Meta

May 18, 2015

“When we quit thinking primarily about ourselves and our own self-preservation, we undergo a truly heroic transformation of consciousness.”
~ Joseph Campbell

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When most people think of the word metaphysics,  the common meaning that comes to mind is “beyond physics” or “the study of what lies beyond the physical world”.  However, the origin of the word was as a title of a work by Aristotle, the famous Greek philosopher, and the original meaning was all about location, location, location.

The word metaphysics was first used by Andronicus of Rhodes, another Greek philosopher, who lived in the 1st century BC.  Rhodes is known for editing, organizing and publishing Aristotle’s original texts.  Meta is a Greek preposition meaning 1) “after, behind” or 2) “changed, altered” or 3) “higher, beyond”.  Prepositions are words that indicate location (such as on, in or beside).  Rhodes added the preposition meta to the noun physics, merely to indicate the book’s position in the collection.  He named this particular work Metaphysics, not because it addressed subjects of a lofty and spiritual nature, but simply because this particular work happened to be “the book that comes after the book titled Physics”.

The modern understanding of the term as “the science of that which transcends the physical” with all of its mystical, philosophical and new age associations, is the result of a misinterpretation of Rhodes’ title of this particular work of Aristotle by Latin writers in later centuries.

It is actually ironically appropriate that the word’s original meaning was changed over the centuries.  The second definition of meta is “changed, altered”.  Therefore, many words containing this element indicate transformation.  The Greek word metabole, which our word “metabolize” came from, means “transmutation” or “the act of changing or the state of being changed into another form.”

Transmutation was/is the goal of spiritual alchemy.  Think of the Prayer of St. Francis: “Where there is hatred, let me sow love; Where there is injury, pardon; Where there is doubt, faith…”  The ability to go within and change sadness into joy, sickness into healing, stubbornness into surrender and fear into faith creates in one’s heart the true philosopher’s stone, capable of transforming (spiritual) lead into (spiritual) gold.

The transformative power of gratitude was/is the basis for The Philosopher’s Spoon, the title of this blog and the original book it was based on.  After years of dieting with little or no results, I found that by simply giving thanks before each meal, my relationship with food was transformed and, as a result, my digestion, my choices, my weight and my life were transformed as well.

Here is what I say before each meal:

Thank you to the plants, animals and people who gave their lives, time and energy to bring me this delicious, nutritious and healing food.  Help me transform this gift of life into a blessing that I can share with each person I meet and each, in turn, who is touched by them.

Maybe some of you will choose to give saying thank you before each meal a try.  Whether the results are physical or beyond the physical, may this practice bring you joyful transformation.

~~~~~~~~~

A regular Philosopher’s Spoon reader requested this lip-smackingly delicious recipe for Horiatiki (Greek Salad) Tacos, which was featured in the July 22, 2013 blog post.

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Horiatiki Tacos with Marinated Feta
Greek Salad (Horiatiki Salata) makes a delicious filling for this super-tasty, virtually no-cook summer meal.  This is a vegetarian-friendly recipe, but you can add cooked shrimp as a variation for pescavores.  Make the Marinated Feta one day to one week ahead.

Tacos:
1 clove of garlic, smashed
1 (15 oz) can organic garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (plus more to taste)
1/2 teaspoon crumbled dried oregano
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 green onions, trimmed and chopped (green & white parts)
1 cup finely chopped bell pepper
1 cup diced cucumber
2 cups diced ripe heirloom tomatoes
8 (approximately 7″ flour tortillas or lavash-style flatbreads)
Marinated Feta (recipe below)

Optional:
1 (16 oz) package of frozen, cooked, peeled, medium-sized tail-off shrimp, thawed

 

In a large bowl, stir together garlic, beans, lemon juice and oregano.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Remove and discard garlic clove.  Add onions, bell pepper, cucumber and tomato (if you are using shrimp, add them here).  Stir and taste for seasoning.  Add more salt, pepper and lemon juice, if needed.  Set aside.

Heat tortillas over a low stove flame, using tongs to circulate the tortilla over the flame.  When it begins to puff, turn tortilla and heat other side (do not leave unattended!).

Alternatively, you can heat tortillas in a microwave-safe plastic bag for about 30 to 60 seconds or until steaming.  Keep warm in a basket or bowl, covered with a damp towel.

Serve salad alongside Marinated Feta and warm tortillas.  Have guests make their own tacos (using a slotted spoon to serve the salad) by filling the tortillas with some salad, topped with the Marinated Feta.

Serves 8 (more with shrimp added).

 

Marinated Feta
You will need a pint or quart-sized jar with a lid.

About 8 oz of Feta cheese, cubed
1 to 2 small, whole, hot dried chilies
Several sprigs of fresh dill
and
Several sprigs of fresh mint
or Several sprigs of fresh rosemary (you can sub crumbled dried rosemary)
and
Several fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
Zest of one lemon
Extra virgin olive oil to cover (about 1 & 1/2 cups)

Combine Feta, herbs and seasonings in jar.  Cover with oil.  Seal jar and shake gently.  Marinate in fridge several hours or overnight.  Shake a few times during marinating time.

Use leftover oil in jar to toss with cooked pasta, rice, salad or as a dip for bread.

 

To the Nth Degree

April 23, 2015

“Everyone has faith in God, though everyone does not know it.  For everyone has faith in himself, and that, multiplied to the nth degree, is God.  The sum total of all that lives is God.  We may not be God, but we are of God – even as a little drop of water is of the ocean.  Imagine it torn away from the ocean and flung millions of miles away.  It becomes helpless torn from its surroundings and cannot feel the might and majesty of the ocean.  But if someone could point out to it that it is of the ocean, its faith would revive; it would dance with joy, and the whole might and majesty of the ocean would be reflected in it.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi

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Most of us have heard or used the expression, “to the nth degree” and understood it to mean taking something to its limit.  But how many of us know what “the nth degree” actually is?  The letter N is used to symbolize various mathematical concepts, which I won’t go into here.  By its most basic definition, N refers to the set of natural numbers.

The oldest number system is the set of natural numbers (also known as counting numbers):

N = {1, 2, 3…}

The first natural number is 1 and successive numbers are made by adding 1 to each new number:

1

2 = 1 + 1

3 = 2 + 1

So, if we use N to represent any natural number, the next natural number after N will always be N + 1.

This means that there is no largest natural number.  The set of natural numbers could be counted into infinity.

Therefore, taking something to the nth degree, when there can be no largest N, does not mean taking something to the limit, as the common colloquial definition of the expression brings to mind.  It means taking something to infinite levels of possibility.

In a recent blog for Discover.com, cosmologist Max Tegmark argued that the idea of infinity should be done away with, because related concepts, such as inflation (the theory that our Universe began as a singularity and is forever expanding, i.e, the “Big Bang”), make the measuring and predicting part of physics difficult.  In fact, he would like to get rid of the idea of both the “infinitely big” and the “infinitely small”, arguing that there is no direct observational evidence of either.  In other words, if one cannot “see” infinity, if one cannot describe it, one cannot definitively say it exists.

I think that the infinitely big and the infinitely small probably describe each other.  In fact, by adding them together numerically, the infinitely big and the infinitely small can be seen as simultaneously infinite and containable within a finite structure: the circular mystery that is zero.

If one looks at both positive and negative numbers arranged into a line, with zero at the center, numbers fan out from zero endlessly in positive and negative directions:

… -9, -8, -7, -6, -5, -4, -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9…

Then, by keeping zero at the center and adding each positive number to its negative counterpart zipper-style, positive and negative numbers will cancel each other out and, in doing so, contain themselves within zero:

-1 + 1 = 0, -2 + 2 = 0, etc.

Zero appears to be finite but infinity lives within it.

There is a saying from the Bible: “In my father’s house there are many mansions.” (John 14:2).  These words bring to my mind the idea of the infinite possibilities that can manifest within the finite structure that is time and space.

To use a smaller, more familiar example, let’s look at the structure of a seed and the limitless possibility contained within it.  A single tiny seed contains the potential of future life to the nth degree.

Water a seed and a plant sprouts forth from its shell.  That plant will grow and produce more seeds, which will grow into new plants that produce seeds, ad infinitum.  Seemingly endless expressions of life can manifest from within a singular finite structure.

So, the next time you feel stuck, frustrated, hopeless or trapped by your circumstances, remember that, even from within the smallest space, endless possibilities are waiting to be born…

… and that everything can come from nothing.

~~~~~~~~~

Protein-packed hemp seeds contain all of the essential amino acids.  This means that they are a complete source of protein just like chicken, fish or beef, making them an excellent choice for people on a vegetarian or vegan diet or for omnivores wishing to add more plant protein to their diets.  Shelled hemp seeds (or “hemp hearts” as they are also called) are soft, with a mild, nutty flavor, making them both a scrumptious and highly nutritious topping for Banana Coffeecake with Hemp Seed Streusel.

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Banana Coffeecake with Hemp Seed Streusel
This is one of the most moist and delicious coffeecakes I’ve tasted!  Hemp hearts make the perfect nutty and crunchy streusel topping.  You can find Raw Shelled Hemp Seed (hemp hearts) at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, your local health food store or online.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
Scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled a bit
3/8 cup organic sugar
1 large egg
1 super-ripe large banana, well-mashed
Hemp Seed Streusel (recipe follows)

Preheat oven to 375°F

Lightly butter bottom and partially up sides of a 9-inch round cake pan.  Set aside.

Make streusel (recipe follows) set aside.

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

In a medium bowl, combine butter with sugar, beat in egg and mashed banana.

Add wet ingredients to bowl with dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

Pour batter into prepared pan.  Pour streusel evenly over top surface and pat in lightly.

Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until a tooth pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.

Let cool in pan and cut into 6 wedges.

Makes 6 servings.

Hemp Seed Streusel

3/4 cup hemp hearts
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup organic sugar
2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Combine ingredients in a bowl and mix with a fork, then fingers, until fully combined and crumbly.

 

 

 

Spring Green

March 31, 2015

“To quote another gospel, Dune, by Frank Herbert, ‘Fear is the mind killer.’
To stay mindful, you have to not live in fear.”
~ Stephen Colbert

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What if money actually did grow on trees?

Spring is here.  Outside my window, the big tree, barren of leaves for the last three months, has just begun to show new growth.  Its companion, on the other side of the house, went from bear to bull in a much shorter time period.  That tree lost all of its leaves within a few days and, seemingly overnight, was covered again in abundant greenery.

Nature has cycles.  Winter’s landscape is often bare, dry and cold.  Spring follows with seeds and sprouts.  Sweet, ripe fruits and abundant sun fill our summer days.  And the harvest of fall allows us to put aside for the return of winter’s frugality.

If money grew on trees, acorns were chunks of precious metal, and leaves were dollar bills, would we remain faithful, gazing upon winter’s bare branches, of the eventual return of abundance?

Just as our gardens have seasons of plenty and seasons of scarcity, so do our budgets.  Sometimes the tree is green and growing and at other times it appears bare and dry.  Growth is not forever here, nor forever gone.  The same is true for stagnation.  Give thanks for the miracles of each season.

“And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.”
~ Kahlil Gibran

~~~~~~~~~

Green Fava Bean Falafel is a super yummy twist on the traditional chickpea version.

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Green Fava Bean Falafel
Crispy outside, moist and tender inside, these falafel made with tender green fava beans are absolutely delicious all by themselves as snacks or appetizers or inside a pita for lunch.  Trader Joe’s has Italian shelled fava beans in a 14 oz bag in the frozen case.  Let the bag defrost in the fridge overnight, then pinch a hole in each skin and pop it off the bean, discarding the skins.  This takes a bit of time, but its worth it.

14 oz bag of frozen shelled fava beans, defrosted and skinned
(you should have a scant 2 cups after skinning)
1/4 teaspoon dried turmeric
1/4 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1/4 cup chopped fresh chives
1/8 teaspoon salt (or to taste)
2 teaspoons all-purpose flour
2 cups (or more) vegetable oil for frying

Combine the skinned fava beans, turmeric, paprika, lemon juice, cumin, garlic powder, lemon zest and chives in a blender or food processor.  Process until roughly mashed (you want some of the mixture creamy with some chunky pieces).  Add 2 to 4 tablespoons of water to facilitate the blending, but only as much as needed.  Add salt to taste and mix a bit more.

Spoon mixture into a bowl and stir in the flour.  The mixture will seem wet.

Form into small 1-inch sized balls and place on a tray as you go.  Chill balls in fridge for about an hour.

To fry:
Heat enough oil in a small heavy pan with deep sides so that it is about 1 inch deep.  You can test the oil temperature by dropping in a kernel of popping corn.  When it pops, scoop out the popped corn, the oil is ready.  Alternatively, you can insert the handle of a wooden spoon into the oil.  When bubbles form around the spoon and float to the top, the oil is ready.

Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower one ball at a time into the oil.  Hold the slotted spoon with the ball in the oil for about 30 seconds, then drop the ball from the spoon, releasing it fully into the oil.  Only fry about 3 at a time.  If you try to fry too many at once, your oil temperature will drop and the balls may not hold together.

Fry balls until crispy brown on the outside.  Drain on paper towels.

These are delicious by themselves.  You can also serve as a sandwich in a pita with lettuce or sprouts, tomato, mayo, yogurt or tahini sauce and hot sauce.

Makes about 12 falafel.  Serves 3 to 4

Shake it Up

March 16, 2015

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi

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Spring is almost here, the time of planting, rebirth, fresh starts and new beginnings.

Gardeners know that before one can sow the seeds of spring, one must aerate the hardened winter soil by breaking through the top layer and turning over fresh earth.  This shaking up of the old surface to create a new one is not only necessary for birthing new plants, but also new ideas, new habits and new possibilities.

It’s time to shake up your old habits to make way for the new.  This week, pick one new thing you will try for Spring.  No need to be grand, dramatic or drastic.  As Edward Lorenz, the mathematician who coined the term “butterfly effect” proved, sometimes the smallest change can ultimately make a big difference.

Here are some ideas:

When you return home from your day, walk around the block instead of switching on the TV, tablet or computer.

Stop on your way home from work or errands and take a stroll in an unfamiliar neighborhood.

Try one new food or cuisine each week.

Wear a color you normally avoid or choose an article of clothing that’s been sitting unworn in your closet.

Watch a documentary about a part of the world you’ve never visited or know little about.

If you regularly add salt or pepper to your prepared food, try leaving it out for one week.

If you drink soft drinks, switch to iced herbal tea, or sparkling water with a splash of juice.

Try a new fruit or vegetable.

Listen to a genre of music that you think you don’t like.

Look up how to say “Thank you” in three languages you don’t know.

Set aside one day a month to be “technology-free”.

~~~

Make some shaken (not whipped) cream.

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Shaken Cream
Shake up the way you whip cream.  No beaters, no bowl, no blender – whipped cream is easy, fast and fun to make in a mason jar.  Best of all, it’s a great workout for your abdominals!

You will need a quart-sized mason jar with lid.

8 oz organic heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 cup powdered sugar

 

Make sure the whipping cream is well-chilled.

Place the mason jar in the freezer for about 10 minutes.

Remove jar from freezer.  Pour the chilled cream into the jar with the sugar and vanilla and seal the lid.

Shake the jar vigorously until cream is desired thickness.

I like my whipped cream very thick, so I shook my jar about 7 minutes.  I have heard some people say it only took them one minute.  It is a good idea to check the thickness of the cream every minute or so, so that you don’t shake it too much and end up making butter.

When cream reaches the desired thickness, use in your favorite dessert.

Store leftover shaken cream in the fridge in the same jar you made it.

Pranayama Primavera

March 4, 2015

“You may have the Universe, if I may have Italy.”
~ Giuseppe Verdi

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Spring will soon be here, the time of new beginnings.

After the exhale that is the fall season, and the pause before inhaling that winter symbolizes, spring is the time of the year when we begin to draw a new breath.

Spring is potential.  Spring is possibility.  Spring is the first expansion of Pranayama.

Pranayama is a Sanskrit word combining prana, meaning “breath” or “life force” and ayama, meaning “control”.  Conscious breathing, the practice of Pranayama, is fundamental, not only to the practice of yoga, but to the practice of being alive.

Primavera is the Italian word for spring.  Can you imagine taking a breath of fresh, spring air while sitting atop a hillside in the heart of beautiful Italy?

Imagine practicing Pranayama Primavera.

June 4th – 10th, as well as June 11th – 17th, I will be teaching yoga at Sunflower Retreats in beautiful Casperia, Italy, an idyllic medieval hilltop village, located just one hour outside of Rome.

Sunflower Retreats has been offering yoga holidays for the mind, body and soul since 1998.  Yoga classes are held on an outdoor deck surrounded by trees.  Guests can also enjoy the sauna and book massages and other holistic therapies.  Nearby restaurants serve delicious food made from locally-sourced ingredients.  Available activities include bicycle riding, swimming, therapeutic hot springs, mountain walks, cooking classes, painting classes, and more.  Spending a week at Sunflower Retreats will be a chance to escape, unwind, enjoy, relax and renew – an opportunity to draw a fresh breath of inspiration.

The word inspire derives from the Latin inspirare, a combination of in, for “into” + spirare, “to breathe”.  Although the modern definition of the word is given as, “to affect, guide or arouse, as if by divine influence”, the original meaning was “to breathe into or blow upon; to infuse life by breathing”.

The timeless and breathtaking beauty of Italy has inspired great painters and sculptors such as Leonardo da Vinci, Botticelli, Michelangelo and Bernini; composers such as Verdi and Paganini; the poetry of Dante and the films of Fellini and Sorrentino.  What could inhaling the spring air of the Italian countryside inspire in you?

To imagine the possibilities of spending the end of this year’s spring season with me in Casperia, Italy, visit the Sunflower Retreats website at sunflowerretreats.com

~~~~~~~~~

Sunflower Seed Butter Cookies are a scrumptious way to celebrate the Sun and a delicious alternative cookie for those with peanut allergies.  This recipe is a favorite selection from my book, Cooking and Mysticism: Year One of the Philosopher’s Spoon Blog.

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Sunflower Seed Butter Cookies
Sunflower Seed Butter is just like peanut butter, only made with sunflower seeds instead of peanuts.  You can find sunflower seed butter at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, other health food stores and online.  You can also make your own using sunflower seeds, oil, salt, sugar and a food processor or blender.

1 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 & 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) butter, softened
1/2 cup organic granulated sugar
1/2 cup organic brown sugar
1/2 cup sunflower seed butter
(stir well before measuring)
1 large organic egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 375°F

Combine flour, baking soda, salt and cinnamon in a small bowl.  Set aside.

In a larger bowl, cream butter, sugars and sunflower seed butter until smooth.  Beat in the egg and vanilla.

Gradually add flour mixture into sunflower butter mixture.  Beat until combined.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets, about 2 inches apart.  Bake 8 to 10 minutes.  For big cookies: use two tablespoons dough and bake for 10 to 12 minutes.  Remove cookies from oven and let stand for 2 to 3 minutes.  Then remove cookies from pan to cool on a wire rack or clean sheet of foil.

Makes 2 or 3 dozen cookies.

 

A Little Free Library

February 24, 2015

“There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.”
~ Andrew Carnegie

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I often take a walk around my neighborhood, both for exercise and to daydream.  The other day I was heading down a local street and saw something at the edge of a neighbor’s front lawn that hadn’t been there the last time I passed by.  A small box with glass doors in the shape of a little library sat atop a wooden post stuck into the grass at the edge of the sidewalk.  “Take a book; leave a book” read a small sign on the front.  This Little Free Library was filled with previously read and obviously well-loved books.  How cool! I thought.  I remembered having seen a story somewhere about these community book-sharing boxes.  I was delighted to have one nearby.

In 2009, Todd Bol, a man in Wisconsin, built a small replica of a one-room schoolhouse, placed it on a post in his front yard, and filled it with books to share.  He built the miniature library as a tribute to his schoolteacher mom, who loved to read.  The little library was such a hit with neighbors and friends that Todd built and gave away several more.

It wasn’t long before Bol and his friend Rick Brooks, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, decided to promote literacy and the love of reading by building and sharing these tiny free book exchanges around the world.  Inspired by Andrew Carnegie, who founded 2,509 libraries in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they turned their backyard project into a movement and, in 2012, Little Free Library was established as a non-profit organization.

From their website:
A Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories.  In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share.

As of January 2014, the total number of registered Little Free Libraries around the world was estimated to be at least 15,000.

You can build or buy a Little Free Library for your neighborhood.  Go to littlefreelibrary.org for more info.  You can also watch a short video on how Little Free Libraries work by clicking here.

~~~~~~~~~

Happy Chinese New Year!  Celebrate the Year of the Goat by making some Homemade Goat’s Milk Ricotta.

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Homemade Goat’s Milk Ricotta
Homemade “ricotta” is easy to make yourself.  Ricotta cheese is traditionally made by heating the whey that is left over from making other cheeses.  This simpler method uses warmed whole milk, salt and vinegar to form the curds and only takes about 30 minutes or less of your time to make (most of which is simply waiting).  Using goat’s milk instead of cow’s milk makes for an interesting flavor and a special treat that your lactose-intolerant friends will appreciate.  I found grass-fed, humanely-raised goat’s milk at my local Trader Joe’s.

Note: whether you use goat’s milk or cow’s milk, check the label to make sure the milk is pasteurized, but not ultra-pasteurized.  Sometimes the ultra-pasteurized milk will not form the curds properly.

4 cups whole goat’s milk
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

You will need a medium to large sized mesh strainer and
A piece of fine cheesecloth (strong paper towels may be substituted)

In a large, heavy soup pot or saucepan, over medium heat, heat milk and salt until milk just begins to simmer (milk will be foamy around the edges and tiny bubbles will begin to form on the surface, but it will not be boiling).

Remove pan from heat.  Add vinegar and stir only once or twice, until you see curds begin to form.  Do not stir past this point!  Let stand a full minute.

Line a mesh strainer with a piece of clean cheesecloth and place this over a large bowl (you can use a strong paper towel for this purpose in a pinch, if you don’t have any cheesecloth on hand).

Slowly pour the liquid and curds into the cheesecloth.  Make sure the strainer is not sitting in the liquid, so that it can continue to drain freely.  If necessary, you can pour the excess liquid (whey) into another container (you will want to save this for another use).  Do not disturb/stir the curds.

Let the curds drain over the bowl for about 12 to 35 minutes, depending on whether you desire a moist or a dryer texture for the ricotta (goat’s milk makes smaller curds than cow’s milk and takes a bit longer to drain).

Spoon the cheese into a bowl and let it come to room temperature.  Use immediately in a recipe (lasagne, manicotti, cannoli, etc.) or cover and refrigerate for up to 5 days.

You can mix in a little extra virgin olive oil or mayo, along with some fresh herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper.  Basil pesto is also a nice addition.  Serve this as an appetizer with chips or crackers, as an addition to a salad, or spread on a sandwich.

Note: save the leftover liquid and add it to your pasta cooking water or the liquid you use to make rice or soup.  This will add a nice flavor.

Makes about 1 & 1/2 cups

 

Sealed with a Bliss

February 13, 2015

“The most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched, they must be felt with the heart.”
~ Helen Keller

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Valentine’s Day is the day in which we celebrate matters of the heart.  Whether you look forward to Valentine’s Day or would rather avoid it, a lovely way to harmonize your mind, body and soul within the context of your heart is with the Anjali Mudra.

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

The verb manifest, defined as “to make evident”, probably originated as a combination of manus, the Latin word for “hand”, combined with festus, meaning “struck”.  Therefore, the etymological roots of the word manifest describe striking a pose with the hand, as in forming the gesture of a mudra.

The Anjali Mudra is made by bringing your palms together in front of your heart center, with the thumbs resting lightly at the sternum.  This positioning of the hands is used as both a greeting and a sign of respect in India and other parts of Asia.  It is familiar to westerners as bringing the hands together in prayer.

Anjali, in Sanskrit, means “offering” or “salutation”.  Mudra translates as “seal” or “gesture”.  The Anjali Mudra can be interpreted as “to seal an offering” or “to make a gesture of salutation”.

In certain cultures, as well as in western yoga classes, this gesture of salutation is often accompanied by speaking the word namaste which can be translated as, “the divine in me salutes the divine within you.”

The heart is the center of the physical body, through which all blood flows. Energetically, the heart center is where the earthly, emotional, creative, mental and spiritual elements meet.  Placing the hands at the heart center when greeting another person physically signifies that your heart is opening to acknowledge, not only the universal beauty and love within yourself, but also within them.  One seals this offering of universal love by bringing the palms together to touch.

This hand positioning is also beneficial as an individual exercise.  Bringing the hands together in this way connects physically, energetically and symbolically, the two hemispheres of the brain as well as the right and left sides of the body.  It is the most fundamental of balancing postures.

Touching the palms together at the heart also helps to connect the inner self with the outer self.  By forming the Anjali Mudra as part of a silent meditation, you are acknowledging the divine within your own heart as well as the universal love that exists within all things both greater and smaller than yourself, while symbolically and energetically sealing the connection.

No matter how you celebrate Valentine’s Day, you can make every day a celebration of love by combining the Anjali Mudra with six minutes of slow, deep breathing.  Here’s how:

Sit or stand comfortably.  Inhale deeply through your nose as you bring your palms together at your heart center.  Rest your thumbs lightly at your sternum.  Exhale slowly, again through the nose.  Close your eyes and continue breathing in and out, slowly, evenly and deeply, preferably in and out of the nose.  Do this for six minutes.  If your mind begins to wander, imagine a beautiful rosebud as you inhale and see it opening slowly into full bloom as you exhale.

“The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”
~ Joseph Campbell

~~~~~~~~~

You will love Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies.

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Red Velvet Cheesecake Brownies
These yummy brownies combine creamy red velvet cheesecake with a chewy, chocolatey brownie.  I used natural food coloring (available at Whole Foods and online), which is not as intense as artificial food color, so the cheesecake part of my brownies was more of a pink velvet, but just as lovely and delicious for Valentine’s Day!

 

Red Velvet Cheesecake Filling:
8 oz full-fat cream cheese, softened
1/3 cup organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
1 teaspoon (or more) red food coloring

Brownie batter:
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup organic sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup cocoa powder

 

Preheat oven to 350°F

Lightly butter the bottom and partially up sides of an 8-inch square pan.

Combine cheesecake filling ingredients in a food processor.  You can also use a medium bowl with an electric mixer.  Mix on low speed, then medium, then high, until creamy.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.

In another bowl, cream sugar and butter, then beat in eggs, then vanilla, then cocoa.  Mix well.

Combine wet and dry ingredients.

Set aside 1/2 cup of the brownie batter.

Spread the remaining brownie batter in the bottom of the prepared pan.  Top with the cheesecake filling and spread over the brownie layer evenly.  Dot spoonfuls of the reserved brownie batter over the cheesecake layer.  Run a knife over the surface to create a swirl pattern.

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until top is just set.

Let cool completely and cut into squares.

Makes 16 brownies.

Literally Figuratively

February 2, 2015

“No one is yet using figuratively to mean literally; the confusion, such as it is, is all in one direction.”
~ Ammon Shea

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I am literally writing these words on Groundhog Day.  Whether Punxsutawney Phil actually saw his shadow this morning or not, there are literally six weeks and four days from today until the first day of Spring.

Recently, I have noticed the word “literally” being (figuratively) peppered throughout people’s conversations and, on most occasions, being used to say something obviously non-literal.

The word “literal” comes from the Latin littera, meaning letter, and is defined in the Oxford Dictionary as: Taking words in their most basic sense, without metaphor or allegory; free from exaggeration or distortion.

And yet, modern colloquial conversation is filled with figurative or metaphorical uses of the word.

The antonym (opposite) for literally is “figuratively”, meaning to do or say something symbolically or metaphorically.  In other words, not literally.

In the exact opposite of its original definition, the word “literally” is now being used figuratively for emphasis, as in: “That heavy metal band literally rocked our socks off” or “His improper use of the word made me literally tear my hair out in frustration.”

The use of “literally” is not literal in the above examples because even the best rock concerts don’t cause our socks to spontaneously leap off of our feet and, although I do get frustrated at the current misuse of literally, I’m much too vain to suffer the pain and permanent bad hair day that pulling my own hair out in frustration would cause.

I apologize if it seems that I am figuratively appointing myself a member of the metaphorical Word Police; that is not my intention.  The English language is a living, ever-changing form of communication, and part of what makes it vibrant is its colloquialisms, its common and informal usage.  As a native Californian, I must admit to using the word “totally” in a non-literal sense on (literally) more occasions than I can count.

I guess it just seems to me that lately, no matter how it is being used, the word literally has become this year’s “awesome” and is now the go-to emphatic for those without a thesaurus.

If you want to add emphasis when telling a story, the English language is full of colorful choices.  Here are some:

Virtually
Practically
Figuratively
Metaphorically

Like the word literally, the following words would most certainly be used in a less than literal sense.  However, just for variety’s sake, here are some alternatives:

Absolutely
Indubitably
Positively
Definitely
Incontrovertibly
Unequivocally
Altogether
Utterly
Completely
Totally

I sincerely thank you all for indulging me.  I am overwhelmingly grateful for the opportunity to express both my philosophical and mundane musings via this blog and I wish each and every one of you a positively beautiful week!

~~~~~~~~~

Did you literally not get enough pizza on Super Bowl Sunday?  If not, Bean and Bacon Pizza will figuratively hit the spot.

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Bean and Bacon Pizza
This delicious and hearty pizza is easy to put together using prepared pizza crust.  Vegetarians can omit the bacon and substitute some of the mozzarella with smoked mozzarella or smoked cheddar.  Tip: rinsing the canned beans in a mesh strainer before cooking helps reduce some of the “gassy” side effects.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus more to brush crust)
1 clove fresh garlic
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
3 or more tablespoons water
1 (15oz) can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
A dash of paprika
Salt and black pepper, to taste
1 (10 to 12-inch) ready to top packaged pizza crust
1 & 1/2 to 2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
1 & 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/4 cup crumbled, crispy-cooked bacon
2 tablespoons finely-grated Parmesan cheese

Cook beans:
Make cuts partly through garlic clove to release flavor, but leave whole.  Heat oil in a small saucepan over medium heat.  Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until translucent.  Add vinegar and 3 tablespoons water and stir a minute or so more.  Remove garlic clove and discard.  Add beans, thyme and paprika.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.  Stir to combine.  Add a tablespoon or two more of water, if necessary.  When the beans begin to bubble, reduce heat to a low simmer.

Preheat oven to 400°F

Brush surface of crust with about a teaspoon of olive oil.  Sprinkle the mozzarella cheese evenly over the top, leaving a small border of crust.  Sprinkle 1 tablespoon of the chives over the cheese.  Bake until cheese is bubbly and crust is golden (about 10 minutes).  Remove pizza but leave oven on.

Remove beans from heat and mash slightly with a fork.  Spoon beans evenly over hot pizza.  Sprinkle with the cooked bacon and the remaining chives.  Sprinkle the Parmesan cheese over everything.  Place pizza back in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes.  Serve hot.

Serves 2 for lunch, 4 as an appetizer

Slow Down, Step Back

January 24, 2015

“Perfection is attained by slow degrees; it requires the hand of time.
~ Voltaire

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At the risk of sounding like a stereotypical Californian, I’ve been having a Mercury-retrograde week.  For those of you not astrologically inclined, when the planet Mercury appears to be in retrograde motion, all sorts of mischief is said to occur: missed emails, arguments, misunderstandings, accidents, mechanical failures, mistakes in judgement.  Astrologers advise against signing contracts and caution us to drive carefully and back up computer files.  Even my friends who don’t follow the movement of the planets ask me, “Is Mercury retrograding or something?” whenever events seem chaotic.

The term retrograde comes from the Latin, retrogradus, a combination of retro (backward) and gradus (step).  To retrograde means, “to step backward”.

Up until several hundred years ago, Earth’s inhabitants thought we were the center of the Universe, and that the Sun, planets and stars moved in circles around us.  One complication of this worldview was that, occasionally, some of these planets seemed to stop and move backwards or zig-zag across the sky.  In ancient times, this was interpreted as the whim of the Gods.  Mercury’s seemingly quick and erratic movement, from the perspective of Earth-dwellers, earned him/her the reputation of a trickster.

Astronomers have since discovered that the Sun is the center of our galaxy and that we, along with the other planets, move around it.  Since we are all going around the Sun at different speeds, Mercury only appears to move backward in the sky.  What is really happening is that the planet is slowing down.

Both the Earth and Mercury move around the Sun.  Not only does Mercury move faster than the Earth does, its orbit is elliptical (oval or egg-shaped), so the speed of its orbit changes.  The point in that elliptical when Mercury is furthest from the Sun is also the slowest point in its orbit.  This slowing down gives Earth a chance to catch up.

The best way to illustrate this phenomenon is to imagine you (Earth) are on the freeway.  The car in the lane next to you (Mercury) has been driving at a faster speed and you have been lagging behind it.  Suddenly, the other car slows down.  When that happens, it appears to move backwards.  The other car is still traveling faster than you are, but in comparison to you, it seems to move back and forth as it either slows down or picks up its own speed.

When planets like Mercury appear to stop and move backwards, they are not changing direction at all.  Only from the perspective of Earth does this seem to happen.  In fact, from Mercury’s perspective, the Sun moves retrograde sometimes.

So why does the collective belief (seemingly stronger today than ever before) that the apparent retrograde motion of Mercury causes mishaps and miscommunication persist?  I’m not sure.  The Moon is close enough to Earth to move the ocean’s tides and, according to some studies, affect our sleep patterns.  Could  Mercury’s orbital pattern have some sort of magnetic affect on Earth’s activities?  Perhaps.  It is also possible that the collective consciousness of Earth’s inhabitants over the millennia, as we have observed the planets move through the sky, has influenced outcomes (mind over matter, so to speak).

Either way, the key to surviving seemingly chaotic Mercury retrograde periods is perspective.  When we take a moment to widen our view outside the personal and let go of the idea that we are the center of the Universe, events outside of our control become easier to accept.

Back to my retrograde week.  This last Tuesday evening, the night before Mercury appeared to stop and move backwards in the sky, my neighbor rang my doorbell to tell me that my car had a flat tire. Upon closer inspection, I noticed that all four of my tires were bald.

Luckily, I had the next day off.  I called roadside service to put on my spare.  Luckier still, there is a tire repair place walking distance from my house.  I was able to successfully haggle a good price and replaced all four of my tires.

The flat tire at first seemed like a classic Mercury retrograde mishap.  But what, in the beginning, appeared to be a setback, turned out to be a blessing.  When I took a step back and looked at the big picture, I realized that, rather than causing havoc, Mercury was actually slowing down to show me that my tires were unsafe.  This flat tire could have happened when I was far from home or out late at night.  It could have blown out on the freeway, causing an accident.  What could have been a major catastrophe, ended up being only a minor inconvenience.  For that I am grateful.

So, when events seem to be going all wrong and not according to your plan, slow down, take a step back, and widen your perspective.

“A penny will hide the biggest star in the Universe if you hold it close enough to your eye.”
~ Samuel Grafton

~~~~~~~~~

Slow down for a few days and make some White House Kimchi.

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White House Simple Kimchi
The First Lady tweeted out this photo and recipe last year for Kimchi after making the condiment with Napa cabbage, picked from the White House Garden. You can substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce, if you are a vegetarian.  You can cut this recipe in half, if you like.  Note: I added some tips to the First Lady’s recipe (in italics).

2 heads Napa cabbage, washed
1 cup kosher salt
1 tablespoon fish sauce, any brand (could skip for vegetarian)
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon turbinado sugar or brown sugar
1 small white radish, sliced paper thin
1 bunch scallion, sliced
5 Thai chilies or 5 tablespoons Korean dried chili powder

You will probably need two quart-sized mason jars for this recipe.

Cut the Napa cabbage into 1-inch slices.  Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with the kosher salt.  Mix, using your hands, and set in the refrigerator overnight.

Rinse the salt from the leaves and squeeze out as much moisture or excess liquid as possible.  Mix in the rest of the ingredients.

Place in an airtight jar (mason jar works well), pack the veggies into the jar tightly, and store in the refrigerator.

The pickle should be ready in about four days.

Microcosmic

January 16, 2015

“As is the human body,
So is the cosmic body.
As is the human mind,
So is the common mind,
As is the microcosm,
So is the macrocosm.
As is the atom,
So is the universe.”
~ The Upanishads

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Whether you believe in an omnipotent power called God or Love, a Universal Consciousness or Soul of the World, the possibility of something similar, or the idea of no unifying power or intelligence at all; whether you call yourself religious, spiritual, agnostic, humanist or atheist; who among us hasn’t had the fleeting thought that, if we were in charge of the Universe, the world would be at peace and there would be no hunger, pain, sickness or injustice?

It’s easy to imagine how much better taken care of the world could be if only we had the power to make it so.  However, before you pat yourself on the back for a potential job well done, take a good look at the world that is currently in your care: your own body.

Just as you are a single entity dwelling in the greater Universe, so are the cells in your body single entities of the universe that is you.  You are the supreme being in charge of your bodily sphere.  How well are you taking care of it?

If humans are in need of guidance, inspiration or healing, they often pray, asking a higher power for help.  When the cells in your body ask for oxygen, exercise and nutrition, do you listen to their prayers?  If so, do you answer them by breathing deeply, moving and eating healthier food?  When your spine is stiff from commuting, do you make sure to stretch a bit before hunching over an iPad for hours?  When your mind is stressed out after a long day, do you take a few moments to breathe deeply and clear your thoughts before turning on the evening news?

Many wonder how a benevolent God could allow disease, drought and famine in the world.  You oversee the world that is your body and mind.  Ask yourself: are you a benevolent or a vengeful God?  When your stomach cries out for better nutrition, do you punish it by filling it with more empty calories?  Your neck holds your head up all day; your back keeps you upright.  When they are overworked and in pain, do you curse them for crying out to you for help?  Do you smite your tired mind with internet negativity, angry politics and TV or movies that showcase the worst of human nature?

Do unto the cells, organs and systems in your body as you would have this world’s highest power do unto you.

Answer your body’s prayers with good nutrition and regular exercise.  Provide daily bread for your mind by reading inspiring books, watching uplifting movies and clicking on positive stories.  Heal your heart by saying thank you on a daily basis and by being kind to others.

Be a force for good in the universe that is you.

“I sent my soul through the invisible,
Some letter of that after-life to spell:
And by and by my soul returned to me,
And answered ‘I myself am Heaven and Hell.'”
~ The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám

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Penne with Broccoli Pesto is both nutritious and delicious.

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Penne with Broccoli Pesto
Super yummy and also good for you, this simple no-nut pesto makes eating your vegetables something to look forward to.  If fresh broccoli is not available locally, use frozen broccoli florets from a good local, organic farm.

6 cups fresh or frozen broccoli florets (20 oz)
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 cup water
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for table
A pinch of ground red pepper
OR
1/2 of a fresh chile pepper, minced
Salt and pepper to taste
16 oz penne pasta

In a large, heavy saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat.  Add broccoli and garlic and sauté while stirring for 10 minutes.  Add water, lemon juice, cheese and hot pepper.  Stir well, reduce heat to low and cover.  Simmer for about 30 to 40 minutes (fresh may take longer).  Remove cover and cook and additional 10 minutes, or until water is evaporated and broccoli is very tender.  Mash with a fork until mostly smooth, drizzling with additional olive oil until you get a texture that you like.  Add salt and black pepper to taste.

Cook penne al dente in boiling, salted water, according to package directions.  Drain well and toss with the broccoli pesto until well coated.  Serve immediately with additional Parmesan cheese available at the table.

Serves 6