Friday, March 30, 2007

Three Lakes..

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

This is Lake Windemere, Cumbria, United Kingdom. It is the largest of the lakes that make up the most beautiful and enchanting 'Lake District'. The opening words to this piece were written by William Wordsworth, and this was 'his' country. You can tell that he loved the area, you can see the flowers and you can hear the breeze. This is an area where love can flourish.

Not too far away from here there is another lake. No romantic name this time, I am afraid. It is known as B30, and it contains 1.3 million tonnes of Plutonium. Nobody is quite sure what happens at the bottom of B30, but there are no fish, and birds landing on its surface have to be shot for fear of spreading radiation. Apparently, B30 has leaks and the authorities say that this is to be expected with a tank 50 years old. Did I forget to tell you that it is a tank? B30 is not like Lake Windemere in any way at all. This is as good a picture of B30 as you will ever want to see. This lake is part of the Sellafield Nuclear complex.

Across the world, is another lake up in the mountains of the Ukraine. This lake is no B30 in appearance. It is more akin to Lake Windemere, except that it, like B30 is one of the most radioactive sites in the world. It is Lake Karachai, and is in close proximity to the old USSR Mayak weapons plant. I could find no picture of this lake, but I do remember seeing a picture years ago. It was not a pretty picture like the one of Lake Windemere.

You will not find love in or around either of these lakes. The contents are what is left of fear, mistrust, and hatred. Nothing good ever comes out of those feelings. Nothing good ever can.

Here are two links relating to B30 and Lake Karachai..

A Police Officer Pulls Over A Speeding Car

The officer says, " I clocked you at 80 miles per hour, sir."

The driver says, "Gee, officer I had it on cruise control at 60, perhaps your radar gun needs calibrating." Not looking up from her knitting the wife says: "Now don't be silly dear, you know that this car doesn't have cruise control." As the officer writes out the ticket, the driver looks over at his wife and growls, "Can't you please keep your mouth shut for once?

The wife smiles demurely and says, "You should be thankful your radar detector went off when it did." As the officer makes out the second ticket for the illegal radar detector unit, the man glowers at his wife and says through clenched teeth, "Dammit, woman, can't you keep your mouth shut?

"The officer frowns and says, "And I notice that you're not wearing your seat belt, sir. That's an automatic $75 fine." The driver says, "Yeah, well, you see officer, I had it on, but took it off when you pulled me over so that I could get my license out of my back pocket."The wife says, "Now, dear, you know very well that you didn't have your seat belt on. You never wear your seat belt when you're driving." And as the police officer is writing out the third ticket, the driver turns to his wife and barks, "WHY DON'T YOU PLEASE SHUT UP??

"The officer looks over at the woman and asks, "Does your husband always talk to you this way, Ma'am?"

The wife says "Only when he's been drinking."

Blog Writer's thought of the day

Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough, but not baked in the same oven; a Yiddish proverb

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Hunt Is On..

"Better to be poor and have health, than be rich and have none"

Have you ever come across a more loaded statement than the one above? How many times have you heard somebody say something similar? Nobody wants to be poor in any sense of the word. It is a get-out statement used by those who are not exactly desperately poor, but are not in a position to ever get rich.

There were two things that always immortalized poor for me. Poor Brits invariably had three 'porcelain' Mallard ducks, in loose flight formation, hanging on one wall of their houses, and a picture known as the 'Blue Lady' hanging on another. The 'Blue Lady' had Oriental features, and wore a yellow outfit of the type seen in Japan. Her face was blue, hence the name, and she had quite the most un-Oriental hairdo. The picture was produced by the thousand, and had zero value, material or aesthetic. Rich people prefer the classic oil painting, and in place of the flying ducks, a fine 'real porcelain' or alabaster column atop which sits the 'bust' of Genghis Khan perhaps.

It matters not that all of them were probably produced by some poor, overbearing drunken old faggot, who by virtue of his/her countenance was probably out of work more than he/she were ever in. And on the subject of poor and art, poor old Michelangelo was threatened with death unless he did a darned good job on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. The same applied to the great composers of 'classical' music, all of them having to come up with something better for the birthday party of some drunken old Duke who wanted to upstage his rivals.

Somebody once said that the real difference between rich and poor was that being rich enabled one to eat better. How true!! Everybody appreciates a good hearty meal, except for the nitpicking, finicky mob who are invariably the same people who see more merit in the smile of the 'Mona Lisa' than that of the 'Blue Lady'.

We all search for our personal 'Holy Grail'. The question is this. What does it look like? Is it a beautifully handcrafted, jewel encrusted chalice, or is it just a simple wooden drinking vessel? Does it really matter? Surely the promise that it can bring eternal joy, happiness, or whatever is enough. Can a simple wooden drinking vessel ever be worth as much as the beautifully handcrafted, jewel encrusted chalice? Not if owned by you or me perhaps, but were it the one in which some famous movie star kept his/her teeth, then it may be.

What strange values we place on objects, and were it that it was only limited to objects. So very often, it also applies also to our fellow man/woman.

Monday, March 26, 2007

ET Phone Home..

From the point where you are standing, nowhere on this planet is further away than 12,000 miles. It seems like a long way, yet the world is very much a global village these days. Television, satellite transmissions, video conferencing and e-mail can bring all four corners of the globe right onto the screen you are looking at now. It is a small world. The photograph on the right shows just how small. This is one of the famous three pictures of 'Earthrise', and is seen here as originally aligned.

And if you think that is small, compare our relative size to some of the other babies in our Solar System. Note that size is relative, and not distance. We are the third rock from the left.

Our Sun is 93,000,000 miles away from us, and Pluto is at a distance of 3573,000,000 miles. The nearest star to our Solar System is Proxima Centauri, the smallest of a three star group known as Alpha Centauri. This group is 4.3 light years distance away, where one light year represents 5,865,696,000,000 miles.

We see Alpha Centauri as it 'was' 4.3 years ago. Incidentally, we believe that the Andromeda galaxy is 2.5 million light years away from us!
All of the above is truly awe-inspiring, but what I find so strange is that we know more about space than we do about what is in our oceans and forests.

All distances approximate..

Friday, March 23, 2007

How to Brew a Cup of Green Tea, and more..

Producing the perfect cup of green tea is a tricky process. If not handled properly, those same polyphenols that provide health benefits can ruin the flavor, making the tea taste "gassy." It's particularly important not to over-brew. While it's best to follow the manufacturer's instructions for each variety of green tea, here are some general instructions:
  1. Use one tea bag, or 2 - 4 grams of tea per cup (one to two teaspoons, depending on the variety of green tea you are brewing).
  2. Fill a kettle with cold water and bring to a boil.
  3. After unplugging the kettle, allow it to stand for up to 3 minutes.
  4. Pour the heated water over the tea bag or tea, and allow it to steep for up to 3 minutes. If using a tea bag, remove the bag.
  5. Allow the tea to cool for three more minutes.

OK, so now you know how to do it. Let us move on to why you should do it.

Green tea is rich in catechin polyphenols, particularly epigallocatechin gallate which is a powerful anti-oxidant. It inhibits the growth of cancer cells, it kills cancer cells without harming healthy tissue. It is also effective in lowering LDL cholesterol levels, and inhibiting the abnormal formation of blood clots. The formation of abnormal blood clots is the leading cause of heart attacks and stroke. Green tea consumption can help with:

  • cancer
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • high cholesterol levels
  • cardiovascular disease
  • infection
  • impaired immune function

Red wine contains an anti-oxidant called resveratrol, a polyphenol that limits the negative effects of smoking and a fatty diet. The French and Spanish like their red wine, and it has served them well. There is far less incidence of health problems related to an over-rich diet in France, the home of over-rich food, than there is in the USA.

Smoking is almost a national pastime in France, Spain and Japan, and yet the health related problems in these countries are substantially lower than almost anywhere else.

There are a few web sites that cover the above topic. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions. I will say this though. Of all the places I have travelled, I have seen less amounts of obviously infirm people in France or Spain than I have seen anywhere else. I have not travelled the Orient, so do not have first-hand experience of the area, but I understand that people there live to be older and healthier a whole lot more than in other parts of the world.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

An Austrian Dessert - Linzer Torte

Kaffee-Trinken is a social ritual at a Konditorei, Kaffeehaus, or in the relaxed atmosphere of one's own living room around a Kaffeetisch laid with flowers and the hostess's elegant porcelain especially designed for such cherished afternoon get-togethers. What better than to serve up this most delicious pastry.


  • 1 1/2 sticks butter plus 1 tablespoon
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice (cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, star anise)
  • 1 egg
  • 5 ounces of hazelnuts, toasted and ground
  • 1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup raspberry jam (or your favorite type of jam)


  1. In a standing electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides and add honey, zest, cinnamon and spices. Continue mixing for one more minute. Scrape down the sides and add egg. Mix again until well blended.
  2. Sift the dry ingredients together. On low speed, add the sifted dry ingredients to the butter mixture and continue to mix until a dough is formed.
  3. Remove the dough from the mixer, wrap in plastic film and refrigerate for about 2 hours.
  4. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with wax or parchment paper. Remove dough from the refrigerator and divide in two. Dredge the work surface with flour and with a rolling pin, roll out the dough to 1/2-inch thick, forming a 12-inch circle. This will be for the bottom of the torte. Line the bottom and sides of the prepared cake pan with the circle.
  5. For the top of the torte, use the second half of dough, roll it to 1/2-inch thick to create a 9-by-12-inch rectangle. Refrigerate both the top and bottom for about 20 minutes.
  6. Remove from refrigerator and fill bottom half with raspberry jam.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  8. Create a lattice with the rectangular piece of dough by cutting 12 9-inch strips. (Use a piece of cardboard to build the lattice to make it easy to slide the lattice onto the bottom of the torte.) Slide the lattice onto the jam-filled bottom. Fold the edges of the dough up and over the top of the torte.
  9. 9. Bake in oven for 30 to 35 minutes until golden brown.

For a holiday accent, sprinkle with confectioners sugar. And of course, Linzer Torte is always served with whipped cream!


Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cats, and yet more cats..

Anybody visiting this blog will have noticed that there are more than a few pictures of cats. They are intriguing creatures in that they all look very cute and cuddly when small, growing to be the most regal of animals in later life. All cats, regardless of size, have very similar structure and behaviour, are carnivorous, and have amazing control over movement and senses. The only determining factor in where a cat can or can't go is it's size.

Of the 'big' cats, only four can roar. The Tiger, largest of all cats, prefers forested areas and is an adept swimmer. The Jaguar lives in dense tropical rain forest, is also an adept swimmer, and can run as fast through forest as a Lion can manage on the open plain. The Leopard is an extraordinarily adept climber, and has to be to avoid being picked off by Lions. The Lion differs from the other three in that it lives and hunts in social 'prides' and it requires open spaces with some cover in which to hunt.

Cheetahs, like Lions, need wide open spaces with some cover, and are the fastest of all land animals. The Cougar lives in mountainous country, ranging from Canada way down into South America, having the largest range of any big cat. It can climb, jump, swim very well, and is known to be able to jump well enough to catch birds in flight! Medium sized cats include the Lynx and Bobcat, living in forested areas and both good snow hunters. The Ocelot, Caracal and Serval make up the medium numbers, living in forested areas mainly, and are most closely related to the original 'cat'

Now we come to the real stars, the Domestic cats. Long and short haired, some with no hair at all, they come in all shapes, sizes and coloring. They have every attribute of their larger cousins, yet remain cute throughout their lives. They are aloof, next to untrainable, and can more or less go where they please. They see humans as servants, and everything else as entertainment.

Cats can operate as well in the dark as in daylight. It is not true that cats can see in total darkness, but they have enough other acute senses to make up for lack of vision. It is even said that they can pick up vibrations with their eyes, They are all essentially wild, making the decision at an individual level as to how well they will co-exist with humans.

Cats have very little fear of anything particular, which can make for a very amusing house pet, and a very dangerous and unpredictable predator. Even so, people directly involved in the study of cats in the wild have had incredible bonding with some of the larger types. Large or small, the cat is a silent, stealthy and very graceful hunter. It embodies grace and power like no other land animal, and continues to entrance all with whom it contacts.

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Tale of Two Peas..

Once upon a time there was a mad rush to eat peas. Not any old peas mind you. These were special peas in that they were picked early. Approximately three inches long these early pickings were known as 'Mangetout' in Europe and 'Sugar Snaps' in North America. So what was wrong with the standard pea? This rhyme sums it all up..

"I eat my peas with honey
I've done it all my life
It makes the peas taste funny
But it keeps them on the knife! "

The British developed the art of mixing in peas with copious amounts of mashed potatoes. Youngsters added Tomato Ketchup for reasons only known to themselves. Gravy was often thickened to the point where it would hold peas together in molecular forms, while others would try to balance peas on top of whatever else was on the fork. From serving to eating peas were messy. But of all vegetables peas are the most universally accepted. Even the most ardent vegetable hater can usually manage peas.

There was a minor revolution starting in the 1970's and '80's. This was the era of 'Nouvelle Cuisine' where food had to be light and tickle the taste buds. It had to be visually appealing too. Paté transformed from the usual murky brownish colours to something akin to Neapolitan ice cream. Thick gravy was replaced by 'sauces', delicately applied with 'icing bags'. Tomato Ketchup was a no-no and the majority of vegetables were far too ugly to adorn a plate of this new style cooking.

All of course, except for the venerable pea. Not loose peas rolling around uncontrollably, landing on table cloths, the laps of diners, and the floor. This was a new pea, a young pea, so young that it could not easily be removed from it's pod, but still having the fresh, light taste of a good podded pea. Peas without all of the mess. Peas that could be arranged in pretty patterns.

Anyway, a supermarket chain in the UK was employing Africans in various villages to grow and pick these 'new' peas. Nouvelle Cuisine had popularized these things to the point where it was the 'in' thing to eat with almost any meal. The Africans were so pleased with getting paid for growing and picking these peas, that they made up a song such that every time Mr Tesco (a company representative actually, but they cared not) paid them a visit, they would perform it along with normal tribal dances.

Then one day, Mr Tesco arrived and told them that they would only get paid for peas of a certain length because equal sized peas looked better in the customer packaging. They still sang their song, not fully understanding the implications of demands being made. When it came time to pack the harvest most of the peas were not acceptable, and the people of the villages were hardly paid a 'bean' for their efforts. The words to the song were quickly rewritten, and instead of reflecting praise and adulation for Mr Tesco, the words gave some ideas as to what Mr Tesco could do with the peas, regardless of size.

At about the same time, diners were also getting tired of paying big bucks for tidbits of food and hellishly over-priced table wine. The honeymoon was finally over. The 'new' peas can still be seen in food stores, but only the more adventurous still eat them. Like fries they are more easily eaten by hand, being too thin for a fork to get a hold. They are positively disgusting when eaten with honey, and they do not mix well in mashed potatoes. Mangetout are the last vestige of an attempt at healthy eating that went seriously wrong way back in some African villages.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Words of a Wise Man..

"We did not ask White Men to come here. The Great Spirit gave us this country as a home. We do not interfere with you, and again you say, why do you not become civilized? We do not want your civilization. We would live as our fathers did, and their fathers before them."


"A very great vision is needed and the man who has it must follow it as the eagle seeks the deepest blue of the sky. I was hostile to the white man. We preferred hunting to a life of idleness on our reservations. At times we did not get enough to eat and we were not allowed to hunt. All we wanted was peace and to be left alone. Soldiers came and destroyed our villages. Then Long Hair (Custer) came. They say we massacred him, but he would have done the same to us. Our first impulse was to escape but we were so hemmed in we had to fight."

These are just a few words from the man known as Tashunkewitko to his people, the Oglala Lakota Sioux tribe, and Crazy Horse to the rest of the world. Born circa 1842, he was killed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, in 1877.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Blog Writer's 'Motto of the Day'

Life is short; Break the rules,

Forgive quickly; Kiss slowly,

Love truly; Laugh uncontrollably,

And never regret anything that made you smile

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Famous Walls..

The longest wall is the Great Wall of China. It is a little over 4000 miles in length, and is the largest construction project undertaken by man. A survey was carried out a few years ago, and it was determined that only 30% of the wall still remains intact. Many of the current pictures seen of the wall show the parts made of stone, but some was built of earth and timber, essentially whatever materials were handy to the site, and have fared less well. The entire structure was built to keep the Huns at bay, and had forts and towers along its length. It is has been in existence for over 2000 years.

Across the other side of the world is another defensive wall. Hadrians Wall is 78 miles in length, and was constructed to keep the tribes at bay of what is now Scotland. Like the China Wall, large sections of it are missing, mostly due to the stone being used for local building projects. After the evacuation of all things Roman, the locals had no thoughts about preserving it, seeing the entire length as a material store. This wall is a little under 2000 years old.

The two walls are unique in their way, yet share a common raison d'être, and even common construction methods. There are, however, walls that are truly something else. They are not defensive walls, just walls as you might find in any room.

The picture to the right is one of many decorated walls to be found in the Valley of the Kings, Luxor, Egypt. These tombs date from as early as 1539 BC, almost 3,500 years old. The effort that had been put into not only the general construction of the tombs, but the decoration too, is awe inspiring.

There is one wall for which we do not have a picture. It could actually be any wall in a castle or Manor House. The kind of wall I describe here is not to keep people out. It is specifically constructed to keep people, or a person, in. The type of person who may be contained by this wall would invariably have been female, and relatively young, in her teens or early twenties perhaps.

She would have made the mistake of getting romantically involved with a man deemed to be an enemy of her family, or maybe a man born below her position in life. The unfortunate female would be given a chair, and a small quantity of food and water. The wall would be constructed around her very quickly and very well. She would also have known the men who constructed the wall, as they would have been workers employed by her parents on the family estate.

From behind this wall, no cries or screaming would be heard. The building of this wall would preserve the integrity of her family forever. One doubts that any female would willingly agree to an end such as this. The wall that I describe is the 'Wall of Silence'.

And believe me, walls of this type were no myth.

Monday, March 05, 2007

A Couple of Observations..

This is a reference to the recipe for a simple, easy to prepare, yet very tasty meal, Shrimp Creole. For those not 'au fait' with some terminology, I will explain.

The term 'Creole' as understood in the Southern US is an English word derived from the Castillian-Spanish and French words 'criollo' and 'crèole' respectively. Creole people are essentially those born of either Spanish or French parentage in a Spanish or French colony. Creole people tend to try to hold on to their ancestral heritage by whatever means, and cuisine is but one facet.

Creole is also a term used in other parts of the world, and has now become the way of describing anybody born in a colony, essentially a person of such mixed heritage as makes it impossible to determine exact and original roots.

Now to the second observation.

You may notice that there is reference to a sauté pan in the recipe. A sauté pan is a shallow sided cooking pan where the sides of the pan are vertical to the base, and the base is heavy (often copper) and very flat in order that heat distribution across the base is as even as possible.

Frying pans have sloped sides such that food can be moved around in and out of the high temperature zone in the middle of the pan. The most extreme version of the frying pan is the 'Wok' used in the preparation of Oriental cuisine.

Note that in the US, the word 'skillet' is used. This has become a generic term for all of the pans mentioned.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Shrimp Creole..

This is a popular and easy Southern US dish.

Ingredients required..

  • 2 lb shrimp, shelled and de-veined
  • 3 red peppers, cut into pieces
  • 3 onions, cut into small pieces
  • 3 large tomatoes, peeled and cut into pieces
  • ¼ cup of good olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • Salt and white pepper
  • Chopped parsley
  • Enough boiled rice to serve 4

.. And this is how you prepare it..

  1. Heat the oil in a sauté pan
  2. Add onions and cook until golden
  3. Add peppers, cook until soft, about 10 minutes
  4. Add the tomatoes, heat and stir until hot enough to add the shrimps
  5. Keep stirring until shrimps are cooked, about 2 minutes
  6. Adjust flavor with salt and pepper
  7. Sprinkle with parsley
  8. Serve in a dish along with the rice and soy sauce and plenty of French bread to soak up the delicious sauce.


A Restaurant for the Brave..

Hilton have opened a new restaurant called 'Ithaa'. I know what you are thinking, because the very same thought passed through my mind too. 'Who cares'? Unless it is within easy driving distance, I don't go there, and this one most definitely isn't just down the road from me. It is at the Hilton Maldives Resort & Spa, Rangali Island in the Maldives.

Of course, distance is not the only barrier. This is no 'tuxedo and bow tie' establishment or, for that matter, casual dress. This is 'scuba gear and flippers' dress if you ask me. The restaurant is 16 feet below sea level, access gained by a spiral staircase. If you don't kill yourself just getting into it, your waiter or waitress could while trying to get the various courses to you.

They say that the menu is typical of high class city 'joints', but that the view will probably take your mind off of the food anyway. Excuse me? It would take more than a few fish and a five star menu to take my mind off looking for leaks.

This restaurant is reputed to have cost $5 million, and it only seats 14 at any one time! Somebody should have told them that it would be possible and cheaper to build a 14 seat diner on land, place four underwater cameras in a small glass bubble, and transmit the pictures to large plasma screens affixed to all of the walls.