Category Archives: food

The gifts that keep on giving

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I’m always slightly envious when people reminisce lovingly about their mothers, since mine disappeared when I was six, not to be found again until I was in my fifties when it was too late to rebuild bridges.

But when I look back over my memories of the gifts that different people gave me, I realise that my rather erratic mother gave me a gift that is still valuable today. My earliest memories of her are the songs she sang as I went to sleep. I didn’t hear them again for years, but recognised them as soon as the notes rang out…among them, ‘Where the bee sucks, there suck I’, and ‘One fine day,’ from the opera Madame Butterfly, and even: ‘You are my sunshine,’ a pop song from the forties that moved me to tears when I heard it again in middle age.

That gift – a love of good music – has been my pleasure and companion ever since, so I was ripe for Beethoven and Bach, Handel and Purcell as soon as I heard them when growing up, while opera became a passion, which I learned when I met her again, had also been a passion with my mother.

As I mused about this gift she gave me, I remembered all the other gifts that so many other people gave me. When my grandmother came to look after us, she brought with her, her collection of precious Meissen and Staffordshire china, and I learned to love china, a love which anyone visiting my house would recognise.

She also collected books, and many of them were illustrated and designed with prints and patterns from William Morris and fine artists like Aubrey Beardsley and Arthur Rackham, so that from the age of six, my eye was educated by their exquisite artistry. This discrimination meant that when I was introduced to Walt Disney – staple children’s fare – I found the cartoons crude, and the lack of light and shade and detail bored me.

The other gift my grandmother gave me was the love of reading, and for lack of children’s books, I devoured classics like ‘John Halifax, Gentleman’, ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in an original edition, a huge heavy book with engravings protected by flimsy tissue paper, the dreadful ‘Foxe’s Martyrs’, ‘Pilgrim’s Progress,’ ‘Gulliver’s Travels’ – all these in magnificent antique quarto versions, apart from many other history books and even the Bible.

A man gave me my next gift, a dry, elderly, retired history teacher who had taught in boy’s prep schools all his life, and who came to help out at my little private school during a war-time dearth of teachers. At seven, he introduced me to history, and I soaked up every period he ran through with us, from the Beaker people and the Stone Age, to Julius Caesar and the Romans, Boadicea  and Caracticus, Pope Gregory on captured Anglo-Saxon children with blonde hair and blue eyes, dragged through Rome in triumphal marches, saying, ‘Not Angles but angels,’  Alfred the Great, and Aethelred the Unready, Harold and the Conqueror, the Black Prince and English archers,  and all the march of history up to Agincourt and Henry V.

Living in Yorkshire when the war was over, our gardener, Mr Appleby, took a fancy to me, and spent much time teaching me the names of all the flowers…hearts-ease and snow-in-summer in crevices amongst paving stones, the herbaceous borders crammed with red hollyhocks, blue delphiniums and pastel pink and blue lupins, ravishing red peonies and pastel coloured grannie’s bonnets,  multi-coloured snapdragons and delicious sweet smelling pinks, the rose Dorothy Perkins scrambling over the trellis hiding the dust-bins … I revelled in this knowledge and his gift to me.

We didn’t go to school while we were in Yorkshire, and had lessons at home in the afternoon. My new stepmother, who was a physiotherapist and had no idea of how to teach children – or how to bring them up for that matter – gave me an extraordinary gift, apart from teaching me social skills, and that was how to spell. She demanded that at nine I could spell words like phlegm and diarrhoea, rhododendron and diaphragm. This is a gift that keeps on giving, like all the gifts that these adults gave me.

My father returned from the war in ’47, when I was nine, and his gift was to give me all the books he had enjoyed, so I went from a diet of Lord Lytton and books like ‘Harold’ (killed at Hastings) to Kingsley’s ‘Hypatia’, and ‘The Last Days of Pompei’, to Walter Scott’s ‘Ivanhoe’ and ‘Guy Mannering’ ( “go thy ways Ellangowen, go thy ways”… cursed the gypsy) and Napier’s history of the Peninsula Wars with Wellington, to CS Forester’s riveting: ‘The General’, about the First World War, and many more. Enid Blyton and Rupert the Bear were banned !

When I was ten and eleven years old I was put in a train from Yorkshire to Kings Cross, to spend a couple of weeks of the summer holidays with my step-grandparents. My grandfather took me walking around London nearly every day. We explored places like Threadneedle Street and the City, tramped down Constitutional Hill and through Hyde Park Corner, passing No I Piccadilly – Apsley House – the Iron Duke’s home, as well as the King’s home – Buckingham Palace (still George VI then).

We spent blissful hours loitering in front of Duccio, da Vinci and Van Gogh in the National Gallery, and wondering over the Turners in the Tate, gazing at all the statues of historic figures, from beautiful Nurse Edith Cavell at Charing Cross, to tragic Charles I, examined the famous poets and painter’s monuments in Westminster Abbey, and climbed around inside the dome of St Pauls. London was still the bombed, shabby city of the Blitz, with rose bay willow herb flourishing on empty desolate sites. But I know that great and ancient city more intimately than any other. And I have known my way around it ever since.

The following year I went on another solitary journey via Air France to spend the summer with French friends in their chateau in Vienne. There, the gift was an insight into French food and French architecture… while my first mother-in-law, a fearsome lady, was a talented amateur interior decorator. From her, I absorbed a knowledge of antiques, a love of colour, fabric and design and have enjoyed restoring and decorating houses ever since.

As I look back at all these gifts, which have enriched the fabric of my life, expanded my mind, and given me pleasures that never fade, I realise how blessed I’ve been. I’ve had many vicissitudes, bitter sorrows, painful partings, terrible decisions to take, and terrifying leaps off that metaphorical cliff in my life. But I’ve also had some sweet joys and learned how to be happy. And the music, the books, the flowers, the history, the beautiful china are all extra gifts that have made life rich and bearable in the bad times.

I wonder what gifts I’ve been able to pass on to those both near and dear, and even just to those casually encountered. We all have such rich gifts to share with others, and sometimes we do it knowingly, and other times, unconsciously. This is how our civilisation endures, and is handed down from every generation.

And maybe it’s more important than we know… the handing on and handing down of simple pleasures, facts and names, skills and events… these things are the handing on of our past, the hard-won experience and knowledge of our ancestors, and even of the fabric and treasures of our civilisation. That civilisation is changing fast, but it could go into future shock unless we value the past as well as the future. The gifts we can share may be more valuable than we can ever guess or measure or imagine.

Footnote. I took this picture for a blog several years ago. It illustrates perfectly different strands of my life.. the flowers are magnolias, the books are on France and French food, Axel Vervoordt is a famous Belgian interior decorator, the china is antique Crown Derby  Imari, while the portrait in the tiny frame comes from the medieval Book of Hours.

Food for threadbare gourmets

It’s that time of year here in the Antipodes when the delicious  Victoria peaches are available. I always snap them up. I don’t bottle any more, I freeze them instead. They have a different texture but are just as good. Being a lazy cook too, I just take out their stalk and then boil them whole, with a syrup made of water, stevia to taste, and a few star anise and a stick of cinnamon. When the peaches are soft I leave them to cool before parcelling them out into various plastic receptacles (I know, I know, sometimes we have to live with parabens!)

When I want them, I un-freeze them, and gently re-heat them with some brown sugar or maple syrup, and ginger wine, rum or brandy added to the syrup… served with ice-cream or crème fraiche, a whole peach drenched in the unexpected flavours of the syrup is a good easy pudding.

Food for thought

“There is divine beauty in learning… To learn means to accept the postulate that life did not begin at my birth. Others have been here before me, and I walk in their footsteps. The books I have read were composed by generations of fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, teachers and disciples. I am the sum total of their experiences, their quests. And so are you.”

Elie Wiesel, writer, academic, activist, concentration camp survivor and Nobel Laureate

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Kintsugi, art and life

I wrote a column about my collection of cracked and chipped blue and white china thirty years ago. Some people received the idea of a collection of cracked china with derision and laughter… something cracked or chipped had lost its value, usefulness and good looks was the unspoken message, or I must be too poor to have such a pointless collection instead of perfect objects.

Undeterred, in the years since, I’ve saved shattered fragments of blue and white china when I’ve dropped or broken something, intending to stick them all together in a splendid mould and make a bird bath. I still have all the bits … but though the spirit has been willing, the body has been weak, alas.

So when a few weeks ago a possum knocked a precious piece of pottery off the bird table I was heart-broken. It was a large platter given to me by its maker, a potter of some renown, whose pieces now on sale in the national museum cost more than I could ever have dreamed.

But my platter came into my hands over thirty years ago when I used to take my daughter for piano lessons with a beautiful woman who played the cello in the city orchestra and taught the piano. While my daughter tackled the music of civilisation’s finest composers, I whiled away the time chatting to her teacher’s husband, the potter, admiring his work which was all around and even then, out of my reach to afford.

They lived in an enchanting house he had built himself, and where in the romantic rambling garden black and white speckly bantam hens roamed, kicking up the flower beds with their stubby tufted legs and fearsome claws. One day the potter gave me one of his platters and a few months later by chance, another came into my hands.

I’ve always treasured them, and since I love using beautiful things for mundane purposes have always used them as bird baths. Now in our forest, I use them as bird tables for bird seed, balanced on pedestals made from other treasured ceramics. A possum must have clambered up and knocked the platter off. It had broken into three pieces. I found it when I awoke and got up to fill it with bird seed and scatter seed on the ground for our visiting quails.

Going back to bed with my early morning tea I brooded over this unexpected event, and idly let my mind roam over the five hundred-year-old Japanese art of kintsugi, when cracks or breaks in a piece of pottery or porcelain are pieced together again with glue and gold… the name means golden repairs. They become so beautiful that some pieces have been broken deliberately in order to restore them with veins of gold.

Mentioning this to my love, he immediately Googled, and over the weeks he mastered the technique, and the platter was returned to me on Christmas Day with beautiful veins of gold now holding the broken pieces together… the platter is even more beautiful than before… which is the idea … this exquisite art form has developed to become part of the Japanese philosophy of life… where respecting the past with ‘awe and reverence’ adds to the beauty of the object. It is not seen as flawed or broken, but as re-stored… not to wholeness, but to a beauty reflecting life, its impermanence and poignancy.

Since discovering the concept of kintsugi I’ve thought how though it is an old instinct brought to perfection by Japanese craftsmen, it’s also been used by so many others for so many centuries … I thought of the ancient ruined monasteries scattered around England, dissolved by Henry VIII in the 1530’s in order to enrich himself and turfing out the monks, leaving them homeless and destitute.

Local people were the ones who ruined those abandoned monasteries, dismantling exquisite abbeys, priories and friaries, and using the stones to build or enrich their own homes. Even in this day and age, I have stopped the car in a muddy lane in Cumberland to exclaim over a carved Gothic window blocked up to make part of the wall in a rough stone barn – relic of a local monastery.

I used to walk in a Devon village where the red post box was set into the thick wall of a house rising straight out of the street, which would once have been a cart-track, and next to it in the wall was a small beautifully carved blocked up window from another medieval building. These small architectural gems ennobled the old stone walls they were set in – another Japanese concept – ‘wabi sabi ‘– finding beauty in old or broken things

Shakespeare found beauty in old things, and using the principles of kintsugi, rewrote the ancient legends he had learned in his classical education at Stratford Grammar School, re-creating and transforming the stories of Anthony and Cleopatra, Julius Caesar or Troilus and Cressida – to name a few – into enduring works of art.

Not sublime works of art, but definitely kintsugi, are the pre-loved clothes – as they’re sometimes called – which a friend finds. By changing the buttons, adding a trimming, altering the neckline, edging hemlines or cuffs with contrasting fabric she turns each found item into an enviable work of art as well as a desirable item of clothing.

And there’s something touching and very sweet about the darns or patches in a piece of old linen, or a carefully repaired scrap of precious old lace. I love the chips and worn places on old painted furniture and the scratches on the polished wood of an antique table, or the kicked legs of a well-used chair.

These are the scars of a life well lived, and to iron them out, re-paint, sand them away and restore them to what is so often wrongly called ‘their former glory,’ chills my heart.  I know this means their honourable scars have been destroyed, and their character obliterated. In trying to make things look as good as new we are not honouring their past… the spirit of kintsugi.

When we were told on our personal growth courses to turn sour milk into yogurt, this was the same thing, re-creating and restoring the broken, cracked or scratched parts of our lives, and using them to teach us strength, compassion, insight. Acknowledging the hard places and tough times we had come through, and the buried pain, we were able then to see how they had shaped us.

We learned to face these times with ‘awe and reverence’, and with gratitude too, since without these scars, we would not be the people we had become. Our lives regained both magic and poignancy as we learned to see the mysterious patterns of events which we had endured and previously dismissed or de-valued.

Patterns of pain, loss, anger or despair, once recognised, became our golden repairs, our kintsugi, which enriched us and gave us a sense of the beauty of our lives. The cracks of character and kindness round our mouths, the lines of laughter softening our eyes, the deep furrows of thought and intellect above our brows became testimony to strength of character, to acceptance of the challenges faced, and rejection of bitterness or resistance.

Maybe this is why I find the faces of celebrities who have had a face lift or a botox injection rather sad… they are not honouring the medals earned by a well-lived life.

The most precious example of kintsugi in this place where we live is a diver’s rusty old tank, found while we scoured a demolition yard for re-cycled goodies. It was brought joyfully home, carefully cut in two, sanded, gently polished and re-painted, so it is a dull antique grey, with a few antique coins stuck to the circumference.

It’s mounted at the bottom of our drive with a striker made from an old fishing weight attached to a handle of weathered wood sitting by it. When visitors arrive, they ring the bell to tell us they’re here. Every day at dawn, and in the gloaming we ring our bell in gratitude. It reminds us that life is precious. And so we honour life.

Food for threadbare gourmets

We always used to have goose at Christmas when I was a child, but on the one occasion we had turkey I remember my father saying he wasn’t going to eat cold turkey or turkey sandwiches for the next week. So he devised a rechauffe of turkey eaten on rice.

Faced with lots of left-over turkey this year, I decided to follow his example. I had saved all the turkey juices, so after frying mushrooms and chopped bacon in butter, I stirred in a table spoon of flour to thicken the mixture and added the turkey juices. When this had thickened, I added chopped turkey and a little cream, salt and pepper, nutmeg to taste, and a small chicken bouillon cube.

Served on boiled rice, with peas, chopped parsley and butter stirred through, it was much better than cold turkey sandwiches!

Food for Thought

The self-actualising person is not a normal person with something added, but a normal person with nothing taken away.         Abraham Maslow

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Our beautiful world

The wind is blowing in the trees. It sounds like the sea. The sun is on the mountain. And outside the house, a pair of nesting quails are foraging among the bird seed that has spilled from the bird table.

When I step outside, I hear the sound of many wings… I have disturbed the green finches feeding, and their flight is like the sound of many muffled hands clapping.

This place is my new home, forty acres of forest, where our little wood cabin looks down a valley and up to a forest covered mountain. Where we hear the sound of our two streams meeting down below long before they join others to make the river. It flows beside the long winding road of blind u-shaped bends and gravel and often mud, which is the only way to reach us. When intrepid travellers finally reach the top of the forested mountain range, on this road famous for its degree of difficulty, and which only the brave or the ignorant attempt, they come to our big iron gates, and the elusive gate code, only available to those who are welcome.

We live several miles further on inside the gate, down a well-tended paved road, over-hung at this moment by the manukau trees frosted with scented white blossom  providing food for bees who make the healing manukau honey. We pass the steep hidden drives of the other occupants of this magic place, a forest which is covenanted and preserved for whatever the future holds for the planet.

There are about twenty-five of us, like-minded people who, on settling here, have agreed not to have  dogs or cats or introduce plants or trees which are not native to this place. So because this podocarp forest is covenanted, and these agreements are in place, the silence is never disturbed by the sound of a barking dog, and the only man-made sound is the distant hum of a car snaking slowly along the road.

And yet it is never silent. Tuis flute their glorious song during the day, the shining cuckoo sings its melody, while green finches cheep, and sometimes flights of red, blue, green and yellow rosellas come chattering by. A kingfisher, making his sharp repetitive call, sits on a dead branch a few yards away from the cabin, and dives into the long grass to snatch up in his sharp beak a grasshopper or other insect which his beady eyes have detected.

At night, a morepork – the New Zealand owl, so named because his call sounds like those words – perches on the same branch and hoots softly across the valley from where answering calls return. When birds are silent in the heat of the day, the all- pervasive buzzing of bees and flies and other insects fill the space, and then there is the glory of cricket and cicada each in their appointed time sending out their nostalgic rasping, warning us that summer does not last forever.

I listen to try to hear the moment when cricket takes over from cicada, but am never mindful enough. We have now watched the sun move across the horizon opposite for one whole year, and know that when it reaches the point of the ridge on midsummer’s day, it will begin once again to move inexorably back to the dip in the ridge halfway across the other side, towards the shortest darkest day. And we have watched the moon now for a whole year, as it rises in the sky to the side of the cabin, and then shines over the mountain and the trees, shedding gold light and mystery over the silent forest.

When it rains we gaze across the misty view which echoes a Chinese painting, and the beauty catches our breath. A myriad of different species of trees inhabit this unspoiled place, the different greens and shapes sprawling like a huge tapestry over the hills. When I gaze at them in the sunshine they  shine, almost as though they were lit up with the lights that stopped Xerxes, King of Kings in his tracks, when his great army rolled across the dusty plains of Asia. Transfixed by a mystical, shining sycamore tree he remained there for two days to the puzzlement of his soldiers.

And here, as the sun moves across the sky, shadows deepen the colours of towering trees, and reveal deep folds of green hills and gorges, and one mountain crowding another. Hidden deep beneath the canopy are rare and cherished species of trees and ferns and also exquisitely camouflaged frogs and lizards, moths and insects, one lizard so rare that only twelve others have been sighted in the rest of the world.

We had the privilege of seeing such a lizard when a neighbour found her with her tail gone and a blood-shot eye. She was rushed to the zoo several hours drive away, and there nurtured back to health. When healed a few weeks later, she was returned to her home grounds, and a group of residents gathered to inspect the precious creature – about four inches long – to witness her return to the wild. This shared concern makes a warm community hard to find anywhere else, particularly when that concern is cemented with good wine and cheese to fortify us before returning to our own native habitats!

We achieved brief fame on the estate when we discovered an Archey’s frog, another endangered species, down our drive. These finds are logged and we have to provide the time of day, the weather, the habitat and many other tiny details to enlarge the knowledge of environmentalists. Since then others have been found, and we realise that this place has become a haven for endangered species.

Are we an endangered species? Sometimes it feels like it. Knowing as we do that the world is changing, that climate change is a fact, whatever climate-deniers, big business and flat-earthers think, that ice caps are melting, our oceans depleted and polluted, that bees are dying from strange viruses and pesticides, and trying to get our heads around the fact that people are still killing the great animals which ensure our survival on the planet – the future of mankind seems as misty as our cloud covered hills.

There is something deeply awe-full and dread-full about the words ‘the Sixth Great Extinction’ which we are now living through according to scientists. So grasping at small straws of comfort can help us to come to terms with this extraordinary time in the history of the world. Living here in this precious piece of preserved forest and rare species has made us much more aware of other safe places and of so many other people dedicated to nurturing the planet.

So wonderful Bill Gates and the other billionaire philanthropists who are devoting huge sums of their money to work on long term alternative green energy sources make me feel hopeful. And I read today that Catholic priests have been instructed by the Vatican to preach about the environment, climate change and preserving the world. It’s what used to be called ‘spreading the word’.

It’s about each of us doing what we can, where we are. I have a friend who never goes anywhere without a plastic bag folded in her pocket. Whether on a walk on the beach with her, or on an overseas trip, staying in a rubbish strewn camp ground, she fills her bag. Single handed she can’t clear all the rubbish, but she does her bit.

Yes, on our own we cannot save our world, but like my friend we can all find ways, however small, of mitigating the damage. I know everyone who reads this blog is already committed to preserving life on earth, so I’m merely sharing one aspect of my new life, which is all about the environment. Tell you more next time!!!!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Having broken my leg badly six months ago and due to side effects still having difficulty walking, I’m actually listening to my doctor for once. She gave me a leaflet full of calcium – rich recipes, and one of them has transformed my idea of breakfast. It’s delicious as well as nutritious.

Leave quarter of a cup of oats soaking in quarter of a cup of hot water overnight if possible, but for at least four hours. Peel and grate an apple and mix into the oats with a tablespoon of lemon juice. Stir in two tablespoons of cream, quarter of a cup of natural sweetened yogurt and a tablespoon of honey – I use the healing manukau honey.

Fruit if desired… it’s a filling and satisfying breakfast, especially when topped off with a freshly brewed cup of lapsang souchong, the favourite drop of the cup that cheers but doth not in-ebriate !

And a PS… many months ago my computer collapsed, taking blog, addresses, etc, etc. Before I had a chance to rehabilitate myself and come to terms with a new computer and the dreaded Windows 10, disaster struck, and I disappeared into hospital for two and a half months. Still rusty trying to climb back on the computer deck, and still clambering  clumsily around trying to master the new technology . So please excuse any infelicities you detect!

Food for Thought

I don’t know who wrote this, but I like it:

dawdling,
not doubting,
intrepid all the way,
walk toward clarity
with keen eye,
With sharpened sword
clear cut the path
to the lucent surprise
of enlightenment.
At every crossroad
be prepared to bump into wonder

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The world – our village

100_0841 - CopyWhenever we hear the sound of a helicopter circling overhead, we know that someone is in trouble in our little village. The helicopter lands on the school playing field, and the one in need is whisked away to hospital.

Last year it rescued an elderly resident who’d slipped down a cliff, the year before, a village teenager with broken legs and arms after coming off his new motor cycle.

This time it was a profound tragedy when a young mother was suddenly rushed to hospital with a killer illness that struck out of the blue, and who only lived for another two hours. Everyone wants to surround the family and the small children with love and care and food and anything that would assuage the grief that can never be assuaged.

That’s how a village works. When I had a car accident many years ago, the family were swamped with food and help both while I was in hospital and afterwards. My daughter- in- law has the beautiful knack of creating a village wherever she lives or works, whether it’s a block of flats and her work place in London, or her suburban street and her children’s school here in New Zealand.

I’ve often wondered how she does it… I think it’s a mixture of care, interest in everyone around her, a willingness to become involved with their lives, and a sense of responsibility to the world and to her neighbours, however you define neighbour. And tolerance.

I think of other villages where those were the things that not only defined the village but made them unique, and two spring to mind immediately.
At a time when France allowed over 80,000 Jewish men, women and children to be deported to concentration camps, the community of Le Chambon- sur- Lignon in France hid some thousands throughout the war. This tiny community of only several thousand themselves, took Jewish children and families into their homes, and though most were poor, and hard put to feed themselves, they fed and protected their charges throughout the years of Nazi occupation.

No-one was ever turned away. The Germans knew this was happening and several times tried to intimidate the villagers and their leader, Pastor Andre Trocme, arriving with buses to take the Jews away. Whenever the Germans came, the villagers hid their refugees in the forest, and when the Germans had left the villagers would go into the forest, and sing a song. The Jews would then emerge from their hiding place and go back to their homes in the village.

Later one of the villagers said: “We didn’t protect the Jews because it was moral or heroic, but because it was the human thing to do”.

One other village in Occupied Europe also did this human thing. In the tiny village of Nieuwlande in the Netherlands, every one of the one hundred and seventeen villagers took a Jewish person or family into their home and kept them safe throughout the Nazi occupation. The pastor’s son, Arnold Douwe was the moving force behind this act of compassion and unbelievable courage.

The people in both villages showed incredible moral and heroic fortitude, not just for a day or a week or a year, but for years, never knowing how long their ordeal would last. Philosophers may argue about whether altruism exists, but as far as this naive human being is concerned, this was altruism of the highest order.

These apparently ordinary people put themselves and their families in mortal danger, and coped with daily drudgery too – would you want the inconvenience of sharing your home with strangers indefinitely? They did this for no reward except for knowing they had done their best for other human beings, and in doing so were themselves truly human.

Such generosity and compassion in a community can still happen. We all saw on the news the loving welcome the people of Germany offered to the tragic human beings who arrived on their doorstep in the last few days, after their months of unfathomable misery and un-imaginable hardship.

The heart-rending picture of one small boy lying dead on a sunny beach has reached the hearts of most people in the world, and shown us once again that we really are a village. The actions of western governments and power plays of western nations have destroyed these decent, ordinary people’s lives and countries, their towns and their villages. So now perhaps it’s time for the world to remember that it is a global village, and to show with action the loving compassion of village life in societies all over the world.

Maybe every village in the western world could pledge to share their peace and plenty with a refugee family…

And maybe, like Cecil the Lion, whose cruel and untimely death raised the consciousness of the world about the value and nobility of animals, these terrible scenes of refugees struggling to find safety and peace for their children, will raise the consciousness of the world too. These lines of exhausted refugees, and frail boats filled with desperate families, sinking in the sea, are reminding us of our common humanity.

They are reminding us of all that we have in common – love for our families, a love of peace, a longing for freedom, enough food, and education for our children – blurring the lines of division, whether race, religion, nationality or gender.
These strange times could be a turning point in the history of the world if we could use this crisis as an opportunity to bury our differences, and work for a common cause… which is peace on earth and goodwill to all men, women and children.

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

One of my favourite dishes is risotto, and I have lots of variations. This one is a very subtle version, using leeks instead of onions. Rinse and chop two medium leeks very finely and gently cook them in butter. Don’t let them brown, as they will turn bitter. When soft stir in a cup of risotto rice, I use arborio, and then a glass of white wine or Noilly Prat.
Let it boil up until the alcohol has evaporated, and then add the hot chicken stock in the usual way. When cooked, stir in a knob of butter and four tablespoons of grated parmesan.
Meanwhile grill six rashers of streaky bacon or pancetta if you have it, cut it into small pieces, and when the rice is cooked, stir them into the mix, and serve with more parmesan.

 

Food for thought

Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible. Dalai Lama

 

 

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A tearful (sob) tale !

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If I’m going to cry I want it to be when I’m laughing. I think that may be one of my favourite pleasures, to laugh till I cry… but it’s not something that can be planned… such moments seize us out of the blue, and swoop down without any warning. And then it’s bliss…I love it – having laughed my way not just to good health but to aching sides and streaming eyes.

Tears come more easily to some than others… my tear ducts are the sort that let me down and embarrass me constantly… it was about the only thing I had in common with Princess Diana, being neither blonde, rich, thin, Royal or any of the other things she was…. but she cried easily… she cried waving goodbye to her fiancée when he flew off to NZ for a couple of weeks, she cried, bless her, when the band played God Bless the Prince of Wales on her honeymoon, and she cried among other times, when she was complimented on her work on the day her separation was announced. By contrast her sister-in-law Princess Anne has only gone on record crying once… when she waved farewell to any more cruises on the royal yacht Britannia as it was de-commissioned.

The tough and the strong are sometimes tempted to despise we weaker vessels, and that’s when tears are so humiliating, if we forget that some of the sweetest moments in life, and the most memorable, are those which move us to tears. Tears are one of the things that make us human beings – though I have watched that heart-breaking video when an elephant who had been starved and beaten for fifty years was finally freed, and he wept – rivers of tears slowly trickling down his wrinkled old grey cheeks -and I wept too.

So yes, tears reveal us as feeling human beings… and though times of hormonal change… those teenage years, pregnancy, post-natal months, menopause, depression, even the wrong medical drugs can cause unexpected floods of tears, nevertheless, tears should not be sniffed at. A baby’s tears are his only means of showing his hunger, hurt, fear, anger, discomfort, insecurity and other problems…. but as we grow older and find less direct forms of communication, tears assume a different place in our lives.

They still mark emotions like fear, misery, anger, grief, hurt, but as we grow older – joy too. So why does our culture sneer at tears and try to train children not to cry, with the jeer: ‘cry baby’ or ‘softie’ being an allowed insult in the playground or even worse: ‘don’t be such a girl’.

When I landed in New Zealand in the middle of winter many years ago, my luggage two small children, tears of fright flowed behind my huge black sunglasses in spite of all my efforts at control. And there have been many other moments since when tears marked unforgettable moments of joy and sorrow… including watching first my children, and then my grand-children’s nativity plays… I cried when I watched my tall, skinny thirteen year old son walking away from his childhood into ‘big’ school, head and shoulders above the others his age… at my daughter’s wedding, and my grandchild’s christening… a perfect watering can.

‘Don’t cry when you say goodbye to us’, my eight year old daughter had said before they took off across the world to see their father. So I smiled and waved, and tried to pretend tears weren’t coursing down my cheeks in great rivers. Later, the exquisite voice of Joan Sutherland singing in concert brought tears to my eyes and to many others. Few of us could define what these involuntary tears were triggered by but they were precious, and the moments memorable. I’ve heard other great singers in person including the incomparable Kathleen Battle, but none of them drew that spontaneous tribute.

When my first baby was born the midwife who delivered her did so in floods of tears… she said she always cried when a baby was born. Now, tenderised by life, I know what she means. I only have to see a new born to feel those tears start gushing. It’s hard not feel embarrassed or humiliated by these ever-ready tear ducts.

I am famous in the family for beginning to cry in the cinema at the beginning of a film. As the credits went up on the film ‘The Young Winston’… the traditional ride of the Adjutant on his white horse, up the flight of steps to the library at the end of the Passing- Out Parade at Sandhurst filled me with such nostalgia for my military childhood that I was lost at the first frame.

And I remember lingering in the cinema loo mopping my eyes with my best friend as we tottered out after Disney’s ‘Old Yeller’ (about a Labrador) had ended, ravaged with tears and nearly blinded with clogged mascara. I can go to a funeral of someone I hardly know, as a courtesy to a family member, and become a tearful wreck… not quite sure whether I’m crying in sympathy with those who are really mourning, whether tears are contagious like yawns, or whether I’m touching into old and forgotten griefs.

In the end it’s animals who really pull the heart-strings and have provoked so many gallons of tears I could fill buckets with them … I was ten when I wept over the shooting of the ponies in the film ‘Scott of the Antarctic’… blow the men dying heroically in the snow, it was the ponies I cried over. The deaths of our fifteen or more rescued dogs and a cat was always a tear- streaked nightmare over the years, and it isn’t just me who’s reduced to an emotional wreck by animals.

On one particular personal growth course, a man who had remained unmoved by harrowing moments supposed to break down our innermost defences, went home one night to find his precious bull terrier fighting for her life, and losing it in child birth. The next day, as he told us all about his beloved ‘Maggie’, he dissolved into heart- broken sobs, as did all the women and most of the strong men in the room. Loved animals in distress can make even the toughest weep.

Broken with grief, this man was then able to do the inner work he had come for, the tears had dissolved his emotional barriers, and he became a softer, kinder, warmer person overnight. So in spite of the superiority of those who have well controlled tear ducts, it does seem that weeping is good for the soul, even though it’s terrible for the complexion. Doesn’t seem to matter whether we’re weeping from laughter or weeping from grief, or weeping from any other emotion, tears seem to loosen us up.

Yet mostly, tears don’t seem to come in the moments of great crisis… then the mind is focussed. Shock and intense attention keep us icy cold, functioning unhampered by anguish or emotion… so maybe tears are a bit like Wordsworth’s definition of poetry: emotion recollected in tranquillity, but in the case of tears: emotion when there’s time for it. I rather treasure the words of Kahlil Gibran, who puts tears and laughter into perspective, as ever… that they are both – in the pompous self-mocking phrase of a friend – part of ‘life’s rich pageant’!

Gibran says: “I would not exchange the laughter of my heart for the fortunes of the multitudes; nor would I be content with converting my tears, invited by my agonized self, into calm. It is my fervent hope that my whole life on this earth will ever be tears and laughter.”

So weepers of the world – unite! Hang onto your sodden tissues, and leave off your mascara. Don’t feel intimidated by the stiff upper lips or cold embarrassment of stronger mortals, our ability to cry at the drop of a hat means that we’re living, breathing, sentient beings,
Yours tearfully…

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

A friend for supper on a cold winter’s night meant that I wanted to spoil her with comfort food, and what more comforting than blackberry and apple crumble?

I had the apples, and a tin of blackberries, though I prefer fresh or frozen, and also often use boysenberries instead. I tipped the cold, cooked sliced apples and the blackberries into a pie dish, with plenty of juice, and sugar to taste; then the crumble was spread on top, baked in a moderate oven for forty minutes, tested with a knitting needle to make sure the crumble was cooked, and served with cream… delicious and she loved it.
The trick is the crumble… eight ounces of flour, four ounces of cold butter, grated and mixed with the flour, six ounces of brown sugar, the grated rind of a lemon, and two ounces of ground almonds. Mixed altogether, it only takes a few minutes to prepare, and not much more to eat!

 

Food for thought

All children long for recognition and acceptance of their essence – secretly so do most adults. The insistent question inside all of us is: do you see me, not only my body, but my essence; the gifts, potential, needs, wounds, character and quality of soul that shape me individually?
Professor Richard Whitfield

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When the cows come home

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The cows were lined up by the fence as I drove to a halt by the stop sign and orange traffic cones. Lovely chunky brown and white ones with thick white curls on their foreheads.

They were curious, and interested… this small hiccup on the road was a break in the monotony of their lives in a field hemmed in by fences. Back in the mists of time they would have roamed free, grazing, not just on boring green grass, but also on a variety of herbs and other grasses they were drawn to in order to maintain their good health. They reminded me of when I was staying with my best friend in the Forest of Dean in England. We were crossing a field to get to the Forest for a long walk.

The notes of a flute floated across the meadow, and then we saw a ring of cows –in fact every cow in the vicinity – gathered around the tree from whence came the music. Black Friesians. A man was sitting in the tree playing to them… a delicious eccentric – and after an intriguing exchange – my friend was mystified by the idea of a man playing music to cows, we carried on down to the Forest. I was fascinated… the cows confirmed all I had ever wondered about them. They were so curious and fascinated themselves, they couldn’t tear themselves away from the tree and the new sounds.

The definition of curiosity is a desire to learn and acquire knowledge… and how often do we credit cows with these qualities? When we want to describe someone disparagingly, who is slow, we call them bovine, and the dictionary definition of this word is being ‘slow and un-intelligent like cows and cattle.’

I think of the Welsh farmer who was gored by his bull, and fell to the ground unconscious, his leg broken. When he recovered consciousness, all his cows were spaced in a ring around him, protecting him from further attacks. As he began to drag himself to the gate at the edge of the field, his cows moved with him, keeping him safe. Faced with an emergency they had never encountered before, they solved it efficiently and cooperatively. What an example of goodness, intelligence, and can I say it – humanity? We credit mankind with humanity as though it was something unique to mankind… though sometimes one wonders what has happened to humanity in today’s world.

The dictionary defines humanity as having the qualities of compassion, brotherly love, kindness, understanding, consideration, mercy, generosity, sympathy, goodness… I find that all these words could be applied to the actions of these cows in protecting their owner… plus two more, intelligence and imagination.

In New Zealand we have an annual country custom called calf club day. Every year a child on a farm is given a lamb or a calf to nurture and train, and on calf club day they all bring their pet lamb or calf to school, and parade them and they are judged – most obedient, prettiest etc. When I was asked to judge, I couldn’t and gave everyone a ribbon … and then the next day, life is turned on its head for these gently reared and nurtured creatures.

The lambs go off to market in a trailer to be sold and eaten, the calves get turned out into the field with all the others. Once as we walked past a herd of jerseys grazing peacefully, admiring their long lashes and silky coats, one of them broke away from the herd, and ran towards us. As we talked to her and stroked her, we sighed – someone’s pet calf we murmured.

And so, lonely, missing her childhood companion, she was doomed to the monotony and heartbreak of a cow’s life – doomed to breed and produce a calf every year, doomed to have it torn away from her within a few hours or days, doomed to give up her milk and live her life in boredom and sadness. The sound of a cow bellowing in anguish when her calf has been taken from her, and the pitiful cries of the calves as they get used to being parted are part of the nightmare of country life.

Not to mention the terrified male /bobby calves lying in crates by the farm gate waiting to be gathered up in a cattle truck and after long hours of being thrown around the truck, ending up at the meatworks… I haven’t been able to eat anything with gelatine ever since I discovered how we get it… much of it derived from the skin and bones of calves… and hidden even in products like yogurt to bulk it up and make it creamier.

This is the reality of modern farming many will say, and so it is…. and yet organic farmers show how it can be done differently, keeping calves with their mothers, and still getting milk from the cows. Remembering that cows are not milking machines, but intelligent, loving consciousnesses could make a difference perhaps to the lives of millions of creatures who share this planet with us… and who as sentient beings, need the same protection and consideration that all life deserves.

My heart stopped at the pictures the other day of a woman matador in the South of France, holding aloft in gleeful triumph the ears of the magnificent bull she had just killed in torment, its blood running down her hands. Killed in torment to give so-called humanity some fun…

Yes, creatures have a different consciousness to human beings, and yet also share many of the same emotions… but since we have established – in the words of the Bible – ‘dominion over all creatures’ so we also have the responsibility to make sure that life for the creatures who give us life, is not also hell on earth.

‘We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals’ wrote the great writer on the natural world, Henry Beston… ‘Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilisation surveys the creature through his own knowledge… and the whole image in distortion. We patronise them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate in having taken form so far below ourselves.

‘And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow travellers of the splendour and the travail of the earth.’

Many years ago a group was formed in Wales, calling itself Women for Life on Earth… I like to think that we could all be un-official members of this wonderful sounding circle of goodness.

Food for threadbare gourmets

Sometimes I just need a quick and easy something to give guests at morning coffee time, or to cheer up a soup meal. These cheese muffins do the trick. I always have grated cheese ready in the deep freeze, so with a heaped cup of grated cheese, and another of self raising flour, I add a pinch of salt and cayenne pepper, and mix it all with one egg and three- quarters of a cup of warm milk. Spoon the mixture into greased muffin tins – I use tiny ones- and these take fifteen minutes in a 200 degree oven.

Food for thought

O servant, where dost thou seek Me?
Lo! I am beside thee.
I am neither in temple nor in mosque: I am neither in Kaaba nor in Kailash:
Neither am I in rites and ceremonies, nor in Yoga and renunciation.
If thou art a true seeker, thou shalt at once see Me: thou shalt meet Me in a moment of time.

Sufi poet Kabir, translated by Rabindranath Tagore

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Could this experiment change the world?

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Andrea was a Dutch woman who had lived through the German occupation of Holland. Her brother hid in a wardrobe in her bedroom for the whole five years of the war to avoid being carted off as slave labour to Germany. When there were searches by Nazi soldiers she had to fend them off to save her brother.

When the war was over, after a stint as a glamorous air hostess with KLM, she emigrated to this country to put the miserable years of her adolescence and then a failed marriage behind her. Her degree in social science was a passport to nowhere in the early sixties in New Zealand. The only work she could find here was teaching; and the only teaching domestic science, which was called “manual”- which meant cookery and needlework.

Her resourcefulness raised these two domestic chores to an art form. The children didn’t actually learn the boring basics of scones, custard and rock buns like most other unlucky students back then. No, they learned to cook with garlic and herbs and spices, unheard of in the days when the only use for olive oil was for curing earache with a few drops on a dab of cotton wool, and garlic was a wild flower…

Her manual classroom became a mecca for school inspectors when Andrea transformed it with the glorious colours and designs the children created in sewing, and was a source of chagrin to the resident art teacher. Andrea taught both boys and girls, and I still have one of the vivid embroidered hangings they made.

To keep the whole class occupied while she taught them one by one to thread the sewing machine, she tossed a selection of brilliantly coloured wools on the floor, with some square pieces of hessian, and told them to make shapes with the colours and embroider them onto the squares. These wonderful squares still vibrate with colour and spontaneity. Andrea then sewed all the squares onto large sheets of hessian, and had these amazing techni-coloured wall-hangings draped across the drab manual classroom walls.

She taught the children how to thread a sewing machine by giving each step of the process a phrase about an animal – “Catch the fish, watch the bird……” Twenty years later, at the testing station for a warrant of fitness for her car, a tousled head popped up out of the inspection pit beneath the car, and said delightedly: “It’s Mrs Winter, isn’t it ? ” and then proceeded to recite his sewing lesson – “Catch the fish, watch the bird… !”.

These sewing classes were heaven on earth for one little Indian boy, who seemed to have been born as a master tailor. One day, he made a wonderful waistcoat, but there was only enough material for the edges to meet, and he and Andrea were puzzled as to how to fasten it. At the next lesson he told her he had had a dream and had solved the problem.

He then solemnly created frogging and bobbles to loop across and fasten it. When Andrea told this story in the staffroom, everyone was amazed. This child had long since been written off as so dumb that everyone else had given up on him. He sat in class, one of the silent, forgotten army of apparent no-hopers.

So, one by one, each teacher crept into the manual class to silently observe this child, and was blown away by his vivacity and calm confidence, and how all the other children deferred to the “master” of this skill. It changed his life.

I thought of Andrea and her little master tailor who moved from miserable anonymity to confident authority when I read the story of Japanese scientist Professor Masaru Emoto. He’s already famous for his discoveries about water and how it absorbs and reflects both good and negative energies. His latest experiment was with rice.

He put a handful of rice grains into three glass beakers and covered them with water. Placing them on a table, he visited them every day for a month. The first glass he thanked every day. The middle glass he ignored. The third glass he insulted every day.

At the end of the month the rice in the first glass was fermenting gently and emitting a sweet smell. The insulted rice had mouldy patches and didn’t look very good. The ignored rice in the middle glass had rotted and turned black.

What a metaphor for how we treat people, and how we can actually change the world by appreciating everyone. Could we turn around the brutality and pain that rages in places like the Middle East, in ghettoes all around the world, in zoos and in jails if we all stopped judging people and creatures in our minds, stopped writing them off, or ignoring them?

Andrea changed one little boy’s life by acknowledging and thereby encouraging him, and giving him self- respect, and this changed everyone else’s minds about him. What could we do for the sulky hurt person on welfare who feels judged, for the dunce at the bottom of the class who has no-one to encourage him and root for him, for the pining desolate animals in zoos far away from their natural habitat and their fellow creatures. What could we do to heal the ignored and insulted planet by acknowledging and thanking it every day?

If we all sent a different energy to thugs and terrorists of any creed or colour, suspending judgement, anger, condemnation or horror at their actions, could we change our world and help to spare their victims? If parents found new ways of talking to their children and encouraging them instead of criticising them; if they treated their children with the same respect and courtesy as their friends, so that children didn’t lapse into desperate negative attention seeking, could we have a world of happy loving children growing into loving adults?

Utopia has been a dream for centuries, but maybe this simple experiment, showing us that words can make a difference, that the right words can create miracles, and that the wrong words can destroy, could be the breakthrough. This simple experiment shows us that with our words and our feelings we can create the energy of life or death, of happiness or misery: that we can all be responsible for our own world, and we could each make a world in which only goodness and mercy exist and where only love prevails.

It’s like the prayer that Jesus taught – not something to publically parade and talk about, but something we can do privately for the world, and no-one need ever know… Could we change our world? I’m going to have a go… maybe you will too – in private…as I said to a friend – think ‘rice’.

The video on youtube is worth watching https://talesfromthelou.wordpress.com/2015/05/12/can-thoughts-affect-the-environment-masaru-emotos-rice-experiment-120/

Food for threadbare gourmets

Sticking with no sugar, and loving sweet things, I found this cake was delicious. Take two cups of chopped baking dates and gently boil them in half a cup of water… adding more water if they get too dry… they need to be moist and soft. Stir or mash to a mush.
Put them in a bowl and stir in half a cup of oil – I used light olive as I’m suspicious of some other manufactured oils ( the recipe said to use melted butter, but I wanted a dairy free zone too). Grate a courgette, a carrot and 200grams of sweet potato/orange kumara. Stir them all into the date mixture.
Then add four beaten eggs, grated zest of two lemons, three teaspoons of mixed spice, 200 grms of almond meal, a 100 grms of self rising flour, either gluten free or ordinaire, a teasp of baking powder and quarter of a teasp of salt.
Mix everything together with a slotted metal spoon and tip into a prepared greased and lined cake tin. Bake for an hour in 180 degree oven. If it starts to brown, cover the top with tin foil. Leave in the tin for ten minutes before turning out. (I used a loaf tin)
The recipe suggested icing of cream cheese, zest of 2 lemons, two tablsp of lemon juice and three or four tablesp of maple syrup.
Sounds delicious but I decided not to despoil the sugar free zone, contenting myself with a little sprinkling of sugar on top of the cake before it went in the oven just to make it shiny and sweet.
It’s good while still warm and keeps well wrapped in foil in the fridge for several days. I sometimes had a slice spread with butter too.

 

Food for Thought

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou

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