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

 

 

 

Yay!

November 7, 2018

“Success is due less to ability than to zeal.”
~ Charles Buxton


Statue can be found here

 

Several years ago, I wrote a short post about the exclamation “yay!”.  A conversation I had with a yoga therapy client this morning inspired me to share those thoughts on this joyful word again today.

I had been sampling various yoga classes around town as part of a continuing education yoga course I was taking.  One of the classes I attended was held early on a Saturday morning, in a local park, under the shade of a big, beautiful tree. The park was surrounded on all sides with jasmine, which infused the air with a heavenly scent.  It was a beautiful way to start the morning.

This particular class was Kundalini Yoga, a style that focuses on breathing techniques and postures designed to direct the flow of energy up the spine, as well as the singing and speaking of mantras.

A mantra is a sound, a word or a collection of words whose repetition is intended to create a transformation.  According to Vedic tradition, mantras are sound manifesting spirit into matter and can be heard underlying everything in nature.  The most recognizable mantra of Om or Aum is said to represent the infinite universal consciousness.  The word mantra is Sanskrit and consists of two parts: man, which is the root of the Sanskrit word for mind, and tra, which is the root of the word meaning instrument.  Therefore, the word mantra can be defined as “an instrument of the mind”.  The repetition of various mantras is said to help transform, not only one’s individual mind, but also the expression of the Universal Mind.

We began that morning’s class by repeating “Om” together as we sat under the big tree.  The teacher led us through various movements.  After a particularly challenging sequence, we all collectively took a deep breath and, as we exhaled, the teacher smiled and exclaimed, “Yay!”

As a former cheerleader, I am someone who frequently expresses moments of joy and enthusiasm with the word, “Yay!”  I sometimes worry that my frequent use of this exclamation might make me appear silly and unsophisticated, but I can’t help it; the word just bursts forth from the center of my being when I am feeling exuberant.

When I heard this yoga teacher proclaiming her joy with the word “Yay!”, it suddenly occurred to me that Yay is more than just a word.  It is a primordial sound vibration that rises up from the center of our beings.  “Yay!” cannot be silenced.  It bubbles up to the surface of our physical bodies from those energetic centers that process joy.

As I lay quietly on my mat for the final pose of the morning, staring up at the big, beautiful tree providing us all with oxygen, protection and shade, I thought of the simple blessings of that moment: fresh air, food in the fridge, gas in the car and yoga in the park.  I smiled and silently repeated my mantra over and over and over again, “Yay!”

~~~~~~~~~

These tasty, nutrition-packed Chocolate Hemp Protein Cookies will have you exclaiming “Yay!” with each bite.

Chocolate Hemp Protein Cookies
These yummy and nutritious cookies make a tasty snack or on-the-go breakfast item.  You can find hemp protein powder in the nutrition supplements section at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or online.  Semolina flour is a high protein flour with more texture (it’s what makes the bottom of some pizza crusts crunchy).  Flax meal can also be found in the baking section of Whole Foods or the breakfast foods section at Trader Joe’s.

 

1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled a bit (I used salted)
1/2 cup sugar
1 large egg
Seeds scraped from 1/2-inch piece of vanilla bean
Or
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup hemp protein powder
1/2 cup semolina flour
1/4 cup flax meal
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch of salt
1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
1/4 cup raw, whole almonds
Scant 1/4 cup roasted coconut chips or coconut flakes

 

Preheat oven to 375°F

Line a baking sheet with parchment.

In a medium bowl, beat butter with sugar and beat in egg until mixture is well-combined and lightened.  Stir in vanilla.  Set aside.

In another medium bowl, whisk together hemp powder, semolina flour, flax meal, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

Add dry ingredients to bowl with we ingredients.  Add chocolate chips/chunks, almonds and coconut.  Stir until just combined.

Divide mixture into 8 mounds. Drop mounds onto baking sheets about an inch apart.  Flatten slightly with a fork.  Bake 9 to 11 minutes.  Let cool a minute and remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 8 cookies (approximately 6 grams of protein and 217 calories per cookie)

Bars Variation
Lightly grease an 8″ round cake pan and press mixture into pan.  Press to form an even surface.  Bake 12 to 15 minutes.  Cut into 6 or 8 wedges.

6 wedges = approximately 8 grams protein and 290 calories
8 wedges = approximately 6 grams protein and 217 calories

 

Don’t Boo 🎃

October 23, 2018

“Do not complain.  Don’t hashtag.  Don’t get anxious.  Don’t retreat.  Don’t binge on whatever it is you’re bingeing on.  Don’t lose yourself in ironic detachment.  Don’t put your head in the sand.  Don’t boo.  Vote.  Vote.”
~ President Barack Obama

As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated it in 1863, our government is one “of the people, by the people, for the people.”  Every election we get the opportunity to review, interview and hire or fire those who represent us in our town halls, city councils, state capitals and Washington D.C.  If we citizens don’t bother to vote, we are letting someone else make those decisions for us.  We are letting someone else decide how to spend our tax dollars.  By relinquishing our vote we are surrendering our power and our voice to those whose interests may not align with our own.

O.k., so hopefully I am preaching to the choir and everyone reading this post has already registered and intends to vote in the upcoming election.  Your sample ballot has arrived and you’ve glanced through the national, state and local races, the (insert scream emoji) judicial races and (insert double scream emojis) state measures/propositions.  It’s all so overwhelming; so you add it to your pile of things to do and go back to binge-watching Deadwood.

Don’t get spooked by your sample ballot.

Let Voter’s Edge help provide you with the information and tools you need to make an informed decision.  Voter’s Edge is currently covering federal, state and local elections in California, Illinois, and New York.  If you live and vote in California, simply go to the link above and enter your zip code (address is optional).  Your ballot will come up, with all of the races and propositions.  I like to click the links for “Compare candidates” to see candidates’ information side by side. You can also just explore one candidate at a time.  Each category links to info on Priorities, Experience, Education; Who supports and endorses them; Who gave money to the campaign and more.  Similar information is available on Judicial candidates, as well as the State Measures/Propositions.  Once in a while a candidate will have some missing info.  In that case, DuckDuckGo or Google is your friend.

Voter’s Edge makes it easy and kind of fun to research and decide who and what to vote for.  Set aside an hour or so and check it out.  Don’t wait until the last minute.  Don’t “eeny, meeny, miny, moe” a possible future Supreme Court Justice.  Put at least as much time into choosing who you hire to represent and make decisions on behalf of you and your loved ones as you would into picking your next binge-fest or reading Yelp restaurant reviews.

Do your part to make this a government of you, by you, and for you.  Vote.

 

No matter your politics or party, let President Barack Obama’s non-partisan response to the Top 7 Excuses for Not Voting get you up off the couch and headed to the polls.  Vote November 6th and take a friend with you!

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Pumpkin Pie Fry Bread is a sweet and seasonal take on a Native American staple.

Pumpkin Pie Fry Bread
Fry bread has long been a staple of Native American cuisine.  This slightly sweet and lightly spicy pumpkin variation is delicious all by itself as a snack or breakfast treat (try it spread with Trader Joe’s new Maple Butter).  Drizzle with melted chocolate or dust with powdered sugar for a dessert.  You could also use it as a sweet base for savory toppings, such as Thanksgiving dinner leftovers or tacos.

4 cups all-purpose flour (plus more to shape dough)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons Pumpkin Pie Spice
3/4 cup Turbinado or brown sugar
1 large egg
1 (15 oz) can organic pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk (whole or 2%)
Sunflower oil for frying
(enough to reach 1 inch from bottom of pan)

Possible toppings (optional):
Butter
Powdered sugar
Chocolate syrup
Maple butter
Cooked turkey or chicken
Taco toppings: meat, beans, cheese, avocado, etc.

 

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and spice.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, beat egg and sugar together until combined and lightened in color.  Stir in pumpkin and vanilla.  Add to bowl with dry ingredients and stir together with milk.  Mix thoroughly, scraping sides with a spatula to incorporate all of the dry ingredients.

Heat 1 inch of oil to 350°F over medium-high heat in a heavy pot or deep-sided skillet.*

Put some flour on a plate.  Pinch a (between a tennis ball and golf ball-sized) ball of dough with floured hands and flatten, stretch and press into a 4 to 6-inch disc (dust with more flour if dough sticks).  It’s o.k. if you have a tear or two in the disc, no need for perfection.  Carefully lower flat disc into oil and fry, turning once with tongs, until puffed in places and golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes.  Do not leave frying dough unattended, as it can burn quickly.  Drain on paper towels and repeat with remaining dough.  best served hot or warm.

Let any remaining fry bread cool and then wrap well in a zip bag and freeze.  Reheat in toaster oven.

Makes about 16 pieces

*If you don’t have an oil thermometer, you can test the oil temperature by placing the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil.  If bubbles sizzle around it, oil is ready.  Alternatively, you can add a kernel of unpopped corn when you fill the pan with the oil.  When the corn pops, remove and fry – the oil is ready.

 

America the Flavorful

September 20, 2018

“Art enables us to find ourselves and lose ourselves at the same time.”
~ Thomas Merton


Paul Abbas/P.A. Boards

 

Having grown up in a city that was located just a few miles from a popular surf spot, the culture and music associated with surfing were an influential part of my youth.  In 1994, when the opening credits of Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece of a movie, Pulp Fiction, flashed across the screen to the tune of Dick Dale’s rendition of “Misirlou”, the surf rock guitar sounds of the classic instrumental were already familiar to me.

Not long ago, I came upon a YouTube clip of modern day musicians in Japan performing the tune on traditional Japanese instruments.  As I watched and listened, I noticed something that hadn’t occurred to me in listening to the surf guitar versions: a distinctly Greek/Armenian flavor.

I studied belly dancing in my late teens and 20s and my teacher had introduced her students to the music of John Bilezikjian, a master oud player.  Years later, a surf guitar classic being played on traditional Japanese instruments was taking me back to the days when I would sit next to my record player and practice playing my finger cymbals to Tsifteteli rhythms.  I decided to do some research.

It only took a few clicks to discover that the song “Misirlou” had Eastern Mediterranean origins, as did the man who made it an American rock classic.  The King of Surf Guitar, as Dick Dale has come to be known, was first inspired by an uncle who played the oud.

Dick Dale’s birth name was Richard Anthony Monsour.  His paternal grandfather was from Beirut.  Dale’s father was born in Boston, Massachusetts (as was Dale), but spent much of his childhood in Lebanon.  Both Dale and his father grew up speaking Arabic.  One of Dale’s early musical influences was his uncle, an oud player, who taught him tarabaki drumming.  In a 2006 interview, Dale talked about playing with his uncle at a popular Lebanese nightspot in Boston while their relatives belly danced.  When the family moved to El Segundo, California (adjacent to the town where I grew up), Dale took up surfing and, eventually, the guitar.

At a local show in 1960, a 10-year-old boy walked up to Dick Dale and asked him a typical 10-year-old-boy type of question: could he play an entire song on one guitar string?  Dale assured him that, if the kid returned the next day, he’d fulfill his request.  He then spent the entire night trying to think of a composition that would work.  Finally, his youthful memories provided him with the solution.  “Misirlou” was a traditional tune his uncle had often played.  Dale made it rock n’ roll by playing it super fast, and his signature song was born.

In a beautifully poetic twist, surf culture has found its way to Lebanon in recent years.  The photo of a young surfer waxing her board at the top of this post was taken in Beirut, where Dick Dale’s grandfather was born before immigrating to the United States.

Considering the tasty musical gift that Lebanon has given us by way of Dick Dale and the classically Californian surf guitar genre, it’s only fitting that we return the flavor.

~~~

Here is Dick Dale’s version of Misirlou, from the 1963 film A Swingin’ Affair:

Here is the classic version, from a 1927 recording:

Finally, here is the more recent Japanese version that inspired my discovery:

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Green Chile Beef Sliders are mini burgers with a distinctly Southwestern Flavor.

Green Chile Beef Sliders
Sliders are mini-hamburgers.  You can serve one or two as an appetizer, or more for a meal. 

Here in the Southwest, Hatch green chilies, a New Mexico specialty, can still be found in a well-stocked produce section.  I like to roast and freeze a few to use throughout the year.  If you can’t find them fresh, or you live outside the region, you can also find them canned any time of year, which works fine for this recipe. 

Hearst Ranch beef is in season now.  If you’ve ever driven up PCH to Big Sur, you’ve seen the cattle grazing freely in the hills near the highway.  Eel River Ranch beef is another 100% grass-fed, humanely raised variety from Humboldt County.  You can also click on the link for the Eat Wild site up and to the right of this page, under the heading “Elaborations”, to find humanely raised, pastured or grass-fed beef near you.  Click on the link, then click on your state within the map shown.  Scroll down the list of sources with descriptions of each ranch.

1 lb ground pastured/grass-fed beef (85% or 90% fat)
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/2 teaspoon crushed, dried oregano
1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
1 & 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vinegar

2 tablespoons diced roasted green chilies
2 green onions, cleaned, trimmed and finely chopped

To serve:
10 mini buns or rolls

Desired condiments:
Mayo and/or mustard
Cheddar, Jack or Pepper Jack cheese
Sliced cherry tomato
Pickle slices

Mix beef, chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, oregano, garlic powder, salt, vinegar, green chilies and onions in a medium bowl.  You may find it easiest to mix using clean hands.  Cover and chill for 15 minutes.

To easily form the sliders, rinse your hands in cold water.  Divide the mixture into tenths and shape each portion into a 2 & 1/2-inch disk.  Patties can be made to this point and refrigerated or frozen until ready to use.

Heat a non-stick skillet over high heat, lightly coated in olive oil (about 1 tablespoon).  Fry the sliders on both sides to desired doneness: About 3 minutes per side for a pink center and 4 minutes per side for cooked through.  If making cheese sliders, add cheese after turning.  Drain and serve immediately with buns or rolls and desired condiments.

Makes 10 sliders

Cat Music

August 14, 2018

“There are two means of refuge from the misery of life – music and cats.”
~ Albert Schweitzer

Did you know that living with a cat can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes by more than one third?  Those of us who have cats as family members can attest to the calming and comforting nature of having a feline companion in the house, but this conclusion was the result of research presented in 2008 at a meeting of the American Stroke Association, by scientists at the University of Minnesota’s Stroke Research Center.  The study looked at 4,435 adults between ages 30 and 75, half of whom owned a cat.  Over a 20-year period, those who never owned a cat had a 40% greater risk of death by heart attack and a 30% higher risk of death by stroke.  Even when researchers accounted for other known triggers for heart disease, such as smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes, cat owners still had a greatly reduced chance of developing strokes or heart attacks.  A follow-up study in 2009 confirmed a link between cat companionship and a lower risk of death from heart disease and strokes.

These results indicated that having a cat helps to relieve stress and anxiety, which would protect against heart disease by lowering blood pressure and reducing the heart rate.  I can attest that my cats, Sofia and Folster, have been an invaluable source of comfort and joy for me, especially during stressful times.  In fact, just the simple sound of one of my cats purring can bring a smile to my face and help me to release the worries of the day.

Which is why I like to return the favor by playing music for them.  A musician friend of mine shares his piano compositions with me from time to time.  I had noticed that when played, the musical recordings often inspired my cats to relax, purr and sleep peacefully.

So, when I came upon an article about a classical cellist named David Teie, who had composed music scientifically designed to appeal to cats, I was intrigued.

Mr. Teie (who happens to be allergic to cats) is an accomplished cellist, composer and researcher, who has played with the National Symphony, the San Francisco Symphony, and others.  He began writing music for animals in 2003, based on his theory that we respond to music that resembles sounds our developing brains receive in the womb.  For humans, that means that our mother’s resting pulse is a similar pace to the music we find relaxing, and that our favorite instruments, such as the violin, would have a similar range as her voice.  According to Teie’s theory, animals would have slightly different pitches and sounds that would soothe them, depending on their specific voice range and pulse.  His first test of that theory was made with the University of Wisconsin using music he wrote for a colony of monkeys.  The study confirmed his theory and was published in the scientific journal Biology Letters in 2010.

This led Teie to create music that would appeal to cats.  He studied the waveforms of cat purrs in detail and created a new instrument on his computer to mimic the opening and closing of a cat’s vocal cords.  As if working on a feline version of the experimental sounds on the Sgt. Pepper album, Mr. Teie pieced together kitten mewing sounds he duplicated on a violin and raised the pitch to a cat’s preferred listening range, two octaves higher than the average human music.  Eventually, he figured out a way to compose music that would appeal to both cats and humans and Music for Cats was the result.

I first found a YouTube example of a selection from Music for Cats, titled “Katy Moss Catwalk”.  It’s a lovely piece, gentle and calming, which I played for my cats before bed one night.  I enjoyed the piece very much, but the effect on my kitties was profound.  They had been antsy and agitated and, upon hearing the tune, with its purr-like vibration and bird-like whistles, immediately curled up and began to close their eyes and relax.  I found myself playing it regularly to help them settle down, sometimes asking “Do you wanna listen to the kitty music?” (If you are a cat person, my question to them will seem completely normal).

I decided to purchase the CD for myself and for several of my cat-people friends and family.  My cats and I listen often to the various compositions, which I find soothing and relaxing as well.  The most startling reaction was by a friend’s cat who, when we put the music in the CD player, walked slowly towards the stereo, staring intently the entire way, then stood up on his hind legs and put his nose up against the speaker, as if to greet it.  Having investigated to his satisfaction, he walked over to the couch, curled up and promptly took a snooze.

I have embedded the YouTube of “Katey Moss Catwalk” below, so you can listen for yourself.  If you would like to know more about Music for Cats, you can find more info and ways to purchase by clicking here at musicforcats.com

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No ice-cream maker? No problem!  When it comes to cool and creamy treats, Waffle Cone Semifreddo is the cat’s meow.

Waffle Cone Semifreddo
(AKA – Italian-Americone Dream Ice Cream)
If you’re a fan of Ben & Jerry’s Colbert-inspired ice cream flavor “Americone Dream”, you’ll love this creamy, Italian-style frozen treat, filled with chocolate-covered waffle cone pieces.  I used Trader Joe’s new Old Fashioned Waffle Cones for this recipe.  Best of all, no ice cream machine is needed to make this.  It’s a delicious slice of creamy, crunchy-sweet comfort food on a hot day/night, and also makes for an elegant finale to a summer meal.

2/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs or 6 yolks
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 cup crushed waffle cone pieces
(about 2 cones, crushed)
Heaping 1/4 cup of semi-sweet chocolate chunks
Optional: caramel sauce, to serve (recipe follows)

You will need two 8″ x 4″ x 2 1/2″ loaf pans, plastic wrap and foil.

 

First, prepare chocolate-covered waffle cone pieces:
Crush waffle cones between plastic wrap or in a plastic zip bag until pieces are in approximately 1/4 inch chunks.  Set aside.

In a microwave-safe bowl, melt the chocolate chunks at 20 second intervals, stirring between each, just until chocolate is melted and smooth.

Add waffle cone pieces to bowl with chocolate and stir until pieces are fully coated.  Spread chocolate-covered cone pieces out in a layer on a plate.  Cover with foil and put in freezer to harden.

Make the semi-freddo:

Whisk the eggs with the sugar in a medium bowl until well-combined and lightened in color.

Over medium heat, warm the milk in a small, heavy sauce pan (do not boil).  When the milk just begins to bubble a little, pour the milk very slowly into the egg/sugar mixture, whisking constantly.  Pour the mixture back into the pan and heat slowly until thickened, stirring constantly (mixture will be the consistency of runny pudding).  Stir in the vanilla. Let cool to room temperature.  Cover and chill in fridge for a few hours.

Line loaf pans with plastic wrap.  Set aside.

Remove custard from fridge and chocolate-covered waffle cone pieces from freezer.

Whip the cream to stiff peaks.  Gently fold whipped cream and chocolate-covered waffle cone pieces into the custard until completely combined.  Pour into plastic-lined loaf pans.  Cover with plastic wrap, then foil.  Freeze at least four hours.

To serve:
Remove pans from fridge (or one, depending on how many you are serving at a time).  Remove foil and peel off plastic wrap from top.  Invert semi-freddo out of pan and onto a serving plate and peel plastic from sides.  Cut into slices and serve.

Optional: you can top each slice with purchased or homemade caramel sauce (recipe below).

Makes 10 to 12 servings

Homemade Caramel Glaze

6 tablespoons butter
6 tablespoons brown sugar
6 tablespoons granulated sugar
6 tablespoons heavy cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the butter, sugars and cream to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly.  Let boil 1 minute without stirring.  Turn off heat and let cool completely, if using for ice cream topping.  For cakes, you can pour it on warm, if desired.  Store in a covered container in fridge.

 

Independence

July 3, 2018

“If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, we have at least to consider the possibility that we have a small aquatic bird of the family anatidae on our hands.”
~ Douglas Adams

As more and more news comes to light about how tech companies have collected and sold the private data, profiles and histories of their users to advertisers (including hostile foreign governments) many people are looking for ways to limit the collection and selling of their personal information.

Facebook helped Cambridge Analytica and others develop psychological profiles of its users, based on their likes, clicks, habits, location, etc.  The BBC just reported that Google now admits that Gmail users who have connected third-party apps to their accounts may have unwittingly given the human staff of those applications permission to read their personal email messages.  Google’s search engine routinely tracks what you search and combines that information with your activities on their other products (YouTube, Gmail, etc.) in order to make the advertising they sell more effectively aimed at you personally.

On any free social media (and on some that we pay for, if we give permission for it) we are not the customers; we are the product.  Companies like Facebook and Google are selling our information to their actual customers: advertisers.  Worse, thanks to the personal information the tech giants supply to them, these advertisers are able to appeal to us subconsciously and mask their advertisements as news or pose as social media posts.  Sometimes the goal is to persuade you to buy a soft drink or see a movie.  However, some advertisers have a more sinister aim: to push hate and conflict, trigger emotional reactions and amplify conspiracy theories that benefit a particular group, be it corporate, criminal or political.

I myself am not on any social media.  Still, I utilize multiple Google products.  Until recently, like most people, I had come to use the brand name “Google” as a verb to describe searching on the internet.  In fact, the Google search page was my home page when I opened my web browser (which is not Google Chrome, by the way).  That was before I discovered DuckDuckGo!

One day, fed up with hearing about the latest privacy intrusions by tech companies and equally fed up by how ubiquitous Google products had become, I did a search for alternate search engines.  DuckDuckGo was one of the results.  I was happy to read that this company does not track its users’ online activity and search history.  They don’t record your IP address or attach cookies to follow you around the web. If you click on a site, that site won’t be told what search terms you used to find them.

Ok, I thought to myself, then how do they make money?

I did some more research and found that DuckDuckGo makes money on ads based on some of the key words you use for a particular search, but only in that moment.  For instance, if you type in “Flights to Italy” you may get 2 or 3 results clearly marked “ad” for travel sites.  They also make money through online marketplaces such as Amazon or eBay.  If you search for something, a clearly marked ad for Amazon may come up for that term.  If you click on the ad and buy something, a code gets sent to Amazon to let them know that a particular item was purchased as a result of a DuckDuckGo search, and then DuckDuckGo receives a commission on the sale.  What does not get recorded, is any information that would personally identify you, such as your search terms, browser or IP address.

Using this model, DuckDuckGo generates profits in the millions, rather than billions (like Google and Facebook).  As a result, they don’t have to worry about the ethical or legal conflicts that come up with tracking users.

There are some inconveniences; since they don’t track you or your search habits, you won’t get auto-filled results or suggestions to your searches.  You will need to be more specific if you want specific results.  I got used to it pretty quickly.  I like that I can specify the region I want to search, instead of having them do it for me.  I also prefer the clean layout of their results page and the fact that I get less superfluous answers.

I have made DuckDuckGo my home page on all of my browsers now.  And I have stopped using the word “Google” as a verb.

Here is a link, if you would like to try it yourself: DuckDuckGo

Happy Independence Day!

~~~~~~~~

Whether you are waking up to a day of work, get out the vote efforts, protest, taking care of family, organizing or simply taking a break from current events to curl up into a ball, I am re-posting this recipe from the 3rd year of the Philosopher’s Spoon; because, now more than ever, a nutritious comfort food like Cheesecake for Breakfast checks all the boxes…

Cheesecake for Breakfast
Don’t let the naughty-sounding name fool you, this no-bake recipe contains whole-grain cereal, nutritious walnuts, fresh fruit and yogurt.  Stored in the freezer, these mini-cheesecakes are a super-tasty on-the-go breakfast that’s worth getting up for.  I used Trader Joe’s Toasted Oatmeal Flakes in the crust.

 

3/4 cup finely crushed whole grain cereal flakes
3/4 cup ground walnuts*
3 tablespoons butter, melted
3 tablespoons organic maple syrup
2 (8oz) packages cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup organic sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 cup whole milk Greek-style yogurt (vanilla or banana flavor)
6 oz fresh organic raspberries or blueberries
1 small banana, sliced

*Walnut pieces can be easily ground by placing them in a plastic baggy and crushing them with a rolling pin or mallet.

 

Line a 12 cup muffin pan with cupcake liners.

In a medium bowl, mix together crushed cereal flakes, ground walnuts, melted butter and maple syrup.  Divide mixture among muffin cups and press into bottom of each cupcake liner to form a crust.  Place in freezer to firm.

Meanwhile, with an electric mixer on low speed, beat cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until smooth.  Add yogurt and continue beating until combined and smooth.

Remove crusts from freezer.  Divide cream cheese mixture among muffin cups.  Top cheese mixture with berries and banana slices.  Cover muffin pan with plastic, then foil, and freeze at least one hour before serving.

Store cheesecakes in freezer.  Thaw about 30 minutes at room temperature for a cool breakfast on a hot summer morning.

Note:  You can store these for a few days in the refrigerator, instead of the freezer.  If you do so, omit the banana slices, as they will discolor.

Makes 12 breakfast cheesecakes

 

Gradually

June 11, 2018

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue.  Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them.  And the point is, to live everything.  Live the questions now.  Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

When I first saw the quote above, it struck me as the perfect advice for those graduating from college.  As this is the time of year when most graduates are celebrating, I’ve been meaning to write this post for a couple of weeks now.

The problem for me has been the general chaos and information overload that pervades current events, and the stress and confusion that seeps into the daily lives of myself and my friends, clients and family members, even for those who don’t pay close attention to the news cycle.  Just when I think things have calmed down enough for my readers to enjoy a nice, pleasant blog post, it seems another mass shooting or natural disaster or untimely death is reported.  These come on top of the current domestic and world political concerns (insert scream emoji).

Then, today, it occurred to me that this quote applies to more of my fellow humans than just those marking the milestone of college graduation.  We all have questions, throughout our lives, but especially in times such as these.  Sometimes, no matter how much we wish for things to be resolved, for questions to be answered, for wounds to be healed, for the scales of justice to balance, we must surrender to the limited viewpoint from our location in space and time.

“Don’t look for peace. Don’t look for any other state than the one you are in now; otherwise, you will set up inner conflict and unconscious resistance.  Forgive yourself for not being at peace.  The moment you completely accept your non-peace, your non-peace becomes transmuted into peace.”
~ Eckhart Tolle

Think back over your life lived thus far and recall times past when personal or world events seemed unsettled.  The answers almost always do come, but usually when you stop asking.  Wrongs get righted, but not according to your timetable.  Often you don’t get what you desire, but eventually, something better – an outcome that you couldn’t have imagined when your heart first made the wish.

When I feel unsettled and overwhelmed by world events, I try to remember the following: Do what you can to be a conduit of love and light in the world.  Fight the good fights on behalf of those less fortunate or less able.  Change the things you can and leave the rest to forces of good more powerful than yourself.  The answers will come.  Then there will be new questions.

~~~~~~~~~

A laurel wreath has been a symbol of victory and honor since ancient times.  In Italy, university graduates receive a laurel wreath to wear on their heads for the remainder of the day after the ceremony.  Bay Laurel Lemonade makes for a unique and refreshing commemorative beverage to serve at a graduation celebration.

Bay Laurel Lemonade
A simple bay leaf syrup combines with fresh lemon juice to give this sweet, tangy lemonade a slightly herbal twist.  The bay leaf flavor is subtle, making this beverage both a sophisticated thirst-quencher and a crowd-pleaser.

You will want to use the bay leaves native to the Mediterranean, probably originating from Turkey  (Laurus nobilis) for this recipe.  Do not use what is known as California bay leaves (Umbellularia), as they have a stronger flavor and can cause headaches for some people.

Ingredients:

Bay Leaf Simple Syrup (recipe follows)
2 cups fresh lemon juice (about 10 lemons)
Zest of two lemons
6 cups cold filtered or spring water
Variation: substitute sparkling water for half or all of the water*

 

First, make Bay Leaf Simple Syrup (recipe below).  You will need to make this and chill at least 30 minutes before making lemonade.

To make lemonade:
Remove syrup from fridge.

In a large bowl, stir together lemon juice, zest, chilled syrup and 6 cups cold water and pour into large pitcher.  Refrigerate until cold, at least 1 hour (and up to 1 week).  Serve over ice.

*Note: You can also make the lemonade as directed and fill a glass with half lemonade/half sparkling water for a lighter version.

Bay Leaf Simple Syrup

1 & 1/4 cups organic sugar
1 & 1/4 cups filtered or spring water
6 bay leaves, lightly crumbled (Turkish)

To make syrup:
Place all ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring to dissolve sugar.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low; simmer 3 minutes.

Turn off heat and let steep for about 30 minutes.  Strain syrup through a fine mesh sieve and transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid.  Cover, let come to room temperature and then refrigerate until ready to use.

~~~~~~

A brief bit of lemonade-themed laughter: