Saturday 20 August 2016


“Music is the best means we have of digesting time.” - W. H. Auden

José António Carlos de Seixas (June 11, 1704 – August 25, 1742) was a pre-eminent Portuguese composer of the 18th century. An accomplished virtuoso of both the organ and the harpsichord, Seixas succeeded his father as the organist for Coimbra Cathedral at the age of fourteen. In 1720, he departed for the capital, Lisbon, where he was to serve as the organist for the royal chapel, one of the highest offices for a musician in Portugal, the position earning him a knighthood. Much of Seixas’ music rests in an ambiguous transitional period from the learned style of the 17th century to the gallant style of the 18th century.

Seixas was born in Coimbra to Francisco Vaz and Marcelina Nunes. From a young age, he was surrounded by musical activity; his father served as the cathedral organist, and the flurry of musical activity in the local monastery of Santa Cruz had an equally important role in his musical training. In 1718, a few days before his father’s death, Seixas succeeded his father as cathedral organist. Two years after, in 1720, he moved to Lisbon to take up his new position in the court of John V of Portugal as court organist and harpsichordist.

Citing his elegance and agility on the keyboard, he was a favourite teacher of many noble families, including the family of Luís Xavier Furtado de Mendonça, the Viscount of Barbacena, where he gave harpsichord lessons to the Viscount’s wife and daughters in exchange for artistic patronage. In Lisbon, Seixas met Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti, who was working in Portugal from 1719 to 1728 as appointed director of the court cathedral.

In an account by José Mazza in his Diccionario biographico de Musicos portugueses e noticia das suas composições of 1780, the king’s brother, Dom António, arranged for Scarlatti to give Seixas harpsichord lessons. Scarlatti, immediately recognising Seixas’ talent, replied, “You can give me lessons.” In 1731 he was married at age twenty-eight to D. Maria Joana Tomásia da Silva, with whom he had two sons and three daughters. He was knighted in 1738 by the king, inducted into the Order of Christ. Four years later, in 1742, he died of a rheumatic fever, and was buried in the Santa Maria Basilica in Lisbon.

Seixas’ keyboard works were written for a variety of instruments, including the organ, harpsichord, and the clavichord. Stylistically speaking, however, his sonatas showcase a range of musical styles: some are exemplary of a Baroque toccata; some are firmly in the gallant style; some are clearly influenced by the German Empfindsamer Stil (literally 'sensitive style'). Despite rarely, if ever, traveling outside of Lisbon, his work also includes various geographical styles, such as the German Mannheim school, the French minuet, and the Italian style as composed by Scarlatti, his colleague and contemporary.

Santiago Kastner, Seixas’ biographer and editor of his pieces, describes Seixas’ works as “unoccupied” with a particular form, and given over to frequent improvisation. Much of his work was destroyed in the earthquake that devastated Lisbon in 1755. Only three orchestral pieces and around one hundred keyboard sonatas out of over an alleged seven hundred survived, plus a handful of choral works for liturgical use (much more conservative than what one would expect from his instrumental music).

Here is his Mass in G Major, for Soloists, Chorus, Strings and Continuo performed by the Norwegian Baroque Orchestra directed from the organ by Ketil Haugsand.

Friday 19 August 2016


“Lentils are friendly—the Miss Congeniality of the bean world.” – Laurie Colwin

After a few days of Spring-like weather, Winter is back in Melbourne… So once again, we’ve moved back into the house and meals that are warming, hearty and flavoursome. And of course soups head the list, especially the ones that are a complete meal in the themselves, not just a first course. We enjoy this vegetarian soup often in Winter and tonight it will be just right!

Lentil and Winter Vegetable Soup

1 litre (4 cups) vegetable stock
2 tbsp olive oil
2 red onions, finely chopped
3 celery sticks, trimmed, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, crushed
300g carrots, peeled, cut into 1cm pieces
200g turnips, peeled, cut into 1cm pieces
400g boiled lentils, rinsed, drained
100g can peeled tomatoes
2 tsp dried mustard
1/2 tsp ground mace
1 tsp curry powder
2 bay leaves
Chopped parboiled spinach, to serve

Heat oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Cook the onion, celery, and garlic, stirring, for 6 minutes or until soft. Add the carrots and turnips. Cook, stirring, for 4-5 minutes.
Add the stock, increase heat to medium-high and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium-low. Simmer, partially covered, for 15-20 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add the lentils and simmer for 10 minutes or until all vegetables are cooked and tender.
Divide the soup among serving bowls and top with parboiled spinach.

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Thursday 18 August 2016


“So the pie isn’t perfect? Cut it into wedges. Stay in control, and never panic.” - Martha Stewart

Rhubarb (Rheum rhabarbarum) is a species of plant in the family Polygonaceae. It is a herbaceous perennial growing from short, thick rhizomes. It produces large poisonous leaves that are somewhat triangular, with long fleshy edible stalks and small flowers grouped in large compound leafy greenish-white to rose-red inflorescences.

In culinary use, fresh raw leaf stalks (petioles) are crisp (similar to celery) with a strong, tart taste. Although rhubarb is not a true fruit, in the kitchen it is usually prepared as if it were. Most commonly, the stalks are cooked with sugar and used in pies, crumbles and other desserts. A number of varieties have been domesticated for human consumption, most of which are recognised as Rheum x hybridum by the Royal Horticultural Society. Rhubarb contains anthraquinones including rhein, and emodin and their glycosides (e.g. glucorhein), which impart cathartic and laxative properties. It is hence useful as a cathartic in case of constipation.

Rhubarb is grown widely, and with greenhouse production it is available throughout much of the year. Rhubarb grown in hothouses (heated greenhouses) is called “hothouse rhubarb”, and is typically made available at consumer markets in early spring, before outdoor cultivated rhubarb is available. Hothouse rhubarb is usually brighter red, more tender and sweeter-tasting than outdoors rhubarb. In temperate climates, rhubarb is one of the first food plants harvested, usually in mid- to late spring (April/May in the Northern Hemisphere, October/November in the Southern Hemisphere), and the season for field-grown plants lasts until September.

In the northwestern US states of Oregon and Washington, there are typically two harvests, from late April to May and from late June into July. Rhubarb is ready to consume as soon as harvested, and freshly cut stalks are firm and glossy. In the United Kingdom, the first rhubarb of the year is harvested by candlelight in forcing sheds where all other light is excluded – a practice that produces a sweeter, more tender stalk. These sheds are dotted around the noted “Rhubarb Triangle” of Wakefield, Leeds, and Morley.

Rhubarb damaged by severe cold should not be eaten, as it may be high in oxalic acid, which migrates from the leaves and can cause illness. The colour of rhubarb stalks can vary from the commonly associated crimson red, through speckled light pink, to simply light green. The colour results from the presence of anthocyanins, and varies according to both rhubarb variety and production technique. The colour is not related to its suitability for cooking: The green-stalked rhubarb is more robust and has a higher yield, but the red-coloured stalks are much more popular with consumers.

Rhubarb is grown primarily for its fleshy stalks, technically known as petioles. The use of rhubarb stems as food is a relatively recent innovation. This usage was first recorded in 17th-century England after affordable sugar became available to common people, and reached a peak between the 20th century's two world wars. Commonly, it is stewed with sugar or used in pies and desserts, but it can also be put into savoury dishes or pickled. Rhubarb can be dehydrated and infused with fruit juice. In most cases, it is infused with strawberry juice to mimic the popular strawberry rhubarb pie. Rhubarb root produces a rich brown dye similar to walnut husks. It is used in northern regions where walnut trees do not survive.

For cooking, the stalks are often cut into small pieces and stewed (boiled in water) with added sugar, until soft. Little water is added, as rhubarb stalks already contain a great deal of water. Rhubarb should be processed and stored in glass or stainless steel containers which are unaffected by residual acid content. Spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger are sometimes added. Stewed rhubarb or rhubarb sauce, like applesauce, is usually eaten cold. Pectin, or sugar with pectin, can be added to the mixture to make jams. A similar preparation, thickened with cornstarch or flour, is used as filling for rhubarb pie, tarts, and crumbles, leading to the nickname “pie plant”, by which it is referred to in many 19th-century cookbooks, as well as by American author Laura Ingalls Wilder in her short novel “The First Four Years”. The term "pie plant" is still used regionally in the U.S.

In recent times rhubarb has often been paired with strawberries to make strawberry-rhubarb pie. In former days, a common and affordable sweet for children in parts of the United Kingdom and Sweden was a tender stick of rhubarb, dipped in sugar. It is still eaten this way in western Finland, Norway, Iceland and sometimes Sweden, and some other parts of the world. In Chile, Chilean rhubarb, which is only very distantly related, is sold on the street with salt or dried chili pepper, not sugar. Rhubarb can be used to make a fruit wine or “sima”. Being a little sour, it is very refreshing and can be drunk cold, especially during the summer. It is also used to make compote.

In traditional Chinese medicine, rhubarb roots have been used as a laxative for several millennia. Rhubarb also appears in medieval Arabic and European prescriptions. It was one of the first Chinese medicines to be imported to the West from China. A pigment found in rhubarb called parietin, has been identified from an FDA database of 2,000 known suppressors of 6PGD, to have killed half the human leukaemia cells over two days in the laboratory. The pigment also slowed the growth of other human cancer cells in mouse models. A more-potent derivative of the parietin called S3 may even cut the growth of lung cancer cells implanted in mice by two-thirds, over the course of 11 days.

Rhubarb leaves contain poisonous substances, including oxalic acid, which is a nephrotoxic and corrosive acid that is present in many plants. Humans have been poisoned after ingesting the leaves, a particular problem during World War I when the leaves were mistakenly recommended as a food source in Britain. The toxic rhubarb leaves have been used in flavouring extracts, after the oxalic acid is removed by treatment with precipitated chalk.

In the language of flowers, a leafy rhubarb stalk signifies “you are two-faced”, while a flower spike means “I’ll take your advice”.

Wednesday 17 August 2016


“Some people who like dogs don’t like cats, but I’m not like that.” - Viggo Mortensen

For this week’s Poets United Mid-week Motif, Susan the well-known ailurophile has set a theme close to her heart: “Cats”. Even though I am dog person, like Viggo above I also like cats… My contribution to the theme below:

A Cat for Every Season

A kitten gambols

On a daisy-strewn green field;
Like it, the year’s young

In yellow noon’s heat

A languid cat stretches out
Biding time till night.

An open window:

A curious cat smacks at
Falling yellow leaves.

As crackling fire burns;

An old grey cat sleeps and dreams
Of erstwhile nimbleness.

Tuesday 16 August 2016


“Being a princess isn't all it's cracked up to be.” - Princess Diana

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 of 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.
Monaco, officially the Principality of Monaco (French: Principauté de Monaco), is a sovereign city-state and microstate, located on the French Riviera in Western Europe. France borders the country on three sides while the other side borders the Mediterranean Sea. Monaco has an area of 2.02 km2 and a population of about 37,800; it is the second smallest and the most densely populated country in the world. Monaco has a land border of 4.4 km, a coastline of 4.1 km, and a width that varies between 1,700 and 349 m. The highest point in the country is a narrow pathway named Chemin des Révoires on the slopes of Mont Agel, in the Les Révoires Ward, which is 161 metres above sea level. Monaco's most populous Quartier is Monte Carlo and the most populous Ward is Larvotto/Bas Moulins. Through land reclamation, Monaco's land mass has expanded by twenty percent.

Although small, Monaco is very old and quite well known, especially because of its status as a playground for the rich and famous, who are a spectacle for tourists. In 2014, it was noted about 30% of the population was made up of millionaires, similar to Zürich or Geneva. Monaco is a principality governed under a form of constitutional monarchy, with Prince Albert II as head of state. Although Prince Albert II is a constitutional monarch, he wields immense political power. The House of Grimaldi have ruled Monaco, with brief interruptions, since 1297.

The official language is French, but Monégasque, Italian, and English are widely spoken and understood. The state's sovereignty was officially recognised by the Franco-Monegasque Treaty of 1861, with Monaco becoming a full United Nations voting member in 1993. Despite Monaco's independence and separate foreign policy, its defense is the responsibility of France. However, Monaco does maintain two small military units. Economic development was spurred in the late 19th century with the opening of the country's first casino, Monte Carlo, and a railway connection to Paris. Since then, Monaco's mild climate, splendid scenery, and upscale gambling facilities have contributed to the principality's status as a premier tourist destination and recreation centre for the rich and famous.

In more recent years, Monaco has become a major banking centre and has successfully sought to diversify its economy into services and small, high-value-added, non-polluting industries. The state has no income tax, low business taxes, and is well known for being a tax haven. It is also the host of the annual street circuit motor race Monaco Grand Prix, one of the original Grands Prix of Formula One. Monaco is not formally a part of the European Union (EU), but it participates in certain EU policies, including customs and border controls. Through its relationship with France, Monaco uses the euro as its sole currency (prior to this it used the Monégasque franc). Monaco joined the Council of Europe in 2004. It is a member of the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie (OIF).

This post is part of the Our World Tuesday meme,
and also part of the Wordless Wednesday meme.

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Monday 15 August 2016


“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” – John Donne

We have started to watch the 2004 TV series “Lost” which is a six-season American show that was quite popular when it was first transmitted and it has also had some re-runs. It was created by J.J. Abrams, writer, director and producer of many successful TV series and movies including “Alias”, “Star Wars III”, “Star Trek” (2009, 2013) and “Fringe”. “Lost” stars Naveen Andrews, Matthew Fox, Jorge Garcia, Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly, Terry O’Quinn, Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim. It won a Golden Globe Award for Best Television Series – Drama, in 2006, a well as various Emmy awards for best actor and supporting actor.

I had heard a lot about this show but had not had a chance to watch it when it was airing on TV. As I got my hands on a complete set of DVDs lately, we decided to start watching it and see what all the hype was about. I must say, it does make a difference to have all of the DVDs on hand and make the decision when to watch and how long to watch for, without any interruptions by advertisements of commercial TV.

We’ve watched all of the first two seasons and have just begun watching the third season of the show. Up until now, things have been mostly OK and we have been kept interested enough to keep on watching it. However, there have been some hints of “supernatural” activity in the series, which as the show progresses seem to be becoming more frequent. Not that this is a necessarily bad thing, but after discussing it, we felt that there was enough material and interesting characters in the show to not have that supernatural element creeping in to make it more “sensational” or to have such a “deus-ex-machina” solution to resolve the plot.

The plot device is not novel: After a trans-Pacific plane crashes on a desert island some groups of survivors attempt to come to terms with their predicament and think about not only how they can effect their long-term survival, but also how they can get rescued and go back to civilisation. What makes the show interesting is the good mix of the various characters, their hefty baggage (and I’m not referring to the ones they rescued form the plane wreck), their interactions and the many mysteries that the island hides. What they initially thought was a “desert” island clearly is not (shades of “Robinson Crusoe”…) and their battle for survival is not simply one with natural hazards but also the hazards of initially unseen enemies who soon enough show their face.

The plot is expanded by frequent flashbacks that throw light into the background of each character and which help explain why each characters reacts to and interacts with others in the way that they do. The flashback can be quite annoying as a plot device, especially if overused or if used for its own sake. In “Lost”, however, we found it a useful plot adjunct and not intrusive at all.

Acting and production levels are quite high, which contribute greatly to the watchability of the show. The main characters are played to perfection by well-selected group of professionals: Naveen Andrew plays Sayid, a former Iraqi soldier; Matthew Fox a successful neurosurgeon, Jack Shephard; Jorge Garcia plays Hugo ‘Hurley’ Reyes an obese recent lottery winner; Josh Holloway is James ‘Sawyer’ Ford a con artist; Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim a Korean couple; Evangeline Lilly is Kate Austen, an escaped criminal; Terry O’Quinn plays John Locke an ‘ordinary’ man who seems to have all sorts of unlikely qualities and skills under pressure; Emilie de Ravin is Claire Littleton who is heavily pregnant; and Dominic Monaghan who plays Charlie Pace, a former rock band member with a heroin addiction…

We’ll keep on watching this as long as it maintains our interest and if we survive till the end of the series, I’ll give an update here.

Sunday 14 August 2016


“Art is not what you see, but what you make others see.” - Edgar Degas

Isaac Lazarus Israels was a Dutch painter associated with the Amsterdam Impressionist movement. Isaac Israels was born in 1865 into an Orthodox Jewish family in Amsterdam. In 1871 the family moved to The Hague, where his father Jozef Israels (1824-1911) was already a well-respected painter. Between 1880-1882 he studied at the Royal Academy of Art, The Hague, where he showed a remarkable talent for drawing at an early age and started as an artist in The Hague.

It was not long until his portraits, which were painted in an impressionistic style similar to his father’s, were held in high esteem. However, the young Israels did not want to follow in his father’s footsteps and returned to Amsterdam in 1887. His goal was simple: To develop his own, unique, painterly style, recording an impression in an exceptionally quick manner. Israels found that it was not minute details and perfection that were most important but rather capturing the essence of the subject.

Israels moved to Paris in 1904, establishing his studio at 10 rue Alfred Stevens, near Montmartre and just yards away from the studio of Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec whom he admired, as he also did Edgar Degas. As in Amsterdam, he painted the Parisian specific motifs: the public parks, cafés, cabarets and bistros, as well as such subjects as fairgrounds and circus acrobats. Likewise he sought out the fashion houses Paquin and Drecoll to continue his studies of the world of fashion. However, he only exhibited once in this period, in 1909.

At the outbreak of the First World War he was living in London, where continued painting motifs specific to the city he lived, such as buses and famous London streets such as Regent Street, as well as finding new subjects in horse-riding at Rotten Row and in ballerinas and boxers. He returned to Holland for the duration of the war, living alternately in The Hague, Amsterdam and Scheveningen, where he worked primarily as a portrait painter. Following the war, Israels visited Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm and London.

He spent the years 1921-1922 travelling in India and the Dutch East Indies, sketching and painting the vibrant life of South East Asia and notably the gamelan players of Bali. On his return, he settled at Koninginnegracht 2, The Hague, his deceased parents’ home, where he remained for the rest of his life, nevertheless making regular trips abroad to London, Italy and the French Riviera. At the age of 63, he won a Gold Medal at the 1928 Olympic Games for his painting Red Rider, an art competition then being part of the games.

He died in The Hague on 7 October 1934, aged 70, as a result of a street accident a few days before. His partner at that time was Sophie de Vries.

The painting above is his “Hat Studio”, a good example of his rapid, impressionistic style where the artist’s prime concern is to capture a moment and give the viewer an idea of the way in which this tableau registered in his mind. The milliners are busy at work, surrounded by hats and taking central place is the fitting of a bit of trim on a hat worn by one of the women. This is an appealing work because of its immediacy, its free and fresh colour and brushwork, and its deceptively simple composition and execution.