Simple Recipes for Good Health and Good Taste

          Many of us probably ate too much over the holidays. It’s easy to do when party potluck invitations bring out people’s desire to celebrate with good food.  There is a temptation to try “just a little” of every dish and that includes the usual array of desserts and tasty treats special to this time of the year. Salads don’t tempt most appetites and hearty soups do, however, what really makes the tongue sit up and take notice are sauces and condiments that can enliven jaded appetites.

          This simple recipe using cilantro is a staple in our ‘fridge. Ingredients are few: Cilantro, garlic, mayonnaise, yoghurt and a squeeze of lemon or lime. Put a bunch of cilantro into the food processor. (You probably could use a blender but I don’t advise it.) Add a clove of chopped garlic, ½ cup mayonnaise, ¼ cup plain yoghurt, and a a squeeze of lemon or lime. Process until well blended and smooth. I keep a plastic lemon in the ‘fridge to help with this. Serve on any vegetable, chicken, fish, eggs, or whatever you can think of. It is tasty and healthy. I have heard that to some, cilantro tastes like soap. Apparently this is genetic. Check with your family before serving.

          Here is another sauce or pesto I think of as “medicine on the hoof”. It’s extremely good for you. This is especially true during this season of colds and viruses. The raw garlic, the onion and the uncooked parsley all have vitamins, minerals, anti-viral, antibacterial  and anti cancer components. I named it Garlic Whammo. It could also be called Garlic Pesto. A pesto is a thick sauce you can spread on pizza, bread or crackers, or mix with pasta to enliven what you are serving. It is usually uncooked and contains herbs and some kind of oil, preferably olive. It keeps well precisely because of the oil, and may include optional nuts or seeds as well.

          My Garlic Whammo has four main ingredients: Garlic, Parsley, a small onion or half a medium one, and olive oil. You can add other things—grated cheese and/or nuts or seeds, however you don’t have to. You do not need to remove any but the largest stems, and those only if you wish. However to make it you do need a food processor as a blender would not do a good job without your adding too much oil. It is wonderful on anything you want to serve it on: pasta and it is excellent on scrambled eggs, fish, chicken or any vegetable.

          Take a good sized bunch of fresh parsley and place it in the bowl of the food processor. Add anywhere from four to eight  roughly chopped cloves of garlic, to taste. Add 1 small or ½ medium onion, cut into chunks. Add ½ cup olive oil. You may wish to start with half of this amount and then more as it processes. Process until smooth and creamy without any mouth feel of the individual parsley flakes. This keeps well though I would eat it within a few days or so to get the greatest benefit from the fresh ingredients. The parsley keeps the garlic from overwhelming taste buds or anyone with whom you speak.

The Expectations of Christmas Time

           I remember a few of the Christmas gifts I received as a child. My favorite was a large brown teddy bear around two and a half feet tall I called Bruin. He became the head of my teddy bear family of five. Another was a wood burning set from my Great Aunt Alice. I never could figure out how to use it. One of my most memorable was a gift from my Uncle Oliver, also the giver of the bear: a large balloon in the shape of a Zeppelin tied with a big red ribbon.

           For whatever reason, instead of placing it under the tree, he set it on the radiator in the front hall. In the middle of dinner there was a loud bang. We ran into the hall.What remained was an empty red ribbon bow and piece of burst rubber. My expectations were dashed. The teddy bear he gave me on another Christmas later may have been his way of apologizing. I don’t remember having expectations as to what I might receive. Most of my gifts were practical.

           The Holiday time carries a big burden of expectations. People are expected to be nicer, to be kinder to one another, perhaps even more forgiving of errors and mishaps.”It’s Christmas,” people say, and that is supposed to be a reason to behave in ways one might not otherwise. I’m not saying that this is a bad reason; it is good to be thinking kindly at this time of year. However, we don’t need to make it a given or to be critical of those who are not.

           Another set of expectations revolves around the giving of gifts. To whom do we owe a larger gift and to whom a token? Is a card enough or need we send or give an actual physical present? Even the difference between an online card and an actual one might be a consideration. Our expectations of what is appropriate, what we”ought” to do may govern our actions and present a need for decisions about what to do, as well as stress us out.

           Perhaps most of all, however, it is our expectations of ourselves that are the most difficult to deal with. There is much to be done and it all must fit into the time we have, regardless of the fact that life does not come to a halt at Christmas time. In addition to the holiday activities we still need to do the cooking, working, shopping and so on that we do anyway. It’s enough to take the fun out of the celebration. We often feel guilty if we can’t manage to do it all with grace and good humor.

           Yet we and others might better benefit if we take some time for ourselves. If we use a gift bag instead of wrapping paper, send a card instead of an actual gift or even offer to take friends out for a treat at a later date or offer to babysit their children, we downsize the stress. Less stress means more holiday spirit,and diminished expectations mean less guilt. We need to remember that what we really celebrate now is the coming of a child of Light, or the Light itself,into a world that needs it. Expectations aside, we can remember the true meaning of this season is about the gift of joy to all of us, from all of us.

The Cookies of Christmas

According to Wikipedia, were it not for Alexander the Great,we might not have Christmas cookies. Not really, but in 327 BC he discovered and spread sugar cane that is the source for their basis, first throughout Persia and eventually Europe. The early little cakes or cookies would probably taste strange to us today. They were spiced with whatever was on hand,including cumin, and either shaped by hand or rolled and pressed on wooden boards carved with cut out shapes. The invention of cookie cutters helped form their myriad shapes.

          Their invention is shrouded in mist, however, we have Germany to thank for the Christmas cookie we know today. They also are responsible for gingerbread houses and the shapes that are commonly used as gingerbread men and women. The Pennsylvania Dutch, as the German immigrants were often called brought the tradition of the Christmas cookie to the US. Today there are many kinds of cookie exchanges. Magazines and books carry varieties of recipes for these sweet treats of the Season of Light. As well, families have treasured cookie recipes handed down to them from past generations.

           Many favorites, like Snickerdoodles, bars and brownies, or plain and chocolate meringues mingle with fancier kinds are served for holiday occasions. However,while almost any recipe will do for this time of year, the most traditional ones are decorated with colored sprinkles, are cut into shapes, or have decorations made of icing. I usually bake up several kinds of bars and cookies to give at the holidays to those who have been kind and helpful to Stephen and me. One of my most successful recipes is Disappearing Caramel Brownies. They do vanish quickly, and are very popular whenever I bring them to a potluck. Busy cooks only need one pan to wash.

 Disappearing Caramel Brownies: IMPORTANT follow baking directions or they will end up as rocks and not tasty bars. Preheat oven to 350 or 325 for glass pans. Grease and if possible use parchment paper to line 8″ square pan Ingredients:

1 cup brown sugar

1 egg

1 tsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. salt

½ tsp. vanilla

¼ cup butter

¼ cup chopped walnuts (may be omitted but taste good)

1 cup flour

Method:Heat butter, sugar in saucepan.  Stir slowly till sugar is dissolved, then a little longer to have it somewhat liquid. Do not boil.  Cool slightly.  Add beaten egg, salt, vanilla, baking powder,nuts and flour. Stir well to incorporate all the flour.  Spread in 8 or 9 inch pan.  Bake for 20 Minutes to start. Press lightly with finger, If it makes a slight dent, remove, otherwise bake a few more minutes. Rest for 10 minutes then cut into 16 squares cool in pan and remove when ready. These bake up well with alternative or gluten free flours also.

This recipe doubles easily. In which case bake wee bit longer, perhaps 10 minutes more for a 9X12 pan. Remember to test and not to over bake or they will be difficult to cut, let alone chew.

A Recipe for making life’s lemons into lemonade

Tasha and Lemons 2  The perspective I bring to my everyday life influences the way I understand what is happening, and how I respond to what seems to me to be going on. When I look with compassion on how life has evolved for someone, I also feel differently about how they act toward me or anyone else. I may then see the gift they may bring me. Gratitude and compassion are closely intertwined. Both are necessary for a truly happy life.

The gift of a difficult person or experience may simply be one of patience practice. Compassion helps me to be grateful for that. I wasn’t raised to be compassionate. My parents were highly critical of others. As I realized I needed to change and worked on developing compassion, I found it easier to respond to life and its lemons with gratitude. Being grateful for life’s lemons is a good way to make that lemonade as well to sweeten life. I have found it takes much practice to learn to respond automatically with an attitude reflecting gratitude.

Gratitude as a first response to whatever life hands to you is an important ingredient to build into one’s lifestyle. However as with the deliberate incorporation of any habit, time and effort are required. As I worked to develop my attitude of gratitude, I began by taking small steps. Over time I worked my way up to larger ones. Now it is easier than it used to be to remember to be grateful, regardless of the reasons or circumstances.

Right now I am extremely grateful that my new book, Up To My Neck In Lemons has been published. It is a collection of ways to use lemons both in recipes and in life. It contains my relevant poetry and most importantly some of my experiences in life that have helped me make the proverbial lemonade from the lemons I have encountered. It is my hope to help others with this book, and I am very thankful to those wonderful friends who have helped me to make my hope a reality.

Here is a recipe from my new book: Lemon Sauce for many uses.

This recipe makes a cup and an eighth of sauce. It is easy to make, keeps well and can be used to make any dessert very special.

 Ingredients: 1/2 cup sugar 3/4 cup water, divided, 1/4 cup lemon juice, Grated peel of a lemon, 2 tablespoons butter, 2 tablespoons cornstarch.

Method: In a sturdy pot mix together 1/2 cup water, sugar, and butter. Boil for several minutes. Add juice and rind of lemon. Stir well, cook on low for five minutes. Mix cornstarch and 1/4 cup water. Add, stir into lemon mixture and cook until nicely thickened. This has a good flavor and can be used over angel cake or muffins, plain cake or even a combination of fruit.

My book is available on Amazon and of course if you want a signed copy you can write to me at tashahal@gmail.com and let me know.

Expressing Thanks for Daily Blessings

          “Take nothing for granted.” The complete stranger who spoke these words looked into my eyes; the elderly woman’s expression was earnest. She told me several more things and then vanished into the crowd waiting in the vestibule of the Cathedral of St. John in New York. I was there to see a pageant I was to take part in at another time. Her words made a strong impression on me and some forty plus years later still have. I didn’t make the connection then, but later I understood its application to the practice of gratitude.

It’s easy to acknowledge generous gifts with thanks. Gratitude for the larger things in life–good health, sufficient income, a happy family is more common. Most of us take much for granted, especially those things we rely on and use each day. Our small creature comforts too are easily ignored or remain unnoticed because we are busy or mentally preoccupied.

It is more difficult then to remember to express thanks for those small, even relatively insignificant daily gifts common to our ordinary lives. When I step into my shower, I feel appreciative of the stream of warm water, and I am reminded of my friend who lived with cold showers for months until her electricity was restored. As I get into my comfortable cozy bed and slide under my clean sheets and feather quilt I am grateful, and I do say so in my heart.

I rejoice over small blessings—a kind conversation with my daughter, the neighbor who offers to help me carry my groceries up the stairs or shovel the snow from my car, finding a book in the library by  a favorite author. Most are so preoccupied these days, it’s difficult to stop and take time to remember how fortunate they are. In my many years of life I have learned to be glad for these small gifts and others that thread my daily life with comfort and joy.

I learned this from a friend almost thirty years ago. I overheard him saying “Thank you little (memory fails me as to what it was) and continuing to express his gratitude to several more objects. Now I thank my car for bringing me safely both to my destination and back home. I thank my computer for bringing me my email and functioning as my writing tool. Can seemingly “dumb” machines hear and appreciate? I don’t know, yet I like to voice my appreciation and to treat my mechanical servants as nicely as if they were flesh and blood. It only seems fair.

People who live in countries where the only water available must be carried from a well in the center of the village would be unbelievably grateful to be able to turn on a tap. Not so long ago anyone wanting a bath had to have the water heated on a stove or over a fire and hauled to a tub. Imagine having to hitch your horse to a wagon to go into town for groceries or walk miles carrying them home.  At this season we are reminded to be thankful. It is well to remember that gratitude needs to be an everyday practice.

The Eyes of Perception

Corner Reflections medBecause I was very different in my interests as well as my life circumstances from that of many of my classmates I was badly bullied in grade school. However what was worse was that I had no good way to respond to my classmates’ unkind behavior. It wasn’t until I discovered meditation that I acquired a way of controlling not only my reactions and responses but also of avoiding the potential complications of thoughtlessly spontaneous and perhaps provocative words and actions.

As I grew in my ability to see what was in my mind and/or heart before I made things worse for myself, I also discovered ways to make my life much happier and less complicated by negative thoughts and emotions. Some believe that meditation is a form or religion or at least connected with it. However it is actually a form of exercise for the mind. As physical exercise preserves the body, so meditation practice helps to preserve the mind.

Is my glass half full or half empty? Believe it or not, that depends on the nature of the thoughts I have concerning both the glass and what is in it. Am I looking with feelings or thoughts of fear of emptiness? Am I anticipating or being grateful for what is in the (metaphorical) glass? My days go better when I am aware of what is going on within me.

Since nearly fifty years ago when I began practicing meditation, I have become able to be much more aware of my thoughts and feelings. It is a great help to my ability to remain calm and aware during difficult circumstances. I’m still working to remain conscious of my inner processes, and I expect to do so for the rest of my life. Working on the mind is like doing scales on the piano. A good musician must keep on practicing.

When I find myself dreading an activity or event, I can remind myself that fear is False Evidence Appearing Real. My “glass of hope” will then appear to me to be half full rather than half empty. When I feel a sense of joy as well as of gratitude concerning whatever might be approaching, I will have a “glass half full” of optimistic feelings. This approach has the effect of helping me to get the best from whatever does happen, even if that differs from my expectations. The same is true concerning what someone might be saying to me: I can better monitor my responses and reactions.

When I am mindful—aware of what is going on in my mind and heart, I have more control over what I do or say next. If I am able to anticipate my words or my inner reactions to what is happening or to what someone is saying, I am better able to control them. Thus I can to avoid potential mistakes as well as difficulties. In addition, when I am able to take advantage of my perceptions, I may ward off the far larger problems that might otherwise evolve were I not able to see clearly or to be prepared with positive words or actions.