Saturday 14 January 2012


“You are invited to the festival of this world and your life is blessed” - Rabindranath Tagore
Today is Pongal (also Makara Sankranthi), which is the only Hindu festival that follows a solar calendar as opposed to the usual lunar one. Pongal is a predominantly rural festival that has astronomical significance, marking the beginning of Uttarayana, the Sun’s movement northward for a six-month period. In Hinduism, Uttarayana is considered auspicious, as opposed to Dakshinaayana, or the southern movement of the sun. All important events are scheduled during this period.

Makara Sankranthi refers to the event of the Sun entering the zodiac sign of Makara or Capricorn.  In Hindu temples bells, drums, clarinets and conch shells herald the joyous occasion of Pongal. To symbolize a bountiful harvest, rice is cooked in new pots until they boil over. Some of the rituals performed in the temple include the preparation of rice, the chanting of prayers and the offering of vegetables, sugar cane and spices to the gods. Devotees then consume the offerings to exonerate themselves of past sins.

Pongal signals the end of the traditional farming season, giving farmers a break from their monotonous routine. Farmers also perform puja to some crops, signaling the end of the traditional farming season. It also sets the pace for a series of festivals to follow in a calendar year. In fact, four festivals are celebrated in Tamil Nadu for four consecutive days in that week. “Bogi” is celebrated on January 13, “Pongal” on Jan 14, “Maattuppongal” on Jan 15, and “Thiruvalluvar Day” on Jan 16.

Thursday 12 January 2012


“Remember, Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but she did it backwards and in high heels.” - Faith Whittlesey
Ginger is the rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale, which consumed as a culinary delicacy, used as medicine, or functions as a spice. It is the type plat of the ginger family Zingiberaceae. Other related plants in this family are turmeric, cardamom, and galangal. Ginger cultivation began in South Asia and has since spread to East Africa, Caribbean and Australia. It is sometimes called ginger root to distinguish it from other things that share the name ginger.

Ginger is a perennial plant with white and yellowish-greenish flowers, as well as its thick and long twisting rhizoid (underground stem). It is this rhizoid that is the most useful part of the plant as it has a concentrated, spicy aroma, which can be attributed to the fact that it is composed of up to 3% natural essential oils. The rhizoid is widely available for eating and for the use of flavouring foods. It is also ground up and processed into all sorts of powders, tinctures, crystals, tonics and flavourings. Crystallised ginger either sugar coated or dark chocolate encased is a firm favourite amongst confectioneries.

As well as its culinary uses, ginger has long been used in traditional medicine in the countries of origin. Modern medicine is now finding scientific evidence confirming many of the health benefits of ginger (see: Some of these are listed below:

• Ginger has carminative, antispasmodic properties and can be used to calm an upset stomach, providing relief for the feeling of bloating and expulsion of gas in the gastrointestinal tract.
• Eating ginger helps stimulate the mucus secretion, relieving coughs and soothing any throat irritation.
• Due to its promotion of mucus secretion, ginger protects against the development of ulcers, in the lining of the stomach.
• Multiple studies have shown the efficacy of ginger in relieving feelings of nausea, as seen in seasickness, morning sickness, motion sickness and as a side effect of chemotherapy.
• Ginger has antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties, and can be a useful adjunct in the treatment of all sorts of infections.
• The rhizome contains components that have antihistaminic properties, hence ginger can be used effectively in the treatment of allergies.
• Ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used adjunctively in rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, and various musculoskeletal disorders. The chemical components of the root are instrumental in inhibiting the biosynthesis of prostaglandins, which are responsible for causing inflammation. Thus the root has proven to be a highly effective form of treatment, in some cases, even more so than the NSAID's that are traditionally prescribed.
• Ginger contains special enzymes responsible for breaking down proteins in food, thus aiding digestion and preventing gastrointestinal cramps. The ancient Greeks used to eat ginger after a large meal in order to ease the digestive process.
• Ginger is often used to settle an upset stomach or treat stomach ailments such as dyspepsia or colic. It is frequently used today in developing countries to treat diarrhoea.
• Ginger has proven to help lower cholesterol levels in the blood and prevents the formation of blood clots.

Ginger is on the FDA's “generally recognised as safe” list, although it does interact with some medications, for example warfarin. Ginger is contraindicated in people suffering from gallstones, as it promotes the production of bile. An acute overdose of ginger is usually in excess of about 2 grams of ginger per kilogram of body mass, dependent on level of ginger tolerance, and can result in a state of central nervous system over-stimulation called ginger intoxication or colloquially the “ginger jitters”.

Allergic reactions to ginger generally result in a rash, and although generally recognised as safe, ginger can cause heartburn, bloating, gas, belching and nausea, particularly if taken in powdered form. Unchewed fresh ginger may result in intestinal blockage, and individuals who have had ulcers, inflammatory bowel disease or blocked intestines may react badly to large quantities of fresh ginger. There are also suggestions that ginger may affect blood pressure, clotting, and heart rhythms.

Besides all of these health benefits, ginger tastes terrific as well and its zing and zest can liven up not only Asian foods, but it also has proven itself invaluable in the Western kitchen! Its use in Christmas cooking has a tradition of centuries and where would we be without ginger beer, dry ginger ale and gingerbread?

Ginger, Date and Banana Cake
125g butter, chopped
1 cup (150g) pitted dates, roughly chopped
3/4 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp ground mace
1/4 tsp ground cloves
125g (3/4 cup) crystallised ginger, chopped
1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 very ripe banana, mashed well
2 cups self-raising flour

Preheat oven to 180°C. Grease and line base and sides of a 7cm deep, 18cm (base) square cake pan.
Place butter, dates, sugar, ginger, 1 cup water and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
Bring to the boil. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes.
Remove from heat. Stir in bicarbonate of soda and allow mixture to foam.
Transfer mixture to a bowl. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes to cool slightly.
Add spices, beaten egg and mashed banana to date mixture and mix well. Sift flour over mixture and stir gently to combine. Spoon into pan.
Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Stand in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Cut into squares and serve garnished with double cream (optional).

Wednesday 11 January 2012


“The more we come out and do good to others, the more our hearts will be purified, and God will be in them.” - Swami Vivekananda

Lemon blossom, Citrus limonia, is this day’s birthday flower. The blossom is symbolic of love’s constancy and is commonly included in bridal bouquets in Mediterranean countries. In the language of flowers, the lemon blossom conveys the sentiment: “Fidelity in love”. Lemon blossom is grown extensively in the Mediterranean countries for perfumery uses.

Some famous birthdays celebrated today:

Jean Baptiste van Helmont, chemist and scientist (1580);
Charles Perrault, French fairy tale writer (1628);
Edmund Burke, Irish politician (1729);
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, Swiss teacher and reformer (1746);
John Singer Sargent, artist (1856);
Swami Vivekananda, philosopher (1863);
Jack (John Griffith) London, writer (1876);
Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari, composer (1876);
Hermann Wilhelm Göring, Gestapo founder (1893);
Paul Hermann Müller, Nobel laureate (1948) chemist (1899);
Louise Rainer, actress (1910);
P.W. Botha, South African prime minister (1916);
Anthony Andrews, actor (1948);
Des O’Connor, comedian and singer (1932);
Long John Baldry, singer (1941);
Joe Frazier, pugilist (1947);
Howard Stern, radio personality (1954);
Kirstie Alley, actress (1955).

In India, it is National Youth Day today, which coincides with the birthday of Swami Vivekananda. In 1984, the Government of India declared and decided to observe the birthday of Swami Vivekananda as a National Youth Day every year from 1985 onwards. To quote from the Government of India's communication: “It was felt that the philosophy of Swamiji and the ideals for which he lived and worked could be a great source of inspiration for the Indian Youth.”

Youth Day in India is observed at schools and colleges, with processions, speeches, recitations, music, youth conventions, seminars, Yogasanas, presentations, competitions in essay-writing, recitations and sports on 12th January every year. Swami Vivekananda's lectures and writings, deriving their inspiration from Indian spiritual tradition and the broad outlook of his Master Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa, are the source of inspiration and have motivated numerous youth organisations, study circles and service projects involving youths.

Today Zanzibar Revolution Day is celebrated throughout Tanzania, and it has been designated a public holiday in Tanzania. This holiday celebrates the local African revolutionaries overthrowing the Sultan of Zanzibar and the predominately Arab government ending the two centuries of Arab rule on the island. If you want to experience the celebration of this Tanzania holiday it is best to visit Zanzibar to see the parade and festivities there!

Ermanno Wolf-Ferrari (1876-1948) was born in Venice, son of a German father and an Italian mother. He studied in Munich and taught music for many years in Venice. He won his reputation as writer of comic operas. His best known works are Il Segreto di Susanna (1909) and I Gioelli della Madonna (1911). He wrote 10 other operas, two oratorios and some chamber music.

Here is the lovely intermezzo from the opera I Gioelli della Madonna (Jewels of the Madonna - 1911)

Tuesday 10 January 2012


“Gratitude is the sign of noble souls” – Aesop
January 11th is International Thank You Day. It is the day when we should all make special efforts to thank those that deserve our gratitude. While most of us mechanically and subconsciously mouth the words “thank you” more or less regularly in our everyday interactions, the purpose of today is to get us to think actively and deliberately about the act of giving heartfelt thanks to those around us that especially deserve our appreciation.

Ingratitude is one of the basest qualities of a human being. If you show kindness to someone and help them, non-appreciation of this aid and benevolence rankles. Some ungrateful people add injury to insult by not only not appreciating kindness, but repaying it with malevolence, spite and offence. A wise person appreciates the good things that occur in their life, recognise their benefactors and are grateful to them. We should actively express our appreciation and gratitude by some return of kindness, not only to the people who have helped us, but to everyone around us. Having such an attitude certainly makes the world a better place.

Looking around us, our family should be the first recipient of our thanks. We often take for granted all the things that those closest to us do for us every day. Stopping and thinking about it and saying “thanks”, giving a hug and doing something unexpected for them drives home the point that we love them and appreciate them. You get appreciation by giving it. When you are kind and grateful to others, they are kind and grateful back. By saying thank you we acknowledge how much we value all those things that we are given as a token of love towards us and we reaffirm our love back.

Our friends are those that deserve our gratitude next, as it they whom we have chosen to bring close to us, and it they who have chosen us to be close to them. We accept their friendship, their esteem, their rapport and support, their sympathy and affection in our every interaction with them, why not acknowledge it by thanking them consciously and intentionally?

Our colleagues, our acquaintances our associates are also deserving of our thanks today. It is they perhaps who are the recipients of the most mechanical and casual of thanks under normal circumstances. Simple politesse can erode the true meaning of a word of appreciation. “Thanks” can be uttered as a verbal reflex or muttered under one’s breath; it can mark annoyance, and how often is it said ironically or even sarcastically? Considering our interactions with those people that are most peripheral to us can alert us to the little things that they do to make our life easier, better, more pleasant. For this we should thank them.

And perhaps even more so today, we should spend a little time to be grateful to a kindness that may be shown to us by a complete stranger. Rather than rush by, stop, look at the person and thank them heartily. Wish them a good day, and show them appreciation for their little kindness. We humans are social animals and most of us are basically good. We can make the world a better place by exteriorising as much as possible that goodness within us.

And lastly, you, reader of this blog I thank for reading it and allowing me to share my thoughts with you!

Monday 9 January 2012


“King: ...Pairs of male elephants to be released into the forests of America. There it is hoped that they will grow in number and the people can tame them and use them as beasts of burden.  Anna: But your majesty, I don’t think you mean pairs of MALE elephants.” – From “The King and I”

Another Lee Friedlander image for Magpie Tales this week to stimulate the flow of creative juices of the group. This image was definitely Nostalgia with a capital “N” for me, and the black and white of the original image was sadly inadequate for the technicolour memories of the oriental extravaganza that was bigger than life in “The King and I”. Hence, with apologies to Mr Friedlander, my colourisation of this image.

Show Poster

Dreary existence
A grey life, big city blues;
The show brings rainbows.

My life’s routine drags
Lacklustre reality…
Look up, and escape.

The songs the dances,
Show has all, larger than life.
Tomorrow, all grey.

Sunday 8 January 2012


“And what's romance? Usually, a nice little tale where you have everything as you like it, where rain never wets your jacket and gnats never bite your nose, and it's always daisy-time.” - D.H. Lawrence
Last weekend we watched a good little film that will appeal to all costume drama fans, and perhaps to those enamoured of the literature of Jane Austen. The film is a typical English production filmed in locations that are genuine and whose costumes, props, feel and look have been carefully curated so that the illusion of the period has been quite faithfully reproduced. Sure enough the film is very lightweight but quite a lot of Austen’s wit and social criticism still manages to come across and overall the whole is enjoyable and vivacious.

The film is a 2007 TV production of the Jane Austen novel “Northanger Abbey” directed by Jon Jones, starring Felicity Jones, JJ Feild, Carey Mulligan, Catherine Walker and Liam Cunningham. Andrew Davies wrote the screenplay based on Austen’s novel, and as is the case with most of these adaptations from novel to screen, (by necessity), quite a lot has been lost. However, this talented screenwriter has done much to preserve the essence of the original and translate faithfully some of the main points that Austen wishes to make. There is a lot of the humour and wry observations of the novel that have been transferred to the screen also.

For those unfamiliar with the Austen novel, the plot revolves around Catherine Morland (Jones), a young lady of quite modest means who is given the opportunity to stay in Bath with her well-off relatives, the childless Allen family. She is intent on living high adventure of the type she has been reading about in the romantic gothic novels fashionable at the time. When she is introduced to society, she meets Isabella Thorpe (Mulligan) and her brother John (Beck), a good friend of her own brother, James (O’Connor). Isabella and John are pleasant, shallow and intent on having a good time as well as finding partners with some money in the bank… Catherine also meets Henry Tilney (Feild), a handsome young man from a good family and his sister, Eleanor (Walker). Invited to visit the Tilney estate, Northanger Abbey, by General Tilney (Cunningham), who believes her to be an heiress, she has thoughts of romance but soon learns that status, class and money are all equally important when it comes to romance.

The film was fun to watch and quite amusing, although purists will object to significant portions of the book being cut, a lot of the witty dialogue disappearing and the ending being rather quickly precipitated upon the viewer, with the character of General Tilney being made thoroughly villainous, whereas in Austen’s novel he does redeem himself. The fantasy sequences were quite effective, although some of the sexual innuendoes were a little out of place, especially if one considers Austen’s refined and restrained approach to such matters.

It is different reading a book (especially one as well known and loved as this) and then watching a film of it. In such situations I find that when I watch the film, I try to divorce myself from the source novel and simply judge the film on its own merits. After watching and for the purposes of review I may then compare it to the novel, but ultimately one has to ask oneself: “Was the movie good fun to watch? Was it entertaining? Was it cinematic enough? Was it well acted? Was it well directed? Were the cinematography, music, props, settings good enough?” And if the majority of responses are affirmative, the film fulfilled its purpose, whether or not it was a faithful and slavish adaptation of the novel.

We enjoyed the film as a film and it was quite amusing and entertaining. We recommend it to anyone who enjoys such period dramas. The standard of production was high, the acting excellent, the script and direction very good. Quite a lot more detail could have been added to keep the purists happy, but if one approaches the film as an entertainment in its own right rather than see it as a mirror of the novel, one should be pleased enough with this film.


“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.” - Georgia O'Keeffe
 For Art Sunday today a great American artist of the 20th-century, Georgia O’Keeffe. Georgia O’Keeffe was born in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin in 1887. The second of seven children, O’Keeffe longed to be an artist from an early age. In 1905 she attended the Art Institute of Chicago and a year later went to study art in New York. Though her student work was well received she found it unfulfilling, and for a short time abandoned the fine arts. She worked briefly as a commercial artist in Chicago before moving to Texas to teach. During the summer of 1915, O’Keeffe took classes at the Teachers College of Columbia University in South Carolina, and there began her re-entry into the world of painting.

In South Carolina O’Keeffe met Arthur Dow, a specialist in Oriental Art. Dow’s interest in non-European art helped O’Keeffe move away from the forms she had found so stifling in her previous studies. Soon after O’Keeffe’s return to Texas, she made a handful of charcoal drawings, which she sent to Anna Pollitzer, a friend in New York. Pollitzer showed them to Alfred Stieglitz, a photographer and gallery owner. He was enthused with the vibrant energy of the work, and asked to show them. So, without her knowledge, Georgia O’Keeffe had her first exhibition in 1916 at Steiglitz’s “291 Gallery”.

Within two years, Steiglitz had convinced O’Keeffe to move to New York and devote all of her time to painting. His regular presentations of her work had begun to cause a buzz, and create for her a small following. Six years later the two were married, beginning one of the most fruitful and well-known collaborations of the modernist era. For the next twenty years the two would live and work together, Steiglitz creating an incredible body of photographic portraits of O’Keeffe, while O’Keeffe showed new drawings and paintings nearly every year at the gallery. Living in Lake George, New York, and in New York City, O’Keeffe painted some of her most famous work. During the 1920s, her large canvasses of lush overpowering flowers filled the still lives with dynamic energy and erotic tension, while her cityscapes were testaments to subtle beauty within the most industrial circumstances.

In 1929 O’Keeffe took a vacation with her friend Beck Strand to Taos, New Mexico. The trip would forever alter the course of her life. In love with the open skies and sun-drenched landscape, O’Keeffe returned every summer to travel and to paint. When Steiglitz in 1946 died, O’Keeffe took up permanent residence in New Mexico. More than almost any of her other works, these early New Mexico landscapes and still lifes have come to represent her unique gifts. The rich texture of the clouds and sky were similar to her earlier, more sensuous representations of flowers. But beneath these clouds one found the bleached bones of animals long gone.

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, O’Keeffe’s renown continued to grow. She travelled around the world and had a number of major retrospective exhibitions in the U.S. The most important came in 1970 at the Whitney Museum of American Art, establishing her as one of the most important and influential American painters. The next year O’Keeffe’s vision deteriorated dramatically, and she withdrew from artistic life. It was not until 1973, after meeting Juan Hamilton, a young ceramic artist, that she returned to working. With his encouragement and assistance, she resumed painting and sculpting. In 1976 her illustrated autobiography, was a best seller, and the next year she received the Medal of Freedom from President Gerald Ford.

In 1985 she received the Medal of the Arts from President Ronald Reagan. In March of the next year, at the age of 98, O’Keeffe passed away at St. Vincent’s Hospital in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Georgia O’Keeffe’s work remains a prominent part of major national and international museums. For many, her paintings represent the beginnings of a new American art divorced from the blasé “-isms” of the late 20th century.

The painting above is her “Jimson Weed” of 1936. The large scale of the work exemplifies O’Keeffe’s philosophy: “I decided that if I could paint that flower in a huge scale, you could not ignore its beauty.”