Uno

July 17, 2017

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

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s what to look for:


Shichimi Togarashi (Seven Spice Seasoning)

 

Here’s how to make your own:

Homemade Shichimi Togarashi (Seven Spice Seasoning)

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

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

 

Take a Cooling Breath

June 25, 2017

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

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

Here’s how:

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

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

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

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

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

Breathe, smile and stay cool!

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes about 18 cookies

A Moon by Any Name

June 10, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~~

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

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

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

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

 

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

Make Mocha Cakes:
Preheat oven to 350°F

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 12 moon pies.

Interesting Times

May 22, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

May the force be with you!

~~~~~~~~~~

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

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

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

 

Preheat oven to 400°F

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is lovely with vanilla ice cream.

Serves 8

 

Walls vs Windmills

April 24, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~~~~~~~~

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

Makes 2 to 3 cups

 

 

 

 

Encouraging Signs

March 27, 2017

“I learned most, not from those who taught me but from those who talked with me.”
~ St. Augustine

Numerous recent studies have shown the benefits of learning a second language, such as building good multitasking skills, helping prevent dementia, strengthening memory, sharpening observation and improving decision making.

Before you sigh, tell yourself you don’t have time for that and put the goal of becoming bilingual on your “someday” list, read just a little bit further.  You don’t have to invest in Rosetta Stone or register at the local community college in order to learn a new language. You can begin learning American Sign Language right now:

Giphy, a searchable online database of animated GIF files, recently launched a collection of over 2,000 GIFs that demonstrate words and phrases in American Sign Language.  The GIFs were created with clips of videos from Sign With Robert, a popular educational website created by Robert DeMayo, who has been deaf since birth.

I chose the GIF of the word popcorn, for the example above, because I’ve developed a mysterious craving for the classic snack recently, but you can choose from all kinds of words and phrases, from days of the week to handy travel phrases to sports, holidays, weather and more.

Try learning one sign a day, or maybe per week.

“It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.”
~ Harry S. Truman

You can find the Sign With Robert GIF library by clicking here.

~~~~~~~~~

Almond Butter Cookies are perfect for breakfast or a midday treat.

Almond Butter Cookies
These not too sweet, high protein cookies make a healthful bite of goodness with your morning coffee or afternoon tea.

3/4 cup raw almond butter
1/2 cup brown sugar (or 1/4 cup regular/1/4 cup brown)
1/4 cup coconut oil (warmed/liquefied)
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt

Cream almond butter, coconut oil and sugar together.  Beat in egg (and vanilla, if using) with a fork until mixture is creamy.  Stir together baking soda, baking powder and flour.  Add flour mixture to almond butter mixture and mix well with a fork.  Mixture will be crumbly.

Preheat oven to 350°F

To form cookies:

Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment.

Grab some of the dough, place in center of palm and, using both palms, form into a 1-inch round ball, then flatten slightly.  Place unbaked cookies on sheet about 2 inches apart.  Bake 10 to 14 minutes, or until crackly on top and beginning to brown at edges.  Let cool on baking sheet for 2 minutes.  Then, using foil or parchment to lift them, move to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 30 cookies

 

Art of Silence

March 12, 2017

“Nowadays, most men lead lives of noisy desperation.”
~ James Thurber

The quote above is from a short story written by humorist James Thurber in 1956.  His statement was a play on the famous quote by Henry David Thoreau, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

I can’t help but think how welcome even a few moments of quiet desperation would be these days.  The noise of chaos, confusion, panic, anger and fear seem to be on a constant loop.

Our bodies, minds and spirits cannot keep up this pace without collapsing.  Even Superman had to retreat at times to his fortress of solitude.  Unlike the immigrant from Krypton, we are human.  We mere earthlings need time to regroup and heal even more.

In times such as these, it is important to speak out against injustice, but, in order to stay healthy and whole, we must also carve out moments of genuine silence.

In California, where I live, there are a number of silent retreats which offer environments where one can spend a few days of recuperative solitude.  Floating therapy centers, with tanks full of warm salt water in which one can unplug and relax for an hour without gravity, noise or light, are opening throughout the state.  Even if you can’t get away for a short vacation retreat or day trip to a float spa, there are still benefits to observing regular moments of silence as a part of your everyday life:

A 2006 published study by Italian researchers found that it takes just two minutes of silence to release tension in the brain and body, based on observed changes in both blood pressure and blood circulation.

A 2015 study published in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association) Internal Medicine found that older adults experienced less insomnia, fatigue and depression after practicing mindfulness meditation.

A 2013 study from the journal Brain Structure and Function found that 2 hours of silence could create significant numbers of new brain cells in the hippocampus region, which assists with the storage of long term memories, spatial navigation and emotional responses.

Give yourself the gift of absolute silence, even if it’s only for a few minutes a day.  Turn off your phone.  Get out from behind the TV.  Close your computer.  Take a walk.  Do some conscious breathing.  Meditate or just sit under a tree in a quiet spot and stare up at the leaves as they dance in the breeze.  Don’t talk.  Don’t read.  Don’t even listen to music.

Unplug yourself from the machine of noisy desperation.

“Go placidly amid the noise and haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.”

~ Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

~~~~~~~~~

For those who, like Italian TV’s Detective Montalbano, like to observe silence while they enjoy a good meal, Lemon Roasted Cod with Tomatoes and Basil Pesto provides the perfect excuse to forego conversation at the dinner table.  Although, refraining from an emphatic “Yum!” may be difficult.

 

Lemon Roasted Cod with Tomatoes and Basil Pesto
Lemon halves create a flavorful rack on which to roast cod fillets.  This recipe is simple and the results are simply delicious.

Two wild Alaskan cod fillets (6oz each), thawed, if frozen
2 to 3 ripe tomatoes, cut into wedges
Extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1 fresh lemon
1 tablespoon of butter, softened
2 tablespoons of prepared basil pesto
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

 

Heat oven to 400°F

Pat cod to remove any excess water.

Cut tomatoes into wedges, place in an 8-inch or larger square baking pan, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt & pepper.

Roast tomatoes, uncovered, at 400°F for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile:

Juice lemon and set aside juiced halves.

Combine lemon juice, pesto and softened butter in a shallow bowl.

Season the flour lightly with salt and pepper in another shallow bowl or plate.

Remove pan with tomatoes from oven.  Push tomatoes out to the edges of pan in a circle.

Cut juiced lemon halves in half to make four pieces and place in center of pan, peel side up.

Coat fish fillets in pesto mix, then flour.

Place prepped fish on top of lemon peels to keep above liquid.  Spoon remaining pesto mix, if any, over fish.

Return pan to oven and bake uncovered for 15 to 20 minutes or until fish is flaky but still firm.

Serve fish alongside tomatoes, with rice or potatoes and a green vegetable or salad.

Serves 2

The Golden Door

February 13, 2017

“What does love look like? 
It has the hands to help others.
It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy.
It has eyes to see misery and want.
It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men.
That is what love looks like.”
~ St. Augustine

One of my favorite movies about the American immigrant story is Golden Door, originally titled Nuovomondo (2006), an Italian film about Sicilian immigrants at the beginning of the 20th century.  It is the story of Salvatore, a poor widowed farmer, who has decided to emigrate to the U.S. with his entire family.  The film illustrates the contrast between the world back home, their difficult journey on the boat to the U.S., and the challenges they face upon their arrival, after which they spend a lengthy quarantine period trying to pass various examinations in order to be admitted to the United States, their destiny solely in the hands of the customs officers at Ellis Island.  I highly recommend watching it, especially if you are of Italian descent.  I was very moved thinking of my own ancestors and their bravery and optimism and ability to risk everything in the name of possibility.  This beautiful film will remind you that the American spirit is not expressed by cowering in fear and closing doors but by the courage of an open heart.  In fact, the word courage, a synonym for bravery, comes from the Latin word for heart, cor.

Therefore, in honor of courage and love, here is the sonnet written in honor of the Statue of Liberty and displayed on a plaque inside its pedestal.  Officially titled, “The Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World” and affectionately known as “Lady Liberty”, the statue (a gift of friendship from the people of France to the United States) was dedicated on October 28, 1886, shortly before the arrival of my own Sicilian ancestors as well as the courageous immigrant ancestors of many native born American citizens of today.

Let us dedicate ourselves to upholding the spirit and intent of this beautiful poetry and keep as the symbol of our great country a woman who lifts a lamp beside a golden door, and not an angry man in a gold tower.

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus (November 2, 1883)

 

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Tart cherries already pitted and ready-to-use, quality frozen pie crust that’s almost rolled out for you, a free-form shape and structure that’s meant not to look perfect – what’s not to love about this easy-to-assemble Cherry Crostata?  For a special treat, order some Omena Organics canned organic Montmorency cherries to make this crostata.  Their tart, Michigan-grown Montmorency cherries are some of the best I’ve tasted and they’re organically grown.  If you’re in a hurry, like I was, the Trader Joe’s Morellos in a jar make a tasty substitute.

Trader Joe’s Lovers’ Cherry Crostata
All of the ingredients needed for this easy to assemble, free-form cherry pie can be collected in one trip to your local Trader Joe’s, hence the name.  I used their frozen pie crust and their Dark Morello Cherries in Light Syrup.  I even served the finished pie with Trader Joe’s French Vanilla Ice Cream.  Yum.

1 single pie crust for a 10″ pie (22 oz)
(thawed according to pkg directions)
A bit of flour for rolling out
1 jar (24.7 oz) Trader Joe’s Morello Cherries
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/8 cup organic sugar (6 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into small chunks
1 egg, beaten with a little water (to brush pastry)
1 to 2 tablespoons organic sugar, for sprinkling on crust

Preheat oven to 400°F

Thoroughly drain cherries, reserve syrup for another use (great for flavoring sparkling water or lemonade or as a glaze for chicken or pork).  You should end up with about 1 & 1/2 cups of drained cherries. Toss cherries with cornstarch and cinnamon to coat.  Stir in 3/8 cup sugar.  Set aside.

Line a large baking sheet/pan with foil, then with parchment.

Place thawed crust on baking sheet.  Using a floured rolling pin, roll crust out a bit more until it is about 13 inches across.  Don’t worry if the circle isn’t perfect.

Leaving 2 to 3 inches at the border, scoop the cherry mixture into the center.  Scatter small chunks of cold butter over the cherries.

Fold the border in toward the center of the crostata, partially covering the outer part of the fruit area.  make a few pleats with the dough to make the circle neat (again, no need to be perfect. a rustic shape is part of the charm of a crostata).  Brush the edge of the pastry with the beaten egg (you won’t need all of it) and sprinkle with 1 or 2 tablespoons of sugar (course sugar, such as turbinado, is nice for this purpose, but regular granulated works fine too).

Turn up the foil edges a bit all around, to form a small rim, just in case you missed a tear in your pastry and some fruit juices leak out.  Even if this happens, your crostata will still turn out cute and delicious, but this will keep them contained and protect your oven.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the pastry is golden brown.  Let cool completely on rack.

This is extra yummy served with vanilla ice cream.

Best served the same day or next day.

Serves 8

 

How to Roar

February 4, 2017

“It took me quite a long time to develop a voice, and now that I have it, I’m not going to shut up.”
~ Madeleine Albright

Just like your body requires a good stretch before starting the day, it’s also important to wake up your face.  Whether you are preparing to pray, to protest, to cheer for your favorite team or just to smile and say “hello”, a simple exercise called Lion Pose, or as it is known in Sanskrit, Simhasana, will give your facial muscles just the workout they need.

Some benefits of Lion Pose can be:

Relieving facial tension
Helping to keep the neck (platysma muscle) firm as we age
Beneficial for stutterers

Here’s how to softly roar with Lion Pose:

1) Kneel on the floor, sitting back on your heels, toes up or down.  Alternatively, you can squat, balancing on your toes, with your knees spread slightly apart.  If you have an injury that prevents you from kneeling or squatting, or if you are at work, you can sit comfortably in a chair instead, back straight and knees in front of you.

2) If you are kneeling or sitting, lean forward slightly and rest your palms on top of your knees and spread your fingers out as if they were claws.  If you are squatting, spread your fingers out and rest the fingertips lightly on the floor between your legs.

For the Lion’s Breath:
3) Take a deep inhale through your nose.  All at once: open your mouth wide; stick your tongue out, reaching the tip toward your chin; open your throat; open your eyes wide and simultaneously exhale your breath through your mouth, making an extended “haaaaa” sound, like a big cat hissing.  During the exhale, as the eyes widen, you should focus your gaze either toward the third eye chakra (above and between your brows) or the tip of the nose – your choice.

4) Repeat the Lion’s Breath exercise three to five times.

Have a courageous day!

Not sure if you are doing it correctly?  Here are a few examples:

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Deep Fried Ravioli make a decadent, crunchy snack or appetizer, perfect for the big game or a casual party.

Deep Fried Ravioli
Be sure to get authentic, handmade, Italian-style ravioli, made with thin pasta.  Don’t use the American-style ravioli, made with thick pasta.  The thin pasta works much better with the breading.  Trader Joe’s has some lovely varieties, imported from Italy, in their refrigerated section.  I used the Porcini Mushroom & Truffle Triangoli and served them with the Rosemary Ranch Dressing (recipe below).  Whole Foods has some locally-made ones both refrigerated and frozen.  You can also look for them at a local Italian deli, restaurant or specialty store where they make them by hand and sell them fresh. 

I had some egg mixture left over, so if your package of pasta is up to 12 oz, just add a bit more flour and breadcrumbs and you should be good to go.

1 package (8.8oz/250g) fresh or frozen ravioli
2 eggs
3 tablespoons milk
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup good quality breadcrumbs
Salt & pepper
Olive oil or sunflower oil for frying
1 & 1/2 tablespoons grated Romano &/or Parmesan cheese
Chopped fresh flat-leaf (Italian) parsley
To serve:
1/2 to 1 cup of your favorite marinara sauce
Or
Rosemary Ranch Dressing (recipe follows)

 

If ravioli are not frozen, pop them in the freezer for 30 minutes to 1 hour (they will be easier to bread and cook this way).

You will need three shallow bowls:
Put flour into one shallow bowl; put the breadcrumbs into another; beat the egg and milk until smooth in another bowl.  Season all three with a little salt and pepper.

Remove the ravioli from the freezer.

Have a large platter or small baking sheet set up to put the breaded ravioli on.

Working with one ravioli at a time: coat ravioli with egg, then flour, then egg again, then breadcrumbs.  Set each coated ravioli on the platter as you bread them.  When you have coated them all, place the platter into the refrigerator for about 10 to 15 minutes to set.

Pour in enough oil to go 1 inch up the side of your pan (I used about 2 & 1/2 cups in a large, deep saucepan).  Heat oil to 350°F

To test oil temperature without a thermometer:
Insert the handle of a wooden spoon.  If bubbles form around the stick, it is ready.
Put a single popcorn kernel into the oil.  When it pops, the oil is hot enough.
Drop a breadcrumb into the oil.  If it sizzles, the oil is ready.

Fry the ravioli a few or several at a time, depending on your pan size, in order to maintain the oil temperature and not crowd the ravioli.  Fry until golden brown, flipping them if you need to during cooking.  Drain on paper towels and keep warm in a low-temperature oven until you are finished frying all the ravioli.

After frying, immediately sprinkle the ravioli with some of the grated cheese.  Serve them garnished with a sprinkling of fresh chopped parsley and your choice of dipping sauce.

Serves 3 to 4

Rosemary Ranch Dressing

1 small clove of garlic, peeled
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup mayonnaise
1/4 cup 2% milk
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
1/4 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
1/8 teaspoon ground cumin
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Make a few cuts into one end of the garlic clove.  Using a medium bowl, rub clove into the salt and all around bottom of the bowl.  Add mayo and milk and whisk until blended.  Discard garlic clove.  Add vinegar, rosemary, cumin and pepper to taste.  Whisk to blend.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes before serving.

 

Transmutable

January 25, 2017

“The future enters into us, in order to transform itself in us, long before it happens.”
~ Rainer Maria Rilke

 

A dear family member passed away at the beginning of last week, an especially difficult tragedy to handle during a time when current events were anything but trivial.  Strangely though, the upheaval and uncertainty felt by many of my fellow Americans and other Earth citizens also brought about a powerful demonstration of the transformative capability of the human spirit.

From one day to the next we saw grey skies, rain and clouds part away to reveal the sun smiling over a sea of pink hats.  We saw worry, anger, scapegoating and fear transformed into empowerment, participation, unity and resolve.

Even in less volatile times, there are ups and downs, both in society at large and within our own psyches.  This seems a good time to revisit a subject I addressed in April of 2013: a technique for recycling emotional and mental debris.

Holding onto negative thoughts and emotions can adversely affect our bodies.  Resentment and fear may show up physically as stomach or skin problems, anxiety or tension.  Just as burying plastic, Styrofoam, glass or aluminum only serves to put those cast-offs temporarily out of sight, simply denying unpleasant thoughts or painful emotions doesn’t eliminate them, it covers over them.  I prefer to dissolve and recombine.

I call this method my “Recycler”:

Find a quiet place to sit or lie down.  Breathe slowly, in and out through your nose, if possible.  Imagine a large pink bag that is expandable (almost like a big bubblegum bubble).  Put all of your angry words, fears, judgements and resentments into the bag and tie off the end.  Now, imagine someone standing in front of you or maybe sitting up in the clouds above you who is dressed in a pink uniform.  This is your personal Recycler.  It can be a man or a woman (mine is a Buddha-like figure who is always smiling).  Give your bag of emotional junk to your Recycler and ask him or her to transform the items inside.  You can ask that anger be converted into compassion, tolerance and love; judgement be remade into humility; and fear be transformed into faith.  Or, you can simply ask that the items inside your emotional bag be reshaped, recolored and reformed into something that uplifts and heals someone else, somewhere in the world, leaving the identity and location of the recipient up to your Recycler.  Thank your Recycler and open your eyes, ready to begin your day with a fresh start and a lightened emotional load.

“Although the world is full of suffering,
it is also full of the overcoming of it.”

~ Helen Keller

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Transform nutritious squash into delicious comfort food with Baked Butternut Squash with Maple and Bacon.

Baked Butternut Squash with Maple and Bacon
This wonderful winter dish combines the sweetness of apple juice and maple syrup with the salty goodness of bacon, all on top of nutritious and creamy butternut squash.  Use real maple syrup and high-quality bacon from a small, humane farm for the best flavor and nutrition.

4 oz bacon
1/4 cup real maple syrup
1 cup unsweetened apple juice
1 butternut squash
Freshly ground black pepper
1 rounded half teaspoon of salt
2 tablespoons chopped chives
1 tablespoon cold butter, cut into four chunks

Preheat oven to 400°F

In a 9″ x 13″ baking pan, spread bacon slices flat and bake for 15 to 25 minutes or until crisp.  Remove bacon from pan and set aside.  Drain off bacon fat, if any from baking pan (I used turkey bacon, so there wasn’t much) and save for another use.  Do not wipe pan.

Combine maple syrup and apple juice inside baking pan, stirring to combine and incorporate whatever bacon grease is left coating the bottom.

Cut squash in half and remove seeds, then cut each half to make 4 quarters.

Place squash quarters in pan, cut side up, and spoon sauce over the squash to coat.

Top with freshly ground pepper and sprinkle with the salt.  Crumble cooked bacon. Distribute chives and crumbled bacon over squash.  Put one chunk of butter into each empty seed pocket.

Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, or until squash is tender, spooning sauce over the squash every 20 minutes or so.  Add water or additional apple juice to bottom of pan, as needed, if liquid cooks off before squash is done.

Serves 4