Nothing is Everything

May 9, 2019

“I love talking about nothing.  It is the only thing I know anything about.”
~ Oscar Wilde

For the past month, I’ve been working steadily on an editing job for a friend.  The project is unique and inspirational, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the work, but it has kept me away from this blog for a bit.  We are now past the first week of May and, until today, I had posted nothing since the beginning of April.  Nothing isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though.  In fact, the word may is not only the name of the current month, it is also a modal verb, indicating possibility or potential.  Nothing is something that is full of potential.

Several years ago, physicists and philosophers gathered at the American Museum of Natural History to debate the concept of nothing.  They put forth various theories and opinions, which all seemed to demonstrate that what we think of as nothing is really something.  If I had been there, I would have argued that nothing is something that may contain everything.

To illustrate that nothing can contain everything, I’ll use the example of the number line in mathematics, a concept that illustrates real numbers, showing positive numbers at the right and negative numbers at the left, with zero in the center:

 

 

I have often imagined both sides of this line turning up vertically, with zero at the bottom, and each number facing its opposite.  Since +1 and -1 combine to make zero, as does every other pair of opposite numbers, this line would close into itself like a zipper, as each pair found its opposite and they dissolved themselves together, back into zero.

Zero may seem like nothing, but the potential for everything lives within it.  In fact, between each of those whole numbers I just described lies the possibility of smaller and smaller slices of numbers: 1.1, 1.11, 1.111, and on and on, infinitely.

The possibilities within you for new ideas, new inspirations and new choices are also infinite, but sometimes creating new things requires a bit of space, a bit of nothing.

Ebb tide enables a clean space for castles to be built and messages to be written in the untouched sand.  Paintings are created on top of a clean canvas; ideas and plans are put forth on a white board or blank page and films are projected on an empty screen.  Organizational experts often recommend pulling everything out of drawers or closets in order to choose what to keep, what to let go of and what shape the newly-emptied space will take.

When you need a new idea, a fresh perspective or a bit of inspiration, or even in those times when you’re not sure what you want, it is important, often necessary, to make yourself some space.  If your mind, heart or calendar seems cluttered with an infinite succession of stuff, give yourself the gift of nothing.  Like tilling the soil in a garden or plowing a field in order to plant a new crop, clear away some downtime, some quiet time for yourself.  Set aside one day per month with nothing “to-do” on your calendar.  If you can’t find one day, make the space for at least an hour of alone time. Take a walk, soak in a tub or simply carve out 30 minutes each day when all devices are off.  Give yourself permission to not do, even if it’s just for a bit.

Imagine everything that may be waiting to be discovered within just a little bit of nothing.


Photo courtesy Beverlee Moreno Ring

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Maple Chicken Brunch Sausages are a delicious treat for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day or any day.

Maple Chicken Brunch Sausages
Homemade sausages are a delicious treat and easier to make than you think.  By forming the mixture into patties, instead of filling a casing, you can cook and serve or freeze and heat at your convenience; no smoking or curing necessary. Use pastured, organic or free range chicken for a better flavor, more humane process and healthier product.

 

Ingredients for sausages:
1 lb ground chicken
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon smoked Spanish paprika
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed
1 teaspoon crumbled dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

Olive oil for frying (a few tablespoons)

 

In a medium bowl, mix together all ingredients except the olive oil.  Cover and chill for 30 minutes.

To form the patties:
Rinse hands in cold water.  Divide mixture into ten portions and shape each into a 2 & 1/2-inch disk.

Lightly coat a non-stick skillet with olive oil and heat on high.  Fry the sausages on both sides until completely cooked through and golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.  Cooked sausage patties can also be fully cooled, wrapped and frozen for oven or microwave reheating.

Makes 10 sausage patties

 

Newton’s Third Law

April 3, 2019

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.”
~ Sir Issac Newton’s Third Law of Motion
(Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, 1687)

Spring is officially here, ushered in a couple of weeks ago with the Spring Equinox.  Also known as the Vernal Equinox, its name signifies one of two times during the year when day and night are of nearly equal length.  On the first day of summer, the longest day of the year, the scales are tipped in favor of the Sun.  At Winter Solstice, they lean all the way into the night.  However, each of these extremes are guaranteed to balance themselves at least twice a year, in autumn and in spring.  Within the space of one year, the Earth revolves completely around the Sun as our planet rotates on an invisible axis.  Think of a spinning top that tilts slightly as it whirls around.  The four seasons are determined by the direction of Earth’s tilt in relation to the Sun and the angle of the Sun’s light as it hits the Earth.

This dance of the seasons relates to the balancing poses that I teach in yoga.  I remind students that we refer to this category of poses using the gerund because the process of finding our way to balance is continual.  Balancing, like dancing, is an activity, not a fixed state.  One of the best examples of this is Mountain Pose (Tadasana), which almost anyone can do, even if they have never studied yoga.  There is a subtle metaphor for earthly life to be found within this simplest of poses.  If you’d like to give it a try, here’s how:

Stand with your feet about hip or sit bones distance apart.  Even out the weight across your two feet and within and around the sole of each foot.  Lift up from the top of your head as if an unseen hand were helping you.  Gently tuck your tailbone forward and draw your abdominal muscles and back muscles in around your center of gravity.  Lift your chest, not in military fashion; lift it expectantly, like you just received good news.  This will cause your arms to open slightly, which should remain at your side, slightly out from your hips.  Now, fix your gaze to a point out in front of you: a dot on the wall or carpet, a leaf or flower or blade of grass.  Let everything else around this single point softly blur.  That point is your “now”.


Yoga art print available here

 

In less than a minute you will realize that simply standing upright, on our own two feet, requires constant adjustment.  Some days the corrections are big and sometimes they are nearly imperceptible, but we make them and return to equilibrium.

On those days when the world seems to be spinning out of control, leave big adjustments to a power greater than yourself.  Call it physics, call it God, call it the Universe; you already know how to surrender to an idea, to a mystery.  After all, as we stand on this ball of earth, spinning around the Sun at approximately 67,000 miles/110,000 kilometers per hour, we trust an unseen force we call gravity to keep us from flying off and out into space… and it does.

Remember that, no matter how long the nights or how sunny things do or don’t look, balance will always restore itself.  Just like day and night are guaranteed to find their way to balance, so will world events, the scales of justice, your personal equilibrium and anything else that may, at times, feel tipped a little too far to one side or the other.  Like the two equinoxes of the year, those corrections will come according to their own timetable, which is not necessarily yours.  You might as well enjoy the dance.  Keep your focus on that center of gravity that is always within you and make your adjustments as needed.  That equal and opposite reaction is on its way.

“Let your life lightly dance on the edges of Time
like dew on the tip of a leaf.”

~ Rabindranath Tagore

 

Watch Newton’s Third Law demonstrated at zero gravity:

~~~~~~~~~

Celebrate the balance between red and blue that is the color purple with Ube and Coconut Tiramisù.

Ube and Coconut Tiramisù
Ube is the name for a purple-colored yam that is a well-known dessert ingredient in Filipino cuisine.  If you are Filipino or have friends or family with Filipino ancestry, you have probably been one of the lucky ones to discover the deliciousness of ube ice cream and cakes.  This tiramisù is my Italian homage to the Filipino staple.  You can easily find powdered ube online (here).  If you live near a Filipino market, you can find it in person and, probably, at a better price.  Plus, it’s a great excuse to explore and try new foods.  I got mine (as well as a pint of Magnolia ube ice cream) at the local Seafood City market.

When mixed with cream, the natural purple color of this yam creates a lavender tint that is striking.  Some like to intensify this effect with a few drops of food coloring.  I chose not to, but plant-based food colors are available at Whole Foods markets, so you can feel free to brighten up the purple-ness and still keep it “natural”.

Ube prepared as a savory dish is less common, but just as tasty.  At a previous trip to Seafood City, I bought some fresh ube yams and brought a pan of roasted ube, cut into chunks and cooked with a little salt, pepper, maple butter and crushed coconut chips to a Thanksgiving celebration last year.  The dish was a big hit and even got a thumbs up from my friend’s Filipino-born mom.

Notes for this recipe: I used coconut sugar for a more authentic flavor, but regular cane sugar or light brown sugar are both fine.  Also, make sure to get traditional, crisp ladyfingers.  Trader Joe’s carries a soft version, but you want the crisp ones that are available at Whole Foods or at any market with a good Italian or gourmet section.

*If you can’t find light coconut milk, just use a mesh strainer to strain out the solids from regular coconut milk.  Save those solids and use to add richness to curries, veggies or soups.

Ingredients
3 tablespoons Ube powder (powdered purple yam)
1 & 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons organic sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 (80z) tub of mascarpone cheese
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup light coconut milk*
1/4 cup dried coconut flakes (unsweetened)
1 (7oz) package of ladyfingers (savoiardi)

Equipment you will need:
Electric mixer
An 8-inch square pan
Or
6 goblets or short, wide glasses, small mason jars or small glass bowls.

Instructions:

In a small, heavy saucepan, over medium-high heat, combine the ube powder with the water and bring to a boil, stirring.  When it begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium-low and continue stirring, first frequently, then constantly, until it becomes like a thick puree (about 25 minutes).  As you stir, be sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the pan, so that the mixture doesn’t stick to the pan and thickens evenly.  After you’ve reached the desired thickness, remove the pan from the heat and continue stirring a minute or two more as the bottom of the pan cools.  You should end up with about 1 cup of ube puree.  Let the puree cool completely before continuing with the recipe.

While the ube is cooling, chill your beaters and a medium-sized bowl in the fridge (this will help your filling to whip better).  You may want to pull your mascarpone out of the fridge at this time, so it is softer when you mix it.

To make the tiramisù filling:

Stir 1/2 cup of the sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla  into the cooled ube puree and stir with a rubber spatula or large spoon until combined and smooth.

Pull your chilled bowl and beaters from the fridge.

Add the mascarpone and heavy cream to the bowl and whip with an electric mixer (more slowly and carefully at first, so as not to make a mess) until whipped to stiff peaks.  Add the sweetened ube puree.  Incorporate this into the whipped mixture using a rubber spatula at first, then with the electric mixer on low, stopping a couple of times to scrape the sides and bottom of bowl with the spatula, until fully incorporated, thick and creamy.  Cover and set in fridge while you prepare your coconut milk cookie bath and set out your pan or glasses.

In a shallow bowl, stir remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar into 1 cup of light coconut milk and stir until dissolved.  Set aside 1 tablespoon of the mixture to moisten your coconut flakes.  Dip both sides of a ladyfinger cookie into the coconut milk and place in position to line the bottom of your pan.  Continue with 1/2 of the cookies, breaking up some to fit in the odd spaces, as needed.  If you are using glasses or small bowls, break up and dip the cookies to fit into the bottom of the smaller containers.

Scoop half of your filling over the cookie layer and spread it out evenly.  For glasses/bowls, divide half the filling among the containers.

Make another layer of cookies over the filling, dipping both sides of each ladyfinger into the sweetened coconut milk as you go.  Top this with the remaining half of the filling and spread out evenly.  For glasses/bowls, repeat with the last half of the cookies, then divide the rest of the filling over the tops.

Cover with plastic wrap and chill the tiramisù in the refrigerator for 6 hours or overnight.  Also cover and chill your reserved sweetened coconut milk and keep in fridge until just before serving.

Before you serve:

In a small bowl, add the coconut flakes and pour the reserved coconut milk into it.  Stir until coated evenly and set aside for several minutes while it moistens.  Give it another stir.

Pull out the tiramisù.  Sprinkle the sweetened coconut flakes over the top(s) and serve.

Serves 6

 

 

Irrational

March 14, 2019

“There are a great many people in the country today who, through no fault of their own, are sane.”
~ from Monty Python’s Flying Circus (TV series 1969 – 1974)

 

 

Happy Pi Day!

In recent years, the increasing popularity of celebrating the number π on March 14th (3.14 being the first three digits of the never-ending number) has transformed the mathematical constant into a pop culture icon.  Because the number π is spelled out as “pi” and its English pronunciation sounds exactly like that of the word pie (the dessert), celebrating the irrational number by baking and eating an assortment of sweet and savory pastries is a match made in both mathematical and gastronomical heaven.  In addition to that (pun intended), most pies are circular, which makes dividing one in half a delicious teaching tool, as π is equal to the ratio of any circle’s circumference (distance around) to its diameter (distance across).

The number π is an irrational number, meaning it cannot be expressed as a common fraction, such as 1/2 or 3/16.  This means that its decimal representation never ends and also is not repeating (1/3 repeats as 0.3333….).  Pi is not the only irrational number.  There exists an uncountable and infinite amount of them, and there are other interesting ones like e or phi (the golden ratio) that we could celebrate.  Unfortunately for those numbers, π represents an excuse to eat dessert or pizza, so π wins.

Pi Day is also a good opportunity to accept or embrace (depending on your degree of surrender) the seemingly irrational part of earthly life.  These days, click-bait-based advertising and social media manipulation both help to drive what seems like a perpetual shock and outrage machine, adding to the already chaotic nature of current events.  Combined with the normal ups and downs of human experience, this can feel overwhelming for many of us.  Some days, no matter how hard you try to understand, things just don’t make any sense, at least from our current perspective in time and space.  When irrational seems to be the number of the day, it is often best to just let go, for the moment, and laugh.

I’m serious (again, pun intended).  According to a small, preliminary study by researchers at Loma Linda University, hearty laughter in response to humor causes a brain response similar to what you’d see as a result of meditation.  As a yoga therapist and someone who teaches groups and individuals mindfulness meditation techniques, this makes perfect sense.  Mindfulness is the practice of bringing one’s attention to the present moment, rather than oscillating thoughts between what one cannot change (past) and cannot know (future).  The act of laughing heartily brings both the mind and body directly into the now.

In fact, I often lead my yoga therapy clients in Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana), accompanied by controlled hearty laughter (what I like to call “Laughing Breath”).  Happy Baby is a simple pose that is restorative for the hips and lower back. I gave detailed instructions for Laughing Happy Baby Pose, as well as a tasty recipe for a Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Artichoke Hearts in this post from 2014:

Oki Doki Carciofi

If you’d like to give Laughing Breath a try by itself, without the added yoga pose.  Here’s how:

Sit or stand comfortably straight, with shoulders relaxed and spine lifted.  Turn up the corners of your mouth. Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose (if possible), filling your lungs completely.  As you exhale, laugh heartily: Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha..!, expelling breath with each “ha”.  Repeat this technique at least 3 times; inhaling slowly, steadily and fully via the nose and exhaling with hearty laughter through the mouth.  Once you get the hang of it, go ahead and get creative with your laughing exhales, combining guffaws with giggles, teehees and ho-ho-hos.

“The charm that repels a Boggart is simple, yet it requires force of mind.  You see, the thing that really finishes a Boggart is laughter.”
~ from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, by J.K. Rowling

~~~~~~~~~

There is nothing irrational about craving a slice of Mashed Potato Pizza Pi.


T-shirt graphic may be purchased here.

 

Mashed Potato Pizza Pi
This super-yummy mash-up of comfort foods makes an original appetizer or side dish.  Add a green salad and it’s a tasty lunch.  The potatoes and green chives atop a circular crust honor both Pi Day and St. Patty’s Day. Be sure to leave the skins on the potatoes (after scrubbing them) to include the maximum fiber and nutrients.  You can find baked, thin, ready-to-top pizza crusts in the bakery sections of Whole Foods and most grocery stores.  Trader Joe’s currently has a wonderful rectangular version, sold two to a package.  You can substitute both of those for the 12-inch round one called for in this recipe.

 

1 pound of Yukon Gold potatoes
1 (12-inch) pre-baked packaged pizza crust (thin)
1 to 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, cut in half
Scant 1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, divided
Salt and freshly-ground pepper
A pinch of crumbled dried rosemary
A heaping tablespoon of chopped, fresh chives
Optional:
2 to 3 tablespoons of crumbled, crispy-cooked bacon

 

Scrub potatoes under running water.  If large, cut into halves or quarters to facilitate cooking.  Place potatoes in a large soup pot and add water to cover.  Bring to a boil over high heat and add salt (I like to use course smoked sea salt here).  Boil potatoes until they are fork-tender.  Drain and set aside.

Preheat oven to 400°F

Brush surface of pizza crust with olive oil.  Rub cut sides of garlic clove all over oiled surface of crust.  Discard garlic halves.  Sprinkle crust with half of the Parmesan cheese.

Cut cooked potatoes into chunks and arrange over pizza crust.  Smash potato chunks with a potato masher or a large fork until flat and evenly smashed over crust.  Brush tops of smashed potatoes generously with olive oil.. Sprinkle with salt and pepper (less salt – more pepper), as well as the rosemary and chives and bacon (if using).  Mash potatoes a bit more to incorporate seasonings.  Top with remaining Parmesan.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden and crisp.

Serves 6 to 8 as an appetizer, first course or side dish.

Serves 4 to 6 as lunch with a salad

 

 

To Be Real

February 13, 2019

“Once you are real you can’t become unreal again.  It lasts for always.”
~ From The Velveteen Rabbit, by Margery Williams

 

If you are a regular visitor to this blog, you may remember reading that my 16-year-old cat Folster passed away last year, just before Thanksgiving.  Although I miss him and think about him daily, I know he’s just on the other side of the veil, and that love transcends that barrier.  For his sister Sofia, the adjustment has been much more difficult.  She and Folster were together from the time they were in the womb.  She too is slowly getting used to his absence, but still doesn’t like to be left alone and sometimes cries when I leave the house or take a long shower.

One friend who has helped Sofia immensely is her stuffed animal, Birdie (pictured in the photo above).  She’s had Birdie since she was a kitten, when I picked him out from a display of Audubon Society plush toys. Birdie represents the Blue Grosbeak.  He originally chirped his authentic sound when his back was pressed, but time and repeated pressings have reduced his voice to a faint whistle.  In fact, Sofia has enjoyed playing with him so much over the years, I had to sew up a hole she had made in his throat where the cotton stuffing was coming out.  A freshly-repaired Birdie was her Christmas gift a few years back.

Since the loss of her brother, Sofia has taken to carrying Birdie in her mouth, moving him from room to room, depending on where she wants to hang out.  She wants Birdie there at bedtime too, sitting in the spot Folster used to sleep, and doesn’t settle down until she sees him there.  Birdie is by no means a replacement for Folster, but he is honoring Folster’s place, and that seems to comfort Sofia.

Her attachment to Birdie reminds me of Wilson, the volleyball that became the trusted confidant of the main character in the movie Cast Away (2000), starring Tom Hanks.  I remember watching as Hanks’ character Chuck Noland, stranded on an otherwise uninhabited island for years, befriends the previously inanimate object, talking to it and sharing his daily thoughts, triumphs and sorrows with the ball (created and named after its brand packaging):

I remember that, even though I was merely a spectator to the volleyball’s morph into best friend, as I watched the scene when Noland is finally attempting to escape the island on a makeshift raft and Wilson is lost at sea after a storm, I cried real tears; heartbroken, along with the movie character, by the loss.  Wilson had also become real to me.

The red and green bird in the photo below is Naso, Birdie’s friend.  Sofia is fond of him, and especially likes rubbing her cheek against his long beak. Naso represents the Ruby-throated Hummingbird.  Naso is a much newer toy, so his voice is still loud and clear and his colors are bright.  He’s also much smaller than Birdie, and so should be easier for Sofia to carry in her mouth.

In spite of Naso’s more manageable size and working voice box, he’s clearly not her favorite; Birdie is the only one she carries around with her.  I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Naso, having to settle for second lead.

Birdie, and to a slightly lesser extent, Naso, have both become Sofia’s companions as she adjusts to life in the house without Folster, just as Wilson became the castaway’s companion as he coped with life alone, stranded on a island in the middle of the ocean.  And, just as I found myself becoming attached to Wilson while watching Cast Away; as I watch Sofia make her stuffed animal friends into family members, and observe how their presence lifts her spirits and soothes her soul, I am feeling a soft spot growing in my heart for each of them.  Birdie and Naso have become real for me as well.

“The heart has its reasons, which reason does not know.  We feel it in a thousand things.”
~ Blaise Pascal

Happy Valentine’s Day!

~~~~~~~~~

Easy to make Homemade Mascarpone Cheese tastes so good your taste buds will be in ecstasy for real.

Homemade Mascarpone Cheese
This was so easy to make and absolutely delicious – light years from the store-bought kind!  You’ll need to start this a little over 24 hours before you want to serve (most of that time represents the mascarpone just chilling in the fridge).   Use grass-fed cream if possible.  Milk from grass-fed (pastured) cows contains an ideal ratio of essential fatty acids and is higher in beta-carotene, vitamin A and vitamin E.

Honestly, you could just eat this plain, with a spoon, it’s so good.  However, if you want to take the slightly less decadent route, simply sweeten it with powdered sugar, maple syrup or honey to taste and flavor with a bit of vanilla, liqueur or cocoa powder.  Then serve the flavored mascarpone to dip with fruit and/or cookies or spread on quick bread or pound cake for an easy and elegant dessert.  I had it for breakfast this morning, spread on top of a slice of Trader Joe’s new Cinnamon Croissant Loaf.  The combination was so delectable that if I were a Catholic I would have had to go to confession after eating it.

You could also make Tiramisù in a Jar to tote to a friend or loved one’s house for you both to share, or as a gift for them to enjoy.  I’ve included instructions at the end of this recipe.

 

Ingredients:
2 cups/1 pint (473 ml) organic heavy cream
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

You will need:
A quart-sized, heavy bottomed saucepan
Whisk
Big bowl to cool the pan in
Ice for ice bath
Large, fine-mesh sieve
Cheesecloth or clean tea towel to line sieve
Medium bowl to drain whey

Instructions
In a medium saucepan, heat heavy cream to a simmer.

Add the lemon juice and whisk until the cream begins to thicken, about 10-12 minutes.  Stir frequently and keep an eye on it, adjusting heat if necessary, to make sure mixture stays at a steady simmer and doesn’t boil and bottom of pan does not burn.

When cream is thickened (if mixture evenly coats the back of a spoon when dipped, it’s ready), turn off heat and transfer the pan directly to a bowl with some ice and water (pan should be able to sit on top of ice and water without tipping over).  Allow mixture to cool there in the pan for about 20-25 minutes.

Meanwhile, line the sieve with several layers of cheesecloth or a clean tea towel.  Place the lined sieve to rest on top of a slightly larger bowl and pour the cooled cream from the pan into the lined sieve (I removed the pan from the ice bath, emptied it, rinsed and dried the bowl and used this for my bottom bowl).

Cover the cream with plastic wrap and place the whole operation in the refrigerator and let it drain for 24 hours.

After 24 hours, remove the bowl and the sieve.  The cream will have thickened further and you will see a few tablespoons of whey in the bowl that you placed below the strainer.  Reserve this whey to use in other recipes, such as rice, smoothies, soups, sauces, etc.  Squeeze the cheesecloth a bit to make sure no liquid is left.  The thick, creamy stuff remaining in the cheesecloth is your freshly-made, authentic, mascarpone cheese.

You will end up with about 1 cup (8 oz) of mascarpone.  Use immediately in a recipe or cover and store in the fridge in an airtight container.  Mascarpone is best eaten within a few days.

Tiramisù in a Jar
Start by mixing mascarpone with a bit of espresso or liqueur to taste and just enough sugar to make it a little sweet.  Put a layer of the sweetened cheese into the bottom of a pint-sized (16oz) mason jar with lid.  Dip crisp ladyfinger cookies in espresso and layer them in the jar, alternating with the mascarpone.  Finish with a dusting of cocoa powder, chocolate shavings or a sprinkling of chocolate chips.  Optional: add a single amareno cherry, raspberry or caramel on top.  Seal jar and let chill in fridge for a few hours before delivering, enjoying or sharing.

 

Super Waves

January 30, 2019

“Live in the present; launch yourself on every wave; find your eternity in each moment.”
~ Henry Thoreau

I have fond memories of doing the “wave” at Dodger stadium with my dad.  He was a loyal Dodgers fan.  He also followed the Rams.  My dad had Rams season tickets back when they used to play at Anaheim Stadium.  He would be happy that they had returned to be the Los Angeles team again, not only because he was a fan, but because every time I hear about the Rams, I am reminded of him.

In 1986, my father was rushed to the hospital after collapsing from back pain and was diagnosed with multiple myeloma.  He was told that he had between 45 days and 18 months to live.  My dad was a stubborn s.o.b, so even though he was told he wouldn’t walk again, he was back to his hobby of swing dancing six months after his diagnosis and surgery.  After his first round of chemo, the hair he was accustomed to dying shoe polish-black grew back thick and silvery.  Not being inclined to feign an unawareness of his natural good looks, he began referring to himself as “The Silver Fox.”

Then, when another tumor showed up in his right arm, he was told he had permanently lost the use of it.  My dad wasn’t having any of that and was back to golfing several months after surgery.  The subsequent round of chemo caused him to lose quite a bit of weight and to lose his hair.  As a result, even though he was only in his mid 50s at the time, he looked like an elderly man.  Never mind, my frugal dad used this to his advantage, asking for and getting a senior discount wherever it was available and still enjoying life.  His doctors at the USC Norris Center used to refer to him as “Miracle Man”.  Finally, seven years after he was given 18 months to live, his illness got to the point where he had to move to end-of-life care at a convalescent home.

It was the winter of 1993 when he first entered the facility and the Super Bowl was coming up.  He was bedridden and had no TV available.  A thoughtful friend loaned me a small television set and I took it to my dad’s room on Super Bowl Sunday.  One of the workers at the nursing facility helped me hook up the set and adjust the rabbit ears so that we could watch the game.  My dad had asked me to bring popcorn, fried chicken and some of those little mixed drinks that come in a can.  Another caretaker got us a bucket of ice and looked the other way with regards to our use of it, even though alcohol was, I’m pretty sure, not allowed in the facility.  So there we were, my father and I, on Super Bowl Sunday, watching the game, hoopin’ and hollerin’.  The man who shared his room, lying unconscious in the other bed, his mouth open in a semi-permanent gasp, was the only reminder that we were not viewing the game from Dad’s living room couch.  Every half hour or so, one of the caretakers would peek in the door, smiling, to ask us the score and see if we needed anything.

To anyone else, this might seem like just a cute little story, merely an anecdote, but it was much more.  For my father to have that small slice of normalcy in the middle of strange and stressful surroundings was huge.  It was impactful for me as well.  My dad did not live in the same house with me as I was growing up, so this is the only memory that I have of us watching the Super Bowl together.  For me it is a most precious one.

My father passed away later that year, 5 months after his 59th birthday.

In the years since, I have become an avid football fan myself.  Thanks to that friend who loaned me the TV and because of the caretakers at the end-of-life care facility who helped us have such a special day together by taking the time to bring us a bucket of ice, some paper plates or just a smile; every year when I watch the Super Bowl, it’s like I’m watching it with my dad once again.  This year, with the Rams playing in the big game, it will be extra special.

Like pebbles tossed into a lake, these simple gestures of kindness made in the past reach out to the present in waves, perpetually, over and over, reuniting me with my dad, carrying love through time and supporting me joyfully through missing him, still, 26 years later.

A wave can be described as a disturbance that travels through a medium, transporting energy from one location to another.  I don’t know where all the people who helped and comforted my dad and me in his final months are today.  They came into our lives only briefly.  But they were mediums through which joy, healing and transformation passed.

Just like a dolphin that dives into the middle of an ocean may not see the effect of the wave that it puts into motion reach the shore, you may not be aware of the future effects of the kindnesses you show someone today.  But, they are happening, whether you are there to witness them or not.  A seemingly small action, in a single moment, can hold within it an eternity’s worth of love.  You are each only one individual, but every day, in every moment, you have the potential to make an ocean of difference.

~~~~~~~~~

Sweet and savory Cream Soda-Caramelized Onions will give your Super Bowl snacks the winning edge.

Cream Soda-Caramelized Onions
This simple recipe makes a unique and delicious condiment.  It’s good on sandwiches, salads, burgers, hot dogs, quesadillas and more.  I used Flying Cauldron Butterscotch Beer for this recipe (available at Whole Foods and online).  Although it’s called “Beer” it is non-alcoholic, like Root Beer or Ginger Beer, which would also make for good variations on this recipe.  Whatever soda you choose, make sure it is a good quality, cane sugar sweetened, naturally flavored one.  The real cane sugar makes the extra caramelization happen.  I made a super-yummy and simple spaghetti dish with these.  I’ve posted that recipe below this one.

 

1 large yellow onion or two small ones
1 (12 oz) bottle of good-quality cream soda
Salt & freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/2 tablespoon butter
Balsamic vinegar, to deglaze pan

 

Trim ends and peel from onion.  Halve and slice into thin strips.  Add onions to a wide-bottomed heavy skillet (I used a Le Creuset Braiser) along with the full bottle of soda.  Season with a bit of salt and freshly-ground pepper.

Cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until the liquid is evaporated (20-30 minutes).  Reduce heat to medium and stir in 1/2 tablespoon butter.  Continue cooking, over medium heat, stirring and checking often so they don’t burn, until onions are a deep caramel-brown color (about 15-20 minutes more).

Deglaze the pan by adding a splash or two of balsamic vinegar, then stirring to loosen and incorporate the caramelized bits at bottom of pan.  Turn off heat, let cool a bit and store in a glass jar or container in fridge.

This yummy condiment will probably be eaten up quickly, but try to consume within one week of cooking.

 

Quick pasta idea:

Brown 2-4 Italian-style sausages (I used an organic chicken variety, which has less fat, so I added a tablespoon of olive oil to cook).  Stir in the Cream Soda Caramelized Onions.  Keep warm over low heat.  Boil 8 oz of pasta in salted water, according to package directions.  Stir some of the pasta cooking water into the onion/sausage mixture.  When pasta is just barely al dente, drain and add to onion mixture, stirring so that pasta absorbs the liquid from the mixture.  Add freshly ground black pepper and a bit of salt to taste. Serve hot.

Note: you don’t need any cheese on this; the sweetness of the onions and savory-ness of the sausage combine to give this dish the perfect flavor.  If you want some cheese, serve it as part of your appetizer, or at the end of the meal, with fruit.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer

 

 

Somni

January 21, 2019

“But man does not create… he discovers.”
~ Antoni Gaudí


Casa Milà (nicknamed La Pedrera), built between 1906 and 1910

 

Somni, is the Catalan word for “dream”.

One of my all-time favorite books has been The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho.  It is one of those books that I keep to enjoy again every few years.  With each new encounter, I find some fresh nugget of inspiration, insight or perspective that helps guide me along whatever part of my life’s path I’m currently on.

The book centers around the main character’s journey to realize a dream.  While reading it again recently, I was reminded of a recurring dream I had as a young teenager.  I was about 14 or 15 years old when I started dreaming visions of strange buildings composed of curved lines and organic shapes.  They seemed almost otherworldly, as I had never seen anything like them before.  Years later, in a college art history class, I discovered Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí and saw the unforgettable images from my dreams revealed to be two real-life buildings located in Barcelona.  Built in the early part of the last century, Casa Batlló and Casa Milà are considered masterpieces of architecture.

 


Casa Batlló, built in 1904

 

I’m not sure how I came to dream about Gaudí’s masterpieces.  As a child who spent hours in the local library, it is possible I had seen photos of the buildings and forgotten.  Carl Jung’s theory of a collective unconscious populated by shared archetypes and forms could offer an explanation.  Perhaps the images that inspired the Catalan architect were part of some universal human awareness that both Gaudí and I tapped into, and he created something tangible from his dreams.

If you haven’t read The Alchemist, I highly recommend doing so.  If you have, perhaps think about opening those pages and experiencing it again, from a new perspective.  In 2013, researchers at Emory University published the results of a study showing how reading a novel can improve brain function and connectivity, particularly in the central sulcus, the primary sensory motor region.  The research showed that enjoying fiction can affect one biologically.  Simply reading about a character running can activate the neurons associated with the physical act of running.

This is only a theory on my part, but perhaps these effects could make the transition of mental images, dreams and ideas into reality easier to accomplish – a neural work-out, so to speak.

Then again, perhaps taking the time to enjoy a good book – and possibly be inspired by it – is reason enough to open those pages.

“People are capable, at any time in their lives,
of doing what they dream of.”

~ From The Alchemist, by Paulo Coelho

~~~~~~~~~

Salmon Croquettes with Honey, Lemon and Avocado make for a dreamy addition to a tapas plate.


Sculpture “El Peix” (The Fish), by Frank Gehry (1992), located in Barcelona

 

Salmon Croquettes with Honey, Lemon and Avocado
These croquettes are absolutely delicious and fairly easy to prepare.  I prefer Salmon from the Pacific Ocean, and Sockeye Salmon is my favorite.  Luckily, Trader Joe’s carries canned Wild-caught Pacific Sockeye Salmon.  This recipe will serve about 4 people as a main course and 6 to 8 as an appetizer.

 

For croquettes:
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 (7.5 oz/212g) can Trader Joe’s Sockeye Salmon
Zest of half a lemon
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 cup Greek or Icelandic-style yogurt
1 tablespoon of chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 small clove of garlic, minced
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

For frying:
Sunflower oil (enough for 1-inch depth)

To serve:
About 4 tablespoons of honey, for drizzling
Lemon Avocado Mayo (recipe below)

 

In a small bowl, mix together the flour and baking soda.  Set aside.

Drain the salmon (if you have kitties, the liquid makes a nice treat for them) and remove any bones, if desired (I leave them in and just mash them up – they are edible).

In a medium-large bowl, mix the drained salmon and the remaining ingredients together with a large fork, flaking the salmon as you mix.  Add the flour mixture to the salmon mixture, about a third at a time, until thoroughly combined.

In a deep, heavy saucepan, add oil to a depth of 1 inch.  Heat over medium-high heat until a thermometer reaches 350°F.  Alternatively, you can add a kernel of unpopped popcorn to the pan.  When the kernel pops, the oil is ready; remove it and proceed with recipe (this is my method).

Scoop out 2 tablespoons at a time of the mixture and carefully drop into the oil.  Turn the balls with a slotted spoon, once or twice, to cook evenly.  When balls turn a deep golden brown, remove and let drain on paper towels.  Keep the fried balls warm in a 250°F oven while you continue with the rest of the mixture.

Serve hot, drizzled with honey and accompanied by Lemon Avocado Mayo (recipe below).

Makes about 25 croquettes

 

Lemon Avocado Mayo
For extra fanciness, you can serve this tangy, creamy dip in lemon shells that have been cut in half and hollowed out.  You will want a creamy-style variety of avocado for this, such as a Hass.  This recipe makes about 1 cup, which is enough for four persons.  If you are serving more people, you may want to double it.  You will want to prepare this before you make the Salmon croquettes, but don’t make too far ahead of time, to prevent the avocados from losing their bright color.

 

1 large or 2 small ripe avocados
1/4 cup organic mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/8 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika (pimentón)
Salt & freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

 

Scoop out avocado(s) into a medium bowl and mash well with a fork.  Add mayonnaise, lemon juice and zest, cumin and smoked paprika.  Mix together with a fork, until creamy and fully combined.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Serve with Salmon Croquettes.

 

 

Alla frutta

December 30, 2018

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.”
~ Seneca the Younger

 

A formal Italian meal usually consists of several courses:

Antipasti (Appetizers)
Primo (First Course)
Secondo (Main Course)
Contorni (Sides)
Insalata (Salad)
Frutta e formaggio (Fruit & Cheese)
Dolce (Dessert)
Caffè, Digestivo (Coffee, Digestif)

Everyday meals are simpler, but follow a similar order:

Primo (pasta, risotto or soup)
Secondo (meat, fish or other main course and veggies)
Frutta o Dolce (Fruit or dessert)

Either way, the fruit course is found at the end of the meal.

Hence, alla frutta, which is an idiomatic expression Italians use meaning that someone or something is “finished”.  Siamo alla frutta, “we’re at the fruit (now),” is similar to our “the fat lady is singing” or “the party’s over.”  The reference can be personal, as in “I’m all worn out” or “at the end of my rope”.  It can also be used in snarky fashion indicating the end of a situation or person (perhaps a political figure) in the way that we say, “stick a fork in it” or “he is toast.”

In the context of this post, however, I just wanted to end the year with an amusing little bit of language trivia and perhaps add an international flavor to your vocabulary of idiomatic expressions.

Looking at the phrase in a slightly different way, while we are alla frutta (at the end) of one year, we are entering the colazione a letto (breakfast in bed) stage of a new year.

Raspberry Ricotta Turnovers (Triangoli di pasta sfoglia con ricotta e lamponi) would make a lovely breakfast in bed for New Year’s morning, transforming the idea of being “alla frutta” into a delicious vision for 2019.

Felice anno nuovo a tutti!  Hope your New Year’s celebration is a yummy one.

Raspberry Ricotta Turnovers
(Triangoli di pasta sfoglia con ricotta e lamponi)
These delicious turnovers were inspired by Cassateddi di ricotta, a delicious Sicilian pastry filled with sweetened ricotta and fruit.  I used frozen puff pastry (from Trader Joe’s) and baked them in the oven for easier preparation.  They make a scrumptious breakfast goodie, or treat with an afternoon coffee or tea.

1 (18.3 oz) package of frozen puff pastry sheets
1 cup whole milk ricotta, drained overnight*
Zest of one lemon
3 tablespoons organic sugar
8 teaspoons seedless raspberry preserves
About 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 egg
Powdered sugar, for dusting

*Put 1 cup ricotta into a large mesh strainer and place this over a large bowl.  Put a piece of plastic wrap over the ricotta and weigh that down with a small, heavy bowl.  Cover and place in fridge for several hours or overnight.  Discard drained liquid.  You should end up with about 3/4 cup ricotta after draining.

Thaw puff pastry, according to package directions.

In a small bowl, combine ricotta, zest and sugar.  Mix thoroughly with a fork.

Dust a clean, flat work surface with flour.  Unroll one sheet of pastry (keep the other sheet covered, to keep from drying out).  Dust pastry and rolling pin lightly with flour.  Roll gently with rolling pin, just enough to even out any creases in pastry sheet and create a 9 & 1/2″ square.

Cut pastry sheet into 4 equal squares of 4 & 3/4″ each.

Place one teaspoon of raspberry preserves into the center of each square and spread into a small circle with the back of a spoon.  On each square, top raspberry circle with a rounded tablespoon of the ricotta mixture.  Top each mound of ricotta mixture with several chocolate chips.

In a small bowl, beat egg with a little water.

Wash hands.

Use a small pastry brush or your finger to spread some egg wash around the inside edges of each square.  Bring one corner of square up and over filling to meet the opposite corner, forming a triangle shape.  Press edges together with your finger to seal.  Use a fork to lightly seal edges again, then press once more with your finger to make sure there are no openings.

Using a sharp knife, cut three 1-inch slits into center top of each turnover to vent.  Brush surface of turnovers with egg wash.  Put assembled turnovers in fridge while you repeat the process with the second sheet of pastry to make four more turnovers.  Place all turnovers in fridge to chill while you preheat the oven.

Preheat oven to 400°F

Line a baking sheet with parchment.

Place turnovers 1/2″ apart on baking sheet and bake on upper rack of oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown (check at 18 minutes).

Let turnovers cool a minute or two and then loosen them with a spatula to make sure they don’t stick.  Dust generously with powdered sugar.  Move to a foil-lined counter to cool further.

You can serve these warm or cold.  Store in fridge overnight or wrap well and freeze if you want to keep them longer.  You can just thaw them out and eat them; they’re still yummy!

Makes 8 turnovers

 

Let Your Heart Be Light

December 19, 2018

“The windows of my soul I throw
Wide open to the sun.”
~ John Greenleaf Whittier

 

For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere, Friday, December 21 marks the Winter Solstice, the longest night and shortest day of the year.  The term solstice comes from the Latin words “sol” for sun and “sistere” for stand still.  At 2:23 pm, PST, the Sun (from our perspective) will stop moving southward, pause, and then begin moving in a northerly direction.  This movement of our Sun is an optical illusion, of course.  It is not the Sun moving, but the Earth moving, relative to the Sun.

Since the Summer Solstice, the length of days has been steadily decreasing.  After the Winter Solstice has passed, the Sun will regain its power and the days will get longer until our next Solstice in June, after which the night begins again to increase in length and the reflective moon takes over the starring role in the sky.

The longest night of the year represents a metaphor for dark nights of the soul: those times in life when melancholy, doubt and fear take over and happiness, faith and hope seem but a memory.  Grief and sadness are part of life on Earth, but so are joy and love.  Darkness is inevitably followed by light.

Now the dawn is breaking.  This week’s Winter Solstice is not only an astronomical event, it represents a metaphor of hope.  For what directly follows the night with the most hours of darkness is a morning of expanding light.  After the Winter Solstice, the Sun will shine longer and longer each day and soon spring will be on its way with all of its newborn life and possibility.  The Summer Solstice will eventually return and with it the longest day.  The wheel of life is ever turning.

The brief pause that is the Winter Solstice is also an opportunity for us to rest, reflect and meditate, between the previous year and the one ahead.  Below are instructions for a simple mindfulness exercise that will help you focus your awareness in the present moment and shift your inner gaze toward the growing light, making your body and mind a living metaphor for the increasing illumination that begins at the Winter Solstice.

 

Breath of Light Meditation


Sit in a comfortable, upright position, either in a chair, with feet on the floor, about hips distance apart; or seated directly on the floor, with legs gently crossed.  You could even try this meditation lying down, perhaps before bed or just before you start your day.  Bring yourself fully into the present moment by becoming aware of the sensations of your physical body and the movement of your breath: feel your feet evenly resting on the floor, your seat rooted to the earth; lift up from the top of your head, letting your spine lengthen and your abdominal muscles gently tuck in toward it.

Now begin a conscious breath (in and out of the nose, if you can), slowly, steadily, deeply; fully filling, then fully emptying your lungs.  Close your eyes and focus your attention on your mind’s eye: that point above and between your brows.  Now, using your mind’s eye, see an image of the Sun with rays of light shining out from it in all directions.  As you inhale deeply, see its bright, golden light move toward you, melding with your breath as the light enters your nasal passages, throat and chest, filling your lungs with light.  If you’re not “seeing” the images clearly, that’s fine; simply say to yourself as you breathe in, “My breath is filled with light.”  As you exhale, send the light into your right foot, imagining your right foot filling with golden light.  See each part being touched by light: your toes, top of your foot, the sole, heel and ankle.  You can visualize it or say to yourself, “My right foot is filled with golden light.”  Now focus your awareness on your left foot and imagine the light filling each part of it as you release your breath.

As you continue to breathe and visualize yourself drawing the light of the Sun into your center, move up each leg, exhaling and sending sunlight to fill and illuminate the right calf, then the left; the right thigh, and its opposite.

Now bring your awareness up into the area of your pelvis, seat, hips and associated organs.  Fill and surround them with your illuminated breath.

Let your awareness continue to rise, breathing light into the lower abdomen and lumbar area, then each of the abdominal organs.  Think, “My abdomen has become light.”  Let the light enter your lower spine.  Again, say to yourself, “My spine is made of golden light.”

Imagine the light filling your upper abdomen and mid-back, then your chest and rib cage.  Feel your heart and lungs expand with the light.  Let it fill the front of your chest and your upper back and shoulders.  Then feel it in your right arm – from the upper arm, past the elbow, all the way down to your fingertips and thumb.  Inhale more light and send it to flow all the way through your left arm.

With every breath, draw in more light from the Sun and exhale it into another part of your body.  Let the light rise up through your neck into your jaw, teeth, lips, nose and eyes, inspiring a smile.  Fill your eyebrows and forehead, softening the skin and muscles there.  Send the light up and around the back of your skull.  Feel your brain completely illuminated by the golden light, finally returning to its point of origin: the sun at the center of your mind’s eye.

Now allow your breath to become effortless and automatic.  Continue to sit quietly, for a few more minutes, seeing yourself completely filled, head to toe with bright, golden light or alternatively, verbally affirming to yourself, “Every cell and membrane of my body is filled and surrounded by light.”

Turn up the corners of your mouth and give a silent thanks to the Sun for the life and warmth it brings to all of us on planet Earth, daily, seasonally and always.

 

~~~~~~~~~

Linguini with Lemon and Crab, made with pastured butter, is both healthy and delicious.

Your heart will benefit from choosing butter made from the milk of pasture-raised, grass-fed cows.  Essential fatty acids, created in the green leaves of plants, have been linked to protection against coronary heart disease.  The greater percentage of a cow’s diet that comes from grass, the greater the amount of unsaturated fatty acids, the lower the amount of saturated fatty acids, and the more optimal the ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 acids in the milk.  Look for the words “grass fed” or “pasture-raised” on your dairy products.

Linguini with Lemon and Crab
My neighbor’s lemon tree hangs halfway over the fence into my driveway.  Its delicious heirloom variety lemons ripen at both the Summer and Winter Solstices.  They are thin-skinned and super juicy, like a Meyer but with a classic lemon flavor.  This year there is a bounty of them, so I am making lemon ice cream, lemon bars, lemon cake and this simple seafood pasta.  It is both easy to prepare and elegant to serve.  The recipe is for two, but it is easily doubled.

8 oz linguini
3/4 cup salted butter
1 clove of garlic, lightly smashed
6 oz cooked crab meat
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, for the table

Boil water for the pasta.  Meanwhile, make the sauce.

In a medium saucepan, stir together butter and garlic over medium-low heat.  When butter begins to sizzle, discard garlic.

Note: if you’re using canned or packaged crab meat, drain the liquid from the crab and add liquid to the pasta water.

Add the crab to the pan with the butter and stir.  Stir in lemon juice, zest and chives.  Simmer for a couple of minutes and add freshly ground black pepper to your taste.  Reduce heat to low.

Boil the linguini in well-salted water until al dente.  When linguini is almost done, add about 1/4 cup of the pasta water into the pan with the crab sauce and stir.  Drain the cooked pasta and add to the sauce.  Toss for a couple of minutes to mix together well and coat the linguini with the sauce.

Serve immediately.  Offer plenty of grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle over the top.

Serves 2

 

And Now, for Some Completely Different Things…

December 7, 2018

“Know what’s weird?  Day by day, nothing seems to change.  But pretty soon, everything’s different.” ~ Bill Watterson

Need some cool and original ideas for holiday gifts?  Here are a few of my favorite things this season.  None of these vendors or artists have asked me to promote them; I’m just passing on some links to unique products or artists that I’ve discovered, enjoyed and wish to share, so that you can enjoy them too!

Following is a list of gift ideas, for yourself or others, that you may not have seen before:

The Gift of Musical Transcendence
Zafìs
A volte accade (Sometimes it Happens)
Check out the new album by Italian musician and composer Zafìs. This beautiful, ethereal piano music will carry you – relaxed and inspired – through the hectic holiday season and into a brand new year.

Here is the YouTube playlist. You can listen now, as you read this post:

Stream A volte accade by Zafìs on whatever service you use.
You can also get/give it as a gift via iTunes (links below).

Apple Music here
Spotify here
Google Play here
Amazon Mp3 purchase or streaming on Amazon unlimited here
Search on iTunes for:  Zafìs  A volte accade
How to gift this or other songs via iTunes – instructions here


The Gift of Cute Food

Tiny Hands Jewelry

If you’re searching for a super-cute, unique gift for girl, teen or foodie hipster of any age (or a treat for yourself), visit Tiny Hands Online store for a drool-worthy menu of scented food jewelry that comes in all sorts of candy and food shapes like cupcakes, donuts, waffles, pizza, popcorn and more!  There’s even a necklace-of-the-month club!  You can purchase a gift card here and let your recipient enjoy perusing through all of the delicious choices themselves.


The Gift of Creative Possibilities

Spoonflower

Spoonflower is an online site where individuals can design, print and purchase or sell their own fabric, wallpaper and gift wrap.  If you don’t feel like designing but are looking for a fabric with a unique, cool or niche textile print (I found a gnome toile), there are thousands of unique and colorful designs to choose from.  A Fabric Sample Pack makes a fun stocking stuffer or small gift for someone creative.  Each sample pack contains a 4″ x 4″ printed swatch of each of their products.  The price is $3.00 and shipping is free.
Site is here
Sample pack can be ordered here


The Gift of Unique & Personal Jewelry

The Copper Poppy

The Copper Poppy makes hand-stamped accessories for pets and people.  From personalized pet ID tags and memorial jewelry to cool people gifts, like commemorative bookmarks, necklaces, bracelets, key chains, guitar pics, cuff links and tie bars; this New Hampshire artist creates small works of art that are beautifully made and reasonably priced.  With so much to choose from, you may want to purchase a gift card, available here.  You can explore all the choices and styles here at the Copper Poppy site.

The Gift of Clean and Odor-free!
Boss Severe Stain & Odor Remover

This stuff is a miracle!  It’s the first product I’ve ever used that truly, thoroughly and completely neutralizes all pet stains and odors.  It uses charged ions to instantly lift and remove stains and odors at the source.  It’s biodegradable and non-toxic.  Boss works on human stains and odors too (handy if you have an athlete in the family).  It even reduces the stink from the kitchen trash can.  The bottle is brilliantly designed to ensure that the sprayer works down to the last drop.  Plus, there is a refill included inside each bottle, as well as additional refills available for purchase, so you buy less bottles and throw away less plastic.

I’m giving Boss to my clients, friends and family who are pet owners.  Wine gift bags make the perfect holiday packaging (see my photo here above).  Boss can be found in the Greater Los Angeles area at Centinela Feed & Pet Supplies and in San Diego at Pet Kingdom.  For other areas or to order directly, visit the contact page on their website here.

The Gift of Feeding the Multitudes
World Central Kitchen

José Andrés founded World Central Kitchen after the devastating 2010 earthquake in Haiti, with the belief that food can be an agent of change.  Their chefs have since served meals in communities surviving disaster, such as the recent hurricanes in Florida, the Carolinas and Puerto Rico.  Most recently, WCK chefs and volunteers served over 50,000 meals to victims of the Camp Fire in Northern California and the Woolsey Fire in Southern California.

You can donate here.
Give a donation, paired with the new book:
We Fed an Island: The True Story of Rebuilding Puerto Rico, One Meal at a Time
Book can be purchased here.
Spanish version here.

The Gift of Hawaii from your Kitchen
Macadamia Coconut Brittle
This crunchy, buttery taste of the islands may be the most delicious gift of all.

Macadamia Coconut Brittle
Mele Kalikimake means “Merry Christmas” in Hawaiian.  The graphic above is vintage, so you can print the image and use it as a gift tag for your homemade brittle – a little bit of tropical yummyness to warm up your fall and winter taste buds.  This is so good, you may want to make a double recipe!

Ingredients:
3 tablespoons butter (plus more for greasing pan)
3/4 cup unsalted, halved macadamia nuts
1/2 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
1 cup organic sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Line a baking sheet with foil and grease lightly with butter.  Set aside.

In a small skillet, over medium heat, melt 3 tablespoons butter.  Add the macadamia nuts and cook, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes.  Remove from heat and immediately stir in the coconut.  Set aside.

In a medium-sized heavy saucepan, over medium-high heat, cook sugar and water, stirring constantly, until mixture begins to boil (you can use a small brush dipped in cold water to wipe down the sugar crystals that cling to the sides of the pan).  Once mixture boils, stop stirring and let boil for 10 minutes or until a candy thermometer reaches 310°F (hard crack stage).  The mixture will be golden (I didn’t use a thermometer; I just looked for a nice, deep, golden color).

Remove mixture from heat and stir in macadamia/coconut mixture and baking soda.  Stir well and quickly.  Pour immediately onto the prepared baking sheet and spread mixture into an even layer, using a metal spatula.  Allow to cool 30 minutes or until hardened.  Break into pieces.

Makes about 1 pound of candy

Silver Man

November 25, 2018

“And ever has it been known that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.”
~ Kahlil Gibran

This is one of the most difficult posts I’ve had to write, as well as one I’ve felt the most compelled to do.  Earlier this week, I said goodbye to one of the great loves of my life: my 16-year-old cat, family member and companion, Folsterman.

Sixteen years and eight months ago today, I had just pulled into a grocery store parking lot when I noticed a shopping cart left at the space ahead of mine, empty except for a small shoe box sitting inside.  Something told me to look in that shoe box before I went in to do my shopping.  My instincts were correct.  Inside the box were four tiny, just-born kittens, apparently abandoned without their mother.  I took the kittens to the local emergency vet hospital, where the on-duty veterinarian examined them and told me that they were about one day old.  She gave me some kitten formula and showed me how to feed them with a bottle, then how to wipe their backsides with a warm, wet, cotton ball afterwards.  Apparently, the feline mother does this with her tongue to help the kittens go to the bathroom after eating.

The next several weeks were filled with bottle feeding (each kitten had to have a separate bottle, every two hours, at the correct temperature), cleaning them and trying to keep them warm.  One kitten died in my arms within the first three days, possibly because he had no mama cat to snuggle up to and he got too cold.  After that heartbreak, I had to create make-shift incubators to keep the remaining kittens warm.

I successfully kept the remaining three alive and taught them to eat solid food, use their litter box and become fine, upstanding feline citizens.  I found a home for one of them.  Sofia and Folsterman (Folster, for short) stayed and grew up with me.

Folster would often sit next to me, place his paw on my shoulder or arm and look up into my eyes.  He was an alpha male cat, who walked with a calm, confident, unhurried swagger.  Here he is trolling the cat next door by casually walking onto the neighbor’s porch and nibbling at the cat grass, as the resident kitty watches while (for the moment) stuck inside:

His sister Sofia and he often seemed at odds.  Sofia always wanted to be in the middle of my lap and the center of my attention.  Folster would eat all of his food and then go to her bowl to start on hers.  Sometimes they tussled and growled and generally annoyed one another.  They didn’t snuggle with each other.  I often wondered if the only thing they had in common was their desire for my attention.

Earlier this week, Folster had a seizure.  He was never able to recover, having lost the ability to walk, or even to stand.  He kept trying to get on his feet, but couldn’t manage it.  Sofia sensed that he needed me and was uncharacteristically patient with him and with my giving him more attention.  I kept him comfortable, sang him songs, held his paw and repeated over and over that I loved him.  A dear friend, who has known Sofia and Folster since I got them, and who had recently become a rabbi, said prayers for him over speakerphone, her voice full of emotion as she spoke – a powerful moment that I will treasure always.  A local vet I took him to sent some pain meds home with me, to keep him comfortable.

Finally I looked into his eyes and told him,  “Silver Man, I’m going to be sad no matter when you go, whether it’s now or years from now.  If you want to fight and have a few more months of treats and going outside and playing, I’ll support you and cheer you on.  But, if you are tired and ready to go, I want you to know that it’s o.k.  I’ll miss you, but we’ll be o.k. and we will find each other again.”  He may not have understood my exact words, but he received my meaning.  He passed away the next morning at 5:42 a.m., lying next to me and his sister Sofia.

As soon as she realized he was gone, Sofia became very upset and emotional, crying and meowing and not wanting to be left alone.  She thought she couldn’t stand him, but now misses him terribly.  After all, they were together their entire lives, even in the womb.  Her current sadness reminds me of a scene from the 1992 film Singles.  One of the main characters, Cliff Poncier, an aspiring grunge musician living in Seattle (played by Matt Dillon), is wistfully recalling a previous residence:

“I used to live out by the airport, underneath the flight patterns.  It was really noisy with the planes going by all day.  I used to have cookouts, and no one would come because of the noise.  I got used to it.  And then, when I moved… I missed the noise.  I missed those planes.”

My family and friends have been wonderful and supportive.  The understanding and empathy I have received has helped to carry me through this deep grief.  Almost immediately after he passed, I was filled with an awareness that he is happy and well and still very much around us.  Still, it hurts not to be able to hold him and snuggle him and look into his eyes. I woke up and went to sleep with Folster every day for the past 16 years.  He was the handsome, affectionate and super-smart feline love of my life.  He was my Silver Man, my Folster Man.

Now he is my angel.

“True love stories never have endings.”
~ Richard Bach

~~~~~~~~~

Double Chocolate Potato Chip Cookies check all of the comfort food boxes.

Double Chocolate Potato Chip Cookies
Sweet, savory and chocolatey, this may be the yummiest chocolate chip cookie ever.  Use a thick potato chip for these, such as a kettle-style or a ridged dip chip.  I made these with some red potato chips that were on sale at Whole Foods.  The chunks of red give these scrumptious chocolate cookies a little holiday cheer.  You could also try blue potato chips for an alternate holiday look.  Never eat green potato chips 😉

Note: I used salted butter for these.  If you use unsalted, add 1/4 teaspoon of salt to the dry ingredients.

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup cocoa
1 & 1/2 sticks of butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 cup packed organic brown sugar
1/2 cups organic cane sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup lightly crushed thick potato chips
(don’t crush too fine; you want small pieces, not crumbs)

In a medium-sized mixing bowl, combine flour, baking soda and cocoa.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat together melted butter, both sugars and vanilla until creamy.

Add eggs to butter/sugar mixture, one at a time, beating after each addition.  Beat until mixture is lightened in color.

Gradually add in flour mixture, a little at a time, beating after each addition.

Fold in chocolate chips.  Cover dough and chill in fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Line a baking sheet (or two if you have them) with parchment paper.

Remove chilled dough from fridge.  Fold in crushed potato chips (dough will be a little stiff at first).

Drop by heaping tablespoon (about 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of dough) onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes.  Let stand 2 minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 27 cookies