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:

 

 

Look Up!

May 4, 2018

“Few people have the imagination for reality.”
~ Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

The other day, as I was heading out for an afternoon walk, I glanced across the street toward the nearby neighborhood park and noticed some picnic tables arranged for a child’s birthday party.  There were balloons and decorations tied to several tables, one topped with wrapped gifts and one with cake, soft drinks, plates and cups, ready to be enjoyed.  The outdoor party was set up next to the sandboxes, basketball court and swing set, presumably so the kids and adults could enjoy a day in the park as they celebrated the occasion together.  Parked nearby was a large mobile WiFi hotspot vehicle, painted with characters from the world of gaming, presumably there so the kids could also play video games if they wanted to.  It was a perfect California spring day and, from a distance, it looked like a lovely party.

On my way home I walked right by the park.  As I approached the kids party area I noticed something strange.  To my left I could see that the picnic tables with balloons and cake and presents were empty – like a ghost town, as was the playground.  To my right was parked the WiFi hotspot vehicle.  I glanced inside and saw that it was full of children and adults, sitting packed like sardines in a can, shoulder to shoulder, each staring intently down into their respective devices and scrolling and clicking fervently.

When the attendees post pictures from the event on their various social media accounts, I imagine that the photos will depict the few brief moments when everything looked like a normal and fabulous kids party – one that those who did not attend would be sorry they missed – and not the sad, robotic scene that I witnessed.

Aside from encouraging humans to socially imprison themselves within the walls of a tiny screen, the overuse of technology can also have a detrimental effect on the brains of both children and adults.  Something as simple as how we make a list or take a note can affect our memories and how we process information.

According to a 2014 article in the journal Psychological Science by researchers at Princeton and UCLA, research from three different studies has shown that adult students who took notes on laptops performed worse on conceptual questions than those who took notes longhand.  In addition, a 2012 study by a psychologist at Indiana University showed that Children who drew letters freehand exhibited increased activity in three areas of the brain that are activated by adults when they read and write.  The kids who typed the same letters showed no such effect.

Our modern technology has the potential to be used for both instructive and destructive purposes.  It can have the effect of widening our perspectives or limiting them to the view from a tiny screen.  We can seek out our own sources of information or let them be fed to us via an algorithm.  We are human beings and we still have choices as to what we consume, how much we consume and how we spend our days and nights.

Thank you for reading this blog post, which was written and is being read thanks to modern technology.  Now, look up, go find a blank piece of paper and a pencil or pen, and write a list of things you haven’t done in awhile that don’t involve being hunched over a screen.  Do at least one of them this week.

~~~~~~~~~

Super Easy Grissini are handmade crunchy breadsticks using ready-made pizza dough from Trader Joe’s.

Super Easy Grissini
These tasty breadsticks are super easy to make using purchased ready-to-use pizza dough.  Trader Joe’s has plain, wheat and garlic-herb varieties.  I used the plain.  You can make the breadsticks without any extras, or you can add sesame seeds, dried herbs or cracked pepper.  I used some of Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend that a friend had given me. 

If you can find semolina flour to use for rolling out, it will give an authentic texture and flavor to the breadsticks.  All-purpose flour will work in a pinch, though.  Bob’s Red Mill makes a nice semolina flour.  It’s available at Whole Foods and other well-stocked grocery stores.

Ingredients:
1 (16 oz) pkg of Trader Joe’s plain refrigerated pizza dough
Extra virgin olive oil, for rolling out
Semolina flour or all-purpose flour, for rolling out

For optional variations:
Trader Joe’s “Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend”
Or your choice of:
Poppy seeds, sesame seeds, crumbled dried rosemary or dried thyme
(You will need about 1 tablespoon or less)

Supplies:
Parchment paper
Plastic wrap
Baking tray (2 or 3 if you have them available)
Rolling pin
Pizza cutter

Take pizza dough out of the fridge and let sit on counter in package at room temperature for 30 minutes:

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and sprinkle with some semolina flour or all-purpose flour.  Empty dough from bag onto flour-lined parchment and form into a roundish shape.  Brush or lightly rub a layer of olive oil over surface of dough.  Turn dough over (making sure to sprinkle some flour underneath) and rub olive oil on that side as well.  Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes:

Form grissini:
Remove plastic.  Press or roll out dough to an 8″ x 10″ rectangle, using additional semolina or AP flour as needed:

You can proceed to the next step if you are making plain breadsticks.  If you want to make a variation, sprinkle the surface lightly with seeds or herbs and press lightly into dough.  You could also cut your dough in half and make one flavored and one plain, if you’re not sure.  Note: the Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend has garlic and onion and sea salt in it as well, so sprinkle lightly for a mild flavor, heavier for a strong and salty, garlic and onion flavor.

Move the parchment with the rolled dough off of the baking tray and line the tray with fresh parchment.  Position the parchment with the dough so that the rectangle is in front of you with the long sides parallel to you.  Using the pizza cutter, cut a finger-width piece of dough off from one of the short ends.  Using additional semolina or AP flour as needed, gently stretch and twist the piece of dough or roll along the tray under flat fingers to form a long stick, almost the length of the baking pan.  Don’t worry about it being perfect-looking.  A rustic shape is part of the charm.  If your piece stretches too long, simply fold it over and twist it back together into a shorter stick.  Place the rolled stick onto the freshly-lined baking tray. Continue with the rest of the dough.  Cover 2 or 3 trays with parchment, if you have them, or you can place formed sticks onto sheets of parchment and place onto tray after you remove already baked breaksticks to cool.

Cover formed breadsticks with plastic wrap and let sit for 15 to 20 minutes to puff while you preheat the oven.

Preheat oven to 400°F

Remove plastic from tray.  Bake the breadsticks for 14 to 18 minutes or until golden and crisp.  The thinness/thickness of the sticks will determine cooking time.  Check them every 5 minutes and rotate pan if necessary to cook evenly.

Remove from oven and carefully move paper with breadsticks to a rack to cool completely.  Store in an airtight container (Note: if you put them into a zip bag they will get soft – still tasty, but not crisp).  Eat within 2 or 3 days.

 

A More Perfect Re-Union

March 31, 2018

“I’ll tell you how the Sun rose –
A Ribbon at a time…..
~ Emily Dickinson

Most of us recall the image of Humpty Dumpty from the classic nursery rhyme by Mother Goose.  An egg man, in defiance of his fragility, sits precariously at the top of a wall.  He ultimately looses his balance and falls to the ground, the egg’s delicate shell cracked open, revealing his vulnerable liquid center.  The local King kindly sends his soldiers and horses to fix Humpty, but they are unable to put his shell back together and restore him to his former united self.

Perhaps in focusing on Humpty’s broken shell, the soldiers missed the source of his inner strength, a golden center.  The King should have put his artists on the job.  They might have succeeded in restoring the egg man, using the centuries-old Japanese art known as Kintsugi.

Kintsugi, which translates to “golden joinery”, or Kintsukuroi, meaning “golden repair”, is the art of fixing broken ceramics and pottery by joining the fragments together again using a special lacquer, which is then dusted with gold, silver or platinum.  This method of repair results in ribbons of shimmering gold running through an object, highlighting where it was broken and transforming the memory of the break into a new expression of beauty.  Kintsukuroi can result in a repaired object that is more beautiful than it had been in its original, unbroken state.  The effect is so appealing that some artists purposely brake objects in order to use the technique.  This golden repair reunites what is broken in a beautifully transformative way: healing and elevating, but not erasing.

Each spring nature renews itself.  That which was thought dead awakens to a new, more beautiful expression.  The story of Easter describes a resurrection from death into an everlasting life, not forgetting the pain of the previous one, but embracing it as part of the miracle.  The idea of Kintsugi/Kintsukuroi, instead of masking imperfections, mistakes and damage, paints them golden and shouts to the heavens “Hallelujah! We are still here and more beautiful than ever, not in spite of our flaws, but because of them!”  The outer self, what we present to the world, is merely the casing for the golden and eternal center within us, which we can draw on infinitely when our earthly shell reveals its imperfections.

“Life moves on, whether we act as cowards or heroes… Everything we shut our eyes to, everything we run away from, everything we deny, denigrate or despise, serves to defeat us in the end.  What seems nasty, painful, evil, can become a source of beauty, joy and strength, if faced with an open mind.  Every moment is a golden one for him who has the vision to recognize it as such.”
~ Henry Miller

Happy season of renewal!  Rise up and go forward.  We will mend our broken places and transform the scars into ribbons of beautiful strength.

~~~~~~~~~

Transform left-over Easter eggs into a tasty golden-yellow treat for a springtime luncheon, picnic or snack with Turmeric and Ginger Pickled Eggs.

Turmeric and Ginger Pickled Eggs
These pretty yellow eggs make a delicious and eye-catching appetizer for a spring lunch and are a perfect way to use up hard-boiled eggs after Easter.  The flavor is tangy, sweet and lightly salty with delicate hints of turmeric and ginger.

You will need a quart-sized mason jar with lid for these.  They take 24 to 48 hours to pickle. I let mine pickle for 44 hours to get the color in the photo above.  If you’d prefer a paler yellow, let them pickle for less time. 

Use super-fresh 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 cup sliced carrots
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 & 1/2-inch piece of fresh turmeric, peeled and thinly sliced
Or
2 teaspoons ground turmeric
1 & 1/2 cups water
3/4 teaspoon salt (I used Himalayan Pink salt)
1 tablespoon organic sugar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar (a bit more, if needed)
1-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
Optional: 1 small fresh chile, diced fine
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
8 hard-cooked eggs, cooled and peeled (see tips below)

Add the carrots, garlic and sliced fresh turmeric or ground turmeric with the water to a large saucepan.  Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, over medium heat for about 15 minutes.  Remove from heat.  Make sure you have 1 cup of cooking water remaining in the pan.  Add more water if necessary.

After the veggies have finished cooking, while the liquid is still warm, add salt, sugar and vinegar and stir to dissolve.  Add the ginger, parsley, chile (if using) and peppercorns.  Stir to combine.

In a clean, 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 vinegar.  Seal jar with the lid and give a gentle shake to mix contents.

Refrigerate for 24 to 48 hours, gently shaking jar occasionally.

To serve:
Cut eggs in half to highlight the pretty color.  Serve with some of the veggies, along with crackers, chips or bread or on top of butter lettuce or other salad greens.  You can also mix diced pickled eggs with some mayo for an instant, eye-catching egg salad.

Serves 4 to 8

Tips for boiling eggs:  place in a single layer, without crowding, inside a cold saucepan.  Add water to cover by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil over medium-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 located.  Begin peeling from there and continue until egg is completely peeled.

A Vroom with a View

March 13, 2018

“We are now cruising at a level of two to the power of twenty-five thousand to one against and falling, and we will be restoring normality just as soon as we are sure what is normal anyway.”
~ Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

 

 

In case you missed the historic February 6th flight of SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and the launch of Elon Musk’s Tesla Roadster, “driven” by a dummy astronaut named “Starman” to the tune of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars”, Space X has just released a short video of the inspirational event:

With all of the chaos and uncertainty flooding the daily news cycle, this monumental achievement by Musk and the folks at SpaceX reminds us that there are still amazing things to be achieved and plenty of reasons to keep hope alive.

For several hours after the launch, the vehicle broadcast live views of various positions on the car, my favorite of which peeks from behind the driver to show the view ahead of our beautiful blue home planet Earth.  The SpaceX YouTube channel shows a replay of the 4 hour recording:

Watching the Starman, casually cruising around the Earth, his left hand resting on the door of the super-cool red roadster and his right hand on the steering wheel, reminds me of the importance of perspective.  Far above the Earth, away from the daily noise and chaos and pettiness, the triumphs and the tragedies, the hopes and fears, one sees the quiet and constant beauty of our unique home planet.  The view from above is amazing.

The perspective of time is equally important.  This beautiful five-petaled flower was created by the geometric dance made by the relative positions of Earth and Venus over an 8-year period:

The mathematically gorgeous pattern illustrated above was inspired by John Martineau’s book A Little Book of Coincidence, which illustrates the orbital movements of planets and their geometric relationships.  More planets and patterns can be found here: Dances of the Planets.

The view can also be beautiful and inspiring at the level of the very small.  These are microscopic crystal flowers grown by engineers at Harvard University.  They are thinner than a strand of hair and too small for a bumblebee to see:


More photos and story can be found here: ‘Nanogardens’ Sprout Up on the Surface of a Penny.

 

So, when you feel overwhelmed by the pace of absurdity and uncertainty, don’t panic; change your perspective. A little bit of distance in time or space can reveal magical possibilities.

~~~~~~~~~

In honor of Pi Day, here is a recipe for 360° of deliciousness in Ancient Roman-Style Sausage Patties.

Ancient Roman-Style Sausage Patties
I based this flavorful, sophisticated sausage – peppery, herbal and smokey – on an ancient Roman recipe that was brought back to Rome by soldiers who had served in Lucania, which was located in what is now Southern Italy.  Having ancestral origins from both Sicily and Rome, I was curious to taste what my forebears may have enjoyed.  I have adapted the ancient version of the recipe with modern ingredients and to make without smoking or the need for casing.  I prefer my sausage without casing anyway, as it is often tough, and I usually remove it before cooking.  Because these are formed into patties, and cooked immediately instead of smoked and aged, they can be made with a minimum of effort and enjoyed right away.

Ancient Romans used a form of fish sauce called Garum to flavor this sausage.  That might sound weird to some of you, but this ingredient adds that extra “umami” dimension to the flavor and is not fishy-tasting at all.  The Roman garum sauce was different than the fish sauces found in modern Asian cooking. I have approximated the flavor of the ancient recipe by using a combination of balsamic glaze, dried oregano and Red Boat Fish Sauce, which is a very high-quality sauce.  It is made of salted black anchovies from Archipelago, with no additives and aged for over a year in traditional wood barrels.  You can find Red Boat Fish Sauce at Whole Foods, specialty stores and online.  Balsamic glaze is thicker and sweeter than balsamic vinegar.  You can find balsamic glaze at your local well-stocked grocer, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods and online.

 

1 lb ground pork or chicken
1/4 cup pine nuts
1/8 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon dried marjoram
1 teaspoon dried savory
2 bay leaves, crushed (leaf part only – throw out stems)
1 rounded teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon finely-ground black pepper
2 teaspoons finely-chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons Red Boat Fish Sauce
1 tablespoon balsamic glaze
1/2 teaspoon liquid smoke
1/4 teaspoon salt
Olive oil to cook (1-2 tablespoons)

Toast the pine nuts:
Spread the nuts on a baking sheet and bake at 375°F, stirring occasionally, until golden-brown (5 to 10 minutes).  Let cool.  Add cooled nuts to a small plastic zip bag and crush well using a rolling pin.

In a medium bowl, add crushed pine nuts.  Add remaining ingredients, except for the olive oil, and mix together well, using a large fork.  Cover bowl and chill mixture for 30 minutes.

Wash and rinse your hands in cold water.  Divide the sausage mixture into ten portions and shape each into a 2 & 1/2-inch disk.

Heat a non-stick skillet over high heat, lightly coated in olive oil.  Fry the sausage patties on each side until completely cooked through and golden brown, about 4 minutes per side.  Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.  Sausage patties can be fully cooked, cooled, wrapped and frozen for reheating in a toaster oven or microwave.

Makes 10 sausage patties

 

A Rose By Every Other Name

February 13, 2018

“Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts,
the depths of their hearts
where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach,
the core of their reality,
the person that each one is
in God’s eyes.

If only they could see themselves as they really are.
If only we could see each other that way all the time,
there would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed…
I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
~ Thomas Merton

Sometimes, among the seemingly mundane events of the day, we find an unexpected connection.

That’s how it was for me, one evening last October, watching the Late Show with Stephen Colbert.  Stephen’s guest was the comedian Russell Brand, who was on the show to promote his latest project, like every other guest.  The interview began with some light banter about small talk, followed by a surprisingly deep question and answer:

Stephen:  “Why are we here, Russell Brand?  Why do you think there is something, instead of nothing?”

Russell:  “Do you think it’s to move towards oneness?  Could the tendency be unity?  Could there be some consciousness trying to realize itself through material?”

The conversation that followed was decidedly not the standard talk show babble.  They were discussing Brand’s new book Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions.  Stephen asked him if he thought one could really have freedom from ones addictions or simply hold them at bay:

Russell:  “It depends, I suppose, on how one interprets addiction.  If you see addiction, perhaps, as a yearning to connect that our culture doesn’t know how to service, then you can have freedom from the malevolent manifestations of addiction.  If addiction is a drive to know truth or, in another lexicon, to know God, to know oneness that we are unable to medicate successfully because our culture tells us that there is no meaning, tells us that we are but material, tells us that we are individuals trapped in flesh, only here to consume, and there are some people who just can’t bear that; so they take a little heroin to unwind.”

Stephen: “Yes, that’s true, as Thomas Merton said, that ‘Ourselves we clothe, we wrap in the bandages of other people’s perceptions of us or in our appetites and pleasures and we say, “Oh, those bandages, that is ourself”, without ever looking at what’s underneath the bandage, which is a hole in our heart the size of God.'”

Stephen and Russell’s conversation and, in particular, Stephen’s paraphrase of Thomas Merton’s words, so resonated with my own spiritual philosophy, that I immediately set to googling the name of “Thomas Merton”.  I found that he was a Trappist monk, theologian and mystic, born under the sign of Aquarius, who wrote more than 70 books on spirituality, social justice, civil rights and pacifism.  I found a number of other quotes from his writings that also resonated with me, such as this one:

“It is when we love the other, the enemy, that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who he is , and who we are.”

It is important to remember what connects us, rather than what divides us, especially in times such as these when social media algorithms and outrage-peddling bots and trolls continue to push our politics away from the center and our citizens apart from one another.

These are interesting times, to say the least, and I have found myself disappointed by some I had previously admired, and inspired by many that I had formerly assumed I had nothing in common with.  As a fairly true-blue liberal, I never thought that I could be moved by a speech from George W. Bush.  But one he gave on October 19, 2017 touched me deeply, especially these words:

“We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty.  At times, it can seem like the forces pulling us apart are stronger than the forces binding us together.  Argument turns too easily into animosity.  Disagreement escalates into dehumanization.  Too often, we judge other groups by their worst examples while judging ourselves by our best intentions – forgetting the image of God we should see in each other.”

The Gods truly do have a sense of humor.  I never imagined I would connect with the words of George W. Bush, but I did.  Russell Brand, our 43rd President and Thomas Merton have all echoed my deepest belief; that we are on a journey towards connection, towards the recognition of God’s face when we look in the mirror, as well as when we look at each other.  Sri Aurobindo, a favorite philosopher of mine, wrote poetically about our origins, defining creation as:

“Existence that multiplied itself for sheer delight of being and plunged into numberless trillions of forms so that it might find itself innumerably…”

And I have no doubt that we can find our way back to civility, to camaraderie, and that one day, perhaps generations upon generations from now, we will find that recognition of the divine in ourselves and each other.  Sri Aurobindo’s quote continues:

“….Love is the keynote; Joy is the music; Power is the strain; Knowledge is the performer; the infinite All is the composer and audience.  We know only the preliminary discords, which are as fierce as the harmony shall be great; but we shall arrive surely at the fugue of the divine Beatitudes.”

Love is not always easy.  Sometimes, the most difficult relationships are the ones that teach us the most important lessons.  So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, and in the name of true love, take a moment to seek a connection, to see the humanity, as well as the divinity, in someone you disagree with.

“Love is our true destiny.  We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another.”
~ Thomas Merton

~~~~~~~~~

Dust off that waffle maker that’s been sitting lonely on your top shelf.  Chocolate Brownie Waffles with Coffee Maple Syrup make a lovely breakfast or brunch treat, on Valentine’s Day or any day.

Chocolate Brownie Waffles with Coffee Maple Syrup
These delicious dark chocolate waffles taste like you’re having a brownie for breakfast.  The Coffee Maple Syrup adds a sophisticated pick me up for your morning meal.  I added blueberries to the waffles in the picture above, for extra anti-oxidant power.  Freeze any leftover waffles to heat up in your toaster oven on hurried mornings.  I like to spread a waffle or two with peanut butter for an easy, portable, high protein treat.  You can also serve them as a dessert with a scoop of ice cream on top and chocolate syrup drizzled over all. 

Note: if you haven’t used your waffle iron in awhile, plan on throwing out the first waffle; it will serve to season your waffle iron.

 

Ingredients:
1/2 cup baking cocoa
1/4 cup butter, melted (still warm but not hot)
3/4 cup organic cane sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup plain yogurt*
*you will want thinner Euro style yogurt for this – not Greek style

Coffee Maple Syrup (recipe follows)

 

In a large bowl, stir cocoa and warm melted butter together until smooth.  Stir in sugar.  Add the eggs and vanilla and beat well with a fork.

In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda and salt together.

Add some of the flour mixture to the large bowl with the cocoa mixture, a little at a time, alternating with some of the yogurt, mixing fully between each addition, until everything is added and mixture is fully combined.

Bake in your waffle iron, according to manufacturer’s instructions.

Serve with Coffee Maple Syrup for breakfast or ice cream and chocolate sauce (and some strawberries or raspberries, if you like) for dessert.

Makes about 9 – 10 waffles (depending on your waffle iron).

 

Coffee Maple Syrup
You can double this recipe (just use a larger pan) for more syrup.

1 cup strong coffee or espresso
3 tablespoons real maple syrup
2 tablespoons golden brown sugar (packed)
2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

In a small, heavy saucepan, over medium high heat, stir together coffee, maple syrup and brown sugar.  Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until reduced by half (about 15 minutes).  Turn off heat and add the butter, a piece at a time, stirring to melt and combine between each addition.  Serve immediately over Chocolate Brownie Pancakes or let syrup cool, pour into a jar and store in fridge.  This makes a nice gift from your kitchen.  Make sure to let the recipient know to refrigerate the syrup and warm it before using.

 

What Goes Around, Comes Around

January 13, 2018

“Humor is emotional chaos remembered in tranquility.”
~ James Thurber

About a week ago I was commenting to a friend about how the national roller coaster ride that began a little over a year ago seemed to be intensifying as we begin 2018.  My advice to her was “Hold on or put your hands in the air, whichever seems appropriate.”

A similar conversation with an Italian friend of mine caused me to look up the Italian word for “roller coaster”.  Imagine my amusement when I found the translation to be montagna russa or “Russian Mountain”.  In fact, the languages of French, Portuguese and Spanish also use equivalents of the term Russian Mountains to refer to roller coasters.  This struck me as quite an interesting and humorous linguistic coincidence, considering current events.

Curious, I looked into the history of the term.  It turns out that the predecessors of our modern roller coasters were 17th and 18th century Russian winter sledding rides.  They were built to stand between 70 ft/21 m and 80 ft/24 m tall, with a 50-degree drop, on specially constructed hills of ice and snow.  The ice hills were reinforced with wooden supports.  Located mostly around Saint Petersburg, the rides were very popular with the Russian upper classes.  Catherine the Great even had a version built at her personal residence, complete with a special gazebo where her guests could enjoy a post-ride cup of tea.

The first version of what we think of today as a roller coaster opened 1812, when one of the founders of the Moulin Rouge music hall built a wheeled ride, inspired by the Russian hills but without the ice, called the Montagnes Russes de Belleville or Russian Mountains of Belleville.  It was the first roller coaster to lock the cars to the track.  The first looping roller coaster opened in France in 1846.  In 1884, the first American roller coaster debuted at Coney Island in Brooklyn, New York.  Called the Switchback Railway, it traveled about 6 miles per hour and cost five cents to ride.  Nonetheless, this roller coaster’s immense popularity made its creator hundreds of dollars each day.

Interestingly, when modern roller coasters made their way to Russia, they came to be called amerikanskie gorki, or “American Mountains”.

What goes around, comes around.

 

~~~~~~~~~

Turn a frown upside down with a delicious batch of Orange Fool. The fruit fool is a traditional English dessert, dating back to the 1500s.  It began as a form of fruit custard, but has evolved into a combination of whipped cream and fruit.  An orange custard version is rumored to have been included in Martha Washington’s (our first First Lady) personal book of recipes.  In a nod to both the traditional and modern, my Orange Fool recipe combines both versions, by stirring tangy orange curd into whipped cream.

Orange Fool
A simple but elegant dessert that combines homemade orange curd and freshly whipped cream for a finale that is both rich and refreshing.  Be sure to use eggs from happy hens (pastured or free range).  For a simpler version, substitute prepared orange curd and transform the Orange Fool into an Orange Genius (recipe option below).

For the Orange Curd:
3 large eggs
1/3 cup organic sugar
Grated zest of one medium organic orange
1/2 cup strained fresh orange juice
3/4 stick of butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the Whipped Cream:
1 & 1/2 cups organic heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon organic sugar

To garnish:
Additional orange zest
Cookies, such as ginger snaps or vanilla wafers

Note: You will need an electric mixer, medium bowl and medium-sized wire whisk for the whipped cream.  Chill the bowl, beaters and whisk in the fridge ahead of time, so that they are super cold when you use them for the whipped cream.

 

Step one – make the Orange Curd:

In a medium saucepan, whisk the eggs, sugar and grated orange zest together until light in color.

Add the orange juice and the butter.

Put saucepan on the stove and cook mixture, whisking, over medium heat until the butter is melted.  Then whisk constantly until mixture is thickened and let simmer gently for a few seconds (do not boil!).  Remove from heat and stir in the vanilla.  Let cool, stirring a few times.  Cover and refrigerate to thicken further (now is a good time to chill your bowl, beaters and whisk for the whipped cream).

Makes about 1 & 1/3 cups

 

Step two – whip the cream:

Remove cream and chilled bowl and utensils from fridge.

Pour cream into the chilled bowl.  Whip cream with electric mixer on medium speed until soft peaks form.  Add sugar and finish beating by hand with the chilled wire whisk until stiff peaks form (finishing by hand helps the whipped cream to hold its shape longer).

To assemble the Orange Fool:

Remove chilled orange curd from fridge.

Using a rubber spatula, carefully fold in 3/4 cup of the orange curd and stir into the whipped cream almost completely, but with some white streaks remaining.  Cover and refrigerate the remaining curd and save for another use (on toast, as a dip for fruit or cookies, or mixed with your morning yogurt).

You can serve the fool immediately or make ahead and chill up to 2 hours.

Serve in wine goblets or glass dessert bowls.  Top each serving with a bit of extra orange zest and a cookie.

Serves 6

 

Orange Genius
Brilliantly simple to make (hence the name), this variation uses purchased prepared orange curd.  You can find bottled orange curd in the jams and jellies section of a well-stocked grocery store, specialty store or online.

Ingredients:
3/4 cup purchased prepared orange curd
1 & 1/2 cups organic heavy whipping cream
1 tablespoon organic sugar

To garnish:
Additional orange zest
Cookies, such as ginger snaps or vanilla wafers

Note: You will need an electric mixer, medium bowl and medium-sized wire whisk for the whipped cream.  Chill the bowl, beaters and whisk in the fridge ahead of time, so that they are super cold when you use them for the whipped cream.  Also chill your purchased orange curd.

Make as in Orange Fool recipe above, but begin with Step Two.

 

The Miracle is Now

December 21, 2017

“Live quietly in the moment and see the beauty all before you.
The future will take care of itself.”

~ Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi


From PhenomeGNOME

 

Happy Winter Solstice!

2017 has been quite a ride.  As someone who is not fond of rollercoasters, the ups, downs and side-to-sides of the past year have been rather unsettling, to put it politely.  So the arrival of the Winter Solstice, which ushers in a light that will grow stronger each day, is a welcome metaphor.

In spite of appearances, darkness is waning.  The light is expanding from this day forward, until the first day of summer, when the Sun shines its brightest and longest, and our faith in the ultimate power of light over darkness is affirmed.

So, in honor of the return of the light and as an act of faith in the warmth, healing and new life it will eventually bring, stop; take a few conscious breaths and enjoy the holidays.  Surrender to the simple miracle of now.  Yesterday is done and tomorrow is at another location in time.  You are here, now.  Look around: what are you grateful for in this moment?

If you need help bringing your focus into the now, here is a simple exercise you can do anywhere:

How to Fix Your Gaze
Sit or stand comfortably, with spine lifted as if a string were attached to the top of your head, holding it up.  Balance your weight across the surfaces of both feet. Gently engage your abdominal muscles and keep them tucked in.  Begin to breathe, in and out of your nose (if possible),  slowly, deeply, fully.  Make your exhales the same count as your inhales, or slightly longer.  Now find a small object or spot out in front of you and focus your gaze softly on that one point, letting everything around it become a blur.  If you are indoors, perhaps you can fix your gaze on an ornament on the Christmas tree, a bow on top of a package or a steady candle flame across the room.  If you are outside, find pebble on the ground, a flower or a blade of grass  – anything that is not moving.  Breathe in and out, softly gazing at that one point in the distance.  That point is your now.  The blur that surrounds it symbolizes the past and future clamoring for your attention; tune them out. Gaze steadily at your point of focus, breathing evenly and fully, anywhere from several breaths to a few minutes.  You can end the exercise by giving thanks to the object and this unique moment in time.

“I’d kiss a frog even if there were no promise of a Prince Charming popping out of it.  I love frogs.”
~ Cameron Diaz

~~~~~~~~~

Need a last-minute gift to bring to a holiday party or dinner?  Tiramisù Truffles are deliciously easy treat to put together.

Tiramisù Truffles (Tartufini al Tiramisù)
With a few ingredients and a little bit of your time, these rich and sophisticated treats are easy to make and will be chilled and ready to give in a few hours.  Be sure to let your recipient know they should be refrigerated.  The key here is quality ingredients.  Be sure to use good, strong espresso or coffee and good quality cocoa powder.  I used Equal Exchange Fairly Traded Organic Baking Cocoa, available at Whole Foods.

Ingredients:
74g (8-9) lady fingers/savoiardi
8 oz tub of mascarpone
1/4 cup organic sugar
2 tablespoons cold, strong, sweetened coffee*
2 to 3 tablespoons cocoa powder/baking cocoa

You will also need:
18-21 mini cupcake liners/candy papers
A large plastic zip bag
A rolling pin

*Sweeten espresso or strong coffee to your taste and measure after coffee has cooled.

 

Place lady fingers in a large plastic zip bag and crush using a rolling pin.  You may need to use the ends to break up the cookies and then roll to crush.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine mascarpone and sugar with a spoon.  Add the cold, sweetened coffee/espresso and mix until fully combined and smooth.  Use the back of the spoon to make sure all the mascarpone is incorporated.  Add the crushed lady fingers and mix completely.  Cover the bowl and chill for 30 minutes.

To make truffles:
Remove mascarpone mixture from fridge.  Place cocoa powder in a small, shallow bowl.  Separate the mini cupcake liner/candy papers and set them up on a baking sheet or pan.

Wash your hands thoroughly.

Take about a tablespoon of the mixture and roll gently between clean hands to form a ball.  Roll the ball in the cocoa powder until fully covered.  Carefully place the finished truffle inside one of the papers.  Continue, rolling mixture into a ball and coating with cocoa until all the mixture has been used up.  Cover the tray of finished truffles and chill in fridge for 2 to 3 hours.

Package in a small gift box to take as a hostess gift or set on a pretty platter to serve as part of your holiday dessert tray.  Store in refrigerator until ready to serve.  Store any leftovers (there probably won’t be any) in fridge as well.

Makes 18 to 21 truffles.

 

 

Take Comfort

December 11, 2017

“On days when warmth is the most important need of the human heart, the kitchen is the place you can find it.”
~ E.B. White

 

Have the rich foods and rushed pace of the holiday season made your digestive system less than comfortable?  Has your stomach been actively protesting 2017?  Is your skin in need of soothing after a cold, dry and windy day?  Could your body use a warm hug?

It’s important to put self-care on your holiday to do list.  You won’t enjoy the festive foods of the season if your stomach is stressed and you can’t celebrate tidings of comfort and joy if you’re wiped out from decking the halls.

Below are two recipes for self care.  A tummy-comforting soup to soothe a sensitive stomach and a body-comforting milk bath to relieve sore muscles and soften dry winter skin.  The bath also makes a nice gift to comfort a friend.  So, after you take some time to soothe your own body and soul, make sure to pass the healing on by making up some extra soup or milk bath and encouraging your loved ones to do the same.

“There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”
~ Sylvia Plath

~~~

Tummy-Comforting Carrot Soup
with Fennel, Turmeric and Ginger
This tasty soup recipe is designed to be stomach-soothing, with a touch of probiotic yogurt to add some comforting creaminess.   It’s good cold or hot, but I recommend hot, as a warm bowl of soup on a cold day defines the idea of comfort food.

1 medium fennel bulb with fronds
1 & 1/2 lbs carrots
1 tart/sweet apple, peeled and chopeed
1 garlic clove, peeled and chopped
1 & 1/2 teaspoons turmeric
1 tablespoon fresh ginger
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 cups (32 oz) reduced-sodium vegetable broth

To garnish:
1/2 cup plain yogurt with active cultures
Ground cumin
Reserved fennel fronds

Equipment: a blender or food processor

 

Cut carrots into halves or thirds, horizontally, then cut those pieces vertically into 2 to 3 inch pieces.  Place cut carrots into a large bowl.

Remove fennel fronds, rinse, pat dry and finely chop enough to make 1 tablespoon to garnish soup.  Set aside.  Discard stalks and remaining fronds, scrub outer layer and trim bottom.  Slice bulb into 1/4 inch-thick slices and add to bowl with carrots.  Add apple pieces, garlic, turmeric, ginger, lemon juice, sugar, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/8 teaspoon pepper.

In a large soup pot, heat olive oil over medium.  Add seasoned veggies and stir several times to coat with the oil.  Add 1/2 of the broth, stir well and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer, stirring occasionally, until veggies are tender, about 25 to 30 minutes.  Let cool completely (if you try to blend while hot, you’ll make a mess).

Once cooled, blend vegetables in batches using a blender or food processor, adding additional broth, as necessary, until very smooth.  Transfer to a medium saucepan.  Repeat with remaining veggies and broth.  Return blended soup to pan and simmer until heated through.  Taste and season with salt and black pepper, if needed (I didn’t add any).  Ladle into bowls and garnish each with a drizzle of plain yogurt, a dash of ground cumin and a sprinkling of chopped fennel fronds.

Makes 6 servings

~~~

After work, before dinner or just before bed, treat yourself to a skin-soothing, mind and muscle-relaxing milk bath.

Body-Comforting Coconut Milk Bath
You can find powdered coconut milk at Whole Foods, in the baking section, in health food stores or online.  Make one batch for yourself and then make additional batches to give as gifts.  Make sure to include the instructions for both storing and taking the bath (below).

Makes enough for one to two baths:

1 cup powdered coconut milk
1/2 cup organic cornstarch
6 tablespoons baking soda
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
1 tablespoon ground ginger
1 vanilla bean

A clean pint-sized mason jar with lid

To Make the Bath:
In a medium bowl, stir together the coconut milk, cornstarch, baking soda, turmeric and ginger.  Cut the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape the seeds into the powder mixture (you can toss the scraped pod into ground coffee, or a carton of cream or milk to add a nice vanilla flavor to whipped cream or your morning coffee). Stir mixture with a fork or small whisk until the seeds are evenly dispersed into the powder.  Scoop finished milk bath into your mason jar and seal.

To Take a Bath:

Add 1 to 2 cups of the mixture under running bath water.  Soak and enjoy!

I like the delicate natural scent of the ingredients by themselves, but if you wish to add a few drops of essential oil for extra fragrance, be sure to add to the bath water, not to the milk bath mix, as the added moisture can decrease the shelf life of the milk powder.  Store your milk bath, tightly sealed in a cool, dry place and use within 1 month.  It will probably keep longer than that, but why put off taking care of yourself?

 

 

Be Thankful for…

November 20, 2017

Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac
Gangster whitewalls, TV antennas in the back
You may not have a car at all
But remember brothers and sisters
You can still stand tall
Just be thankful for what you’ve got

~ From “Be Thankful for What You Got” (1974)
Songwriter: William DeVaughn

Thanksgiving day is approaching, a day initially dedicated to breaking bread with loved ones to enjoy and be grateful for the bounty of the season and to share that bounty with others less fortunate.

In reality, the actual day is usually busy with cooking, socializing and navigating through personal and family relationships, along with the joys and challenges that come with them.  These days, some folks even spend the day or night lined up at stores, anxious to grab the biggest discounts on toys and appliances.  The simple idea of being thankful and having more than a moment before eating to meditate on it can be hard to come by amidst the holiday chaos.

If you miss the opportunity to focus on what you are truly grateful for, no need to wait another year.  Begin, the day after Thanksgiving, making a list of three things you are thankful for every day until the New Year.  You can write them down or simply see them in your mind’s eye.  Think of three things each day, perhaps before you sit down to eat, or maybe at the day’s end.  These could be big things, such as health or love or family.  They could be small things, like a delicious dessert you ate or an entertaining movie you saw.  Maybe you are thankful just to get through a particularly challenging day.  Whatever you put on your list, do it faithfully every day until January 1st.  My guess is that you will feel calmer, less stressed and enjoy the Holiday season more by taking this simple, daily action.  If so, you may decide to continue the practice into 2018.

To help get you started, here is your musical mantra, from 1974:

~~~~~~~~~

Be thankful for Polpette di zucca (Pumpkin Balls), little cheese-filled, breaded and fried nibbles of creamy, savory pumpkin.

Polpette di zucca (Pumpkin Balls)
These delicious and nutritious little balls of creamy, savory goodness make a fun appetizer for your Thanksgiving, Christmas or other Fall/Winter holiday table.  Using canned organic pumpkin saves time and trouble, but you could roast and mash pumpkin from scratch, if you choose.  I have included a short. step by step video below. 

1 (15 oz) can organic pumpkin*
1 cup unseasoned bread crumbs, divided
1 egg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese
(I used a combination of both)
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh, flat-leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Generous pinch of crumbled, dried rosemary
2 ounces of smoked cheddar or sharp cheddar cheese, cut into small cubes
(you will need about 14 cubes)
Oil for frying (to reach 1 inch from bottom of pan)

*Variation: use canned butternut squash for Squash Balls (Polpette di zucca lunga)

In a shallow, wide bowl, combine 1/2 cup of the bread crumbs, rosemary, salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, thoroughly combine the pumpkin, egg, remaining 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan/Pecorino cheese, a pinch of salt and a few turns of freshly ground pepper.  Put 2 tablespoons of the mixture into the palm of your hand and place a cube of the cheddar/smoked cheddar in the center.  Fold the edges of the pumpkin mixture around the cheese to form a ball.  Roll this ball gently into the bread crumbs and pat to fully cover.  Continue making the rest of the balls.  Chill in fridge for 30 minutes.

To fry:
Fill pan so that there is one inch of oil from bottom.  Heat to 350°F/170°C, or until the handle of a wooden spoon dipped into the oil forms bubbles around it.  Alternatively, you can toss in a tiny pinch of bread and it should sizzle.  Also, a kernel of unpopped corn will pop when the oil is ready.

Fry pumpkin balls, a few at a time (so as not to crowd pan or lower temperature of the oil), until golden brown (about 3 to 4 minutes).  Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Makes about 14 balls.

Here is a short, step-by-step video to guide you how to assemble the balls.  It is in Italian, but you don’t need to read it, as I am merely providing it as a visual guide.  Their version roasts the pumpkin from scratch, so don’t worry about that part if you are using canned:

Night of the Sleeping REM

October 31, 2017

“By night, Love, tie your heart to mine,
and the two together in their dream will defeat the darkness.”
~ Pablo Neruda, Soneto LXXIX

The romantic longing of Pablo Neruda’s passionate poem may actually hold a scientific truth.  A study of young adults recently published by the Society for Neuroscience suggested that dreaming more can help you to fear less.

Researchers at Rutgers University monitored students’ sleep for one week, then had them participate in an experiment to measure their response to fearful stimuli.  The scientists found that the students who had spent more time in REM (rapid eye movement) sleep were less inclined to respond with fear.  REM sleep is the phase when dreaming occurs.

Contrary to popular belief, sleep is actually a very active time for the brain.  Although our physiological processes (heart rate, breathing, blood pressure) can slow down, our brains are busy cycling through four distinct stages of sleep in a specific sequence.

Stage N1 is transitional, a light sleep that lasts 5 to 10 minutes. Body temperature decreases and brain waves seem to slow.  This is the sleep you get when you take a short nap, wake up, and then wonder if you fell asleep or not.

Stage N2 lasts 10 to 25 minutes.  Your heart rate slows, muscles relax and eye movement stops.

Stage N3 is deep sleep, also known as “slow wave” or “delta” sleep.  This is the sleep you need in order to feel fully rested and refreshed the next day.  This phase usually lasts 20 to 40 minutes.  You are super groggy when awakened from N3 sleep, which is why you should probably not nap for more than 30 minutes, so you can wake from your nap easily.  This is also the sleep phase when sleepwalking or sleep talking are most likely to happen.

REM sleep begins about 90 minutes after you first fall asleep and have gone through all of the first three stages already.  The first REM stage usually lasts about 10 minutes, with each REM stage you have throughout the night getting longer and longer.

As I mentioned above, REM, stands for Rapid Eye Movement.  During this phase of sleep, your closed eyes may move rapidly from one side to another.  Although not proven yet, many scientists believe your eyes move like this during dreams.  During REM sleep, your heart rate and blood pressure increase a bit and your arm and leg muscles relax so much so that they become somewhat immobile.  This is possibly the body’s way of keeping you from acting out your dreams physically.  If you’ve ever had a one of those scary dreams where you couldn’t move, you were probably just half conscious of your temporary paralysis while dreaming.

So, as you can see, in order to get to the REM sleep that strengthens your psyche against fear, you need to go through all of the stages before REM and that means sleeping well.  Here are a few good tips:

Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and at a cooler temperature.

Turn off your electronic devices at least 30 minutes before bed.

Don’t keep electronics on or charging near your bed.   Use a wind-up clock for your alarm.

Stop all caffeine consumption 8 hours before bed.  Drink a relaxing beverage, like valerian, chamomile or lemon balm tea.

Don’t work or eat in bed.

A hot bath with Epsom salts before bed helps.  The magnesium helps you relax.

Don’t sleep in your daytime clothes, even if they’re comfortable.

If you like to read before bed, use a real, paper book.  The light from e-readers (especially blue light) makes your eyes believe that it’s time to wake up.

Do some relaxing conscious breathing before bed.  Below is a favorite Pranayama (yogic breathing technique) I use to help myself and my students relax and relieve anxiety and/or insomnia.

The Extended Exhale

In this easy breathing technique, you gradually increase the length of your exhales, relative to your inhales.  The heart beats more slowly during exhalation, so increasing the length of time that you breathe out encourages a relaxation response in the body.  Here’s how:

To begin relaxing for sleep when you first get into bed, lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet on the mattress, about hips’ distance apart.  Begin breathing, preferably in and out of your nose, placing your palms lightly at your solar plexus, the soft place on your abdomen directly  under your rib cage.  Try to begin breathing using this area first, letting the chest expand upward from there, gradually, as you inhale.  Continue taking nice, long, slow, steady and deep breaths, in and out of your nose.  Begin counting to yourself as you breathe in and as you breathe out.  Your inhales will probably be about the same length as your exhales.  Slowly began lengthening your exhales relative to your inhales.  For example; if you inhale for a count of 4, exhale for a count of 6.  Try to gradually work up to a ratio of 1:2 (if you inhale for 5 counts, exhale for 10).  However, do not increase your exhales beyond double the count of your inhales.  If doubling the length of your exhales is too difficult, just making your exhales a couple of counts longer will help, even if they are not double.  The point is to help you relax, so take it easy at first.  Simply extending your exhalations for at least a minute or two, will encourage your heart rate to slow, your blood pressure to drop and your muscles to relax, helping you unwind into a nice night’s sleep.

“Sleep is the best meditation.”
~ Dalai Lama

~~~~~~~~~

No need to be afraid of the dark when you bake up some Midnight Boo-scotti – dark chocolate cookies draped in white.

Midnight Boo-scotti
Dark chocolate contains some caffeine, so it may interfere with sleep.  However, according to Swiss researchers, the consumption of dark chocolate can reduce the effects of the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol.  Dark chocolate increases the amount of seratonin (a mood regulator) in the brain, and it is also high in magnesium, which helps to regulate the body’s internal clock. Eating dark chocolate has many other beneficial effects, including lowering the blood pressure, lowering cholesterol levels and improving blood flow to the brain and heart.  In fact, frequent chocolate consumption is associated with a nearly 40% reduced risk for heart disease and a 30% reduced risk for stroke.  Whether you enjoy these yummy biscotti with your morning coffee or as an evening snack, I’ll let you decide.

 

2/3 cup organic sugar
5 tablespoons butter
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 (12 oz) pkg white chocolate chunks (24% cacao), for dipping

 

Preheat oven to 350°F

Grease a large, rimmed baking sheet with butter or line with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, using a large fork or an electric mixer on low, combine the sugar and butter until pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition.  Add the vanilla and cinnamon and blend 30 seconds more, or until combined.  Set aside.

In another bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt.  Add the flour mixture to the bowl with the sugar/egg/butter mixture and beat until combined.

Transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheet (you may want to dust your fingertips with a little flour, as the dough can be sticky).  Shape the dough into a log, then flatten into a 4-inch wide strip.  Bake the strip, rotating the baking sheet halfway through cooking time, until browned and set, about 25 to 30 minutes.  Transfer the strip to a cooling rack and cool for about 15 minutes.

Reduce the oven temperature to 300°F

Transfer the strip to a work surface.  Using a serrated knife, cut strip into slices (as if slicing a loaf of bread) about 1/3-inch thick.  Arrange the slices, cut side down, on the baking sheet.  Bake the slices, rotating the baking sheet halfway through cooking time, until crisp, about 15 to 20 minutes.  Transfer the slices to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

To dip in white chocolate:
Melt white chocolate chunks over low heat in a small, heavy saucepan, stirring, until smooth and creamy.  Dip end of each biscotto into the chocolate and return to the cooled baking sheet to harden.  You can put the tray into the fridge for ten minutes or so to speed up the hardening of the chocolate if the weather is warm.

Store in an airtight container for up to 5 days.

Makes about 18 biscotti