baking and reading

September 7, 2010

One morning recently, a good friend called saying she might come and visit with a common friend of ours during the afternoon. I decided to bake a cake I quite enjoy for its flavour first and then because it is so easy to prepare. Here is the recipe in case you want to try it :

ALMOND PIE

For a round baking tray (middle size)

1 pack of puff pastry

200 gr (2 cups 1/4) of  ground almonds

2 eggs

1 cup 1/2 of sugar

1 cup of milk

1 tsp of cinamon

1 pinch of salt

Mix all these ingredients

Then roll out the pastry on the baking tray (use a fork to make a few holes on the pastry)

Spread the ingredients you prepared onto the pastry

Pre-heat the oven at 200/230 °C (400-450°F)

Cook for 25 minutes

Sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving

This pie tastes even better if you bake it one day in advance.

Some of you may think my almond pie looks a bit “burnt”… Well, almost but not really. I can assure you it tasted delicious ! And why should it look like this ?? That’s the question. You see, I was reading. A specially dangerous chapter that kept me totally concentrated on the story. At the same time I vaguely smelled something just as dangerous coming from the kitchen 😉 “Oh ! mon gâteau” (my cake) ! I rushed to the kitchen, book in hand of course (in case I would forget it somewhere on the way…) and I saved the almond pie from a very hot oven. Then I went on reading waiting for my friends.

“Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow” by Peter Hoeg is the book I was reading with great interest and more as “le gâteau de Babette” (Babette’s cake) was in the oven and requesting immediate attention ! I could not have been further from my kitchen. In fact Smilla, the fascinating main character in this book, was secretly –  and dangerously –  going aboard a ship in the darkest night you can imagine.  She was persistent in doing her own investigation about a mystery death. The story takes place in Denmark (Copenhagen) and Greenland, two countries I don’t  read about enough and I thought this book would be a good opportunity. It was, definitely so. And much more than that! This reading just cut me off from my surroundings for a few days, so exciting was the story. It is not a recent book, I had heard and read about it but somehow had missed  it. Now it is done and I thorougly enjoyed its reading. I hope some of you did too or will do so soon !

A Romance of Naples

August 9, 2010

“Falling Palace”

This is the first book I read by Dan Hofstadter and it was a real pleasure from the first till the last page. He wrote three previous books. His most recent, The Love Affair as a Work of Art, is a collection of essays on French writers. For several years D. Hofstadter was also a regular contributor to The New Yorker.

This fascinating book is about his years in Naples and about Benedetta, the passionate and mysterious  Neapolitan woman he met there. But not only. D. Hofstadter  shares with so much talent his knowledge and love of this unique city and  people. His words bring to life – and how brilliantly ! – some great Neapolitan characters whom he befriended during his stay.

D. Hofstadter makes me feel like going back to Naples and exploring some  streets and areas I was a bit unsure of visiting as a tourist. It is not easy to describe Naples´atmosphere beside its hustle and bustle. There is so much more that remains unseen to a visitor on vacation. If Naples is a future destination for you, then read D. Hofstadter´s book about it. He has seen this city with his heart. Is there a better way to visit and feel a new place ?

“Falling Asleep in the City”, a few words of the Prologue that made me love D. Hofstadter´s book about Naples immediately :

“Whenever, after a long absence, I return to Naples, that beautiful and wounded city, I find myself looking forward to bedtime, to the first few moments of falling asleep. I always stay in  one of the more populous quarters, in a room overlooking a steep, narrow street, and as I throw open my window a vast wave of sound floods over me. Settled in bed, I´m disconcerted at first by the sheer volume, by my feeling of floating helplessly in a tide of half-drowned voices, people calling or quarreling, snatches of jokes, television commercials, soccer games, ghosts of song twisted by the wind; footfalls mingle with rasping sc0oters, a baby´s crying with the honking of horns. Yet soon the noises soothe me, and suspended between wakefulness and sleep I enjoy a sensation of homecoming, of rejoining a crowd of kindred spirits,  faces I have always known.

St Patrick’s Day

March 17, 2010

A special  ancient edition of James Joyce’s “Dubliners”, smooth cloth cover, as green as the  island of the “Forty shades of green”. Joyce’s famous book is translated in French “Gens de Dublin” and contains some lovely lithographies by Charles Bardet. I thought it would be an opportunity to wish a ” Happy St Patrick’s Day to all Irish people and  to those Irish at heart.

Oil

March 3, 2010

Those are the last drops, or bubbles rather, of an olive oil from Portugal given  by a friend. A particularly tasty, fruity, mellow kind of oil. When I turned the bottle upside down to get the last drop of it,  honeycombed bubbles formed and gave the bottle an antique and precious look !

About a year ago I visited some parts of Andalusia in Spain and especially a museum of olive; visitors were led  from a garden of olive trees through the various ancient rooms of an hacienda where  the famous oil was produced. The visit ended in a shop ( very olive-minded 😉 and in a restaurant which offered numerous dishes where the delicious oil played an exquisite role !

“The olive tree is surely the richest gift of heaven” (Thomas Jefferson).  This is one of the 80 sorts of olive trees growing in this hacienda.

Those are the old  jars that had contained the precious oil years ago.

Words that express the respect and care people had for their olive trees’ plantations.

A wonderful book for the “aficionados” of olive oil (I am one of them). It will tell you all about the origins of the olive from Africa to the Middle East, from Europe to the Americas and even some parts in Australia. And last but not least,  some recipes  are shown whose pictures only make you hungry. Here is a special treat for you : Bruschetta.

It is prepared by rubbing garlic (if you like it) on toasted bread that is then covered with fresh tomatoes and basil and smothered with oil. Olive, of course 😉

In 1889, Vincent van Gogh staying in the Provence/France wrote to his brother Theo : ” If you could see the olives at this moment… The old silver foliage and the silver-green against the blue… The murmur of an olive grove has something very intimate, immensely old. It is too beautiful for me to try to conceive of it or dare to paint it”.

Simplicity

February 1, 2010

A book I am re-reading at the moment, “The Art of Simplicity”.  Still fascinating and inspiring. Dominique Loreau writes about living more simply, reducing the number of objects that may surround us, having less, making choices about what is really essential in our life. Her wish in writing this book is to invite us to try getting rid of the superfluous to find more inner space.  She reintroduces us to the pleasures of living without the excess. A wonderful perspective,  one of my resolutions for this new year. The good news is… slowly but surely I have started the “désencombrement”  (to clear) and it feels so good !

I chose this picture to participate in Scott Thomas’  “White” assignement for this month on his blog . You are all invited to visit his site and join in ! Don’t wait too long : your “white” pictures should be posted till Wednesday, February 3rd, 2010 ! Good luck and much pleasure.

http://stphoto.wordpress.com/

The red rose is for you, giiid,  http://my2008blog.wordpress.com/ . Thank you so much  for your help ! I made it 😉

Wishes for you

December 24, 2009

May you all receive the Christmas light in your heart.

A time for a pause and for sharing,

A time for celebrating and thinking of others, not able to do so.

A time for giving one’s time to prepare traditional meals that will bring everyone around the Christmas table.

Joyful decorations, Nativity scene, scented candles, cinnamon cookies, spiced tea, Christmas songs in church, a snowman in a garden and so much more. There is this special mood at home that makes you feel like prolonging this happy time of togetherness. And why not ?

Christmas is also the time to look at others and events with the heart. As Antoine de St-Exupéry wrote in his book “The Little Prince” :

“The essential is invisible to the eyes, one only sees well with the heart”.

Those were the words the fox said to the little prince as they were going to part. It was the fox secret that he confided to him. And to many readers across the globe since the book was published. “The Little Prince” is a wonderful tale for all ages, a story to read to children, a story for  all times. And the fox secret is good to remember well beyond Christmas.

Here is a gift for you, my friendship stars’ quilt. I hope they will shine in your Christmas night and long afterwards. Have a Merry and Blessed Christmas!

Fascinating reading

November 6, 2009

This past Summer and Fall several books have followed me wherever I went. One that I never forgot to take with me was “The Shadow of the Wind” by Spanish (Catalan) writer Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

book Zafón

The novel, set in post-Spanish Civil War Barcelone,  is about a young boy, Daniel. After the war, Daniel’s father takes him to the secret Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a huge library of old, forgotten titles lovingly preserved by a select few initiates. As tradition goes, everyone entering this secret place is allowed to take one book from it, and asked to protect it for life. Daniel selects a book called The Shadow of the Wind by Julián Carax. On the night he takes the book home Daniel starts reading it, and becomes completely obsessed with it and his writer. He then attempts to look for other books by this unknown author, but can find none. From then on Daniel’s life takes a completely different turn !

I will not tell you more… in case you would decide to read this fascinating book (mystery, romance, thriller, period epic). One of the best books I read this year, one that is so difficult to put down !

Two books, two women

September 21, 2009

Laura Diaz and Mari are two characters that could not be more further apart.

Carlos Fuentes (Mexico) and Haruki Murakami (Japan) are also two favourite writers of mine. Both readings were fascinating and yet, how different their main characters.

Diaz-After Dark

Laura Diaz is the passionate woman who fascinated me in Carlos Fuentes’ book : “The Years with Laura Diaz”.

Mari is a shy and rather reserved young person around whom Haruki Murakami  wrote an eerie novel, “After Dark”, a book  you cannot put down easily. In fact I read it in a few hours, almost in the story real time.

Laura Diaz lives mostly in Mexico  whereas Mari’s story is set in Tokyo.

“After Dark” is a story of encounters in the hours between midnight and 7 am on a particular night. “The Years with Laura Diaz” lead you all along the 20th century  and the main events that marked that period.

Tetsuya Takahashi is Mari’s encounter during that night. The men in Laura Diaz’ life bring her to various places in Mexico, North America and Europe.

The writing style of these two books is very different too. In Carlos Fuentes’ novel it is flamboyant and very descriptive,  South American writers excel in it.  In “After Dark”,  Haruki Murakami writes about reality or dreams with a more concise style and shorter sentences, always making you want to read further and see beyond the story itself.

Laura and Mari are women you get attached to until the last page.  I almost regretted closing these two books, wishing that the story would go on and on. Imagining another end. Laura, Mari will stay with you for a good while should you decide to read those novels.

A New Earth

February 20, 2009

tafers-diary-tolle-007

This wonderful spiritual guide, “A New Earth”, by Eckhart Tolle is a precious gift I received a few months ago.  The kind of book you cannot ever part from.  A book that may well change your way of looking at life, people, events.  At yourself first of all.  I take my time reading it because of the profound spiritual writing E. Tolle is sharing with us.  I read it slowly because I like to underline some parts of the text for a second reading.  Or more. Many passages are so meaningful to me that I like to write them down in my diary. Written thoughts leave a deeper imprint on my memory. Some lines are worth re-reading, each in its own time and place.  Like the ones below about “Chaos and higher order” in the chapter “Finding who you truly are” :

tafers-diary-tolle-0031

A few excerpts from E. Tolle’s writings…”When we go into a forest that has not been interfered with by man, our thinking mind will see only disorder and chaos all around us… Only if we are still enough inside and the noise of thinking subsides can we become aware that there is a hidden harmony here, a sacredness, a higher order in which everything has its perfect place and could not be other than what it is and the way it is”.foret-neyruz-3-fevr08“…In the forest, there is an incomprehensible order that to the mind looks like chaos. It is beyond the mental categories of good and bad. You cannot understand it through thought, but you can sense it when you let go of thought, become still and alert, and don’t try to understand or explain. Only then can you be aware of the sacredness of the forest… You realize you are not separate from it, and you become a conscious participant in it. In this way, nature can help you become realigned with the wholeness of life”.

These quotes from E. Tolle’s “A New Earth” take their full meaning as I walk through the woods, almost daily. Without realizing it concretely, the forest no matter where I walked through it, always appeared harmonious and beautiful in its own “disorder”, its natural state. Better than in any park or botanical garden (although I enjoy them a lot too) I found myself “aligned” with life, as Tolle writes. A deeply beautiful feeling.

“I Dream a World”

January 22, 2009

i-dream-a-world1Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America

Photographs and interviews by Brian Lanker, Edited by Barbara Summers,  Foreword by Maya Angelou.

A precious gift I received years ago from an American friend in Central Africa. Seventy-five wonderful women are presented through photographs and interviews. Each person recalling a special event in her life. Each of them in her own language, accent and with a great openness.

Barbara Summers writes :”… A truly beautifying discovery for me was to find so much love in anger. It was a fist-up, death-defying love that challended the unfair conditions of life and muscled in on injustice as it nursed both sides of a nation. Valiant and vulnerable, these women were there”.

A Poem by Mari Evans from “I Am a Black Woman”

“I

am a black woman

tall as a cypress

strong

beyond all definition still

defying place

and time

and circumstance

assailed

impervious

indestructible

Look

on me and be

renewed”

In this time of celebration in the United States, I took this book out of one of my bookshelves and slowly turned its pages with admiration, respect, gratefulness. And  deep emotion.  Looking at the Inauguration Day’s celebration on the Swiss TV, I saw some beautiful women’s faces and expressions in the public listening to their new President.  I saw their shining eyes and huge smiles, I saw and heard their cries of joy and encouragement. I saw different silent forms of happiness, tears, attentiveness to every word and movement. Prayers. Thankfulness.

Unforgettable moments shared miles away.

I would like to share Brian Lanker’s words at the end of his preface of this superb book :

“In fact, all of the women in this book have dreamed of a world not only better for themselves but for generations to come, a world where character and ability matter, not color or gender. As they dreamed that world, they acted on those dreams and they changed America.

This celebration of sisters is not an attempt to elevate or lower any segment of society, it is merely an opportunity to savor the triumphs of the human spirit, a spirit that does not speak only of black history. My greatest lesson was that this is my history, this is American history”.

Thank you Rosa Parks, Eva Jessye, Maxine Waters, Clara McBride Hale, Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee, Marva Collins, Septima Clark, Mattie Morris Losey… and so many others.