On the Breath of Dawn

November 22, 2020

“We are people borne of sound
The songs are in our eyes
Gonna wear them like a crown

Walk out, into the sunburst street
Sing your heart out, sing my heart out
I’ve found grace inside a sound
I found grace, it’s all that I found
And I can breathe
Breathe now”

From the song “Breathe” (2009), album No Line on the Horizon, by U2 Lyrics by Bono

 

Lately I’ve been thinking about the lyrics quoted above. We are all waiting to exhale, or perhaps inhale – to breathe in the fresh air of a healed world.

Autumn is a season in-between summer and winter, in between inhaling and exhaling. We are in-between the end of one presidency and the beginning of another. We are at both the beginning of the holiday season and at the end of the year. We are in the middle of a pandemic, awaiting the time when we can truly walk out, into the sunburst street and sing our hearts out, without worrying about harming ourselves or each other.

This winding down season, symbolized by changing leaves and cooling weather, holds within it the promise of a new year and a new hope just ahead. We may have reasons to sing and celebrate, or give comfort to one another with a hug or a warm hand, but we have to do so safely.

We will soon be past the worst of the collection of chaos that is autumn 2020, but for now, we must make peace with the in-between. This time period reminds me of that tiny space between breaths, between an exhale and the next inhale, where everything is promise and potential; when a beginning is embedded in an ending.

During these often stressful times, it’s a good idea to set aside a few minutes of calm during each day to let yourself breathe: to fully fill your lungs and fully empty them – slowly, deeply, evenly. As you do so, notice the space – perhaps only a second or less – between your exhale and the next inhale. During that moment between your breaths, think or say or see the word “Thank You!”

If you are missing anyone this holiday, have any sadness about the past, worry about the future or you are feeling lack in the present, you may not know exactly what you are being thankful for. Proclaim it anyway. The reasons will eventually reveal themselves.

~~~~~~~~~

Quinoa Stuffed Pumpkins make a stunning side dish for a traditional turkey dinner or the tasty centerpiece of a vegetarian one.

Quinoa Stuffed Pumpkins
These yummy individually-sized pumpkins are baked and stuffed with quinoa and mushrooms. They are special enough to serve as a meatless main course. Instructions for toasting pumpkin seeds are given at the end of the recipe. This recipe serves 3, perfect for a 2020-sized Thanksgiving dinner, but you can double or triple it to serve more people.

 

Roasted pumpkins:
3 small sugar pumpkins (about 4 inches across)
Butter
Salt and pepper

Quinoa filling:
1 cup quinoa
2 cups water (a little less for humid climates)

2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
An 8oz container of cremini mushrooms, sliced (about 2 cups sliced)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar or lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Scant 1/8 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
Salt and pepper to taste
1/4 cup freshly-grated Parmesan cheese

 

Preheat oven to 425°F

Cut out top 1/3 of pumpkin. Set aside. Scrape out seeds and membrane from inside pumpkins. Coat insides with butter. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Do the same with inside of pumpkin tops. Place pumpkins with their tops on a baking tray and bake for 30 to 40 minutes or until inside of pumpkins are tender when pierced with a fork (you may need more baking time if making a double or triple recipe).

Meanwhile, make quinoa stuffing.

Using a mesh strainer, rinse quinoa under cold water and drain it thoroughly.

Place quinoa and water in a large saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer, cover and cook until all water is absorbed (about 15 minutes). When cooked, quinoa will be soft and a faint ring will appear on the outside of the grain.

While quinoa is cooking, heat butter and olive oil in a separate skillet over medium-high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, stirring constantly for about 2 minutes.

Lower the heat to medium-low and add the garlic, lemon juice or balsamic vinegar, thyme, rosemary, salt and pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes, or until the mushrooms have softened. Remove from heat and add the mushrooms to the cooked quinoa. Stir in the cheese.

When pumpkins are done, fill with quinoa stuffing and serve with lids on top or to the side. Let guests know they can eat out the quinoa filling and then scrape up the cooked, seasoned pumpkin flesh with their fork to enjoy as well.

Serves 3

 

To enjoy the pumpkin seeds:
Rinse seeds in a mesh strainer to remove orange membrane. Dry with paper towels and lay out on a clean surface to dry overnight. You can eat them raw or roast them using the following method:

Preheat oven to 375°F

Sprinkle the pumpkin seeds onto a baking sheet in a single layer. Place pumpkin seeds in a bowl, drizzle with a couple tablespoons of olive oil, season with some salt and pepper and stir to coat. Spread seasoned seeds in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 5 to 15 minutes, or until seeds are light brown and crispy.

 

Come Together

October 18, 2020

“You are a light. You are the light. Never let anyone – any person or any force – dampen or diminish your light… Release the need to hate, to harbor division, and the enticement of revenge. Release all bitterness. Hold only love, only peace in your heart, knowing that the battle of good to overcome evil is already won.”
~ John Lewis

Have you voted early in-person, filled out your ballot and mailed it or dropped it at an official drop box?

If you have yet to get that vote in, or if a friend, colleague or loved one still needs encouragement or assistance with voting, here are some online resources to help you vote early and track your ballot:

This voting guide put together by NBC News has state by state information on early in-person and mail-in voting. Scroll down to select your state and view deadlines, rules and procedures for voting. You can also check to see if your state allows you to track a vote-by-mail ballot after dropping off or mailing: Plan Your Vote

This Newsweek article is another resource for information on tracking your mailed or dropped-off ballot: States Where You Can Track Your Mail-In Vote

When We All Vote is another helpful site with voting information for all states plus links to each Secretary of State, where you can find early vote and ballot drop-off locations for your area:
When We All Vote – Vote by Mail info
When We All Vote – Know Your Rights as a Voter

 

Here are some resources for California voters:

You can find California Early Voting locations and ballot drop-off locations by clicking here.

Voter’s Edge is a wonderful non-partisan resource for information on candidates and ballot measures. This site gets better every year. Put in your zip code and a page comes up with where to vote and links for all the ballot info for your specific area. Under Candidates, click on “see list” and all the candidates for every office come up, including judges and other non-partisan races. For each candidate, you can click on topics like “education” or “community experience” to get a feel for their qualifications, world view and sometimes their political tendencies.

The Ballot Measures section is a huge help as well. Click on “see list” and then on each measure/proposition you would like to research. There are nice, very simple explanations of each measure as well as arguments for/against and names of who is supporting or opposing.

Click here for Voter’s Edge site

I’ll leave you with this very good advice from When We All Vote:

“Please Note: While some vote by mail request and return deadlines are close to Election Day, we recommend that you don’t wait. If you plan to vote by mail, request your ballot as soon as possible and return it early either by mail or in-person at a designated drop box or local elections office.”

So, whether you vote early in-person, by mail or by dropping off your ballot at an official location, get that vote in; make your voice heard and honor the right that many around the world have fought for, some have died for and some are still prevented from exercising.

“Our American heritage is threatened as much by our own indifference as it is by the most unscrupulous office or by the most powerful foreign threat. The future of this republic is in the hands of the American voter.”
~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

~~~~~~~~~

Chef José Andrés and World Central Kitchen are once again using the power of food to help communities, this time on early voting days and election day, to serve nourishing meals to folks who may have to vote on their lunch break or skip dinner or breakfast to wait in line at a polling place. Click here for more info and how to help: Chefs For the Polls

In honor of my favorite Spanish-American chef, here is my recipe for Baked Salmon with Honey and Pimentón – easy to make, delicious to eat and pleasing to serve.

Baked Salmon with Honey and Pimentón
Pimentón (Spanish Smoked Paprika) gives this dish its subtle but distinct flavor. You can find it in any well-stocked spice section or online. Be sure to buy Wild Alaskan Salmon (I prefer the Sockeye variety). Alaskan Salmon are certified sustainable and higher in omega-3 fatty acids.

 

1 lb. Alaskan wild-caught salmon, cut into four pieces
(I recommend Sockeye Salmon for this dish)
1/8 cup (2 tablespoons) extra virgin olive oil
1/8 cup fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon honey
1 tablespoon pimentón (Spanish Smoked Paprika)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground pepper
Fresh thyme sprigs, for garnish

 

Preheat oven to 400°F

In a small dish, combine olive oil, lemon juice, honey, pimentón, salt, thyme and pepper.

Rinse the salmon and pat dry. Place the pieces skin side down on a foil-lined, low-rimmed baking pan/sheet. Baste salmon with 2/3 of the sauce.

Bake the salmon for 10 minutes. Check for doneness. Cook a few more minutes, if necessary.

Serve immediately, topped with the remaining sauce and garnished with fresh thyme sprigs.

Serves 2 (double recipe to serve 4)

 

I heard the news, baby

October 7, 2020

“Nature’s music is never over; her silences are pauses, not conclusions.”
~ Mary Webb


My souvenir from the Staples Center, 2007

 

1978 was a memorable year for me. As a freshman in High School, navigating all of the changes and challenges that come with being a teenage girl, music was a source of passion, inspiration and refuge. I would spend hours in my room listening to my favorite albums.

When the band Van Halen released their self-titled debut album, it sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Nearly every song became an anthem. “Ain’t Talkin’ ’bout Love” was background for some memorable make-out sessions with a high school crush, while “Little Dreamer” felt like it had been written just for me, a young girl whose curiosity and imagination were vehicles for escape from a sometimes less than ideal reality. “Eruption”, Eddie Van Halen’s virtuoso guitar solo track, had to be listened to with eyes closed.

Years later, while I was living in Pasadena, a neighbor of mine who was older than I and recently retired, shared that he had resumed playing the guitar after giving up the instrument as a teenager. When I asked him why he had lost interest in playing as a teen, he corrected my assumption by sharing a story about a local guitar competition he had entered.

My neighbor told me that he grew up determined to be a professional guitarist and played and practiced hours and hours on end so that he could become the best. His developing skill eventually gave him the confidence to enter a local Pasadena guitar competition. He was scheduled to play last and, after hearing the other contestants, he was sure his performance would wow the judges. There was one entrant left to play before him, a small and somewhat awkward kid who was a few years younger than he. The skinny kid got up to play and blew everyone away with his virtuosity. After hearing this younger kid play, my neighbor said he decided that he could never be that brilliant and, right then and there, gave up his dream of playing guitar. The kid’s name was Eddie Van Halen.

Van Halen the band went through many changes over the years, as did I. I can’t say that I’ve loved every iteration of their line-up, nor every song released since since that eponymous debut album; but decades later, those first songs still inspire passion and inspiration.

A concert can be defined, not only as a performance, but also as an agreement in purpose, feeling or action. Ludwig van Beethoven was quoted as saying:

“Music is indeed the mediator between the spiritual and sensual life.”

Thank you, Eddie Van Halen, for reconciling the earthly with the divine through your guitar.

~~~~~~~~~

Zucchini are still in season. These Eggplant Zucchini Panini are the best kind of comfort food: delicious, nutritious and simple to make and serve.

Eggplant and Zucchini Panini
You can also use a panini press or a Foreman-type grill to make these. I use the old-fashioned method, detailed below.

1 small to medium eggplant, washed and cut into 1/4 inch slices
1 large or 2 small zucchini, peeled and cut into thin strips
1 or 2 ripe organic tomatoes, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper
8 slices of Italian bread or 4 panini rolls, cut in half
1 to 2 cloves of garlic, cut in half
8 oz of smoked mozzarella cheese, sliced thinly
16 to 20 large, fresh, organic basil leaves

 

Brush eggplant slices with olive oil on both sides and sprinkle with salt. Lightly season zucchini and tomato slices with salt and freshly-ground pepper.

Brush one side of each bread slice with olive oil and rub with cut side of a garlic clove.

Divide cheese slices among 4 of the bread slices and place on top of sides with olive oil and garlic.

Grill eggplant slices until tender, about 3 to 5 minutes on each side. Place hot slices of eggplant on top of cheese.

Grill zucchini 3 to 5 minutes per side. Place cooked zucchini slices over eggplant slices and top with slices of tomato, then basil leaves. Top with remaining bread slices, with the olive oil side facing towards basil leaves.

Working one at a time, carefully place each sandwich in grill pan over medium heat. Weigh sandwich down with a smaller, heavy pan (such as cast iron). Heat sandwich about 1 or 2 minutes and carefully flip over to heat the other side, using smaller pan to press sandwich down. Repeat with remaining sandwiches.

Cut each sandwich in half and serve warm.

Serves 4

 

The Resilient Rose

August 26, 2020

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight, for a very long time, of the shore.”
~ André Gide


My resilient rose plant, being resilient.

 

André Gide’s quote above would seem to be made for our current challenges. It can often seem as if we are lost at sea, without any idea of when we may reach the shore and what that new land will look like when we finally arrive. At times, I have felt like Tom Hanks’ character in the movie Cast Away, floating on a makeshift raft in the middle of the ocean, exhausted and struggling to stay afloat after battling the repeated slaps of salty waves. Circumstances call for patience, resilience and perseverance. Many days, I feel lacking in all three.

Just when I think I am all out of hopes to give, I remember a miniature rose plant that I purchased from Trader Joe’s on a whim, over 5 years ago. It has withstood aphids, caterpillars, grasshoppers, heatwaves, freezing temperatures and more. I have lost count of how many times it has seemed dead and gone, how many times I have almost said goodbye to it. Then, just when all appears dry and finished, a baby green leaf will sprout from the last piece of green stem; eventually followed by a single tiny rosebud that soon opens into glorious and resilient red triumph. A choir of rose angels seems to sing out in magnificent tones, audible only at the level of fairy ears, “Still here!”

If a $4.99 miniature rose plant can survive through so much difficulty and uncertainty, so can we. On those days when the future looks especially bleak or blurry, take a deep breath and exhale it all out. Drink plenty of water, get some sleep and wake up to bloom another day. Maybe you won’t be ready to bloom tomorrow either, but eventually, like the resilient rose, you will be back.

For those times when you would like to let go of the noise of the day and focus your thoughts in the beauty of the moment, you can click on this rose image to print out and color:

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I want to be.”
~ Lao Tzu

~~~~~~~~~

You can also lose yourself in the moment by enjoying a scoop of Rose Vanilla Ice Cream. No ice cream maker is required for the recipe.

Rose Vanilla Ice Cream
with Pistachios and Candied Rose Petals
Rose water is available in the Mediterranean section of a well-stocked grocery store or online. This recipe is easily doubled to make a quart. I added 2 tablespoons of rose water to 2 cups melted ice cream, for a subtle hint of rose flavor; complimenting, but not overpowering, the vanilla base.

I used Sadaf brand rose water. If you use a different brand, begin with 1 tablespoon, then taste and add up to the 2 called for, if more rose flavor is desired. Natural food colors are available at Whole Foods or online. You may need to use a few more drops of natural food color than you would use with the standard/artificial type of food coloring.

 

For one pint:

2 cups premium-quality organic vanilla ice cream, softened
2 tablespoons rose water (or to taste)
A few drops of red food coloring, if desired
For extra fanciness:
2 to 4 tablespoons of unsalted pistachios for garnish
And/or
Candied Rose Petals (recipe follows)

 

In a 1 quart-sized bowl, mix the 2 cups of softened ice cream with the rose water and a few drops of red food coloring, if desired. Mix with a large fork and incorporate the mixture on the bottom and sides with the help of a rubber spatula, until thoroughly combined. Cover bowl tightly or transfer to a pint-sized, freezer-safe container and refreeze until firm. Serve, topped wit pistachios and/or candied rose petals (recipe follows).

Serves 3 to 4

 

Candied Rose Petals
Be sure to use roses that have not been sprayed with pesticides.

2 organic roses, petals removed (do not wash until right before use)
1 large, very fresh egg white, lightly beaten
Or
2 tablespoons simple syrup (vegan alternative – instructions below)*
1/2 cup sugar (superfine sugar, if you have it)

 

How to make them:

Line a baking sheet with wax paper. Add sugar to a small plate or bowl

Gently wash each petal, gently dab with a cotton swab or with some paper towel and let dry completely.

Using a clean artist’s paint brush (you could use a tiny piece of paper towel if you don’t have a clean brush), brush both sides of each rose petal with beaten egg white and dip to coat both sides in the sugar. Vegans can use simple syrup in place of egg white (instructions below)*

Let dry on the wax paper.

These will keep for a few weeks, if stored in a dry, closed container.

~~~

*Simple syrup, which is used to sweeten beverages and baked goods, can be bought online or at specialty shops, but is easily made at home by heating equal amounts of sugar and water (1/2 cup each or 1 cup each, for example):

Combine equal amounts of sugar and water in a small saucepan and heat over medium, stirring to combine. Bring mixture to a boil, lower heat and simmer until the sugar is dissolved, about 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and let cool completely. Leftovers can be refrigerated in a covered glass jar for up to a month.

Rolling Papers

August 13, 2020

“Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts.”
~ William Bruce Cameron

 

There is a nationwide coin shortage in the United States, due to COVID-19, and the U.S. Mint is encouraging consumers to begin spending, depositing or exchanging their coins for currency, either at their bank or a coin redemption machine.

Normal coin circulation patterns have been interrupted due to increased use of contactless payment methods, amid concerns about spreading the virus via the handling of cash. Folks have been leaving their coins at home and, as a result, the Federal Reserve began rationing coins in June.

Many retailers and banks are even offering bonuses for customers who turn in rolled coins (some prefer unrolled, so check with your store/bank before you bring them in). Some 7-Eleven stores are offering a free Slurpee for customers who trade $5 in coins for $5 in cash.

In addition to those incentives, counting your pennies might bring an even bigger payday. Last year, an ordinary-looking penny, a 1943 bronze Lincoln cent, sold for $204,000. There are several other valuable pennies that might be hanging out in your pocket change jar, waiting to be discovered. Some years to look out for are: 1943, 1969, 1972, 1983, 1992, 1995 and 1999. More info and descriptions of these can be found here.


The 1943 Bronze Lincoln cent

 

Counting coins can have a calming, meditative effect too, by helping to focus one’s attention on the present moment by doing a simple task. It can also be a fun and educational activity with kids, in case you’ve run out of home-schooling ideas. In fact, you could teach them to roll and count and then let them keep the profits to spend. Unless, of course, they find one of those rare, auction-worthy pennies.

Happy counting!

~~~~~~~~~

Roll up some Wild Alaskan Salmon in these yummy Wild Salmon Taquitos. Unlike farmed salmon, Wild-caught Alaskan Salmon grow in the most pristine and remote waters left on Earth. They are higher in omega-3 fatty acids and certified sustainable.

Alaska harvests 90-95% of all U.S. wild salmon, catching only as much fish as the environment can handle each season.

Wild Salmon Taquitos
These tasty fish taquitos are a nice change from the usual taquito filling. Serve them with your favorite salsa or Tarter Sauce Piquant (recipe below).

 

6 green onions
2 (6oz) cans boneless, skinless Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon, drained
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/8 teaspoon chili powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
12 (6 inch) organic corn tortillas
Sunflower seed oil, for frying

 

Clean and trim onions. Separate white part from green tops. Chop both and set green parts aside.

In a medium bowl, combine salmon, lemon juice, olive oil, honey, paprika, thyme, chili powder, salt and pepper. Stir in chopped white parts of onions. Set mixture aside.

Place tortillas in a large plastic zip bag and microwave 30 seconds to 1 minute to soften (important step, so that tortillas don’t break when you role them). You can also place them on a microwave-safe plate and cover with a damp paper towel. To soften without a microwave, wrap tortillas in a damp, clean dish towel and place inside a small, oven safe baking pan. Cover dish tightly with foil and heat at 250°F for about 20 minutes.

Once tortillas are softened, place one on a flat surface. Put about 2 tablespoons of the salmon mixture toward the bottom of the tortilla in a lengthwise shape. Roll tortilla up tightly over the salmon in a cigar shape and secure with a tooth pick. Continue with the remaining tortillas.

Heat about 1/2 cup of the oil in a large saucepan or fryer over medium-high heat until a piece of tortilla sizzles when dropped in.

Working one at a time, remove toothpick and, gently holding taquito closed with tongs, place into the oil and hold gently until taquito is maintaining its shape. Continue with remaining taquitos, frying about 4 in the pan at a time. You can add a little more oil between batches, if necessary. Fry, turning, until golden and crispy on all sides.

Let drain on paper towels. Serve hot with salsa and/or Tarter Sauce Piquant (recipe below) and garnish with the chopped green onion tops.

Makes 12 taquitos

 

Tarter Sauce Piquant

3/4 cup organic mayonnaise
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons sweet pickle relish
1 tablespoon capers, chopped up
A few drops of your favorite hot sauce, to taste
Freshly-ground black pepper, to taste

Stir together ingredients and put in fridge for at least 30 minutes to blend flavors.

 

Après la pluie, le beau temps

July 24, 2020

“A different language is a different vision of life.”
~ Federico Fellini

 

Our world has become more connected over the last few decades and the populations of individual countries increasingly varied, as more frequent travel and technology blur the old boundaries between places. Temporary limitations due to COVID-19 aside, this worldwide amalgamation of cultures and peoples is likely to continue.

The population in my home country, the United States of America, has traditionally been made up of folks from all over the world, many of whom came here speaking a native language other than English. Those are in addition to the Native North American languages that were a part of this land before English or Spanish arrived and continue to be spoken here. Our country is also rich with various regional as well as cultural dialects, sayings and slang.

The title of this week’s post is a French proverb, meaning “After the rain, the good weather”. Like the English proverb “It’s always darkest before the dawn”, the phrase is a hopeful one, reminding us that circumstances often seem most difficult right before they improve.

Our current challenges compare to the rain in that French proverb, although we are in a summer rain. Now, more than ever, I hope that we all can find a way to a more empathetic vision of life. Learning the language of another country or culture can help widen one’s circle of understanding. So, I thought I might share how I have been gradually teaching myself Italian and offer some tips on how you might add the knowledge of a second or third language to your toolbox.

I taught myself to write in Italian by necessity, having to translate documents for my Italian citizenship several years ago, and have since improved my fluency by watching YouTube videos and films, listening to music and podcasts and occasionally communicating with native speakers.

There are teachers posting videos on YouTube for just about any language you might wish to study. Simply type the name of the language into the YouTube search bar. Find videos that cover a subject you are already interested in. Cartoons, usually made for children and with a simpler vocabulary than adult programs, are a good introduction to a language. I watch cooking shows, comedy skits and interviews, a few each night. Many are only a few minutes each, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be a huge time commitment, just be persistent and, in time, you will notice results.

You can also search for music videos in your language of interest. Most artists these days will produce a lyric video, typing out the lyrics as the song plays, in addition to the official music video. Learning to sing along with a song in your language of interest is a fun way to learn to both speak and comprehend, and also to add colloquialisms and slang to your body of knowledge.

Two sites that are very helpful in understanding nuance and context (which you cannot get from AI translations), are WordReference.com and Reverso Context. Native speakers of multiple languages contribute to these sites. Word Reference is good for understanding individual words and their usage and Reverso Context better for phrases.

The search engine DuckDuckGo, which does not track you online, is not only good for your privacy, but also for finding search results in a specific country of the world. Input a subject such as “ricette con salmone” or “recettes de saumon” (recipes with salmon). When the results load, click the “All Regions” option near the top left and select your desired country from the drop down menu. This can be a valuable tool for finding articles to read and examples of authentic usage in a particular language.

Another way to improve your reading skills is by changing the setting on one of your email accounts to the language you are studying. I suggest doing this on an account other than one you use for important transactions or communication. If you are already used to seeing the page layout in English, your mind will be able translate the words you see in the new layout for the language you are studying.

Not having very many domestic opportunities to practice speaking Italian, I have begun talking to myself and my kitty Sofia in Italian here at home, which means I am mainly improving my pronunciation of “Andiamo a fare colazione” (let’s go do breakfast), “Sei pronta per treats?” (are you ready for treats?), “Stai zitta!” (Be quiet!) and, of course, “Daje!”, pronounced Dah-yeh, which is a  quintessentially Roman expression that can be used for encouragement, approval or frustration (think of cheering on a sports team “Go Seahawks!”, congratulating a friend “You go girl!”, or giving an exasperated “Come on!” to someone or something that’s moving more slowly than you would like).

It has recently become trendy for Italians, especially younger ones, to sprinkle in English words among the native ones in their informal, everyday speech and writing. The ability to speak “Italish” has given me more confidence and less fear of making a mistake. Now, rather than my vocabulary appearing to be lacking, I just sound like a hipster. Although, at times, my accent sounds more like that of Jeff Spicoli than Sophia Loren.

Easy French is a fun channel if français is your language of interest. Their videos feature subtitles in both French and English, so you can follow along with pronunciation and learn meaning at the same time. It’s a good strategy when you are first learning:

 

No translation is needed to hear the frustration in her voice as Lucrezia Oddone clears up the correct pronunciation for Bruschetta. A short, hilarious and helpful video from Learn Italian with Lucrezia, one of my favorite Italian language teachers:

Lucrezia also has a podcast, where she has posted short recordings of various topics of interest, spoken slowly, to help improve comprehension. The podcast can be found here. Her blog website, with additional resources is here.

If you’ve always wanted to study another language and were intimidated to begin, or if you thought it was too late for you to learn, I hope these tips and resources will inspire you to give yourself the gift of a second or third way of looking at, interpreting and connecting with our big, crazy and beautiful world.

~~~~~~~~~

Spaghetti alla Carbonara, made the authentic way: Guanciale, eggs, spaghetti, black pepper and pecorino, is Roman comfort food.

From comedian Leonardo Bocci, an ASMR meditation on Spaghetti alla carbonara, the Roman comfort food that soothes the tummy, delights the mouth and makes everything better. My recipe is below:

Spaghetti alla carbonara
To make it the Roman way, one should use guanciale (pork cheek) in this recipe. Having made it with guanciale, with pancetta and with American bacon, I can say that guanciale is my first choice. However, since that particular cut is difficult to find in the US, my second choice is to use a thick-cut, high quality, humanely-raised bacon, such as Pederson’s or Nimon Ranch. Pancetta from Framani would also be a good choice. La Quercia has a humanely-raised, authentic guanciale.

Also make sure to use very fresh, organic or pasture-raised eggs in this recipe.

 

For 2 servings:

8oz spaghetti, fusilli or rigatoni
3 to 3.5 ounces of guanciale or thick-cut bacon
1 large egg, plus 1 yolk (or 3 yolks)
Course salt for pasta water
Cracked or coarsely-ground pepper for sauce
1/4 cup finely-grated Pecorino Romano cheese (approx)
(you could also use half Parmesan and half Pecorino)

If using guanciale, cut away the dark outer layer (skin/rind) and cut into small cubes. If using bacon, cut into small rectangles. Cook in a large skillet over medium-low heat until bacon/guanciale becomes crisp and oil has cooked/melted. Remove some of the cooked bacon pieces from the pan and set aside, keeping the remaining bacon and fat warm on a low flame.

Cook your pasta al dente, according to package directions, in well-salted water.

Meanwhile, beat egg yolks/egg with 3/4 of the cheese. Grind in some black pepper to taste (eyeball it – I like black pepper, but if you enjoy less spiciness, be conservative).

When your pasta is close to ready, stir a spoonful of the pasta water into the egg/cheese mixture. Stir in one or two spoonfuls more, mixing each completely before adding more, until you achieve a creamy sauce. This is important because it will temper your egg sauce so that you won’t end up with scrambled eggs when you toss it with the hot pasta.

When your pasta is just al dente, drain it and add it to the pan with the bacon, tossing to coat the pasta evenly with the fat. Turn off the flame and slowly add the tempered cheese mixture, tossing and stirring constantly so that the hot pasta evenly cooks the egg, but the egg stays in liquid form.

Top with reserved bacon, a bit more cheese and some more freshly-ground pepper.

Serve immediately and enjoy heaven!

Daje!

Note: if you have any leftovers, do not reheat Carbonara. Instead, combine the leftover pasta and sauce with chicken broth and some arugula or spinach. Slowly heat while stirring everything together and using a rubber spatula to get all the sauce in the pan. It will make a nice, creamy soup to enjoy the next day.

 

 

Good and Necessary

July 18, 2020

“My dear friends: Your vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool we have to create a more perfect union.”
~ Rep. John Lewis
Speech in Charlotte, North Carolina on September 6, 2012


From his ground-breaking graphic novel memoir trilogy March

 

The new post and recipe can wait a bit.

Today, I want to say only, “Rest in good trouble, sir.”

 

 

“Get in good trouble, necessary trouble, and help redeem the soul of America.”
~ Rep. John Lewis
Remarks in Selma, Alabama, atop the Edmund Pettus Bridge

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Ten Years of the Philosopher’s Spoon Blog!

June 20, 2020

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.”
~ Albert Camus

Happy Summer Solstice!

Ten years ago today those words titled the very first post of the Philosopher’s Spoon Blog. At the time, I had no idea that this little blog and its quirky mix of cooking & mysticism would still be going strong a decade later. Then again, if you had asked me what the world would look like on June 20, 2020, I could never have predicted any of this either.

The Albert Camus quote at the top of today’s post “In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer” was part of that inaugural entry.

Summer Solstice, our longest day and the official beginning of the summer season, also signals the eventual return of winter, as our days now become shorter and shorter until Winter Solstice, the longest night. Winter lives within the heart of the summer sun and summer within the heart of even the coldest, harshest winter.

Like Camus describes in his beautiful metaphor, although the times we are living through may feel like the depth of winter, the warmth, healing and abundance of summer is still there, within each of our hearts, invincible. Let today’s longest day remind you of that undefeatable light still within you.

“If one has courage, nothing can dim the light that shines from within.”
~ Maya Angelou

Thank you, all you friends of the Philosopher’s Spoon Blog! Your kindness, support, humor and courage continues to inspire and uplift me!

Gina De Roma

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The very first recipe from the very first post was for Solstice Sunrise Sparkler with Homemade Grenadine.

Solstice Sunrise Sparkler
with Homemade Grenadine
For the best flavor, be sure to use a premium brand of ginger ale made with real ginger and cane sugar. I enjoy this sparkler just as it is. However, if you prefer a spiked beverage, you can replace the ginger ale with sparkling wine or add a splash of tequila to the recipe.

For each serving:

12 oz natural ginger ale
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 to 2 tablespoons Homemade Grenadine Syrup (recipe follows)
Orange slices for garnish

 

Pour ginger ale into a tall glass with ice cubes. Add orange juice. Stir in grenadine syrup to taste. Garnish each glass with a slice of orange.

 

Homemade Grenadine Syrup
Grenadine syrup was traditionally made from pomegranate juice. Now that pomegranate juice is readily available in stores, it’s easy to make authentic grenadine at home. Once you taste the difference, you’ll never want to go back to the artificially-flavored kind again.

2 cups unsweetened pomegranate juice
1 cup organic cane sugar

In a 2 quart saucepan, over medium high heat, combine pomegranate juice and sugar, stirring frequently. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, without stirring, for 45 minutes or until reduced by half. Skim off foam. Let cool and place in a clean glass jar. May be stored up to 3 weeks in refrigerator.

Yes You Can

June 14, 2020

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
~ James Baldwin

 

I’ve always been what used to be referred to as “girly”.

I’ve liked dressing up and using makeup since I can remember. Before I was old enough to wear actual makeup, I tried putting Close Up red gel toothpaste on my lips as a make-shift lip gloss while pretending to do a cosmetics commercial in the bathroom mirror. I chose cheerleading as my physical activity in High School, not out of a desire to be one of the “cool” kids, but to free myself from the years of humiliation in elementary school of being picked last or next-to-last for playground sports teams.

However, growing up with a single mom meant that if something handy needed doing, we had to figure out how to do it ourselves. This, combined with an innate curiosity about how things work, has gifted me with a can-do spirit of sorts.

So, when my DVR recently began making an unusually loud whirring sound, I did a quick search and found that the fan probably needed replacing and the replacement part was available for purchase on Amazon. There was even an instructional YouTube posted by the seller on how to take the DVR apart and do it yourself. Phrases like, “remove the motherboard” and “Torx T-10 screwdriver” would normally make my head spin, but the idea of spending $30 instead of $300 filled me with determination.

When the part arrived I set my DVR up next to my laptop and tools and carefully followed the video instructions. Having been a latch-key kid, I remember being bored one afternoon and taking apart the family radio at age 12. After putting it back together, I had to hide a leftover part so that I wouldn’t get in trouble (never did figure out what the mystery part was for, since the radio worked without it). With that childhood memory still vivid, I carefully labeled each of the screws, nuts and bolts after removing them with name and location.

I completed the fan replacement, crossed my fingers and plugged my DVR back in and flipped it on. Everything worked and was back to normal. The silence of the newly-installed fan was triumphant.

If I hadn’t succeeded I still would have learned something about the limits of my do-it-yourself talents and called the $30 spent the price of that lesson. Instead, this time anyway, I was able to enjoy the feeling of successfully making something work. I’m probably still not gonna catch a fly ball, score the winning goal or spike that volleyball over the net (or even in the right direction). But, if the fan inside of your DVR needs changing, I’m a solid pick.

Big or small, simple or systemic, you never know what changes are possible until you try to make them.

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Nectarine Caprese is a tangy-sweet twist on a classic first course.

Nectarine Caprese
Summer is just about here and summer fruits are back in season. This twist on the classic caprese salad, traditionally made with fresh tomatoes, basil and fresh mozzarella, is an absolutely delicious and simple to prepare first course. As with the tomato version, the key here is the quality of the ingredients. You’ll want fragrant, ripe, organic nectarines, fresh organic basil and good quality, authentic smoked mozzarella – the kind from small farms with happy and healthy cows.

Balsamic glaze is thicker and sweeter than balsamic vinegar, traditionally used to top cheese or ice cream. You can find it in the vinegar or sauces section at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, any well-stocked grocery store or online.

 

8oz ball of smoked mozzarella cheese
4 to 5 ripe nectarines
32oz or more of fresh basil leaves
Balsamic glaze, for drizzling
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of salt

 

Cut the mozzarella ball into sixteen 1/8-inch slices
Cut the nectarines into twenty 1/8-inch slices

I find it’s best to arrange the 4 servings separately, each on its own plate.

For each serving, arrange 5 nectarine slices, 4 cheese slices and about 8oz of the basil leaves in alternating fashion, using a spiral pattern: beginning with a basil leaf, then nectarine slice, then another basil leaf, then cheese slice, then repeat the pattern.

Drizzle the salad with balsamic glaze and lightly season with salt and freshly-ground pepper.

This is nice accompanied by a sweeter nut or fruit-based crispbread or even a graham, rather than a salty cracker.

Serves 4

Speranza

May 31, 2020

“Vogliamo che qualcuno si prenda cura di noi? Prendiamoci cura di chi non ha nessuno. Ci serve speranza per il domani? Doniamo speranza oggi… Non possiamo chiedere all’umanità di stare unita se noi andiamo per strade diverse. Allora preghiamo gli uni per gli altri, sentiamoci responsabili gli uni degli altri.”

“We want someone to take care of us? Let us take care of those who have no one. We need hope for tomorrow? Let us give hope today… We cannot ask humanity to be united if we go our separate ways. So, let us pray for each other, feel responsible for each other.”

~ Pope Francis, May 31, 2020

 


Meme by K.C. Green

 

I had intended to write a cheerful post today, with tips on teaching yourself a second language. Unfortunately, as the weekend unfolded, that mood felt inappropriate and reminiscent of the above well-known internet meme.

I felt emotionally exhausted, frozen by the overwhelming sadness and surrealism of it all and had no idea if anything I was capable of doing would be of any help at all.

I’m not Catholic, but the sentiment Pope Francis expressed today in his first address from his apartment window since the quarantine was a timely reminder: If I need a little hope, someone else probably does too.

Then I recalled an article I came across the other day about a recent discovery made just outside the city of Verona: an almost completely intact Roman mosaic floor from a 3rd century villa, long-buried and unearthed from beneath a row of vines:

The recollection served as a hopeful reminder: you never know what beautiful surprise may lie below the surface of what is currently apparent, waiting to be revealed:

This world is many-layered. Kindness, love, decency and hope may not be visible under the noise and images we are witnessing today, but that doesn’t mean they have disappeared. They’ve just been temporarily covered over. Hope is still there, underneath it all. Get digging.

“Hope is the struggle of the soul, breaking loose from what is perishable, and attesting her eternity.”
~ Herman Melville

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My recipe for Goat Cheese Sugar Cookies was recently requested by a friend.

Goat Cheese Sugar Cookies
These scrumptious cookies need no eggs. The goat cheese flavor disappears, resulting in an absolutely delicious, rich and tangy-sweet cookie, bursting with citrus flavor. No one will guess the secret ingredient. Use soft, spreadable chèvre-style goat cheese for this recipe. It’s like cream cheese but more tangy. Always use organic or other pesticide-free oranges for zest, to avoid ingesting pesticide residue.

 

1/2 cup organic sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened (1 stick)*
3oz of soft, chèvre-style goat cheese
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest of one organic orange
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup all-purpose flour
*Note: add a pinch of salt if using unsalted butter

For rolling:
1/4 cup organic sugar
mixed with
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

 

In a large bowl, cream butter, sugar and goat cheese together until smooth. Mix in vanilla and zest.

In a smaller bowl, stir together baking soda, baking powder and flour (add a pinch of salt here if using unsalted butter in recipe).

Add flour mixture to butter mixture. Stir together to incorporate.

Cover bowl and chill in fridge for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 375°F

Remove dough from fridge. Form dough into 1-inch sized balls and roll in cinnamon-sugar. Place on an ungreased cookie sheet about 2 inches apart. Press down with three fingers to flatten balls slightly and create a circle shape.

Bake for 8 to 11 minutes. Let baked cookies stand for one minute, then move to rack or foil-lined counter to cool completely.

Makes about 2 dozen (26) cookies