A Wing and a Prayer

November 19, 2014

“We are each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.”
~ Luciano De Crescenzo

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I recently became aware of the story of an American bald eagle named Osceolo who lost one of his wings when he was hit by a hunter’s bullet in 1983, when he was only about two years old.  He had been injured for a week by the time he was found struggling in a field in eastern Arkansas, his left wing dangling as he ran, trying to fly without success.  He was taken to the Memphis Zoo, where the staff veterinarian tried for three days to heal the broken and infected wing to no avail.  Amputating the injured wing saved the bird’s life, but meant that he would never fly again.

Or so it seemed.

John Stokes, who ran the Raptor Rehab Program at the zoo, also happened to be a hang glider pilot.  Over several years, he worked to develop a special sling and harness that would hold Osceola above the pilot in the hang glider as he flew.  Finally, after many tests and preparations, John was able to take Oseola hang gliding with him. Thirteen years after he lost his wing, Osceola the one-winged eagle was airborne once again, soaring above red-tailed hawks and taking in the view from above.

“Wherever a man turns he can find someone who needs him.”
~ Albert Schweitzer

John and Osceola have made many, many flights since then.  Osceola helps John do educational programs at the United States Eagle Center at Dollywood in Pigeaon Forge, Tennessee and in conjunction with the American Eagle Foundation.  For a more in-depth story and to watch YouTubes of Osceola gliding visit osceolabaldeagle.com

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Green Chile Mac N’ Cheese will send your taste buds soaring.

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Green Chile Mac N’ Cheese
Green chilies are a summer treat, but you can find them canned all year round.  They add just the right amount of zing to this rich but easy to make macaroni and cheese. Use canned Hatch green chilies, if they are available at your grocery store.

1 cup (whole or 2%) milk
1/3 cup sour cream
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1/4 cup canned diced/chopped green chilies
2 cups grated Monterey Jack cheese
2 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 cups Pepper Jack cheese
8 oz imported Italian elbow macaroni

Preheat oven to 350°F

In a large bowl, mix milk and sour cream with a fork until smooth.  Add mayo, black pepper and chili powder.  Mix well.  Stir in chilies and the Monterey Jack and cheddar cheeses (4 cups total).   Stir to combine and set aside.

Cook pasta al dente according to package directions in boiling, salted water.  Do not overcook the pasta.  It will cook more in the oven.  Rinse the hot pasta under cold water in a strainer to stop the cooking.  Drain well and add to bowl with sauce.  Stir everything together and pour into a lightly buttered 9″ x 13″ baking pan.  Sprinkle top evenly with the Pepper Jack cheese.

Bake uncovered for 35 to 45 minutes* until macaroni is bubbling and top is just beginning to brown.  Let stand a few minutes before serving.

*I used a heavy, deep Le Creuset lasagna pan and took mine out at 45 minutes.  A lighter-weight pan may take less time.

Note: the pasta went about halfway up my pan.  You could probably safely double the recipe and fit it in an extra deep pan, such as the Le Creuset lasagna pan.

Makes 8 side servings

Time Signature

November 10, 2014

“I will love the light, for it shows me the way; yet I will love the darkness, for it shows me the stars.”
~ Augustine “Og” Mandino

ALMA image of the protoplanetary disc around HL Tauri
Photo courtesy of ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

 

I enjoy all of the seasons, but fall is one of my favorites, partly because we return to Standard Time.  After the chaotic celebration and intense heat of summer, I welcome the shorter days as an opportunity to slow down, to go within, to dream, and to observe the world around me.

Now, thanks to a huge collection of radio telescopes in the Chilean desert, the formation of the early Universe can be observed as it happened.

The Atacama Large Millimeter/submillimeter Array (ALMA) was built as an international partnership of Europe, North America and East Asia. ALMA’s mission is to investigate the early Universe, the first stars and galaxies and the formation of planets.

A new image from ALMA recently revealed, in never before seen detail, the formation of new planets around a young star known as HL Tauri.  Located in the constellation of Taurus, HL Tauri (a star like our own Sun) was born within clouds of gas and dust that collapsed under gravity.  Over time, the surrounding dust particles stuck together, growing into sand, pebbles, and larger-size rocks.  These pebbles and rocks settled into a protoplanetary disc (proto means “earliest” or “first”), a thin disc made up of stuff that eventually came together to make asteroids, comets, and planets.

The cool part is that observing the first stages of planet formation around HL Tauri can show us how our own planetary system may have looked when it began, more than four billion years ago.

So enjoy the fall season, the return to Standard Time and the earlier view of the night sky.  With the right kind of telescope, you can watch the world being made.

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For more about the ALMA and HL Tauri, you can see a five minute YouTube at this link.

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Sweet and savory slow-cooked Caramelized Carrots with Lime and Thyme are not your grandma’s carrots.

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Caramelized Carrots with Lime and Thyme
These will disappear from your Thanksgiving table. 

16 oz baby carrots, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
(about 3 cups of chunks)
3 tablespoons salted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon dried or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
Salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste
Zest of one lime
1 teaspoon lime juice

In a large, heavy saucepan, frying pan or braising pan (carrots should cook in a single layer), melt butter with oil over medium heat.  Add thyme and season with a bit of salt and pepper.  Stir continuously to coat the carrots with the butter/oil and seasonings.  Reduce heat to medium-low and let sizzle, stirring only occasionally, until carrots are tender-crisp and beginning to caramelize (about 30 minutes).  Stir in lime zest and juice.  Taste and add additional salt and pepper, if desired (I didn’t).

Serve hot, with bread to mop up the extra butter and oil (yum!).

Serves 4 to 6

Flying Selfie

October 31, 2014

“The future is not some place we are going to, but one we are creating.  The paths are not found, but made, and the activity of making them changes both the maker and the destination.”
~ John H. Schaar

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Flying saucers are real and NASA is launching them.

On June 28th, NASA’s Low-Density Supersonic Decelerator project (LDSD) conducted its first test flight of technologies that will one day be used to land massive, heavy objects on the surface of Mars.  Nicknamed NASA’s “Flying Saucer”, the LDSD is a 20ft (6 m) diameter dish that is partially inflatable and carried to the upper stratosphere with the help of a gigantic balloon and a rocket.

If present-day scientists on Earth are creating objects called “Flying Saucers”, maybe the creatures we refer to as “Aliens” are not visitors from another planet after all.

The image of an outer-space Alien that is most common today is the one often referred to as a “Grey”.  A large head with huge, dark eyes and a tiny mouth and nose is attached to a whisper-thin body with long arms, hands and fingers.  What if these so-called “Aliens” are actually visitors from Earth’s future?

After hundreds of years of staring into smartphones, tablets or whatever the equivalent future technologies are, and relating only to their devices and not to each other or the physical world around them, Earth’s inhabitants could possibly have evolved into thin, gray beings with no need for mouths to speak, noses to smell or bodies capable of physically mingling.

It is quite possible that future Earthlings have found that life without physical human interaction is empty and unfulfilling, and they are traveling back to our time, in order to change (what is to them) the past for the benefit of their present happiness – to somehow interfere with the invention and proliferation of technologies that discourage human relationships and physical experience.

Earlier this morning, I was watching West Wing Week on YouTube.  The end of this week’s edition showed a woman walking while staring intently into her smartphone, her thumbs moving rapidly back and forth across its surface.  The President of the United States walked right by her and said hello.  She was so involved in her phone that she missed this once-in-a-lifetime moment.  She can always see it later on YouTube, I suppose.

The clip was supposed to be humorous, but I found it a bit sad.  Today, people seem more concerned with filming and watching important moments than they are with living and experiencing them.  Epictetus, a Greek philosopher (c. 50-120) said:

“If one oversteps the bounds of moderation, the greatest pleasures cease to please.”

I am hoping that Earth’s current inhabitants can learn to enjoy the benefits of our technology, without losing the beauty of our humanity.

Turn off the tablet and put down the phone.  Choose to talk rather than text.  Don’t see the world through Instagram; go for a walk and see it in person.  Create a memory instead of a photo.  Be more concerned with how you live, than how you look online.

Make the future a better place.  Enjoy the here and now.

~~~~~~~~~

A photo of Caramel Apple Crostata would not do it justice.  Bake one yourself.  Your taste buds will thank you.

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Caramel Apple Crostata
Using a pre-made, unbaked pie crust and store-bought caramels makes this recipe super-easy, but still delicious.  Use good-quality caramels for the best results.  I used Trader Joe’s Fleur de Sel Caramels (about 13 of them, or half the container).

3 tablespoons organic sugar
Scant 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Scant 1/8 teaspoon of ground allspice
1 pre-made unbaked pie crust (thawed, if frozen)
2 large gala apples
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small cubes
5 oz of caramel candies, unwrapped (about 3/4 cup)

Preheat oven to 400°F

In a small bowl, combine sugar and spices.  Set aside.

Unfold pie crust onto a baking sheet (preferably lined with parchment paper).  Use a rolling pin to roll out slightly to a diameter of about 11 inches.

Sprinkle one third of the sugar mixture across the surface of the crust.

Peel, core and slice apples into 1/8-inch-thick slices.  Place slices in a spiral pattern from center of crust outward, leaving a 1-inch border.  Dot apples with butter pieces.

Fold border of crust in and over edge of filling, pleating as you go to form a circle shape (no need to make it perfect; a crostata is supposed to be rustic-looking).

Sprinkle the remaining sugar mixture over the apples and edge of crust.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until crust is golden brown.  Slide off of baking sheet and let cool on a rack for 20 minutes.

Make caramel topping:

Place unwrapped caramel candies in a small, heavy saucepan with a scant tablespoon of water.  Stir over medium-low heat until smooth.  Let sit a minute or two before drizzling.  Drizzle caramel topping to cover center (apple part) of crostata.

Serve warm or chilled.  For a super decadent version, add some vanilla ice cream on the side.

Serves 8

This Too Shall Pass

October 22, 2014

“Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night.”
~ Edgar Allen Poe

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Thursday, October 23rd, North Americans will watch the Moon take a bite from the Sun.  A partial solar eclipse in the late afternoon will occur when a portion of the Moon moves in front of the Solar light, reshaping the setting Sun into a bright, yellow crescent.

Sunset is the in-between time, when day becomes night, when the bright light of reality (day) meets the indigo-blue of dreams (night).  It is a lovely time for creating an image of, for imagining, your future.

Take a walk at sunset, if you can, and use this time to imagine your most heartfelt wishes coming true.  Sometimes what we desire seems impossible because all we can see is what stands in the way of our dream’s fulfillment.  Remember that any seeming obstacles to the realization of your goal, be they financial or otherwise, are not necessarily permanent.  Like the spectacle of the Moon taking a bite out of the Sun during a partial eclipse, those impediments are only temporary.  Behind the appearance of obstruction, the light of possibility remains: full, glorious and powerful.

Let your mind and your heart see beyond what is visible today.  Just as the Moon will eventually pass beyond the Sun, revealing the entirety of its brilliant light, so the present obstacles to your goal will not always seem insurmountable.  A new day will illuminate new ideas and opportunities.  For now, give thanks for the world as it is in this moment, and, as you watch the clouds move across the sky, as you admire the crescent-shaped sunset of a partial eclipse, remember that this too shall pass.

Get a good night’s sleep.  Tomorrow is another day, and you have dreams to realize.

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~~~

Remember not to look directly at a solar eclipse.  For more information and the best times and locations for viewing, go to timeanddate.com and type in the name of your city.

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Dark can be delicious… and a good source of magnesium.  Bake up some Black Bean Blackout Chocolate Bread for a dessert that is both yummy and nutritious.

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Black Bean Blackout Chocolate Bread
No one will guess the secret ingredient in this super-moist, rich and chocolatey quick bread. Black beans and dark chocolate are both excellent sources of magnesium.  I used Alter Eco’s Dark Blackout Organic Chocolate for this recipe.  You will need about 2 (2.82 oz) bars.  I also used their superb Organic Mascobado Cane Sugar, a lovely unrefined caramel-rich brown sugar.  Alter Eco products are Fair Trade Certified.  You can find them at Whole Foods Markets or online at alterecofoods.com.

1 (15 oz) can organic black beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 cup strongly brewed coffee, cooled
1 egg
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 pound (2 sticks) butter, melted and cooled to room temperature
1 & 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1 cup dark chocolate pieces*

*If using the Alter Eco Dark Blackout or other dark chocolate bar, break into pieces and place in a plastic zipper bag.  Using a mallet or a rolling pin, pound chocolate through the bag into very small pieces.  Measure out a rounded cup and continue with recipe.

Preheat oven to 350°F

Drain and rinse beans and place into a food processor or blender with the coffee.  Puree until smooth.  Use a spatula to scoop all of the puree into a measuring cup.  You should have exactly one cup of pureed beans.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the egg, add the sugar and continue to beat until creamy.  Add the melted butter and the bean puree.  Mix well.

In another large bowl, combine the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, cinnamon and allspice.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients.  Stir until just combined and fold in the chocolate pieces.  Mixture will be very thick.

Scoop batter into an ungreased 9-inch round cake pan and spread in pan evenly.  Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean.

Let cool in pan and cut into 8 wedges.

Bee is for Ballare

October 17, 2014

“Everything in the Universe has rhythm.  Everything dances.”
~ Maya Angelou

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Most people know that honey bees pollinate plants and crops, build houses out of wax and produce honey.  But did you know that honey bees communicate to each other by dancing?

Honey bee colonies typically contain one queen bee (a fertile female), thousands of worker bees (non-fertile females) and several hundred drones (male bees, present during the spring and summer months).

The worker bees are named appropriately, as they do virtually all of the work: cleaning the hive, feeding the kids, caring for the queen, building honeycombs, guarding the entrance, cooling and ventilating the hive, and foraging for nectar, pollen, water and propolis (plant sap).

After returning from a successful forage, the workers communicate to each other about what they found by performing a dance, known in bee research language as the “waggle dance”.  The waggle is a figure-eight style movement that describes the quality and location of good foraging sites.

This form of interpretive bee dancing also comes in handy when a swarm is in need of a new place to live.  When the time comes to choose a site for a new home, scouting workers fly out in search of the best locations.  When the scouts return, each group makes its case for its favorite site to the other worker bees by dancing.  Part of this process involves some bees delivering head butts to those bees dancing in support of a site they don’t like.  When a dancer receives enough head butts, she stops, thereby decreasing the support for that particular site.  Eventually, only one site has dancers remaining, and that location becomes the new home.

Now scientists are using bee dances to learn which types of land management are most effective at improving habitats for bees and other wildlife.  In a study published this last spring in the journal Current Biology, researchers found that bees were more likely to dance for land sites that had been targeted for intense efforts at environmental restoration, rather than sites with less stringent environmental regulation or sites that had received low-level restoration efforts.   The bees also preferred the sites that had not been mowed, those where weeds were allowed to grow.

Over the course of two years, the researchers observed and videotaped the bees through special hives that had been built against a glass window in the laboratory.  The angles and movements of each dance were measured, as were the travel habits of the bees.  Observing the bee dances was found to be more effective at accurately informing environmental policy than satellite surveys and other remote methods of observation.

So, the next time you watch West Side Story, remember that neither the Sharks nor the Jets can claim victory.  When it comes to a dance-off, the bees have it.

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My friend Bonnie shared some baby bok choy with me.  Baby Bok Choy with Big Noodles in Broth was the tasty result.

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Baby Bok Choy with Big Noodles in Broth
Baby bok choy combines with store-bought broth, cooked udon noodles and eggs to make a delicious and simple meat-free meal.  Prepared, packaged udon noodles can be found in the refrigerated section of your grocery store.  I used Annie Chun’s Organic Japanese-Style Udon Noodles.  You can also find dried udon noodles in the Asian section of your grocery store.  Prepare according to package directions.

4 to 5 bunches of baby bok choy
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons organic soy sauce
2 eggs
2 cups chicken broth, vegetable broth or miso broth
12 oz (340g) cooked udon noodles
(if using Annie’s, that’s 2 individual packs)
Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Thoroughly wash baby bok choy.  Cut tops and set aside.  Chop stems into 1-inch chunks.

In a non-stick skillet or frying pan over medium-high heat, add oil.  When oil is hot, add stems and stir about 2 or 3 minutes or until translucent.  Add tops and stir 2 minutes or until tops are wilted.  Add garlic and soy sauce and push bok choy to edges of pan.

Break eggs into center of pan and stir to scramble.

Add broth.  Bring just to a boil, add noodles and reduce heat.  Stir with a fork until noodles are just heated through.  Add pepper to taste.  Serve hot.

Serves 2

Oki Doki Carciofi

October 7, 2014

“Silly is you in a natural state, and serious is something you have to do until you can get silly again.”
~ Mike Myers

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A friend of mine who lives in Italy once asked me to explain the meaning of “okey-dokey”, the colloquial English language expression for “o.k.”.  I told him the term is similar to the Italian “va bene”, but that it is rather old-fashioned-sounding.  To be truthful,  answering someone with the words “okey-dokey” always seemed kind of goofy to me.

As a young adult, the importance of appearing cool at all times, even when alone, was paramount.  However, now that I’m a bit older, I have come to realize that a little bit of goofiness now and then is not a bad thing.  In fact, less seriousness and more silliness can actually be beneficial to your health.

A link between laughter and the healthy function of blood vessels was first discovered by researchers at the University of Maryland Medical Center in 2005.  Their findings showed that laughter increases the blood flow by causing the inner lining of blood vessels to dilate in a manner similar to the benefits of aerobic exercise or the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs like statins.  The benefits of laughter, however, are spontaneous and have an immediate effect.

According to the Mayo Clinic, laughter causes the release of beta-endorphins in the hypothalamus gland, leading to the release of nitric oxide, which dilates the vessels, in addition to protecting the heart by reducing inflammation and preventing the formation of cholesterol plaque.  Laughing has also been shown to reduce stress hormones as well as to boost the number of anti-body-producing cells, leading to a stronger immune system.

As a yoga instructor, I like to utilize the benefits of laughter by including a pose known as “Happy Baby” (Ananda Balasana, in Sanskrit).  Happy Baby pose is easy to do.  It helps to release the lower back and stretch the hamstrings, all while reclining on the floor.  My version of Happy Baby also includes a bit of laughter, which lifts the mood and benefits the heart.  Don’t do this pose if you are pregnant.  If you have a neck or knee injury, check with your doctor first.

How to do the Laughing Happy Baby:

1)   Lie down on your back, on a rug or yoga mat.

2)   Bend the knees and bring them toward your chest.

3)   Reach up and grab the outer edges of your feet.

4)   Stack your ankles directly over your knees, so that your shins are perpendicular to the floor.

5)   Flex the feet and pull down, drawing your knees out and toward the floor, on either side of your torso.

6)   Breathe in deeply and slowly through your nose, filling your lungs completely.  As you exhale, laugh heartily: “Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!”, expelling the breath with each “ha”.  Do this, inhaling through the nose and exhaling with hearty laughter, at least three times.

~~~

Baby yourself with a little laughter.  Try this simple pose once a day.

“A person who knows how to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused.”
~ Shirley MacLaine

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Artichoke Hearts: cheesy, creamy, artichokey, yummy!

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Grilled Cheese Sandwich with Artichoke Hearts
(Panino alla griglia con formaggio e cuori di carciofi)
Not your everyday grilled cheese, the addition of artichoke hearts to this comfort food classic adds a tasty twist.  Be sure to use plain artichoke hearts, not the marinated kind.

1 cup grated Monterey Jack cheese
1/2 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/2 cup mayonnaise
1 (14 oz) can artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
Sourdough bread slices
(you will need 16 small or 8 large slices of bread)
Butter, for frying (4 or more tablespoons)

 

In a medium bowl, mix cheeses, mayo and chopped artichoke hearts until well combined.

If using large slices of bread, cut in half, making two.

Spread about 3/8 cup of the filling between two slices of bread.  Press down a bit with your palm.  Finish with the remaining filling and bread.

In a large skillet, griddle or frying pan, over medium-high heat, melt butter and swirl around the pan to coat.

When butter sizzles, carefully add the sandwiches, no more than two at a time.  Cook a few minutes until bread is golden brown, then carefully flip with a spatula and cook the other side until bread is golden brown and filling is melted.

Serve warm.

Serves 4 to 8

 

See the Light

October 1, 2014

“Every moment of light and dark is a miracle.”
~ Walt Whitman

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A new sunrise is on the horizon.  A company co-founded by former engineers at Tesla and Nasa has developed a new smart light bulb.  Called the Alba (the Italian word for “sunrise”), the bulb contains sensors that track motion, room occupancy and ambient light.  These sensors enable the Alba to reduce or increase its light output and even to make that light warmer or cooler, depending on available natural light and time of day, as well as whether or not someone is in the room.  This “smartbulb” will use 60% to 80% less energy than a regular LED bulb.

The concept makes sense, not only regarding our energy use as a society but also for our personal mental, emotional and physical energy use as well.  Too often we run on a constant level of power all day, without paying attention to the needs of the moment.

The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is in charge of the body’s response to our environment.  It regulates the functions of internal organs such as the heart, stomach and intestines as well as some muscles, skin and glands.  It causes our heart rate and blood pressure to rise or fall, depending on our situation.

The ANS has two different ways of responding to the moment.  The sympathetic nervous system kicks in if we are under stress or afraid.  It raises blood pressure and heart rate, slows digestion and releases adrenalin.  Our parasympathetic system, which takes over when we are relaxed, slows the heart and pulse rates, lowering blood pressure and facilitating digestion.  These responses evolved in order to help us to run, if we were being chased or facing some other dangerous situation, or to conserve energy, rest and digest our food, if all was well.

The modern problem with these systems arises when our minds keep us in a constant state of full power, via our sympathetic nervous system, by constantly focusing on past situations of stress or on fears of stressful situations in an imagined future.  The present moment may call for rest, relaxation and conservation of energy, but we are on full power thinking about what happened six months ago or what may happen tomorrow.

In order for our nervous system to work as intended, we must be able to see the light of the moment.  Chances are, the present moment does not require a stress response.  We must retrain our minds to let go of anything but what is now.

A good way to teach your mind to stay in the present is to practice conscious breathing.  Taking deep, full, rich breaths by inhaling, if possible, in and out of the nose, can help to facilitate the parasympathetic response, slowing the heart rate and pulse and lowering blood pressure.  Also helpful is to make the exhaling breath just a bit longer than the inhaling breath.  This helps because the heart beats more slowly when we exhale, so extending the exhaling breaths helps to “convince” the body that we are safe and relaxed, allowing the parasympathetic response to take over.

Another exercise to encourage an awareness and focus on the present moment is to practice conscious breathing while also maintaining a soft visual focus on a single point in the distance.  Softly gazing at one point in the visual field and letting the surrounding areas blur can help to keep the mind and body relaxed and in the now.

Both of these exercises, practiced one or more times a day, can help to retrain the mind to stay focused on the present, so that the nervous system and the body’s other systems can do their jobs efficiently and, in the process, help us to be happier and healthier.

“Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness.”
~ James Thurber

Let your inner light become a smartbulb.  Keep your mind’s eye focused on the now.

~~~

The Alba starter kit contains two bulbs and sells for $150.  It is available through Stack Lighting.  Visit stacklighting.com for details.

~~~~~~~~~

Cheesy Mashed Potato Portobellos will keep you focused on the present delicious moment.

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Cheesy Mashed Potato Portobellos
These tasty mashed-potato-filled mushrooms make a scrumptious side-dish for omnivores or a lovely lunch or vegetarian main course when paired with greens.  Use organic potatoes so that you can include the skins; they contain lots of nutrients.

4 large portobello mushrooms
Extra virgin olive oil (for brushing mushrooms and potatoes)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 large or 4 medium organic Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed (1 & 3/4 lbs)
Butter (optional, for surface of potatoes)
1/2 cup plain whole milk yogurt
1 cup grated sharp cheddar cheese
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
1/8 teaspoon smoked paprika

Preheat oven to 375°F

Clean portobellos with a damp cloth.  Remove stems and discard or save for another use.

Brush/rub with olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper.

Place rounded side down on a baking sheet and bake for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make mashed potatoes:

Rub surface of potatoes with butter or olive oil and pierce deeply with a fork.  Place on a paper plate or paper towel and microwave until super fork-tender (sticking a fork into potato is easily done).  This will probably take 7 to 10 minutes on full power.  Cook for 5, then check, then for 3, then check, and so on.

Chop cooked potatoes into chunks and let cool a bit.  Add potatoes to a bowl with yogurt, cheese, chives and paprika and mash/combine with a fork or potato masher.  Taste and add salt to your liking.

Divide mashed potato mixture among the portobellos, mounding filling inside cavities to create a rounded dome.  Return filled mushrooms to oven and bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until surface of potatoes is beginning to brown and crisp.

Serves 2 as a meal,  4 as an appetizer or side dish

Equal Day for Equal Night

September 22, 2014

“The length of a man’s outspread arms is equal to his height.”
~ Leonardo da Vinci

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Fall, also known as autumn, the season of apples, falling leaves and all things pumpkin spice, has arrived. As I look out of my window, the battle between those falling leaves and the cleanliness of my backyard seems far but equal.  Moments after the gardener drives away, the large tree that holds court in the center of the yard blankets the ground with a fresh layer of golden brown soldiers, as if to say, “Your move, leaf-blower man.”

The first day of the fall season is referred to as the Autumn Equinox, named as such because it is one of two times during the year that day and night are of equal length.  The first day of spring, or Spring Equinox, being the other.

The international sign for equality (=) is less than 500 years old.  It was first introduced in 1557 by a man named Robert Recorde.  In his book, The Whetstone of Witte (1557), the Welsh mathematician explained his reason for using the two parallel lines of equal length:

“… to avoid the tedious repetition of these words: “is equal to”, I will set (as I do often in work use) a pair of parallels, or Gemowe, lines, of one length (thus =), because no two things can be more equal.”

The word Gemowe derives from the Latin geminus, meaning twin, as in Gemini, the astrological sign of the twins.

The symbol was not popular at first.  It took a couple of centuries for Recorde’s equal sign to win out over other symbols that were in use, including a pair of vertical lines.  But win out it did, and Robert Recorde’s version of the equal sign was found to be better than, not equal to, the others.

The leaf battle still rages in my backyard.  For the time being, the tree has a decided advantage.  So, I will surrender, to both falling leaves and the annual pumpkin spice invasion at Trader Joe’s, and enjoy the seasons for what they are.  All things being equal, winter should come to my rescue in a few months’ time.

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Simple Caramel Sauce uses equal measurements of butter, brown sugar, regular sugar and cream.  Drizzled over cool ice cream or warm spice cake, it is a yummy treat, whatever weather the fall season brings.

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Simple Caramel Sauce
Because this recipe uses equal measurements of its main ingredients, it is easily doubled.  This topping makes just about anything taste scrumptious!  Use butter and cream from grass-feed cows and organic sugar for optimum quality and flavor.  This recipe is pretty fool-proof.  You can experiment with substituting lemonade or limeade for the cream.  I’ve also used one type of sugar instead of two, with good results.

3 tablespoons butter
3 tablespoons packed organic light brown sugar
3 tablespoons organic sugar
3 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Place ingredients in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Bring to a boil, stirring constantly.  Let mixture bubble for exactly one minute (it’s o.k. to stir a few times while it’s boiling, but I try not to).  Remove from heat and pour over cake, quick bread or whatever else you desire.  Let cool a moment or two before pouring over ice cream.

Makes about 1/2 cup

Sheer Energy

September 15, 2014

“Sunlight fell upon the wall; the wall received a borrowed splendor.  Why set your heart on a piece of earth, O simple one?  Seek out the source which shines forever.”
~ Rumi

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Here in California, where September and October are often our hottest months, the fact that the summer season is a week away from ending seems to be true only by the calender.  On sweltering days such as these, the thermostat is witness to the Sun’s enduring power.  So, in tribute to our mighty Sun, here is some super cool news about solar energy:

Solar panels that you can see through:
Researchers at Michigan State University have developed a see-thru solar panel.  Called a Transparent Luminescent Solar Concentrator, it can provide power without harming esthetics.  These solar energy producing cells can be placed over windows, buildings, cell phone screens or any other device with a clear surface.  The transparent nature of these solar cells is created by using materials that only absorb light waves from the Sun that are invisible to the human eye.

The Future of Solar Energy is Bright:
According to a recent article in Forbes magazine, solar energy will be the central driver for our future economy, providing huge opportunities for investors.  Within 20 years, the United States will be able meet between 50 and 100% of its energy requirements from solar power.  The cost of solar panels is dropping exponentially and energy storage methods are improving rapidly (capturing the Sun’s power during the day and being able to use it through the night).  Best of all, the Sun is a democratic power. Energy from the Sun is free and the poorest countries in the world are often the sunniest.

The World’s Largest Solar Plant is Now in California:
The Ivanpah Electric Generating System became operational just before Valentine’s Day earlier this year.  At full capacity, the plant produces enough electricity to provide 140,000 homes with clean energy, which is the environmental equivalent of getting 72,000 pollution-making cars off the road.

Leading by Example:
In April of this year, the Obama administration launched the Capital Solar Challenge, which directs Federal agencies, military installations and Federally-subsidized complexes to develop and deploy solar renewable power on Federal rooftops, covered parking and appropriate open land, as well as municipal buildings and Federally-assisted housing in the Washington, D.C. area.  In fact, the installation of solar panels onto the roof of the White House was completed in May.  The U.S. Department of Defense, the single largest consumer of energy in the United States, has committed to deploying 3 gigawatts of renewable energy, including solar, by 2025.

Solar Works:
Solar jobs have grown by more than 50% since 2010. In 2013 alone, the global solar industry expanded by 100%, resulting in 2.3 million jobs worldwide.  Jobs in the solar industry start at around $27,000 dollars (minimal education and less than 2 years experience).  The solar careers that are most in demand now are Solar Installation Engineer, Solar Panel Sales, Solar Maintenance, Solar Electrician and Solar Project Designer.

“To him whose elastic and vigorous thought keeps pace with the sun, the day is a perpetual morning.”
~ Henry David Thoreau

As the dark half of the year approaches, give thanks for the Sun and its virtually limitless power and potential.

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Hibiscus Gelatine is a sophisticated and refreshing end-of-summer treat.

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Hibiscus Gelatine
Topped with fresh raspberries, this delicately-flavored dessert makes a lovely palette cleanser between courses or a cool and refreshing not-too-sweet end to a meal.  You can also experiment with other teas, such as Earl Grey, green tea or flower/herbal infusions such as rose or lavender.  You can double this recipe for more servings.

2 cups water
2 organic hibiscus tea bags
1 envelope unflavored gelatin (such as Knox)
3 tablespoons organic sugar (or to taste)
Fresh raspberries, for garnish

Heat water just to boiling and pour over teabags in a heatproof glass or ceramic bowl.  Let steep until dark red in color.  Remove tea bags (squeeze liquid from teabags back into bowl) and discard.  Measure out about 1/2 cup of the liquid into a small, shallow bowl and chill until cold.  Set aside remaining tea.

Remove bowl of chilled tea from fridge.  Sprinkle envelope of gelatin evenly over surface of cold tea in bowl.  Let stand about 5 minutes (this is called “blooming” the gelatin, as it will expand and soften).

Heat remaining tea in a small saucepan over low heat.  Stir in sugar until dissolved.  Stir in bloomed gelatin and stir until dissolved (check by dipping a spoon into mixture – there should be no granules).

Pour into individual goblets or dessert bowls.  Chill overnight in fridge.

To serve: top with raspberries.

Serves 2

 

 

 

Street Heart

September 6, 2014

“The bread that you store up belongs to the hungry; the coat that lies in your chest belongs to the naked; the gold that you have hidden in the ground belongs to the poor.”
~ St. Basil

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The Street Store is a one day, rent-free, open space pop-up clothing store designed as a new way to make used clothing donations available to people who are low-income, have no income or are homeless.  Each event takes place on the street and is organized and managed by the local community.  Clothing, shoes and accessories are brought to the space the day of the event and hung up on cardboard signs that also function as clothes hangers.  The signs turn a sidewalk, fence or wall into a temporary shop display.  Volunteers receive the donations and help with display and then assist those in need with wrapping up the items that they choose.  In this way, the recipients of the donations are able to look over what is available and choose what they want to take, which is a more dignified way for them to receive help.

The first Street Store took place in Cape Town, South Africa in January 2014.  The concept was developed in conjunction with a homeless shelter by two advertising agents, Kayli Levitan and Max Pazak, as a way to streamline the giving process and bring the dignity of individual choice to those in need.  The Street Store is not a clothing drive, but a one day event.  Those donating and those receiving attend the event simultaneously.

Regarding the initial event, founder Kayli Levitan tells this inspiring story:
“On our very first day, we were standing around waiting for donations.  We were so nervous that no one would arrive.  Suddenly, a man dropped off one item.  About 2 minutes later, a gentleman came past in a shabby suit and completely broken shoes.  He asked what was going on and told us that he was going to a job interview.  He didn’t need clothes but desperately needed shoes.  And, by luck or fate, the one item that had just been donated was a pair of men’s leather shoes in his exact size.”

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The creators have now made the project available online for anyone to host in their own community.  Many successful Street Stores have already been organized in cities around the world.  If you would like to organize a one-day Street Store in your town, visit thestreetstore.org to apply.  You will receive a dropbox link with access to how-to instructions as well as designs for t-shirts and marketing materials.

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Coco Mocha Milkshake gets its kick from the addition of a bit of strong coffee to coconut milk and chocolate ice cream. The flavors of coconut and coffee go surprisingly well together.

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Coco Mocha Milkshake
This sophisticated and scrumptious milkshake is a simple combo of light coconut milk, super-premium chocolate ice cream and good, strong coffee with a hint of vanilla.  If the ice cream is frozen hard, let it soften just a bit before blending.

1/2 cup light coconut milk (unsweetened)
1/4 cup strong coffee or espresso
2 cups (1 pint) super-premium dark chocolate ice cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Combine ingredients in a blender.  Blend until smooth.  Pour into two glasses.  For a thicker shake, place glasses in freezer for a few minutes.

Serves 2