Tag Archives: life style

Is less really more – or less?

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To keep or not to keep – that is the question. I look around my tiny kitchen and think I should de-clutter, simplify, get rid of all the surplus stuff overflowing on shelves and in cupboards. No good asking the question, do I need it – of course I don’t … next question – do I want it? That’s the trouble, I think I do…

So do I need the cream Italian stuff we eat off every day? It’s also perfect for summer meals to be served on the veranda when we have guests, the bowls are perfect for pasta and winter stews, and I love them. So do I need or want the white French provincial china, which looks so elegant when I want to serve a dressy meal to guests, and looks wonderful on a white lace table cloth? … Yes, I do, and the big carving plates which make mounds of summer vegetables or heaps of roasted winter vegetables look utterly delicious.

I particularly love the deep white pudding bowls – perfect for my comfort food  -cornflakes,  or for porridge, on a white tray with all white cup and saucer, milk jug, and coffee pot. And sometimes I yearn to treat myself to eating off the antique French flowered plates… some I bought myself as a Christmas present, and that same Christmas my daughter thought to herself: “she’d like these,” and gave me matching ones which completed the set.

Or I want to serve pumpkin soup in the big shallow blue and white Victorian soup plates with a wide brim, so much more enticing than pouring the hot orange soup into something small and plain. My husband loves to have his lunch on a big square green modern French plate, and on those days I eat mine on a pale turquoise and amber coloured pasta plate I bought in Melbourne.

I don’t need those earthenware dishes, I think to myself, but cauliflower cheese looks lovely in the big one, and then the vegetables look perfect served in the smaller dishes, all found in junk shops and markets for the proverbial song. Each one is imprinted with a memory of the person who gave it to me or the place I found it. And I do need the little white dishes for chocolate mousses for the grand-children.

Then there’s the glasses – big green glass goblets for water with the cream plates, generous French country wine glasses for smart occasions, fragile cranberry pink champagne glasses for special events, the old crystal glasses which are so old fashioned nowadays, but look so charming on the aforesaid lace cloth with silver and the oval white china dinner plates. I could pare down the whole collection and we could use one set of this or that… I don’t need them all, but I enjoy them all.

I could split up the beautiful antique tea service with pink Chinese pattern – ten cups and saucers with all the bowls and jugs that go with them. I could sell six and keep four for myself… but it seems like vandalism to split up something that’s been intact and unchipped for over two hundred years … and what about my old jugs … some of them cracked, but all loved.

In the end, it’s the enjoyment which wins…. no trouble getting rid of gadgets – there are few, and the only ones I really use are the hand held beater, and the new stick beater. I find that the  crock pot makes all meals taste the same, I don’t need the blender now I have the stick, and the really expensive juicer I hardly use since I discovered that drinking so much vegetable and fruit juice was making my arthritis worse from all the sugar in the fruit and veg. The coffee grinder which I also used for grinding nuts, can go… the ancient hand – held cheese grinder can do the same job for nuts, and I was never much of a one for grinding my own coffee beans, though coffee afficionados may wince at hearing this.

Wooden spoons stay! As does the old-fashioned boy – scout tin-opener. I’ve never mastered the efficient modern variations. The same old saucepans for thirty or more years need no sorting … I know exactly what I can cook in each different size, and would be thrown into confusion if I had to start with something new, or cope with fewer. Ancient saucepans and baking tins stay.

And as I look at this inventory of my kitchen I can see that it’s the looks that count! Few nods to super duper efficient kitchen gadgets and inventions… a pop-up toaster and a wooden spoon were the only gadgets I had until I was nearly fifty, until the day I discovered a blender… which is obsolete now anyway with my new simple stick blender.

But all of this is dodging the point… that in a world where we are trying to come to terms with less is more, as the scale of the waste and destruction of the planet becomes more apparent, to harbour so much stuff seems counter-productive. Consumerism is what is driving the rush to planetary ruin, chopping down more forests for furniture and newspapers, using all our resources for more clothes, more sheets, more gadgets, more cars, more of everything, even when we don’t need it.

So far my one step towards the goal of less is more, is to announce to the family that I’m not buying any more stuff at Christmas and birthdays… what they will get is things of mine they like, books of mine that they’d enjoy, or pots, jars and bottles of food made by moi – or a cake – also home-made. Or I will grow them a plant. Not only does this save me money, but it also means one less consumer buying useless stuff to give to people who already have more than they need, and whose houses are also filled with stuff.

And yet in the meant-time I’m still indulging my whims using different plates and dishes and cups. I think to myself of William Penn, a swashbuckling young cavalier when he became a Quaker. The one thing he couldn’t let go from his former courtly life, was the sword which  he wore every day, like all his contemporaries.

He discussed this problem with George Fox, founder of Quakerism, who being a true mystic was also profoundly common sense, and understood that deprivation is bad psychology. George Fox gave William Penn this wise counsel: “I advise thee to wear it as long as though canst.” Not long after this they met again, when William had no sword. George said to him, “William, where is thy sword?”  “Oh!” he said, “I have taken your advice; I wore it as long as I could.”

So I placate myself with the thought of these two men, and think that I’ll take George Fox’s sensible advice. When I am ready I will be able to part with these things that I love, at the perfect time and in perfect peace. Until then, I will savour the enjoyment of them, comforting myself with that Hebrew saying that when we arrive at the other side, we will be called to account for all the permitted pleasures that we failed to enjoy…

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

In the last post I gave a recipe for rice salad. We eat it with cold chicken in a lightly curried mayonnaise dressing. Allow enough chicken for each person. I steam a chicken for this, or if there’s only a few of us, poach a couple of chicken breasts in water with an onion, carrot, bay leaf and garlic clove. If I’m really up against it I might use a cooked organic chicken from the supermarket. Cut the chicken into bite-size pieces. In a deep bowl put two generous table sp of good bought mayonnaise for each person. Add a few tablsp of cream, a good tablsp of golden syrup, a tablesp of curry powder and mix together. Taste and adjust – more curry powder, more golden syrup, more mayonnaise, until it’s to your liking. Mix in the chicken. I put this in the centre of a large carving platter and surround it with the rice salad.

For the vinaigrette for the rice, (this is vital to the taste) mix one third wine vinegar to two thirds olive oil, stir in a good teasp of Dijon mustard,  sugar to taste (I use about a desert sp) a very generous grinding of black pepper, and then some salt. Mix this through the rice just before serving, and eat with a green salad. It makes a lovely summer lunch with friends.

Food for Thought

Give us the honesty to examine our own acts and thoughts as scrupulously and severely as those of other people.

Pierre Ceresole  1879 – 1945    Quaker, and son of a former Swiss president. An engineer, who in 1920, dedicated himself to working for peace, and who founded The International Voluntary Service, working wherever there was need. He was imprisoned many times for refusing military service, and for entering Germany several times with messages of peace.

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Dedicated Followers of Fashion

One of the things I missed most when Princess Diana died, was that all the fun seemed to go out of fashion.  Suddenly there was a vacuum, which wasn’t really filled by the celebrities who dressed to get attention – Royalty doesn’t have to dress to get attention..

But now we have another beautifully dressed woman to enjoy. Diana’s daughter- in- law, her son’s new wife.  And Kate Middleton has assumed Diana’s crown with elegant ease. For the last year, frivolous empty- headed women like me who enjoy looking at exquisitely dressed, beautiful women, have had a feast for our eyes. The Queen’s Jubilee has actually been a banquet, because the Queen too, has looked a picture in the most wonderfully coloured clothes designed for the most part, by her dresser, Angela Kelly. Angela Kelly is a fashion story in herself, having been a housekeeper at the British Embassy in Germany. When she was introduced to the Queen on an official visit, when a gap occurred later, she invited the housekeeper to become her dresser. An amazing relationship has flowered between them, there is always laughter when the two are together, and Angela, rescued from organising embassy dinners and counting other people’s tea-spoons, took to fashion to the manner born. She has now started her own design house, with the Queen as a walking advertisement for her taste and flair.

The once infamous Camilla, second wife of the heir Prince Charles, has also blossomed this year, appearing in a succession of wonderfully over- the- top hats, and elegant unfussy clothes. Even notoriously under-dressed Princess Anne has taken the trouble to appear in some delicious pale pinks and eau de nil, and even some pretty hats during this time of national rejoicing for the Queen’s 60 years on her throne. The Royal women have looked like a bunch of pretty spring flowers, with their petalled hats, soft clear colours, and pale shoes at the various events where they’ve clustered together.

But Kate takes the biscuit. With her long dark hair and long slim legs, killer heels and cheeky hats, she always looks ravishing in the understated little dresses, coats and suit she chooses. Some of them are couture, some of them are cheap as chips. But it doesn’t matter who makes them, she always looks wonderful. It cheers up the morning when I Google UK newspapers and see Kate once again beaming across the front page, dimples flashing, slim, leggy, gorgeous.

It also cheers me up to know what she achieves in the way of style – not exactly on a shoe string, but shopping wisely and well. I do the same myself! There’s not a factory sale or a charity /opportunity shop I don’t know the inside of in various parts of the world. A real silk cream shirt in a Plymouth op-shop has taken me to various weddings and dinners, teamed with black velvet trousers bought in a factory sale in Auckland, and black shoes from the local Chinese import store. So cheap and comfortable I bought three pairs, which cost less than one good pair of shoes, and which lasted for three years – I was bereft when I had to ditch the last pair this year. However, I was able to replace them with a natty black patent pair found in a half- price, end- of -season sale.

So Kate and I have a lot in common! I used to think that thinking about clothes was the mark of empty-headed frivolity, but when I was 17, I had the good fortune to live with my step-grandmother for six months, and she lent me her favourite book. It was Vera Brittain’s ‘ Testament of Youth’, and I cried all the way through. It was about her fiancée and friends killed in World War One, and I felt I understood my grandmother much better after reading it. But the bliss of it was that Vera, a solemn, somewhat humourless early feminist, described her clothes in detail – I still remember the terra-cotta coloured hat and dove-coloured outfit she described wearing, when she went to meet the boat-train and the man she ended up marrying. It was a Eureka moment. I realised it was possible to love clothes and still think intelligently. Thank you, Vera.

So I continue to drool over Kate and her clothes. Today it was Kate and her sister, the famous bridesmaid, whose elegant derriere practically caused strong men to weep all over the world, and sitting together at Wimbledon they were an unbeatable combination. In the eighteenth century two similarly beautiful sisters, also from an ordinary background, took London by storm with their beauty. Crowds gathered wherever they went, and they needed bodyguards. The elder, Elizabeth Gunning, married one duke, and when he died, married another. Her sister Maria married an earl and died young. Probably from lead poisoning from the makeup she loved to wear.

The Middleton sisters remind me of this glamorous pair, and when Kate and Pippa sat in the Royal box at Wimbledon, the one in white, the other in a pretty blue and white flowered dress in a somewhat eighteenth century style, they looked as captivating as the  legendary sisters. Beauty and fashion are still a fascinating phenomenon and still draw crowds.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets.

The cold weather and the longing for comfort food goes on. Soup warms us up, but sometimes it’s not a meal in itself, and that’s when a pudding comes in handy. Good old rice pudding is one of those standards that’s always welcome in this house, but it must be made properly, with the rice really creamy, and a good nutmeg topping to it.

You need two ounces of short grain or pudding rice, and a pint of boiling milk. Grease a pie-dish, and pour the boiling milk on the rice in the dish. Stir in two to three ounces of sugar, and dot the top with butter. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Cook for an hour to an hour and a half in a slow oven, until the rice is soft and creamy. This can be eaten on its own, or with a spoonful of raspberry jam as we did during the war, or with some stewed fruit – plums are good.

Food for Thought

In the overabundance of certain things I find vulgarity. Thus I object to an overcrowding of furniture in the sitting room, to a whole bunch of writing brushes beside the ink-slab, too many images of Buddha in the chapel, too great a profusion of stones, trees, grass in a garden…  Things that I feel can never be overdone are books in book receptacles and rubbish on the rubbish heap.

Yoshida Kenko, 13th century Japanese hermit monk, who was a soldier before retiring to his hermit hut.

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The Love of A Lion

If I ever need a lift to the spirit, I check out Christian the Lion on Youtube.

His true story is all there on film, a story that many people reading this may already know. It was back in the sixties, when Christian was bought from Harrods by a couple of young Aussies enjoying the swinging London scene. Those were the days when the late John Aspinall walked around town with a tiger on a lead, and girls had snakes coiled rounds their necks instead of scarves. Nowadays I think people realise how unfair this is to animals, and it probably wouldn’t go unchecked.

However, the owners of Christian did their best for the beautiful lion cub, giving him lots of exercise in a walled churchyard in Chelsea, courtesy of a friendly Vicar,  giving him the run of their home and their furniture warehouse, feeding him with all the food and vitamins a lion cub could want! He played ball, turned out chest of drawers, and generally behaved like a kitten, an ingenuous, irresistible, cuddly kitten. He went out to dinner in Chelsea restaurants with them, and travelled in the back seat of their open sports car looking at the people passing on the pavements.

As he grew older his owners realised that life for a full-grown lion on the streets of Chelsea was not going to work. So they explored places they could take him to where he’d be happy. They couldn’t find anywhere in England. Anyone who loves animals wouldn’t want a beloved pet to end up in a zoo.

In one of those blessed synchronicities, a chap wanted a desk and went to buy one at the furniture warehouse, where he was ambushed by a playful lion cub springing out from behind a chest! The chap was Bill Travers, who with his wife Virginia McKenna was devoted to lions, and had run a charity for them ever since they’d made the film’ Born Free’ about Elsa the Lioness.  

He understood Christian’s dilemma, and contacted George Adamson at his Kora Lion Reserve in Kenya, to ask if they could bring Christian to his place, and set him free. Not an easy goal, to acclimatise a domestic pet to the wild, but finally Adamson agreed.  There are wonderful photos of Christian going off in a Bedford van to stay in the country with the Travers and McKenna, and learning to be an animal outside instead of living in a flat. The young men who loved and owned him, built him an enclosure and a hut, and spent hours sitting with him every day. They left a note on the door of their London flat: “Christian is on holiday in the country”.

To watch the film of each one entering Christian’s enclosure and to see the young lion leaping up into their arms, putting his arms round their necks, is to see absolute love. Finally, in a special cage, Christian flew to Africa, accompanied by his doting owners. They were met by Adamson, who was astounded that Christian sat quietly in the back seat of the land-rover, and got out at regular intervals to relieve himself, and then obediently climbed back in.

The frightening scenes of Christian getting to know other lions, and learning to submit to the king of the jungle were harrowing for his owners and we who watch. Eventually, it was felt he was ready to start his new life, and the chaps went back to London.

A year later, they flew back to visit him, hoping they’d be able to find him. The film of Christian, now a large full grown lion, pacing slowly down the hill, then seeing his old friends,  quickening his pace, and then running full pelt, making  lion weeping sounds is heart-stopping. Then he reaches them and springs at the first man, and puts his huge legs and paws around his neck, and hugs him passionately. He does the same to his other owner, and keeps going back and forth between them, beside himself with joy. He is now so big and heavy that they can hardly stay on their feet, and stagger back. It makes me cry each time I watch it. Then we see on the film, a lioness gently sniffing the two men – Christian’s wife, a completely wild lioness, who seeing her mate connecting with these men, does the same herself.

They go back again a few years later, and this time Christian is a magnificent huge maned lion king, who greets them with great dignity and leads them to his cave up in the hills, and the men sit there all day communing with Christian and his lioness wife and his cubs.

They never saw him again. As people encroached on the land, Christian took his family far away from the presence of men. He was now completely wild, his early beginnings in a miserable zoo, and his cage in Harrods not even a memory. But he took with him into the wild a huge capacity to love, which could be seen in his nuzzling of his wife and cubs. Is this the legacy he has handed down to his progeny?

No-one had ever seen such a huge lion before – testament to the fine food and good diet his owners had given him as a cub. And no-one has ever seen such love between a lion and a man before. The tragedy of it all is that if one lion can develop that capacity to love, so can all lions, and probably all creatures. Worse still, in South Africa they are now breeding lions in enclosures, where people can shoot them for fun through the wire, and they are also being sold for medicines to Asian countries. Along with many others, I hope, I’ve just signed a petition to try to stop this cruelty.

And the hope of the story of Christian is that he shows us that the capacity to love, to be faithful, to feel all the emotions that we claim for human beings, is also inbuilt in all living creatures.  We see it in the videos of dogs rescuing other dogs, of the stories of animals rescuing and protecting human beings, even of a rat leading another blind rat with a straw in each of their mouths. Scientists have just discovered the God/Higgs Particle, but I wonder if we will all discover that love matters as much or more than the Higgs Particle. Apparently after this scientific break-through we now Know more about the universe, but does this make us Feel more loving towards our own planet and all beings on it?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

This is dinner party fodder, for when you need a fancy pudding in a hurry. Lemon cream is the answer. All you need is the same amount of plain yogurt as of thick cream, and the same amount of lemon curd, or lemon butter as it’s sometimes called. Whip the cream until stiff, stir in the yogurt and then the lemon curd, and pour into small glass or parfait dishes. It’s particularly good with some grated orange peel sprinkled on the top. Chill in the fridge, and serve with a shortbread or other crisp biscuit. Looks are everything, so I usually put a tiny hearts-ease or daisy blossom in the middle of each dish.

Food for Thought                                     When we do dote upon the perfections and beauties of some one creature, we do not love that too much, but other things too little. Never was anything in this world loved too much, but many things have been loved in a false way; and all in too short a measure.                                                                                                                                                                                                                Thomas Traherne,  17th century poet and mystic who died at 38. The son of a shoemaker, he went to a Cathedral school and Oxford, and became an Anglican divine.

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Ladies Who Lunch Merrily

This is A Winter’s Tale, and our escape day – from domestic blindness – not ours – from domestic chores – ours – and a chance for another belated birthday lunch (I said before that I spun it out!).

Off we drove to the winery, all flossied up with our little morale-boosters, pearls and rings and scarves and high-heeled boots naturally. We thought we’d missed the turn down a long, winding, muddy, country road, so I did a difficult u-turn and drove back to the main road. We searched for another turning, but finally admitted defeat and turned back to the first muddy road. Three minutes away said the signpost, so I took the second drive, since the first had barred gates. Half a mile from the road, the narrow track ended at a farm gate. Not the winery. I did a three point turn, but alas, the green grass hid a deep muddy ditch.

After grinding deep into the mud, I stripped off my coat, dragged some cardboard and a rug for good measure out of the boot, and tried to spread them in the mud behind the wheels. I’ll push, said my 75 year old Friend. Nothing worked. This felt like a midwinter’s nightmare.  Neither of us had a cell phone, and or could work one anyway. So I tottered down the muddy lane in my high-heeled black leather boots, but there was no tractor, car or person in the vista stretching to a far horizon of olive trees and grape vines, green hills and a few cattle. Finally, I saw a distant car turn into a drive, and called in a ridiculously faint voice, “excuse me,” which cut no ice across the distance. Finally puffing up to the house, I caught the woman as she carried her shopping inside. She wasn’t interested in the slings and arrows of our outrageous misfortune, but said when she’d got her frozen stuff into the deep freeze, she’d let me use her phone.

Ringing the winery, I blackmailed the maitre de shamelessly, saying unless they were able to send a tractor to rescue us, we wouldn’t be turning up for lunch. After a long interval while she searched for someone with a tractor, the chef (who else?) arrived in his four wheel drive. Nice young man, very over-weight, with jeans about fifteen sizes too small, and his builder’s crack positively worrying as he wrestled with a piece of cord between his car and mine. After watching him try fruitlessly to tie a knot that would hold (he was after all, a chef, not a mechanic) I turned away for the sake of my blood pressure, and comforted myself that there was always the AA. As I turned I caught Friend’s eye, the other side of the car, and we both hastily stifled our giggles. After a few more minutes of the increasingly catastrophic builder’s crack and knots that kept unravelling, we were both nearly hysterical with suppressed laughter.

Finally the chef instructed me to sit in the car and put it in neutral. Naturally this didn’t work. Again, my thoughts winged to the AA. Then another car arrived. The woman gardener from the winery. She had the thing sussed in no time. Wearing boots and workman-like trou, she strode into the breach and through the mud, told me to put the car in reverse and rev, while the chef backed his car. The gardener stood in front and lifted the front bumper, mud flew everywhere, and suddenly I was free.

After this comedy of errors, our chef dashed off back to the winery, some miles away, to get back to cooking for the waiting guests, while we followed the gardener in good time, and were escorted into the dining room with much courtesy. Phew.

Lunch was obviously going to be some time, by the time the chef had washed his hands and steadied his nerves, so we comforted our shattered ones with a nice glass of rose. By the time lunch arrived we needed another one, which was one more than our usual allowance. The pudding course was not as we like it, so we had affogato, Friend with cointreau, me with Bailey’s. By now, our liquor quota was about two and a half weeks overdrawn, but our spirits were soothed and mellow.

When we went to pay, the restaurant now empty, we explained to the maitre de who had answered our SOS that neither of our sick and elderly husbands was in a fit state to come to our rescue. This was like a red rag to a bull. “My father is such a burden to my mum, I think he should be pushed over the cliff,” she said fiercely. “He recovered from an operation with all the drugs and now sits around talking of nothing but himself. “ She didn’t seem to realise that she was talking about to be or not to be.

We got ourselves away after I told her that when it was my time, and age had withered me, I intended to grow a garden full of hemlock, and make myself a nice strong cup of hemlock tea, going quietly to sleep like Socrates. She thought this was a good idea.  And in spite of all the excitement and the excess, the merry wives from the winery still managed to drive home in a straight line.

So after much ado about nothing, all’s well that ends well, with apologies to Shakespeare.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

A storm has raged, wind and rain lashing the windows – more comfort food is needed. Today it’s thick lentil soup. All you need is two cups of red lentils, two  onions, three or four large carrots and some chicken stock or bouillon cubes. It’s a nourishing protein- rich meal in itself. And cheap too.

I simply fry the onions gently in a little butter till soft, grate the carrots into them and fry for a minute. Add the lentils, which have been well washed, and four cups of stock or hot water and bouillon cubes to taste. Simmer gently till soft, and then whizz to a smooth consistency in the liquidiser. In the old days we would push it through a sieve to get this lovely smooth consistency. Taste for salt. You can add more or less stock, depending how thick you want it.

You can flossie it up with a bacon bone, or a few chopped rashers of bacon, you can add garlic, bay leaves and a dash of curry powder. But I love the sweet simplicity of this recipe with the sweetness of the carrots off-setting the earthiness of the lentils. Serve with salt and pepper, and lots of chopped parsley on top, and with a hot roll and butter you have a filling meal. If you have plenty left over, you’ll find it thickens up over-night, and you might want to dilute it slightly with more stock.

Food for Thought:    Truth has as many skins as an onion.   Old French Proverb

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