Friday, February 12, 2010

Valentine's Day - Synesthesia 101

Feast of the Senses

Love is chemistry. People say that they know the minute they lay eyes on one another they knew it was time to go big or go home. Love at first sight is hard to miss; your heart beats faster, you feel it in your gut, your loins, speech is meaningless. At first, every day is Valentine's Day. Every breakfast, every cupcake, every date, every caress is seamless. Later, when the calendar falls on February, there is the chance to experience infatuation all over again. Sensory overload can be called upon to get all burners going. 

Many think that we form our attractions based on scent alone. Love can be a rose, love can be a cookie, love can be the whiff of another, and love can a be a night to remember in a rambling old Inn. And the quick, yet significant, fix of chocolate is the ultimate example of synesthesia with a full court press of sight, smell, taste and ... if limbic (see below) is a sense, then that one finally.

Chocolate, this weekend, will be celebrated at the Old Deerfield Inn in Old Deerfield and at the Inn at Norton Hill in Ashfield. The gems picture above from Heavenly Chocolate at Thorne's Market in Northampton sells a combination of chili pepper and cocoa concoction making it possible for the shyest person to bust a move.


Jerry McCarthy is a man who knows about the power of scent. It can be reason we pick our partners, although we might not realize it. "The sense of smell is near the limbic area, the sensual area of the brain," he says. "Our sense of smell causes us to impulsively do things. That is why they put perfume near the door in stores. Scent is a much more powerful influence on our behavior, much more powerful than our sense of touch or hearing." McCarthy runs Leyden House up in Leyden. An importer of shea butter, almond oil and things like distilled lavender oil, his expertise is in pairing his oils and creams with scent. Customers of Leyden House include spas and individuals interested in unique fragrances and massage oil. Jojoba, for example, is available. It is more expensive to other oils and is known for its "glide appeal."

Scents with specificity abound. For example, the makings of a truly sensual bath can be concocted with what McCarthy describes as aphrodisiac scents. That is a blend of clary sage, patchouli and Ylang Ylang which creates a floral aroma with an earthy undertone. McCarthy is in love with the combination of rose and almond oil. "Rose is an essential oil, it is spelled the same in German and French and English. Rose becomes, "Eros," the god of love. To bring your loved one to aquatic ecstasy, a tub of rose scented almond oil that is strewn with rose petals could put the limbic area of the brain into synesthetic overdrive. Products can be purchased at Joya and River Valley Market in Northampton or through the company website which is


Farm to Orchard to Table

At Tabellas Restaurant in Amherst, Farm to Table Dining protocol makes for one of the only restaurants in the area that serves local bubbly.  At dinner, if you happen to visit Tabellas in Amherst, a recommended pairing of hard cider is provided by a man with soulful eyes.
The effect of the elixir, West County Cider in this case, is quite profound and if love is in the air, that too becomes profound. Soulful eyes describes three dishes to pair with cider. First there is the house made chicken liver pate wrapped in bacon because the gamy of the meat is so well matched by the fizz of the cider.  He also recommends the signature lemon peppercorn chick pea fries for a lighter version combining heavy with light. Finally from the main courses, he recommends a pairing of hard cider with a grilled Pork Loin in a sauce of hard cider and bourbon graze. Besides the pedigreed food and romantic local bubbly, what is very cozy and intimate about the place is the interior. Dark wood, dark interior and a couple of corner booths provide an atmosphere where all sorts of sensory exploration can take place. Early or late reservations recommended for obvious reasons on Valentine's Day.

And the source of local libation is the tiny town of Colrain where the country's first orchards pressed apples into hard cider. Traditionally fermented cider was the only cider. It is growing in popularity here but has an established following and has for years in Europe. In Colrain, West County Cider is a 1400 tree orchard of French, American and English apple trees. The hard cider is made without additives or concentrate according to Judith Maloney,  who started with just a "clearing in the woods" in 1984. "The Redfield is best for love," she says of the six or so varieties they sell. "It has a slight spritz it is made from apples whose flesh is red when you cut into it." The red of the apple can be seen through the clear glass bottles it is sold in. This champagne alternative, an edgier champs, if you will, can be found at area restaurants and liquor stores. A chief appeal is that it hits at least four of the senses; sight, touch, taste, and fizz could be heard or felt as a tickle.


Henry Miller said that in Paris when it rains, there only two things to do; make love or play cards. If you decide to stay at a B and B up in the hilltowns, pray for rain. Literature provided in the rooms at The Inn at Norton Hill lists  two local attractions: The Ashfield Hardware Store and the Belding Memorial Library.
The staff is barely visible and the old mansion is newly restored with the original open hearth and rooms with wide floorboards and fireplaces.

Then there is the Yellow Room. With three three walls of windows and French Doors, it is strictly a colonial affair at night. With its four poster and hand made quilt a view of the Juliet Balcony morning explodes in light and color followed by breakfast in bed.

Across the street, groceries, meals, hard cider can be consumed ravenously before retreating back to Valentine exertions. More chocolates are are available for restorative purposes. They are Elmer's house brand and made by an outfit in New Hampshire called Unbridled Chocolate. They are all hand made with imported chocolate and come in rainbow flavors ranging from mint to espresso. Best is the butternut crunch because of the yin and yang effect of almost bittersweet dark chocolate and salty butter.