A Winter Wish for You

December 24, 2021


Winter, the quiet season, has arrived. Beyond the hustle and bustle of the current festivities, winter is a time for shorter days, staying indoors and quiet contemplation. It is a season that offers us an opportunity to look back on where we’ve been and to look forward to all the possibilities held in the promise of a new year.

In that spirit, I would like to share a poem with you. Written by Charles Snell and published in 1914 as a small gift book, it has long been one of my favorites:


This Is My Wish For You

This is my wish for you…
That the spirit of beauty may continually hover about you
And fold you close within the tenderness of her wings.
That each beautiful and gracious thing in life
May be unto you as a symbol of good for your soul’s delight.
That sun-glories and star-glories,
Leaf-glories and bark-glories,
Flower-glories and glories that lurk in the grasses of the field,
Glories of mountains and oceans,
Of little streams of running waters,
Glories of song,
Of poesy,
Of all the arts,
May be to you as sweet, abiding influences
That will illumine your life and make you glad.
That your soul may be as an alabaster cup,
Filled to overflowing
With the mystical wine of beauty and love,
That happiness may put her arms around you,
And wisdom make your soul serene,
This is my wish for you.

~ by Charles Snell



Chestnut Chocolate Chip Cookies are a super yummy way to enjoy oven-roasted chestnuts.

Chestnut Chocolate Chip Cookies
Years ago on a trip to New York City, I bought some roasted chestnuts from a street vendor and was kind of “meh” about the flavor and texture. Skip to present day when I recently saw some imported Italian chestnuts for sale at Trader Joe’s and decided to give them another try. The win-win was achieved by incorporating the chopped, oven-roasted chestnuts (instructions below cookie recipe) into a batch of buttery, yummy chocolate chip cookies.


2 & 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 & 1/2 cups brown sugar (I used Turbinado sugar)
2 large eggs
1 & 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup butter, melted and cooled to room temperature (I used salted)
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks (I used chunks)
1 cup chopped, oven-roasted chestnuts (instructions below recipe)


Preheat oven to 375°F

In a medium bowl, using a large fork, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

In a larger bowl, beat eggs and sugar together until lightened in color. Add vanilla and butter and beat again until fully mixed and creamy.

Gradually beat in dry ingredients.

Add chocolate chips or chunks and chopped chestnuts to batter and mix in well.

Drop by rounded tablespoon, 1-2 inches apart, onto ungreased baking sheets (I lined mine with parchment paper).

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are browned and cookies look firm. Let baked cookies set for a couple of minutes and then move them to a wire rack or foil-lined counter to cool completely (unless you want to try a warm one or three).

Makes 4 or 5 dozen cookies


Oven-roasted Chestnuts
Use fresh, raw chestnuts (not canned). Check each nut for freshness: look for chestnuts that are firm, shiny and feel heavy. Toss any wrinkled or dull-looking ones. I started with a 16oz bag of raw chestnuts and had to throw out several nuts that didn’t seem fresh both before and after roasting, so I ended up with just a bit over 1 cup of chopped nuts.

Preheat oven to 425°F

Put the chestnuts flat-side down on your work surface and use a sharp knife to cut an X shape into the rounded side of each nut. You want to pierce the skin without cutting all the way through the meat of the nut. This keeps the nuts from exploding during roasting and makes them easy to peel.

Place the nuts on a baking sheet in a single layer. Don’t crowd them.

Roast the nuts in a 425°F oven for 20 to 40 minutes until the skins have curled back, revealing the softened nut meat. The cooking time will vary, depending on the size of the nuts, so check them visually at around 25 minutes. You can test if the nutmeats are done by inserting the tip of a knife into the opening where the skin has pulled back. If it easily pierces through, they are ready. If not, bake for a bit longer.

Cool the roasted nuts completely. After cooling, peel the skins off using your hands. You can use a paring knife for skins that need a bit more effort. Throw out any super hard nutmeats or nuts that look withered. Chop nuts into small chunks and measure out 1 cup for cookie recipe.



A Month By Any Other Number

November 27, 2021

“Gratus animus est una virtus non solum maxima, sed etiam mater virtutum onmium reliquarum.”

“A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.”
~Marcus Tullius Cicero



My second language is Italian. Not long ago I was helping another native English speaker begin their own Italian language-learning journey. As I prepared a lesson on the words for the days, weeks and months I noticed that the Italian names for the last four months of the year: settembre, ottobre, novembre and dicembre contained numbers that didn’t match up with the months they represented. For instance, “sette” means seven; otto translates to “eight”; “nove” is the Italian word for nine and “dieci” is ten. The English words for the months: September, October, November and December also represent the numbers 9, 10, 11 and 12 (an “octagon” is an eight-sided angle) and I had known about this history years ago, but had forgotten it. Somehow looking at the months in Italian reminded me.

The original Roman calendar was said to have been invented by Romulus, the first king of Rome, about 753 BCE (Before Common Era). The Roman calendar originally used a system of ten months, beginning with Martius (March), named after the god Mars. With Martius being the first month, September was the 7th; October, the 8th; November was the 9th month and December the 10th.

In 45 B.C. Julius Caesar created the Julian calendar based on the Earth’s revolutions around the Sun, replacing the Roman calendar, which was based on the phases of the Moon.

The Julian calendar placed Januarius and Februarius (named after the Gods Janus and Februus) as the first two months of the year.  Quintilis (5th month) and Sextilis (6th) were now the 7th and 8th months and were eventually renamed after Julius and Augustus Ceasar, becoming July and August. September became the 9th month, but for some reason kept its former name (along with October, November and December).

Celebrating New Year’s Day on January 1 began with the Julian calendar in 45 B.C.

So, our eleventh month named after “nine” and the twelfth month of our calendar named after “ten”, remind us that not everything has to make sense and to celebrate the end of year holidays with joy, humor, tolerance and love.

“Except for love, nothing you see will remain forever.”
~ Rumi


I based Barley and Roasted Pumpkin Porridge on an ancient recipe created by the Roman statesman, Cato the Elder.

Barley and Roasted Pumpkin Porridge
A hearty and healthy vegetarian meal fit for a Roman soldier (and a nice, nutritious break from rich holiday foods). If you have leftover fresh pumpkin from Thanksgiving, you can use that. For faster preparation, you can substitute frozen, diced butternut squash for the pumpkin and/or use quick-cooking barley (decrease cooking time accordingly).  If you do use a fresh pumpkin, be sure to save and toast the seeds for a nutritious snack (instructions given at end of recipe).


3 cups diced pumpkin (I used a sugar pie pumpkin)
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1/2 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 small onion, diced
1 & 1/2 cups barley
32 oz carton of vegetable broth
4 oz crumbled goat cheese, such as feta
1/2 cup pine nuts
1/2 cup chopped parsley


Preheat oven to 350°F

Cut pumpkin into wedges and remove seeds.  Peel skin from pumpkin (if this is too difficult, try microwaving the chunks to soften a bit, then peel).  Chop pumpkin flesh into small chunks (you want to end up with about 3 cups of chunks).

Arrange chunks on a shallow roasting pan.  Sprinkle with salt, pepper and cumin.  Drizzle with the honey and 2 tablespoons of the olive oil (you will use the rest of the olive oil to fry the onion).  Stir everything together to coat evenly.  Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until fork tender (you can stir a couple of times during roasting).  Remove and set aside.

Toast pine nuts:
Add pine nuts to a large saucepan and turn heat to medium.  Cook, stirring frequently, until just golden (nuts will keep cooking after you remove them from the heat).  Remove to a flat dish to cool and continue with recipe.

Using the same large saucepan, add remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil and increase heat to medium-high.  Add onions and cook a few minutes, stirring, until onions begin to soften.  Add barley and stir to coat.  Add broth and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a simmer and cover pan.  Simmer for 25 to 30 minutes.  Turn off heat and let stand, covered, for about 10 minutes, to thicken.

Stir in roasted pumpkin and cheese.  Taste and add salt and pepper, if desired.  Serve hot, topped with chopped parsley and toasted pine nuts.

Serves 4 to 6

To roast pumpkin seeds:
Rinse seeds in a mesh strainer, to remove bits of pumpkin string.  Heat oven to 300°F.  Spread seeds in a lightly oiled pan and heat 20 minutes, to dry out.  Stir seeds with a little olive oil and sprinkle with salt and dried, crumbled rosemary (optional).  Bake for about 20 minutes more, or until crisp, but not burnt (taste one to check).  Yummy!


FM Signals

September 23, 2021

“Suddenly summer’s work is over and whatever trials there were are done with. My heart is light… I am standing in a new-minted world, summer folded away like a rose pressed in a book.”
~ Gladys Taber, “Fall”, Stillmeadow Sampler, 1959



The fall season has arrived with its promise of cool, crisp weather, autumn leaves and, of course, pumpkin spice everything. I say “promise of” because a California autumn can begin with some of the hottest days of our year (as I began writing this post the temperature reading outside was about 93°F/34°C).

Despite the summer-like heat, I find myself in that fall mood – one that seems simultaneously wistful and hopeful, perhaps because the Autumn Equinox signals both an end and a beginning. Being the time when day and night are more or less equal, it is a season of in-between.

Last night, as I watched the slightly-waning Harvest Moon moon rise with a gorgeous, deep orange brilliance over the eastern horizon, looking forward to those rust and orange colored leaves falling from the trees, I was reminded of a video recently posted by an Italian youtuber who is color blind (daltonico, in Italian) and had just received a pair of special glasses from a company called Enchroma that would enable him to see the entire spectrum of colors. Watching the video of him as he put on the glasses and looked around his room in ecstatic amazement, then went outside and for the first time saw the sky and leaves and grass and flowers in all their rainbow variety, was truly touching and a reminder of how lucky I am, just the way I am, and that there are miracles happening every day.

Another point of light I’ve been enjoying in the recent night sky has been Jupiter, shining brightly in the constellation of Aquarius. Less than a year ago, the Juno spacecraft picked up an FM radio signal coming from Ganymede, Jupiter’s largest moon. Now, before you get carried away imagining alien DJs and podcasters, I should make it clear that Ganymede’s radio emissions are caused by electrons and not extra terrestrials. Scientifically known as “decametric radio emissions” (decametric refers to the wavelengths measuring tens of meters), they are naturally occurring radio waves.

So, whether it’s signaled by a radio emission coming from a distant planet’s moon; the steady glow of light from our own moon; the sight of leaves turning burnt orange and yellow; a bite into one of this season’s first apples or the scent of cinnamon and cloves being carried by a cool, crisp breeze; the fall season is here, reminding us that change can be beautiful.


Sicilian Pesto is a perfect recipe for the season of in-between. This creamy sauce can be served either warm or cold.


Sicilian Pesto
I discovered this recipe on the Italian recipe website giallozafferano (saffron yellow). I translated it and tweaked it a bit to simplify the preparation and it’s delicious. This versatile pesto can be served warm or cold; alongside crackers for a snack or appetizer; tossed with pasta and veggies or over greens as a pasta salad; filling a baked potato or layered into a pan of lasagna. It also makes a lovely appetizer when used as a filling for a perfectly ripe tomato at the end of tomato season.

Instead of ricotta, I substituted Whole Milk Classic cottage cheese from Good Culture in this recipe. They make an organic cottage cheese that’s delicious all by itself. It’s cultured and contains more protein, less sugar, no thickeners and is made with milk from pasture-raised cows, I’ll often run my finger around the inside of the empty carton to taste the last bits before throwing the container away; that’s how yummy their product is.

I also added a bit of crushed Calabrian chili peppers to the recipe, which is optional. You can find these jarred from Tutto Calabria online or at any store that carries imported Italian products or at Trader Joe’s labeled “Italian Bomba Hot Pepper Sauce”.


2 cups of diced, fresh, organic, vine-ripened tomatoes
1/4 cup finely-grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup ricotta or small curd whole milk cottage cheese
Rounded 1/2 cup of prepared basil pesto
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest (half a lemon)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice (half a lemon)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Salt to taste (I didn’t use any)

Optional, if you like a little extra kick:
1 teaspoon crushed Calabrian chile peppers
1 teaspoon of your favorite (basic red) hot sauce
Dash of cayenne or smoked paprika

Add all ingredients except salt, pepper and optional hot pepper together in a blender or food processor and blend until smooth. Taste and add black pepper, salt (if using – I didn’t use any) and hot pepper, if desired. Blend again to fully mix.

Do not heat. Serve immediately, tossed with warm or cooled cooked pasta or cover and keep in fridge until serving (best to use within a couple of days). Makes a great sauce for a pasta salad. Serve also as a dip for veggies, crusty bread, crackers or chips or as a filling for a baked potato or baked into a pan of lasagna.

Makes about 3 cups.


Girl Group

July 23, 2021

“Sow a seed and the earth will yield you a flower. Dream your dream to the sky and it will bring you your beloved.”
~ Khalil Gibran

The photo above is of the orchid blooms that greet me each morning when I come into the kitchen. The plant was a gift from a friend several years ago and came to me flowering. The orchid blooms fell off eventually and never returned, until recently. For years I watered the plant regularly and assured it that I loved it anyway, even if it never bloomed again. My neighbor friend fed it for me a few months ago and then, one morning, I noticed three little pods forming and soon after, those pods opened up to be three gorgeous spotted orchids!

They are part of the soul of the house now, and seem to me like an old-timey, close harmony-style girl group trio, like the 1930s Boswell Sisters.

Every morning, when I give my cat Sofia her breakfast and pull my cold-brewed coffee out of the fridge (because it’s too hot in summer to fire up the stove), I imagine those three magenta and white polka dotted orchid sisters harmonizing a little tune, such as this:


“The temple bell stops, but I still hear the sound coming out of the flowers.”
~ Matsuo Basho


The vanilla bean orchid (Vanilla planifolia) is the source of the seed pods from which natural vanilla, used to flavor desserts & beverages, comes. Tahitian Style Shrimp in Vanilla Sauce is a savory way to enjoy the flavorful gift of this beautiful orchid.

Tahitian Style Shrimp in Vanilla Sauce
This simple but sensational dish is one of the most delicately flavored, sensual and elegant dishes I have ever made. For the healthiest and most environmentally sustainable shrimp, look for certification labels by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch or other reputable sustainability agency.


2 tablespoons butter
16oz of large, uncooked shrimp (31-40 shrimp per pound), peeled and deveined
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
1 (14oz) can light coconut milk (unsweetened)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 or 3 limes, cut into wedges

Optional to serve: cooked white rice


In a large sauté pan, over medium-high heat, melt butter. Add shrimp and vanilla bean. Sauté, turning and stirring frequently, until shrimp turn pink. Season with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Remove shrimp to a plate and squeeze 2 lime wedges evenly over the shrimp.

Add coconut milk to the vanilla bean and remaining butter in the pan. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally until thickened (10 to 12 minutes). Press the vanilla bean a few times to release the seeds.

Remove the vanilla bean and return the shrimp to the pan to heat through.

Serve shrimp and vanilla sauce alone, in a shallow bowl, or spooned over white rice, accompanied by a salad of butter lettuce leaves. Serve with lime wedges.

Serves 4 as a main course or 6-8 as an appetizer.


Keep it Simple

June 7, 2021

“Walked out this morning
Don’t believe what I saw
Hundred billion bottles
Washed up on the shore
Seems I’m not alone in being alone
Hundred billion castaways
Looking for a home”
~ From “Message in a Bottle” (1979) by the Police

I recently heard “Message in a Bottle” the classic 1979 song by The Police, being reviewed on one of those reaction YouTube channels by a couple of twenty-something twins from Gary, Indiana (who seemed to love it). I had forgotten how much its melody and lyrics could move me and was struck by how appropriate they are to the recent (and current in many places around the world) human experience of the pandemic. No matter how many online visits we had, there was still a profound sense of isolation felt by most of us.

Now that we are beginning to get back to normal life again and sharing experiences and emotions with each other, I’ve been struck by how universal the feelings of anxiety, depression and uncertainty have been.  Most people who have shared these feelings with me assume they are the only ones still shaking off some “pandemic slump”, but I’m guessing that most of us have been silently sending out an emotional “SOS” into the void. We all share more than we realize. We have not been “alone in being alone”.

As we begin to heal and reconnect, it helps to remember the grounding benefits that simple, daily rituals can provide. Those little repetitive actions we take, like stretching every morning upon waking, making the bed, giving thanks before a meal, brushing the cat or walking the dog, can keep us connected to our inner anchor and the earth beneath us. Especially now, as we ramp up our activities and begin to fill out our schedules with new appointments and postponed events, carving out just a few minutes at day’s end to be silent, take a walk, watch the sunset or to do a simple visual meditation can help to keep us steady as we move forward.

Here is a short, simple visualization you can do to center yourself. You only need a few minutes at the end or perhaps beginning of your day:

Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down. Begin by breathing slowly, deeply, evenly, in and out of the nose if you can, fully filling and fully emptying your lungs.

Now imagine yourself on a clean, sandy beach somewhere lovely. See the soft, gentle waves coming in towards your feet with your inhales, and rolling back to the ocean with your exhales. See yourself holding a small piece of paper and a pen or pencil. There is an empty glass bottle, sealed with a small cork lying on the beach next to you. Write a short message of inspiration or encouragement on the paper that you yourself would like to receive. Roll the piece of paper up and seal it inside the glass bottle. Now imagine yourself tossing this bottle out into the waves. See it slowly and gently being carried out and away by the ocean, moving further away from you with each exhale and finally disappearing beyond the horizon. Finish your visualization asking that someone, somewhere will receive your metaphoric message of hope and cheer and be uplifted by it.

I’m guessing that, after completing that short, simple visual exercise, you will feel just a bit uplifted yourself.

“Our truest life is when we are in dreams awake.”
~ Henry David Thoreau


A nice end of day ritual is stopping to enjoy a pause with a refreshing beverage or little bite to eat. I don’t drink alcohol, but I do enjoy a moment to mark the end of the work day with something special. An apertivo does not have to contain alcohol to be sophisticated and interesting. Below is my recipe for Junipurr™, a simple syrup flavored with herbs and spices that recall the flavor of gin, without the the alcohol. I named it after a fave childhood cat of mine, whose name was also inspired by the juniper tree. I’ve also included four recipes for alcohol-free beverages using the delicious syrup, to help you shift your vibe from “still doing” to “all done”, when you want to do so in a more moderate fashion.

(Juniper Berry Apertivo Syrup)
I based this herb & spice-infused simple syrup on a recipe for bathtub gin. I left out the alcohol and turned the infusion into a simple syrup that can be used to flavor beverages and add a bit of sophistication and intrigue. Below the syrup instructions are four recipes for alcohol-free apertivo-style cocktails. You can find edible dried juniper berries online or in the spice aisle of any well-stocked grocery store.

16 oz/455ml of filtered or spring water
1 teaspoon dried juniper berries
4 cardamom pods (open to use only seeds inside & discard shells)
2 teabags of organic hibiscus tea
A pinch (1/8 tsp/5ml) of ground allspice
1 teaspoon fresh organic lime or grapefruit zest
1 small bay leaf
One 2-3″/6-7cm branch of fresh rosemary (use 1″/2.5cm, if dried)
2 cups natural cane sugar


Heat water in a kettle over high heat. While water boils, add juniper berries, cardamom seeds, hibiscus teabags, allspice, zest and bay leaf to a heat-proof glass container that will hold more than 2 cups of liquid. When just boiling, turn off heat and pour water over spices and tea bags. Stir, and let cool to room temperature. Add the rosemary, seal/cover tightly and set aside to rest in a cool, dark place for 24 hours (can put in fridge if weather is hot).

The next day the mixture will have a lovely deep rose color. If you would like a more intense, gin-like flavor, you can crush the juniper berries a bit with the back of a spoon before stirring. Stir well before straining.

Filter the liquid through a mesh strainer or a piece of clean gauze.

To make the syrup, add the filtered infusion to a medium saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the sugar and keep stirring until it dissolves completely. Reduce heat to simmer and stir until the mixture is reduced to half of its original volume (10-15 minutes or so). Remove from the heat and allow to cool, uncovered, to room temperature.

Pour cooled mixture into a clean jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Store in refrigerator. It should keep about six months.

You can stir 1-3 teaspoons of the syrup into sparkling water, drizzle over fresh fruit, ice cream or cheesecake or create cocktails, such as the alcohol-free apertivo-style beverages in the recipes below:

Junipurr™ n’ Juice
In a tall glass or goblet, stir 1 tablespoon of the syrup with 2 tablespoons fresh grapefruit juice. Stir, add ice cubes and top with chilled sparkling water. Garnish with a sliver of grapefruit peel.

Jun and Conscious
In a tall glass or goblet, add 1 tablespoon of Junipurr™ syrup, add ice, top with tonic water and stir to combine. Garnish with lime peel.

Singapore Sane
In a tall glass or goblet, stir 1-2 tablespoons of Junipurr™ syrup with 2 tablespoons tart cherry juice (unsweetened is best). Add ice and top with sparkling water. Garnish with lemon peel.

Italian Sunset
In a tall glass or goblet, stir 1 tablespoon of the Junipurr™ syrup to combine with 2-4 tablespoons blood orange soda. Add ice and top with sparkling water. Garnish with a slice of lemon or orange peel.



May 2, 2021

“The real hero is always a hero by mistake; he dreams of being an honest coward, like everybody else.”
~ Umberto Eco



There is a Los Angeles Italia Film Festival that annually showcases Italian films at a local theater. As with other events during the past couple of years, pandemic concerns and limitations pushed most of the festival online. Like other adjustments made in these times, changes such as these are often frustrating. In some cases, however, these shifts provide opportunities to enjoy events that one would otherwise have to miss.

That was the case for me and this year’s festival. In previous years I have often had to skip films I wanted to see because work or other commitments prevented me from getting to the theater at the specific time a film was being shown. This year, with most of the offerings available online, I was able to enjoy almost all of the films I was interested in.

In particular, the recent Oscar-nominated live action telling of the classic story by Carlo Collodi, Pinocchio, a film an Italian friend called “a masterpiece”, was one of my must-sees. It didn’t disappoint. This version of Pinocchio, starring Roberto Benigni as Geppetto, is indeed a masterpiece. It is one of the most enchanting, visually stunning and heartbreakingly-beautiful films I have seen in years. It adheres to the story in the original 1883 book more closely than other versions and is therefore much too scary and emotionally intense for young children. However for older children and adults, I highly recommend it. It is available on most streaming platforms. Both Italian with English subtitles and English dubbed versions are available. Here is a trailer:



The young star of the film, Federico Ielapi (who, like Roberto Benigni, did his own English-language dubbing for the film), was supposed to visit Los Angeles at Oscar time last year, to support the release of the film in the United States. He looked forward to visiting the local amusement parks and other landmarks. This didn’t happen due to the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, so he planned to make the trip in 2021. Unfortunately, while there is a bright light at the end of the tunnel in Los Angeles, the pandemic is far from ended around the world and travel is still interrupted. Like the character he played, young Federico is waiting to live out his dreams “in person”.

As more and more Americans and other citizens of the world become vaccinated and we begin to live and love more “in-personally”, both the metaphor of a puppet’s wish to become real and the surreal adventures on his journey to becoming a human boy feel personal.

The recent CDC guidelines on fully-vaccinated persons no longer needing to wear masks when outdoors (unless in crowded scenarios) or indoors when hanging out with other fully vaccinated people have been liberating for me, having reached my “FV Day” not long ago. It’s hard to fully express how uplifting, hopeful and liberating it feels to make this shift.

Recent new lockdowns announced in other countries, and especially the current crisis in India are reminders that COVID-19 has not evaporated. However, re-openings continuing and news of more and more folks being vaccinated and cases going down, at least locally, show that progress is being made.

Pinocchio having finally become a human boy did not mean he would never again make a mistake, quite the contrary, as humankind consistently proves its imperfect nature. But, by gaining patience, perseverance, compassion and humility during his “wooden years”, Pinocchio the boy was able to more richly experience, appreciate and share life with those around him.



That is my wish for us all, as we begin to move toward that light at the end of the tunnel, and to live and love “in-personally”.


Farro is a delicious cousin of wheat that’s full of fiber and high in protein and vitamins. It lends a wonderful texture and flavor to Farro Salad (Insalata di farro).

Farro Salad (Insalata di farro)
This salad is easy to make and, if you use quick-cooking farro (available at Trader Joe’s), the preparation time is even shorter.  Take this to a lunch with friends or on a picnic.  It makes a lovely vegetarian dinner or side dish when served warm, but it’s also delicious the next day.


About 1 & 3/4 cups uncooked farro
(Trader Joe’s 10 Minute Farro is just shy of this amount)

1 (15oz) can of garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained
1/4 teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
One clove of garlic, peeled
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 shallot, finely chopped (about 2 rounded tablespoons)
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 cup chopped celery hearts (with tender leaves)
1/2 cup slivered, unsalted almonds
A pinch of crumbled dried rosemary


Cook farro in salted water according to package directions.  Drain of excess water (use a mesh strainer if you have one).  Stir garbanzo beans into farro while it’s still warm and fluff with a fork.  Season with a little bit of salt and pepper and set aside.

In a large salad bowl, add 1/4 teaspoon salt.  Make a few cuts in the end of the garlic clove and rub into salt all around bottom of bowl.  Add vinegar and shallot; let sit a few minutes.  Whisk in oil until blended, then discard garlic clove.  Season with pepper and more salt, if desired (Parmesan cheese is salty, so be conservative with your salt amount).

Add the cheese, celery, almonds and rosemary.  Add farro and garbanzo mixture.  Toss everything together well.  Serve warm or at room temperature.  You can store leftovers in the fridge; it will be delicious the next day, but make sure to bring salad to room temperature before serving.

Serves 6


Spring in My Step

March 29, 2021

And the Spring arose on the garden fair,
And the Spirit of Love fell everywhere;
And each flower and herb on Earth’s dark breast
Rose from the dreams of its wintry rest…
~Percy Bysshe Shelley, “The Sensitive Plant” 1820



Several days ago I received a vaccination against COVID-19. The subsequent intense and uncomfortable 24 hours of flu-like side effects, followed by a few days of a minor headache and mild fatigue, were totally worth it, as I look forward to near-future lengthy hugs with friends and loved ones and all the other myriad possibilities that victory over this pandemic will manifest.

Although the actual Spring Equinox was March 20th, today is the first day I am authentically feeling the anticipation of newness, warmth, healing and hope. It’s difficult to put into words all the emotions that are rising up inside of me, ready to bloom as soon as my “fully vaccinated” status date arrives.

How I feel at the moment is best expressed by the short video embedded above. Thanks to Rabbi Jordania Goldberg for sharing this with me. The video was created by TBWA/Paris, an advertising agency in Boulogne-Billancourt, France. The public service ad was produced for the SNCF, the national French railway company, to encourage train use in order to combat climate change. A brief “making of ” video, in French with English subtitles, is below.

Happy Spring!




Lighten up as you step into spring with this classic Sicilian salad of Fennel, Orange and Olives.


Fennel, Orange and Olive Salad
This light, refreshing salad is surprisingly delicious and satisfying. Easy to assemble, it can be made up to a day ahead. Make sure to choose organic seedless oranges for their flavor and so you can safely use the zest. You can make this right in the serving bowl or pack into small covered mason jars for a picnic. The measurements below will serve two and can easily be doubled or tripled for more guests.


1 medium fennel bulb
1-2 organic seedless oranges (1 large or 2 small)
1/4 to 1/3 cup sliced, pitted black olives (about 2 oz)
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste


Zest orange peel onto a piece of plastic wrap and set aside.

Working over a medium to large bowl, cut oranges in half, peel and remove as much of the pith (white part) as possible, discarding the pith and breaking up the orange segments into the bowl. I like to do this process over the bowl so that I don’t lose any of the juice from the oranges. When all the segments are in the bowl, add a generous 1/4 teaspoon of the zest (save any remaining zest for another use).

Rinse fennel bulb under running water and trim off very bottom of stock, discarding outer part of bulb and tough stock parts. Cut the bulb into chunks and slices and add to bowl, reserving some of the fennel fronds for garnish. Add the sliced olives (you can also buy whole olives and slice into bowl).

Mix everything well, drizzle with some extra virgin olive oil and add salt and pepper to your taste. Mix again thoroughly and taste one more time in case you’d like to add a bit more salt or pepper. Top with reserved fennel fronds and serve. You can also make ahead and chill until serving time. Just toss again before serving.


“I’m not a cat”

February 17, 2021

“Nothing like a little judicious levity.”
~ From The Wrong Box, by Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne (1889)

By now, most of you have probably seen the short video of a lawyer accidentally visually represented as a cat during a courtroom hearing via Zoom. Usually, when I come upon an amusing video clip such as this, I enjoy a brief chuckle, followed by numerous “Yes, I’ve seen that; so cute!” replies to the dozens of friends who have laughed at something and want to make sure I don’t miss the latest online hilarity.

This particular clip, however, I never seem to tire of, regardless of  how many times it has been shared with me or featured on a comedy or news program I might be watching. The face of that cat, combined with the gentle frustration in the lawyer’s voice, tugs at my heartstrings in all the right ways and brings a smile to my face, no matter how much pandemic fatigue I may be fighting in a given moment.

Maybe it’s that he comes across as just a regular human, trying to get through this pandemic situation and all of its added complications and frustrations like the rest of us. Perhaps it’s because I happen to have an enormous affection for cats, which makes the plaintive feline version of his face even more sympathetic to me. I’m not sure. I only know that this short little video, which the presiding judge thankfully shared on YouTube, shifts my mood from stressed to serene, from annoyed to amused, from “How am I going to get through another day of this?” to “OK, I guess we are all in this together” within a few seconds.

So, in that spirit, although I’m sure you’ve already seen it multiple times, here is the Cat Lawyer. Hope it brings you a smile, no matter what kind of day you may be having:


For a bit of delicious levity, try Smokey Skillet Pizza.

Smokey Skillet Pizza
This super-easy homemade pizza is cooked in a frying pan! I used ready-made pizza dough from Trader Joe’s refrigerated section. You could also make your own dough, if you prefer. Frying the dough adds an extra layer of flavor. The smoked mozzarella and simple tomato basil sauce make for a mouth-watering result. If you have left-over dough, fry it up for breakfast the next day and serve it topped with real maple syrup… yum!


1 (14.5 oz) can of organic diced tomatoes with juice
(or two cups of diced, fresh hot house or organic in-season tomatoes with juices)
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 & 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 or 5 fresh basil leaves, sliced into thin strips
Salt and pepper to taste
1 (16 oz) package of prepared pizza dough
All-purpose flour, for dusting
Olive oil for frying (you’ll want about 1/2 cup for a 10-inch pan)
6 oz smoked mozzarella cheese, grated or sliced thinly
Optional: ground or flaked dried red chile pepper for the table

In a medium bowl, mix tomatoes, garlic, 1 & 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and basil. Add salt and pepper to taste. Set aside.

On a clean surface, using a little flour, shape and stretch dough into 1 large, 2 small or 4 mini pizza shapes. You want to make the crust on the thin side, so that it will cook all the way through quickly.

Choose a frying pan with a little depth, not like a soup pot, but not flat either.

Cover bottom of pan with a generous layer of oil. Heat oil over medium-high heat until a piece of dough sizzles when dropped in.

Fry one crust at a time. Place in hot oil and cook until the bottom is golden brown. Turn with tongs and a spatula and cook the other side. Remove from hot oil and top one side with cheese. The heat of the crust will begin to melt the cheese. Top this with tomato sauce (sauce goes on top for this version of pizza). Place pizza in toaster oven or under a broiler at 350°F for a minute or two to heat the toppings thoroughly.

Serve immediately.

Serves 2 to 4


Loss, Renewal, Hope

January 28, 2021

“I…I’m a new day rising.
I’m a brand new sky
To hang the stars upon tonight.”
~From “Times Like These” by Foo Fighters (One by One, 2002)


Just before 2020 became 2021, a friend of over 25 years passed away due to COVID-19. I had just seen him, along with his wife Sharon, less than a month earlier and both seemed fine.

Marshall McKay was a great man. Instrumental in securing economic independence for the Yocha Dehe Wintun Nation, he served ten years as Tribal Chairman. He was the first Indigenous chairman on the board of the Autry Museum of the American West, a founding member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation and was appointed to the Native American Heritage Commission. He also served as a member of the International Indigenous Peoples Forum on Climate Change (I still have the souvenir pencil he was kind enough to bring me from the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris).  You can read more about his many accomplishments and contributions, as well his fascinating personal story in this recent Los Angeles Times article here.

This past year has been a tough one; so much has been lost. Now a new year has arrived. Vaccines are beginning to roll out and hope shines with ever increasing light once again.

Today’s full moon is a reminder that night and light reveal themselves in continuous cycles. Sometimes the darkness seems all-encompassing, but the lack of light is only an appearance. The Sun shines just as brightly, and will always rise again, whether we see the Moon reflecting that light fully, partially or not at all.

“I’m a new day rising…”

The quote that opened this blog post is from a song performed by Foo Fighters during the recent inaugural special Celebrating America. Hosted by Tom Hanks, the program featured some cool musical performances and inspiring appearances by Americans from all walks of life, including former Presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The evening ended with a truly spectacular fireworks display. I’m including the YouTube of the entire special here, in case you missed it. It’s worth the 90-minute watch time:

When you look up at the Moon tonight, let her remind you of night’s quiet beauty, and thank her for reflecting the Sun’s light, and reminding us that morning is just over the horizon.


Scrub off the old and prepare for the new, both figuratively and literally.  This Mediterranean Mint Foot Scrub will help you take care of the latter.

Mediterranean Mint Foot Scrub
This invigorating scrub will leave your feet nicely-scented and softer and help to refresh tired legs. The recipe makes plenty of scrub for one person or for two to share. Be sure to use true essential oil of peppermint, not fragrance oil or extract. Plant essential oils may be found at health food stores, Whole Foods markets or online. Also, since this scrub is for use on your skin, the largest organ of your body, be sure to use a lemon or orange that was grown free of pesticides.

1/2 cup organic sugar
1/2 cups fine sea salt
Zest of one lemon or one orange (yellow/orange part only)
3 drops peppermint essential oil
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a medium bowl, mix all ingredients together thoroughly.

Scoop up a small amount of scrub in your hands and rub well into your feet, lower legs and knees. Give extra attention to the heels and any other rough places (avoid cuts, broken skin or blisters). Rinse off under the shower. The dead skin cells will wash away, leaving your skin smooth and lightly scented with lemon, olive oil and mint. Your shower/tub may be a little slippery from the oil, so be mindful when standing up or stepping out.

Store any leftover scrub in an airtight glass or plastic container.

Use within one week.


The Longest Night

December 21, 2020

“I still believe in Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and true love. Don’t even try to tell me different.”
~ Dolly Parton

Happy Winter Solstice!

It’s officially winter, the quiet season. In spite of the vaccine beginning to roll out, we are in the middle of a peak in this pandemic, so harmonizing with the hibernating theme of winter feels appropriate, although somewhat of a challenge with Christmas and the New Year approaching.

Like Dolly Parton declares in the quote above, I always was and still am a firm believer in Santa Claus. Even as a young child I was curious about how things big and small worked. To my mother’s relief, I often answered my own questions about the probable physics or metaphysics of how Santa delivered gifts to children around the world in one night (albeit one of the longest nights). I hypothesized that his reindeer and sleigh somehow flew faster than the speed of light, therefore traveling through time (after all, Einstein had proved this was possible). Our house did not have a chimney, but I informed my mom that Santa had obviously mastered a technology similar to the Star Trek transporter, in order to beam himself from the rooftop into our living room.

I also decided that there must be a “Cataclaws” and (my kitties having been mostly good all year) I would put out stockings for my cats, a tradition that continues to this day in my house.

This year, kids have very 2020 questions about Santa. During a recent Sesame Street Town Hall, a 6-year-old asked Dr. Anthony Fauci (Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984) if Santa would be able to visit all of our homes, given the pandemic restrictions. Dr. Fauci replied:

“I have to say, I took care of that for you because I was worried you would all be upset. So what I did a little while ago, I took a trip up there to the North Pole. I went there and I vaccinated Santa Claus myself. I measured his level of immunity, and he is good to go. He can come down the chimney; he can leave presents; he can leave, and you have nothing to worry about. Santa Claus is good to go.”

I am assuming that Cataclaws is good to go as well.

Meowy Christmas everyone! And Happy Mew Year!

Since we are all doing things just a little bit differently this year, here are two unique recipes for absolutely delicious cookies to leave Santa Claus: one sweet and one savory. Both Avocado Orange Cookies and Savory Basil Pesto Cookies would be welcome treats for a dessert, un apertivo, a snack and to leave for Santa.

The Sweet One:

Avocado Orange Cookies
Avocado replaces most of the fat in this recipe, making for a softer cookie with a hint of winter orange flavor and the bonus of avocado’s heart-healthy fat. You want a fully ripe, creamy type of avocado, such as Haas for this recipe. Substitute lemon zest for the orange zest to make Avocado Lemon Cookies. Recipe is easily doubled.


1 large egg
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 medium, ripe avocado (you will need 1/2 cup smashed pulp)
Zest of 1/2 an orange
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or sunflower seed oil
1 & 1/8 cups All-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
Generous dash of ground allspice
1/2 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips


Preheat oven to 375°F

In a medium bowl, beat egg with sugar until lightened. Stir in vanilla.

In a separate bowl or on a plate, mash avocado until completely creamy. Add to egg and sugar mixture. Add zest and oil. Stir to mix well.

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda salt and allspice. Mix well with a fork.

Add dry ingredients to bowl with wet ingredients and mix well.

Mix in chocolate chips (optional), if using.

Line a baking sheet with parchment and drop dough by rounded tablespoons, about 2 inches apart.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until edges are light golden brown.

Let stand 2 minutes and move to a wire rack to cool completely (or eat one or two warm, if you can’t wait).

Makes 18 to 20 cookies


Savory Basil Pesto Cookies
(Biscotti salati al pesto di basilico)
These savory cookies are perfect to accompany soups, salads or as a little something-something for a snack or apertivo. The avocado replaces the butter in this shortbread-type recipe, making for a digestion-friendly but flavorful treat. You want a fully ripe, creamy type of avocado, such as Haas for this recipe. You can use Parmesan or Pecorino Romano for the cheese here, but I usually use Pecorino for its tangier flavor.


1 large egg
1/2 cup finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1 medium, ripe avocado (you will need 1/2 cup smashed pulp)
Zest of 1/2 a lemon
2 tablespoons prepared basil pesto
1 & 1/8 cups All-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup pine nuts or walnuts


Preheat oven to 375°F


In a medium bowl, beat egg with cheese.

In a separate bowl or on a plate, mash avocado until completely creamy. Add to egg and cheese mixture. Stir in lemon zest and pesto. Mix well and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix flour with baking soda and add to bowl with wet ingredients.

Stir in nuts, if using.

Mix with a fork until combined (mixture will be crumbly).

Line a baking sheet with parchment and drop dough by rounded tablespoons. I used a 1 & 1/2 tablespoon measure exact, but if you don’t have that size, a rounded tablespoon works fine. Space cookies about 2 inches apart. Use a fork, pressing down gently into a criss-cross pattern, to flatten slightly.

Bake 12 to 14 minutes, or until edges are light golden brown.

Let stand 2 minutes and move to a wire rack to cool completely.

Makes 18 to 20 savory cookies