Thursday, 30 October 2014

Off to the swings

Sunflowers from a friend to brighten your day

In a small handbag
Put some precious things
Wrap up warm
And off to the swings
Soft golden curls
Gleaming in the sun
Big brown eyes
Full of fun
A gentle push
And off we go
The sun bathes us
In a golden glow
Higher and higher
To the top of the trees
Then down with a crunch
In the Autumn leaves
On the roundabout
And round we go
Faster and Faster
Then really slow
Take a tumble
Have a bit of a fright
A kiss and a cuddle
Make it all right
It's time to go
We wave goodbye
Blow some kisses
Look up at the sky
Now we're ready
To have a warm drink
In a nice big cup
That makes a nice chink
People turn and with words of praise
Stop to admire her gentle gaze
Her sweet, kind smile
Her pretty face
She's not yet two
But already knows
That the meaning of life
Is under your nose
Feel the sun on your face
The leaves under your feet
Be pleasant and friendly
To all those you meet
Stop for a drink
In a nice café
Take a break 
Have a chat
Then go on your way
Wish everyone everywhere
To have a nice day .
A colourful display of fruit jellies

Looking up at leaves

This Summer I went to a city that I'd never been to  before, renowned for its architecture. the friend that I was with told me to keep looking up. Her son is an architect and he told her to always look up to the tops of the buildings, that's where the interesting bits are. today in the park looking at the Autumn leaves on the ground I then cast my eye skywards and thought how what my friend said is true for trees too. Looking up at the tops of the trees silhouetted against the blue Autumn sky the leaves were telling there own story. Some had lost all their leaves and the sun was passing behind them playing hide and seek. There are still a lot of green leaves  clinging to the branches and stubbornly refusing to join the Autumn party.
Oh but it is lovely to feel the scrunch of the ones on the ground.
Here are my photos, hope you like them.

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

What do you like about Winter?; a short story

The classroom door blew open and let in a blast of freezing cold air. Dasha, the teacher went to close it firmly and turned to her class.

'Winter has come early this year. we don't often get our first snowfall at the beginning of  October .'

' Take out your English books . I want you to write an essay about why you like Winter.'

Marija couldn't help smiling and wanted to shout for joy. She was sitting in the front row and looked at the teacher expectantly.

' For us in Russia, Winter is probably the most significant and meaningful season. Our harsh Winters have protected us from invaders but also have been difficult to survive.
Nowadays life is easier in the large cities. We have ice-skating and lots of warm places to go. Our roads are kept clear and we can travel around. There are lots of festivities and events for us all to enjoy. I know many of you like to jump in the freezing waters and I hope you all know the best way to get warm again.'

Karina, sitting next to Marija nudged her and smothered a laugh.

There was a noise from the back of the classroom and some nervous giggling from the girls. Marija turned round and saw the new boy Petrov blowing kisses to her.
The teacher clapped her hands.

'I'm going to write some English words on the blackboard and I'd like you to include them in your story.'

Survival, soul ,desperation ,tradition,satisfying

The class groaned. Dasha grinned at them.

'Come on ,you're all really good at English and you've got important exams this year. Show me what you can do.'

Marija didn't need any encouragement, she loved Winter. Her pen flew across the page as she wrote quickly. Her immediate thought was to write about the beauty of the Russian soul. How she loved Russian literature. Tolstoy, Gogol, Dostoevsky. The anguish and passion of her nation was described in .poetic depth. For some reason though she didn't want to expose herself today. The new boy Petrov had looked at her yesterday in a way that had stirred unfamiliar feelings of excitement
It was her birthday today and her mother had made the traditional Russian cake used for special occasions. Napoleon cake. It was quite complicated and took her all day but the results were amazing and Marija could only describe it as a deeply satisfying cake.
Whenever she ate the rich, creamy dessert that had been made with so much love and care it uplifted her so much that she felt that it had nurtured her very soul. There, she had already used two of the words.
 This year Marija was eighteen and  her mother said they could have a special celebration with caviar and even a drop of  vodka .  At least with Anton away at work it would be just the two of them.
Sadly, the Napoleon cake also made Marija think of her grandfather and how much she missed him. He had taken the place of the father that she had never known. He used to tell her stories of his youth, years of sheer desperation. He told her about the siege of his beloved city and what a desperate fight for survival there had been. He told her that they had licked the glue off the wallpaper in their attempts to find nourishment. Once, when she was about six years old, Marija had smeared some of the cream from her birthday cake on the wall in her bedroom. She licked it off trying to imagine what her grandfather must have gone through.

There was more laughter from the back of the class and Dasha called Petrov to the front.

'Go and sit beside Marija and no more talking.'

Marija felt herself go red and had to bend her head over her book to avoid meeting Petrov's clear blue gaze. She checked her essay. She had used all the words. She just hadn't mentioned the real reasons why she loved Winter. There were two. Firstly that she could wear clothes that covered all her body and didn't show the tell tale bruising. Secondly that her mother's new man, Anton, worked all night making sure the streets were clear of snow and then slept all day. Marija's mother, Polina, seemed powerless to protect her daughter from the vicious blows and aggressive language that boomed round their small flat. She told Marija to be patient, that they were safer with a man to look after them now that grandfather had died and to try not to annoy him.

Dasha told them to stop writing .She looked at the pale, pretty girl in the front row and the tall burly young man next to her. Something stirred in Dasha's heart, she felt the age old feeling of attraction between two people and her heart rejoiced. she had heard the rumours about Marija's stepfather.

Dasha called Karina to the front and asked her to read her essay out loud. It was all about ice-skating and buying a new fur coat and not falling over on the icy pavements in her new high heel boots. Petrov caught Marija's eye and smiled broadly. He had such a kind friendly face that Marija couldn't look away and she smiled back.

After that it seemed natural to walk home together. Their words tumbled over in their eagerness to find out all they could about each other. They took the long way home past the frozen lake. Karina was pirouetting around and her mouth fell open when she saw them engrossed in intimate conversation. She collided into Feliks, her boyfriend and they both waved , calling Marija to join them. She shook her head and Petrov took her hand.

Petrov had come to live a few floors below Marija. His father was a doctor, an orthopaedic surgeon and  he had come to work at the local hospital. As they neared their apartment block they saw a figure coming towards them. It was Anton, already awake and off to the bar before his evening shift.
Marija tensed with the fear that the sight of Anton's menacing presence always gave her.

'It's my stepfather, be careful.'

Petrov  walked calmly up to Anton and held out his hand. He towered above Anton who seemed to shrink . Marija hadn't noticed how powerfully built Petrov was until then. She watched in amazement as Petrov whispered something in her stepfather's ear and slapped him playfully on the back. Anton smiled nervously and turned to Marija.

' Invite your friend in to try your birthday cake Marija. I'll see you tomorrow.'

He walked briskly on and  Petrov laughed at the astonished look on her face.

'What did you say to him? What's happening.?'

Petrov put his arm round her.

'I just told him that if he ever wanted to come downstairs to our flat, to just knock on the door and we'd be happy to offer him a hot coffee.  I would be delighted to come to have some of your birthday cake and maybe you'll let me take you dancing too.'

Petrov drew Marija towards him and kissed her lightly on the cheek. He had never believed in love at first sight until now. He was sure Anton would not cause any more harm to Marija.  What Marija didn't know was that Patrov had whispered 'I know all about you and your bullying ways. Any more of that and you'll have to deal with me.'

Marija's heart beat fast as she breathed in Petrov's warm male smell. It was comforting, not frightening like Anton's . Just as Petrov leant in to kiss her and envelop her in his arms, she thought she heard her grandfather whisper in her ear.' You're safe now, my little Mishka.'

Russian dolls

Making stuffed green peppers with a friend

ready for the oven
Mix together breadcrumbs, grated cheese, tomatoes, olives
Make sure you have all you need before you start

A friend gave me lots of  green peppers and aubergines from her garden. Another friend  told me she had a nice recipe  from the south of Italy. This friend is originally from Romania and we both enjoy swapping recipes. She told me what a great difference the Internet has made to cooking along with television programmes like Master Chef. We are  both brimming with ideas . My friend's recipe for stuffed peppers comes from Campobasso near Naples.

Stuffed green peppers

1 pepper per person , washed and cut in half and cleaned of all seeds and membranes.
Soft bread rolls, crumbled
Cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in quarters
Black olives, sliced
Grated Parmesan cheese
Olive oil
Vinegar and water

Heat the oven to 180

In a large bowl mix the crumbled rolls, grated cheese, tomatoes, olives and sprinkle with olive oil and water to bind.
Stuff the halved peppers with the breadcrumb mixture and arrange them in a shallow ovenproof dish.
Mix together some water, olive oil and a splash of vinegar and pour it gently round the peppers.
Cover with tin foil and bake for half an hour then remove the tinfoil and bake uncovered for another 15 minutes.
The peppers will keep for two days . They can be heated up in the microwave or topped with cheese and grilled .

you could use this stuffing for Beefy tomatoes, courgettes, red peppers or aubergines too.

Tasty peppers, enough to share

Monday, 27 October 2014

Get in the mood for Halloween with Spaghetti alla Dracula

In Britain, school children are enjoying their Half- Term holiday. It means that they are half way between the Summer holiday and Christmas. It was always en exciting time for me. Lots of time spent outdoors collecting wood for bonfires, collecting shiny brown conkers and inhaling the sharp woody smells of Autumn. For Halloween we would carve a smiley face on a pumpkin and put a white candle inside. It would be left burning in the front garden to keep away the witches. We played bobbing apples and ate toffee apples. We didn't go trick or treating, that was an American idea.
When I came to Italy, the First of November, All Saints day, was a rather sombre moment .People trailed round the country taking chrysanthemums to their loved ones resting places and ate sweets called 'favette'. In recent years Halloween has become a very popular holiday in Italy and children have fancy dress parties and hollow out pumpkins. Opinions differ as to whether this is suitable behaviour during what was traditionally a solemn event. Most people seem to think that any excuse for a bit of jollity can't be bad and children seem to agree.
So to get yourself in the mood for Halloween you can make my Spaghetti alla Dracula.
You have to use quite a lot of garlic, so be warned. You must know that garlic can taint your breath and so your partner must eat it too. In Southern Italy garlic is used to protect you from harm  .Victorian ladies supposedly used bad breath as a deterrent for unwanted suitors.
Garlic is also renowned for its healing properties. You have to be careful though, it must be crushed so as to release its oil, allowing beneficial sulphur compounds to form, but it will lose these if cooked too fiercely. Eating one or two garlic cloves a day has been proved to have substantial effect on heart health.

Spaghetti alla Dracula

Serves two

100g Spaghetti
3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 glass of tomato passata
pepperoncino, optional
grated cheese

Lightly cook the crushed garlic in the olive oil and add the Passata di pomodoro and the pepperoncino if using. Sprinkle over the dried basil.
Simmer gently for about 30 minutes, adding some of the water from the spaghetti if it gets too dry.
Meanwhile cook the spaghetti according to the packet, then drain and stir in the sauce.
Serve with grated cheese.
All you need after this is a green salad and maybe a chunk of Pecorino.

Buon appetite and have fun eating this.

Count Dracula

All set

Buon appetito

But, soft, what light through yonder window breaks?

We put the clocks back an hour on Saturday night so had an extra hour yesterday. It felt like that until about five-o-clock in the afternoon and then we were made to realize that Winter is on its way. The best place to be was indoors. then this morning what joy! The sun streaming through the windows at seven-o.clock, and that beautiful verse from Romeo and Juliet springs into your thoughts. You all know the story or rather tragedy of Romeo and Juliet. you may not know that it is based on a novella written by an Italian called Luigi da Porto. It inspired Shakespeare to write some of his most romantic verse. So this morning in the light of this beautiful Autumn dawn here is some of the verse that Romeo speaks under Juliet's balcony after the dance.

But, soft, what light from yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.
Arise fair sun and kill the envious moon,
Who is already sick and pale with grief.
That thou her maid art far more fair than she.
Be not her maid, since she is envious:
Her vestal livery is but sick and green
And none but fools do wear it, cast it off.
It is my lady, O it is my love.
o, that she knew she were.

And then the last few lines of Romeo's speech..


The brightness of her cheek would shame those stars
As daylight doth her lamp, her eye in heaven,
Would through the airy region stream so bright
the birds would sing and think it were not right,
See how she leans her cheek upon her hand,
O, that I were a glove upon that hand.
That I might touch that cheek!

Wishing you all a happy romantic Monday bathed in golden Autumn sunshine

Mexican sunrise

Italian sunset

Look closely to see the new moon

Saturday, 25 October 2014

A short poem for the day, Autumn in Yorkshire

My poem for the day is by Emily Bronte (1818-1848). It's quite short and so I'll refresh your memories about who she was. There were about six Bronte siblings. the most famous being Anne, Charlotte and Emily. They wrote under the pseudonym of Bell, Acton, Currer and Ellis, each using their own initial. They had a brother called Patrick who by all accounts was fond of his sisters and encouraged them with their literary efforts.  As is often the case when they lost their vivacious and happy mother, life became difficult and sad for them and they all reacted in different ways. Research is still being done into their lives and there is no doubt that they are quite an interesting lot. Charlotte is probably best known for 'Jane Eyre', Anne for 'Agnes Grey' and Emily for 'Wuthering Heights'. Depending how you look at it, Wuthering Heights could be viewed as violent and morbid or romantic and passionate.
This verse by Emily Bronte is just right for this weekend when we put the clocks back and are made aware that Winter is round the corner. the leaves that have been clinging valiantly to the trees to show off their fine colours can be swept to the ground by a sudden squall. Oh yes, by the way, the Brontes grew up in Yorkshire and it is such a beautiful county that anyone who has been there can  easily see how inspiring the natural beauty of the moors and dales could be.

Fall leaves, Fall, Emily Bronte

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers ,away
Lengthen night and shorten day,
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the Autumn tree
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow
I shall sing when night's decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

Just to remind you about the clocks there is a saying 'Spring forward, Fall back'.
you can fall forward and I suppose you could spring back.

The Lake District

Northern England

The Yorkshire moors

'I was only going to say that heaven did not seem to be my home, and I broke my heart with weeping to come back to earth, and the angels were so angry that they flung me out, into the middle of the heath on the top of Wuthering Heights, where I woke sobbing for joy.'

Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights

Friday, 24 October 2014

Hey it's Friday

The weekend starts here. Friday is my yellow day, with bubbles. You remember that I have synthesisia (whoops, can't remember how to spell it), Synesthesia.

It's the best day to make Chocolate Brownies. I know they are American but I've got a recipe that a friend gave me and I'm not sure how authentic they are, but they are delicious, very easy and quick. You make them on Friday afternoon and then leave them in the tin over night and so on Saturday and Sunday you have a real treat to offer your friends or take to a party. I don't recommend eating them all yourself, even though it would be understandable.

Chocolate Brownies

150 g butter
200 g chocolate
3 large eggs, beaten
250 g sugar
100 g plain flour.

Line a square or rectangular baking tin with grease proof paper
Heat the oven to 180

Melt the butter and chocolate together in a large saucepan, over low heat.
Add the beaten eggs and stir briskly
Add the sugar and flour and beat well.

Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 30-35 minutes until a smooth shiny crust forms.
Allow to cool completely in the tin.
Cut into squares and dust with icing sugar
The Brownies are better if left to cool overnight
Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days, so perfect for the weekend aren't they?

Thoughts on an Autumn evening

There's a nip in the air today . There is the wonderful Autumn smell of wood smoke, the rich, powerful aroma of Autumn under the  thick carpet of leaves. 
It makes you think of Bonfire Night, Halloween, Half term. Memories of collecting wood to build a bonfire, buying fireworks, hot tomato soup in a mug, sausages and toffee apples. Dark evenings wrapping a mysterious velvet cloak around the town, putting potatoes round the bottom of a bonfire and then holding them in gloved hands . Dressing gowns and camphorated oil, welcoming lights glowing from small lamps, curtains closed to caress your home,  tea tray in front of the fire, shiny conkers in your pocket, smoke idly puffing from the cottages in the valley, riding round the golden lanes at dusk on the back of a motor bike, the sting of the icy rain on bare legs, the wind hastening the leaves to the ground, and going home , always going home.
A hundred memories in your heart in a split second when you breathe in the Autumn air.

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Anyone for Waldorf salad

All fans of the Seventies comedy series, 'Fawlty Towers' starring John Cleese , will probably smile when they hear the words 'Waldorf salad'. In this episode an American guest asks for a Waldorf salad only to be told by a perplexed Basil Fawlty, 'Sorry, we are out of Waldorf.'

Today I decided to try and make one as it seems like an ideal Autumn or Winter salad.
It actually gets its name from The Waldorf Hotel in New York which is where it was created. I assembled all the ingredients and thought how sort of mellow and Autumnal they all looked. I added a chunk of Parmesan cheese and some fresh olive bread. My husband's reaction when he saw his plate was 'Where's the salad?' So next time I'll arrange it on a bed of lettuce. When I asked him if he liked it enough for me to make it again, he was enthusiastic, 'Definitely. It was delicious.' So this Winter it will be making a regular appearance on our table.

Waldorf Salad

2 red apples, washed or peeled and sliced
350g celery, washed and sliced
25 g chopped walnuts and a few for decoration
lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
chopped parsley
2 tbsp. good  quality mayonnaise.

squeeze the juice of half a lemon and put it in a glass bowl
Add the sliced apples and mix well to stop them from going brown
Add the chopped celery and the chopped walnuts
Add the mayonnaise and mix thoroughly
Sprinkle over chopped parsley and some walnut halves.

Serve immediately

Buon appetito

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Going Home - October entry

Here is my Creative writing entry for October, Life changes.

I chose to live in another country and it was still a challenge even though it was my own free choice. So many people have to decide on a life change to be able to help their families or just survive. My story was inspired by people I have met who have had change in their lives, not necessarily through choice....

Going Home

The lorry park was already full when Vladimir arrived. He had forgotten about the Italian public holiday and would have to wait until Sunday evening before he could set off again.
Vladimir skillfully eased his lorry into a space between the picnic tables and an oleander bush. He jumped out of his cab and felt intense relief as he stretched his body into an upright position. The constant stream of tourists going home had ceased and the lorry drivers had the service station to themselves.

A waft of cloying scent drifted past and out of the corner of his eye. Vladimir glimpsed a female form, hovering expectantly. Many times he had been grateful for the comfort such a woman gave. The warm presence of another human being, passing by like him, wanting the illusion of another's care.

On the journey home, though, he was a husband, a father, a son. He was going to a place where he would be welcomed with open arms. Everyone would rejoice at his return and the whole village would be invited to share the roast pig. The women would already be making vast quantities of potato salad and the children would be helping to taste the rich creamy cakes and biscuits.

Vladimir thought of his wife,Inga. Had he imagined that her face hadn't lit up quite so much with the joy of seeing him last time he went home? Had he imagined that his cousin, Vassili, had touched her on the arm a bit too often? He shook himself. He would go into the cafè and buy her a special gift, just like the tourists who wandered around looking for last-minute souvenirs.


The outward journey was getting more difficult for Vladimir. He found it hard to resist the pleading eyes and desperate looks from those who saw his lorry as a bridge to freedom. This time, he had nearly got caught. The custom's official at Calais had taken note of his number plate and he knew that next time they wouldn't play so dumb.They would be searching and shining their torches under his lorry.

Vladimir didn't want to think about what his life would be like without this job. The money he took home meant that his family were able to stay together in the village where he and Inga had grown up. His grandmothers had both told him to keep his family together. It was the most important thing he could do for them. When his mother's mother, Lucica, was a young girl, just fifteen, she had been forced to marry his grandfather, Tomas. Many times she had tried to run away to go back home, but in the end she had been made to accept her destiny.

Lucica was one of the lucky ones. Tomas was a hardworking and loyal husband. He did all he could to make his wife happy. Vladimir's other grandmother had a different challenge. When Vladimir's father was born, restrictions were placed on the people, and she was never allowed back to see her family. She cried so many tears and her heart broke knowing she would never see her younger brothers or her parents again. As the years went by her sadness increased and even now tears would fall at the mere mention of her long lost relatives.

A fellow driver, a Ukrainian who Vladimir recognized as  Andras, came out of the cafè and slapped Vladimir on the back.
'Have you seen the view from over there? There's Monte Carlo with the casino and the palace and the most enormous cruise ships. I'm going to take some photos while the sun goes down.'
This was Vladimir's first visit to the Aire du Beausoleil and he went to stand for awhile admiring the view and lost in thought.

Being a long distance lorry driver made Vladimir feel free. While he was on the road he felt safe. His cab was like a private universe where no harm could come to him. He kept his passport and all his papers in a pocket that Inga had made specially. He knew how important they were.
On his outward bound journey he was a man, taking a load of goods to one place and then bringing another load back. On his way home though, he was a hero, a provider and a protector. With his warm nature, Vladimir had made a lot of friends among his fellow drivers. Many took the same routes and would try to share the same overnight stops. He was always happy to see Salvatore, an effervescent Sicilian driver who entertained everybody with stories about his family and sang Sicilian songs. He would ring him when he went back to his cab.

Vladimir waved at Andras and then walked towards the bright lights of the café, pushed open the door and breathed in the welcoming smell of strong coffee. The café was almost empty. There was just a couple sitting near the window, watching the sunset. The man was shaking sugar into his companion's coffee and giving it a stir while she smiled at him and stroked his knee.
Vladimir felt his heart ache. He wished it was him and Inga. He would love to take her on a journey and show her all the places he had been. He walked up to the till and ordered his coffee.
He sat near the couple and relaxed as the strong, hot liquid hit his throat. The young woman had a bag with the name of a city that he had driven past many times. To him, it was just a name on a signpost. He could hear them discussing a party that they were planning. He caught some of the words, party, welcome home, happy. He imagined his family planning the same for him, then he remembered Vassili and the way he looked at Inga.
He needed to go home. He needed to see her more than ever. If he set off the moment the lorry ban was lifted he could be home by Monday night.

Vladimir walked through the shopping area. He chose some sweets for his little daughter and a soft toy for his baby son. Then he saw a handbag like the woman's. He took his gifts to the till and on  impulse added a second bag. The woman at the till smiled at him. 'Great choice, someone's going to be happy'.
Just as he arrived at his cab door, Vladimir smelt the perfume again and saw a flash of long hair and a short skirt. He solemnly reached towards the girl, the bag in his outstretched hand. She started to unbutton her shirt with an automatic action.
Vladimir waved his hand dismissively, 'Nyet, nyet, no, no.' As she took the bag her questioning look turned to a delighted smile that made his heart swell. Oh please let Inga greet him so.

Vladimir walked all round the lorry checking his tarpaulin and tightening the ropes then he jumped up into his cab. He drew the curtains and took a swig from the vodka bottle that he kept under his seat. There would be time for the alcohol to be out of his bloodstream by Sunday evening and he knew it would help him sleep. He heard a noise from behind his lorry and was about to investigate when his phone rang. It must have fallen out of his pocket before he went into the Cafè. He scrambled around on the floor till he found it then pressed answer. It was Salvatore, his Sicilian friend. It was harder for Vladimir to understand the torrent of Italian without his friend's incredibly expressive gestures. He caught the key words, hotel on the Black sea, terracotta, Monday evening, Serbian border. Salvatore wanted to know if they could meet there and then go on to the Black sea together. Vladimir did some quick calculations.
'Si, si, da, da, See you there Salvo.'

Vladimir then saw he had six missed calls from Inga and two from his mother. He rang his mother first and was greeted as always with a host of recommendations.

'Make sure you get enough sleep, eat properly, never drive for more than eight hours, we all miss you.'

Then almost as an afterthought she told him that Vassili had found a bicycle for Aline. He'd painted it bright pink and she rode it round the yard blowing him kisses and ringing the little bell he had attached to it.
Vladimir threw the phone onto the passenger seat. He had another swig of vodka and rubbed his eyes, then he rang Inga. She sounded angry.

'Where have you been? Why didn't you answer ? Is there anyone else there?'

Vladimir was taken aback. Inga was always complaining that he asked too many questions. He held the phone away from his ear until her shrieking stopped. He told her he would be home On Tuesday and he had something for her. She giggled then and sounded more like his Inga.

Vladimir tried to sleep thinking of his mother's advice but woke from a dream of Aline looking at him as though he was a stranger and Inga turning away from him.


Vladimir was the first to leave the service station on Sunday evening. All the holiday traffic had cleared and he was at the Serbian border in good time. As soon as he had parked he caught sight of Salvatore's stocky figure, talking on the phone, wildly gesticulating and trying to placate the high pitched female tirade that was coming from the earpiece. Vladimir punched him lightly on the arm and with a stream of 'Ti amo, I love you, trust me,' Salvatore put the phone away. 'Le donne, women, women!' he shook his head and opened his arms.
'Come to my cab, Vladi, and I'll give you the best Sicilian food in the world.'

As the two men feasted on salami, olives, sausage, Arancini, cannoli and almond cakes, Salvatore explained his mission. He was on his way to a new hotel on the Black sea in Bulgaria with a lorry load of terracotta vases from Tuscany. The hotel needed local staff and he wondered if Vladimir would be interested.

'You know, Vladi, you've got a gift for communication and people warm to you. You can get by in Italian, English, German. You'd be great and I know how much you miss your kids. Maybe it's time for a change.'

Vladimir had been holding his breath, entranced by a vision of waking up beside Inga every day, teaching Aline to ride her bike, watching little Viktor take his first steps. A lump came to his throat and he had a job to speak.

'Salvo, I think the time is right. Thank you, I'd like to give it a try.'

They agreed to set off together after their sleep. Salvatore jumped out, then after a few minutes tapped on the window.
'Vladi, your tarpaulin's loose, better check it.'
Vladimir walked to the back of his lorry and lifted the flaps. He gasped as he saw a pair of frightened eyes and the handbag that he'd bought at the autogrill.
He knelt down and smiled reassuringly.
'Hello there, it's ok. Where do you think you're going?'.
Encouraged by his tone the girl slowly sat up. In Bulgarian she told him that she'd seen the name of the town on his lorry and hoped she'd be able to get there without him noticing. Vladimir silently handed her one of Salvatore's almond cakes and listened to her story. It was one he had heard many times.
Vladimir waited until the girl had finished telling her tale of being lured away from home with false promises of work and had found herself with no papers and a long way from home.

At that moment Salvatore appeared to see what had happened to his friend. He cupped his hand and shook it up and down in a typical Italian gesture, meaning 'What's going on?' The girl looked at him.
'I am Ester, I want to go home.'
The two men exchanged glances as she broke down into violent sobs.
'Both of you come to my cab'. Salvatore propelled them up into his lorry and poured glasses of his homemade Marsala.  Ester stopped crying and Salvatore handed her a rough towel. The three of them sat in an uneasy silence staring at the many chillis and horns dangling from the windscreen.
'My Concettina puts them there to protect me'. Salvatore yawned loudly. Vladimir drained his glass and turned to Ester.
'Come to my lorry and we'll get some sleep. We can decide what to do in the morning.'
Ester nodded and gave her glass back to Salvatore.
'Thank you, you are both very kind.'
She followed Vladimir back to his lorry and he settled her down with a blanket. Just as he had got comfortable, his phone rang. It was Inga.
'What is going on Vladi? You never answer your phone. Tell me the truth, are you with someone? Tell me! I need to know! I'm always stuck here on my own while you travel all over the place.'
Vladimir was speechless. Inga had never spoken like this before. He was always the jealous one. He glanced at Ester, sleeping peacefully and still clutching her handbag. He felt guilty and didn't know what to say. Inga took his silence to mean he was hiding something from her.
'It's just as well Vassili looks after me'.
The line went dead.

The next morning after a fitful sleep, Vladimir was woken by Salvatore rapping on the window and bearing three cups of tea and some rolls of bread. As Vladimir and Ester gratefully took them, Salvatore leant on the cab door and spoke through the window, blowing on his tea.
'Last night I asked Concettina. At first she didn't believe me and then very angry. Then she said what to do.' he gulped his tea and carried on. 'Ester must come with me in my lorry and we follow you to your depot. Then you come with us and I take you to your town. I'll ask my friend Egidio if Ester can work in the hotel. Is perfect plan no?'
Vladimir nodded dumbly. It seemed like there'd be a lot of explaining to do to Inga.
As if reading his thoughts Salvatore carried on.
'Just be natural, Vladi, smile and kiss and hug her. Keep telling her how much you love her. Believe me, I am Italian. We know what is important to women.'

When they were all back on the road with Ester sitting up beside Salvo and tucking into Arancini, Vladimir called Inga. When he told her that he would be bringing two friends with him and could she please make up some beds, there was silence. He softly told her how much he wanted her.


Inga turned to gaze at her sleeping children. She kissed them gently, stroked their hair and straightened the covers. Then she took the photo of Vladimir in her arms and kissed it. Her Vladi, her one true love. How difficult life was for them. She was on her own so much and Vassili was spending more and more time with the children, fixing broken taps and mending all sorts of things. Aline was so happy with her little bicycle, she had even called him baba, her word for daddy.
Inga was confused. So many couples in their small town had been torn apart by one of them having to leave to find work. Just now, hearing Vladimir using their special words for love she knew that he was the only man she ever wanted. He was her true love. She must not give Vassili the wrong message. She went to the kitchen to do the finishing touches for Vladimir's welcome home party.


Salvatore lay down on the make shift bed that had been prepared for him next to the children's room. From the moment that he, Vladimir and Ester had appeared, there had been feasting, dancing and music. It reminded him of the times that his grandfather's brothers visited from at Vladimir, Australia. Little Aline had hurled herself  at Vladimir, thrown her arms round his neck and nothing could prise her away. Salvatore's big, kind heart had rejoiced at the scene. The roast pig that was turning on the spit was being guarded by Vassili and Inga's brother, Gabor. Salvatore was handed a plate and told to help himself to potato salad, stuffed cabbage, sour cream, soup, salad, raw onions and goose fat.
Everywhere he went Salvatore took the sunshine, vitality and passion of his native island and soon he was part of the family, singing songs and dancing. There was one awkward moment when Aline  pointed to Inga and Ester and their handbags. 'Look they are the same.'
Vladimir grabbed Inga and twirled her round to the music, kissing her and spinning her round till she was laughing and giddy with happiness. Later, Vassili held out his hand for Ester to dance with him. Someone shouted out a toast, glasses were filled and raised, all was well.
Salvatore, Vladimir and Vassili talked late into the night. Egidio was investing in the hotel. It was a big resort backed by a well-known German group. They had already opened one in Macedonia and it was a great success. The warm climate,the sandy beaches, the beer and the fresh fish would attract people from Northern Europe. There would be work for them all. Salvatore would be coming back regularly. He might bring Concettina next time.
Salvatore picked up his phone. 'Mi manchi amuri, I miss you my love, Ti amo, I love you.'

2952 words

The view from the Beausoleil service station

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Getting ready for the cold weather with Carrot Soup

So far Autumn this year feels more like Summer but now we are told the temperature will drop ten degrees overnight and we will have the coldest Winter for over a hundred years.
Apart from wearing warm clothes and keeping the house warm, we have to make sure we eat to beat the cold. The Chemist shops in Italy are full of food supplements arranged in tempting displays promising to ward off all ills. There is no doubt that vitamins and minerals are essential for good health but we must be wary. Studies show that some supplements can be harmful .One of these is Betacarotene which is needed to make vitamin A, but we must get it naturally from our diet. Vitamin A is essential for the healthy linings of our bronchial tubes which are the body's first line of defence against infection and particularly vulnerable in Winter.
Vitamin A is found in liver,milk,eggs and cheese and also produced from the carotenes present in carrots,broccoli,green leafy vegetables,red peppers and dried apricots. Leafy dark green vegetables such as spinach have as much carotene as orange vegetables, but the colour is masked by green chlorophyll.
Biology lesson over.
Today I made carrot soup. We all know that carrots are good for us and can help us see in the dark.
The only problem is that they have to be cooked for our bodies to be able to absorb all their goodness. Munching on a raw carrot will re- align your jaw bone and give your teeth a good work out but it seems you won't get all the health benefits that way.

Here is my recipe for Carrot soup . It works well for courgettes, fennel or beetroot too.

1 kg carrots, peeled and sliced
1 onion, peeled and chopped
1 potato, peeled and cubed
Olive oil and butter
Coriander, if liked
1-2 littes of vegetable stock
Cream and almonds to garnish

Melt the butter and olive oil in a large saucepan. Add the onions and carrots and stir.
Turn the heat down low and cover. This brings out the flavour of the vegetables.
Cook for about ten minutes making sure they don't stick 
Add the potatoes and the stock.
Bring to the boil, cover, reduce the heat and simmer until the vegetables are soft.
Puree the soup with a blender and check the seasonings.
Serve in warm bowls with a swirl of cream and scatter over the almonds.

Follow the soup with a selection of cheese, grapes and nuts for a lovely Autumn  evening.

Rosy apple, mellow pear

We used to sing this song in the Infants at Primary school.

Rosy apple, mellow pear,
Bunch of roses she shall wear,
Gold and silver by your side
Choose the one to be your bride.

We children would all stand round in a circle and a boy would stand in the middle. We would all sing the above verse and then he would choose one of the girls to be his bride. Then two people would form an arch holding hands and the couple would walk through followed by everyone else. For me this was all very exciting and a real taste of romance. To be chosen as the bride was wonderful. We were all about six or seven and already romantics at heart.
As I was arranging some Autumn fruits I thought of this rhyme and all the children that I sang it with.

On the right are the berries from the Jujube tree, also known as Chinese dates. In Italian they are called giuggioli and when a friend gives you some you know you are in Autumn.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Abracadabra - transforming left overs

Golden fishcakes, red beetroot and green salad

Carefully cook and turn the fishcakes
Looks a bit bland to begin with

Like most children I always liked the idea of casting spells and transforming toads and weeds into more appealing objects. Who hasn't tried squidging rose petals in a bucket of water hoping to produce Chanel no5? Well my lunch today felt a bit like that. There were boiled potatoes from yesterday and some sad -looking frozen cod.
Here's what I did with it:-
Gently poach the cod in a littke milk in a non stick pan with a few bay leaves.then strain and set aside.
Mash the potatoes well with a fork.
Combine the fish and potatoes.
Add chopped parsley, salt and pepper .
If liked add chopped gherkins or capers.
Shape the mixture into rounds and flatten them.
Get two bowls and in one put a beaten egg and breadcrumbs in the other.
Dip the fishcakes first in the egg and then in the breadcrumbs .
Melt a knob of butter and some oil in a non stick pan.
Cook the fish cakes gently making sure they get nice and hot inside but do not burn. Tutn them over gently using a rubber spatula.
Serve with colourful vegetables. We had ruby red beetroot and green salad.
Vacuum packed beetroot, sliced and sprinkled with vinegar always brings back happy childhood memories for me. Having spent Sunday afternoon making perfume and mud pies we would often have  salad, tomatoes, radishes and beetroot for tea.

Unexciting start

Sunday, 19 October 2014

A poem for the day

The weather is unseasonably warm in most of Europe and you wonder how the birds know they should be migrating and how the leaves know they should be turning gold. The signs are all around us that we are in Autumn, even though we can still wear our summer clothes. My poem for the day is by George MacDonald (1824-1905). It seems a bit over the top with lots of exclamation marks. He was a Scotsman who spent a lot of time in Italy mainly in Bordighera on the Ligurian coastline. Scots are often considered to be the Neapolitans of the North.  Reading these verses you can just picture the poet's enthusiasm for the beauty of the world around him.

'O all wide places, far from feverous towns!
Great shining seas! Pine-forests! mountains wild!
 Rock-bosomed shores! Rough heaths, and sheep-cropt downs!
 Vast pallid clouds! Blue spaces undefiled!
Room! Give me room! Give loneliness and air!
Free things and plenteous in your regions fair.

O God of mountains, stars and boundless spaces!
O God of freedom and of joyous hearts!
When thy face looketh forth from all men's faces;
There will be room enough in crowded marts:
Brood thou around me, and the noise is o'er,
Thy universe my closet with shut door.'

A warm Autumn day

Friday, 17 October 2014

The First Snow flake

The shop bell rang to signal the arrival of the coach load of tourists. They burst into the small store chattering and calling out to each other in excitement as they admired all the souvenirs and local produce.
Ellie had been waiting for them all morning since Linda, the tour guide, had sent a text to say they were on their way. Ellie had got to know Linda well and she looked forward to her visits. Linda had told her that she was with a new driver because the usual one, Chuck, had a sprained ankle.
This would be the last coach load of what were affectionately known as the 'Leaf Peepers' before the Winter settled in.
It had been a good season for Ellie . She had sold all the maple syrup and homemade preserves and most of the little soft toys,that her mother had made. Ellie's handmade plaids and quilts in the rich Autumn colours of ruby, amber and gold, had all sold out.
The group of tourists were soon out of the shop with their purchases and sitting in the sunshine enjoying Ellie's special hot chocolate and marshmallows.
Ellie went to join them and chat to Linda. The coach driver jumped down and helped himself to coffee. Linda introduced him as Hank. He held out his hand to Ellie and she felt her knees buckle and a tight feeling in her chest. She sprang away and they looked at each other.

In a fluster, Ellie called over her two dogs Sugar and Red. They were named after the maple trees that Ellie loved so much. This year they had been  dazzlingly beautiful, making  the New England woods yet again one of the most stunning shows on earth. The American Beech, the Mountain Ash and the Northern Red Oak were still resplendent in their Fall finery.
Ellie's father used to tell her that the nip in the September air was what told the trees to prepare for Winter. He taught her the names of all the trees and made up stories about the animals that lived in the vast woods. Ellie's father had been a Forest ranger and sometimes took her with him along the trails during her school vacation. She liked checking the books that were placed at the beginning of each trail so the rangers knew who had gone into the woods. The trees were so thick that it was impossible to find people who got lost and there were warnings everywhere about sticking to the trails.
Now both her parents helped her and her brother Sam look after the store. It had belonged to their grandparents. Sam's wife Patty was a teacher at the elementary school and came to lend a hand on her day off .
Their six year old twins Katie and Tom liked to help make the home-made molasses and blueberry muffins for the cafè.
Red and Sugar started barking  and running round in circles to let her know they were ready to take the tourists to the covered bridge.

 Linda told her group some facts about the covered bridges. They had probably been built with roofs to protect the bridges from the harsh winters. Now they had become popular with romantic couples and were known locally as Kissing bridges. At this, the group , who were mainly older couples winked and nudged each other .This was the cue for photos in playfully passionate poses. One couple , from Virginia, Harold and Marion, wanted Ellie in their photo.

'You remind us of our granddaughter, honey. Have you got yourself a boyfriend? Let's have Hank in the picture too.'
Ellie felt her cheeks grow hot as Hank came to join them. What was happening to her? She was nearly forty and had given up thoughts of love a long time ago. Mother nature hadn't blessed her with a pretty face and she was totally unaware of how the kindness shining from her heart made her look quite beautiful to those who met her. She had her family, her niece and nephew, her store and her beloved mountains. She had always felt herself to be really lucky.
Hank gently brushed her cheek and then beamed at the camera. 
Linda told the group they had half an hour to explore the area before getting back on the coach.
Hank asked Ellie if she would  have another coffee with him, for the road. As they walked back to the store he took her hand. 
'This is my last trip before the winter and then I'll be working in the new hotel just ten miles away, for the skiing season. Could I come and take you dancing?'
Ellie saw Linda grinning and giving her a thumbs up .
The couple from Virginia were pointing up at the sky. Marion's face was shining with delight and Harold  came up behind her and put his arms round her. She turned towards him with the grace that must have accompanied her all through her younger years.
Ellie felt Hank's hand tighten. She closed her eyes tightly and made a wish.
'Look everybody ! The first snow flake!'

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Meals with Autumn colours

Radicchio rosso is the star of the show in Italian supermarkets from
October to March.Radicchio rosso from Verona is probably best for the budget conscious and is great both for risotto and salads. Beeare when buying Radicchio rosso from Treviso. I was waiting my turn in a small greengrocers and the customer who had just left the shop came rushing back waving his scontrino or reciept. He loudly complained that he could have bought a top quality Fiorentina steak for the same price as his Radicchio rosso di Treviso. The shopkeeper shrugged her shoulders with typical Italian eloquence as ifto say " It's your choice, that's the price."
To make risotto I bought the more economical  Radicchio di Verona and set about preparing a meal with the colours of the Autumn woods.

Radicchio rosso 
Red  and gold William pears, peeled and sliced.
Walnuts, roughly chopped
Roquefort or cheese of your choice
one glass of red wine
salt and pepper
200g risotto rice

Get ready

Wash and dry  radicchio and chop it roughly. 
Melt a knob of butter and some oil in a large saucepan and tip in the radicchio. Stir well and after a few minites add the rice and stir well.
Add the red wine, stir.
Add some vegetable stock until the rice is cooked. Check the seasoning . 
Serve topped with grated cheese and chopped walnuts.

Autumn Salad

Cover a plate with chopped radicchio. Sprinkle with olive oil.
Decorate with the pears sprinkled with lemon juice to stop them from turning brown.
Add chopped walnuts and cubes of cheese.

Buon appetito

Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Brooks, streams, rivulets

I'm not very good at translating from Italian into English and vice versa, I haven't got the right sort of brain. I have a lovely French friend who is the same. She thinks and speaks in English or French, one at a time, so I console myself. It's a gift to be able to pass instantly from one language to another that I greatly admire. I get really embarrassed and flustered when an Italian friend asks me linguistic advice on the street or in a bar with no dictionary at hand. Basically I feel dumb.. so today when I was asked the difference between a stream, a rivulet and a brook, I stammered helplessly that I though they were more or less the same thing, maybe slightly different sizes and make different noises. A stream glides, a brook babbles, a river winds and meanders, a rivulet I'm not sure.
At home I pounced on my dictionary to see how much of a fool  I had made myself.
According to my Oxford Italian- English dictionary a stream is a Ruscello  a brook is a Ruscello and rivulet wasn't in there. So I looked in my English dictionary and it described a rivulet as a small stream, so a Ruscello piccolo.
Whatever the word you use a stream or a brook or a rivulet is always a joy to see and it reminded me of a poem by Tennyson (1809-1892) called The Brook and that reminded me of a lovely stream where I took my children to play and have picnics. So here it is , my poem for the day.

The Brook

I come from haunts of coot and hern
   I make a sudden sally,
And sparkle out among the fern,
  To bicker down the valley.

By thirty hills I hurry down,
  Or slip between the ridges,
By twenty thorps a little town,
  And half a hundred bridges.

Till last by Philip's farm I flow,
  To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
  But I go on for ever.

I chatter over stony ways,
  In little sharps and trebles,
I bubble into eddying bays,
  I babble on the pebbles.

With many a curve my banks I fret,
  By many a field and farrow,
And many a fairy foreland set
  With willow-weed and mallow.

I chatter, chatter, as I flow
  To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
  But I go on for ever.

I wind about, and in and out,
  With here a blossom sailing,
And here and there a lusty trout,
  And here and there a grayling.

And here and there a foamy flake
  Upon me, as I travel
With many a silvery waterbreak
  Above the golden gravel.

And draw them all along, and flow
  To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go
  But I go on for ever.

I steal by lawns and grassy plots,
  I slide by hazel covers,
I move the sweet forget-me-nots
  That grow for happy lovers.

I slip, I slide, I gloom, I glance,
  Among my skimming swallows,
I make the netted sunbeam dance,
  Against my sandy shallows.

I murmur under moon and stars
  In brambly wildernesses,
I linger by my shingly bars;
I loiter round my cresses.

And out again I curve and flow
  To join the brimming river,
For men may come and men may go,
  But I go on for ever.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson

A stream that glides

A brook that babbles

A rivulet ...