Tag Archives: Socrates

The meaning of the world?

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I’ve been having some time out with leisure to read and re-read some of my old favourites. A sentence from one of my favourite thinkers, Ken Wilbur, jumped out at me on a day when I was trying to avoid knowing what news of disaster, human misery and insensitive ineptitude were filling the airwaves and media.  Ken Wilbur wrote that: “Every single thing you perceive is the radiance of Spirit itself, so much so that Spirit is not seen apart from that thing: the robin sings, and just that is it, nothing else…”

And yet when I wrestle with the harsh prospect around the world, terrorism in the name of ‘God/Allah’, threats of war, lack of love, and try to accept that this is Spirit, that everything is perfect, I also see that man has created so many seeming imperfections that these beautiful words are hard to swallow. Violence has spread from strife between people and nations to the destruction of our planet and robins singing are harder and harder to find.

This violence and lack of reverence for all forms of life has meant tampering with our world’s ecology; from re-shaping the climate by destroying forests and draining lakes and rivers; spraying with chemicals which interfere with wild-life as well as food, to over-stocking, whether it’s Mongolian tribesmen whose herds die from starvation in a terrible winter there, or New Zealand farmers cramming fields and hills with livestock- all these actions and many others in order to make as much profit from the land as possible.

All this is not the radiance of Spirit, is it? And yet all is perfect the mystics tell us… that paradox that sometimes seems resolvable, and sometimes isn’t. In fact, to resolve it, one has to rise above it, and accept that there is a bigger picture. If one could understand the Mind of God, all the human circuits of the mind would probably blow.

As I mulled over these negative ideas an unlikely gentleman cheered me up and led me into another train of thought on how to live in, and on our tiny world… I’ve been reading an interpretation of Crito’s and Phaedo’s Dialogues about the death of Socrates.

After Socrates’ trial when he was found guilty and sentenced to death for corrupting the young, and the impiety of inventing new gods  – neither of which charges he was guilty of –  Crito, a friend, urges Socrates to escape and go into exile. But Socrates refuses, and discusses his philosophy.

He says that the important thing is not just to live, but to live well, which means doing no wrong. He explains that by evading the sentence of the court, he would be breaking the laws of Athens, which he has agreed to live his life by. To run away would break the contract that he has with the state, and would be dishonourable.

Phaedo then describes Socrates’ last hours in prison before taking hemlock. (It’s always seemed to me the most humane form of death sentence I’ve heard of. Just a herbal drink, and slow coldness and paralysis until it reaches the head, and death. I hope they invent a hemlock pill quite soon for those us who have no ambition to dwindle into helpless old age)

Socrates, while he waited for the hemlock to be delivered, had a bath, said goodbye to his wife and children, and then discussed with his friends, his acceptance of death. He felt that our souls are immortal, and that a good man had no need to fear death.

The prison guard came in apologising for what he had to do, but Socrates told him not to delay. As the poison worked, Socrates’ last words were to Crito, telling him to sacrifice a cock to Aesculapius. Aesculapius was the god of healing, and sacrifices of gratitude were made to him by those who had been healed.

What a way to go, with gratitude! After a life of integrity, a death with serenity. What a man! I’ve read this account many times, but it has never struck into my heart before. Socrates joins the short list of heroes I love, which includes the Venerable Bede, William Penn, William Wilberforce, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses Grant, and Nelson Mandela. Gandhi, I admire, but do not find lovable.

I look at this list, and wonder if there’s a common denominator… Bede I love for his trust in God, goodness and erudition, Penn for his trust in God, idealism, determination and courage, Wilberforce for his trust in God, goodness, courage, and compassion for animals and all people, as well as slaves. Lincoln, I loved for his goodness and courage, and compassion, and Sam Grant for his integrity and simplicity, love of animals and commitment to civil rights for black Americans and American Indians. Mandela also, for his courage, and for living his beliefs. They all had integrity. What is interesting is how many of them were involved in the struggle to make a better world for black people, from Wilberforce through to Mandela.

When I look for women who inspire me, the list of specific women is shorter, for historical reasons, since we know less about women, and their achievements. Also, because women’s heroism is often the hidden sort, caring for the young, the handicapped, the old, the sick, quietly at home for no reward or recognition … nurturing the talents and gifts of husbands, and sons, who so often had better opportunities for public deeds, heroism or philanthropy.

My short list of heroines includes Elizabeth Fry, the Quaker who revolutionised the treatment of people, especially women, in prison, worked to abolish the death penalty, and among numerous other philanthropic deeds, opened a school for training nurses. She is said to have inspired Florence Nightingale, who I admire for her fierce intelligence, compassion, and persistence, but don’t find lovable. Then there’s Edith Cavell, the English nurse shot by the Germans for helping British soldiers to escape from Belgium into neutral Holland in the First World War.

Knowing how dangerous this was, she persisted, saying: “I can’t stop while there are lives to be saved.” Before she was executed, having also helped wounded German soldiers, she spoke the famous words: “Patriotism is not enough”, words of insight and spiritual understanding which were probably not appreciated or understood in those days of jingoism and chauvinism, and maybe, not even today. Another woman I love and admire is Helen Suzman for her courage, persistence and compassion in a life-time of resisting Apartheid, and then there is the utterly lovable Kwan Yin, the Chinese Goddess of Compassion. So the thread which binds these women is courage and compassion, not so different from the men I admire.

The courage and compassion of my heroes and heroines are the inspiration for me to try to live Christopher Fry’s words: ‘We must each find our separate meaning in the persuasion of our days until we meet in the meaning of the world’. To understand those words and the meaning of the world is also the path to understanding that radiance of Spirit which Ken Wilbur describes. Like all great truths, it’s very simple and yet very puzzling, until it’s felt and seen. So I’m still working on it…

PS So many pictures by Van Gogh are shining with radiance of Spirit, and it’s so hard to choose just one….

 

Food for threadbare gourmets

One of our winter favourites is macaroni cheese – a nice cheesy thick sauce stirred into macaroni, and the top grilled to a golden brown. I try to make it more interesting as the weeks go by… adding chopped hard boiled eggs, or stirring through onion and tomato fried until soft. Or I sprinkle the top with grated parmesan which makes a lovely crisp topping. And then there’s the trick with leftover bolognaise sauce. The macaroni and the cheese sauce transform it into a sort of poor man’s lasagne – just three layers, meat, macaroni and the cheese sauce poured over and stirred through the pasta. Quick and easy and comforting! I’ve also tried this with a tin of salmon as the bottom layer, and the macaroni cheese on top…

 

Food for thought

Thank God our time is now when wrong

Comes up to face us everywhere.

Never to leave us till we take

The longest stride of soul men ever took.

Affairs are now soul size…

It takes so many thousand years to wake,

But will you wake for pity’s sake?    Christopher Fry

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Gossip is good for us

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I am an unashamed gossip. Gossip to me is the spice of life, a valuable tool of information, and the oil that greases human relations.

Years ago I was shocked when an acquaintance said to me in reply to my query, ‘what’s going on for her?’ – “I’ve given up gossip”.

I was so taken aback that I retreated, feeling in-adequate and really rather nasty, as though I had been caught out in some secret disreputable, or unmentionable sin.

I thought about it for some days, and then my common sense re-asserted itself. If someone didn’t pass on to me that a mutual acquaintance had a life threatening illness then I could miss out on the chance to support them. If someone didn’t tell me a couple were breaking up, I could tactlessly invite the couple for dinner, and rub salt in their wounds with my ignorance. If I didn’t know that a child had gone off the rails or was in hospital I could be blithely unconscious of their need for help, whether emotional support or a hot meal delivered to a family under stress.

Too often gossip is confused with back-biting, whereas to me, gossip is passing on information that is useful or even valuable in our inter-actions with each other.

And there’s another aspect to gossip – not just useful vital information that enables us to respond appropriately, but sometimes it also gives innocent pleasure !

Yes, I remember the fascination with which I listened to the story of a party where two guests had had a row, and one had tipped a glass over the other…and wished I had been there to see it… drama always happens when I’m in the next room, I felt. So is this voyeurism or schadenfreude I asked myself?

And I also remember reading years ago, that Lord Butler, an English stateman who knew the Queen, reported that like ‘all intelligent women’, she enjoyed gossip. First, I was delighted to think that an enjoyment of good gossip was almost a virtue, and meant that I was intelligent, but it also made me look at what gossip actually is.

It’s the tiny facets of personality or of life that can illuminate a whole character, or light up a situation by showing the human interest behind the dry bones of fact.

When reading history, it’s the delicious details of human conduct that rivet me – reading that Charles 11 loved his cavalier King Charles spaniels so much that he allowed them to whelp in his own sumptuous four posters beds… causing distaste and disgust among his courtiers – ‘God bless the King and damn his dogs,’ one quipped. This gossip made me love him.

I loved to read of George V fulminating about his son wearing ‘vulgar turn-ups’ on his trousers, and loud checks, and Queen Victoria complaining about her second son’s sartorial habits too. Even better is the unexpected and almost outrageous, like hearing of the love between Nehru and Lady Mountbatten, which gossip had informed me of long before the current spate of film and biography.

Just knowing that this beautiful high -minded man who ruled India, had fallen in love with the elegant witty aristocrat married to the semi- royal Viceroy, made them both so much more human, and therefore interesting. To read that she was found dead with all his letters opened on her bed, to be re-read before she went to sleep, and that the heart- broken statesman had sent a destroyer to her committal beneath the sea, to sprinkle showers of marigold petals on her coffin as it sank beneath the waves, was beautiful.

And to discover that the Queen Mother – who gossip tells us had a wicked tongue – quipped that: “dear Edwina always liked to make a splash,” gave me another frisson of pleasure.

‘One shares gossip as one should share good wine. It is an act of pleasure,’ wrote Sarah Sands, a journalist in an essay on gossip ‘There is an art to gossip, which is really a moment of memoir. Philosophers of the human heart… or heartless but comic diarists … tell us more about social history, politics and humanity than autobiographies of public record… I always learn more from a gossip than a prig. Life is a comedy…’

This is gossip as fun. But gossip is also the passing on of important information that we may need. Not the cruel behind their backs stuff, but the details that may help us all. We can be kinder and more tolerant or even forgiving, if we know the pain or difficulties behind some-one’s inconsiderate or strange behaviour.

Women have a well-deserved reputation for gossip, but it’s often this sort of passing on of useful information. On the other hand when I was the only girl in an all-male officers mess, I was shocked at the sometimes cruel and careless gossipy remarks of the men I overheard. Yet my experience of living in an all-female community had been that kindness was acceptable, but catty comments were not.

So yes, I am a defender of the art of gossip…I relish the flashes of insight which an apt morsel of gossip can bestow. This is not gossip as slander, back-biting, envy, jealousy or small mindedness that so many arbiters of human nature have condemned. This is gossip demonstrating the endless fascination of human nature, and as an aid to understanding ‘what’s going on’ for each other.

And if, as Socrates said, strong minds discuss ideas, average minds discuss events, weak minds discuss people, there speaks a man who doesn’t understand the value of emotional ties and the genuine connections between people which make the world go round.

The picture is Chatterboxes by Thomas Kennington

Food for threadbare gourmets

We were meeting friends off the ferry, half an hour’s drive away, and bringing them back home for lunch. Which meant being organised. So while a hot winter’s lunch was heating up in the oven, I needed a little something to keep them going. So spicy pumpkin soup which could be quickly re-heated, it was.

Steam chunks of pumpkin, and scrape it off the skin when soft. Fry some onions and garlic until soft, and add the pumpkin. In the whizzer put portions of this mixture, adding enough warm chicken stock to make a thick smooth mixture, and then return to the pan.

Add salt and pepper and either nutmeg or curry powder to taste, and heat it up. Just before serving, add cream to taste, and serve with fingers of crisp crunchy fried bread, fried in olive oil or hot fat.

 

Food for thought

The angels keep their ancient places–

Turn but a stone and start a wing!

‘Tis ye, ’tis your estrangèd faces,

That miss the many-splendored thing.

Francis Thompson

 

 

 

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Living takes up all my time

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As I drove home this morning I wondered how often I had driven along that same country road with all its winds and curves and hills and one way bridges… ruminating about this, I went back randomly to my diary six years ago to see what has changed… this is what I found:

“ I had the house to myself today – the solitude I’ve always wanted. In his early diaries, Thomas Merton moaned on about not having solitude and silence. I know how he feels, but how could these things be missing in a Trappist monastery? And it’s a lot easier to be alone in a crowd surely, than one in a one-on-one relationship! Silence is easier than solitude. I never have the radio on, rarely the TV, and sometimes go for weeks without playing any music.

‘The days have seemed calm and beautiful. Ken Wilber’s understanding of how to ground the insights of the spiritual life, reminded me of Brother Laurence’s practise of the Presence of God.
It was reported of him that, ‘in the greatest hurry of business in the kitchen he still preserved his recollections and heavenly-mindedness. He was never hasty nor loitering, but did each thing in its season, with an even uninterrupted composure and tranquillity of spirit…’  mindfulness then…

‘I had made a cake from a recipe on the last page of Nigella Lawson’s book ‘Feasts’. This was a funeral cake, but the beautiful loaf in its tin with a long sprig of rosemary for remembrance on top inspired me. It was absolutely delicious, and has entered my repertoire with a fanfare. So yesterday, I got up in good time to make another rosemary cake for morning tea with Kate and Jocelyn. This time I used twice the amount of cooked apple and lemon, more sugar and added vanilla.

‘It was a triumph. The big, tender, golden loaf with a sugary top, infused with the taste of lemon and rosemary, and with the rosemary sprig down the centre, was a culinary poem just to look at. It had a pure, classic feeling, qualities which can be applied to things other than music or sculpture! We all felt it was a work of art, which didn’t stop us devouring it in large moist chunks, and Jocelyn took the recipe.

‘ Both girls very pure, so we had apple tea instead of coffee, (I didn’t realise it was solid sugar) and we talked for hours, until nearly one o’ clock. Jocelyn brought a jar of her fig and ginger jam, Kate, a fragrant bouquet of herbs and pink and violet flowers. I had laid a table with a linen cloth with a heavy crochet lace border, and with the curving regency-style silver tea-pot, the bone china rosebud sprigged cups and saucers edged with gold, silver king’s pattern cake-knives, white lace and linen napkins, it looked like one of those romantic magazine photographs. I left it, cake, crumbs, rosemary sprigs and all, untouched all day long to savour.

Today, I fell off the wagon. Went shopping and doing errands in town, and I never seemed to get into my stride. Going into the spare bedroom to work out where I would start doing paint touch-ups, I found a book left there by the last occupant, Alexander McCall Smith’s, ‘The Sunday Philosophy Club’, which I read till I had finished. Charming, erudite and civilised – art, music, ethics – all merging seamlessly. But apart from meditating, I hadn’t been present all day, just for the sake of blobbing out with a book, going absent without leave as it were. So no mindfulness then…

Thank heavens for Rumi, who I turned to this morning and his wonderful:
Come, come, come, whoever you are! Wanderer,
Worshipper, lover of learning
This is not a caravan of despair.
It doesn’t matter if you’ve
Broken your vow a thousand times
Still and yet again
Come!’

Driving home through the bay, I saw a mother duck shepherding her family of tiny brown fluffy babies along the footpath, while she calmly brought up the rear. There must have been at least a dozen, and one hadn’t managed to make it up onto the low step-up of the pavement, and was now trying to keep up, anxiously scurrying along in the gutter!

Cara (the cat) is still asleep on the unmade bed, a flat, black semi-circle. She slept all night stretched up against me, seeming to be purring every time I awoke. Maybe she was making amends for a dreadful incident last night in the cemetery. As I strolled towards the look-out where I habitually inspect the flat rock far below with waves splashing over it at high tide, a cock pheasant ran across and into the undergrowth on the edge of the cliff.

Cara was a long way behind, and hadn’t seen it, so I thought all was well. But when she reached me, she stood and sensed the area. She could have been a pointer, the way she sussed out the presence of the bird. Ignoring my peremptory calls, she purposefully plunged down the cliff. I attempted to grab her, but it was too dangerous. Occasionally, as I peered into the undergrowth, I would catch sight of her blackness skulking through the bushes. I went home with my arms full of pohutukawa twigs as usual, to use as firewood, and then came back in the hope of tracking her.

She turned out to be sitting behind a grave-stone, and when she attempted to escape me again I grabbed her by a foreleg, and carried her firmly home, where I made sure she stayed. I hope it’s not the breeding season. ‘

Reading this, I realised that much has changed in six years … though I still fall off the wagon regularly, but the beloved cat has gone to a soft cushion in the sky, I am now alone, and have also given up eating sugar… so fewer delicious cakes. But the rhythm of the seasons continues, the full moon still shines across the water as I stand at the cliff’s edge, the mother ducks are still moving majestically across the road shepherding their broods… some friends have moved on, new friends have changed my life in many ways, and life is often a baffling adventure.

But whatever hidden meaning there may be in it, I remember Montaigne’s words: “Alas, I have done nothing this day !”
“What? Have you not lived? It is not only the fundamental but the noblest of your occupations”. So be it. I live.

 

Food for Threadbare gourmets
Here’s that delicious cake by Nigella Lawson with my wild additions. (I belong to that abandoned school of thought that feels if one thing is delicious, twice as much must be twice as delicious ! I also subscribe to the Hebrew saying that we will be held accountable for all the permitted pleasures we failed to enjoy).

So, first you cook until soft a sliced eating apple with a teaspoon of caster sugar, zest and juice of half a lemon, a teaspoon of butter and a small sprig of fresh rosemary. Fish out the rosemary, leave the apple to cool, and then mash or blitz to a pulp. Line a one pound loaf tin with greased baking paper.

To the pulped apple add 225 grams melted butter, 150 grams of sugar, 3 large eggs and 300 grams of flour. I use self raising, and also double the apple mixture and add a scant teaspoon of vanilla. Mix it quickly to a smooth batter, and pour into the tin. Dredge the top generously with caster sugar, and then lay a long sprig of fresh rosemary down the middle of the cake top. The oil from the herb scents the cake deliciously as it cooks – oven 170C or 325 F, for approximately fifty minutes. Let it cool etc. before cutting and devouring with abandon!

 

Food for thought
The unexamined life is not worth living.     Socrates died 399 BC

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Confessions of a bag lady

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I am a bag lady. I cannot resist them. So when I passed a shop with the most beautiful handbag I’d seen for a while, I couldn’t stop myself going in to check the price. It was elegantly flat, not the sort of handbag that I could cram with the wallet that holds all my cards and cash, my photographs that always go with me, and lurking receipts; the other wallet with my cheque books, the small half-empty bottle of Chanel no 5, my spare specs, my lipstick case, my little notebook and diary, my fold-up hairbrush brought back from Holland by a friend, my sparse makeup case, and a pen. It was a soft apricot coloured leather and shrieked class.

It was half price in a sale and was still three or four times as much as I’d normally pay for a nice handbag – if I needed one. And there-in lies the rub. I have a number of handbags which, each time I bought them were intended to be the last handbag I  ever bought, as they were such good quality and so timeless in design that they’d never date, I convinced myself!

At the bottom of the pile is a very good and hardly used classic tan handbag which I definitely thought would, as my husband is prone to saying – see me out. Hardly used, actually, because superseded by an elegant slim-line dark brown leather handbag… then there’s the exquisite twenties black snakeskin pochette which I often use in the evening, fought for at an auction, and the thirties brown snakeskin clutch discovered in an op-shop, perfect for my brown winter clothes.  The Burberry, found for a song in a sale, always sparks up my winter blacks worn with a cream silk scarf as well, and a very nice boxy black satin evening handbag given me by my daughter is also well-used.

And then there’s the very beautiful black handbag in the softest leather with wide plaited handles, giving it a subtle appearance of haute couture… a wedding anniversary gift after my husband had watched me lusting after it.  The large cream leather Dorothy- shaped bag is perfect for summer, and for my landmark 70th birthday I bought the really big red leather handbag which looks so good with black, though I don’t wear it with my red shoes as it looks too dated and matched  if I do that. For travelling – wonderful on planes when I want to disguise just how much hand luggage I have – is the huge black tote bag, which has eased many frantic last minute packs and panics. And last year my daughter brought me back from Istanbul (not Constantinople as Danny Kaye would say) the handbag I always use now. It says it’s Prada, and I don’t dare to insult her or hurt her by asking whether it’s real, or a clever beautiful fake. Either way, it’s stood the test of time and looks hardly used.

So do I really need another handbag? The inner dialogue went on for several days… you don’t need another. You could get rid of all the ones you hardly use. It’s too expensive. But I have my little nest egg saved for these extravagances. In a world of conspicuous consumption, and desperate poverty you should not be buying something you don’t need at huge expense. But it’s half price, and I’ll never have the opportunity to have anything half as beautiful, precious, or valuable ever again. That is the most snobbish and shallow thing to even think. But it would go with all my blacks, and with all my browns, and so many other things. I could wear it to lunch on Friday and it would just make my boring old trousers and top look so much more elegant ….Get over it! This inner battle tormented many waking moments, and even broke in on my sleep as I turned over. Sometimes I would wake up quite clear in my mind that I did Not need another handbag, and then the siren voices began again with all the same persuasions.

The sale lasted for another week, and I could pick up the bag when I went back to the big smoke to deliver my grandson’s 22nd birthday present. By yesterday I still hadn’t made a decision, leaving it to fate and a last minute gut feeling. I drove into town with the present and a birthday card, and since the grandson’s parents were away, I thought I’d spoil him with all his favourite cakes I used to treat him and the others with when they were little. So parking the car outside the delectable cake-shop, I chose a selection of cream dough-nuts, choc slices, iced tarts, chocolate éclairs and the rest.

Swinging out with the big box of goodies in my hands, I came on a traffic warden bending over my little car, which was in a free parking space. “Don’t worry”.  I beamed at him, “I’m just going.” He looked bleakly at me. “I’m not giving you a parking ticket. I’m giving you an infringement notice”. Walking blindly to my fate, I was unfazed. “What’s an infringement notice?” I blithely inquired. He pointed to the notice on the windscreen, which I have to say, I never bother to look at. “Your warrant of fitness is overdue. It’s a $200 fine.” And he walked off.

No words came to my lips. No point in saying but they must have forgotten to remind me at the garage like they always do. Conscious that there was no-one to blame but myself I glared at his back as he carried on peering officiously into the windscreens of other cars. A wave of hate swept through me as I thought of his pinched face, cold grey eyes, and pursed prim mouth. And then I thought of all the negative energy and hostility and anger he must attract all day, and I wondered how it was for him and for his family when he went home every night bringing that miasma of misery with him. My anger towards him died, but I was still sore. I tried to remember not to sweat the small stuff, and also to remember that this was one of the things I couldn’t change, so to let it go…I clung to the words I’d read in a small book on Epictetus which I’d found on a second hand book stall two days before…  which amounted to not fussing about the stuff you have no control over… but.. but  – it didn’t give me as much serenity as I hoped for.

Why couldn’t  ‘they’ give us a week’s warning or something, I thought bitterly to myself. And then I remembered Socrates As he waited in prison to receive the poisoned hemlock for the crime trumped up against him of corrupting the youth of Athens with his ideas, his friends offered to bribe the guards, and help him escape to another city and avoid death. But Socrates refused – saying that if he did so, he would break his social contract with his city, which he had no desire to do, therefore he would abide by their rules. My resentment faded. Yes, I’d flouted the rules of my society by my carelessness or irresponsibility.

Chastened I delivered the birthday goodies, and drove straight home. The handbag seemed irrelevant now. Not only had I squandered half the money needed for it, but it didn’t seem to matter anymore. Isak Dineson, who had plenty of trials in her life, wrote that all sorrows can be borne if you put them in a story or tell a story about them. She was right… not just the handbag, but the infringement notice are no longer significant… it’s now emotion recollected in tranquillity, to quote Wordsworth. And this morning I was at the garage at 8am to comply with the rules of my society!

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

The roasted almond and lentil loaf has had a few takers, so here’s the recipe, not as simple as most of my cooking… wash and boil until soft half a cup of dried lentils. I’ve used red lentils and puy lentils, and they are both good.  While the lentils are cooking, gently toast in a frying pan without any fat, a cup of ground almonds. When lightly browned, set aside. Heat a table spoon of oil and gently fry a finely chopped onion, a stalk of chopped celery and a grated carrot with all the moisture squeezed out of it, plus a teaspoon of dried thyme, sage and finely chopped rosemary. When soft, remove from the heat and stir in the toasted almonds, cooked lentils, four slices of bread crumbled into breadcrumbs, quarter of a cup of tomato sauce, one tablespoon of Worcestershire sauce, and one of balsamic vinegar. Salt and pepper.  Mix it all together with an egg and press firmly into a loaf tin lined with well-greased cooking paper long enough to overhang the edges.  Bake in an oven 180 degrees for forty-five minutes.

I actually think it tastes best the next day either cold or lightly heated. Cut it in thick slices and serve with the rich gravy from the last post. This is enough for six, and makes a meal served with new potatoes and green beans or asparagus, which is plentiful here in the Antipodes at the moment.

 

Food for Thought

Suffering occurs from trying to control what is uncontrollable, or from neglecting what is within our power. As part of the universal city that is the universe, it is our duty to care for all our fellow men. Those who follow these precepts will achieve happiness and peace of mind.

Translation of Epictetus’ words. Epictetus  AD 55- 135, was an ancient Greek, Stoic philosopher who thought we should live our beliefs. Born a slave, he became a Greek sage. Born in Turkey, taught in Rome, banished to Greece.

 

 

 

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Ladies Lunching Yet Again!

Nothing like a girls’ lunch to keep the juices flowing and the mind agile. These girls were eighty two and eighty one. Eighty two years old has just got back from Europe, where she watched her grand-daughter win a gold medal at the Olympics, then nipped across to Germany where her son had restored an old building, and was giving a celebration thank you to all the forty helpers. Friend found herself cooking said dinner for the forty. After a cruise down the Rhine, she came home and popped straight into hospital for a hip replacement. Today she was hiding her white elastic post-op stockings under a snazzy pair of well cut black trousers, and wearing a beautiful turquoise French jacket with silver buttons.

She plays golf, walks her two dogs, attends endless lunches, dinners, and concerts, and is doing a thesis for the U3A on medieval medicine, reading Chaucer in the original Old Englische. If I meet her walking her dogs, and greet her with “Hail to thee, blithe spirit”, she’ll reply with the rest of Shelley’s verses, all twenty one of them, or any other poem I want to mention.

Eighty-one year old gave up sailing last year when her eighty year old husband had to give up judging international yacht races, but she still does yoga every day. She still paints and has exhibitions in a smart gallery, makes all her own exquisite clothes, the envy of her friends, and creates her own jewellery. She’s just finished re-painting and re-decorating in black and white, their holiday home on a near-by island. This included re-covering sofa cushions and chairs and painting furniture.

After much laughter as we consumed fresh salmon on puy lentils with a glass of rose, followed by fresh- out- of- the oven plum and almond tart and coffee, we talked about our lives. We discovered that we each envied the others aspects of their lives, and felt that everyone else had much better relationships than our own. When we discussed our own truths, amid more laughter, we found that our assumptions about each other were completely wrong.

This conversation cheered us all up, and put a lot of things in perspective, so we could count our blessings instead of comparing ourselves with others. Finally our mutual admiration society broke up and we went back to our husbands and children, dogs, painting, writing, golf, reading and grandchildren.

That night one of the loves of my life rang. “Hello,” he said. After we’d discussed his essays and lecture schedule, and covered the various 21st birthday parties he’d been to, he told me he was heading overseas to get a job before going to an overseas university. I had a moment’s inspiration, and said, “darling, you know you could make a fortune if you’d grow a field of hemlock and turn it into little pills for me and all my friends to take when we feel it’s time.”

He entered into this discussion with enthusiasm, replying, ”Yes, Grannie, I know euthanasia will be the thing in future, but I think there’s a better way than hemlock”.

What about Socrates I protested, all he had to do was drink, and then just let himself go cold from his feet up until the poison reached his heart. We discussed Socrates, but grandson was unsure that hemlock was the best way. They’re experimenting with all sorts of things these days, he told me – partly to find methods to kill animals so that people feel they can eat meat without feeling guilty. Really, I queried?

Yes, there’s a gas which expels oxygen, and when the brain is starved of oxygen, you go into a state of bliss, so you die blissfully he assured me.

Well how do they know, I asked, unconvinced? They’ve been experimenting with pigs, he said. (My hackles began to rise at the thought of experimenting on animals.) He went onto tell me that they filled two troughs, one with ordinary apples, the other with apples injected with this gas. The pigs who chose the gassy apples ate their fill, and then staggered off and collapsed. When they came to, because there wasn’t enough gas to actually kill them, they rushed back to the trough to get more of these bliss-filled apples, and they did it several times till the apples had all gone! They knew a good thing when they tasted it. Pigs in heaven!

I was convinced. If intelligent pigs had blissed out and wanted more, it sounded just the ticket to me.  And since my husband had just reported from a health board meeting, that an overseas geriatric expert had told them that today’s old never saw their children, because the children were all so busy still working; that it’s one of the biggest health problems these days that there’s no one around to care for the old, I tucked away the thought of those apples. Bliss – filled apples would be just the thing for a rainy day… we could die happy and go straight to heaven!

 

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Apples, as we know are cheap, and if there are no bliss-filled apples around we might as well make a heavenly apple tart!

The good thing about this recipe is that you don’t have to cook the pastry blind. Line a pastry dish with short crust pastry, and sprinkle the base with a quarter of a cup of fine white breadcrumbs. Peel and thinly slice four apples and arrange in overlapping circles on the pastry. Combine one cup of cream with half a cup of sugar and two eggs, and pour over the apples. Sprinkle with quarter of a cup of almond slivers and bake at 180 degrees for half an hour or longer until the custard is set. The jury’s out on whether we need cream or not!

 

Food for Thought

There is something that can be found in one place. It is a great treasure, which may be called the fulfilment of existence. The place where this treasure can be found is the place on which one stands.                                                      Martin Buber  1878 -1965  Austrian-born Israeli philosopher

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