Encouraging Signs

March 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preheat oven to 350°F

To form cookies:

Line a baking sheet with foil or parchment.

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

Makes about 30 cookies

 

Art of Silence

March 12, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unplug yourself from the machine of noisy desperation.

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

~ Max Ehrmann, Desiderata

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

 

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

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

 

Heat oven to 400°F

Pat cod to remove any excess water.

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

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

Meanwhile:

Juice lemon and set aside juiced halves.

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

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

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

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

Coat fish fillets in pesto mix, then flour.

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

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

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

Serves 2

The Golden Door

February 13, 2017

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

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

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

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

The New Colossus

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

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Emma Lazarus (November 2, 1883)

 

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

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

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

Preheat oven to 400°F

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is extra yummy served with vanilla ice cream.

Best served the same day or next day.

Serves 8

 

How to Roar

February 4, 2017

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

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

Some benefits of Lion Pose can be:

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

Here’s how to softly roar with Lion Pose:

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

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

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

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

Have a courageous day!

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

~~~~~~~~~

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Remove the ravioli from the freezer.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 3 to 4

Rosemary Ranch Dressing

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

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

 

Transmutable

January 25, 2017

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

 

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

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

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

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

I call this method my “Recycler”:

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

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

~ Helen Keller

~~~~~~~~~

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

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

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

Preheat oven to 400°F

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

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

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

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

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

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

Serves 4

 

All Together Now

January 12, 2017

“The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.”
~ Charles Kuralt

There is an Italian saying, “L’unione fa la forza,” the literal translation being, “Union makes strength” or, to echo a recent sentiment, “Stronger together”.  It is a common idea: that there is strength in numbers; that we accomplish more when we work together.

One of Aesop’s fables, The Bundle of Sticks, tells of an old man whose sons are constantly fighting with each other.  One day, after a particularly ugly day of infighting, the man gathers his sons together and hands them a bundle of sticks.  He asks each of his sons to try to break the bundle, but none of them succeeds.  He then gives them the sticks to break one by one, which they have no problem doing.  The moral of the story is that “United we stand; divided we fall.”

A couple of years ago, I wrote a post about how neighborhoods were putting up Little Free Libraries, in order to share books with one another.  My current neighborhood has several of these little book depositories up in various front yards and I pass them daily on my walks.

Now, thanks to Jessica McClard of Arkansas, who was inspired by the Little Free Libraries that began showing up in her neighborhood, there is a new trend: the Little Free Pantry.

The Little Free Pantry is a place where neighbors can leave food and other grocery items for other neighbors.  It’s just like borrowing a cup of sugar or an egg, except that no one has to beg or ask; one simply takes what they need when they need it.  If you have extra of something, or want to donate, you add items.  If you have need, whether it is for convenience or due to lack of funds, you simply go to the little box and get it.  Giving or receiving, the process is anonymous – just neighbors helping neighbors.

The YouTube above explains the process briefly, along with simple instructions for building your own Little Free Pantry.  You can read more tips and advice about starting one here at littlefreepantry.org.  I recommend that you consult the website before you start, as it has lots of good info about how and what to stock, local rules and regulations and legal safeguards.


The very first Little Free Pantry, in Fayetteville, AR

 

So if the noise and chaos of current events have left you feeling a bit breakable, put up a Little Free Pantry, and create a neighborhood bundle.

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
~ Charles Dickens

~~~~~~~~~

Meatloaf meets a cheeseburger and fries in Baked Beef and Potato Patties.

Baked Beef and Potato Patties
This is comfort food at its easiest and most delicious.  These little spicy, cheesy beef patties use frozen hash brown potatoes as their satisfying secret ingredient.  I used an organic brand from Whole Foods, along with Eel River Ranch beef from pasture-raised, grass-fed cows.  Seafood Cocktail Sauce from Trader Joe’s added spice and flavor.  These are even tastier warmed up the next day.

1 pound grass-fed beef
2 cups frozen hash brown potatoes, thawed (measure before thawing)
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (packed)
1/2 cup chopped onion or 1/4 cup chopped chives
2 eggs
3/8 cup Trader Joe’s Seafood Cocktail sauce (or similar brand)
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 freshly ground pepper
2 teaspoons fresh thyme or 1 tsp dried
3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese, for topping

 

Preheat oven to 400°F

Place a lightly oiled roasting rack inside of a large baking pan or lasagna pan.

Note: if you don’t have a rack to put inside your pan, you can line the pan with parchment paper instead.  The fat will collect next to the patties, instead of underneath them, but they will still cook up just fine.

In a medium bowl, combine all ingredients except the cheese.  Mix well.  Shape the mixture into 6 patties, about 3/4 of an inch thick.  Place the patties on the rack inside the pan.

Bake for 20 minutes.  Top center of each patty with about 2 tablespoons of the cheese.  Bake an additional 5 to 10 minutes, or until cheese is melted and meat is cooked through.

Makes 6 patties

 

What a Trip!

December 21, 2016

“Every tree and plant in the meadow seemed to be dancing, those which average eyes would see as fixed and still.”
~ Rumi

Ever since I can remember, I have felt an awareness of a living presence within every animal, plant, tree, flower or rock.  Even pieces of furniture, books, dishes, toys, appliances, automobiles or street signs have always seemed to me to be very much alive and just doing their thing, like the rest of us.  As I grew up, I quickly realized that this was not a common world view.  As an adult, seeing the expression of the Soul of the World in all things, and honoring that presence, is such an integral part of my being, I have come to accept it as not simply a personality quirk but, rather, as the center of my spiritual purpose.

So, imagine my delight at discovering Pimpa, an Italian cartoon character who exists inside a world in which everything talks, from the bed she sleeps in to the sack of flour in her kitchen cupboard.  Pimpa lives with a human man called Armando; he’s kind of her adopted dad.

I often watch Italian children’s cartoons in order to improve my language skills.  The pace and vocabulary is much easier for a non-native speaker like me to follow.  The Pimpa character originated in the mid 1970s and continues today, with books, games and cartoons starring the polka-dotted dog.

I’m guessing that we all could use a little escapism this Holiday season, so I decided to share Pimpa’s magical world with you, my Philosopher’s Spoon readers, by posting two of my favorite episodes.

The first, “A Trip to the Sea” (“Una gita al mare” – located at the top of this post), finds Pimpa sound asleep, as her bed and alarm clock decide to go to the beach for the day and bring her, still snoozing in the bed, along with them.  The second, “The Homemade Bread” (“Il Pane fatto in casa” – scroll down below), follows Pimpa and a friendly bag of flour, as they attempt to make bread together while stuck inside the house on a rainy day.

I hope you enjoy the surrealistic charm of these short cartoons as much as I have.  Although they are in Italian, they are pretty easy to follow.  So that you can fully appreciate the humor and the charm of Pimpa’s world, I have translated both stories below:

~~

Una gita al mare (A Trip to the Sea)

Pimpa is sleeping.  Her bed, alarm clock and lamp are also sound asleep.  The clock is the first to awaken, stretch and yawn.  She hops across the bed to the window, saying:

“Pimp! Wake up!”

Pimpa still sleeps, but her bed opens his eyes and asks the clock, “What is it?”

The clock answers, “It’s a beautiful day!”  She pulls back the curtain to reveal a shining sun, blue sky and green landscape.  “Look! Let’s go to the beach!”

The bed replies, “First, we have to wake Pimpa.”

The alarm clock rings loudly and the bed shakes up and down, but Pimpa continues to snooze.

The alarm clock throws up her hands, “There’s nothing we can do!”

The bed shrugs and says, “Let’s go anyway, and take the flippers!”

In the next scene, we see the bed ambling down the hill with Pimpa still sleeping under the covers and the clock riding on top.  He’s wearing a flipper at the base of each of his four posts, as they head to the shore.  The bed enters the water’s edge and swims out into the ocean.  The clock, perched atop one of the posts, announces:

“I’m diving in now!”

Pimpa finally opens her eyes, half asleep.  Intending to head to the kitchen, she slides out of bed and into the water.  She wakes up on her way down and swims back to the surface, asking the bed:

“But…. where did we end up?”

“The sea. Great idea, right?” answers the bed.

“Yahoo!” exclaims Pimpa, as she dives off the bed into the water.

Pimpa and the clock swim around the bed for a bit, then Pimpa swims off by herself.  As she frolics in and out of the ocean, we see a shark swim by in the foreground, barking like a dog (the Italian word for shark is “pescecane” or “dog-fish”, so, of course, it makes sense that a “dog fish” would be barking; at least, in Pimpa’s world it makes sense).

The shark comes face to face with Pimpa and barks loudly at her

“How scary!” exclaims Pimpa.  She asks, “But, what are you?”

He keeps barking aggressively at her and Pimpa scolds him for making such scary faces.

The shark confesses, “I was joking,” and asks her, “What are you doing in the middle of the ocean?”

“I was swimming” answers Pimpa.

“Ah, the shore is far away,” says the shark, “Will you be going back?”

“Why don’t you take me?” asks Pimpa.  “Come on, let’s go!” she tells him, as she climbs on his back, holding onto his fin.

She and the shark are having so much fun, they cruise right past the bed and the clock, who are not happy at being forgotten.  The clock rings her alarm to get their attention and Pimpa and the shark stop and turn around.  The clock swings a lasso around the shark’s fin and he tows them all to shore.

When Pimpa hops onto the sand, she turns back to the shark, says goodbye and gives him some friendly advice, “Bye..and don’t go around scaring the people, understand?”

“O.k. beautiful,” says the shark, “Bow wow!”

The bed takes Pimpa and the clock back to the house.

Pimpa’s dad, Armando, comes home later on to find her in bed.  He wakes her up, saying:

“Still in bed, lazybones?!”

Pimpa replies, “But I spent the whole day at the beach, swimming.”

“I don’t believe you” scolds Armando.

“Look, then.” Pimpa tells him, and shows him her sunburned back.

“A shark brought me back home!” she adds.

“Are you sure it wasn’t, maybe, a dolphin?” asks Armando.

“Uh, no!” she replies, “He had big teeth, like this.” and she makes a frightening grimace.

“Mmmmama mia, I believe you; I believe you!” he replies.

Pimpa smiles and winks at the audience.

The End

~~

Il Pane fatto in casa (The Homemade Bread)

The rain falls outside Pimpa’s house.  She groans with bored frustration, as she walks around the living room.  Rain is everywhere she looks.  It’s even the only program on TV.

She opens the door and looks out.  A tree is holding an umbrella and advises her, “Stay in the house; out here it’s raining.”

“Yes, I know; I know,” replies Pimpa, “But I’m tired of being closed up inside the house.”

“Me too!” pleads a voice in the background, knocking, “Open me, please!”

Pimpa walks to the cupboard and opens it.  A bag of flour stares out at her.

“Hi” she says.

“Hi” he replies,  “Listen, do you want to make something together? What d’ya say?”

“O.k.” she answers, “What do you know how to make?”

“Ask the cookbook,” says the bag of flour, “He knows everything.”

The cookbook jumps down from off the shelf announcing, “Here I am! What would you guys like to know?”

Pimpa asks, “What can I make with him?” pointing to the bag.

“My name is Flour” adds the bag, “I don’t care [what we make].”

The cookbook flips through his pages, “A, B, C, D, E, F… with flour you can make bread.”

“Thanks!” Pimpa tells the cookbook.

“Just doing my job, dear.” he replies, hopping back onto the shelf.

Now Pimpa holds a bowl of water as she tells Flour, “You need some water. Do you know how to swim?”

“And how!” Flour replies, “I’m diving in; yahoo!” and he empties himself into the bowl.

Now Flour has become a little blob in the bowl of water, doing the backstroke.

Pimpa tells him she is adding salt, as Flour Blob remarks, “This seems just like seawater!” and swims around.

She stirs him into the water until he becomes a nice ball of dough.  She asks, “Would you like a bit of leavening?” and offers him a packet of yeast.

“Definitely! I like it. Give me a lot!” he tells her, and opens his mouth wide.

Pimpa pours some yeast into his mouth and he urges her to give him “More, more!”  The leavening is already causing him to grow bigger.

Pimpa announces, “And now, a nice massage!”

She kneads Dough Ball as he chuckles and tells her, “You’re making me ticklish!”

Now they both sit on the edge of the kitchen table, worn out and panting.  Dough Ball tells Pimpa, “I’m a bit tired.”

“Better take a little rest.” she advises, and they fall back to nap.

Dough Ball, now much bigger, wakes up shivering. “I’m cold” he tells her.

Pimpa remarks, “Do you have any idea how much you’ve grown?”

“I’m cold!” he repeats, “Could I rest in the oven?”

“But, of course” she answers.  They walk to the oven and she opens the door, saying, “Please, make yourself comfortable.”

Unfortunately, Dough Ball has grown too big to fit in the oven.  He tries and tries and tries and finally gives up, saying, “I can’t get in. I must have eaten too much leavening.”

“You need a warm bed” she tells Dough Ball, “Here, come with me” and she takes him to her dad’s room.

“This is Armando’s bed,” she tells him, “But he’s not here right now.”

The dough happily hops under the covers and begins to snooze.

Later that night, Armando comes home from work to find a stranger in his bed.  “Look at that!” He exclaims, and goes to Pimpa’s room to wake her.  He pokes her with his finger:

“Could somebody tell me what that thing is in my bed?”

“It’s a bread roll” answers Pimpa.

“What bread roll?” asks Armando, adding, “It’s gigantic and soggy.”

“It’s an uncooked bread roll” she replies.

“And why is it in my bed?” he asks.

“Because he couldn’t fit inside the oven” she answers.

“O.k., then” sighs Armando, “Make some room for me, please.”

Pimpa scoots over as Armando puts on his night cap and settles into her bed, his large frame leaving no room for Pimpa.

She throws up her hands and shrugs.  All the beds are taken.

~~

Happy Holidays to all creatures great and small!

~~~~~~~~~

Cranberry Pistachio Christmas Bread requires no yeast, so it will definitely fit into your oven and fill your house with the smell of Christmas as it bakes.  It’s also a wonderful way to use up leftover eggnog.

Cranberry Pistachio Christmas Bread
Use good quality, organic, full fat eggnog for the best results.  I like to support happy cows and hens by using pastured butter and Vital Farms Backyard Eggs (available at Whole Foods).

2/3 cup organic sugar
2 large eggs
1 & 1/4 cups organic eggnog
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Scant 1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
OR
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 cup dried cranberries
1 cup roasted, unsalted pistachio nuts

 

Preheat oven to 350°F (175°C).  Grease bottom and partially up sides of a 9″ round cake pan, a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan or three 3″ x 5″ mini loaf pans.

In a large bowl, beat eggs with sugar until well blended, bubbly and lightened in color.

Beat in eggnog, butter and vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.  Add to eggnog mixture and stir until just combined (do not overbeat).  Fold in cranberries and pistachios.

Spoon into prepared pan(s).

Bake cake pan for 50 to 60 minutes, large loaf pan for 55 to 65 minutes or 3 small loaf pans for 40 to 50 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in center(s) comes out clean.  Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pan, then move to a rack to cool completely.  Wrap loaf to give as a gift from your kitchen, or slice and store in an airtight container in refrigerator.

Serves 8

 

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