Conscious Cook: Whipped ricotta makes for a fresh and bright spring dip

It is the first mild day of March: Each minute sweeter than before The redbreast sings from the tall larch That stands beside our door. — William Wordsworth

With the long, cold winter behind us, the arrival of spring is ever so sweet. As the days brighten and the earth begins to blossom, the warm sunshine opens our heart to embracing all the joys of a new season.

Spring holidays are often celebrated with an abundance of sugary treats. Occasional indulgences are a wonderful part of preparing a delicious life, and including more natural alternatives will provide a bit of balance.

Local honey is a delectable, deliciously sweet food that has many nutritional attributes; it’s full of fabulous flavor and may offer the most intense health benefits.

Honey contains flavonoids — powerhouse antioxidants that may help reduce the risk of some cancers and perhaps lessen the risks of heart disease. A natural cough suppressant, honey provides soothing relief for colds and sore throats. An excellent source of energy, it provides superior maintenance for glycogen levels and improves recovery time after intense workouts.

Anti-inflammatory honey may help soothe the stinging sensation of minor burns, while the anti-bacterial content may help prevent infection. Honey-based facials are easy to concoct and will smooth and soften winter-worn skin.

Honey is a vital ingredient that will bring the sweetness of life into your kitchen. Stir a spoonful into a hot cup of tea for instant comfort. Mix a tablespoon into a bit of softened butter, add a dash of cinnamon and enjoy a luscious treat on your toast, muffins, oatmeal, pancakes or French toast. Add honey to marinades, salad dressings, sauces and syrups for an extra lovely layer of flavor. Drizzle it onto frozen yogurt, or blend it into smoothies.

Whipped ricotta mixed with honey and cinnamon is an excellent toast topper. For an extra luxurious spring appetizer, place a small round of Brie cheese in an ovenproof dish, top with chopped pecans and a drizzle of honey, and bake at 350 degrees until the cheese just begins to melt. Sprinkle with cracked black pepper and drizzle with extra honey if desired, just before serving with slices of French bread.

Bring the beauty of spring to breakfast or brunch with a platter of strawberries, raspberries, kiwi, banana, pineapple or blueberries topped with honey-blended Greek yogurt, a dash of orange or lemon juice, and a big pinch of cinnamon. Garnish with chopped pecans or almonds if desired, or throw in a smattering of shredded coconut.

Celebrate the sweetness of spring as you prepare your delicious life.

Whipped Honey Ricotta

Serves 2 (can be doubled or tripled)

1/2 cup full fat ricotta cheese

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp local wild honey

1/2 tsp lemon zest

1/4 tsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

Pinch of salt

Toasted bread slices

Using a mixer (hand-held or stand), beat all ingredients for about 3 minutes, until light and fluffy. Spread ricotta mixture on toasted bread. Add sliced strawberries, grilled pineapple or figs, fresh banana, even avocado. Drizzle with more honey if desired and enjoy.

Robin Glowa, HHC, AADP, “The Conscious Cook” writes about preparing a delicious life and presents healthy food workshops throughout New England. She is a professional cook, organic gardener, and a graduate of The Institute for Integrative Nutrition and Columbia University Teachers College.