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

 

 

 

 

Keep Going…

October 14, 2017

Frodo Baggins:  I can’t do this, Sam

Samwise Gamgee:  I know.  It’s all wrong.  By rights we shouldn’t even be here.  But we are.

It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo; the ones that really mattered.  Full of darkness and danger they were.  And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end… because how could the end be happy?  How could the world go back to the way it was, when so much bad had happened?  But, in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow.  Even darkness must pass.  A new day will come.  And when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.

Those were the stories that stayed with you, that meant something, even if you were too small to understand why.  But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.  I know now.  Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t.  They kept going, because they were holding on to something.

Frodo Baggins:  What are we holding on to Sam?

Samwise Gamgee:  That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

From The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002)

In case you have been having doubts lately about the fact that there is some good in this world, let me remind you that there is an abundance.  Although the voice of hate and discord seems to be shouting the loudest, those that encourage and express love are all around us, albeit speaking in softer tones.

One of those voices is José Andrés, the Washington D.C. -based, Spanish-born chef who runs a non-profit specializing in disaster relief, World Central Kitchen.

I first discovered José Andrés via his PBS cooking and travel show Made in Spain.  I fell in love with his warm and likable personality and his passion for food and cooking. A few years later, three of my best girlfriends took me for a special birthday dinner to The Bazaar, his award-winning, avant-garde tapas and cocktail bar.  It was an amazing, unforgettable culinary adventure.

For the last few weeks, Andrés and his World Central Kitchen charity have been on the ground in Puerto Rico, providing hurricane relief by feeding people located even in the most remote parts of the Island.  Utilizing food trucks and working out of a temporary kitchen that he says will remain active for the next few weeks, he and his team recently announced they are now serving 97,000 meals per day in Puerto Rico.  He has even helped to feed the National Guard members working on the island.  He has asked the federal government for helicopters to help distribute food and supplies (including 65 blue tarps delivered to the community of Parcelas Falu, San Juan), but so far they have not been responsive to his requests.

You can read more about World Central Kitchen and their work in Puerto Rico as well as other disaster areas at their website here.   If you’d like to donate, you can do so here.  Below is a short YouTube with the wonderful José Andrés himself explaining their efforts.  Check out those giant paella pans! Yum!

Enjoy:

~~~~~~~~~

If you’re not busy feeding the multitudes, like José Andrés, donate what you can to World Central Kitchen and then fry up some Smoky Salmon Sliders with Raspberry Pimentón Mayo.

Smoky Salmon Sliders with Raspberry Pimentón Mayo
The Pacific Northwest has the best salmon in the world, in my humble opinion.  Trader Joe’s carries canned wild-caught sockeye salmon, caught off the coast of Alaska’s Bristol Bay.  Alaska’s state constitution includes guidelines that dictate sustainable fishing practices.  Wild Planet offers the same (they are perhaps the suppliers for Trader Joe’s version) and theirs can be found online at their website and at grocery stores, including Whole Foods markets.

Sliders are miniature burgers, so I recommend serving two per person.

 

2 (7.5 oz) cans wild Pacific sockeye salmon
1 rounded tablespoon mayonnaise
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon liquid smoke*
Zest of 1 small lemon (rounded 1/4 tsp)
Pinch of chili powder (1/16 tsp)
2 tablespoons finely chopped chives
2/3 cup breadcrumbs (unseasoned)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil for frying

8 soft rustic rolls (French, sourdough or Italian) cut in half to make mini-buns

*Liquid smoke is a natural flavoring made by channeling smoke from smoldering wood chips into a condenser, causing it to liquefy.  The smoky flavor dissolves into the liquid while the insoluble bad stuff like carcinogenic tars and resins are removed by multiple filters, leaving only clean, smoke-flavored liquid.  I used Wright’s brand because it contains only water and natural mesquite smoke concentrate.  You can find it at most grocery stores and online.

 

Drain all of the liquid from the cans of salmon (if you have cats, give them the liquid; mine love it) and remove larger pieces of bone.  Add the drained salmon to a medium bowl and mash well with a fork.  Add lemon juice, zest, liquid smoke, chili powder, chives and half of the breadcrumbs.  Gently mix until just combined.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Divide the salmon mixture into 8 equal mounds on the parchment.  Pat each mound into a ball, then press the balls into mini patties, about 3/4″ thick.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Make Raspberry Pimentón Mayo (recipe below).

Remove salmon patties from fridge.  Spread the remaining half of the breadcrumbs on a plate.  Gently press one side of each salmon patty into the breadcrumbs.  Scoop more breadcrumbs over top and press to coat other side (it’s best to leave patties in place, as moving them around too much can cause them to break).

Heat a thin layer of olive oil in a large, non-stick skillet over medium-high heat until a breadcrumb dropped into the oil sizzles.  Use a spatula to carefully move the patties to the pan and cook until browned on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes.  Turn patties and cook until the other side is browned, 3 to 4 more minutes.  Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain.

Lightly toast rolls in a toaster oven or on a grill and let cool slightly.  Spread the inside surfaces of each bun with some of the raspberry mayo.  Sandwich a salmon patty between and serve, two sliders per person.

Serves 4

Raspberry Pimentón Mayo

1/2 cup organic mayonnaise
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Zest of one small lemon (rounded 1/4 tsp)
4 rounded teaspoons organic seedless raspberry fruit spread (low or no sugar)
1/4 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón)

Mix the mayo, lemon juice, zest, raspberry fruit spread and pimentón in a bowl.  Mash with the back of a spoon to make sure fruit spread incorporates into the mayo fully.  Mix well, cover and refrigerate until ready to use.  Delicious on fried fish, chilled shrimp, cold chicken or turkey, salads, eggs, beef and sandwiches.

Raining, Cats & Dogs

September 29, 2017

“We are all here on earth to help others; what on earth the others are here for I don’t know.”
~ W. H. Auden

The recent hurricanes in Texas, Florida and the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico affected many people, destroyed homes and businesses, separated pets from their families, and left already homeless pets in crisis.  The earthquakes on September 7 and 19 in Mexico put a great many animals in distress as well.

My family includes my two cats, Sofia and Folster.  I have cared for them since they were one day old (they are both 15 years old now).  There is no question that, facing evacuation, I would never even consider leaving without them.  A lot of organizations have provided and continue to provide help reuniting pets with their families after these disasters as well as rescuing homeless animals from certain death.

Many wonderful non-profits are helping with overall disaster relief after these crisis, but if you would like to give some extra help to those who are focused on animal rescue, here is a list of folks doing good work who could use your donations:

 

Hurricanes Harvey (Texas) and Irma (Florida and the Caribbean):

AKC (American Kennel Club) Pet Disaster Relief  helps communities across the country be prepared to keep people with their pets during disasters.  The AKC Reunite Canine Support and Relief Fund provides resources, support, funds and other assistance to not-for-profit animal shelters and similar organizations providing care for domestic animals orphaned or displaced as a result of natural or civil disasters.

Austin Pets Alive is seeking families that can foster cats and large dogs, as well as cash donations.

Best Friends Animal Society is helping to reunite families with lost pets of Hurricane Irma.  Every penny of your Hurricane Irma gift will help reunite pets with families, help animals turned into shelters find homes, and help Florida’s rescues and shelters reestablish their operations.

Wings of Rescue dispatched planes into the disaster zone within hours of Hurricane Harvey striking Texas, and has been non-stop ever since, continuing straight through Hurricane Irma, as well as flying rescue missions from Puerto Rico.  It is estimated that over 100,000 pets have been displaced by the hurricanes.  Wings of Rescue’s rapid response team flew homeless pets out of shelters before the storms to make room for pets who were displaced and separated from families by the hurricanes and resulting floods.

Puerto Rico (Hurricane Maria):

Island Dog is located on the east coast in Luquillo, with spay and neuter programs in place throughout the island.  With the unexpected arrival of Hurricane Maria, Sali Gear, co-owner of Island Dog and resident of Virginia Beach, raised money and chartered a plane in two days that brought over 300 animals from affected areas in the Virgin Islands to her farm in Virginia Beach.  Your donation will help to fund more projects like this in the wake of the hurricane.

Second Chance Animal Rescue rescues, rehabilitates and secures permanent homes for abandoned and abused dogs found on the streets of Puerto Rico.  Second Chance provides each rescued animal with food, shelter, medical care and love.  If they are not able to place the rescue into a loving home, the animal is able to live out its life at their sanctuary.  After Hurricanes Maria and Irma, they are in desperate need of donations in order to help rebuild their rescue facility.

Human Society International
Helping in Mexico, Puerto Rico and the Caribbean:
A team of Mexican veterinarians from the Human Society International has been providing emergency animal rescue and treatment following the devastation left by the September 19 earthquake that shook Mexico.  HSI also deployed a team of veterinarians to Oaxaca following the powerful September 7 earthquake that shook that region.  According to their website, HSI Mexico’s response to both earthquakes has reached over 2, 155 animals so far.  HSI Animal Rescue teams have also been on the ground providing relief to animals in areas affected by hurricanes Irma and Maria.

For overall hurricane relief:

One America Appeal
For humans affected by hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the 5 living ex-presidents (Obama, Bushes Sr. and Jr., Clinton and Carter) have joined together to help.  Every cent donated through the One America Appeal will help the victims recover.

Americone Dream Ice Cream:

Stephen Colbert donates all of the profits from his Americone Dream ice cream to charity.  In light of the recent disasters, Stephen has challenged celebrities to tweet awkward pre-teen photos with the hashtag #PuberMe.  For every celebrity who posts an awkward puberty-age photo, Stephen’s Americone Dream Fund will donate $1,000 to One America Appeal for Puerto Rico relief!  Us non-celebrities can do our part by buying a pint or several of Stephen’s deliciously caramel-swirled, fudge-covered waffle cone enhanced vanilla ice cream.  You can enjoy your pint(s) while scrolling down through the awkward celebrity teen-age photos here: #PuberMe.  Hint: John Oliver and Conan O’Brien take the prize for dorkiest teens, in my humble opinion.

~~~~~~~~~

After you finish your pint of Americone Dream, make a super-creamy and super-dreamy Coconut Crusted Banana Cream Pie.

Coconut Crusted Banana Cream Pie
Your gluten-avoiding friends will love that this pie crust is made from crisp, buttery, shredded coconut.  Everyone else will love it just because its amazing.  The recipe can be made in a standard 9-inch pie pan, an 8″ x 8″ baking pan, or, as I did, in two 7″ or 8″ shallow bowls.  Unsweetened dried coconut flakes can be found at Trader Joe’s or in the bulk bin of your Whole Foods or local health food store.

Crust
2 & 1/2 cups unsweetened coconut flakes
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
5 tablespoons milk, water or coconut water
6 tablespoons butter

Filling
2 cups organic whole milk
1 (3.8 oz) package organic vanilla cooked pudding and pie filling mix

2 medium-sized bananas
8 oz organic heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Extra flaked coconut to decorate

 

To make Crust:
In a medium mixing bowl, stir 3 tablespoons powdered sugar into the coconut.  Add 5 tablespoons milk and stir to coat evenly.  Let sit 30 minutes or so, until coconut absorbs the sweetened milk.  Stir once or twice during the 30 minutes.

In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium heat.  When it starts to sizzle, add coconut and sauté, stirring often at first, then continuously until coconut is golden brown.  Be sure to scrape the bottom of the pan as you stir to incorporate all the caramelized bits.  Remove from heat.  Let cool several minutes and press into pie pan to form a crust.  Cover and chill in fridge for at least 30 minutes.

Make filling:
Follow directions on the pudding mix package.  Let cool to the point where the pudding is still warm, but not super hot.  Stir a few times during cooling.

Remove crust from fridge.  Peel bananas and slice 1/4 inch thick.  Place a layer of bananas on top of crust (but not up the sides).  Pour filling over bananas.  Cover surface with plastic wrap, so as not to form a skin.  Chill pie at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve:

Whip Cream:
Chill a medium bowl along with beaters and a small whisk.  Add cream to chilled bowl and beat with an electric mixer to soft peaks.  Add 1/4 cup powdered sugar and the vanilla extract. Finish beating the cream to stiff peaks (finishing by hand helps ensure that the whipped cream will hold its shape).

Top chilled pie with whipped cream and sprinkle with dried coconut flakes (no need to sweeten these).

Serves 8

Occam’s Popsicle

August 22, 2017

“That is better and more valuable which requires fewer, other circumstances being equal…”
~ Robert Grosseteste (1175 – 1253)

As a native Californian who also has Italian citizenship, I spent yesterday’s eclipse in decidedly laid-back fashion.  The local library ran out of eclipse glasses early yesterday.  So, as the Moon began to step in front of the Sun, I headed out my front porch, coffee in hand, armed with a pasta strainer and a white piece of paper.  The tiny holes in the strainer served as a sort of “colander obscura” when aimed to channel the Sun’s light through the pinhole openings of the strainer onto the blank paper.  As a result, rather than a single view of the eclipse, I watched a large crowd of partial suns, at one point giving the effect of a Pac-Man army marching across the paper.

Even more interesting than the dance between the Moon and Sun was the unique light cast during the event.  Having recently made several versions of the world’s easiest homemade frozen yogurt pops, I decided to photographically document both the light of the eclipse as well as how to make these super easy frozen treats.

As you may have deduced, I enjoy the occasional path of least hassle.  Both my last-minute, on hand eclipse viewer and the recipe for yogurt pops that I am about to illustrate share the quality of simplicity, echoing the sentiment expressed by the idea known as Occam’s Razor.

Occam’s Razor is the name given to the idea that when you have multiple theories that make exactly the same predictions, go with the simplest one.  The principle was named after 14th Century logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham.

Ironically, attributing this idea to Ockham is actually somewhat complicated, because, although he stated the idea behind the principle in a number of ways, the phrase most often cited when discussing Occam’s Razor, “Non sunt multiplicanda entia sine necessitate” or Entities are not to be multiplied without necessity, was written by Irish Franciscan Philosopher John Punch.  In fact, the quote that began this blog post, another version of this same principle, was written about 100 years prior to Ockham by an English scientist and philosopher named Robert Grosseteste.

So, in the spirit of Occam’s Razor, if not the reality, here are instructions for making what I like to call Occam’s Popsicles, because the process could not be more simple:

Occam’s Popsicles

You will need:
• Individual yogurt cups in any flavor
(I used whole milk, non-fat, with and without fruit and even a non-dairy, coconut milk variety)

• Craft sticks (food safe)

Step one – Make a small slit in the center top of the covering for the yogurt container with a sharp knife:

Step two – Insert a craft stick into the slit:

Step three – freeze until solid (4 hours or overnight):

Step four – To remove, warm the outside of the container with your hands or under warm running water.  Insert a knife, if needed, around the inside edge of the container to loosen.  Remove yogurt pop and enjoy:

Note: you can use the foil or plastic top of the yogurt container to conveniently catch drips, if you are out in the hot sun and eating slowly:

“It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones, after all.”
~ Laura Ingalls Wilder

 


 

Uno

July 17, 2017

“I say to you all, once again – in the light of Lord Voldemort’s return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.  Lord Voldemort’s gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great.  We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust.  Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts are open.”
~ J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

 

 

In chaotic and confusing times such as these, it can be all too easy for us to retreat into comfortable circles of culture and opinion, to draw ideological lines in the sand or separate ourselves from the unknown.

Some fear is justified and and a certain amount of prudence keeps us safer.  A woman choosing not to walk alone at night is, unfortunately, too often a realistic precaution.  If you’ve never learned to swim, going on a cruise would probably not be the wisest choice of vacation.

However, avoiding our fellow humans because of cultural barriers, such as language, appearance, sexuality or religion is more often than not, simply an issue of discomfort with the unfamiliar.  We might avoid a person or situation we see as “different” because of shyness, on account of our own or other people’s prejudices or simply out of laziness.

As an Aquarian, my default nature is to be curious; for this I am grateful. I also feel fortunate to have grown up in a place where there are people from all over the world, belonging to most every religion and cooking nearly every kind of cuisine.

A dear friend of mine, also a California native, returned from a trip to Japan recently and brought me back a packet of sansho pepper seasoning, along with some anime cat-themed bandages and other quintessentially Japanese-style souvenirs.  The seasoning is unique, and I’ve been experimenting with its flavor in various recipes (two of which are posted below).  My friend’s gift reminded me of an old boyfriend I once had and a game of Uno that taught me a lesson about communication and connection.

Back in the 90s, I dated a guy whose mother was born in Japan but had moved here as an adult.  His father was American, of Swedish Ancestry I think, and born in Ohio.  One day he invited me to his mom’s house for lunch.  He warned me that his aunt was visiting his mother from Japan and that she didn’t speak a word of English.  At first it was a bit awkward.  Neither my boyfriend nor I spoke Japanese, although he understood a little better than I did.  Lunch was what you might expect: lots of polite smiles and nods and not much else.  Then, after lunch, my boyfriend’s mom got out a deck of Uno cards.

I grew up playing board and card games and Uno was one of my favorites.  Apparently, my boyfriend’s aunt was, not only familiar with the American card game, but an enthusiastic fan.  All four of us, my boyfriend, his mom, his aunt and myself, played the game over and over, each of us taking turns matching colors and triumphantly revealing the dreaded “Wild Draw Four” card.  By the end of the afternoon, I had learned the Japanese word for red, “aka” (my boyfriend’s aunt must have had a lot of red cards in her hand).

I haven’t seen my old boyfriend or his mom in years, but I still remember that “aka” means red, and I’ll never forget how much fun it was to spend an afternoon playing Uno in Japanese.

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Sansho Pepper Butter turns ordinary seafood, veggies and snacks into salty, buttery comfort food with a Japanese flair.

Sansho Pepper Butter
A simple recipe for flavored butter with a Japanese twist.  The green flavor of sansho pepper gives a citrus/yuzu kick that pairs well with oily foods, so butter is a natural companion.  This unique butter is wonderful on rice, sweet potatoes, Yukon Gold potatoes, popcorn, corn on the cob, grilled shrimp or fish, and cooked carrots.

You can find Sansho pepper powder online or at specialty stores or the Asian section of a well-stocked grocery store.

If you have trouble finding Sansho pepper, you can substitute Japanese Seven Spice seasoning (Shichimi Togarashi), which is easier to find in the U.S. or you can make your own.  For the adventurous among you, I’ve included instructions for making your own Seven Spice Seasoning below the Sansho Pepper Butter recipe.

About Sansho pepper:
My friend Geraldine brought me some Sansho pepper powder from Shichimiya Honpo, a famous shop in Kyoto, which has been in business since 1655.  Sansho pepper has a citrus/yuzu bite to it, making it unique and well-suited to oily foods.  It loses flavor when heated, so it’s best sprinkled on just before eating.  That is why my recipe for Sansho Pepper Butter is made by stirring the seasoning into softened butter, rather than heating it on the stove.


Sansho Pepper Powder (Sansho No Kona) from Kyoto, Japan

 

Sansho Pepper Butter Recipe
You can double, triple or quadruple this basic recipe as needed.  This amount will probably be enough for two to four servings, depending on what you are flavoring.

2 tablespoons butter, softened (not heated)
1/2 to 1 teaspoon of soy sauce (with salted butter, use 1/2 tsp. soy sauce)
1/4 teaspoon Sansho Pepper Powder*

*you can substitute shichimi togarashi or nanami togarashi for the Sansho

In a small bowl or dish, using a fork or back of a spoon, mash soy sauce and seasoning into softened butter.  Shape into a ball or oval, cover and chill until ready to serve.

About Shichimi togarashi:
Shichi means “seven” in Japanese and Togarashi is the word for “chiles”.  Shichimi Togarashi, or Seven Spice, is called as such because seven ingredients are used to make it.  Nanami Togarashi is similar, but emphasizes the citrus flavor.  Both can usually be found at grocery stores with an Asian foods section.  You may remember seeing this bottle on the tables at Japanese restaurants.

Here’s what to look for:


Shichimi Togarashi (Seven Spice Seasoning)

 

Here’s how to make your own:

Homemade Shichimi Togarashi (Seven Spice Seasoning)

2 tablespoons sansho pepper or 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
1 tablespoon dried tangerine peel or orange peel
1 tablespoon red chile flakes
2 teaspoons nori flakes
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds
2 teaspoons white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons ginger root powder

Coarsely grind the first six ingredients together and add to a small bowl.  Stir in the ginger powder and mix well.  Store in an airtight jar and keep in a cool spot, out of the sun.  Use within 3 months or so.

 

Take a Cooling Breath

June 25, 2017

“Let your soul stand cool and composed before a million universes.”
~ Walt Whitman

Summer has arrived, and with it our first summer heat wave.  In honor of these longest days, full of sun and warmth, I thought I would share a simple yogic breathing technique that helps to release excess heat.  Called Sheetali Pranayama or “Cooling Breath” it is a simple and fun way to cool and calm the nervous system and quiet the mind.

Here’s how:

Find a place to sit comfortably, preferably in the shade, if you’re outdoors, or a cool part of your indoor space.  Sit up tall, relaxing the shoulders and resting your hands comfortably at your knees or in your lap.

Curl the sides of your tongue up into the shape of a taco shell and extend the tip slightly out of your mouth.  Inhale slowly and steadily through your mouth, letting the air pass across your curled tongue as it cools your upper palate.

Exhale through your nose, lightly touching the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth as you breath out.  Curl your tongue and repeat the inhale through the mouth, followed by an exhale through the nose.  Continue this breathing technique for one to five minutes, until you feel the cooling and calming effects.

If you find it difficult to curl the sides of your tongue, you can very lightly purse your lips and inhale with your tongue hovering just behind your teeth as you breathe.  This variation is known as Sitkari Pranayama.

If you have time, you can finish with a few minutes of simple visualization: perhaps imagining yourself on a soft sandy beach, the cool, gentle sea water flowing underneath you as the waves move in and out of the shore, synchronized with your inhales and exhales.  Hear the occasional seagull flying overhead as the fresh, salty breezes blow gently around you, while the setting sun moves beyond the horizon.

Breathe, smile and stay cool!

“Live each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influences of each.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

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Satisfy your cookie craving without heating up your kitchen by making a batch of Cool Kitchen Microwave-baked Muesli Cookies.

Cool Kitchen Microwave-Baked Muesli Cookies
These soft, delicious and nutritious cookies are a great way to use up leftover Muesli.  The recipe requires no eggs and no oven!  The cookies aren’t too sweet, so they make yummy treats for breakfast or a midday snack.  Be sure to use a Muesli with no or low sugar.  I used Trader Joe’s Muesli, with whole grain oats, seeds and nuts; which is sweetened with pear juice concentrate (3 grams of sugar per 1/4 cup).  Make these the night before and they will be ready and waiting the next morning for you to enjoy with your breakfast.

 

1 medium very ripe banana (1/2 cup mashed)
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled*
2 tablespoons confectioner’s (powdered) sugar
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Dash of ground cinnamon (1/8 tsp)
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
*Pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter
1 & 1/2 cups muesli

 

In a medium bowl, thoroughly mash banana with a fork until creamy, with no chunks.  Stir in butter, sugar and vanilla.  Mix well.  Set bowl aside.

In a small bowl, mix flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt, if using (I used salted butter, so I omitted the salt).

Add flour mixture to banana mixture and stir to combine.  Stir in muesli.  Mix well.

Line a microwave-safe plate with parchment paper (I used a paper plate).  Drop cookie dough by tablespoon onto plate and flatten slightly with back of spoon.  Leave about half an inch of space between each lightly-flattened cookie (they don’t spread, but they do rise and expand a bit).  I fit six cookies on my plate.

Microwave at regular power for 90 seconds.  The time could be more or less, depending on your microwave and the number of cookies on your plate.  I would say probably anywhere from 1 to 2 minutes, depending on the strength of your microwave.  Less cookies will need less time.

Remove the plate from the microwave, wait about 30 seconds and then move parchment paper with cookies to a cooling rack.  You will want to let these cool COMPLETELY at room temperature before tasting, in order to enjoy the proper texture.  Continue with the rest of the cookie dough , about 3 to 6 cookies at a time, until all are cooked.

Enjoy for breakfast with yogurt or a glass of milk.  They also make great snacks to pack in your lunch bag, briefcase or purse.

Store leftover cookies in the fridge in a sealed container or zipped plastic storage bag.

Makes about 18 cookies

A Moon by Any Name

June 10, 2017

“Three things cannot long be hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.”  ~Buddha

Jupiter’s four largest moons (it has 64 total), discovered by Galileo in 1610,  are named Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.  How unique and romantic each name sounds.  Our own moon, on the other hand, is simply called “The Moon”, an egotism of naming left over from a time when we thought Earth’s satellite was the only one in existence.

Luna, the Latin word for moon, was also the name of a goddess who personified the Moon, like her Greek counterpart, Selene.  Both of these are lovely.  It seems a pity that “Moon”, a term also defined as a verb that describes the act of someone baring their backside, is the official name approved by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) for Earth’s luminous and constant companion, whose reflected light reminds us nightly that darkness will always be followed by the dawn.

The Full Moons of each month do have names, one for each:

January – Wolf Moon
February – Snow Moon
March – Worm Moon
April – Pink Moon
May – Flower Moon
June – Strawberry Moon
July – Buck Moon
August – Sturgeon Moon
September – Corn Moon
October – Harvest Moon
November – Beaver Moon
December – Cold Moon

On those occasions when I look up at Earth’s beautiful moon and confess a private thought or two, I myself will go forward calling her Selene.  I hope she doesn’t mind the familiar tone.  She’s too lovely for a generic label.

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In honor of June’s full Strawberry Moon, here is a delicious recipe for Strawberry Mocha Moon Pies.

Strawberry Mocha Moon Pies
Think of these as portable strawberry tiramisù.  Each chocolate and coffee cookie-cake holds a dollop of rich strawberry flavored mascarpone filling.

Strawberry Mascarpone Filling:
8oz tub of masarpone cheese
1/4 cup good-quality strawberry fruit spread or preserves
1 tablespoon powdered sugar (can omit if using sweetened preserves)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Mocha Cakes:
3/4 cup organic sugar
1 egg
6 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
A pinch of salt

 

Make Filling:
In a medium bowl, combine Mascarpone, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla, 1/4 cup strawberry fruit spread or preserves and 1 tablespoon sugar (you may want to omit if you are using sweetened preserves).  Mix thoroughly with a fork or an electric mixer at low speed until mixed and smooth.  Cover and chill in fridge until ready to use.

Make Mocha Cakes:
Preheat oven to 350°F

In a large mixing bowl, beat 3/4 cup sugar and egg together with a fork.  Stir in oil and 1 teaspoon vanilla and continue to beat until combined.  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, mix together flour, 1/2 cup cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt with a fork until thoroughly mixed.

Add some of the flour mixture to the bowl with the egg mixture and mix to combine.  Add a portion of the 3/4 cup of coffee and mix well.  Keep alternating adding some flour mixture and then some of the coffee, mixing between each addition, until everything is mixed together.  Use a rubber spatula to scrape sides down toward the end of mixing.

Drop by 2 tablespoon-sized mounds, two inches apart, onto a non-stick cookie sheet.  Bake for 8 to 10 minutes.  Remove from oven.  Wait a minute for cakes to set a bit, then use a spatula to move cookies to a wire rack or foil-lined counter to cool completely.

To assemble:
Remove filling from fridge.  Top one cake with one rounded tablespoon of the filling.  Top with another cake.  Continue until all the moon pies are assembled.

Makes 12 moon pies.

Interesting Times

May 22, 2017

“There is a Chinese curse which says, ‘May he live in interesting times.’  Like it or not, we live in interesting times.  They are the times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history of mankind.”
~ Robert F. Kennedy

The Chinese curse referenced by Robert F. Kennedy in the quote above has never been successfully traced to any source in China, but rather to a British statesman.  Joseph Chamberlain, father of Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, shared an anecdote about hearing the expression in a 1936 address to a political organization.  Whatever the original origins of the phrase, its interpretation as an ironic curse is reflected by the history that is currently being made in the United States and world today.

Robert Kennedy spoke of the 1960s generation as being one of both uncertainty and creativity, observations one could definitely make about our current political and artistic climate.  As a Yoga Therapist, I would add that both fear and creativity are associated with the sacral chakra, which, interestingly, corresponds to the color orange.

Whatever your opinion is of current events, these interesting times can often provoke anxiety.  Although I am a regular practitioner of yoga, prayer and meditation, I am not immune to the stresses of the extraordinarily interesting times we are living through at the moment.

While surfing through my YouTube suggestions recently, I came upon an instructional video about a simple 5 minute acupressure technique of successively holding the thumb and fingers of each hand with the opposite hand.  To my amazement, I felt a release from tension almost immediately.  I have continued practicing this exercise after dinner and before bed each night and the results have been wonderful.  I decided to look further into this method and found that it is from a healing modality called Jin Shin Jyutsu, which was founded by a Japanese man during the early 1900s and brought to the United States by his student and translator, a woman named Mary Burmeister.  I am no expert in this particular modality, but I intend to research the techniques further for possible use in my own practice.  For now, I am passing this one on to you as a simple meditation exercise that I have used successfully to reduce stress, calm, relax and center myself.

Here’s the instructional YouTube, which gives clear cut, simple instructions, albeit featuring a rather robotic automated narrator.  Just imagine you are taking a class with PZ-4CO, the female droid of Star Wars fame:

 

 

May the force be with you!

~~~~~~~~~~

Interesting times call for interesting tastes.  Blueberry Galettte with Turmeric and Ginger is a delicious and nutritious distraction.

Blueberry Galette with Turmeric and Ginger
This free-form tart, also known as a Crostata, is forgiving in its simplicity of preparation and satisfying in its tastiness.  With the added intrigue of Turmeric and Ginger, this blueberry tart qualifies as both trendy and comfort food.  I used one Trader Joe’s pie frozen pie crust (they come two 10-inch crusts to a pack) and their frozen organic wild blueberries.

1 single frozen pie crust for a 10-inch pie, thawed.
Flour for dusting
1 & 1/2 cups frozen organic and/or wild blueberries
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground ginger root
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of black pepper
4 & 1/2 tablespoons organic sugar
1 & 1/2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small chunks
1 egg, mixed with a little water

 

Preheat oven to 400°F

Line a large baking pan/cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Place thawed crust on baking pan and dust lightly with flour.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll crust out a bit more until it is about 12 inches across (it doesn’t have to look perfect – the rustic appearance is part of the charm of a galette/crosata).  Set aside.

In a medium bowl, toss together frozen blueberries, cornstarch, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and black pepper.

Place berry mixture in center of crust with a two inch border surrounding fruit.  Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of the sugar and scatter the cold butter chunks over the top.

Fold the two inch border into the center of the galette, partially covering the outer part of the fruit area.  Make a few pleats with the dough in order to make the circle neat.  Again, this crust doesn’t have to be uniform in appearance; you just want to make sure the fruit doesn’t leak out during cooking.  Brush the folded edge of the pastry with the beaten egg (you won’t need all of it) and sprinkle edges of crust and fruit center with the remaining 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of sugar.

Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until pastry is golden brown.  Let cool on a rack.

This is lovely with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8

 

Walls vs Windmills

April 24, 2017

“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.”
~ Chinese Proverb

Lately, it has seemed, at times, as if we are moving backwards.  However, like the planet Mercury’s infamous retrograde dance across our sky, appearances of reverse motion can sometimes be an illusion, based on our limited earthly perspective.  During its retrograde periods, Mercury only appears to move backwards.  The optical effect is created because the planet’s motion around the Sun slows relative to Earth’s, kind of like when someone driving next to you on the highway slows down and you don’t, their car appears to go backwards.

The massive attendance at this past weekend’s March for Science and the enthusiasm for the upcoming People’s Climate March both demonstrate public reactions to a recent shift in our federal government’s policy away from support of climate science and scientific research.  The current administration recently signed legislation undoing the previous administration’s protections of waterways from coal mining waste pollution and is working to reverse its efforts to regulate methane gas leaks.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, coal plants are the United States’ top source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, the primary cause of global warming.  Burning coal is also a leading cause of smog, acid rain and toxic air pollution.

The very same weekend that the scientists and fans of science took to the streets, the United Kingdom announced the first 24-hour period that Great Britain has gone without using coal power since the Industrial Revolution.  The engineers at the National Grid said that Friday, April 21st was the first coal-free day since London’s very first coal-fired generator opened in the year 1882.  The National Grid’s head of operations said the day marked a milestone in Britain’s movement away from carbon-based fuels and that coal-free days would now become increasingly more common as more efficient homes and appliances temper demand, and energy production transitions toward renewable, nuclear and gas power.  The UK Government has committed to phasing out coal from their system by 2025.

Earlier this month, the Kentucky Coal Mining Museum announced it is switching from coal-generated electricity to solar power.  According to the museum’s communications director, the switch to solar power will help save at least $8,000 to $10,000 in energy costs for the building.  Irony can be beautiful.

Even summer cookouts are going solar.  The new GoSun solar grills require no charcoal or gas, only sunshine.  You can bake, roast or steam food up to 550°F/280°C, even on overcast days.  You can read about the GoSun grills here.

Despite appearances and efforts to the contrary, progress is indeed being made.  Get up every morning; take a deep breath and keep moving forward.

“If you’re walking down the right path and you’re willing to keep walking, eventually you will make progress.”
~ Barack Obama

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Raspberry BBQ Sauce would be delicious on chicken cooked on a solar grill.

Raspberry BBQ Sauce
Delicious on chicken, ribs, beef, or even melted cheese, this tasty, tangy sauce adds flavor to grilled, baked or simmered dishes.  Use the artwork above to create a label for a gift from your kitchen.  This recipe is easily doubled.

2 cups (10 oz) frozen raspberries, thawed
1 cup tomato sauce
1/4 cup organic brown sugar
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 small to medium-sized chipotle pepper, minced (from a can of chipotle peppers in adobe sauce)*
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

*Note: if you don’t like heat, you can add less chipotle or substitute a teaspoon of liquid smoke.

 

Combine raspberries and tomato sauce in a medium sauce pan.  Bring to a boil while stirring.  When mixture begins to boil, add sugar, vinegar, garlic and chipotle pepper.  Lower heat to simmer, stirring frequently, for about 15 minutes crushing berries with the back of your spoon as you stir.  Remove from heat and let cool.

Press mixture through a mesh sieve into a bowl.  Discard seeds and return seedless sauce to sauce pan.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

Return pan to stove and simmer mixture until sauce is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.  Remove from heat and let cool completely.

Use to baste or dress grilled chicken, ribs or beef, as a sauce for cheese quesadillas or to bottle and give as a gift.  Store in refrigerator.

Makes 2 to 3 cups