Saturday 4 July 2015


“We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies.” - Martin Luther King, Jr.

I’m in a melancholy mood tonight and the only music I want to hear is this… Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei” (a transcription for mixed choir of his Adagio for strings Op. 11). This performance by The Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge & Richard Marlow.

Samuel Barber was an American composer, (1910 - 1981). Barber’s music, masterfully crafted and built on romantic structures and sensibilities, is at once lyrical, rhythmically complex, and harmonically rich.

Barber was born 9th March 1910 in West Chester, Pennsylvania, Barber wrote his first piece at age 7 and attempted his first opera at age 10. At the age of 14 he entered the Curtis Institute, where he studied voice, piano, and composition. Later, he studied conducting with Fritz Reiner. At Curtis, Barber met Gian Carlo Menotti with whom he would form a lifelong personal and professional relationship. Menotti supplied libretti for Barber’s operas “Vanessa” (for which Barber won the Pulitzer Prize) and “A Hand of Bridge”.

Barber's music was championed by a remarkable range of renowned artists, musicians, and conductors including Vladimir Horowitz, John Browning, Martha Graham, Arturo Toscanini, Dmitri Mitropoulos, Jennie Tourel, and Eleanor Steber. His “Antony and Cleopatra” was commissioned to open the new Metropolitan Opera House at Lincoln Center in 1966. Barber was the recipient of numerous awards and prizes including the American Prix de Rome, two Pulitzers, and election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His intensely lyrical “Adagio for Strings” has become one of the most recognisable and beloved compositions, both in concerts and films.

To all American readers of this blog, enjoy the celebration of your Independence Day!

Friday 3 July 2015


“Baking makes me focus. On weighing the sugar. On sieving the flour. I find it calming and rewarding because, in fairness, it is sort of magic – you start off with all this disparate stuff, such as butter and eggs, and what you end up with is so totally different. And also delicious.” – Marian Keyes

One of the recipes we brought back with us after our last trip to the USA some years ago was this one for blueberry muffins. We stayed at a wonderful little boutique hotel in Seattle, which served these delicious home-made muffins for breakfast and the very friendly and amiable hostess was kind enough to give us the recipe.

2 cups self-raising flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 cup caster sugar
2 large eggs
1 and1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 cup milk
2 and 1/2 cups blueberries
2 tablespoons demerara sugar (for topping, if desired)
Non-stick cooking spray
12 silicone muffin cases

Preheat the oven to 200°C. Spray the muffin cases with non-stick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the butter and granulated sugar for about 2 minutes until light and fluffy.
Add the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides of the bowl and beating well after each addition.
Beat in the vanilla extract (the batter may look a little grainy but that’s okay).
Gradually add the flour mixture, alternating with the milk, beating on low speed to combine. Stop beating the mixture.
Add the berries to the batter and fold gently with a spatula until evenly distributed. Do not overmix.
Scoop the batter into the prepared muffin cases.
Sprinkle the demerara sugar evenly on top of the muffins if you so desire.
Bake for about 30 minutes, until lightly golden and a cake tester comes out clean.
Let the muffins cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the cases.

Add you favourite recipes below, using the Linky tool.

Thursday 2 July 2015


"Hunger is the best sauce in the world." - Cervantes

If you are a vegetarian, you may like to skip this blog today as you may find it too distressing! People with heart conditions are warned not to read any further. Treehuggers and animal liberation people read no more. If you are an incurable romantic with easily bruised sensibilities, likewise, do not read this.

Humans are described as omnivores biologically, meaning that we eat a little bit of everything. That everything includes fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, meats and fats. Ii some cultures, the term “everything: is taken rather more literally and if an animal is slaughtered for food, each and every part of that animal is consumed or somehow used. The term “offal” is used for describing the internal organs and innards of an animal or fish, including brain, liver, kidney, tripe, and heart. It can also refer to the animal's extremities, such as head, tail, trotters and tongue. Various other bits and pieces like giblets, cockscomb, caul, lights, various glands, bone marrow, blood, etc are also included in this definition. Offal used as food is a tradition that goes back to the hunter/gatherer days of prehistory when to have killed an animal meant an awful lot of good luck. Every part of that animal was eaten as people did not know when again they would be able to feast on such a luxury.

We have come a long way since then, but our Neanderthal heritage is still to be found in our genes, and offal is still on our menu. The masters of the contemporary euphemism, the Americans, prefer to refer to offal as “variety meats” and in several chic restaurants in the States, one may now find increasing use of these delicacies. Are the foodies and epicures slumming it? The tradition of offal consumption represents a simple case of thrifty agrarian necessity. The farmer who knows what expense and resources go into the raising of a food animal, is convinced easily that if one is to be so indulgent as to slaughter an animal, one had better make use of all of it, even the “nasty bits”. Europeans rich and poor have always dined on offal, but it nevertheless has retained a certain… bucolic reputation. The Italians call it “la cucina povera”, or “poor food”, as a reminder of the farming origins of these dishes.

Recipes for offal abound and regional cuisines around the world make full use of all bits and pieces of the animal. “Waste not, want not” is still very much alive and many cultures would blanch at our wasteful society and its preoccupation with “chicken breasts” and “fillet mignon”.

Everyone has heard of the famous traditional Scottish haggis, which consists of sheep stomach stuffed with a boiled mix of liver, heart, lungs, rolled oats and other ingredients. Steak and kidney pie is traditional English fare, while in France, the Iberian peninsula and Italy, many items in the delicatessen and charcuterie displays boast delicious concoctions made from offal. Some of the top restaurants in Europe serve offal as “plats de resistance” – with prices to match! Asian cuisine makes no distinction between offal and other parts of the animal and is it very much a case of eating everything from the pig except the squeal.

In Greece, offal is consumed with great gusto and some famous Greek dishes utilise offal to great effect. Splinantero consists of liver, spleen and small intestine, roasted over an open fire. Kokoretsi is a similar dish that is usually Easter fare and comprises pieces of lamb offal (liver, heart, lungs, spleen, kidney and fat) that are pierced on a spit and covered by washed small intestine wound around in a spiral fashion. The kokoretsi is then roasted over coal fire. Another traditional Easter food is mageiritsa, a soup made with lamb or kid's offal and lettuce, dill, spring onions in a white egg-and-lemon sauce. Tzigerosarmas ("liver wrap") and gardoumba are two varieties of splinantero and kokoretsi made in different sizes and with extra spices to improve the taste.

If you want to read more, here are a couple of links:

Wednesday 1 July 2015


“It is difficult to free fools from the chains they revere.” - Voltaire

This week, Poets United has as its theme “Freedom”. No doubt, this has been inspired by the proximity of Independence Day on July 4th. Happy 4th of July to all US readers!

My poem today is either ironic (especially given the events in Greece), or just another love poem… You pick what you like!

The Pain of Freedom

Come hither enslave me,
Once again bind me
Save me from all the pain of freedom,
The dreaded spectre of alternative,
The cackling hag of free choice.
I’ll follow blindly your instruction
Speak, and your command will be obeyed.
My will a leaf that flutters
In the strong gusts of your whims and fancies.

Without you what am I?
What can I do?
How can I feel without your presence?
Without your hand to guide me,
How can I tell the why, how and wherefore?
Come hither once again
And free me from the pain of choice
The agonies of independence.

Tuesday 30 June 2015


“When a woman is talking to you, listen to what she says with her eyes.” - Victor Hugo

I wrote the following snippet of a story as a result of a challenge to “write a short story of 350-400 words”. Here is what I wrote, counting off just below 400 words:


My love affairs had always followed the rules. A disciplined existence such as mine always adhered to schedules, time-tables, agendas and dot-point lists. Was it so surprising then that my liaisons were predictable, worked out by a mathematical formula and more often than not, negotiated? Compatibility was not the result of exploration and the enjoyment of doing things together, but rather it depended on the outcome of some computer match test.

Relationships worked out as expected, rather like a well-rehearsed formal dance where both partners know the tune and steps, and the interaction becomes mechanical, rather than the expression of a deeper passion that drives both to improvise and enjoy the emotion of the moment. The machines of these relationships broke down with amazing regularity, not because the mechanism was being overworked, but rather of ennui - a boredom generated by the repetitive, clockwork-like precision of their predictability.

Caz was different from the beginning. She came into the office in an eyebrow-raising flurry of organised disorganisation. She held a tourist map of the City and a puzzled expression creased her impish face.
“I always confuse myself when trying to read maps, can you tell me how to get to this place?” she said, pointing vaguely to a spot circled on the map.
I looked disapprovingly at her rather scruffy appearance, but her smile was sunny, genuine and disarming…

I wavered and smiled back without meaning to, spontaneously and helplessly. There was something remarkably appealing and fresh about this woman. I started to rattle off a set of directions, but her blank expression after a couple of sentences made me smile again. I nodded and pointed her towards the door.
“It’s lunchtime,” I said. “I’m walking down that way, put your map away and let me show you…”

Caz and I are as unlike as two people can be. Opposites attract, they say, but how lasting can such a relationship be when there is almost nothing in common between two people and their relationship is a constant succession of surprises, clashes and opposing goals? A roller-coaster ride of passionate outbursts and deep emotions, discovery of not only of the other person but also of one’s self.

We’ve been together for 20 years now and this one, crazy relationship that has lasted, was all without schedules and formulas, tests and compatibility quotients – a wonderful trip, without a map…

Monday 29 June 2015


“We all have a dinosaur deep within us just trying to get out.” - Colin Mochrie

The sequel, of a sequel, of a sequel… It seems that movie screens are being flooded with such regurgitated pap lately. One only has to look at the Batman series of movies (or the Superman, or the Spiderman, or any super hero ones for that matter); or perhaps the Godzilla spawn, or the Nightmare on Elm Street series, or any number of fantasy/sci-fi movies that seem to be multiplying in plague proportions. What is it with sequels? Is it movie producers sticking with a good milch cow and squeezing every drop of milk from it, or is it perhaps a public that yearns to retread familiar old paths, or stick with familiar characters and fave actors? Whatever the case is, there is no shortage of sequels and movie series…

The latest new kid on the block is Colin Trevorrow’s 2015 “Jurassic World” starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and Ty Simpkins. Now I must admit that I watched and enjoyed Steven Spielberg’s 1993 “Jurassic Park”. At the time I saw it, it was fresh, engaging, thrilling, exciting, full of great special effects, and a great music score. I saw the sequel, Spielberg’s 1997 “The Lost World” and this was OK. By the time the third sequel came out, Joe Johnston’s 2001 “Jurassic Park III”, I’d had enough of dinosaurs and refused to watch it. A good choice, my friends who had seen it told me.

The newest arrival, “Jurassic World”, sets the action 22 years after the original Jurassic Park failed. The new park is open for business but as the novelty of dinosaurs has worn off, a new attraction is needed to bring in the crowds. The friendly neighbourhood mad scientists create a new hybrid dinosaur called Indominus rex – a gigantic, fearsome animal that was made to awe and terrify visitors. It seems to be doing the job and the crowds flock to the island to be wowed. But things go wrong and the dinosaur goes on a rampage… Sound familiar? Hmmm, yes, of course, it’s the sequel of a sequel, of a sequel…

The special effects and creatures in this film are probably the best in the series up till now. Some CGI are obvious, but not distracting. One comes to expect that with the advances in movie-making technology. Carnage, violence and body count are all higher in this movie than in any other of the films in the series, however, it has lost its edge… Add to that a predictable script and the movie becomes a “creature feature”, more of a horror movie with a malevolent and dastardly creature wreaking havoc, rather than an intelligent sci-fi that poses some ethical questions.

Chris Pratt is playing a fairly standard heroic role and his one of the few likeable characters in the film. One good actor/character can’t hold the movie single-handedly, which he has to do as the remainder of the cast are cardboard cuts outs (including some bad acting), and some sexist stereotypes of women. The script has pretty bad dialogue and a lacklustre plot. Chris Pratt is likeable hero, but he’s not given the chance to lift the film into the stratosphere, with mediocre direction and internal script and plot deficiencies.

See this movie if you want some mindless entertainment, cheap thrills and you are in horror movie mood. Order lots of pizza and get a few friends together so you can take the mickey out of the scenes that don’t work as well as the director hoped. You’ll probably enjoy it more if you haven’t seen the original movie…

Sunday 28 June 2015


“The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.” - Jacques YvesCousteau

Harry Aiken Vincent (1864-1931), an American painter, was born in Chicago and as an artist was largely self taught. Although he painted in the Chicago area early in his career, by the turn of the century he was painting and exhibiting in New England and gaining a strong reputation for his marine views.

Vincent’s paintings were widely exhibited and the artist won many awards. He was noted for his heavy use of pigment and colourful compositions. He held membership in the prestigious Salmagundi Club where he won awards in 1907, 1916 and 1918 and was both a member and associate of the National Academy of Design where his work was exhibited in 1892 and 1897.

With his studio in Boston, Vincent was also one of the many accomplished artists that made up what became known as the Rockport School. He became the first president of the Rockport Art Association in 1921 and served as a charter member of the North Shore Art Association. The visually abundant region around Rockport, Massachusetts attracted a wealth of talented painters in the early part of the century. H. A. Vincent painted many of his finest works in and around the Rockport area.

Vincent had a penchant for bold impressionistic marine and waterfront scenes, showing special interest in themes of the commonplace in the working harbour, such as unloading fish, drying sails, moored fishing boats and seaside views.