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January 25th, 2024

Eggs Natures Perfect Food

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Eggs Natures Perfect Food

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EGGS ARE TASTY, FILLING AND GOOD FOR YOUR HEALTH AND ONE OF THE FEW FOODS THAT SHOULD BE CLASSIFIED AS A SUPERFOOD. A WHOLE EGG CONTAINS A LITTLE BIT OF EVERY NUTRIENT YOU NEED.

Cheap and easy to prepare they are an inexpensive source of high quality protein. Eating enough protein can help with weight loss, increase muscle mass, optimize bone health and lower blood pressure.

To stay healthy and carry out basic activities we need a broad range of nutrients which we can get from fruits, vegetables, whole grain pastas and breads, some dairy, meats, fish and eggs.

There are reasons why we eat chicken eggs versus duck or turkey eggs – chickens lay more eggs, they consume less feed and they need less nesting space. Eggs have been popular for thousands of years and the ancient Romans ate peafowl eggs and the Chinese enjoyed pigeon eggs. Quail, goose, hilsa or fish eggs such as caviar are all packed with essential nutrients. Mention should also be made of Ostrich and Emu eggs which are the largest edible eggs, weighing about 1 – 2 Kg each. Twenty times the size of a chicken egg ostrich eggs have a thick, hard shell and a mild and buttery flavour and can be used the same way as you would any other egg.

An extremely versatile ingredient eggs are not just for eating but are used to make homemade beauty products such as Face Masks (promotes cell regeneration, skin tightening and removal of excess oil and dead skin), garden fertilizer, compost, added to bird seed and act as a deterrent for garden pests. In many cultures the egg is a symbol of new life, fertility and re birth.

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EGGS ARE A BREAKFAST MAINSTAY and a baking essential. Blue, green, brown or white eggs may have different colours but there is no difference in nutrition or taste between them. An average hen lays 300 – 325 eggs per year and as hens age their eggs become larger. The colour of the yolk depends on the hen’s diet and age and a hen will typically turn her egg dozens of times a day to keep the yolk from sticking to the side.

EGG WHITES contain 60% of the total protein in an egg while the yolk contains more saturated fat and cholesterol. The majority of people eating eggs are not adversely affected by the cholesterol in eggs and for healthy people eggs have no negative effects on heart health.

The fatty acids in yolks have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties and may positively impact memory and muscle mass. Eggs are a high quality, lean protein and a single large egg contains 6 gms of it plus hens raised on pasture or fed omega 3 enriched feeds tend to be much higher in omega 3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids reduce blood levels of triglycerides which are a risk factor for heart disease.

Eggs contain Vitamins A, D, E, B6, calcium, iron and zinc and are also a source of choline which is important for cellular maintenance, brain development and memory.

One egg has only 72 calories and there are many ways to prepare eggs but poaching or boiling them preserves most of their nutritional benefits.

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Some healthy ways to consume eggs:

  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Soft boiled eggs
  • Poached eggs
  • Egg Bites
  • Baked eggs
  • Scrambled eggs – add low fat cheese, onion, chives, tomatoes, asparagus or diced potatoes
  • Rice or Ramen Bowl topping

Some not so healthy but delicious ways to consume eggs:

  • Fried eggs - sunny side up, over easy or over hard (use olive or avocado oil and a non stick frying pan)
  • Frittata
  • Eggs Benedict
  • Quiche
  • Devilled eggs
  • Breakfast burritos or quesadillas
  • Egg salad – use in a sandwich
  • Creamed eggs – diced hard boiled eggs with white gravy served on toast
  • Pickled eggs
  • Custard – Crème Caramel or Crème Brulee

Quick and simple to cook, eggs are also used in the preparation of pasta, salad dressings, cookies, cakes and ice cream. Butter does have nutritional value but liquid fats like olive or avocado oil are the better choice in cooking eggs as they are rich in heart healthy unsaturated fats.

If using non-stick frying pans make sure to replace them once the coating starts to degrade or about every three to five years. Alternatively you could also use stainless steel, ceramic or enamel coated cast iron pans.

Frying Pans on Amazon

Until next week..

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January 4th, 2024

Mexico City - The Land of the Mexicas

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Mexico City - The Land of the Mexicas

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A SIGN FROM THEIR GOD WOULD DETERMINE WHERE THE MEXICAS (AZTECS) WOULD BUILD A GREAT CITY. THIS SIGN OR VISION OF AN EAGLE EATING A SNAKE WHILE PERCHED ATOP A CACTUS CAME TRUE ON AN ISLAND IN LAKE TEXCOCO.

The Mexicas took a small natural island in Lake Texcoco and developed it to create their home and fortress and named it TENOCHTITLAN and thereby fulfilling an ancient prophesy. Their city eventually became the largest and most prosperous in PRE COLUMBIAN AMERICA and their innovations and culture have survived for centuries.

The Spanish explorer, Hernan Cortes and his troops eventually conquered Tenochtitlan in 1521 and built MEXICO CITY on the ruins of the once great city. Mexico means the “navel of the moon”.

Today Mexico City is the political, social and economic center of Mexico and it is the largest metropolitan area in the Western Hemisphere. It is also one of the world’s oldest and largest cities and one of the most important financial centers in North America.

TEMPLO MAYOR or The Great Pyramid was a massive pyramid like structure with multiple levels, platforms and ceremonial spaces. While the original Templo Mayor was destroyed by the Spanish conquest, remnants were discovered in the 20th century and pieces that were unscathed have been restored to their former splendour for visitors. Some of the most famous pyramids in Mexico include the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon and it is believed that they were used for religious and ceremonial purposes.

The MEXICAN NATIONAL MUSEUM OF HISTORY is currently housed in the Castillo de Chapultepec and is located in the middle of the city in Chapultepec Park.

The NATIONAL MUSEUM OF ANTHROPOLOGY located within Chapultepec Park contains significant archaeological finds including the Stone of the Sun, commonly referred to as the AZTEC CALENDAR. The museum also holds the world’s largest collection of ancient Mexican artifacts.

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The baroque Catedral Metropolitana de Mexico is one of the largest cathedrals in the western hemisphere and features a pair of 58 meters tall towers that hold 18 bells. The Palacio Nacional which houses the historic mural “ The History of Mexico” by Diego Rivera is also situated around the Plaza de la Constitucion, the massive main square also known as the ZOCALO. At over 13 acres in area the Zocalo is Latin Americas largest main square. The Museo Anahuacalli showcases Riveria’s personal collection of figurines, carvings and his personal sketches for murals. The Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico located in the Zocalo is worth visiting for its fabulous interior including a curved staircase, antique elevator made from iron and concrete and the incredible Tiffany stained glass ceiling imported from France in 1908.

The FRIDA KAHLO Museum also known as Casa Azul or the Blue House is a historic museum dedicated to the life and work of the Mexican artist, Frida Kahlo and is located in the artsy Coyoacan in Mexico City.

Dubbed the Venice of Mexico the Floating Gardens of Xochimilco are an extensive lake and canal system. The waterways and artificial islands can be explored by boarding gondola like boats called trajinera. Xochimilco is also home to water bound musicians or mariachis and pulque, a must try mildly alcoholic drink with a frothy appearance offered by Mexico City’s many pulquerias.

The largest triumphal arch in the world, the Monumento a la Revolucion is located in the heart of Mexico City and commemorates the Mexican Revolution. It has a large observation deck and a museum that is located underground.

The drinking culture of Mexico is best observed in the storied cantinas of Mexico City where beer and tequila are enjoyed by the locals as well as simple cocktails, margaritas, sangria, rum and mescal.

MEXICAN FOOD is renowned the world over and authentic Mexican food dates back to the Mayans and the Aztecs who used corn tortillas, beans, chilli peppers and fish in their daily diet. Pork, dairy, garlic, herbs and spices were introduced when the Spanish invaded Mexico. Today typical street food would be tacos, tostadas, quesadillas, burritos, enchiladas, tamales, esquites, carnitas and nachos.

Here are some unusual foods offered in Mexico City:

  • Tiny grasshoppers sprinkled with salt, lime and chilli.
  • Barbacoa slow roasted mutton or goat served in a taco
  • Enchiladas made with chicken and a green, creamy sauce
  • Torta de Tamal a steamed parcel of corn dough stuffed inside its own bread
  • Tlacoyos made of blue dough, beans and cheese, shaped like an oval and topped with spicy salsa
  • Gorditas fried corn dough stuffed with chicharron, potato or nopales (cactus).
  • Pan Dulce a wide range of Mexican sweet breads and pastries.
  • Pambazo bread marinaded in chilli sauce, cooked on a griddle and filled with chorizo, lettuce, cheese and crema.
  • Churros – a deep fried dough pastry served with a chocolate dipping sauce
  • Ceviche – marinaded raw fish
  • Conchas – a Mexican sweet bread
  • Pozole – a traditional soup made with hominy meal and seasoning
  • Chilaquiles – lightly fried corn tortillas topped with green or red salsa

Iconic artwork, a rich cultural heritage, architecture, canals and pyramids and spicy and delicious cuisine are just some of the reasons to visit MEXICO CITY.

Expedia

Until next week..

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January 18th, 2024

Why Do We Need Sleep

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Why Do We Need Sleep

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SLEEP KEEPS US HEALTHY AND FUNCTIONING WELL AND IT ENABLES OUR BODIES AND BRAIN TO RESTORE, REPAIR AND RE-ENERGIZE. SLEEP IS AS IMPORTANT TO GOOD HEALTH AS DIET AND EXERCISE.

When we sleep our brains are still working as they continue to learn, remember, create and remove toxins and waste which is good for our mental and physical health. Lack of sleep causes a multitude of issues including daytime fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability and inability to multitask.

DEEP SLEEP is restorative as it allows our body to replenish energy, repair tissue, cells and muscle and allows us to wake up refreshed and alert the next day. However there is more to good sleep than just hours spent lying in bed as sleep quality, quantity and a consistent schedule all help in maintaining sleep hygiene.

SO HOW MUCH SLEEP IS ENOUGH? Well, adults who sleep less than seven hours per night may have more health issues than those who sleep 7 to 8 hours a night. Sleep effects different parts of the immune system and people who do not sleep enough are more likely to get colds and other infections. In addition to the immune and respiratory system sleep affects our heart, circulation and appearance. So getting inadequate sleep over the long term can raise our risk of chronic long term problems which could affect the way we think, learn, work and interact with others. People who do not sleep enough may have a higher risk of high blood pressure, obesity, stroke and heart disease.

Our bodies 24 hour internal clock or circadian rhythm regulates wakefulness or sleepiness by responding to light changes in our environment. We can have a consistent circadian rhythm by following a regular sleep pattern which aims for 7 – 9 hours of sleep per night. Seven hours of sleep may not sound like enough but it may be the right amount of sleep for humans. Studies have shown that red is the best colour light to help you sleep because it increases production of the sleep hormone, melatonin. Melatonin is an important and effective hormone for the human body clock helping you to mentally and physically relax before you fall asleep.

Hormones may be related to our sleep patterns or circadian clocks as in the morning our bodies release hormones such as cortisol that help us wake up. It has also been shown that not getting enough quality sleep can lead to increased consumption of fatty, sweet and salty foods and decreased physical activity all of which could lead to weight gain and obesity.

COMMON SYMPTOMS OF SLEEP DISORDERS include:

  • Difficulty falling asleep
  • Staying asleep
  • Having difficulty waking up
  • Daytime fatigue
  • Memory challenges
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More than a quarter of the population may get less than six hours of sleep per night. People who have trouble sleeping at night could try the following:

  • Exercise every day even if it’s only for 10-15 minutes
  • Step outside for a 30 minute walk in sunlight
  • Reduce caffeine
  • Avoid nicotine
  • Reduce alcohol
  • Avoid large meals before bedtime
  • Turn off electronics at least an hour before bedtime
  • Silence your cellphone
  • Read a book or magazine
  • Reduce stress
  • A warm shower, footbath or full body bath one to two hours before bedtime
  • Keep bedroom temperatures cool
  • Invest in a quality mattress and pillows

Choosing the right mattress can be confusing, expensive and time consuming but it is a long term investment in ensuring you achieve a good night’s sleep. There are three types of mattresses – Latex, Memory Foam and Hybrid and your sleep position (side sleeper, back sleeper or stomach sleeper) could determine which mattress is right for you.

MEMORY FOAM MATTRESSES are perhaps the most comforting, contouring and responsive to all mattress types.

LATEX MATTRESSES are another good option and most latex mattresses consist of both natural and synthetic latex but natural latex is more environmentally friendly.

HYBRID MATTRESSES are the best of both worlds as you get the support and bounce of the spring mattress while at the same time getting the comfort of memory foam.

SLEEP HAS BEEN AN IMPORTANT COMPONENT of human life and the negative impact of sleep loss is clear. Deep, restorative sleep is the most important thing we can do for our mental and physical health.

MATTRESSES AT CRATE AND BARREL

Until next week..

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Food & Health

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January 11th, 2024

Eggplants a Delicious Addition to any Healthy Diet

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Eggplants a Delicious Addition to any Healthy Diet

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EGG SHAPED, GLOSSY, WITH WHITE FLESH AND SMALL, SOFT EDIBLE SEEDS, THE EGGPLANT HAS A SPONGY, MEATY TEXTURE. COLOURS VARY FROM WHITE TO YELLOW TO GREEN AS WELL AS THE COLOUR WE ARE MOST FAMILIAR WITH WHICH IS DARK PURPLE. DUE TO ITS SPONGE LIKE TEXTURE EGGPLANT IS SOMETIMES USED AS A MEAT SUBSTITUTE IN VEGAN AND VEGETARIAN DISHES.

Eggplant also known as aubergine or brinjal is a member of the nightshade family which is the largest and most diverse of the vegetable families and include tomatoes, potatoes and peppers. Though eggplant is referred to as a vegetable it is actually a fruit. In the 1700’s European versions of the fruit were smaller, yellow or white and looked like goose or chicken eggs which led to the name “eggplant”. There are smaller ornamental eggplants that are white in colour as well as green and orange.

Eggplants originated in China and India and have been cultivated there for thousands of years and are a popular ingredient in Chinese cuisine ranging from stir fries to braised dishes. China, India, Egypt, Iran and Turkey account for 90% of global eggplant production.

A HIGH FIBER, low calorie food, eggplants are rich in nutrients, vitamin B6, potassium and folate which help with blood sugar control and weight loss. Eggplants also contain the antioxidants lutein (beneficial for eye health) and zeaxanthin but they are also high in natural plant chemicals called polyphenols which may help cells process sugar. A high fiber diet may reduce the risk of heart disease.

RAW EGGPLANT can have a bitter taste but once cooked it develops a rich and complex flavour. Rinsing, salting and draining before cooking may remove the bitterness and also cause it to absorb less fat during the cooking process. The skin is edible so does not need to be removed prior to cooking.

Eggplants can be steamed, stir fried, roasted, stewed, grilled, sautéed, curried or pickled and are used in the cuisines of many countries. Eggplants can also be stuffed with meat, rice, nuts and dried fruit.

  • France - stewed as in Ratatouille
  • Italy - fried as in parmigiana di Melanzane
  • Greece - baked as in Moussaka
  • Sicily - roasted sweet and sour relish as in Caponata
  • Turkey – stuffed as in Imam Bayildi
  • Lebanon - roasted as in Baba Ghanoush
  • Philippines – Fritters as in Tortang Talong
  • Morocco – eggplant salad as in Zaalouk
  • India – yoghurt and eggplant side as in Dahi Baigana
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I grew up in New Delhi and Baingan Bharta ( eggplant mash with onions, tomatoes, spices, chillies and fresh coriander leaves) is a popular Indian dish and was frequently served at lunch with stewed lentils, a vegetable curry, chapatti/roti and plain rice. Whole eggplants were grilled on a charcoal or gas burner which gave them a smoky flavour.

You can roast eggplant in an oven or air fryer:

IF USING AN OVEN rinse the eggplant and wipe with a paper towel. Make 4 slits in the eggplant and insert one peeled garlic clove in each slit and then brush with a little oil. Place eggplants on a foil lined baking tray and bake in a preheated oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 45 minutes or until the eggplant is soft and appears collapsed. Allow eggplants to cool and then scoop out the pulp.

IF USING AN AIR FRYER first wash and dry the eggplant and then rub a little oil all over it and place in basket. Air fry at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about 20 minutes or until soft. Cool the eggplant and remove the skin or cut in half and scoop out the pulp and use in your favourite recipe.

PRIOR TO COOKING check that the eggplant’s stem and cap are green and fresh looking. If it is starting to fade in colour it is an indication that the vegetable may be spoiling. Also check that there is no mold on the stem or cap. Cut off and discard any parts that are turning brown.

WHEN CHOOSING AN EGGPLANT make sure the skin is firm and shiny. To check if it is ripe push with your thumb. If the flesh gives slightly and then bounces back it is ripe. You don’t want it to be too firm or too soft. It is best to use it as soon as possible after purchase as the skin will develop brown patches and the flesh will turn soft.

Some people salt their eggplant before cooking by placing the eggplant cubes or slices in a colander and sprinkling it with salt and then letting it sit for an hour. Followed by rinsing and drying between paper towels to remove the bitter juice.

Do not refrigerate eggplants but keep them in a cool place and out of direct sunlight and use in a few days as they will degrade in quality.

Eggplant is 92% water so it only freezes well if it is cooked first.

Popular cookbooks on Amazon

Until next week..

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December 21st, 2023

Creative Ways To Re-Use Leftover Stuffing

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Creative Ways To Re-Use Leftover Stuffing

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NO HOLIDAY MEAL IS COMPLETE WITHOUT STUFFING. A MIXTURE OF BREAD, ONION, BROTH, SPICES AND FRESH HERBS, STUFFING REPRESENTS A TRADITION THAT CAN BE TRACED BACK TO THE ROMANS. THE ROMANS WERE BIG ON STUFFING CHICKENS, RABBITS, PIGS AND EVEN DORMOUSES FOR THEIR MEALS.

In the early 19th century people began stuffing turkeys and ham and it was not long before this combination of starch and seasoning became a welcome addition to any holiday meal.

Almost anything can serve as a stuffing – bread, herbs, spices, eggs, sausage meat, almonds, chestnuts, apricots, wild rice, apples, liver and organ meat. Many foods can be stuffed including poultry, seafood, and vegetables such as orange, red or green peppers, tomatoes and zucchini.

Most people stuff the turkey prior to cooking so that the stuffing can absorb the flavourful juices of the turkey as it cooks. The other option is to prepare the stuffing separately and insert it into the bird once it rests. You can make up for lost turkey flavour by adding a homemade turkey stock.

There are also alternatives to the traditional stuffing and Wild Rice, Cauliflower, Quinoa and Chickpeas can all be used to make a delectable stuffing.

Here are some tips to make a delicious stuffing:

  • Use at least one day old stale bread
  • Use the right amount of liquid to evenly moisten all the ingredients
  • Stuffing should never be greasy
  • Pre Cook vegetables such as onion, celery, or carrots in butter or oil until tender
  • Use twice the amount of bread cubes as the other ingredients
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RECIPE FOR OLD FASHIONED BREAD STUFFING

Cook Time: 40 min - Servings: 4-6

  • 10 cups of bread cubes
  • 1/4 cup of butter
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
  • 1/2 cup red sweet pepper
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 2 1/2 cups of yellow onion
  • 3 garlic cloves finely chopped
  • 2 tbsps fresh sage chopped
  • 2 tbsps fresh parsley chopped
  • 2tbsps fresh rosemary chopped
  • 700 ml chicken or turkey stock
  • 1/2 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • Salt to taste

Melt butter in a large frying pan and add onions, celery, garlic and sweet red pepper. Stir fry until golden then add sage, parsley, salt, pepper and chopped pecans or walnuts. Next add the bread cubes and then slowly pour in the stock until all the bread is soaked.

Pre Heat Oven to 275 degrees Fahrenheit

Transfer the stuffing to a greased baking dish and bake in the oven for about 25 minutes or until the top is crisp and golden.

LEFT OVER STUFFING can be served in sandwiches, inside baked peppers, tomatoes, mushrooms, potatoes, jumbo prawns, meatballs or artichokes.

Of course if all else fails then STOVE TOP STUFFING is a good substitute for homemade stuffing. Krafts Foods who owns Stove Top Stuffing sells about 60 million boxes per year in a variety of flavours. The lady credited with the invention of Stove Top Stuffing was Ruth Siems and the product has been going strong since 1971. The secret ingredient is the dimension of the bread crumbs which was patented by General Foods in 1975.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Stove Top Stuffing Options at Amazon

Until next week..

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December 7th, 2023

Trifle Pudding

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Trifle Pudding

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EASY AND EFFORTLESS, TRIFLE IS A DESSERT THAT TASTES GOOD AND LOOKS GOOD. A traditional English dessert, it is a staple especially around the holidays as it is easy to make and does not require a lot of time to assemble.

TRIFLES originated in 18th century Britain and were designed to use up leftovers and stale cake. The word trifle comes from the Middle English word “trufle” meaning something of little importance or frivolous. Stale cake soaked in alcohol and then stacked with layers of fresh fruit, egg custard, jelly and cream in a glass bowl was all it took to create an elegant trifle and to this day, trifle is an incredibly popular dessert in the UK with almost half the population favouring it over Xmas Pudding.

So much so that in 2022 a trifle was selected to be the Platinum Pudding to help celebrate the Platinum Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth the Second. A Lemon Swiss Roll and Amaretti Trifle created by Jemma Melvin won the competition to create a pudding fit for a queen.

So what goes into a trifle? The usual ingredients are lady’s fingers, sponge, pound, lemon or angel food cake cut into cubes or torn into chunks. You could also use brownies, jelly rolls, meringues or donuts to create the bottom layer. The next layer would be custard followed by a layer of jam or syrup and fruit and then repeated once or twice to create colourful layers of cake, custard and fruit. Lastly top with whipped cream and garnish with fresh fruit, chopped nuts or cookie crumbs.

Most trifles are stacked beginning with cake and ending with fruit followed by whipped cream. You can use store bought cake and substitute instant pudding, lemon curd or sweetened Greek yoghurt for custard. Canned whipped cream and fresh fruit such as peaches, kiwis, mangoes, bananas, pineapple and berries add delectable flavour and colour to the trifle. For an alcohol free trifle replace sherry with apple juice.

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There are many, many variations of trifle and no one recipe is better than another as it all comes down to personal taste and preference.

Some of the more popular variations of trifle and their key ingredients are:

  • AMBROSIA TRIFLE – sponge cake, marshmallow cream, raspberry jelly and mixed berries
  • CRANBERRY TRIFLE – angel food cake, cranberry sauce, custard, cream and maple syrup
  • HOT CHOCOLATE TRIFLE – chocolate cookies, chocolate instant pudding, marshmallows and whipped cream
  • OLD FASHIONED TRIFLE – pound cake, custard, sherry, raspberry jam and strawberries
  • TIRAMISU TRIFLE – lady’s fingers, mascarpone cheese, instant pudding and coffee
  • BROWNIE TRIFLE – chocolate brownies, chocolate pudding mix, coconut whipped cream
  • STRAWBERRY AND ORANGE TRIFLE – shortbread cookies, orange juice, lemon curd, fresh strawberries and oranges
  • PUMPKIN PIE TRIFLE – spice cake, ginger snaps, pumpkin puree, pumpkin pie spice, cream cheese and cream
  • CANDY BAR TRIFLE – brownies, vanilla pudding mix, chocolate candies and cool whip
  • BANANA PUDDING TRIFLE – vanilla wafers, vanilla custard, condensed milk, fresh bananas and whipped cream
  • PUNCH BOWL TRIFLE – pound cake, vanilla pudding, pineapples, bananas, mandarin oranges and coconut
  • BUTTERSCOTCH TRIFLE – chocolate cake, butterscotch pudding, milk, vanilla extract and cream
  • OLD FASHIONED TRIFLE – pound cake, sherry, raspberry jam, vanilla custard and strawberries

So sweeten things up for family and guests with a creamy and delightful trifle which is also a great make ahead dessert. Prepare a day ahead to allow for any alcohol, jam and custard to seep down into the cake. This will increase the flavour while also softening the cake. Store in fridge, tightly covered with plastic wrap, for up to three days. Final layer of whipped cream and garnishes should be added just before serving.

Sometimes it is the frivolous things in life which bring us the most joy.

Trifle bowls and Similar Glassware

Until next week..

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November 16th, 2023

A Handful of Nuts is All You Need

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A Handful of Nuts is All You Need

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NUTS HAVE FORMED A MAJOR PART OF MAN’S DIET SINCE THE EARLIEST OF TIMES. STONE TOOLS CALLED “ NUTTING STONES” WERE USED TO CRACK OPEN LARGE QUANTITIES OF HARD NUTS. THE SHELLED NUTS SUCH AS WALNUTS, BEECH NUTS, HICKORY NUTS AND CHESTNUTS WERE EATEN WHOLE BUT ALSO TO MAKE NUT BUTTER AND FLOUR.

Nuts were among the earliest cultivated foods and a reliable food source as they could be carried anywhere and stored for long periods of time. Nuts are rich in fats and protein and can be consumed right out of the shell, pressed for oil or mashed to form butter. They are a dry single seed fruit, with a high oil content enclosed in a tough outer layer.

Different types of nuts have slight differences in their vitamin and mineral content. Eating a variety of nuts will increase your levels of various nutrients. There is no need to remove the skin of nuts as the skin is high in phytochemicals that have antioxidant and anti inflammatory properties.

CASHEW nuts are native to Brazil but are also cultivated in India and Africa. They are available shelled as between the inner and outer shells there is caustic oil. The outer shell and oil are roasted off after which the nut is boiled or roasted again to remove the inner shell.

BRAZIL nuts are actually large seeds with 15 – 30 arranged in a pod which can weigh four to six pounds. Natives gather the pods when they fall to the ground and open them with machetes to remove the seeds.

The PEANUT is not a nut but a member of the legume family and so technically a vegetable. Peanuts were originally considered a food for poor people but by the turn of the 20th century demand for peanut oil, salted peanuts and peanut butter increased across the population.

ALMONDS, PISTACHIOS and WALNUTS are all good sources of Protein, healthy fats, fibres, vitamins and minerals. Walnuts are the oldest tree food known to man. Roasted, raw, blanched or smoked un-adulterated raw nuts are still your best option. Heating and processing of nuts can destroy some of their protective nutrients. However toasting nuts does give them an intense flavour and the best way to toast nuts is in a toaster oven.

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There are many different ways to enjoy your favourite nuts:

  • Nut Breads
  • Nut butters or spreads
  • Cereals or porridge
  • Sprinkle on salads
  • Stirfrys or steamed veggies
  • Soups and sauces
  • Smoothies
  • Pie crusts
  • An ingredient in burgers or meatloaf
  • Trail mix
  • Pine nut pesto
  • Rice pilaf or pasta
  • Cookies, pancakes, waffles or muffins

Nuts contain nutrients like Vitamin E, Selenium and Zinc that our skin needs to stay healthy. Almonds are rich in antioxidants that combat inflammation that contributes to skin ageing. Nuts can add extra fiber to your diet for a happier and healthier gut and are one of the best sources of essential minerals, and macro nutrients – protein, carbohydrate and fat and a good source of plant protein.

Nuts contain fats and so should be eaten in moderation. It is recommended that adults consume 4-6 servings of un-salted nuts per week. An ounce or quarter of a cup of nuts is all you need as part of a healthy diet.

Nuts have an excellent nutrient profile and have been shown to protect against disease, as they also contain plant sterols that help to keep cholesterol levels in check and reduce the risk of cancer. They are also full of the types of fat that are naturally beneficial to the body with a high ratio of un-saturated fat, fiber and antioxidants. Nuts are rich in potassium and magnesium which help the body regulate blood pressure and keep nerves and muscles functioning well.

A Mediterranean Diet which includes olive oil and nuts can lower the risk of colorectal and breast cancer. A handful of tree nuts such as walnuts, almonds, pistachios, cashews or hazelnuts can contribute to a lower risk of coronary heart disease, Diabetes, gall stones and obesity.

Until next week..

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November 2nd, 2023

The Nutritional Goodness of Pumpkins and Squash

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The Nutritional Goodness of Pumpkins and Squash

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IT WAS THE ORANGE PUMPKIN IN CINDERELLA THAT FASCINATED ME – MORE THAN HER RAGS TO RICHES STORY, HER HANDSOME PRINCE OR HER FAIRY GODMOTHER, WHO WITH A WAVE OF HER WAND TRANSFORMED A PUMPKIN INTO A MAGNIFICIENT ROYAL COACH. AS A SEVEN YEAR OLD I HAD NO CLUE ABOUT THE NUTRITIONAL MAGIC OF PUMPKINS.

Pumpkins and Squash are some of the oldest known crops and North Eastern American Tribes grew pumpkins, crooknecks, patty pans, marrrows and turbans. They would grow the squash along river banks alongside maize and beans. Native Americans roasted or boiled the flesh of the pumpkins and no part of the plant was wasted as they ate the young shoots, flowers and seeds and used dried strips of pumpkin to weave into mats.

Squashes come in many different shapes and colours including tan, orange, blue, yellow, green or even red. Winter squash are usually larger fruit with hard seeds that ripen in the Fall and can be stored for several months in a cool dry place. Summer Squash such as zucchini, courgettes, spaghetti squash and summer pumpkins have soft edible shells and seeds and ripen in the Summer.

A member of the gourd family ( cantaloupe, honeydew melons, cucumber, watermelons and zucchini) they are technically a fruit. There are over 45 different kinds of pumpkins and they are 92% water and have more fiber than kale and more potassium than bananas. The first pumpkins were very different from the ones we are familiar with as they were small and hard with a bitter flavour. Once domesticated the crop produced larger fruit compared with the wild plant.

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PUMPKINS ARE A VALUABLE FOOD CROP and an important part of the diet of many people around the world. They are low in calories, fat and sodium but high in fiber. They are also a good source of Vitamin A, B and C, potassium, protein and iron. A cup of cooked, mashed pumpkin contains only 49 calories. Pumpkins are a great source of beta carotene (which gives it its bright orange colour) just like carrots and sweet potatoes. Beta carotene turns into vitamin A which is great for maintaining eye health and reducing the risk of age related macular degeneration and to keep our immune and digestive systems running smoothly.

There are many ways to incorporate pumpkins and squash into your diet but use young pumpkins in vegetable dishes and more mature pumpkins in breads and desserts. Pumpkins can be stewed, roasted, baked and even pickled.

Pumpkins are a versatile food and delicious recipes can be found in cookbooks and food blogs and here are some ways to include pumpkins and squash into everyday meals.

  • Pumpkin soups
  • Add pumpkin to pasta sauces and curries
  • Add pumpkin to your favourite smoothie recipe
  • Pumpkin puree can be added to pancakes and muffins for added fiber and vitamins
  • Pumpkin Cheesecake
  • Pumpkin pies
  • Pumpkin turnovers and bread
  • Pumpkin spice lattes
  • Pumpkin burgers
  • Pumpkin salsas
  • Pumpkin cookies, donuts and scones
  • Roasted pumpkin seeds can be eaten as a snack or sprinkled on a salad or pasta

The earliest sweet pumpkin recipes were made from pumpkin shells that had been scooped out and filled with ginger spiced milk and then baked in hot ashes.

Pumpkins are also used in the food and drink industry to provide new flavours for beverages especially craft beers and ales. The pumpkin flower has been used in fragrances and cosmetics and pumpkin seed oil based creams and moisturizers, smooth the skin’s appearance and help to protect skin cells against damage.

Miniature or small pumpkins are best suited for Jack O Lanterns, table décor and crafting. White or blue pumpkins make for unusual creations for indoor or outdoor displays. They can also be used to make candle holders, bird feeders and baskets. The pumpkin is synonymous with harvest and Halloween but also during The Day of the Dead festivities in Mexico, where pumpkins get set on altars along with the dead people’s photos, favourite foods and candy skulls.

YOU MAY OR MAY NOT KNOW THAT THE WORLD’S LARGEST PUMPKIN PIE weighed 3700 lbs, was 20 feet wide and was made in New Bremen, Ohio. The recipe included 440 sheets of dough, 2796 eggs, 525 lbs of sugar and 1212 lbs of canned pumpkin plus salt, cinnamon and pumpkin spice and that Trevor Hunt holds the Guinness World Record for most pumpkins carved in an hour. He carved 109 pumpkins in 60 minutes or just over half a minute per pumpkin.

“WHEN LIFE GIVES YOU PUMPKINS MAKE PIE”

Until next week..

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October 5th, 2023

Mint a Helpful Herb

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Mint a Helpful Herb

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IT WAS THE JEALOUSY OF ONE WOMAN THAT LED TO THE TRANSFORMATION OF ANOTHER WOMAN INTO A MINT PLANT.

The woman credited with this feat was Persephone, the Greek Goddess of Agriculture and Vegetation for whom this transformative feat was well within her capabilities. Turning Minthe, a river nymph into a plant was the price Minthe paid for having an affair with Persephone’s husband, Hades (God of the Underworld) according to Greek mythology. Minthe’s pleas to Hades to change her back went unheeded but he did bestow on her a sweet, minty smell.

The term mint is a generic term that includes peppermint, spearmint, field mint and orange mint and the herb has been used for indigestion since ancient Egyptian times. Peppermint has a 40% concentration of menthol whereas spearmint only has 5% which makes peppermint a much more powerful herb. The Greeks and Romans used it for cordials, bathwater, perfumes and even added it to their wine and sauces.

In early modern Europe the entire mint plant was considered useful. Mint juice was effective against poison and also good for blood circulation. Humans have used mint for thousands of years to cleanse their mouths, stomach and skin and the desire for fresh breath and cleanliness is centuries old. Mint leaves are still used today in medicinal and digestive teas. Mint is rich in nutrients that may help to improve digestion, brain function, congestion of nose, throat and lungs and boost immunity.

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Mint’s tiny dark green, serrated leaves are packed with nutrients and are a particularly rich source for vitamin A critical for eye health and night vision and vitamin C and B2. It is also an antioxidant and a source of menthol which gives mint its unique flavour and is a cooling and relaxing agent often used for treating skin burns. Mint leaves are anti inflammatory and are a popular herb that can be used fresh or dried by adding to water, herbal teas, smoothies, salads, soups, dips and sauces.

Mint is an un-demanding plant and can thrive in a small pot or container. It is hardy and can grow one to three feet in height as long as it has access to some natural light.

Commercial mint oil products have become part of our daily lives including toothpaste, breath fresheners, fragrances, chewing gum, chocolate, candies, teas, jellies and ice creams. Mint is also used in aromatherapy and as an environmentally friendly insecticide that can kill hornets, ants, wasps and cockroaches.

Mint’s anti inflammatory and antibacterial properties can help to calm skin and be beneficial in the treatment of acne. It performs well as a mild astringent that helps to tone skin naturally. It can remove dead cells, retain moisture and tighten the spores to rejuvenate the skin and slow down the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles. Drinking lemon and mint infused water could also provide a boost to the immune system.

Peppermint Tea can be made using fresh or dried leaves or teabags or mixed with flavours such as liquorice or fruit. The tea is naturally caffeine free and has zero calories so can be drunk at any time of the day. Mint is a natural replacement for salt and sugar.

Using fresh mint in cooking along with other herbs and spices can help add flavour to the food. It is best to add them to food at the end of the cooking process, to preserve their flavour and texture. When purchasing mint look for bright coloured leaves that are un-blemished. Store in a re-useable plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Some of the more popular uses of mint are:

  • Mint Jelly
  • Mint Tea
  • Mint Spritzer and smoothies
  • Mint pesto and Salsa Verde
  • Pea and mint soup
  • Classic English mint sauce
  • Cucumber and mint raita
  • Tabbouleh
  • Mint Ice cream
  • Mint chocolate brownies
  • Mint Julep and Mojitos
  • Mint chutney
  • Couscous with mint and feta
  • Chimichurri
  • Noodle salad
  • Mint and watermelon or fresh pineapple salad
  • Raspberry mint jam

You can freeze mint by chopping the leaves and placing them in an ice cube tray. Fill the ice cube trays with water and place in the freezer. Once frozen remove the ice cubes, place in a zip top freezer bag and store in the freezer.

Add mint leaves to drinking water and store water in the fridge for up to 3 days.

Serve mint sauce as a condiment for roast meats, chicken, fish, seafood, burgers, sausages and grilled vegetables. Mint leaves also make wonderful garnishes for appetizers and desserts adding just that little touch of green freshness.

Until next week..

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September 22nd, 2023

The Benefits of Eating Salmon

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The Benefits of Eating Salmon

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PROGRAMMED TO DIE FROM THE DAY THEY ARE BORN MOST PACIFIC SALMON DIE SHORTLY AFTER SPAWNING.

North American Atlantic Salmon migrate in the Spring from the rivers and streams where they were born. Salmon beginning their migration to the sea will cover thousands of miles and spend about one to five years in the open ocean where they grow and mature. Eventually they return to freshwater as they require cool, oxygen rich water to reproduce. Young and adult salmon eat a wide variety of foods including fish, shrimp, krill, squid and octopus but adults ready to begin their spawning migration stop eating altogether. Salmon can also undergo changes such as growing a hump, develop canine like teeth and change from a silvery blue to a darker colour.

Atlantic salmon have between 2500 to 7000 eggs depending on the size of the female. In the case of Pacific salmon most of the salmon that survive and reach their spawning grounds will die after laying their eggs. Salmon not killed by other means show accelerated deterioration at the end of their lives. Their bodies deteriorate right after they spawn due to the release of large amounts of corticosteroids. The dead bodies of the salmon sink into the gravel beds and release nutrients to nurture the next generation of salmon. Salmon carcasses pulled from the rivers by bears decompose and the nutrients find their way into the forests. The bodies of salmon have enriched lakes and provided food for trout and young salmon and there are dozens of species of mammals and birds that feed on salmon carcasses.

CELEBRITIES LIKE VICTORIA BECKHAM AND MARIAH CAREY include salmon in their daily diets as it is packed with Omega 3 fatty acids and considered by many as being a superfood when it comes to skin health. Omega 3 is good for your skin because it helps to slow the breakdown of collagen and elastin both of which help to keep skin looking supple and youthful. Skin has a natural oil barrier that helps to retain moisture and stay hydrated. A high level of healthy fat helps the skin to make this oil and omega 3 fatty acids maintain the skin’s elasticity and suppleness. More collagen translates into less inflammation, wrinkles and age spots. Omega 3 fatty acids also support scalp health and give hair its shine. If you are not a fan of salmon then mackerel, sardines, herrings, sea bass or carp would be good substitutes. VEGETARIANS can enjoy other great skin foods such as blueberries and tomatoes.

Salmon also contains Vitamin D which can help protect the skin against the negative effects of UV rays and assist in the repair and growth of new skin cells. It is also rich in the vitamin B complex which is necessary for the functioning of the brain and nervous system and the body’s hormonal balance.

Salmon is an oily fish that is also a good source of protein, an essential building block for bones, blood, skin and muscles. It also helps to improve bone density, eye sight, muscle mass and to repair and build tissues.

WILD SALMON CONTAINS MORE NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS AND LESS CONTAMINANTS THAN FARMED SALMON. There are many ways to consume salmon and one of the most popular is smoked salmon particularly in New York. A bagel with cream cheese and topped with smoked salmon and capers is simply delicious. Salmon skin is also good for you and leaving it on while cooking prevents the fish from falling apart and adds flavour. Use a food thermometer to determine if the salmon is cooked to the correct temperature by inserting it in the thickest part of the fish. The reading should be at least 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The colour of the salmon will also change from translucent to opaque. Once the salmon is cooked let it rest for a few minutes before serving.

There are many tasty ways to cook and enjoy salmon which is available fresh or frozen year round.

  • Sheet Pan Salmon
  • Poached Salmon
  • Salmon Tacos
  • Salmon Sushi
  • Salmon Eggs Benedict
  • Salmon stuffed Omelettes
  • Salmon Rolls or Sandwiches
  • Salmon Stew
  • Salmon Pasta
  • Roasted or Baked Salmon
  • Grilled or BBQ Salmon
  • Salmon Salads or Bowls
  • Salmon Burgers
  • Salmon Skewers
  • Salmon Cakes
  • Salmon Steaks
  • Smoked Salmon

Salmon is an important food source and is intensively farmed in many parts of the world with Norway being the biggest producer of farmed fish followed by Chile.

Vegetarian sources of Omega 3 fatty acids include flax seed and oil, walnuts, chia and hempseeds but it is easier for the body to obtain omega 3s from fish sources.

Salmon are important for the health of streams, rivers, forests and for animals in the oceans and on land. Salmon have declined or disappeared in many places due to over fishing, habitat damage, pesticides and climate change. Salmon depend on humans to better manage fishing and keep the oceans healthy and in return will continue to provide us with nutritious and healthy food for generations to come.

Until next week..

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September 7th, 2023

Pulses – The Nutritional Powerhouse

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Pulses – The Nutritional Powerhouse

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RICE IS GOD BUT LENTILS ARE MY LIFE – an old Hindu proverb.

AFFORDABLE AND VERSATILE PULSES ARE OFTEN REFERRED TO AS A SUPERFOOD. Pulses are the dry grains of legumes which come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. Pulse crops refers to those plant species harvested primarily for their dry seed. The most common edible legumes include lentils, beans, chickpeas, peas, soybeans and peanuts.

In a world where climate change is taking its toll pulses could be the seeds of life as they have a smaller carbon footprint. Requiring only one tenth of the water to grow they are suitable for a wide range of environments. They can also grow in very poor soils and use little or no synthetic fertilizers. Many pulses are drought resistant making them the ideal crops for dry regions. For instance chickpeas can withstand temperatures in desert like regions despite the significant fluctuations in day and night temperatures.

One of the first domesticated plant species, pulses today are grown in 173 countries and all major cultures grow some type of legume. India is the largest producer accounting for 25% of global production followed by Canada, Mayanmar and China. 30% of India’s population is vegetarian and pulses are an indispensable source of protein. Pulses are affordable and accessible and one of the few food items to be classified both as a vegetable and a protein. Packed with nutrients pulses are a protein substitute for meat or dairy. It takes 43 gallons of water to produce one pound of pulses but almost a thousand gallons to produce one pound of meat.

PULSES ARE A NUTRITIOUS STAPLE OF DIETS AROUND THE WORLD. Rich in proteins and fiber they blend well with other ingredients and pair easily with a variety of seasonings. Indian dishes featuring lentils and chickpeas are well known. Beans have a long tradition in Latin American cuisine going back to the diets of the indigenous populations such as the Incas and the Mayas. Similarly North American cuisine also features pulses such as Baked Beans, Louisiana Red Beans and Rice and Bean Burritos. Black beans are popular in Mexico and Brazil and cannellini beans appear in Italian dishes.

In West Africa the Bambara bean is extremely tolerant of poor quality soils and drought. Adzuki Beans ae widely used in Japan , Korea and China to make Red Bean Paste used in fillings for steamed breads, dumplings and Chinese Moon Cake.

Pulses are a nutritional powerhouse as they have zero cholesterol, high content of iron, gluten free, rich in minerals and vitamins, low fat content, an important source of dietary fiber and an inexpensive source of protein. Eating pulses can reduce the risk of obesity, constipation, colon cancer and facilitate proper immune system functioning. It can also help to lower blood pressure, cholesterol and the risk of heart disease and Type 2 Diabetes.

Pulses can be prepared in many ways – canned, cooked, dried, frozen, ground into flour or split.

Dry pulses will yield approximately 2-3 times their original amount when cooked.

Simmer pulses slowly as cooking too fast will cause them to split open.

Always wash and soak pulses before cooking and the best option is to soak them overnight. Soaking helps them cook faster and more evenly plus soaked beans are easier to digest.

Rinse canned beans before consuming to reduce their sodium content.

Start with small amounts to help your body get used to the higher fiber.

Store dried legumes in containers with tight fitting lids and keep out of sunlight in a cool, dry place.

Here are some ways to add pulses into your diet: they can be used in everything from dips, smoothies, salads and main dishes:

  • Chickpea stew
  • Chili con carne
  • Lentil salad, curry or soup
  • Chickpea frittata
  • Beans on toast
  • Chickpea or Lentil Burgers
  • Mushroom and Lentil loaf
  • Black Bean Enchiladas or Salsa
  • Curried Chickpeas
  • Bean Tacos or Burritos
  • Hummus or Falafel

Because of their texture, flavour and nutritional value legumes are found in many prepared dishes in supermarkets such as tofu, hummus, peanut butter, bean dips, black bean chips, pastas and soups.

CONSUMING PULSES CAN HELP YOU SAVE MONEY but also reduce the demand placed on our natural resources and its impact on climate change. Generally plant based foods tend to have lower greenhouse gas emissions and use less land and water than animal based foods. Legumes can help minimize food waste as pulses can be dried and stored for long periods of time without losing their nutritional value.

Until next week..

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August 17th, 2023

Bread - A Universal Food

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Bread - A Universal Food

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SO WHAT IS BREAD?

Basically it is a paste of flour and water and is the most widely consumed food in the world. It is also an important source of fiber, protein and carbohydrates which fuel our brain and muscles.

According to history, prehistoric man was making gruel from water and crushed grains which eventually led to cooking the mixture by laying it on heated stones and covering it with hot ashes. The earliest bread was made in or around 8000 BC in Egypt. The ancient Egyptians are credited with developing leavened bread by using yeast to transform dense, flat loaves into light and airy bread with a distinct texture. The Egyptians were also skilled beer brewers and it is thought that they created sourdough by adding yeast to their bread mixture. Ancient bread would have looked like large round sourdough breads, segmented into eight pieces and with a hole in the center.

Free standing ovens that could be pre-heated and with a door for access appeared for the first time in ancient Greece and resulted in the production of a variety of breads such as griddle cakes, honey and oil bread and mushroom shaped loaves covered in poppy seeds.

Other parts of the world domesticated cereals as in rice in East Asia, maize in the Americas and sorghum in Africa. Wheat and barley and several pulses were some of the first plants to be domesticated in the area referred to as the “Fertile Crescent” in western Asia. Cereal crops allowed for the settlement and growth of large populations and the formation of towns and some of the world’s earliest societies.

Some of the first breads were created in the Middle East but as people immigrated to other parts of the world they brought their bread making skills with them.

Nowadays when we think of bread we think of wheat but bread can be made from virtually any grain including corn, barley, rye, milled rice and amaranth. However unless you want flat bread you must add wheat as this is the grain that contains high levels of gluten which gives the dough its sponginess and elasticity.

Otto Frederick Rohwedder, an American Engineer, invented the first automatic bread slicing machine which was manufactured in 1928 and led to the industrialization of bread. The introduction of commercial yeasts during the 19th century sped up the baking process and made production easier.

Ancient grains have been eaten for thousands of years in countries like India, China, Africa and the Middle East and are largely un-changed. All ancient grains are un-refined and the whole grain is fully intact. Examples of ancient grains are farro, spelt, millet, quinoa, sorghum, teff and amaranth. Breads made from 100% whole grain or sprouted grain flours are particularly beneficial. Other options are sourdough, rye, flax and oat breads. Like sourdough bread, rye bread is good for gut health and may improve digestion. Traditional sourdough breads may contain dozens of wild yeast species but commercial bread is made from a pre-mixed packet of dry yeasts.

In the 20th century bread became whiter, softer and lasted much longer due to the addition of chemicals. The flour was heavily processed and eventually it became necessary for governments to enforce the adding back of minerals and vitamins. In the 1980’s bakers started producing artisan, rustic and healthier breads without chemicals and additives.

Gluten free breads are made using flours from a variety of ingredients such as almonds, rice, sorghum, corn, legumes and tubers such as cassava.

Some un-common breads are SLOVENIAN Potato Bread, TURKISH Lavas Puff Bread, PUERTO RICAN Water bread, SWEDISH Sweet Yeasted Bread, DANISH Kringle and TUSCAN Focacia.

This delicious, versatile food has shaped the basis of what we eat today and can be found in nearly every home, but there is no culture that reveres bread more than the French, and France has played a crucial role in the evolution of bread. From simple flat breads 30,000 years ago to today’s diverse array of flavours and types, bread can be found in every type of cusine but Germany leads the pack with over 1300 basic varieties of breads, rolls and pastries and having the largest consumption of bread worldwide.

Here are some popular varieties of bread from a mixed range of countries:

  • French Baguette – France
  • Pita Bread - Middle East
  • Tortilla - Mexico
  • Injera - Ethiopia
  • Bagel – Poland, USA
  • Paratha – India
  • Crumpet - United Kingdom
  • Kugbrod – Denmark

A fresh loaf of bread is best eaten within 2 to 3 days. To freeze bread wrap it tightly in a freezer bag and to thaw it defrost in a refrigerator overnight. Always store bread in a cool, dark place in your kitchen and never store it on top of your fridge or near your dishwasher.

SO LOVE IT OR HATE IT bread is a powerful link to our past and our prehistoric ancestors. It is estimated that 60% of the world’s population eats bread daily and though it is made from different ingredients, in many different shapes, sizes and colours, it has become the staple food of all cultures.

For the record I love bread and could not imagine starting my day without a slice or two.

Until next week..

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July 20th, 2023

Mushrooms a Superfood Like No Other

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Mushrooms a Superfood Like No Other

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360 MILLION YEARS AGO THERE WERE NO TREES JUST GIANT FUNGI UPTO 26 FT. TALL that dominated the earth’s surface. Some of the most complex life forms on land, mushrooms mined rocks for mineral nourishment and turned them into soil. Fungi (mushrooms, mold, yeast and rust) make up 2% of Earth. They have been integral to the development of life on our planet by weaving through earth de-composing matter and re-cycling nutrients to build healthy soil, that enables plants and animals to flourish.

Without fungi (the largest living thing on earth) to aid in de-composition, all life in the forests would be buried under a pile of dead trees, plants and animals.

Useful fungi are mushrooms and yeast and there are more than 2000 varieties of mushrooms grown around the world ranging from the common white button mushroom to the black trumpet mushroom in China. Mushrooms contain “umami” one of the five basic tastes. The other four are salty, bitter, sweet and sour.

Mushrooms begin life as fungal spores which germinate and grow into filament like root networks called mycelium. It is the mycelium that scavenges for food in the soil, decomposes and breaks it down and then recycles the nutrients. When mycelium is mature it produces mushrooms which spread their spores and ensure the continuation of the fungi.

LOW IN CALORIES BUT SUPER HIGH IN NUTRITION mushrooms are the fruit of a fungus but are also a super food that contains no cholesterol, is low in sodium and is antibacterial, anti- inflammatory and antioxidant. Rich in vitamins, minerals, amino acids, potassium and fiber, Fungi make up our microbiota together with 10,000 other microbial species found in our gut and on our skin. They can boost focus, memory and cognitive function and support a healthy immune system. Mushrooms are the only “vegetable” source of vitamin D as they can absorb the vitamin when exposed to light sources like the sun.

Some of the HEALTHIEST mushrooms are Maitake, Shitake, Chanterelle, Reishi and Lions Mane. The most DEADLIEST mushrooms are Death Cap Mushroom, False Morels and the Destroying Angel which are extremely poisonous when eaten. The most EXPENSIVE mushrooms are Matsutake, white and black Truffles, Morels and Chanterelles and the most POPULAR are Portobello, Oyster, Porcini and Cremini.

THE ULTIMATE ORGANIC FOOD, mushrooms can be baked, fried, sautéed, grilled, steamed or eaten raw. An integral part of a variety of dishes they can be added to pastas, risottos, sauces, soups, stir frys, curries, as a topping on pizzas, as a side dish or pan seared as in Portobello Mushroom Steaks. Mushrooms can have different flavours such as fruity, nutty, woody or spicy and there are a variety of mushroom teas and coffees. Mushroom milk is a blend of organic coconut milk and mushroom extract powders. Processes that involve fungi and yeast are used in the fermentation for soy sauce, miso, tempeh, mold cheeses, beer, wine and spirits.

It is not all good news as fungi cause three different types of human illnesses:

POISONINGS – about 200 fungus are toxic and if eaten could cause digestive problems, organ failure, hallucinations or even death.

PARASITIC INFECTIONS - mild fungal infections can look like a rash and are very common such as ringworm.

ALLERGIES – mild allergies can be caused by airborne mold spores which cause sneezing, coughing and difficulty breathing.

Mushrooms have an enormous impact on our eco system and in the production of foods and pharmaceuticals. They act as de-composers regulating nutrients and contribute to the global carbon cycle. Mushrooms are a sustainable food source as they use limited growing space ( one acre can produce a million pounds of mushrooms annually), fast growing, nutritious and do not require regular watering like fruit and vegetables. They are energy efficient as they often grow in the dark and are responsible for the breakdown of organic matter into a form which can be used by other living organisms.

Mushrooms can survive in outer space as they can absorb high doses of radiation (so mushroom farms on Mars are a possibility) but NONE OF US WOULD BE HERE ON EARTH WITHOUT FUNGI..

Until next week..

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Ocean

June 29th, 2023

Water - A Gift From The Gods or Asteroids?

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Water - A Gift From The Gods or Asteroids?

Hand Swim

DINOSAURS WENT EXTINCT 65 MILLION YEARS AGO BUT THE WATER THEY DRANK IS STILL HERE.

Our planet originated as dry rock and it was a few billion years before the Earth was completely covered with water.

For thousands of years it was believed that water was a gift from the gods but today it is acknowledged that water was delivered to our Earth via meteorites and asteroids. In the early years of our solar system many asteroids and comets crashed on our planet. It is possible that water deep in our earth along with water delivered by asteroids and meteorites combined to create the massive expanse of water (oceans) that make up 70% of the earth’s surface.

THE OLDEST WATER DISCOVERED ON EARTH IS 1.6 BILLION YEARS OLD AND WAS AROUND LONG BEFORE DINOSAURS WALKED ON OUR PLANET AND DRANK THE SAME WATER WE DO TODAY. How is this possible you might ask? The reason is that very little water escapes our planet and no new water has formed for the past few billion years but instead it has been re-cycled between inner earth, oceans, rivers and the atmosphere. This re-cycling process occurs when water on the surface of oceans, lakes and rivers warms up and ascends into the sky as tiny droplets of water or vapour. When the water vapor gets colder it becomes liquid and forms clouds.

Once the liquid clouds get too heavy to stay in the atmosphere they fall back to earth in the form of rain, hail, snow or sleet and return to our oceans, rivers and lakes. This ensures the continuity of this life giving cycle and results in freshwater being constantly available on Earth’s surface.

However though the Earth’s surface is covered with 70% water only 2% is drinkable making it a precious resource. Most of us take fresh water for granted but there are one billion people who do not have access to safe, clean, drinking water.

I grew up in a city in India and water shortages/rationing are part of my earliest recollections. Having access to tap water only in the early hours of the morning or late evening made it imperative to store water in buckets and tubs or for drinking, in clay pots called “matkas” . There were times when the water stored was insufficient and it became necessary to purchase it from men who carried it around in large “bladder” like contraptions and swore that it was drinkable.

In India hand pumps and tube wells remain the most common source of water to this day and rely entirely on ground water which is often unsafe for consumption due to the presence of iron, nitrates, arsenic and fluorides. Diarrhea is the third leading cause of child mortality and is caused by the lack of safe drinking water along with hygiene and sanitation. Some other countries whose citizens lack access to safe drinking water are Pakistan, Uganda, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Mozambique, Somalia and the Congo.


So Why Do We Need Water?

  • To help our bodies retain a normal temperature
  • To cushion our joints
  • To protect our spinal cord
  • To eliminate waste through perspiration, urination and bowel movements
  • To carry nutrients and oxygen to our cells
  • To protect our body organs and tissues
  • To maintain energy levels and brain function
  • To moisten the tissues in our ears, nose and mouth
  • To boost our skin health by balancing the water and oil on our skin and increasing its elasticity

The average percentage of water in our bodies is 60% and the average person carries one to five pounds of water. The connection between water and us is un-disputed. It is the reason for our existence, prosperity and wellbeing and is second only to the air we breathe.

Scientists have discovered that water is available everywhere in space and is a combination of INTERSTELLAR WATER and the REMNANTS OF STARS.

Delivered by asteroids, meteorites and comets billions of years ago, WATER IS THE STAR WITHIN EACH AND EVERY ONE OF US.

Until next week..

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June 15th, 2023

What is Cook Laugh Live?

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What is Cook Laugh Live?

Veggies Loose Weight

COOK LAUGH LIVE is a food and lifestyle blog whose aim is to make cooking fresh, wholesome food a pleasure and not a chore.

Our recipes look and taste delicious, are simple to prepare and use inexpensive seasonal ingredients available in your local supermarket or grocery store.

Food is the basic need of every human being and is crucial for our physical and emotional wellbeing. It is the source of energy for all our physical and mental activities and should be viewed as an essential life skill.

SWEET, SALTY, BITTER or SOUR food is easier to digest when it is cooked plus cooking kills germs and improves the taste of the food. Preparing simple meals at home allows you to be creative, as it is unlikely anyone would notice if you skipped or changed one ingredient or two. Sharing with family and friends can contribute to your overall health, happiness and dare I say it, sense of culinary achievement. In other words if the Chef’s Hat fits wear it. Haha!!

SOME BASIC RULES FOR HOME COOKING:

  • Use fresh, healthy ingredients.
  • Use organic whenever possible
  • Avoid adding too much salt, sugar or fat
  • Cook enough food for leftovers which can be enjoyed the next day or frozen
  • Experiment with different recipes and learn about other cultures and tastes
  • Invest in a good kitchen knife and non-stick skillet or wok
  • Purchase a meat thermometer so you can cook foods to the right temperature
  • Use separate cutting boards for meats, vegetables and fruits
  • Keep HOT food hot and COLD food cold

In our quest for a long and healthy life we cannot underestimate the importance of LAUGHTER which has numerous health benefits. Laughter can provide a boost to our immune system, relax our muscles, aid in circulation and digestion, lower anxiety, release tension and improve our mood.

Laughter enables us to bond easily and quickly with other people (a real ice breaker) and it is said that funny, humorous people tend to be intelligent, sociable and more resilient to whatever life throws their way.

Last but not least in the HELLO PLANET segment of Cook Laugh Live you will find interesting, informative and occasionally entertaining blogs/posts. We will present lifestyle topics related to food, travel, health and wellbeing that we hope you will enjoy reading and sharing.

So COOK simple, LAUGH lots and you will LIVE well, at least most of the time.

Until next week..

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Cook Laugh Live Hello Planet

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November 30th, 2023

Greece Islands Monuments and Cusine

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Greece Islands Monuments and Cusine

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GREECE IS ONE OF THE MOST POPULAR COUNTRIES TO VISIT WITH OVER 25 MILLION TOURISTS EACH YEAR.

The history of Greece can be traced back to Stone Age hunters and the legacy of Ancient Greece has evolved over thousands of years and is the birth place of several artists, philosophers (Socrates and Plato) and mathematicians. The Greeks also made contributions to sculpture, architecture, literature, theater and modern drama. It is also believed that the Greek language has had influence on English and the Latin based languages.

Greece is one of the world’s sunniest countries with some islands seeing over 300 days of sunshine per year. Greece also has an impressive coastline stretching 16,000 kilometers but is also 80% mountainous. There is no shortage of sandy shores, blue seas, whitewashed buildings and domed churches but Greece is also home to 6000 islands and islets including Santorini, Mykonos, Rhodes, Corfu, Crete, Delos and Samos. The most popular islands are Santorini and Mykonos which are also more expensive and frequented by wealthy businessmen and women, celebrities, A Listers and fashion icons.

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SANTORINI is famous for its caldera, which is circular in shape and entirely filled with water. It is the only sunken caldera in the world and resembles a lagoon. This volcanic depression is surrounded by gigantic cliffs on top of which white painted villages have been constructed and are in stark contrast with the red coloured cliffs. Santorini and Mykonos both offer great nightlife, beautiful beaches and cultural and historical attractions. CRETE on the other hand is the largest island in the country and offers outdoor pursuits such as hiking, canyoning, river trekking, kayaking, sailing and biking.

ATHENS is the capital city of Greece but was also the heart of Ancient Greece. It is the perfect site for visiting ancient sites and monuments of all historical periods which are spread around the city. The rock of ACROPOLIS is closely associated with mythological stories and the view from the top is breathtaking. Artifacts found on Acropolis during excavations are displayed in the ACROPOLIS MUSEUM. Another monument to visit is the TEMPLE OF OLYMPIAN ZEUS which was the dwelling place of the King of the Olympians. The building houses his statue and not to be missed at the centre of the Acropolis, the PARTHENON or TEMPLE OF ATHENA PARTHENOS the Goddess of War.

Dedicated to the God of blacksmiths and craftsmen, the TEMPLE OF HEPHAESTUS is one of the best preserved temples of Greek Antiquity and craftsmen have been selling their handmade creations in the same place for over 2000 years.

The PANATHENAIC STADIUM is the stage of the first modern Olympic Games. It is the only stadium in the world built entirely of marble and is located on top of an ancient stadium.

The TOWER OF WINDS is actually the world’s first meteorological station and was built by an astronomer, Andronikos in 50 BC. It functions as a sundial, water clock, weathervane and compass. The TEMPLE OF POSEIDON is an ancient temple dedicated to the God of the Seas and stands over a high cliff.

The ACROPOLIS is the most visited attraction in Athens and the NIKE TEMPLE and the TEMPLE of ERELHTHEION are also located in the Acropolis. Near the Acropolis you will also find the ANCIENT AGORA which used to be the center of the city with shops, buildings and markets and a gathering place for people and government. The TEMPLE OF HEPHAESTUS is also located in the Ancient Agora.

For a view of the entire city of Athens head to LYCABETTUS HILL which is the highest hill in Athens and offers spectacular views of all the Athen’s landmarks and can also be accessed by the Lycabettus Hill Cable Car. The METROPOLIS CATHEDRAL is the largest and most famous Greek Orthodox Church in Athens.

One of the best ways to experience a culture is through its food and the ancient dishes of Greece were prepared from olive oil, wheat, wine and Greek cheeses like feta and kasseri. Greek cusine has been influenced by the Italians, Pastitsio (Greek Lasagna) and the Middle East, dolma (stuffed grape leaves) Tzatziki (creamy cucumber dip) and filo pastry (baklava).

A mention must be made of Greek street food – home made pies, souvlaki, fish burgers, paper cones containing battered fish, small fried shrimp, anchovies or sardines. Bougatsa (pastry with soft custard filling or koulouri, choice of bagel (soft and chewy or hard and crunchy).

Greek Yoghurt can be enjoyed on its own or with a drizzle of honey or for the more adventurous sun dried octopus and feta stuffed calamari. Must try dishes for vegetarians are Vlita (boiled greens in lemon and olive oil) and Fasolakia ( green bean and potato stew).

GREECE is recognized worldwide for its mouth watering cusine and the dishes below are just some examples:

  • TRIGONA PASTRIES - triangles of filo covered in sticky syrup and filled with cream
  • KEFTEDES – traditional meatballs
  • SOUVLAKI - chunks of skewered pork served on pita bread, onions, tomatoes and tzatziki sauce
  • LUKUMADES – fried doughnut balls covered in honey and cinnamon
  • TARAMASALATA – classic dips such as tzatziki (yoghurt, cucumber and garlic), melitzanosalata (aubergine) and fava (creamy split pea puree)
  • DOLMADES – vine or grape leaves stuffed with rice, herbs, seasonings and meat
  • SAGANAKI - an appetizer made with fried kasseri cheese
  • MOUSSAKA - a traditional casserole made with eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes and beef or lamb
  • KOLOKYTHOKEFTEDES – courgette, feta cheese and herb fritters
  • PASTITSIO – layers of pasta and meat sauce topped with Greek béchamel sauce
  • SPANOKOPITA – savoury spinach and cheese pie
  • KOLOKIHTOPITA – pumpkin pie spiced with cinnamon
  • KOLOURI - soft centered bread rings covered in sesame seeds

So experience Greece for its sandy beaches, stunning landscapes, breathtaking views, exceptional architectural and cultural heritage, its cusine and most of all its hospitable people.

expedia.com

Until next week..

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October 26th, 2023

Traditions and Festivals of Vietnam

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Traditions and Festivals of Vietnam

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VIETNAM HAS ONE OF THE RICHEST CULTURES IN SOUTHEAST ASIA AND WHETHER YOU ARE IN HANOI OR THE CAPITAL, HO CHI MINH CITY, YOU WILL FIND YOURSELF CAPTIVATED BY TRADITIONS, CEREMONIES AND RITUALS.

Vietnamese festivals often showcase national heritage, dance and music performances, dragon boat races and street parades.The HUNGRY GHOST FESTIVAL is when families pray to their ancestors and offer them traditional food and wine.

TET NGUYEN DAN or TET is the name for the Chinese New year and signifies a feast on the first day of the year and also occurs on the first day of each Lunar year.The Vietnamese people return to their homes to celebrate and traditionally visit the graves of their ancestors before TET. They also decorate their homes with flowers and red flags and prepare the traditional dish Banh Tet.People visit Pagodas on New Year’s Eve to pray for luck and health.There are lion dance parades and firecrackers and gongs are used to scare off evil spirits.

Vietnamese celebrate INDEPENDENCE DAY on September 2nd every year with parades and fireworks and ceremonies to raise and lower the national flag.

WANDERING SOULS DAY occurs every year on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month.This is a significant holiday in Vietnam and observed by all Vietnamese who believe in the existence of good and evil.According to legend the gates of hell open on this day letting naked and starving souls escape. The night before Wandering Souls Day families offer prayers, flowers and fruits at the graves of their ancestors.Those who have families return home and find lots of food on their family altars and tablescovered in offerings including meat and fruit. Cash and clothing made of shredded paper is burned for spirits to use in the afterlife.

LIM FESTIVAL is a distinctive artistic and cultural activity that highlights the unique culture of the Red River Delta.On the day of the event hundreds of people march together wearing traditional vibrant costumes. To honour the local deities singers line up in front of the entrance of the Hong Van Mausoleum and sing. Quan Ho folk songs are performed by traditionally dressed men and women who serenade each other aboard dragon boats.

FULL MOON FESTIVAL or MID AUTUMN FESTIVAL is when Vietnamese people march with lanterns of different forms and colours on the day of the year, when the moon is at its fullest.Children’s groups perform in the streets and receive masks, paper lanterns and toys. The festival includes lion dances and moon cakes.Round or square in shape Banh Trung Thu is a classic mooncake box made primarily with lotus seeds and powdered beans.

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PERFUME PAGODA is one of the most well known pilgrimage sites in Vietnam and is viewed by the Vietnamese as a sanctuary for the worship of Buddha and Avalokitesvara (the Bodhisattva of Compassion) and HUONG TICH CAVE prayer is one of the festivals most significant events.People touch the golden trees in this area and pray for money and children.Magnificent dragon dances are performed amid the Trinh pagodas and its picturesque surroundings.

HUE CITY hosts the HUE festival every two years and the day was first established to celebrate the cultural and historical significance of the former capital of Vietnam.Several performers recreate numerous historical moments from the Nguyen Dynasty providing a glimpse into feudal Vietnam.The HUNG KINGS TEMPLE FESTIVAL is celebrated every year and can be witnessed at the Hung Temple where hundreds of lanterns float into the sky on the eve of the festival.

THE VIETNAMESE LOVE THEIR FOOD and one of the places to find traditional Vietnamese cuisine is in the open air markets, where single dish food stalls offer dishes whose recipes have been passed from mother to daughter for generations.Cheap, tasty and easily available PHO the national dish of Vietnam, is a salty broth with rice noodles, chicken or beef, herbs, star anise, cloves and cinnamon.BUN CHA is small patties of seasoned pork and slices of pork belly grilled over a charcoal fire and served with a broth, rice noodles and crab spring rolls.BANH XEO is a crispy crepe made from softened sheets of rice paper and stuffed with pork, shrimp and bean sprouts.BUN BO NAM BO is a bowl of vermicelli noodles with tender slices of beef, peanuts, herbs and bean sprouts.GOI CUON are fresh spring rolls packed with salad greens, meat and seafood.

CAO LAU is thick noodles similar to the Japanese Udon noodles with wonton crackers, pork broth and herbs.BANH MI is a baguette containing cheese, cold cuts, pork belly, cucumber, pickled vegetables, pate and chilli sauce.Popular street foods are BOT CHIEN which is crispy chunks of rice flour dough served with slices of papaya, shallots, green onions, chilli sauce and rice vinegar and HU TIEU NAM VANG, a broth made with boiled pork, liver, quails egg and shrimp.A hearty soup BUN RIEU is a combination of crab, tofu, ground pork and herbs with a soft egg on the side.BANH CAN is bite sized savoury pancakes, a combination of rice batter, quails eggs and green onions. A vegetarian offering is NOM HOA CHUOI which is banana flowers tossed with lotus root, pickled carrots, cabbage, papaya and mango.Savoury or sweet sticky rice XOI is a popular breakfast item.

It is estimated that about 27% of the world’s DUCK POPULATION lives in Vietnam so it is no surprise that a popular dish in Vietnam is TIET CANH a soup made from congealed duck blood.Vietnam is also the world’s second largest coffee producer and coffee in Vietnam is tasty, cheap, has a strong distinctive flavour and the iced version is very refreshing. Vietnamese Egg Coffee ( CA PHE TRUNG) is a creamy meringue like foam perched on top of the coffee.

Vietnam’s long coast line offers white sandy beaches and crystal clear waters.Ha Long Bay which translates to “descending dragon” is a spectacular bay and hidden among the 1600 limestone grottos and jaw dropping caves are floating villages resting on rafts.The PHONG NAH-KE BANG NATIONAL PARK is part of the Annamite Mountain range and has an outstanding limestone karst ecosystem.The park comprises a dense tropical forest and underground rivers.It is also home to the second largest cave in the world, HANG SON DOONG and to a variety of terraced, suspended and intersecting caves.The park also shelters Asiatic Black Bears, Tigers and Saola or ASIAN UNICORNS, one of the world’s rarest large mammals.

VIETNAM is also home to Snow Leopards, Honey Bears, Barking Deer, Mongooses, Jackals, Palm Civets, Langurs, Macaques, giant Lizards, Crocodiles, Pythons, Cobras and some 600 species of land and water birds.

The most important part of Vietnamese culture stems from the teachings of Confucious and the importance of structure and family.Vietnamese see themselves as part of a larger group that includes family, community and country.Vietnam offers a fascinating mix of old and new attractions but it is relationships and the concepts of duty, honesty and respect that are important to the Vietnamese people today, as they were two millennia ago.

Until next week..

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September 27th, 2023

Norway - Happy and Healthy

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Norway - Happy and Healthy

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WHY ARE NORWEGIANS SO HAPPY AND HEALTHY?

NORWAY (the way north) is one of the world’s most prosperous countries and Norwegians are one of the happiest people on Earth. Supported by an incredible culture and landscapes that include breath taking glaciers, mountains, plateaus and over one thousand fjords, of which the most famous are Sognefjord, Lysefjord, Hardangerfjord and Geirangerfjord.

The history of Norway has been influenced by the terrain and climate of the region. About 10,000 BC following the retreat inland of the great ice sheets the earliest inhabitants were Hunter Gatherers whose diet included seafood and game, particularly reindeer as their staple foods. Round 5000 to 4000 BC the earliest agricultural settlements began to appear around the Oslo fjords. Settlers survived the ice covered region and through the age of the Vikings suffered hardships and war. The Vikings became known as traders, colonisers and explorers but they also laid the foundation of one of the most stunning countries in Europe. Norway is proud of its Viking heritage and was home to some of the best known Vikings in history including Erik the Red, Eric Bloodaxe and Harald Hardrada.

Two thirds of Norway is mountainous with a coastline carved by deep glacial fjords and some 50,000 islands. The sea is deeply imprinted on Norway’s cultural identity and home to hundreds of rivers and lakes and the coastline offers excellent opportunities for fishing. Soaring mountains, high plateaus and green forests are the backdrop for outdoor pursuits such as hiking, skiing and dog sledding.

PULPIT ROCK or Preikestolen juts up above the blue ribbon of the Lysefjord near Stavanger. The plateau was formed by an expansion of rock thousands of years ago and its sheer rock walls, beauty and location make it one of Norway’s most famous landmarks.

TROLLTUNGA which means the devil’s tongue is a rock that rises 3871 ft. above the blue mountain rimmed Lake Ringedalsvatnet. This dramatic cliff is located deep in fjord heartland east of Bergen. Legend has it that a cheeky troll did not believe that he would turn to stone when he stuck his tongue out to make fun of the rising sun. Whimsical Troll figures are a popular souvenir and appear to have a special place in Norwegian culture.

The incredible HANGING STONE at Kjeragbolten is a glacial boulder jammed in a crevice between two sheer cliffs way above the Lysefjord. It is believed that the Kjerag boulder got stuck between the two rock faces some time during the last ice age.

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RONSDANE is home to the country’s most splendid alpine terrain and its remote wilderness is inhabited by reindeer, bears, Lynx, moose, musk ox and wolves.

ROMSDALSEGGEN RIDGE is one of the top hiking trails in Norway. It is an impressive rocky ridge from whose summit you can view plunging waterfalls, glacial waters and craggy peaks.

What better way to view Norway’s natural spectacles than by train? A masterpiece of Norwegian engineering The FLAM Railway is known for its tunnels that wind in and out of the mountains or the BERGEN TRAIN LINE which has been voted the world’s most beautiful train journey. Take a road trip along Norway’s west coast, its picture perfect villages and its organic farms and agriculture. In summer there is almost endless daylight and the Aurora Borealis often shimmers overhead but in the winter the sun may not rise for weeks. The AURORA BOREALIS happens all year round but is best seen in the winter months of November to March and the best location would be the city of TROMSO located above the Arctic Circle. Norway is a combination of white sand beaches in the north, dramatic mountains in the south and spectacular fjords. A cruise on a Norwegian fjord is truly an escape from everyday life and a chance to leisurely witness some of the world’s most eye catching natural wonders.

Oslo the capital of Norway is a modern art hub, recognized for its historical and cultural museums, creative food scene, striking new architecture such as the MUNCH MUSEUM and iconic Opera House as well as a waterfront promenade. One of Oslo’s top attractions is the VIKING SHIP MUSEUM which showcases the Vikings and the Oseberg Ship which is said to have survived from the Viking era. The FRAM Museum tells the story of Norwegian polar exploration and the MUNCH museum showcases the works of Edvard Munch who is best known for his expressionist paintings and his most famous work, “The Scream”. Another famous son is Roald Dahl who is known the world over for his wonderful children’s stories such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and The Witches.

Some of the world’s finest salmon is bred in Norway’s fjords and coastal seawaters and are renowned for their freshness, nutritional value and flavour. Norway exports salmon to over 100 countries worldwide and local economies are built around cod, salmon and herring fisheries.

Typical traditional Norwegian food includes MEATBALLS made with beef, lamb, pork and reindeer meat, LAPSKAUS which is a stew made with potatoes and leftover meats, FARIKAL a stew made with mutton and cabbage or SODD which is a soup made with mutton, meatballs, carrots and potatoes. Dried salted cod fish soaked in lye called LUTEFISK and POLSE MED LOMPE a Norwegian hot dog sausage wrapped in a potato flatbread are also enjoyed by the locals. A very unusual dish is SMALAHOVE which is a boiled sheepshead served with potatoes and rutabaga and definitely not everyone’s favourite dinner meal.

Norway has a strong tradition of enjoying bread and crisp breads, primarily as open sandwiches with different types of toppings both at breakfast and lunch and WAFFLES traditionally topped with jam. Pickled herring, smoked salmon (REKELASK) and BRUNOST a sweet brown cheese with a distinctive caramel flavour are enjoyed by Norwegians of all ages. FLIPPFISH or TORRFISK ( salted and dried cod) and RAKFISK ( salted or fermented trout or char) and LEFSE (griddle cakes) are other foods that Norway has to offer to its inhabitants and tourists as well. Norwegians enjoy sweet treats like berries, waffles and ciders to cured meats and some of the world’s best cheeses and flat breads.

SO FROM ALL ACCOUNTS THE PEOPLE OF NORWAY ARE HAPPY AND HEALTHY AND ARE THE BENEFICIARIES OF AN ENVIABLE LIFESPAN. They are known for their love of saunas and ice baths but there are other factors including wealth, social mobility, political freedom, strong community connections, equal access to healthcare and a healthy work life balance that form part of the equation. The Norwegian diet is rich in fish and vegetables, good fats, omega 3s and nutrients. Their culture reflects important values of tolerance, respect and equality and a strong emphasis on living life in the outdoors. Norwegians have close ties to nature and enjoy skiing, hiking, boating, ice fishing and dog sledding. Spending time in nature has a positive impact on their mental and physical wellbeing and is deeply embedded in their identity as a people.

Until next week..

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August 31st, 2023

Peru & The Children Of The Sun

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Peru & The Children Of The Sun

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THE INCA, WERE ABLE TO DEFINE CONSTELLATIONS, STARS, THE PASSAGE OF TIME, THE CHANGE OF SEASONS AND TO BUILD STRUCTURES THAT TOLD THEM WHEN TO PLANT AND HARVEST THEIR CROPS. HOWEVER COULD THEY HAVE ALSO BEEN AWARE THAT THEY INHABITED ONE OF THE MOST DIVERSE ECO SYSTEMS ON THE PLANET?

The third largest country in South America, PERU was also the land of the magnificent INCA who founded the city of Cusco, now considered the cultural hub of Peru, which was the military and political seat of power for the Incan emperor. The arrival of the Spanish conquistadors put an end to the Incas short lived Peruvian empire but they left behind magnificent stone work, 30,000 kms of paved roads in some of the most rugged terrain in the world and architecture. The best known of these is MACHU PICHU located over 2000 meters above sea level in the Andes Mountains. One of the Seven Wonders of the World the site stretches over five miles and features over 3000 stone steps. It is unparalleled in its engineering and location as its stone temples rise directly out of the mountain peaks and its stone gardens reflect the cultivation skills of the Incas.

Less than 50 miles from Machu Pichu in the Sacred Valley are the Maras Salt Mines. This series of over 3000 saltwater ponds was built over 500 years before the Inca Empire and is connected to an under-ground network of ponds. As the sun evaporates the water, the salt that remains is extracted by local families who own the pools.

PERU is also known for the Rainbow Mountain or Montana de siete Colores which offers a unique view of technicolour streaks created by various mineral deposits and is considered one of the most stunning sights in the world. Lake Titicaca, approximately 3 million years old is the largest freshwater lake in South America and the highest of the worlds’s navigable lakes. The Colca Canyon is the second deepest canyon on Earth and is about 70 km long and surrounded by typical Andean vegetation. It is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

Peru has three main eco systems that exist within its borders mainly the Andes Mountains, the Amazon and the Desert Pacific coastline and is one of the most bio diverse countries on the planet. It is a wonderful wildlife destination as there are over 75 natural protected reserves housing some of the rarest animals on Earth. The Amazon River and its surrounding forests are home to thousands of species of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and insects. This includes the Green Anaconda, the Electric eel, the Black caiman, the Giant Otter and the Pink River Dolphins.

The Amazon Rain Forest covers 60% of the country and in addition to birds, mammals and insects it is also home to tens of thousands of species of plants. Peru’s rain forest is terribly important as it soaks up carbon dioxide from the air and is a living space for remote Amazon tribes. Un-fortunately this region is under threat from logging companies, oil exploration, farming, chemical spraying and mining.

The Andean Condor known as the largest flying bird in the world both by weight and wingspan and the big cat of the Amazon the Jaguar, is venerated in Peru and often depicted in Aztec culture. There is also the Humboldt Penguins, the Peruvian Pelicans, Sea Lions, Cormorants and Inca Terns, Macaws, Tufted Capuchin and Woolly Monkeys, Sloths and the national bird of Peru, the Andean Cock of the Rock.

The Andean Spectacled Bear is the last remaining short faced bear in the world and the Peruvian Hairless Dog is one of their most distinctive species and the Puma one of their rarest.

Which brings me to the Llamas and their stockier cousins, the alpacas who have been an intrinsic part of local culture and folklore for thousands of years. The llamas are renowned for their incredible stamina and indigenous people rely on the sale of alpaca meat and wool as a source of income. Alpaca wool comes in 22 colours and is recognized as one of the world’s most luxurious fabrics.

LIMA, the capital of Peru, is the business hub of the country but has also been described as the gastronomical capital of South America. A range of climates from high altitude to low allows for the growing of an impressive diversity of produce with over 3800 types of potatoes and 55 types of corn and the country’s native aji chiles that are often pureed into sauces. Peruvian food is a mixture of European stews, sauces and casseroles and Chinese stirfrys. Peruvians love to eat Chifa which is a blend of Chinese and Peruvian ingredients and includes dishes like soups, stirfrys, fried rice and noodles. Traditional Peruvian staples such as maize, potatoes and rice have been combined with Spanish, Basque and Asian food. More varieties of corn are grown in Peru than anywhere else in the world and it can be found in almost every meal.

Incredible CEVICHES, Peru’s national dish, made with raw fish soaked in citrus juice and other fish dishes can be found along the coast and are usually combined with milk, chili peppers and potatoes. CUY or roast Guinea Pig is considered a delicacy and is served whole with its legs and feet intact and alpaca meat is usually served with yucca, a tasty root vegetable. TAMALES and HUMITAS (steamed corn cakes) are common as well as a variety of potato based dishes usually served with soup. Peruvians first discovered wild potatoes over 10,000 years ago on the shores of Lake Titicaca and the Incas were the first potato cultivators in the world. Potatoes are available in a variety of shapes and range in colour from blue to yellow to pink and bright purple.

Peruvian cusine has gained influences from European, African and Asian cultures over the past seven hundred years. Other dishes worth mentioning are PAPA a la Huancaina, potatoes in a delicious spicy, cheesey sauce served with hard boiled eggs, crackers and olives. PAPA Rellena which is a potato croquette made with ground beef and served with salsa or AJI de GALLINA, a chicken stew made with cheese, walnuts and cream, a comfort food that can be found in restaurants and road side stalls. LOMO SALTADOS, juicy strips of soy marinated beef or alpaca served with rice and french fries is another Peruvian favourite. Mention must also be made of CAUSA, a potato casserole served cold as a salad or side dish and ROCOTO RELLENO which are stuffed spicy peppers. ANTICUCHOS de Corazon is not for everyone as it is marinaded Beef or alpaca heart grilled over charcoal. A signature dish in Peru is Arroz con pato (rice with crisp seared duck confit) and PICARONES, a snack similar to a doughnut, a mix of sweet potatoes and pumpkin, sweet and spicy. Peruvian Panettone is a delicious cross between cake and bread combined with raisins and candied fruit and chocolate has been a part of life in Peru for centuries.

Peruvian culture is a mix of Hispanic and native traditions and the surviving traditions and cultures have been passed down for generations. The ancient language of Quechua is still widely spoken and ceremonies celebrating the Sun God, INTI RAYMI and PACHAMAMA , the worship of the Earth continue, just as they did six hundred years ago in the reign of the INCA, the Children of the Sun.

Until next week..

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August 3rd, 2023

The Fire Dancers of Hawaii

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The Fire Dancers of Hawaii

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MARVELLOUS SEA VOYAGERS, THE POLYNESIANS ARRIVED IN HAWAII ON SAILING CANOES WITH ONLY THE STARS AND WIND TO GUIDE THEM ON THEIR PERILOUS JOURNEY.

These early explorers sea faring efforts were rewarded when they landed on islands that offered beautiful beaches, lush forests, mountains, valleys and most importantly, tropical weather.

What they did not know was that Hawaii consists of 137 islands and is the exposed peaks of a great under-water mountain range known as the Hawaiian Emperor Seamount Chain. This mountain chain was formed by volcanic activity and is home to the tallest mountain in the world, the Mauna Kea Volcano. More than half of the Mauna Kea lies underwater with only 13,802 feet visible above water.

The early Hawaiians lacked a written language so their culture was entirely oral, rich in myth, legend and knowledge of plants and animals. With no written language to assist them the important aspects of learning and teaching centered around the Storyteller, Chanter and HULA DANCER. HULA was the non-verbal way of sharing stories, religion, traditions and mythology through the medium of dance and this process still happens today. Ancient HULA is called ” Kahiko “ and is about telling stories with movement and expression that matches the pace of the dance with the rhythm of the hula drum. This ancient dance form tells the story of the Hawaiian people and their land and is also a way to connect with the spirit of ALOHA or love.

FIRE DANCING also began hundreds of years ago by the Maori people of New Zealand who were the first originators of “poi”. Poi is a Maori word meaning “ball on a string”. Maori warriors originally used poi as a form of exercise to train for battle or hunting. It allowed them to develop wrist strength and flexibility to handle tools and weapons which eventually evolved into a form of storytelling and dance. Traditional poi was never lit on fire and the lighting of poi balls actually began in the 1950’s and was mainly to entertain tourists.

The FIRE DANCERS, men and women called “nestinaris” dance barefoot on embers but this process is too quick to leave behind any burns. If the performance includes “FIRE EATING the dancers are aware to only put the flames in long enough to extinguish it with their lips or breath, and are careful not to inhale. Dancers also protect themselves by wearing natural, non-synthetic fibers to avoid the risk of melting their clothes on to their skin. Their costumes range from body paint to elaborate head dresses, jewellery, skirts and belts made from grass, palms, flowers, seashells, feathers and coconuts.

Dance movements are set to all types of music involving ukuleles, conch shells, flutes and drums and fire dancing has grown to incorporate dance from other cultures such as salsa and belly dance.

FIRE POI along with Fire Knife and Fire Staff are some of the most anticipated acts at Hawaiian performances known as Luau’s. The Hawaiian Luau is a celebration with family and friends and the enjoyment of a variety of Hawaiian foods ranging from fresh pineapple to salty pork. These foods are a reflection of the ethnicities and flavours of multiple cultures that live together in Hawaii.

Some of the foods served at a Luau are:

  • Kalua Pig - a pig fully roasted and served shredded, is an essential part of any Luau.
  • Poi - a creamy sticky paste made from taro root.
  • Lomi Lomi Salmon - cold salted salmon served with marinated onions and tomatoes.
  • Chicken Long Rice - a type of chicken soup made with vermicelli noodles, fresh ginger and onions.
  • Macaroni Salad
  • Squid Luau - the leaves of the taro plant simmered with squid, octopus and coconut milk.
  • Poke - raw Ahi Tuna mixed with seaweed, soy sauce and sweet onions.
  • Pipikaula - Short rib or plank steak salted, seasoned and partially dried.
  • Lau Lau - a traditional Hawaiian dish involving meat wrapped in Ti and Kalo leaves.
  • Haupia - a pudding cake made with coconut milk and sugar.
  • Kulolo - Traditional desert made from taro corms, coconut milk and sugar.

In a rapidly changing world, Hawaiians not only share connections through their dance, culture and story telling but also show that they are a compassionate and peaceful people with a deep commitment to the environment and to each other.

Thankfully the spirit of ALOHA is alive and well.

Until next week..

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July 6th, 2023

Magic of Morocco

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Magic of Morocco

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MOROCCO – CULTURE, CATS & CANNABIS

One of the most visited countries in Africa, Morocco is home to the magnificent Atlas and Rif mountains, blue coastlines, wild beaches, the desert skies of the Sahara, sand dunes and camel rides.

In the Spring the mountain slopes are covered with colourful wildflowers, birds, butterflies, Barbary sheep and shaggy mountain goats.

The Mediterranean climate lends itself to agriculture visible in the terraced fields of wheat and barley, the orchards of apples, cherries, walnuts, figs and olives and its forests of pine and juniper.

The medinas or Old Towns are walled cities with winding streets and alleys too narrow for cars but dominated by bicycles and donkey carts. A FLYING CARPET or its modern day equivalent, a FLYING TAXI (expected to be operational at the Paris Olympics in 2024) would definitely be an advantage in this crowded environment. These Old Towns can be found in all the major cities of Morocco including Marrakech, Rabat, Fes, Tangiers, Casablanca, Meknes and the blue pearl of Morocco, Chefchaouen. Chefchaouen is also referred to as the Blue City of Morocco as its traditional houses are painted blue. The colour blue represents the Sky and God and reminds people to lead a spiritual life. It also helps to keep the mosquitos away and the houses cooler in the warmer months. The medinas are historical centers and it is where you will find the Koranic schools, palaces, fountains, gardens, hammans (public baths) mosques and minarets. Traditional Islamic architecture is visible everywhere in richly decorated buildings with arches and walls covered in carved stucco and wooden doors painted turquoise.

Local artisans create beautiful pottery and hand cut tiles in impressive patterns for table tops, fountains and wall mosaics. Wood workers create intricate bowls, plates and bangles and in the tanneries men wade through pits which contain among other things cow urine and pigeon poop, to tan hides that become bags, belts, jackets, boots and Moroccan backless slippers.

Morocco’s souks or marketplaces are crowded with shops and stalls that sell spices, carpets, lanterns, textiles, clothing, lamps, jewellery, tagines, souvenirs and good luck charms. Hamsas are good luck charms in the form of a palm shaped amulet and used in jewellery and wall hangings. At night the souks come alive with loud music, local dancers, story tellers, snake charmers and all things food.

FOOD is a very important part of Moroccan culture as is the elaborate use of spices. The most popular and recognized dish is COUCOUS which is made from crushed, steamed wheat and served with spicy lamb and chicken stews or as a salad. TAGINES are lamb or chicken with vegetables prepared in a round clay pot with a cone lid, which is also called a tagine. HARIRA is a classic lentil and chickpea soup or you might want to try the RFISSA which is stewed chicken, lentils and onions on a bed of pastry or bread.

Equally popular are skewered meats or KEBABS and KHOBZ which are round loaves of bread or you could try a fava bean or split pea soup called B’SSARA. Another food offering would be BASTILLA a chicken or pigeon pie or ZAALOUK which is a dip made with eggplant or SHAKSHUKA, a breakfast offering of poached eggs, tomato sauce and sheep milk cheese. Moroccan Mint Tea is drunk several times a day and is often served in the traditional way, in a silver teapot on a silver tray.

Moroccan culture also includes cats who are much loved and admired for their cleanliness. Wandering street cats are one of the most astonishing sights in Morocco as there seem to be more of them than people. The majority of cats are strays and bowls of water and food scraps are often left out for them by the locals. However in spite of their best efforts there are cats that are scrawny, mal-nourished and injured, struggling to survive.

On the subject of survival nearly all of Morocco’s marijuana production can be found in the Rif Mountains and its growth and cultivation is intended to improve the lives of the poor who live in the region. Cannabis has been grown and cultivated for centuries with much of the cannabis produced being for local consumption (KIF a combination of tobacco and marijuana leaves smoked in pipes by local men).

Moroccan law does not permit the use of hashish for recreational purposes and it is intended only for medicinal, cosmetics and industrial use. It is worth noting that Morocco produces over half of all hashish sold around the world.

Morocco is a beautiful country – an intriguing blend of people, culture and traditions and probably one of the few places on Earth, where you can still feel the magic of the past in the present.

Until next week..

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April 28th, 2023

The Flying Farmers of Amalfi

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The Flying Farmers of Amalfi

Lemons Lemons

It is said that you can eat an Amalfi lemon the same way that you would eat an orange or an apple.

Amalfi Lemons are unique to Italy and are considered the most prized lemons on earth. Grown along the Amalfi coast in rich volcanic soil, the lemons are larger than regular lemons, each weighing a minimum of 100 gm.

A stunning stretch of coastline fifty kilometers long, the Amalfi coast is referred to as the Lemon Capital of the world. It is also recognized for its un-paralleled beauty, sheer cliffs, cascading towns, grand villas, vineyards and the extraordinary farming of hillside lemon groves 400 meters above ground.

Originating in the eleventh century, they are the result of farmers successfully cross breeding their lemons with bitter oranges and it is safe to assume that the original version of the fruit was inedible.

So what makes these lemons so special? Could it be their sweet/sour taste? elongated shape and protruding nipple? Or is it their large volume of juice? The answer is all of these plus their sweet edible skin rich in essential oils, phytochemicals, Vitamin C and minerals.

While the Mediterranean climate and rich volcanic soil are ideal for growing Amalfi Lemons, the steep terrain can only be described as daunting and formidable.

Vertically arranged in layers, the lemon trees are separated by limestone walls. Poles made of chestnut wood are used to create scaffolding around the trees. These structures allow farmers to walk over them for pruning and harvesting. To the casual on-looker, the farmers gravity defying leaps gives them the illusion of “FLYING” over their trees. What is even more remarkable is that the average age of the farmers is 63.

Traditionally the harvest has been done by hand as the rocky outcrops make it impossible to use machinery. Lemon growers ascend and descend thousands of steps a day, filling and carrying baskets that could weigh as much as 25 kg each. Even though no fertilizer or pesticides are used in their production the Amalfi Lemons are not classified as organic.

The Amalfi Lemon trees were recognized by the early Romans for their beautiful, fragrant flowers and their longevity as they can live up to a hundred years. Frescoes and mosaics found in Pompeii and Herculaneum show that elite Roman households decorated their homes and gardens with lemon trees. They were aware of the healing properties of the lemons and their symbolic and ornamental usefulness.

Trading ships docked at the port of Minori, and it is believed that Arab traders were amongst those responsible for the distribution of these unique lemons throughout the Mediterranean, so much so that by the 19th century, Amalfi Lemons had assumed great economic and social importance.

In addition to its use in food, lemons are used to make medicines, vitamins, beauty products, cleansers, candles, perfumes and even invisible ink.

Visitors to Amalfi or “LEMON HEAVEN” can indulge in locally prepared LIMONCELLO which is a traditional lemon liqueur, GRANITE DI LEMONI or lemon ice, fresh Mozzarella baked in lemon halves, lemon marinated ANCHOVIES, smoked cheese served on a bed of lemon leaves, SPAGHETTI or RISOTTO AL LIMONE and the hard to resist TORTA AL LIMONE or CANNOLI with lemon syrup.

Until next week..

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December 14th, 2023

Holiday Decor and Gifts Wrapping

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Holiday Decor and Gifts Wrapping

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IT IS A WONDERFUL TIME OF YEAR WHEN TWINKLING LIGHTS, COLOURFUL DECORATIONS AND FESTIVE MUSIC SET THE TONE OF WARMTH AND WELCOME IN ALL OUR HOMES.

THE COLOUR TRENDS for decorations this Xmas season are more muted and lean towards greys, pale blues, silver, blush pink, cream and peach. These gentle shades create a subtle background for other elements of your décor including ornaments and table settings.

The center piece in most homes is the Xmas tree and trees decorated from top to bottom in blush pink, gold baubles and cheery gold lights or orange, peach and gold create warmth and cheerfulness. Pink adds a modern and un-expected twist to Christmas.

For those who prefer something brighter and warmer and a little more luxurious, emerald greens and rich burgundy ornaments, ribbons and wreaths are the way to go.

Create vintage charm with retro inspired ornaments, classic holiday motifs, antique inspired santas and snow globes. Check out second hand stores and antique shops for interesting items with old world charm or add woodland vibes with mushrooms, deer, owls, squirrels and hedgehogs and mythical woodland creatures. Nature inspired décor continues in popularity in 2023 as do nutcrackers, snowmen, angels and Santa Christmas ornaments.

WHITE XMAS TREES are versatile and can be the perfect backdrop for ornaments in metallic shades, soft pastels or even jewel tones. Add a little touch of luxury with tiny Chanel handbags, chandeliers, harps and champagne decorations.

ALTERNATIVE XMAS TREES are also gaining in popularity and metal tree stands as well as wooden trees are now available or if you have a house plant with sufficient branches you could light it up with mini lights and some Xmas ornaments.

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Xmas is also the season for giving and here are some holiday gift wrap ideas that are not only easy to put together but also inexpensive. Use brown craft paper instead of wrapping paper and tie it together with re-cycled twine, ribbon or wool. Personalise each gift with vintage tags, small ornaments, silver or gold bells or snowflakes. Pine cones, berries, cinnamon sticks, fresh herbs such as rosemary, ginger bread cookies with a sprinkle of icing and miniature store bought candy canes add a personal touch to any gift.

Of course no holiday celebration would be complete without TABLE DÉCOR and here are some simple ways to decorate your Xmas table.

It is important to start with the centerpiece as it helps set the theme. A fruit bowl, a tall vase or candles all make attractive table decorations. Place ornaments in a glass bowl and place in the center of the table to create a colourful centerpiece. Small ice buckets also work well in place of a fancy glass bowl. Fresh flowers can be expensive at this time of year so substitute with artificial flowers or a small potted plant, holly, pine branches, popcorn bunting, tinsel and flameless candles of varying heights. Add runners, placemats, pine cones, place cards and don’t forget Christmas crackers, a fun activity which the whole family can enjoy.

So let your creativity shine and make this holiday season colourful, exciting and vibrant. Infuse your home with warmth and cheerfulness and create a memorable experience for family and friends.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

Gifts Under $50 at Amazon

Until next week..

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November 23rd, 2023

Boots a Popular Style of Footwear

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Boots a Popular Style of Footwear

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BOOTS ARE WORN FOR THEIR FUNCTIONALITY AS WELL AS STYLE AND FASHION.

FUNCTIONAL aspects would include protection of the foot from water, snow, mud, insect bites or extreme temperatures. Boots provide ankle support for activities that require traction and durability such as hiking.

Soft leather ankle boots were worn by nomads in eastern Asia and the Inuit contrived winter boots out of caribou or seal skin.28The earliest evidence of boots has been found in Spanish cave paintings depicting a man and a woman wearing fur lined boots, you guessed it, made from animal skin. Early boots consisted of separate leggings, soles and uppers worn together to provide extra ankle protection.

Shoes designed for walking through snow, water or mud may be made using leather, rubber or canvas and are mostly worn with socks to prevent blisters, soak up sweat and to improve the grip of the foot inside the boot. Before socks were available foot wraps were used instead.

Speciality boots have been designed for many types of outdoor activities including riding, skiing, snow boarding and ice skating.

Fashionable boots for women are available in a variety of styles and range from tapered or spike heels, pointed toes, zipper closures and platform soles. Knee or thigh high boots and cowboy boots have been worn by celebrities such as Dua Lipa, Bella Hadid and Emily Ratajowski and the popularity of boots as fashion footwear has never been greater. Cowboy boots have been sold in stores such as Urban Outfitters for many years and models for high fashion brands such as Bottega and Miu Miu have walked the runways in head turning boots.

Countries known for producing high quality boots are Italy, France, England, Spain and Portugal and respected brands are Martens, Grenson, Redwing, Timberland, Clarks, Frye and Ugg.

One of the major advantages of boots versus shoes is their height which cushions the ankles from impact which could result in a sprain or break. Boots are available in six widths – B ( extra narrow) C (narrow) D(regular) E (wide) EE( extra wide) or EEE (triple wide). “M” and “BM” both indicate a medium width in women’s shoes.

Fashion boots come in a wide variety of styles from ankle to thigh length and are used for casual or formal wear. Ankle boots are the most widely worn style of fashion boots by both men and women and they vary in length from booties or shoe boots to boots that cover the lower part of the calf. Calf length boots are typically worn under pants or with long skirts.

Knee length boots come in a variety of colours and materials and can be worn with leggings and are immensely popular.

Throughout our history humans have always worn some type of footwear and leather boots were intended to protect the feet and knee joints. The original boots were made from leather or exotic skins like ostrich, crocodile and snake.

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Leather boots are a true fashion icon and have their own style but FASHION BOOTS are worn for style rather than practical reasons. The defining character of the boot is the length of its shaft. Ankle boots have a shaft length of fewer than 8 inches, calf length boots 8-15 inches, knee length boots 15 – 19 inches and over the knee boots have shaft lengths of 19 inches or more.

Things to consider before purchasing new boots for winter are water and snow protection and the lining which adds another layer of warmth and insulation. There are THREE basic areas for boot fitting, Instep, Heel and Feets Ball. Boots must be tight on the INSTEP to ensure that the foot does not lift too much. When the boot is new the FOOT’S HEEL slides slightly upward but as you keep wearing the boot the out sole will get more flexible and lifting on the heel will decrease. When trying on a boot the widest part of the foot called “ball” should rest on the widest part of the boot’s sole to obtain better balance and comfort in the step. Buying boots half a size up may be a more comfortable fit especially if your feet are wider or you prefer to wear thicker socks.

Some of the more popular boot choices are:

  • The UGG Classic Ultra Mini Boots
  • Tory Burch’s Shearling Hiking Boots
  • Jimmy Choo’s Buckled Shear Boots
  • Doc Martens
  • Stella McCartney’s Trace Alter Boots
  • Dior Frozen D Ankle boots
  • Cucinelli’s and Burberrys Shearling Lined Boots
  • L L Bean Boots

Boots are a versatile addition to your wardrobe and no matter your age, shape or budget boots can instantly transform any look. Flat knee high boots are perfect for day wear but black knee high boots are a classic and can be worn with a range of outfits. They look equally good paired with skinny jeans and a T shirt or with a short skirt or dress for an evening out on the town.

Leather Boots are worth investing in for their durability and longevity so if you are thinking of purchasing a new pair of boots Steve Madden, Clarks, Nine West, Aldo, Browns, Holt Renfrew and Amazon all have amazing inventory to offer and prices to suit every budget.

Amazon Search: Boots For Woman

Until next week..

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November 9th, 2023

The Beauty and Functionality of Area Rugs

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The Beauty and Functionality of Area Rugs

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THE OLDEST KNOWN SURVIVING RUG IS THE PAZYRYK RUG AND DESPITE ITS AGE, THIS CARPET IS EVIDENCE OF AN EXTREMELY ADVANCED TECHNIQUE PRACTISED BY HUMANS IN THE 5th CENTURY BC. THE RUG WAS FOUND IN 1949 IN THE PAZYRYK VALLEY OF SIBERIA.

The original rugs were woven from reeds and grasses and were meant to keep floors warm but as animal domestication progressed more sophisticated rugs were produced which eventually became symbols of class and wealth. The Persians perfected the method of weaving gold and silver into wool rugs but many other cultures in Asia developed different techniques and materials which then slowly spread to the European continent. Some of the most exquisite rugs ever created were Persian rugs with a floral central medallion that seemed three dimensional. The prices of Persian carpets have always been higher than other handmade carpets due to the craftsmanship involved in weaving a carpet with even thickness.

Very old rugs feel gritty, sandy or even smooth whereas more modern rugs feel fuzzy since their yarn still possess a fibrous surface. Over time the underside will become polished or abraided through friction created by being walked on it. Colour or rug dye quality can also determine how old a rug is as prior to 1863 carpets were dyed using only natural vegetable dyes. These dyes tend to naturally fade with age, exposure to sunlight and chemicals. Ancient rugs were mostly hand knotted and there are several kinds of hand knotting such as Turkish, Persian and Spanish. The most common materials used are wool, cotton, silk and jute. Weavers tie all the threads by hand and then clip the yarn to form a pile. Rugs created during the Renaissance period that have survived are considered priceless antiques.

The motifs in rugs or carpets are loaded with various meanings ranging from good luck to bad luck, happiness, joy, love, strength, power, fertility, heroism, head ornaments, coffins, evil eye, snake, dragon, wolf and the Tree of Life to name a few.

 

Wool and cotton were the primary materials used in rugs but in the mid fifties synthetic materials such as nylon, polyester, polypropylene and viscose began to be introduced. Some rugs can also make use of fur strips, textile scraps, metal threads, animal hair, coconut fiber or even multiple fibers. There are three categories of rugs – Handmade rugs, Hand knotted rugs and machine made rugs.

 

Modern rugs are a great way to add style and comfort to your home. They come in a variety of colours, patterns, sizes and materials. FLAT WEAVE living room rugs are ideal for contemporary spaces as they are light weight and easy to maintain.

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COLOURFUL AND BOLD living room rugs can add a bright splash of colour instantly transforming the space. STRIPED rugs (one stripe or two) are a classic design that are un-likely to go out of style. Rugs with GEOMETRIC patterns are a great way to add visual interest to a room whether you choose neutral or vibrant colours.

ROUND rugs are perfect for creating a relaxing atmosphere as well as visual interest. Rugs with an unusual shape, cut outs or scalloped edges are very popular with homeowners looking for unique designs. BOLD COLOUR BLOCK rugs are a focal point in a room and act like a piece of art.

 

PERFORMANCE rugs are ideal for dining and living rooms but wall to wall carpet is more appropriate for bedrooms as they absorb sound. VINTAGE rugs look great in both traditional and modern living rooms.

 

MOROCCAN rugs add texture and pattern or you can choose a traditional Berber rug which have been popular for many years due to their neutral tones and plush pile.

 

PERSIAN rugs will add an elegant touch to any space and can be used in any décor scheme. Persian rugs are hand knotted and are a superior quality which is why they are viewed as an investment.

 

Natural fibers such as sisal, jute or seagrass are making a comeback in the designer world due to their warmth, texture and durability. Geometric rug styles are still popular today and can be made in almost any quality from tufted, to machine made to luxury hand knotted. The growth in abstract design is due to their countless colours blended together which makes them easy to place in modern spaces.

 

From natural fibers to Moroccan prints and whether you are looking for something classic and timeless or bold and modern there are rugs to suit every style and budget. A rug is an easy way to add a splash of colour or a bold pattern and can be a focal part of the room. Neutral colours such as olive green, pale yellows, rust and clay tones will help to create a warm and inviting space. Rugs are a trendy home décor item but the key to choosing the right rug for your home is in complimenting the traditional, transitional or contemporary design of your existing furnishings and colours.

Until next week..

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October 19th, 2023

The Ghostly Presence of Stingy Jack

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The Ghostly Presence of Stingy Jack

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CARVING PUMPKINS, TRICK OR TREATING, WEARING SCARY COSTUMES ARE SOME OF THE TRADITIONS OF HALLOWEEN BUT HOW DID HALLOWEEN EVOLVE INTO THE CELEBRATION IT IS TODAY?

According to legend Halloween began in Ireland some 2000 years ago and has its roots in the ancient Celtic festival of SAMHAIN. This was a reminder that winter, the “dark season” was coming and the pagan religious festival was held to welcome the harvest at the end of summer. It was believed that the souls of people who had died that year would travel to the other world and that other souls would return to visit their homes. People would light bonfires and disguise themselves by dressing up in costumes to avoid being terrorized by evil spirits. In the eight century Pope Gregory the third designated November 1st as a day to honour saints and soon after All Saints Day came to incorporate some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before All Saints Day was known as All Hallows Day which later became HALLOWEEN.

In the 17th century the people of Ireland and Scotland would carve faces into turnips, potatoes or beets and illuminate them with candles and place them along the streets to ward off evil spirits. The tradition of carving turnips orginated in Ireland and was based on a legend about a man named STINGY JACK who was known for his evil deeds. Stingy Jack made a pact with the devil that he would never go to hell but when he died he found out that heaven did not want him so he was forced to wander the Earth as a ghost forever. The devil gave Jack a lump of coal in a carved out turnip to light his way which is how the tradition of Jack O Lanterns began.

When Irish immigrants settled in the USA they brought their traditions with them but since there were no turnips they used pumpkins instead. Over time the traditions spread and Americans began to dress up in costumes and go around their neighbourhoods asking for money and food. This evolved from the original Celtic tradition of distributing food to the poor and hungry who in turn would offer up prayers for the dead. This expanded into handing out treats to prevent kids from playing pranks which evolved into what is known as Trick or Treating.

The traditional colours of ORANGE and BLACK also trace back to the festival of Samhain as black represented the death of Summer and orange the Autumn harvest season. BLACK CATS were considered a symbol of the devil and witches and have been linked to spookiness ever since. Bornfires were used to light the way for souls seeking the afterlife which attracted insects which in turn attracted SPIDERS and BATS who according to medieval folklore are the harbingers of death. Vampire Bats are the only species of bat that do indeed drink blood.

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Kids Trick or Treating were originally handed out fruit, nuts, coins and toys but in the 1950’s candy companies started marketing small individually wrapped candies. The popular tricoloured candy called candy corn was originally called “chicken feed”. Skittles are the most popular Halloween candy followed by M&M’s, Snickers and Reese’s Cups and the sale of candy and costumes can add up to billions of dollars in retail revenue every year.

There is no better occasion to dress up than Halloween and there are four types of costumes to choose from – Historical, Fantastical, Modern and Dance. Princesses and Superheroes are the most popular costumes for kids and witches are the costume most frequently chosen by adults.

Popular costume choices for kids this year would be the Mario Brothers, Barbie movie cow girl, Captain Marvel, Glow in the Dark witch, the Little Mermaid, Pokemon, Ninja warrior, Zombies, Mummies and Ghosts.

Top choices for adult costumes would be Barbie and Ken, Wednesday Adams, Harley Quinn, Batman, Ted Lasso, The Joker, Ariel from Little Mermaid, Spiderman, Batman, X Men, Queen Charlotte from Bridgerton, Taylor Swift and Beyonce outfits and of course Ghosts, skeletons, vampires and zombies.

Halloween parties are an ideal opportunity to wear what we could not normally wear. People can don scary costumes or dress up as their favourite celebrity and indulge in traditional Halloween foods. Pumpkin pie, Pumpkin bread, candy or caramel apples, pancakes, peanut butter spider cookies, witch finger cookies, mummy muffins, spiderweb pops, Halloween sugar cookies, pumpkin cupcakes or cheesecake, devilled eggs or get creative with a Halloween Charcuterie Board.

Halloween is an important and fun part of our culture and eagerly anticipated by over four million children between the ages of 5 and 14. In addition to the traditional orange and black candy buckets there are several new colours that might appear at your door. Teal, blue, purple or pink buckets could signify a child with disabilities and help raise awareness of their different health conditions. It also helps a child with special needs to feel included in the festivities.

  • TEAL BUCKET - the child has food allergies and cannot eat traditional candy treats so non-food treats would be appropriate
  • PURPLE BUCKET – the child has epilepsy
  • BLUE BUCKET - the child has autism
  • PINK BUCKET – the child has cancer

You may choose to celebrate Halloween singing, dancing, watching a horror movie, telling ghost stories, trick or treating or visiting a haunted house but it will all be part of the communal celebration of “mischief night” as the Irish would say.

Stay safe, stay warm and HAPPY HALLOWEEN.

Until next week..

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October 12th, 2023

Sweater Power

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Sweater Power

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STYLE, WARMTH AND COMFORT, SWEATERS ARE AN IMPORTANT PART OF OUR WINTER WARDROBES. A VERSATILE TYPE OF CLOTHING USUALLY KNITTED OR CROCHETED IT CAN BE WORN ON TOP OF OR UNDER ALMOST ANY OUTFIT.

I have always associated sweaters with my mother as my earliest recollections are of her knitting tiny sweaters for myself and my siblings. My mother started the process of knitting sweaters for me before I was born and as she did not know if her baby was going to be a girl or a boy she took the safe route and knitted sweaters in white, mint green, lemon and lilac. Once I made my debut she switched to pinks, reds, orange and purple using intricate knit patterns garnered from knitting books and magazines.

Hand knitting of wool had been practised for 2000 years but it was not until the 15th century that the first knitted shirts or tunics were produced on the English Channel Islands of Guernsey and Jersey. Made from thick, heavy wool they were a practical solution for fishermen to keep warm on the high seas. Wool was naturally insulating, water repellent, anti microbial and dry. The Jersey spread across Europe and was adopted in the United States and called a sweater. The initial purpose of sweaters was based on efficiency versus fashion.

Since their humble beginnings sweaters have evolved into fashionable clothing items known for their comfort, versatility and style. SWEATER comes from the word sweat as the earliest sweaters were worn by rowers and were intended to produce sweat and reduce weight. Sporting activities such as golf, boating, cycling and tennis require comfortable outfits as do outdoor activities such as hiking and camping.

The term sweater often refers to a pullover, jumper or jersey but it can also refer to a cardigan, a garment that opens and fastens down the front. The most popular necklines are crew necks, V neck and turtle neck and knitted fabrics that have a softer feel than woven fabrics. Women’s sweaters can be worn belted and leggings are commonly worn with long sweaters or sweater dresses. Sweater fashion is determined by its colours, patterns, texture, sleeves, necklines, waistlines and fabric that should breathe and not irritate the skin.

When choosing a wool sweater you will have choices of style ( pullover, cardigan, crew neck, quarter zip) weave and knit and the choice of fabric including Lamb and Alpaca wool, Merino and Cashmere which is synonymous with luxury and then there is the ARAN SWEATER known for its stitching patterns and is considered a practical choice as well as a fashion statement.

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The most iconic of the early sweaters the ARAN SWEATER is from the Aran Islands in Ireland. These sweaters were known for their intricate cable knit patterns which were visually appealing but also helped to increase the sweaters insulation and thickness. Aran sweaters became a symbol of heritage and were often passed down from one generation to the next. A myth about the Aran sweater was that the stitches were linked to family names. If a fisherman was lost at sea the family would be able to identify the body by the stitch on the sweater which unfortunately was and still is a myth.

Aran knitting stitches are hand knitted and are believed to be symbolic of nature and the sea. The patterns on Aran sweaters are based on Irish tradition and each stitch represents a different meaning. The Basket, Blackberry, Cable, Trellis, Honeycomb, Irish, Diamond and ZigZag are all examples of Aran stitches and are intricately beautiful. Celebrities such as Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Bosworth and Sarah Jessica Parker are all known to have an Aran Sweater or two as part of their wardrobe.

The first sweaters were heavy, dark blue pullovers meant to protect against the cold but in the 1920’s designers such as Coco Chanel and Jean Patou started introducing Sweaters as part of their collections in a variety of natural and synthetic fibers that could be worn by men, women and children. They have become essential clothing items loved for their comfort and versatility. Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren also joined the bandwagon and produced sweaters that were statements of elegance and style. Casual men’s sweaters were popularized by brands like THE GAP and H&M in particular the V neck and crew Neck styles.

There are also seasonal sweaters such as the ones worn around Christmas called “Ugly Sweaters” or Jingle Bell Sweaters, a trend possibly initiated by Bill Cosby on The Cosby Show and Ugly Sweater Parties. Sequined cardigans can add an extra touch of glamour when dressing for special occasions or a black polo neck sweater forever immortalised by THE BEATLES and STEVE JOBS.

In the future, smart fabrics and advancement and innovation in sweater design are likely to change the way we think about clothing but the warmth, comfort and durability of the sweater will ensure that it remains a staple in our wardrobes for many years to come.

Until next week..

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September 14th, 2023

Beyonce - Destiny's Child

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Beyonce - Destiny's Child

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THE RENAISSANCE WORLD TOUR WILL BE BEYONCE’S HIGHEST GROSSING TOUR WITH EARNINGS EXPECTED TO HIT THE TWO BILLION MARK AND FANS ARE PREPARED TO PAY STEEP PRICES TO SEE THEIR FAVOURITE STAR.

Beyonce Knowles Carter started performing as a child and rose to fame in the 1990’s as a member of the R & B group DESTINY’S CHILD, one of the best selling girl groups of all time.

Thanks to her musical accomplishments, powerful vocals, videos and live shows she is a multi Platinum Grammy Awards winning artist. There is no doubt that Beyonce’s fame is built on a foundation of immense talent and distinct musical style but I think it is her on stage performances that consistently impress her fans. What Beyonce wears on stage is part of a multi step design process requiring much thought and advance planning.

The question is how many people realize that what a STAR wears on stage is an integral part of the overall experience? So whether you are Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Nicki Minaj, Selena Gomez, Madonna or Britney Spears, if you are going on tour you will need an equally talented and skilled COSTUME DESIGNER.

A Costume Designer along with his or her team will be responsible for the creating and tailoring of costume pieces, budget and time frame for the project. They also schedule fittings and oversee costume alterations and repairs. Costume design typically includes hair, makeup, masks and shoes.

The first step for a costume designer is to understand what is the artist’s individual style which differs from performer to performer. The next step is to meet with the set designer and the choreographer to make sure that the outfits will work with the stage design, the songs, the choreography and costume changes. This is followed by the sketch process as sketches must be presented to the artist for them to choose what would work best for their concept.

The materials and structure of the costumes must enhance the visual effect of the performance and are key to allowing the artist to perform, dance and remain comfortable on stage. How well a piece is cut and tailored to the body determines the fit and staying power. Fabrics, sequins and crystals are used for additional visual effect and to focus the audience’s attention on the performer.

Plus a costume must be designed to be seen from a distance and allow for freedom of movement. Arm holes are cut higher so that a performer can raise their arms without damaging the outfit and the costume has to withstand several “wearings” a week.

Speedy costume changes require precise coordination with the choreographer and may even determine how a costume is designed. Tricks for removing and donning costumes include velcro, industrial snaps and zippers.

Of course no costume is complete without a pair of eye catching shoes, booties, biker boots, over the knee boots or sneakers. Big performances such as Beyonce’s Renaissance World Tour entail the artist and their backup dancers to require stacked heels and rubber soles to ensure that the artist feels safe and comfortable while dancing. Shoes also help to complete the costume and look good.

Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour costume designers have combined her signature style with lots of silver and sequins and they have used established brands such as Valentino, Thierry Mugler, Alexander McQueen and Balmain. Balmain catsuits and mini dresses have been a constant throughout Beyonce’s tour but she has also showcased a bodysuit with a cropped black jacket by Givenchy, a skin hugging mini dress by Versace, a Dolce and Gabbana lace dress with a corseted bodice and a rose pink gown by Ralph Lauren. Her most memorable look was the “HANDS” bodysuit in black and red created by the Spanish brand Loewe.

These looks are all different and Beyonce has worn at least one designer from the country or city she is visiting while she’s on stage. The designs of Cartier, Chanel and Tiffany’s have also been on display during her Renaissance World Tour.

Whether its through her vocals, dancing or visual storytelling Beyonce always gives her fans something worth remembering but I think we could all agree a big part of the experience of going to a Beyonce show is the fashion. Fans plan months in advance what they will wear to a show, with some investing just as much in their outfits (usually made out of metallic fabrics that mirror the ones worn by Beyonce) as in the tickets.

BEYONCE’S DESTINY was for her to be the pop culture phenomenon of the 21st century but her on-going commitment and advocacy of the Black Community, her powerful and successful role as a businesswoman, her films and documentaries production company, her investment in clothing particularly IVY PARK which is an athleisure clothing line owned by Beyonce, fragrances, her startup and technology ventures and her philantrophy make her a true role model for women everywhere. She is a music icon who uses her platform to advocate for positive change. BEYONCE is a socially responsible celebrity who has touched the lives of millions. Here’s to QUEEN BEY.

Until next week..

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August 24th, 2023

Arm Candy

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Arm Candy

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BELIEVE IT OR NOT THERE WAS A TIME WHEN CLOTHING HAD NO POCKETS SO MEN CARRIED HANDBAGS FOR COINS AND SMALL PERSONAL ITEMS.

The creation of luxury handbags is often credited to Gucci, Louis Vuitton, Hermes etc. but they were not the originators of the handbag. It was a woman, Harriet Jane Cave, the founder of H.J.CAVE (UK) who was the first to design leather goods for women. In 1851 Harriet began making women’s handbags which would be the precursor of the first ladies designer handbags.

In the eighteenth century women wanted purses that were not bulky so “Reticules”or “Indispensables” made of silk and velvet and carried with wrist straps were created. Embroidered bags with steel, silver or gold frames inlaid with precious stones were acquired by the rich as symbols of their wealth and power.

In the early 1900’s the term “handbag” began appearing but it was most often used to refer to men’s hand luggage. The Industrial Revolution led to the use of synthetic and cheaper materials which made the production of the Clutch, Purse or Handbag more affordable for the middle classes. The rising popularity of the handbag in the 20th century began to transform them from simple practical items to symbols of wealth and status. Designer bags evolved from simple pouches used to carry coins and other small personal items to fashion accessories.

CHANEL introduced the chain strapped quilted, leather handbag in 1955 which was to become one of the most iconic bags of all time. Maison VALENTINO was founded in 1960 whose innovations played a significant role in the luxury market. Louis VUITTON launched its canvas bags whose timeless design and craftsmanship made it a status symbol for the wealthy and famous. Hermes is probably best known for its Kelly Birkin bags which are among the most desired bags in the world.

Purses, Clutches, Totes and Baguettes were a fashion statement and a symbol of power and influence. The style, materials, prices and brand names became just as valuable as the functionality of the purse itself. Luxury fashion houses such as Chanel, Vuitton and Hermes became an influential part of culture and over the years the bag played a fundamental role in women’s clothing.

The demand for practical handbags grew and designers started to develop all sorts of handbags for specific occasions. The Louis Vuitton Coussin is a puffy, monogram embossed leather purse with a unique feature that allows it to be used for a casual affair as well as more formal ones. The Bottega Venetta padded cassette bag is a cross body maxi weave bag. The Chanel Boy Bag introduced in 2011 is available in several colours. The Givenchy Antigona Lock Bag and the Gucci Marmont Matelasse Bag have retained their popularity over the years.

The Chanel Flap Bag (quilted chain strap clutch bags) are the choice of celebrities everywhere as is the Bottega Venetta Hobo Bag and the Balenciaga City Handbag designed with a tasseled fringe on the zipper.

Fashion has evolved over time but the desire for a luxurious look has remained constant. Luxury brands such as Versace, Prada, Caroline Herrera, Burberry and Balenciaga always keep this top of mind and are constantly modernizing and adjusting to every generation.

In today’s world luxury brands continue to thrive with new designers and styles emerging every year. Many luxury handbag brands have adapted to the changing times by creating more affordable lines or collaborating with mass retailers. In recent years quality has become an ethical issue and many brands are now opting for eco friendly fabrics and production methods. Some labels are also promoting sustainability and are using up-cycled materials like straw and discarded materials like bottle caps. The Macrame Bag by Chloe, the Re-Nylon Collection by Prada and Mushroom Leather Bags by Stella Mcartney are some examples. In the end handbags must express a wearer’s personality and be a mix of style, fun and function.

The Hermes Birkin is considered the most collectable bag in the world and most Birkins retain or increase in value and can see resale prices over $200,000. Why are Hermes bags so expensive? Its because they use Barenia leather for some bags which is the most expensive and rare of all leathers. Besides many Birkin bags come encrusted with diamonds and white and gold hardware which immensely increases their value. Kim Kardashian was spotted at a soccer game in Osaka, Japan carrying a rare Himalayan Hermes Birkin handbag and she is not the only celebrity who is a fan of “arm candy”.

On the subject of diamonds, the 1001 NIGHTS DIAMOND PURSE is priced at 3.8 million dollars. The heart shaped bag is covered in more than 4000 yellow, pink and colourless diamonds and is admired for its exquisite workmanship and attention to detail.

In case you are in the market for a designer handbag, crossbody bag, work tote, shoulder bag or a satchel but would like something a little less expensive, here are some designers worth checking out.

  • Coach
  • Kate Spade
  • Fossil
  • Marc by Marc Jacobs
  • Guess
  • Tory Burch
  • Rebecca Minkoff
  • Matt & Nat
  • Foley & Corinna

Most of us will probably have to stick with window shopping when it comes to the super expensive, luxury handbags but I am going to leave you with the memorable GUCCI tagline “ Quality will be remembered long after price is forgotten”, at least by some.

Until next week..

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August 10th, 2023

The One and Only Barbie

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The One and Only Barbie

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IS THERE A DOLL AS ICONIC AS BARBIE?

Ruth Handler’s decision to create a 3 dimensional doll led to a leggy 11 inch plastic doll making her debut at the New York Toy Fair in March 1959. She was the first mass produced doll in the USA but nobody could have imagined that one day she would become one of the most iconic toys in history.

Barbara Millicent Roberts made her first appearance dressed in a black and white swimsuit, her signature ponytail and heels. The appearance of America’s most famous doll was moulded on a flirtatious, sexy, high end call girl cartoon character, named Lilli. Lilli was regularly featured in a German newspaper and was so popular that in 1955 Lilli dolls made their way onto shelves in tobacco shops and Adult stores and became a popular gag gift for men. In time Lilli became popular with children as well maybe due to the fact that she was made of plastic and had the ability to change clothes, a rare feature at that time.

Ruth Handler recognized that there was a niche in the market for a doll that would allow little girls to imagine the future just as action figures inspired little boys. She and her husband Elliot (also a co-owner of Mattel) enlisted the help of Jack Ryan, an engineer who worked at Mattel, to help her create her own version of Lilli which was a far cry from the baby dolls that were prevalent at that time.

Mattel acquired the rights to Lilli and Jack Ryan was responsible for developing Barbie’s iconic twisting waist and bendable knee joints that clicked. A bright shade of pink was chosen as Barbie’s signature colour along with a logo that created a sense of fun and childhood.

Barbie was created as a small town girl based in the imaginary town of Willows, located in Wisconsin. She had no parents or offspring and an early version of the doll can be found in the Wisconsin Historical Museum. She was originally marketed as a Teenage Fashion Model with blonde or brunette hair but the blonde version was more popular than the brunette. Some things never change.

350,000 Barbies were sold in the first year and since then she has had more than 200 career changes on her resume and is the epitome of a career woman. Amongst her long list of professions are Airline Pilot, Doctor, Olympic Athlete, Presidential candidate, Business Executive and Astronaut. Barbie lifted her way into space four years before Apollo 11 landed on the moon.

Barbie’s rise in popularity was also related to the rise in colour TV and by sponsoring Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club Program, Mattel became the first toy company to broadcast commercials aimed at children. Not without controversy, Barbie incited criticism for having “too much figure” so by the turn of the 21st century the doll was given smaller breasts, a wider waist and slimmer hips. In 2016 Mattel released three additional doll sizes, petite, tall and curvy and with other skin tones and colours.

As much a global brand as Coca Cola Barbie has her critics who have accused her of consumerism and materialism due to her amassing of cars, houses, clothes and exotic pets. Regardless, Barbies and Barbie related products are sold in 150 countries and generate a billion dollars in sales annually.

Barbie is also a very popular collectible and collectors are willing to pay a fortune for rare Barbie dolls. Here are some Barbies that fetch eye popping figures:

  • The 1959 Barbie in mint condition is one of the rarest Barbie’s in the world and is valued at $27,000
  • The Karl Lagerfeld Barbie is valued at $6000 and the Career Doll Barbie is $3495
  • The Stefano Canturi Barbie has an actual diamond necklace and was auctioned to raise money for cancer research. The final bid was $302,000 making it the most expensive Barbie ever sold.

Barbie has had glamorous clothes created for her by the likes of Givenchy, Dior, Yves St. Laurent and Calvin Klein to name a few and the Supermodel Twiggy became the first celebrity to be immortalised as a Barbie doll and was later followed by Cher, Nicki Minaj and others. Barbie has long inspired filmmakers (she has appeared in 40 movies) and artists such as Andy Warhol who created a portrait of her in 1986.

Released in 1992 the worlds best selling Barbie is “Totally Hair Barbie” which has sold 10 million dolls worldwide and more recently two Barbies from the Space Discovery Line launched on board a rocket (February 2022) and spent several months on the International Space Station. After they returned to Earth the Barbies joined the National Air and Space Museum collection.

Inspired by watching her daughter, Barbara, play with paper dolls Ruth Handler created a plastic version called Barbie, the epitome of the all American Girl and the inspiration for artists, designers and film makers, the latest of which is Greta Gerwig’s BARBIE (2023) starring Margot Robbie and Ryan Gosling.

Recognized the world over for her beauty, fashion sense and enviable lifestyle, this 19 year old teenager is forever frozen in time, but through a diverse range of dolls and evolving messaging, Barbie has helped change perceptions regarding diversity, gender and inclusivity and to encourage an active lifestyle in all who follow her.

Until next week..

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July 27th, 2023

Ageing Biologically Versus Chronologically

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Ageing Biologically Versus Chronologically

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SO HOW OLD ARE YOU? REALLY?

EVERYONE OF US AGES AT A DIFFERENT RATE AND OUR GENES ARE NOT THE ONLY FACTOR THAT DETERMINES HOW SLOWLY OR QUICKLY WE AGE..

In our society the main way to define age is chronological, which is the length of time you have existed and is simply your age in years. You cannot modify your chronological age.

On the other hand biological ageing is the gradual damage to cells and organs in your body and is the difference between healthy ageing and un-healthy ageing. Ageing is characterized by inflammation and un-healthy ageing leads to inflammation and premature ageing.

Biologically you could be younger than your chronological age and it could be the reason you feel younger than your chronological age. Conversely you could also feel older than your chronological age due to poor health and chronic diseases such as diabetes.

How well we live is determined by the lifestyle choices we make as regards diet, sleep, nutrition, exercise and how well we cope with stress and the toxins in our environment. Chronological age is always going to increase but you have some flexibility with your biological age. Implementing changes to your diet and lifestyle in your thirties will give you a head start on the ageing journey which typically begins in your forties.

One cannot mention ageing without mentioning telomeres as certain lifestyle choices (obesity, lack of exercise, un-healthy diet) can increase the pace of telomere shortening. Telomeres are DNA protein structures found at both ends of each chromosome. In plants, animals and humans chromosomes are the thread like structures that reside in the neucleus of cells and carry information from cell to cell. Telomere shortening could impact your lifespan and health and is associated with heart disease, osteoporosis, diabetes and increased cancer risk.

A diet rich in antioxidants, fiber, soy protein, legumes, healthy fats such as fish, avocados and nuts, fruits and vegetables, some dairy products, herbs and spices, honey, black rice, green tea and coffee (in moderation) will assist in the battle against ageing prematurely.

In addition to diet you should also stay active with regular exercise. No matter your age WALKING is one of the most powerful and simplest ways to live longer. Walking can tighten your skin, aid in weight loss, improve blood circulation and boost your metabolism and energy levels. By adding walking to your daily routine you can strengthen your immune system, joints, muscles and bones. BRISK WALKING can also help you to maintain a healthy weight and lose body fat as it is a low impact, moderate intensity exercise, but the key is to walk at least 30 minutes a day and do it regularly.

In addition to exercising and a healthy diet, people who age well also have the following traits in common:

  • They don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • They have a positive mindset.
  • They enjoy an active social life with family and friends.
  • They also know to “change things up” every once in a while.
  • They view the cup as half full and not half empty.

When all is said and done the process of living longer and ageing, chronologically or biologically, is best summed up in a quote from the ancient philosopher, Seneca.

“LIFE, IF WELL LIVED, IS LONG ENOUGH.”

Until next week..

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July 13th, 2023

The Titan and Claustrophobia

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The Titan and Claustrophobia

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TIME and OXYGEN running low, the fate of the missing Titan submersible and its passengers transfixed millions of people around the world.

It is safe to assume that many of those people watching this real life situation un-fold were claustrophobic as 12% of the world’s population suffers from claustrophobia.

Passengers who have made the trip to the under-water grave of the TITANIC disregarded the danger and described their experience as eerie and surreal. Mesmerised by the magnitude of what they saw, they felt no hunger or thirst and the fact that they could die did not seem to bother them. “ You have to be a little crazy to do this sort of thing”, maybe, but you definitely cannot be claustrophobic.

For those who are claustrophobic like myself, imagining a metal tube a few meters long, with a metal sheet for a floor, no place to stand and everyone sitting close together is the stuff of nightmares. It is claustrophobia and not the cost (okay that too) that would prevent me from boarding a submersible and descending into a cold, dark, inhospitable and un-welcoming ocean.

The cause of anxiety disorders such as phobias are thought to be a combination of genetics and life experiences. Claustrophobia can be the result of being trapped in a small space or the victim of bullying or abuse during childhood but it is essentially an irrational fear. A fear of something that is un-likely to cause harm differs from regular fear as it can cause significant distress.

People with claustrophobia typically experience an intense fear of suffocation and a desire to escape so an attack can be very frightening. Fear of enclosed spaces could cause an individual to panic in an elevator, aeroplane, crowded room, narrow stair well, subways, tunnels or a submersible. Claustrophobia occurs when the brain links confinement to danger and triggers panic symptoms.


Some common types of phobias include:

  • Arachnophobia - fear of spiders
  • Hydrophobia - fear of water
  • Acrophobia - fear of heights
  • Aerophobia - fear of flying
  • Agoraphobia - fear of public spaces and crowds
  • Glossophobia - fear of speaking in public
  • Astraphobia - fear of thunder and lightening
  • Xenophobia - fear of strangers
  • Nyctophobia - fear of the dark
  • Trypanophobia - fear of needles and injections
  • Obesophobia - fear of gaining weight

In one of the most claustrophobic movies ever made, BURIED (2010), Ryan Reynolds plays the role of a U.S truck driver, Paul Conroy, who is attacked, kidnapped and buried in a coffin in the sand, in Iraq. He has a lighter, a cellphone and a limited amount of time and air to get himself out of the situation. I mention this because Conroy’s predicament bears some resemblance to the five men on board the Titan. Conroy was encased in sand versus the Titan being immersed in water. He had the flimsy wood of the coffin to protect him and the Titan had chrome fiber and he had limited cellphone capability similar to the difficulty of communicating from the Titan, so far below the surface.

FOUR DAYS when an optimistic world waited and watched that against all odds the complex search and rescue mission involving ships, planes and deep diving robots would be a success and cause for a celebration. FOUR DAYS when the world hoped for a positive outcome, so that the faith and trust of family and friends would be rewarded with the safe return of their loved ones.

As we know, sadly, that was not the case but maybe we can take comfort in the hope that for these deep sea travellers, when one adventure ended another one began.

Until next week..

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June 22nd, 2023

Grow Your Garden – Grow Your Health

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Grow Your Garden – Grow Your Health

Flower Planters Flower Planters

Getting your hands dirty can be therapeutic...

It is that time of year when getting your hands dirty seems like the right thing to do at least for those of us who are lucky enough to have a garden in our backyards.

Gardening is an inexpensive, rewarding and healthy hobby which allows us to spend time in the fresh air and benefit from the absorption of Vitamin D which is an essential daily requirement. A social activity that can be enjoyed with family and friends or with members of a community garden, I think the main reason people garden is for pleasure and enjoyment and for how it excites their senses of sight, feel smell and touch.

If you choose to grow a flower garden the choice of FLOWERS (Begonias, Snapdragons, Geraniums, Petunias) or SHRUBS (Hostas, Azaleas, Hydrangeas) to name a few and COLOURS will determine whether your garden is serene, calm, delightful, colourful or magical. Flowers also support pollinators such as bees, butterflies and moths and apparently Marigolds are a bee favourite. Some of the more popular garden styles are ROCK and WATER gardens and RAISED bed and HERB gardens. The addition of colourful pots and containers and garden art can take the appearance of your garden to the next level.

If you choose to grow a vegetable garden you will also be helping our planet. Growing vegetables without the use of pesticides and herbicides reduces air pollution and damage to the soil. Plants and trees use photosynthesis to take in carbon and release oxygen and their roots stabilize the soil and filter water. A vegetable garden with vegetables that naturally ripen on the vine or stalk is a better choice than ones that are plucked and shipped ahead of their time.

Nurturing plants is also good for our emotional and mental wellbeing and whether you choose to plant a flower, herb or vegetable garden the physical benefits are the same. The physical act of weeding, digging, hoeing or raking works all your major muscle groups and can increase mobility and flexibility. Legs, arms, shoulders, back and abdomen will be strengthened and you will burn calories as well.

A hot new trend, VERTICAL GARDENING is a way to grow flowers, vegetables and herbs in small backyards, balconies and window sills as they require soil, nutrients, water and sunlight but minimum space. Vertical Gardens are ideally suited for small spaces and can showcase the textures, colours and vibrancy of plants in fresh new ways. Bland and boring spaces can come alive by stacking planter boxes in bright colours or terracotta pots with a variety of herbs. Tomatoes, beans, cucumbers and peas can be grown by allowing the plants to attach themselves to string or wire along the sides of a wall, fence or railing.


Essential garden tools

  • Gloves
  • Garden Hose
  • Watering Can
  • Watering Wand
  • Spade
  • Rake
  • Pruning Shears

It should be no surprise that the act of gardening goes back thousands of years. It releases stress, improves our fitness, teaches us patience, helps us to relax, encourages us to be creative and of course by helping ourselves we also help our planet.

Until next week..

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