moon of autumn was named the “Harvest Moon”.

During a full Moon, the Sun and Moon are opposite each other.  During a Lunar Eclipse, the Earth stands between the two, blocking the Moon’s view of the Sun.  If you were on the Moon during this time, the Earth would appear black as it blocked the Sun’s light, creating a ring of red light around it.  Since we are on the Earth, looking at the Moon, we will see this red light reflected onto the Moon as it passes through the Earth’s shadow.  At 9:07 p.m. Eastern Time/6:07 p.m. Pacific Time on the evening of September 27, the Earth’s shadow will begin to move across the Moon.  At about 10:11 Eastern Time/7:11 Pacific, the Moon will be completely enveloped by our planet’s shadow.  The Moon will appear red for about an hour and 12 minutes.

This full Moon will also be a “Super Moon” because its opposition to the Sun will occur at the point of its orbit that is closest to the Earth, making it look much bigger in our sky.  In fact, the Super Moon will appear to be 12% to 14% larger than its counterpart, the Micro Moon (the part of its orbit when it is furthest from Earth).

A waxing moon symbolizes potential.  The Full Moon represents the fulfillment of that potential.  If you happen to be watching the lunar event from California, dance around a bit under this very special moonlight; we could use some rain.

~~~~~~~~~

On a recent trip to Italy, I discovered As do Mar tuna, 100% processed in Italy.  This tuna is so delicious it needs no seasoning, just dump over some greens or scoop up with some crackers and enjoy.  As do Mar tuna is also Friend of the Sea certified sustainable seafood.  I love this tuna so much that, after I returned from my trip, I broke my 3 years of being “Amazon free” to order a case.  You can find it at specialty shops that carry foods imported from Italy.  If you take a trip to Italy, bring some home with you!  Visit asdomar.it for info.

Here in the States, the Tuna Guys (tunaguys.net) tuna is caught and processed completely in the USA, in the Pacific Northwest.  It is pole-caught and was rated “Best Choice” for sustainability by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.  It is sensational.  Shout out to my friend Bonnie for introducing me to Tuna Guys tuna.

American Tuna is pole-caught and 100% traceable back to the vessel that caught it.  Caught in the Pacific Northwest and packed by hand in Oregon, you can find it at Whole Foods markets (americantuna.com).

~~~

Use your favorite sustainably-caught gourmet tuna for Tuna and Arugula Bruschetta.

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Tuna and Arugula Bruschetta
The quality of ingredients will make this dish.  Make sure to use delicious, fresh bread, good quality extra virgin California olive oil, and sustainably-caught gourmet tuna in olive oil.

For each serving you will need:

1 piece of sourdough bread or Italian bread, about 7″ x 4″
(or two smaller pieces)

One fresh clove of garlic, cut in half
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing
A handful of arugula leaves
One small (80g) can gourmet tuna in olive oil
Or
1/2 of a large can (6 oz/170g)

Spanish smoked paprika, to sprinkle

 

Grill or toast bread on both sides.

Rub surface of bread all over with cut side of garlic clove.  Discard leftover clove.

Place a generous handful of arugula over the bread.

Spoon the tuna along with its oil over the arugula.

Sprinkle a bit of smoked paprika over the tuna.

Serve immediately.  Yum!

Citizens of Earth

September 12, 2015

“Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it.  Because cynics don’t learn anything.  Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.  Cynics always say no.  But saying ‘yes’ begins things.  Saying ‘yes’ is how things grow.  Saying ‘yes’ leads to knowledge.”
~ Stephen Colbert

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From the atlas Harmonia Macrocosmica, 1660

 

Stephen Colbert is back on TV and all is right with the world.

Stephen Colbert’s first episode of The Late Show aired earlier this week.  Shortly after David Letterman announced his retirement in April 2014, Stephen, then host of The Colbert Report, became his designated successor.  In December of that same year, Colbert ended his Comedy Central show to begin preparing to take over for Dave.

During the 9 months of preparation for the new Late Show, Stephen and his staff kept up their comedy chops by putting up videos, podcasts and other content on the new show’s website and YouTube channel.  A few weeks ago, Stephen posted a video announcing that he would be one of the hosts for the 2015 Global Citizen Festival, along with Kerry Washington, Hugh Jackman, Selma Hayak, Pearl Jam, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay.

Stephen went on to say that the Global Citizen Festival is different from the usual concert in that “To gain entry, you must earn your way in by taking selfless action to help humanity.”

The goal of the festival is to encourage people to take action to end extreme poverty.  To win a ticket, would-be concert goers can go to the globalcitizen.org website, open an account and then take various actions like calling their Senator or member of Congress, tweeting the Prime Minister of Italy, or signing a petition telling the G7 members to make financial commitments to lift 500 million people out of hunger.

The concert takes place on September 26, in Central Park, NYC.  Even if you can’t make it to New York on that day (or you’re just not that into Coldplay), the idea of humanitarian action as currency is an interesting one.

Why not create a local event in your neighborhood that requires selfless action, instead of cash, to gain admission?  Maybe organize a pop-up restaurant, a concert with local musicians or a day of beauty at a spa.

Ask prospective attendees to do more than tweet.  Suggest donating to a food bank, volunteering to help animals, working a shift at a soup kitchen, donating blood, helping clean up trash around town or reaching out to a neighbor in need with a ride or help around the house.

If you have kids, this can be a great way to teach them the joy of service to others.  Ask your adult friends to help put together a fun event for kids that requires acts of sharing and kindness for admission.

It’s a big world and you are only one citizen of Earth, but you can make a difference and help others to do the same.  All it takes is a little imagination, a little action and a willingness to say, “yes”.

~~~~~~~~~

Enjoy the last bounty of summer by making a Watermelon Cream Pie.

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Watermelon Cream Pie
This delicately flavored summer pie is both creamy and refreshing.  Because the melon gives most of the flavor to this pie, it is important to use a ripe, flavorful one.  You can also try cantaloupe or mango as variation.

For the crust:
1 & 1/2 cups vanilla wafer cookie crumbs
6 tablespoons of butter, melted
A pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter

For the filling:
2 cups watermelon purée (from a small, ripe, seedless watermelon – see instructions below)
1/3 cup organic raw sugar (plus more, to taste)
1/4 cup cold water
1 envelope unflavored gelatine (I used Knox)
2 cups organic vanilla-flavored whole milk Greek-style yogurt

Optional, for garnish:
Fresh mint sprigs

 

To make the crust:
Using a rolling pin, crush the cookies between two pieces of plastic wrap or inside of a large zip bag.  Combine the melted butter with the crushed cookie crumbs and salt (if using) in a bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork.  Press mixture evenly into the bottom and partially up the sides of an 8-inch springform pan or a 9 x 2-inch deep dish pie pan.  Refrigerate until set (about 1 hour).

Note: If your melon has been in the fridge, you will want to leave it at room temperature for a short time before you make the pie.  You don’t want the watermelon purée to be too cold when you add the gelatin mixture.

Make the filling:
Cut the watermelon in half, then quarters, then cut flesh into small chunks.  Discard rind (or save to make pickles).  Even in seedless watermelon, there are usually a few soft, white seeds, so remove these by scraping with a fork.  Blend watermelon chunks in a blender until puréed.  You will need 2 cups of purée to make the pie (I needed less than half of a small melon).

Place 1/4 cup of cold water in a small bowl.  Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over surface of the water – do not stir.  Set the bowl aside for a few minutes; it will swell and absorb the liquid (this is called “blooming”).

Meanwhile, add the sugar to the watermelon purée in the blender and blend to dissolve the sugar.  Taste and blend in more sugar, if needed (I didn’t).  Pour this into a medium bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of the sweetened watermelon purée over low heat.  Add the bloomed gelatin and stir until completely dissolved.  Turn off heat.

Gradually stir the gelatin mixture into the bowl with the remaining sweetened watermelon purée.

In a large bowl, add the yogurt.  Using a fork, gradually stir the watermelon mixture into the yogurt until smooth.

Remove crust from fridge.

Pour filling over crust.  Cover surface of pie with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

To serve:
If you using a springform pan, release the sides and remove.  Cut pie into slices, garnish with mint, if desired, and serve.  If you are not using a springform pan, the first slice might fall apart a bit getting it out of the pan, but subsequent slices should be fine.  No matter, this pie is so yummy it won’t stay on the plate very long!

Serves 6