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May 22, 2015 EditionEven though she can’t walk yet, my granddaughter Charlotte loves to play fetch with me. You know the game – baby throws objects from the high chair and you fetch them. After bending over for the umpteenth time, I looked up to see Charlotte grinning at me with a bit of cracker stuck between her eyes. In that moment, as I watched her search her tray for the missing piece of cracker, I realized more than ever that I want to live to be a ripe old age. Then Charlotte and I can share as many silly moments together as possible.

#1 – If I Had My Child To Raise Over Again
Whether you’re raising young children now or have grown-up children, you might relate to the sentiment expressed in this poem by Diana Loomans: "If I Had My Child To Raise Over Again"

#2 – Child’s Play For Adults
33 Ways to Be Childlike Today Why should kids have all the fun? Read 33 Ways to Be Childlike Today and select a few things from the list to do. Reread one of your favorite childhood books, jump rope, be creative, sit cross-legged, or make a spontaneous playdate with friends. Sound like fun?

#3 – New Life For Toys
Upcycling Toys The author of 21 Ideas for Upcycling Kid’s Toys places the blame for massive toy accumulation on grandparents. Hardly a true statement, but toy accumulation can be a problem in many households. The article presents clever ways to transform toys into objects with new uses. If upcycling doesn’t appeal to you, check out Eco-Friendly Disposal of Kids’ Toys and Electronics for helpful suggestions.

#4 – Kids’ Play Around the Globe
30 Amazing Photos of Kids Playing Around the World The magic of child’s play is captured in the collection of 30 Amazing Photos of Kids Playing Around the Globe.

#5 – Connecting the Dots
“Grandchildren are the dots that connect the lines from generation to generation.”
Lois Wyse

Now go and spread joy!

Chunky Lola Cookies

Chunky Lola Cookies The lyrics from the Broadway song, “Whatever Lola Wants, Lola Gets,” plays in my head while I make these cookies. In the musical Damn Yankees, Lola is a seductress hired by the devil. I don’t have a clue who the Chunky Lola of this famous recipe is, but she must be a seductress in her own right to have a devilishly delicious cookie named after her. With its dark chocolate chunks, sweet coconut, crunchy toasted pecans, and chewy oats, this cookie is so exceptional that you’ll say “the devil made me do it” as you reach for another one!

Chunky Lola Cookies
Recipe by Joanne Chang, owner and pastry chef at
Flour Bakery + Cafe

INGREDIENTS
1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons (1-3/8 sticks/156 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (140 grams) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (150 grams) packed light brown sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1¼ cups (175 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (70 grams) old-fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick cooking)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
9 ounces (255 grams) bittersweet chocolate (62 to 70 percent cacao), chopped into ½-inch pieces
1¼ cups (125 grams) pecan halves, toasted and chopped
1 cup (120 grams) sweetened shredded coconut

DIRECTIONS
1. Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer or wooden spoon), cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. (This step will take about 10 minutes if using a handheld mixer or spoon.) Stop the mixer a few times and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl and the paddle as necessary.

2. Beat in the eggs and vanilla on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until thoroughly combined. Scrape the bowl and paddle again to make sure the eggs are completely incorporated.

3. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, oats, baking soda, and salt. Add the chocolate, pecans, and coconut and toss to combine.

4. On low speed (or with wooden spoon), slowly add the flour mixture to the butter-sugar mixture and then mix just until the flour mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed.

5. For the best results, scrape the dough into an airtight container and let rest in the refrigerator overnight (or for at least 3 to 4 hours) before baking.

6. When ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350℉.

7. Drop the dough in ¼-cup balls onto parchment paper or Silpat lined baking sheets, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand.

8. Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges and slightly soft in the center. Let the cookies cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 15 to 20 minutes, or until they are cool enough to remove with a spatula. Then transfer them directly to the wire rack to cool completely, or enjoy them warm.

9. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days. The unbaked dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Makes approximately 18 large cookies

LINNELL’S NOTES
1. As Joanne Chang recommends, I weighed the ingredients that had weight equivalents listed.

2. I used Plugra unsalted butter and Lindt 70% Cocoa Smooth Dark chocolate with superior results.

3. I appreciate the notes that the author includes in her cookbook. Most of us home bakers do not cream butter and sugar together long enough. Of that Chang says, It’s best to beat together the butter and sugar for longer than you might think: as long as 6 to 8 minutes on medium speed with a stand mixer in some cases. Watch for the transformation from a yellow, sandy mixture to an ivory, fluffy mixture—the sign that you have properly creamed them together. When you are creaming butter with brown sugar, you’ll see the mixture go from muddy looking to pale brown, and creamy.

4. Even though I refrigerated the dough overnight, the cookies still spread quite a bit. To prevent the cookies from touching as they bake, next time I will space them farther apart than specified or make the dough balls smaller.

5. This cookie recipe is a 10 in my mind. However, because it requires a minimum of 3 to 4 hours of chilling time, it is not a cookie you can make in the spur of the moment.

Enjoy!

May 15, 2015 Edition Cursing myself for deciding to update my computer software on a day I normally post to my blog, I tried to relax and redirect my self-talk. While faced with an unfamiliar computer application that the update forced on me, I remembered the words on a street sign I photographed in Los Angeles last week. Immediately, I turned off the negative self-talk and told myself, “Everything will be fine. You’re a smart gal. You’ll figure it out.” Life can be stressful, frustrating, and challenging at times, but at the heart of it all is you. You are the main character in your play. You write the script. You control character development. It’s your happy ending or not. Do you love yourself enough to let your light shine and be the hero of your life story?

#1 – Love Yourself
Love Yourself To some people, self-love does not come easy. “How To Love Yourself in 17 Ways” provides introspective and empowering suggestions.

#2 – Tea and Thee
Tea and Thee “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” This quote by Thich Nhat Hanh, introduces Leo Babuta’s post Create a Sacred Space in Your Heart. The article is not so much about drinking tea as it is about recognizing the need to create sacred spaces in your heart for those things in your life that matter most.

#3 – Love That Traveling Dog
Maddie the Traveling DogA couple of things strike me as I look through the photos in Photographer Takes His Rescued Dog Maddie On Epic Adventures. First off, I admire the ability of some people to pick up and go. Secondly, I like the composition of Theron Humphries’s photos – especially the images of Maddie in front of captivating scenery. And finally, I realize how much I miss my dog and having the love of a good dog.

#4 – Before I Die . . .
A while back, I took a class on learning how to live a more authentic life. Towards the end of the class, each student was given a piece of paper and asked to write his obituary. The point of the powerful assignment was to shed light on what each of us wanted to be remembered for and to help us focus on what and who were important in our lives. The following TED Talk follows a similar premise. “Before I die . . .” is the unfinished statement that artist Candy Chang asks people to complete. In her interactive public installations, she provides space for people to write down their answers. How would you complete the statement?

#5 – Self-Love and Light
“I am not bound to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to what light I have.”
Abraham Lincoln

“Loving yourself . . . does not mean being self-absorbed or narcissistic, or disregarding others. Rather it means welcoming yourself as the most honored guest in your own heart, a guest worthy of respect, a lovable companion.”
Margo Anand

“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is light from within.”
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Now go and spread joy!

 

Cannellini Beans with Wilted Spinach and Bacon “Just what the doctor ordered,” I said as I dished out a savory salad onto my plate. With white beans, spinach, and a few chopped dates thrown in for good measure, I easily fulfilled one of the four daily servings of potassium-rich food that my cardiologist recommends. Why take supplements when you can eat delicious food?

Cannellini Beans with Wilted Spinach and Bacon
Recipe adapted from Bon Appétit: 12 Easy Ways to Cook a Can of Cannellini Beans

INGREDIENTS
Cannellini beans (canned), rinsed and drained
Onion, thinly sliced
Bacon slices, chopped and cooked
Garlic, minced
Red pepper flakes
Baby spinach leaves
Olive oil
Fresh lemon juice and zest
Chopped dates

DIRECTIONS
1. Cook chopped bacon in a skillet until bacon is brown and crisp. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate to drain.

2. Add sliced onion to fat in skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and golden.

3. Add minced garlic and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant.

4. Add cannellini beans and cook until heated through.

5. Put spinach leaves in a large bowl and using a slotted spoon to drain off the bacon fat, spoon the cannellini bean mixture into the spinach and toss. The spinach will begin to wilt from the heat of the beans.

6. Drizzle with some olive oil and fresh lemon juice, and toss to combine.

7. Add chopped dates and lemon zest, and toss again.

8. Add salt and pepper to taste.

9. Top with bacon.

LINNELL’S NOTES
1. To reduce sodium levels, I used cans of reduced-sodium cannellini beans.

2. I “doubled” the recipe: I used 2 cans of cannellini beans, 1 medium onion, 10 slices of bacon, 2 small garlic cloves, and about 8 ounces of baby spinach leaves. This quantity should yield six servings.

3. The next time I make this salad, I will add more crushed red pepper flakes to give it a little more kick.

4. I chopped about 5-6 pitted dates and added them to the salad. This was not part of the original recipe, but dates are high in potassium and offer a nice sweet counterbalance to the tart freshness of the lemon juice.

5. The lemon zest was not part of the original recipe either, but why waste this most fragrant part of a lemon?

6. To reduce the fat content and make this salad healthier, omit the bacon. Instead, sauté everything in olive oil.

Enjoy!

May 8, 2015 Edition Despite lugging my suitcase through subway passageways and up and down stairs, traveling by train through Italy surpassed my expectations. Trains take you places sometimes where airplanes don’t go. If time permits, why not try taking the scenic route on your next trip and travel by train?

#1 – Weeklong Train Trips
Europe by Train Now that I’ve got you thinking about train trips, read Europe By Train: Five Great One-Week Rail Trip Routes and start planning a trip.

#2 – The Man in Seat 61
The Man in Seat 61: Help for Traveling by Train or Ferry If you need help planning a train or ferry trip, check out The Man in Seat Sixty-One, an informative site dedicated to worldwide train and ferry travel.

#3 – Pack Your Bags
Packing Tips From the ProsWhen traveling, the adage “less is more” becomes meaningful. Nobody wants to haul large pieces of luggage on to trains or try to fit them in tiny elevators. Real Simple’s Packing Tips From The Pros offers many helpful ideas on how to select your travel wardrobe and then how to pack it efficiently.

#4 – Upcycling Suitcases
Upcycling Suitcases What to do with old suitcases that can only hold memories and not clothing anymore? Upcycle them into something fabulous like these chest of drawers by JAMESPLUMB. Check out these other suitcase transformations.

#5 – The Upside of Traveling
“To travel is to take a journey into yourself.”
Danny Kaye

Now go and spread joy!

Salsa Negra Although the dark complex flavor of this salsa defies description, I would say, “deliciously sweet with a deep smokey flavor and a fiery punch that makes you take notice.” Using canned chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, this salsa comes together quickly and is versatile enough to be used as a seasoning base for other dishes, like the dip shown above.

Sweet-Sour Chipotle Seasoning (Salsa Negra)
Recipe by Rick Bayless as seen on Parade.com

INGREDIENTS
2 (7½-oz) cans chipotle chiles en adobo
2 Tbsp molasses
¼ cup (packed) dark brown sugar
¼ cup balsamic vinegar or sweet sherry vinegar
½ cup water
¼ cup soy sauce

DIRECTIONS
1. Place the chiles (with canning liquid), molasses, sugar, vinegar and ½ cup water in a blender and process until completely smooth. Scrape into a small saucepan over medium heat.

2. Let the mixture come to a brisk simmer, then turn the heat to medium-low and continue simmering, stirring regularly, until the mixture is the consistency of tomato paste, about 30 minutes.

3. Remove from the heat and stir in the soy sauce. If necessary, add water, a splash at a time, until the salsa is the consistency of runny ketchup. Cool, taste, and season with salt if needed.

Chef’s Note: Refrigerate salsa in a tightly covered pint-sized jar, where it will keep for a month or two.

LINNELL’S NOTES
1. I was a bad girl. By not reading the directions thoroughly, I screwed up. I added the soy sauce with the other ingredients in my blender. I cooked down the salsa negra in step 2, but because I added more liquid by adding the soy sauce prematurely, I did not let it cook it down to a tomato paste consistency.

2. I used light soy sauce with good results and added no more additional salt.

3. In Food and Wine, Chef Bayless says of this salsa, “Balsamic vinegar might seem like an unusual ingredient in Mexican food, but it is common in Baja. This recipe makes more salsa than you’ll need to make Shrimp with Spicy Chipotle Tomato Sauce, but it keeps in the refrigerator for weeks and can add an intense, smoky heat to grilled meats, stews and tacos.”

4. Taking Chef Bayless’s recommendation, I made a dip using the salsa negra. Using 16 ounces of room temperature cream cheese, I added some salsa negra (to taste) and some crumbled bacon. The dip packs enough flavor alone, if you just want to spread it on a bagel. I like it spread on a blue corn tortilla chip, drizzled with Mexican crema, and topped with a cilantro leaf.

Enjoy!

April 24, 2015 Edition Movement caught my eye as I stood at the kitchen sink and stared out the window. Something landed on a nearby bush, sat for a while, and then flew away. I wondered if a hummingbird had built a nest there. When I went outside to look, a butterfly flew within inches of my face and landed on a leaf in front of me. She repeated the process – landing, resting, flying away – for more than 20 minutes. “She must be laying eggs,” I thought to myself. The fascinating metamorphosis of butterflies happens right in front of our eyes, but most of us don’t see it. In a larger sense, the challenges we encounter during our own metamorphosis oftentimes prevent us from seeing the transformations of others.

#1 – Proving the Butterfly Effect
Chris Rosati Since being diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, North Carolina resident Chris Rosati has become an inspiration to many people around the world. He created BIGG, Big Idea for the Greater Good Initiative, that challenges people “to change the world with just one act of kindness.” Watch the short video of how Chris is “proving the butterfly effect with a single act of kindness.”

#2 – Forge Meaning, Build Identity
Writer Andrew Solomon gives an inspirational and powerful TED presentation on “How the worst moments in our lives make us who we are.” Eloquently, he shares stories of adversity and encourages us to forge meaning from our struggles. Here’s one of my favorite passages from his presentation: When we’re ashamed, we can’t tell our stories, and stories are the foundation of identity. Forge meaning, build identity, forge meaning and build identity. That became my mantra. Forging meaning is about changing yourself. Building identity is about changing the world. All of us with stigmatized identities face this question daily: how much to accommodate society by constraining ourselves, and how much to break the limits of what constitutes a valid life? Forging meaning and building identity does not make what was wrong right. It only makes what was wrong precious.

#3 – Simple Things
Small things In Life That Bring HappinessCar rides, belly rubs, walks in the park – it’s obvious that little things bring joy to dogs. What types of things bring joy to humans? A United Kingdom healthcare group surveyed 2,000 people and asked them what types of things made them feel good. Check out 50 Simple Things that Make Us Feel Great and see how many of these feel-good activities are on your list.

#4 – Butterfly Blues
Tropical Morpho butterflies have beautiful blue wings. This three-minute video shows how the structure of their wings generates their incredible iridescent color.

#5 – Transformation
Change Makes the Butterfly More Beautiful

Now go and spread joy!

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