Saturday, 8 December 2012


“Ah, summer, what power you have to make us suffer and like it.” - Russell Baker

We have experienced some very changeable weather in Melbourne over the last few days. Cool, wet, warm, very hot, cool again. It has made for a couple of very uncomfortable nights, but the cool changes have kept things under control. That’s summer in Melbourne, very hot and then cool changes…

For Music Saturday, some Mendelssohn. Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) composed music for William Shakespeare’s play, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” on separate occasions in his career. In 1826, while very young, Mendelssohn wrote a concert overture (Op. 21), well considered a masterpiece. In 1842, only a few years before his death, he wrote incidental music (Op. 61) for a production of the play, into which he incorporated the existing Overture. The incidental music includes the world-famous Wedding March, but also this little gem, the Intermezzo. This is very Romantic, full of “Sturm und Drang” and very theatrical.

Friday, 7 December 2012


“In order to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe.” - Carl Sagan

For Food Friday today a classic dessert that the Americans especially have taken to the hearts and is one of the iconic foods of the USA.


Ingredients for the pastry
500 g    flour
250 g    butter cut in small pieces
2    whole eggs
2    egg yolks
250 g    caster sugar
1/2    teaspoonful ground nutmeg and mace
zest of one lemon, pinch of salt.

Ingredients for the filling
5    apples (Granny Smith are good)
2    tablespoonfuls apricot jam
5    tablespoonfuls caster sugar
1     cupful of sultanas
1    teaspoonful ground cloves/cinnamon

Cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add to the butter/sugar mixture the eggs and yolks beaten together, but little by little so that they are incorporated without curdling.  Sprinkle the spice and zest into the mixture and work well. Add the sifted flour little by little until a soft dough is formed.  Cover with greaseproof paper and let the dough rest for half an hour in a cool place.  Peel and core the apples, cutting them into slices. Stew them with the sugar and spices until they soften.  Roll out q of the dough to about 4 mm thickness and line a buttered 25 cm flan tin with it.  Spread the jam on the top of the pastry and layer the stewed apples mixed with the sultanas over it. Roll out the remaining dough and cover the pie, securing the edges by pressing the layers of pastry together and scalloping it. Cut out a small heart shape in the centre of the crust and sprinkle the top of the pie with coarse sugar. Bake the tart in a hot oven (210˚ C) for about 30 minutes until the pastry is golden brown in colour.  Eat hot or cold with lashings of fresh, whipped cream.

This post is part of the Food Friday meme
and also part of the Food Trip Friday meme.

Thursday, 6 December 2012


“Not loving is but a long dying.” Wu of Han
The poinsettia, Euphorbia pulcherrima, is the birthday plant for today.  The generic name may be related to the Greek euphoreo = “bring forth abundantly” and/or phorbe = “pasture, fodder, forage”.  The latter is more unlikely as most plants in this genus bear a poisonous sap.  The plant is long associated with the festivities of Christmas and the bright red “flowers” are the bracts (highly coloured leaves) that surround the small and rather insignificant flowers.  The plant signifies in the language of flowers: “All that shines is not gold”.
Today is the birthday of:
Henry VI, king of England (1421);
John Eberhard, pencil maker/industrialist (1822);
Joyce Kilmer, poet (1886);
Lynn Fontanne, actress (1887);
Ira Gershwin, US lyricist (1896);
Gunnar Myrdal, Swedish sociologist (1898);
Agnes Moorehead, US actress (1906);
Dave Brubeck, pianist (1920);
Henryk Mikolaj Górecki, Polish composer (1933);
Chelsea Brown, actress (1947).
It is St Nicholas’s Feast Day today. St Nicholas was a bishop of Myra in Asia Minor in the 4th century.  Even as a baby, legend recounts, he was so pious that he would not suckle milk on Wednesdays and Fridays, the Days of Penance.  He is reputed to have saved three maidens from prostitution one night by throwing to them through their window three golden balls, which they used as dowry. He also revived three murdered boys that were thrown in a brine tub.  He is thus considered the patron saint of children.  The connection with the brine may also account for his patronage of sailors in some countries (e.g. Greece).  Pawnbrokers also claim the saint as their own, using the three golden balls recounted in the saint’s story as an emblem.
Today is also Finland’s Independence Day (since 1917). Finland is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden to the west, Norway to the north and Russia to the east, while Estonia lies to the south across the eponymous Gulf of Finland. An estimated 5.4 million people live in Finland, with the majority concentrated in its southern regions. In terms of area, it is the eighth largest country in Europe and the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. Politically, it is a parliamentary republic with a central government based in Helsinki, local governments in 336 municipalities and an autonomous region, the Åland Islands. From the 12th until the start of the 19th century, Finland was a part of Sweden. It then became an autonomous Grand Duchy within the Russian Empire until the Russian Revolution and Russia’s withdrawal from World War I in 1917. This prompted the Finnish Declaration of Independence, which was followed by a civil war where the pro-Bolshevik “Reds” were defeated by the pro-conservative “Whites” with support from the German Empire. After a brief attempt to establish a monarchy in the country, Finland became the republic that it remains today. Finland joined the United Nations in 1955, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) in 1969, the European Union in 1995 and the eurozone at its inception in 1999. During this time, it built an extensive welfare state. Finland presents both eastern and western European attitudes to global politics and economics.[citation needed] According to some measures, it has the best educational system in Europe and has recently been ranked as one of the world's most peaceful and economically competitive countries. It has also been ranked as one of the world’s countries with the highest quality of life.
And if you want to prepare for tomorrow, it will be International Civil Aviation Day which is annually observed December 7 to raise awareness of the importance of international civil aviation and the role that the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) plays in international air transport. The organization is a United Nations (UN) body responsible for developing international standards for aviation safety. ICAO, with support from governments, organisations, businesses and individuals, actively promotes International Civil Aviation Day through various activities and events.  This day is celebrated globally, especially in countries such as South Africa, through various activities such as seminars, published material, educational lectures, classroom activities, and news announcements on international civil aviation topics related to the day.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012


“Once again, we come to the Holiday Season, a deeply religious time that each of us observes, in his own way, by going to the mall of his choice.” - Dave Barry

Tomorrow is St Nicholas’s Feast Day. In Dutch the saint is known as “Sinterklaas”, the corruption of which is the English “Santa Claus”. He is reputed to have saved three maidens from prostitution one night by throwing to them through their window three golden balls, which they used as dowry. His nocturnal gifts are remembered by the Dutch tradition of gift-giving to children on the Eve of his Feast Day.  It is customary for children’s parties to be organised on December 5th and the Saint arrives dressed in Bishop’s garb, accompanied by two “Swarze Peters”, his black servants.  He reputedly comes from Spain bringing oranges, gifts and “spekulaas” a rich spicy sweet biscuit. In English-speaking countries, Santa Claus has been absorbed into the Christmas tradition, so he arrives at a much later date!

SPEKULAAS (Dutch Spice Biscuits)


255 g    plain flour
1    pinch bicarbonate of soda
1    pinch salt
1 to 2    tablespoons of ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom
Grated peel of an orange and a lemon
170 g    unsalted butter
140 g    light, soft brown sugar
4    drops almond essence
55 g    flaked almonds
1.5    tablespoons milk
A few whole blanched almonds
Sieve dry ingredients together and add the peel, mixing well.  Chop butter into small pieces and add to the mixture, gradually working in all other ingredients to form a thick dough.  Leave it overnight in a cool place. The next morning roll out onto a floured board to a thickness of 0.5 cm and cut into fancy shapes with biscuit cutters or special patterned spekulaas moulds. Put on buttered baking tray, trim with whole almonds and cook in moderate oven (180˚C) for 20-30 minutes.

Monday, 3 December 2012


“When words leave off, music begins.” – Heinrich Heine

Man Ray, (born Philadelphia, PA, 25 Aug 1890; died Paris, 18 Nov 1976) was an American photographer and painter. He was brought up in New York, and he adopted the pseudonym Man Ray as early as 1909. He was one of the leading spirits of Dada and Surrealism, and the only American artist to play a prominent role in the launching of those two influential movements. Throughout the 1910s he was involved with avant-garde activities that prefigured the Dada movement. After attending drawing classes supervised by Robert Henri and George Bellows at the Francisco Ferrer Social Center, or Modern School, he lived for a time in the art colony of Ridgefield, NJ, where he designed, illustrated and produced several small press pamphlets, such as the Ridgefield Gazook, published in 1915, and A Book of Diverse Writings.

Magpie Tales has chosen a photograph of his for a prompt this week. It is his “Object to be Destroyed” of 1923. The work, that was destroyed in 1957, consisted of a metronome with a photograph of an eye attached to its swinging arm. It was remade in multiple copies in later years, and renamed “Indestructible Object”. It is considered to be a “readymade”, following in the relatively new tradition established by Marcel Duchamp of employing ordinary manufactured objects that usually were modified very little, if at all, in works of art.

I have used poetic licence (ahem!) to reimagine this image. Here is what I came up with in response to the prompt:


How easy it is for you to sing!
Playing the lyre like an angel;
Skipping through trills – rejoicing,
All happy intervals, major scales…

Yet these black notes, how mournful on the page,
What agony they hide, what pain, what effort –
They’re black crows, portents of death
Sitting, as they do, on five stretched wires.

Each note’s a wound made with sharp knife,
And you run through them without concern,
Lightly skipping up the arpeggios,
Descending effortlessly the glissandos.

As the relentless metronome soul-lessly marks time
You pause not to think for a moment
Of the poor composer’s torment
And the shrill cries of his tortured soul.


“If having a soul means being able to feel love and loyalty and gratitude, then animals are better off than a lot of humans.” - James Herriot
At the weekend we were in the mood for something extremely light and breezy to watch after a particularly exhausting couple of days of shopping, chores, gardening and odd jobs around the house. I had bought a DVD on sale some time ago and it looked as though it would be ideal. Sure enough, it was just we needed and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It was Cameron Crowe’s 2011 “We Bought a Zoo” (, starring Matt Damon, Scarlett Johansson, Thomas Haden Church, Maggie Elizabeth Jones, Elle Fanning and Colin Ford.
Although the film is a typical Hollywood froth and bubble affair, very lightweight and formulaic, it is also a little whimsical and has the occasional poignant moment. The story centres on Benjamin (Damon), who is suffering the loss of his beloved, young wife. In a bid to start his life over and to help his kids get over their isses, he purchases a large house that has a zoo attached. Or rather a zoo that has a house attached! This is very welcome news for his daughter (Jones) who is delighted, but his son (Ford) is not happy about it as it will mean moving out of the City and losing all his friends. The zoo is need of drastic maintenance and extensive renovations and Benjamin sets about the work with the head keeper, Kelly (Johansson), and the rest of the zoo staff. Very soon, Benjamin is facing huge economic hardship as the zoo consumes all of his savings. Benjamin must decide on whether he and the staff can get the zoo back to its former glory and open it to the paying public. Add to that a very strict zoo inspector and interpersonal problems and you have the basis of the old stock romantic comedy potboiler with quirky touches.
Much of the film’s success is due to the exceptional performance of Maggie Elizabeth Jones who plays Benjamin’s daughter. The little girl is delightful and steals every scene she is in. Colin Ford as Benjamin’s son plays well, but unfortunately he has landed the role of a surly, bitter and twisted child who has been psychologically scarred by the loss of his mother and his perception of a father who doesn’t care about him. Damon and Johansson play well, although the chemistry between them is rather lacklustre. By the same token, I should hasten to add that both of them deliver solid performances, especially Damon who shows rises tot eh demands of the director in terms of his acting repertoire.

The film is well photographed and the music score is delightful. Unobtrusive but very sympathetic to the action. The flashback vignettes showing the special relationship between Benjamin and his dead wife are quite special. For what it is (a feel-good family movie), the film is good and its light-weight material will please most people who do not set their expectations too high. Yes there are flaws, but if you don’t expect “high art” it is a good film to veg out on. We enjoyed it as we were in that sort of mood…

Sunday, 2 December 2012


“You can understand nothing about art, particularly modern art, if you do not understand that imagination is a value in itself.” - Milan Kundera

Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, original name Karl Schmidt (born December 1, 1884, Rottluff, near Chemnitz, Germany - died August 9, 1976, West Berlin), was a German painter and printmaker who was noted for his Expressionist landscapes and nudes. His father was a miller and his childhood unremarkable. In 1905 Schmidt-Rottluff began to study architecture in at Dresden Technical University, where he and his friend Erich Heckel met Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Fritz Bleyl, two other architecture students who shared their passion for painting. Together they formed the organisation of Expressionist artists known as Die Brücke (“The Bridge”), united by the goal of creating a modern, intensely emotional style.

The artists of Die Brücke typically preferred to portray scenes of urban life, but Schmidt-Rottluff is particularly known for his rural landscapes. He initially painted in an Impressionist style, but his painting Windy Day (1907) shows the artist’s transition to his mature style, which is characterised by flat areas of boldly dissonant colours. A representative example of this mature work is “Self-Portrait with Monocle” (1910). Like the other Brücke artists, Schmidt-Rottluff had also begun to explore the expressive potential of the woodcut medium.

In 1911 Schmidt-Rottluff, with his fellow Die Brücke members, moved to Berlin, where he painted works with more angular, geometric forms and distorted space, revealing his new interest in Cubism and African sculpture. While serving on the Eastern Front, he did a cycle of religious woodcuts in which he tried to come to terms with the horrors of war. It is regarded as his graphic masterpiece. In 1918 he returned to Berlin. During the 1920s he reverted to the work rhythm of travelling to paint during the summers and working in his studio during the winters.

During the 1920s Schmidt-Rottluff’s work became more subdued and harmonious, losing much of its former vigour and integrity. Stays in Pomerania, at Lake Leba in Ticino and in the Taunus Mountains as well as a stint in Rome to study at the German Academy in the Villa Massimo (1930) inspired his mature still lifes and landscapes. When the Nazis gained power in Germany, he was forbidden to paint. After World War II he taught art and resumed painting, although he never regained the power of his early works.

Schmidt-Rottluff outdid his colleagues in insisting on pure primary colours and his Expressionist paintings were dominated by forceful handling of the medium to achieve intensity and brilliance. His work is striking with powerful brushstrokes and determined, almost brutal outlining of his subject and broad expanses of colour that seem to do battle on the canvas. His landscapes and still lifes are vibrant and display an almost violent depiction of movement and action. The “Lakeshore” of 1937 seen above is a case in point.

In 1956 this renewer of art, who had been an arch revolutionary in his youth, was awarded the highest (West) German distinction, the “Pour le Mérite” order, and was honoured as a classic. The Brücke Museum, which he had endowed with a collection of his works, was inaugurated in 1967. Numerous retrospectives in the Federal Republic paid tribute to this artist, who, as art historians unanimously agree, was one of the most important German Expressionists.