Saturday 26 December 2015


“Hope smiles from the threshold of the year to come, whispering, 'It will be happier.' " - Alfred Lord Tennyson

With Christmas over, it’s now time to look forward to the New Year. As the cycle of the year draws to a close it’s time to reflect on all that’s been, all that we have learnt and experienced, all that has made us (hopefully) better people. The new year ahead should hopefully prove to be a better one for us personally if we use our retrospective wisdom, and one can always be optimistic and believe that the rest of humanity will strive for a better year in 2016.

For Music Saturday, one of the best known and loved ballets of all time: Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s (1840-1893) “Swan Lake”. Here is the production of the Vienna State Opera with soloists: Odette/Odile: Olga Esina; Prince Siegfried: Vladimir Shishov; and Rothbart: Eno Peci.

Friday 25 December 2015


“Chocolate is the first luxury. It has so many things wrapped up in it: deliciousness in the moment, childhood memories, and that grin-inducing feeling of getting a reward for being good.” - Mariska Hargitay

Merry Christmas! As if you didn’t have enough rich food around at Christmas, here is a scrumptious ultra-decadent brownies recipe guaranteed to send your chocometer into the red zone…

185g unsalted butter
185g good quality dark chocolate
85g plain flour
40g cocoa powder
50g white chocolate
50g milk chocolate
3 large eggs
275g golden caster sugar
Icing sugar for dusting

Cut the unsalted butter into smallish cubes and tip into a medium bowl. Break the dark chocolate into small pieces and drop into the bowl. Fill a small saucepan about a quarter full with hot water, then sit the bowl on top so it rests on the rim of the pan, not touching the water. Put over a low heat until the butter and chocolate have melted, stirring occasionally to mix them. Now remove the bowl from the pan. Alternatively, cover the bowl loosely with cling film and put in the microwave for 2 minutes on high. Leave the melted chocolate mixture to cool to room temperature.

While you wait for the chocolate to cool, position a shelf in the middle of your oven and turn the fan-forced oven on to fan to 160˚C for 10 minutes to heat up. Using a shallow 20cm square tin, cut out a square of non-stick baking parchment to line the base.

Now tip the plain flour and the cocoa powder into a sieve held over a medium bowl, and tap and shake the sieve so they run through together and you get rid of any lumps. With a large sharp knife, chop 50g white chocolate and 50g milk chocolate into small chunks on a board.

Break 3 large eggs into a large bowl and tip in the golden caster sugar. With an electric mixer on maximum speed, whisk the eggs and sugar until they look thick and creamy, like a milk shake. This can take 3-8 minutes. You’ll know it’s ready when the mixture becomes really pale and about double its original volume. Lift out the beaters and shake them from side to side. If the mixture that runs off the beaters leaves a trail on the surface of the mixture in the bowl for a second or two, it’s ready.

Pour the cooled chocolate mixture into the egg mousse, and gently fold together with a rubber spatula. The idea is to mix them without knocking out the air, so be as gentle and slow as you like – you don’t want to undo all the work you did in the previous step.

Hold the sieve over the bowl of the cake mixture and resift the cocoa and flour mixture, shaking the sieve from side to side, to cover the top evenly. Gently fold in this powder using a figure of eight action. The mixture will look dry at first,, but keep going very gently until it looks fudgy. Stop just before you feel you should, as you don’t want to overdo this mixing. Finally, stir in the white and milk chocolate chunks until they’re dotted throughout.

Pour the mixture into the prepared tin, scraping every bit out of the bowl with the spatula. Gently ease the mixture into the corners of the tin and paddle the spatula from side to side across the top to level it. Put in the oven and set your timer for 25 minutes. When the buzzer goes, open the oven, pull the shelf out a bit and gently shake the tin. If the cake wobbles in the middle, it’s not quite done, so slide it back in and bake for another 5 minutes until the top has a shiny, papery crust and the sides are just beginning to come away from the tin. Take out of the oven.

Leave the cake in the tin until completely cold, then lift out the cake with the parchment. Cut into quarters, then cut each quarter into four squares and dust with icing sugar. The brownies keep in an airtight container for a good two weeks and in the freezer for up to a month.

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Thursday 24 December 2015


“Christmas is the spirit of giving without a thought of getting. It is happiness because we see joy in people. It is forgetting self and finding time for others. It is discarding the meaningless and stressing the true values.” - Thomas S. Monson

George Frideric Handel was born February 23, 1685, Halle, Germany and died April 14, 1759, London, England. This composer of the late Baroque era contemporary of J.S. Bach, noted particularly for his operas, oratorios (vocal and choral concert works, usually religious in subject matter), and instrumental compositions. He is one of the most brilliant and gifted of composers, with his works. He wrote the most famous of all oratorios, the "Messiah", and is also known for such occasional pieces as Water Music (1717) and Music for the Royal Fireworks (1749).

Handel in 1741, was at the height of his powers, and the Messiah was composed within an amazing 23 days! Messiah was given its first performance in Dublin on April 13, 1742, and created a deep impression. Handel continued with the composition of many more oratorios and he made this, and large-scale choral works the most popular musical forms in England. He had created for himself a new public among the rising middle classes, who would have turned away in moral indignation from the Italian opera but who were quite ready to be edified by a moral tale from the Bible, set to suitably dignified and, by now, rather old-fashioned music. Ever since then, Handel’s Messiah has been performed almost continuously and nowadays its performance is a much-loved Christmas tradition in many English-speaking countries.

If you are rather stressed with the Christmas season and the hectic rush, take some time to listen to the “Messiah” and be refreshed mentally and spiritually.

Wednesday 23 December 2015


An extended quote of the day today that to me delivers the message of Christmas so well…

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears.
When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

It is getting close to Christmas now and in Melbourne the weather is getting warmer and warmer. We are expecting a top of 33˚C today and the same for tomorrow and the next day. Christmas Downunder will be fine, sunny and hot. Still so much to do and the last minute rush for presents. At least all of the decorations are up, and this is what makes it feel special at home. They then come down at the end of the first week of January. We do not like to have the Christmas decorations up early as do some people. A short display time makes them all the more special. Now enough said here, I have to go off and do some more work!

Tuesday 22 December 2015


“Less than one per cent of ancient Egypt has been discovered and excavated. With population pressures, urbanisation, and modernisation encroaching, we’re in a race against time. Why not use the most advanced tools we have to map, quantify, and protect our past?” - Sarah Parcak

Welcome to the Travel Tuesday meme! Join me every Tuesday and showcase your creativity in photography, painting and drawing, music, poetry, creative writing or a plain old natter about Travel!

There is only one simple rule: Link your own creative work about some aspect of travel and share it with the rest us!

Please use this meme for your creative endeavours only. Do not use this meme to advertise your products or services as any links or comments by advertisers will be removed immediately.
Please link your entry using the Linky tool below:

Philae (Greek: Φιλαί, Philai; Ancient Egyptian: Pilak, P'aaleq) is an island in Lake Nasser, Nubia. It was formerly an island in the First Cataract of the Nile River and the previous site of an Ancient Egyptian temple complex in southern Egypt. The complex was dismantled and relocated to nearby Agilkia Island during a UNESCO project started because of the construction of the Aswan Dam, after the site was partly flooded by the earlier Aswan Low Dam for half a century.

Monuments of various eras, extending from the Pharaohs to the Caesars, occupy nearly the whole area of Philae. The principal structures, however, lie at the south end of the smaller island. The most ancient were the remains of a temple for Isis built in the reign of Nectanebo I during 380-362 BC, was approached from the river through a double colonnade.

For the most part, the other ruins date from the Ptolemaic times, more especially with the reigns of Ptolemy Philadelphus, Ptolemy Epiphanes, and Ptolemy Philometor (282-145 BC), with many traces of Roman work in Philae dedicated to Ammon-Osiris. The island is reached by boat and visitors can wander around and admire the temples inside and out. No visit to Egypt is complete without visiting this amazing site.

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme.

Monday 21 December 2015


“Sometimes legends make reality, and become more useful than the facts.” - Salman Rushdie

Director Deepa Mehta’s 2012 film “Midnight’s Children” starring  Rajat Kapoor, Vansh Bhardwaj, Anupam Kher is based on the novel of the same name by Salman Rushdie. The author collaborated with the director to write the screenplay. Generally, if the chemistry between the author and director is good, the results can result in excellent cinema. Unfortunately, this is not always the case…

Sir Ahmad Salman Rushdie, FRSL (born 19 June 1947) is a British Indian novelist and essayist. “Midnight’s Children” (1981), his second novel, won the Booker Prize in 1981. Much of his fiction is set on the Indian subcontinent. He is said to combine magical realism with historical fiction; his work is concerned with the many connections, disruptions, and migrations between Eastern and Western civilisations. His fourth novel, “The Satanic Verses” (1988), was the centre of a major controversy, provoking protests from Muslims in several countries. Death threats were made against him, including a fatwā calling for his assassination issued by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, on 14 February 1989, and as a result the author was put under police protection by the British government.

Rushdie was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Britain’s foremost literary organisation, in 1983. He was appointed Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres of France in January 1999. In June 2007, Queen Elizabeth II knighted him for his services to literature. In 2008, The Times ranked him thirteenth on its list of the fifty greatest British writers since 1945. Since 2000, Rushdie has lived in the United States, where he has worked at Emory University and was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In 2012, he published “Joseph Anton: A Memoir”, an account of his life in the wake of the controversy over “The Satanic Verses”.

I was a little wary to watch the film as Rushdie’s prose, though lush and quite literary, can also be rather convoluted and sesquipedalian, and in parts turgid. Thus is the writing of most literary authors who try “Write” with a capital “W”. And it is because of this (or perhaps in spite of this?) that their work is recognised by the various organisations that hand out literary prizes. Nevertheless, the film was very watchable and the gorgeous cinematography, grand locations, colourful costumes and beautiful music made it, if nothing else, good eye candy.

The plot commences at the stroke of midnight on August 15th, 1947, when India declares independence from Great Britain. Two babies born in the same Bombay hospital at midnight are switched at birth by a nurse. And so it is that Saleem Sinai, the illegitimate child of a beggar woman, and Shiva, the only son of a wealthy couple, are fated to live the destinies meant for each other. Over the next three decades, Saleem and Shiva find themselves on opposite sides of many a conflict, whether it be because of class, politics, romantic rivalry, or the constantly shifting borders that are drawn every time neighbours become enemies and decide to split their newborn nation into two, and then three, warring countries. Through it all, the lives of Saleem and Shiva are mysteriously intertwined. There is another mystic link with all other children that are born around midnight on that fateful date, as all these “Midnight Children” have mystical powers. Saleem and Shiva are also inextricably linked to the history of India itself, which takes them on a whirlwind journey full of trials, triumphs and disasters.

The film is a loose allegory for events in India both before and, primarily, after the independence and partition of India. The protagonist and narrator of the story is Saleem Sinai, born with telepathic powers, as well as an enormous and constantly dripping nose with an extremely sensitive sense of smell. The technique of “magical realism” finds liberal expression throughout the novel and is crucial to constructing the parallel to the country’s history.

The film was controversial, primarily because of the way India’s Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was portrayed. The same controversy had dogged the book: In 1984 Prime Minister Indira Gandhi brought an action against the book in the British courts, claiming to have been defamed by a single sentence in chapter 28, penultimate paragraph, in which her son Sanjay Gandhi is said to have had a hold over his mother by his accusing her of contributing to his father’s Feroze Gandhi’s death through her neglect. The case was settled out of court when Salman Rushdie agreed to remove the offending sentence.

The film certainly makes Salman Rushdie’s prose more accessible to the general public that perhaps is not as keen to read the novel. The film is beautiful to look at, has some fine cinematic moments in it and there are some poignant and moving parts in it. However, the screenplay is too indulgent (remember the author was responsible for it) and the direction was perhaps a trifle over-ambitious. What was worrying for me personally was that there was a disconnect between me as a viewer and the characters and action on screen. When there is not a strong emotional connection with the characters on film, it can be disastrous in a movie – especially one as long and as epic as this one. I am glad we watched it, but I can think of other more worthy films to recommend to friends to see. If you get a chance to see it, do so, it is good, but I would not go out of my way to hunt it out and watch it…

Sunday 20 December 2015


“The Iron Curtain may be a thing of the past, but Mother Russia is as mysterious as ever.” - Robert Gottlieb

The artist Valentin Alexandrovich Serov (1865-1911) was born into the family of famous Russian composer Alexander Serov. In 1871, his father died, and in 1872-73 Valentin and his widowed mother, née Bergman, lived in Munich, where he took lessons from the artist K. Kepping. In 1874, they moved to Paris, where Valentin regularly visited the studio of Ilya Repin, who was very fond of the little boy.

In 1875, the Serovs came to live at Abramtsevo, the estate of the industrial tycoon and patron Savva Mamontov, where artists, musicians and actors were always welcome. Valentin grew up in the atmosphere of constant creativity that characterised the Mamontovs’ household. He was fortunate to receive a professional education from the earliest childhood from the some of the best Russian artists, and he soon showed himself to be a remarkably precocious draughtsman. He could catch the likeness of a model often more quickly and confidently than older artists in the spontaneous drawing competitions that were part of the daily life at Abramtsevo.

At the age of 15, Serov entered Academy of Arts in the class of professor Pavel Tchistykov. There he met his lifelong friend Vladimir Derviz. His first exhibited works “Girl with Peaches. Portrait of Vera Mamontova”. (1887) and “Girl in the Sunlight. Portrait of Maria Simonovich.” (1888) were a sensation. Critics called them groundbreaking. When he painted them, Serov was unfamiliar with the works of the French Impressionists, but these luminous, sunny, splendidly composed portraits are strongly reminiscent of Renoir.

Serov tried himself in different genres: He was a beautiful landscape painter in a more sensuous and less nostalgic vein than another teacher of his, Isaac Levitan. Serov’s historical paintings are also of value and interest: Peter II and Princess Elizabeth Petrovna Riding to Hounds. (1900), Peter the Great. (1907). However, Serov was best recognised for his portraiture, and was one of the most successful and brilliant portraitist in Russia in the period 1890-1910. His most famous portraits are “Portrait of the Actress Maria Yermolova”. (1905), “Portrait of Henrietta Girshman”. (1907), “Portrait of Ida Rubenstein”. (1910), “Portrait of Maria Zetlin” (1910), “Portrait of Princess Olga Orlova”. (1911).

Serov travelled a lot, participating in exhibitions in Russia and abroad. In 1897-1909, Serov taught at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. His students noted that Serov was a superb technical master of many painting media. Among his pupils were N.N. Sapunov, M.I. Mashkov, P.V. Kuznetsov, N.P. Krymov, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, C.Y. Sudeykin, K.F. Yuon and others. In 1903, he was elected member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. Serov died in 1911.

The painting above is a wonderfully spontaneous impressionistic work, “Bathing a Horse” from 1905. The artist has captured the light beautifully, and the swift brushstrokes and vivid colour give the painting a vitality and movement that captivates the viewer.