The United States of Voting

September 5, 2016

“Don’t boo.  Vote.”
~ President Barack Obama

 

The President’s, by now, well-known advice that casting one’s vote, rather than merely giving one’s opinion, is what determines to whom we citizens give the job of running our government, is not merely a funny line, or potential words to be tweeted out or printed on a t-shirt.  His slogan illustrates the difference between having a say and having an actual vote.  The right to protest was guaranteed by the First Amendment, adopted just a few years after our Constitution was ratified in 1788.  The right of every citizen to vote, has been harder to achieve.

In the first few years of our history, only white men who owned property could vote.  Men who looked like our current President could not cast a vote in any election until 1870, almost 100 years after our constitution was written.  Our current Democratic Party nominee could not have voted, let alone run for President, or any office, until 1920, when women were finally able to vote.  If you are eighteen and thinking of not bothering to vote, know that, until 1971, you would not have had the choice.  Prior to the passage of the 26th Amendment, you had to be at least 21 years old to be eligible to vote.

Throughout U.S. history, various states in our union have tried to enact complicated rules (such as requiring would-be voters to guess the amount of bubbles on a bar of soap, or charging a “poll tax”) to prevent certain groups of people from voting.  Women fighting for the right to vote were imprisoned.  African Americans were beaten and attacked while protesting for voting rights.  The ability of every citizen to vote is still not guaranteed.  One must register and prove eligibility first.  Currently there are different requirements for voter registration in every state, some complicated, some simple.

The Vlog Brothers (John and Hank Green) have put together an extensive collection of YouTube videos, explaining how to vote in every state and territory of the United States.  The overall project and basic info for voting is simply and beautifully explained in the short YouTube above.

This link will take you to their channel, where you can find the corresponding YouTube instructions for how to vote in your state:

https://m.youtube.com/c/howtovoteineverystate

Hank Green explained the duo’s reasons for doing the massive project in a recent article for Mashable:

“I am very lucky to live in a democracy, but the only reason politicians listen to citizens is if they vote.  So, traditionally, young people don’t get listened to because, traditionally, they vote less.  We need to change that, not just on the national level, but on the local level, where the majority of governing in the U.S. actually happens.”

~~~

VoteRiders is an organization making sure that no eligible citizen is denied the right to vote for lack of ID.  They have put up a page on their website with printable, wallet-sized voter information cards with the ID requirements for each state.  Each state has different requirements.  Find yours here:

http://www.voteriders.org//voter-id-info-cards

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California requires ID only for first-time voters who did not provide the info at the time of registration.

 

If you or someone you know is not yet registered, or may not have the proper ID required to vote, or if you are not sure of your status, check out the YouTube and VoteRiders links above for your state.

The great Abraham Lincoln famously described our government as one, “of the people, by the people, for the people.”  We are the government.  We hire our representatives with our votes.  Money can only work to influence our opinion or our apathy.  Our public servants can only be bought if our silence can be bought.

“If 99% of us voted, it wouldn’t matter how much the 1% spent on our elections.”
~ Barack Obama

Do your jobs.  Make your voice heard.  Participate in your democracy. Vote.

~~~~~~~~~

Active participants in a democracy sometimes need a pick-me-up.  Cold Brewed Coffee is an easy method to prepare one of the smoothest, best-tasting cups of coffee you may have tasted.

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Cold Brewed Coffee
I recently discovered the cold-brewing method during our last heat wave.  This way of making coffee eliminates bitterness and sour aftertaste, producing a smooth, rich flavor.  When the weather returned to normal and I resumed my usual method of making coffee, I really noticed a difference.  The cold-brewed taste was superior.

It’s super easy if you have a French press coffee maker, no. 2 filters and a one cup cone :

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I’ll give instructions for with and without a French Press.  Cold brewing takes about 12 to 16 hours.

You will need:

Coffee, ground fine.

A French Press coffee maker or large glass container

A one cup coffee cone and filters
Or
Cheesecloth and a fine mesh sieve

A mason jar or pitcher to store your brewed coffee

Milk, cream and/or sugar, if desired

 

French Press Method

Add 1/2 cup of coffee and 2 & 1/2 cups of cold water into the glass carafe of your French press.  Stir well and cover.  Let sit on the counter top at room temperature or inside the fridge for 12 to 16 hours.  Stir once again, place the plunger top into the carafe of the French press and push down (make sure the mesh screen is open).

Line your one-cup with a filter and place over a jar big enough to hold the brewed coffee.  Pour the pressed coffee through the filter into the jar, to filter out any remaining sediment.

Non French Press Method

Stir 1/2 cup coffee and 2 & 1/2 cups cold water into a large mason jar.  Stir well and cover.  Let sit on the counter top at room temperature or inside the fridge for 12 to 16 hours.  Stir once again.

Place a mesh sieve, lined with cheesecloth over a bowl or jar.  Pour your brewed coffee through the lined sieve (you may need to do this twice) to filter out all grounds and sediment.

Store your brewed coffee in the fridge and enjoy cold with or without ice.  Stir in sugar, milk or cream, if desired.

 

The Joy of Joy

August 3, 2016

“Now I am light; now I fly; now I see myself beneath myself; now a god dances through me.”
~ Friedrich Nietzsche,
From Thus Spake Zarathustra: A Book for All and None

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This morning I woke up a bit down.  Not a debilitating depression, but one that causes you to awaken with a “sigh” rather than a smile.

I poured myself some iced coffee and went to sit on the porch to savor this week’s slightly milder summer temperatures.  I sat, sipping my cool, strong coffee and attempted to shift my mood, but I was unsuccessful.  As I turned to go back inside the house, I heard a familiar buzzing sound behind me.  Even before turning around to look, I knew the source.  My old friend, the California Fig Eater had returned.

The California Fig Eater (cotinis mutabilis), is a scarab beetle, native to the southwestern United States, that feeds on summer fruits like figs, peaches and plums that have fallen to the ground or are damaged.  Fig eaters are bright, velvety green on their tops, while their undersides are a metallic blue green.  They move through the air awkwardly, and seem to be perpetually trying to maintain their balance, almost reminiscent of single engine planes from the first years of human flight.  Their low buzzing is equally awkward, sounding like a sputtering engine.  The fig eater’s life cycle is the same as the fruit it is named for; they arrive in mid summer and last until late August or September.

Each season, when the fig eater returns, he always seems to arrive just when I am in need of uplifting.  He buzzes by as if to say, “Remember me?  In case you forgot, I am here to remind you that everything will be alright!”

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The abrupt shift of my mood upon seeing my old acquaintance reminded me of my friend’s son Austin, just before his first birthday.  A group of friends and I were all on a camping trip at Jalama Beach and, as his mom and I put together an outdoor dinner for the group, Austin sat on top of a picnic table, strapped into his carrier.  Maybe because of the heat, or the wind blowing sand around, or his mom otherwise occupied, Austin began to cry with frustration.  He sounded as if his world had come to an end.  Just then, his grandmother held a peach in front of his face.  Suddenly he stopped crying, broke into a huge grin and took a happy bite.  Crisis averted.

I have never forgotten Austin and the peach.  I was impressed with how easily he let go of whatever was worrying or frustrating him a minute before and fully immersed himself in the joy of a ripe piece of summer fruit.  I couldn’t help but compare his childhood ability to live in the moment with my adult tendency to drag my mental and emotional baggage around throughout the day, weighing down multiple opportunities for my spirit and mood to take flight.

Which reminds me…

The first round-the-world flight of the Solar Impulse, a completely solar-powered aircraft, was recently completed.  Like my friend, the California Fig Eater, its flight was not without bumps, but the return of the plane, powered by 17,000 solar cells located in its wings, has brought hope along with it.

Here in California, with record temperatures amid another year of drought, it’s easy to look at the empty part of our glass.  But, the Solar Impulse reminds us that the Sun’s power is one that is full of potential, not only to heat us, but to cool us; not only to wear us down, but to power us up; to cause drought, but also to bring hope for healing.  The Sun’s warmth initially gave life on Earth the opportunity to grow.  Solar technology has the potential to save life on Earth as we work to adapt to a changing climate.

In fact, California now produces more utility-scale solar power than all the other states combined.  We are the first U.S. state to get 5% of our annual utility-scale energy from the Sun.  Renewable energy, including hydro power and rooftop solar, now makes up about one third of California’s electricity.

So, a day that began with dampened spirits was made joyful by visit from an old friend, the California Fig Eater, and an appreciation for the summer sun that brought him to me.

My glass is 3/4 full.

“Joy is the simplest form of gratitude.”
~ Karl Barth

~~~~~~~~~

One of the joys of summer is cooking outdoors.  Add some extra fire to your next cookout with super-spicy Piri Piri Grilled Chicken.  Ask your grocer for a pasture-raised chicken.  Pastured chickens are raised compassionately, with the highest standards and with plenty of grass, shade and places to perch.  They are slower growing than factory chickens and enjoy an environment modeled after their natural habitat.

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Piri Piri Grilled Chicken
Piri Piri sauce is traditionally made with the Bird’s Eye Chile, a very hot pepper that grows in Africa.  Piri Piri Chicken is a Portuguese specialty, also popular in Brazil.  Serve with a cool potato salad, green salad and cold, fresh fruit.  Ice cream, or another dairy dessert, will cool down taste buds after a spicy meal.

Piri Piri Marinade:

Zest of 3 lemons
Juice of 3 lemons
3/8 cup olive oil
3 crushed, dried bird’s eye chilies or other small, red chile peppers
1 & 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 & 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger root
7 to 8 cloves of garlic, minced
3/8 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley

2 & 1/2 lbs of your favorite chicken pieces

 

Combine ingredients for marinade in a glass jar.

Rinse chicken pieces and pat dry.

Place chicken pieces in a 9″ x 13″ glass or ceramic baking pan and coat thoroughly with 2/3 of the marinade.  Cover chicken and refrigerate for 12 to 24 hours.  Save remaining marinade in a small container and store in fridge to use for basting.

To grill:
Remove chicken and discard marinade.  Place pieces on a charcoal grill over a solid be of medium coals (or over medium heat on a gas grill).  If using a gas grill, close the lid.  Cook, turning occasionally and basting with the reserved marinade, until skin is browned and meat is no longer pink, about 40 minutes.

Makes about 8 servings

 

 

Girl Power

July 18, 2016

“The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”
~ Alice Walker

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On the day of the New York Primary Elections this past April, women affixed their “I voted” stickers to the headstone of Susan B. Anthony’s grave, in tribute.

Susan B. Anthony, a leader in the women’s suffrage movement, died March 13, 1906, more than 14 years before the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified, finally giving women the legal right to vote.

Anthony began collecting anti-slavery petitions at the age of 17 and eventually became the New York state agent for the American Anti-Slavery Society.  She was also active in the temperance (anti-alcohol consumption) movement.  She formed one of the first national suffrage (right to vote) organizations in 1869.

Women-led organizations, from the early 1800’s, had fought for various causes, including property and other rights for women, abolition of slavery, child labor laws, and temperance, but not all of them agreed on the right of women to vote as being a priority.  In time, most women reformers realized that many politicians were not willing to listen to a group that did not represent voters.  It is votes, after all, that ultimately determine whether a politician has a job.  Therefore, women activists decided that, in order to achieve the reforms they sought, they needed to fight for the right to vote.  Ratified on August 18th, 1920, the 19th Amendment was the single largest extension of voting rights in the history of the United States.

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Photo by Andrew Cuthbertson, via Twitter and Facebook

 

The power of women to make change is also embodied in the image of Harriet Tubman, who, in addition to later helping to promote the cause of women’s suffrage, escaped slavery in 1849 only to risk her own life and freedom by making 13 missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved friends and their families via the Underground Railroad.  Tubman passed away in 1913, after a lifetime of heroism and service, becoming a powerful symbol of female courage.

On April 20th, 2016, the day after grateful women decorated Susan B. Anthony’s grave with their “I voted” stickers, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that a portrait of Harriet Tubman would replace slave-owner Andrew Jackson as the image on the front of the $20 bill.

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Although the Tubman twenty dollar bill will not be available for another four years, I think I will donate that amount in her honor to one of the many organizations started by women doing good work today:

Moms Demand Action
Moms Demand Action was founded by concerned mother Shannon Watts, in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shooting.  The organization is now a leading non-partisan force for gun violence prevention and grassroots movement for stronger gun safety laws with chapters in all fifty states.

The Malala Fund
Inspired by co-founder Malala Yousafzai, the teenage advocate for educating girls who survived an assassination attempt by the Taliban, the Fund’s goal is to enable girls around the world to complete 12 years of safe, quality education so they can achieve their potential and become positive change-makers in their communities.

The American Red Cross
Founded by Clara Harlowe Barton in 1881, the mission of American Red Cross is to provide compassionate care to those in need.  The five key service areas of the organization here and around the world are: disaster relief, providing lifesaving blood, health and safety education, supporting military families and international humanitarian work.

The League of Women Voters
Founded by Carrie Chapman Catt, just six months before the 19th Amendment was ratified, The League of Women Voters was originally designed to assist women in carrying out their new responsibilities as voters.  Today, this non-partisan organization continues to work at registering, protecting, educating and engaging voters, improving election processes, reforming money in politics, defending the environment, advocating for gun safety and more.

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2016 has been a challenging year so far, filled with one tragedy after another.  I had intended to publish this particular post weeks ago, but with successive shootings, attacks, candlelight vigils, and shocking events coming sometimes days apart, the time never seemed to be appropriate for a post celebrating and encouraging the role of women in the world.

But then it occurred to me that, maybe because of the excessive violence, anger and aggression expressing itself in the world today, traditionally feminine leadership qualities are exactly what are most needed now.

The willingness to listen, negotiate, multitask and forge relationships; the quality of supporting, encouraging and softening; the power of compassion, the strength of patient persistence, etc., all seem, to me, to be much needed antidotes to the current rhetoric clamoring for attention in a world that seems to be lashing out in fear.

The women and men that fought, died and sacrificed for our right to vote and for our freedom lived through incredible difficulties and experienced numerous setbacks and hardships.  They kept going.

Don’t let the sadness immobilize you.  Don’t let despair silence you.  Get involved in whatever way you can and be a force, big or small, for peace, healing, love, tolerance and education.  As civil rights activist and feminist Florynce Kennedy once said:

“Don’t agonize. Organize!

The power is already within you.

~~~~~~~~~

Eat some Pink Popcorn while watching the new Ghostbusters movie or whatever other events may be entertaining you during the next couple of weeks.

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Pink Popcorn
Soft, sweet and irresistible, this all-natural version of Pink Popcorn is caramel-glazed popped corn tinted with cherry juice.  You can use air-popped corn or pop it without oil using a microwave oven and paper lunch bag (see instructions for this method below recipe).

12 cups plain popped popcorn (about 1/2 cup unpopped)
1/2 cup organic sugar
1/4 cup salted butter
1/4 cup unsweetened cherry juice
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place the popped corn into a large bowl.  Set aside.

Heat the butter, sugar, cherry juice and vanilla in a medium-sized heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring.  Let boil for 1 minute, stirring often.  Remove the pan from the heat and slowly pour over the popcorn, while stirring corn.  Continue to stir to mix well and coat popcorn evenly.  Let cool, stirring a few times during cooling.  Eat within 24 hours.

Paper Bag Popcorn
Two batches of 1/4 cup corn each should give you the 12 cups you need for the recipe above.

You will need:
Organic popping corn
Brown paper lunch bags
Butter, salt and other seasonings, if desired (omit for Pink Popcorn recipe)
In a brown paper lunch bag, add 1/4 cup popping corn.  Fold the top over a couple of times, using small folds.  Make a small tear in the center of the folded part and fold either side down in opposite directions to hold the top shut.

Place bag long side down in the microwave and heat on high for 2 to 3 minutes, until there are 4 or 5 seconds between pops.  Do not leave the microwave unattended.  you want to be able to listen for the rate of pops and stop immediately when it slows down.  It only takes a few extra seconds to burn the  popcorn and you don’t want to risk ruining your corn or, worse, starting a fire.

Open the bag carefully, because steam will have built up.  Use in a recipe, eat it plain or flavor with salt, butter or other seasonings.

 

Above the Eyes

June 27, 2016

“That the birds of worry and care fly over your head,
this you cannot change,

But that they build nests in your hair,
this you can prevent.”

~ Chinese proverb

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Recently we’ve been bombarded with news of mass shootings, forest fires, politics and the consequences of xenophobia (throwing the UK into chaos and nominating a candidate for US President).  Lately, it seems as though we have been weathering one storm after another.  The media, whether on television, internet or print, contributes to the general panic by pushing the “clickbait” of negative news to the forefront, all in the name of page views, ratings and advertising dollars.  Some days it is difficult not to get swept up by fear and a general feeling of helplessness, especially if you make the mistake of reading comment sections.

The key to surviving successive storms is located within the make-up of a storm itself.  The area in the center of a hurricane or tropical cyclone is known as “the Eye”.  Circling the eye is the area of the storm containing the most severe and powerful weather.  However, within the eye of the storm there is typically no wind and the sky above is clear.  In fact, the area just above the eye is the calmest section of a hurricane.  So, hypothetically, if one were caught in the middle of a tropical storm, one would simply need to “rise above” to find serenity.

The metaphorical and energetic symbol of this place of calm in the midst of chaos is what is known in meditative practice as the “Third Eye”.  Referred to in yogic circles as the Ajna chakra, it is an area of energy and focus, just above and between the eyebrows, through which one can access the realms of one’s higher consciousness.

Aligning oneself with these higher states of consciousness can be like comparing the view from the top of a tall building versus the perspective from the ground floor.  Imagine a serious car accident in the street out in front of a high-rise.  At the earthly level, people are hurt, frantic and feeling helpless.  However, from the top floor there is a wider view and one can look further down the road, see an ambulance speeding toward the scene, and know that help is on the way.  Tuning into a higher state of consciousness from our everyday earthly existence is like someone at the ground floor calling someone on the top floor to ask for help, guidance or perspective.

Whether you call this guidance God, the Gods, the Universe, or believe it is simply your own state of wisdom that resides beyond the noise of every day life; whether you believe this area of energy and perception exists, or simply use it as a visual tool during meditation,  focusing on the area of the third eye, along with conscious breathing can help one find the calm within the center of any storm life may stir up for us.

Here’s how:

  1.   Find a quiet place to sit or lie down.
  2.   Breathe in slowly, through the nose, allowing your belly to rise first and your chest last, as you fill your lungs.  Placing your hand lightly over your solar plexus, just below your rib cage, can be helpful in training yourself to do this.
  3.   Let your abdomen expand and your lungs fill with air completely.
  4.   Exhale slowly, also through the nose, squeezing out the last bit of breath using your solar plexus muscles.
  5.   Begin again with a new inhale.
  6.   As you continue to breathe in and out, close your eyes and imagine a lavender rosebud sitting above and between your eyebrows.  As you inhale, imagine breathing in its sweet and lovely fragrance.  As you exhale, see the rose opening, petal by petal, into full and glorious bloom.
  7.   Inhale the rose back into a fresh, new bud.
  8.   Exhale it into full bloom.

 

Repeat this visualization, along with conscious breathing, for at least three minutes and up to twenty minutes or more, whenever you need to find your calm center in the middle of a stormy day.
~~~
Alternatively, here is the lovely Lena Horne singing the perfect soothing soundtrack for stormy times:

~~~~~~~~~

Give your taste buds and spirits a lift with Banana Tiramisù.  Tiramisù means, “lift me up” in Italian.  More colloquially, the dessert’s name can be translated as “pick-me-up”, probably named because of the espresso in the recipe.

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Banana Tiramisù
Mashed banana replaces the traditional raw egg in this recipe.  This tiramisù is equally delicious with or without the rum.  I chose to leave it out.  Called “biscotti savoiardi” in Italian, lady fingers are the traditional cookie used for tiramisù.

1 medium banana, not too ripe
1/4 cup organic brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
8 oz mascarpone cheese, softened
1/2 cup organic heavy cream or whipping cream
8 oz lady finger (biscotti savoiardi)
1 cup very strong coffee, cooled
2 tablespoons rum (optional)
1 tablespoon sugar

To decorate:
Fair Trade Certified organic cocoa powder, for dusting
Or
Ground chocolate, chocolate shavings, crushed banana chips or toffee bits

 

Instructions:
In a medium bowl, mash banana well and combine with sugar, vanilla and cinnamon.  Stir in softened mascarpone until thoroughly combined.  Set aside.

Using a chilled bowl and chilled beaters, whip cream to soft peaks with an electric mixer.  Then, using a chilled whisk, beat to stiff peaks by hand.

Fold 1/4 of the whipped cream into the mascarpone mixture and stir gently until combined.  Fold remaining whipped cream into that.

In a shallow bowl, combine coffee, rum (if using) and sugar.  Stir until sugar dissolves.

Begin with half of the ladyfingers.  Working one at a time, dip each ladyfinger briefly into coffee mixture and then arrange them side by side in an 8-inch square glass baking pan or serving dish.  Spread half of the mascarpone cream over the top of the ladyfingers.  Dust with cocoa powder.

Now dip the remaining ladyfingers in the coffee mixture, one at a time, as before, and place over the mascarpone layer in a cross-wise pattern in relation to the first layer of ladyfingers.

Top the second layer of ladyfingers with the remaining mascarpone cream.  Dust the top thoroughly with cocoa powder and/or chocolate shavings, ground chocolate, crushed banana chips or toffee bits.  Cover and refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight.

Serves 8

 

 

Running Up That Hill

June 13, 2016

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand.  It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what.  You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”
~ Atticus Finch, from To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

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Peace, love, kindness, healing and resolve be with you all!

~~~~~~~~~

This week, in honor of love, I am posting my 2013 recipe for Jackson Pollock Muffins with a new name:  Rainbow Pride Muffins.

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Rainbow Pride Muffins
These abstract expressionistic rainbow colored treats are easy to make.  You simply add food coloring to a basic muffin batter.  For an even easier recipe, you can prepare boxed white or vanilla cake batter, according to package directions, and then skip to the food coloring step in this recipe.  India Tree makes natural food coloring with no corn syrup or synthetic dyes (I used them to make the muffins in the picture above).  India Tree food colors can be found in the spice section at Whole Foods market or online.

(This recipe can be doubled to make a dozen)

Ingredients:

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 large egg
1/2 cup plain yogurt
1/3 cup sugar
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Zest of one orange

Food coloring in blue, yellow and red

1/2 cup slivered unsalted raw almonds
1 teaspoon anise seeds

Variation: substitute 1/2 cup white chocolate pieces or chunks for the almonds

 

Preheat oven to 400°F

Line six cups of a 12 cup muffin pan with liners.

In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Mix well and set aside.

In another bowl, combine egg, yogurt, sugar, vegetable oil, vanilla and orange zest.  Mix well.

Add wet ingredients to dry ingredients and mix until just combined.  Divide batter into three bowls.  Add food coloring to each bowl to create three different shades.  Add enough food color to make the shades intense and bright.

Divide the almonds and anise seeds (or white chocolate chips, if using) among the bowls and stir in briefly.

Now place some of each color in the muffin tins, spooning small amounts of different colors on top and alongside each other to create a splatter effect.

Bake for 12 to 15 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of muffin comes out clean.

Cool in pan for a few minutes, then move to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 6 muffins.

Encore

May 16, 2016

“All that is gold does not glitter; not all those who wander are lost; the old that is strong does not wither; deep roots are not reached by the frost.”
~ J.R.R. Tolkien

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A couple of weeks ago I read that singer Billy Paul had recently passed away.  One of Paul’s biggest hits was a song called, “Me and Mrs. Jones”, a soulful tune, sweetly describing an extramarital affair between a man and his lover.  I was just a little girl when it came out and too young to understand the lyrics, but I liked the song and so, when I found a stray black and white kitten on the way home from elementary school, I named my new kitty “Mrs. Jones”.  I used to sing the chorus of the song to her as we snuggled in bed or on the couch together, “Me-yee-aah-and….Mrs… Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones, Mrs. Jones.  We got a thing… goin’ on…”  She would look up at me, smiling and purring.  She loved her special song.  Mrs. Jones lived to be 15 years old.  Years later, every time I heard Billy Paul’s song, I would think of my dear cat Mrs. Jones.  When I read of the singer’s passing, I thought of her once again.  They will both continue to live on for me, through his music and her memory.

That’s the beautiful thing about music, about art, about memories.  That which is created lives on to remind us, not only of the creator, but of the moments and emotions that we associated with a particular song, painting, movie scene, person or event.  Bowie, Prince, George Martin and many other great artists and musicians have passed beyond the veil between the worlds already this year.  Even though many felt their passing to be a great loss, their artistic spirit lives on to be enjoyed, reinterpreted and appreciated for generations to come.

Nothing is ever truly lost.  What we seem to lose merely transforms, reshapes and reemerges to inspire, to teach us and to bring us joy in new ways.

Mark Landry, a homeless man in Montreal, had been playing the violin since he was 17 years old.  Last month, his precious violin, which he often played for donations in the city’s Metro system, was stolen from him.  A local orchestra, L’Orchestre Métropolitain, found out about his loss.  With the help of a neighborhood violin shop, the orchestra members were able to provide Mr. Landry with a brand new violin, case and bow.  Said the grateful musician, “I talked to God this morning and said I cannot live without my violin. I am going to go play right away.”

Mr. Landry’s violin was stolen, but the story of its loss and replacement has brought his music to ears that would never have heard him play otherwise.  His story may inspire others to reach out and be of service in their own communities.

Adrianne Haslet, a professional dancer, lost her left leg in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings.  She was not running in the marathon herself, but merely standing near the finish line in order to cheer on the runners.  When the second bomb went off, she was injured badly enough that her leg had to be amputated.  After the attack, she promised herself she would dance again and run the marathon.

A few weeks ago, with the help of a carbon-fiber blade prosthesis, she ran the 26.2 mi/42.2 km Boston Marathon.  She began the race at 9 a.m. and crossed the finish line at 7:15 p.m.  Her loss and subsequent triumph over difficulty and pain will no doubt serve to inspire and give hope to others now and in the future.

Loss can be difficult, stressful and sometimes deeply painful.  But loss can also be an opportunity to begin again, to look at life with new eyes, to create something different and beautiful, inspired and informed by what once was.

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

~~~~~~~~~

Don’t lose a single drop of your pasta sauce or soup.  Use a nice piece of bread to deliciously clean your plate.  Italians call it “fare la scarpetta” or “to do the shoe”.  After you finish your meal, a piece of bread becomes the shoe and your fingers the leg as they push your bread around your plate, soaking up any leftover sauce.  Pop the sauce-filled bread into your mouth and enjoy.  Use this easy to bake Rosemary Ricotta Quick Bread to practice your skills as a “scarpettaro”.

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Rosemary Ricotta Quick Bread
This moist and delicious homemade bread requires no yeast and no kneading.  You can also make it into individual servings by using muffin tins.  This savory quick bread is perfect for accompanying soups, salads and anything saucy.

1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 clove of garlic, finely minced
3/4 cup milk (whole or 2%)
1 cup whole milk ricotta
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon crumbled, dried rosemary
Butter or olive oil, to grease pan

 

Preheat oven to 375°F

Grease bottom and partly up sides of a 9-inch round cake pan
OR
Line 6 muffin cups with paper liners.

In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and pepper.  Mix well with a fork or whisk.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, combine 2 tablespoons olive oil, garlic, milk, ricotta and egg.  Beat with a fork or whisk until thoroughly mixed.

Add dry ingredients to bowl with wet ingredients and stir until just combined.  Fold in dried rosemary and mix until evenly distributed (do not overmix batter).

Spread batter evenly in prepared cake pan.  Bake about 30 minutes.

If using muffin cups, use 1/4 cup of batter for each. and bake about 20 minutes.

Serve warm or cooled.

Makes 6 servings.

Unbreakable

April 15, 2016

“Often the hands will solve a mystery that the intellect has struggled with in vain.”
~ Carl G. Jung

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In the illustration above, the hands are forming a yoga position known as Vajrapradama Mudra.  The vajra part of that name is Sanskrit for “diamond” (signifying something luminous and indestructible) or “thunderbolt” (signifying an irresistible force).  The pradama part of Vajrapradama means “first” or “original”.

Often used as part of 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 reality.

The word diamond comes from the ancient Greek “adámas”, meaning proper, unbreakable, unalterable.  Notice how similar the word is to Pradama, the Sanskrit word meaning “first”.  Diamonds were probably originally recognized and mined in India.  According to geologists and contrary to popular belief, most diamonds were formed before coal (which was formed from Earth’s first land plants) came into existence.  Although I am merely guessing at an etymological connection between “adámas” and “pradama”, in relationship to coal, diamonds can be definitely be described as “first”.

When one forms this mudra as part of a yogic or meditation practice, the hand position represents unshakable confidence in our higher self, that part of ourselves which is original, unbreakable and at one with “The Universe” or “God” or whatever name one chooses for the Soul of the World.  Forming Vajrapradama mudra symbolizes aligning ones awareness with that which came first: before the stars, before Earth, before traffic, before jobs, before election cycles, before diets, before family, before illness, before climate change, before planes, trains and automobiles.

According to a 2009 study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, hand gestures and signs are decoded by the same regions of the brain as spoken or written words.  So striking a pose with your hands has the potential for reaching your brain in the same way as repeating a phrase.

According to a 2013 article in Forbes magazine, as well as numerous recent studies, controlled breathing has been shown to help with managing anxiety, lowering blood pressure and heart rate, and even increasing brain size.

When you are having a “coal” kind of day; when you feel frustrated, anxious, disappointed or worried, it is important to take a few moments to align with and remember that “diamond” part of yourself – that original, unshakable, unbreakable part of you that lies within.  Forming Vajrapradama mudra and doing a few minutes of conscious breathing can help to ground your mind and body in the eternal when the chaos of everyday life is making the present moment feel a bit shaky.

Here’s how:

Sit or stand comfortably.  Inhale deeply through your nose as you bring your hands together at your solar plexus (the part of your abdomen just above your navel and below your rib cage).  Clasp your fingers together, interlocking them, but leave your thumbs free and open.  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 at least 3 minutes, more if you can.  If your mind begins to wander, visualize a beautiful red rosebud above and between your brows.  Imagine inhaling its sweet fragrance and then as you exhale, watch it unfold into full and glorious bloom.

~~~~~~~~~

Passover matzos are in the stores again.  Use them to make Chocolate Covered Matzo Ice Cream Sandwiches.

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Chocolate Covered Matzo Ice Cream Sandwiches
Use your favorite flavor of ice cream to fill these yummy frozen treats.  If you intend to serve these for Passover, note that not all flavors may be considered kosher for Passover.  It’s best to check the label to make sure.

12 oz bag of semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
4 plain, unsalted matzos (matzo crackers), 6-inches square
1 quart vanilla ice cream

Optional, to decorate:
Toasted, unsalted almonds
Chocolate covered cocoa nibs
Toffee bits

Line a baking sheet with foil.

Take ice cream out of freezer to soften.  Ice cream should be soft enough to scoop easily but still firm enough to hold its shape.

Put chocolate chips into a medium-sized heat resistant bowl.  In a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat, heat cream just until beginning to bubble (do not boil).  Pour hot cream over chocolate chips in bowl and stir until smooth (takes several minutes).

Place 4 crackers side by side on the foil-lined sheet.   Spread chocolate mixture in a thick layer over one side of each matzo cracker.  Place tray in freezer for 5 minutes to harden.  Turn matzos over and spread chocolate on remaining sides of each cracker.  Return to freezer to harden for 5 minutes.

Scoop half of the ice cream onto each of two coated matzos and spread out gently to edges, keeping a square shape.  Use an offset spatula to even out the surface.  Top with remaining chocolate coated matzos.  Drizzle remaining chocolate mixture over tops in a decorative pattern.  Optionally, you can sprinkle nuts, cocoa nibs or toffee bits over the drizzled chocolate as decoration.  Place in freezer until ice cream is hard.  Once frozen, cut each sandwich into 4 squares.  You can then wrap them individually to enjoy later or you can serve immediately.

Makes 8 ice cream sandwiches

 

 

Rolling Away Stones

March 23, 2016

“Life stands before me like an eternal spring with new and brilliant clothes.”
~Carl Friedrich Gauss

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Alejandro Ernesto/EPA/Corbis

 

This past Sunday, on the first day of Spring, the First Family boarded Air Force One for the first visit to Cuba by a U.S. President since Calvin Coolidge made the trip by sea in 1928.

Two days later, on a day of heartbreak and sadness in Belgium, I listened to the National Anthem of the United States of America being sung by a choir of young Cuban vocalists to open a moving, history-making baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and the Cuban national team.  I watched as Rachel Robinson, widow of the late Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, enjoyed the game seated next to the first African-American President of the United States.  Baseball, the game that begins its season in spring, the season of renewal, helped renew my hope for a more peaceful world on a day when that hope was challenged.

This coming Sunday will celebrate Easter, another powerful symbol of renewal and hope.  When I was a young girl, my mom and I would sometimes attend services at a non-denominational church near the beach.  I remember the pastor there as a warm, fun and inspirational speaker.  One Easter Sunday, he told the story from the Bible about how, after Jesus died, the women who went to visit the tomb where he was buried were surprised to find the stone that had sealed the entrance had been rolled away and that he was no longer there.  The Easter holiday is inspired by the rolling away of that stone and the resurrection that it symbolizes.

The pastor then spoke to the congregation about how many of us would probably leave the service that day feeling uplifted and renewed, as if the stone in front of our hearts had been rolled away just like the stone that had sealed Christ’s tomb.  However, he then added, it probably wouldn’t take long before something in our daily lives, a call from a relative or a story on the news, would cause that “stone” to roll right back to its usual spot, thus sealing our hearts and minds once again inside the tomb of fear and resentment.

He asked us to remember the light even when darkness seems to overtake us, to keep that stone rolled away and not let the voices of hate, anger and fear prevent our minds and hearts from living in the light of love, kindness and hope.  He reminded us that “rolling away the stone” was something that one has to do, not just once a year, but continually.

I wish all of you a happy Easter and a wonderful spring season filled with renewal and healing.  Keep rolling those stones away.

~~~

One of the bands featured at the SXSW Cuba Showcase this year was YISSY & Bandancha.  It’s classic jazz for a new world: drums, keyboard, bass guitar, trumpet and turntable.
Enjoy:

~~~~~~~~~

Pretty Pink Pickled Eggs and Spring Veggies are a beautiful and delicious way to use leftover Easter eggs.

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Pretty Pink Pickled Eggs and Spring Veggies
You will need a quart-sized mason jar with lid for these.  Use eggs from happy hens, such as Vital Farms pastured eggs, or eggs from a local hen house.  Eggs from pastured hens contain up to 20 times more omega-3 acids than factory hens.  Click on the Eat Wild Website link, to find a farm near you that carries pastured eggs.  Vital Farms eggs are carried at most Whole Foods.  Both links can be found up and to the right of this post, under “Elaborations”.

 

1 medium beet, scrubbed and cleaned
1 & 1/2 cups water (to cook beets)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon organic sugar
1 cup red wine vinegar (a bit more, if needed)
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and cut in half
2 fennel stalks with tops
2 spring onions or 3 green onions
2 small red or pink radishes
1 tablespoon chopped fresh Italian parsley
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
6 hard cooked eggs, cooled and peeled*

Slice beet into thin, 1-inch pieces.  Add the beets and water to a large saucepan and cook, covered, over medium-low heat until tender, about 30 minutes.  Make sure you have 1 cup of cooking water remaining in the pan.  Add more water, if necessary.

Meanwhile:

Clean and dice the white part of the fennel, save some of the fronds and chop fine.

Clean the radishes and slice thinly.

Clean, trim and slice the spring onions, include some of the green part.

After the beets have finished cooking, while the liquid is still warm, add salt, sugar and vinegar and stir to dissolve.  Add the garlic, fennel, radishes, onions, parsley and peppercorns.  Stir to combine.

In a quart-sized mason jar with lid, layer eggs and veggies until jar is filled.  Pour liquid over to cover.  If there is not enough liquid to cover, you can top it off with a bit more red wine vinegar.  Seal jar with the lid and give a gentle shake to mix contents.  Refrigerate for 24 hours, gently shaking jar occasionally.

Cut eggs in half to reveal the pretty color.  Serve with some of the veggies, along with crackers, chips or bread.

Serves 3 to 6 as an appetizer

*To boil the eggs: place in a single layer, without crowding, inside a cold saucepan.  Add water to cover by 1 inch.  Bring to a boil over high heat.  Immediately turn off heat, cover and let sit for 15 minutes.  Drain and then rinse with cold water until cool.   Refrigerate until ready to use.

To peel cold eggs:  crack hard-boiled eggs once on the fat end of the egg.  This will be where the “air pocket” is.  Begin peeling from there and continue until egg is completely peeled.

 

Pi is for Sharing

March 14, 2016

“If a thing loves, it is infinite.”
~ William Blake

800px-Pi_plate

Happy Pi Day!

Pi Day is named for the number that is found by dividing the distance around a circle (circumference) by the distance across (diameter).  Pi is known as the “Circle Constant” because, no matter what size your circle is, the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter is always the number pi, whose digits go on infinitely, without repeating.  The first 3 digits of pi are 3.14, which is why math geeks as, well as foodies, celebrate pi the number by eating pie the dessert, on March 14th.

The excuse to eat a slice (or three) of your favorite pie today, in celebration of pi the number, also offers the opportunity to mediate on the beauty and necessity of sharing.

I suppose one could devour an entire fruit pie, custard pie or cream pie by themselves, stabbing away at it with a fork.  However, this would be not only inelegant but also unhealthy.  A much better way to serve and eat a pie is to cut it into wedges, perfect for sharing.  Turns out, the best way to begin to cut a pie into wedges is also the method for finding pie the number.

If you want to slice a pie into uniform wedges, you must first find the center point.  To find the center of a circular pie, one must start by cutting all the way across it (this cut is the diameter of the pie).  The action of your knife cutting across the pie creates the relationship represented by the number pi, which is equal to the circumference (distance around) divided by the diameter (distance across).  Now two people could each enjoy half of the pie.

A pie shared equals pi.

To cut wedges of the pie for serving, simply find the center point of the pie by measuring to the halfway point of the diameter.  Half of the diameter of your pie circle is equal to the radius, the lines you make each time you cut from the center of the pie out to the edge, in order to serve another slice.

Here is a fun and simple animated illustration of circles, diameter, radius and how to find the surface area of a circular piece of candy using the number pi :

~~~~~~~~~

Did you get to eat a piece of pie for pi day? If not, make some Green Tea Cream Pie for St. Patty’s day.

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Green Tea Cream Pie
This delicately flavored, jade-colored, no-bake cream pie is made by using matcha green tea powder to flavor a simple cornstarch pudding, poured inside of  a lemon wafer crust and chilled.  If you want to avoid GMO corn, buy organic cornstarch.

For the crust:
2 cups lemon wafer cookie crumbs (about 32 lemon wafer cookies)
(I used Whole Foods 365 brand lemon wafer cookies)
6 tablespoons butter
Pinch of salt (omit if using salted butter)

For the filling:
1/4 cup organic cornstarch
3/8 cup organic sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons matcha green tea powder

1 2-inch piece of vanilla bean
3 cups whole milk

2 tablespoons butter

Optional, to decorate:
Whipped cream
Sliced strawberries
1 tablespoon matcha powder
combined with:
1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
White chocolate curls

To make the crust:
Using a rolling pin, crush cookies between two pieces of plastic wrap, or inside a zipper style plastic bag.  Combine the melted butter with the crumbs and salt (if using) in a bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork.  Press mixture evenly into the bottom of an 8″ or 9″ springform pan.  Refrigerate until set (about 1 hour).

To make filling:
In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan*, whisk together the corn starch, sugar, salt and matcha powder.

Split open the vanilla bean segment and scrape out the seeds from the inside of the pod into pan with dry ingredients, along with the pod.  Add milk and stir until thoroughly combined with no lumps.

Remove vanilla bean pod and discard.  Turn on heat to between medium & medium-low.  Cook, stirring continuously and scraping bottom and sides of pan until mixture thickens enough to coat the back of a metal spoon (mine took about 12 minutes).  Do not boil.

Remove from heat and stir in butter until melted and incorporated.  Let cool about 3 minutes more, stirring often.  Pour over prepared cookie crust.  Cover surface of pie with plastic wrap (to prevent a skin from forming) and chill in fridge for 3 hours or more.

Decorate with your choice of whipped cream, sliced strawberries, sweetened matcha, white chocolate curls or a combination.

8 servings

*Hint:  A clean, quart-sized mason jar with a lid works great for premixing the ingredients, an important step to ensure a smooth, lump-free filling.  First, add dry ingredients to jar and whisk to mix.  Then add vanilla seeds with pod and the milk to jar, screw lid on tight and shake everything vigorously until smooth and mixed, without lumps.  Now add mixture to cold pan, remove and discard pod, and skip to heating step.

One Giant Leap

February 29, 2016

“This is one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.”
~ Neil Armstrong, first person to walk on the Moon

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I love to walk.  Walking helps me get out of my house and my head, to make a fresh start mentally and to benefit my body physically.

Now, thanks to engineers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, technology has been developed that could bring power-generating capability to the act of walking.  Your shoes could one day power your phone.

Tom Krupenkin, a professor of mechanical engineering at UW-Madison, estimates that human walking can produce up to 10 watts per shoe.  That energy, normally just wasted as heat, could help to recharge your phone, tablet, or any number of things requiring batteries for operation.

This could be especially helpful for people who live in remote areas or developing countries that don’t have electrical power grids.

If taking a walk at lunch or upon returning from work could recharge spent devices for the evening, this technology might also encourage modern humans to get out and see their neighborhoods a little more often.

Power generating shoes will require a bit more research and development before they move from technological possibility to actual footwear.  Until then, go take a nice walk.  Look around you.  Explore the sights, listen to the sounds, let your mind and imagination wander as you go.

And leave your phone behind to charge the soon-to-be old fashioned way.

~~~~~~~~~

Scientists are also working on making batteries out of mushrooms (see this week’s “Thank You to the Plants”, up and to the right of the post), making Macaroni with Mushrooms and Mascarpone a scientific breakthrough in deliciousness.

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Macaroni with Mushrooms and Mascarpone
This is one of the yummiest recipes I’ve ever created.  Sure to be a hit with anyone who enjoys creamy, cheesy goodness.  Think of it as a sophisticated Mac N’ Cheese that you can make on your stove top.

1 clove of garlic
4 tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup course bread crumbs
8 oz elbow macaroni pasta
8 oz carton cremini or button mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper
A pinch of crumbled, dried rosemary
1 cup milk (2% or whole)
1 (8 oz) carton mascarpone cheese
1/2 cup Parmesan cheese, plus more for the table
1 & 1/2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Peel garlic clove and smash lightly, leaving intact.  Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large, deep skillet.  Add the garlic and bread crumbs and cook over medium heat, stirring, until golden and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes.  Discard garlic clove.  Transfer the bread crumbs to a plate and wipe out the skillet with a paper towel.

In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the pasta until just barely al dente.  Drain the pasta.

While the pasta water is boiling, and pasta is cooking, melt the remaining 3 tablespoons of butter in the skillet.  Add the mushrooms, season with salt, pepper and rosemary and cook over med-high heat, stirring, until mushrooms soften and begin to release their liquid, about 3 minutes.

Decrease heat to medium.  Add milk and cook, stirring and scraping bits from bottom of pan for about 2 minutes.

Decrease heat to medium-low.  Add the mascarpone and cook, stirring, until well-combined into a creamy sauce.

Add the pasta to the sauce and toss gently over medium-low heat until pasta absorbs some of the sauce, is fully coated and cooked through, but still al dente, 1 or 2 minutes.

Add the chives and the 1/2 cup of Parmesan and stir to combine.  Remove from heat.  Transfer to a large, warmed serving bowl.  Sprinkle with the toasted bread crumbs and serve.  Offer extra Parmesan at the table.

Serves 4