Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bringing Italy Home

I got to spend over two weeks in Italy last month traveling, eating, studying play therapy and learning about Italian culture.  One of the best lessons I took away from my time there was about finding my joy in everyday moments.  The best way I have found to do that is to slloowww doowwnnn - to take time to just "be" rather than focusing so much on all the things I tell myself I need to do.  In that space I can more easily get in touch with my desires, my playful side - my joy.

Since returning I have made it my intention to bring Italy home with me.  I'm taking my time more, scheduling time to do nothing in fact, and listening... and I'm finding inspiration here...

On my first trip to Italy over a year ago I had the most delicious chocolate pear cake at a little cafe in Rome.  On my more recent trip we got to eat fresh goat's milk ricotta with blackberries - delizioso!  And last week when trying to decide what to make for my class potluck I got a little inventive.

I had found a recipe online for a ricotta pine nut cake that I planned to garnish with blackberries - a nod to the delicious Tuscan dessert I had recently.  However, when I went to make the cake I found I was rather short on pine nuts.  I had just recently bought a large bag of Bosch pears so I decided to let Italy inspire me, used the ingredients I had and came up with my own combination of both desserts.

Here is my recipe:

Chocolate Pear Cake with Pine Nuts and Ricotta
by Stephenie Korte

4 Bosc pears, poached (see instructions below)
3 cups water
1 cup sugar, separated (1/2 cup to poach pears, ½ cup for cake)
(I often use a mixture of white and brown sugar or succanat).
1 stick salted butter, softened
4 eggs, room temperature
5 oz dark chocolate, chopped (Be sure to use good quality chocolate)
½ cup all purpose flour (you can substitute whole wheat pastry flour)
½  cup finely ground almonds
4 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 ¼  tsp baking powder
¼ tsp sea salt
½ tsp cinnamon
¾ cup whole milk ricotta
½ cup pine nuts

You’ll also need:
Parchment paper
9 inch springform cake pan

Step one:  Poach the pears
Peel, quarter and core the pears.  In a large sauce pan combine sugar and 3 cups of water.  Stir on medium-high heat until sugar is dissolved.  Then add the pears (if needed, add more water to cover the pears), bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 min or until pears can easily be pierced with a fork. Drain and set aside.

Step 2:  Prepare the cake 
Preheat oven to 350F.  Butter or spray a 9 inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Chop almonds in food processor until evenly ground.  Prepare a bain marie to melt the chocolate:  pour about an inch of water into a sauce pan; bring to a boil and turn down the heat.  Put the chopped chocolate in a shallow, heatproof bowl; place the bowl over the saucepan, making sure the bottom does not touch the water; wait for the chocolate melt.  Once chocolate begins to melt stir frequently until an even consistency.

In a separate bowl mix together all the dry ingredients:  flour, almond meal, cocoa powder, baking powder, salt, pine nuts and cinnamon.  Set aside.

With an electric mixer beat together butter and sugar on a medium speed until light and fluffy.  Add eggs, one at a time, until well blended.  Add the melted chocolate, beat on a low speed until combined.  Add the ricotta, mix until combined.  Still on low speed, add the sifted flour mixture and beat for 1 minute, or until just combined.

Pour the ½ the batter into prepared cake pan.  Arrange the sliced pears in a circle.  Pour the remaining batter on top of the pears and smooth with a spatula.  Batter will be thick and fluffy, like mousse.  Bake the cake for approx. 35 minutes. Do not over-bake. When a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean, with some moist crumbs and a little batter on it the cake is done.  (I don’t like the cake to be dry so I take it out before the toothpick is totally clean).  Dust lightly with powdered sugar.  Cool slightly; serve warm. 

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Real Drama

What is drama?
and what is real?

Drama is an over-reaction
making more out of something than what is there
an addiction to adrenaline and endorphins.

Real is what is genuine
what is raw; emotions
being in touch with our feelings, senses, thoughts, desires.


Lies, betrayal, disrespect,
these are drama.

Love, compassion, respect,
these are real.

I choose to be real and raw and beautiful.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Direction of Love

Hollywood would have us believe that love is spontaneous combustion
between two people.
That it flows like two rivers back and forth.
But in real life, sometimes it only flows one direction.
And that's OK.

Hollywood may be right in movies,
and may be right sometimes in real life.
But love can also flow out in an endless river
from one person to another
and not be returned.

And who says that has to be such a bad thing?
Who says the experience of loving another with all your heart
is only complete and worthy
if that someone loves you back?

Sure, that would be nice.
To be loved back.

But what a gift it is to be able to open your heart
to another and love them
with everything you've got.

That's a gift no one can take from you.
And I love with all my heart.
And that's a gift to me.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Power of Language

I'm currently reading a book called The Soul of Money, by Lynne Twist. I came across an especially personal and captivating section the other night. In the book the author discusses, among other things, the language surrounding money and economic status.

She says the words "poor and poverty describe economic circumstances and environments, but all too often these words are used in ways that discount the humanity and potential of individuals who have little money."

She writes that the term "starving artist... has us accept that creativity is undervalued in our society. It suggests that those of us who rely on creative gifts to make a living can expect to be poorly paid, and the rest of us are entitled to exploit them or short change them in money terms, and undervalue them in human terms."

I completed my undergraduate degree in fine arts and though I can't claim to make a living using my creative talents and therefore count myself more as a creative person that an artist by title I have always despised the term "starving artist." I was never able to articulate what about it bothered me so, so when I came across this entry in Lynne Twist's book I had an "Aha!" moment.

It isn't simply an irritating cliché, it is the implication of the words that creativity and creative people are severely lacking in worth. To borrow from Ms. Twist's words - it serves to undervalue and even undermine the humanity of the artist and creative thinker.

Now I know my family and friends well (and love them all dearly) and over the years I am sad to say I have heard this term used on many occasion. I am certain they never meant to imply that I am a lesser human being because of my creative talents and path in life; however, as socially acceptable as this term may be, it has no positive interpretation. There is no innocuous definition to the term "starving artist."

On that note, I chose to share Lynne Twist's words with you in the hopes that maybe one or two of you may share my "Aha!" moment. You may even stop and consider - and appreciate - all the artists and creative people in your life, who are likely anything but starving. If they are blessed with creativity then they are rich indeed!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Life knows better...

My Aunt and Uncle are currently visiting New York City. Every now and then I receive a picture of my Aunt in Little Italy, or any anecdote about some adventure they're having. My Uncle's latest email mentioned a free water taxi which shuttles people to the Ikea store in Brooklyn.

My mind immediately shot back to a memory from over three years ago when I had just moved to Brooklyn from Washington Heights. My roommate and I had made arrangements with our landlord to have him build closets before we moved in. When we arrived on moving day there were still no closets. He said he hadn't had time. So we came to the agreement that we could go to the Ikea store and buy wardrobes and take the amount out of our rent. It sounded reasonable at the time.

What we didn't realize was that public transportation between Bushwick, Brooklyn and the only Ikea store in the metro area (at that time) in Elizabeth, NJ was a very complicated thing. I don't recall how many different trains and buses we had to take to get there but I do recall it was a very epic and unpleasant journey. We easily spent three times as long getting there and back as we did actually in the store. I won't even get into the details of assembling the things.

So when my Uncle wrote and mentioned an Ikea store now in Brooklyn I immediately felt jealousy and bitterness. “Why wasn't the store there three years ago??” my mind demanded.

And then I realize that if my life in New York had been easier and more satisfying I might not have left the city and may have never lived in Colorado - where I am far more at home than anywhere else I have lived. So Brooklyn - you can keep your Ikea store. In Colorado, I have mountains!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Made with love

I recently attended dinner at a friend’s house. A group of eight of us came together, each bringing something different to the table, whether it was wine, food, or great stories. My contribution was one of my favorite foods: cookies. But not just any cookies - chocolate chip cookies.

I made my first batch of chocolate chip cookies at the age or three or four. My wonderful grandmother, Mary, took the time to lift my brother and me up onto the counter top – each sitting on one side of the mixer. She measured out the ingredients and let us dump them in the mixer while she stirred with the spatula. She cracked the eggs into a small glass and let us dump them in. We’d watch the yolks getting closer and closer to the swirling beaters and cry “Don’t eat me. Don’t eat me!” with a bit of morbid humor. When we got around to adding flour at the end we’d take turns pouring it in and watch the white clouds puff up and say “smoke!”

And the best part – when they came out of the oven, still warm and gooey, we’d all sit around the kitchen table with glasses of cold milk and big smiles on our faces – totally satisfied.

I no longer make sound effects when I make my cookies, and I’m now tall enough to stand on the floor rather than sit on the counter as I add my ingredients but I’ve never lost my love of making cookies. Each time I pull out the mixer and a bag of chocolate chips I think fondly of my grandmother.
Cookies are one thing I can make confidently for others and know that more often than not they’ll be a success. And people frequently ask for my recipe. But I’ve always been a little hesitant to give the recipe – it’s as though I might be giving away something precious.

I have noticed a pattern though. At times when I realize I’m feeling anxious or stressed and decide I need to do something for myself to help release those feelings I’m often tempted to pull out my mixer. I don’t always make cookies, but I do love to use the mixer and to bake. I have my mom’s old Sunbeam mixer and I absolutely adore it. I guess the simple act of baking connects me to two wonderful women – my grandmother through some of my earliest memories and my mother through her old mixer. Perhaps by baking I’m longing for that sense warm and fulfilling melted chocolate and cold milk love.

But what’s the hold up with sharing the recipe? Maybe my fear of sharing stems from some deeper (although deluded) belief that by sharing the recipe I’ll be giving it away, along with my precious memories and the love and connection I feel toward my family…

I recently realized that somewhere deep inside I had a fear of really allowing myself to feel and express love for others, especially romantic love (and especially at the risk that the love might not be returned – gasp!). Has this fear really overflowed into every part of my life? Even into the kitchen?

It seems like this is the case. But now that I realize it I can also see the fault in this belief. Love is best when shared. So are cookies. And sharing never diminishes a thing. It serves to strengthen and enhance it. So now I’m going to share my cookie recipe and my love (cookies should always be made with love) with all of you.

For best results be sure to use your favorite mixer and your favorite ingredients. And always do all of your cooking with lots of love.

The following recipe is merely the latest version which has come about through years of playing, experimenting, expanding upon what I learned with my grandmother, my Aunt Linda, recipe suggestions for the so-called “best” cookies, and trial and error of course. So don’t be afraid to experiment.

- ½ c. sugar
- 1 c. packed brown sugar
- 2 sticks (1/2 c.) butter (not margarine), melted
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 - 1 ½ Tbs real vanilla extract (I’ve used as much as 3 Tbs. It just depends on my mood and finance in the moment.)
- 1 ¼ c. all-purpose flour
- ¼ c. brown rice flour
- Semi-sweet chocolate chips. (I never measure these. I just add them until the dough looks relatively saturated with chocolate lumps.)
- Bitter sweet chocolate chips. (Same measurements as above. I like to mix Ghirardelli with another brand. This not only mixes up the types of chocolate but also mixes regular size with larger chips)
- Walnut halves. You can squeeze them by the handful to break them into slightly smaller pieces if desired, though the mixer will also break them up somewhat once you add them to the dough. I prefer to have large chunks of nuts in the cookies.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

First blend white and brown sugars together. Then add melted butter. Stir in eggs and extra egg yolk. Blend. Add salt, baking soda and vanilla. Add both types of flour gradually. Mix in chocolate chips and nuts. Place rounded balls of dough (teaspoon size) on non-stick or greased cookie sheet. Bake for nine minutes or until cookies start to brown slightly. Remove cookie sheet from oven (place second sheet in oven if you have two so the next batch can bake while the first cools). Allow cookies to cool on baking sheet for several minutes. Then remove and place on wire rack to cool the rest of the way.

Share and enjoy!

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Four-legged Zen

Dirt and hay and horse manure mingle so sweetly in the air
I can almost taste them.
Light reflects off multi-colored manes, glinting on dark, beautiful eyes.
Snorts, sputtering lips, chomping, rustling of hay.
Fur under my fingertips, each piece smooth and coarse, warmed by the sun,
gritty with earth.

I start by greeting each of my friends by name and petting their furry heads just under the forelock or on the soft end of the nose. Sometimes they give me a quick acknowledgement and return to eating. Other times I get a lick or a nudge or my arm receives the blessing of being used as a scratching post. I love when the horses push their heads against my stomach or chest, trying to get as close as possible, ignoring physical limitations, ignoring that they outweigh me by several hundred pounds or tower over me in size.

This is my therapy. This is my Zen. I volunteer at two local riding therapy centers working with riders who have both physical and mental disabilities. The riders come out to connect with and learn from the horses and they do benefit greatly. I get to be a witness to their experiences. But I benefit too, just from being near the horses.

They are such magical creatures. Just being in their presence calms my soul, re-balances my unbalanced and erratic energy, quiets my chattery mind. Breathing in fresh air, soaking in the elements, being present and aware with these wondrous creatures. They are Calm. Quiet. Playful. Honest. Their emotions are fully legible on their bodies - their eyes, ears, nostrils, tails, muscles are flexed or softened. They have nothing to hide. They are vulnerable, inspiring and beautiful.

After I greet each of my friends I begin grooming the horse who will participate in class that day. Grooming is so intimate, so close, so demanding of mutual respect and trust and of being fully engaged in the moment. If my mind wanders or my intentions become unclear my horse may move away from the brush or may refuse to lift her hoof for me. The same is true during classes. If I falter while leading the horse she may turn the wrong direction or come to a halt and refuse to walk on until I refocus my intentions.

Here in this sacred space with the horses there is no room for doubt or frustration or absent-mindedness. What ever I bring to the relationship with them they reflect back on me more clearly than I sometimes like to admit, but they do not lie. If I approach them with hesitation and doubt and confusion they will absorb all that I project and respond accordingly.

If on the other hand, I approach them with joy, love and gratitude I receive a full heart in return. What greater gift could be shared between friends?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Snow Days

Never mind I'm turning 30 in just over a month. The joy of a snow day with thick white blankets covering the Earth and the incomparable hush of a world muted in awe and reverence at marvelous, intricate crystal flakes still brings a child-like rush of joy and an urge to fling my body backward in full trust and love of the world, to spread my arms into the wings of a snow angel.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Processing Loss

I lay wide a wake at 3:00 this morning, unable to quiet my mind and go back to sleep. After over an hour of tossing and turning I decided to do some writing. I wanted to get some of those thoughts out of my head and on paper so maybe my mind could rest again. It worked and I was able to sleep a while longer.

My wakeful mind has returned to that long string of thoughts, though now they feel lighter and more curious rather than heavy and burdensome.

I was talking with a friend the other day and felt sad and heavy-hearted at the time. I was troubled by the feeling. At one point tears came. I sat and cried a moment and said to her, “I don’t even know where this is coming from.” She said it seemed like I was grieving.

I felt the truth of her words immediately – the heavy sense of loss in my heart. The sadness, anguish and grief. It was all there, and I was surprised to realize it. Since then I've started thinking about the never-ending cycle of change in life. It seems absurd to say some people are resistant or afraid of change. To be afraid of change is to be afraid of life itself. Yet I know full well there are times in life when I respond most with fear and resistance to the changes life brings.

We are all creatures embodied by change. Our very cells die and new ones are born every day. There is no avoiding or stopping change. We can only be aware of it and try to appreciate what exists in the moment. If only this could be done as easily as it is said.

In the early hours this morning I sat and took stock of my more recent life. In just the past year and a half since I moved to Colorado I've had three different addresses, started and left a full-time "permanent" job, I have made some friends and acquaintances who have already stepped out of my life again, and I have lost several people who have been a part of my life for a very long time.

My oldest brother died last summer. Another brother and his family (including my only two precious nieces) have, for reasons I don’t fully understand separated themselves from the rest of our family. One of my closest friends of seven years became distant and estranged shortly after my brother’s death, when I needed her most. I found love and friendship with a man which seemed full of promise, but which did not last as long as either of us hoped. My family has experience sickness, fear and pain.

Despite all this pain and loss I look back on my time here and feel an overall sense of happiness and gratitude. Despite these losses I have also received so many gifts. I have formed new friendships, learned new lessons and gained new experiences. To a certain extent the losses I have experienced have helped inspire and create some of these new opportunities. They have given me a sense of impermanence and appreciation for life that encourages courage and boldness. For that I am grateful. But I can't ignore that some level of grieving naturally accompanies loss.

Even though I understand the basic psychological principal that grieving is a (sometimes long) process I must, on some level, believe there should be a time limit for grief because my initial response to it when it returned the other day was – Oh, are you still here? I thought you’d be gone by now.

As I thought back last night over all the events of the past year and a half I felt less surprised at the return of my grief. I have experienced losses. I have experienced hardship and sadness. Everyone has. It is only natural that along with the cycle of change will come some endings. Grief is only our acknowledgement of an ending. It is only the first step in the process. After grief comes the welcoming of the new cycle of birth and opportunity.

I look now at the Peace Lilly in my room. It has three huge white flowers on it (one pictured above). I know none of them will last forever. They will eventually wither away and I will cut them off and new ones will bloom. I do not try to alter this fact. I do not feel sad the blooms are only temporary. I appreciate them with their light and beauty while they last.

Maybe some day I will be able to accept all changes in life as gracefully as I accept the eventual withering of my Lilies. Maybe not. At the very least I hope I will be able to accept and experience moments of grief when they come back to me, to see them as part of the changes life brings and to live fully even in sadness. To feel it and release it so I can open myself up to the next experience rather than clinging to fear and resistance.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Strange Beauty

I got out of bed this morning to find the shadow of a fly perched on my window cast against my curtains. I was struck by the thought that under other circumstances I find flies to be unsanitary and annoying creatures. I think of them as buzzing about, crawling on carion or waste and always managing to land on my food at a picnic or bite what ever skin I have left exposed.

Yet with this new perspective of shadow and morning light cast on a white fabric filter I found the fly to be quite beautiful, peaceful, and even inspiring. It's amazing what shifts can happen simply through a change in perspective.