The Reading List

Read much? Don’t find the time? Pity. I love reading. Books especially. I think reading is one of the most precious skills of the human kind. No other living creature we know of has the ability of telling stories, visualising them, writing them down, reading them.

The cliché thing about reading that I find to be most true is it fosters the intensity of thought and stimulates the streams of active thinking.

Plus, reading helps me fall asleep. Somehow it provides the energy necessary to disconnect. Continue reading “The Reading List”

Ketmer by Honey & Co. Recipe

Ready-to-serve ketmer with baked pistachio on the side
Ready-to-serve ketmer with baked pistachio on the side

Now that both my proof-eaters approved I can self-confidently announce I mastered the ketmer in the first go. Big thanks to Honey & Co. for their easy-to-follow recipe and demonstrative instagram tutorial. The only downside of this recipe is it wasn’t published in the printed version of the FT Weekend as its recipes have always been. Hopefully not everything is moving online. Shoot me, I’m an obvious dinosaur, but I still prefer my newspaper on, well, yes, paper. Continue reading “Ketmer by Honey & Co. Recipe”

Under the Weather

Randomly and aimlessly clicking my way through the web becomes boring after a while. It’s no picnic giving in to illness and staying in bed all day. What with the headache, the running nose (as fast as Bolt, my son said), the cough. Even my skin hurts.

Then I find out about the rose that escaped the garden. She went for the sand dunes. Brava! And eventually she ended up in a museum. What a life! Continue reading “Under the Weather”

The First Run of the Year or The Curious Case of Storytelling

Here we are, in the coldest time of the year, and I ran for the first time this year yesterday. The morning was quite chilly with -13 Centigrade and the temperature didn’t rise significantly by the afternoon. Still, I chose running instead of skiing as day’s main activity. For a seasoned runner I consider myself to be the cold isn’t believed a hindrance. And one warms up running much more than skiing.

It’s one thing to be running and listening to music, but it’s entirely something else to be running and listening to spoken word in podcasts. I find that way, to simplify, the whole body is employed: the limbs and the mind. Sometimes I find myself so absorbed in the listening that I either run too fast or too slow. A human mind is a fantastic space. Especially the aspect of telling and listening to stories, which in a broader sense of all beings only humans are capable of, and I mean not only pure (fictional) stories but the act of being able to transform the heard word, the text listened to, to images in one’s mind is fantastic, isn’t it? It’s a complex activity of our brain: making up stories, storytelling, listening to stories and visualising them simultaneously. It is magic. I find it truly overwhelming.

So, where did this ability take me to yesterday on the coolest of afternoons? Sicily. There I was among the heaps of immense heads of green cauliflower in the Palermo’s market. I attended the lavish banquets together with the noblemen of the 19th century Sicily. I watched Garibaldi’s ships land at Marsala. I entered the not-so-secret-anymore chocolate making shops of Modica. Quite a journey. Just before arriving back home I noticed nasty cool wind picked up sometime during my run and if it hadn’t been for somewhat numb fingers I wouldn’t have noticed it at all. I wondered if and how these polar winter conditions are manifested in Sicily. From the warmth of our home it seems quite romantic. Deceitfully so, I know.

 

Related:

In fact, there’s a whole science on the subject: Brian Boyd on why do we tell storiescritics on the subject and On the Origins of Stories via auslit.net

Sicily’s secret chocolate obsession via BBC

Ever wondered what else to use cauliflower for?

The top-selling book in Italian history

Freezing Europe

Can’t Buy Me Love

“It’s (nearly) Christmas time, there’s no need to be afraid. Except, of course, there is. Forced festive fun is staggering towards us in its paper hat and comedy jumper, complete with flashing lights, reindeer noses and knowing irony.”

This passus by Ben McFarland and Tom Sandham from their article in theguardian.com is probably the best description of the current warming-up-to-the-hype, pre-festive hysteria. It nails it perfectly.

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There’s another very interesting and thought-provoking piece related to the upcoming season (which is already here actually!) that I’ve been saving since last year. A dinosaur, I know. It’s as timeless though as the greatest Christmas tale itself: Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol.

I’m referring to an article by Tim Harford, FT columnist and Undercover Economist. Here’s a headline and an excerpt that I particularly liked:

In praise of Scrooge

‘Scrooge didn’t waste his money on extravagances for people whose desires he didn’t really understand’

“It is hard for us to grasp the discrepancy between how we see the world when giving gifts and when receiving them. Recipients may appreciate cash or presents from a list and not fuss too much about expensive gifts; gift givers, in contrast, imagine that the ideal present is an expensive surprise. It isn’t. All this suggests we should probably be spending less on presents, and thinking a lot more about the presents we do buy.”

I’m a firm believer that we should be paying attention to people, to their needs and/or desires. There’s so much more to Christmas than presents and binge drinking and eating. (This from a person who cannot stop reaching for another slice of panettone as if her life depended on it.) The present, if and when we intend to give one, should by all means reflect the purposefulness and meaningfulness we infused into the process of buying it. There’s nothing worse in a gift than the obvious fact it was carelessly or sloppily selected, bulk chosen or having no personal value to the recipient. Something you put away in a drawer never to recall the moment of receiving it reflects money spent badly plus the disappointment (although not expressed or shown) is immeasurable. I’d feel uncomfortable giving away things just for the sake of doing what everybody else is doing and considering a proper thing. If we’re no good at memorizing (and are parallelly employing the idea of chronic lack of time) then, in the age of smart phones that are always at the tips of our fingers, the task should not be too difficult at all: taking notes on the go has never been easier. It doesn’t take the burden of paying attention off though. Nevertheless, don’t fall for the obvious seemingly easy and generic solutions: receiving a wrong cosmetic is awful and giving cosmetic per se is bloody weak, especially for women. Same goes for wine (white wine person getting a bottle of red anyone?). Or anything else really. Give it some thought, it’s a valuable suggestion. Do try making them happy not your own self. Spending a fortune on presents is more or less passé. There’s even a scientific proof.

Pay attention then. Reach for quality in your choices. Set examples. Feel good about it. Don’t believe me? See what experts say about attention.

 

Recommended:

More science on the subject of gift giving

And two fiery 80’s and 60’s music mementos:

 

Plastic Fantastic

Even when I was growing up, in the 80s, there circulated an anecdote about some strange kid asking his or her parents upon spending a day in the countryside and seeing a cherry tree laden with fruit: “Who was the barmy person that hanged the cherries in the tree?”

This at the time when we as children spent a significant amount of time out in the country or at least out in the open and our mothers tended the kitchen gardens after work or at least our grandmothers did. Poor old cherries. Poor old child.

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At the approximately same time at my friend’s brother’s school, who is 10 years our junior, one child’s response to teacher’s inquiry “Where does milk come from?” was a determined and self-confident: “Off the shelf in the supermarket.”

All the same, I usually like to think of our generation as one of the last to have grown up within the actual natural environment and not watching it from indoors (possibly on the TV). Getting dirty and sweaty and ending up with bruised knees was no news to any of us or our parents. Or to the teachers at school. It was certainly a part of a healthy and sturdy growing up.

Consuming the natural environment in the sense of being comfortable within it and being aware of it helps the consumption remains within the limits of healthy and respectable. It never occurs to me to break the branches of the trees or damage the fungi just for the fun of it. I couldn’t leave rubbish behind. I can’t imagine disposing of something in the sea or in the street for that matter. I would never chase the animals or scare them on purpose. Not even the nasty pigeons. That doesn’t apply to mosquitoes though. Guilty as charged.

There’s more to it than this, I know. It’s a deeper issue not to be superficialized. Everyone should already in the early age be introduced to the joys and responsibilities of enjoying the natural environment for the pure beauty of it. The biological diversity alone can be a well of inspiration to the children and their parents. It’s a mysterious place, Mother Nature’s home. I remember all the fun we had as children running around the forests, meadows, jumping over the streams, watching the birds (there was an owl nesting in the chimney of the little cottage in our town’s forests) and foraging the blueberries or mushrooms. Oh, the rewards of the physical freedom.

Anyway, this last summer I read a few articles on ever so popular theme of environment protection. Obviously, they’ve employed my mind. Guess what, it’s a jungle out there.

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Recommended:

If you see not the wilderness but only the trophy animals in it; if the closest you’ll ever get to the forest is riding in a jeep with seven friends who have been brought up to think of the stillness and quietness of the wild as uncomfortable, even threatening; if your culture teaches you to recognise Pokémon but not different kinds of leaves or trees, how will you value any of this?

Excerpt from Nilanjana Roy in FT Weekend 27/28 August 2016 on the problem of preserving the forests

FT Weekend 4 August 2016: The 22-year-old trying to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and same topic in The Guardian 22 June 2016

You thought so-called paper coffee cups get recycled? Think again. The Guardian on Britons’ consumption of paper coffee cups that are not recycled after all Excerpt from this article by Paula Cocozza:

[…]you need to be busy to be important, while telling everyone you had time to wait in line while the beans were ground and the milk was steamed. And now there is one more contradiction to add to the list, because the paper coffee cup, it turns out, is recyclable – yet woefully, overwhelmingly, unrecycled.

The Reading List

We are nearing the summer solstice, which means we’re getting close to the end of the first half of the year. I don’t know about you but for me the first six months of 2016 flew by in a flash. It might be the right time to write down a selection of the books I particularly liked that I read within the past few months.

One of my safe choices when it comes to cookbooks
One of my safe choices when it comes to cookbooks: Honey from a Weed by Patience Gray

1.) The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee

I believe it’s more than obvious that I’m enchanted with that book. Because of it I urged the purchase of a pot grown lemon tree, a small one, a special variety, the kind that can be kept indoors through the colder months. When we brought it home it started to blossom and the whole flat was filled with a wonderfully seductive zagara. It went on for weeks. Now, it’s happily found its place on the balcony and I can see it’s started to form flower buds anew so I think it’s really happy with us. I hope it remains so. As for the book, I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

2.) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Looking back on this book I can’t classify it by any subject it covers. Mostly, I found it to be a deterministic writing about race, about being black in the USA, about life in Nigeria, about (legal and) illegal migration to the UK, about being smart and young. I recommend it to everybody who is scared by current influx of migrants to Europe. But most of all, it is a valuable insight into the way of life of the modern young and educated. Very pleasurable read. To gain a wider appreciation of Nigeria (the land itself is unknown to me as is its history) I can propose the acclaimed Half of a Yellow Sun by the same author. Beware, it might open new horizons for you.

3.) Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

A tender and contemplative narrative about the meaning of believing and the strength of prejudice. I read the original (English) and I must admit I struggled because the language is quite complex and the ideas about religion are not my strongest subjects (although I know a thing or two about Catholic guilt). Nevertheless, I enjoyed the book very much as it oozes deep wisdom and hope. During the progress I felt more and more liberated by the warming sense that the problems I think are problems are in fact only minor obstacles. I hope I’m not sounding condescending but if I were to recommend a book to someone who is considering finding a bigger meaning of life, this one would be it. The storytelling is exceptional.

The book I’m saving for summer holidays? I’m almost decided it to be Venice by Jan Morris. I’ll report.

The Land Where Lemons Grow

I read some very good books in the past few months but the first prize, so far, goes to The Land Where Lemons Grow by Helena Attlee. The way by which I was pulled into its contents is to put it mildly empowering.

Lemons in a bowl

Using the TV analogy, it’s the grandest documentary on such a prosaic subject as citrus growing. Well, as prosaic as a book on growing anything might be, actually, to a person not deeply connected with soil and its produce but only (or at least) caring about the simple facts of life: one has to drink, one has to eat, one has to sleep.

It’s much more than this; it is a monument to citrus and to Italy and what it represents. It is about the long and hard travels of the fruit, its holistic meaning through the eras of wealth and despair on every leg of the journey and how valuable it’s been to people.

There are thousands of different varieties of citrus but they all evolved out of three respectable ancestors. A few of the varieties have had a very special place within culturally and economically diverse parts of Italy and they still do. Citrus is an essential part of Italy, now I’m certain of it. Some of the most magical places in Italy are home to a child of a citrus family: Amalfi coast, Liguria, Sicily, Calabria, Garda, Tuscany. To every true lover of Italy this book is a must-read.

A book cover of The Land Where Lemons Grow

In practically every bar in Italy you can have a spremuta d’arancia, a freshly squeezed orange juice. There’s no doubt Italians have a very special relationship with them. Citrus rulz.

The writing is very gentle and well-balanced. The reader immerses in jaw-droppingly interesting stories about the Arabs, the Normans, the Jews, the Mafia, the Austrians and the Medici among others, and about the actual people of now, living their hard working lives surrounded by fabulous smell of zagara and delicious food. The book is also very informative: there are many historical and scientific facts along with the tender details about the food (rare ice-cream find in Turin or pasta with Amalfi lemons) and the landscape – it is certainly not your typical food book.

I will never again take poor old lemons or blood oranges & co. for granted. Before, I never really truly thought about them, consider them, you know. They’re simply always there at your disposal, omnipresent. But now I find myself even looking at them at the greengrocers’ with an attitude. I wonder about their provenance, the smell of their pre-fruit blossom, the vivid colours of their bumpy skins.

I’m a faithful reader of books: I never go on a trip without one and there is always more than one on my bedside cabinet. I cannot imagine going to sleep without reading at least half a page (I’m being joked about my waning reading stamina before turning in), I suppose reading is a sleeping pill to me, in a good sense, it makes my dreams more colourful. This book was a very pleasant companion and it takes a special place on the shelf.

 

After the Break

If I could offer you one tip for the future (paraphrasing Baz Luhrmann) reading would be it. But I can’t, can I? Offer just a single one that is, so I’ll just add two more: travel and pay attention.

One of the beauties of holiday season is you get to read a lot more. You know, staying in bed having your usual morning cup of coffee between the sheets, all cosy and warm and not rushing anywhere, and catching up on the newspapers of the past couple of weekends. Well, catching up on old news that is, old indeed. The lucky fact is that by this time you’re not looking for news anymore, you’re beyond this point, you’re on holiday, for heaven’s sake, so you engage yourself in some in-depth reading, a good old fashioned one, brain gym of some kind, collecting other people’s thoughts, ideas and insights: a regular Sunday morning treat but extended throughout the holidays.

I was kind of unawarely, at first at least, hooked on by this article by Simon Kuper titled How to be a 21st-century dad in FT. I enjoyed reading it as I almost always do all his columns and I thought I’d forgotten all about it but then noticed how it shadowed over me all the time. I caught myself applying the author’s remarks to the people I met, the colleagues, and friends, trying to check the plausibility of his writing. How modern times’ dads are willingly and consciously putting their children and family before their ambition and work. I’m glad the author and his sources can see the change (well, it’s backed with some research, it’s not pure speculation) because I must admit I don’t. This has surely to do with where I live where the trends tend to arrive with a decade or so of delay. (There’s some exaggeration in this last statement just to prove the point.)

It’s high time the fathers got a lot more involved in parenting and housekeeping (those two go hand in hand on numerous occasions) but is it not just another self-worth thing that’s going to get all soggy in the end? On the other hand, mothers are traditionally still obliged to understand the demands of their spouse’s ambition before their own. Hopefully, the Western societies will endorse daddy hens and not marginalize them. It’s a happy, heart-warming thought. Let’s all of us do our best to keep the trend for the sake of our future well-being. We do all strive for the better place for everybody, the healthier relationships, the prosperous future, don’t we?

To spice things up here’s another one that caught my eye and mind during the festive season. True, it’s the title that got my attention at first, Time to spice things up, and the drawings of the glass containers.

I thought I might get some info on ginger syrup as well as I was looking for some suggestions on how to use up the ginger syrup save in cocktails and simple fruit salads (it’s delicious with pomegranate seeds) but no, it’s not that kind of article. Nevertheless, it’s interesting enough if not intriguing how the spices trade brought the critical change in economical development. What I found intriguing though is the implication of where this limited liability thing has brought us. Impatient shareholders of the world: slow down a bit and think again. To all: happy New Year!

 

Note: This text was written on January 2nd, 2016 when I decided to start blogging and was meant to be my first post. Hence, the belated best wishes.