Saturday 15 March 2014


“Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it.” - Tom Lehrer

For Music Saturday, Sergei Rachmaninoff playing his own Concerto No 2 for Piano and Orchestra.  The Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor, Op. 18, is a concerto for piano and orchestra composed between the autumn of 1900 and April 1901. The second and third movements were first performed with the composer as soloist on 2 December 1900. The complete work was premiered, again with the composer as soloist, on 9 November 1901, with his cousin Alexander Siloti conducting. This piece is one of Rachmaninoff's most enduringly popular pieces, and established his fame as a concerto composer.

The work is scored for 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets in B flat(I mov.) and A (II & III mov.), 2 bassoons, 4 horns in F, 2 trumpets in B flat, 3 trombones (2 tenor, 1 bass), tuba, timpani, bass drum, cymbals, solo piano and strings. It is written in three-movement concerto form.

Friday 14 March 2014


“It is the sweet, simple things of life which are the real ones after all.” - Laura Ingalls Wilder

For Food Friday today, a Byzantine recipe. The Byzantine Empire was the Greek-speaking continuation of the Roman Empire during Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Its capital city was Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), originally known as Byzantium. Initially it was the Greek-speaking eastern half of the Roman Empire (often called the Eastern Roman Empire in this context), and it survived the 5th century fragmentation and fall of the Western Roman Empire, continuing to exist for an additional thousand years until Byzantium fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453. During most of its existence, the Byzantine Empire was the most powerful economic, cultural, and military force in Europe.

We know the Byzantines ate three meals a day - breakfast, midday meal and supper. They had many fast days, corresponding with the Greek Orthodox Christian tradition. While the lower classes made do with what they could get, the upper classes were served three courses at their midday and supper meals consisting of hors d’oeuvres, a main course of fish or meat and a sweet course.

They ate all kinds of meats including pork, and numerous types of fowl. Large amounts of fresh fish and seafood were very popular given the proximity of the sea. There were many types of soups and stews and salads were popular. They liked a variety of cheeses and fruits, the latter being eaten both fresh and cooked. Fruits included apples, melons, dates, figs, grapes and pomegranates. Almonds, walnuts, and pistachios were used in many dishes as well as being eaten by themselves. Sugar was not known in Europe at the time, so the sweetening agent used was honey.

PASTÉLI (Sesame-Honey Diamonds)


Toasted sesame seeds (put into the oven and roast until golden – do not over-cook!)
Orange flower water

Use equal weights of honey and sesame seeds. In a heavy skillet bring the honey to a very firm ball stage (120° to 125° C). Stir in the sesame seeds and continue cooking until the mixture comes to a bubbling boil. Spread the mixture 1 cm thick on a marble slab or tray moistened with orange flower water. Cool and cut into small diamonds. Garnish each diamond with a blanched, toasted almond if desired.

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

Thursday 13 March 2014


“Love is powerful. It can bring the gods to their knees.” ― Rick Riordan
Aphrodite (Venus) was the ancient Greek goddess of love and beauty and her son was Eros (Cupid). Eros was a playful and mischievous child who had a toy bow and arrow, whose points however, were sharp and dangerous. When he shot his arrows into the breast of both mortals and gods, they fell in love with whomever they saw first. When Aphrodite was playing with her son one day, she inadvertently wounded her bosom with one of his arrows.  She pushed the child away in pain, and saw that the wound was deeper than she thought. 
Before the goddess’s wound healed she saw a handsome mortal youth, Adonis, and instantly fell in love with him. She no longer took any interest in her favourite resorts, Paphos, and Cnidos, and Amathos. She even kept away from Olympus and the company of other gods, as Adonis was dearer to her than heaven. She followed him everywhere and kept him company. She who used to lie in the shade, with no care but to cultivate her charms, now rambled through the woods and over the hills, dressed like the huntress Artemis, accompanying the young Adonis while he hunted.  She called her dogs, and chased hares and stags, or other game that it is safe to hunt, but kept clear of the wolves and bears, reeking with the slaughter of the herd.
She told Adonis to beware of dangerous animals in the hunt. “Take care how you expose yourself to danger, and put my happiness to risk. Don’t attack the beasts that Nature has armed with weapons. Think of the terrible claws and strength of lions and bears and boars!  I hate the whole race of them.” She said. Having given him this warning, she mounted her chariot drawn by swans, and drove away through the air.
Adonis was too noble and brave to heed Aphrodite’s warnings. The dogs had roused a wild boar from his lair, and the youth threw his spear and wounded the animal with a sidelong stroke.  The beast drew out the weapon with his jaws, and rushed after Adonis, who turned and ran; but the boar overtook him, and buried his tusks in his side, and he stretched out, dying on the plain.
Aphrodite, in her chariot, had not yet reached Cyprus, when she heard coming up through midair the dying groans of her beloved, and turned her chariot back to earth. As she drew near and saw from on high his lifeless body bathed in blood, she alighted, and bending over it beat her breast and tore her hair.  Reproaching the Fates, she said, “Yet you shall have but a partial triumph; memorials of my grief shall endure, and the spectacle of your death, my Adonis, and of my lamentation shall be annually renewed.  Your blood shall be changed into a flower; that consolation none can envy me.”
She sprinkled nectar, the drink of the gods, on Adonis’s blood; and as the two mingled, bubbles rose, and forthwith there sprang up a flower of bloody hue like that of pomegranate seeds.  But it is short-lived.  It is called Adonis flower (Adonis annua), or Pheasant’s Eye, and it blooms in Autumn in North Africa, Western Asia, the Mediterranean, and Europe.

Wednesday 12 March 2014


“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.” - T. S. Eliot

Poetry Jam this week has asked participants to: “Write a culinary poem. Write about your favorite food, a special meal you remember, a family recipe that has been passed over the years. Your poem can be literal or metaphorical, simple or complex…”
Here is my offering:
Drinking Bitter Coffee at the Café of Broken Promises

Quite by chance, I went by the Café
Where once – a lifetime ago – we had sought
Shelter from Autumn rain.
I wandered in, half expecting to see you smiling,
Beckoning me from that same booth
That we had shared, while grey afternoon wore on,
And rain, thankfully, kept falling...
We shook the rain off our hair – I remember –
And how we laughed, as the tabletop was spread
With hundreds of diamonds: Raindrops that caught
The pale yellow light of the bare bulb above,
Shattering its puny glow into a million sunrays
That illumined richly for that moment
The deepest cellars of our souls.
We sipped the steaming coffee and it was sweet nectar,
Although we clean forgot to sugar it.
Our legs brushed under the table
And your eyes promised me a hundred happinesses;
“Tomorrow...” you had whispered and I only smiled,
My silence more eloquent than a thousand pictures...
I order coffee yet again this Spring morning
And though the sun shines brightly outside,
I am sure I can hear the drumming of rain on the tin roof.
I lose count of the lumps of sugar
I am drowning in my cup, but each sip of coffee
Is more bitter than the one before it.
I stretch my legs beneath the table
Encountering a bottomless abyss,
While from the neighbouring booth, someone laughs,
And says quite loudly: “It was yesterday!”
By chance, I find myself once again
Drinking bitter coffee in some city Café;
A tawdry, cheap, noisy, smoky place,
Where one would never go to more than once...

Tuesday 11 March 2014


“Every solution of a problem is a new problem.” - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Today is the National Day of Lithuania (Day of Restoration of Independence of Lithuania - from the Soviet Union in 1990); and Johnny Appleseed Day in the USA. The Orthodox Church today celebrates the Venerable Theodora of Arta, Queen of Arta, wife of Despot Michael II of Epirus (ca 1275) and Saint Sophronius of Jerusalem, Patriarch of Jerusalem (638). The Catholic Church celebrates Our Lady of Lourdes and Saint Gobnait.
In 1858 the immaculate Virgin Mary appeared to Bernadette Soubirous, near Lourdes in France, in the cavern called “de Massabielle.” Through this poor, fourteen-year-old girl, Mary calls on sinners to change their lives. She has inspired in the Church a great love of prayer and good works, especially in the service of the poor and the sick.
St Gobnait is a fifth-century Irish saint. Although there are many legends and traditions associated with her, there are few if any historical facts. This commonly happens to people whose memory is kept alive by tradition rather than written records, and it casts no doubt on her existence or her merits.
Today is also the anniversary of the birth of:
Torquato Tasso
, Italian poet (1544);
Urbain Le Verrier
, astronomer (1811);
Henry Tate
, Tate gallery founder (1819?);
Marius Petipa
, choreographer (1822);
Raoul Walsh
, actor/film-maker (1887);
Henry Dixon Cowell
, composer (1897);
Dorothy Gish
(Dorothy de Guiche), actress (1898);
Frederick IX
, king of Denmark (1899);
Lawrence Welk
, US bandleader (1903);
Harold Wilson
, UK politician (1916);
Nicolaas Bloembergen
, Nobel Laureate (1981) physicist (1920);
Althea Louise Brough
, tennis player (1928);
David Gentleman
, painter (1930);
(Keith) Rupert Murdoch
, media magnate (1931);
Douglas Noel Adams
, author (1952).
The bee orchid, Ophrys apifera, is the birthday flower for this day.  The generic name is derived from the Greek word for eyebrow, ophrys, according to Pliny in reference to the use of the plant for darkening ladies’ eyebrows.  Apifera in Latin signifies bee-bearing reflecting the flower’s resemblance to a bee.  The flower symbolises error.
Dying on this day: In 1602, Emilio de’ Cavalieri, Italian composer of one of the first operas; 1820, Benjamin West, US painter who became President of the Royal Academy in London; in 1820, Sir Alexander McKenzie, Scottish explorer of Canada; in 1955, Sir Alexander Fleming, Scottish bacteriologist and discoverer of penicillin; in 1957, Earle Stanley Gardner, US lawyer and crime writer who created Perry Mason; in 1957, Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, US aviator and explorer.
John Chapman (September 26, 1774 – March 11, 1845), often called Johnny Appleseed, was an American pioneer nurseryman who introduced apple trees to large parts of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois, as well as the northern counties of present day West Virginia. He became an American legend while still alive, due to his kind, generous ways, his leadership in conservation, and the symbolic importance he attributed to apples. He was also a missionary for The New Church (Swedenborgian) and the inspiration for many museums and historical sights such as the Johnny Appleseed Museum in Urbana, Ohio and the Johnny Appleseed Heritage Center in between Lucas, Ohio and Mifflin, Ohio.
The popular image is of Johnny Appleseed spreading apple seeds randomly, everywhere he went. In fact, he planted nurseries rather than orchards, built fences around them to protect them from livestock, left the nurseries in the care of a neighbour who sold trees on shares, and returned every year or two to tend the nursery. Although apples grown from seed are rarely sweet or tasty, apple orchards with sour apples were popular among the American settlers because apples were mainly used for producing hard cider and apple jack. In some periods of the settlement of the Midwest, settlers were required by law to plant orchards of apples and pears in order to uphold the right to the claimed land. So Johnny Appleseed planted orchards that made for popular real estate on the frontier.

Monday 10 March 2014


“Defined in psychological terms, a fanatic is a man who consciously over-compensates a secret doubt.” - Aldous Huxley

We watched a curious film recently, one which I can’t really say whether I liked or not. It was a little tedious, but at the same time one wanted to see what was going to happen, if anything. It reminded of many other films and novels and one could see the inspiration for it must have come from a range of other pieces. It was Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 film, “The Master” starring Philip Seymour Hoffman, Joaquin Phoenix, and Amy Adams. At 144 minutes it was a very long, long film – or so it seemed. The film was written and directed by Anderson.

Anderson has several successful movies under his belt, and I have seen and enjoyed some of them: “Magnolia” (perhaps my favourite), “Punch-Drunk Love”, and “There Will Be Blood” (another very good film). So this film of his rather disappointed us. I suspect that in a few weeks time, I shall have quite forgotten it. Don’t take me wrong, it is a highly polished piece of film-making, with good acting, great cinematography (70 mm print), good music, great period sets, but it lacked a certain something and failed to fully engage me. On reflection, the most serious defect was the weakness of the script.

In a nutshell, the plot concerns Freddie Quell (Phoenix) who is a troubled alcoholic and self-destructive drifter. Quell unwittingly becomes the right-hand man of Lancaster Dodd (Seymour Hoffman), ‘The Master’ of a cult named ‘The Cause’ in post-WWII USA. Their curious relationship is the centrepiece of the film. The film explores cult fanaticism and exposes the lies that are peddled as religion. It is a thinly veiled swipe at Scientology, and it did cause ripples amongst Scientologists even before its release. Anderson has not mentioned Scientology, of course, and has thus broadened the scope of his film.

Hoffman was an accomplished actor and plays this role with great gusto, with almost caricature vehemence, and Amy Adams is highly effective as the Master’s wife. This is Joaquin Phoenix’s film and he gives a great performance, even though it was difficult for him to do more with the material given the weakness of the story line.

The film fails because it ignores simple story-telling rules. The script provides no opportunity for crisis, resolution and strong dénouement. It undulates weakly over two hours about a straight line. Although the actors perform very well and the scenes are constructed well, the movie just continues to plod along, seemingly going nowhere - there is no strong development. Is the film about an alcoholic misfit who has been scarred by war? Is it about a cult leader who has psychological issues? Is it about the development of characters so that they become better/worse? No, to all of these. It is a film made of random interactions between the characters, scenes that don’t add to a good story.

We really wanted to like this film but ultimately when it finished, we thought: “Oh, is that it?” and probably felt relief. Perhaps another of its weak points was the lack of any character that was truly likeable, I don’t know… One may hope that Anderson’s next film “Inherent Vice”, now in post-production, is a much better one.

Sunday 9 March 2014


“Experiments with a child’s paint-box led me the next morning to produce a complete outfit in oils.” – Winston Churchill
For Art Sunday today, art by a non-artist. Rather, art by a man better known for his achievements as a writer, statesman and politician. Sir Winston Churchill (1874 – 1965) was one of the great world leaders of the 20th century. His leadership helped Britain to stand strong against Hitler and the Nazis, even when they were the last country left fighting. He is also famous for his inspiring speeches and quotes.
Churchill was born on November 30th, 1874 in Oxfordshire, England. He was actually born in a room in Blenheim Palace. His parents were wealthy aristocrats. His father, Lord Randolph Churchill, was a politician who held many high offices in the British government. Young Winston attended the Royal Military College and joined the British cavalry upon graduation. He travelled to many places while with the military and worked as a newspaper correspondent, writing stories about battles and being a soldier. While in South Africa during the Second Boer War, Winston Churchill was captured and became a prisoner of war. He managed to escape from prison and traveled 300 miles to be rescued. As a result, he became something of a hero in Britain for a while.
In 1900 Churchill was elected to Parliament. Over the next 30 years he would hold a number of different offices in the government including a cabinet post in 1908. Churchill married Clementine Hozier in 1908. They had five children including four daughters and one son. His career had many ups and downs during this time, but he also became famous for many of his writings. At the outbreak of World War II, Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty in command of the Royal Navy. At the same time the current Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, wanted to appease Germany and Hitler. Churchill knew this would not work and warned the government that they needed to help fight Hitler or Hitler would soon take over all of Europe. As Germany continued to advance, the country lost confidence in Chamberlain. Finally, Chamberlain resigned and Winston Churchill was chosen to be his successor as Prime Minister on May 10, 1940.
Soon after Churchill became Prime Minister, Germany invaded France and Britain was alone in Europe fighting Hitler. Churchill inspired his country to keep fighting despite the bad circumstances. He also helped to forge an alliance of Allied Powers with the Soviet Union and the United States. Even though he did not like Joseph Stalin and the communists of the Soviet Union, he knew the Allies needed their help to fight Germany. With the Allies help, and Churchill’s leadership, the British were able to hold off Hitler. After a long and brutal war they were able to defeat Hitler and the Germans.
After the war, Churchill’s party lost the election and he was no longer Prime Minister. He was still a major leader in the government, however. He was again elected Prime Minister in 1951. He served his country for many years and then retired. He died on January 24, 1965. Churchill was concerned about the Soviet Union and the Red Army. He felt they were just as dangerous as Hitler now that the Germans were defeated. He was right as soon after World War II ended, the Cold War between the Western nations of NATO (such as Britain, France, USA) and communist Soviet Union began.
Some interesting facts about Churchill:
  • He wrote a number of historical books and won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1953.
  • He was named an honorary citizen of the United States.
  • Winston did not do well in school as a child. He also had trouble getting into the Royal Military College. Although, once in, he finished near the top of his class.
  • He was not healthy during World War II. He had a heart attack in 1941 and pneumonia in 1943.
Churchill was forty before he discovered the pleasures of painting. The compositional challenge of depicting a landscape gave the heroic rebel in him temporary repose. He possessed the heightened perception of the genuine artist to whom no scene is commonplace. Over a period of forty-eight years his creativity yielded more than 500 pictures. His art quickly became half passion, half philosophy. He enjoyed holding forth in speech and print on the aesthetic rewards for amateur devotees. To him it was the greatest of hobbies. He had found his other world: A respite from crowding events and pulsating politics.
Winston Churchill took great pleasure in painting, especially after his resignation as First Lord of the Admiralty in 1915. He found a haven in art to overcome the spells of depression which he suffered throughout his life. Churchill was persuaded and taught to paint by his artist friend, Paul Maze, whom he met during the First World War. Maze was a great influence on Churchill’s painting and became a lifelong painting companion.
Churchill is best known for his impressionist scenes of landscape, many of which were painted while on holiday in the South of France, Egypt or Morocco. Using the pseudonym “Charles Morin” he continued his hobby throughout his life and painted hundreds of paintings, many of which are on show in the studio at Chartwell as well as private collections.
Most of his paintings are oil-based and feature landscapes, but he also did a number of interior scenes and portraits. In 1925 Lord Duveen, Kenneth Clark, and Oswald Birley selected his Winter Sunshine as the prize winner in a contest for anonymous amateur artists. Due to obvious time constraints, Churchill attempted only one painting during the Second World War. He completed the painting from the tower of the Villa Taylor in Marrakesh.
Some of his paintings can today be seen in the Wendy and Emery Reves Collection at the Dallas Museum of Art. Emery Reves was Churchill’s American publisher, as well as a close friend and Churchill often visited Emery and his wife at their villa, ‘La Pausa’, in the South of France, which had originally been built in 1927 for Gabrielle ‘Coco’ Chanel by her lover Bendor, 2nd Duke of Westminster. The villa was rebuilt within the museum in 1985 with a gallery of Churchill paintings and memorabilia.
The painting above is “The Harbour at St. Jean Cap Ferrat” (1921). Here you can find a site where many of Churchill’s paintings may be accessed and admired.