Bacon Glorious Bacon!

Bacon is having quite a moment in the sun, or on the plate, so to speak. Bacon infused edibles are even hotter than newly legalized pot edibles in Colorado! And legislators are relieved that bacon edibles while perhaps challenging to the arteries, appear to have no impact on their consumers' driving capacities (save for the bacon infused whiskies and savory cocktails.) Bacon has ventured far from its loyal egg companions into an array of sugar-licked sweets -- ice creams, lollipops, beer cakes, zucchini bread, and peanut brittle. You can even lick your lips with bacon lip balm. 

Bacon for New Years!
Interestingly bacon's rise (along with the Head-to-Tail movement) has dovetailed neatly with the ascent of kale, raw foods, and green juice. We Americans are so complicated, such lovers of extremes. Or perhaps it's more about balance? Decadence offsetting virtue; hues of greens and caramelized browns reflecting nature's most basic pairing? It does make you wonder what the across-the-pond Father of Bacon - Sir Francis Bacon - would have thought of all of this. The Baconian Method method applied scientific concepts to bacon preparation, right? Or is my history all tangled up in a bacon strip?

Let's find out by taking a listen to this Menu in a Minute, part of a Radio Series aired daily on 104.7 The MILE in the glorious mountains of Colorado. This piece won a 2013 Colorado Broadcasters Association (CBA) award for best regularly scheduled entertainment feature.

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Relax that larynx!

Ouch! My layrnx!

Lately, I've been massaging my larynx. Actually, more like tugging and pulling at my larynx. This is a strange activity in itself, and even odder done in public, where strangers avert their eyes in confusion. Why, they think, is that woman pulling at her neck? Is this some sort of body language? A tic? Is she OK? My husband doesn't like it either. He finds it hard to relax watching, say, the Americans or House of Cards while I tug at my larynx; it disturbs his peripheral vision.

But my vocal therapist approves. He wishes I'd do it more, though I like it better when he does it. It's a bizarrely intimate act having your larynx massaged by a relative stranger, sort of like that weird intimacy you have with your dental hygienist during moments of plaque extraction.

My adventures in larynx massage began after I lost my voice, or more accurately, my vocal power (working on air in radio necessitates some vocal endurance.) That capacity began to diminish as the cold season set in and the decibel levels around me shot up. I have children. It is not their fault! But they do contribute. One of them is a ten-year-old boy with an ability to shout from hilltops, but a predilection to loud exclamations in far closer proximity, like right next to you or in the car. Being with him can sometimes be like being in a very loud restaurant with echoing acoustics, loud background music, and a very large table of people several cocktails in. In times of 10-year-old duress, he shouts and you shout to talk over him, though you will always lose. We also seem to do this from opposite ends of the house - so much easier to yell than to actually go find someone to locate your socks. It's not a healthy cycle.

I gargled hot salty water; breathed in eucalyptus; threw back honey, zinc, and slippery elm tablets; sipped teas steeped with licorice, fennel, and marshmallow root; and sprayed my throat hopefully with ineffectual numbing sprays. I stretched my neck and tried deep abdominal breathing. I still had nothing on my impressively loud son.

Scary laryngoscope handles 
This all brought me to my doctor at the aptly named UCSF Voice and Swallowing center (who knew such places existed?) My doctor, an otolaryngologist, did a swift procedure called a laryngoscopy where he basically slid a camera down my throat to get a good look at my glottis; the view was projected mid-procedure on a video screen overhead. I was game but a bit unprepared.

In 1854, when the procedure was first performed on a live person, it was self administered by a Spanish vocal pedagogist using two mirrors and the sun as a light source. Ouch! Even worse, imagine the practicing beforehand! My procedure involved less contortion, but wasn't wildly comfortable. Who likes gagging after all? A little gagging hardly flummoxed my doctor though, who seemed quite pleased, telling me my pink glottis, epiglottis, and vocal cords all looked delightfully healthy and were working properly. My vocal cords, he told me, were opening and closing completely during vibration cycles. This is what you want.

My issue, he explained, was far more about muscle straining and tensing and improper breathing and vibrating. My voice was not supported - too much shallow breathing and not enough air! Too much laryngeal muscle contraction! One must balance all that contracting with relaxation, just like they tell you to do in matwork exercise classes. This advice rang true after describing a recent deeply appreciated get-away weekend with my husband to a friend who related by saying, "isn't it great when you can just stop clenching?" Yes, it sure is.  Her de-clenching moment came during a trip to Hawaii, where nobody clenches.

The key is to de-activate that chain reaction of tightening. Relaxing the muscles on the inside and outside of your larynx is step one in the path to a less strained voice. First though, you need to know exactly what the larynx is and what it attaches to. Looking at the anatomical model brought out by my vocal therapist got me all excited. The human body, so cool! One thing you realize when you look at an anatomical model is that things are all connected. I know, duh, but seeing the ropy muscles that strap the tongue to the jawbone and the U-shaped hyoid bone is a surprise. The tongue is enormous! I hadn't realized how big it is, or how muscular. I'd thought of the tongue as existing in a vacuum, which of course, it doesn't. This may be obvious to you, but it wasn't to me. I'd also forgotten that the tongue is an impressively articulate organ, with muscles allowing it to expand and contract, to twist and turn. I guess I hadn't done a whole lot of tongue rolling lately.

So part of my routine now is relaxing my tongue base, along with other muscles surrounding my larynx. I'm working toward a soft tongue and some easy forward buzz with my airflow. And I'm trying to remember not to clear my throat. Swallowing is so much better. I'm clearly very busy.

This whole voice straining business has given me enormous sympathy for public speakers, opera singers, auctioneers, frenetic sounding sports announcers, President Obama, and especially teachers. Day after day, there's no rest for the weary, unless you happen to lose your voice during summer vacation. Imagine teaching an especially boisterous group of younger kids, or riding on a packed field trip bus with middle school shriekers. Studies find that for every 10 decibel increase in ambient noise level, we typically raise our voices about 3 decibels. That hurts without a few tricks up your sleeve, or throat, so to speak.

In 2010, a 39-year-old Australian teacher actually sued the state government of Queensland in that country's Supreme Court for the equivalent of $750,000 dollars in compensation. She argued she had damaged her larynx futilely trying to shout over the din produced by her rambunctious class of thirty one 11-year-olds. That figure included payment for general damages, past economic loss, future impairment of her earning capacity up to the age of 65, and medical expenses. Not sure how that one turned out, or how the state responded, but a whole lot of teachers weighed in on the no-win gamble of yelling in the classroom.

Luckily for me, things seem to be progressing. I've got a plan here, and that's half the battle. Just like all those resilience articles keep telling us, persistence is the key. Don't stop trying to relax! Besides, I've enjoyed going down the rabbit's hole of an unusual pursuit for a bit. Doing so in the Internet age makes you feel like part of something bigger and underscores our basic urge to share our experiences. It's no different than if you decided to eat only raw foods, or to run exclusively barefoot, or to build lilliputian ship models, or to ditch your shampoo in the name of your curls. There are scads of other people doing exactly the same thing, describing their efforts in exhaustive detail. It's like witnessing the emergence of a small community, its members ready to share advice and sympathy. The video-posters are the most generous, sharing helpful instruction with messy hair, strange background settings, and not a shred of self consciousness. You people are good eggs.

Once I get this larynx relaxation underway, I think I may tackle resonance. YouTube is filled with people trilling and humming, sighing and buzzing, yawning and chanting. They're generally more polished looking than the larynx stretchers, tending to come from the theater world, and they talk more about the diaphragm. Boy are their voices strong! There's a name for all of this - resonant voice therapy. I can already feel myself getting hooked. Watch out Morgan Freeman, here I come.

Menu in a Minute - Caesar Salad

Got any salad? Greens before battle!

Julius Caesar - a man with a hankering for salad before battle; a guy who always had oil, vinegar, and coddled eggs at the ready; a man ready to embrace the raw. You knew that right? Here was a guy ahead of his time in innumerable ways. He would have loved Whole Foods. 

The Roman Senate begs Julius Caesar to consider an alternative version
 of his favorite salad dressing - one using fresh anchovies

Julius Caesar - the Roman conquerer, Consul, statesman, author, and legendary salad dressing innovator. Did it really happen that way? Was JC laboring over the production of croutons before considering military strategy? Did he even have time to seek out fresh anchovies? Was he a showman in the tossing of his green leaves?

Let's find out by listening to this Menu in a Minute, part of a Radio Series aired daily on 104.7 The MILE in the glorious mountains of Colorado. The big question - was it this Caesar, or some other Caesar with dramatic flair?

To hear more Menu in a Minute segments, click on the little orange Sound Cloud icon below. 

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Menu in a Minute - Quinoa!

Another taste teaser for you, this one all about that supercharged grain of modern conquerers, earth shakers, pacifists, artists, and the rest of us - quinoa. It's an offering from my new Radio Series - Menu in a Minute, airing daily in Colorado (and online!) on 104.7 The MILE.

Quinoa in your breakfast bowl
Go seize the day!

Get a bunch of healthy grain lovers together, and they'll all cheerfully agree that quinoa is something close to a miracle grain. Even squabbling politicians can come together over this one, if not in Congress, then through my rose-hued lens. Eat quinoa and everything gets better, and it tastes unexpectedly good too. A few suggetions to get the ideas germinating. Take a listen to this latest Menu in a Minute. Enjoy!

Quinoa Sushi
 Take that white rice!

Quinoa in different shades
Note the cotton sack container. See, it makes you more virtuous!

Quinoa Tabouleh
Served adorably in mason jars

Menu in a Minute - Healthy Seeds!

Another taste teaser for you, this one all about seeds. An offering from my new Radio Series - Menu in a Minute, airing daily on 104.7 The MILE.

Poppy Fields - gorgeous right? Not just for visual splendor and
opium, but for your  poppy bagel too! (indirectly)

Had to hook you with the field of poppies - gorgeous, no? And that brings us to poppy seeds, so good on that muffin, more assertive and husky than pale and lovely sesame seeds.... (though they're awfully good too, and turn downright sensual once transformed to tahini paste.) 

And then there's the trendiest of all chia seeds - remember the chia pet? 
The infomercial favorite
A direct hippy-dippy descendant of the newly marketed chia seeds found in health food stores across America. 

Now these seeds are added gelatinously to beverages intended to fill you with vigor. 

On that note, let's take a listen to this latest radio Menu in a Minute - Enjoy!

Menu in Minute - Kale!

It's been a while. Summer claimed me with its logistically complicated schedule. Ironic isn't it that the time of year you always thought of as an interlude of ease and simplicity can become so discombobulating? Assuming one has children who go here and there and never at the same time or in any coordinated fashion. But the school year has arrived, just like Beaujolais, and time is back on my side. To celebrate a reclaiming of time, a new offering.

A new Radio Series - Menu in a Minute, aired daily on 104.7 The MILE.

They're just what they sound like -- quick radio pieces on the flexibility and possibilities of specific foods. The aim here is to make you drool, and to pull you out of your cooking doldrums and malaise. Get thee to the farmers market! Or wherever you score your veggies and such. This first piece is on kale, the green of the 21st century, the green that probably paves the roads of Brooklyn Heights and scares the soybean producers of the Midwest. Enjoy - and then go get some.

Whippit-thin skis and crackling snow

Whippet-thin skis tap down on crackling snow licked with ice. It's morning after snow. As if exhaling, my skis sink through the snow's icy veneer to the duller surface below. Such a strange sensation. It's been so warm the snow is still collecting itself, seizing up overnight in the evening chill, then braving the morning glare. Still, it's breathtaking. Now is the time to go, before it all fades. The trails look empty, and there's a luxury in the stillness.

It amazes me it's even possible. It's in the upper 60s in San Francisco, in February. The kids are back at the cabin with my husband, not yet a flurry of gloves and hats and boots and snow pants. Soon, though, after the extraction from their kindles. The littlest will probably stall. His brother will likely be disproportionately incensed, suddenly desperate to exit the confines of indoors for the downhill thrust. Their sister will pronounce her feminine superiority in readying for departure. My husband will briefly long for them all to hit high school. That, and a fly fishing rod and silent stream. I'll be back soon.

Getty Images
I've slicked my skate skis with a gloss of wax, for speed. The morning ice will be good for that. No entrenchment here. The motion of cross country skate skiing is almost defiant. You have to throw yourself into it, literally. There's nothing tentative about it. You thrust your body out from the chest, stabbing the snow with your skis to propel yourself forward. Your back leg and ski lift behind you, momentarily airborne, floating. There's that moment when your weight hovers between skis, a prelude to the rush.

The course at Royal Gorge tips down to start. As I head toward Sleigh Ride, bound for Kidd Lake, I push forward, heart beginning to speed, chest opening. Soon, I'm flying, feeling the wind whip past my ears, cheeks reddening. Nature flies by. It's not cold though, more brisk, even with the wind. The only sound is the whipping swish of skis. It's one of those sounds like an ice blade carving ice or a tennis ball bouncing or a ballet toe shoe tapping a stage that entirely defines an activity and seals it in memory. And that stillness is still there, incongruous with speed, but there.

The funny thing about cross country skiing is that it feels like a secret. Nobody ever chooses an image of nordic skiing to promote platinum visas or financial planning services. It was never the cool kind of skiing when I was growing up. You'd never know about the flying part if you just went off first impressions or efforts, or limited your thinking of cross country skiing to traditional gliding. Traditional gliding can be deeply satisfying, but it can feel more like work, especially at the beginning, and that limits its broad appeal. Skate skiing really took off in the 80s. The American Bill Koch used the technique to ramp up his speed in the 1982 Cross Country Skiing Championships in Oslo. More followed in the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. At the start, the technique was seen as radical, even threatening. Traditionalists tried to ban it from the World Cup circuit. They eventually gave in, and named the new form freestyle.

I don't mind the secret element. I generally take the less charted path, chasing the outer limits of my personality, drawn to the esoteric, the less trodden, against the tide. This doesn't always make the most sense, and it's clearly not the easiest path, but it can be deeply rewarding, like skate skiing, and at times is more thrilling than one might suspect or measure by standard indicators.

Skiing again, too, connects me to a time that felt like it had slipped out of my hands after a move to California, and more profoundly, parenthood. My husband and I met in the mountains of Colorado, where we both moved after college and lived for four years. There, I skate skied all the time, up the mountain actually, to a silent trail system atop the Strawberry Lift. Our life was so different then, so less programmed and tied to the minute. I had jobs with irregular hours and time during the day to just go. My gear was in the back of the car, and I could find snow as easily as I can find a coffee shop now. Back then we didn't have cell phones, or pressing needs to get to the grocery store or attend meetings. You could really just fall off the radar for a while. I loved it back then, but worried too much about what I wasn't doing. I had no idea what was coming. I did worry about the cost of future kids' dental care. Not clear on why that was the concern, but hey, I was trying to think ahead. I'm still not convinced that early worry served any real purpose.

Reclaiming something of that time, through my skinny skis, moves me. It's a surprise, sort of like the feeling when good times come back after a long string of bumps. In the bumps, you both miss the easier times and fear the ease or hope is gone for good. But then it sneaks back in, and it takes a while for you to relax and believe it might stick around for a while. This time around I'm deeply grateful to be skiing, aware of how much more has to fall into place for it to happen: time (snow is so much further away now), money, child care, my husband's generosity. And I'm aware of it going away too, how many minutes or times left before it slips away again as winter wanes. But still, once I'm there, I feel so much more like me.

I do eventually encounter fellow nordic skiers out on the trails. They emerge, just not that many of them. They're nearly always smiling. Maybe it's just that their mouths are perpetually open, gulping the mountain air. Their smiles are guileless, like those of delighted children. Their bodies look open, unguarded. They look like they feel lucky, like me. I feel a kinship with them. Others are a more of a blur, lean and whipping by in paper-thin lycra. Many seem to be in their fifth or sixth decades, coming out of hibernation to reclaim a speed ready to rip out.

Periodically, I run into some sort of race out on the course. It's always a little startling. Suddenly, I'm in the way. But the racers matters because they show options -- what you really could do if you had more time or drive or lived nearby. Today it was a sleek herd of racing snowshoers, thundering past me. I only later realize they've just come off a downhill, flush with speed. Early in the race they look foreign to me, their fitness superhuman. But then I see them later, or some of them later. One has gone off course, and two others have doubled back and shouted out to direct him to the right path. Their generosity reassures me. Endurance races are about so much more that winning; they're about proving something to yourself.

Maybe it's just reminding yourself that you are you and the layers are always deeper than anyone ever suspects. On the surface alone, there's risk, exposure, elation, focus, the threat of doubt, thrill, reward. The front pack must be done by now. The bravest, I think, are those in the back.

Just over two hours later, I'm done too. Gleefully tired, famished, ready to rejoin my family. Two hours to visit another world. Time travel doesn't get much better.