Snowy Pines

We had snow a few days ago, and now the big freeze, so our world has become brighter… sunshine is also forecast!
For some reason I found these “spiny snowballs” funny…
…and then I found this poem with the line “pine-trees crusted with snow”, which is very apt. I have fallen in love with this poem – it sends shivers down my spine when I come to the last verse!
Read and enjoy!
~

The Snow Man

by Wallace Stevens
~
One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
~
And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter
~
Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,
~
Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place
~
For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.
~
~

Wise words: Perfection

Perfection

Nobody is perfect

Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.  ~Confucius

Practice makes perfect

Only in grammar can you be more than perfect.  ~William Safire

A good garden may have some weeds. ~Thomas Fuller, 1732

Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.  ~Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.  ~Salvador Dali

Striving to better, oft we mar what’s well.  ~William Shakespeare

Perfection is the child of time

~~~~~

Random thoughts:

  • If you meet a perfect stranger, can you then also meet an imperfect one?
  • If something makes perfect sense, can another thing then make imperfect sense?
  • If something is considered to be “perfectly normal”, is there also imperfect normality?

~~~~~

THE ESSENCE OF BEING HUMAN IS THAT ONE DOES NOT SEEK PERFECTION. ~ George Orwell

~~~~~

Book Review: Rebecca

“Rebecca” by Daphne du Maurier

A masterpiece!

Not a single superfluous word. Pure and top-class story-telling. Suspense from page one until the very last sentence. I adored this novel, about which I had heard so much but had never read before. I would read it again. And again. (If I only had the time!)

The novel has to be enjoyed, not raced through. And I tried to spin it out. But today I just had to finish it!

The opening line is magical…

Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again

… and from that point on there is no turning back.

It was not until I started writing this post that I realised the narrator had not been named throughout the novel. The effect this had on the story was to highlight how often Rebecca’s name falls…

The narrator is initially working as a companion to an old lady, and they are spending the winter in Monte Carlo. When her employer comes down with flu, our narrator spends her days with another guest at the hotel: Maximillian de Winter, recently widowed and owner of the famous English house “Manderley”. She returns with him to Manderley as the new Mrs de Winter, but is haunted by images of the first lady of the house – Rebecca – who had apparently been adored. Her husband’s distance, coupled with her own shy reluctance to ask questions lead to misunderstandings and unhappiness.

A shipwreck and a summer storm clear the air, and the truth is finally revealed. However, the couple are not destined to be able to enjoy the rest of their lives in their beautiful country home…

Some of the feelings I had while reading it:

wonder                      pity                      frustration                           sympathy             horror                          annoyance                  distaste                            relief                          foreboding                           pleasure

This is not a pretentious period romance, as I had imagined. It is a magnificent drama – tragic and timeless.

Read it and ENJOY it!

A Slightly Imperfect, But Everso Tasty, Swirly Whirly Cranberry Cheesecake

As you know, I love words. So I went to town on choosing the perfect name for my cheesecake the other day. And this is what I came up with!

“A slightly imperfect, but everso tasty, swirly whirly cranberry cheesecake” sums it up perfectly!

(I also thought of “delightfully decadent cheesecake”, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it…)

And here it is, in all its imperfection! Yum! (Click on the photo to get a closer look!) 😉

I wanted something red, since it’s Valentine’s Day soon. And I wanted to use up some cranberries in my freezer, as it is to be defrosted next week… AND I had a friend coming over for tea. (Excuses, excuses, I know. But I need a good excuse for using all that cream cheese and all those eggs!)

Here’s the recipe:

Slightly imperfect, but everso tasty, swirly whirly cranberry cheesecake

For the cranberry purée (prepare a few hours in advance)
•    2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
•    ½ cup sugar
•    2/3 cup water
•    ½ vanilla pod
•    1 tbsp cornflour
For the crust
•    300g finely ground digestive biscuits
•    90g butter, melted
For the filling
•    900g(!!) cream cheese, room temperature
•    1 cup sugar/vanilla sugar
•    4 large eggs


Cranberry purée
Scrape out vanilla seeds and place with the berries, water and sugar in a large saucepan (including vanilla pod). Cook over medium heat until mixture thickens, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Remove pod. Mix cornflour with a little cold water. Add cornflour to cranberries and stir well. Cool slightly. Transfer to processor. Puree until smooth. Strain into a bowl. (You should have about 1 cup purée.) Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight.
Crust
Line cake pans (either one large 25cm pan or two smaller pans) with greaseproof paper. Blend the digestive biscuits until finely ground. Mix in melted butter. Press crumb mixture onto bottom and a little up the sides of the pans. Chill crust while preparing filling.
Filling
Preheat oven to 180°C. Using electric mixer, beat cream cheese until fluffy. Beat in sugar, then eggs one at a time. Pour into prepared crust. Dollop cranberry puree on top and swirl it through the filling, using a teaspoon or knife, to create that swirly whirly effect!
Bake until cheesecake puffs around edges, about 45 mins to 1 hour, depending on size of your pans. Turn the oven off and leave the cake to cool with the oven door ajar. Later remove and leave to cool completely before lifting out of pans and sliding onto a plate.

If you have any cranberries or puree left over, use for decoration!

Enjoy!

The King of Spices, Part One

Black Pepper

Piper nigrum: the King of Spices (Or Black Gold)

Part One – the origins
A twist of freshly ground black pepper is so often the finishing touch to a plate of steaming vegetables, a heap of creamy mashed potatoes, or simply a plain old green salad. However, only one generation back, in the UK at least, this would have been considered “exotic”. Amazing how quickly tastes change…

I own one of these large wooden pepper mills which gained popularity in the 1980s – they were indeed a fashion accessory! – and always take great pleasure in twisting it, but rarely give any thought to where my peppercorn comes from. I decided to remedy this and investigate. Where is the best pepper grown?

?

Well, firstly it is a tropical plant.

It’s a climber, bearing a berry which can be harvested and dried at different stages to produce different peppers: very unripe for the green peppercorns, slightly unripe for black, and ripe for white. The berries are mostly dried before they ripen, and the black wrinkly shells contain the concentrated oils, and thus the full aroma of the peppercorn. (If you’ve seen pink peppercorns, with their almost fruity, gentle spiciness, they are from a different plant altogether; the Peruvian Schinus Terebinthifolius. Szechuan pepper – a citrusy spice – is also unrelated to Piper nigrum.)

Pepper was originally brought to Europe from India via Venice, and was a spice for the wealthy… a status symbol indeed. The route across land from the East made it difficult to acquire, and thus precious. What other spice had its own Guild? As early as the 12th century the Guild of Pepperers was formed in the City of London as an association of tradesmen whose duty was to control the purity of pepper, spices and drugs. They also dealt in other luxury goods such as gold. (They still exist, in the form of The Society of Apothecaries).

Nowadays most of us buy a supermarket brand… hardly a luxury. If your peppercorn originates from India, Brazil, Malaysia, Indonesia or Cameroon, it should be among the better ones. And still it should not break the bank. Why did it lose its value? Because in the 18th century the British finally established new territories in southern India, and ships became faster; pepper – along with other spices – suddenly became much easier and cheaper to obtain. Hence the reversal of the meaning of “peppercorn rent”, from “a significant sum” to “a token amount”.

Most spice experts agree that black peppercorns from the original pepper-growing regions of  southern India  – especially Tellicherry (Thalassery, Kerala)– are the most sought after…

So, this is where the best black peppercorns come from…

Thalassery, Kerala

Looks idyllic!

By the way, the Merriam-Webster online dictionary defines Tellicherry pepper as: a superior grade of Indian pepper characterized by exceptional richness of body and fullness of flavour.

(Part two next week: recipe ideas for using black pepper)