Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Lovin' Spoonful

L-O-V-E, such a small word for something so intense and powerful. It peels away all layers and exposes our vulnerability on our sleeves. Hearts ripped open, raw, leaving us defenseless, enchanted, dazed and confused as if we are under a spell. All our senses are heightened with the feeling of love. To see, hear, taste, smell, and feel our way into euphoric ecstasy.

PEA (phenyl-ethyl-amine), is a molecule that speeds up the flow of information between nerve cells. It is an amphetamine-like chemical that assists the brain in feelings of increased excitement, energy, and optimism. This chemical assists us in feeling the initial exhilaration of meeting someone. PEA is also associated with a "runner's high", the state in which one feels elated from physical exercise. Love chemicals assist in the physical rush of falling in love and being in love. Dopamine, a neurotransmitter in the brain, is known as the "pleasure chemical" and makes us feel really good when it is released. Norepinephrine is similar to Adrenaline, a stress hormone, and evokes the excitement and racing heart that can be caused by love or attraction. Certain foods stimulate the central nervous system and pituitary gland when consumed, and can produce pleasurable sensations inside the body. Indulge in melted, sugary, sweetness and increase your PEA levels, which are associated with chocolate consumption.

This February in New England, we are buried in a deep coat of snow, thanks to the blizzard of 2015. Due to the weather, more time is spent indoors, staying warm, and snuggling. Closeness is enhanced by physical touch. Kissing and massage increases the release of the "cuddle chemical", a hormone called oxytocin, found in men and women. Oxytocin stimulates the smooth muscles, heightens the nervous system, and naturally ignites our minds into a state of bliss and pure joy. Sometimes called the maternal hormone, oxytocin stimulates a physiological response of interest and increased sensitivity.

As a parent, I have discovered how love takes on different forms of care, concern, protection, and endearment. Once again, Oxytocin plays an important role in the survival and healthy growth of babies and children. As we get older, we cherish the love and wisdom from parents, family, and friends. The chemical reaction of specific hormones enhanced by being spoken to or touched in a gentle, loving manner encourages and strengthens a bond of togetherness.

Valentine's Day brings a universal celebration of love, affection, and sensuality. There are so many forms of love, and abundant ways to show love. An easy and fun way to show someone you care is to make something for them.  Giving someone a Valentine is a genuine act of kindness and a simple way to show your love. Receiving a hand written note card or a love letter awakens our sense of belonging, allowing us to feel special and adored.

With two busy, creative boys, I have paper hearts, lace cut-outs, crayons, glue, and glitter all over my table. They pour their signature style over cards, pictures, and crafts for friends and family. Hearing these words, "I Love You, Mom! Will you be my Valentine?", my heart warms with the shower of affection they give. Besides making hearts and cards, my boys and I spend a lot of time baking cookies, muffins, and breads. A wonderful way to teach important life skills, with math and science, as well as patience, listening and a sense of wonder. Baking is a creative, calming, and meditative activity. All the senses are stimulated, boosting those "feel good" endorphins, helping to find balance and peace in an otherwise chaotic world. A spoonful of melted chocolate, a drizzle of honey, a slathering of butter, a sprinkling of sugar, the smell of warm, spicy vanilla and cinnamon, create a special sweet for the one you love.

Here is a recipe combined with one of my favorite winter fruits that is in season right now, the blood orange. The burst of flavor and color excite and brighten this hearty dessert, making it a wonderful after dinner treat or a special breakfast dish. The amazing smells created in your kitchen will spark memories and trigger your emotions. Certain smells activate the olfactory receptors, these sensations are relayed to the cerebral cortex where cognitive recognition occurs. These receptors are directly connected to our limbic system, and can trigger deep emotional responses when stimulated. This explains why when you come home to delicious creations being baked in your oven, it immediately makes you feel comforted and relaxed. When you bake from the heart, you drown the ingredients in positive, healing, loving thoughts, the confections blend together, and create a mouth watering bite of heaven.

Blood Orange & Raspberry Brioche Pudding

1 loaf Brioche bread sliced in thick layers (any bread of choice can work, pick your favorite)

2 eggs

2 cups Milk (Coconut or Almond milk is especially rich)

2 teaspoons Vanilla extract (Madagascar Tahitian (fruity), Mexican (spicy), or Bourbon Vanilla)

2 blood oranges (Peeled, pithed, and sliced with seeds removed)

1 cup thawed raspberries

Zest of 2 blood oranges (slice in thin strips, then grate the rest)
*This is the most time consuming part of the recipe. Take care with peeling and pithing your blood orange, and make sure you taste the juicy sweetness as you go.

2 Tablespoons butter

1/2 cup sugar

1 cup water

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a large baking dish with butter, and set aside.

Pour the milk into a large pan and heat until simmering, keep stirring to ensure the milk doesn't burn. Add the vanilla and 2 teaspoons of orange zest to the milk.

In a bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar until well combined.

Once the milk has come to a simmer, add the egg and sugar mixture. Continue to cook on a low heat, stirring continuously until a thin custard forms. Remove from heat and continue to stir for 2 minutes then set aside to cool.

In another smaller pan, whisk together the sugar, water and butter with the sliced and grated orange zest. Heat on low for 5 minutes until a syrup forms.

Arrange the sliced bread in the greased pan and sprinkle over the raspberries. Pour the custard over the layered bread, so it soaks through and covers the bread. Leave to soak for 15 minutes.

Lastly, pour the orange butter syrup over the top. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Serve up a lovin' spoonful of this decadent dessert, pour over the leftover orange butter syrup and enjoy this scrumptious sweet with your love!

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