Friday 31 October 2014


“Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in. Aim at earth and you get neither.” - C. S. Lewis

All Saints’ Day, also known as All Hallows, Solemnity of All Saints, or Feast of All Saints is a solemnity celebrated on 1 November by the Catholic Church and several Protestant denominations, and on the first Sunday after Pentecost in Eastern Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, in honour of all the saints, known and unknown.

The liturgical celebration begins at Vespers on the evening of 31 October and ends at the close of 1 November. It is thus the day before All Souls’ Day. Hallowmass is another term for the feast, and was used by Shakespeare in this sense. However, a few recent writers have applied this term to the three days from 31 October to 2 November inclusive, as a synonym for the triduum of Hallowtide.

In Catholic theology, the day commemorates all those who have attained the beatific vision in Heaven. It is a national holiday in many historically Catholic countries. In the Catholic Church and many Anglican churches, the next day specifically commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been purified and reached Heaven. Christians who celebrate All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day do so in the fundamental belief that there is a prayerful spiritual bond between those in heaven (the “Church triumphant”), and the living (the “Church militant”).

Other Christian traditions define, remember and respond to the saints in different ways; for example, in the Methodist Church, the word “saints” refers to all Christians and therefore, on All Saints’ Day, the Church Universal, as well as the deceased members of a local congregation, are honoured and remembered.

The image above is a detail from John August Swanson’s “The Procession”. John August Swanson (born January 11, 1938) is an American visual artist working primarily in the medium of serigraphy, as well as oil, watercolour, acrylic, mixed media, lithography, and etching. Swanson studied with Corita Kent at Immaculate Heart College. He is the recipient of a Doctor of Humane Letters degree honoris causa from California Lutheran University. He has collaborated on a number of books.

The son of a Mexican mother and a Swedish father, Swanson’s art reflects the strong narrative influences of his cultural upbringing. His works frequently depict scenes of community life, as in “Festival of Lights” (2000), “Tales of Hoffman” (2001), and “Psalm 85” (2003). Swanson’s images are optimistic and colourful, with a strongly humanistic feel. Swanson is perhaps best known for his biblical imagery. Combining the flat, stylised look of iconography with the bright palette and strong narrative sense of his background in Latin American folk art, pieces such as “Daniel” (2000), “Good Samaritan” (2002), and “Washing of the Feet” have proven popular among collectors of religious artwork around the world.

Here is Guillaume de Machaut’s “Messe de Notre Dame” sung by the Gilles Binchois Ensemble, under the direction of Dominique Vellard in the Thoronet Abbey.

Thursday 30 October 2014


“In our town, Halloween was terrifying and thrilling, and there was a whiff of homicide. We'd travel by foot in the dark for miles, collecting candy, watching out for adults who seemed too eager to give us treats.” - Rosecrans Baldwin

Happy Halloween!

Halloween or Hallowe’en (a contraction of “All Hallows’ Evening”), also known as All Hallows’ Eve, or All Saints’ Eve, is a yearly celebration observed in a number of countries on 31 October, the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day. It initiates the three-day feast of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed believers. Within Allhallowtide, the traditional focus of All Hallows’ Eve revolves around the theme of using “humour and ridicule to confront the power of death.”

Here is a recipe to help you celebrate this feast, using the traditional Autumnal fare of the Americas, pumpkin! Pumpkin pie is a rich, spicy sweet dessert traditionally eaten in the holidays of Autumn and Winter.

Pumpkin Pie
250 grams shortcrust pastry (make first, see below)
450 grams pumpkin (flesh, diced)
125 grams sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon ground mace
½ teaspoon ground cloves
4 eggs, beaten
150 ml single cream

Pre-heat oven to 190ºC.
Roll out pastry and line a deep, 20 cm flan dish. Prick the base, cover with baking paper loosely and bake blind for 10 mins.
Bring a large pan of water to the boil, add the pumpkin and cook until tender. Drain well, then liquidise to a purée.
Put the purée into a bowl, add the remaining ingredients and mix well.
Pour the mixture into the pastry case and cook for ≈45 mins until set.
You may dust the top of the pie with cinnamon using a jack-o-lantern stencil.
Serve with ice cream, cream or custard.

Shortcrust Pastry
250 g plain flour
Pinch of salt
225 g cold unsalted butter
160 mL cold water

Place flour and salt in food processor and pulse to combine.
Chop cold butter (not too fine, just into several pieces) and add to flour mixture. Pulse until mixture is coarse and lumpy
Add water and pulse
Wrap in cling film and chill at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.

Please join me for Food Friday by adding your own favourite recipes using the Mr Linky tool below:

Wednesday 29 October 2014


“We could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it.” - George Eliot, The Mill on the Floss, 1860

Whenever I remember my grandmother’s kitchen, the smell of it is what comes to mind first. Not the smell we associate with food cooking and which would vary according to the dish prepared. Rather, what I loved was the general, ambient smell one could appreciate first thing in the morning, for example. It was a wonderful mixture of herbal aromas of the bunches that were hanging to dry from the rafters near the pantry, the smell of bread toasting and milk being warmed, the wafting floral perfumes from the garden outside as they entered from the open window. A heady mix, a homely, warm, comfortable smell, fresh and pungent at the same time. Sweet and aromatic, but with a tinge of bitterness and refreshing vigour.

In the last few years, herbs have been becoming increasingly popular. Their curative properties, well known for centuries, have been rediscovered and herbalists or natural medicine practitioners enjoying an ever-increasing clientele. But despite this recent herb-fascination, herbs have been used widely, often ignored by most people. Herbs have been flavouring our most basic foods. What would pizza be if it weren’t for the tang of oregano? Could pesto be made without basil? What about the flavour of pickles without dill? Basil, rosemary, French tarragon, oregano and parsley are amongst the most versatile and popular cooking herbs, but the list of herbs numbers in the hundreds, especially if we look at cuisines all over the world.

Herbs are aromatic plants whose leaves, stems and flowers are used as flavouring. Spices also come from aromatic plants, but are derived from the bark, roots, seeds, buds and berries. Many herbs were first cultivated in the warmer climates of Europe along the Mediterranean, which explains the more savoury aspect of Mediterranean cooking compared to some of the blander traditional dishes of Northern Europe, for example. Here are five herbs that are essential to have in a pantry or growing in your garden:

Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) is one of the most popular herbs worldwide and the world’s oldest breath freshener. Chewing a couple of sprigs of fresh parsley after one has eaten garlic is said to be helpful in freshening the breath. It is a crucial ingredient in the Middle Eastern dish of tabbouleh. The curly variety of parsley is often used as a garnish, while the flat-leafed parsley is almost exclusively reserved for cooking. The flavour of this herb complements raw salads or simmered soups well. Parsley blends well with both mild and strong-flavoured herbs, so it is often used in combination with many others. Parsley does well in sunny spots, but will tolerate partial shade. It will not tolerate long periods in dry soils.

Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a perennial bush with spiky, short leaves. Rosemary sprigs are quite aromatic and used for flavouring lamb and pork, sausages and pâtés. Rosemary sprigs can also be sprinkled over open coals before grilling so the meat will absorb the roasted herb flavour. Like basil, this herb is often used in Italian but also in Greek cooking. It is popular in oil infusions with vinegar or wine. Rosemary can be used well both fresh and dried. The plant prefers warm climates and well-drained soil. The bluish-mauve flowers of rosemary are an added bonus at the end of summer.

Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a small annual bush with bright green leaves and spikes of small white flowers. Basil is best paired with tomato dishes and is most popular in Italian cooking. It also forms the basis for pesto. Basil is best used fresh as its flavour diminishes and alters when dried. Basil makes a popular plant for herbal gardens and sunny windowsills. To keep the leaves sprouting, and to prevent the plant from going to seed early, pinch off the flower stems the minute they appear.

French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) is one of the most versatile herbs. It is typically used dried, and is rich in flavour. It is a classic for sauces like Béarnaise, but also useful for adding flavour to fish and eggs. Tarragon and rosemary do not mix well together and should not be used in the same dish. Parsley and chives can on the other hand be successfully combined with tarragon. Like most herbs, tarragon plants love sunny positions and the flavour intensifies when exposed to direct heat.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) grows wild in Mediterranean countries and is used widely in the region’s cooking. Oregano has a savoury flavour that works well with tomatoes, salads (especially the fresh herb), soups (minestrone!) and pasta, as well as with fish and game. Most pizza sauces are flavoured with oregano. The herb is quite pungent, but it will quickly lose flavour if cooked too long and may actually turn bitter if overcooked. When the flower buds are visible and just about to open, oregano leaves are said to be at their most flavoursome. Again like most herbs, oregano loves open, sunny garden spots. Its leaves are well adapted to drying if left in a warm, but dry and shady spot. For drying, the herb should be allowed to set seed and then collected and dried.

Although I like most herbs very much, one herb the flavour of which I rather dislike is fresh coriander (cilantro). Its smell can be overpowering and slightly nauseating for me. On the other hand, ground coriander seed I rather like! Go figure… Are there any herbs that you particularly dislike?


“Doctoring her seemed to her as absurd as putting together the pieces of a broken vase. Her heart was broken. Why would they try to cure her with pills and powders?” - Leo Tolstoy

For this week, Poetry Jam has selected the theme of “Broken” in order to inspire the participants of the poetic challenge.

In Japan, when an object is mended, the damaged part is highlighted by decorating it with precious metal. The presence of the flaw highlights the history of the object, with its value and beauty perceived as being greater than before. We too can repair ourselves and wear proudly our scars, as if they are adorned with gold. Here is my offering:

Closed for Renovations

My heart is closed for renovations:
Your residence therein
Was somewhat indelicate,
And much needed be done
To make it habitable once again.

I’ve left my heart vacant, for now:
Following your eviction,
The cracks in its walls will be repaired,
Fresh coats of paint applied
And a new colour scheme chosen.

It is a barren place, my heart:
Since you left, you left it empty –
Save for your rubbish, cast-offs,
And your unwanted lumbering baggage
That none would want, not even me, now.

It’s worse for wear and tear, my heart:
But I’ll mend it and renew it,
Recondition and repair it.
And this time around, I’ll be more careful,
I won’t give it away for free…

My freshly painted, remodelled heart,
Is now for sale; not for rent, nor to be given away –
Sold, as paint jobs are expensive and renovations costly.
My heart is more precious now,
An old thing broken and repaired
Is more beautiful than a thing brand new.

Tuesday 28 October 2014


“Colour has taken possession of me; no longer do I have to chase after it. I know that it has hold of me forever... Colour and I are one. I am a painter.” - Paul Klee

For Literary Tuesday today I have an extremely interesting book for you. It is written by Victoria Finlay and it is called “Colour: Travels Through the Paintbox.” (2002). I recommend it highly for reading by anyone who has an interest in art, painting, anthropology, history, politics, social science or anyone who has a curious and active mind. It is well written and full of charming anecdotes, picaresque details, interesting trivia and scholarly (yet never dull!) research.

The book is a history of colour, especially the colours used by artists - but not only. Finlay takes us through ancient times in her travels in Northern and Central Australia in order to uncover the secrets of the most fundamental of colours, the earthy ochres. In Prehistorical and Classical Europe looking at the origins of our blacks and browns. She then shifts to the elusive and often deadly searches for the perfect white.

We travel to exotic places for encounters with the fiery reds and oranges, with many secret recipes for these pigments still remaining unknown. We are exposed to unsavoury practices in the manufacture of Indian yellow, while we delight in the joys of saffron and the mystery of Chinese green and the deadly arsenical greens. Precious blue is sought in Afghanistan and the book finishes with the various synthetic pigments that have given us magnificent purples and magentas, by the way of Tyrian purples and Indigo plants.

I was fascinated by this book and it proved to be unputtable-down! There is romance and intrigue, mystery and adventure, murder and passion in colour. A wealth of information is in the book, but the erudite work is presented in an engaging and amusing way, with many anecdotes involving famous (an infamous!) people.

If this subject interests you, here is a web site about colour:

Monday 27 October 2014


“What greater grief than the loss of one’s native land.”  - Euripides

One of the most amazing things about ancient Greek plays is their relevance to today’s world, even though they were written nearly two-and-a-half millennia ago. They deal with human situations that are familiar to us, and their characters are oddly modern in their emotions and the ideas that they struggle with. The tragedies in particular, can wreak havoc with our emotional stability as the raw power that they are packed with makes us participate in the plot’s twists and turns and we can only but sympathise with the vicissitudes of the protagonists’ lives.

Greek tragedy on the stage can be extremely powerful and well-produced, but it can also be ridiculous. Film adaptations of Greek tragedy are not common, and can also fall into these two extreme groups – the excellent or the very bad. Yesterday we watched Michael Cacoyannis’ excellent 1971 filmic adaptation of Euripides’ The Trojan Women. I was glad to say that it was a magnificent adaptation. The film was entirely stripped of its supernatural baggage (for example there is no prologue by Poseidon, god of the sea and no introductory episode with Athena and Poseidon talking about divine punishment), and thus was made entirely human and we could concentrate directly on the tragic situation of the fall of Troy.

Euripides’ play “The Trojan Women”, is not so much a tragic story as a portrayal of a tragic situation. Euripides dramatises the postwar conditions of the women of Troy, who become spoils of war. They are assembled in front of the ruins of their once-great city and await to be shipped to Greece where they will become slaves and concubines to the victors. The protagonists are Hecuba, the widowed queen of Troy; Cassandra, her half-mad daughter and seer; Andromache, Hecuba’s daughter-in-law, widow of Hector; and of course, Helen of Troy.

The play was produced in 415 BC shortly after the capture of Melos by the Athenians, in what was a particularly terrible time as far as hostilities between Athens and Sparta are concerned. Euripides’ purpose for writing this anti-war play is patent in the context of the brutal destruction of Melos and enslavement of its population. Euripides’ plays are largely a departure from the typical tragedies of Aeschylus and Sophocles. Euripides is often revolutionary in that he chooses to dramatise unconventional views, he takes the part of the underdog, exposes nobility of character in the humblest individual. In “The Trojan Women” this is exemplified, as he shows that slave women possess a nobility of mind that stands in striking contrast to the inhumanity of the victorious Greek warriors.

The ruthless drama portrays hope as self-delusion and folly, and the doomed women are shown as being resigned to their fate, with forbearance and acceptance of an injustice they see as their abandonment by their gods. Hecuba and the Trojan Women have to deal with the brutality of war and the irrefutable lack of compassion by the victorious Greeks. The callous disregard for the lives of innocent women and children is highlighted by Euripides. Hecuba is a woeful woman in a postwar environment full of terror and destruction. She never considers the possibility of female rebellion against corrupt yet superior male forces, although Cassandra may be said to do so, but is driven by vengeance.

The film has a star-studded cast led by Katharine Hepburn as Hecuba, Vanessa Redgrave as Andromache, Geneviève Bujold as Cassandra and Irene Papas as Helen. All act superbly and the film is carried by each of these spectacular performances that dovetail into one another and enliven wonderfully Euripides’ play. Brian Blessed as the messenger and Patrick Magee as Menelaus, Helen’s husband, have good supporting roles. However, this movie is an ensemble piece for the actresses who carry it off with great panache and talent.

Cacoyannis wrote the scenario based on Edith Hamilton’s translation of Euripides and also directed and edited the film. There is a unity of vision in the finished product when this happens. A scenarist, director who also edits the film gives us a product of his creativity that is truly part of himself. A play is a vehicle for the actors’ art, with the director being reduced to a technician. A film allows the director to assume the role of the artist and the actors are his paints, with whom he can create the art on the screen.

The music is by Mikis Theodorakis and complements the action well. Maria Farandouri sings with passion and her contralto voice provides a strong support to the drama on the screen. The locations and cinematography are excellent and the parched, dusty landscape on which the towering ruinous walls of Troy lay is extremely evocative.

When you see this film, don’t expect an epic. There are no chariot races, no nail-biting gladiatorial combats, no battle scenes with thousands of extras. There is no sex, no special effects, no scenes of popular appeal or mawkish sentimentality. The film has in common with the play the basic elements of a Greek tragedy: The viewer is involved in the action, and together with the characters experiences a personal transformation. A great anti-war film with a powerful message delivered in a raw, emotionally charged and violent way. See it if you can lay your hands on it.