Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Something extremely nice has happened

Something unexpected, rather frightening and possibly consequential, but a good thing, possibly a very good thing.

I am now terribly worried that the universe is going to suddenly explode.

Or that a piano is going to fall out of an airplane onto my head.

Which would be just like this world, wouldn't it.


Everything you think about nutrition is wrong


Here it all is with helpful graphics. (Just ignore the advert part.)


Monday, July 30, 2012

Spam n' aliens

I suggest putting it on your speakers, cranking it up, turning everything else off, lying down on the floor and listening to it fully. Do nothing else but listen. It's ten minutes, 25 seconds long. It won't kill you.


Convenient death

Modernity never ceases to amaze me in its incredible thoroughness. There just doesn't seem to be any tiny corner of human life that it hasn't managed to poison.

And I think it is clear that what Modernity has done to food, "poison" can be taken literally.

I think it's very significant that the woman talks (in possibly the most annoying, nasal American accent I've ever heard) about the traditional methods of food preservation. Now, ask yourself how this was possible. Who was doing the food preparation and preservation, and how did they learn these skills? Women today do not know how to cook even with the inferior processed foods available to them. Their domestic skills are limited to ironing their suit blouses before work.

It is clear that the degeneration of food-related domestic skills, and therefore the good health of children, men and future generations, is yet another victim of the feminist revolution. No one is feeding the family, and the "obesity crisis" is the result.

And the word, "convenience" is starting to become my most-hated word in the English language. I remember once talking to a young man I knew who was complaining about the expense of running his car. He also complained that he was gaining weight because he wasn't getting enough exercise. I observed that in the eleven years I had lived in Vancouver, the city had become almost uninhabitable, hellish, because of the increase of the number of cars, private vehicles, on the roads. I think the government issued a notice that the number had increased about 65% in the first five of those years. I suggested that since he didn't have steady employment, and since he lived in a city with an excellent and cheap public transit system, that he get rid of his car.

He said, "Well, it's convenient." And I think he meant that to be such a sound argument that no further disagreement was possible. And in a way he was right. He had made it clear that nothing, not money, nor his interest (which was real) in the environmental damage cars are doing in cities nor even his health, nor any other thing topped "convenience" on his list of priorities.

We are addicted to it, but it is convenience that is, literally, killing us.


Pretty new dress

Quite some time ago, I bought a length of beeyoo-ti-ful robin's egg blue linen, 2.5 meters 60" wide. I've been vaguely daydreaming about making it into a nice blouse, but just this evening looked at it and realised I've got enough to do a whole dress.

I've been idly clicking through the dresses on sites like Modcloth and Burda Dresses and have observed that all the dresses I like best are all more or less along the same lines. A fairly closely fitted bodice with a pleated, or A-line or gathered skirt, just knee-length.

As I said to a friend the other day, while I was sick I made quite a few promises to myself about how my life would be when I started getting better. One of which was to finally get on with fulfilling a sort of girly-dream I've had for many years: to make myself a whole wardrobe of exquisite, one-of-a-kind, hand-made clothes, and I think the time has come. It's a thing I can do at home that isn't too strenuous but more fun that net-surfing.

I've long-since come to the realisation that the clothes I want to wear simply aren't available in shops. And the clothes that I do occasionally find in shops that I like are so badly made that it seems a pity to waste money on them. The mass-manufacturing of clothes really has contributed mightily to the Great Uglification, and it's time I stopped participating in it.

I've got quite a few vintage things, and a few things I've picked out of the mass-o'-crap that aren't too bad, but I've always wanted to dress well, and I think there aren't many ways to do that in our times. Aside from having a Giant Pile of money, probably the best way is to just hunker down and start making them yourself.

It's been years and years, but maybe that's because it's been that long since I've been really settled. But there was a time when I had a whole sewing room. Shelves full of boxes of all manner of fabrics, interfacings, linings, yarn, thread, trimmings and notions, a bulletin board covered in hand-drafted patterns in brown paper, a pegboard all hung with arcane tools and my late, great, indestructible Singer sewing machine. I hardly remember what happened to it all, or how long it's been really since I've done any of that.

But it still seems perfectly normal to me to go to a fabric store instead of a dress shop to go clothes shopping. And while she was here, Vicky made a wonderful discovery; the fabric store where the Versace people shop. It's a huge, huge barn of a place, three stories in an old building near Torre Argentina; floor to ceiling shelves, twenty feet high, full of wonder and magic. Of course, some of it is out of this world expensive, but there's something for everyone.

So, for the robin's egg blue linen, I think something along these lines:


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Help: bumped up

A good friend here, a theology student with a rather poorly paid job, has had his computer stolen. He's in sight of the finish line for his Licentiate in Sacred Theology, and, thank God and all the Guardian Angels, his thesis was stored on a separate hard drive, but it's a big loss and he hasn't much money to spare.

Thieves are pretty clever here. These were a pair working the Trastevere train station. My friend was tired after a day at work, and had put his computer down on the bench on the platform next to him. A guy came up to him asking about train times, and pulled his view away so the computer was just out of his line of sight, and his accomplice just came up in my friend's blind-spot and carried it away.

This sort of thing happens rather a lot here, and visitors are often amazed at how incredibly bold the thieves can be.

I hope y'all won't mind me asking if anyone has a few dollars they can spare to help buy a new one. It's very expensive to ship things over here, but, believe it or not, still cheaper than buying in Italy. He's ordered the new thing, but the Visa bill is going to be pretty hefty.

If you feel up to donating, drop me an email and I will forward my friend's name and Paypal info.

Thanks always for your kindness now and in the past.

Update: the O's P email address is posted on the sidebar. Scroll down to find it spelled out in anti-spammer slang.

Update 2: Special thanks to the three readers, Andrew, Paula and Margaret who have donated to my friend's computer fund.


It's not just for normal people

...even the slightly creepy and weird should be healthy too.

I apologise for boring you all with this health kick. I seem to be turning into one of those annoying proselytising health nuts. I'm sure I'll get back to normal eventually.

In the mean time, while I have no idea who this Jorge Cruise guy is or why he has such a rage about processed foods, or health in general, or why he seems slightly creepy and weird, or why the people he interviews often seem slightly creepy and weird, but there's some useful information about the badness of sugar here.


A sense of style

I love this girl's blog

She's Finnish, and has a great knack for accessories.

Love that dress!


Friday, July 27, 2012

How sugar makes you fat

The mechanisms may be a little obscure yet, but there are some researchers who have figured out quite a lot of the process. The evidence is saying more and more that it is the habit of eating sugar, and the consequent constantly high levels of insulin, that is making everyone fat. The "no grains" thing comes in when you learn that foods made with grains get converted very efficiently into sugar in your blood, which you don't use and that then gets stored as fat.

This series is rather poorly paced, but it does give the basics. The guy is Dr. Robert Lustig whose work is a bit "controversial," but no more than the whole idea that you should entirely cut out processed sugar and pre-processed foods in general. I'm not a scientist, but I have stopped eating sugar (mostly) and I can tell you it has made a huge difference in my recovery and general health.

I think the most horrible part is the fatty liver disease part. Not only does sugar it make you fat, it turns your liver into fois gras.

I've been using the basic nutrition template found on the "Primal" diet websites, like Mark Sisson's (He's also on the sidebar). These seem complex, and there are lots of debates in the "primal community" over this or that food, and I've been doing some research. But the basic thing is really easy: cut out sugar and grains. That's it. Don't eat sweet stuff, and don't eat things made from flour. So I eat a whole lot of fruit (because it's Italy and it's wonderful), veg, meat, chicken, fish and dairy. The debates rage all over the net about which combinations of things to eat, which specific foods within these categories are better or worse, about cutting out dairy and eating too much fruit. But the rock bottom basic thing is still: no sugar, no grains. If you do that, you're doing it.

No matter what I did, I have never really lost very much weight. Fortunately, I've never had a very bad diet and have mostly avoided pre-processed foods most of my life. So I've never been really fat and probably never will be. Therefore, I've never really needed to loose a whole lot of weight. Before the diagnosis just over a year ago, I had already started cutting back on sugar and grain-oriented food and had gone down a bit. But I was in my forties, and I was slowly, year after year, creeping up and getting more and more rounded. I wasn't obese, but I was certainly larger than was comfortable and a lot larger than I liked.

Cancer sort of interrupted everything, but I've taken advantage of the weight loss and decided to keep going in a serious way with improving my diet. And everything I've read, everything, has told me that sugar more than anything else is the biggest factor in poor overall health and weight gain.

In March, I purged my kitchen, getting rid not only of sweet things like jam and Nutella, but all processed foods. Which meant all packaged soups, boxes of juice, condiments with HFCS or sugar in the label, anything at all that came with an ingredients list that included sugar, and honestly, that was nearly all of it. I have kept a little German mustard and a bottle of ketchup which I use to flavour some sauces and soups and my precious tub of Thai green curry paste. Yesterday I finally gave in and tossed my equally precious jar of hoisin sauce (sigh).

The one thing I'm really flopping on is honey, but I think I can live with that. In addition, I got rid of anything made with flour or grains. All bread, pasta, cereal, cookies, crackers or biscuits. Any baked goods. (And corn is not a vegetable. It's a grain. Corn is the seeds of a grass plant. Don't eat it or anything made from it.) I guzzle yogurt so much I've started making it myself. And any "diet" that involves me eating as much whipped cream and strawberries as I want is the diet for me!

Not having the stuff in the house has made all the difference in the world. It's no problem giving it a pass at the grocery store and I do most of my grazing when I'm at home working, and only having fresh food in the house to graze on has meant that there just isn't anything here to be "tempted" by. Now my pattern is to eat fruit and home-made Greek yogurt in the morning with tea, a lunch of meat and salad or veg, and "dinner" is usually a little salad or home made soup. My sleep is still pretty wacky and I'm often up in the wee hours of the mornings, and then the snacking kicks in, but if there's only fruit, cheese, olives, yogurt and left-over chicken, it's hard for that to be a big problem.

Likely because the surgery has made a lot of very large metabolic changes, I'm not (yet) really losing weight the way other people do when they eat like this. But I have no problem with this. I went down about 6 kilos (13 pounds) since this time last year. At Gardone I probably went up a bit (haven't checked), because the meals were all set for us, even though they were very good about substituting when asked, and I decided to have a gelato-oriented holiday. But again, not really bothered by this. I'm back to my normal eating now, and I know that I won't gain significantly. I've got a pretty good handle on how my body will react to things, and have more or less figured out how to manage it, when to say no and when it's OK to go easy. When I found out that people who have had (H-word) gain an average of 25 to 40 pounds in the first year (!!!), I remember that it's been seven months now and I'm actually losing weight a little bit, so I figure I'm winning.

Now, truthfully, I've had a pretty bad slump since the end of June. Just exhausted, and can hardly move or stay awake. But I think I simply overdid it. I had consciously given myself until April 9th to recover, and wasn't going to spend one more minute waiting. Art classes started then and I was going and that was that. I was feeling so much better, so I did the thing I always do and jumped up and ran off into full time life, going into the City five or six days a week, running about doing things, taking classes and working and even going to Pilates classes twice a week. I was able to keep it up for about six weeks, and then just fell flat on my face and stayed there.

Since then, I've just been very very tired and struggling with what were undoubtedly sleep-related problems with depression. The other day, I went into the City for Mass and then after the lunch went over to the Forum to do some drawing (someone's paying me!!) and stood there like an idiot in the blazing hot sun. Unsurprisingly, this totally did me in and I've spent the rest of the week paying for it.

But these systemic things, like chronic fatigue and insomnia, are just going to have to work themselves out over time. The good news is that I can work, almost as much as I did before, and I can go to the beach, see my friends and look after my house and Winnie, so it doesn't seem to matter too much that I sleep a lot more than before.

This morning, I made my little trip round to see the doctor and he says I'm doing remarkably well. I'm still about 2 months ahead of the normal, expected recovery time, and he agreed that cutting out sugar has probably had a lot to do with that. The Italian doctor is always very sanguine. Mostly he tells me not to worry, that I'm doing fine. Relax, have a holiday, go swimming more often... It's very Italian.

He's suggested that I try getting super-B-Complex vitamin shots to help speed up recovery of the nerve damage. As soon as I can find someone to help with calling the undoubtedly Italian-only phone number, I'll get that sorted. I've got to go have those endocrine system blood tests, which I put off because of Gardone, and after that we'll be able to tell for sure what my blood sugar and insulin, leptin and other hormone levels are, and whether I'm insulin-resistant, or what.

But it's been a fascinating experiment. Of course, it's impossible to tell how I would have responded if I had just carried on eating as I did before - you can't really do a proper experiment without a control - but I think the experience of other people is a good place to compare and if so, I'm way ahead. Way.

Stop eating sugar. Really. Everything will work a whole lot better.


What is sugar doing to your blood?

It's horrifying...

Who on earth would eat Pop-tarts for breakfast?

Or for anything else?


Pretty stuff

I've no spare dosh at the moment (got to pay off my art class bills first) but when there's a little more, I'm gonna buy me some pretty dresses.

There's a whole load of new clothes shopping sites that specialise in the new trend for retro/vintage clothes. Right up our street.


Red Dress Shoppe

Shabby Apple

Share yours!


Thursday, July 26, 2012

Need a smile?

Ooo goody! Matt's outtake video is out


Blue stuff

Note to self: that "blue stuff" that everyone has in their gardens, and that is steadfastly refusing to bloom on my balcony, is called "Plumbago auriculata".


Hummingbird Hawkmoth

We were sitting around a friend's garden the other evening eating barbecue, and someone said, "Oh looklooklook! A hummingbird!" But closer inspection revealed it to be something quite a bit more unusual and interesting. A hummingbird hawkmoth was steadily working the blue flowers that are so popular in our gardens around here (the name of which I haven't yet caught).

I'd seen them previously only in books but in Italy they are actually fairly common. Macroglossum stellatarum. I remember the first time I saw one in Santa Marinella I was coming home from the beach when we lived in the flat on the top of the hill. It was quite a long hike up and it was very hot out, so I stopped in the little bar and bought a cold drink and sat in the shade to watch the view. Along came this busy little fellow working the flowers and it was all I could do to refrain from getting up and following it around with my face two inches away. (I thought at the time that the Italian men at the bar would have thought me peculiar, but later realised that, being the only woman there at the obviously all-male bar as well as the only straniera, that was already a given, so I am sorry I worried about it now.)

This one let me come right up a few inches away to watch as it worked the little florets. I wish I'd had my camera.

You can certainly see why they are often mistaken for hummingbirds.

Isn't nature neat?


Wiki says that they lay their tiny eggs primarily on the roadside weed Galium aparine, which is the same thing I've been collecting and turning into a tisane.
The glossy pale green eggs are spherical with a 1-millimetre (0.039 in) diameter. They are said to look like the flower buds of the host plant Galium, and that is where the female lays them. They hatch 6 to 8 days after laying.[2] Up to 200 eggs may be laid by one female, each on a separate plant.
It's our good old friend, Sticky Weed, the stuff that's covered in velcro that you can throw at your little sister and will stick to your clothes. It grows in tangled masses everywhere and in the early spring I made a trip up into the hills to gather a huge bunch of it, dried it on the balcony and cut it up into bits.

As a tea or a tincture it is supposed to have anti-cancer properties and to stimulate your lymphatic system, something I've needed help with since they first started taking bits of me out. I started adding it to my tea last year after someone gave me a packet of it, but when I ran out, I couldn't find any more in any of the Italian erboristiae. No one had heard of it, so I looked it up and just went out and got some.

I've always wanted to try the childhood thing of collecting a moth or butterfly caterpillar and feeding it until it pupates. And the world can always use more hummingbird hawkmoths, don't you think?


Stop eating sugar... no really. Stop.

I've been binging on anti-sugar videos again lately.

I have a friend here who is more or less addicted to sugar in the form of soda pop. He is a smart guy, has no trouble understanding that this is a problem and a threat to his health, but for some reason, simply flatly refuses to give it up. It's weird, but he irrationally defends it as some kind of cultural statement. Or something.

All of which I think is just a bunch of crap. I think he's addicted and is looking for excuses. I've met this kind of thing before with other men I've known; this odd defiance and determination to eat crap, with the full knowledge that it's going to do a lot of long-term damage. (And sure enough, the other friend I'm thinking of is now more or less permanently crippled with heart disease.) I think it's some kind of guy thing, a reaction against our overbearing nanny-culture and in some weird (and frankly childish) way is an attempt to tell the cultural emasculators to go jump. It's a good thing to do, but better to do it by taking up shooting sports or joining a right-wing political party, not by ruining your health.

But this is someone I love, and the fact is, I can't stand to just sit by and watch him destroy his health. He has been working on improving his diet lately and it's clear it's doing some good. But the pop is still a huge factor, probably the biggest, in my worries for his health.

So I thought I'd put up a few entertaining videos about why it might be a good idea for him to put it aside for good.

Sugar. Refined white sugar is a toxin, a deadly poison and it contains no nutrients whatever.

What does that much sugar do to you? A while ago, my friend asked the astonishing question, "Does sugar make you fat?" It does quite a lot more than that, and the way it makes you fat, by spiking your insulin the hormone that essentially orders your cells to store fat, it makes you insulin-resistant over time. And insulin-resistance is the first step to diabetes.

Teeth. Cola is highly acidic, and we all know that you can use it as a corrosive. How corrosive? The egg shell is made of basically the same substance as your teeth.

What are some of the things that sugar is associated with? In point form:

- cancer of the breast, kidneys, endometrium, ovaries, prostate, intestines and rectum and pancreas in women,
- it is a factor in multiple sclerosis, asthma, arthritis, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, hypertension, emphysema, atherosclerosis and liver disease
- contributes to heart disease in a variety of ways,
- and diabetes, of course,
- exacerbates mood disorders and schizophrenia by destroying B and E vitamins and affecting the levels of neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine
- increases instances of seizures for epileptics
- causes chromium deficiency
- and copper deficiency
- and interferes with the absorption of calcium and magnesium, contributing to bone disease like osteoporosis
- it can weaken your eyesight
- it interrupts the transfer of amino acids to muscle tissue,
- it exacerbates nerve damage and neuropathy
- causes hyperactivity, anxiety, difficulty concentrating,
- it suppresses your immune system by interfering with white blood cell functioning
- it retards the ability of your intestines to absorb and process an array of nutrients
- it permanently retards the elasticity of your skin and muscles, contributing to aging making it, together with sun/photic damage, the worst thing for your skin
- the damage sugar does to tissues makes it harder for your body to recover from injuries or surgery
- it decreases leptin, the hormone that regulates appetite, making you think you want to eat more food than you need

... there's a lot more... a lot.

What, specifically, happens to you when you eat sugar?

Mark Sisson gives a general picture.

"...every type of carbohydrate you eat is eventually converted to a simple form of sugar known as glucose, either directly in the gut or after a brief visit to the liver." This includes bread, pasta, cereal, potatoes, rice, fruit, dessert, sugar of any kind including pop, which all gets converted to glucose in your bloodstream. The body responds by producing insulin, the hormone that sends glucose to the liver and muscle cells.

When those cells are full, which they will be a lot because of inactivity and too much sugar intake, excess glucose is converted to fat.

"...when we eat too many carbohydrates, the pancreas pumps out insulin...but if the liver and muscle cells are already filled with glycogen, those cells start to become resistant to the call of insulin. The insulin “receptor sites” on the surface of those cells start to decrease in number as well as in efficiency. The term is called “down regulation.” Since the glucose can’t get into the muscle or liver cells, it remains in the bloodstream.

Now the pancreas senses there’s still too much toxic glucose in the blood, so it frantically pumps out even more insulin, which causes the insulin receptors on the surface of those cells to become even more resistant, because excess insulin is also toxic! Eventually, the insulin helps the glucose finds it way into your fat cells, where it is stored as fat. Again – because it bears repeating – it’s not fat that gets stored in your fat cells – it’s sugar.

Here it is in point form:
1) The levels of blood glucose stay higher longer because the glucose can’t make it into the muscle cells. This toxic glucose is like sludge in the bloodstream clogging arteries, binding with proteins to form harmful AGEs (advanced glycated end-products) and causing systemic inflammation. Some of this excess glucose contributes to a rise in triglycerides, increasing risk for heart disease.

2) More sugar gets stored as fat. Since the muscle cells are getting less glycogen (because they are resistant), and since insulin inhibits the fat-burning enzyme lipase, now you can’t even burn stored fat as easily. You continue to get fatter until eventually those fat cells become resistant themselves.

3) It just gets better. Levels of insulin stay higher longer because the pancreas thinks “if a little is not working, more would be better.” Wrong. Insulin is itself very toxic at high levels, causing, among many other maladies, plaque build-up in the arteries (which is why diabetics have so much heart disease) and increasing cellular proliferation in cancers.

4) Just as insulin resistance prevents sugar from entering muscle cells, it also prevents amino acids from entering. So now you can’t build or maintain your muscles. To make matters worse, other parts of your body think there’s not enough stored sugar in the cells, so they send signals to start to cannibalizing your precious muscle tissue to make more – you guessed it – sugar! You get fatter and you lose muscle. Woo hoo!

5) Your energy level drops, which makes you hungry for more carbohydrates and less willing to exercise. You actually crave more of the poison that is killing you.

6) When your liver becomes insulin resistant, it can’t convert thyroid hormone T4 into the T3, so you get those mysterious and stubborn “thyroid problems”, which further slow your metabolism.

7) You can develop neuropathies (nerve damage) and pain in the extremities, as the damage from the excess sugar destroys nerve tissue, and you can develop retinopathy and begin to lose your eyesight. Fun.

8) Eventually, the pancreas is so darn exhausted, it can’t produce any more insulin and you wind up having to inject insulin to stay alive. Lots of it, since you are resistant. Congratulations, you have graduated to insulin-dependent Type 2 diabetes.

None of which makes you clever, cool or funny. So please knock it off. OK?


Cream of Carrot soup

I'm always horrified when a young man tells me that he can't cook or doesn't know what sort of things to buy in a grocery store. What are the mothers of these fellows thinking, catering to them every day of their lives and keeping them in a state of infantile helplessness? And, more to the point, why weren't they getting the kids to do the shopping and cooking? I was doing the housework at home from age eight.

Over the years, I've taught quite a few young men to cook, usually starting by smacking them upside the head and chastising them for being idiots. Knowing how to buy at least half-way healthy food, and knowing what to do with it when you get it home, is a basic survival skill and it boggles my mind that parents could allow their sons to go out into the world without having taught them how to do it.

Young men, I think you should know that it is not endearing, cute or attractive in any way to be helpless and unable to fend for yourself. The kind of woman you might want to marry will not be interested in taking on such a burden. Be a man; learn to cook.

So, get cracking. The best cookbook you can buy, and probably the only one you will ever need, is the Joy of Cooking, which is more like a cooking and food text book than a cookbook. Get a second-hand one. Older editions (mine are my mother's 1986 edition and a friend's mother's 1942) have line drawings that clearly illustrate the techniques of cooking. The Joy is kind of an institution and although American, has conversion tables for English weights and measures.

Here's a recipe that is simple to shop for, healthy and cheap to get you started.

At the grocery store, buy one block of butter (sold by the pound, but in grams; 454g= 1 pound) a packet of carrots, two onions, a bulb of fresh garlic, a pint of whole milk and 250 mls of cream (often sold as "whipping cream" or "heavy cream"), a box of vegetable or chicken Oxo cubes, a few potatoes.

When choosing vegetables and fruit, always look for and reject any with soft or brown spots, squishy bits or anything slimy. Most groceries will sell fruit and veg out of season but it's a good idea to get to know what kinds of things grow in which seasons. Out-of-season fruit and veg is often much poorer quality, unripe or artificially force-ripened and never as good for you. Carrots, potatoes, onions and garlic, however, are pretty seasonless, can be found everywhere and are at the rock bottom of the price

six medium carrots
two medium potatoes
two small cloves garlic
one onion
one tbsp butter
one chicken or veg Oxo cube
two cups whole milk
one cup heavy cream
one tbsp curry powder (optional)

You will need a large pot or saucepan, a knife sharp enough to cut veg (dull knives are dangerous knives), a cutting board (always buy a wooden one, never plastic), a potato peeler, a wooden spoon and a blender. With these tools, plus a decent frying pan and maybe a steamer, you can keep yourself in decent food all the time. A couple of baking tins, cake tins, are a good idea too. They can be used for single-serving meat and chicken in the oven and are very cheap and multipurpose.

Always read through the whole recipe first before you get started chopping and peeling, to make sure you have everything.

Peel and chop about six carrots, two medium potatoes and an onion. Mince two cloves of garlic very fine. Over a low heat, melt the butter in the saucepan (butter burns at a very low temperature, so don't give in to the temptation to turn the heat way up. This is the most common error made by cooking beginners. It doesn't make anything go faster, but burns the food before it's cooked) then add the veg, except the potatoes, to saute until the onions turn transparent and the whole thing starts smelling nice.

Once the veg starts looking close to being cooked, add the potatoes a single Oxo cube and about a litre of water. Cover and simmer on a low heat for fifteen minutes or so, until the carrots are very soft. Add about two cups of milk and simmer for five more minutes. Keep the heat low and keep an eye on it (don't go into the other room and read or surf the net) because milk will tend to boil over and make a mess.

While it's still hot, ladle a quantity of the soup into the blender, about half way full, and blend on high for a couple of minutes. With the blender running, take the top-knot thingy out, and pour in about half the cream. Blend for another minute.

Repeat until all the soup is blended with the cream.


It should be light and frothy but very filling. It's also very nice with a little grated pecorino on top. (But then, what isn't?)

Blended cream soups, always with a little potato for density, are best served immediately and don't keep very well in the fridge. I've given here a recipe that will make enough for about three small servings. If you are feeling adventuresome, you can add a tablespoon or so of mild curry powder while the veg is sauteing in the butter.


Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Last stone, turned

I read the book by Brian Moore (it's pronounced "Bree-an," but only because he's Irish, and therefore difficult) some years ago while living with John Muggs, and his lordship recommended the film.

Just today, a friend sent this along

With an exceedingly young Martin Sheen.

Perhaps the most deliberately depressing examination of the effects of the Asteroid anyone has ever bothered to make. Moore already knew in the early 70s what it was going to take me another few decades to figure out.

When I was in Gardone, a friend of mine had rented a motorino and took me on a little ride up into the hills where we found whole little villages and hamlets left over from the Middle Ages tucked away in the shadow of the Italian Alps. Lots of beautiful little stone churches and wayside shrines on the tiny country back lanes. It seemed the remotest place in the world, with the incredible vista of Lake Garda spread out below.

But any look longer than a momentary glance brought the fantasy down. Every single one of those glorious little churches, all tucked away and hidden from the world as they were, had been savagely Novusordoed. All of them had the altar rails ripped out, the altars replaced with the standard wooden ironing boards, and the old statues removed from their niches. The wayside shrines were being updated, which meant that the popular statues of Our Lady and the Crucifixes had been replaced with meaningless blobs, impersonal, modern, faceless and hideous. The Churchwreckers really have left absolutely no stone unturned.

Brian Moore's story, in case you weren't around then, was about the last place on earth where the Old Faith was kept alive. A monastery on a rock off the coast of Ireland, headed by an old Abbot who, unlike Monsignore Lefebvre, decided in the end to throw in the towel. At the end of the book, the monks are removed from their monastery and the people are forced to conform when the last priests willing to give them the Sacraments are taken away.

There really shouldn't be anyone left who thinks that the War of the Real is just a matter of semantics.

It's a funny thing that there weren't more movies, TV shows or documentaries made about the drastic and very observable changes in the Catholic Church in the period immediately following the Council. It was certainly widely commented upon at the time in the press. I'm constantly amazed at how many non-Catholics of my acquaintance who still believe that the Catholic Church is some kind of monolithic, medieval institution with everyone marching in formation like the Swiss Guards.

I shocked an old friend when he said something like, "Well, you people have got the Jesuits to keep you in line..." when I burst out laughing and told him that the Jesuits are the ones leading the campaign against the Pope. He didn't believe me until I showed him some stuff on the internet.

Seriously Hollywood, what's up with that? Y'all are missing out.



Why are zombies all of a sudden the media's new black?

Could it be because we all seem to be aware on some level that we are zombies already? Mindlessly lurching around looking for the next thing to consume while our world, and our bodies, rot and crumble away around us?



Friday, July 20, 2012

A priori, a posteriori...

a Christopher.

Thanks for the assist.

"Older" and "newer" posts thingy re-installed at the bottom of the page. And I'll try to withstand the urge to tinker with the template from now on.


Thursday, July 19, 2012

If you can get the milk for free...

Pretty much...


Start saving your pennies

'cause it ain't cheap.

Thanks again (times a million) to the anonymous donor who made it possible for me to attend the full conference.


Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Let me make this absolutely clear...

It's pronounced "skizm," not "shizum," OK?

In English the "sch" combo separates the two consonant sounds with one soft "s" and the other a hard "ch" like the Italian "chiesa".

As in "school". You don't pronounce it "shool," do you?

So stop saying "shizum".

Also, it's "suck-sess" not "sussess".

"Success". The reason there are two c's in the middle is because the second one is followed by an "e" which in English softens it. The first is hard, the second soft.

Say it with me: "suck-sess" "skizm".

Right? Got it?



Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Goofy or Great?



Bloggie help

I know I've got some computer-competent readers out there, so maybe someone can give me a hand. During one of my template renovations, I seem to have erased the thing at the bottom of the page that will send you to "Older posts" and back to "newer posts" and "home".

Don't know how I did it, and have no idea how to put it back.



And you thought the Scots were nuts

Italian bagpipes.

It's something that you learn pretty fast when you move here. Italians are all nuts. Dotty. Bonkers.

But in a really fun way.

This is the annual bagpipe festival in Scapoli, in the heart of my very most favourite Italian region, Molise, an almost unknown little place a paltry hour's ride south from Rome.

I think Molise is where they invented fun.

Yes, you can escape. 9 Euros on the train from Termini and you will find yourself taken back in time, or alternately, transported to one of the very few places left in the world where They can't get you.


Latin is silly

Quid dat?!

Yep. I've studied it, and so have you, so we're not fooling each other.

And about Hannibal and the elephants: every time I fly over the Alps, I like to look down on this insanely difficult terrain and I always think about those elephants and their insane general... and then I order a gin and tonic and give 'em a toast from 35,000 feet.


Like, OMG! Science! n' stuff...

Witness the incredible mind-control powers of our Dread Overlords

This is a video made at the request of the European Commission to encourage dumb floozies women to get into "science".

The video, they said, had to "speak their language to get their attention." Cause, see, they're wearing glasses. So that shows they're like, smart n' stuff, y'know?


Nail Polish!

What could go wrong?!

* ~ * ~ *

EU vs. the Natives

It's the EU's idea of a propaganda piece about "unity" and errrmm... international relations ... I guess...

And I was all worried that they were way smarter than us.


Oh. My...

Sometimes there just aren't enough adjectives...


Monday, July 16, 2012

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sang the Maple Leaf Forever on our last night at the Roman Forum

I always freeze up when I'm singing by myself in front of people. Get all wobbly-voiced...

But I did my best to educate our American friends that there was a country, called Canada, that was once a respectable place to be from.


Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Roman Forum highlights

The hydrofoil fast ferry across Lake Garda. 13.80 Euros, and gets you to Gardone from Desenzano in 45 minutes.

No shortage of pretty women,

(caught in a rare non-smiling moment)

or handsome young chaps at the Roman Forum.

And surrounded by history

and the Faith.

Singing Vespers before dinner.

Dinners at the Angeli,

the gustatory highlight.

Chris Ferrara, in his talk, anticipated the day They come for us in the black helicopters: "We have you surrounded. Come out with your wine glasses up!"

Michael Matt made a comment at lunch yesterday: "John (Rao) is allowing us to see what we're fighting for."


Boat trip Sunday

In case y'all have been wondering, I'm still alive and having a bang-up time at Gardone.

Three days left.

Sunday the best day, when we take a break from importantly thinking and talking about Important Things. Mass at 8:30 am, followed by a buffet brunch at the Angeli.

Then the little trenino takes us all down to the waterfront where we get on

Alberto's boat. Both times I've been here we head for

a little medieval town about an hour up Lake Garda, called Malcesine ("Mal-CHEZ-in-ay")

Michael Matt and Peter Rao

Maria Madise of Talinn, Estonia, Thomas Stark of Vienna, and David Hughes Stamford, Connecticut.

Conquering Malcesine one gelato at a time. (No "primal" on holiday.)

Jamie Bogle sizes up the castle.

where Chris Ferrara and I have a tradition of storming the castle after a quick bit of salad for lunch in a charming little piazza

then up the castle.

Inside the gates, there is a little garden where you can lie on the grass and look up at the swifts swooping and

wheeling amongst the cypresses.

Views from the castle's lower levels

My buddy Chris Ferrara on top of the tower.

View from the tower top

to the top of the lake.

After, we found the beach access and went for a swim in the lake.

Medieval steps down to the waterfront.

People have been having a dip here,

in this little cove

under the castle's shadows, for a thousand years or more.

Where today, the local boys

practise their

tightrope walking.

Jamie Bogle tried it, but it's probably one of those things you have to start doing when you're five.

At five, we all re-boarded and Alberto parks the boat about a 1/2 mile from shore and we jump in.

The trenino pulls us, damp and blissful, back up the hill in Gardone, in a haze of euphoria, waving to passers-by, a kind of pre-heavenly bliss, and the only sad thoughts are that we are now half way through our time here. As driver dings his bell through the piazza in Gardone Sopra, the restaurant owners and shop keepers and fellow-tourists cheer and clap and we wave like royalty.

After a shower and a lie down

it's cocktail hour,

and we are entertained by a children's choir who sing spirituals in English.

And half the town turns out to enjoy.

During dinner we have our annual visit from the Alpini, a men's choir made up of fellows who look as if they have spent their lives tending vineyards and hunting in the hills. Rugged. They give us traditional Italian mountain songs, in which young men fall madly in love with pretty girls and everyone lives happily ever after following only trivial and somewhat contrived obstacles.

Dinner companions on Sunday evening,

Professor Thomas Stark of Vienna,

the madcap Jamie Bogle of London,

Bill Stannus, an engineer from Fernie, British Columbia,

Alex (whose surname I've not caught yet) from Vilnius, Lithuania,

Gregor Hochreiter, an economist from Vienna

Chris Ferrara, sharing with his wife, Wendy, back in the states.

Father Trezza and Rosemary

The earlier sense of euphoria has deepened into a kind of glow of warmth and beatitude, when we indulge the hope that the horrors of the world can be overcome through sheer fun and camaraderie.

Late in the evening, we float back up the hill to bed after an evening in the piazza singing songs from My Fair Lady and laughing uproariously after making fun of Estonia.