Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Practice Habit

At this week's Scarborough Uke Jam, Bill W. inspired everyone with his playing of Bach's Prelude for the first Cello Suite.

Wow! I would love to be able to play something similar. Maybe in a few more years.

Since I've picked up the ukulele I've often thought about how much similarity there is to yoga. Posture, awareness, discipline, and practice!

I've been strumming for a little over two years now, and in the first year I was very motivated to practice every day. Although I would've liked to learn faster, progress was a lot more noticeable and measurable. Now I have the basics down, and there is still lots of room for improvement. Progress is so incremental.

Going to the Jam every two weeks is good exposure to new techniques and songs - and it's just fun to sing and play along with experienced musicians who don't dismiss basic players. I am truly thankful to Paul, Jay, Matt, Lisa for leading the sessions, prepping the charts, and making it all look so effortless. However, if it's been a week or so since I picked up the uke, any callouses I developed have faded and I end the evening with sore fingertips. When I've been "out of practice" I notice I have to think a bit more than I should to find the chords and fingering.

So, why don't I practice uke every day? No shortage of excuses! Too tired. Have to make dinner. Out for the evening, etc. etc. Yet when I do take the time I find it a great way to unwind. And really, even 15 minutes a day can make a difference.

I signed up for online lessons awhile ago, they are nicely put together, and a great approach to thoroughly learning a song. The instructor sent out some useful practice tips via email that are very timely.

Thanks for the advice, Brett!


Brett McQueen

Your Reason – Why You Play Ukulele

You must have a reason for why you practice. 

What motivates you to play the ukulele?

For me, it's to experience the joy of making music with others. It gives me energy and fuel. I'm happier when I'm making music.

For you, your motivation to play ukulele might be to win the heart of your crush. Others of you might want to be able to make music with your grandkids. Some of you have a lifelong dream of playing an instrument. Maybe it reminds you of that time you went to Hawaii. Perhaps you want to be a world-class performer.

These are great motivations to practice.

Think about and identify your motivation.

While some of us don't have to think too hard about this, when you find yourself in a rut and discouraged, it's important to remember why you play the ukulele.

Your Place – When & Where You Practice

While you have to start here, motivation isn't enough.

Motivation can quickly wane when we face obstacles, like when you can't switch chords in that one song without stopping. Discouragement can creep in when your fingers aren't as agile as you want them to be to fingerpick that scale or solo.

When we don't feel motivated, we can fallback on our practice ritual or habit.

A practice habit starts with two main things:
  1. When you practice
  2. Where you practice
The number one reason students tell me for not practicing ukulele is time.

We all have the same amount of time in a day, so if you're saying learning ukulele is important to you, let's get creative with it. Remember, it's better to practice for just 15 minutes per day than having a marathon practice sessions for a couple hours every few days.

You might:
  • Bring your ukulele to work to play on a break
  • Set out your ukulele on a stand in the family room, so you're more likely to pick it up
  • Buy a ukulele case and take it with you when you're traveling on the road
  • Carry your ukulele in your backpack on campus
  • Put your ukulele on a stand right by your bed so you see it first thing in the morning

I know for myself if my ukulele is in its case put up in my closet I'm way less likely to take it out and play. This is why I keep a ukulele on a stand in my office within arms reach, so I'm frequently reminded to pick it up and play. This is a powerful environmental trigger to make it easy for me to play ukulele.

It's even better though if you can schedule your practice and have a dedicated space, such as a your back porch or a quiet room in your house without distractions. For me, my home office is the quietest and free from distractions.

Find your time and place to practice ukulele to create your practice habit.

Think about your time creatively and use the power of your environment to get into a creative mindset.

Your Focus – What You Practice

Have you ever had it where you pick up the ukulele and feel like you're playing the same old things over and over again?

Maybe you're a beginner and you feel completely overwhelmed by the sheer volume of ukulele lessons and information out there. Where do you even start? Maybe you've been playing for awhile and you've hit a plateau and don't know how to get better. What do you do to break through?

It's normal to feel in a rut as a musician or like you don't know what to practice next.

You can have your motivation, time and place, but if you aren't focused on a goal, you'll start to feel like you're peddling without a bike chain.

So, what makes a great ukulele practice goal?

Let's borrow from the SMART goal framework. A great practice goal for ukulele is:
  • Specific. The goal is simply stated and easy to understand. Good, specific goals are: "I want to learn how to switch from a G to D7 chord while strumming a calypso strumming pattern without stopping," or, "I want to memorize the C major scale in first position," or, "I want to learn how to play Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
  • Measurable. It's clear when you have achieved the goal because a number is attached to it. "I will switch from a G to D7 chord to a count of four at 80 beats per minute on a metronome," or, "I will learn the first eight measures of the intro to Somewhere Over the Rainbow."
  • Achievable. Your goal is within reach and not outside the scope of your current ability. For example, if you've played ukulele less than a month, an unachievable goal and one not worth focusing on would be to play While My Guitar Gently Weeps as performed by Jake Shimabukuro.
  • Relevant. The goal should be within the scope of your interests on ukulele. For example, if you're interested in strumming chords and singing, then, learning the notes of the fretboard might not be relevant to how you want to play the instrument. That's okay!
  • Time-based. Every great goal has a time limit for when you should achieve that goal. I recommend making smaller goals for a two-week period to stay focused, motivated and inspired.
Focus your practice by writing out a ukulele practice goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-based.

There is an art to creating effective goals on which to focus your practice.

For many ukulele players, it's quite difficult to craft well-articulated goals that factor in your current skill level and where you want to be.

This is why having a teacher or a ukulele group is so important to help define those goals for you. Having a teacher allows you to spend your time focusing on what's important – practicing your instrument. A great teacher will be able to understand where you're at and suggest the right things to practice to help you make the music you want to make.

A Simple 15-Minute Ukulele Practice Method

No one learns how to do anything without dedicating time. This is true for learning to play ukulele.

Fortunately, It doesn't take hours a day to get better at ukulele.

15 minutes per day is all it takes.

Last week I talked about finding your reason, your place, and your focus when it comes to playing ukulele. I also gave some practical tips for finding time in your busy schedule to play ukulele.

If 15 minutes is all you have, then, I recommend making the most of it and breaking it up into three 5-minute parts.

First 5 Minutes – Pick a Familiar Song

Don't start off your practice session by taking on the latest Jake Shimabukuro arrangement!

For the first five minutes, take the first minute to stretch the wrists, hands, and fingers by opening and closing the hands and fingers. While doing this, focus on your breathing.

After that first minute, start with a familiar song you already know how to play and that you love to play. If you're brand new, start with the most basic chord and strumming you can muster.

This gets the fingers and mind ready to go!

Next 5 Minutes – Pick One Exercise

Next, select one new exercise or one you've already been working on perfecting.

Just pick one!

The biggest mistake new ukulele players make is trying to focus on too many different things at once. Don't try to do it all at one time! You will get there.

To be effective at practice in a short amount of time, just focus on one thing.

This could be a scale, strumming pattern, fingerpicking pattern, chord change exercise, metronome exercise, music-reading exercise, rhythm exercise, memorization exercise, etc. 

If you're scratching head wondering how to come up with these exercises, then, I'd recommend having a teacher give you exercises to practice based on your current skill level and interests. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to tackle an exercise that is outside the scope of your own capabilities.

When you learn from me online in Club Ukulele, I present exercises you can use to improve certain techniques and skills on the ukulele based on your skill level and interests.

Where in the last step, you warmed up the fingers and mind, the goal for this part is to challenge and stretch your fingers and your mind.

Last 5 Minutes – Pick a New Song

Lastly, pick a new song to learn.

Ideally, this song should be one that uses the new skill or technique you've been practicing in the last 5 minutes. Again, it's important to learn a new song that is challenging but isn't too far out of reach based on your current skill level. This is where a good ukulele teacher can help you.

With Club Ukulele, courses build gradually, so I provide these songs for you to learn that fit the skills and techniques you're learning.

As you practice this new, more difficult song, you might break up the song into micro-goals, such as: 

"I'm going to learn all the chords positions for this song,"


"I'm going to learn the first four measures of this song."

The goal isn't to be able to play the song perfectly in one practice session but to chip away at in small chunks.

Learning harder songs like this is ultimately what helps you improve your skills as a ukulele player. Plus, playing songs and making music is what it's all about!

Saturday, April 22, 2017

How long should I meditate?

“You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day—unless you're too busy. Then you should sit for an hour.” — Zen proverb.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Happy Easter 2017

most quotes collected from my 2016 Zen Calendar 

Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. It will not lead you astray.
- Rumi

Your sadness, your fear, your loneliness, even your despair is so fragile, friend. It can break open at any moment. A single note in a piece of music can do it. A kind glance from a stranger. The feeling of the spring breeze on your face. A reflection of a bird in flight. In any moment, your sorrow can shatter into nothingness; it has no more reality than that, no more substance than a shadow.
- Jeff Foster

No one asked you to be happy. Get to work.
- Colette

On Meditation and Practice

Practice thirty more years.
- Zen saying

In addition to sitting - cooking, gardening, cleaning, and walking can all be part of our meditation practice, especially if we really connect with present awareness along the way.
- David Nichtern

You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait. You need not even wait, just learn to become quiet, and still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.
- Franz Kafka

Zen is really just a reminder to stay alive and to be awake. We tend to daydream all the time, speculating about the future and dwelling on the past. Zen practice is about appreciating your life in this moment. If you are truly aware of five minutes a day, then you are doing pretty well. We are beset by both the future and the past, and there is no reality apart from the here and now.
- Peter Matthiessen

It is time to put yourself back in tune... Put your zazen pad somewhere between your bathroom and kitchen. Sit down there in the morning after you use the bathroom and before you cook breakfast. You are sitting with everyone in the world. If you can sit only briefly, you will have at least settled your day.
- Robert Aitken

Leave your front door and back door open. Let thoughts come and go. Just don't serve them tea.
- Shunryu Suzuki

Give yourself a break. That doesn't mean to say that you should drive to the closest bar and have lots to drink or go to a movie. Just enjoy the day, your normal existence. Allow yourself to sit in your home or take a drive... Park your car somewhere; just sit; just be. It sounds very simplistic, but it has a lot of magic. You begin to pick up on clouds, sunshine and weather, your past... You begin to pick up on a lot of things. Just let them pass like the chatter of a brook as it hits the rocks. We have to give ourselves some time to be. 
- Chogyam Trungpa

Let me give you a wonderful Zen practice. Wake up in the morning... look in the mirror, and laugh at yourself.
- Bernie Glassman

There is ecstasy in paying attention. You can get into a kind of Wordsworthian openness to the world, where you see in everything the essence of holiness...
- Anne Lamott

Who are you in the silence between your thoughts?
- Gil Fronsdal


To me photography is an art of observation... I've found it has little to do with the things you see and everything to do with the way you see them.
- Elliott Erwitt

Art does not reproduce the invisible; rather it makes it visible.
- Paul Klee

Art is frozen zen.
- R. H. Blyth

The great artist is the simplifier.
- Henri Frederic Amiel


How beautiful the world was when one looked at it without searching, just looked, simply and innocently.
- Hermann Hesse

Everything that is made beautiful and fair and lovely is made for the eye of one who sees.
- Rumi

Never say there is nothing beautiful in the world anymore. There is always something to make you wonder in the shape of a tree, the trembling of a leaf.
- Albert Schweitzer

Be kind

Perhaps the most "spiritual" thing any of us can do is simply to look through our own eyes, see with the eyes of wholeness, and act with integrity and kindness.
- Jon Kabat-Zinn

The most fundamental aggression to ourselves, the most fundamental harm we can do ourselves; is to remain ignorant by not having the courage and the respect to look at ourselves honestly and gently.
- Pema Chodron

Be silly, be honest, be kind.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Be wise. Treat yourself, your mind, sympathetically, with loving kindness. If you are gentle with yourself, you will become gentle with others.
- Lama Thubten Yeshe


If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.
- Amit Ray

Being aware of your breath forces you into the present moment - the key to all inner transformation. 
Whenever you are conscious of the breath, you are absolutely present. You may also notice that you cannot think and be aware of your breathing. Conscious breathing stops your mind.
- Eckhart Tolle

Sit and be still
until in the time
of no rain you hear
beneath the dry wind's
commotion in the trees
the sound of flowing
water among the rocks
a stream unheard before,
and you are where
breathing is prayer
- Wendell Berry


There is only one important point you must keep in your mind and let it be your guide. No matter what people call you, you are just who you are. Keep to this truth. You must ask yourself how is it you want to live your life. We live and we die, this is the truth that we can only face alone. No one can help us, not even the Buddha. So consider carefully, what prevents you from living the way you want to live your life?
- The Dalai Lama

The Buddha is found everywhere: in other people - even the ones we do not like very much.
- Francis Harold Cook

The great way of the Buddha-Law is: in a grain of dust are all the scrolls of the sutras in the universe; in a grain of dust are all the infinite Buddhas.
- Dogen

We are what we think. All that we are arises with our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world.
- The Buddha


The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.
- William Morris

Maybe happiness is this: not feeling like you should be elsewhere, doing something else, being someone else.
- Isaac Asimov

That is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great.
- Willa Cather

Vipassana is a word that means, "to see things as they really are" and it is this beautiful yet difficult practice that carries one to the end of unhappiness.
- Michael Kewley


There are always flowers for those who want to see them.
- Henri Matisse

If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for the moment.
- Georgia O'Keefe

The world is holy. We are holy. All life is holy. Daily prayers are delivered on the lips of breaking waves, the whisperings of grasses, the shimmering of leaves.
- Terry Tempest Williams

I don't know anything with certainty, but seeing the stars makes me dream.
- Vincent Van Gogh

On a bare branch 
a crow settles 
in autumn dusk.
- Basho

In the sun
   the butterfly wings
      Like a church window.
- Jack Kerouac

Distant mountains
      in the dragonfly's eye.
- Issa

The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us, thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fibre and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing.
- John Muir  

Take long walks in stormy weather or through deep snows in the fields and woods, if you would keep your spirits up. Deal with brute nature. Be cold and hungry and weary.
- Henry David Thoreau


It takes a long time to understand nothing.
- Edward Dahlberg

Student: "Roshi, what are you doing here?"
Suzuki-roshi: "Nothing special."
- Zen koan


And if there is not any such thing as a long time, nor the rest of your lives, nor from now on, but there is only now, why then now is the thing to praise and I am very happy with it.
- Ernest Hemingway

Nirvana is right here, before our eyes.
- Hakuin

Wherever you are is the entry point.
- Kabir

Perfectly Imperfect

There is no perfection,
only life.
- Milan Kundera

If others had not been foolish, we should be so.
- William Blake

You shall love your crooked neighbour with your crooked heart.
- W. H. Auden

And at the end of the day, your feet should be dirty, your hair messy, and your eyes sparkling.
- Shanti

Every man, when he gets quiet, when he becomes desperately honest with himself, is capable of uttering profound truths. We all derive from the same source. There is no mystery about the origin of things. We are all part of creation, all kings, all poets, all musicians; we have only to open up, only to discover what is already there.
- Henry Miller

No amount of anxiety makes any difference to anything that is going to happen.
- Alan Watts

Follow your inner moonlight; don't hide the madness.
- Alan Ginsberg

If you see yourself in the correct way, you are all as much extraordinary phenomena of nature as trees, clouds, the patterns of running water, the flickering of fire, the arrangement of the stars, and the form of the galaxy. You are all just like that, and there is nothing wrong with you at all.
- Alan Watts

There are years that ask questions and years that answer.
- Zora Neale Hurston

More to Ponder

We think sometimes we're only drawn to the good, but we're actually drawn to the authentic. We like people who are real more than those who hide their true selves under layers of artificial niceties.
- Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

All great truths begin as blasphemies.
- George Bernard Shaw

Autumn light
fills the room
- Soen Nakagawa

Seriousness is the only refuge of the shallow.
- Oscar Wilde

You may not control all the events that happen to you but you can decide not to be reduced by them. Try to be a rainbow in someone else's cloud. Do not complain. Make every effort to change things you do not like. If you cannot make a change, change the way you have been thinking. You might find a new solution.
- Maya Angelou

The spirit down here in man and the spirit up there in the sun, in reality are only one spirit, and there is no other one.
- The Upanishads

Don't look for miracles. You are the miracle.
- Henry Miller

It is what I was born for -
to look, to listen,
to lose myself
inside this soft world -
to instruct myself
over and over...
- Mary Oliver

I would believe only in a god who could dance.
- Friedrich Nietzche

Through the ample open door of the peaceful country barn,
A sunlit pasture filled with cattle and horses feeding,
And haze and vista, and the far horizon fading away.
- Walt Whitman

Mental and physical reactions come and go
Like clouds in the empty sky
Greed, hatred and ignorance appear and disappear
Like bubbles on the surface of the sea.
- Yongjia Xuanjue

No matter how much we want it to be otherwise, the truth is that we are not in control of the unfolding of our experiences.
- Sharon Salzberg

There are two ways to live: you can live as if nothing is a miracle; you can live as if everything is a miracle.
- Albert Einstein

All things are in the universe and the universe is in all things: we in it, and it in us, and in this way everything harmonizes in perfect unity.
- Giorano Bruno

A poem has secrets that the poet knows nothing of.
- Stanley Kunitz

Nor love thy life, nor hate; but what thou liv'st,
Live well, how long or short permit to Heaven.
- John Milton

Maybe you are searching among the branches for what only appears in the roots.
- Rumi

Truth cannot only comfort you. At times is has to cut through to the bone, to the very marrow even if this is what it takes to set you free.
- Mooji

The truth will set you free - but first it will piss you off.
- Gloria Steinem

The biggest cause of suffering is being here, and wishing you were somewhere else.
- Ajahn Brahm

Confidence, life art, never comes from having all the answers; it comes from being open to all the questions.
- Early Grey Stevens

You are caught between all that was and all that must be. You feel lost.
- Haruki Mukakami

Life is painful, suffering is optional.
- Sylvia Boorstein

Get rid of words and meaning, and there is still poetry.
- Yang Wan-Li

Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself.
- Rumi

All endings are also beginnings. We just don't know it at the time.
- Mitch Albom 

We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us. The old skin has to be shed before the new one can come.
- Joseph Campbell

We do not remember days, we remember moments.
- Cesare Paves

May you live all the days of your life.
- Jonathan Swift

The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.
- Henry Miller

And the end of our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
- T. S. Eliot

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
- Walt Whitman

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Ghosts and demons

I didn't realize how many ghosts and demons were in the plays I've seen at the theatre recently. But they really are constants of so many great stories. Frightening, pathetic, funny, threatening - aspects of our selves.

*****Sheets (Director/playwright Salvatore Antonio) / April
Ghost + Suicide

Veritas theatre offered House Seats tickets and I scooped them up, then the theatre reneged when the play started getting positive reviews. So disappointing! I ended up buying tickets despite being peeved.

Memorable performances by (mostly) naked actors, including the unflinching exposure by a burn victim of their disfigurement and loss.

The stage presented awkward threesomes, inexperienced escorts and clients, suicide and death. Underneath was vulnerability and the human need to be really seen and accepted.

The ghost in this play was omnipresent, from the moment guests took their seats through to the last moment of the performance.

***Picasso at the Lapin Agile (playwright Steve Martin) / March
The spirits here were out of time, not really ghosts so much as displaced souls.

East Side Players staged the absurd comedy, where Einstein, Picasso and Elvis end up in the same bar, competing for drinks and women.

The script demanded excellent comic timing and although delivery was a bit hit and miss, it was entirely fun none-the-less.

**Five Faces of Evelyn Frost (Quebec playwright Guillaume Corbeil) / Feb

Can Stage/Berkeley theatre.

I genuinely liked this but thought it was about 55-60 minutes too long. Did I mention it was a 70 minute production?

A critical eye cast on social media, the play made its point quickly with the actors trying to outdo each other with their tweets, Facebook posts and Instagrams. Whispering and shouting and making announcements without listening, connecting or getting to know each other. A lonely, sociable/but anti-social existence.

The stage was heaped with discarded costumes from which bodies rose and descended. Great commentary and strong performances but so so so long.

****Who Killed Spalding Gray? (Written and performed by Daniel MacIvor) / Dec
Demon + Suicide

Can Stage/Berkeley theatre.

A one man production in the tradition of Spalding Gray, with the actor speaking directly to the audience and holding them transfixed with manic confessions. This was a fantastic account of events in one man's life, and his bizarre hypothesis of how angry spirits attack the most vulnerable. Releasing one man's demon means someone else becomes the host. I'm glad I saw an afternoon performance and returned to bright daylight afterward, rather than entering into a dark, cold night.

***Chasse-Gallerie (book adapted by Tyrone Savage / music and lyrics by James Smith) / Nov

A raunchy and rollicking Quebecois tale , with devils and lumberjacks and innocent girls led astray in a canoe.

The demons make a side bet with one another and take the lumberjack girls to hell, but the women succeed in overthrowing the underworld and return with warning tales.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Egg Moon - April Full Moon

Egg moon. Pink moon. Wind moon.

It is looking full 2 days in advance of its 'official' moment (April 11, 2:08 am). We are full of eggspecatations.

Egg Man in the Moon, Joanna Braithwaite

Monday, April 3, 2017


Tuesday I felt giddy in the sunshine when I took my walk at lunchtime. It was cold, but bright, with the promise of spring in the air. When I came home from work that night, I snapped a photo of the snow drops nodding. Thursday night it was snowing! Big fat flakes and a sloppy drive home from yoga. Friday morning, snowdrops in the snow drops. Friday afternoon a cold, freezing rain.Saturday the temperatures were rising as I swept the back deck clear of debris. Sunday I clipped back the lenten roses, swept away the dead leaf on the hydrangea, snipped the cedar, and watched bees buzzing in the crocus. I also tagged branches of the Japanese maple for early summer pruning, remembering the advice to allow space for butterflies to explore, visualizing a monarch resting its wings. Thankfully the peony didn't undergo too much damage from the roofers, who had tossed debris right onto the plant, breaking branches. Buds are in progress, and I pruned away the dead wood. Weather is always unpredictable this time of year, but the temperature swings have been 20 degrees in three days. Volatile. I feel my pulse quickening. The heavy heartedness of winter lifting.

Sunday, April 2, 2017


In February, we feasted at High in the Sky, with an Italian theme. For the anitpasto I brought along Lupini beans, olives, capocollo, soppressata, & proscuitto. Caroline made a gorgeous torta Crispelle with sausage and broccoli rabe for the primo, and also brought along a pasta machine and dough so we could make absolutely fresh pasta. For the contorno, Maureen served a chicken piccatta with lemon and caper sauce. Tiramisu for the dolce! Delicious wine pairings included a Bordeaux Blanc Clarendelle, Anselmi (one of my favourite Italian whites), and a lovely pinot noir.

March was our turn to host, and the ladies persuaded the gentlemen to be the cooks. After much deliberation, Rob chose a Mexican theme. On fiesta day, we went down to Kensington market in the morning for the ingredients: tortilla, tomatillos, peppers (serrano, poblano), Mexican crema, and Oaxaca cheese. We also discovered mini wafer Obleas Mexican candy that we shared at dessert. For libations, Mexican Mojitos, tequila and cervaza on hand! 

Appetitzers were filling! Jimmy walked in with KFC chicken, (which I thought was his contribution, but it turned out to be an April Fool's joke) and then made burritos to order. Dick had stuffed peppers and drunken tequila shrimp. People were full by the time Rob served the soup, and then even fuller when the main was set before us... the best enchiladas I've had in my life!  It was nice having someone else on kitchen duty, but we did miss raconteur Rob's company as his dishes demanded last minute preparation.  We ended the night with Dick's dessert - Mexican brownies with vanilla ice cream.


2 tablespoons vegetable oil 
1 small onion, diced 
2 tablespoons minced garlic 
2 jalapenos, finely diced 6 cups loww-sodium chicken broth 
One 14.5-ounce can fireroasted diced tomatoes 
One 14.5-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained 
3 chicken breasts, boneless and skinless 
2 limes, juiced, plus wedges for garnish 
Salt and freshly ground black pepper 
1 cup roughly chopped fresh cilantro leaves 
One 8-inch flour tortilla, grilled, cut into thin strips 
1 avocado, pitted, sliced

In a large saucepan heat the vegetable oil. Add the onions and cook for 2 minutes. Once the onions have softened add the garlic and jalepenos and cook for another minute. Pour the chicken broth, tomatoes and beans into the pot and bring to a boil. Once at a boil lower heat to simmer and add your chicken breasts. Cook the chicken for 20 to 25 minutes. Once chicken is cooked remove from pot. When cool enough to handle shred it and set it aside. Add lime juice and fresh cilantro to the pot. In a serving bowl add a mound of shredded chicken. Ladle soup over chicken and top with a lime wedge, grilled tortilla strips, avocado slices and cheese.


This cheesy, creamy dish originated at a Sanborns cafe in Mexico City in 1950. Its name, "Swiss enchiladas," alludes to its copious use of dairy.


1 1⁄2 lb. tomatillos, husks removed, rinsed
2 serrano chiles, stemmed
1 cup roughly chopped cilantro
1 cup sour cream
1⁄2 tsp. cumin seeds, toasted
4 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 poblano chiles, roasted, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1 cup canola oil
3 cups cooked shredded chicken
1 1⁄2 cups cups shredded queso Oaxaca or mozzarella
8 (6") corn tortillas

Arrange an oven rack 4″ from the broiler and heat broiler to high. Place tomatillos and serranos on a foil-lined baking sheet and broil, turning as needed, until blackened all over, about 10 minutes. Let cool for about 10 minutes, and then peel and discard skins. Transfer to a blender along with cilantro, sour cream, cumin, garlic, poblanos, and 1 cup boiling water; season with salt and pepper, and purée until smooth. Set enchilada sauce aside.
Heat oil in a 12″ skillet over medium-high heat. Working in batches, grasp tortillas with tongs and fry in oil until pliable, about 1 minute. Transfer tortillas to a work surface. Place chicken in a bowl and toss with 1 cup enchilada sauce until evenly coated. Divide sauced chicken evenly among tortillas, and roll tortillas tightly around chicken. Pour about 1 cup enchilada sauce in the bottom of a 9″ x 13″ baking dish, and place tortilla rolls in dish, seam side down, creating one row down the center of the dish. Pour remaining enchilada sauce over rolls, and cover evenly with cheese.
Heat oven to 375°. Bake enchiladas until sauce is bubbling and cheese is melted on top, 25 minutes. Remove from oven, and let cool for 10 minutes. Serve with plenty of sauce.