Encore

May 16, 2016

“All that is gold does not glitter; not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither; deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien

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A couple of weeks ago I read that singer Billy Paul had recently passed away.  One of Paul’s biggest hits was a song called, “Me and Mrs. Jones”, a soulful tune, sweetly describing an extramarital affair between a man and his lover.  I was just a little girl when it came out and too young to understand the lyrics, but I liked the song and so, when I found a stray black and white kitten on the way home from elementary school, I named my new kitty “Mrs. Jones”.  I used to sing the chorus of the song to her as we snuggled in bed or on the couch together, “Me-yee-aah-and….Mrs… Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones.  We got a thing… goin’ on…”  She would look up at me, smiling and purring.  She loved her special song.  Mrs. Jones lived to be 15 years old.  Years later, every time I heard Billy Paul’s song, I would think of my dear cat Mrs. Jones.  When I read of the singer’s passing, I thought of her once again.  They will both continue to live on for me, through his music and her memory.

That’s the beautiful thing about music, about art, about memories.  That which is created lives on to remind us, not only of the creator, but of the moments and emotions that we associated with a particular song, painting, movie scene, person or event.  Bowie, Prince, George Martin and many other great artists and musicians have passed beyond the veil between the worlds already this year.  Even though many felt their passing to be a great loss, their artistic spirit lives on to be enjoyed, reinterpreted and appreciated for generations to come.

Nothing is ever truly lost.  What we seem to lose merely transforms, reshapes and reemerges to inspire, to teach us and to bring us joy in new ways.

Mark Landry, a homeless man in Montreal, had been playing the violin since he was 17 years old.  Last month, his precious violin, which he often played for donations in the city’s Metro system, was stolen from him.  A local orchestra, L’Orchestre Métropolitain, found out about his loss.  With the help of a neighborhood violin shop, the orchestra members were able to provide Mr. Landry with a brand new violin, case and bow.  Said the grateful musician, “I talked to God this morning and said I cannot live without my violin. I am going to go play right away.”

Mr. Landry’s violin was stolen, but the story of its loss and replacement has brought his music to ears that would never have heard him play otherwise.  His story may inspire others to reach out and be of service in their own communities.

Adrianne Haslet, a professional dancer, lost her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.  She was not running in the marathon herself, but merely standing near the finish line in order to cheer on the runners.  When the second bomb went off, she was injured badly enough that her leg had to be amputated.  After the attack, she promised herself she would dance again and run the marathon.

A few weeks ago, with the help of a carbon-fiber blade prosthesis, she ran the 26.2 mi/42.2 km Boston Marathon.  She began the race at 9 a.m. and crossed the finish line at 7:15 p.m.  Her loss and subsequent triumph over difficulty and pain will no doubt serve to inspire and give hope to others now and in the future.

Loss can be difficult, stressful and sometimes deeply painful.  But loss can also be an opportunity to begin again, to look at life with new eyes, to create something different and beautiful, inspired and informed by what once was.

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

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Don’t lose a single drop of your pasta sauce or soup.  Use a nice piece of bread to deliciously clean your plate.  Italians call it “fare la scarpetta” or “to do the shoe”.  After you finish your meal, a piece of bread becomes the shoe and your fingers the leg as they push your bread around your plate, soaking up any leftover sauce.  Pop the sauce-filled bread into your mouth and enjoy.  Use this easy to bake Rosemary Ricotta Quick Bread to practice your skills as a “scarpettaro”.

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Rosemary Ricotta Quick Bread
This moist and delicious homemade bread requires no yeast and no kneading.  You can also make it into individual servings by using muffin tins.  This savory quick bread is perfect for accompanying soups, salads and anything saucy.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
3/4 cup milk (whole or 2%)
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon crumbled, dried rosemary
Butter or olive oil, to grease pan

 

Preheat oven to 375°F

Grease bottom and partly up sides of a 9-inch round cake pan
OR
Line 6 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper.  Mix well with a fork or whisk.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, milk, ricotta and egg.  Beat with a fork or whisk until thoroughly mixed.

Add dry ingredients to bowl with wet ingredients and stir until just combined.  Fold in dried rosemary and mix until evenly distributed (do not overmix batter).

Spread batter evenly in prepared cake pan.  Bake about 30 minutes.

If using muffin cups, use 1/4 cup of batter for each. and bake about 20 minutes.

Serve warm or cooled.

Makes 6 servings.

Unbreakable

April 15, 2016

“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”
~ Carl G. Jung

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In the illustration above, the hands are forming a yoga position known as Vajrapradama Mudra.  The vajra part of that name is Sanskrit for “diamond” (signifying something luminous and indestructible) or “thunderbolt” (signifying an irresistible force).  The pradama part of Vajrapradama means “first” or “original”.

Often used as part of yogic meditation, mudras are gestures of the hands that symbolize and encourage various mental, spiritual and energetic states and are thought to help manifest these states into reality.

The word diamond comes from the ancient Greek “adámas”, meaning proper, unbreakable, unalterable.  Notice how similar the word is to Pradama, the Sanskrit word meaning “first”.  Diamonds were probably originally recognized and mined in India.  According to geologists and contrary to popular belief, most diamonds were formed before coal (which was formed from Earth’s first land plants) came into existence.  Although I am merely guessing at an etymological connection between “adámas” and “pradama”, in relationship to coal, diamonds can be definitely be described as “first”.

When one forms this mudra as part of a yogic or meditation practice, the hand position represents unshakable confidence in our higher self, that part of ourselves which is original, unbreakable and at one with “The Universe” or “God” or whatever name one chooses for the Soul of the World.  Forming Vajrapradama mudra symbolizes aligning ones awareness with that which came first: before the stars, before Earth, before traffic, before jobs, before election cycles, before diets, before family, before illness, before climate change, before planes, trains and automobiles.

According to a 2009 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, hand gestures and signs are decoded by the same regions of the brain as spoken or written words.  So striking a pose with your hands has the potential for reaching your brain in the same way as repeating a phrase.

According to a 2013 article in Forbes magazine, as well as numerous recent studies, controlled breathing has been shown to help with managing anxiety, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and even increasing brain size.

When you are having a “coal” kind of day; when you feel frustrated, anxious, disappointed or worried, it is important to take a few moments to align with and remember that “diamond” part of yourself – that original, unshakable, unbreakable part of you that lies within.  Forming Vajrapradama mudra and doing a few minutes of conscious breathing can help to ground your mind and body in the eternal when the chaos of everyday life is making the present moment feel a bit shaky.

Here’s how:

Sit or stand comfortably.  Inhale deeply through your nose as you bring your hands together at your solar plexus (the part of your abdomen just above your navel and below your rib cage).  Clasp your fingers together, interlocking them, but leave your thumbs free and open.  Exhale slowly, again through the nose.  Close your eyes and continue breathing in and out, slowly, evenly and deeply, preferably in and out of the nose.  Do this for at least 3 minutes, more if you can.  If your mind begins to wander, visualize a beautiful red rosebud above and between your brows.  Imagine inhaling its sweet fragrance and then as you exhale, watch it unfold into full and glorious bloom.

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Passover matzos are in the stores again.  Use them to make Chocolate Covered Matzo Ice Cream Sandwiches.

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Chocolate Covered Matzo Ice Cream Sandwiches
Use your favorite flavor of ice cream to fill these yummy frozen treats.  If you intend to serve these for Passover, note that not all flavors may be considered kosher for Passover.  It’s best to check the label to make sure.

12 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
4 plain, unsalted matzos (matzo crackers), 6-inches square
1 quart vanilla ice cream

Optional, to decorate:
Toasted, unsalted almonds
Chocolate covered cocoa nibs
Toffee bits

Line a baking sheet with foil.

Take ice cream out of freezer to soften.  Ice cream should be soft enough to scoop easily but still firm enough to hold its shape.

Put chocolate chips into a medium-sized heat resistant bowl.  In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat cream just until beginning to bubble (do not boil).  Pour hot cream over chocolate chips in bowl and stir until smooth (takes several minutes).

Place 4 crackers side by side on the foil-lined sheet.   Spread chocolate mixture in a thick layer over one side of each matzo cracker.  Place tray in freezer for 5 minutes to harden.  Turn matzos over and spread chocolate on remaining sides of each cracker.  Return to freezer to harden for 5 minutes.

Scoop half of the ice cream onto each of two coated matzos and spread out gently to edges, keeping a square shape.  Use an offset spatula to even out the surface.  Top with remaining chocolate coated matzos.  Drizzle remaining chocolate mixture over tops in a decorative pattern.  Optionally, you can sprinkle nuts, cocoa nibs or toffee bits over the drizzled chocolate as decoration.  Place in freezer until ice cream is hard.  Once frozen, cut each sandwich into 4 squares.  You can then wrap them individually to enjoy later or you can serve immediately.

Makes 8 ice cream sandwiches

 

 

Rolling Away Stones

March 23, 2016

“Life stands before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant clothes.”
~Carl Friedrich Gauss

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Alejandro Ernesto/EPA/Corbis

 

This past Sunday, on the first day of Spring, the First Family boarded Air Force One for the first visit to Cuba by a U.S. President since Calvin Coolidge made the trip by sea in 1928.

Two days later, on a day of heartbreak and sadness in Belgium, I listened to the National Anthem of the United States of America being sung by a choir of young Cuban vocalists to open a moving, history-making baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.  I watched as Rachel Robinson, widow of the late Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, enjoyed the game seated next to the first African-American President of the United States.  Baseball, the game that begins its season in spring, the season of renewal, helped renew my hope for a more peaceful world on a day when that hope was challenged.

This coming Sunday will celebrate Easter, another powerful symbol of renewal and hope.  When I was a young girl, my mom and I would sometimes attend services at a non-denominational church near the beach.  I remember the pastor there as a warm, fun and inspirational speaker.  One Easter Sunday, he told the story from the Bible about how, after Jesus died, the women who went to visit the tomb where he was buried were surprised to find the stone that had sealed the entrance had been rolled away and that he was no longer there.  The Easter holiday is inspired by the rolling away of that stone and the resurrection that it symbolizes.

The pastor then spoke to the congregation about how many of us would probably leave the service that day feeling uplifted and renewed, as if the stone in front of our hearts had been rolled away just like the stone that had sealed Christ’s tomb.  However, he then added, it probably wouldn’t take long before something in our daily lives, a call from a relative or a story on the news, would cause that “stone” to roll right back to its usual spot, thus sealing our hearts and minds once again inside the tomb of fear and resentment.

He asked us to remember the light even when darkness seems to overtake us, to keep that stone rolled away and not let the voices of hate, anger and fear prevent our minds and hearts from living in the light of love, kindness and hope.  He reminded us that “rolling away the stone” was something that one has to do, not just once a year, but continually.

I wish all of you a happy Easter and a wonderful spring season filled with renewal and healing.  Keep rolling those stones away.

~~~

One of the bands featured at the SXSW Cuba Showcase this year was YISSY & Bandancha.  It’s classic jazz for a new world: drums, keyboard, bass guitar, trumpet and turntable.
Enjoy:

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Pretty Pink Pickled Eggs and Spring Veggies are a beautiful and delicious way to use leftover Easter eggs.

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Pretty Pink Pickled Eggs and Spring Veggies
You will need a quart-sized mason jar with lid for these.  Use eggs from happy hens, such as Vital Farms pastured eggs, or eggs from a local hen house.  Eggs from pastured hens contain up to 20 times more omega-3 acids than factory hens.  Click on the Eat Wild Website link, to find a farm near you that carries pastured eggs.  Vital Farms eggs are carried at most Whole Foods.  Both links can be found up and to the right of this post, under “Elaborations”.

 

1 medium beet, scrubbed and cleaned
1 & 1/2 cups water (to cook beets)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon organic sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar (a bit more, if needed)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 fennel stalks with tops
2 spring onions or 3 green onions
2 small red or pink radishes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
6 hard cooked eggs, cooled and peeled*

Slice beet into thin, 1-inch pieces.  Add the beets and water to a large saucepan and cook, covered, over medium-low heat until tender, about 30 minutes.  Make sure you have 1 cup of cooking water remaining in the pan.  Add more water, if necessary.

Meanwhile:

Clean and dice the white part of the fennel, save some of the fronds and chop fine.

Clean the radishes and slice thinly.

Clean, trim and slice the spring onions, include some of the green part.

After the beets have finished cooking, while the liquid is still warm, add salt, sugar and vinegar and stir to dissolve.  Add the garlic, fennel, radishes, onions, parsley and peppercorns.  Stir to combine.

In a quart-sized mason jar with lid, layer eggs and veggies until jar is filled.  Pour liquid over to cover.  If there is not enough liquid to cover, you can top it off with a bit more red wine vinegar.  Seal jar with the lid and give a gentle shake to mix contents.  Refrigerate for 24 hours, gently shaking jar occasionally.

Cut eggs in half to reveal the pretty color.  Serve with some of the veggies, along with crackers, chips or bread.

Serves 3 to 6 as an appetizer

*To boil the eggs: place in a single layer, without crowding, inside a cold saucepan.  Add water to cover by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Immediately turn off heat, cover and let sit for 15 minutes.  Drain and then rinse with cold water until cool.   Refrigerate until ready to use.

To peel cold eggs:  crack hard-boiled eggs once on the fat end of the egg.  This will be where the “air pocket” is.  Begin peeling from there and continue until egg is completely peeled.

 

Pi is for Sharing

March 14, 2016

“If a thing loves, it is infinite.”
~ William Blake

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Happy Pi Day!

Pi Day is named for the number that is found by dividing the distance around a circle (circumference) by the distance across (diameter).  Pi is known as the “Circle Constant” because, no matter what size your circle is, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is always the number pi, whose digits go on infinitely, without repeating.  The first 3 digits of pi are 3.14, which is why math geeks as, well as foodies, celebrate pi the number by eating pie the dessert, on March 14th.

The excuse to eat a slice (or three) of your favorite pie today, in celebration of pi the number, also offers the opportunity to mediate on the beauty and necessity of sharing.

I suppose one could devour an entire fruit pie, custard pie or cream pie by themselves, stabbing away at it with a fork.  However, this would be not only inelegant but also unhealthy.  A much better way to serve and eat a pie is to cut it into wedges, perfect for sharing.  Turns out, the best way to begin to cut a pie into wedges is also the method for finding pie the number.

If you want to slice a pie into uniform wedges, you must first find the center point.  To find the center of a circular pie, one must start by cutting all the way across it (this cut is the diameter of the pie).  The action of your knife cutting across the pie creates the relationship represented by the number pi, which is equal to the circumference (distance around) divided by the diameter (distance across).  Now two people could each enjoy half of the pie.

A pie shared equals pi.

To cut wedges of the pie for serving, simply find the center point of the pie by measuring to the halfway point of the diameter.  Half of the diameter of your pie circle is equal to the radius, the lines you make each time you cut from the center of the pie out to the edge, in order to serve another slice.

Here is a fun and simple animated illustration of circles, diameter, radius and how to find the surface area of a circular piece of candy using the number pi :

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Did you get to eat a piece of pie for pi day? If not, make some Green Tea Cream Pie for St. Patty’s day.

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Green Tea Cream Pie
This delicately flavored, jade-colored, no-bake cream pie is made by using matcha green tea powder to flavor a simple cornstarch pudding, poured inside of  a lemon wafer crust and chilled.  If you want to avoid GMO corn, buy organic cornstarch.

For the crust:
2 cups lemon wafer cookie crumbs (about 32 lemon wafer cookies)
(I used Whole Foods 365 brand lemon wafer cookies)
6 tablespoons butter
Pinch of salt (omit if using salted butter)

For the filling:
1/4 cup organic cornstarch
3/8 cup organic sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons matcha green tea powder

1 2-inch piece of vanilla bean
3 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons butter

Optional, to decorate:
Whipped cream
Sliced strawberries
1 tablespoon matcha powder
combined with:
1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
White chocolate curls

To make the crust:
Using a rolling pin, crush cookies between two pieces of plastic wrap, or inside a zipper style plastic bag.  Combine the melted butter with the crumbs and salt (if using) in a bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork.  Press mixture evenly into the bottom of an 8″ or 9″ springform pan.  Refrigerate until set (about 1 hour).

To make filling:
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan*, whisk together the corn starch, sugar, salt and matcha powder.

Split open the vanilla bean segment and scrape out the seeds from the inside of the pod into pan with dry ingredients, along with the pod.  Add milk and stir until thoroughly combined with no lumps.

Remove vanilla bean pod and discard.  Turn on heat to between medium & medium-low.  Cook, stirring continuously and scraping bottom and sides of pan until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a metal spoon (mine took about 12 minutes).  Do not boil.

Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted and incorporated.  Let cool about 3 minutes more, stirring often.  Pour over prepared cookie crust.  Cover surface of pie with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming) and chill in fridge for 3 hours or more.

Decorate with your choice of whipped cream, sliced strawberries, sweetened matcha, white chocolate curls or a combination.

8 servings

*Hint:  A clean, quart-sized mason jar with a lid works great for premixing the ingredients, an important step to ensure a smooth, lump-free filling.  First, add dry ingredients to jar and whisk to mix.  Then add vanilla seeds with pod and the milk to jar, screw lid on tight and shake everything vigorously until smooth and mixed, without lumps.  Now add mixture to cold pan, remove and discard pod, and skip to heating step.

One Giant Leap

February 29, 2016

“This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
~ Neil Armstrong, first person to walk on the Moon

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I love to walk.  Walking helps me get out of my house and my head, to make a fresh start mentally and to benefit my body physically.

Now, thanks to engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, technology has been developed that could bring power-generating capability to the act of walking.  Your shoes could one day power your phone.

Tom Krupenkin, a professor of mechanical engineering at UW-Madison, estimates that human walking can produce up to 10 watts per shoe.  That energy, normally just wasted as heat, could help to recharge your phone, tablet, or any number of things requiring batteries for operation.

This could be especially helpful for people who live in remote areas or developing countries that don’t have electrical power grids.

If taking a walk at lunch or upon returning from work could recharge spent devices for the evening, this technology might also encourage modern humans to get out and see their neighborhoods a little more often.

Power generating shoes will require a bit more research and development before they move from technological possibility to actual footwear.  Until then, go take a nice walk.  Look around you.  Explore the sights, listen to the sounds, let your mind and imagination wander as you go.

And leave your phone behind to charge the soon-to-be old fashioned way.

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Scientists are also working on making batteries out of mushrooms (see this week’s “Thank You to the Plants”, up and to the right of the post), making Macaroni with Mushrooms and Mascarpone a scientific breakthrough in deliciousness.

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Macaroni with Mushrooms and Mascarpone
This is one of the yummiest recipes I’ve ever created.  Sure to be a hit with anyone who enjoys creamy, cheesy goodness.  Think of it as a sophisticated Mac N’ Cheese that you can make on your stove top.

1 clove of garlic
4 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup course bread crumbs
8 oz elbow macaroni pasta
8 oz carton cremini or button mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A pinch of crumbled, dried rosemary
1 cup milk (2% or whole)
1 (8 oz) carton mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for the table
1 & 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Peel garlic clove and smash lightly, leaving intact.  Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large, deep skillet.  Add the garlic and bread crumbs and cook over medium heat, stirring, until golden and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes.  Discard garlic clove.  Transfer the bread crumbs to a plate and wipe out the skillet with a paper towel.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until just barely al dente.  Drain the pasta.

While the pasta water is boiling, and pasta is cooking, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in the skillet.  Add the mushrooms, season with salt, pepper and rosemary and cook over med-high heat, stirring, until mushrooms soften and begin to release their liquid, about 3 minutes.

Decrease heat to medium.  Add milk and cook, stirring and scraping bits from bottom of pan for about 2 minutes.

Decrease heat to medium-low.  Add the mascarpone and cook, stirring, until well-combined into a creamy sauce.

Add the pasta to the sauce and toss gently over medium-low heat until pasta absorbs some of the sauce, is fully coated and cooked through, but still al dente, 1 or 2 minutes.

Add the chives and the 1/2 cup of Parmesan and stir to combine.  Remove from heat.  Transfer to a large, warmed serving bowl.  Sprinkle with the toasted bread crumbs and serve.  Offer extra Parmesan at the table.

Serves 4

Two Become One

February 13, 2016

“Only in love are unity and duality not in conflict.”
~ Rabindranath Tagore

A love story that was written in the sky more than a billion light years away from our corner of space-time has finally been told, thanks to researchers with the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

The LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) is the world’s largest gravitational observatory.  Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time cause by violent events such as exploding stars or colliding black holes.  The existence of gravitational waves was predicted by Albert Einstein back in 1916, based on his general theory of relativity.  Einstein’s mathematical predictions showed that if objects as massive as black holes were orbiting each other, the sheer size of the event would disrupt the fabric of space-time, sending waves of warped space into the Universe, rippling through space-time at the speed of light.  It’s kind of like how a massive earthquake in the middle of the ocean can cause a tsunami to reach distant shores hours later.  In the case of gravitational waves, it’s light years later.

Although Einstein predicted their existence, this discovery represents the first ever direct detection of gravitational waves by scientists.  The LIGO was able to “see” this ancient event, not with telescopes but by utilizing laser beams and mirrors.

Gravitational waves enable us to observe the very early Universe because they can let us peek “behind” the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR).  The CMBR can give us an image of the Universe at about 380,000 years after its beginning, but not before.  Prior to that time, the Universe was filled with hot, ionized gases that “fogged” everything up.  At about its 380,000th birthday, things cooled down enough for the fog to clear.  However, gravitational waves can ripple right towards us from the early Universe, fog or no fog. One day, this technology might even enable us to “see” the original Big Bang.

But back to the love story….

These two black holes began as two stars that were born together or born close enough to capture one another in their respective orbits.  They evolved together, side by side. Finally, when they could no longer bear to be apart, they began to dance around each other, moving faster and faster until, in one violent burst of ecstasy, they became one.  You can watch their dance in the YouTube above and listen in to their moment of joyful union below.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Chocolate and Coffee collide in creamy goodness with Chocolate Coffee Custard.

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Chocolate Coffee Custard
Thick and chocolaty, this delicious custard will inspire love any day of the year.  These are pretty served in small, ceramic or glass coffee cups.  I used Vital Farms Pastured Eggs from happy, healthy, free-roaming chickens.

2 eggs or 4 yolks
1/3 cup organic sugar
Seeds scraped from a 1-inch piece of vanilla bean
3/4 cup milk (2% or whole)
1/2 cup strong coffee or espresso
60z (scant 1 cup) semi-sweet chocolate pieces

Optional for garnish:
Whipped cream
Fresh, local berries
Cookies

In a medium heatproof bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla seeds.  Set aside.

In a medium, heavy saucepan, heat the milk and coffee or espresso over medium-low heat for about 2 t 3 minutes, or until just beginning to boil (do not boil!).  Remove from heat and add chocolate pieces, stirring and scraping the bottom until melted and smooth.

Very gradually pour the warm chocolate mixture into the egg/sugar mixture while whisking constantly (if you pour too slowly and don’t stir the eggs will cook too fast and give you scrambled chocolate eggs – tasty, but not what we’re going for).  Once all the liquid has been stirred into the egg/sugar mixture, return the mixture to the pan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring constantly and scraping the bottom and sides, until the mixture thickens and just begins to bubble.  Do not let it boil!  When it is ready, it will be like runny pudding.  This should take about 8 to 10 minutes.

Divide the custard among four to six cups and let cool completely.  Cover surface with plastic wrap and chill several hours or overnight in the refrigerator.

Decorate with berries and/or whipped cream or serve with cookies, if desired.

Serves 4 to 6

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

Diplo

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