The Covid-19 lockdown continues…

Life in the Craig household continues as normal even though I miss the opportunity to go out for a picnic or have friends over for a meal. Chatting by video just isn’t quite the same as being with each other. We walk, read and play games, and listen to podcasts. I can tolerate this isolation but refuse to consider living in a world where isolating the over 70 year olds might become the norm; that is not a life it is a jail term!

Perhaps Covid-19 is good preparation either for retirement or for learning how to live with one’s chosen partner. Andy and I have been without full time work now for a few years so we have finally adjusted to a lifestyle where we don’t tread on each other’s toes or run out of conversation. We have started playing games after dinner, including scrabble and backgammon, and my 93 year old father is secretly hoping that we will start playing bridge together.

Colin the Cat has taken to hiding from us under the bedcovers, scunging up the sheets but at least he doesn’t have to tolerate his humans being at home so much. He appears at dinner time when he supplements his dinner with moth entrée as we have been inundated with moths, large and small, ugly and questionably beautiful.  

Andy said he grew up calling these moths Widow’s moths because of the sharp v that their wings form when closed, but I think they are called Swift’s moths and there seem to be many variations. They divebomb our salads, splash down in our wine and singe their wings on the candles!   Even the local newspaper is reporting these irritating invaders. I have to cover my glass of water on the bedside table otherwise I get a mouthful of moth in the middle of the night. 

No-one really knows why they have arrived although it may have something to do with the long period of drought then rain.  ‘Blame it on climate change’ – seems to have disappeared from the newspapers lately. I think originally there were too many larvae hatching into caterpillars which devoured my rocket, then they hatched into heaps of moths and there were insufficient parasitoid wasps to eat the moth larvae but there are a lot of bean bugs destroying the snake bean harvest. The grandsons and I have been chanting: Four green caterpillars sitting on a plate, out came the secateurs and then there were eight!’ 

I am torn between loving my other invader, the Swallow Tail butterfly and tolerating the caterpillars.  It was fun watching a male butterfly dance and flutter its wings, casting its pheromone love dust towards the female who had perched on a particularly vicious thorny rose stem.

 I watched her perch gently between the thorns and wondered about the many times marriage is expressed as being a bed of roses with the occasional thorn (or nail as Bon Jovi sings) thrown in. Roses were on my brain as I had just listened to a podcast about the poem Le Roman de la Rose where a knight breaches the castle of jealousy and finds the rose.

So my garden has been an utter disaster this year other than the lime tree which as usual is producing far too many fruit for us to consume. I have been pruning it vigorously, even though it isn’t that time of the year to do so and after making two batches of lime marmalade, salted limes and limeade, I gathered the crop into small parcels and walked up and down my street handing them out to the neighbours. I even put a large collection at the front gate and asked passers by to help themselves which has removed some but only some of the surplus.

Pasta Frittata

This is a delicious light lunch dish, quick and easy to make.

So here we are practising Social Isolation in Brisbane. I am used to my own company having moved to cities where I knew no-one but at least there I could get out and chat with the shop keeper. Working from home, my mobile phone can remain silent for days other than my children speaking to me but when you know you are constrained it feels different.

The best way not to feel overwhelmed by the situation is to keep busy so I have decided to look on this time as an opportunity to do all the jobs that I have been too busy to do and complete all the craft projects that sit half-done in the spare room. It is also an opportunity to cook for the three members of this household.

I cleaned out my food storage cupboard, which was incredibly satisfying but made me realise that I don’t need to stockpile food as I already have a lot of pulses and nuts and flours.

After watching me, my father, who lives on his own at 93, decided he needed to do this. I cook for him each evening and we haven’t really gone through his food cupboard since Mum died last year. What a treasure trove of baking goods we found including 3 packets of cocoa and lots of icing sugar. Mum loved cooking cakes for the grandchildren. Dad was a little puzzled as to what he was going to use these for until I explained that they were for decorating cakes.

We also found the stash of pasta that my nephew had left behind when he moved to Amsterdam. My sister cooks a lot of pasta for her husband and sons but I don’t. Since my children moved out of home, Andy and I eat salads and meat. We don’t need bulk as our lives are more sedentary and we are vain enough to want to fit in the same sized jeans we wore when we were forty.

So now I am pulling out my pasta recipes and here is the first recipe. Andy calls it Wheelie Bin Frittata as it has everything and anything in i but I refuse to label it that, so Pasta Frittata it is.

It is a fabulous way to clean out the leftovers that are hiding in the fridge – those scraps of cheese that no-one wants to eat, a few pieces of roasted potato and pumpkin, last night’s tomato and capsicum salad, even the last of the ham bone. The trick is to chop the ingredients fairly small because if the chunks are large, when the cooked frittata is cut it tends to fall apart more easily.

Ingredients

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or oil

150 – 250 g meat – (1 cup) cooked chicken, prosciutto, chorizo, chopped ham or bacon

¼ cup sun-dried tomatoes, chopped finely

¼ capsicum, chopped finely

4 large eggs, beaten

2 tablespoons freshly chopped herbs – oregano, parsley, or basil

1 cup coarsely grated cheese – any sort or a mixture of cheeses such as Parmesan, Pecorino, or Romano.

250g (1 cup) cooked pasta, chopped

Additional flavouring suggestions:

Cumin adds a beautiful aroma and a subtle flavour to eggs and potatoes, 

Add left over vegetables such as roasted, carrots, potatoes and zucchini, asparagus etc.

Sauté the onion over a gentle heat until lightly coloured. Remove from the heat and put into a large bowl. Add the meat, the cheese, the herbs and other ingredients such as oven-roasted tomatoes, broccoli, mushrooms or capsicum, and stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper. 

Add the pasta and combine well. Lightly beat the eggs together then add to the mixture. Stir well to combine. 

Heavily butter a sauté pan and warm over a gentle heat. Pour mixture into pan and spread evenly. Place over moderate heat and cook for about 3 minutes. If your heat is uneven rotate the pan so that ¼ of the frittata is sitting over the heat and cook for 2-3 minutes per rotation, continue to rotate the pan until all quarters are cooked.  

Remove from the heat, and slide the frittata onto a dish then invert back onto the pan. Cook this side as you did with the previous side or if it is in an oven proof pan, place under a hot grill and cook the frittata for about 10 minutes until golden. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before tipping it out onto a serving dish. 

It is delicious either cool or room temperature with a salad for lunch. Serves about 6 depending upon size. I can’t give you a photo of the whole frittata as it was eaten by the hords before I could get my camera ready.

Nasturtium delight

Nasturtium – Tropaeolum majus

I have often taken the nasturtium for granted as I see them scrambling across the rocks in nearby gardens and tumbling down neglected embankments. They are the seeds you give a child when learning about gardens knowing they will sprout quickly and flower well. Once you have planted a nasturtium in your garden you will find it popping up in the most unlikely places in neglected pockets and it loves poor soil. Just add water and it will grow. No wonder the nasturtium managed to travel around the world. Originating in Central and South America then across the Atlantic with the Spanish and Portuguese explorers in the 16thCentury the nasturtium quickly invaded the gardens of Europe and England where it was used to treat scurvy, then back across the Atlantic to the United States where it was grown in the vegetable garden of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. In a letter, he mentions using the nasturtiums in his salads. 

I have been trying to remember the botanical names of plants but as I was not a student of Latin I resort to visuals to remind me and I bless the imagination of the Swedish botanist, Carl Linnaeus who selected the Greek word tropaion from which the English word trophy stems, because he thought the rounded leaves resembled shields and the curved shape of the flower that of the helmets worn by Trojan warriors. These battle trophies were hung on a pole by the victorious Roman soldiers. The common name of nasturtium was given in recognition of the ‘nose-twisting’ flavour of the mustard seed oils that the plant contains. 

Although they aren’t a showy plant as compared to many, the nasturtium has been popular with many painters and artists including Clarice Cliff who adorned her fabulous ceramics with brightly coloured nasturtiums. I wonder how many generations of children have pored over Cicely Mary Barker’s Alphabet Flower Fairy series in which the ‘N’ Fairy is a boy sitting in a nasturtium lower cap using a leaf for an umbrella and shoes adorned with nasturtium seeds. Cressida Campbell an Australian artist has used the nasturtium with its curving trailing lines in her beautiful wood blocks.

Once I started looking seriously at the nasturtiums growing around my neighbourhood I realised that the flowers come in lovely shades of orange, lemon, yellow, salmon and red that contrast against the bright lime green leaves. There are also variegated leaves and dark green almost black leaves that I am on the search for. It is easy to understand their attraction to Monet who planted them at Giverny where they spilled out across the pathways in his garden. I now have them spilling out over the top of my pots and popping up all over the place. 

Fortunately, the root system is shallow making them easy to remove as the plant self-seeds easily. It is a fast grower and a very energetic territorial creeper that doesn’t stick to boundaries or fences and I am sure that if I stood still it would cover me. I now have blue plumbago invaded by a yellow flower, and a lemony yellow variety taking over the iris bed. I have draped it up and around a couple of stakes and it is now flowering happily in competition with the tomato bushes that stand beside it. This also takes the pressure off the white gerbera that were being smothered by the profusion of saucer shaped leaves on the stalks which were acting as a living mulch and covering up everything that stood in its path. As I pull it out, I smell the distinctive sweet honey aroma tinged with the spice from the mustard oils. 

It is suggested they are a good plant for companion planting with roses and vegetables possibly because of their spicy oils which are said to repel aphids however, looking at the number of aphids on my rose stalks I am not sure I could grow sufficient nasturtiums to deter these voracious insects.

They don’t seem to have too many pests although I have seen the White Cabbage butterfly hovering around and did spy a beautiful green caterpillar on one leaf.

On the plus side the flowers do attract hoverflies and bees so I hope someone nearby is producing nasturtium flavoured honey. 

They are also a very useful edible plant with the seeds, the leaves and the flowers all being used in my kitchen. I am lucky to garden in the sub-tropics where the nasturtium flowers prolifically even in winter. The leaves and flowers are a rich source of nutrients including Vitamin C and natural antibiotics. I have used the flowers to add gorgeous colour to a simple green salad, the petals have a gentle buttery flavour. 

I have stuffed the flowers and small leaves with goats’ cheese mixed with fresh herbs for a delicious hors d’oeuvre and I am going to collect the seeds which can be pickled in vinegar and substituted for capers.

Once you start looking there are lots of recipes that use nasturtiums including in sauces, pesto and in muffins as well as in beauty products including Hair Tonics. This ordinary fragile plant has opened up an entirely new world for me. 

Remembrance Day – to forget would unravel our culture

The centenary of Armistice Day has prompted me to think about the symbols we use to remember those who fought and died in the service of their country. I have waited in the hushed silence before a dawn service at Villers-Bretonneux with thousands of others and it is a memorable gathering. I prefer visiting these cemeteries without the huge crowd, sometimes with my husband or daughter, treading softly so as not to disturb the resting souls, reading the ages of those who did not return, experiencing the feelings of being a mother, daughter, sister, and wife of a military person. I don’t want to touch these stones fearing I would release a barrage of ghosts.

The Cross of Sacrifice at Lutwyche cemetery, Brisbane

It is a sobering moment to walk along the lines of pale gravestones in the Commonwealth War Grave cemeteries in France reading the names, standing back to look at the rows set in lawn with narrow flower beds, usually with a cross erected nearby and in the larger ones a Stone of Remembrance. I feel shivers threading through my body reacting to the pleas from those hoping not to be forgotten.

Australian War Memorial, Villers-Bretonneux 

I am not religious and don’t practice a faith. My father, probably because he felt obliged, would drag my reluctant self and sisters, dressed in beautiful dresses and flower adorned hats, to Sunday morning mass and I can remember glaring at the image of Jesus hanging in pain and agony from the cross. Even as a child, I puzzled over why a faith which was supposed to inspire should choose a symbol of torture and pain. Surely there must be a better symbol for a faith?

Yet I am always moved by the dignity of the Cross of Sacrifice that stands in many War Grave cemeteries. I have found two crosses in Brisbane, one in the Toowong cemetery and the other in the Lutwyche cemetery. I started thinking about this cross with its simple design and the symbolism associated with it. After all a cross is simple isn’t it; two lines at right angles to each other.  Not this cross. The warp and weft of history and design that entwine the Cross are like ultrafine silk sending me as a time traveller ballooning across the aeons to Ancient Greece whose builders used entasis, the Greek rule of optical correction. The Parthenon is best known for this but it is speculated that earlier civilizations knew the effect of entasis when building the ziggurats in Mesopotamia and the Egyptians when building the pyramids. It is a curious link as Australian troops have fought in these regions.

In 1918 Sir Reginald Blomfield designed the Cross of Sacrifice and used entasis, to ensure the size was pleasing to the eye. The short cross arm is one third that of the shaft which tapers from the octagonal base. Set into the cross is a bronze long sword, shaft down. It is based on the Latin cross, used by Christianity as a symbol of sacrifice. The sword is an emblem of military honour, and is associated with the concept of strength and liberty. The shaft is pointing down indicating the battle is over. 

The two pieces of the cross are octagonal again providing links to many cultures in which the figure eight represented renewal and eternity. In early Persian gardens many fountains incorporated eight sides providing a link between the square earth and the round heaven as architecturally eight sides are required to link a dome representing Heaven to a square representing Earth. These shapes are often incorporated in church architecture both in the Christianity and Arabic world. I love these connections and think of them as those gossamer threads that are like the tiny money spider’s ballooning allow us to transcend cultures and religions.

Polygon Wood Cemetery

In cemeteries where there are over 40 graves you may also see the Stone of Remembrance designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens. He also used entasis to ensure the stone would be pleasing to look at from any aspect. Neither the vertical or horizontal sides of the stone (3.5m long and 1.5m high) are straight. If these curved lines were extended they would create a circle over 549 m (1800 feet) in diameter. The stone, similar to a plain altar, which was traditionally used for sacrifice, worship or prayer, is placed on three shallow steps with the words, ‘Their Name Liveth For Evermore’   inscribed on the long surface.

On Remembrance Day, my husband will lay a wreath at Brisbane’s Cenotaph above Anzac Square and touch gently upon another poignant connection derived through the ages from the ancient Greek word, kenotaphion, through the Latin word cenotaphium,  to the French cénotaphe for empty tomb.

We owe it to the many millions who died and those who were injured to ensure theirs was no empty sacrifice.

You are never too old to learn a new skill

When do you get too old to learn a new skill? Never if you look at my parents generation who are playing bridge, mahjong, reading new books, golfing and taking up hobbies as well as exercising.

My grandmother when she was in her 80s, stopped cooking with her aluminium saucepans and refused to use deodorant that had aluminium as an ingredient. She was particularly insulted by our laughter when she told us that she was doing it to help prevent Alzheimer’s. Granny died when she was 104 and was alert almost to the end.

Now, my mother has returned from having a bone scan, jubilant that she doesn’t have dementia. Her bone density isn’t very good, but at least she doesn’t have Alzheimer’s. Judging from the number of days each week that she trots off to play bridge and have lunch with the girlfriends, there never was any doubt about her mental capability. However, both she and Dad are determined to slow the ageing process by all means possible.

Aged 92, my father is still playing golf three or four days a week and is irritated that 18 holes is almost too much for him. He comes back after a day on the course looking absolutely shattered. But as he says, ‘The alternative is to sit on the verandah and eat your mother’s cakes while watching the world go by.’

Mum’s hands aren’t strong enough at 87 years, to take up a new hobby such as quilting or knitting but she can still cook and her plan is to cook a new recipe every week. She says that deciding upon the recipe, shopping for the food and then preparing it fills in a lot of her spare time, that is if there is any after bridge, reading and lunches. She struggles to open the tops of jars and is tempted to ask the local shopkeeper to open the bottles of ingredients for her before she leaves the shop. Even the act of squeezing the petrol pump nozzle has become a challenge to her arthritic fingers. Dad complains his muscle strength isn’t what it used to be despite walking the dog and swinging a golf stick with a weight on it.

Keeping your body and mind does become more challenging as you lose muscle strength with age. You may be able to slow down the advance of Sarcopenia with exercise and diet but it eventually affects us all.  Mum says the latest topic around the bridge table isn’t which erectile dysfunction drugs such as Viagra the old fellas should take, it is all about super foods and which source of omega-3 and protein powder is the best one to buy. Whey protein smoothies are popular whilst others sprinkle it onto their yoghurt and muesli at breakfast.

These oldies enjoy life and seem to be determined to live forever and if they can’t slow the body down they will try to slow mental ageing down with Brain Training. However, I think my father’s latest challenge is one of the best.

He and I recently went shopping at Apple and he bought his first iPhone and replaced his very old laptop with an iMac. He is refusing to be overwhelmed and is already becoming more sanguine about using these new machines. There are lots of hiccups and he is often asking me what command he should use, but he is tackling a new operating system with determination. We sit together at his desk while I guide him, letting him use the mouse and keyboard, then he writes these instructions down in his notebook for future reference. He is familiar with internet banking, he scans rental property documents, books his travel online and has digital subscriptions to many magazines. He already has his Bridge notes on his iPad, now his bedtime reading includes manuals for using the Apple iPhone and iMac. Within 24-hours my sister had him on a WhatsApp group, exchanging text messages and photos with his children and grandchildren who are scattered around the world. He is set to become a role model in my son’s business as an example of how not to fear learning a new system. The great-grandchildren love it when he FaceTimes them.

As this inspirational couple say, at 87 and 92 years of age, Brain Training is probably all the training they can do.

Love your bookshops

 

It is a sad situation when a small group of individuals are so threatened by ideas they disagree with that they feel vindicated in ransacking a bookshop. https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/aug/05/far-right-protesters-ransack-socialist-bookshop-bookmarks-in-london

Bookmarks

Bookmarks on Bloomsbury Street in central London is the UK’s largest socialist bookshop. Photograph: Dave Gilchrist

1933 the German Students Union participated in burning books deemed to be ‘unGerman’. Strange new ideas are like bullets peppering your self-righteous beliefs. You see this attitude creeping onto our campuses where ideas deemed antagonistic to current virtue signalling concepts are vigorously opposed.

It could be of course, that the intruders limit their reading to social media and therefore cannot articulate their ideas in any way but through force. It is easier to break a door than support an opinion through rhetoric and debate. No-one is forcing them to buy or read these books but where is their respect for the right of someone to have a differing point of view.

I love bookshops even more than food markets which is saying a lot for me. I cannot walk past a book shop without browsing the display in a window, or better still picking up and perusing from a pile of books lying in a box outside as one of our local second-hand bookshops does.

The temptation is not worth resisting and so I enter sure in the knowledge that I will find at least one book that I have been wanting to read or one that will make me desire it. Even before I read the titles, the smell of the paper gives me a buzz of excitement and the thought of what the pages can show me is so addictive that I can spend a couple of hours drifting along the shelves, pulling books in and out, calculating how many I can justify to myself that I will read in the near future. Yes, that does mean I have a pile of books on my to read/unread shelf but who cares because they are a promise of a future pleasure.

I get excited just looking at the piles of books that clutter the corridor of a bookshop, the books that other people have pushed in on top of the ordered shelves and those left in the wrong place. There is even the joy of finding comments written on the pages and occasionally a letter or photo used as a bookmark. My husband uses his old boarding passes so one day when he goes to the great bookshop in the sky, someone will travel the world on his books. We have a book of poetry where the owner has written her comments beside her favourite poems. It is a joy to read the thoughts of a woman clearly well read and insightful. I wish I could sit down with her over a glass of wine and talk about the world. 

Now I am enjoying the vicarious pleasure of introducing a grandchild to this rewarding hobby. I watch as his finger runs down the spines of the pile of second-hand Treehouse Series books, trying to remember which ones he already has. He is only 7 years old, but for the next two hours he sits, buried in the pages, bubbles of laughter erupting at the crazy ideas he is discovering on the pages, curling up in exquisite delight at the ridiculousness and taking pleasure in reading the story to me. This child will never be bored, never lonely and never threatened by ideas. This is an adventure for life.

I feel sorry for those vandals. They must have had a very boring and restrictive childhood.

It was well intentioned at the time…

I have just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro’s book, An Artist of the Floating World published in 1987 and it is as relevant today as then.

Integrity, a value which isn’t discussed very often these days is a thread that weaves through this story.  Masuji Ono, a retired artist, believes he is an honourable man who is challenged by the shifting values of the world he is now living in.

Having survived the Second World War in Japan, Ono takes the reader with him as he reminisces about his early life as an artist and the actions he took during his professional career. Slowly, falteringly as an older person might speak, we begin to understand his concern for his daughters and the impact his pre-war propaganda painting career could have on their future happiness. He remembers family, old friends and rivals, and explores past relationships secure in their values while trying to accommodate the rapidly changing attitudes of the post-war Japanese generation and their attraction to the Americanisation of their culture even to discussing Popeye with his grandson.

Ishiguro nudges the reader to consider their past lives through Ono’s thoughts and conversations including those on a compatriot’s suicide and of his turning in a pupil to the authorities for anti-war activities. In these days of virtue-signalling, you the reader are forced to consider your life and the decisions and actions you may have taken when viewed from the perspective of current values which have changed. It made me wonder how my life will be judged by the next generation who will not have the background knowledge to understand why I lived my life as I did.