Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Heighten Five Senses: Touch

Your brain receives signals from 200,000 temperature sensors and more than 500,000 touch detectors. According to artist Leonardo da Vinci, most people "touch without feeling." In the book "The How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Workbook" by Michael Gelb, the author explains that the secret of sensitive "feeling" touch is an attitude of recpetivity, learning to "listen" deeply with your hands and whole body.

Here's a touch self-assessment:
-- I am aware of the "feel" of the surfaces that surround me daily, such as, the chairs, sofas and car seats I sit on.
-- I am sensitive to the quality of fabric that I wear.
-- I like to touch and be touched.
-- Freinds say I give great hugs.
-- I know how to listen with my hands.
-- When I touch someone, I can tell if they are tensed or relaxed.

The book also contains some terrific journal exercises. One of the exercises concerning touch takes you outdoors to commune with nature. Explore the different textures of the needles of a pine tree, rocks and stones, flowing water, the wind, and the earth at your feet. Record your observations in your journal. ◦

Monday, December 11, 2006

Goji Berry Ginger Healing Tea

During my two-week sojourn earlier this year in the Culinary Suite of The Writers' Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, I focused my cooking experimentation to juices, smoothies and hot drinks.

Over the past week, my son suffered from the flu and missed several days of school. Yesterday, he noticed that his body aches and fever were ebbing away but a sore throat and congestion were taking their places. He likes eating foods with cayenne pepper, so I decided to create for him a hot, throat-soothing tea also using cayenne. I placed about a teaspoon or so of Ginger Wonder Syrup in a coffee mug, also threw in a ginger teabag, added five or six dried goji berries and finished with just a dash of cayenne peppper before adding the hot water. Steep time: five minutes.

I had already made myself the test cup to try it out before he did and I had added too much cayenne pepper (one shake). Some powdered cayenne is more firey than others, and the stuff at our house could practically burn a hole through metal. So I added just a smidgin to his cup -- probably something like 1/16 of a teaspoon. After I padded up the stairs to his bedroom and presented it to him, he took one look at the goji berries floating in the cup and asked, "What is this?" But after he sipped the drink, he said it tasted good. Before long, he finished it up, goji berries and all.

Both the ginger and the cayenne are supposed to battle symptoms of a cold, warm up your system and help you "sweat it out." The goji berries, that puffed up like juicy raisins in the hot water, were placed in the tea because they are good immune system strengtheners and, according to Asian tradition, just "make you happy," and my son needed to get back to happy.

I borrowed the idea of floating something in tea from a Korean restaurant that had floated pine nuts in my ginseng tea. It gave me something hot and soothing to drink, but also a little something to eat. ◦

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Heighten Five Senses: Taste

A sense of taste, like any other sense, can be developed. According to "The How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci Workbook" by Michael Gelb, you can self-assess your sense of taste through the following statements:
-- I can taste the "freshness" of fresh food.
-- I enjoy many different types of cuisine.
-- I seek out unusual taste experiences.
-- I can discern the flavor contributions of different herbs and spices in a complex dish.
-- I am a good cook.
-- I appreciate the pairing of food and wine.
-- I eat consciously, aware of the taste of my food.
-- I avoid junk food.
-- I avoid eating on the run.
-- I enjoy participating in taste tests and wine tastings.

No one becomes a good cook or an afficiando of the world's great cuisines overnight. Like first poems, your first attempts on the stove-top might likely end up in the trash can. Mine did for many years -- in both cases. I believe two elements you need to develop a keen sense of taste is a spirit of adventure and a willingness to make mistakes.

It's the same as approaching any other creative aspect of your life, be it writing, skiing, cooking or traveling. You'll never know what octopus tastes like until you try it, or how ginger might enhance an apple dessert until you make one yourself. I'm not a good enough cook to create my own recipes from scratch or just "throw things together." Maybe I'll be able to someday. I have, however, enough "taste" experience to imagine what a dish will taste like just from reading the recipe. So recipes and cookbooks are my friends. I sometimes cross reference two or three recipes for the same dish and make a hybrid of it, or simply "tweak" a recipe, usually because I lack a certain ingredient or two and would rather substitute with something I have on hand. It does take a little kitchen experience to know which items can suffice as substitutes. But it all comes with time, as does a seasoned palate. ◦

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Heighten Five Senses: Hearing

I'm continuing the series on developing the five senses, based on "The How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci Workbook" by Michael Gelb. Try this sense of hearing self-assessment:
-- Friends describe me as a good listener.
-- I am sensitive to noise.
-- I can tell when someone is singing off-key.
-- I can sing on-key.
-- I listen to jazz or classical music regularly.
-- I can distinguish the melody from the bassline in a piece of music.
-- I know what all the controls on my stereo system are for and can hear the difference when I adjust them.
-- I enjoy silence.
-- I am attuned to subtle changes in a speaker's voice tone, volume and inflection.

However, I personally wouldn't agree that you have to proficient in all of the above to be considered attuned to the sense of hearing. I can't sing, but I consider myself a good dancer. I took dance lessons, not music lessons, as a child for seven years, and subsequent Irish and Brazilian dance classes as an adult, not to mention flat-out dance induction on the disco floor back when.

I cringe at Kathy Smith exercise videos. She's got a white woman's disease something fierce. I can out-and-out say I am appalled at the lack of rhythm of many of the step, power and kick-boxing teachers at my health club today -- even the Latino ones! One teacher, though an excellent instructor, says, "I just watch the lady," meaning me, to translate her instructions through the beat of the music -- or more particularly, when to wait for the music cue in order to begin.

I think being aware of rhythm is essential to my poetry as well as song lyric writing, though you wouldn't want to hear me personally sing any of the songs I've written. I've never been good with the bass or treble controls on either my car or home stereo (is this really a guy thing?), but am acutely aware when a spoken word performer, whether reciting poetry, prose or drama, is just missing the emotional points and high and low subtleties of the piece. This is particularly sad when he or she is the actual author.

Stretch your hearing awareness. If you do like to listen to jazz and/or classical music, you might want to play a game of "guess the composer" with your friends and family that we enjoy at my house. ◦