Monthly Archives: August 2011

everything is made out of water

Warning: long and reflective. Beware of slippery surface.

“Dad, don’t fight the water. Stretch your body as long as you can and really feel the water. Go with it.”

That was me a week ago in Macau, attempting to coach my Dad freestyle. He wasn’t half-bad. Afterwards, he proudly proclaimed that I may have inherited my swim genes from him. Alas – unless my mom actually decides to get her butt into a pool one of these days, we will never know.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with the water, mainly due to competitive swimming. My mom likes to remind me that after two days of being born, she threw me into a bathtub. After wailing for a good minute, I suddenly did a 180 and thoroughly enjoyed my first swimming experience. I like to call myself a water baby on a regular basis. As Steph (my coach at Harvard) insisted before I retired: You like the water, Kelly.

Good thing too, since global warming might make a statement soon.

Thales of Miletus (624-546 BCE), one of the first recognized metaphysicists of our time, declared that everything is made out of water. So says the first page in my “Big Book of Philosophy” (aka toilet reading) which I picked up as a substitute for clothes at Urban Outfitters. Who knew I’d actually read the thing.

It’s not a bad start for recorded philosophy, seeing that water is a pretty important thing in earth’s history.

What is it – our bodies are 60% water? The brain = 70%, so MRI’s can read our brain through hydrogen atoms and their spinback mechanisms thanks to that high percentage? (shortcut to neuronerd.com to your left) There’s about 326 million trillion gallons of water in our earth? We can survive for two weeks without food, but only a couple of days without that beautiful liquid?

Water is the abundant source of life. From it we also developed energy, discipline through sports, cute analogies, and spa treatments. So what about water’s link to creativity?

Life originated in the sea, and about eighty percent of it is still there. — Isaac Asimov

In chakra philosophy (I’m not actually sure where it stems from – there are many different versions), the second chakra, termed svadisthana, is located within the sacral area and considered the abode of creativity. It is also, conveniently, linked to the element of water.

That got me thinking. If people way back when already considered the link between water and creativity, what implication does that have for us now in modern society?

There is a reason why scientists define intelligence as either crystallized or liquid. FYI, crystallized intelligence involves knowledge already known, vs. liquid intelligence which is the ability to think logically in novel situations. Liquids have an element of flexibility: they can take any new shape, can curve around obstacles, yet keep their fundamental properties. Gases are too chaotic (think early cavemen that traveled around in small groups, barely making contact with each other), while solids allow no room for change. Hence liquid intelligence.

Also, in Flow (referring to the Stream Brainset),  Mihály Csíkszentmihályi uses the concept of liquid to describe creativity:

not the single intensity of “focusing a laser”, but the feeling of drifting along a stream, being carried in a clear direction, but still tossed in surprising ways by the eddies and whirls of moving water”

But out of all liquids, why water?

Steven Johnson, author of Where Good Ideas Come From, sheds some light on this. After analyzing centuries of “good ideas” (creative, original ideas that are beneficial to human society), he determined that creative ideas are most easily produced in networked, non-market based environments. One of the factors for this is a liquid network.

A liquid network needs two things to be a good environment for creativity: 1) The ability to allow as many random connections as possible 2) the ability to provide enough stability so that the innovative system gravitates towards “the edge of chaos” (termed by Christopher Langton: the quality where the system is chaotic enough that new ideas can be formed at the highest rate possible, while maintaing the ability to develop and apply these ideas, versus pure anarchy or pure order).

For those who hated high school honors chem, a friendly reminder about those special hydrogen bonds that form between water molecules: ten times stronger than intermolecular bonds of other liquids, but weak enough to allow for the fluidity and solubility of water.

A good analogy is the brain. The brain is plastic (flexible) enough to allow for new, spontaneous connections (insight, creativity), but stable enough to allow for the development of neuronal pathways (Professor Jeff W. Lichtman alluded neuronal pathways to water streaming down the same paths on a rock, slowly carving it out). Water is flexible enough to allow new connections between solutes, but stable enough to maintain the structural integrity of new compounds.

True, one could argue the brain is always spontaneously creating at every moment. But that dips into the Eastern philosophy and their love of the paradoxical mind embodying constant form and constant change (What is the sound of one hand clapping? You tell me.) It is also a friendly wave to quantum physics and infinity. So let’s not go there for now.

I had the priviledge of chatting with being utterly amazed for four hours while chatting with Roy Horan, a professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic who is at the forefront of creativty and education research (also secretly an ex-kung fu actor and ex-Candian inuit tribe member). In order to examine the different stages of creativity, he came up with the Ocean Model in his paper that proposed a yogi-scientific review of Creativity and Intelligence. Aside from the quirky joke of OM that makes him smile inside, there seems to be some truth to his Ocean Model of creativity. Let me briefly explain.

Roy proposes that the three states of creativity is like the Ocean. The ocean is crystallized at the surface where the waves are, whereas the liquid movement is just below in the form of currents. The deepest part of the ocean, where ultimate stillness reigns, is vacuous.

He deems that crystallized creativity is the creative product itself: the idea, the performance, the hypothesis, the artpiece. This stems from liquid creativity, which embodies curiousity, imagination, connection, and incubation. Liquid creativity stems from vacuous creativity – the intention to transcend limits. At this level, the mind is absolutely still, connected with the infinite and one, and completely open to any expression of inspiration. For physics lovers out there, a useful analogy is the quatum vacuum. But again, I need to befriend a quantum physics lover at Harvard in order for me to accurately convey this theory.

Although these are only a few ideas about the connection between water and creativity, it is evident that there is some reasoning behind the concept of svadisthana, the water energy center in the body that resonates with creativity, sensuality, curiousity, and imagination. It is interesting to note that it is passive, and involves the human ability to let go. Food (or should I say water?) for thought.

You can never step into the same river, for new waters are always flowing on to you. — Heraclitus

So I was a water baby. Fast forward to the hours and days and weeks and months devoted to competitive swimming (I was already practicing 12 hours a week when I was in 5th grade, increased to about a day + more per week in high school).

It’s a pretty quiet sport. It’s just you and the water and the numbers. God, those numbers. Most of the time, I was trying to just make it thorugh the session, or secretly cursing the sport, or my mind tried to distract and numb myself from the pain.

My last season in swimming was interesting. Steph invited a rather intriguing guy to come teach us what he knew about the sport. He approached it with a neurological view, which I obviously loved. Before every practice, he demanded that we get in the pool and put our heads down and turn off our brains and just float. Lose complete control of your body and just let the water do it’s thing (this is pretty miserable when you first get in, because the water is so damn cold. Luckily, our coach tweaked his theory just a little bit and let us warm up for 10 minutes first).

It was…meditative.

He was also all about the physics – push your chest into the water, because the water will push up back into you. Sink your hips, because the water will respond. How is your body suspended in the water? What does the water tell you about yourself? It was as if water was a living thing I was exchanging banter with.

I remember what he said to me when he watched me swim: “You’ve been getting through the sport with your strength, not by naturally flowing with it. I think you’ve been going through life that way too.”

That really struck me.

And yes, I did quit at the end of that season. And thanks to my ankle sprain this summer, I’ve rediscovered my childhood love for the water. And met a lot of really interesting people thanks to it.

Like I said: I’m making amends.

Hopefully without the numbers, I can not only use the water as a place of healing, cleansing, and fun, but also to discover some creative inspiration between those microscopic hydrogen bonds holding that whole “thing” of constantly shifting water together. You never know.

Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way round or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves.

Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water my friend.

– Bruce Lee

(fun fact: Professor Horan was baller enough to be in a Bruce Lee film)


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dark chocolate zucchini bread with a side of grit

Usually I’d try to come up with some connection between some topics to come up with some fantastic post, but today, my brain is overloaded with reading science articles. So instead, I yield to dissociation.

Dark Chocolate Zucchini Bread with Basil

1/2 cup flour

 

Almost a full cup zucchini grated

 

1/4 cup dark chocolate cocoa powder

 

handful chocolate chips semisweet

 

1/2 cup lightly packed brown sugar

Basil

 

Cinnamon

salt

 

1 egg

 

1/4 cup canola oil

 

1/4 cup whole milk yogurt

 

1/2 tsp baking soda

 

1/8 tsp baking powder

 

 

“Mix the wet ingredients together and sift the dry ones in a large bowl. Add the wet mixture in three parts to the dry and fold until just combined. Pour into a 5 inch loaf pan and bake at 350 F for 45 minutes or until the cake tester comes out clean. Cool on rack to room temperature before slicing.” (taken from http://www.forkspoonnknife.com/2010/09/farm-to-table-zucchini-chocolate-basil.html)

I had a lot of chocolate scraps left over from production, so I liked to add a layer to the top of the bread after I let it cool for 5 minutes. It created a really cool texture on the top. I also sprinkled cinnamon and basil on the top of the loaf.

You can serve with a light cheese, or a sauce mixed with lemon zest, or extra basil if you please.

And now…onto grit.

I came across this blog, The Frontal Cortex, while reading a science book review during my research. I absolutely loved this post (and now his blog), and thought I’d share it with you:

Grit is not just about stubborn persistence. It’ no use persisting, after all, if a goal is truly impossible. While you’ve no doubt been bombarded with successful people telling you that dreams always come true, that we just need to believe, that if you can imagine it then it can happen, the dismal reality is that not every goal is worth pursuing. I might want to play in the NBA, but I’m not Spud Webb. I still want to compose the Great American Novel, but I also know that my college creative writing professor was right: I have no talent for fiction. Unless I’m honest about my limitations, I’ll waste time chasing a farfetched future, which quickly gets very very frustrating. Because dreams do come true. But first we need to pick the right one.

So how can we sort the useful long-term goals from the futile ones? How can we make sure that all of our struggle and practice and sacrifice will be worth it? Well, here’s my advice: ask yourself if the goal passes the underwear test.

Let me explain. One of the most deep seated features of the human mind is that it quickly takes things for granted, becoming numb to the predictable perceptions and pleasures of the world. Just think of your underwear. Do you feel it? Are you conscious of it? Of course not. That’s because you’ve adapted to the feel of underwear, habituated to the touch of cotton on your bum.

And this isn’t just about underwear. Psychological adaptation also explains why the first bite of chocolate cake is better than the second, and the second is better than the third. It explains why the first time you use that new iPhone you’re pretty excited, but before long it will just be another thing in your pocket. And then, a few weeks after that, you’ll start complaining that your phone (your phone!) can only hold 10,000 songs or that it downloads streaming videos from Netflix so slowly. The delight has vanished, replaced by the usual dissatisfaction. This is because our brain is designed to be ungrateful, every pleasure a fleeting thing.

What does this have to do with grit and long-term goals? Well, the only dreams worth pursuing are those that pass the underwear test. These are the pursuits that don’t bore us, even after we put in 10,000 hours of practice. They contain the kind of subtle thrills that don’t get old, that we don’t adapt to, that keep us motivated and interested for years and years at a time. Sure, there will be frustrations along the way, but these frustrations don’t feel permanent, which is what allows us to keep on working and learning and improving. Because that’s what it takes to succeed, to accomplish something interesting. Perhaps you want to invent the cure for malaria, or bake a perfect baguette, or create the next Facebook. Whatever – don’t apologize for your obsession. Just be grateful you are obsessed with something, that you’ve found a goal worth getting gritty over. Because if your goals ever feel tedious, if you find them as unnecessary as that last bite of chocolate cake, then you’re never going to put in the necessary work. Grit requires passion. Grit requires love. And love is just another name for what never gets old. Love is the opposite of underwear.

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sriracha chili and chocolate make sweet, sweet love

 

Do you love Sriracha chili sauce? And chocolate? Well, Socola’s seasonal flavor may have to do with that. This video basically sums up my summer. Enjoy.

 

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edibles

Not exactly what you had in mind, I know. A compilation of random things I created, ate, and are still haunting me in my dreams (and also didn’t make it into any of my blog posts). I will miss you, SF 2011. I’ll be back for more.

A S’more cupcake from the Cupkates, the cupcake food truck. Deep chocolate, burnt vanilla icing, and a graham cracker hidden at the bottom. The flavor is very light, and the only memorable part really was the graham cracker.

A lavender nutella creme brulee from the creme brulee cart at the Fort Mason farmer’s market. I shared this with a random person standing around because I couldn’t eat it all. Was met with a weird look, and then it dissolved 5 seconds later the moment she took a bite.

Creation Numero Uno: Honey cookie with a date filling, topped with dark and white chocolate.

Senor Sisig Food Truck: a Filipino food truck hosting dishes like Filipino tacos and burritos. These were their pork spring rolls – seriously some of the best I’ve ever had. Delicate, crispy, and fresh. I’m not capturing their greatness for you but for a girl who’s lived off of spring rolls her whole life…that’s pretty big.

Kelly & Aida’s victory meal: Pear Ale and Vietnamese spring rolls with THE BEST PEANUT SAUCE EVER – what more could you ask for post-Critical Mass?

Creation Number Two is in honor of my addiction to raw kale: kale, peach, blackberry, seitan, and sesame seed salad tossed with a dark cherry vinaigrette.

Okay this was my winning food for the summer. I cannot even express to you how good this pizza was. My friend Kyle took me to this small pizza place, Pizzetta, located on 23rd Ave for his birthday. They change the menu every five days or so: sign of a good restaurant. It was tiny – only three tables and a small bar where you could watch a couple of girls make pizza. We came at 8:40 pm and barely managed to sit at the bar. We ordered the mediterranean lamb, red pepper, basil, and cheese pizza (I forget what kind..the shame, I know, the shame). The moment this savory, lush-smelling pizza came out of the oven, it found its way very easily into my mouth. I barely touched the bottom of the pizza with my tongue, and the powdery flour collected on the bottom of the pizza (fused with garlic and olive oil) melted on my tongue. I closed my eyes and let out a long mmmmmmm because I knew I was probably about to bite into one of the best pizzas I’ve ever had. And it was. I nearly cried with each bite – the fresh, melting cheese, dancing with the fresh peppers and spicy lamb on my palette. What made it unforgettable was the pizza crust. Thin, but not so thin that it was crunchy. Baked almost like a doughy garlic bread, sprinkled with herbs, and perfectly chewy yet airy. I went to Italy for World Champs and this beats any pizza I had in Rome. If you go to SF, you have to, HAVE to go here. Kelly’s Creation #3: dark chocolate zucchini bread garnished with fresh basil.

Part of Kelly & Aida’s Cacao Adventure: sashimi. Yum.

Aida & I bought each bought this book as a present to ourselves in honor of our love for Tartine Bakery.

The croque monsieur: an open faced sandwich with bechamel (a French sauce where scalding milk is mixed gently into a flour-butter mixture), gruyere cheese, thyme, and pepper. We loved ours topped with either ham or mushrooms. One of my top five discoveries of the summer. 

Tres Leches Cake: “sweet coconut milk moistened chiffon, layered with cajeta and crema”

Oh, Tartine.

MY FIRST POACHED EGG EVER! A success. Alas, beginner’s luck. My next few tries were very unsuccesful.

Creation #4: Baked salmon coated with white truffle olive oil, lavender sea salt, rosemary, lime, and cacao nibs with some onion on the side.

Another adorable hole in the wall: Farm Table. A small cafe with only one large table for people to sit at. They made their almond milk fresh, so their almond milk latte was totally killer. Also another one of those places that switches up their menu on a daily basis.

Baked potatoes with creme fraiche and spring onions.

“Morning Toast”: Goat cheese, tomatoes, and basil leaves

Baked French bread with cheese and ham, topped with a boiled egg.

Creation Numero Cinco: Whole wheat pasta with artichokes, radishes, scallops, tossed with garlic, gouda cheese, and white truffle olive oil.

The notorious salted caramel ice cream from Bi-Rite Creamery. Was a pleasant surprise, but definitely not my favorite flavor compared to their creme fraiche, basil (AMAZING texture), and chocolate.

Creation Six: Double Dark chocolate salted peanut cookies, drizzled with a smidgen of sea salt.

Joss and I went to Alembic, a small plates bar that’s fond of whiskey and gin down the road. Pictured here is The Gilded Lily: gin, yellow chartreuse, orange flower water, and sparkling demi sec with a touch of gold leaf.

Jerk duck hearts with pickled pineapple and thyme – clearly one of my requests.

This is another one that goes into my top 5 for the summer: Beef Tongue Sliders. These babies melt in your mouth. Fried green tomato pickles, arugula, red onion, and horseradish aioli.

And now we’ve come to the last of my creations (and the end of this post): Lettuce wraps filled with a baked radish, baked sweet potato, artichoke sausage, and caramelized onion mixed with a wild rice mustard-mayo-soy dressing. Basically, what was in my fridge.

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always after avocados

You know you’re with the right people if they flip out after reading the sign: “5 for 1$ avocados.”

That’s what happened to Jos (APOLOGIES for spelling it wrong), Aida, Hena, and I on our way down to Monterey.

You can’t ever get enough of these technically-fruits-but-are-really-vegetables-so-they-probably-have-some-self-esteem-issues babies.

Down in Monterey we walked a few trails; tried to figure out people’s spirit animals; discovered the difference between a sea lion, sea otter, and a seal (okay I lie – I still don’t know the difference); ate tacky, overpriced American fried seafood; rediscovered white emo music and respectful-towards-women R & B of the early 2000’s; and kayaked over a kelp forrest. 

Proof that I’m a neuroscience major: I really think kelp leaves look like the brain.

Around 6:30, we were wrapping up our kayaking expedition and asked one of the guys who worked at the kayak shack if he knew about the mystical market that sold 5 for one avocados. To our surprise, he did know. And he told us we had less than 30 minutes to get there.

That got us moving.

Jos pedaled it and got us there just in time: 6:58 pm. To our frustration: 1. The market actually didn’t close until eight 2. The 5 for 1 avocados were weak (one was about the size of a prune). BUT there were still lots of other great produce at unbelivably cheap prices. And I stocked up on avocados anyways.

To celebrate, I used my connect brainset and now present to you avocado pasta and avocado mashed potatoes. 

Avocado Garlic Pasta with a Paprika-Infused Fried Egg (inspired by ohsheglows)

The creaminess of the avocado replaces any need for cream or milk. AND you get a healthy hit of monounsaturated fats, folate, potassium, vitamin E, and phytochemicals that may protect against eye disease and high cholesterol.  Omnomnom.

Ingredients for the Avocado Pasta

1 medium avocado

1/2 juiced lemon, as well as lemon zest for garnish (for those like the pre-summer me: lemon zest is when you shave off the skin)

3 garlic cloves

salt to taste

ground pepper to taste

1/4 cup parsley (or basil)

2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil (I used white truffle olive oil in this creation)

2 servings (or really as much as you desire) of some form of pasta

**optional: you could also saute some spinach and the garlic on the side and mix it in with the cooked pasta and sauce if preferred**

Recipe

1. Boil a few cups of water in a pot. Pour a couple tablespoons of salt in the boiling water. Cook the pasta for 8-10 minutes. Remove and drain.

2. While waiting, use a food processer to cream the avocado, garlic, olive oil, basil/parsley, and salt.

3. Combine the freshly cooked pasta with the sauce by tossing, then garnish with some lemon zest and pepper. Serve immediately.

SO SIMPLE. 

To make the side of paprika fried egg: before cooking the egg, heat up the oil in the pan with the paprika powder in it. The spice that’s made from grinding up bell or chili peppers (depending on the region) gives a great kick to the fried egg, reminiscent of deviled eggs.

—————

And now for Garlic Avocado Mashed Potatoes

Again – why need milk? The creaminess and subtlety of the avocados make this a homerun.

Ingredients (obviously change the amount based off of servings needed)

1 garlic head, skins off, 45 minutes wrapped up with olive oil and tin foil

5 small to medium potatoes (peel skins)

1 medium sized avocado

dash of lemon juice

rosemary optional (to taste)

salt and pepper to taste

Recipe

1. Toss the garlic cloves in olive oil and place in a “cup” of tin foil. Place in an oven at 350 degrees F for 45 minutes.

2. Boil the potatoes in a pot with water barely covering the potatoes for 15-20 minutes or until a fork easily slides through them.

3. When the garlic cloves and potatoes are done, mash together with the pitted avocado.

4. Add a dash of lemon juice, as well as salt, pepper, and rosemary to taste.

Future projects including avocados? 

Chocolate avocado cookies, avocado pie, avocado frosting & cake, avocado marshmallows, grilled avocados, avocado margaritas, avocado creme brulee, avocado soup, avocado brie apple quesadillas…okay I need to stop.

Once an avocado girl, always an avocado girl.

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