Friday, November 17, 2017

Beet greens and kitties

Just learned that beet greens are probably the best source of vitamin K you can find. And fortunately for me, they're in season, and are really extremely tasty.

Friday dinner: sauted beet greens w. herbs. (Beet greens are in the same family as swiss chard and spinach and these can be substituted.)


The greens of three beets (w. stems)
half an apple
four cloves garlic
a stick of celery
sprig each of fresh basil, sage, parsley
two green onions

Chop the greens and stems very large. Bring a pot of water to a boil and parboil the greens for no more than two minutes.

Mince garlic and apple, chop herbs & onion quite fine.
Strain the greens in a colander and set aside.

Saute the garlic, onions, apple, celery and herbs together in a pan with olive oil and/or a tablespoon of butter until they are getting soft and transparent. Season to taste with salt. Cook just long enough for the apple & garlic to start releasing juices.

Add beet greens and stir gently until the whole thing is coated. Allow to cook undisturbed no more than a couple of minutes.

Serve and eat, adding a sprinkle of parmesan.

Out in the garden this afternoon, carefully watched over by little Bertie in the pear tree.

Put in more daffodils, two whole bulbs of garlic and a bunch of the little white spring onions. Went for a walk up the farm track to the place where there is a lot of borage growing wild and dug some up to transplant. They're self-seeding and apparently make the best companion-plants for tomatoes and a bunch of other things.

The garden is coming together, slowly, slowly, a little bit at a time.


Wednesday, November 08, 2017

Making choices

You don't have to live like they tell you.

I was in the SCA for 20 years. I grew up in it, starting from age 11. And I can tell you, these people are not alone by any means. There are lots and lots of people who - while they might not want to get rid of their phones or fridges, really aren't that happy with how Modernia works. There's this thing in the SCA that people talk about but rarely do: "living the dream", which means doing the SCA thing full time. Re-enactors are a funny bunch, and not all alike, but we've all got this bee in our bonnets, that things didn't go quite the way they should have, that people may be more comfortable now but something essential has been taken away from them.


Sunday, November 05, 2017

And all things go to one place: of earth they were made, and into earth they return together.

Terrace garden this afternoon, after a bit of rain. 

Nearest neighbours, two fields over. Fields planted with winter cover crops. Monte Subasio in the far distance. 

It's November, it's grey and the leaves are falling, it's raining and thundering, and you're feeling melancholy, and all that is perfectly OK.

My little orto, a row of Romanesco broccoli, white cauliflower, red cabbage, red onions and cime di rapa, and a couple of rows of cilantro. 

For us melancholic introverts a day like this is just about the perfect day.

It's the month of the Holy Souls; the month in which the Church actually encourages you to feel gloomy and autumnal, to consider mortality and brood about the passing of all things in this life. We are not made for this world that is passing away.

The Faith encompasses all possible human things; birth, joy and suffering, love, work, fruitfulness, old age and death, and the liturgical cycle is perfectly attuned to the natural annual cycle.

Embrace your inner melancholic.

Ecclesiastes 3

All things have their season, and in their times all things pass under heaven. 
A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted. 
A time to kill, and a time to heal. A time to destroy, and a time to build. 
A time to weep, and a time to laugh. A time to mourn, and a time to dance. 
A time to scatter stones, and a time to gather. A time to embrace, and a time to be far from embraces. 
A time to get, and a time to lose. A time to keep, and a time to cast away. 
A time to rend, and a time to sew. A time to keep silence, and a time to speak. 
A time of love, and a time of hatred. A time of war, and a time of peace. 
What hath man more of his labour? 
I have seen the trouble, which God hath given the sons of men to be exercised in it. 
He hath made all things good in their time, and hath delivered the world to their consideration, so that man cannot find out the work which God hath made from the beginning to the end. 
And I have known that there was no better thing than to rejoice, and to do well in this life. 
For every man that eateth and drinketh, and seeth good of his labour, this is the gift of God. 
I have learned that all the works which God hath made, continue for ever: we cannot add any thing, nor take away from those things which God hath made that he may be feared. 
That which hath been made, the same continueth: the things that shall be, have already been: and God restoreth that which is past. 
I saw under the sun in the place of judgment wickedness, and in the place of justice iniquity.
And I said in my heart: God shall judge both the just and the wicked, and then shall be the time of every thing. 
I said in my heart concerning the sons of men, that God would prove them, and shew them to be like beasts. 
Therefore the death of man, and of beasts is one, and the condition of them both is equal: as man dieth, so they also die: all things breathe alike, and man hath nothing more than beast: all things are subject to vanity. 
And all things go to one place: of earth they were made, and into earth they return together.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Quake-a-versary coming up

I just came across this photo. To my right is Fr. Basil, to my left are a couple of friends. It was taken by some of the news people who were there that morning. It must have been about an hour after the quake.

It was still pretty early in the morning, judging from the position of the shadows, after the Poor Clares had come stumbling out of the rubble and dust cloud, the first time I'd ever seen any of them. One of their older members of the community, still in her fluffy slippers, had to be carried over the piles of rubble.

When we saw them come out the thought came into my mind, "This is it. It's over." We spent a total of about five hours in the piazza, mainly waiting for the firemen to clear enough of the main street so we could walk out. Eventually they brought in a small bulldozer and escorted us out in groups of ten or twenty.


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

A house in the country

You don't have to live like they tell you.

I like Wales. It's close to the Fam.

Maybe these nice hippies in Wales wouldn't mind a little Gregorian Chant or a little chapel...

(I wonder if you can do a vaulted ceiling and pointed arches in straw bales.)

I grew some wonderful squashes this summer. And I did the same thing, go out to the patch and give it a little encouraging pat and a pep talk.

It sort of seems like Wales is a place to live if you don't want to live like they tell you.


Saturday, October 07, 2017

Chant is good for you

Monks of the Desert in New Mexico

I had no idea they were using the Chant. And they seem pretty good at it. (Though I noticed at least one harrrrd American "arrr" in the Kyrie that jarrrrred a little...)

It does seem to be all the rage now to record monks chanting. There has been lots of commentary on the irony that though these chants are often still vigorously banned in churches with the word "Catholic" on the door, the CDs always shoot right to the top of the charts. The Le Barroux sisters have one, the Benedictines of Ephesus in Missouri have several. The Norcia monks did one. Every single one rockets to the top as people are desperately trying to fill the hole in their souls that Modernia inevitably burns, including Ecclesia Modernia.

This isn't a new thing, by any means. (The fad for chant recordings, I mean, not the chant itself, obviously.) When I was a kid my mother had an LP of chant that I used to listen to a lot. And of course Hildegarde of Bingen had a huge following in the 80s (nearly all New Age feminists, but still...) The Monks of Silos made an enormous splash in the pop music world in the early 80s, and it was suddenly all the rage to have "spooky medieval stuff" in your nightclub noise.

I know there are "studies" out there that show the chant has a positive material effect on your brain.

Dr. Alan Watkins, a senior lecturer in neuroscience at Imperial College London noted that “the musical structure of chant can have a significant and positive physiological impact,” and that chanting has actually been shown to “lower blood pressure, increase levels of DHEA and also reduce anxiety and depression.” Similar studies also suggest that Gregorian chant can aid in communications between the right and left hemispheres of the brain more effectively, therefore creating new neural brain pathways.

Benedictine nun, Ruth Stanley, head of the complementary medicine program at Minnesota’s St. Cloud Hospitals also says she’s had great success in easing the chronic pain of patients by having them listen to chant. “The body can move to a deeper level of its own inherent, innate healing ability when you play chant. It’s quite remarkable.” In a 1978 documentary called “Chant,” French audiologist, Dr. Alfred Tomatis, related how he was called upon to help the monks of a Benedictine monastery who suffered from fatigue, depression, and physical illness. He found that they usually took part in six to eight hours of chanting per day but due to a new edict, their chanting was halted. When Tomatis succeeded in re-establishing their daily chanting, the monks regained their well-being and were again full of life. His conclusion was that Gregorian chant is capable of charging the central nervous system along with the cortex of the brain thus having a direct effect on the monk’s overall happiness and health.


That's probably true. Those medievals really knew a thing or two about that integral, holistic human stuff. Other people talk about the relationship between Chant and Math, and this also doesn't surprise me, since the medievals knew some stuff about math too.

I use Chant. I find it's better than Xanax and of course, I think God prefers it. I have a week's worth of the daily psalter; Laudes, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers & Compline, downloaded onto my computer from Le Barroux. I got used to singing very quietly along with the monks in the Basilica and doing that at home is rather a solace in exile. (Even though they're the wrong monks, and the French accents sort of stand out.)

Next step will be buying an Antiphonale. Fr. Basil says that's the one to go with if you want to learn how to read the little squares.

This guy, who I presume is a Chant teacher, has a huge bunch of recordings of the major pieces one uses in the liturgy. There are a lot of Chant recordings out there that are recreational, but this one is the only page I've found set up for serious use to learn the Chant for a liturgical setting.

The problem with these recordings, of course, is that they're set up for male voices. (Buddy above has a few set for female voices, but not many, and nearly all the recordings are of monks and male choirs.) I absolutely can not sing in the tenor range. I can do baritone transposed up an octave perfectly. (Thank you, Stan Rogers.) But when singing along with the men in the highest notes my voice just stops functioning entirely. No sound comes out at all. But bring it down to the monks' lower range and I can't manage it except for the highest bits. (Which is why I say I always sang along with the monks very quietly.)

You have to transpose the whole thing down to the Alto range for me. Which is why I'm going to have to graduate from the recordings to the book eventually. This is a terrible recording but you can certainly hear the difference.

I do rather wish those Benedictine nuns in Missouri would do some serious, less entertainment-oriented, recordings of the Office chants. These nice little songs they do are lovely to listen to but not much use in a practical sense.


Thursday, October 05, 2017

Painting fruit

Enel, Italy's government-sponsored power monopoly... yay socialism! (Italy has the highest electricity costs In. The. World!) was "doing some work" near the house today so for the first half of the day I had no power, and of course no power means no water. So, not only no internet but no shower, no tea... Sounded to me basically like God instructing me to sit in the kitchen in my pajamas painting all morning.

Who am I to argue?

You can tell one thing for absolute suresies: I was taught properly how to draw, but really, really, super-duper NOT taught how to use watercolours.

The only painting instruction I ever had was in oils, so I instinctively try to do oils things with the paint, which mostly just doesn't work.

It's also very clear that a photo does not give the same information as your eye. This pic is actually quite different from what I'm looking at now. And of course, when the paint and paper have dried it will look even more different.

I think I've basically got the colours more or less matched. Cad yellow, burnt sienna, highlighted with a little bit of lemon yellow, greened up a little with a teeny dab of ultramarine (gouache) and the darker shadows in a bit of payne's grey.

But my watercolour technique is pretty much non-existent and it's hard to remember that you actually do a lot of things backwards with watercolours. You take paint off to make a highlight, instead of putting paint on top, for instance.

Well, for a first go I guess it's better than I was expecting. Now I let it dry completely and see if I can do some correcting. It's also funny how you can suddenly see things with a photo that you didn't notice just looking at it.

One of the things to learn: use the right kind of paper. This is just a page out of my sketchbook and it really would help not to be fighting the big puckers.

Now to walk away and come back later with a fresh eye.


Thursday, September 28, 2017

Pies. In. Art!

This just appeared in my Twittface feed. I found myself trying to work out the recipe. It's obviously a boiled crust for a meat pie with gravy, but the filling...

Duck maybe, and turkey, plums and figs, walnuts and pinoli.

I might have to try it.


Friday, September 15, 2017

Buon Venerdi, and here's to the pope...

...whoever he may be.

A fun Friday rhyme to go with an old fashioned English dish, Stargazy pie, from Cornwall.

Yep, it's a pie with fish heads sticking out, looking straight at you.

The traditional fish is called Pilchards, a kind of sardine that English (protestant) fishermen used to catch and export to Catholic countries, where they were eaten on Fridays.

It goes with the traditional "Toast to Pilchards," which these days I think we can all agree on...

"Here's health to the Pope, may he live to repent
And add just six months to the term of his Lent
And tell all his vassals from Rome to the Poles,
There's nothing like pilchards for saving their souls!"

Here's the BBC's recipe, if you want to give it a try.

For the mustard sauce

For the pie

  1. For the mustard sauce, bring the stock to the boil in a non-reactive saucepan. Whisk in the crème fraîche, mustard, salt, mustard powder and lemon juice until well combined. Bring back to the simmer.
  2. Pass the sauce through a fine sieve into a jug and set aside.
  3. For the pie, cook the bacon in boiling water for 20 minutes. Drain, then allow to cool slightly before chopping into lardons.
  4. Bring another pan of water to the boil and cook the baby onions for 6-7 minutes, or until tender. Drain and refresh in cold water, then slice each onion in half. Set aside.
  5. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6.
  6. Roll out the puff pastry until 3-4mm thick, then cut into 4 equal-sized squares. Using a small circular pastry cutter the size of a golf ball, cut out 2 holes in each pastry square.
  7. Place each square on a baking tray and brush with the beaten egg yolk. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.
  8. Bake the pastry squares in the oven for 18-20 minutes, or until golden-brown and crisp. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  9. Turn the grill on to high.
  10. Place the sardine fillets, heads and tails on a solid grill tray, brush with the oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Grill for 2-3 minutes, or until golden-brown and just cooked through (the fish should be opaque all the way through and flake easily).
  11. Heat a frying pan until medium hot, add the butter and bacon lardons and fry gently for 3-4 minutes, or until golden-brown. Add the onions and stir in enough sauce to coat all the ingredients in the pan. Reserve the remaining sauce and keep warm.
  12. Bring a small pan of water to the boil, add the vinegar and a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
  13. Crack the quail's eggs into a small bowl of iced water, then pour off any excess (there should only be just enough water to cover the eggs). Swirl the simmering water with a wooden spoon to create a whirlpool effect, then gently pour the quails' eggs into the centre of the whirlpool. Poach for about 1-2 minutes, or until the egg whites have set and the yolk is still runny. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
  14. To serve, divide the onion and bacon mixture between 4 serving plates. Arrange the sardine fillets on top, then place four poached quails' eggs around the fillet. Using a stick blender, blend the remaining sauce until frothy. Spoon the froth over the top of the sardines and eggs. Top each pile with the puff pastry squares, then place the sardine heads and tails through each hole in the pastry. Serve immediately.


Sunday, September 10, 2017


Ok, it's raining.

Good work, guys.