Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Flame That Burns Twice as Bright...Burns Out Quicker

“The flame that burns Twice as bright burns half as long.” Lao Tzu, Te Tao Ching

Real love takes time.  Its something that grows as you get to know someone.  Experiencing them in numerous and varying situations.  Seeing this person in many different lights.  Learning about their great traits, as well as their more challenging and not-so-good ones (which yes, we all have).  Love is something that deepens and layers as time passes.  You must first know someone well before you can truly claim to love them.  Otherwise, the love you feel is based on fluff...illusion...fantasy...and lust.  And while ultimately there is nothing wrong with this kind of more shallow love (aka: infatuation), it doesn't have much staying power, as it isn't based on any true depth, history, or long term experience with the person.

Thus, the flame that burns twice as bright?  Tends to burn out quicker.

While this is certainly not a blanket truth, it tends towards being accurate that, much of the time, when two people rush into something, start out super hot and heavy, and are supposedly "madly in love" nearly off the bat?  This isn't based on any genuine knowledge of the person.  Instead, its based on being infatuated with the idea of someone but not the actual personSince, how can you possibly know someone with any real depth in a short amount of time?  You cant.

It takes months and months, hundreds of hours together, a plethora of in-depth conversations, seeing one another in both their best lights and yes, bad moments too, to really know someone with any genuine truth.  Only then can you claim to love.  Before that?  Its just infatuation and fantasy.

Imagine the brightest lights, if you will.  A comet, streaking across the sky.  A flare, shot up into the clouds, bright and intense.  Fireworks, exploding flowers amongst the stars.  All of these, while beautiful, intense, and very bright?  They burn out, and fast.

This is exactly what happens (again, not all of the time, but quite often) when people rush into something with no real knowledge of who a person is.  How can you possibly know someone is a good match for you over the long term when you hardly know them?  When you haven't witnessed, for instance, this person at their worst.  When you haven't seen them in a variety of different life situations.  When you haven't actually had a real disagreement and seen how both of you typically handles such.  Until you have experienced these things, and more with someone, you have no real way of knowing if they are a truly healthy and good match for you.  If this is a relationship that can work over the long term.  If this is one with staying power.

Additionally, on a second powerful point, why rush something beautiful in the first place?  Lets assume this seemingly amazing, budding new relationship turns out to be a very long term one.  For arguments sake, lets take it even a step further and say this person ends up becoming your life partner.  That means they are your last first kiss.  Your last longstanding flirtation.  Your last time of experiencing that stage of head-over-heels, butterflies in the stomach, total infatuation.  Why on earth would you want to rush such a thing!?!  

(Quick side note: I do think that, at least in an emotionally close, high quality long term relationship, you must fall in love with one another repeatedly, many times over, in order to have a happy, sustainable and fulfilling union.  So technically, even if this person whom you are falling in love with ends up being the "last" first kiss, and "last" flirtation and love?  I dont think that actually means you wont fall in love again.  You can spend an entire lifetime falling in love, over and over again, with the same person.  What a beautiful and awesome thing that would be.  But that's a separate blog entry).

Back to the topic at hand though.  Rushing through and running full speed ahead into a new relationship?  That's like cramming a luscious, decadent, mouthwatering slice of chocolate cheesecake in your mouth in just one bite and swallowing it whole.  Not taking even a moment to linger over, savour, or truly enjoy it.  Mostly likely afterwards, leaving you with a stomach ache and lingering sense of regret.  And why, as well as, for what?  Instead, having actually paused and eaten it slowly, truly tasting the creamy tang of the cheesecake, the richness of the chocolate, that would give one so much more pleasure.  The experience being far more memorable and awesome.  Less likely to make you sick.  More probably that one will stop eating when full or when realizing its no longer good for them.  And just taking the time to truly enjoy it.

The beginning stages of a new romance is much the same.  You never know if this might be the last time you fall in love for the first time.  Why rush through it?  Why not linger over, savour, enjoy, and really revel in this while its happening?  You get one life on this earth, and its passing as we speak.  Pause, look around at how awe inspiring, exciting, and heart rending the feeling is of falling for someone.  And like a decadent dessert, linger over it.  Slow down, and totally revel in it.

Often, the most solid connections are those that are built over time.  Continually added upon.  Ever growing and flourishing.  Meeting and working through challenges together.  Falling in love with each other, over and over.  Being surprised by new revelations and aspects of one another continually.  Finding ways to move towards each other, getting ever closer.  Unearthing new, novel ways to connect which adds additional layers and excitement to your relationship.  And keeping up with the mindset that there is ever more to discover about your partner.  That, while you may know them well, there is always more to learn and find out- because people are continually changing and growing, all the time.  

A relationship that is approached with this mindset?  A slow but subtly deepening growth?  These are usually the relationships with the most deep seated roots.  The ones with the most invisible threads going back and forth between one another's hearts, entwining and connected.

Slowing down is where its at, for more than one reason.  And not to be confused with less passion, moving slowly has no bearing on strength of feeling or attraction for one another.  Many relationships that move slowly and tentatively are quite emotionally intense and with strong draw towards one another.  But instead of tossing a pile of paper on the flames, which will then flare up suddenly and then likely burn out quickly, they take time to add small sticks and large ones, building a little house foundation of sorts, which will burn bright over a longer period and then, simmer down into slow and continually burning hot coals.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

A Book about Love by Jonah Lehrer

I have just about finished reading this book and have to say, really enjoyed it.  Its a nonfiction book about, obviously, love.  He manages breaking down the book into sections, sort of sub-sections if you will, about different aspects of love, including:

-Parent/Child Love
-On Memory of Love

For attachment, he breaks down the chapter into numerous studies about attachment theory.  Many of which, personally, I had already heard of.  Having read an entire book on Attachment Theory months ago, and how this can influence your relationships.  Thus, much of this chapter was prior knowledge for me.  But for those who dont know much about attachment (its fascinating, and carries a lot of weight in terms of how your relationships will likely play out), I highly recommend this book.

Among the top relationship books I have read.  An easy read, insightful, informative, just really good.

Briefly, Limerence is when you experience that all consuming, infatuation stage of being with another person.  Limerence, because its based on hardly knowing someone (this is the stage often experienced within just a few weeks, or even after just one instance, of having met someone), is an illusion.  Its an unreliable indicator of long term attachment because its based on fantasy.  Only once you come to actually know someone, over a period of several months and more, can you truly garner an idea about long term compatibility and who that person really is.  When in the illusion of Limerence (which, when felt, feels so real as well as all consuming), you cannot possibly know this.  This is just why Limerence is so dangerous.  Because it feels so true, all while it isn't.

Some fun facts I learned about long term partnerships (from this book):

--One recent study concluded that 40% of those married more than ten years were still "very intensely in love."  These lasting relationships clearly representing an unprecedented kind of human union.  However, that's basically assuming one chooses well in the first place and that the relationship is a healthy/good one from the start.

--While initially, relationships are full of excitement and passion, this will fade to some degreeAnd yes, for everyone.  Its normal, its inevitable, its part of human biology.  When you have been with someone for a while (usually by around the 2 year mark, though it differs for everyone), chemicals start to cool and level out.  This is when, assuming you are in a healthy and happy relationship, companionate love deepens. 

So, while the passion is what initially makes us fall, companionate love is what we fall into.  Though the intensity of chemicals decreasing happens to everyone, even still, this process is extraordinarily complex, varying from relationship to relationship.  Companionate love remaining one of the grand mysteries of human nature.

--Love is not just a feeling.  Its also a practice.  For example, love requires: discipline, concentration, effort, patience, faith, and the overcoming of narcissism.  What must we practice to keep love alive and flourishing?  A million little things. 

Sometimes, love needs that we touch our partner in an affectionate way, or speak in a heartfelt way to them.  Sometimes, it requires that we open up and move closer. Other times, it requires that we allow our partner drawing back for a bit, even if this is difficult for us to handle.  There are times when love requires that we put down our book, our project, or our work, and turn towards them.  Even though we might not feel we have the time, or just dont feel in the mood to do so at that moment.  There are times when love requires going out of our way for the other, or even, immense sacrifice.  Other times, love requires bravery, a leap of faith.  Sometimes it requires forgiveness and emotional stretching. 

Loving, over the course of years, is a million little things.  And this goes for not just romantic relationships, but friendship and family love too.

--This is fascinating.  Nowadays, the idea of marrying without love seems absurd, at least for most people in the developed world.  However, this is a relatively new concept in terms of the grand scheme and timeline of marriage.  All while, arranged marriages remain extremely popular even today, with 80% of nations outside the Western Hemisphere practicing some form of such.  And here's the most interesting kicker: the evidence is solid that the romantic attitude associated with arranged marriages often comes with real benefits.  Researchers have consistently and repeatedly found that couples in arranged marriages are just as happy, if not happier, than those in "free choice" marriages.  Further, the trend tends to increase with time!

What might account for this?  One aspect is a sense of "unwavering commitment," to both the partner and the relationship.  As in arranged marriages, the couples tend to treat divorce as taboo.  The second aspect is a willingness to engage in accommodation, which is the voluntary altering of ones behavior to meet the other persons needs.  These couples do not expect their marriage to take care of itself.  They understand that attachments only emerge over time, and that they take endless work to maintain.  The advantage of spouses in arranged marriages is that they know this from the start.

--Meta emotional compatibility, whether we share a similar temperament with our partner, is a crucial predictor of long term romantic relationship satisfaction.  While there is no ideal meta-emotional style- all temperaments can lead to happiness and attachment- its important to seek out partners who share our basic emotional philosophy. 

Why is this important to long term relationship success?  Because people are different.  And because there will be disagreements.  Every couple will have fights, and will have those moments where they just want to scream "screw you, jerk!"  But the key question, what happens next?  Can both people in the relationship understand, at some basic level, what their partner is feeling and why they are feeling it?  If yes, they are more likely to remain emotionally close, be able to understand one another much of the time, and thus, stay together over the long term.

--Another really interesting finding.  I was particularly surprised by this one.  Apparently, spouses who openly voice to one another their "complaints" if you will, as in, things that may upset or hurt them when they arise within the relationship, tend to be happier and more successful in their relationships than those who do not voice these complains (and who instead, stifle these types of complaints and feelings). 

Why?  The virtue of speaking openly about things your partner does that upset you keeps resentments from accumulating.  Problems are solved before they fester.  Its often solves the issue then and thus, keeps the slate clean between the two of you.

--Here's another really inspiring and cool finding.  When people have been together over the long term, decades long relationships or marriages, more than 90% of those who were in consistently happy marriages from the start were still happy.  However, the same pattern applied to those stuck in poor relationships.  They were still miserable, and should probably get divorced.

Thus, assuming one chooses well and is in a healthy and generally happy relationship, the chances are decent that this may persist.  However, the bad news is that if its discovered that actually, your relationship isn't a great one, that its rather unhealthy or wrought with problems, that this is unlikely to change.

(Note: of course, every relationship goes through challenges sometimes.  I am instead talking about the consistent and overall dominating aura and feel of the relationship).

This is good news for those of you who have left a not-so-great relationship.  No need to second think it or worry ;-).  No, it wasn't going to get any better.  In fact, it likely would have just done downhill further as the years wore on.  You made the right choice.  Better to find someone with solid/admirable character, to whom you are also attracted, and who is a healthier and happier match for you.

--One last really neat fun fact, though this one is instead related to resilience.  Although PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) dominates conversations around psychology and adversity/traumatic events, that in fact, growth is a far more common aftereffect

People who experience this specific growth report changes such as, the tragedy having made them kinder, tougher, less stressed about the little things.  That the adversity or trauma interrupted the busyness of their lives, forcing them to grapple with big questions like: what kind of life are they living?  And whom do they want to be? 

A surprisingly large proportion of people come to believe that highly stressful life events do in fact, over the long term, help make them more resilient.  Sadly, not many studies reflect this truth.  Unfortunately, far more tend towards focusing on PTSD, even though post traumatic growth is actually far more common.

In conclusion, these were just a few of the worthwhile and fascinating things I learned from this read, A Book About Love by Jonah Lehrer, which I recommend checking out.  I only recounted a few of the things within that stood out the most to me personally.  However if you found this interesting, I imagine there is much more within this book that you would find important and interesting.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Essay on Dessert and all things Sweet

Dessert dreams, the very ones that occupy a not small space in my mind...lets just say often.  I both believe and like to hope that there isn't just a meager percentage of others who feel (as well as battle) the same haunting thoughts of all things saccharine and delish.  Knowing I am not alone in such, making me feel better about being such a die hard dessert lover, by leaps and bounds.

To me, all things sweet are one of the many quintessential aspects of what make life stellar.  They are one of the millions of marvelous puzzle pieces that add small bursts of joy and richness to living.  A decadent slice of cake, multi-tied, sandwiched between layers of airy frosting.  The cake itself, moist, light, subtly sweet, and spongy.  A fruit tart, glistening with glaze brushed along its surface.  The fruit, vivid gems atop a thick swirl of pastry cream, nestled underneath the fruit.  The light crunch of a Thin Mint Girl Scout cookie.  Chocolatey, with a burst of minty cool in your mouth while chewing.  Those cookies, so slim, crisp, and satisfying make it, for me, a wonder that more people dont polish off the entire box in one sitting routinely (yes, guilty as charged over here).

I still dream of the Danish chocolate cake from the Danish Pastry Shop (in Medford, MA).  Moist, with a layer of thick ganache in the middle, a snow shower of coconut flakes on top.  The fist sized cream puff with its flakey shell, a dusting of powdered sugar on top and thick cream piped into its center.  The lemon raspberry cake, moist, spongy, with a whipped buttercream frosting.  And the carrot cake cupcakes, bite sized, a pile of cream cheese frosting piped atop and a marzipan carrot, the figurative cherry.  

My own photos, snapped from days of working at the Danish Pastry Shop back in 2013.

Then, upon moving to Prague, Czech Republic during the autumn of 2013, I sampled two especially mouthwatering baked goods from Krusta bakery. Perníková hvězda, or in my own words, a gingerbread star.  A cake in the shape of, you guessed it.  The inside dotted with gingery chips.  Its surface topped with a dusting of powdered sugar.  Biting into one, it was as though tasting Christmas. 

And the other Czech sweet with which I fell in love, Trdelnik.  A swirling of sweet dough woven around a solid metal cylinder and baked over an open flame, blazing just underneath.  The column of dough turning slowly on the metal apparatice.  The finished product, a sweet baked pastry, slightly crisp on the outside, soft and bready on the inside.  One can request their trdelnik topped with numerous confections, from a sprinkling of crushed nuts, to a swath of Nutella, or a cloud of powdered sugar and cinnamon.  This saccharine snack becoming the one I most craved, as well as the namesake for this very blog.

During the six weeks of going to class 9+ hours a day that autumn in Prague, in working towards obtaining my TEFL certificate so I could then teach English as a foreign language, a classmate of mine, Greg and myself, would eagerly await break for one sole purpose.  On Thursdays during our morning break at school, Greg and I would rush down the stone steps, the echo of our footsteps resounding through the school hall, race outside and down the bustling street to the cluster of tents and stalls at the end.  There, merchants stood selling their wares, some edible, just as many others not.

Piles of pastries and cakes towered, sugar glittering on their surfaces, cream spilling out their sides.  Greg and I allowing our eyes to rove the haul before discussing with grave seriousness what we would sample that day.  Pooling our money, then pointing wide eyed and excited at various items before deciding on our dessert for the day.  We retreated back to school, clutching the white paper bag nestling two or three treats of choice.  And once finally back in class and much to our peers envy, devouring the sweets while attempting to stifle our mutual moans of pleasure.

Prague scape/Prague Castle during that autumn of 2013.

My class for TEFL certification that autumn 2013.

On moving to Germany, it was there I discovered Bienestich.  The German to English translation, "bee sting."  This is a vanilla cake, two tiers, sandwiched with a layer of thick vanilla custard-like cream in the middle.  The top of the cake, spread with a sweet, honeyed glaze mixed with crushed almonds.  I am not usually a fan of almonds, nor of honey desserts, but this one takes the cake.  Pun intended.  Bienestich rapidly becoming my favorite German sweet.  Finding myself swooning over numerous slices throughout my time there.

Now, onto croissants, pain au chocolat, macarons, and eclairs in Paris.  Man oh man, for some top notch sweets, the City of Lights is where you want to go.  The croissants here, predictably, like none other that you will sample elsewhere.  Hence, where they originate from, so it makes sense.  Flakey on the outside, yet buttery and ever so slightly chewy on the inside.  Heaven.  The pain au chocolat, much the same in terms of texture and taste, but with the cherry on top added addition of bittersweet logs of chocolate running along the inside of the pastry.  Divine. 

Macarons, something I used to find rather repulsive which, only as of the last 1.5 year or so, has since changed.  Now, I love them.  Chewy, sweet, with a smooth cream in the middle, these are the best bite sized sweets.  And eclairs, that flakey crust, filled inside with a sweet cream, topped with a rich stripe of chocolate frosting along the length of the sweet.  The flavors together making for a classic, straight forward, even somewhat simple, but totally tasty dessert.  The Parisians, doing all of these best obviously.

Now, lets meander on over to another country and differing dessert.  Gelato in Italy, a must sample in ones lifetime.  Sure, there is much crappy gelato to be found in the overrun tourist traps littered throughout the countries cities.  However, there are just as many high quality, majorly delicious, mouthwatering places worthy of checking out and sampling within.  And much like the specified sweets above with regards to Paris, Italians do gelato best (which makes sense, since its their dessert ;-)).  And gelato isn't just a pleasure to eat, its gorgeously displayed within gelateria shop windows.  The abundance of flavors, showcased behind glass in fantastical, colorful swirlings of cream in all manner of shades.

Judith was stuck into hilarity by how sloppy I was in attempting to consume this gelato.  Hence, she just "had" to take a photo ;-p

Skipping on over to Portugal, there's no question of my touching on Pao de Deus.  One of the few desserts tasted in my travels that, over the years, to this day still haunts me.  It was that good.  The explosion of awesomeness that this sweet delivers, burned into my memory and dessert dreams the second of sampling. 

During my second solo trip in Europe which took me to Lisbon, happening into a bakery and asking them "what would you recommend?"  They inquired, would I like something generally delicious or something specifically Portuguese?  I opted for the latter.  They pointed to the humble, unimpressive looking Pao de Deus, or, in translation, "bread of the Gods."  What appeared to be a yellow roll topped with some kind of paste, a sprinkling of powdered sugar atop. 

I asked what it was?  A sweet roll, topped with a coconut paste, they told me.  Very traditional Portugese.  Despite not being a fan of coconut, I decided to try it.  When in Rome...

And good lord, the second I bit into said sweet roll, already several blocks away from the bakery by now on foot, I promptly turned around, went back, and bought another which I would carry with me for eating later on that day. Phenomenal.  The roll, fluffy, slightly eggy, moist, lightly sweet.  The coconut paste on top, quite sweet, smooth but ever so subtly grainy.  Just, wow.  One of the very best desserts I have sampled in my travels.

On yet another adventure...Budapest, Hungary!  Where one afternoon was wiled away at Café Ruszwurm in no particular hurry, over three slices of cake, accompanied by steaming mugs of green tea.  Sighing in pleasure over the pillowy cloud of sweet cream, sandwiched between two flakey sheets of pastry.  Moaning as we spooned pieces of Dobra Torta into our mouths, a traditional cake of Budapest.  The chocolate buttercream layers light and fluffy between thin, spongy layers of cake, all topped with a thin sheet of hard caramel, smooth and clear as glass.  

The conversation that afternoon particularly engaging and deep.  Our jaws, dropping upon receiving the bill.  Having heard rumors that Budapest was cheap but this was astounding.  Twelve euro for the three slices of cake and three drinks.  The same spread in Frankfurt would have cost around twenty.  

Speaking further of sweet treats in Budapest, it was here that I discovered Turo Rudis.  A beloved Hungarian specialty which is a small candy bar, surrounded by an outer chocolate shell, filled with a sweet curd cheese.  Having read about these online prior to our departure in researching “must try Hungarian foods.”  On our first free afternoon, beckoning my travel buddy in crime to follow me into a supermarket and promptly snatching up a couple packages of these.  As anticipated, they were delicious.

Sampling, and loving, my Turo Rudis.  Yes, I snuck several into the Hungarian Baths, much to my travel buddy's delight and giggles following my producing a handful from my bag.

Now.  Onto Marias in Boston, MA.  Aside from the Danish Pastry House in Medford, MA, this place (as of now) earning the spot for top dessert eating in the city in my book.  Their Italian Rainbow Layer cookies?  To die for.  They also have supposedly the best cannolis in the city, though I haven't sampled them myself yet.  But the sweets here are, in short, superb.  

As well as, another bomb diggity Boston sweet spot, Union Square Donuts.  Hands down, the best donut I have ever sampled in my life.  And, as a fairly enthusiastic donut devotee, I can speak confidently about such.  These are some of the fluffiest, pillowy, but deliciously sweet donuts I have had the pleasure of tasting.  High tail it here if you live in Boston, or, anywhere close to Boston, ASAP.

To touch briefly on a few of my own baked goods, and no, not to toot my own horn but instead, just to continue on with the sonnet of all things sweet that perpetuate my dessert dreams.  Namely, pancakes.  I have enough varying pancake recipes on routine rotation that a book could be spun on these sweet cakey breakfast treats alone.  From coconut turmeric pancakes, to lavender blueberry buckwheat, to blueberry ricotta, to matcha with raspberry and chocolate, as well as pumpkin chocolate chip with cranberries. 

Sweet potato chocolate cake- grain/gluten free, dairy free and without refined sugar, yet its fudgy, totally decadent, rich and delicious..  Pumpkin cheesecake with a gingersnap crust, autumnal and spicy, creamy and lightly sweet.  Blackberry Gingersnap Mascarpone cake, layers of sweet blackberry cream sandwiched with spiced gingersnaps.  Sweet potato pie, the crust a brown sugar, buttery, melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness.  Paleo chocolate cupcakes, shockingly moist, nearly creamy, light and springy, I was shocked by how stellar these sweet treats turned out to be, assuming Paleo cupcakes would almost certainly fall short and, at their worst, might even be awful.  Thankfully, they were the opposite.   

Blueberry Ricotta pancakes, also super easy to make.  Fluffy, lightly sweet, so delish.  Likely to become your new favorites, as they have mine.

Light, fluffy, delicious, and so good for you.  These coconut turmeric pancakes are a breeze to throw together.
Hands down, one of my best recipes.  This one is shockingly easy to make, so quintessential New England and Thanksgiving, REALLY delicious.  Pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust.
Get excited. These chocolate Paleo cupcakes are easy to make and yours for the sampling.
Want these pumpkin oat buckwheat pancakes for breakfast?  Here you go.
How to make that sweet potato pie, with the melt-in-your-mouth crust.
Here is the recipe for my sweet potato chocolate cake.  Grain/gluten free, dairy free, and without refined sugar.  Yet, SO yummy.

Popovers on the Square in Portsmouth, NH is a more recent damn good dessert destination that's been discovered.  Their specialty, no surprise here, popovers.  Airy, buttery, flakey and delightful.  A bombshell of a dessert option here: the popover sundae.  As big as your head, this is a goblet sized bowl filled with, of course, a popover which has then been split in half, doused in several scoops of ice cream, drizzled in caramel sauce and hot fudge, topped with whipped cream, walnuts, and fried bananas.  This treat is truly insane, granted, its totally tasty. 

Also on offering, a plethora of cakes and small (ish) sweet treats.  Cupcakes, cookies, and more.  I have tried both the three tier chocolate ganache cake, as well as the three layer chocolate mousse cake.  Both were outstanding, though the latter was better.  Still fantasizing about that one.

Dessert adds a sweet treat, a punctuated lift, a burst of glee to everyday life.  And no, to love and enjoy desserts, one does not necessarily have to eat sugar, dairy or wheat.  Though omitting those things does make enjoying dessert more challenging, its very possible to both find as well as make your own treats that still satisfy without being laden with loads of unhealthy ingredients.  The choice is yours, with regards to what you are ok with and prefer eating.

Desserts are a celebration.  They can be the exclamation point to a phenomenal eating experience.  Dessert can be romantic, even sexy.  They can be an accomplishment or a work of art.  Dessert can be a surprise and even, a gift.  Desserts can add a sense of anticipation and excitement to your day or week.  They can make your day, or moment, just a little bit sweeter.  Dessert can be immensely memorable, as well as inspiring, for future baking experimentation going forward.  Dessert can be a tradition or even, a source of bonding and coming together. 

Dessert can wear so many hats, it can be so many things.  Dessert, making life in both big moments and small, just a little bit sweeter ;-)