Persian Cuisine – here I go!

I’ve just bought a Persian Cuisine cookery book! I was thinking about the food I really do enjoy eating and I thought I would enjoy making it in equal measure. The recipes are delicious and too tempting for words.

I think what attracted me to Persian food (still being a total beginner as a cook) were some of the ingredients used in the cooking – saffron, pistachios, cardamom, rose water, lime, etc…simply delicious! I don’t think I have felt this positive about cooking food in a long time so I feel I am finally on the right track. I once had a boyfriend years ago now who used to spoil me with some of the most amazing Persian food and dining when we were in the throes of our new relationship together so even that could be influencing my decision – is there anything more nostalgic than food?

Interesting, sensually appealing, exotic and so appetising! What’s there not to like? It is interesting and different and that’s what I’m looking for.

I will ease myself in gradually with something simple to start with! One step at a time. In all honesty, I don’t understand why it has taken me this long to become so interested in preparing something like this – tiredness, stress and empty excuses I think – no more of that! If you find something you’re passionate about doing, then the rest doesn’t matter – you make room to pursue it if your heart is in it.

I want to use recipe books as a guideline for now but I hope one day soon that I will be able to make dishes by simply following my intuition as to what I feel would work well together. I am sure there will be some interesting combinations selected along the way (and the occasional slip up – ahem!)

Nothing ventured, nothing gained! I’ll try my hand at my own creations soon and let you know how I get on but for now I have a great incentive which will hopefully inspire my creativity in the kitchen.

© Christina McDonald 2014

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On love….

When you begin to love yourself, you start connecting with your own heart. As obvious as that sounds, not enough people spend time caring about themselves in the way they should. We spend so much of our lives searching for something to complete us but our quest to reach that destination is as simple as putting some time aside for personal relaxation.

What does loving yourself really mean? (That phrase really has lost its meaning I think! I sometimes hear people saying ‘Aww that guy really loves himself, what a loser!’) In other words, love has become lost in self obsession somehow -how things look. It doesn’t mean doing continuous selfies and posting them on social media),it simply means treating yourself well. Not beating yourself up for not having been good enough in your own mind, it means giving yourself a break.

If you actually think about it, we all put so much effort into the appearance of things without factoring our own happiness into the equation. Life then becomes a vacuous struggle to achieve the goal of having a perfect image rather than a fulfilling life and a less than perfect image. If you haven’t seen ‘American Beauty’, it is one to watch. It illustrates that brilliantly.

The way things look doesn’t actually matter at all. Reflections of who you really are go beyond your physical appearance. That is good to know. We are not being ourselves living up to someone else’s standards whilst at the same time compromising our needs. Denial tends to bridge how things look and how things really are. What are we in denial of most of the time? Who we really are.

If we have the courage to be honest with ourselves, we start living life from the heart. We start treating ourselves in the way we deserve. What do you really need?

To be yourself.

Christina McDonald 2014.

Emotional Healing through Conscious Awareness.

If you have been on a ‘mental spin cycle’ as I would call it, you know exactly what I’m talking about when you cannot get your brain to switch off. Endless thoughts that carry on endlessly without ceasing. When life has become too difficult, when stress has taken over, it is very easy to lose perspective.

What I discovered years ago was that you can make this cycle stop simply by being aware of what is going through your mind. Through awareness, you stop identifying with these thoughts. You no longer lose yourself in the ‘drama’ as it were. They are just thoughts and they will only have a say if you let them.

Take a deep breath:

Focusing on your breathing is the best way to centre and ground yourself when you feel emotionally anxious. When you bring your attention to something as simple as your breathing, you are directing attention away from your mind and into your body, into the present moment. Within this moment, is where your attention should be.

Don’t react to negative thoughts:

Allow yourself to become aware of your thoughts, just allow them to be as they are. You may perhaps feel anxious within yourself but just let those feelings exist within you. They will subside eventually when you stop reacting to them. When you react to negative thoughts, you give them more sway and one negative thought leads to another and then another and so the cycle continues. You can stop it simply by being aware of what is going on in your mind.

Don’t over-analyse:

Brooding, obsessing and mulling over thoughts endlessly diverts your attention from what you should be doing and robs you of energy. When you do this repeatedly, you will feel incapable of focusing on anything else. Your work and your relationships will suffer needlessly in the end. Stop thinking for a while and just be.

Emotions are transitory:

Feelings and emotions change constantly. Like throwing a pebble into a lake, they are like ripples in consciousness. They are fleeting and if we react to them, we are reacting to a naturally impermanent state and making it into a permanent one instead. Watch emotions and feelings come and go as they always do but remember they are ephemeral…

© Christina McDonald 2014.

Living Consciously in a Stressful and Chaotic City Centre…

Living in today’s world means living in a way that requires us to be aware of not just ourselves but of other people’s feelings and needs. One of the problems that society is facing today is that nobody has time. Everybody is in a hurry and nobody can wait. The philosophy of ‘me, me me’ is consuming every aspect of being human. Yes, we are all busy and we all have problems, stresses and issues to deal with – who doesn’t? Is there anytime to live when we are all trying so desperately hard to survive?

When you learn to become self-aware, you realise that the world does not simply revolve around you. An awareness of how your thoughts, words and actions affect other people becomes second nature after a while. You begin living life from a different perspective which allows you to interact with the people around you consciously (with awareness). It isn’t as hard as it sounds. Just be considerate and understand that other people (yourself included) matter.

Living in a busy and stressful city centre, it is all too easy to see how the effects of stress can make people act angrily and irrationally. Emotion and tiredness takes over and logical reasoning flies out the window. Before you know it, you see people swearing, criticising others, beeping their horn as loudly as possibly at other car drivers, shouting at contractors for not doing their job properly…I’m sure there are many others instances you can think of. The joys of running in the rat race….

I would rather run in the human race. I don’t know what the difference between the two is sometimes. There is so much anger and hatred in society that it makes me question what motivates people to carry on like that. I am happy in myself but it saddens me to see so many people who are unhappy, stressed and miserable. Life is far too short to be anything but happy. I know it is not so simple sometimes but we can at least smile at others when we are having a bad day….it would be a start.

Friends and family are important, spending good quality time with the people we love is something that matters and none of us do it enough. Lets not forget that we should extend that love and care to the people who surround us. A moment in which we say ‘thank you’ to someone who holds a door open, a smile that brightens a stranger’s day, making cheerful small talk with the cashier in the shop…all these little things give people the incentive to keep going. There is nothing worse than feeling that nobody has the time to care and nothing that makes you despair more.

We can all make time if we really want to. It is the little things that make such a big difference in the end. Make sure the little things are a smile and not a frown….

© Christina McDonald 2014

Tasting Chocolate….

Which do you prefer, milk or dark chocolate? That is a hard question sometimes and for me it can change daily (sometimes hourly working in a chocolate shop!)

I am learning to appreciate dark chocolate more than ever before. Firstly, I do not seem to crave dark chocolate as much as I would do milk. The sweetness has become too much for me now and when I start eating it, I cannot seem to stop. It is a mistake to for me to buy a bar of milk chocolate – it will be gone in 45 minutes! Some people love a very high percentage and some people prefer something around the 65% mark. I draw the limit at 70%. Anything higher and I feel I am chewing and swallowing quickly to get rid of the intense taste. Anything past 80% is an acquired taste for me.

I remember trying 100% – it was quite an experience! The chocolate equivalent of double espresso. When you surpass the initial ‘shock’ to your palate, you can actually experience quite a wide range colourful taste sensations. Fruity notes, tangy, acidic, bitter, citrus, earthy, smoky, peaty…there are many ways to describe the experience and the beauty is…your experience will be completely unique to you.

How would you describe it?

So – where does the most comfortable percentage of cocoa lie for you? Between 60 and 70% is a good range for me. Flavoured chocolate which is around 65% seems to allow my taste buds to experience varying and more subtle flavours which can sometimes be lost in a higher percentage of cocoa. The natural taste of the bean comes through tremendously so without any other flavours added – sometimes additional flavours (such as rose, violet, cinnamon etc.) can enhance the taste of the chocolate and complement the variety of flavour notes found within the bar.

What we are tasting when we eat chocolate does depend on many factors of influence. The way the bean has been treated has a great impact on how the chocolate will eventually taste. The natural flavour of the bean will also be susceptible to the fermenting, drying and roasting process, the length of conching and of course, how the chocolate is tempered will all have an effect on the taste of the finished product.

Making good chocolate is a highly skilled craft requiring experience and precision. Selecting the beans is just the start of the process of discovering the many different colours and layers of taste. Knowing how to extract the best qualities of the bean through the chocolate making process is the key.

The entire process is dependent on so many variables – for instance, the climate conditions can influence how poor or successful a harvest is. When you actually take a moment to think about where good food comes from, we can truly appreciate the journey it has been on from origin to the finished product. From my brief experience working in the industry, making chocolate is a very creative and innovative journey. There seems to be no limits as to what you can achieve with the right amount of skill and application.

It’s another world. Magical, creative and sensual…what more do we want?

Christina McDonald 2014.

Being Content

I don’t know about you, but sometimes when I feel content and peaceful, I feel like I want something else. The feelings of desire for some kind of excitement kick in and annoyingly so. There always seems to be something just around the corner to make me feel restless. With me, I often feel as though I could do more with my life and that I am not making the most of my potential. I think I am but I always have that nagging doubt – could I be more and could I do more?

I think the answer to that question is – yes. We can always do and achieve more but we don’t need to use that as an excuse for not being happy with ourselves and for what we actually have achieved in life. Contentment is something we feel when we happy with who we are and that doesn’t always amount to having to do more and more things to come to that realisation.

Everything we do in life is an experience. Having experiences (such as travelling) and not actually discovering something about yourself in the progress defeats the purpose. We need to learn to travel within and that is something we don’t often do. If life is a journey, then we are all travelling everyday. Writing our own story, discovering our own path.

The greatest voyage in life is walking the path towards understanding your own heart. When you reach that destination, everything in life has a new meaning and purpose – every step and breath you take has taken you to this point and beyond the discovery of your own heart, there is just peace, contentment and happiness. You no longer need to search for meaning.

To me, this is contentment. Living life from your heart and knowing that no matter what you do in life, your successes, your ‘failures’, your good days and bad days, this feeling will always remain the same.

Keep doing things but don’t forget to ‘be’. That is where true happiness dwells and where life becomes simple.

Christina McDonald 2014.

The Healing Heart….

Listening to and following your heart sounds very romantic. Almost like an ideal situation that we have forgotten about and shelved for the time being as it doesn’t seem to get us anywhere. I remember years ago when a friend asked me what I wanted to do with my life and I said ‘I want to be a musician’. She said (actually she laughed) and said ‘That’s all very well, but will it bring money in? I doubt it.’ If I wasn’t stronger in that very moment, I would have listened to her and lost out on some of the best experiences in my life so far.

It is doing what feels right and natural that seems to be the most difficult of all.

Having a goal which involves following your intuitive feelings isn’t always easy especially when nobody else is on your side. I never had thought to myself that I was idealistic in anyway (perhaps in my youth) but I always believed I could achieve anything if I put my mind to it. I had the conviction of faith. I wasn’t particularly religious growing up but I always had a belief in something, that there was a meaning and purpose behind all existence somehow.

“All ideals are dangerous: because they debase and brand the actual; all are poisons, but indispensable as temporary cures.”

(Friedrich Nietzsche).

If we are constantly aspiring to an ideal, we are missing out on living in the moment we have been given. We become a seeker of a false reality instead but in some ways, it keeps us going. We keep moving in the direction of our dreams whilst all along forgetting to actually live out our dreams.

If we don’t listen to the heart, we don’t grow. We cease to live. We exist only in some kind of detached reality whereby we feel constantly unhappy and unfulfilled. We then make poor decisions instead that bring about a feeling of consolation for removing ourselves from the needs of our heart. I have always been a great advocate of personal growth and asking questions. Don’t just accept things about yourself at face value unless you understand ‘why’ you make the decisions you do. Every instance I wanted an insight into my behaviour, I asked myself why did I do this, why did I feel like this, why did I make this decision? Being completely honest with yourself is the way to living a life from your heart.

We are so very cynical I feel when it comes to taking the heart’s advice. Why would it put you wrong anyway? It is keeping you alive after all. If we ever allowed ourselves to stop very briefly, to sit down and have a rest for five minutes, we would become aware of the beating of our heart in the midst of a peaceful silence. Everyday, our hearts keep us alive. We know the heart is beating. We have night and day, the sun, the moon, the stars….we know what to expect. There is a force at work and everything seems to have a rightful place. A miracle of life that sustains all living things in existence. We know it through the mind. Do we feel it and experience it through the heart though?

We are surely understanding more in relation to the actual fabric of existence. The ability to learn about and analyse our surroundings is fantastic for sure. For example, the news that scientists had discovered the existence of light that originated from the the birth of the universe over 13 billion years ago is quite simply – amazing. We can learn more about the natural environment, ecosystems and wildlife. There are no limits to the possibilities within science. That’s what makes it so fascinating – pushing the boundaries of what is currently known and possible.

We are now fully aware of what is happening to the natural world. Our climate is changing rapidly and irreversibly. It is a reflection of how our individuals needs and desires are changing everything we see. Whether we could have avoided this situation or not will be debatable in years to come. Now, all we can do is hopefully adapt and overcome to survive the changes we are facing.

We can expand and increase our knowledge and understanding of the world and indeed, the universe we live in. The quest for knowledge and fact is the search for truth but if it is not tempered by the intuitive wisdom and guidance of the heart, I doubt that science will be able to stand fully on its own. Where is truth also to be found? In the human heart. Consciousness is a way of being. A way of living in the world with an awareness of the interconnectedness of all things. If you don’t believe me, then search your heart.

Within nowhere, is everything. The essence of spirit (or the possible key that science is continually searching for). I believe this can only be understood and experienced through consciousness. A realisation of the aliveness and being of everything in existence. What is consciousness? That mystical force that is behind all existence.

Science is the quest for factual truth. If we can see it and touch it, then it is real. Living in reality means looking at the facts of our existence. Evolution is a fact. Climate change is a fact. Facts are important and crucial to our understanding of the world we inhabit. There is however, another hidden aspect to our individual and collective existence on earth. Consciousness itself. We are not an abstract entity in relation to the world we inhabit. We are the world we inhabit. The same atoms, made of the same ‘stuff’.

Whatever this force is, this energy, I believe it is a natural part of our evolutionary process. We are part of it. We are energy. As a species, we are yet to accept this truth within us. There lies one possible direction we could take. Is this the key we are looking for? This simple key with which we need to unlock the eternal mysteries? A mystery that cannot be analysed, seen or touched but felt only through experience? I do not believe science can unite every aspect of existence simply by looking at facts. Facts can be misleading after all….

These are just my feelings and beliefs. We are all searching for clues to the answers we seek and making sense of it all requires us to embrace, consider and to accept all the possibilities. Rule nothing out, keep an open mind and where possible, look at the facts.

What is a fact? A fact is an element of truth. And what is truth? From the perspective of science, if you can see and touch it, so it is real. How can it be proven otherwise? Can’t truth also be an awareness of something? An intuitive feeling? Something that only you could be aware of without anyone else understanding? If only a specific individual can be aware of this truth in their own way and in their own time, is it then possible to evolve together as a species if truth is only part of a subjective experience?

Define truth? We could debate that one for centuries to come…

So, we are all part of this strange mystical energy but all of us seem to be travelling through it in our own way. When we finally learn to live in harmony with ourselves, we are falling in line in accordance with the natural law – simplicity. From our perspective as human beings, there is nothing complex about existence. It is not our struggle to understand the theory and meaning behind existence but our inability to feel that we are also a living part of that existence. As soon as we all experience this simple truth, the world will change. Our inner world will change…

When I say ‘travelling through it in our own way’, I mean to say that personal growth depends on the individual in question. Most of us are too stressed and busy getting through life to slow down and ask ourselves the most meaningful and significant questions life holds in trust for us. When we are ready to approach it (in other words, when we have suffered enough), then we consciously choose to change our life situation for the better. As soon as we do that, things begin to change for the better. Life and the choices we make begin to make sense when we truly listen to ourselves.

The environment of our planet reflects what is going on in our minds. If we have toxic thoughts, that will have a negative impact on the world around us. There is no way we can create a harmonious external environment when the environment in our own mind is in turmoil. We need to be in touch with ourselves on the very deepest levels of consciousness to ensure we are dwelling in a state equanimity. Every feeling and thought you have and everything you do in life will influence someone else.

Just like nature, human beings have the capacity to grow…if we allow the process to happen through our continued awareness of our thoughts and emotions. If we stop feeling, we stop living. The natural world is alive but we do not realise that we are such an intricate part of that aliveness. Living from a holistic perspective means dwelling in harmony with the world and when we do this, we find ourselves living peacefully with ourselves and others in turn. When we end the conflict within ourselves, we end the conflict with the rest of the world.

The question is – when (if ever) will our collective suffering reach a point where that change is an inevitability? Suffering is simply a signature of living in disharmony with oneself. If we look at the natural environment, we can see just how pronounced these changes are. War, poverty, hunger and disease are becoming more prevalent in the world as time goes on but they have no rightful place in the human heart. They are just illusory shadows of the mind caused by fear and isolation.

When we heal ourselves, we heal the world in turn. Listen to your heart.

© Christina McDonald 2014