The Teacup Chronicles

Month: September, 2010

Inspiration Short #6: Bask in the sunshine

I cannot endure to waste anything as precious as autumn sunshine by staying in the house. So I spend almost all the daylight hours in the open air.” Nathanial Hawthorne

Inspiration Short #6: Bask in the golden light of autumn and let it warm your soul.

One of the best feelings in the world has got to be laying on the soft grass, bathed in the warmth of a sunny September afternoon. It really doesn’t get any better. Perhaps it is simply the knowing that the precious warmth and golden light is slipping out of our grasp little by little each day  – but there is just something about the sunlight in the autumn that is so magical. The shadows are long, the dazzling light making the golds, oranges and reds of the hillsides appear luminous. And when the air has just the tiniest hint of a chill to it, basking in those golden rays is so deeply warming and nurturing, almost as though the heat is penetrating to your very spirit.

And I may be getting a tad bit romantic about it, but in many ways, sunlight really does warm the spirits. Exposure to sunlight stimulates the pineal gland in the brain to increase production of the neurotransmitter serotonin – which promotes a joyful mood and calm, centered demeanor. (I like to think that serotonin is transmitting the energy of the sun within us, filling our spirit with warmth and brilliant light.) Sunshine also increases the production of endorphines – opiate like chemicals that enhance feelings of well-being and reduce perception of pain.

Of course, you’ve probably also heard that sunshine is necessary for stimulating vitamin D production, playing its own role in mood regulation, as well as being necessary for strong bones, the optimum functioning of your immune system,  cancer prevention and the health of your heart just to name a few. (Interesting to think that in our avoidance of the sun’s so called damaging UV rays, we may have actually been enhancing our risk for cancer rather than protecting ourselves – but that is a story for another day).

So, while the days are still holding that last bit of summer’s warmth and the weather is mild and gentle – get out and enjoy the sunshine while you still can. Lay down in a peaceful spot, close your eyes, and feel that sunshine enveloping you in it’s warm embrace.

Roasted dandelion, chicory and cacoa nib coffee

Today was one of those delicious rainy autumn days, where you feel perfectly content to curl up with a good book and a cup of something hot.  I’ve been experimenting lately with some roasted dandelion coffee blends, and today I think I found a winner. The brew is slightly chocolaty, complex, dark and almost nutty with a hint of earthy bitterness – a most perfect accompaniment to my rainy day coziness.

Dandelion, cacoa and chicory are all great sources of the bitterness we need this time of year to ground ourselves and strengthen  our roots – and by roasting them, we warm up some of the cooling effects of the bitter taste and make them more nourishing and sweet. The bitterness gently tonifies our entire digestive tract, enhancing the secretion of all digestive juices and ensuring we extract the nutrition from the foods we eat. This digestive stimulation also includes supporting the detoxification work of our livers – which can get botched up by all the heavy foods we tend to favor as the weather cools. The polysaccharide inulin, found in dandelion and chicory, supports the growth of beneficial bacteria in our guts. In short, our whole digestive tract, the center and real “root” of our health, is made very very happy!

The cocoa I like to add for mostly for the gentle stimulation and uplifting impact on the nervous system, which is so helpful for the gray weather blahs that can set in this time of year. Of course you also simultaneously benefit from the plethora of antioxidant polyphenols, the cardiovascular protective effects, and cocoa’s ability to strengthen immune function. (Honestly, I came up with all these reasons after the fact – I really just add cocoa because its delicious!).

You can easily make roasted dandelion and chicory root yourself, although I must admit I cheated a bit and ordered mine pre-roasted from Mountain Rose Herbs. To make yourself, harvest fresh dandelion roots and chicory roots (they are fairly prolific in most yards, and the chicory can be recognized this time of year by those beautiful blue flowers). Wash and scrub the roots well, getting as much grit and dirt off as you can, then chop them into small pieces. Place on a baking tray lined with parchment, and bake in a preheated oven at 250 degrees F until they are nicely shriveled, darkened in color and completely dried out. This process takes about 2 hours, and you will need to stir them from time to time to ensure even drying.

Once you have your ingredients  roasted and ready to go, simply combine the following in a small bowl:

  • 1 cup roasted dandelion
  • 1 cup cocoa nib
  • 1/2 cup roasted chicory root
  • Optional: 1/4 cup hulled cardamom or ginger root

Mix everything together well, then place into a tightly capped jar for storage. When ready to use, coarsely grind a few tablespoons in the coffee grinder. Add 1-2 heaping teaspoon per cup of hot water into a French press or teapot (you can use just like coffee grounds in a regular auto-drip coffee pot or stove top espresso maker as well). Pour hot water over the mixture, let infuse for 5 minutes or so until the liquid becomes a rich and dark brown, then press or strain.

Serve with your favorite milk (I especially like almond milk with this drink), a splash of maple syrup to sweeten if desired, and  a little sprinkling of cinnamon or cardamom powder over the top. Curling up under your comfiest quilt with a good book is highly recommended, but optional.


Inspiration short #5: Take a photo walk and practice really seeing

The more you look, the more inquisitive you are, the more you are bound to see.” Chogyam Trungpa

Everyday, we experience a world that is full of intricate and wondrous details – details of the most exquisite and remarkable beauty –  but details that we quite often overlook. Rather than experience this great world that we we’re born into,  we push through life like pack mules, heads down and oblivious, distracted by insignificant worries and fears from the magic and beauty that surrounds us. It hasn’t always been this way, however.

Once, we we’re masters at collecting details, at finding the small expressions of magic hidden in the everyday world of our experience. As children, being in the moment just came naturally.  I remember wondering around my backyard for hours as a child – collecting leaves of different colors, watching caterpillars inch their way through the grass, noticing the silvery way that rain drops on tree branches captured  the light.   There was no sense of urgency, no guilt ridden need to always be productive or accomplishing something, there was only each small moment and the leisure to explore all the little treasures it contained.

What if we allowed ourselves to experience the world like that again? Certainly, it may not be realistic or healthy to revert completely back to the lack of responsibility we knew as children – but it would be wonderful if we could find some small way to practice really seeing our world.

This week, the inspiration short is all about practicing attention to detail – and what better way to do so than through the lens of a camera? Take a walk in a place extremely familiar to you – someplace you go or pass by everyday, but rarely have the time to really explore – it could be your backyard, a busy street corner, a path in the woods, a road you drive down each day. As you walk, allow yourself to get lost in the details, and take pictures of all of them.  Look for beautiful colors, unusual shadows or reflections, beautiful light and unusual contrasts of shape. Zoom in, look for the smallest details, take the time to really see. This is your collection of personal treasures, your documentary of the fabric of your world.

As Chogyam Trungpa says in the quote above, when you really start looking, you will see so much. Everywhere you will notice things you have never before seen – things of immense beauty and strangeness, things of utmost magic. And as you continue to embrace the feast of color and brilliant detail before you, you will likely find those urgent thoughts and worries that distracted you from all this beauty before  aren’t quite so important or huge, and possibly altogether unnecessary.

Below is my collection of photos from a recent photo walk I took. If you have photos from your own walk, I’d be so honored if you’d share a few with me here – it would be a profound thing to have a collection of everyone’s collected detail treasures. You could also do something fun I have always wanted to try – and get a long distance friend to go on a photo walk as well. Exchange pictures so that you can see the details of each other’s life and your unique way of experiencing the world.

Have fun!