Saturday, 31 January 2015

February brings the rain

February brings the rain,
Thaws the frozen lake again.

From 'The Months' by Sara Coleridge (1802 - 1852)

February derives its name from the word  februare, to purify, or from Februa, the Roman festival of expiation, which was celebrated through the latter part of this month.

February has but twenty-eight days clear
And twenty-nine in each leap year.

If February bring no rain
Tis neither good for grass nor grain.

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another flight
But if Candlemas Day be clouds of rain
Winter is gone and will not come again.

Candlemas Day is on 2nd of February.

The most exciting date in February is Valentine's Day, February 14th.

My poem for the day to welcome the month of February is by Hartley Coleridge (1796 -1849), the eldest son of the poet Samuel Coleridge and brother of Sara who wrote 'The Months.'

One month is past, another is begun,
Since merry bells rang out the dying year,
And buds of rarest green began to peer,
As if impatient for a warmer sun;
And though the distant Hills are bleak and dun,
The virgin snowdrop, like a lambent fire,
Pierces the cold earth with its' green-streaked spire
And in dark Woods, the wandering little one
May find a Primrose.

Samuel Coleridge so wanted to give his children a childhood filled with the joys of nature, he wnted his son Hartley to become a true child of nature. This is evident particularly in his lovely poem 'Frost at Midnight' considered to be one of the finest of the Conversational poems.
It would seem from the verse above that his son did see the beauty in the world around him.

The Cumbrian hills

The lovely Lake District, home to the Coleridge family

The Cumbrian Hills look bare but you might find snowdrops nestled there

I giorni della merla, The days of the blackbird.

In Italy the last three days of January are referred to as 'I giorni della merla,' which means the days of the blackbird. Tradition has it that if these days are particularly cold and bitter then a mild early Spring will follow and vice versa.
There are various tales as to how these days got their name.
One is that January used to have only twenty eight days and February thirty one.  January was jealous (I'm not making this up) of the little blackbird joyfully singing away and looking forward to warmer days. So he, January asked Febraury to give him some of his days so he could surprise the blackbird with extremely cold weather to put an end to his chirping.
Another story is that the blackbird was originally White. Mr. Blackbird told Mrs. Blackbird and their three little ones to huddle near a chimney to keep warm while he went in search of food. When Mr.Blackbird came back the rest of his family had turned balck from all the soot.
There are probably other versions of the days of the blackbird. Anyway it is very cold and there has been a snow fall so maybe we can hope for a mils early Spring.

Two blackbird songs that I like are one by the Beatles and one that my dad sang.

Here's my Dad's.

Packing up my cares and woes
Down the road, here I go
bye, Bye Blackbird.
Where somebody Waits for me
Sugar's sweet, so is she
Bye, bye, Blackbird.

Here is the Beatles

Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take your broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
you were only waiting for this moment to be free
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
You were only waiting for this moment to be free


Snow can take us by surprise when we're getting ready for Spring

Friday, 30 January 2015

Poem for a Winter night

My poem for the day is by Dorothy Wordsworth (1771 - 1855), William's sister.  It evokes beautifully what it's like to be awake on a winter's night with a small child who won't go to sleep.
The sunset was beautiful this evening, golden and dramatic, it really was nature's paintbrush sweeping across the sky. I hope you like the poem.

The Cottager to her Infant

The days are cold, the nights are long,
The North wind sings a doleful song;
Then hush again upon my breast;
All merry things are now at rest,
Save thee, my pretty love!

The kitten sleeps upon the hearth,
The crickets long have ceased their mirth;
There's nothing stirring in the house
Save one wee, hungry, nibbling mouse,
Then why so busy thou?

Nay! Start not at that sparkling light,
'Tis but the moon that shines so bright
On the window-pane bedropped with rain:
Then, little darling,  sleep again,
And wake when it is day!

Rocky roads that turn to rubble

Here is a recipe from my series of 'Recipes gone wrong'.
 I had been longing to make this recipe ever since I had some Rocky road ice cream at the cinema.
 It is full of sweets and chocolate and biscuits and so I was waiting for an occasion when there would be lots of people to share it.
I was asked to make something for a party so zipped off to the supermarket to buy all the ingredients.
 I even found the Oreo biscuits.
 These reminded me of New England where they have Oreo cows.
They are black with a White stripe round their middle, just like oreo biscuits.
I couldn't find Golden Syrup though but thought I could put in some honey.
At the checkout queue of the supermarket I felt abit embarrassed having a trolley full of such unhealthy things and quickly threw a bag of oranges on top to try and hide it all.

This afternoon I was happily making the Rocky road biscuits, melting chocolate and butter and chopping up marshmallows when my son-in-law came in. He was horrified.
Anyway the result was a complete failure. I won't be taking them to the party,
 I'll buy flowers instead.

In case you want to try to make the biscuits,  here is the recipe.
It basically involves melting butter and chocolate, crushing biscuits and mixing them together with whatever sweets you have in the house.

Rocky Road biscuits.

200g biscuits, Rich tea, Oreos or Digestives
130g melted butter
3 tbsps Golden syrup
200g chocolate
100g marshmallows
10g glacé cherries

Baking tray lined with baking paper
melted white chocolate to decorate
icing sugar

Crush the biscuits and set aside.
Melt the butter, Golden syrup and chocolate in a saucepan
Mix together in a large bowl
Add the sweets and mix well
Press into the lined baking tray
Put in the fridge until hard
Decorate with melted white chocolate and icing sugar.

Listen to Rocky Road to Dublin while you are making the biscuits
Make sure there are lots of people to share them with.

Gone wrong, more like rubble than a rocky road

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

New short story blog!

I have just started a new blog for my short stories.  So far on my Expatangie blog I have shared my favourite poems, recipes, anecdotes and 'poems that I could have written when I was ten.'  I have also written lots of short stories for your coffee break, some of these are in groups, Stories from Le bar Marchè, Stories from a Village Perché, Stories to warm the cockles of your heart, Stories from The cedar Cafè.. etc.
To make it easier for your to separate fact from fiction my stories will now be in their own special blog. This is the link!

Angie's short stories

All my stories will be published there.
I have put a link to the blog on the side bar so you can find it easily.

So from now on, in this blog you will find all my recipes, poems, anecdotes and inspirational thoughts.
Thank you for all your support, comments and it's lovely to know you enjoy my blog.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

January sales

Here is my poem about the January Sales

By Christmas my budget had all been spent
On presents and parties and  gifts
So when the Sales signs appeared
Shopping was not on my list

My wardrobe really is full enough
Of clothes that are hardly worn
Black jumpers and trousers all the same
Hanging there looking forlorn

So I walked past the shops with a very brief glance
At the signs saying fifty per cent
I have no need for anything more
My money has all been spent

But there in the corner of my favourite shop
Away from the browns, greys and blacks
'New Arrivals' it said with the promise of Spring
In the colours displayed on the racks.

Oh dear, oh dear, this is just what I need
To cheer up the cold Winters day
A pale blue dress and a pink cardigan
Now Spring is on the way.

Angie B

Just what I need, a pretty dress for Spring

Monday, 26 January 2015

Recipes from Puglia

If you're lucky enough to have a friend from  Puglia  in the South of Italy, every so often they will bring you special treats from their home region. My friend from Puglia
loves talking about the land of her childhood, the sea, the sunshine, the olive trees, the fresh fish and all the local specialities.
 Her eyes light up as she reels off recipe after recipe, stuffed aubergines, stuffed artichokes, pasta tossed in ragù and then mixed with mozzarella and baked in the oven, fresh fish caught in the turquoise sea near Otranto.
 Her favourite recipe though is Orecchiette con cime di rape.This is pasta shaped like little ears with something similar to broccoli spears with anchovies and garlice and toasted breadcrumbs.
 My friend's grandmother made orecchiette every Sunday until she was over one hundred years old. As the grandmother made them no-one else bothered Learning. My friend missed this dish so much that she found a video on the internet and now she can make them too.

After an hour of recipes from Puglia it was my turn.
She asked me what special English food I cooked, her expression rather doubtful. Immediately I said Roast beef. She looked puzzled, she remarked that she makes that too.  I tried to put more passion in my response to match hers.
 I told her that it is wonderful to walk indoors after a walk in the countryside and smell a roast cooking in the oven. There will be lots of roast potatoes, peas, carrots, maybe cauliflower in white sauce, Yorkshire pudding, horseradish sauce, gravy,  and then to follow an apple pie or blackberry pie or a trifle or a choice of all three. She looked a bit more interested, but she told me that she'd make me her special orecchiette.

This evening we had the special mozzarella from Puglia with tomatoes called 'Marinda'. They are a special variety that only grow in Winter. Then Pugliese bread, olive oil and small olives.  Summer comes to the table in the middle of Winter bringing with it the beauty of Puglia.

Olive trees in Puglia can be hundreds of years old

Summer in the middle of Winter. The sea in Puglia looks like The Maldives

Sunday, 25 January 2015

The complete Auld Lang Syne

My brother was rummaging in his pockets looking for a telephone number he had promised to give me when he pulled out a crumpled piece of paper.
He had written down all the verses for 'Auld Lang syne' to sing on New Year's eve.
We all know the first verse but there are five altogether plus the chorus.
The words to all the songs and poems of Robert Burns are greatly loved, but in reading his letters we learn how near he was to emigrating to Jamaica and what a loss for Scottish culture that would have been.

In 1786 he wrote this:

Before leaving my native country for ever, I resolved to publish my poems. My vanity was highly gratified by the reception I met with from the public, and besides, I pocketed, all expenses deducted, nearly twenty pounds.

His poetry was so successful that between 1786 and 1788 he changed his mind about emigrating.

I had taken the last farewell of my few friends when a letter from dr. Blacklock to a friend of mine overthrew all my schemes. His opinion that  I would meet with encouragement in Edinburgh for a second edition fired me so much that away I posted to that city. At Edinburgh I was in a new world.
By all probability I shall soon be the tenth worthy, and the eighth wise man of the world.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

A poem for January

Here is a poem for January, the beginning of the year and I'm sure I wrote it last year too. I hope you like it. It isn't really a poem, more like and inspirational verse.

The Gate of the Year,  Minnie Louise Hskins, 1875 - 1957

And I said to the man who stood at the gate to the year
'Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.'
And he replied, 'Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way.'
So I went forth, and finding the hand of God, trod gladly into the night. And he led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

King George VI quoted this in his speech on Christmas Day in 1939

Abba singing happy new year to you all
January brings the snow

Friday, 23 January 2015

Wishing on the moon

It's such a wonderful feeling when you look up at the night sky and catch sight of the moon. There it is silently watching over us.  In the midst of all the darkness it appears, as a friend. It's like when you see a friend in a crowd, you just see them, smiling at you.

Ode to the New Moon

Oh there you are at last
I've been watching out for you
Hoping that you'll come and make
My wishes all come true.
It's been so  very cold and dark
The Winter seems so long
But now that you are smiling there
Nothing can go wrong
The darkness now has gone away
We no longer feel alone
Your light shines there for everyone
In this world that is our home.

Angie B

The first time you see the new moon make a wish

Risotto with Mascarpone, gorgonzola and walnuts.

Make a heart shape with the walnuts, pratising for Valentine's day

It often happens in Italy that when you're having coffee with friends that someone will  mention a wonderful risotto or pasta dish that they've had. Yesterday someone described their sister-in-law's risotto with such enthusiasm that I wanted to try and make it. It got a vote of 8.5 out of 10 from my husband. Here it is:)

Risotto with mascarpone, gorgonzola and walnuts.

1 onion - finely chopped
200g risotto rice
Olive oil
1 slice of gorgonzola and mascarpone
100g chopped walnuts
White wine
Salt and pepper to taste

Gently cook the onion in the olive oil until soft but not coloured.
Add the rice and stir well.
Add some white wine and stir .
Add the stock and when the rice is almost cooked add the mascarpone, gorgonzola and chopped walnuts.
Stir and check seasoning.

Decorate your risotto with more chopped walnuts.

Just add stock, White wine and seasoning

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Il Profumo della Felicità, The scent of happiness

Il Profumo della Felicità  The scent of Happiness

I bought myself some perfume
I chose it for its name
And as I sprayed it on me
It surely met its claim
To make me feel brighter
And ready for the day
To be full of good humour
With whoever comes my way
It's a very wise decision
The best you'll ever make
Be very kind and friendly
As soon as you're awake
Perfume's very personal
And lots of it's too strong
Choosing one called 'Happiness'
You really can't go wrong.
So I hope that everybody
Who comes near me today
Feels better for a moment
And I brighten up their day.

Angie B

Happiness in a bottle

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Magic Faraway Tree, seventy-five years on

You know those quizzes when they ask you to list the books  you've read that have most influenced your life?  Probably we start off thinking about the ones that have made us wiser, kinder, more understanding or stimulated to do something incredible.

To kill a Mockingbird
Catcher in The Rye
David Copperfield
Jane Eyre

Of course the list is endless. The influence of a book can be far reaching, thread its way through your life or it can seem like a waste of time or traumatise you. Good or bad the books we read have some sort of effect on us.

Today my Brother told me that at Waterstones in Piccadilly there was a display of my favourite childhood books, The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton. He said it is the seventy-fifth anniversary of these books, so they were written before I was born.

I loved those stories and read them time and again throughout my childhood and beyond.

For those of you who don't know the stories about The Magic Faraway Tree here is a brief summary.

Three children live with their mother in the countryside. At the end of their garden there is a wood.  Being children of seventy-five years ago they are allowed to go and play in the wood on their own. They find a very large magic tree called the faraway tree. All sorts of unusual folk live in the tree.

Dame Washalot who is always washing and tips her dirty water down the tree with no warning.

The Saucepan man who has become slightly deaf due to the constant clanging of the pots and pans that hang round him all the time. There are very amusing misunderstandings every time he has a conversation.

Silky the fairy who is kindness itself.

Moon face, the most wonderful wise and kind moon faced person.

At the top of the magic tree there is a ladder leading up into the clouds.
Different lands arrive at the top of the tree and the children and their woodland friends climb up the ladder into the lands. They can only stay there until a bell sounds to warn them that the land is moving on.

Moon face lives at the top of the tree and he has a slippery slip in the middle of his house so everyone can quickly slide to the bottom of the tree.

One  day in one of the books the children's cousin Connie comes to stay. At first she is an unpleasant character but under the influence of the children she becomes nice and kind and everyone gets very fond of her. i seem to remember her going to the Land of Spanks before she became nice.

Where Enid Blyton shows her amazing imagination is with the variety of lands that arrive at the top of the tree.

I haven't read the books for a long time but the land I liked best was the land of birthdays where they have a wishing cake and one of them wishes for wings.

I wonder if children today would find the same magic and wonder that we found, I think so, but the names would have to be changed, and maybe there would be a land of computers, mobile phones, flat screen televisions, skateboards, roller blades, electric guitars, it would be interesting to know what Enid Blyton would suggest but I think the Land of Spanks would be banned.

Could the Magic Farawy tree be here

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Golden sunsets

There's a rainbow arching across the sky
As lights come on in the darkening town
The horizon bright delights  the eye
Watching as the sun goes down
Drawn to the colours that sparkle and glow
A plane appears as a silver bird
Flying high, some way to go
Showers of silver in its wake
A golden thread amidst the hues
The sunset has a promise to make
That all the lovely pinks and blues
Gold and silver shining bright
Will wave to us like a magic wand
Keep us safe in our homes tonight

I took these photos while I was watching the sunset this evening. My camera doesn't do it justice. The sky towards the west filled with vibrant colour, a sharp contrats with the Winter sky. If you look out of the window at the sunset and then back into your room through the reflection in the glass, it looks small compared to the vastness of the sky, the lamp that you have switched on will give a pool of light, you might be waiting for someone to come home or coming home yourself, whatever, most people will be going home and this is a poem for them. Happy homecoming this evening and may your hearts have been gladdened by a beautiful sunset.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Monday morning inspiration, love is the remedy

Monday 19th January is officially known as the bluest Monday of the year.  the best thing to do is put some love in your heart and banish the blues. Who better to talk about love than Shakespeare?

There are so many familiar lines from Shakespeare that they often used in casual conversation.
To be or not to be                                       Hamlet
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?   Sonnet 18
Parting is such sweet sorrow                      Romeo and Juliet

Of course I'm sure you can think of lots more, that everyone knows and it doesn't sound pretentious at all to quote him, because really he seems to have an answer for everything.
When we studied Shakespeare at school the teacher helped us understand a lot of the hidden meanings and his use of Language.

Here is the opening scene of Twelfth Night, or What you will, by  Orsino Duke of Illyria. Orsino means bear cub in Italian and so Shakespeare probably chose it to suggest immaturity. Illyria  was the name of a country on the east of the Adriatic sea, now Croatia. So it starts off with music playing.

Orsino .- 
If music be the food of love, play on.
Give me excess of it, that surfeiting.
The appetite may sicken and so die.
That strain again it had a dying fall.
O, it came o'er my ear like the sweet sound
That breathes upon a bank of violets,
Stealing and giving odour. Enough, no more.
Tis not so sweet now as it was before.

music stops.

O spirit of love, how quick and fresh art thou
That notwithstanding thou capacity,
Receiveth as the sea. Nought enters there.
Of what validity and pitch soe'er
But falls into abatement and low price
Even in a minute. So full of shapes is fancy
That it alone is high fantastical.

Also in Twelfth night is a love song by Feste the clown that contains the question that has been asked from the dawn of time 'What is love ?'.  Aristotle thought it was a quest, a journey in search of our lost other half.  Feste's song tells us that love is right by us and to make the most of it (I think), do you agree?. Anyway it's a lovely song.

Feste: O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O stay and hear, your true love's coming.
That can sing both high and low.
Trip no further, pretty sweeting,
Journeys end in lovers meeting.
Every wise man's son doth know.

What is love? Tis not hereafter.
Present mirth hath present laughter.
What's to come is still unsure.
In delay there lies no plenty.
Then come kiss me sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.

In other words  get on with it and show the ones you care about that you love them.

Motherly love

Make a friend welcome with some treats

Flowers are Always a great way to show you care

Saturday, 17 January 2015

Poem for the day,

My poem for the day is by Christina Rossetti (1830-1894). She had an Italian father and an English mother which is why there is an H in Christina. She grew up in London and had a famous brother who was a poet and a painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

This poem is quite inspiring and comforting to anyone going through a difficult time. She seems to be telling us that though the journey is hard there will be people along the way that will ease the burden.


Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very end.
Will the day's journey take the whole long day?
From morn to night, my friend.

But is there for the night a resting place?
A roof for when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
You cannot miss that inn.

Shall I meet other wayfarers at night?
Those who have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not keep you waiting at that door.

Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yes, beds for all who come.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Il Mandorlato

Il Mandorlato is a typical sweet from Cologna Veneto. We only have it at Christmas. It's just one of those things, even though it is in the shops all year round. It's made with honey, almonds and egg whites. It is very hard and it would be unwise to eat it without softening it in some way or chopping into small pieces. We like to eat it on Christmas Eve with mascarpone and an Italian jam called Mostarda. There is a type of mostarda from Cremona which has whole candied fruits in it and another from the Veneto which is more like a jam. So we have the three Ms, mascarpone, mostarda and Mandorlato. It's  a delicious combination. the Mandorlato is all that's left now in our basket of treats and quite irresistible...

I thought I could resist it,
It's been sitting there awhile
Rock hard Italian almonds
To make a dentist smile
Made with nuts and honey
And sugar by the ton
We buy it every Christmas
To add to all the fun
I put it in a basket
With all the other sweets
The chocolate and the liquorice
The Befana's lovely treats
I'd left it till the very last
So anxious for my teeth
But rustling through the papers
Lying underneath
Gleaming, shining, beckoning
Sparkling creamy White
The last piece of mandorlato
Has given great delight.

By Angie B

The last piece of mandorlato

Mandorlato and mostarda

Not much left from the Befana

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Recipe swap

A friend of mine who reads my blog knows that there are vegetarians in my family. She sent me a version of Vegetarian Shepherd's pie with a topping made of mashed cauliflower and then grilled. So today I made it. It's a perfect dish to make in advance and then freeze.  It's a nice feeling to know that you have something like that in your freezer that can be magically transformed into a crowd- pleaser and stomach warmer on a cold Winter's day. you just have to remember to thaw it out in time and then warm up the oven, put flecks of butter on the top and let it get golden brown.
I've got a cousin who has a large family. She's got four children and their partners then one daughter has four children, one son has four, one son has two and one daughter has one, so that's twenty two just immediate family. She told me that when they come to stay she fills her freezer in advance with:-

Shepherd's pie
Beef casserole,
fish Pie
Macaroni cheese
Chicken in breadcrumbs
canneloni with spinach
Soups, carrot, minestrone, red pepper.

Just having those basic dishes ready makes meal planning a whole lot easier.

Here's my friend's Vegetarian Shepherd's pie.

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
3 small carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 garlic cloves, crushed
1 tbsp tomato pureè
300g dried puy lentils
300mg red wine
1 litre stock
dried Rosemary and basil

Gently cook the onion, carrot, celery and garlic in the olive oil until soft.
Add the red wine and tomato pureè and bring to the boil then turn the heat down and simmer for ten minutes.
Add the lentils and stir.
Add the stock and herbs, salt and pepper and cook over a low heat for about half an hour until the lentils are soft and the mixture is quite thick.
Pour into an oven proof dish and let it cool before adding the topping.
I'm using mashed potato this time but will bear in mind the cauliflower for a change.
Variety is the spice of life and the kitchen is a great place to start.

There is not a photo of my finished dish today because I have put it in the freezer for the weekend.
Here is a short verse by the Anon person that I've talked about before.

Ask you who is singing here
Who so blithe can thus appear?
I'm the child of joy and glee,
And my name's Variety.

So divert your mind by a change today and take away your cares. Do something you have never done before, like cauliflower topping or painting a picture or knitting a woolly scarf..

Ingredients at the ready

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Getting ready for Burns Night

Burns Night is on 25th January . My poem for the day is by Robert Burns (1759 - 1796) and I chose it because it sounds wintry and I like the first line. He is talking about a mountain Daisy, and today in the bright January sunshine there were signs of new buds, ruby red berries and one or two daisies.

To a Mountain Daisy

Wee, modest, crimson tippet flower,
Thou's met me in an evil hour;
For I maun crush among the stoure
Thy slender stem
To spare thee now is past my pow'r
Thou bonnie gem.

Alas! it's no my neebor sweet,
the bonnie lark, companion meet,
Bending thee 'mong the dewy weet:
Wi' speckled breast,
When upward springing, Blythe, to greet
the purpling east.

Cauld blew the bitterbiting North,
Upon thy, early, humble, Birth
Yet cheerfully thou glinted forth
Amid the storm
Searce rear'd above the parent earth
Thy tender form.

The flaunting flow'rs our gardens yield
High sheltering Woods and wa's maun shields
But thou beneath the random bield
O'clod or stane
Adorns the bistie stibble-field
Unseen, alone

There, in thy scanty mantle clad
Thy snowy bosom sunward spread
Thy lifts thy unassuming head
In humble guise
But now the share uptears thy bed
And low thy lies.

Robert Burns

Monday, 12 January 2015

Poem for the day

My poem for the day is all about how frost and ice can transform ordinary surroundings into a glittering new magical world. In January we can often wake up to the radiant splendour of ice and snow and frost.

For every shrub, and every blade of grass,
And every pointed thorn, seemed wrought in glass.
In pearls and rubies rich the hawthorns show,
While through the ice the crimson berries glow.
The thick-sprung reeds the watery marshes yield,
Seem polished lances in a hostile field.
The stag in limpid currents with surprise
Sees Crystal branches on his forehead rise.
The spreading oak, the beech, and towering pine,
Glazed over, in the freezing aether shine,
When if a sudden gust of wind arise,
The brittle forest into atoms flies:
the crackling wood beneath the tempest bends,
And in a spangled shower the prospect ends.

Ambrose Philips (1674 - 1749)

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Poem for the day

Here's a poem for the day by Eleanor Farjeon (1881 - 1965). It seems appropriate at this darkest time of year when we are really in the middle of Winter and looking forward to some badly needed Sunshine.

The Night will Never Stay

The night will never stay.
The night will still go by
Though with a million stars
You pin it to the sky;
Though you bind it with the blowing wind
And buckle it with the moon,
The night will slip away
Like sorrow or a tune.

for anyone going through difficulty it is a reminder that the night can't last forever.

January sunsets

Like a baby's blanket
With gentle muted hues
Lovely pinks and oranges
Yellows and light blues
The Winter has a paintbrush
A magic of its own
To  fill our hearts with joy and love
As the sun is going down.
No flocks of birds will fill the air
Or feed their young in the grey twilight
Or spiralling from the eaves to fly
Or sing on a rooftop for our delight.
Look for a  robin hopping on the ground
The blue tits searching for some rind
A crow that is slowly walking around
No the sky is empty in the Winter time
But glowing with colours all sublime.


Friday, 9 January 2015

Friday night Sicilian Supper

Spaghetti alle sarde

When eating a dish of Spaghetti with sardines the way Sicilians make it,  you can taste all the flavours of the different cultures that have passed through their land over the centuries.  Together with the sardines caught in the Sicilian sea  there are the almonds from the trees that grow  so profusely on their hillsides producing splendid blossoms as early as January.  Gently mingling with these local ingredients there are the exotic perfumes of saffron, a sort of dill, pine nuts and sultanas. I hope the Sicilians will forgive me for my store cupboard version but it got the thumbs up this evening. My sardines weren't freshly caught from the sea but from a tin, a special one though, from a shop that sells only tinned sardines.

Serves 4

300g spaghetti
40g pinoli
1 tin of sardines
40g sultanas, washed, soaked for an hour and drained.
1 finely sliced white onion( optional)
1 sachet of saffron dissolved in a hot water
2 anchovy fillets
30g toasted breadcrumbs- gently fry fine breadcrumbs in some oil in a non stick pan until slightly golden.

Bring to the boil a large saucepan of water for the spaghetti.
Gently cook the onion if using and the anchovy fillets in a small amount of olive oil in a small saucepan. 
Add the pine nuts and stir.
Add the sardines and sultanas and stir.
Sprinkle over the saffron and mix gently.
Cook the spaghetti, then drain and return to the saucepan and add  some olive oil then the sauce. Mix gently.
Serve with the toasted breadcrumbs in a separate dish.

Once a week it's good for your mood to eat omega rich fish like anchovies, sardines, clams etc.

Store cupboard ingredients quickly assembled

A shop that sells only tinned sardines

Red Hot Comfort Food

There's nothing like Tomato Risotto or Tomato soup on a cold Winters day. The colour red immediately does wonders for your mood and you can vary the seasonings to your preference.  Here is my recipe.

Serves 2 as a main meal or 4 as a starter.

2 cups of Risotto rice
cherry tomatoes
Passata di pomodoro
1 tbsps tomato puree
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
salt and pepper
dried basil
toasted pine nuts
grated Parmesan cheese
Stock to cook the risotto

Lightly cook the crushed garlic in a small amount of olive oil. Add the cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half. Stir well then add the rice and stir until it is coated. Add some passata to taste and the tomato pureè. Next add the stock until the rice is cooked. this risotto is nice eaten with a spoon so you can keep it nice and moist.
Add some dried basil, salt and pepper and check the seasoning.
Stir in a knob of butter and lots of Parmesan cheese. Turn the heat off and cover with a lid for two minutes.
Serve with toasted pine nuts and extra grated cheese.
This goes well with a green salad.

You can vary this recipe by adding grated carrot with the cherry tomatoes to get extra vegetables, or put in less rice and make it more like a soup that can be made in advance. You can use finely chopped onion instead of garlic and add a sprinkle of chilli if you feel like something more spicy.  Just plain tomato with lots of melted cheese put in at the end is also delicious. Non-vegetarians could add pieces of cooked ham.

Buon appetito

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Stories from the Cedar cafè

(this story is also in short story blog, it has been reverted to draft to preserve it for publishing)

The Cedar cafè was full and humming with the sounds of quiet conversation. A few business men were sitting in the Free WiFi area and a group of schoolgirls were squashed together on the large brown leather sofa near the window. Margo walked towards the counter with her collar turned up and her hands deep in her pockets. She had pulled her fair curly hair into a tight knot and covered it with a blue woollen hat. She had put on her old black glasses instead of using her contact lenses.  She felt a bit like a spy or a secret agent, but she was just following the advice from her Creative Writing course.  She realized that the young girl at the counter was waiting for her to order.

'A very large hot cappuccino, with cinnamon and a Danish snail pastry please.'

Margo had never been to the Cedar Cafè before, it was on the other side of town. No-one would recognize her here, it seemed perfect. She took her coffee and pastry to the only free table. It was tucked in a corner and she sat with her back to the other customers, took out her notebook and pen and sunk as far as she could into her woollen jacket, shoulders hunched.

According to her Creative writing course she should jot down pieces of conversations overheard in cafès or bars, waiting rooms or wherever. Yesterday at the doctors' she'd listened to a long boring conversation about a New Year diet and an old lady complaining about her big toe. No Blockbuster novel material there as far as she could see.

Yesterday evening she'd told Angus. He had looked at her in astonishment.

'It sounds really nosy Margo. Eavesdroppers never hear any good about themselves and all that. I wouldn't like anyone to listen to my conversations. Didn't they give you any other ideas?'

'Well I'll go to a cafè on the other side of town where no-one knows me.  I've tried all the other ideas, they said to turn on the radio and  I did that too and listened to a programme about Japanese grasses attacking the hedgerows of Britain. Maybe this isn't the right course for me either.'

Angus laughed,  then he spoke to her in the low deep voice that he kept just for her, his thick Scottish accent rolling around the words like caresses.

' Why don't you teach a course instead' Something like 'A thousand ways to keep your man happy, by Margo Malarky? You 're an expert.''

Margo put her arms round his neck and ran her fingers through his thick curly dark hair.

'Oh Angus, as long as I keep you happy, that's all that matters.'

They'd gone to bed then and  Angus was gone when she awoke. He was working so hard. He always had done, all through their marriage but lately she felt like she hardly saw him all week then at the weekends he was worn out.

Margo sighed and opened the notebook.  If she didn't get any ideas here at least she would have had a nice break. She spooned off some of the creamy froth on top of her cappuccino and then took a bite of the Danish pastry. She listened to the schoolgirls on the sofa. They were huddled together and all staring at their screens.

'Oh no look, he's put on a photo with her. Do you think they're together? She's got her hand on his arm.'

'She does that with everyone, I don't think it means anything. Look at this photo of Briony, do you think it's a selfie? She looks a bit photo- shopped to me. Her hair isn't that blond.'

'Oh look at these shoes, aren't they cool? 10.99 in the sale, a bargain.'

'Shall I send out the invites to my party on Fb or  What's app?

'Do it on what's app or create a group so only who you choose can see it. You have to be careful. Did you read about the couple who came back from holiday and found their house wrecked''

Margo took a gulp of her cappuccino. She couldn't see what the girls were looking at, but apart from talking about facebook and What's app their conversation didn't sound much different to the ones she used to have with her own schoolfriends. It seemed a long time ago. She'd had time to bring up a family since then and now here they were on their own again, Angus and Margo, at home, on their own. Their son Charlie was up at Aberdeen studying Engineering. He'd wanted to be near his grandparents and get in touch with his Scottish roots.  Their daughter Fiona was a nurse in London and by her account practically running the hospital single handedly.  It was  Margo's fiftieth birthday next week and  yesterday her sister-in-law, Judith  had rung to see if she was organizing anything.

'Margo I'm sorry to have to ask you but you know how busy we are. I keep putting off accepting invitations for that day in case you have a party. The Anderson's are having a house warming and the new Rowing club is opening. Then the Tennis club ball is the next day and the Book club annual dinner the day after.'

Margo had sat down on the kitchen chair and looked at a robin hopping about on the terrace.

'I'll let you know in good time if we do anything. I'm sorry to keep you hanging on, maybe on the day Angus and I will stay at home and then in a few weeks time I'll arrange a family party. thank you for keeping the date free. I''ll talk to Angus and get back to you this evening. Come by for coffee whenever you like, Judith. I'd love to catch up on your news.'

Her sister-in-law's phone calls always made her feel sad and empty. She wished they didn't. For as long as she could remember Judith had had this effect on her and she couldn't understand it. She loved her elder brother Steve and they'd always got on so well. She'd tried to warm to Judith but so often felt pushed away and felt that Judith  didn't really like her.

Angus was always dismissive but reassuring.

' How could anyone not like you, she must need her head testing, it's her bad luck if she can't see  how lovely you are.'

Steve was also reassuring, 'You're the best sister anyone could have, funny, warm and kind.'

She had never dared ask Judith in case the answer was no.

There was a scraping of chairs at the table behind her and a clatter of cups and a lot of sighing.

'Do you think I should have bought the larger size? It didn't look too tight did it?

'We can go and change it if you're not sure but I think you looked sexy like that.'

'Are you sure? I'm scared of looking like mutton dressed as lamb'

'You looked more like a lioness ready for the hunt to me.'

There was giggling then silence as cups were picked up.

'Phil's started drinking again.'

There was a long pause.

'Are you sure? I thought he was going to AA.'

'He stopped.  A man from work started going and he said he felt embarrassed. Since the twins have left for university the house seems so empty. We've never had many friends because of the drinking problem. People seem scared of us as though it's catching. I don't know what I'd do without a sister. You're my saviour.'

'Oh poor Phil.  But actions speak louder than words. Go on lioness you can do it. Get your claws out and convince him to go back to the AA.  If  you like I'll ask  John to pick him up.  He can take  Phil to the meeting and then maybe join in and bring him home again.'

'Oh would you please ? That might just be what he needs. Thank you so much, I don't know what I'd do without you.'

Margo felt tears come to her eyes.  This all seemed too personal to write in her notebook.
 There was the sound of chairs scraping again. Two people came and sat at the table right next to Margo, she couldn't help overhearing their conversation whether she wanted to or not.

' It must be all my fault. What shall I do now?'

'It's not your fault at all. these things happen. Men like Mike, handsome doctors working as  cosmetic surgeons,  have so many temptations around them all the time.  It's not your fault at all.'

'Do you think he loves her? I really want him back, I still love him.'

'Ask him. Get the question out of the way. If he says yes I'll be here for you. If he says no, then it was just a mid-life crisis and you'll have to forgive and forget if you want to make a go of it, and I'll still be here.'

'I don't know what I'd do without you.'

There was a sob.

'There there, where there's life there's hope. I nearly left your father once you know, when you were about fifteen. He said I never listened to him anymore. It wasn't true but I was so wrapped up in looking after Grandma.'

There was a silence and then what Margo liked to think was a big comforting hug.

Margo drank the last of her cappuccino and picked up the remaining crumbs from her pastry with her finger.
 She felt drained. How did women get from being the young girls on the sofa to being so sort of let down and in difficulty.  Her fiftieth birthday loomed ahead. Everything seemed to happen at once in a woman's life. Your children left home and you got empty nest syndrome,  your parents grew old and needed you and  then your husband went through a mid-life crisis when his ego  needed constant attention.
 Just in one corner of a small cafè in a town in the West of England and in one hour she had heard enough to be able to write  her assignment for the Creative writing course, if she wanted to.
 She didn't want to though. She felt that they weren't her stories to tell.   One thing that shone through the conversations that she had listened to was how much comfort and strength we get from our friends, mothers and sisters, maybe she could write about that.

Someone sat down at the table behind her. Margo gathered up her notebook and pen ready to leave. She was about to stand up when the newcomer spoke.

'What a very attractive woman sitting at the table next to me. I wonder if she would like to come and spend a week in a Croft up on the coast of Scotland  all on her own with me?  I promise I will ravage  her. There will be a roaring log fire and a jacuzzi, champagne and wonderful walks and views.'

The sound of her husband's rich warm voice filled her with a joy and delight that rose up through her, warming her, filling her, overflowing, pressing on her so she could hardly breathe.

'Oh Angus, how did you know I was here? '

She leapt at him and flung herself onto him, burying her head in his thick overcoat and breathing in the warm male smell.

' Your car's parked outside. You wouldn't make a very good spy. Shall I take that as a yes?'

She pressed her lips on his and revelled in the familiar yet always new sensations that being near him gave her.

'Oh yes, yes please I'm beginning to think that. being fifty might not be so bad after all.'

The schoolgirls were at the till waiting to pay. As Margo and Angus arrived the girls turned to look at them. In their eyes Margo saw a sort of admiration and what looked to her like hope.


Welcome to the Cedar Cafè