November 23, 2015

“Human energy is always in communion with heaven and earth in the alteration of exhalation and inhalation.”
~ From the book, Taoist Meditation: Methods for Cultivating a Healthy Mind and Body, translated by Thomas Cleary


Yoga practitioners and even those with a superficial knowledge of yoga are familiar with the term pranayama, referring to the various forms of breathing exercises that are part of most yoga classes.

The word pranayama is a compound Sanskrit word made up of prana, meaning life force (or breath) and ayama, meaning “to expand or extend”.  The word yama, which means “to restrain or control” is often mistakenly given as the second part of the word pranayama, causing many to incorrectly define the term as referring to “breath control”.  Although the compound form drops the extra “a”, the actual term is “prana-ayama” and means  “breath-expansion” or “life-force extension”.

Being open to alternate ways of thinking or of doing things is a way of expanding our minds and our experience of life.  These alternatives don’t have to mean big changes, they could be simple actions or meditations.  For example, an article in the April 26, 2013 issue of Psychology Today recommends squeezing a ball with your right hand to increase your memory and with your left hand to stimulate creativity.

Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana, in Sanskrit), an equally simple yogic breathing exercise, can also be beneficial to both body and mind.  A quick search on Google Scholar provides the scientific back-up.  Practicing Alternate Nostril Breathing can help to balance the right and left brain hemispheres, reduce stress, reduce blood pressure, improve cardiovascular and respiratory function, memory function, performance of spatial tasks and even hand grip strength.

A few minutes a day helps to calm and benefit the mind and body and, best of all, it’s super simple to do.  Here’s how:

Alternate nostril breathing exercise (Nadi Shodhana):

Step one:  Use your thumb to close off your right nostril.

Step two:  Inhale slowly through the left nostril.

Step three:  Now close the left nostril with your ring finger and release thumb off right nostril.

Step four:  Exhale through your right nostril.

Step five:  Now inhale through your right nostril.

Step six:  Use thumb to close off right nostril.

Step seven:  Breathe out through left nostril.

Step eight:  This completes one round.

Step nine:  With your thumb still on the right nostril, you are back at step one of a new round.  Continue to step two, etc.

Start with 1 or 2 rounds and gradually increase, according to your comfort level.  Breathe slowly, deeply and fully.  Sit quietly for a few moments after you have finished.

Practicing on an empty stomach is preferred; so take a few moments to yourself and do some alternate nostril breathing before the family arrives for Thanksgiving dinner.

“Smile, breathe and go slowly”
~ Thich Nhat Hanh


Need a veggie alternative to Turkey for your Thanksgiving dinner?  Portobello Mushrooms with Farro and Feta will have everyone giving thanks.


Portobello Mushrooms with Farro and Feta
These flavorful stuffed mushrooms would be a delicious main course alternative to Turkey for your veggie guests.  The filling by itself makes a scrumptious and nutritious side dish for the holidays or main dish the rest of the year.

3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for brushing portobellos
2 cups thinly sliced cremini or button mushrooms
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon sherry vinegar or balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1/8 teaspoon cayenne
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 cup farro
1 & 1/2 cups vegetable, mushroom or chicken broth
2 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
4 oz tub of crumbled goat cheese, such as feta
1/2 cup toasted, unsalted sliced almonds
6 (4-inch) portobello mushrooms

Prepare mushrooms:
Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large, heavy, non-stick skillet and sauté over high heat for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

Lower the heat to medium and add the garlic, sherry vinegar, lemon juice, smoked paprika, cayenne, salt and pepper.  Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until the mushrooms have softened.  Add the chopped parsley.

Add the farro and stir until coated.  Add the broth and stir again.  Bring to a boil and stir once to make sure everything is evenly distributed.  Reduce heat to a simmer, cover pan and cook farro according to package directions, 20 minutes or so.  Check farro for doneness (tender, but with a nice bite in the center).  If farro is done and there is still a lot of excess liquid, stir uncovered for a minute or so to evaporate excess (a bit of liquid is o.k., as it will make for a creamy filling).  Stir in Parmesan, then feta and almonds.

While farro is cooking:

Preheat oven to 400°F

Line a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with parchment or foil (for easier clean up).

Clean portobellos and remove stems.  Brush surfaces with olive oil.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Arrange gill side down and roast for 10 minutes.  Remove pan from oven and turn portobellos over.

Fill each portobello with some of the cooked farro mixture, mounding into a nice domed shape.  Bake about 10 minutes more, uncovered, until filling is heated through and cheese is melting.  Serve warm.

These are delicious as leftovers, reheated the next day.

Makes 6 stuffed portobellos (3 to 6 servings)


Creepy, Crawly, Chocolaty

October 31, 2015

“Nature composes some of her loveliest poems for the microscope and the telescope.”
~ Theodore Rosnak


This Halloween, don’t give all of your candy away to the kids.  Be sure to save some dark chocolate for the microscopic creatures that are living in your gut (in anatomical terms, gut refers to the alimentary canal, which includes the mouth, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, small and large intestine).

The gut of a healthy human being provides a home to some 100 trillion bacteria.  If that sounds creepy, try to imagine yourself not as an individual but rather as an ecosystem.  There are both “good” and “bad” bacteria living in your gut.

The harmful bacteria, such as Clostridia and E. coli, can cause gas, bloating and other unpleasant symptoms.  The “good” bacteria (also known as “probiotics”) help to keep your digestive system healthy by controlling the growth of harmful bacteria.  These helpful microbes, such as Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus, also love to binge on chocolate.

The health benefits of eating dark chocolate have been praised for years, but until recently, no one knew exactly where the benefits came from. Turns out, the beneficial part is thanks to the creepy, crawly friends living in our digestive systems.

Cocoa powder contains antioxidant compounds, but humans can’t adequately digest or absorb them.  Once they reach the colon, however, our “good” bacteria take over and begin to “brew” them until they are smaller and more easily absorbed by our bodies.

Research presented last year at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) found that when a person eats dark chocolate, these helpful, human-friendly microbes gobble it up and ferment it, producing beneficial anti-inflammatory compounds.  When these compounds are absorbed by the body, they lessen the inflammation of cardiovascular tissue, thereby reducing the long-term risk of stroke.

So, be sure to enjoy some dark chocolate this Halloween; it’s good for your heart.  And, while you are at it, give a heart-felt thank you to the bugs in your belly.


I ain’t afraid of no ghost peppers, especially when they spice up a rich, dark chocolate ganache in Blackout Chocolate Cupcakes with Ghost Pepper Ganache.


Blackout Chocolate Cupcakes with
Ghost Pepper Ganache
Ground Ghost Pepper (Bhut Jolokia) can be found online or at specialty stores.  It is one of the hottest chile peppers in the world.  If you’re not feeling that brave, you can substitute cayenne.  Either way, the combination of chile and chocolate is a delicious and memorable one!  

Remember: at Halloween time and always, to avoid scary eggs; always buy free range, organic or pastured eggs.


1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/2 cup organic sugar
1/2 cup strong coffee
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Ghost Pepper Ganache Frosting (recipe follows)


Line muffin pans with 12 to 15 cupcake liners.

Preheat oven to 350°F

In a medium bowl, combine flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat egg and sugar until creamy.  Beat in coffee, yogurt, oil and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to the wet and combine.  Batter will be thin.

Divide batter between 12 to 15 lined muffin pan cups (dividing between 12 produces domed cupcakes and dividing between 15 makes flatter topped cupcakes).

Bake until a toothpick inserted in center of cupcake comes out clean (about 18 to 22 minutes).

Let cool and frost with Ghost Pepper Ganache Frosting (recipe follows).

Makes 12 to 15 cupcakes


Ghost Pepper Ganache Frosting

10 oz bag semi-sweet chocolate chips (1 & 1/2 cups)
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground ghost pepper
(for less heat, substitute cayenne)
1 cup heavy cream

Put the chocolate chips, cinnamon and ground ghost pepper (or cayenne) into a medium-sized stainless steel mixing bowl.  Set aside.

In a small, heavy saucepan, over medium heat, bring cream just to a boil, stirring.  As soon as cream comes to a boil, turn off the heat and pour the cream over the chocolate and spices in the bowl.  Wait just a minute or two and then stir continuously until melted and smooth (this takes a bit).

Let frosting stand for a half an hour, until thick enough to spread (you an chill for ten minutes or so in the fridge, if necessary).

Frost cupcakes and enjoy with an ice cold glass of milk (milk soothes the taste buds when eating spicy foods due to the fat-loving casein it contains.  Casein combines with the capsicum oil in chile peppers to wash it away).


The Earth Plus Plastic

October 12, 2015

“The planet will be here and we’ll be long gone…
And if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well,
the planet will simply incorporate plastic
into a new paradigm:

‘The Earth Plus Plastic’…
Could be the only reason the Earth allowed us
to be
spawned from it in the first place.
It wanted plastic for itself,
didn’t know how to make it,
needed us.

Could be the answer to our age-old,
egocentric, philosophical question;

‘Why are we here?’.”
~ George Carlin

House in Bolivia built from PET bottles, dirt and debris.


Houses made from discarded plastic and/or glass bottles, like the one pictured above, are currently being built in countries all over the world by innovative architects and locals, addressing housing shortages while reducing waste.  Projects in Colombia, Argentina, Mexico, Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Senegal, Uganda, Nigeria, Germany, Serbia and the United States also include schoolhouses, greenhouses, guest houses, water storage tanks, aqueducts, sculptures and churches.

A two-bedroom plastic house requires about 14,000 discarded bottles to complete.  If that sounds like a lot, ponder these numbers:

1500 plastic water bottles are consumed every second here in the U.S.

Out of the 50 billion bottles of water being bought each year, 80% will end up in a landfill, in spite of existing recycling programs.

17 million barrels of oil are used in the production of plastic water bottles each year.

In Nigeria, where 3 million plastic bottles are thrown away daily, there is a 16 million home housing shortage.  These innovative plastic bottle houses are helping to address that shortage.

The walls of the two-bedroom bottle houses are built using bottles filled with sand and held together with mud and cement.  This type of wall is stronger than cinder blocks and makes these homes bulletproof, fireproof and earthquake-safe, in addition to maintaining a comfortable indoor temperature year-round.  Plastic bottle buildings, such as these, can go as high as three stories.  In addition, the cost of building one of these bottle beauties is 1/4 that of a conventional house.

Although glass bottles have been used to construct small homes here in the U.S. since 1902, and houses utilizing empty vessels in construction date back to ancient Rome, Andreas Froese, a German environmentalist and inventor of ECOTEC, the art of PET bottle construction, has been the recent driving force behind plastic bottle projects around the world.  To read more about the possibilities of plastic bottle construction or to organize a project in your own country or town, visit

Or, if you’d like to start small, you can use your discarded water and soda bottles as planters and transform a wall or a fence in your home into something both beautiful and beneficial:


I’m planning to decorate the fence around my patio with these, using drought tolerant plants and succulents.  Let me know if you do the same.


Make Soda Pop Chicken Wings for the next game and then transform the empty bottles into planters.


Soda Pop Chicken Wings
Be sure to use a premium brand of naturally-flavored orange soda with real sugar for this recipe.  Artificially sweetened soda or diet soda will not work.  You need the real sugar to create the proper caramelized wing sauce texture.

1 (12 oz) bottle of naturally-flavored orange soda
(made with cane sugar)
1/2 cup pineapple juice (unsweetened)
1/2 cup organic soy sauce
1/4 cup light brown organic brown sugar, packed
2 cloves of fresh garlic, minced
2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
1/4 cup hot sauce, such as sriracha
3 lbs chicken wings, drumettes or drumsticks1/4 cup salted butter

Rinse chicken wings and pat dry.

In a large bowl, combine soda, pineapple juice, soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, ginger and hot sauce.  Stir until sugar is dissolved.  Reserve 1/2 of the marinade and set aside.

Toss wings in bowl with remaining half of marinade and stir to coat well.  Cover and marinate in fridge for 2 to 4 hours.

To cook:
Pull chicken wings from marinade.  Discard used marinade.

In a large, heavy frying pan, over medium-high heat, melt butter.  Brown chicken wings on all sides.  Add 1/3 of the reserved marinade to the pan.  Reduce heat, cover and simmer until done (about 25 minutes), turning and basting every 10 minutes.  Add more of the reserved marinade, as needed, to baste and moisten the pan.

Keep warm in a low oven.

Serves 4 to 6

Shine On

September 26, 2015

“For this is what America is all about.  It is the uncrossed desert and the unclimbed ridge.  It is the star that is not reached and the harvest that is sleeping in the unplowed ground.”
~ Lyndon B. Johnson


A full Moon symbolizes potential realized, a dream fulfilled and a harvest ready to be gathered.

Earlier this week we welcomed Autumn, the season of the harvest.  Sunday night (or Monday morning, for those in Europe), we will be treated to a very special lunar event.  This year’s Harvest Moon will be a Super Moon.  To make the event even more spectacular, there will also be a total Lunar Eclipse.

The Harvest Moon is the full Moon that happens closest to the Autumnal Equinox, the first day of the fall season in the northern hemisphere.  Many crops ripen during this time of year and farmers often have to work to harvest their crops into the night. Long ago, before electricity was discovered and light bulbs were invented,  farmers relied on moonlight to guide them while they worked.  Thus, the first full Moon of autumn was named the “Harvest Moon”.

During a full Moon, the Sun and Moon are opposite each other.  During a Lunar Eclipse, the Earth stands between the two, blocking the Moon’s view of the Sun.  If you were on the Moon during this time, the Earth would appear black as it blocked the Sun’s light, creating a ring of red light around it.  Since we are on the Earth, looking at the Moon, we will see this red light reflected onto the Moon as it passes through the Earth’s shadow.  At 9:07 p.m. Eastern Time/6:07 p.m. Pacific Time on the evening of September 27, the Earth’s shadow will begin to move across the Moon.  At about 10:11 Eastern Time/7:11 Pacific, the Moon will be completely enveloped by our planet’s shadow.  The Moon will appear red for about an hour and 12 minutes.

This full Moon will also be a “Super Moon” because its opposition to the Sun will occur at the point of its orbit that is closest to the Earth, making it look much bigger in our sky.  In fact, the Super Moon will appear to be 12% to 14% larger than its counterpart, the Micro Moon (the part of its orbit when it is furthest from Earth).

A waxing moon symbolizes potential.  The Full Moon represents the fulfillment of that potential.  If you happen to be watching the lunar event from California, dance around a bit under this very special moonlight; we could use some rain.


On a recent trip to Italy, I discovered As do Mar tuna, 100% processed in Italy.  This tuna is so delicious it needs no seasoning, just dump over some greens or scoop up with some crackers and enjoy.  As do Mar tuna is also Friend of the Sea certified sustainable seafood.  I love this tuna so much that, after I returned from my trip, I broke my 3 years of being “Amazon free” to order a case.  You can find it at specialty shops that carry foods imported from Italy.  If you take a trip to Italy, bring some home with you!  Visit for info.

Here in the States, the Tuna Guys ( tuna is caught and processed completely in the USA, in the Pacific Northwest.  It is pole-caught and was rated “Best Choice” for sustainability by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.  It is sensational.  Shout out to my friend Bonnie for introducing me to Tuna Guys tuna.

American Tuna is pole-caught and 100% traceable back to the vessel that caught it.  Caught in the Pacific Northwest and packed by hand in Oregon, you can find it at Whole Foods markets (


Use your favorite sustainably-caught gourmet tuna for Tuna and Arugula Bruschetta.


Tuna and Arugula Bruschetta
The quality of ingredients will make this dish.  Make sure to use delicious, fresh bread, good quality extra virgin California olive oil, and sustainably-caught gourmet tuna in olive oil.

For each serving you will need:

1 piece of sourdough bread or Italian bread, about 7″ x 4″
(or two smaller pieces)

One fresh clove of garlic, cut in half
Extra virgin olive oil, for brushing
A handful of arugula leaves
One small (80g) can gourmet tuna in olive oil
1/2 of a large can (6 oz/170g)

Spanish smoked paprika, to sprinkle


Grill or toast bread on both sides.

Rub surface of bread all over with cut side of garlic clove.  Discard leftover clove.

Place a generous handful of arugula over the bread.

Spoon the tuna along with its oil over the arugula.

Sprinkle a bit of smoked paprika over the tuna.

Serve immediately.  Yum!

Citizens of Earth

September 12, 2015

“Cynicism masquerades as wisdom, but it is the farthest thing from it.  Because cynics don’t learn anything.  Because cynicism is a self-imposed blindness, a rejection of the world because we are afraid it will hurt us or disappoint us.  Cynics always say no.  But saying ‘yes’ begins things.  Saying ‘yes’ is how things grow.  Saying ‘yes’ leads to knowledge.”
~ Stephen Colbert

From the atlas Harmonia Macrocosmica, 1660


Stephen Colbert is back on TV and all is right with the world.

Stephen Colbert’s first episode of The Late Show aired earlier this week.  Shortly after David Letterman announced his retirement in April 2014, Stephen, then host of The Colbert Report, became his designated successor.  In December of that same year, Colbert ended his Comedy Central show to begin preparing to take over for Dave.

During the 9 months of preparation for the new Late Show, Stephen and his staff kept up their comedy chops by putting up videos, podcasts and other content on the new show’s website and YouTube channel.  A few weeks ago, Stephen posted a video announcing that he would be one of the hosts for the 2015 Global Citizen Festival, along with Kerry Washington, Hugh Jackman, Selma Hayak, Pearl Jam, Beyoncé, Ed Sheeran and Coldplay.

Stephen went on to say that the Global Citizen Festival is different from the usual concert in that “To gain entry, you must earn your way in by taking selfless action to help humanity.”

The goal of the festival is to encourage people to take action to end extreme poverty.  To win a ticket, would-be concert goers can go to the website, open an account and then take various actions like calling their Senator or member of Congress, tweeting the Prime Minister of Italy, or signing a petition telling the G7 members to make financial commitments to lift 500 million people out of hunger.

The concert takes place on September 26, in Central Park, NYC.  Even if you can’t make it to New York on that day (or you’re just not that into Coldplay), the idea of humanitarian action as currency is an interesting one.

Why not create a local event in your neighborhood that requires selfless action, instead of cash, to gain admission?  Maybe organize a pop-up restaurant, a concert with local musicians or a day of beauty at a spa.

Ask prospective attendees to do more than tweet.  Suggest donating to a food bank, volunteering to help animals, working a shift at a soup kitchen, donating blood, helping clean up trash around town or reaching out to a neighbor in need with a ride or help around the house.

If you have kids, this can be a great way to teach them the joy of service to others.  Ask your adult friends to help put together a fun event for kids that requires acts of sharing and kindness for admission.

It’s a big world and you are only one citizen of Earth, but you can make a difference and help others to do the same.  All it takes is a little imagination, a little action and a willingness to say, “yes”.


Enjoy the last bounty of summer by making a Watermelon Cream Pie.


Watermelon Cream Pie
This delicately flavored summer pie is both creamy and refreshing.  Because the melon gives most of the flavor to this pie, it is important to use a ripe, flavorful one.  You can also try cantaloupe or mango as variation.

For the crust:
1 & 1/2 cups vanilla wafer cookie crumbs
6 tablespoons of butter, melted
A pinch of salt, if using unsalted butter

For the filling:
2 cups watermelon purée (from a small, ripe, seedless watermelon – see instructions below)
1/3 cup organic raw sugar (plus more, to taste)
1/4 cup cold water
1 envelope unflavored gelatine (I used Knox)
2 cups organic vanilla-flavored whole milk Greek-style yogurt

Optional, for garnish:
Fresh mint sprigs


To make the crust:
Using a rolling pin, crush the cookies between two pieces of plastic wrap or inside of a large zip bag.  Combine the melted butter with the crushed cookie crumbs and salt (if using) in a bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork.  Press mixture evenly into the bottom and partially up the sides of an 8-inch springform pan or a 9 x 2-inch deep dish pie pan.  Refrigerate until set (about 1 hour).

Note: If your melon has been in the fridge, you will want to leave it at room temperature for a short time before you make the pie.  You don’t want the watermelon purée to be too cold when you add the gelatin mixture.

Make the filling:
Cut the watermelon in half, then quarters, then cut flesh into small chunks.  Discard rind (or save to make pickles).  Even in seedless watermelon, there are usually a few soft, white seeds, so remove these by scraping with a fork.  Blend watermelon chunks in a blender until puréed.  You will need 2 cups of purée to make the pie (I needed less than half of a small melon).

Place 1/4 cup of cold water in a small bowl.  Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over surface of the water – do not stir.  Set the bowl aside for a few minutes; it will swell and absorb the liquid (this is called “blooming”).

Meanwhile, add the sugar to the watermelon purée in the blender and blend to dissolve the sugar.  Taste and blend in more sugar, if needed (I didn’t).  Pour this into a medium bowl.

In a small saucepan, heat 1/2 cup of the sweetened watermelon purée over low heat.  Add the bloomed gelatin and stir until completely dissolved.  Turn off heat.

Gradually stir the gelatin mixture into the bowl with the remaining sweetened watermelon purée.

In a large bowl, add the yogurt.  Using a fork, gradually stir the watermelon mixture into the yogurt until smooth.

Remove crust from fridge.

Pour filling over crust.  Cover surface of pie with plastic wrap and chill overnight.

To serve:
If you using a springform pan, release the sides and remove.  Cut pie into slices, garnish with mint, if desired, and serve.  If you are not using a springform pan, the first slice might fall apart a bit getting it out of the pan, but subsequent slices should be fine.  No matter, this pie is so yummy it won’t stay on the plate very long!

Serves 6

Un Nuevo Rumbo

August 17, 2015

“Despite the differences in our governments, at a human level, there’s so much we share: laughter, music, the love of good food and the sheer genius of rum in a box.”
~ Conan O’Brien

Cuba as seen by the crew aboard the International Space Station (NASA)


The United States Embassy has reopened in Cuba.  I am one of those who feels hopeful about this new direction for our two countries.  So, in the spirit of hope and in celebration of the first steps taken along a new path, here is some laughter, some music and a recipe to enjoy:


Conan in Cuba


Shortly after President Obama announced that we were going to begin the process of normalizing relations with Cuba, the head writer of Conan O’Brien’s late night show Conan told him, “Oh, it would be great if we did a show from Cuba.”  O’Brien immediately gave the idea the green light and, with the help of a Canadian producer who works with European companies in Cuba, the comedian headed to the island with a small crew to film a special episode of Conan.  The result of his four-day trip aired March 4 of this year on TBS.  The episode, titled, “Conan in Cuba” was fun, interesting and, at times, hilarious.  My favorite segments were the opening, including the trip to the state-run store with wall to wall “Vino Seco El Mundo”;  his tour with Gretel at the Rum Museum, and Conan on the rooftop at Sunset, making fun of CNN.  You can watch clips from the episode, including outtakes, on the show’s website (, as well as the Team Coco YouTube channel.


Buena Vista Social Club


The original Buena Vista Social Club recording was released in 1997 and has been one of my favorites ever since.  I remember when I first heard it and how different it sounded from the Salsa and other more modern forms of Cuban music I was used to hearing.   This older, more traditional style resonated with me immediately.  The album was named after an actual club. The Buena Vista Social Club was a popular hang out for musicians to meet and play in 1940s Havana that was closed after the revolution.  American guitarist Ry Cooder and Cuban musician Juan de Marcos González made the 1990s recording with traditional Cuban musicians, some of whom had performed at the original club in Havana back in the day.  This older style of Cuban music had been out of fashion for many years and many of these musicians had been out of work, including Ibrahim Ferrer, who was semi-retired and shining shoes for extra money.  After the success of the record, these veteran musicians became known as “Los Superabuelos” (the Super-Grandfathers), and traditional Cuban folk music experienced a revival.  If you’ve never heard it, definitely give the entire recording a listen.  My favorite track is “El Carretero”, a typical “guajira” (country lament), sung by guitarist Eliades Ochoa.  The album, released in 1997 on Nonesuch Records is available on iTunes and pretty much everywhere.


A Recipe to Enjoy
While you are watching Conan in Cuba or listening to Buena Vista Social Club, enjoy some Cuban Avocado Mousse.


Muselina de Aguacate
(Cuban Avocado Mousse)
This light and airy, smooth and savory mousse makes an elegant appetizer served with chips, crackers, raw veggies or chilled cooked shrimp.  Use Haas or other creamy California avocado.  Recipe is easily doubled.

2 large avocados or 3 small, pitted and chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
1 small clove of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about one lime)
1/4 cup mayonnaise
3/4 cups vegetable broth*
1/4 cup cold water
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (I used Knox)

In a blender, combine avocado, sour cream, garlic, lime juice and mayonnaise.  Blend until smooth.

Place 1/4 cup cold water in a small bowl.  Sprinkle the gelatin evenly over surface of water – do not stir.  Set the bowl aside for a few minutes; it will swell and absorb the liquid (this is called “blooming”).

In a small saucepan, heat the vegetable broth (no need to boil).  Remove from heat.  Add the bloomed gelatin to the hot broth and stir until completely dissolved.

Gradually stir the gelatin/broth mixture into the avocado mixture and blend until smooth.  Pour into a large single bowl or individual bowls.  Cover surface of mousse with plastic wrap and chill in fridge for 4 hours or more.

Serves 6

*Note: the vegetable broth provides plenty of salt for the recipe.  If you use low-salt vegetable broth, you may want to taste for salt.


Bee Grateful

August 4, 2015

“It is well to remember that the entire Universe, with one exception, is composed of others.”
~ John Andrew Holmes


Did you know that it takes 12 bees, each working their entire lifetime, to collectively produce a single tablespoon of honey?

Meditate on that for a minute.  Imagine that you and 11 of your friends devoted your entire lives to produce a spoonful of something that someone else would devour within seconds.

Bees not only produce honey but, along with other pollinators, assist in the production and growth of over 80% of the world’s flowering plants, the plants that produce the fruits, vegetables and seeds that keep us alive and thriving.

There is a reason why talking about sex is euphemistically referred to as “the story of the birds and the bees.”  Pollination is how flowering plants reproduce.  Pollen is transferred from the male part of the plant to the female part with the help of birds, bees, butterflies and beetles, as they move from flower to flower, usually seeking food or shelter.  Bats and moths help to pollinate flowers that bloom after dark.

Honey bees were brought to North America in the 1620’s by early settlers.  In the U.S., somewhere between 2,000 to 3,000 commercial beekeepers manage honey bee colonies as livestock, traveling from farm to farm, across the country, to provide pollination services to crops.  Even if you are a strict vegan and do not eat honey, bee labor is responsible for pollinating many of the fruits and vegetables that make up your diet.

If bees alone disappeared, so would plums, apricots, peaches, guavas, cherries, almonds, onions, cucumbers, celery, carrots, lemons, limes, avocados, broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, cabbage, chili peppers, bell peppers, melons, tangerines, coffee, cardamom, sunflowers, apples, pears, beans, tomatoes, grapes and so much more.  If butterflies and other pollinators were also to vanish, the list of missing foods becomes much longer.

In the United States, honey bees have been in serious decline for over thirty years.  Even free and wild pollinators, such as bumble bees and monarch butterflies, have suffered population decreases.  Climate change, pesticide and herbicide use, as well as habitat loss have probably all contributed to declines in pollinator health and numbers.

In May of this year, the White House’s Pollinator Health Task Force (yes, I know that sounds serious, and it is; our food supply is at risk) released the National Strategy to Promote the Health of Honey Bees and Other Pollinators.  The plan outlines three main areas of focus:

~ Reduce honey bee colony losses.

~ Increase the Eastern population of the monarch butterfly

~ Restore or enhance 7 million acres of land for pollinators over the next 5 years through Federal actions and public/private partnerships.

The White House plan also calls on individuals to help in pollinator conservation.  As a citizen of the world and an eater of food, here are four things you can do to help:

1)   Don’t herbicide your lawn – a green lawn is nothing but a dessert for pollinators (and, in California, they are a desert that drinks up valuable water during the drought).

2)   Start a garden – planting flowers helps to feed pollinators (many homeowners in California are replacing their lawns with drought-friendly and pollinator-friendly native plants).

3)   Support your local beekeepers – buying local honey keeps them in business and is healthier for you and the bees (much of the mass-produced, filtered honey is mixed with honey from China, some of which is cut with fillers, such as rice syrup).  Know where your honey comes from and how it was produced by getting to know your local beekeepers and their honey.

4)   Educate yourself on the details of pollination – know how the process works and which pollinator-friendly plants thrive in your area.

For more information on pollinators, you can visit the USDA Forest Service site by clicking here.

For local beekeepers in your area, visit

A copy of the National Strategy can be found here.


Summer is a great time for grilling and for being grateful.  Grilled Plums and Pound Cake with Cardamom Mascarpone will have you doing both with gusto.


Grilled Plums and Pound Cake with Cardamom Mascarpone
Plums are abundant in summertime.  Grilling them up with slices of prepared pound cake and topping it all off with chilled, spiced mascarpone is a unique and delicious way to enjoy an elegant dessert outdoors.  Use a good quality, sweet and syrupy Balsamic vinegar or even a Balsamic glaze for this recipe.  I used Séka Hills Elderberry Balsamic Vinegar (

Seeds from 2 cardamom pods (about 18 seeds)
3 tablespoons local honey
1 tablespoon Balsamic vinegar
1 inch piece of vanilla bean

3 large or 6 smaller plums
1 (10 to 12 oz) prepared pound cake, cut into 6 slices
1 (8 oz) tub of mascarpone cheese
About 1/4 cup of butter, melted
Vegetable oil, for brushing grill

First, make marinade:
In a medium bowl, add cardamom seeds (pop open pods and scrape out seeds, discard pods).  Split open piece of vanilla bean, using a knife, and scrape out seeds into bowl; toss the bean in also.  Stir everything together until well blended.  Set aside.

Cut large plums into quarters, smaller ones in half.  Remove pits.  Toss pieces into the marinade and stir to coat.  Cover bowl with plastic wrap and put in fridge for 2 hours or more (stir the plums a couple of times during this process to marinate more evenly).

To make Cardamom Mascarpone:
Pull plums from fridge.  Remove plums from the marinade with a fork and place on a tray.  Strain the marinade through a mesh strainer or a piece of cheesecloth and discard seeds and vanilla bean.  You should have about 1/4 cup of marinade.

In a small bowl, combine the mascarpone with about half of the marinade (2 tablespoons).  Stir with a fork until smooth.  Taste for sweetness and stir in a bit more of the marinade, if desired, until it is to your liking.  Cover and chill until serving time.

Grill plums and pound cake*
Heat grill to medium.  Brush pound cake slices on both sides with melted butter.  Grill cake slices over medium heat until toasted, about 1 or 2 minutes per side.  Move slices to plate.  Brush grill grates with oil.  Grill plums over medium-high heat until tender and beginning to caramelize, about 2 minutes.  Turn and grill other side to heat through, about a minute more.

*Alternatively, you can use a cast iron pan over the stove to grill the cake slices and plums, if you’re not in the mood for outdoor cooking.

To serve:
Place one pound cake slice on each plate.  Place 2 quarters or one half piece of plum over cake.  Top each with a dollop of the chilled Cardamom Mascarpone.

Serves 6

Heart Shaped World

July 20, 2015

“For our entire lives, Pluto was nothing more than a dot in space and now it’s an entire world, with surface features and personality and – Oh my God! – this section right here looks like a heart!  It hearts us!”
~ Stephen Colbert


“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”

Many of us remember that phrase from a childhood reading of Horton Hears a Who, by Dr. Seuss.  In the classic children’s tale, the compassionate and egalitarian elephant Horton is enjoying a dip in the local pool when he hears a tiny call for help coming from a small dust speck floating by in the air.  Worried that the dust speck would land in the pool, thereby drowning all the inhabitants of the tiny world it represented, Horton takes it upon himself to keep the dust speck safe by carrying it around with him on a piece of clover, enduring ridicule and persecution by those around him, who cannot believe a world that small could possibly exist.  Everything turns out alright in the end, though, and Horton and “the Whos” (the inhabitants of the tiny, dust-speck-sized world) finally achieve recognition for Who-ville and themselves.

In 2006, when a group of astronomers decided to demote Pluto from planet to dwarf planet, I was one of those who took it personally.  I grew up with Pluto as the 9th planet in our solar system.  It seemed so mysterious; after all, Pluto was named after the Roman god of the underworld.  Astrologically, the planet is associated with the sun sign Scorpio.  Those born under that sign, at the very least, like to appear mysterious.  The planet has also been, until very recently, literally mysterious; astronomers knew very little about Pluto.

That began to change on Monday July 13, when NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft snapped this historic photo of Pluto just before making its closest approach to the planet on the next day.  New Horizon’s 10-year, nearly 3 billion mile journey is providing data to scientists that will nourish discovery for years to come.  Already we know that Pluto’s now-famous “heart” contains a region of ice and that, at 1,473 miles (2,370 kilometers), the planet is larger than previously estimated.

New Horizon’s visit has generated excitement beyond the world of science. Earlier this month, the classic rock band Styx recently met with the New Horizons team. The band members were the autograph seekers this time; they got a poster of Pluto and its moons autographed by Dr. Mark Showalter of the SETI institute, who discovered Pluto’s smallest moon, also named Styx, in 2012.

Stephen Colbert recently sat down with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson to argue the need to restore Pluto’s full planet status.  Dr. Alan Stern, principal investigator for the New Horizons mission, agrees. In a recent interview for Spaceflight Now, he talked about how he hopes that when people see the images from the flyby, they will think of Pluto as a planet:

“I see it every day, now that people are seeing pictures of a world with moons going around it, and surface features on it, and they don’t know what else to call it.  I don’t think the astronomers will ever catch up.  I think they have so badly damaged their own reputation that people are just going to make fun.  I think that’s the most likely outcome.  Meanwhile, in planetary science, we just call it a planet.  We don’t care what the astronomers say.”

I agree with Dr. Stern.

A planet’s a planet, no matter how small.


The other day I was treated to the small, unexpected beauty of my chive plant covered in tiny purple blossoms. Crespelle with Cheese and Chive Blossoms was the delicious result.


Crespelle with Cheese and Chive Blossoms
Crespelle are a form of Italian crepe.  They make an elegant and simple appetizer or a meat-free main dish when served with a simple green salad.  I like to use pastured eggs, such as Vital Farms, to ensure I’m cooking with healthy eggs from happy hens.

1/4 cup chopped chive blossoms
5 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, divided in half
Extra virgin olive oil (about 1/2 cup, mostly for cooking)
6 eggs
1 cup spring water
Freshly-ground pepper, to taste
1/2 to 3/4 cup grated cheddar cheese
Additional chive blossoms, for garnish

In a medium bowl, whisk chopped chive blossoms, flour, half of the Parmesan, 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, eggs, water and pepper until smooth.  Heat a large, non-stick skillet (I used a 12-inch) over medium-high heat.  Add enough olive oil to completely coat the surface of pan.  When oil is hot, pour 1/2 cup of the batter (less if using a smaller pan) into the skillet and quickly tilt the pan around to coat it evenly and completely with the batter.  Cook the crespella until golden on the bottom, 1 to 2 minutes.  Flip to other side (I never learned to flip in the pan, so I used a large spatula for this).  Cook other side 1 minute, or until golden; transfer to a plate.  Sprinkle surface with 2 tablespoons or so of the cheddar and roll into a cigar shape.  Keep warm in a low temperature oven or toaster oven while you continue cooking the remaining crespelle.  Add a bit more oil, if necessary as you go, to ensure the surface of the pan stays coated.

To serve, garnish with reserved chive blossoms, remaining Parmesan and a pinch of freshly-ground pepper.

Makes 5 or more crespelle, depending on pan size.

May the Focus be with you

July 8, 2015

“Always remember, your focus determines your reality.”
~ From Star Wars: Episode 1 – The Phantom Menace (1999)


“A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”

This signature phrase from the opening of every Star Wars film, tells of a futuristic time and place in the distant past.  The language brings to mind a time period far removed from our own, an age that would make medieval times seem relatively recent.


Fans of the movies will recognize a striking similarity between Jedi Master Yoda and the strange figure drawn between the paragraphs in the image above.  However, this pointy-eared creature in monk’s robes is actually from a medieval manuscript created in southern France between the year 1300 and 1340.  Known as the “Smithfield Decretals”, the text and image were featured a few months ago on the British Library’s Medieval Manuscripts blog.

Yoda seems to be existing in multiple time periods at once.  I know the feeling.  For many of us, finding and maintaining an awareness of the “now” can be elusive.

With all of the information coming at us from numerous sources these days, it can be difficult to keep our minds and emotions from wandering between past events and future possibilities.  Amid the everyday chaos, how does one achieve and maintain mental and emotional equilibrium?

A useful technique for keeping your focus in the now is a yogic practice known as drishti.  Drishti is a Sanskrit word meaning “vision”, “sight”, “gaze” or “perception”.  In the context of yoga it refers to maintaining a fixed gaze on a single point.  For example, when in standing balance poses, such as mountain pose, or tree pose, I recommend that my students find a fixed point in the distance to softly focus on.  Gazing at a single, unmoving point helps one align oneself physically and mentally with its stability.

You don’t have to be a yogi to practice drishti.  Taking a few moments to find and maintain a soft focus on a single point, even for a few minutes, can help one find balance in the midst of a stressful and chaotic day.  Here’s how:

Stand with your feet about hips distance apart, arms at your sides, shoulders back and neck softly lifted.  Tuck in your abdominal muscles to support your back.  Alternatively, you could find a comfortable seated position, arms resting in your lap, sitting up straight with shoulders back and neck softly lifted.  Breathe slowly and deeply, in and out through the nose, if possible.

Find a fixed point in the distance in front of you to softly focus on.  This is your “now”.  Let everything else around this point blur. Do this for at least 3 minutes, whenever you feel scattered.

Once you master the technique of maintaining a soft gaze on a single point of focus, I recommend taking it outdoors.  Go to the park, the beach or even your backyard and stop to gaze at a leaf on a tree, a pebble on the ground or the single petal of a flower.  Practicing drishti in this way can be a path to seeing the Divine in all things, big or small, animate or inanimate.

Whether you are standing in the forest or sitting in your office, this simple exercise can become a tool for achieving both a real and metaphorical focus of vision.  In Star Wars: Episode IV – The Empire Strikes Back, Luke asks his teacher how he will know the good side from the bad.  Master Yoda replies:

“You will know when you are calm, at peace, passive.”

Whether we seek physical, mental, emotional, energetic or spiritual equilibrium, the present moment is always a good place to start – even if you are living a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.


Fresh, ripe strawberries are plentiful now.  Freeze the extras to make Strawberry Basil Slushies anytime.


Strawberry Basil Slushies
This sophisticated slushy makes for a refreshing apéritif on a hot afternoon.

12 ounces frozen organic strawberries*
1/2 cup organic sugar
1/2 cup chopped fresh basil leaves (loosely packed)
1 cup sparkling water

*This amount of frozen strawberries looks like 3 cups in the blender and a heaping 2 cups inside a measuring cup.


Place frozen strawberries in blender.  Sprinkle sugar on top and let sit for 5 minutes or so.  Add basil and sparkling water and blend until smooth (you may need to pulse, stop and stir a couple of times in the beginning).

Serves 2 to 4


Saluto al Sole

June 26, 2015

“Flowers don’t worry about how they’re going to bloom.  They just open up and turn toward the sun, and that makes them beautiful.”
~ Jim Carrey

Just outside the yoga deck, hidden within a secret garden, at Sunflower Retreats.


Happy Belated Summer Solstice!

Regular Philosopher’s Spoon readers may have noticed that my posts have been less frequent during the past few months.  This has been due to a period of particularly intense, challenging and exciting events in my life during the spring of 2015.

First of all, I moved to a new house, accompanied by all of the searching, packing, planning and general upheaval that comes with a change in abode.  In addition, all of this relocating activity was happening at the same time that I was preparing for a three week trip overseas to teach yoga.

I have just returned from Italy, where I was lucky enough to say goodbye to the spring season at Sunflower Retreats, a yoga holiday destination in Casperia, a medieval hill-top village, located about an hour north of Rome.

I spent two inspiring weeks with wonderful visiting yogis; the warm and gracious owners of Sunflower, Lucy and Alan; the onsite therapist Ciara and her contagiously happy dog Henry; and the amazing Addie, who made sure everyone was happily nurturing their chakras and having a wonderful time.

I ended my trip by welcoming the first day of summer in the eternal city of Rome.

I am still a bit jet-lagged and overwhelmed.  But I thought I would share a few photos from my adventures:

Above is an early morning view from my apartment in Casperia, the hilltop village where Sunflower Retreats is located.


There I walked up and down the ancient steps of the town, from my apartment to the yoga deck, to the local grocery store, and often to the insanely good local restaurant, Osteria Vigna.


Vigna is co-owned by an English expat and an Italian trekker and Star Wars nerd.  During one of my visits, I noticed that his cellphone ringtone was Darth Vader’s signature breathing, the sound of which can seem coincidentally similar to the that of “Ujjayi Breath” a technique common in yoga practices.  A life-sized cutout of Spock giving the Vulcan Salute stands in the bar area, and greeted me as I enjoyed superb dishes such as ravioli with ricotta, lemon and sage; a feather-light carrot flan and a scrumptious gelato ball covered in white chocolate and drowned in espresso.


Cats are everywhere in Casperia, as well as beautiful views.  The photo above is from one of my walks to the local grocery store, where I bought fresh zucchini flowers and a wonderful mozzarella.  I sautéed the flowers in olive oil until tender and added them into hot fusilli pasta, along with chunks of the cheese.  Stirring all of this together soon caused the melted cheese chunks and flowers to join together, creating a large, chewy ball of mozzarella and tender zucchini flowers sitting in the center of al dente pasta; it was delicious nonetheless.

I also found ready-to-fill mini cannoli shells at the market, which I stuffed with a mixture of smooth ricotta, mascarpone, cherry preserves, lemon zest, sugar and cinnamon.  I shared a bit of this inspiration from my Sicilian ancestors with some of the staff and guests at the retreat.

My time teaching at Sunflower Retreats was unforgettable.


This gnome, outside another local restaurant, greeted me with both a fist bump and a thumbs up sign.  Just one of Casperia’s friendly locals, he seemed to be saying, “Torna presto!” (come back soon).


From Casperia I ventured to Rome for the last part of my trip.  There I enjoyed this view from the balcony of my apartment, a comfortable VRBO located in the fashionable Prati neighborhood.  In the mornings I would have coffee; in the afternoons I would savor the rare treat of Coca Cola made according to the original recipe: with sugar, instead of the corn syrup that is now used in the United States production of the famous soft drink.

I had an amazing authentic Roman lunch at Da Enzo al 29, courtesy of my companion and authentic Roman, Paolo.


Da Enzo’s food was a revelation.  From the creamy burrata cheese served with basil, baby tomatoes and olive oil;


to the Carbonara (rigatoni with guanciale, a cured pork specialty from central Italy, pecorino cheese, and a velvety sauce of organic eggs);


to the heavenly dessert, a feather-light mascarpone mouse, made with organic eggs and tiny, wild strawberries:


While enjoying this incredible meal, I overheard a conversation at the next table, occupied by a group of men who had traveled to Rome from northern Italy, planning to protest the idea of gay marriage.  Apparently, they were upset because another group had shown up to their event to protest them.

I thought of those men today, when the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision was announced that gay marriage is a constitutional right, guaranteeing the ability of same sex couples to marry, throughout all of the United States.

If I were sitting next to them at this moment, I would turn and offer them a translation of our President’s words today on Twitter, “l’amore vince!”

Love wins!


Fusilli with Sunflower Seeds, Parsley and Parmesan was created one evening during my stay in Casperia.


Fusilli with Sunflower Seeds, Parsley and Parmesan
I bought the ingredients for this dish, intending to make a sunflower pesto.  Upon realizing that I had no food processor or mortar and pestle, I decided to simply toss the ingredients together.  The result was simply delicious.



5 or 6 cups of hot, cooked fusilli pasta, cooked al dente
(about 8 to 10 ounces dry)

1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil

1 small clove of fresh garlic

1/3 cup of raw unsalted sunflower seeds

1/2 cup of chopped parsley, slightly packed

Zest of half a lemon

1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

3/8 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for the table


Place olive oil inside a large bowl.

Cut grooves into garlic clove and smash with a fork into the oil, releasing the flavor.  Stir well and discard the smashed clove.

Add the sunflower seeds, Parmesan, parsley, lemon zest and lemon juice.

Toss with hot cooked pasta and serve immediately.

2 to 3 servings