My Moroccan Dinner Party

The Menu
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St. Stephen's Day Moroccan Dinner Party

Lá Fhéile Stiofán, or Day of the Wren, is an official public holiday in Ireland. The day is named after the first Christian martyr, Saint Stephen, and alludes to legends linking the life of Jesus to the wren. Now a discontinued tradition, groups of boys would travel from house to house carrying an effigy of or a caged wren, playing music, singing and dancing. They were called Wren boys or mummers. In more recent tradition in Ireland, everyone whose anyone would go to the horse races.
St. Stephen's Day is also a day to spend with family. This year I wanted to host a special dinner party and with family visiting from New Zealand who are world travelers and would be getting their desire for a proper Christmas feast satisfied elsewhere; I knew it would be an opportunity to plan something different.

Moroccan food is flavourful but the spices are delicate, gentle and pleasant, taking into consideration my spontaneity when using spices and herbs in a recipe. I like food to be flavourful and I tend to use the measured amounts of spices as guidelines only. There are other deviations from the original recipes, what I like to call doctoring a recipe. I have also included these additions. 

Vegetable Srtudel for the vegetarians
My family has vegetarians as well as dedicated carnivores, so I wanted to be able to satisfy both with my menu. Above all, I wanted a deluxe selection of dishes that are also fun and very healthy. I made all the baked pastries, cookies and bread ahead of time and froze them. Because the pastries were lightly baked before freezing, and thawed in the refrigerator, they were perfect after finishing in the oven to a golden crispness, before serving. I made vegetable strudel for the vegetarians. I made the preserved lemons, chermoula and the marinated olives weeks in advance. 

Moroccan food is prepared with thought and care. The table was set with the rich colours of Morocco and the lantern light created a relaxed and enchanted environment. Cocktails sparkled and strains of Moroccan music floated up through the laughter. Guests who arrived early were promptly employed as bartenders, DJ's, coat-checkers and lantern-lighters.

I like to have the cocktails and hors d'oeuvres ready when my guests arrive, buffet-style so that they can help themselves and settle somewhere comfortable to enjoy it. At this time, the main dishes are in the oven warming, with a second loaf of Kesra. The lentil tagine will be served at the table in a Tagine (note: the serving dish and the stew cooked in it are both called tagines).

Hamed Markad 
Preserved Lemons
8-12  lemons
coarse kosher salt
fresh-squeezed lemon juice
black peppercorns, bay leaves, optional
2-1 litre jars
Slice whole lemons length-wise in quarters, leaving them attached at one end. Fill the lemons with the salt and stuff into clean, sterilized jars. Add the juice of two lemons and fill the jar with cooled, boiled water. Store in a cool, dark place for 4-6 weeks before using. Shake daily for the first week to dissolve salt. Preserved lemons will keep for 6 months or more. Once the jar is opened, store in the refrigerator. Preserved lemons are used as a condiment on many dishes. The pulp is discarded and slivers of the peel are sprinkled onto salads and tagines.

This marinade is made with fresh chopped cilantro, flat-leafed parsley, minced garlic, ground cumin and coriander seeds, paprika, cayenne, rehydrated chopped chilies, preserved lemon slivers, olive oil and fresh lemon juice. I used chermoula to marinate the olives and the lamb. It also makes an excellent marinade for fish and seafood for which it is most commonly used in Morocco. 

Ras el Hanout
Moroccan Spice Blend
1/2 t. ground cloves     
1/2 t. ground cayenne
2 t. ground allspice        
2 t. ground cumin
2 t. ground ginger          
2 t. ground tumeric
2 t. ground black pepper
2 t. ground cardamom    
3t. ground cinnamon
3 t. ground coriander
2 nutmegs, freshly grated
(or 6 t. ground nutmeg)


Moroccan Cocktails
Sparkling Spanish Cava 
Sparkling pomegranate and cranberry juice 
Orange blossom water 
Pomegranate jewels
I mixed a large pitcher of equal parts Cava and juice with a generous amount of Cointreau and a splash of the orange flower water. All the glasses were filled and decorated and the pitcher replenished and everything was served on a large tray.
Orange flower or blossom water is made from a distillation of the flowers of the bitter Seville orange. It originated in the Middle East and was introduced to North Africa by Arab colonizers. It is used to flavour beverages, as well as sweet and savoury food.
I chose to serve Spanish wines because of the geographical proximity to North Africa whose wines are not available here. Good Spanish Cava is comparable to Champagne. I served Juan Gil Monastrell Petit Verdot, 2006 with dinner. This wine played its part well, never muscling in on the delicate and complex flavours of the food.  

Hors d'oeuvres

Zitoun Meslalla 
Moroccan Marinated Olives
black or green, or a combination of different olives
lemon juice
olive oil
1 litre jar, sterilized

Press the olives to break open and mix with the other ingredients in jars. Bring out of the refrigerator once a week and mix when they are at room temperature and then return to fridge. 


Briouat B'Kefta 
Filo (phyllo) Cigars
1 T. olive oil
350 gr ground lamb or beef
1 small purple onion, minced
1 T. ras el hanout
1 T. chermoula
1 egg
melted butter
4-6 sheets of phyllo pastry
1 T. sesame seeds
Makes 12 pastries 
Sauté the onions and meat with the spices and chermoula. Cool. Cut the phyllo sheets into 3, equal (5 x 12 inches) strips and cover with a kitchen towel to prevent drying. Place a strip on the work surface and brush with warm, melted butter. Place 1 T. of the filling and shape into a cigar, 1 cm. from the edges. Fold pastry over the filling at one end, fold in the sides and roll to the end of the strip. Place on baking sheet, seam side down. Repeat with the remaining ingredients. Brush the rolls with melted butter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. It is best to do this after the rolls are completed. Bake the briouats for 15-20 minutes or until lightly golden. Serve hot. 


Shlada Matisha Wal Hamed Markad 
Tomato and Preserved Lemon Salad
1 lb. fresh, ripe tomatoes
1 red onion, finely sliced
1 preserved lemon
3 T. olive oil
1 t. lemon juice
1/2 t. paprika
2 T. finely chopped cilantro and 1 T. flat-leafed parsley
Serves 4

Score the bottom of the whole tomatoes with an + and blanch in boiling water for 20 seconds, then plunge them into a bowl of cool water. Remove from the water and peel. Chop the tomatoes and add the other ingredients. Toss and serve. This salad had the most pleasing flavour with the juice of the tomatoes combining with the other ingredients to form a light and lively dressing.  

5 c. whole wheat flour, plus extra for kneading 
1/2 t. sea salt 
1 envelope active dry yeast
2/3 c. olive oil
2 c. hand hot water
coarse kosher salt
fennel seeds
Makes 2 loaves 
Follow the instructions on the package of yeast. Let yeast activate in an oven that has warmed at the lowest setting but is turned off. Make a hollow in the centre of the dry ingredients and add the yeast mixture, 3T. olive oil and the hot water. Mix with your hands until the dough comes together. Transfer dough to a floured surface and knead for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Put the dough in a clean, oiled bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 11/2 hours.

Punch down the dough and cut in half. Shape dough on floured surface into round or rectangular shapes, 9-10 inches in diametre. Put loaves into lightly oiled baking pans, cover with a damp tea towel and let rise for 30 minutes in draftless warmth. Make indents with your finger tips and pour over the remaining oil. Sprinkle generously with coarse salt and fennel seeds or rosemary (optional). Cover and let rise another 30 minutes. Spritz with water and bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees for 20-25 minutes. Let cool.  Serve or freeze immediately.

Tagines braising over coal-burning braziers


Warm Eggplant Salad
2 large eggplants (aubergines)
3 tomatoes
olive oil (I used the mediterranean oil)
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 purple onion, finely chopped
1 t. paprika
2 t. cumin
1/2 t. cayenne
2 1/2 T. lemon juice
1/4 c. President's Choice Tomato Pesto  
vegetable broth
Serves 8 
Using a vegetable peeler, remove 1/2 inch strips of skin, lengthwise from each eggplant. Cut into 1/2 inch pieces and sauté until brown with onions, garlic and spices. Peel the tomatoes after blanching and add to the eggplant with the lemon juice, broth and tomato pesto. Simmer 1 hour, low heat. Garnish with slivers of preserved lemon.

Couscous with nuts and dried fruit
2 c. couscous
1/2 c. dried apricots, finely chopped
1/2 c. pistachios, shelled and chopped
1/2 c. dried cranberries
4 c. vegetable broth 
olive oil
Serves 8 

Bring broth to a boil. Take off heat and add the couscous. Cover and let sit 15-20 minutes. Toss with fruit, oil and nuts. Semolina and wheat flour is sprinkled with salted water and rolled to form tiny pellets to make couscous.

Tagine 'Adess Bil Gar'a Hamra
Spiced Lentil and Pumpkin Tagine
2-540 ml cans of lentils (I prefer the No name brand)
1-796 ml can San Marzano tomatoes, broken up by hand
1 lb firm squash, cut into large chunks
olive oil (I used Pro Cuisine mediterranean grilling oil)
1 large purple onion, finely chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced 

1 jar Al'fêz Casablanca Tagine honey and almond sauce
1 t. cumin
1 t. tumeric
1/2 t. cayenne
1 T. paprika
1/4 c. tomato sauce
2 T. each chopped cilantro and flat-leafed parsley 
Serves 8
Sauté the onions, spices and garlic. Add all of the other ingredients except the lentils. Rinse and drain the lentils. Cover and simmer over low heat 1 hour. Add the lentils a half hour before the tagine has finished stewing. Serve in a Tagine.

Slow-Roasted Lamb with Cumin
5-6 lb  shoulder of lamb
2 1/2 oz butter
4 cloves garlic, minced
1-2 T. cumin
coarse kosher salt
cumin salt to serve
Serves 6

Marinate the lamb in chermoula for up to 2 days in advance. Take out of the refrigerator 2 hours before roasting. Brown the lamb on all sides in a pot, stove top. Mix garlic, butter, cumin and salt to form a paste. Score and rub the lamb with spicy paste. Bake in a preheated 315 degree oven for 3 1/2 hours, basting every 1/2 hour. Serve with a side dish of roasted cumin mixed with kosher salt.


Atay Bil Na'Na' 
Moroccan Mint Tea
1 bunch of fresh mint or spearmint 
2 teaspoons Chinese gunpowder green tea
sugar or honey to taste
serves 4-6 
During the Crimean War in 1854, embargoes prevented the British tea merchants selling to their usual customers and they looked elsewhere for new markets. One of these was Tangier, Morocco. Moroccans embraced tea drinking with enthusiasm and soon found that the pale greenish brew perfectly complemented their favoured mint infusion. Copious quantities of the very sweet mint tea is consumed throughout the day and keep Moroccans well hydrated in their hot, dry climate and help to lift flagging energies. Chinese gunpowder green tea is the preferred tea. Each leaf is rolled into a compact, round pellet. When the tea is brewed, the tea leaves open up like tiny flower petals, so there is no need to strain it. The mint in the pot does a good job of that anyway. The teapot (barrad) has a long spout which is ideal for pouring the tea from a height with accuracy to aerate it.
My guests knew instinctively to retire to the living room, in semi-prone positions, for tea and dessert which was served round from trays set on a low table. Spiced coffee is made by adding the spices to the brewing coffee in the Bodum (coffee press). I like to add ground cardamom, cinnamon and coriander with a delicate splash of flower water.

Fennel Cookies
1 c. butter 
1 1/2  c. demerara sugar
2 T. almond extract
2 T. lemon zest
1 1/2 T. fennel seeds
2 c. whole wheat flour
3 T. cornmeal 
2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
3/4 c. pistachios
Makes 3 dozen cookies 

Combine wet ingredients with the dry ingredients. Form into 1 inch balls and place on lightly oiled baking tray. Flatten slightly. Garnish with pistachios. Bake for 20 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.

Briouat B'Looz W'Assel 
Honey-dipped Almond Briouats
Almond filling 
2 c. ground almonds
2 oz butter
1/4 c. honey
1/4 t. almond extract
1 T. orange flower water

6 sheets phyllo pastry
melted butter
Honey Syrup
3/4 c. honey
1 T. orange flower water
Makes 18 pastries 
Lightly toast ground almonds, medium heat, 3-4 minutes. Mix in a bowl with butter, honey, extract and flower water. Cut pastry into 5 x 12 inch strips and cover with a tea towel. Place a strip of phyllo on the work surface, brush with melted butter and fold in half lengthwise. Heap a teaspoon of almond filling on the pastry and fold on the diagonal forming a triangle, continue to end of strip. Place seam side down on a lightly oiled baking tray. Repeat with remaining ingredients. Bake 20-25 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven until puffed and golden. Simmer honey with 1/4 c. water in a saucepan over medium heat. Add orange water. Dip hot pastries in the syrup for 20 seconds and remove to cool. Caution! As the pastries are added the honey syrup may boil up.

Cinnamon Oranges
4 oranges
orange flower water
Serves 4 

Combine the syrup ingredients in a saucepan and warm over low heat. Pour the syrup over sliced oranges and serve with Medjoul dates. 

A culinary journey from the souks of Marrakesh to the home kitchens of Rabat, and on to the tea houses and cafés of Casablanca and the extravagant feasts of Fes. Each recipe in this cookbook is photographed as it is made, and is accompanied by useful hints, tips and special features on many of the food ideas that encompass the Moroccan way of life. Beautiful photographs shot in Morocco capture landmarks and lifestyle and illustrate the variety of ingredients in this cuisine from market-fresh Mediterranean vegetables, fruit, nuts, cereals, pulses and seafood, to olives, spices, herbs, oil and condiments. An excellent and comprehensive book about Moroccan food.

For fast-acting relief, try slowing down
Moroccan food is one of the original slow foods. It is worth taking the time to slow down, to plan and prepare. This is a perfect way to make your family and friends feel loved. Attention to details like lighting, music, table setting and fresh flowers add another layer of hospitality that can elevate your occasion to the magical realm of a favorite memory. 

Being well-planned and organized is key to a successful event. I prepared everything in advance except the lamb which was still roasting while my guests arrived, warming the air with its fragrant and tantalizing aroma. Tagines are perfect for making ahead and stews always taste better the next day. The tomato and preserved lemon salad, filo cigars and the lamb were favorites, but everything turned out splendidly. 

On a whim, my son-in-law and his brother served the main course dishes from the buffet; it was a charming bonus and eased the whole process of getting the food to the table.

Basic Health Habit No.6: Positive Mental Attitude Part One

Happiness is an attitude:  
cultivate it

Imagine that you are a front-wheel drive vehicle. Your front wheels are your thoughts. The back wheels are your emotions. Your thoughts drive your emotions. What you think determines how you feel. The goal is to become an all-terrain four-wheel drive vehicle. 

Don't believe everything you think.

The good news is that just as you learned to drive a vehicle and earned a driver's license, you can also learn positive thinking and gain happier feelings. A positive mental attitude is a learned behaviour and happiness is a feeling that you can cultivate. Learning how to be a positive thinker will lead to greater happiness in your life no matter what the obstacle, or how rough and bumpy the road may get. Then you will be in the driver's seat of your thoughts and feelings.

Positive mental attitude is a basic health habit.

Positive Psychology or The Science of Happiness really gained momentum in 1998 fueled by the vision of American Psychological Association President Dr. Martin Seligman. 

For most of its history psychology had rarely left the dark realm of mental illness and all that ails the human mind: anxiety, depression, neurosis, paranoia, obsessions and delusion. 

Dr. Seligman had begun to explore the sunny land of the mentally hale and hearty in earlier work. He had discovered that optimism leads to improved physical health, less pain and a decreased risk of dementia, less depression and mental illness, an improved quality of and longer life, more happiness and success, and people who are optimistic are more altruistic than pessimistic people, are more curious, creative, energetic and engaged in life and have better relationships.

Seligman thought that mental health could be more than the absence of mental illness; he didn't just want to help patients go from negative five to neutral normal, he wanted to discover the enabling conditions that make human beings flourish from zero to plus five. To discover what actively made people feel fulfilled, engaged and authentically happy.

Seligman, along with a team of Psychologists from around the world and many different studies later, concluded that the failure to believe that our behaviour matters was the greatest obstacle to happiness. They discovered that once a person has their basic needs met that it is not circumstances such as wealth, education, youth, marriage or good weather that determines happiness. 

They concluded that happiness is 90% internal response and 10% external factors. They discovered that meaningful relationships with family and friends has the greatest affect on our happiness. However when it comes to religion it was not clear whether faith or community does the heavy lifting.

Optimism and Pessimism
Five Myths about Optimism

1. Negative thinking is more realistic.
2. People with a positive mental attitude expect good things to happen simply by thinking positively about them. 
3. Positive thinking doesn't change reality.
4. Positive thinkers have no clue about the real world. 
5. Positive people are always euphoric and idealistic.
Pessimists may have a more realistic view of life at times because they expect undesirable outcomes and optimists may at times have an unrealistic view of life because they don't assume the worst. 

Pessimists believe that there are temporary, specific reasons for good events and universal explanations for bad events, while optimists believe that the reasons for bad events are temporary and specific. 

When something bad happens, pessimists feel that it is permanent and pervasive and it affects other areas of their lives, leaving them feeling helpless, whereas optimists are less likely to let the event affect other aspects of their lives and have an easier time accepting failure. 

Pessimists tend to have fixed ideas and negative viewpoints that prevent them from thinking creatively and optimists have hopeful, flexible viewpoints, are more stalwart and will try new behaviours. 

Pessimists hold themselves back from achievement and optimists tend to create a happier, more successful life. 

Pessimists see stumbling blocks where optimists see stepping stones.

I tend to operate as a pragmatic optimist. I also imagine that I am a luxury vintage yacht, on the sea of life. I didn't start out that way when I began my young adult life. I was quite an unworthy seafaring vessel. I made grand, unforgivable and irreversible mistakes. I experienced so much pain that I literally thought that it might kill me. I tried to run away. I told myself impossibly bad things about myself. 

And then one day I had an epiphany. I realized that I could not leave myself even though that's who I was really running away from and I realized that I could choose how I felt and I got off the fixed loop of my negative self thoughts and ideas. I decided that since I had to live inside me I had better make it a place where I was happy to be. 

I took an unblinkered look at myself and my life. I noticed that the pain wasn't as scary when I had a direct look at it. I accepted that pain is a normal part of life and I became grateful that I could feel. I accepted responsibility for myself and my life. I got busy learning and growing. I gained perspective. I developed a sense of humour. I earned my courage. I wanted to own myself. And I realized that if I took firm control of my ship and rode out the rough bits with tenacity and steered myself right, that I would come to smooth seas and that one day I would even like myself. I constantly have to tune myself up and re-orient my bearings.  I know that life is not static and neither are we. 

We can always learn and grow and develop new skills. Welcome the challenges of life or you will never know what you are truly made of and not just who you are when the going is easy. I am sure that you will like the you that you will discover if you embrace all that life is. If you have the courage to do this, I promise you, you will be more than you thought possible. 

 Tips For Cultivating Happiness: 
Plant it, Feed it, and it Will Grow

  • Make room for positive in your thinking and behaviour.
  • Happiness is a direction not a place. - Sydney J. Harris
  • Take care of your health. Tune up your basic health habits: sleep, digestive health and nutrition, hydration, physical activity, sweating, positive mental attitude, sunlight, breathing, rest and relaxation, meditation, hygiene, life skills, and nature. Read more here
  • Increase your capacity for loving. 
  • Know yourself. Own yourself.
  • Be kind to yourself. 
  • Invest time and energy in family and friends.
  • Be full of wonder. Start a journal of wonder to record the mundane to the magnificent.
  • Savour life's little joys and moments of pleasure.
  • It is important to work on social skills.
  • Optimists know that their behaviour matters. 
  • Develop strategies for coping with stress and hardship.
  • Have perspective.
  • Be pragmatic. 
  • Worry and anxiety are always about the future, states Brad. What if I'm in the water with a shark? Janet wonders. The shark hasn't eaten you yet has it? Brad responds.
  • Practice acts of kindness, both random and systematic.
  • Thank a mentor - someone that helped you through difficult times; in detail and in person.
  • Develop personal strengths and virtues.
  • Grace makes beauty out of ugly things. - Bono 
  • Develop your sense of humour. Laugh a lot.
  • Allow yourself to day dream. All original thinking happens in the subconscious. This is where you will  find your most creative ideas and problem - solving abilities. (conscious thinking is always related to something that you have seen or heard)
  • Optimists know that life is hard and it can be unfair. They take courage, learn to cope and work hard to make great things happen.
  • Optimists make their own luck.
  • You have to be ready for luck. 
  • Develop your love of learning.
  • Learn something new.
  • Do the hardest thing first.
  • Ask: What would the wise woman/man do? 
  • Be considerate. 
  • Be empathic. 
  • Learn to forgive. It allows you to move forward.
  • Engage in life. Have a sense of purpose.
  • Optimists have a firm grasp of reality.
  • It took me some time to learn how to smell a problem and get the hell out of dodge. - Sean Penn (he's in dodge now; I hope he has an excellent support team)
  • Learn how to smell a problem. 
  • Build an excellent support team. 
  • If there is a problem, there most definitely is a solution. 
  • Accept responsibility.
  • Allow yourself to dream.
  • Dream big. 
  • Learn to love all of life and not just the good stuff.
  • Be generous. 
  • Optimists sometimes get discouraged and feel blue, but they learn how to cope; they develop great strategies. 
  • Recognize thought patterns. 
  • Stop self-sabotage.
  • Mistakes are O.K. 
  • No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. - Beckett
  • Learn to love people and not just humanity.
  • Optimistic people are not always optimistic. But it's not their fixed address. 
  • It is not smooth seas that make for a skillful sailor. - African Proverb
  • Regrets are inevitable. But you've got to move on.
  • Take time to be alive.
  • Life is about breathing. The rest is detail.
  • Breathe.
  • We learn walking by walking. So take it step by step; one step at a time. 
  • Be honest with yourself. 
  • If you want to change the world - start by changing yourself. - Ghandi
  • There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.
  • Be good to yourself. 
  • The goal is to be happy right here and now and not because of something. 
  • Have a massage. 
  • The best things happen when you're relaxed. 

Humour and Laughter: 
An Important Mind Game For Well Being
Our unique sense of humour relieves stress, keeps us fit and helps us to enjoy a long, happy life.

Scientists are beginning to take humour seriously. Margery Hutter Silver, a Neuropsychologist at The Harvard Medical School, studied longevity and found one common factor emerged in those who live past 100 - a sense of humour. Dr Hutter speculates that a sense of humour contributes to aging well because smiling and laughing provide the same benefits as exercise - she refers to laughing as internal jogging

Laughter raises blood pressure just long enough to increase oxygen and blood supply to tissues. It alters the breathing cycle so that more oxygen is inhaled and toxic carbon dioxide exhaled. Muscles throughout the body tense and relax during laughter in exactly the same way as with stress reduction techniques such as yoga.

Herbert Lefcourt and colleagues at Waterloo University in Ontario recently established that exposure to humour improves immune system functioning, producing significant rises in the body's natural defences, such as antibodies in the bloodstream.

Low antibody levels predict greater likelihood of future disease, yet what was particularily intriguing about Dr. Lefcourt's  study was that, given something to laugh at, those with a good sense of humour experienced the highest rises in antibody levels.

The ability of a good sense of humour to help cope with stress is now regarded as one of the most powerful defense mechanisms for dealing with problems over which you can do little.

Recent research has also established that electrical brainwave patterns of the right and left hemisphere tend to co-ordinate more when we experience humour. This is important because evidence shows that depression is accompanied by less co-ordination in brainwave patterns between the two sides. 

What is particularly fascinating about the latest discoveries is that they confirm some of the oldest ideas about humour.

Freud, who wrote one of the most unfunny books in the English Language, Jokes and Their Relation to the Unconscious, believed humour was a mechanism for anxiety release because a joke always has two halves. The first builds up psychic tension which is then broken by the ridiculous punchline. We are therefore allowed to release bottled up unease safely in a burst of laughter.

But the punchline has to resolve the tension it sets up successfully and surprisingly - in other words, all jokes are really problems that have a clever but unexpected answer.

Modern neurologists have found damage to the right brain - the emotional hemisphere - leads to acceptance of any incongruity as funny - sufferers laugh too much and often inappropriately.

Meanwhile, damage to the left brain - the logical analytical hemisphere - leads to an inability to understand the incongruity in a joke - producing too much seriousness.

This would suggest that humour is produced in the brain when the left hemisphere recognizes the incongruity in a joke while the right hemisphere - better at understanding the big picture rather than logical detail - resolves the anomaly. In other words the left cortex sets up the joke and the right gets it.

Dr. Peter Derks, a psychologist at William and Mary College in Virginia, has found that electrical brainwave patterns confirming the brain has picked up an incongruity are vital for us to find a joke funny. 

The latest brain scanning technology, functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), is able accurately to localize brain activity. Research using fMRI is revealing where the humour centre in the brain is. The frontal part of the right brain becomes most active when a punchline arrives. Previously the right frontal lobe has been considered the most silent of brain areas. Now it would appear that it is the most important. The right frontal lobe is unique in the brain as an area that serves as a connecting point between different parts that might otherwise remain isolated. For example, the frontal lobe is strongly connected with the deeper inner parts linked to the experience of emotions - called the limbic system - and the parts associated with emotional expression, the temporal and frontal lobes.

The part of the brain linked to problem solving is the frontal lobe itself. It was not until scientists began to study humour that the right frontal lobe's importance emerged. Humour requires a unique integration of problem solving, emotional appreciation and expressive functions, and it was here that it came into its own. Integrating emotion and cognition, as we must to laugh, can only occur because of the ability of the brain to produce consciousness.

Laughter Yoga

Dr. Madan Kataria started laughter yoga in 1995 in Mumbai to share laughter, promote health and joyful living. It involves laughing for no reason, does not use jokes or comedy or yoga poses. Laughter is used as a form of exercise combined with deep breathing plus stretching and meditation. Pretend laughter leads to real laughter (although both have the same benefits) due to eye contact and the contagious nature of laughter in a group. Their are 5000 clubs in 50 countries. 

Quote: Happiness is an attitude, cultivate it: Mildred Barthel
Humour and Laughter - by Raj Persaud

Enjoy Winter!


Basic Health Habit No.4: Physical Activity: The Best Happy Pill

Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well-preserved body but rather skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, loudly proclaiming: WOW, What a ride!

We are designed to move. The meaning of the saying survival of the fittest has changed throughout human history. In early human history we were physically fit in order to obtain food and to not become food. Now our lifestyles are more sedentary and we do not have the same motivation to move and stay fit. Our sedentary lifestyle is directly affecting our health and leading to chronic illness. Obesity, Adult onset Type II Diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke, depression and anxiety, high cholesterol and blood pressure and cancer are some of the direct results.  

Exercising makes you sore.
Unless your exercise is unusually demanding and injurious, it would be more accurate to identify that it is a neglect of basic health habits that creates pain in the soft tissues of the body.

It is not the use, but the care of muscles that is at issue. The best response is to increase your basic health habits, and to adjust your physical activity to include conditioning which increases circulation, muscle strengthening, and flexibility.

Your body is like a building in an earthquake zone. Buildings in earthquake zones are now designed to move. When the force from an earthquake moves through a building, it is more likely to cause damage wherever there is no movement. 

If our body has flexibility as well as strength, the daily physical demands of life are less likely to do us harm. Our muscles are our shock absorbers. We can effect and change muscle through physical conditioning to make ourselves, at any stage in our lives, more resilient. If our muscles are not flexible and healthy, we increase the risk of injury to tendons, ligaments and joints.

Proper hydration, rest, and nutrition, along with customized, and personalized calibrations of the other basic health habits build resilience and health.

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I realized as I aged that I had become less physically active (even though my work is active, flexibility and strength conditioning needed to maintain that level of physical demand was lacking), and this caused me some concern about my health. I remembered in my childhood when I was more active, I never used the word exercise. I remembered when movement was directly connected to feelings of fun and utter joy. I decided to make the simple change of how I talked to myself, removing the word exercise from my vocabulary and replacing it with physical activity. This small shift can make all the difference. It is time to re-connect with this fun and joy.

Unless you are training for the Olympics, your activity does not have to be an Olympian workout routine. In fact, medical and health care professionals are seeing an increase in the number of hip and knee replacements in younger people who are engaging in extreme forms of exercise with less focus on moderation and conditioning, with the support of basic health habits. 

Being physically active not only gives you pleasure and quality of life, flexibility and strength, it also rewards you with better sleep, healthier lifestyle choices, more energy, coordination and balance, agility, physical grace, endurance and stamina, power and speed, self confidence and improved health. 

There are gender differences in getting motivated to be physically active for men and women. The main motivation for women to be physically active is to lose weight and for men the motivator is muscle tone and size. 

When the focus is on weight loss or muscle bulk the motivation shifts from pleasure and health to goals which can disappoint. Weight loss can be slow to achieve and once achieved, the activity is often abandoned. When the focus is muscle tone and size some are willing to employ methods which can harm health and risk injury such as steroid use and extreme exercise routines.

 Individual Choice + Enjoyment 
= Sustainable Physical Activity

The Science of Motivation: The Stages of Change

Stage 1. Pre-Contemplation At this stage you have no plans or desire to be active or to exercise. You aren't even considering it. You are unaware of the health benefits of physical activity and feel that it is not worth it or you have tried in the past and given up. If you are a person who was not physically active as a child it will be more challenging. 
Just reading this information in Health Coach will prime you for action. This is the stage to collect information and to talk to family and friends about what they do and the benefits they have noticed for themselves and how they have overcome obstacles and stayed motivated. Real life inspiration. 
Then you can start to think about physical activity in more personal terms; imagining yourself getting started and examining your fears and hurdles. You are developing your interest and knowledge to compel yourself to take the next step.

Stage 2. Contemplation You are now thinking that you should probably exercise but you still need help to get started. At this stage you have a good understanding that exercise is important and good for you, but it is still a daunting task or you don't think that you can do it.  
This is the stage where you will start to realize that there are many choices and what appeals to you; that you can start small and that it can be fun and it doesn't have to hurt. It is time to starting making a simple plan and to identify your attitude, road blocks and ways to overcome them. 
Stage 3. Preparation You are now primed and motivated. You are ready to start on the plan that you have prepared with a good understanding of yourself. You are being realistic and you have formed a back-up plan in case it rains or you do not feel like exercising. You have made practical preparations like the proper gear and have joined a class or team.

Stage 4. Action You have started. This is when the biggest behavioural change happens. Physical activity is not yet a long-term habit. You need to stay inspired, committed and  maintaining momentum.  Remember: it gets easier once it's a habit!

Stage 5. Maintenance You have been physically active for 6 months at least and exercise has started to become a habit. You have made all the necessary adjustments in your life and schedule to accommodate your activity. You have found something you like to do that suits you and that you enjoy. At this stage you can fine tune your activity to prevent relapse by acknowledging that your routine is comfortable and works for you or by trying new activities to prevent boredom. Keep feeding your knowledge and connecting with other inspired and motivated individuals.

(The transtheoretical model of behavioral change, University of Rhode Island researcher James O. Prochaska)

It is normal for ALL people to cycle back and forth between the different stages. No matter who you are, no matter what you do, you absolutely, positively have the power to change.

 some motivation required

Motivation Tips
  • Think of physical activity as a menu rather than a diet. There are many different choices that are fun, rewarding and productive. Try something new and exciting.
  • Start small.
  • Go outside and play.
  • Identify whether you are a loner or a team player.
  • Join a team. 
  • You can have both activity and leisure.
  • Ditch the workout and join the party: try Zumba.
  • Walk the dog. If your dog is fat, you're not getting enough exercise.
  • Exercise videos.
  • Sign up for a class. 
  • Personal Trainer.
  • Cross Training.
  • Set a goal and record your progress. 
  • See yourself fit - make it a part of your identity.
  • Do some floor exercises while you are watching TV.
  • Exercise with a friend.
  • Can't afford a Gym membership? Try the Prison Routine: all you need is a 6 x 6 foot square bit of space and maybe a pull up bar. For more information check out Michael Paladin's excellent blog: Health and Fitness Solutions: Prison Workout
  • Develop an interest or hobby that requires physical activity.
  • The best way to get out of your head is to get physically active.
  • Don't forget about the rewards that being active will give you: increased oxygen and blood supply to tissues improves immune system functioning and decreases risk of disease.
  • Movement is a medicine for creating change in a person's physical, emotional and mental states. Carol Welch 
  • Check out: Winnipeg in motion for lots of guidance on activities in Winnipeg, walking trails etc. 
  • Advice for Runners/Athletes about stretching; the latest news in an on-going debate: After many studies, it has been determined that stretching before running does not prevent injury. Because of something called the inhibitory reflex of static stretching (a stretch which is held for 20 seconds or longer), stretching before running may increase the risk of injury. The best recommendation is to have a pre-warm-up followed by a gradual increase in dynamic stretching that aids the range of motion of joints. If you are a runner who is in the habit of stretching before running, stick with it. The best advice is to introduce any changes to your routine gradually.
  • Those who do not find time to exercise will have to find time for illness.  Earl of Derby 

Above all do not lose your desire to walk. Everyday I walk myself into a state of well being and walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. But by sitting still, and the more one sits still, the closer one comes to feeling ill...if one keeps on walking everything will be alright. Sören Kierkegaard 

 You are alive! Celebrate it. 

 Quote about life: Hunter S. Thompson
(HEALTH COACH does not advocate Hunter S. Thompson's lifestyle. The spirit of this quote is in keeping with Frank Zappa's Laws For Success: 1. Give it all you've got. 2. Keep going. 3. Don't stop.)

Next in the Series of Basic Health Habit: Positive Mental Attitude