SPRING IN THE AIR

“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep Spring from coming.”
Pablo Neruda
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“I love the smell of rain and growing things.”
― Serina Hernandez
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“And the birds sang their songs of love. And the flowers serenaded with their sublime fragrances. And the whole world fell in love in spring!”
― Avijeet Das

“She turned to the sunlight
And shook her yellow head,
And whispered to her neighbor:
“Winter is dead.”
A.A. Milne

“The world is exploding in emerald, sage, and lusty chartreuse – neon green with so much yellow in it. It is an explosive green that, if one could watch it moment by moment throughout the day, would grow in every dimension.”
Amy Seidl

2018-02-04 15.06.12“Spring is not a season; it is a mysterious illusionist who sets off fireworks in the depths of our soul!”
Mehmet Murat ildan

“Spring drew on…and a greenness grew over those brown beds, which, freshening daily, suggested the thought that Hope traversed them at night, and left each morning brighter traces of her steps.”
Charlotte Brontë

AN OLD MALTESE RECIPE BOOK

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Today I found a very old recipe book in the library in Ghajnsielem. It dates back to 1958 and it was compiled by Carmen Carbonaro, it is called ‘Maltese Dishes’ and seeing that I cannot find copyright information I am going to use some of the information to share it here. It is a wonderful little book! Apart of the interesting recipes it has also got illustrated advertisings from the time period it was written in, fabulous bit of information for foodies and those interested in traditional facts of twentieth century Malta or Gozo.
Even before I got home and had a good look at it, the little book was the topic of conversation big time. I stopped at the organic vegetable shop in the village across from an ancient church with the nice baroque façade and on the pleasant Piazza Indipendenza. Doris, the young woman that owns the shop (Pomona) started to check the recipes, she told me that in the time of her grandmother people did not use butter in Gozo, only lard and this, she said was reflected in the recipes. In walked Charlie, one of her nice and regular customers and he added more information to the conversation, we had got on to vegetables, artichokes as a matter of fact, which is a vegetable that I have never cooked myself and was rather interested in and luck would have it that they are in season at the moment, so I bought some. I intend to try out the recipe on page 27 of the little book, there it gives the recipe for ‘Stuffed Boiled Artichokes’ or ‘Qaqocc mimli’ in Maltese. Among the ingredients I will need are Olives, Parsley, more Olives, Breadcrumbs, Anchovies and Chives. And of course globe Artichokes.

WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAT…… I have to ‘beat’ the artichokes it says!?! Beat them, but well that does not actually surprise me as Doris was telling me that in the ‘olden days’ they also used to ‘beat’ the calamari to tenderise them before cooking! What I am rather surprised of though is that at the end of the recipe it says to serve the artichokes when cool, with mayonnaise, and in those days that would have been home-made mayonnaise, the way we used to make it in Belgium last century. I guess that here it would be prepared using olive oil rather than corn oil like we did.
I cannot wait to try out this Artichoke recipe and, after making more marmalade from home grown bitter oranges today, I feel like a real Gozitan woman, getting into the spirit of this lovely island and enjoying it to the full.
Charlie, Doris and myself then got on to more about wild foods and how we can use the flowers of the artichoke to eat as well as the globe. The globe I presume is the flower bud. I glean so much local information from those two very pleasant people, I just love to shop there.

Other interesting recipes in the little book that I think might be worth trying out are:
• Chestnut soup (Imbuljuta)
• Ministra (a Maltese very delicious soup)
• Vegetable hot-pot (Kawiata)
• Timpana, a most popular dish on the Maltese menu it says.
• Rabbit stew and spaghetti (I have tried this out in a restaurant – very nice)
• Tunny fish stew
• Lampuki pie (a popular fish during August and September.
• Imqaret (date slices)
• Xkunvat – a special Maltese sweet.
• Marmurat, a sweet made with almonds
There are many more interesting looking recipes in the little book. At the end of it there is a menu for the week page, I had a look. Monday it says: Spaghetti, Meat Balls using the meat left over from Sunday dish, cheese and fruit. For Tuesday it says: Meat Soup. Meat from Soup (Buljut) with lemon juice and salad, Custard, Fruit. I won’t give the whole week but interestingly I read that on both Wednesday and Friday fish is recommended, I guess that in those days the church still had two fasting from meat days in the week. All the other days have meat on the menu.
Interesting too is that there are 24 different advertisements in the little booklet, the advertisements themselves are of interest if looking up dietary information of the time.
The little book was published by Empire Press in Malta. It sure is something to treasure. I’m going to have some culinary experiments with it in the next two weeks. I do look forward to learning and to tasty dishes.

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CHAI, MASALA DOSA AND DHAL

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Looking back on my days in South India I must say that I enjoyed the food very much there.  All the dhal dishes, the variety of vegetable dishes, the spices and fragrant herbal dishes were all very much to my taste, and rice as a accompaniment was delicious.  While sorting through photos the other day I found some of my visit to Vijayawada and the surrounding area in Andhra Pradesh, and I picked out some of the ones that portrayed foods, street food sellers, and chai shops.

Man selling his vegetables using his bike as vehicle, both practical and colourful.  The carts on wheels are also very practical and you see them a lot in all the towns and villages.  The young boy was minding a cool water stall, big smile on his face as he was obviously enjoying this job.

Along the road on the way to Vijayawada we came across a rice harvest, the people harvesting were working in the hot sun, laying the stalks of rice on the road, we were told that the trucks and busses driving over this would dislodge the rice grains and make the job easier for them to gather the rice.

A lovely lady preparing vegetables, and a storage place where the cabbages and green chillies seem to be a popular food item.

Another popular street selling item would be the bananas, I ate some lovely little bananas in South India, they tasted so creamy, a bit like banana ice-cream, delicious. The hot food stall in the dark, this was around Christmas 2009, the smell was very nice and wrapped itself around us while we browsed the other stalls in the area.  It was the first time I saw the Christmas stars on sale, beautiful crafted from light cardboard, I bought some and took them home to give to my grand children.
IMG_5485I’m always fascinated with the vegetable types that I am not familiar with, here are quite a few on display, the okra, and the bitter gourd (though I have tried to grow these in Ireland), not even sure what the purple vegetable is.  I would want to try them all out.  And when I find spices or herbs between them I go altogether enthusiastic.  Loving it all.

Another street food seller, love the amount of green beans, they make any meal worth eating. So colourful too.

Here I cannot remember what this man was selling, I thought some sort of nuts perhaps.  And on the right it was the children that caught my attention more, they were very curious about me for some reason.

About the chai houses I have fond memories too, you would be walking or driving along the road and there you would regularly come across a chai seller, lovely to sit in the shade and drink a delicious glass of chai, and chat with the local people who would be just as curious about you as you about them.  A relaxed way of living, having all the time in the world, the way it should be.  Materialism has not reached these parts it seems.  I still think that rural areas are healthier and nicer to live in wherever you go in the world.  In India you are never far away from other people even in rural areas, it is not a lonely sort of place.  It’s colourful and friendly.  I was fortunate to travel both in Tamil Nadu, in Andhra Pradesh and in Kerala, in each place I made very good friends.  In Kerala my good friend Mary even gave me demonstrations in preparing traditional Kerala dishes, she and her husband also took me into the mountain areas where they showed me a variety of trees that produce spices, very interesting, but I will write about that another time.  My friends, I do hope you enjoyed my little photo journey through this delightful part of the world.

SERRA DA ESTRELA IN CENTRAL PORTUGAL

Some years ago Ian and I spent a few weeks in Central Portugal.  In memory of all the forest fires which destroyed so much trees plants and animals (and most of all human life) that was lost there over last summer, I have decided to enter a few thoughts, photos, and words from my journal of those days.  It will show the fresh beauty of the place, and like many I hope that the land will recover in all its glory.

We were staying in a small village called Orca in the centre of Portugal, close to the town of Penamacor and Castello Branco.  It was very hot already during our stay even though it was only towards the end of April.  One day we decided to travel to Covhila which lies on the foot of the Serra da Estrella Natural Park and mountain range.  Here is a little of what I noted down at the time.

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Journal entry of April the 28th ~ INTERESTING ROCKS AND MAGNIFICENT VIEWS
We made a day trip to the Serra da Estela mountain range, the highest mountains in Portugal, while we were staying in a lovely little hotel in the historical centre of Covilha. It was possibly one of the most amazing days we spent in Portugal. The beauty of the landscape, plants and rock formations, topped up with actually being able to hold snow in my hand, while we had been baking in temperatures of over 30 degrees Celsius in the valley below, was lovely. There were interesting stones and flowers to discover. We drove down into the Glacial Valley where the village of Manteigas was to be found, the views leading up to discovering this village were wonderful.  It is a trip I would advice anyone to take when visiting central Portugal.

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LOOKING DOWN TO THE GLACIAL VALLEY

This was not only a fantastic view, it was also very interesting of geological interest.   This U-shaped valley was gouged out by a glacier during the last Ice Age. Manteigas is a very lush and quite large village surrounded by mountains, it lies bathed in the sun and water streams down to it from all sides. This assures a good supply to make everything grow well and look very green and fresh. We had a lovely traditional Portuguese soup there with Spinach in it, after a generous helping of fresh Olives and bread. We finished off the meal with a nice desert made of layers of coffee ice-cream and pastry, delicious!

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Granite rock formations

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You are climbing up to nearly 2000 meters high, a very good road, the views magnificent!

AMAZING SCENTS AND A WELCOME COOL BREEZE

The scents all over central Portugal are just so sweet and lovely, so much so, that you breathe with pleasure. The heat does help with this, but even high up on the Serra da Estrela I experienced these lovely scents. I wish that I could bottle it and bring it home, but meanwhile I did breathe with pleasure.

MAGNIFICENT VIEWS

SNOW AT A HEIGHT OF 1750M

Well I have enjoyed this little journey into my past.  I’ve got lots more that I will share.  At the moment I am going through many photos of the past few travels, on some of my memo sticks.  I’m taking at least a year off Facebook and it is amazing how much time more time I have to spend on other things.  Wading through thousands of photos is no mean task, but it is enjoyable.  I hope that you have enjoyed my journey into the past too.

ABUNDANT FLORA IN JANUARY

Just while walking along one road, the coast road of my walk on the first of this year, I found so many wild plants in flower that I would like to share a gallery of them. Meanwhile I am doing some research on them individually and have already come across some interesting facts. It is a great pleasure to become more intimately connected with the Mediterranean flora and to learn more about them. While I was young I studied botany with a teach yourself book, but right during my life-time wild plants, flowers and herbs, and their medicinal and other properties have been of great interest to me, and it gives me great pleasure to learn more about this all the time. By observation as much as by reading, researching and learning about them. The beauty of these wild flowers and the joy of finding them along a walk cannot be underestimated in everyday life, I feel very grateful to have the opportunity.

A NEW YEAR BEGINS

On this first day of January 2018, I see a beautiful blue sky and blazing sunshine, I decide to walk in a different direction.  My walk takes me along the cliff road from Ghajnsielem towards Hondoq Ir-Rummien on the South coast of the island of Gozo.  It’s an easy road and it is no surprise that there are quite a few people walking.  The man from next door with his little dog is there too and we exchange a few words.  People pass and say hello or nod.  Today I went out not only to connect with nature but to make sure that on this first day of the year I connect with people.  Being far away from family and friends makes itself felt on days like today.  Luckily nature is a great solace, a balsam to the soul.

And first and foremost today was about exploring yet another part of the island.  So I took a totally different direction, and walked where I had not walked before.  The road stretched out before me, lined with wild flowers, plants and trees, a delight to the eye, beyond that the rocks going down steeply, and then the sea, the Mediterranean, sky blue with only a few white horses disturbing its surface.

The road was climbing, lined with stone walls, bright limestone locally sourced, built by men long ago, sturdy and functional.  Due to the most recent rain plants are green, sharp new growth, buds of almond blossom and giant fennel are fat and ready to burst.
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I see lots of wild flowers, a delight to the eye, colourful and bright they are fierce and upright even if the strong wind tries to blow them down.  My hair flies all over the place and I have to keep it back in order to look through my camera window and take a steady photo.  I relish the freshness and feel all the spider webs disappearing, all last year’s less beautiful happenings fade away, even all the problems of humankind, all the suffering and pain that people go through, all disappear for the time being. A new year starts and one hopes that it will finally bring Peace to the earth and with it kindness and happiness in every soul.  I know that is wishing for a lot but I still wish it.

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The road winds its way up the hill, I see houses, signs of life.  I think that I am coming to a hamlet but I don’t know what it is called.  It seems very nice and the views over Comino island and over Malta and the sea are wonderful.  I’m almost enticed to go into a tavern to have coffee but then I see that the sun is getting low in the sky and it is still a long walk back home so I decide to retrace my steps.  Such a beautiful place this is, I intend to walk this more often and check out more of the wild plants as the months go by.  It’s all down hill now, the sun is low in the sky, I see church towers of all the surrounding villages, there is Nadur, and Xewkija, and Ghajnsielem churches, the spires high toward the sky, the domes silhouetted against the setting sun.  I notice that all those villages are on heightened ground, hence they can be seen from far-a-way.  In my mind I can walk all over the island, it does not seem far!  In reality it would take me a long time, but it is good to dream at times.

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I get home before dark, but not before I take a few more shots of these lovely surroundings. I see the ferries busy and many cars waiting in line, all on the way to Malta where life is eager to get back to normal after all the festivities. I make a mental note of what I will do tomorrow, another year is starting and I am wanting to jump right in. Like one of my friends said today, we are going to make a good one of it, we are going to enjoy each moment and live to the full.  Grateful for another chance, another opportunity, to be kind.
Happy New Year to all my dear friends, wishing you a year full of Blessings and Love, Peace and Goodwill.

IRISH WINTER COLOURS

This blog goes back to December 2014, but I would like to reblog it, as I am not in Ireland at the moment – yet I like to think back of its beauty even in winter time, and reflect on it.

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During the winter months here in West Cork the colours of the landscape change dramatically, at least I think they do. I took my photos on the Beara peninsula, near the Caha mountain range. In summer these mountains, they are not very high, look fabulously green, but come winter they turn all shades of brown, ranging from sienna, to rusts, to sepia, and even burnt umber. It’s the grasses and the bracken that deck the landscape in such an array of colours. It never seizes to impress me, around every corner on the road there is another palette, it’s fascinating.

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AN EXHIBITION IN GHAJNSIELEM

During my walk today I came upon a small exhibition of cribs in the local village. In Malta and Gozo it is very traditional to build nativity cribs named ‘presepju’, quite often a whole village scene is built around it too, the structure can become quite large and is always interesting as features are used that shows life, and incorporates items of farming or domestic scenes from long ago set in local landscape. The traditional figurines that are made here, are called ‘pasturi’ they are hand-made out of unfired clay or wax.

I have been fascinated by some of these cribs here in Gozo, last winter I saw some beautiful and very artistic ones in a shop window.  The clothing of the figurines quite elaborate, my favourite was one crib where the figurines were all dressed in medieval textiles and clothing design of that day.  This time too among the cribs in this exhibition there was use of textile in the making of one of the cribs and the effect was rather nice, down to the minutest details of for example a slipper, made in miniature with fine gold thread and use of deep reds and greens.  There is no doubt that a lot of loving and patient work goes into making these cribs and it is fine to see exhibitions of them all over the island around this time of the year.  I took some photos to show some of the variety for your perusal.

In this crib all the figurines have been dressed in beautiful textile.

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This Christ child is surrounded by traditional flowers made of metal wire, silk thread, beads, and or jewels. This work is done by hand and is called ‘ganutell’. I read that this beautiful art form was practised in monasteries. But it also mentions that the Maltese in the sixteenth century made use of the spiral gold and silver wire called canutiglia, and together with silk thread, glass beads, pearls, gems, and gold and silver wire would produce these beautiful flowers which are mostly kept under glass domes now – and here is one of them. One of my Gozitan friends has made me a flower bunch like that, she told me that it is very intricate work, and I believe her. For more information on Ganutell see this link: https://www.google.com.mt/search?q=ganutell+malta&sa=X&dcr=0&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&ved=0ahUKEwj8trq0v63YAhULbxQKHW10DQcQsAQILg&biw=1366&bih=622

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Another one of the Christmas traditions in Gozo is putting a crib in the window, it is an old custom, and I saw it a lot in Victoria last winter. Here is an example, made as part of the exhibition.

And these are then some of the ‘pasturi’ made in unfired clay, some of them painted.

More ‘pasturi’ but larger this time.

blog on exhibition in Ghajnsielem These is a collection of all the participant of this exhibition, I just wanted to include it in case anyone would like to know.
It was an unexpected and nice surprise to come across during my walk to fetch some milk today, things like this always teach me something more about Gozo and the Gozitans for which I am very glad and thankful.