Materia Bloga
The Philosopher's Spoon Blog

Punk Rock Eggs

"There is a bit of insanity in dancing that does everybody a great deal of good."
     ~ Edwin Denby




A mosh pit is going on inside the eggs that you are boiling for your Easter basket or Passover Seder plate. 

Eggs are a good source of nutritional protein.  Most people prefer to eat them cooked, rather than runny, gooey and raw.  In order to cook an egg you must inspire its proteins to dance.  To do this requires heating them.  Think of the heat you apply to eggs as the band that provides music for an egg-cooking party.

The proteins found in egg whites are known as globular proteins.  They are long protein molecules that are twisted, folded and curled up into a spherical shape.  Various weak chemical bonds help to keep these solitary protein molecules curled up tightly into themselves, like little globes floating inside the water that surrounds them.


When you heat eggs, the solitary proteins contained within them begin to dance. It's not a polite, refined dance but an aggressive, agitated dance.  The heat is like a frenzied speed metal guitar that impels the egg-white protein molecules to slam into the water molecules that surround them, forming a mosh pit of molecules.  All this slam dancing breaks the weak bonds that previously kept the protein molecules curled up into solitary spheres.  As they continue to bash around, the egg proteins uncurl and bump into other proteins which have also uncurled.  The uncurled protein molecules begin to dance together.  The egg proteins are no longer solo.  Instead of being curled up tightly into themselves, new bonds have formed, now connecting one protein to another. 

As the music of the heat continues, they move in unison, forming a web of interconnected proteins.  The water in which the solitary molecules were once floating is now held inside the newly-formed protein web.  Liquid has become solid; a raw egg has become a cooked egg.

"The transformation which occurs in the cauldron is quintessential and wondrous, subtle and delicate.  The mouth cannot express it in words."
     ~ Michael Pollan, Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation

~~~~~~~~~

Vital Farms (see link under Elaborations sections, up and to the right) believes if you treat a hen well she will reward you with the tastiest eggs.  Vital Farms eggs are pasture raised with at least 108 square feet per bird.  Vital Farms hens enjoy more outdoor space than 99% of US hens.  Support happy, healthy hens and good eggs everywhere!  Ask for Vital Farms eggs at your grocery store or look for a local farm that pasture raises its hens or find a friend raising happy hens in their backyard.

~~~

Easter Egg Croquettes are a fun way to liven up hard boiled eggs.



Easter Egg Croquettes

Remember to leave one of your eggs uncooked, for the egg wash.  Frying these can be a little tricky.  But even if some don't look perfect, they'll still taste super decadent and yummy.


7 eggs (one for the egg wash)
3/8 cup mayonnaise
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 cup grated cheese (mozzarella, cheddar or pepper Jack)
1 cup dried breadcrumbs
A pinch of salt
Freshly ground black pepper (several turns)
1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
Flour for dusting
Olive oil for frying


Hard boil 6 of the eggs and let cool.  Peel and halve each egg.  Remove yolks to a small bowl and set aside whites.

In the bowl with the yolks, add mayo, cumin and cheese.  Mix well.

Refill egg whites with the mixture (there will be extra so this will make a dome shape over half of each egg).

In a shallow bowl, mix bread crumbs with salt, pepper, garlic powder, thyme and paprika. 

Beat egg with a little water or milk in a small bowl.

Dust the stuffed egg halves with some flour.  Then dip in the egg wash (you can use a spoon to help cover the filling part).  Then coat all over with bread crumbs, using your fingers to sprinkle and pat in a thick coating. 

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan (smaller is better - you'll need less oil). You want oil at least 1/2-inch deep.  When a bread crumb tossed into the hot oil rises to the top and sizzles, it's ready. 

Using a slotted spoon, carefully lower an egg half into the oil.  Fry until golden brown.  Remove to a paper towel-lined plate. Repeat until all eggs are cooked.  Serve immediately.

Serves 3 to 6


Home for Less

"If I can stop one heart from breaking,
I shall not live in vain;
If I can ease one life the aching,
Or cool one pain,
Or help one fainting robin
Up to his nest again,
I shall not live in vain."

     ~ Emily Dickinson


Providing a place to live for people who are homeless costs taxpayers less than it would to leave them on the streets.  This according to researchers from the University of North Carolina Charlotte, who recently studied an apartment complex intended to provide shelter for homeless people.

The 85 unit apartment complex, called Moore Place, opened in 2012.  Residents must contribute 30 percent of their income, including disability, veteran's benefits or Social Security, towards their rent.  The remaining cost of housing (about $14,000 a year per person) is paid by a combination of local and federal grants, as well as private donations.

The residents of Moore Place visit emergency rooms less often and get arrested 78 percent less than those who remain on the street.  In its first year of providing apartments for the formerly homeless, Moore Place saved taxpayers 1.8 million dollars.  As a result of this success, the Charlotte City Council has unanimously approved granting another 1 million dollars so that Moore Place can expand to 120 units.

Last year, the Fort Lyon Correctional Facility in Colorado was closed.  Governor John Hickenlooper (D), decided to turn the former prison into housing to help local homeless people, many of whom are veterans.  Like the city of Charlotte discovered, providing housing for those on the street will cost Colorado taxpayers less money.  The Colorado Coalition for the Homeless estimates that, due to costs like emergency health care and legal problems, taxpayers spend about $43,240 annually for each homeless person in Colorado.  Housing 200 people at the new Fort Lyon shelter will cost only $16,813 per person.

A study by the advocacy group Impact Homelessness found that certain municipalities in Florida have spent over 5 million dollars by repeatedly jailing 37 homeless people for violations such as sleeping in public or panhandling.  These 37 people were collectively arrested 1,250 times during a 9 year period at a cost of $104 per booking.  This resulted in the individuals spending 61,896 days in jail at an average taxpayer cost of $80 per day.  Florida would probably save its taxpayers quite a bit of money if its leaders followed the Colorado and Charlotte, NC examples.  And how much better spent would their money be?

"It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself."
     ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

~~~~~~~~~

It's easy to make Homemade Ricotta.



Homemade Ricotta
Ricotta is traditionally made by heating the whey that is left over from making other cheeses.  This simplified version uses warmed whole milk, salt & vinegar to form the curds.  This method is super-easy for the home cook and takes 30 minutes or less of your time (most of which is simply waiting).  Organic grass-fed milk costs about $3 per quart - much less than it costs for organic grass-fed ricotta (when you can find it!).  Grass-fed dairy products are healthier for your heart than those made from the milk of grain-fed cows. 

Note: check the label of your milk; choose pasteurized milk, rather than ultra-pasteurized. Sometimes the ultra-pasteurized milk will not form curds properly.

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

You will need a medium to large sized mesh strainer and
A piece of fine cheesecloth


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

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

Line a mesh strainer with a piece of cheesecloth and place this over a large bowl (you can use a strong paper towel for this purpose in a pinch, if you don't have any cheesecloth).  Slowly pour the liquid and curds into the cheesecloth.  Make sure the strainer is not sitting in the liquid so that it can continue to drain freely.  If necessary, you can pour the excess liquid (whey) into another container (you will want to save it for another use - more on this later).  Do not disturb/stir the curds. 

Let the curds drain over the bowl for about 8 to 20 minutes, depending on whether you desire a moist or a more dry ricotta.

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

I like to mix the cheese with a little olive oil or mayo, fresh herbs and a pinch of salt and pepper and serve this as an appetizer with chips or crackers.  When guests ask where you got this delicious cheese you can say, "I made it myself!"

Note:  Save the leftover liquid (whey) and add it to the cooking water to make rice or pasta for an extra dose of flavor.

Makes about 1 & 1/2 cups

Heart of Gold

"Compassion and kindness aren't expensive, but the yield is priceless."
     ~ Lloyd H. Dean


With income inequality on the rise and customer satisfaction and product quality on the decline, the corporate profit model of the last few decades, with its focus on quarterly results for shareholders above all else, is unsustainable and in desperate need of revision.

Lloyd H. Dean, president and CEO of Dignity Health, one of the nation's largest healthcare providers, believes that compassion has the power to make corporations more successful.  Mr. Dean, who is also on the board of several companies, including Wells Fargo, recently shared a stage with the Dalai Lama for a presentation titled, "Business, Ethics, and Compassion: A Dialogue with the Dalai Lama", presented at Santa Clara University.

Dignity Healthcare is a non-profit company, not subject to shareholder demands to show maximum profits every quarter.  Still, Marvin O'Quinn, Dignity's Chief Operating Officer, suggests that many for-profit companies could benefit financially from the compassion model.

Dean told a story about a member of the housekeeping staff at one of his hospitals: While cleaning the room of a breast cancer patient, she stopped to listen to the woman's story and to share her own personal experiences and encouragement with the patient.  Later, the patient wrote to the company saying, "The clinical care was excellent... but it was the housekeeper who saved my life.  She gave me hope."

The one-on-one personal connection this woman experienced is what made the difference in her opinion of the company.  That's something no phone robot, form letter, or high-tech machinery can accomplish.

Statistician W. Edwards Deming, 1987 recipient of the National Medal of Technology, believed that when people and organizations focus primarily on quality, quality tends to increase and costs fall over time.  However, when the focus is primarily on costs, costs tend to rise and quality declines over time.

Said Deming, "Profit in business comes from repeat customers, customers that boast about your project or service, and that bring friends with them."

That simple recipe for success seems like a no-brainer, but it appears to have eluded the CEOs of recent years.  Customers are tired of feeling like nothing more than an infinitesimal entry on a stockholder's portfolio.  Adopting the compassion model might be the smartest change a corporation could make.

~~~~~~~~~

Linguini with Lemon and Crab, made with pastured butter, is both healthy and delicious.

Your heart will benefit from choosing butter made from the milk of pasture-raised, grass-fed cows.  Essential fatty acids, created in the green leaves of plants, have been linked to protection against coronary heart disease.  The greater percentage of a cow's diet that comes from grass, the greater the amount of unsaturated fatty acids, the lower the amount of saturated fatty acids, and the more optimal the ratio of Omega-6 and Omega-3 fatty acids in the milk.  Look for the words "grass fed" or "pasture-raised" on your dairy products. 



Linguini with Lemon and Crab
This simple seafood pasta is easy to make and special to serve!  The recipe is for two, but it is easily doubled.  I used Trader Joe's canned crab meat for this recipe. 


8 oz linguini pasta
3/4 cup butter
1 clove of garlic, lightly smashed
1 (6 oz) can of crab meat
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Zest of half a lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese, for the table

Boil water for the pasta.  Meanwhile, make the sauce.

In a medium saucepan, stir together butter and garlic over medium-low heat.  When butter begins to sizzle, discard garlic. 

Drain liquid from canned crab and add liquid to the pasta water.  Add the crab to the pan with the butter and stir.  Stir in lemon juice, zest and chives.  Simmer for a couple of minutes and add freshly ground black pepper to taste.  Reduce heat to low.

Boil the linguini in well-salted water until al dente.  When linguini is almost done, add about 1/4 cup of the pasta water into the pan with the crab sauce and stir.  Drain the cooked pasta and add to the sauce.  Toss for a couple of minutes to mix together well and coat the linguini with the sauce.

Serve immediately.  Offer plenty of grated Parmesan cheese to sprinkle over the top.

Serves 2



Return of Spring

"The shy shadow in the garden loves the sun in silence,
Flowers guess the secret and smile,
while the leaves whisper."

     ~ Rabindranath Tagore



Yesterday there were both triumphs and defeats;
Tragedies and miracles occurred;
Wrongs, as well as rights, were committed by various nations and politicians;
Pundits and prognosticators gave their opinions;
Peoples of the world protested or remained apathetic;
Armchair revolutionaries tweeted and "liked" opinions on oppressions and utopias
and trolled the comment threads of those who did not agree;
Some folks had too much to eat and too many went to bed hungry;
Conflicts large and small were begun, ended or prevented;
The climate continued to change and the Earth continued to spin on its axis.
Tomorrow will be a lot like yesterday.

Spring is here.  It is the season for planting seeds, for new life, new beginnings and new chances.

Today, in the garden, I noticed a small green sprout growing from a stump that was once a kumquat tree.  What had seemed dead and gone - vanquished, is growing anew.

I watered the little sprout.

I breathed in deeply and I exhaled completely.

Then I made a coconut cream pie.

It is delicious.

~~~~~~~~~



Triple Coconut Chia Cream Pie

With a coconut crust, coconut filling and coconut cream topping, this rich and delicious pie is a coconut lover's dream.  The coconut milk and chia seeds combine to make a rich and thick filling and coconut cream whips up into a luscious topping.  I used butter to make the coconut crust (because it is yummy) but a strict vegan can use a butter substitute for a completely dairy-free dessert.   Chia seeds add lots of nutrition and their unique coating combines with the coconut milk to produce a delectably thick filling.  Trader Joe's has sweetened coconut shreds without additives.  For convenience, you can find all the other ingredients there too.

Coconut Crust
2 & 1/2 cups sweetened shredded coconut (6 oz)
6 tablespoons butter

Filling
1 (14 oz) can light coconut milk (unsweetened)
3/8 cup organic sugar
One 2 to 2 & 1/2 inch piece of vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons chia seeds

Whipped Coconut Cream Topping (optional - delicious with or without)
1 (15 oz) can coconut cream (not milk), well chilled
1/4 cup of powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

You will need two disposable pie plates (8" x 1")


Make the crust:
In a large sauté pan, melt butter over medium heat.  When butter begins to sizzle, add coconut flakes, stirring occasionally, then continuously (use fork to scrape the caramelized bits from the bottom of the pan and stir back into the mixture as you go).  Stir until flakes are a golden brown.  Remove from heat and let cool a few minutes.  Press into bottom and slightly up sides of two 8-inch by 1-inch pie plates to form two crusts.  Cover and refrigerate about 30 minutes.

Make the filling:
In a small, heavy saucepan, over low heat, heat coconut milk, vanilla bean and sugar.  Stir until sugar dissolves.  Remove from heat, set aside to cool completely.

When coconut milk is cooled and crusts are chilled, discard vanilla bean from coconut milk and stir in the chia seeds.  Divide the coconut chia mixture between the two crusts.  Cover and chill 3 to 4 hours.

The pie is delicious without the coconut cream topping, but you can add it for extra wonderfulness.

To make the coconut cream:
Chill bowl, beaters and whisk.
Make the cream topping just before serving.

Note:
Unlike dairy cream, coconut cream is solid when chilled.  When you scoop it into the bowl, it will be solid and the process of whipping it will make it smooth and fluffy and increase its volume.

Combine the coconut cream, powdered sugar and vanilla and beat, using an electric mixer for a good 5 or 6 minutes.  Begin on slow and then, as cream becomes smooth, increase speed to medium-high

Divide the whipped coconut cream over the top of the pies and serve.

Makes 8 or more servings


Good is Green

"For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver."
     ~ Martin Luther





Green plants, trees, herbs and grasses appear green to us because each of the colors contained in the visible light spectrum are absorbed into leaves except for green.  Green is reflected, not absorbed, so grass appears green.  The color green is a color of sharing.

The Beacon Food Forest, an ambitious neighborhood community food project in Seattle, will soon become an edible urban forest garden, with plums, apples, walnuts, berries, vegetables and fruits available for anyone to take and eat.  Located in Seattle, Washington, the Food Forest is being built by volunteers with the help of Seattle Public Utilities (which owns the 7 acre parcel of land used for the project) and the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation. 

The goal of the Beacon Food Forest is to inspire the community to gather together, grow their own food and rehabilitate the local ecosystem.  The forest will contain fruit trees from around the world, berries, nut trees, vegetables, an education center and more.

According to its co-founder, Glenn Herlihy, the Beacon Food Forest is committed to "neighborhood resiliency and food justice" and supports the idea that all communities have a right to grow their own safe, healthy food.

Herlihy hopes visitors will take only what they need and can eat right away.  However, he says that, for those whose intent is more of greed than of need, "We also plan to have a lot of people around, so you're not going to feel comfortable taking a lot of stuff."

For more information on the Beacon Food Forest Project, you can visit beaconfoodforest.org

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has."
     ~ Margaret Mead

~~~~~~~~~

Penne with Deconstructed Basil Pesto is a delicious way to enjoy Pesto unplugged.




Penne with Deconstructed Basil Pesto
Forget the food processor or the jar from the supermarket.  This pesto celebrates the individual ingredients in a popular pasta favorite.

16 oz of penne pasta
Extra virgin olive oil
1 large clove of garlic, minced
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
(plus more for the table)
30 or so large fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly
(about 1 cup packed, after slicing)
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

Cook pasta al dente in well-salted boiling water.  Drain well.

Drizzle the hot cooked pasta generously with the olive oil.  Toss to coat.  Add the garlic and cheese and toss again.  Stir in the basil and pine nuts.  Season with freshly ground pepper, if desired.  Serve immediately with additional cheese offered at the table.

Serves 6



Hurry Up and Slow Down

"There is a true story about a friend of mine who made elaborate travel arrangements to meet a guru at the Temple of Tranquility in Indonesia.  Things went wrong with his travel plans; he missed connections, got delayed and had to make other complicated plans to get there.  He finally arrived in Indonesia, hired a car to take him to the airport and said to the driver, 'The Temple of Tranquility.... and step on it!'"
     ~ Ed Begley Jr.
From the book, Ten Eternal Questions: Wisdom, Insight, and Reflection for Life's Journey, by Zoe Sallis


California seems to be at the forefront of the modern serenity and conscious living movements.  Multiple yoga centers compete in every community, offering a seemingly endless variety of styles.  Grocery stores, restaurants and even some fast food places offer "vegetarian," "vegan" and "gluten free" options.  Low or no-cost tai chi, qigong, yoga and meditation classes can be found in parks, on beaches, in schools and even at churches. 

At the same time, our community also seems to be a driving force in the commercialization of serenity.  Trendy shops sell designer yoga clothes and self-help gurus do infomercials on late night TV.  

Not long ago I was on my way into a local yoga class.  As I pulled up to the curb outside the studio, I witnessed two women arguing loudly over a nearby parking space, honking their car horns and shouting at each other.  Later, as I sat listening to the teacher begin the evening's class, I watched one, then the other of the two women who had been arguing, enter the room, unroll their mats and seat themselves in Lotus position.

We are told to relax, unwind and reduce the stress in our lives, but sometimes, even when we have the best of intentions, inner peace can too easily shift from a spiritual goal to a box on one's to-do list that must be checked.

It is best to remember that we are human beings in an imperfect world.  Inner peace, like world peace, is a worthwhile goal but impossible to achieve, except in moments.  Insistence on the perfect can be the enemy of the good in both cases.  Progress, not perfection, as they say, should be the goal.

The wellness community is also leading as a healing force in the world.  Organizations like Power in the Park, the Prison Yoga Project, Off The Mat and Into the World, Yoga Votes and the Wounded Warrior Project are doing all kinds of good.

If you want to find inner peace, find a way to help to your fellow earthly inhabitants. Remember that, in this too, you will be imperfect.  Let go of outcomes and expectations; breathe, laugh and be of service. 

"The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others."

     ~ Mohandas Gandhi

~~~~~~~~~

Slow and speedy come together in Blackstrap Molasses and Coffee Cake.



Blackstrap Molasses and Coffee Cake
A delicious use for left-over coffee.  According to the Harvard Medical School's Family Health Guide, two substances in coffee, kahweol and cafestol, raise cholesterol levels.  However, paper filters capture these substances; so, if you are watching your cholesterol, use a filtered method to make your coffee.


2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/4 cup golden brown organic sugar
1 egg
1/2 cup organic blackstrap molasses
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon powdered ginger root
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup strong hot coffee
Optional: about a tablespoon of turbinado sugar, for topping

Preheat the oven to 350°F

In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar.  Beat in egg, then molasses.  Set aside.

In a small bowl, combined flour, baking soda, spices and salt. 

Add flour mixture to bowl with molasses mixture a little at a time, alternating with hot coffee and mixing after each addition.

Spoon batter into a lightly buttered 9" cake pan.  If you like, you can sprinkle some turbinado sugar over the surface.

Bake for about 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean.

Makes 8 servings

Living the Mystery

"Midway upon the journey of our life
I found myself within a forest dark,
For the straightforward pathway had been lost."

     ~ Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy



Last week I attended the annual Los Angeles Italia Film Festival,  where I watched an interesting documentary called Il Mistero di Dante or The Mystery of Dante (Italy 2014).  The film was centered around interviews with various experts sharing their opinions on the true intentions of Dante Alighieri in writing The Divine Comedy.  These discussions were interspersed with scenes of actor F. Murray Abraham, playing the role of the supreme poet himself talking directly to the audience and, in what I feel were the best parts of the film, excerpts from The Divine Comedy were read aloud, illustrated by ethereal sequences of George Méliès-style animation.

In a manner reminiscent of The Secret (2006), the experts featured gave various opinions on who Dante Alighieri was and what he was trying to convey.  Was Dante a member of a secret esoteric order?  Did his poetry suggest a hidden meaning gleaned from an ancient body of knowledge passed down through the ages?  At the film's end, the mystery of Dante appeared only to deepen.  Studying The Divine Comedy, as with any great work, is a lifelong journey.  Each answer that is uncovered reveals further questions.  You must ultimately discover, not just what the author intended to say but what the poetry of the work says to you.

This is a common thread that runs through the works of all the great mystics, philosophers and poets.  They speak in allegory and parable because they are attempting to describe that which is indescribable: the One Thing behind everything, the Mystery of mysteries, what some call God.  Those who have glimpsed this truth and attempted to write or talk about it concur: if you are claiming to have solved the riddle of existence, then you don't understand it; if you have come to realize some of its meaning, you would know that your words could never contain it.

The journey of the human soul can be compared to a seed planted in the ground, living just below the surface, but still not able to see beyond the darkness.  The seed feels compelled to move toward the light, but does not know why it feels this need to grow or what it is growing toward.  If the seed seeks answers from the others living beside it in the dark earth, some may pretend to know what lies beyond the surface, some may offer a guess, and others would doubt that a surface even exists.

The answer that the seed seeks can only be found by growing.  Our seed must break through both its own exterior shell and the soil that surrounds it in order to reach the sun's light.  At this point the seed has transformed into a sprout.  How can a sprout communicate to a seed what it discovers?  One buried in the earth and the other bathed in the light of the sun, they no longer speak the same language.  Each seed must discover its own path to the surface and the light to know what it means to be risen.

At the end of the day, whether one is searching for the meaning of Dante's Divine Comedy or of life itself, the beauty lies not in solving the mystery, but in living the mystery.

"The only answer that I give you is doing it," he said.
"A just request is to be met in silence, by the act."

     ~ Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy

~~~~~~~~~

Nine spheres of flavor come together to form a heavenly combination of tastes in Nine Layer Dip, a Mediterranean version of the popular Southwestern-style party bowl.



Nine Layer Dip
This luscious layered dip makes a lovely centerpiece to your appetizer table when assembled in a glass bowl.  Or, make individual versions in small bowls or glass mugs.  Serve with pita chips, crisp baguette slices or crackers.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
(plus more to drizzle over top of dip)
1 clove of garlic, lightly smashed
1/2 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon water
1 (15 oz) can cannellini beans or great northern beans, drained and rinsed
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
16 oz tub of whole milk ricotta cheese
12 oz jar of marinated artichoke hearts
4 oz crumbled goat cheese, such as feta
14.5 oz can diced organic seasoned tomatoes
(such as fire-roasted, Italian seasoning, basil and garlic, etc)
2 cups grated mozzarella cheese
14.5 oz can hearts of palm, drained and chopped
10 to 15 large fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts


Heat oil in a small, heavy saucepan over medium heat.  Add garlic and stir until translucent.  Stir in vinegar and water.  Discard garlic.  Stir in beans, thyme and a bit of salt and pepper.  When beans begin to bubble, remove pan from heat and mash with a fork until mostly smooth.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Meanwhile, drain artichokes and reserve marinade.  Stir 1/4 cup of marinade into the ricotta (or more to taste). 

In a large glass bowl or individual bowls:

Begin by adding all the bean mixture and spreading over bottom of bowl(s). 
Top this with the flavored ricotta. 
Scatter the artichoke hearts over the ricotta.
Sprinkle the goat cheese over the artichoke hearts and grind some pepper over the cheese.
Top the goat cheese layer with the diced tomatoes (you may want to drain some of the tomato liquid, if necessary, before adding).
Top the tomatoes with the grated mozzarella.
Add the chopped hearts of palm over the mozzarella.
Scatter the fresh basil over the hearts of palm layer.
Sprinkle the pine nuts over the basil.
Season the top with a pinch of salt and some freshly ground black pepper.
Drizzle some extra virgin olive oil over all.

Cover and refrigerate if not serving immediately.

Serve with pita chips, crusty bread, toasted baguette slices or crackers.

Leftovers (if any) are excellent tossed with cooked pasta.


Best Remake

"There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered."
     ~ Nelson Mandela


In 1975, Ian "Skip" Wilson bought a 1957 two-door Chevrolet Bel Air for $375 dollars.  The car was in bad shape when he bought it, but Wilson, a mechanic, had planned on fixing it up.  Unfortunately, in 1984, before he could fulfill his dream of restoring the classic car, it was stolen from his home in Northern California.

3o years later, Mr. Wilson received a call from the California Highway Patrol.  His Chevy, taken three decades earlier, had been found on a cargo ship headed for Australia. 

As if the return of his long-lost Chevrolet wasn't enough, when it was finally given back to him, the car was in far better shape than when it was stolen.  The interior had been redone and 17-inch racing wheels had been added, as well as new rack-and-pinion steering and a 350-horsepower V-8 engine.

How many times have you been disappointed, only to find out years later that what you originally thought was a great loss had later been revealed to be a blessing?  Have you ever felt that you were the sad main character in a dark and melancholy film, and then come to realize that the script had flipped and, in a surprising plot twist, what had seemed a setback was, instead, the exact turn of events that made a happy ending possible?

We know now that the story of Ian Wilson's Chevy ended happily.  But, how do you think he felt when it was stolen?  Perhaps if he had known his car would be returned 30 years later, repaired and restored for him, he would have felt better.  But I am guessing that not knowing the happy ending that awaited him made the surprise that much sweeter when it finally came.

Most of the time, we watch movies for the vicarious excitement of not knowing the ending.  This life is your personal movie.  Would you rather it be thought-provoking, adventurous and interesting or dull, boring and predictable?

"A film is never really good unless the camera is an eye in the head of a poet."

     ~ Orson Welles

~~~~~~~~~

Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Blueberry Bruschetta is a delicious remake of the traditional version made with tomatoes. 



Mushroom, Goat Cheese and Blueberry Bruschetta

Of all the recipes I've come up with for this blog, this is one of my favorites.  The flavor of blueberries pairs surprisingly well with mushrooms.  This tasty and easy to prepare bruschetta makes an impressive appetizer or a tasty vegetarian main course.

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
2 cups thinly-sliced button mushrooms
(most of an 8 oz container)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1 shallot, diced
1/2 cup frozen organic blueberries
1/8 teaspoon allspice
Salt and pepper to taste
4 to 6 slices of Italian bread, sourdough or rustic seeded bread
(depending on size)
More extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
4 to 6 oz of chèvre-style (soft and creamy) goat cheese


Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet and cook the mushrooms over med-high heat for about 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Lower the heat to medium and stir in the vinegar and lemon juice, then the diced shallot, followed by the blueberries.  Stir in the allspice.  Reduce heat to low and add just a bit of salt and pepper to taste.  Let simmer until juice is thickened (about 5 minutes).  Remove from heat and set aside.

Toast the bread slices on both sides, under a broiler or on the grill.  You want the surface to be crisp but the inside still somewhat soft.  While the bread is still hot, drizzle both sides with a little olive oil.  Spread one side of each slice with about 1 oz of the goat cheese.  Divide the mushroom/blueberry mixture among the slices, spooning over the goat cheese.  Serve immediately or heat very briefly under the broiler to warm the topping if desired.

Serve with a knife and fork.

Makes four appetizer or two main dish servings



True Love

"For true love is inexhaustible; the more you give, the more you have.
And if you go to draw at the true fountainhead, the more water you draw, the more abundant is its flow."

     ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery




Last year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, over 21 million U.S children ate free or reduced-price lunches, offered through their school lunch programs.  That number represents 70 percent of the total students who ate lunch prepared by their schools.  For many poor children, this may represent their only nutritious meal of the day.

Last month, the child nutrition manager at a school in Utah threw out the lunches of about 40 elementary school students after their parents fell behind on payments for their kid's school meals.  Instead of a proper lunch, the children were given milk and fruit, which is the meal that the Utah school gives to children who are unable to pay.  Last November, a Texas middle school student's lunch was thrown away because he was 30 cents short on payment.

After hearing about the children in Utah, Kenny Thompson, an elementary-school tutor in Houston, Texas, became concerned about the students in his local schools.  He found that many students were on "reduced" lunches of cold peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, rather than a full hot meal, because their parents couldn't afford the 40 cents a day to pay for a proper lunch.

Mr. Thompson decided to donate $465 of his own money to pay for the over 60 students who were behind in payment.

"These are elementary school kids," said Mr. Thompson, "They don't need to be worried about finances.  They need to be worried about what grade they got in spelling."

One in five American children lacks consistent access to food and 75 percent of teachers say they have students who regularly show up to class hungry.  Hungry children are more at risk for emotional and psychological problems, as well as poor school performance.

Thankfully, this is not the case everywhere.  In Boston, public schools provide all students a free breakfast and lunch, whatever their financial situation.

Feeding our future generations so they can learn and become good citizens is important for us all, even those of us who don't have children.

Last November, a satellite built by Virginia high-school students was launched into space with the help of NASA.  Called the TJ3Sat, it is the first orbiting spacecraft built by high-school kids.

TJ3Sat was designed for use by both teachers and students around the world.  By using their own radios and Internet connections, they can hear words from other classrooms, via space.  So students have created a machine to help their fellow students communicate and learn from each other.

You can listen to the satellite on its specific frequency (437.320 MHz).  Simply go outside and use a short-wave radio.

Then inquire about your own local school children's lunch programs.  Kids with full stomachs are better equipped to learn and someday create a better world.  If you find your local kids may be going hungry at school, an old-fashioned bake sale can be a fun way to raise money.

"A loving heart is the beginning of all knowledge."
     ~ Thomas Carlyle

~~~~~~~~~

Muffin Cup Mac 'N' Cheese takes a lunchtime favorite and makes it into a scrumptious appetizer.



Muffin Cup Mac 'N' Cheese

These individually-portioned macaroni and cheese cups are made extra yummy with the addition of a cheese and breadcrumb top and base.  They make a lovely side dish or appetizer and, as a main course, make for a fun presentation.

1 & 1/2 cups bread crumbs
2 & 1/4 cups finely grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
5 to 6 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil

1 cup whole milk
2.5 oz chèvre-style goat cheese (at room temp)
1/2 cup organic mayonnaise
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
5 cups of freshly-grated Tillamook Medium Cheddar
(most of a 16 oz block)
8 oz imported Italian elbow macaroni

Tabasco-style hot sauce, to serve (optional)

You will need two 12-cup muffin pans.


Preheat oven to 350°F

In a medium bowl, combine bread crumbs, garlic and cheese.  Mix well with a fork.  Add olive oil, a couple of tablespoons at a time, until mixture is evenly coated and holds together slightly when pressed.  Set aside.

In a large bowl, mix milk and goat cheese with a fork until smooth.  Add mayo, cayenne and black pepper.  Mix well and add the grated cheddar.  Stir well and set aside.

Cook pasta al dente in boiling, salted water.  Do not over cook (macaroni should be slightly chewy when you bite into it).  Rinse pasta in cool water, drain well and add to bowl with sauce.  Stir everything to combine well.

In a 12-cup muffin pan, add about 1 & 1/2 tablespoons of the bread crumb mixture to each muffin cup and press on bottom and up the sides to form a base.  Repeat with the second muffin pan.  Bake these for 3 to 5 minutes or until golden.  Remove from oven.

Top each base with about 1/4 cup of the macaroni and cheese mixture.  Sprinkle one rounded tablespoon of the crumb mixture on top of the macaroni mixture and let some of it fall down the sides (this will help hold them together).  Repeat with the other muffin pan.

Bake for 22 to 28 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown.  Let stand 10 minutes before serving.

To serve:
Loosen edges with a small knife and, using a large spoon, carefully pop out of muffin cup and invert on a plate.  If there are extra bread crumbs on the bottom, simply scoop out and spoon over the top for a pretty garnish.  Serve with Tabasco-style hot sauce.

Note:  If you are serving these to a number of guests, it might be easier to let these cool almost all the way down; they will scoop out of the pan and hold together more easily.  Then you can reheat briefly in a toaster oven or microwave.

Makes 24 muffin-cup-sized portions


Age of Aquarius

Harmony and understanding
Sympathy and trust abounding
No more falsehoods or derisions
Golden living dreams of visions
Mystic crystal revelation
And the mind's true liberation
Aquarius! Aquarius
!
     ~ From "Age of Aquarius"
         Recorded in 1969 by the 5th Dimension
         (lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni)



Most of us are familiar with the well-known song "Age of Aquarius" from the musical Hair.  And many have a vague knowledge of the term Age of Aquarius having something to do with a coming era of world peace and brotherhood.  Aquarius is Latin for "water-carrier" and the astrological sign is depicted as a human figure who pours the waters of knowledge from a vessel.  The water washes away the past as it flows out into the world equally to all, leaving behind the opportunity for new growth and new visions.

But, what exactly is the Age of Aquarius and when does it begin, or has it begun already?

The Age of Aquarius is an astrological, not an astronomical age.

Astrology is the ancient practice of interpreting the influence of our Sun, Moon and planets upon the life of the Earth, including its bodies of water (tides), plants (farmer's almanacs), people (sun signs and weekly horoscopes) and world events (Nancy Reagan had Jimmy Carter's astrological chart done in 1980 before giving her consent to her husband's presidential bid).

Astronomy is the scientific analysis of matter in space.  Astronomers aim to describe the positions of celestial bodies as accurately as possible.  Astrologers, on the other hand, want to interpret the meaning of these positions as the Sun and planets move through 12 zones in the sky, each named after a major constellation found within (Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Virgo, Libra, Scorpio, Sagittarius, Capricorn, Aquarius and Pisces).  These 12 zones are collectively known as the Zodiac.

Astrological ages occur because of an actual motion of the Earth known as the Precession of the Equinoxes.  About every 2,150 years or so, the Sun's position at the time of the March or September equinox (the first day of spring or first day of fall) moves in front of a new zodiac constellation.  So, according to astrology, the Age of Aquarius begins when the March equinox position of the Sun moves out of the constellation Pisces and into the constellation Aquarius.  However, astrologers differ on when the Age of Pisces began and thus differ in their opinion of the beginning of the age of Aquarius.  This is because various astrological methods define the boundaries of each zone of the Zodiac differently.  Some believe their calculations show that the Age of Aquarius started in 2012.

From an astronomical perspective, the Age of Aquarius begins according to the constellation boundaries of the International Astronomical Union (IAU), established in 1930.  Jean Meeus, a Belgian astronomer and mathematician specializing in celestial mechanics, states that the Sun at the March equinox moved from the constellation of Aries to the constellation of Pisces in 68 B.C.  and that the March equinox point will shift from Pisces to Aquarius in 2597.

So, from a scientific perspective, we have a ways to go until the Age of Aquarius arrives.  From an astrological perspective, this shift will usher in a period of universal love, peace and brotherhood.  From a "there's no time like the present" perspective, I'll end with a quote from another popular song:

Let there be peace on earth
And let it begin with me.

     ~ From "Let There Be Peace on Earth"
         By Jill Jackson Miller and Sy Miller (1955)

~~~
Lewis Carroll, the author of the beloved classic Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was born under the zodiac sign of Aquarius.  The original handwritten and illustrated version of the book has been digitized and is available at the online gallery of the British Library at:  bl.uk/onlinegallery/ttp/alice/accessible/introduction.html

~~~~~~~~~
Celebrate your unbirthday 364 days a year with Birthday Cake French Toast.  This cake-meets-breakfast treat is also a delicious way to say, "Good Morning, Valentine" on February 14th.



Birthday Cake French Toast
A delectable dessert or a naughty breakfast, this treat will make any day a happy one.

1 (16 oz) pound cake, cut into 12 equal slices
3/4 cup half and half
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
A pinch of salt
Butter for frying (about 1/4 cup)
Chocolate Maple Syrup (recipe follows)
Optional, to serve:
Ice cream or whipped cream
Fresh Raspberries

In a medium bowl, whisk together half and half, eggs, vanilla and salt.

Heat butter in a large griddle or frying pan (start with a tablespoon, then add as needed).

Dip cake slices into egg mixture, fully coating both sides (don't let soak for too long or your cake will fall apart).  Cook in the butter over medium-high heat until golden brown, then flip carefully to brown the other side.

Serve slices drizzled with Chocolate Maple Syrup, accompanied by a dollop of whipped cream or ice cream and a few fresh raspberries.

Makes six servings


Chocolate Maple Syrup

4 oz of dark chocolate (70% cacao), broken into pieces
1/2 cup organic maple syrup

Heat chocolate and syrup in a small heavy saucepan over low heat.  Stir until smooth.

A Grain of Spoon:

"Be still, sad heart! and cease repining; behind the clouds is the Sun still shining." ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Thank you to the plants...

According to Steph Zabel, of the Harvard University Herbaria, thyme helps us digest fatty foods and meats and can help fight respiratory problems and colds (news.harvard.edu, April 3, 2014).

Materia Clicca

Cooking and Mysticism, the second book from Gina De Roma, is a complete collection of the first year of blog posts and recipes from The Philosopher's Spoon Blog. Click the link for New Book! under the Menu at the top of this blog, for details and to purchase a copy online.

Recent Posts

  1. Punk Rock Eggs
    Wednesday, April 16, 2014
  2. Home for Less
    Wednesday, April 09, 2014
  3. Heart of Gold
    Wednesday, April 02, 2014
  4. Return of Spring
    Tuesday, March 25, 2014
  5. Good is Green
    Monday, March 17, 2014
  6. Hurry Up and Slow Down
    Monday, March 10, 2014
  7. Living the Mystery
    Monday, March 03, 2014
  8. Best Remake
    Monday, February 24, 2014
  9. True Love
    Tuesday, February 18, 2014
  10. Age of Aquarius
    Monday, February 10, 2014

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