30 August, 2009

franklin bakery

This was my 'hood when I moved back from San Fransisco. Ther was a 7-11 where the bakery now stands perfuming the air with the aromas of bread and pastries. It's not Buchon, and doesn't pretend to be anything close to it. There are no fancy french creations with hazelnut fillings. No eclairs, truffles or chocolate ganache. A carrot bread, cupcakes, brightly colored American cakes are always available. Merangues and macaroons which quickly disappear. Ho-hum cookies, nothing to dream about, somewhat plastic looking doughnuts. Not tempting, easy to pass up. But the pleasure of sitting in the sunshine in between clients cannot be measured. The perfect late summer day, a week before school starts, not a cloud in the sky. The breeze caressing your arms and shoulders gently, just enough to keep you interested. Just enough to make you wish for one more moment in the sun, with no demands, no questions, no responsibility but being here. Breath and smile. I can do that...with my eyes closed.

birthday princess

marzipan and cream: what could be more perfect on your 26th birthday? sleeping late? weather we dream about for 10 months of the year? flowers? friends cooking dinner together? dressing up? the celebration stretching out over 10 or more days? all this and more says "yes" to life. Live your life, if it isn't in your own backyard, you might have never really lost it in the first place. There is a little bit of Dorothy Gale in all of us. And that is helpful to remember when you hit a rough spot, a little temporary whitewater in the river of your life. When your daughter's a princess, that means you are a Queen. And you've got the privilege to rule, and with great privilege comes great responsibility.
She's always watching, always checking, always copying, practicing, re-assessing. Wondering how this works, what has been tried, what were the results. She remembers things that have faded form my memory long ago. Reminding me of a chance comment, a remark, a piece of advice. My hope, my dream is to one day be as wise as she sometimes thinks I am. And to always be as generous as we both deserve...which is unconditionally generous. If she had two lives she would give me one, it isn't a matter of half empty or half full. Overflowing, without measure, like Big Anthony and the pasta pot filling the whole village with freshly cooked, tasty noodles...My runaway bunny, I will come after you with my last breath. I had two lives, so I gave you one. Then I found that I still had two lives. So I gave one to your brother...My plan is that, when I am gone you will have each other.   

24 August, 2009

ponder, wonder

....dream. And dream some more: when I grow up. This is the beauty of living here and now: you can do anything you imagine if you are willing to make the effort. To do the work. Set a goal and move toward it. Ask for help. Ask for more help. Keep asking and be patient. Make a plan, break it down and approach each step with enthusiasm and determination. Like surfing, not the net, but real surfing, with the undertow and sharks. Finding your balance waiting for the wave, your wave, the one which will carry you back to the beach. And I will be watching you, celebrating your success.

23 August, 2009

post celebration

Something about the farm feels so safe, so familiar, even though it's not the same since my Uncle's death. It's not  a "working farm" like it was when I was a kid. Yet, there is something so reassuring walking out in the field of soybeans listening to them grow. Seeing those fuzzy bean pods hanging down like ornaments, earrings and knowing their story. Sensing the nitrogen moving into the soil and the nutrients moving into the beans. There is a sense of theprocess of photosynthesis making music with the sun. The air is filled with a loving presence as if there really are angels moving up and down the rows singing to the plants, "grow, my darlings, grow". It's not a real farm simply in the sense that it doesn't have to make money in the same way it did when my Aunt and Uncle first started out...There is a relaxed atmosphere as if it were a museum or an out-of-the-way theme park. You can walk in the fields of clover and look down to find a "cow-pie" as if it were treasure or memorabilia to be noticed, rather than avoided and shunned. I watched three young cousins hanging around on the trampoline, quietly chatting in the sunshine. They looked so blissful for the moment and pleased to have the time to spend in each other's company. While their elders relaxed on the front deck, waiting, wondering who will be next to cross over the threshold; to move to the next station. And how? Will it hurt? Will people cry, and remember?  Or shrug and forget...A couple of weeks ago I went out to dinner with my Dad. Inadvertently I selected a place that was a little pricier than I remembered. But he didn't seem to care. He said he considered that we were spending my money, since he was planning to give it to me anyway and that this way he could see what I spent it on, and enjoy it with me. It's the thing that really bothers him about dying: missing the party and seeing how his money is spent. It's important for me to remember him like this: generous and easy. And when I said good by, he held me fiercely, tightly and for a long time. Right in front of his widowed sisters. And I let him, maybe for the last time, because he's still here. And, sooner than I care to imagine, he won't be... 

scoliosis: exercise your options

Over 35 years of working in the fitness world it has been my privilege to work with numerous people aspiring to the goal of improving their quality of life . People interested in taking responsibility for their health, willing to consider and utilize the services available in the traditional medical community, and learn about their most recent scientific developments. Yet, they were, and are, willing to seek second opinions, and explore holistic approaches to healing and wellness. Many people have begun to recognize how our emotional lives affect the functions of our physical bodies, especially the immune system. In the past we have perceived the physician as a god-like figure, all knowing, infallible and benevolent. And in those “good old days”, scoliosis was frequently treated with spinal fusions, braces and body casts. There is increasing evidence, based on research, that both Pilates and Yoga are effective, non-invasive methods of retarding, and in many cases reversing the progression of this chronic spinal condition. The combination of gently extending, lengthening the spine, and strengthening the abdominal, back and pelvic floor muscles is the foundation of both pilates and yoga. These exercises counter act the effects of gravity and allow the spine to open and unwind. Scoliosis is more than a simple side to side curving of the spine it is actually a spiraling motion of the bones twisting in on themselves for no discernible reason. There are theories related to latent viral infections hiding dormant along the vertebrae. And speculation around emotional disturbances, perhaps abuse issues, domestic violence, intimidation a sense of the body attempting to protect itself. In any case there appears to be an emotional component which is important to consider and examine. It is common to find some degree of degeneration in the spine over the age of 30. We have developed habits of sitting for unhealthy lengths of time with minimal stretch breaks. Many of us are not properly hydrated and reach for water only after we notice we are thirsty. Even then we may chose carbonated, and/or caffeinated beverages, sometimes loaded with corn syrup, hardly the wisest choice. In the process of helping so many clients develop body awareness, increase sensitivity to structural weakness, improve balance and postural alignment, I have come to believe methods like pilates and yoga, or , even better, a combination of the two approaches are preferable to surgical options. The most successful cases also incorporate rehabilitative massage to support the optimal structural integration of the postural changes of the body. Currently, there are excellent DVDs available to rent, borrow or own with selections and sequences of simple exercises which identify and address the various lateral curvatures termed scoliosis. Physical therapy is another valuable resource for those who wish to utilize other options before surgery. As spinal fusion is irreversible, it is best reserved as the last choice. A group class, another inexpensive option can be effective if you take time to inform the instructor prior to registration to identify your concerns and limitations. This will also help you determine if the particular instructor is an appropriate choice for your needs. I suggest you look for a class described as “restorative” or “rehabilitative” taught by someone experienced in modifying the standard exercises for a variety of conditions. Another terrific option is to work one-on-one for 2 or 3 classes to get started safely and to develop a personalized program for your individual needs. Over the past year I have watched a determined pilates enthusiast as he slowly, methodically lost 80 pounds and rebuilt his body by working on the pilates apparatus called the “reformer”. His muscles are now long and lean. His scoliosis is largely undetected. The physical discomfort he experienced is gone and he carries himself proudly, full height, no apologies. His emotional change is dramatic. Previously bullied, he is now positive, creative and full of enthusiasm. His self esteem has flowered carrying him into new adventures and projects. Like so many of the people I am honored to assist, he is an inspiration to anyone on the path to better health. http://www.easyvigour.net.nz/pilates/h_pilatesscoliosis.htm http://www.ehow.com/facts_4828544_pilates-exercises-scoliosis.html http://astore.amazon.com/wwwcurvedspic-20?_encoding=UTF8&node=1 http://www.muellermassageandpilates.com/pilates/ http://www.accelerated-wellness.com/raindrop_therapy_technique.htm

20 August, 2009

losing sight

We just can't always see where we are going, where the path is taking us...and if I were brutally honest with myself I would just admit that it's all something of an experiment, taking me into areas of interest and curiousity. Writing an article about scoliosis I am holding an image of the spiraling movement of the spine not unlike the curving movement of this path in the Japanese Garden at the Uof M Landscape Arboretum. Even if there was a definite destination there could be so many detours that the arrival time is unrealistic. And if we allow extra time for detours, and getting lost, we may easily arrive earlier than expected. Staying alert and attentive is helpful advice in any case. All we really have is our present location: standing under the cherry tree with a waterfall on the right, a tea house on the left, and the hosta garden somewhere behind me. And a cell phone, in case I get lost...

07 August, 2009

mango cheesecake

A rainy August Friday afternoon and canceled clients. They canceled, not me...a wise man once reminded me in the face of devastating disappointment that it's all good. While driving to Broder's Italian Deli with my daughter, in a '98 convertible Z3 to eat mango cheesecake and drink jasmine tea I remembered his words: it was all good. 
The summer had been incredibly dry and all vegetation had suffered. But after 24 hours of slow steady rain, everything was vibrantly colored. My tiger lilies were neon and the silly little petunias looked like velvet. Daughter was pensive, and relaxed. She was looking forward to a little retail therapy after tea, and had spent time working at the community gardens in spite of minimal sleep the night before...Her friend's mom, younger than I,  had recently died of pancreatic cancer. Her friend's mother refused treatment and died within two months of diagnosis. Her friend claimed she deliberately decided to "wean" herself from her Mom in subtle ways. I have vivid memories of weaning my daughter. It was one of the most painful things I have ever done, right up there with her birth. I thought of the time we had spent at Tate Britian last February, eating the best scones and drinking jasmine tea made in teapots like the ones at Broders's. It reminded  both of us of the time we spent in Krakow in coffee shops hanging out eating cream cakes, warm ponchki with rose jelly filling and "Lody Bambino." My own mother, her grandma, is a cancer survivor. I wanted her to skip chemo and radiation. I was silent, no one can make that decision for someone else. At 79, a heavy smoker for much of her life, a recovering alcoholic and DV survivor, the process left her fragile, toothless, and disorientated. The tea was scorching hot, too hot to drink. The fragrance of jasmine steamed in our cups, and we smiled, happy to be together.
  • 1 1/2 cups graham cracker crumbs
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted

  • 3 large very ripe mangoes (each about 13 ounces), peeled, pitted, coarsely chopped
  • 3 8-ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 large eggs

  • Sliced peeled pitted mangoes


For crust:
Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan with 2 3/4-inch-high sides. Stir cracker crumbs and sugar in medium bowl to blend. Add melted butter and stir until evenly moistened. Press crumb mixture firmly onto bottom (not sides) of prepared pan. Bake until crust is set, about 12 minutes. Cool completely. Maintain oven temperature.

For filling:
Puree mangoes in processor until smooth. Set aside 2 cups mango puree (reserve any remaining puree for another use). Beat cream cheese, sugar, and vanilla in large bowl until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add 2 cups mango puree and beat until well blended. Pour filling over crust in pan.

Bake cake until set and puffed and golden around edges (center may move very slightly when pan is gently shaken), about 1 hour 25 minutes. Cool cake 1 hour. Refrigerate uncovered overnight. Run small knife between cake and sides of pan to loosen. Remove pan sides. Transfer cake to platter. Cut into wedges and serve with sliced mangoes.

Kellerville, Napa Valley

By the time we reached Bouchon I couldn't eat another bite of anything. The pastries were beautiful. So tempting and at another time I could buy a box full to go and devour them slowly over a longer period of time. But for this day, I passed them by. And I have no regrets. Tomorrow is another day...



  • cups whole, 2 percent fat, or 1 percent fatmilk
  • 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter


  • 1 cup water
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 eggs, plus 1 extra, if needed

Egg Wash:

  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons water

Chocolate Glaze:

  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped


Filling: In a medium saucepan, heat the milk and vanilla bean to a boil over medium heat. Immediately turn off the heat and set aside to infuse for 15 minutes. In a bowl, whisk the egg yolks and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the cornstarch and whisk vigorously until no lumps remain. Whisk in 1/4 cup of the hot milk mixture until incorporated. Whisk in the remaining hot milk mixture, reserving the saucepan. Pour the mixture through a strainer back into the saucepan. Cook over medium-high heat, whisking constantly, until thickened and slowly boiling. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Let cool slightly. Cover with plastic wrap, lightly pressing the plastic against the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Chill at least 2 hours or until ready to serve. The custard can be made up to 24 hours in advance. Refrigerate until 1 hour before using.

Pastry: Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. In a large saucepan, bring the water, butter, salt and sugar to a rolling boil over medium-high heat. When it boils, immediately take the pan off the heat. Stirring with a wooden spoon, add all the flour at once and stir hard until all the flour is incorporated, 30 to 60 seconds. Return to the heat and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Scrape the mixture into a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or use a hand mixer). Mix at medium speed. With the mixer running, add 3 eggs, 1 egg at a time. Stop mixing after each addition to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix until the dough is smooth and glossy and the eggs are completely incorporated. The dough should be thick, but should fall slowly and steadily from the beaters when you lift them out of the bowl. If the dough is still clinging to the beaters, add the remaining 1 egg and mix until incorporated.

Using a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tip, pipe fat lengths of dough (about the size and shape of a jumbo hot dog) onto the lined baking sheet, leaving 2 inches of space between them. You should have 8 to 10 lengths.

Egg Wash: In a bowl, whisk the egg and water together. Brush the surface of each eclair with the egg wash. Use your fingers to smooth out any bumps of points of dough that remain on the surface. Bake 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375 degrees and bake until puffed up and light golden brown, about 25 minutes more. Try not to open the oven door too often during the baking. Let cool on the baking sheet. Fit a medium-size plain pastry tip over your index finger and use it to make a hole in the end of each eclair (or just use your fingertip). Using a pastry bag fitted with a medium-size plain tip, gently pipe the custard into the eclairs, using only just enough to fill the inside (don't stuff them full).

Glaze: In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat just until it boils. Immediately turn off the heat. Put the chocolate in a medium bowl. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and whisk until melted and smooth. Set aside and keep warm. The glaze can be made up to 48 hours in advance. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use, and rewarm in a microwave or over hot water when ready to use.

Dip the tops of the eclairs in the warm chocolate glaze and set on a sheet pan. Chill, uncovered, at least 1 hour to set the glaze. Serve chilled.

03 August, 2009

say "yes"

Another thing to remember, is to say "yes." "Yes" to life. To getting out of bed in the morning. Step by step, one day at a time a life is created and celebrated. It isn't always easy, it isn't always fun but it is always an opportunity to grow and evolve into somone more loving, more giving and more grateful. Easy to forget to love ourselves, until we meet ourselves in another person, a courageous soul who will do whatever it takes to live in the face of fear. Without illusions, without hair, overweight, underpaid and hungry for more time with her young children. Surgery, chemo, radiation, whatever it takes...for as long as it takes, until the last dance, the last drop, the last crumb, the last breath. 

02 August, 2009


In Pilates terms "roll-up" is a powerful exercise to strengthen core muscles, train alignment and traction the spine. Some enthusiasts consider it to be the most important exercise of the Pilates tradition. In another world, a culinary world, it is a spongy cake rolled around a creamy, sweetened and flavored filling. The sponge cake can be yellow or chocolate or any flavor you wish to attempt. The filling may also be diverse. This particular variation hold hazelnut cream and the cake is a dense dark chocolate, a little heavier, slightly more moist than the traditional sponge. The recipe is a close relative of our favorite brownie. Garnished with three kinds of berries, what could be better. I remember making jelly rolls as a kid. They were usually filled with strawberry jam and didn't last too long at our house. Sometimes I would make two: one to eat right away, fresh out of the oven, spread with jam before the cake was cool and rolled immediately. The second was was also rolled but without filling and saved for a thicker, creamy combination of fruit and cream Chantilly. On a summer evening, with fresh blueberries, there was nothing more comforting than watching the stars from the front steps with a slice of roll-up melting in your mouth.

01 August, 2009

dance lesson

The first thing to remember is that it's brief, over before you know it. The undeniable truth is still that: this just doesn't last very long. And even if you are lucky enough to get some borrowed time, it might not include everything you have today. Like an invitation to dance. To find ways of moving together, perhaps not in unison, but at least in love. We take so much for granted, and then it's gone, and we can't get it back together again. Like Humpty Dumpty.
There is a fleeting series of present moments, the frames of a video clip. And when you add them up, you have a story. A young woman struggles with her identity. Talented, energetic, skilled in so many different areas she cannot choose easily how to shape her life. Her priorities shift like the landscape she inhabits. Her aging grandfather watches her evolution, her growing pains, he sees her pain, he has advice but he cannot live her life for her. He knows he may not even witness much more or her process. And his cataract surgery has literally opened his eyes to the beauty and wonder he had been missing. Out of practice, out of shape, he asks her to dance. Something easy, and not terribly aerobic: a waltz. Then, a rumba. A few minutes at a party, with his grand-daughter's friends. He had spent the day with his dying brother-in-law. His hunger for contact, for meaning, has grown out of that meeting. Maintaining the quality of one's life, savoring each moment, each sensation, each joyful exchange. This dance was a rare gift on a beautiful, sunny first day of August, almost 26 years to the day of his grand-daughter's birth, ...the beginning of good-bye. An opening of heart. Alleluia, Amen.