Tomorrow

“I’ll play tomorrow,” the child cried, while rushing headlong to maturity. Forever and forever lay ahead in golden days and unexplored dreams but the child, in petulant stubbornness, reached steadfastly for tomorrow, while today lay wasted and neglected at the door. Climb a tree? No thanks. Must watch TV. One day I shall be that princess, teenager, twenty-something. 

“I can’t wait for tomorrow, ” the teenager cried, reaching with greedy hands for independence,  sexuality, sensuality, childhood left behind like the tattered teddy bear forgotten on the porch stair. Play a game? No thanks. Must send this chat, watch this video, do my makeup. One day soon I shall find a partner, start a family.

“Not today, I’ll play with you tomorrow, ” the young mother cried, while frantically juggling home, work and family. No time to play now. Must clean the house, do the washing, cook a star meal for an ever-more-distant and stressed husband. Tomorrow I’ll play. Tomorrow I’ll be your play princess, but not today.

“There’s always tomorrow, ” the retired couple cried, while navigating a life filled with hobbies, meals, appointments with friends and living past each other every day. No time for midnight chats, afternoon love or coffee dates. Not now! Tomorrow I’ll tell you my dreams, but not today. Gotta rush… friends to see and places to be. Tomorrow I’ll see you. Tomorrow we’ll talk.

“There is no tomorrow,” the wise man said. You have only today. This day, this moment. Live it wisely. Live it fully. Give yourself fully to the task, to the person you are with. That moment will never come again. Life is NOW. Hold it NOW. Live it NOW.

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Carpe Diem

 ​

Don’t weigh me down

With might have beens,

Would haves, could haves

Or should have seen.

My soul can’t live

On dreams and wishes

And empty dishes.

I need to feel 

The grass beneath

My feet

The water lapping at my ankles

The wind tugging

At my hair.

I need to

Seize the day,

Live the day,

Hold the day

My way.

Come play

With me

Stay with me

Ride the wind with me

For as long as we can.

Book review: Venuto al mondo (Twice Born) and Sword and Scimitar

A funny thing happened to me recently. First of all, a friend lent me a book by Margaret Mazzantini which she praised as a beautifully written novel. And then another friend gave me a bag of historical novels to read.

I read the Mazzantini novel first.


I read the original language, so I can’t vouch for the translation, which is called Twice Born, but I presume if it’s good, it should have the same lyrical quality. To be honest, I hated the main character at first, finding her immature and irritating. However, I realised in retrospect that the slow chapters at the start of the book are a vital part, establishing character and motivation for the later action.

A large part of the story is set during the siege of Sarajevo and if I hadn’t been fascinated with the main character by then, I would probably have put the book down. But I was hooked, and laboured through the painful matter-of-fact  descriptions of daily life and degradation in the city. It was this matter-of-fact attitude that hit me in the gut, increasing my shock and outrage. But this book is more than the siege, and the story twists and turns before reaching its end and a satisfying catharsis. This is one of those books where every word matters. Every action, thought and dialogue carries the account towards that final moment for more than one character.

Would I recommend this book? Definitely!

The next book I picked up was Sword & Scimitar by Simon Scarrow.

 Without realising it, I had chosen another siege novel! This one was set in 1565 during the great siege of Malta. At that time, the Ottoman empire besieged Malta in an attempt to wipe out the Christian Order of St. John whose knights used Malta as their base and were constantly hampering and fighting the Ottoman forces. The principal character of this novel is a disgraced knight who has been summoned along with all knights of the Order to protect Malta. The novel was full of graphic descriptions of the fighting, which gave it a sense of reality, and a quick websearch showed that much of the action depicted was recorded in historical annals of the time. It was too much for me, however, and I must confess to skimming large parts towards the end just to find out what happened. 

The writing was good, if not spectacular. I would recommend this book if you really like historical novels, and particularly war novels.

Rebuild

Rebuild the homes
That once we had
Rebuild the community
Now gone bad

Renew the bond
Of neighbour love
Renew the trust
Destroyed from above

Bring back the fields
Raise up the farms
Now razed to dust
By fire and arms

Raise up the schools
The playing fields
Let violins sound
And music heal

Let children’s voices
Raised in song
Bring back our soul
And touch the throng

Of broken hearts,
Lives torn apart
Now hear the joy,
Let building start.

Margaret Brizzolari
June 2016

Written in respone to the daily prompt rebuild

A Year in Seasons

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Summer blasted in,
A roaring furnace
First greening fields and hills
Then parching leaf and vale.
Giving and taking life
With each heavy, sun-scorched day.

We gasped for breath
Through long, desultory days,
Quarrelled in the baking sun,
Tossed in bed, keeping our distance,
Waiting for better times.

Autumn blew in,
A chilly breeze,
Misty mornings and soft showers
Replenishing parched earth
Softly swelling, ripening
She burst forth her bounty.

We found each other
Through gentle rainy days,
Snuggled close in bed,
Hands reaching, touching
Living a better time.

Winter crept in
On softly floating flakes,
Crisp morns and howling winds.
Frosting and freezing
Life and earth,
She cloaked our love in icy mirth.

Silent we became
Through frozen, sterile weeks,
Souls darkened as the days
Were dark and laden
Skies wept tears upon the earth

Spring fluttered in
On birdsong and butterfly wing,
Each dawn a promise.
Spring buds clamoured
For warming sun,
Welcomed with open petals.

Spring’s thaw for us
Came none too soon.
Warmed beating hearts
Love’s rising heat
Burning through our limbs
As we journeyed to love’s ecstacy.

Spaghetti Alla Norma a Modo Mio (Spaghetti Alla Norma My Way)

Yesterday was Cleaning Day and I hate Cleaning Day! Perhaps I should qualify that: I hate the process but I love the result. There is nothing like the smell of a freshly dusted and polished house or the feel of a newly washed floor underfoot. Anyway, since it was a hard day cleaning, it had to be an easy day cooking and nothing is easier than pasta, in my book.

A quick look in the fridge revealed an aubergine begging to be eaten and a plan began to form. This recipe is based on a recipe from an Italian recipe book, but I tweaked it with the addition of bacon bits. My daughter has the firm belief that there’s nothing that can’t be improved with the addition of bacon, and I tend to agree. If you want the authentic recipe, just leave out the bacon. The ingredients are enough for two hungry people as a main meal. If you serve this as a primo, Italian style, then it would probably serve three or four people.

Ingredients :

1 aubergine
1 onion
100g bacon bits
250g spaghetti
Tomato passata
A few fresh basil leaves finely chopped
Salt
A small mozzarella ball (about 125g)
Chilli pepper to taste

Peel and slice the aubergines in thick slices. Salt them and leave them to draw for twenty minutes.
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In the meantime, peel and dice the onion and the bacon if it isn’t already diced. Prepare the basil leaves and keep them aside.
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Fry the bacon and onion together. You can add a little oil if needed. I always fry my onion until it is soft as I don’t like it crunchy, but you do it the way you like it. It should be golden and delicious. Mmmmm….can you smell that delicious onion and bacon smell?
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Now prepare the aubergine. Rinse and dry the slices well. Cut them into squares and fry them in a little hot oil. They will absorb the oil. When they have browned all over, drain them on kitchen paper. Be careful not to let them brown too much!
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When they are ready, add them to the pan with the bacon and onion. Add the passata, salt and chilli pepper to taste and allow to cook until the brinjal is cooked through and the sauce is rich and glossy.
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Now prepare the pasta.
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You need a large pot because pasta needs to cook in lots of water. None of this shoving it in a tiny pot. You need one this size and the water must be boiling with a rolling boil before you put the pasta in. Add lots of salt to the water. According to one italian saying, the pasta water should be as salty a the sea.

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Add the spaghetti to the pot in one piece. Do not break it or you’ll spoil the chance to eat it like an italian, slowly slurping in those stray strands that wouldn’t twirl on the fork. The strands slowly sink into the water as they soften and you can help them with a fork, turning and mixing them slowly. Put the pot lid on to bring the water back to the boil quickly, but watch the pot as it boils over easily. Once you have a rolling boil again, you can remove the lid. Use a long fork or spaghetti spoon to agitate and turn the pasta now and then while it cooks. This will help prevent the strands from sticking to each other. Cook until the spaghetti is cooked enough for you. It’s a personal thing. Al dente for most Italians means that there must still be a hard bite in the centre of the pasta. I don’t like that and cook until that bite is gone but the pasta is still relatively firm. About 14 minutes for this pasta.

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While the pasta is cooking, dice the mozzarella into small dices.
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Drain the pasta in a colander, keeping aside a little of the cooking water to add to your sauce if it’s too thick or too little and needs extra liquid. This is a trick all Italian mammas know and use to make a sauce stretch. It also helps make a sauce creamier. Put the spaghetti back in the pot and slowly add the hot pasta sauce, the diced mozzarella and the chopped basil, mixing gently. Add only enough to give the pasta a generous coating, not to drown it in sauce. I used about half the sauce and froze the rest for another meal.

Serve with a little grated parmesan. Buon appetito!
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Spring Thaw

Slow
        Trickle
Joins another
           And another
               Gushing,
                   Gurgling,
                        Gathering force,
It
         L
                E
                        A
                                P
                                        S
      from
                       rock
      to
                 rock.

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Spinach like an Italian Mamma

I love spring! The market suddenly blossoms with all manner of fresh, interesting vegetables and I browse the stalls with intense interest to see who has the biggest, brightest and crunchiest examples of my favourites. Piles of plump red and yellow peppers show off next to luscious purple brinjals. Nonnas and Mammas gently squeeze their flesh to gauge their freshness, exchanging opinions in the weak spring sunshine. No, these are not the best, they are rubbery and soft. Best to try the farmer’s stalls at the end of the piazza.

My weekly visit to the Friday market this week saw me returning home with 1,5 kilos of fresh young spinach. These are not the large Swiss chard leaves that we ate in South Africa when I was a child, They are small, young, dark green leaves with the most delicious taste. But if you want the best from your veges, you have to treat them right. Here’s what an Italian Mamma does with her spinach.

The leaves are bound to be dusty, even if they have been washed, so as soon as you get them home, give them a good wash under running water. Then dump them in a deep sink or bowl filled with fresh cold water. Take a large pot or deep pan and trim the roots and any unhealthy leaves from the spinach, dropping the leaves into the pot as you go. Look out for the initial leaves of the plant. They are long and narrow and must be thrown out as they will be starting to deteriorate. When the pot or pan is full, put it on the stove and start cooking the leaves. You can add a little salt to the leaves if you like. Do not add water as they cook in the water left on them. When the leaves are wilted, the spinach is done. It only takes a few minutes. Drain the leaves in a colander. Repeat the process untill all the leaves are cooked. Leave the spinach to cool.

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This is what it looks like.

When the spinach is cool, ask a big, hairy husband to squeeze the hell out of that spinach, forming small balls that you can put in the fridge (or do it yourself). The more water you squeeze out, the better the spinach keeps. It will keep in the fridge for between 3 and 5 days.

This is a common way for an Italian Mamma to store spinach. In fact, you can even buy balls of cooked spinach from the supermarkets here. It can now be chopped and served as a salad with salt, pepper, olive oil and lemon juice. Delicious! Or if you like, it can be gently fried after chopping. Depressions are made in the spinach and eggs lightly poached in them. A delicious brunch with bacon and toast. A  perrenial favourite at Easter is the “Easter tart”. The filling is a delicious blend of spinach, ricotta cheese, parmesan, eggs and nutmeg wrapped in puff pastry – one of my favourites!

Hmmm… which one shall I make this week? And what’s your favourite spinach dish? Let me know in the comments.