Mid-Winter - Bleak or Brilliant?

How you feel about the months of January and February is highly subjective. You might dread these four-syllabled months, especially if you trudge under bleak skies and stingy light. You might be cold or damp or long for strawberries or at least crocuses. You might be sick of hat head. Your feet might be cold. You might be tired of beef stew. I hear you. But that's not the only view.

There's the pomegranate-hued view, the one where you relish January and February, set free from the holiday demands and emotional overload of November and December. Clean plate, clear agenda, end-of-the-year doctors appointments over, flex spending account refreshed, citrus trees blooming somewhere, and increasing minutes of daylight on the docket. You might live in California where though we wish rain would fall, sun always seems to shine. You could see potential in these months.

I'm inclined to take the latter view. All things considered it seems the far better option. Besides, I do live in the land where it never seems to rain and one needs a way to look for the upsides. However, if you happen to be condemned to slog through winter, your brow beaten, your ground frozen solid, your eyebrows heavy, your house creaking, your skin pale and wan (I know, you're not that bad, but drama can be fun) I have a marvelous suggestion, and though not inexpensive, it's more thrifty than travel to a balmy isle. Saffron!

Vividly hued, exotic, fragrant, steeped in history, complex in flavor, painstakingly sourced and sorted, rich in possibility. What could be better to pull you out of your winter doldrums?

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 (where it's still possible to have cold feet.)

Crocus Satvius - saffron threads within

This could be your dinner
And this could be your breakfast! Do scramble

Maples - The Real Giving Trees

October in San Francisco can be glorious or a little discomfiting, depending upon your sensibility. Most years it's glorious; Indian summer arrives, clothes are shed, music festivals continue beyond the confines of summer, and fog takes a welcome hiatus. The warmth usually feels deserved after a cold, damp summer of quoting Mark Twain. This year not so much. It's been warm, even hot, for too long and dry as a bone. Except when it was humid, when the air felt heavy with moisture it had no right to be hoarding.

This year's not the one for gloating over frolicksome San Francisco temperatures. This year's the one for looking toward other areas of the country actually experiencing rain, dropping temperatures, changing seasons, and the promise of winter. Or at least it is for me. I want to wear boots.

Which is why this Menu in a Minute takes us to the chill in the air in the Northeast, to the falling leaves in Canada, to a place where the weather behaves in a seemly fashion and toes the line. Where the weather gods - at least at the moment - don't seem arrogant and withholding. To the land of maple syrup.

Maple syrup is one of those natural wonders. How could a tree release a nectar that can be rendered as sweet as that produced by a honeybee? The maple tree does just that though, first storing fueling starch in its roots and trunks before winter sets in, then liberating that converted-starch-turned-xylem sap in the spring. Up the sap shoots to nourish the tree, like salmon spawning, a stream ripe for the plucking, or tapping as the case may be.

Maples look so stoic, even barren in winter, after the loss of their flamboyantly vivid autumn leaves. And though it's not as if they have a whole lot of say in the matter, maple trees seem unreasoably generous in their sharing. Can you imagine being tapped? Not to say people are all like trees, but still.

Given the maple trees' benevolent sharing, it feels fully appropriate to reflect upon maple syrup's deliciousness and multiple uses. Let's tap into the sticky details with this fall Menu in a Minute, part of a Radio Series aired daily on 104.7 The MILE in the glorious mountains of Colorado.

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

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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!