Saturday, 16 May 2009


“The leaves of memory seemed to make a mournful rustling in the dark.” - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

We were looking at some old photo albums today and while leafing through one of the ones that contained photos of a trip to Sicily taken about ten years ago I remembered a beautiful summer night in Palermo and a song that we heard while sitting on a terrace. It was night, with a full moon and gazing at the sparkling silver sea, this song wafted up from an open window. I looked it up on YouTube and here it is, evocative now as it was then. Nostalgic and reminiscent of a folk song, even then it bemoaned the times gone and never to return again. Now, it brings those memories to mind and is reminiscent of happy times that have gone by.

Sicilia Antica – Old Sicily
Marcella Bella

Born of sea and flowers,
Earth of love, you’ll never die.
Wheat-fields, burnt by the sun,
There, where I left my first love.

Old Sicily in my heart,
How many treasures in you!

People with dry faces, hard eyes,
But in their hearts much warmth.
These are my people, who sing easily
Whose work makes them happy.

Old Sicily in my heart,
How many treasures in you!

In sea and sun I was born,
Son of an earth that exists no more.
In my mind return a thousand alleys,
There, where I left my best memories.

Old Sicily, salt of the earth,
You’ll never return, like my first love!

Friday, 15 May 2009


“Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of feasts!” - James Beard

I must confess that I don’t eat much bread. At meal times, I’d rather have my food without bread, and at breakfast who needs bread or toast, if one can have cake? Besides which, I seldom eat sandwiches. However, there are occasions when I must have bread, especially if the bread is fresh out of the oven and home-made. The taste of freshly-baked bread lavishly spread with butter is wonderful! Strangely enough there is myth that making bread is difficult. It’s not actually if one understands the biology and the chemistry of it. The idea that it is time consuming is also a myth. Time spent in preparation is very quick, but of course, you have to leave the dough lying around for a long time so that it can rise.

Things that can go drastically wrong when you make bread are that you burn it (turn the oven down) or that it doesn’t rise. If it doesn’t rise, you may have used old yeast or you may have scalded it – remember it’s a living organism! Yeast lasts for quite a long time (around 6 months), and will last even longer if kept in the fridge or freezer. Incidentally, never buy yeast in those small foil sachets in the supermarkets. It is seriously over-packaged and very, very expensive. Buy your yeast in bulk from a fine establishment like health food store. Also, don't get confused and buy brewer’s yeast; you need granulated yeast. The water that you use to suspend the yeast in, should be around 35°C, but the best way of telling is by testing the water on your wrist. It should warm, but not at all hot, just like a baby’s milk bottle.

Always remember, the amount of flour is only a rough guide; flour absorbency varies greatly, and it is not difficult to tell when your dough is the right consistency, if you add the water carefully. Some bread recipes include sugar and honey, but these are not essential and can make the bread sickly sweet. If the water is the right temperature and you knead your bread well, you don’t need the “extras”. Salt is needed as it does add so much to taste (as does a little oil, I guess).

Here is a recipe for wheat germ bread, which is much more reliable than wholemeal bread:

Wheat Germ Bread

7 cups white unbleached flour
1 cup wheat germ
1 tablespoon dry (granulated) yeast
2.5 cups warm water
2 teaspoonfuls salt
2 tablespoonfuls olive oil

Mix the yeast with about 1/2 cup of the warm water. Leave for about 10 minutes, by which time the yeast should have begun to foam.

Put the flour, wheat-germ and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the centre, and pour in the yeast mixture. Stir and add the oil and the remaining water gradually, always stirring, until the dough forms a ball but doesn't become so sticky that it sticks to your fingers. There is no precise way of knowing when your dough will be ready except by experience... You really have to go on how the dough feels and looks. As you knead you can add more water or flour if it is needed. Thankfully, bread isn’t one of those things that require a perfect balance of ingredients. Furthermore, once you've made bread a few times you will learn to tell exactly when your dough is right.

Turn the dough out onto a floured board. Every so often sprinkle the board with more flour as you knead, or the dough will stick. Knead by pushing the heels of your hand into the dough, folding it back on itself, turning it around, and generally giving it a good work out. Kneading generally takes about 10 minutes but again the best way to tell is by experience and just by feeling it. It should be satiny, springy, elastic and smooth.

Put the dough in a bowl and cover with a clean, damp tea-towel. Leave somewhere warm to rise (under a blanket in winter). It will take between one and three hours to rise, depending on the ambient temperature. You can tell when it’s ready in two ways: Firstly, it should have doubled in bulk. Secondly, give it a little poke with your finger. If the indentation disappears let it rise some more. If it stays in the dough, it is ready to be shaped.

Now, take out your aggression by punching the dough down. Knead for about 3 minutes, and then shape the dough. The possibilities here are endless. Loaves, rolls, plaits, twists, knot rolls, cottage loaves, wherever your imagination takes you. Put your loaves or rolls or whatever onto a greased pan or bread tray, cover with a damp cloth, and leave to “prove” (i.e. rise again; this is quicker than the initial rising, and will take about 45 minutes).

Bake in a preheated oven at 190°C. Loaves should be left to cook for about 40 minutes, rolls need about 20 minutes. The bread is ready when it has a nice brown crust. Also, you can tip the loaf out of its pan, and tap its base. It should sound hollow. If it doesn’t, put it back in the tin and leave it bake for a little while longer.

Once you've mastered the basic principles of bread making the possibilities are infinite. You can just do about anything you like as long as you include yeast and balance the ingredients to get the same smooth, elastic dough.

Suggested additions include:
Herbs and spices: Whatever you like in whatever mixture.
Seeds: Sesame, linseed, sunflower, poppy.
Sprouted grains: Rice, wheat, lentils.
Vegetables, mashed: eg. potato and pumpkin; grated: eg. carrot, beetroot, parsnips, potato; or chopped: eg. onion or spinach.
Whole grains: Barley, rice, cracked wheat (these should be cooked first).
Different flours: Rye, buckwheat, rice, potato, soy, gluten, cornmeal. Bread can't be made from these flours alone (well, not using the basic recipe given above), rye can be used for about half of the flour, gluten should be used for more than a cup or two.
More exotic additions are grated parmesan, sun-dried tomatoes, sun-dried capsicum. Either added to the dough, or just sprinkled on top.

Now that I have said that I seldom eat bread, I should rephrase it. I seldom eat bread, but would love to have it more often as a full meal. Some bread and salad, or bread with cheese and some wine, or bread and butter…

Hmmm, let’s bake some bread and enjoy!

Thursday, 14 May 2009


“There's no money in poetry, but then there's no poetry in money, either.” - Robert Graves

The day today was extremely busy and I worked non-stop for almost twelve hours. There were several important meetings and important deadlines to meet in terms of reports, as well as several urgent phone calls that needed important decision to be made. The day ended with a budget meeting, which (as these types of meetings go) went way overtime…

Budgeting really bores me, especially since I seem to have a good money sense and seem to do well with financial matters in terms of good management. However, I can see the importance of budgeting, especially when large sums of money are involved and a large complex organisation with much revenue and expenses is involved.

At the moment we are digesting a particularly unpalatable federal budget, which was handed down from the treasurer this week. Given that times are tough globally and we are living through a global recession that is of the first magnitude, nobody expected this federal budget to be beer and skittles. However, it contains some highly controversial items that renege on pre-election promises made by the government; the highly unpopular measure of increasing the pensionable age up to 67 years; cutbacks on rebates for private health insurance cover; a victimisation of single people in terms of unequal treatment in terms of deductions, etc; voluntary superannuation payment tax benefits decreased; cutting back on skilled migration programs; a deficit of over $50 billion!

The opposition of course are opposing this budget and some independent senators have threatened to vote against it in the upper house. This (and several other pending bills that the senate could refuse) will give the government cause for a double dissolution and an early federal election… Just what we needed!

In any case, the word for Thursday is quite apt then:

budget |ˈbəjit| noun
1) an estimate of income and expenditure for a set period of time: Keep within the household budget. | [as adj. ] A budget deficit.
• an annual or other regular estimate of national revenue and expenditure put forward by the government, often including details of changes in taxation.
• the amount of money needed or available for a purpose: They have a limited budget.
2) archaic a quantity of material, typically that which is written or printed.
(budgeted, budgeting |ˈbədʒədɪŋ|) [ intrans. ]
allow or provide for in a budget: The university is budgeting for a deficit | [as adj. ] (budgeted) A budgeted figure of $31,000 | [as n. ] ( budgeting) Corporate planning and budgeting.
• [ trans. ] provide (a sum of money) for a particular purpose from a budget: The council proposes to budget $100,000 to provide grants.
adjective [ attrib. ]
inexpensive: A budget guitar.
on a budget with a restricted amount of money: We're travelling on a budget.
budgetary |-ˌterē| |ˈbədʒəˈtɛri| adjective

ORIGIN late Middle English: from Old French bougette, diminutive of bouge ‘leather bag,’ from Latin bulga ‘leather bag, knapsack,’ of Gaulish origin. Compare with bulge. The word originally meant a pouch or wallet, and later its contents. In the mid 18th century, the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the UK, in presenting his annual statement, was said “to open the budget.” In the late 19th century the use of the term was extended from governmental to private or commercial finances.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009


“There are very few monsters who warrant the fear we have of them.” – André Gide

I had a nightmare last night peopled by strange undersea creatures and awful dark brooding monsters that threatened by their lurking non-presence. The sea with all its mysteries and unknown vastness, its unimaginable depths is a frightening thing. No wonder our ancestors peopled it with sirens and tritons, Nereids and giant creatures, the Kraken and the Selkie, all ready to drown and tear apart all those who invaded their domain…


Wild cries of sirens echo
Tearing the reigning silence
That until now lay serene
In deep red coral caverns.
Seaweed and sponges part, green sunrays disappear
As Nereids swim to escape from the frightening din.
Seahorses gallop away,
Tritons blowing warning horns, swim, hide
In blue darknesses of ocean woods.

And there, bare-breasted they appear,
Awfully shrieking frightening yelps,
With hair loose and nails sharpened:
The sirens pass by and pearly palaces
Are laid waste, their great halls empty.
But in a moment, silence returns;
A pregnant pause, a short hiatus,
An unbearable wait ensues.

A siren-song exotic resonates
A heavenly harmony is heard,
Ecstatic voices sing mellifluously
A melody devastating in its beauty.
Seductive songs ring out, airs magnetic
Attracting hapless mortals to the deep.

The luckless sailor dives in liquid satin
The sirens stop their witching song.
Their scalpel claws tear flesh,
Their leech lips suck spilling lifeblood.
The body twitches in drowned exsanguination
His face becomes so deathly pale,
His eyes dull, and with fleeting last gaze
Pursue his soul that rises up
As both chase the echoes of the deathly song.

Monday, 11 May 2009


“Fun I love, but too much fun is of all things the most loathsome. Mirth is better than fun, and happiness is better than mirth.” - Thomas Carlyle

I was in Sydney today just for the day for work. Getting up early in the morning has never fazed me and I have never used an alarm clock – I just set my own internal clock and usually wake within 5-10 minutes of the time I “set”. However, in winter it is rather hard to get up at 4:30 am when the house is cold and dark and then have to prepare oneself for a 6:00 am flight. The mystique of travel rapidly wears off, when one travels so often on such short trips for work…

Sydney is a lovely place to visit, but I don’t think I would like to live there (although one never knows, I am quite adaptable). Even today with the busy schedule I had to deal with, there was time in between catching the train to look out on the Harbour and see the Bridge and the Opera house from Circular Quay, the lovely parks and gardens (the Sydney Botanical Gardens are lovely), the city heritage buildings. The weather of course helped – a beautiful warmish autumn day with sunny skies and fine, still air.

Nonetheless, I was not being a tourist, but rather going about the work commitments, which thankfully all went well. A bonus was that I could catch an afternoon flight back home, rather an evening one!

One of the Sydney icons is the Luna Park, situated in Milsons Point, a very prominent Harbour site across Circular Quay and almost under the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The origins of Luna Park go back to Coney Island, U.S.A., part of metropolitan New York, where in the late 1800’s a number of competing amusement parks sprang up. Elmer Dundy and Frederick Thompson developed an amusement called “A Trip to the Moon”, which was extremely successful. In 1903 they opened their own amusement park on Coney Island and called it Luna Park in acknowledgement of their successful ride.

Soon Luna Parks spread throughout the world. American showmen, brothers Herman, Leon and Harold Phillips with J.D. Williams, opened Australia’s first Luna Park at St. Kilda in 1912. Showman David Atkins noticed its enormous success and convinced the Phillips to open a Luna Park in Glenelg, Adelaide in 1930. Ted Hopkins an electrical engineer joined the Park just prior to its opening to complete the electrical and mechanical installation. Despite several successful seasons, the Glenelg park was forced to close because of friction with the local residents and a local council that resisted any changes or expansion of the Park.

Herman Phillips and David Atkins commenced a search for a suitable place to relocate the South Australian Luna Park and found the vacant Harbour Bridge factory site at Milsons Point. Under the guidance of Ted Hopkins, Luna Park Glenelg was dismantled, packed up, transported by ship and unloaded onto the Dorman Long wharf and reassembled in Sydney. When the doors opened at 8.00pm on the 4th of October, 1935 it cost 6d to enter (3d for children) and 6d for most rides. The Big Dipper and Coney Island cost 9d. The Park was an instant success. After the first year, the admission charge was removed and Luna Park proudly advertised “Admission Free”.

Since then, the Luna Park has opened and closed numerous times, has had to weather fires and other tragedies, has narrowly escaped redevelopment several times. After many trials and tribulations, including dismantling of the famous face, selling off of many rides and periods of closure that threatened to obliterate its tradition, government and private enterprise collaborated and finally, the Park re-opened on the 4th of April 2004, complete with face lift and multi-million dollar renovations. It has operated non-stop since then.


“Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen turned into bouillon cubes.” - John Le Carré

We watched a rather puzzling film at the weekend, one which perhaps had the best intentions, but through expediency, factors relating to its direction, marketing considerations, and the pandering to modern tastes and expectations, fell rather widely off the mark. The film was Patricia Rozema’s, 1999 “Mansfield Park” an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, which also happened to be the author’s favourite. The film was a BBC production, which sets a certain level of expectations in the viewers, as English costume dramas are so very well done in terms of costumes, sets, acting and general “feel” of authenticity when one watches them.

The plot concerns itself with Fanny Price, a poor relation and daughter of a woman who has married “for love” rather than money, who at age 10 goes to live at Mansfield Park, the estate of her aunt's husband, Sir Thomas. Fanny is clever and imaginative, a writer with an ironic sense and fine moral compass (Jane Austen being autobiographical to a certain extent). At Mansfield Park she comes especially close to Edmund, Sir Thomas's younger son. As Fanny grows up, she becomes beautiful as well as intelligent and charming. She comes to the attention of a neighbour, the well-off Henry Crawford. Sir Thomas supports this match, but to his displeasure, Fanny asks Henry to prove himself worthy. Edmund becomes attached to Henry’s sister, much to Fanny’s chagrin. Tom, Sir Thomas’ eldest son exposes Sir Thomas's fortunes as having originated in New World slavery. Fanny finds herself in an embarrassing situation where her position at Mansfield Park becomes untenable...

This is the bare bones of the plot to which Ms Rozema has confined herself. Sure enough to condense a novel of the breadth and subtlety of Austen’s work is difficult to do in two hours of film, so many essential characters and plot twists have been removed, that the husk remaining is rather oversimplified and caricature-like. This contributes to some of the puzzling aspects of the film and the inexplicable motivation of some of the characters. By reducing to the bare boens of the plot, leaving many characters and stressing the wrong parts (or even adding some parts that were not in the novel), the film becomes a poor adaptation.

The actors did a good job nevertheless, especially considering the limitations of the script (And incidentally Ms Rozema is responsible for the script as well as the direction). Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price is rather too feisty and more reminiscent of other Austen heroines. Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund does a relatively good job, Harold Pinter as Sir Thomas is good, but my money goes to Lindsay Duncan in the double role of Fanny’s mother and her sister, Lady Bertram, Sir Thomas’s wife. Hugh Bonneville as Rushworth as the cuckolded husband is good and the Crawford siblings played by Embeth Davidtz and Alessandro Nivola make a good pair.

The film satisfies the casual viewer because the “authentic feel” is still there, and if this casual viewer has not read the novel, he or she would be infinitely less demanding and more easily pleased with Rozema’s film. However, having read the novel (and enjoyed it, as it is a biting satire of social mores and a subtle commentary on the social structure of Austen’s time), the film lacks depth and is quite inconsistent, emphasising all the wrong things and giving a rather garbled and mangled account of the novel. Maybe if Ms Rozema had changed the title and the characters’ names, it would have been a passable “period drama”, even though it is too modern in its characterisation for that. If you decide to see it and have read the novel don’t set your expectations too high, but you still may get annoyed. If you haven’t read the novel, don’t set your expectations too high and you may enjoy it.

Sunday, 10 May 2009


“Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children.” - William Makepeace Thackeray

For Art Sunday today, here is Mary Cassatt’s “The Child’s Caress” (ca 1890. Oil on canvas. Honolulu Academy of Arts, Honolulu).

Mother’s Day is centuries old and the earliest Mother’s Day celebrations can be traced back to the spring celebrations of ancient Greece in honour of Rhea, the Mother of the Gods. The early Christians in England celebrated a day to honour Mary, the mother of Christ. By a religious order the holiday was later expanded in its scope to include all mothers, and named as the “Mothering Sunday”. Celebrated on the 4th Sunday of Lent (the 40 day period leading up to Easter), Mothering Sunday honoured the mothers of England.

During this time many of the England’s poor worked as servants for the wealthy. As most jobs were located far from their homes, the servants would live at the houses of their employers. On Mothering Sunday, the servants would have the day off and were encouraged to return home and spend the day with their mothers. A special cake, called the mothering cake, was often brought along to provide a festive touch.

As Christianity spread throughout Europe the celebration changed to honour the “Mother Church” - the spiritual power that gave them life and protected them from harm. Over time the church festival blended with the Mothering Sunday celebration. People began honouring their mothers as well as the church. With the passage of time, the practice of this tradition ceased slowly. The English colonists settled in America discontinued the tradition of Mothering Sunday because of lack of time.

In the United States, Mother’s Day was loosely inspired by the British day and was first suggested after the American Civil War by social activist Julia Ward Howe. Howe (who wrote the words to the Battle hymn of the Republic) was horrified by the carnage of the Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War and so, in 1870, she tried to issue a manifesto for peace at international peace conferences in London and Paris (it was much like the later Mother’s Day Peace Proclamation). In 1872, she went to London to promote an international Woman's Peace Congress. She began promoting the idea of a "Mother's Day for Peace" to be celebrated on June 2, honoring peace, motherhood and womanhood. It was due to her efforts that in 1873, women in 18 cities in America held a Mother's Day for Pace gathering. Howe rigorously championed the cause of official celebration of Mothers Day and declaration of official holiday on the day. She held meetings every year at Boston on Mother's Peace Day and took care that the day was well-observed. The celebrations died out when she turned her efforts to working for peace and women's rights in other ways.

It should be remembered that Howe's idea was influenced by Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis, a young Appalachian homemaker who, starting in 1858, had attempted to improve sanitation through what she called “Mothers Friendship Day”. In the 1900's, at a time when most women devoted their time solely on their family and homes, Jarvis was working to assist in the healing of the nation after the Civil War. She organized women throughout the Civil War to work for better sanitary conditions for both sides and in 1868 she began work to reconcile Union and Confederate neighbors. Ann was instrumental in saving thousands of lives by teaching women in her Mothers Friendship Clubs the basics of nursing and sanitation which she had learned from her famous physician brother James Reeves, M.D.

In most countries, Mother’s Day is a recent tradition derived from the holiday as it has evolved in North America and Europe. Many African countries adopted the idea of one Mother's Day from the British observance, although there are many festivals and events celebrating mothers within the many diverse cultures on the African continent that long pre-date colonization.

Happy Mother’s Day!