Buttonwood Flowering Blossoms

Buttonwood Cherry Blossoms

Flowering trees, such as the beautiful almond tree above, are one of the best examples of feng shui plant life.  Not only do most of these trees sprout delicious nuts or fruit, but their blossoms give off an alluring scent that carries on the air.   Flowering branches also have auspicious symbolism.  Because they usually bloom in winter or early spring, these floral tendrils represent longevity and  overcoming great burdens.  There are not many blossomy trees in my neighborhood, so I usually resort to the Japanese Cherry Blossom lotion from Bath and Body Works (the smell is to die for).  However, on a recent trip to Solvang, a generous collection of these beneficial plants reside at Buttonwood Farm.

Buttonwood Back View

Originally an equestrian ranch established by philanthropist Betty Williams, the property now boasts a vast vineyard, tasting room, and organic farm.  Pictured above is is the back entrance to the tasting room, which leads out to their intricate and beautiful gardens.

Buttonwood 02

The tasting room is stylish and very serviceable.  Two tasting bars reside on either side of the space, allowing for easy flow of patrons.   I love the living chandelier of leaves – a highly conducive and artistic example of the wood element.

Buttonwood Duck

Buttonwood also has many farm-fresh products for sale, including olive oils, preserves, salsas – and my personal favorite – the Raspberry Grenache-Syrah Chocolate sauce.  Decadent and loaded with antioxidants, this sauce is ideal for desserts or a chocolate martini.

Buttonwood 01

Wine barrels are used as support for an elegant table in the middle of the room.  I love barrel furniture, and it’s a green and economical way of reusing these vessels.  Powerful and striking images painted by Seyburn Zorthian grace the walls.  Much of Seyburn’s art is highly influenced by her study of Shoudo, the passionate brush stroke technique of Japanese and Chinese writing.  She also creates the artwork featured on Buttonwood’s wine labels.  For more information about her art, please visit her website here:  http://www.seyburnzorthian.com/artist.html

Buttonwood Fountain

I was captivated by this gorgeous fountain nestled in a private garden outside the tasting room.  Working fountains with clear, clean water add beneficial and peaceful chi (energy) to an environment.

Buttonwood Grounds 01

Daffodils were in full bloom when we visited.  Also known as narcissus or jonquils, these flowers have a myriad of symbolic meaning.  In feng shui folklore, the white ones represent the flowering of one’s talents and skills, and can be used in furthering one’s career. I also think they are great examples of spring; they remind me of hunting for Easter eggs as a kid.

Buttonwood Grounds 03

There were many different wines  l sampled.  My favorites were:

  • 2010 Devin – An irresistible  sauvignon blanc.  Influences of honey, lemon and apricot come through in a charismatic fashion.  Crisp and complex.
  • 2009 Marsanne – A decadent white.  Hints of honeycomb and marzipan contrast nicely with a crisp taste and rich body.  Flavorful and refreshing.  (Sold Out)
  • 2010 Cabernet Franc – Sage and raspberry take center stage with this enticing red.   Very easy to drink.  Silky and sophisticated.
  • 2009 Trevin – An intoxicating red blend composed mostly of Cab Franc.  Vanilla, rhubarb and dark berries were the notes highlighted on my palate.  Tasteful with a lingering finish.
  • 2010 POSH – One of the best ports I’ve had.  Dark cocoa and espresso make their presence known, with a holiday influence of cinnamon, orange and cherry.  (A bottle came home with me.)

Rhea and Victoria

I also got to meet fellow feng shui consultant, writer and interior designer Rhea Peake (pictured left here with my friend Victoria).  She has many years experience in creating sacred spaces and improving environments, as well as a plethora of other skills and talents.  In addition to her strong ties with Buttonwood, she is based in Santa Barbara, Hawaii  and Vancouver.  For more information, please visit her website here:  http://www.rheapeake.com

Buttonwood Grounds 02

Comfortable seating is placed purposefully around the gardens, encouraging guests to linger with some wine and a picnic lunch.  In addition to their tastings, Buttonwood also hosts many different events throughout the year, including a crawfish boil.  I also suggest checking their website for some  stellar recipes (I will be trying the olive oil cake recipe first) as well as their informative blog Buttonwords.  I am going to try to come up at least one more time before the seasons dramatically change, so I can sit under a flowering tree with a glass of Cab Franc and just immerse myself in the auspicious environment that is Buttonwood Farm.

Buttonwood Farm Winery & Vineyard

1500 Alamo Pintado Road, Solvang, CA 93463

805-688-3032

Hours:  Open Daily 11:00 am – 5:00 pm

http://www.buttonwoodwinery.com

Buttonwood Front Entrance

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Baking Under the Influence

Amy S. Upclose

A few years ago my friend Robert, a violinist, gave me the most wonderful book called I Like You:  Hospitality Under the Influence by the legendary Amy Sedaris.  For years I have been a fan of both her work, and that of her brother David.   The book is filled with extremely helpful tips on being the perfect host, being the ideal guest, tantalizing recipes, and decorating for parties, expressed in Amy’s own humorous way.  Her clever writing depicts her own sardonic sense of humor and anecdotes, while at the same time educating the reader on various topics.   Over the years, I have referred to this volume on occasion, and am continuously surprised.  I also laugh out loud every time I open the book (because it’s really funny)  Amidst the humor and cute illustrations, there is a cornucopia of vital information, many of which can be classified into feng shui guidelines and things that are just good common sense.Pink Roses in Blue and Gold VaseOne of the things Amy addresses is the rule for bringing flowers to a dinner party on page 24.  She mentions that, if one shows up with flowers for the host or hostess, it can sometimes cause more aggravation than enjoyment for the individual – because one has to stop, react, cut, and arrange the bouquet, which causes the host to have an extra job when they are already busy “hosting” and performing other actions.  Amy advises that if you do bring flowers, bring them already in something, like a vase or urn.  If one really wants to bring flowers, I suggest bringing a potted plant, like an orchid or lily; all one has to do stick it somewhere.  And, you leave the host with some beautiful, creative wood energy behind after the party.  Or, and Amy also suggests this, send a bouquet of flowers as a thank-you gift after the party   “Now that’s class!” says Amy, and I couldn’t agree more.  (When I go to dinner parties, I usually bring a bottle of wine or sparkling cider.)  The book is filled with other helpful items such as this, which would make Emily Post very proud.

There are various sections in the book, some of which are  Entertaining the Elderly, Lumberjack Lunch, and Grieving, focusing on different scenarios where one entertains.  And the recipes are scrumptious.  Although I’ve tried a few others in the past, I decided to brave a new one this time:  Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, located on page 226.  It was my first time making this classic dessert, and I was excited.  I made a couple of alterations.  Instead of using pineapple juice, I used the syrup juice from the can of sliced pineapple – which worked well.  I also substituted almond milk for milk and margarine for butter, both also worked.  And I added maraschino cherries.  Although Ms. Sedaris makes no mention of this in the recipe, the photo in the book shows the finished cake with maraschinos.  I feel you can’t have a pineapple upside-down cake without them; it doesn’t seem right somehow.  For some  fire energy, I added red ones (but green would work, too, for a more mid-century feel).

Navajo Pride and Pineapple

Then I ran into a road block.  The recipe calls for a round pan.  I only have square or rectangular vessels.  So I looked around and found an Angel Food Cake pan (belonging to my roommate).  I’ve never made Angel Food Cake, so I was surprised that the pan was in two pieces.  Well, I thought, how different could it be?  So I greased the pan, and followed the recipe accordingly.  Everything went well, and into the oven it went.  It took a little longer to bake, I’m guessing because of the circle in the middle, but otherwise it looked and smelled wonderful.  While it was cooling, I went out to dinner, and then flipped it over when I got home.  To my horror, a lot of the brown syrup/butter mixture (stage 1 of the recipe), had leaked out between the two parts of the pan.  This changed the creation dramatically.  It became more of a pound cake with fruit rather than the sugary pineapple dream that I was searching for.  It was delicious, but definitely not what I was expecting.  It became more of a breakfast food rather than a classic dessert.  I still enjoyed it very much.  A picture of the finished product is below.

Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Now, I want to try this again, but using a round pan, which would make it much more accurate to Amy’s original recipe.  But what is the best feng shui cake pan?   The auspiciousness of an item depends on many things – such as shape, style, color, and material.  For example, a metal cake pan would create a different energy for a cake than a silicon cake pan.  Both work great, but each would offer a different chi to the creation.    I conducted a web search and found some amazing options, a few of which I plan on purchasing soon.

Burgundy 9 Inch Cake PanAmazon has some amazing options (And I love their free Super-Saver Free Shipping, should one spend $25.00 or more).  Above is the Burgundy 9 Inch Round Cake Pan.  This would have been ideal for the recipe – and it’s my favorite color:  http://www.amazon.com/Silicone-Solutions-9-Inch-Round-Burgundy/dp/B002RWKEH8/ref=sr_1_166?ie=UTF8&qid=1363504672&sr=8-166&keywords=cake+pan

Daisy Cake Pan

Splendid for Easter, this aluminum cake pan from Wilton is perfect for any spring event – especially those involving baskets and egg hunting:  http://www.amazon.com/Wilton-Dancing-Daisy-Cake-Pan/dp/B000M9O8J8/ref=sr_1_49?ie=UTF8&qid=1363504272&sr=8-49&keywords=cake+pan

Baby Buggy Cake Pan

Another Wilton brand pan, this is the Baby Buggy.  One online photo I saw of the finished cake actually had a baby in the carriage, made from tinted frosting.  I found it somewhat creepy.  But I think, if I was to use this pan, I would fill the carriage with lilacs or roses:  http://www.amazon.com/Wilton-2105-3319-Baby-Buggy-Pan/dp/B0009Q93O4/ref=pd_sim_k_11

Castle Bundt Cakes

From Nordicware, we have the Sand Castle Bundt Cake Pan.  Made of heavyweight aluminum, this mold transforms ten cups of cake batter into a wondrous Arthurian abode.  I love the finished product on the right, all earthly in its sand castle beauty.  I’d like to try this with a white vanilla cake, or with various shades of jello:  http://www.amazon.com/Nordic-Ware-Cast-Castle-Bundt/dp/B000F5M044/ref=sr_1_53?ie=UTF8&qid=1363504272&sr=8-53&keywords=cake+pan

Honeycomb Cake Pan

From Chef’s Corner Store, a wonderful online resource, we have the Honeycomb Pull-Apart Cake Pan.  Also made by Nordicware, this is perhaps my favorite of them all.  I think the pineapple upside-down cake could work with this quite nicely, and offer a very geometric take on the dessert.  It would also be good for making pull-apart Monkey Bread:  http://www.chefscornerstore.com/nordic-ware-honeycomb-cake-pan.html?gclid=COCUvI2Vg7YCFQLhQgodSVAA9Q#.UUV2STeXmiM

Rose Bundt Cake Pan

A more classic bundt pan would be the Rose Bundt, also from Chef’s Corner.  This would not have worked with the pineapple upside-down cake at all, but I’ve love to try a red velvet one using this:  http://www.chefscornerstore.com/18-541482.html#.UVIUAjeXmiM

The rose and honeycomb cake pans above are also available at Amazon.com, for about the same prices, but they do offer better deals on shipping.

Vintage Rose Metal Cake Pan

Some of the best cake pans, both for functionality and beauty, are vintage pans.  Above is a very similar Nordicware rose bundt pan from a seller on Ecrater.  I love the red metal:  http://www.ecrater.com/p/7037232/nordic-ware-cabbage-rose-shape?gps=1

Puzzle Piece Mold

Indulge Simply Delicious, a highly auspicious Ebay store, offers the Puzzle Pieces Silicone Mold.  Silicone is such a versatile material, as one can bake, cook, refrigerate and freeze it.  I would love to get this for brownies, or for making fancy ice cubes for punch bowls:  http://www.ebay.com/itm/Nice-Puzzles-Shape-7-Cavity-Cookies-Soap-Chocolate-Baking-Jelly-Silicone-Mold-/321089177021?pt=LH_DefaultDomain_0&hash=item4ac26805bd

The craft items in the book are also very clever, such as how to make personalized lighters on page 288.  I also really like the fashionable bookends on page 277, and the homemade bath sachet on 267.  There is also a highly informative list of items one should always have on hand on page 299 entitled Be Prepared.  (I need to get a lemon press.)

I Like You Book

There are many places to order I Like You online.

I highly suggest acquiring this book for your permanent library, if you are the type of individual who is social, and likes to throw and/or attend festive gatherings (This should be everyone).  I plan next on trying her recipe for Pesto Sauce, and a kind of roast poultry dish called Chicken of the Taverns.  Or maybe I’ll make the stellar Meat Loaf recipe on page 170 using my new Castle Bundt Pan.   Mmmm…

There’s No Business like Tcho Business

Tcho Wall

Charles M. Schulz once said, “All you need is love.  But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”  I couldn’t agree more!  Now, while my own chocolate tastes tend to run more towards the darker spectrum of offerings, I am an avid supporter that all chocolate is good.  Or is it?  On one of my recent excursions to San Francisco, I had the opportunity to visit the Tcho Chocolate Factory.  Located on the historic Pier 17 on the Embarcadero, our party of five descended on the refined factory shortly after lunch for their two o’clock tour.  Pronounced Cho, Tcho is the phonetic spelling of the first syllable of the word chocolate (The T is silent).

Tcho Factory

The company was founded in 2005 by Timothy Childs, a former software engineer for NASA, and famed chocolate maker Karl Bittong.  The creators of Wired Magazine and Wired.com, Louis Rossetto and Jane Metcalfe, are its current CEO and president.  The tour began with the guests entering the building (pictured above) and browsing their bountiful gift shop and coffee bar.  First, we were escorted into a curtained off area where our tour guide talked about the history of chocolate, how chocolate is made, benefits of the cacao, and so forth.  Then, we put away our personal bags and hats under lock and key, and donned hair nets to enter the factory.  Due to safety precautions, I was unable to take any photographs inside the actual factory, but if you” notice the silver pipe in the image below, that is where the inner workings of the factory reside.

Tcho Curtain

Our tour guide, whose name I sadly cannot recall, was personable and a wealth of knowledge.  He guided us through the tour with ease.  Afterwards, we adjourned to another curtained off section for a chocolate tasting (pictured above).  Now, unlike wine tasting, which goes from light to dark, chocolate tasting begins dark, and then heads toward the more milky options.  Every single piece of chocolate I tasted was delicious.  Our guide also commented on which chocolates would go well with different kinds of alcohol.  Of the varieties we tasted, my favorite hands down was the PureNotes Dark “Chocolatey” bar.  Comprised of 70% cacao, this was indulgence at its finest.  I bought two bars of this delight (and have eaten half of one while composing this article).  Other chocolate creations that really impressed me were their chocolate covered cherries, using the PureNotes “Fruity” dark chocolate.  I was also taken with the Serious Milk “Cacao” bar.  I prefer dark, but this version of milk chocolate was absolutely sumptuous, containing 53% cacao.  I didn’t personally try this, but at their coffee bar they also have what is called The Chocolate Shot.  It is a small shot of pure drinking chocolate.  My friends Justina and Andres each had one – and they were in a chocolate induced euphoria for the rest of  the day.

Tcho Chocolate Boxes 01

The health benefits of dark chocolate are quite extensive.  In addition to lowering bad cholesterol levels and blood pressure, this edible gem can also lower the risk of heart disease, due to its anti-inflammatory properties.  Enriched heavily in fiber, dark chocolate can also keep hunger at bay, by sustaining that full feeling in the stomach for longer durations of time.   Blood flow and circulation are improved by chocolate because of its blood-thinning attributes.  A study conducted by the University of Reading in 2011 concluded that chocolate may help eyesight as well, because of the increased blood flow to the retina.  The increase in circulation also helps people to stay awake and alert (mmm… mochas).   An Italian study performed in 2005 showed that those who eat chocolate regularly are at  a much lower risk for diabetes, to due their increase in insulin sensitivity.

As for chocolate causing breakouts on one’s skin, that is a complete and utter falsehood.  According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, stress and environmental factors are the main causes for acne breakouts.  Chocolate has no negative side effects for one’s skin.  In fact, flavonoids, a type of antioxidant found in dark chocolate, offers a small amount of UV protection.  Chocolate helps to lower negative hormone levels, thus resulting in the reduction of anxiety and stress.  Many stressed-out people (some with skin issues) turn to chocolate because it relieves tension caused by stress, hence why society made the connection of chocolate and bad skin.

From a feng shui perspective, chocolate is very yin, due to its sweetness and texture.  As for which elements it connects with, there is some debate.  Because of its coloring, I would say Earth.  (From the rich browns of dark chocolate to the caramel hues of milk chocolate)  However, if we examine their mineral properties,  we get something different.   An average dark chocolate bar contains 14% of one’s daily allotment of copper, making it more metal in nature.

Tcho Chocolate Boxes 02

Now, why is Tcho a beneficial example of feng shui.  Well, for starters, they employ many green practices in their  chocolate making.  All of the equipment used in their factory was purchased from a former chocolate manufacturer in Germany, and then shipped over.  Rather than build brand new machines, they chose to work with preexisting ones, conserving material and labor.   They also have a program called TchoSource, in which they partner directly with native growers of cacao.  Working hand-in-hand with the growers directly, Tcho provides technology and education, assisting them to hone their craft and improve their lives.  A sad fact that I learned on the tour is that most cacao farmers have never tasted chocolate made from their own beans.  An even worse fact is that there is one large chocolate manufacturer (I won’t say which one) that uses child slave labor to harvest the beans.   Slave labor of any kind is abhorrent, especially when it involves children.   The same manufacturer also puts miniscule amounts of plastic in their chocolate as a filler.  No one should eat plastic; this is bad for one’s bodily environment.  Tcho does not use slave labor, nor do they include toxic things like plastic in their creations.

The tour of the chocolate factory is free, but you must make reservations beforehand at the beginning of each month.   If you don’t have reservations, and you show up, they will do their best to accommodate if there is room on the tour.   Please contact Tcho at the website below for more details.  Also, refrain from wearing jewelry and open-toed shoes on the tour.  Men with facial hair will be asked to wear a beard guard in addition to the hair net.  Valuables are secured in a private locked cabinet while touring the factory.  Children under age eight are not admitted.

Tcho's New Sales Reps.  Photo courtesy of J. Cross.

Tcho’s New Sales Reps. Photo courtesy of J. Cross.

Our personable tour guide also felt, during the chocolate tasting, to point out that my best friend Wendy and I were dressed exactly like some of the packaging of Tcho.  I swear, we did not do this on purpose – it just happened.  However, to commemorate our memorable excursion, we decided to pose for this picture entitled:  Tcho’s New Sales Reps.  Tcho also has a wide array of tantalizing recipes, which are located here:  http://www.tcho.com/tchopros/recipes/    If you’re not in San Francisco, and want to try Tcho, one can order all the chocolate they want from the website below.   Many gourmet markets also carry Tcho, such as Whole Foods.   If you’re a chocolate lover, I highly suggest introducing Tcho to your palette-after all, “a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt.”

Tcho:  The New American Chocolate

Pier 17 in San Francisco, CA 94111, on the Embarcadero at Green Street

415 981-0189

Hours:  Monday – Friday  9:00 am – 5:30 pm,  Saturday – Sunday 10:00am – 5:30 pm

Tours:  Daily at 10:30am and 2:00pm

http://www.tcho.com/

Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree…

Christmas Tree Adorned with Lighted Candles

Since I was a child, one of my favorite holiday activities has been to decorate the Christmas Tree.  The days leading up to Christmas, I would take my sleeping bag and curl up in front of its protective branches, completely mesmerized by the twinkling lights and shiny ornaments until I drifted off to sleep.  As an adult, I don’t really do this so much, but the aesthetic beauty of Christmas Trees continues to enchant me.   For centuries, people have decorated their homes with healthy branches that remained green throughout winter.  To celebrate the Winter Solstice, the pagans in early Europe would decorate  their homes with boughs of fir, spruce and pine.  Druid priests in Celtic England would decorate their houses and temples with evergreen as a symbol of eternal life.  (Only branches were used, though, and never the whole tree, as that would have been too destructive for their tastes.)  The citizens of ancient Egypt would fill their homes with palm fronds to commemorate resurrection and rebirth.  But it was the Greeks and Romans who thought to decorate these branches, adorning them with bits of metal and religious icons.

Victorian Christmas Tree and NativityThe Germans were the ones responsible for bringing the whole tree inside the house, using fruit and candles as the main decorations.  There were many objections to the use of the Christmas Tree as part of the holiday celebration.  Many religious leaders and pious followers felt the symbol of the tree was far too pagan and unholy to use in Christian-based religions.  Despite these objections, Queen Victoria and her husband, German born Prince Albert, loved Christmas Trees.  They began to gain popularity, and by the late Victorian Era, they could be seen everywhere.  The Europeans preferred their trees to be three to four feet tall, whereas Americas liked theirs to reach floor to ceiling.

From a feng shui standpoint, there are many reasons why people are attracted to the beauty of The Christmas Tree.  For one, all five of the elements are represented.  Wood is represented by the tree itself.  Fire is symbolized by the glowing lights.  Metal and earth comprise most of the ornaments.  As for water, if one’s tree is living, then there is usually a water source at the base.  However, if the three is faux, then shades of blue can be symbolic of the water element.  Indeed, the use of color can work for all the elements here.   Another alluring aspect of the tree is the shape.  In feng shui, triangles are representative of fire, which humans are drawn to.  Most Christmas trees are triangle in shape.  The lights are also another fire aspect of the tree that beguile the beholder.  Not to mention the various kind of ornaments that adorn the branches – of which there is there is an endless variety.

Peacock Tree 08

Above are some photos of my Christmas Tree this year.  I went with a Victorian Peacock theme (I like peacocks).  One thing I use in decorating my Christmas Tree every year is fruit.   I have a collection of faux red apple ornaments (not pictured), as well as faux pears (which can be seen on the tree).  Faux fruit works far better than the real thing, as they tend to be heavy on the branches, and can become rotten, causing all kinds of issues.  Other examples of faux fruit I’ve seen have been glass strawberries, wax fruit and berries of all kinds, and red beads (these look like cranberries from a distance)  But if you want something edible on the tree, the fastest and easiest thing to add would be candy canes.  I do advise keeping them in their wrapping, however, to keep them fresh.  And then, there are some trees that are completely edible in of themselves.

Christmas Tree Crudite

Chef, author and spokesperson Jeanne Benedict created this amazing Christmas Tree Crudite  for LIVE with Regis and Kelly in 2009.  In addition to all of the colorful, edible vegetables, the base is made out of two cabbages.  The complete directions on how to make this stunning tree are located here:  http://www.jeannebenedict.com/recipes/christmas-tree-crudite/

Christmas Tree Rolls

Taste of Home has a tantalizing tree made from cinnamon buns.  I would play with colored frosting and tinted sugars to enhance the display.   Direction available here:  http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Christmas-Tree-Rolls

Christmas Tree Cake BC

Betty Crocker, than name we know and love, has several Christmas Tree inspired treats.  My favorite is the Christmas Tree Cake.  Although I would tint the batter green.  The complete recipe and cutting instructions are located here:  http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/christmas-tree-cake/6a22dadd-3b92-40b5-a5a9-df209ff3ef68

Lemon Basil Tree

Ms. Crocker also has a delicious looking Lemon Basil Tree I want to experiment with.  Although I’d add a couple of black olives and diced tomatoes for color.   Here’s the recipe:  http://www.bettycrocker.com/recipes/lemon-basil-tree/5fe297f9-df00-432e-8079-e7a8f1fc8a31

Cookie Jigsaw

Delish.com and Good Housekeeping have revived a mid-century favorite:  The Cookie Jigsaw.   Originally published in the December 1965 edition of Good Housekeeping, this nouveau take on the classic sugar cookie has each cookie as a puzzle piece for the celebratory Christmas Tree and a starry night sky.   I’d like to try this recipe for Easter as well, perhaps with the image of a giant Easter Egg.  The complete recipe is here:  http://www.delish.com/recipefinder/cookie-jigsaw-1658

As for the location of the Christmas Tree in the home, there are many options.  Each ideal location for the tree is different with each environment.  The main tree should be put in the living room or parlor, or a large room where the home’s loved ones and guests can congregate easily.   Unless you’re on a higher floor, avoid putting the tree directly in front of a window, as this can sometimes lure thieves to break into the home.  The best areas for the tree are the East, Southeast and South.  East is the area of each room that symbolizes family.  The associated element here is wood, and its associated color green, making it perfect for any plant, especially the Christmas Tree.  Southeast, being the area of prosperity and abundance, and south, being the area of fame, are also good options.  However, the southwest could also work, being the area symbolic of love, if your tree happens to be predominantly red, pink, or white.  As for choosing real or faux trees, they both have their advantages and disadvantages.  Real trees offer a stronger wood element to the environment, and give off a purely festive aroma of nature.  The water element is also present here to sustain the tree.  Faux options, however, last much longer than real trees, and some have bendable branches, creating a perfect display for ornaments.  I inherited my family’s old Christmas Tree years ago, which was originally bought back in 1992, and it still looks just as good as when it was first purchased.   I also advise that one keeps a close eye on their pets (and the occasional willful child).  Sometimes the branches and ornaments prove too much of a temptation to play with.

I realize that these recipes and tips are far too late in the season to be currently applied, but every morsel of information can be put towards next years Christmas celebration.  It was my goal to get this article finished weeks ago (and not on Christmas Day), but I got distracted by many a holiday party.  I would like to wish everyone reading this a Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and a Festive and Joyous New Year!

New Year's Cherub in Lily Pond

Cinnamon as an Aphrodisiac

Mentioned several times in the Bible, and in ancient Chinese writings, the fragrant spice known as cinnamon has been enchanting civilizations across the world.  Originally from Sri Lanka, cinnamon is derived from the inner bark of the cinnamon tree (part of the Evergreen family).  Cinnamon sticks, as we know them today, are pieces of the dried bark which naturally curls under heat.  These are then kept as sticks, or ground down into the powdery substance that most people use today.

The history of this well-traveled spice is quite colorful.  Those in ancient Egypt and Rome would use cinnamon for its sublime taste in various cuisines, and as incense.   It was also used for the embalming process during mummification, and taken medicinally.  The Romans would burn cinnamon as part of a funeral pyre, or in honor of the recently deceased.   During the Middle Ages, only the very elite could afford the spice, as most seasonings of that time where exorbitantly expensive.  Cinnamon was also valued for its preservative qualities when applied to meat, due to phenols which inhibit bacteria growth responsible for spoilage.  The fragrant aroma of cinnamon also helped to mask the stench of aged meat.

Cinnamon has many health benefits.  In addition to being a viable source of fiber, calcium, magnesium and iron, this natural substance can also lower cholesterol, aid in weight loss, and regulate blood sugar.  According to the U.S.  Department of Agriculture, use of cinnamon has been shown to suppress the growth of lymphoma and leukemia cancer cells.

From a feng shui perspective, cinnamon is very yin in essence, as are most spices.  Because it is more sweet than savory, its nature is even more yin than other seasonings.  As for the  elemental connection, it has  strong wood element, as it’s quite literally tree bark.  Its comforting brown hue is an example of the earth element.  I also feel that cinnamon has a bit of fire attached to it as well, as it conjures a natural warmth on the tastes buds.

Cinnamon has also been used throughout time as an aphrodisiac.  For both men and women, the use of cinnamon as part of one’s regular diet has been shown to naturally increase sex drive, due to its ability to  enhance blood circulation, gently heating up the body from the inside.  According to a study performed by the The Smell & Taste Research Foundation, located in Chicago, of the over two hundred scents tested on men, Cinnamon was the victor in causing and sustaining male arousal.   In feng shui terms, this makes complete sense.  Passion, romance, and sex are all controlled by the fire element.  The wood element feeds fire.  Cinnamon is wood, and therefore the use of this wooden spice assists in feeding the flames of passion.

There are many ways to add cinnamon to one’s way of living.  Below are the ones I personally use:

  • Sprinkle some on Hot Cocoa.
  • Sprinkle some on Vanilla Yogurt or Apple Sauce.
  • Add it to your Coffee!  Not only do I sprinkle it on top, but I mix a tablespoon of cinnamon in with the coffee grounds, when making a full pot.  It tastes sensational.
  • Cinnamon Toast.   I spread coconut oil over my toast, sprinkle cinnamon, and spread it all around.  Delicious and satisfying.
  • Aromatherapy.  Light cinnamon scented candles to heighten the romantic mood.  These are available from a variety of distributors, but the best time to buy this scent of candle is after the winter holidays; they’ll usually be on sale.
  • Mulled Wine and Sangria.   Whole cinnamon sticks are a great enhancement during autumn and winter.  Allow the stick to just lounge about the glass within the beverage; this adds a festive enticement to both beverages.  (This can work for other drinks as well)
  • Add to anything Pumpkin or Sweet Potato related.

And some other things I haven’t tried, but am going to:

  • Sprinkle some on Oatmeal.
  • Enchilada Sauce.  Add a teaspoon or two to canned (or fresh) enchilada sauce while it’s on the stove.  It adds a little mole flare to it.
  • Honey Tea.   One part cinnamon to two parts honey, combined in hot water, makes a delicious, healthy tea.  A tea bag could also be added  for further flavor.
  • Essential Oil.  Cinnamon scented oil is another way to influence a room’s chi and scent.
  • Cinnamon Buns.  Cinnamon buns are one of the best breakfast foods after a night of romantic bliss.  Those Cinnabon people are quite clever.
  • Sprinkle on top of Roasts, be it ham, pork, or lamb.
  • Lotion.  Various lotions and massage oils on the market today are cinnamon scented.  I need to purchase some.

Another way of using Cinnamon goes all the way back to biblical times – literally.   Proverb 7:17 is about a seductress luring a man to bed.  It indicates that the woman in question used cinnamon, myrrh, and aloe to “perfume” her chamber.   Aloe has a sweet, woody aroma, whereas myrrh has a very distinct, nutty scent.  Combining these two with enticing cinnamon, and you have an ideal olfactory recipe for creating a deeply sensual environment.  Try adding some more cinnamon to your world, and you may notice a very definite increase in passion…