Appealing to the Eye

"Appealing" is defined as: Attractive, inviting, or pleasing. Since sight is the first sense that experiences food we are served, the presentation should attract, invite and please the eye, and promise the palate that it too shall be delighted.

Before I was old enough to understand this concept,  I used to watch as Mom spent hours decorating the dozen or more dishes that would garland the dining room table whenever we had company.

A dinner for 30 - 40 guests was a common occurrence in our house, since cooking was Mom's passion, and Dad's work necessitated socializing.

Between 1969 and 1974 Mom re-created every dish she knew how to make and invented over three dozen of her own, to include in the cookbook her friends pushed her to write "Dishes and Flavors of the East".  It was the first compendium of its type, capturing many recipes from around the Middle East and North Africa, which she collected and improved upon over the years.

Since Mom never measured, it was a 5-year-long effort to capture and record the correct amount of each ingredient. It sometimes took 2  - 3 tries to get a recipe right.

dinner party Aley 1970's
dinner party Aley 1970's

A dinner for 25 guests - 1972

She would literally spend an hour on the plate of Spice Rice Pudding, creating a mandala with pistachios, almonds, walnuts and pine nuts. Her friends would hesitate to disturb these works of art to serve themselves.

I don't have actual photos unfortunately, since most of our possessions were victims of the unrest in Lebanon...I took photos of pictures in her cookbook as an example.

spice pudding decorated by Sittou
spice pudding decorated by Sittou

Yaqout's Spice Rice Pudding with Nuts

Another example of her work and one of my favorite rice puddings, flavored with Orange Blossom water, is below.

Rice pudding_ Sittou
Rice pudding_ Sittou

Middle Eastern Rice Pudding with Glazed Apricots, Pistachios and Pine Nuts

Putting conscious care into what ever it is we do, is bound to elevate the benefit of the service that 'thing' offers its recipient, whether it's food, a project, a handcrafted item, etc..

It's impossible not to feel the effect of someone's sincere and best effort.  Anything done with love carries love's vibration, one of the highest energy vibrations on Earth.

Mom sitting with us when we were sick, was enough to make us feel better. She used to silently repeat God's name for the better part of each day.  How could we not heal faster around her?  They say God is contained in His name. :)

Well, it's the same with work we do...what we pour into it, others will get out of it.  In my own catering service I saw this principal at work.  The simplest appetizers or meals would elicit the type of acclaim one would expect for exotic creations. People were reacting to the mindfulness and love I insist on bringing to my cooking.

This approach applied to whatever we do becomes a Meditation.  It lifts us and our companions...it expresses and generates love...and it demonstrates that we are grateful for the skills we've been given and want to use them to serve others.

So many of your blogs speak in this way to me.  I congratulate you and thank you.

 Cheers! ♥

~ Hoda

Bring the Divine into Your Home and Your Heart - The Rose

Flowers ...

they're common, they're everywhere.

But have you stopped to think about their role on Earth? The amount of energy needed to create a tightly wound bud, the force needed to unfold its petals and the magic that releases its fragrance.

And all that work to attract our attention, to give us pleasure...to offer us a glimpse of the Divine at work.

pink rosebud
pink rosebud

The variety of delicate, or striking hues and subtle shading that roses offer is simply astounding.   A rose's capacity to bring a smile to our lips and joy to our hearts cannot but be the Divine Will at work.

blushing rose
blushing rose

No wonder the Rose is the flower of love.

How Apt an Expression . . 'Stop and Smell the Roses.''

I often wonder how we can take so much of creation for granted, missing nature's invitation to appreciate and be grateful for  the infinite care that went into its design. All for our enjoyment.

magenta rose
magenta rose

As I walked in my garden I stopped by each rose-bush, looking earnestly at the blossoms and the incredible beauty each held. I noticed that my breathing slowed down, my mind stopped its incessant chatter, and a smile forced its way from my heart to my lips.  "How exquisite you are!"

blush roses
blush roses

These pink blushing roses melted me...I thought of weddings and fairies and sunrise and angels. How could I walk by and not stop to pay homage to the Creator of this delicate flower...impossible.

Cut flowers in a room raise the energy.  They are unique in the way they lend their aid when used in a meditation arrangement, complimenting objects or pictures that inspire you to focus on inner peace.

The Flowers of a Greater Garden

WE are no less beautiful, when we let go of ego based actions and reactions, when we stop trying to 'win' or impress, when we let the fragrance of our love embrace those around us indiscriminately, when we prevent ourselves from judging others...remembering that we are not perfect... then we too are roses in the Garden of the Divine, and we too bring a smile to His lips.

Resolve to be a rose. Share the light hidden in your heart with everyone you meet... whether through a smile, a kind word or a small gift. All you give returns to you tenfold, that is Love at work.

~ In Gratitude. ♥

Let Nature be Your Therapist

It was a little more than a handful of years ago that we were talking to our plants...playing music for them...encouraging them to grow. Studies back then showed that plants responded to human voice and music, that happy plants produced abundantly. What that study didn't include was the benefit to us from interacting with and being around those happy plants. Simple little flowers peeking out of a vase lift the energy of the space they're in and coax a smile out of us. Indoor plants like Philodendron, Peace lilies and Spider plants clean the air of chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene.

It is only in the past 10 years that I have been able to grow orchids and violets, and have them bloom year after year.  I love them and they know it.  I compliment them on their beauty and I dust off their leaves so they can breathe properly.  Every once in a while, I will change the tablecloth they are sitting on...like changing the sheets!

In my modest garden I have a wonderful patch of mint that is now thriving after the rain.  It's fragrance surrounds us as we come in or leave the house.

They offer me visual and olfactory pleasure as I crouch down to pull the weeds that try to quietly infiltrate their camp.  I notice that I breathe more deeply and feel calmer as I wander from area to area, watering...picking fruit...admiring the blossoms...listening to the birds... and watching squirrels chase the ever elusive things they chase!

The dogwood is beginning to show off its creamy yellow buds with the promise that we'll find it is an exquisite addition to our yard.

It takes an act of Will to get us out of the house sometimes.  But we can't but be happy one we make it outdoors.  Train yourself to notice the little things on your walk or drive.

Our family home was surrounded by very tall pine trees. Mom said they had healing energy.  I think many old trees do.  After chemo one day, I wanted to be in a forest setting, so my boyfriend and I drove to a grove of tall trees, that included Redwoods, in the Berkeley hills and took a short walk.  It helped me relax, connect and feel 'larger' than what I was going through.

I think that is a key... to have some way to remind yourself that you are 'larger' than anything you experience.  When we identify ourselves with pain or hardship, we limit our ability to rise above it...letting it define who we are in that moment.

Allowing the grandeur of creation to remind us that this 'condition' is temporary and 'small' in the scheme of things is helpful.  Even if your energy is low, try to get outdoors, weather permitting.  A drive to a park or through hills will work if you can't take a walk.

I was born under the sign of Pisces, and love being around water. If you are lucky to live close to or within driving distance of a lake or river, pack a light snack, a blanket, and go!

We pay therapists to help relieve stress in our lives, when the most competent, compassionate and unerring therapist is just outside our door. The cost? Our willingness to join it.

~ Be Well.

Laugh Your Way to Good Health!

M.D. Anderson News Release 01/15/09

To help cancer patients better cope with their diagnosis, the Place ...of wellness at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center has added Laughter Yoga to its extensive list of complementary and integrative therapies.

Created by Indian physician and holistic enthusiast Madan Kataria in 1995, this complementary therapy combines humor, gentle exercises and stretches, and yogic breaths. The practice is inspired by the belief that simulated hilarity has the same benefits as genuine laughter and creates an environment where jokes and words are not needed, only amusement and a child-like attitude.

"Cancer patients deal with a lot of stress and anxiety," said Stephen Findley, chaplain in the Department of Chaplaincy and Pastoral Education and Laughter Yoga facilitator at M. D. Anderson's Place ... of wellness. "With something as basic as expressing joy, they can release tension and hopefully view a difficult situation, such as a fighting cancer, as manageable."

As a group, class participants follow their laughter leader through a series of exercises to help everyone bond, diminish individual inhibitions and warm up the body. During the sessions, participants are encouraged by their instructor to maintain eye contact within the group and to "fake it until you make it."

"When cancer patients join the class, they may not feel like participating at first," said Findley. "Because this therapy is a body-mind exercise, as your body feels more relaxed, then mentally you'll allow yourself to be more childlike and adopt a positive attitude."

The sessions have three parts: rhythmic clapping and chanting; laughter exercises; and meditation. One of the exercises involves conducting a "body scan." Starting at the head, patients use their finger to scan their body for pain or discomfort. When an ache is found, everyone is instructed to find amusement in that ache and then express it.

"Laughter Yoga brings a unique element to the Place ... of wellness," said Moshe Frenkel, M.D., medical director of the Integrative Medicine Program at M. D. Anderson. "This complementary therapy allows us to incorporate humor in cancer care and help patients discover a playfulness that reduces stress and anxiety while increasing their pain tolerance.

"We know from multiple studies that laughter causes a positive physiological response - it lowers cortisol levels, improves our immune system function noted by increased number in activated T lymphocytes, increase in number and activity of natural killer cells, increase in salivary IgA, increase in endorphin release and above all reduces stress and anxiety."

By providing these sessions to those impacted by cancer, participants learn how to better manage the every day concerns of fighting their disease with something as unexpected as expressing fun and happiness.

Chaplains Stephen Findley and Christiana Liem are certified Laughter Yoga leaders with the Dr. Kataria School of Laughter Yoga and facilitate three classes per month at M. D. Anderson's Place ... of wellness. The class is open to all those touched by cancer and is free of charge. For a complementary and integrative medicine therapy schedule, please visit http://www.mdanderson.org/departments/wellness/ for more details.

~ Hooray for MD Anderson!

The Connection Between Mind And Body

The idea that our minds and emotions play a critical role in our health—a fundamental premise in integrative medicine—is far from new. Many ancient healing systems emphasize the interconnection between mind and body in healing, including Hippocrates, the father of Western medicine, who taught that good health depends on a balance of mind, body, and environment. Modern scientific research supports this age-old tenet of medical wisdom. It began in the 1920s, when Harvard scientist Walter Cannon, MD, identified the fight-or-flight response through which the body secretes hormones called catecholamines, such as epinephrine and nonepinephrine. When they enter the blood stream, these hormones produce changes in the body—i.e. a quickened heart or increased breathing rate—that put the person in a better physical state to escape or confront danger.

In the following decade, Hungarian-born scientist Hans Selye, MD, pioneered the field of stress research by describing how the wear-and-tear of constant stress could affect us biologically.

Since then, scores of scientific breakthroughs have illuminated the mind-body connection in health. Experimental psychologist Neal Miller, PhD, discovered that we can be trained to control certain physical responses, such as blood pressure, that were previously considered to be involuntary. This discovery gave birth to biofeedback, which has now been found to be effective in the treatment of anxiety, attention deficit disorder, headache, hypertension, and urinary incontinence.

Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson, MD, identified the flip side of the stress response, which he called the “relaxation response.” Benson demonstrated that meditation, yoga, and other relaxation techniques can bring about physiological changes including a lower heart rate, lower breathing rate, and decreased muscle tension along with positive changes in brain waves. Mind-body techniques that elicit this relaxation response have been successful in treating many stress-related disorders.

Research by psychologist Robert Ader, PhD, at the University of Rochester provided a link between the brain, behavior and immune function, and founded the new field of psychoneuroimmunology, which researches ways to increase immune function through the use of the mind.

Based on a Buddhist meditation practice, Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, at the University of Massachusetts, developed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), a mediation technique that has successfully reduced physical and psychological symptoms in many medical conditions, including pain syndromes.

“When we are on automatic pilot, trying to get someplace else all the time without being attentive to where we already are, we can leave a wake of disaster behind us in terms of our own health and well-being, because we’re not listening to the body. We’re not paying attention to its messages; we’re not even in our bodies much of the time,” explains Kabat-Zinn. “Mindfulness—paying attention on purpose in the present moment nonjudgmentally—immediately restores us to our wholeness, to that right inward measure that’s at the root of both meditation and medicine.”

Guided imagery, which utilizes the power of imagination to heal, has been shown to reduce anxiety and pain in people with a wide range of medical conditions, including asthma, back pain, and headache, and to help patients better tolerate medical procedures and treatments. “Imagery utilizes the natural language of the unconscious mind to help a person connect with the deeper resources available to them at cognitive, affective and somatic levels,” explains Martin L. Rossman, MD.

Innovative research by Dean Ornish, MD, and his colleagues found that a program integrating mind-body techniques such as yoga, meditation, stress management, and group support with diet and exercise reversed coronary artery disease. “What we are finding is that comprehensive lifestyle changes may ‘turn on’ the beneficial parts of the genome and ‘turn off’ the more harmful parts,” says Dr. Ornish.

Today, these breakthroughs in our understanding of the mind-body connection have translated into effective therapies that support a patient’s journey through illnesses and trauma. Virtually every major medical center now has a stress management or mind-body clinic, and practices such as meditation, yoga, and group support are woven into the medical treatment of heart disease, cancer, and other serious illnesses.

James Gordon, Director and Founder, Center for Mind-Body Medicine, has conducted mind-body skills trainings for patients and health care practitioners around the world. Gordon has said, “Mind-body medicine requires that we ground information about the science of mind-body approaches in practical, personal experience; that we appreciate the centrality of meditation to these practices; and that we understand—experientially as well as scientifically—that the health of our minds and the health of our bodies are inextricably connected to the transformation of the spirit.”

Go to source and watch a short video here.

Psychological Stress and Cancer: Questions and Answers

The complex relationship between physical and psychological health is not well understood. Scientists know that psychological stress can affect the immune system, the body’s defense against infection and disease (including cancer); however, it is not yet known whether stress increases a person’s susceptibility to disease.

  1. What is psychological stress?

Psychological stress refers to the emotional and physiological reactions experienced when an individual confronts a situation in which the demands go beyond their coping resources. Examples of stressful situations are marital problems, death of a loved one, abuse, health problems, and financial crises.

  1. How does stress affect the body?

    The body responds to stress by releasing stress hormones, such as epinephrine (also called adrenaline) and cortisol (also called hydrocortisone). The body produces these stress hormones to help a person react to a situation with more speed and strength. Stress hormones increase blood pressure, heart rate, and blood sugar levels. Small amounts of stress are believed to be beneficial, but chronic (persisting or progressing over a long period of time) high levels of stress are thought to be harmful.

    Stress that is chronic can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, depression, and various other illnesses. Stress also can lead to unhealthy behaviors, such as overeating, smoking, or abusing drugs or alcohol, that may affect cancer risk.

  2. Can stress increase a person’s risk of developing cancer?

Studies done over the past 30 years that examined the relationship between psychological factors, including stress, and cancer risk have produced conflicting results. Although the results of some studies have indicated a link between various psychological factors and an increased risk of developing cancer, a direct cause-and-effect relationship has not been proven.Some studies have indicated an indirect relationship between stress and certain types of virus-related tumors. Evidence from both animal and human studies suggests that chronic stress weakens a person’s immune system, which in turn may affect the incidence of virus-associated cancers, such as Kaposi sarcoma and some lymphomas.

More recent research with animal models (animals with a disease that is similar to or the same as a disease in humans) suggests that the body’s neuroendocrine response (release of hormones into the blood in response to stimulation of the nervous system) can directly alter important processes in cells that help protect against the formation of cancer, such as DNA repair and the regulation of cell growth.

For the full article click here.