Saturday 14 December 2013


“Life is like playing a violin solo in public and learning the instrument as one goes on.” - Samuel Butler

For Music Saturday, Pietro Nardini’s delightful Sonatas for Strings. Pietro Nardini,  (born April 12, 1722 , Livorno, Tuscany; died May 7, 1793 , Florence), was an Italian violinist and composer, one of the most eminent violinists of the 18th century. He was the most famous pupil of the composer and virtuoso violinist Giuseppe Tartini. Nardini was solo violinist at the court at Stuttgart from 1753 to 1767. He then returned to Livorno and lived with Tartini during Tartini’s last illness until his death in 1770. In 1770 Nardini became music director to the duke of Tuscany. He enjoyed great fame as a composer and performer, his playing praised by contemporaries for its beauty and emotional power. His violin compositions, though not numerous, are melodious and highly playable and are valued as technical studies.

Friday 13 December 2013


“If God hadn’t meant for us to eat sugar, he wouldn't have invented dentists.” - Ralph Nader

A little bit of whimsy for Food Friday today. As we had egg whites left over after making mayonnaise, we decided to make some French macarons. These are all the rage in Melbourne presently and there are even some shops completely devoted to making and selling these dainty biscuits.

French Macarons


4 large egg whites (or 5 small)
70g caster sugar
230g pure icing sugar
120g almond meal, finely ground
2g salt (tiny pinch)
gel food colouring (optional)
vanilla essence (or flavouring of your choice)

Preheat the oven to 150 degrees C
Place egg whites and caster sugar in a bowl and mix with electric mixer until stiff enough to turn the bowl upside down without it falling out, continue to whip for 1-2 more minutes.
How long this takes will depend on your mixer. Add gel or powdered food colouring and continue to mix for a further 20 seconds.
Sift the almond meal and icing sugar and salt twice, discarding any almond lumps that are too big to pass through the sieve. Fold into the egg white mixture. It should take roughly 30-50 folds using a rubber spatula. The mixture should be smooth and a very viscous, not runny. Over-mix and your macarons will be flat and have no foot, under mix and they will not be smooth on top.
Pipe onto trays lined with baking paper, rap trays on the bench firmly (this prevents cracking) and then bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Check if one comes off the tray fairly cleanly, if not bake for a little longer (make sure you are using NON-stick baking paper or they will stick).

Ganache filling


100g chocolate
30ml cream

Bring the cream to the boil and pour over the chocolate. Let stand for a minute and then stir. If it is not adequately melted then microwave for 20 seconds and stir – repeat until smooth. Allow to cool and thicken before piping onto macarons.

Buttercream filling


120g butter
330g icing sugar
1-4 tablespoons of milk or cream
Vanilla essence (or flavouring/colouring of your choice)

Leave the butter to soften at room temperature then beat together with the icing sugar and 1 tablespoon of milk or cream until smooth and light in colour. Add extra spoons of milk one at a time until the desired consistency is reached.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme,
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday 12 December 2013


For the Festive Season.


“Whenever you have truth it must be given with love, or the message and the messenger will be rejected.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Today is Mexico's Guadalupe Festival; The Feast Day of St Finian, and the Feast Day of St Spyridon.

It is also the anniversary of the birth of:
Henry Wells
, founder of American Express/Wells Fargo Co. (1805);
Gustave Flaubert
, French writer (1821);
Henri Becquerel
, Nobel laureate (1903) physicist (1852);
Edvard Munch
, artist (1863);
Frank Sinatra
, US actor/singer (1915);
Joe Williams
, singer (1918);
John Osborne
, playwright (1929);
Connie Francis
(Concetta Franconero), singer (1938);
Dionne Warwick
, singer (1941).

Coriander, Coriandrum sativum, is today’s birthday plant and in the language of flowers it symbolises hidden wealth and concealed merit.  Astrologers assign the plant to Saturn. Since ancient times, coriander has been enjoyed in many cultures for its culinary and medicinal values. Coriander is the most popular herb in the world and its use can be traced back to 5,000 BC where it was found in Egyptian tombs, making it one of the world’s oldest spices.

Considered a member of the carrot family coriander has a love hate relationship in some parts of the world. The herb is widely used in cooking in Latin American countries, the Caribbean, India and China, but not in Japan or Spain. Traditionally coriander is used to treat migraines and indigestion to help purify the blood and to relieve nausea, pain in joints and rheumatism. Researchers found that coriander can assist with clearing the body of lead, aluminum and mercury.

St Finian was a native of Leinster and was instructed in the elements of Christian virtue by the disciples of St. Patrick. He travelled to Wales but about the year 520 AD he returned into Ireland. To propagate the work of God, the Saint established several monasteries and schools. St. Finian was chosen and consecrated Bishop of Clonard. In the love of his flock and his zeal for their salvation he was infirm with the infirm, and wept with those that wept. He healed the souls, and often also the bodies, of those that applied to him. He died on the 12th of December in 552 AD and his feast day commemorates this.

St Finian is especially celebrated in the Highlands of Scotland and the islands.  It is very unlucky to go to bed without having supper on this night as anybody who does so will be spirited away over the housetops by fairies.  This was a good excuse for many a feast and a carousal where much whisky and delicacies were consumed well into the night.

St Spyridon was born in Askeia, in Cyprus. He worked as a shepherd and was known for his great piety. He married and had one daughter, Irene. Upon the death of his wife, Spyridon entered a monastery, and their daughter, a convent.

Spyridon eventually became Bishop of Trimythous, or Tremithous (today called Tremetousia), in the district of Larnaca (while the tradition of the Eastern Church does not allow the ordination of married men cohabiting with their living spouses as Bishops, the ordination of widowers is fairly common). He took part in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), where he was instrumental in countering the theological arguments of Arius and his followers.

He reportedly converted a pagan philosopher to Christianity by using a potsherd to illustrate how one single entity (a piece of pottery) could be composed of three unique entities (fire, water and clay); a metaphor for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

As soon as Spyridon finished speaking, the shard is said to have miraculously burst into flame, water dripped on the ground, and only dust remained in his hand (other accounts of this event say that it was a brick he held in his hand).

After the council, Saint Spiridon returned to his diocese in Tremithous. He later fell into disfavour during the persecutions of the emperor Maximinus, but died peacefully in old age. His biography was recorded by the hagiographer Simeon Metaphrastes and the church historians, Sozomen and Socrates Scholasticus. St Spyridon is the Patron Saint of the Greek island of Corfu.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, also known as the Virgin of Guadalupe, is a title of the Virgin Mary associated with a celebrated pictorial image housed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in México City. Official Catholic accounts state that on the morning of December 9, 1531, Juan Diego saw an apparition of a young girl at the Hill of Tepeyac, near Mexico City. Speaking to him in Nahuatl, the girl asked that a church be built at that site in her honour; from her words, Juan Diego recognised the girl as the Virgin Mary.

Diego told his story to the Spanish Archbishop of Mexico City, Fray Juan de Zumárraga, who instructed him to return to Tepeyac Hill, and ask the “lady” for a miraculous sign to prove her identity. The first sign was the Virgin healing Juan’s uncle. The Virgin told Juan Diego to gather flowers from the top of Tepeyac Hill. Although December was very late in the growing season for flowers to bloom, Juan Diego found Castilian roses, not native to Mexico, on the normally barren hilltop. The Virgin arranged these in his peasant cloak or tilma. When Juan Diego opened his cloak before Bishop Zumárraga on December 12, the flowers fell to the floor, and on the fabric was the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe.

Juan Diego was canonised in 2002, and his tilma is displayed in the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, the most visited Marian shrine in the world. The representation of the Virgin on the tilma is Mexico’s most popular religious and cultural image, and under this title the Virgin has been acclaimed as “Queen of Mexico”, “Patroness of the Americas”, “Empress of Latin America”, and “Protectress of Unborn Children” (the latter three given by Pope John Paul II in 1999). Under this title, she was also proclaimed “Heavenly Patroness of the Philippines” in 1935, a designation revised by Pope Pius XII in 1942.

Wednesday 11 December 2013


“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” - Roy L. Smith
This week, Poetry Jam has urged followers to write about childhood beliefs. The approaching holy days of Christmas cannot be overlooked and in the jolly consumer’s paradise we have created for ourselves, we try to recapture the magic of childhood and the wonder of true belief.
The Season’s Greetings
The greeting cards announce in cursive script:
“A Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”
As mailboxes fill with hollow cardboard wishes,
Stock sugary images – empty felicitations…
The carols blare in lifts, in shopping centres:
“Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth”.
Children bright-eyed in greedy innocence,
Stare with hungry eyes at toy store displays.
The Father Christmases in their thousands, chuckle:
“Ho, ho, ho!”, with white beards and hair a pale caricature.
The milling crowds around them hope to be infected
By their scarlet pretend jollity and ersatz joviality.
The decorations brightly sparkle, the Christmas lights shine:
“Noël, Noël” the electronics tinkle as they flicker on and off.
As families gather united under the same roof,
Their enmities are suspended, temporarily, under false smiles.
Somewhere a tiny baby is in a hovel born,
Its mother unmarried, only a distant relative present.
The stars burn bright in the firmament,
And one falls, streaking bright across the blue velvet.
In the cold air, the lowing of the cattle breaks the silence,
While somewhere in the distance a shepherd’s pipe
Begins to play a simple tune that’s carried by the wind.
Christmas again this year has come.

Tuesday 10 December 2013


“To deny people their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.” - Nelson Mandela
The UN General Assembly proclaimed 10 December as Human Rights Day in 1950, to ensure awareness of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations. The UN General Assembly adopted and proclaimed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France, on the December 10, 1948.
In 2013, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights marks 20 years since its establishment. The United Nations General Assembly created the mandate of High Commissioner for the promotion and protection of all human rights in December 1993. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, adopted by the World Conference in 2003, marked the beginning of a renewed effort in the protection and promotion of human rights and is regarded as one of the most significant human rights documents of the past quarter century.
Many events on this commemoration day aim to educate people, especially children and teenagers, on their human rights and the importance of upholding these in their own communities and further afield. The day is also popular for organising protests to alert people of circumstances in parts of the world where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not recognised or respected, or where the upholding of these rights is not considered to be important. Cultural events are also organised to celebrate human rights through music, dance, drama or fine art.
This is a good day for writing letters of support, hope, inspiration and expressing opinions about human rights. It is timely to think of those who live in countries and under regimes where they are not permitted to freely express their opinions. Several organisations around the world are active in promoting human rights and giving these people unable to claim their rights a voice for doing so, albeit indirectly.
Nelson Mandela’s death recently reminded people all over the world of the struggle in South Africa where the battle for equality, and against racism, has resulted in a situation where new hope may flourish in a reinvented country. It is also timely to remember many other African countries where huge social and economic problems deny people may of the rights that in Western countries take for granted. The rights of women, people with disabilities, homosexuals and those belonging to religious minorities are also human rights and very often these individuals may be under multiple attacks every single day of their lives.

Monday 9 December 2013


“Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft.” - Winston Churchill

At the weekend we started watching the 2012 eight-part mini-series “The Pillars of the Earth”. This is based on Ken Follett’s book of the same name and is directed by Sergio Mimica-Gezzan. It stars Ian McShane, Matthew Macfadyen, Eddie Redmayne, Hayley Atwell, Natalia Wörner, Anatole Taubman and Rufus Sewell. It is a joint German/Canadian/UK production and has the expansive historical cavalcade type of approach that suits the mini-series format very well – certainly a movie of this book would not have done it justice.

The plot unfolds in the England of 1135 AD, a dark and violent time. King Henry I’s only legitimate heir has died in a shipwreck, and the king has neglected God and the church during his reign. The priests and bishops are most eager to put a religious man on the throne after the poisoning of the king, and in return for swearing allegiance to them, they promise Stephen, the nephew of the king, to enthrone him. A fierce battle of succession ensues between Stephen and King Henry’s only legitimate child Maude.

At this time, a young and ambitious monk named Philip is made Prior of Kingsbridge, a town that has suffered in recent times and that is in dire need to have its church rebuilt. Tom Builder travels through England with his son Alfred, his daughter Martha and after his wife Agnes died in childbirth, they are joined by the two outlaws Ellen and Jack. Finally, Tom finds a job in Shiring, but the earl, Lord Bartholomew is conspiring against the new king Stephen and the William Hamleigh, who was rejected by the lord’s daughter Aliena. Philip, Tom and his family and Aliena are faced with several challenges and hardships, but their paths cross in Kingsbridge, and they all will play a vital role in the construction of the brand new cathedral.

There is intrigue aplenty, politics, love, sex, battle, violence, incest, skullduggery and lots of sweeping, inspiring panoramas of life in the twelfth century at all levels of society. The acting is good, the costumes and sets well-produced and the direction tight enough for such a mammoth undertaking of filming a novel of this scope and intricacy. Be warned that the series contains lots of violence and sex and also some very colourful language and mature themes.

We look forward to watching the rest of this series, but also I believe there is a sequel, “World without End”, which I would like to get hold of to watch too. This sequel doesn't rate as highly on IMDB as does the original series, but nevertheless, it does get good reviews. Definitely worth watching if you like epic historical dramas.

Sunday 8 December 2013


“Some say they see poetry in my paintings; I see only science.” - Georges Seurat
Georges Seurat (2 December 1859, Paris, France; to 29 March 1891, Paris, France from diphtheria), one of the members of ‘Salon des Refusés’ who learned from classical training and from contemporary art and was rejected by the official Salon, became the founder of Pointilism (Divisionism) in art. He was born Georges-Pierre Seurat, the youngest of three children in the family of a wealthy lawyer, Chrysostome-Antoine Seurat. His mother, named Ernestine Faivre, came from a prosperous Parisian family.
During the early 1870s young Seurat was taking private drawing lessons from his uncle, painter Paul Haumonte, who took him on regular art expeditions. From 1875 he studied drawing under the sculptor Justin Lequien. From 1878-1879 Seurat studied art at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. His teacher Henri Lehmann was a disciple of the great neoclassical artist Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres, who was the student of Jacques-Louis David. That training was formative for his meticulous working procedure, which Seurat developed in his mature works. Having served at Brest Military Academy for one year, he returned to Paris and continued his art studies.
During the year of 1883 Seurat was working on his first large painting ‘La baignade a Asnieres’ (Bathers at Asnieres 1883), which was rejected by the official Salon. However, the painting was exhibited by the Societé des Artistes Indépendants, which was organised as a second ‘Salon des Refusés’ (Salon of the Refused). At their initial show in 1884, Seurat’s ‘Bathers at Asnieres’ was exhibited along with the works by Paul Gauguin, Paul Cezanne, Vincent Van Gogh, and Paul Signac. That was the beginning of Seurat’s friendship with Signac, who connected him to the avant-garde group 'Les Vingt' in Brussels.
Seurat exhibited seven of his works in Brussels in 1887. His collaboration with Signac led to foundation and development of Neo-Impressionism, the artistic movement also known as Pointillism or Divisionism. Seurat himself preferred the term Divisionism.  Seurat was a man of modest means and modest lifestyle. He was abstinent from alcohol, or any other drugs and stayed totally devoted to his art. He was known as a quiet and at times depressed, but robust and generous person. He was always helping his friends and arranging their exhibitions and hanging the paintings.
Seurat lived in his art-studio with his young model Madeleine Knobloch, whom he met in 1889. She came from a working class family and was not fully accepted by Seurat’s established friends. In February of 1890, she gave birth to their son Pierre-George. Seurat was secretive about his private life, a trait he inherited from his father. He became traumatised at the news of the death of Vincent van Gogh in 1890.
Seurat introduced his young family to his parents just days before he was “choked to death” by a throat infection, diagnosed as diphtheria, which also killed his little son two weeks later, and killed his father after another month. Seurat died on March 29, 1891, and was laid to rest in the Cimitière du Pere-Lachaise in Paris, France.  Georges Seurat produced most of his works during the 1880's, which are regarded as one of the most salient periods of aesthetic change. He exhibited his last ambitious work, ‘Le Cirque’ (The Circus 1891), while it was still unfinished. It was Seurat’s visual retelling of the story of ‘Frères Zemgano’, a novel by Edmont De Goncourt.
During his short life Seurat made only seven large paintings, working for a year or more on each one. At the same time he made about five hundred smaller paintings and drawings. Seurat produced a strong stimulating effect on his fellow artists. Neo-Impressionists were later joined by Henri Matisse, Pierre Bonnard, Henri Rousseau, and other artists who developed the idea of Pointillism (or Divisionism) in other artistic movements, such as Fauvism.
Dividing colours in order to produce special effects was attempted by many artists. Seurat was the first one to meticulously fill every centimetre of his paintings with swirling swarms of small colourful dots which represented the desired color, when a painting was looked at from a distance. His work quality ascended to such an artistic height, that it attracted masses of followers and made a lasting impact on generations of artists, designers, architects, photographers, cinematographers, and even on today’s cutting-edge digital software developers.
Seurat’s influence on fashion design was evident in some successful fashion collections from such acclaimed couturiers as Oleg Cassini, whose use of colour patterns alluded to those of Seurat’s, as well, as Vyacheslav Zaytsev and Pierre Cardin among many others.  Seurat’s visual language, his innovative and thoughtful interplay of colours, has the ability to trick our mind into a special way of looking at the world, and gives us an impression of the wonderful ways in which art can imitate nature.
The “Circus Sideshow” (La Parade du Cirque) of 1887–88 (Oil on canvas; 99.7 x 149.9 cm) is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. It is one of six major figure paintings that Seurat produced during his short career. More compact than his other mural-size compositions, and more mysterious in its allure, Seurat’s first nocturnal painting debuted at the 1888 Salon des Indépendants in Paris. On a balustraded stage, under the misty glow of nine twinkling gaslights, a ringmaster (at right) and musicians (at left) play to a crowd of potential ticket buyers, whose assorted hats add a wry and rhythmic note to the foreground.
Seurat made on-site sketches in the spring of 1887, when Fernand Corvi’s travelling circus was set up in a working-class district of Paris, near the place de la Nation; he then developed the composition through several preparatory studies. “Circus Sideshow” represents the first important painting Seurat devoted to a scene of popular entertainment. In effect, it sets the stage for his last great figure compositions, “La Chahut” of 1889–90 (Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo) and “Circus” of 1890–91 (Musée d'Orsay, Paris).