Friday 26 September 2014


“I should be sorry if I only entertained them, I wish to make them better.” – George Frideric Handel

‘Samson’ (HWV 57) is a three-act oratorio by George Frideric Handel, considered one of his finest dramatic works. It is usually performed as an oratorio in concert form, but on occasions has also been staged as an opera. The well-known arias “Let the bright Seraphim” (for soprano) and “Total eclipse” (for tenor) are often performed separately in concert.

Handel began its composition immediately after completing Messiah on 14 September 1741. It uses a libretto by Newburgh Hamilton, who based it on Milton’s ‘Samson Agonistes’, which in turn was based on the figure Samson in Chapter 16 of the Book of Judges. Handel completed the first act on 20 September 1741, the second act on 11 October that year and the whole work on 29 October. Shortly after that he travelled to Dublin to put on the premiere of Messiah, returning to London at the end of August 1742 and thoroughly revising Samson. The premiere was given at Covent Garden in London on 18 February 1743, with the incidental organ music probably the recently completed concerto in A major (HWV 307). The oratorio was a great success, leading to a total of seven performances in its first season, the most in a single season of any of his oratorios. Samson retained its popularity throughout Handel’s lifetime and has never fallen entirely out of favour since.

Act 1 (0.04:28): Blind and in chains, Samson is recovering from his slavery since the Philistines are having a festival in honour of their god Dagon. He grieves at his fate. The Israelites observe how their once invincible hero lies and that there is now no hope. Micah sees the whole people's lot reflected in his own. Samson reproaches himself, because he has been betrayed by his wife Dalila, and especially laments his loss of sight. Samson's father Manoah finds Samson and is shocked by his transformation. Samson longs for death, but is comforted by the Chorus of Israelites that he will triumph over death and time.

Act 2 (1:22:14): Micah and the Israelites call upon God to look upon the troubles of his servant. Dalila tries to recover Samson's love but her attempts to re-ensnare him come to nothing. The Philistine Harapha comes to insult Samson, who challenges him to a duel. Harapha, however, reviles Samson, claiming it is beneath his dignity to fight with a blind man. Samson mocks him as a braggart. Micah proposes to measure the power of Dagon against that of the god of the Israelites. The Israelite and Philistine choruses both praise their God.

Act 3 (2:41:36): Harapha arrives to take Samson to the feast of the Philistines and show him off there. Samson at first refuses to be present at the worship of Dagon, but then thinks of a plan and agrees to go to the festival, though he warns the Israelites to stay away from it. Manoah arrives with plans for the children of Israel, including how to free Samson. From a distance are heard the songs of the Philistines, calling on Dagon. Suddenly the audience hears noise and panic. An Israelite messenger arrives and tells the audience what has happened: Samson pulled down the building on himself and the Philistines. Samson's dead body is brought out and the children of Israel play and sing a funeral march. At the end, the Lord is praised.

This performance from the Royal Albert Hall in the BBC, Proms 2009, with Susan Gritton: soprano; Lucy Crowe: soprano; Iestyn Davies: countertenor; Mark Padmore: tenor; Ben Johnson: tenor; Neal Davies: bass; Christopher Purves: bass; The English Concert & The New Company conducted by Harry Bicket.

Thursday 25 September 2014


“I think of dieting, then I eat pizza...” - Lara Stone

We recently made this pizza at home after a friend gave us the recipe for the yoghurt dough, which does not require any yeast or raising. The topping is very much a personal matter and you can put whatever your favourite topping ingredients are on this base. The recipe I give you is for a very rich, non-vegetarian pizza that is a very satisfying meal for two to three people (depending on how hungry they are!). We make two of these pizzas, freeze one and then share the other one for a complete meal. We serve it with a fresh garden salad, a dry red wine and extra tasty cheese cubes on the side.

Ingredients (for two 30 cm diameter pizzas)
200 g natural Greek yoghurt
200 mL water (fill and rinse out the yoghurt container with this)
1 tsp salt
100 mL olive oil (half the yoghurt container full)
500 g sifted self-raising flour
Some olive oil for frying
2 x 250 g cans of peeled tomatoes, diced and stewed with a tbsp. of oil until much of the water is removed and the tomatoes are cooked and of a firmer consistency (leave to cool)
Oregano, dried and crumbled
300 g of grated tasty/mozzarella cheese mix
1 x 150 g of button mushrooms cut into small pieces
300 g of smoked leg ham cut into small cubes
1 green capsicum diced
2 x 100 g cans of anchovies
2 small onions, sliced thinly and separated into rings

In a bowl mix the yoghurt and water, adding the salt and oil, stirring to blend well. Add the flour and mix to form a smooth, soft dough. Don't over-knead the dough. Divide into two equal pieces and flatten out into disc shapes.
In a 30 cm flat frying pan put enough olive oil to just cover the bottom. Put one of the dough disks and with your hands flatten the dough carefully to cover the whole of the bottom of the pan, working all round to ensure a smooth, flat disc.
Fry the dough until it is golden on the bottom. Flip the dough disc and fry the other side. Transfer onto a 30 cm round pizza tray. Brush the top of the pizza base with some olive oil.
Spread half of the tomato mixture onto the pizza base and sprinkle oregano on this.
Add the grated cheese, one of the cans of chopped mushrooms, half the diced ham, half the diced capsicum. Add the one can of anchovy fillets, arranging them around the pizza so that they cover most of the area. Sprinkle the onion rings all round the pizza.
Repeat for the other pizza and bake in a preheated oven at 200˚C for 20 minutes or so, until the topping is cooked.
You can easily freeze one of the pizzas and rewarm when needed.

Please join me for Food Friday, adding your recipe choice in the Mr Linky list below:

Wednesday 24 September 2014


“What is patriotism but the love of the food one ate as a child?” - Lin Yutang

Have you ever stopped to think how many of our foods and drinks are named after a specific place? This of course is no surprise because many of them are very much products of a certain region or have been first made in that specific place. It occurred to me last weekend when we were drinking some excellent Australian sparkling wine made locally by Domaine Chandon. Notice how I did not use the word “Champagne” which is a strictly controlled appellation (“appelation contrôlée”) and reserved only for those sparkling wines produced in the 312 wine producing villages and towns in France. Rheims and Epernay are Champagne cities, but also the villages with charming names like Dizy, Bouzy and Rilly (honestly!)…

Similarly, Cognac is the French brandy produced in the Charente region. And incidentally, “Grande Champagne Cognac” can be used with impunity as the “champagne” in this instance refers to the Latin word from countryside or field “campania” (just as it refers to the bubbly’s etymology, but I guess the champagne producers do not mind because cognac does not compete with champagne in the marketplace!). I had to look up what VSOP stands for – “Very Special Old Pale”, which indicates what a fine cognac should be like! Armagnac is brandy from the Gers region, and some aficionados consider this superior to cognac.

I should also mention Jerez in the context of sherry and Oporto in the same boozy breath as port. Jerez takes its name from the province of Jerez de la Frontera in Andalusia, Spain, sherry being an Anglicisation of Jerez. Oporto is the capital and port of the district of the same name in northern Portugal. The city lies along the Douro River, 3 km from the river's mouth and 280 km north of Lisbon. World-famous for its port wine, Porto is Portugal's second largest city and is the commercial and industrial centre. The British have always been very partial to port and by extension, the colonies have similar tastes.

Now that we have had quite a bit of alcohol, what better than a bit of cheese? Gorgonzola is named after the tiny village of the same name close to Milan, Italy. The moist, delicious blue cheese has saved this village from obscurity. Parma of course produces the famous “parmigiano” – parmesan cheese, but also the delicious Parma ham. Would you like a little Dijon mustard with that? (Dijon being the capital of Côte d’Or département and of Bourgogne (Burgundy) région, east-central France – now that I’ve said Burgundy, how about a glass of it with your parmesan and ham? If you really know your wines and the Bourgogne, you can’t go past the tiny village of Nuits-Saint-Georges, said to produce the finest burgundy of France). Perhaps you’ve had enough alcohol and would rather have some Vichy water, from the notorious town in France that was the seat of the collaborationist government after France’s defeat in the Second World War. I should also mention the delicious vichyssoise, a soup made with potatoes, leeks, and cream and typically served chilled (although it’s debatable whether its origin is really French or American!).

If wine and water are not your beverage, how about some Pilsen beer? Pilsen is a city in the Czech Republic, whose citizens in 1295 were given the privilege by King Wenceslas II (son of the famous “Good King Wenceslas” of Christmas carol fame!) to make beer and sell it from their houses. Breweries sprang up and this would not have amounted to much, if not for the developments in the 19th century and the efforts of Josef Groll, master brewer. He experimented, and striking a great combination of Czech malt, hops and the soft Pilsen water produced a wonderful new beer: The light, clear, golden beer known as “Pilsner Urquell” (German for “original source”). Incidentally, Budweiser beer owes its origins to the nearby town of Ceské Budejovice.

Now how about some fish? Let’s go to Scotland and Arbroath, where the declaration of Scottish independence was signed in 1310 AD. Most people however, know this city for its “Arbroath Smokies”, a delicious hot smoked haddock dish. Down to England for some Worcestershire sauce from the town of Worcester. Both of these names have plagued English students with their pronunciation (woŏstərˌsh i(ə)r and ˈwoŏstər)! How about some Melton pies or Mowbray pies? Fancy some dessert? Then Bakewell tart it is for you!

Now that we are talking about desserts, how about some Eccles cakes or Pontefract cake, from the city of West Yorkshire. Also of course, Yorkshire pudding, which is not a dessert, but rather a popover made of baked unsweetened egg batter, and typically eaten with roast beef. Dundee in Scotland is a fine town and home to the wonderful Dundee cake. If you want something fancier, you need to go to Germany and have some Battenberg cake, from Battenberg in Hesse. You know the one, – a bit kitch, its chequered yellow and pink slices enveloped in marzipan and which was created in honour of Louis, Prince Battenberg. His son was Britain’s first Sea Lord in WWI and for obvious reasons, the name was anglicised to Mountbatten!

So far I’ve confined myself to Europe, but the USA is equally rich in this custom of place name foods. Idaho potatoes and Kentucky fried chicken are almost as well known internationally as in their place of origin. New York steaks, California rolls, Waldorf salad, Boston baked beans, Boston buns, New England clam chowder, Mississippi mud cake, Manhattan cocktails, Philly steak, Tex-Mex food, etc, etc.

Perhaps the most famous creation of the Americans is the hamburger. Not Hamburg, Germany, but Hamburg, New York State was the place where the popular fast food was invented. It was at the Hamburg annual fair organised by the Erie Agricultural Society that the hamburger was first sold in 1885. Frank and Charles Menches sold their traditional hot pork sandwiches there for years, until hot weather prevented slaughtering of pigs. Beef mince was used instead and the rest is history.

I could go on and talk about the Earl of Sandwich, tell you about Swiss rolls, Greek salad and Peking Ducks. Bombe Alaska, Long Island iced tea and Welsh rarebit. French Toast, Chinese Gooseberries and Bombay duck (which is really a fish!) and many many more. But I’ll stop here - I’m rather tired of kitchen chair travelling and getting rather hungry…


“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, From up and down, and still somehow, It’s cloud illusions I recall, I really don't know clouds at all.” – Joni Mitchell

Poetry Jam this week has set the theme of “clouds” as a springboard from which creative imaginations will leap into poetical expression. Here is my contribution:

The Cusp of Spring

On the cusp of Spring

With milky-brumy skies still wintry,
When evening falls early
Tinting the leaden clouds salmon-pink

When blue-violet hyacinths bloom,

Despite the bitter winds;
When rain falls and falls from grey-shrouded skies,
Making of the garden a forbidding place,
It is then that I want you most...

To clasp you close to my breast

As if you were a winter, hot-house rose,
Tall, slender, fragrant, snow-white;
To feel your ice-sharp thorns
Digging into my flesh, letting the ichor flow…

My blood to dye your white petals crimson,

Warming the wintry night
With the blood-heat’s freshly spilt libation
Hastening Spring’s arrival.

Tuesday 23 September 2014


“I believe that there is a subtle magnetism in Nature, which, if we unconsciously yield to it, will direct us aright.” - Henry David Thoreau

I woke up early today to a beautiful sunrise. The sun came up through the scant clouds on the East and was a warm yellow orange. As I drew the curtain the rays caressed the walls leaving a trail of optimism on the wallpaper. I tip-toed down the stairs and went out into the garden. One of the glories of Spring in the garden is the onslaught of fragrances from the blooming flowers. As much as possible we try and plant perfumed flowers in our garden. An aromatic mixture of jasmine, pittosporum, freesia, bluebells, late blooming hyacinths, lilacs and the freshness of the early morning as the sun rises cannot help but make one feel good.

The floral smells were soon replaced by that of freshly brewing coffee in the kitchen, and that most delicious and homely of smells, bread toasting. Breakfast is a good time, a time when one can prepare for the world outside the protection of one's home. A time when one can take energy for the demands of the day ahead. A time when one may exchange pleasant words, soft smiles and revel in the intimacy that will be lacking in the next few hours.

Breakfast is also another of the times when the soft strains of classical music resonate through the house. We usually listen to ABC Classic FM and the breakfast program is usually light and fluffy, with a wealth of short pieces by a variety of composers, from the Renaissance through to the Romantics, but always a fair slew of Baroque music - just the sort of thing to listen to during breakfast.

It turned out to be a brilliant, very warm, sunshine-filled Spring day. We enjoyed the sun and birdsong, the flowers and the warmth. The windows of the house were open, the heaters well and truly turned off and even dinner was seasonally adjusted with asparagus quiche, fresh garden salad and lemon sorbet for dessert. A delightful day that left us thankful for life and its bounty, which good fortune has allowed us to enjoy.

I realise that as we enjoy Spring and its delights, many of my friends in the Northern hemisphere are embarking on the more sombre voyage of Autumn. However, one must take delight in whatever each season metes out, for there are many pleasures that are specific to each one. On this day of the Spring Equinox (or Autumn Equinox, if you live up North!), enjoy the natural delights of your season…

Sunday 21 September 2014


“I’m afraid that if you look at a thing long enough, it loses all of its meaning.” - Andy Warhol

We watched two Greek films at the weekend. One much fêted and critically acclaimed “art cinema” film that we detested with a vengeance, and one lesser known film that we enjoyed considerably and recommend most highly. Cinema is an art that has many facets and while one may view it as “high art” capable of expressing subtle nuances of emotion and thought, it also has an entertainment value, and above all one would desire to be able to watch films with interest and engagement – no matter what the purpose behind their making is. I’ll review the rotten egg this week and review the movie we liked next week…

Theodoros “Theo” Angelopoulos (Greek: Θεόδωρος Αγγελόπουλος; 27 April 1935 – 24 January 2012) was a Greek filmmaker, screenwriter and film producer. He is an acclaimed and multi-awarded film director who dominated the Greek art film industry from 1975 on. Angelopoulos is one of the most influential and widely respected filmmakers in the world. He started making films in 1967 and in the 1970s especially made several movies with a strong political message. He later chose to make films full of subtle emotional content, characterised by slightest movement, slightest change in distance, long takes, and complicated but carefully composed scenes. At the best of times, this type of film can be seen as offering a hypnotic, sweeping, and profoundly emotional cinema; at the worst it may be described as soporific, boring, unengaging.

We watched his “Voyage to Cythera” of 1984, starring Manos Katrakis, Mairi Hronopoulou, Giulio Brogi and Dionysis Papagiannopoulos. This is about a film director who is searching for the right actor to cast in his movie (to play his father, perhaps – is the director making an autobiographical film? Who knows?). Suddenly an old man who is the director’s father (or maybe not) a political revolutionary and ex-patriot returns home after decades of exile in the Ukraine to reclaim his place in Greek society and family. But he is unwilling to sell his land to make way for a giant new construction project, making him hated amongst his neighbours who are anxious to get cash for their rocky soil. He feels alienated from his family and decides to go and live in a hotel rather than the family home. Before long, the man is found to no longer have standing as a Greek citizen, and his placed on a raft off shore while the authorities decide what to do with him.

The film is painfully slow and exasperatingly obscure (although it is said to be one of Angelopoulos’ most accessible films). I do not consider myself a Philistine nor stupid, however, this film (that we sat through till the bitter end two hours later) frustrated and annoyed us. Other directors have made films about similar topics that were uncomfortable, challenging, emotionally draining, but for goodness sake they were engaging and made the viewer desperately want to watch the next scene. Angelopoulos repels the viewers and throws them is a sticky mess of soft, yielding mud. Sure enough there are some “beautiful” shots, but we cannot watch them for minutes on end – that is what photography is for. A movie is meant to capture movement and action. Waiting for someone to say something that is enlightening and propel the plot forward is painful for viewers of this movie. The plot does not march forward it is dragged forward unwillingly by a snail.

After a few minutes of watching this (in fact at about half an hour into the movie) we considered stopping watching it. We did not care what was going to happen to the characters and the film seemed to have little plot or character development. This was confirmed as we kept watching, albeit painfully… We decided to watch till the end as the film was a famous and critically acclaimed one. At the end we decided that we were savages and devoid of any art appreciation skills and pronounced the film a dud. Or maybe we decided to say that the emperor had no clothes on

One of the few redeeming features of the film was the music by Greek composer Eleni Karaindrou (born 1941). Her first Soundtrack album was released in 1979 for the movie “Periplanissi” by Chistoforos Christofis. In 1982 she won the Thessaloniki International Film Festival and was noticed by Theo Angelopoulos, the president of the committee. They collaborated in the last eight films of the Greek director from 1984 to 2008. Karaindrou is very prolific. Until 2008 she had composed music for 18 full-length movies, 35 theatrical productions and 11 Serials and Television films. She has also worked with Chris Marker, Jules Dassin and Margarethe von Trotta. A musician of extraordinary sensibility, she received in 1992 the Premio Fellini by Europa cinema.

This is the fourth Angelopoulos film I have watched, and unfortunately it is the fourth film of his I have disliked. Watch it at your peril, considering what the critics have said who have raved about this movie (at the time of writing this IMDB rated the film at 7.9/10) and what I have written. I rate it at 4/10…