Light Saber

November 21, 2016

“Though my soul may set in darkness,
It will rise in perfect light,
I have loved the stars too fondly
To be fearful of the night.”
~ Sarah Williams (Twilight Hours: A Legacy of Verse, 1868)

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After a year filled increasingly with hateful bullying, angry shouting, profanity and scapegoating, the recent triumph of these tactics has left many of us depressed and disheartened, in deep mourning of what seems to be the death of basic forms of civility and humanity.  Many of my clients and friends have recently described a sudden onset of physical symptoms that are similar to those that appear when one is fighting an infection: fatigue, body aches, digestive problems and difficulty sleeping.

In order to fully recover from this malady, we must first determine what has infected us.  The answer can be found within the plot of the film Ghostbusters II:

Simply put: we’ve been slimed.

In the 1989 film, the Ghostbusters encounter “Mood Slime”, a psycho-reactive substance fueled by hate, anger and hostility.  Direct contact with this psycho-reactive slime would fill a person with the negative emotions that were stored up in it.  The movie’s villain and evil tyrant, “Vigo Von Homburg Deutschendorf”, uses this anger-charged substance to gather more power and to attack his enemies.  The slime has infected the entire city of New York with its negative influence and threatened to give permanent power to the evil tyrant.  Just in time, the Ghostbusters discover that Mood Slime can also be positively charged and they use it to animate the Statue of Liberty to walk down Broadway, inspiring and uplifting New Yorkers to feel joy and comaraderie, instead of rage and division, weakening Vigo and ultimately defeating him.

Anger, being one of the five stages of grief, is an understandable reaction to those who would demonize their fellow human beings based on race, religion, culture or gender, and a bit of righteous anger can inspire us to action: to push back against voices of hate and division and to fight attempts to institutionalize bigotry and normalize injustice.

The danger is in letting negative reactions and emotions become our default state of being.  Too much wallowing in despair is incapacitating.  Sustained anger becomes a self-administered poison and, eventually, a contagion.

Answering the hate and anger of others with still more hate and anger, even if you feel yours is justified, only feeds into the darkness.  Instead, diffuse anger and hate with light and love.  If you can’t quite bring yourself to feel love for those who bully, harass and marginalize others, leave them be.  Hate has a way of consuming itself.  Instead, direct your light and love to those who are most vulnerable, who are in need of protection and healing.

Become a beacon of light in the midst of darkness.  When you are feeling strong and filled with light, share it with others, who can, in turn, light the way for you if your mood takes a dark turn.  There are many ways to shine the light.  Speak up when you see people harassed or bullied.  Contribute to or volunteer for organizations that advocate for and defend those in need of protection.  Come together with others to form meditation/visualization groups that meet regularly to be conduits of healing and positivity.

Even though you are only one person, one soul, you can contribute to illuminating darkness and healing our collective hearts.  You may ask how, if you feel depressed and defeated, you could possibly have anything to offer someone else.  Remember that, when you focus on the light, you are channeling the Soul of the World, which contains the loving strength of an entire Universe.  When you allow yourself to be a conduit of light and love, that light and love moves through you and benefits you with healing on its way to others.

You can begin by using the simple meditative technique of candle meditation.

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Here’s how:

Candle meditation is the simple act of gazing at a candle flame and focusing one’s attention on a single point of light.  It helps one to quiet the mind and focus on the moment, on the “now”.

First, make sure the room is dimly lit (shades drawn, lights turned down).  Choose a candle that will stand on its own or fit inside a candle holder.  Select an appropriate color (white or lavender for healing, pink for love).  Find a comfortable place to sit where you can place the candle in front of you at eye level or slightly below (you don’t want to have to crouch down or strain your neck).  Make sure you will be able to sit comfortably and that the candle will be at least 20 inches/50 cm away from you, so that the flame does not appear too bright as you gaze.  Light the candle, sit back and gaze at the flame, letting everything else around it blur.  At first, your thoughts and eyes may try to wander.  Keep refocusing on the candle flame and, in time, your mind will quiet.

Inhale and exhale deep, steady and slow breaths, preferably in and out of your nose.  Imagine that you are breathing in the golden light and, as you exhale, visualize yourself surrounded by its protective halo.  See the candle flame as a concentrated point of pure universal love and visualize sending it out to people and communities that need protection and healing.

When you are finished meditating, whether you leave the candle burning or put the flame out until your next session, take a moment to give thanks for the opportunity to be a conduit of universal light and love.  Ask or set the intention to continue to be so as you move through the coming moments, hours, days and weeks.

Take a deep breath, keep moving forward and hold the light in your heart as you travel.  Together, we will find our way.

In the words of the late Leonard Cohen:

“Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.”

~~~~~~~~~

Light up your Thanksgiving dessert table with Pumpkin Cannoli.

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Pumpkin Cannoli
(Cannoli alla Crema di Zucca)
These traditional Sicilian pastries get a Thanksgiving twist with the addition of pumpkin pie filling.  Ask your local Italian bakery to fry you up some ready-to-fill cannoli shells.  If you can’t find them, you can use puff pastry shells to hold this scrumptious filling.   You will need to start these two days ahead.  Use any leftover canned pumpkin to add to soups or muffin recipes.

Ingredients
For pumpkin pie filling:
1 & 1/4 cups canned organic pumpkin (from a 15 oz can)
1/4 cup organic sugar
1 teaspoon pumpkin pie spice
1 teaspoon vanilla

~~

1 (15 oz) tub of whole milk ricotta
1 (8 oz) tub of mascarpone cheese
6 Tablespoons powdered sugar (plus some for dusting)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 dozen prepared cannoli shells

 

To make cannoli filling:
The night before:
Drain ricotta inside a large sieve placed over a bowl, overnight in refrigerator.

The next day:
In a medium bowl, stir together pumpkin, sugar, pumpkin pie spice and 1 teaspoon vanilla until sugar dissolves.

Combine drained ricotta, mascarpone, pumpkin pie filling, powdered sugar and additional vanilla.  Mix well and push through sieve using a large spoon (pain in the booty, but worth it).  Chill until serving time.

Shortly before serving, fill shells using a pastry bag or skinny spreader.  Dust with powdered sugar.

Makes 12 cannoli

Cat Power

October 31, 2016

“Never forget the most powerful force on earth is love.”
Nelson Rockefeller

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Our modern lifestyle of extended sitting, whether in a car while commuting or at a desk while working, whether crouched on a couch while scrolling screens or semi-folded, watching TV, can make our back muscles stiff and sore.  Are you canvassing and knocking on doors to help get out the vote for the upcoming election? Walking is wonderful, but walking on concrete can also cramp our spine’s style by compacting the vertebrae, making for less fluid and comfortable movement of the spinal column.

If current events are interrupting your body’s ability to go with the flow, there are two simple yoga stretches that can help.  Called the Cat and Cow poses, these stretches are easy for almost anyone to do and they can be done practically anywhere: either sitting in a chair, sitting on the floor or on all fours.

The alternating movement between Cat pose and Cow pose stretches the spine, as well as the back and hip muscles, helping to improve posture and keep the spine fluid.  In addition, these poses open the chest and lungs, making breathing easier.  The abdominal muscles (also known as the “core”) get a nice mini-workout too.

 

Here are simple instructions for doing 3 versions of Cat-Cow pose.  The seated versions are both good for those with wrist or knee issues, who cannot position themselves on all fours.  The chair version is great while at work or on an airplane:

Traditional Cat and Cow Flow

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Begin on all fours.  Place your wrists under your shoulders, about shoulders-width apart and knees under your hips, about sit-bones-distance apart, with your torso flat and your abdominal muscles firm, as if you were a four-legged table.  You can put a towel under your knees for more comfort.

Inhale into Cow Pose:
As you inhale slowly (preferably in through your nose), sink your mid-section towards the floor as you move your chest and shoulders back and up and your hips and tailbone up toward the sky.  Glance upward, being careful not to throw your head too far back.

Exhale into Cat Pose:
Exhale (again, preferably out via the nose), arching your back like the image of a Halloween cat on top of a pumpkin, dropping your head gently and bringing your shoulders down and toward your hips and your hips toward your shoulders, crunching your abdominal muscles inward to squeeze out the last bit of breath.

Repeat, alternating between inhaling Cow Pose and exhaling Cat Pose for 3 to 9 sets.

Bring your torso back to your starting, neutral, table position.

Seated Version (Floor)

Sit in a comfortable, cross-legged position.  Begin breathing deeply, evenly, slowly, preferably in and out of the nose. Inhale, looking upward and bringing the torso forward, shoulders and hips back.  Exhale in the opposite direction, rounding the back and bringing the shoulders and hips forward and bringing the chin gently towards the chest as you squeeze out the last bit of breath using your abdominal muscles.  Repeat several times, then return to neutral, starting position.  You can lightly hold onto your front leg to anchor your hands and guide your movement.

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Chair Version

Sit upright in your chair with your feet evenly on the floor in front of you.  Place your hands lightly over your knee caps. Begin breathing deeply, evenly, slowly, preferably in and out of the nose. Inhale, looking upward and bringing the torso forward, shoulders and hips back.  Exhale in the opposite direction, rounding the back and bringing the shoulders and hips forward and bringing the chin gently towards the chest as you squeeze out the last bit of breath using your abdominal muscles.  Repeat several times, then return to neutral, starting position.

“Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it.”
~ Lao Tzu

~~~~~~~~~

Philly meets the Southwest in this mash-up of regional favorites: Green Chile Cheesesteak Tacos (or Tortas).

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Green Chile Cheesesteak Tacos (or Tortas)
If you can still find fresh green chilies in your local market, you can roast them yourself.  However, you can find them pre-roasted and canned or frozen all year round at your local market or online.  This last August, my local Whole Foods was selling freshly-roasted Hatch green chilies (a New Mexico specialty) in the produce section.  I took them home, diced some and left some whole for stuffing and froze them to enjoy this fall and winter.  This fiery Southwestern twist on the traditional Philly Cheesesteak Sandwich was my first delicious experiment with them. 

You want the thinnest cut of beef possible for a good, authentic Cheesesteak sandwich.  Be sure to choose grass-fed, humanely-raised beef for the most flavorful, healthiest and kindest beef.  Mine came from Eel River Organic Grass Fed Beef (click for link).

This recipe serves two people.  You can double or triple the ingredients for more servings.

 

1/2 lb Milanesa-cut beef (or similarly thin-sliced, lean, rib-eye, flat iron or flank steak)

Salt and freshly-ground black pepper

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 peeled fresh whole garlic clove, lightly smashed

2 green onions, trimmed and chopped (green and white parts)

2 tablespoons diced roasted green chilies
(Hatch, if you can find them – you can use defrosted from frozen or canned)

A splash of soy sauce

Dash of ground cumin

Shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Warmed corn or flour tortillas for tacos

Or

Warmed hoagie-style rolls for tortas

Optional for tortas:
Mayonaise

 

To get nice, thin slices of beef:
Tightly roll steak into a log shape.  Wrap log in plastic wrap and then foil and place in freezer for about an hour (you want it frozen, but not rock-solid).

Remove from freezer and remove foil and plastic wrap.  Using a very sharp, serrated knife, slice log into almost paper-thin strips.  Season beef with salt and freshly-ground pepper, cover and place in refrigerator to defrost all the way.

In a large skillet over low heat, add smashed garlic clove and stir to release flavor.  Push clove to outer edge of pan.  Add chopped green onions and stir until translucent. Push to outer edges of pan.

Turn heat up to medium and add beef slices, stirring often, until browned and cooked through. Add diced chilies and stir to combine.  Add a splash of soy sauce (and a few drops of water if needed to deglaze pan).  Add dash of cumin.  Stir the green onions into the mixture and continue stirring until chilies are softened.  Discard garlic clove.
For tacos:
Line a warm corn or flour tortilla with shredded Jack cheese.  Top with warm beef mixture and serve.

For tortas:

If desired, spread one half of roll with mayo.  Top other half with shredded jack cheese and pile beef mixture on top of the cheese half.  Put the two halves together and serve.

Tip: Fruit salad and french fries are nice on the side.  Vanilla ice cream will cool the heat after a spicy meal.

 

Resting Bliss Face

October 5, 2016

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
~ Thích Nhat Hanh

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Turn up the corners of your mouth.

As a yoga therapist, my goal when teaching is to benefit both body and mind, to facilitate healing not only at the physical level, but also emotionally, mentally, energetically and spiritually.  My instruction to students to subtly shift their facial expressions during yoga practice aims to improve how they feel as well as how they appear to those around them.

I am also a massage therapist.  Over my many years of practice, I have had countless opportunities to watch the faces of people at rest.  Too often I see relaxed expressions that betray years of negative feelings and thoughts.  Many people who may have been smiling and happy before reclining, have a default appearance that seems angry, hurt and disappointed once they close their eyes to relax.  These people are not necessarily upset at the time, rather their faces have been etched day after day, year after year by continuous frustration, worry, judgment and fear.

A few years ago, I decided to be mindful of my facial expression, not to let my countenance get stuck in a scowl or grimace.  I didn’t want my resting face to be a negative one.  As a result of this effort, I noticed that, no matter what state of mind I was in at the time, when I began to smile, my mood shifted and improved almost instantly.  I looked into the idea that facial expressions could influence attitude and discovered that there was published research which proved that the physical act of smiling can reduce stress and improve one’s perception and mood.

A few years ago, researchers at the University of Kansas found that subjects who smiled while performing stressful tasks had lower heart rates than non-smilers doing the same task. In fact, the study showed that those who formed fuller, more genuine smiles, involving eye muscles as well as those of the mouth, had even lower heart rates.  When the parasympathetic response  (also known as the “relaxation response”) is activated, one indicator is a slowed heart rate.  Therefore, these results demonstrate that the physical act of forming a smile may help the body to reduce stress.

Smiling can also improve the way we see others and the world around us.  A study back in the late ’80s demonstrated that subjects found cartoons funnier when they formed a smile with their facial muscles.  Two separate studies, in 2012 and 2015, found that when someone smiles, their brain sees the facial expressions of other people more favorably, proving scientifically that (as Louis Armstrong wrote in his famous song) when you smile, the world really does seem to be smiling with you.

So, throughout your day, remember to stop for a moment and turn up the corners of your mouth.

In fact, try it right now.

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“Peace begins with a smile.”
~ Mother Teresa

~~~~~~~~~

Here in Southern California, the weather is still warm and sunny, not quite baking season. No-Bake Raspberry Lemon Cheesecake will put a smile on your face without having to heat up your oven.

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No Bake Raspberry Lemon Cheesecake
Depending on local availability, you can use fresh or frozen raspberries to make this delicious and creamy no-bake cheesecake.  You will need a pie plate or springform pan, a blender or food processor and a fine mesh sieve for this recipe.

Crust:
1 & 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs (about 10 2-piece grahams)
3 tablespoons organic sugar
6 tablespoons butter, melted
Pinch of salt (omit if using salted butter)

Filling:
8 oz package of cream cheese, softened (do not use low fat)
14 oz can sweetened condensed milk
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
1 teaspoon lemon zest (1 lemon)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Raspberry Topping:
3 cups fresh raspberries
Or
3 cups frozen raspberries, thawed (with liquid)
1/4 cup organic sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

 

Make the crust:
Using a rolling pin, crush graham crackers cookies between two pieces of plastic wrap.  Combine the melted butter with the graham crumbs, sugar and salt (if using) in a bowl and mix thoroughly with a fork.  Press mixture evenly into the bottom and up the sides of an 8-inch or 9-inch pie plate or into the bottom and partially up sides of a 8 or 9-inch springform pan.  Refrigerate until set (about 1 hour).

Meanwhile, in a medium bowl, using an electric mixer on low speed, beat cream cheese until fluffy.  Add sweetened condensed milk, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla.  Mix again on low speed until smooth and free of lumps.  Stir by hand with a spoon to finish smoothing.

Pull pie plate or springform from fridge and spoon filling evenly into crust.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill at least 4 hours.

To make raspberry topping:
Combine raspberries, sugar and vanilla in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.  Place a medium bowl underneath and push raspberry mixture through a fine mesh sieve with the back of a large spoon until all the liquid is in the bowl.  Discard seeds and remaining solids.  Cover raspberry topping and store in fridge until serving time.

To serve:
If using a springform, carefully unhook and remove side of pan.  Slice into wedges and drizzle with raspberry topping.  Garnish with fresh raspberries, if available.

Serves 8 to 10

 

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