4 Jul 2015

Santa Fe Way

When you feel sizzled to a jalapeño on fire, and the colours on your photography have discoloured to a shimmy on the horizon line... When your day is air-conditioned, with a view over next door's dusty empty pool, and the desert heat beats down your windows like vacuumed into the cooling pipes... When Georgia O'Keeffe's desert flowers are as freshly-picked as Heaven on your mind, and Bananarama's Cruel Summer drifts from the radio to you like a whiff of sticky cotton candy from the fun-fair down the road... Somehow my friend, you are heading Santa Fe way.

Source: All photography La Baguette Magique. From top down: (1) Mr. Tickle prancing on the bed, all "dandified" in his recently-acquired pareo! (2) A handful of dried bougainvillea bracts reveal their inflorescence... and their decorative power. (3) If Piña Colada were to be a candle, it probably would resemble this one, from French retailer Monoprix. (4) 'Rose', oil on board painting by Georgia O'Keeffe (1957). (5) Small ceramic 'Sunshine' bowl by Chehoma. (6) Ladies, feel fresh and fabulous with 'Jasmin' eau de toilette by French perfume house Fragonard.

28 Jun 2015

Inspiration's Den of Iniquity

In December 2012, I came across an article in Brain Pickings about The Daily Routines of Great Writers, and their creative space and process. This got me thinking about my own daily routine (or lack thereof) as a (yet-to-be-published) writer. I remember commenting on BP's Facebook page on the subject, sharing what a 'typical' day was for me as a writer:
"My personal routine as a writer is simply not to have any... I write in a state of distraction and urgency, not to say chaos, in noisy places, on random bits of tatty paper, guided by the guises, quirks and fancies of inspiration, driven by both emotion and rationale. You will never find me locked away in solitary confinement, sat at a desk in a neat and tidy room, writing calligraphic-style on the beautiful pages of a beautiful notebook, within a set timeframe like this is the day job. I may be a writer but never aspire to look like one either."

Brett Easton Ellis' The Typewriter Campaign with Persol

All in all, I couldn't help but be a little taken aback by the lack of creative process in some of those daily lives I was reading about. There was a rigor, a rigidity, a structure, an orderliness, and a predictability resulting from repetitive acts, that fashioned what a typical writer's day was supposed to look like. If anything, it verged on the superstitious, the mechanical and the obsessive, which I found at odds with creativity and untransferrable to a less disciplined character like myself. There is method in my madness though, yet I find that I would be counter-productive if I were subjected to some rigid routine pattern.

For me, imagination, curiosity, observation and inspiration - the intermingled fuels that feed creativity - work hand in hand with the act of creating, a.k.a. the art form. It is a unison work in progress, a symbiosis that accompanies the artist beyond the projects they are working on. It is a way of life. Creativity is very messy and undisciplined - and that is the beauty of it! Inspiration hits you anywhere and at any time, whether the moment is appropriate or not, whether you are in the mood to transcribe it there and then - or not. It is up to you to seize the day as it turns out to become, capture the spark in its blessing, as it twinkles at you for you to translate into creative genius - or just let it peter out, often never to be able to rekindle it again, at least in its very same form.

Christian Dell Table Lamp, circa 1929-1930 (pict source)

Back to the Brain Pickings article, Ray Bradbury was on that same wavelength:
"My passions drive me to the typewriter every day of my life, and they have driven me there since I was twelve. So I never have to worry about schedules. Some new thing is always exploding in me, and it schedules me, I don’t schedule it. It says: Get to the typewriter right now and finish this." - Ray Bradbury
The creative urge is what defines artistic life as a holistic experience. It shatters to smithereens any preconceived idea around the 'typical' working day. It happens and you deal with it - or you don't. Multi-talented chanteuse Lady Gaga goes even further, lending some mystical connotation to the experience:
“The most important thing about creativity is that you honor your creativity and you don’t ever ignore it or go against what that creative image is telling you … Last night I was lying in bed and I had an idea for an outfit and I just made myself get up and sketch it real fast then went back to sleep. I think it’s when you say “I’m too tired I have to go to bed” is when creativity stops coming. If God calls you, pick up the damn phone. - Lady Gaga
Cyphus germari by Michaël Cailloux, via Les Pépins

I have answered that phone in those most incongruous of moments. In the middle of the night, waking up from a dream, or while on the move, in my travels, sometimes hardly prepared for it, stopping my car by the roadside, scribbling away those words on random bits of paper I find in my handbag (if that notebook I have left home), or even texting myself the words. If no paper and no phone, then trying to remember those words and sentences (or just scale down to some trigger words that help me remember the text or poem I have just created 'out of the blue'), and recite them parrot fashion on my way home or to a place where I can scribble them down.

In this spontaneous interchange between inspiration and the receiver (the artist), I fail to find any room for the showroom office, the tidy desk, the neatly-aligned books, comforting grigris and perfectly-sharpened pens, under the solemn time-ticking auspices of the alarm clock structuring your working day. A writer's working day is hardly a 9am-5pm office job. My better half, Roby, who is a published American author, says that his office is only tidy when he is not working. Let us not forget though that no matter how messy and untidy creativity may appear at source, it comes out disciplined and structured once channelled onto paper. Therefore the apparent untidiness of the artist should not define them or their craft.

Bret Easton Ellis For Persol Typewriter Edition from Persol.

Creativity is an on-going process. It doesn't start, it doesn't end. Now you are welcome to that obligatory 20-minute morning walk ritual before you start your artistic endeavours, supported in your task by your favourite songtrack and your loyal artefacts as they tune you in - should you be of the belief that these externals will help trigger your genius onto paper afterwards. For my part, I will not have my creative life regimented to that extent. I do not have a typical day. The only routine I have is imposed upon me because I currently live at my parents' house, and the set meals and other family obligations structure some sort of routine into my day, but this will change soon, when I move out.

I will not push the words either. French author and 2012 Goncourt Prize winner Jérôme Ferrari summed up his technique nicely in a recent interview to a local French newspaper: "I do not search for words, I allow them to come to me." Nothing of a high calibre will come out when creativity is forced out of you, like you are on a tight deadline, with a multitude of other parameters attached. Rules and conditions restrict creativity. They do not expand it.

'Art is a journey into the most unknown thing of all - oneself. 
Nobody knows his own frontiers… 
I don’t think I’d ever want to take a road 
if I knew where it led.' - Louis Kahan 

P.S: More from the Persol-Bret Easton Ellis Typewriter Campaign in our previous post.

16 Jun 2015

Inspire Aspire - The Waiting Game

They say that good things happen to those who wait... Well, try saying that to those two pre-Raphaelite muses. On the other hand, the composed couple standing tight at the corner of Woodside, San Francisco, might have more going for them. Stood at the crossroads of life, expectations might turn into realisations once the shrouding fog has dissipated out of their lives and a new day has borne out of night.

Fred Lyon photography
The waiting game is not a game. It's actually not even about waiting but observing, thinking, mulling over, taking stock. In our society of temporary arrangements, on-the-spot results and instant gratifications, the waiting is warped, the sense of observation is shunted to the side. How can you be able to listen to that inner voice and make sense and reconnect and grow when there are so many distractions that keep you on a flatline level of short-lived mild amusement?

'Indulge your curiosity. It's the basis of creativity.' - Fred Lyon

As the mood is atmospheric and slightly at odds with the sharpness of reality, as what seems to be is not exactly what is, as if warped out by Gemini Retrograde or other forces, as night spikes the day, reality morphs into daydream and errs like a vapour over the metaphorical Styx of the mind, Orphée (Orpheus) springs to mind, and a Joy Division soundtrack laced to it is almost de rigueur for that added tinge of melancholia. With artistic form taking on as much a major role as the actual storyline, American film critic Roger Ebert revealed in 2000 that Orphée is "about how art can seduce the artist away from ordinary human concerns". Such is the mirage of life when it becomes entangled in multi-layered realities, via the conduit of the silver screen, and better still, via our own devices, understand our own unbridled imagination.

'Light Rails' light art installation by Bill FitzGibbons, Birmingham, AL (pict source)
Are you losing me or - more importantly - are you finding you? You will find that curiosity feeds on imagination and vice-versa. Both unleash creativity, and the transcription of imagination fuelled by the creative impetus will engender Art. Maybe you should have a go, if you haven't already done so.

'Hollywood', photography by Marcus Doyle
Orpheus : A Film by Bret Easton Ellis from Persol.

Credits: I discovered the great San Francisco photographic legend Fred Lyon via a tribute blogpost in Paris Hotel Boutique. There is also a noteworthy interview by PetaPixel.

P.S: More from the Persol-Bret Easton Ellis Typewriter Campaign in our next post.

12 Jun 2015

Sailing Hermione and Sunken Utopia

I have been following with pride an ambitious and audacious shipyard project brought to fruition by the passion and determination of author Erik Orsenna and a handful of ordinary French fellow citizens who managed to get together a team of expert craftsmen who over the last 17 years painstakingly built a perfect replica of Frigate L'Hermione, in Rochefort-sur-Mer. The beautiful and graceful tall ship was then seen off on April 18th, 2014 to sail across the Atlantic Ocean with a costumed équipage to meet its destiny, like the original frigate had back in 1780 with the illustrious Marquis de Lafayette on board. Our French emissary was to take a decisive part in the independence of that faraway land full of New World promise, and where everything seemed therefore possible and feasible.

USS Mitscher welcomes L'Hermione (pict source)

L'Hermione II has sailed like a bird on her month-and-a-half maiden journey from the old continent to the shores of the founding fathers of America - Yorktown, Mount Vernon and Alexandria - and her awe-inspiring journey along the East Coast is only just commencing. This is not only a historically-charged moment, but also a highly-symbolic one as a delightful and tasteful homage from France to the US in the form of a kind and thoughful yet acutely tangible reminder of our esteemed friendship and diplomatic alliance, despite specks of tarnish over the last 60 years.

As we sail forth to rekindle the past and salute the prowess of the skilled craftsmen in their labour of love and 84 crew members in their dedication, and to experience the expansive cultural outreach while our flags proudly duet to the sea breeze and gracefully waltz together into an embrace, I join in to celebrate our Franco-American friendship.

L'Hermione is welcomed in Yorktown (pict source)

In the context of the looming French Revolution (1789-1799), The French Illuminati (free-thinkers, philosophers, writers, teachers) of the time were purveyors of novel ideas (or inspired by past civilisations) to emancipate mankind and free them from the feodal system and the centralisation of power. Utopic societies were dreamt of, and America was seen as a place where utopia, a Land of the Free, could be borne. On the old continent, the French revolutionary ideas stood out from England's more conservative (evolutionary) approach. Albion, France and America's common enemy, did not sit well with the idea of change. La Fayette embarked upon L'Hermione to help Americans liberate from English rule and build a republic that would be a model for the rest of the world, an ideal. The Franco-American alliance brought victory at the Battle of Yorktown in 1781.

L'Hermione's Bordeaux stopover, October 2014 (pict source)

Now we may argue whether America ever had anything utopic that is found elsewhere than in the text of its constitution. For once, a Land of the Free built upon the enslavement and eradication of its indigenous populations and the robbing of their lands and destruction of their culture, is hardly a utopic gesture, but rather a dystopic one. A nation that has turned out to become an economic, political and military bully rather than an ally on the world scene, cannot be a role model, surely. At the sight of a nation that has turned into a militarised police state, the American founding fathers and the French revolutionaries will jointly disapprove, because this was never the future they had envisaged for America.

If utopia there ever was, it was dreamt up in lofty salons and calligraphed together with thoughts and ideas and concepts onto velum. It now is found lying deep off the shores of the East Coast, and there isn't more to salvage from its putrescent self than an idea for a replica. America, I love the idea of you and respect you, but you are only human, hence flawed. And that is your foible as much as it is ours. God Bless You.

Further Resources:

4 Jun 2015

Design Interlude - Candy Pink Palaces

This post is a personal design indulgence of mine and a little vanity project in progress, amongst my many areas of interest. I have a thing for good design and more than a casual appreciation for 'olde worlde' interiors, exteriors, homestyles, graphics and the likes. The last time I did a 'Design Interlude' was over 5 years ago, where I featured sublime Cheshire residential façades from my then neck of the woods (Hale, Bowdon and Altrincham). I had taken snapshots of candy-coloured façades, that looked like they had escaped the confines of a 3-tiered tea-time cake stand, and eloped in their delicious robes of custard cream, buttercream fancy, chiffon cake and marshmallow, taking me down a cottage industry journey of delicate mint cake, lemon truffle, deep caramel, old-fashioned violet and rose creams, candied ginger, strawberry truffle, butterscotch, coconut macaroon and vanilla fudge… Are we under the spell of a sugar high or are we not?

(pict source)
When Wes Anderson's critically-acclaimed film The Grand Budapest Hotel came out and its majestic façade rose upon our screens and graced the glossies in its wedding cake strawberry meringue colourings and piped lettering, I knew straight away that I was faced with an art that I loved. Anderson's quirky formula is sublime in my eye: the nostalgia-ladden cartoonesque naïve art visuals in candy pastel graphics and the surrealist art direction which both celebrate vintage to an artform are a great fit to my all-encompassing design passions. I had to extol this proud and loud in my blog, no matter how long it would take me to get round to it, which ended up being more than 12 months after the movie release (eeek how responsive is that?).

Finally the moment has come to be enjoyed, as I am looking at the façade and imagining the stories and dramas and quid pro quos that lie underneath the apparent sober tranquillity and contained gracefulness of the place. Meanwhile I invite you to go backstage and find out about Wes Anderson's Grand Budapest Hotel graphic designer, Annie Atkins, via an insightful article by Camille Styles, or how she met the visual feat challenges raised by such a high-profile project brief for a sought-after dream job!

(pict source)

Talking of candy pink palaces, how could I possibly resist other gems, especially if they are no fiction, but rather a sweet and welcome part of our reality? Hawa Mahal, otherwise known as Palace of Winds (Jaipur, India, completed 1799) springs to my mind, as immortalised herein by Studio Yuki in all its intricate beauty and timeless charm:

Hawa Mahal (pict source)
Some candy pink palaces out there in India are crumbly around the edges, like this one in Benarés. We may nonetheless appreciate its fading glory. The top storey certainly looks well kept and - since we are in a sweet-focused mood - I would say that its ornate décor reminds me of some girlie birthday cake decoration piping. If sweetness is bringing you sickness, we'll steer the façade analogy clear of sugar and steer it towards bejewelling instead.

Benarés, India (pict source)
Anyway if nostalgia tastes like a cream cake from childhood baked with tender loving care, I wonder what a whiff of nostalgia would smell like? I shall dispense with a spray of pure musk from L'Air de Panache, found lingering on a bedside cabinet at The Grand Budapest Hotel. Maybe I'll go for a drop of Guerlain instead.

L'Air de Panache (pict source)

31 May 2015

Gâteau Paris-Brest

Serves: 8
Preparation: 40 mins (choux pastry) + 40 mins (filling and dressing)
Cooking: 20 mins + extra 5 mins + leave in the open oven for an extra 5 mins

If a French pastry ever were to be described as la crème de la crème (in every sense of the phrase), then Paris-Brest would be it. The gâteau is classic in style and celebratory in mood, and a piece of French culinary heritage all to itself that goes beyond anything cream cake. If I wax lyrical so readily about this particular pâtisserie, it is simply because it stands as my all-time favourite!

The Paris-Brest dates back to 1910, which despite making it a centenarian, also brings out its timeless appeal! Its circular shape is in reference to the Paris-Brest cycle race. A pâtissier from the Parisian suburbs, Louis Durand, had been tasked by the race manager to create a cake that would commemorate the event.

So here we have a gâteau whose popularity has surpassed that of the actual race. It is made out of light and airy choux pastry (cream puff dough), and sprinkled with a generous helping of aromatic roasted almond slivers, finished off with a fine dusting of icing-sugar. The filling is nothing less than a dreamy fluffy praline mousseline cream whose nuttiness echoes that of the almonds, and peers out of its fine corset of piped pastry to doom us into sweet temptation some more.

The Paris-Brest might appear daunting to bake, only if you follow some of the eccentric variants out there, that make it sound more complicated than it actually is! The best thing to do is to follow my step-by-step foolproof method, and you'll be coming back for more!

[Recipe adapted from Maxi Cuisine magazine from a few years back.]

Choux pastry:
  • 10cl (1/2 cup) milk (whole or half-skimmed)
  • 10cl (1/2 cup) water
  • 80g butter (1/3 cup), cut in small chunks
  • 140g (1 cup) all-purpose white flour, sieved
  • 4 middle-size organic eggs
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp white caster sugar
Filling (praline mousseline cream):
  • 1l (2 pints) milk (whole or half-skimmed, but not fat-free)
  • half a vanilla pod
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 80g (1/3 cup) white caster sugar
  • 25g (1 heaped tablespoon) all-purpose white flour, sieved
  • 25g (1 heaped tablespoon) cornflour 
  • 180g (1 cup 1/2) chopped French pralines (a confection of almonds with caramelized sugar)
  • 100g (1/3 cup + 1 oz) softened butter (left out of the fridge)
  • 50g (1/2 cup) almond slivers
  • 50g (1/3 cup) icing sugar

P.S: For baking ingredient conversions, refer to this.

P.P.S: PRALINES-- French Pralines are caramelized almonds. They are sold either whole as a confection, or chopped into a rough granulated texture (see above picture), called 'Pralin' in French. However depending upon which country you live in, French Pralines may not be readily available to purchase. Therefore you may have to resort to making your own, and this easy-to-follow online recipe will do the trick. If you are based in the US, you may want to opt for Glazed Pecans or Praline Pecans from Southern Candy Makers as your closest shop-bought alternative to French Pralin - and for that little Southern touch... All you will need to do is chop the whole glazed pecans/ praline pecans through a food processor until they turn to a granulated texture.

All in all, please be warned about the confusion between Pralines (as in Southern Pecan Pralines) and French Pralines, despite their common French origins. The Pecan Pralines (described by Southern Candy Makers as "similar to candied pecans, only creamier, [they] resemble a cookie, but are actually a crumbly candy patty [made] from fresh cream, butter, sugar, and Louisana pecans") are not suitable for Paris-Brest. Do aim for Glazed Pecans or Praline Pecans instead.

Now back to our Paris-Brest. Preheat the oven (200°C/ 392°F). Prepare the choux pastry: In a medium saucepan and on medium heat, combine (without whisking) milk, water, butter, salt and sugar. When the mixture starts to simmer, add the flour in one go. Then for about one minute and on lower heat, mix together vigorously with a wooden spatula so as to dry out the dough without it sticking to the pan, and you should get a thick and smooth consistency.

Then transfer the dough from the saucepan to a mixing bowl. Add the whole eggs, one at a time, thoroughly incorporating each single egg into the dough with the spatula as you mix together, before you add on the next. Carry on until the dough gets elastic and smooth and comes off the sides of the bowl.

Optionally trace a loose circle (approx. 20cm diameter) on a sheet of parchment paper with a pencil. Then lay the parchment paper onto a baking tray and lightly grease the paper with cooking oil. Then spoon the dough into a piping bag and trace a circle onto the parchment paper and then another circle inside the first (right next to it with no gaps), so that you get a one-inch wide circle. Then pipe a third circle to rest on top of the junction between the first two circles.

You may use a teaspoon as an alternative to the piping bag (which is what I did here) and painstakingly spoon one teaspoon of dough at a time onto the paper until forming a full circle of dough (one inch wide). The finished article, once baked, might not be as full and rounded as the classic (piped) Paris-Brest, but this will not impair the taste whatsoever. And eh, who said Paris-Brest couldn't look rustic round the edges? Actually, [purists, look away now!] should you find convention a tad tricky to handle, you may want to adjust the shape of your Paris-Brest to rectangular, as this will neatly fit in the baking tray (which is what I did here too!).

Sprinkle a generous handful of almond slivers all over the choux pastry. Bake in the oven (200°C/ 392°F) for 20 mins. Never be tempted to open the oven during the baking process or the pastry will deflate and never raise again! When the 20 mins are up, turn the oven temperature down to 180°C/ 356°F and bake the cake for a further 5 mins. Then turn off the oven completely and open its door and leave the cake to cool off for 5 mins before taking it out of the oven. This will prevent it from deflating too much. The pastry should be golden in colour when it comes out of the oven.

Only when the cream puff pastry has thoroughly cooled off, should you split it in two equal horizontal halves, carefully and using a bread knife. Personally I find that a serrated grapefuit knife will do the trick nicely, thanks to the fact that the centre of cream puff is hollow.

Prepare the mousseline cream filling: A mousseline cream is basically pastry cream to which butter has been added. Note that the cornflour will lighten the cream consistency. However if you have no cornflour handy, then adjust the all-purpose white flour quantity accordingly, i.e. to 50g (1/3 cup OR 2 heaped tablespoons).

Pour the milk into a saucepan. Split half a vanilla pod lengthways and scrape the seeds into the milk and add the pod shell to it. Bring the milk to the brink of simmer, whisking occasionally so as to ensure it is not sticking to the bottom of the pan. Meanwhile combine the egg yolks and sugar into a big mixing bowl and cream until white and fluffy. Then add the combined white flour and cornflour in one go. Whisk together. Strain the vanilla pod out of the warm milk.

Add the warm milk to the yolk and sugar preparation in the mixing bowl. Note that the milk must not be boiling hot or it will cook the egg yolks, which is NOT what we want! Whisk together and then pour the cream back into the pan, on medium heat, until it has thickened up and a couple of bubbles have risen to the surface, indicating that the flour has cooked. Turn off the stove. Add the chopped pralines and mix with a wooden spatula, together with the softened butter, cut in chunks.

Pipe the praline mousseline cream onto the lower half of the choux pastry circle, or alternatively dollop it with a spoon, and then either smooth the edges with a small pallet knife or shape them with a fork (which is what I did). Carefully position the upper half of the circle (i.e. the cake lid) onto its creamed-up lower half. Refrigerate the Paris-Brest until ready to serve. Liberally sprinkle icing sugar before taking to the dinner table, and just let your guests do all the swooning for you!

Psssst! Do not throw out those left-over egg whites! Whip them into Macaroons, a sweet teatime companion.

21 May 2015

The Artichoke Season - Easy Peasy Kitchen Squeezy!

I have a thing or two for artichokes. They have always fascinated me, as early as my childhood days when I first got acquainted to them through my mum. It is a multi-layered fascination, starting off with their somewhat grandiloquent appellation itself that sounds like 'a choking Archibald' - a mouthful of a word that is more than we can chew, since in all honesty there isn't that much to eat out of an artichoke. You'll have to excuse it but it is a delicacy, and the description befits how it should be treated, daintily like asparagus or wild girolles. Thus if famished you are, and stodge you need, and starch you seek, better make a beeline for a pound of spuds than a heap of 'chokes!

Let's get our facts right. Artichokes are no vegetables. They are in fact an edible budding inflorescence (flower buds). In effect, what we eat is no leaves but petals, plus the base. And this is how far consumption goes, because natural wastage is to be expected from the 'choke.

Artichokes belong to the cardoon family, which incorporates their remote cousin the thistle. They originated in the Mediterranean regions and became domesticated in ancient times, and by the Middle Ages were known to grace gardens across Europe, alongside angelica, chard, boragio, herbs, cress, cabbage, parsnip, turnip, juniper, oats, beans et al - and not a single potato in sight back then! And grace is the word because artichokes add great decorative value to a garden, and I have even seen stalks of them used as part of sculptural floral displays in hotel lobbies and exhibition halls, to great effect!

I love the way artichokes perplex those who are not familiar with them. Yet perplexity shouldn't deter you from experimenting in the kitchen with this great ingredient. As a basic rule, you should go for one big artichoke (or two smaller ones) per person. The sauce that accompanies the artichokes and the temptation of bread to mop it - with fresh baguette slices a must - will sate you. As a personal preference, I find the smaller artichokes easier to deal with in terms of cooking time, taste and tenderness, than the globe artichokes. All the ones pictured here are of the purple medium-sized "Violet de Provence" variety (from my parents' Corsican garden and elsewhere in Corsica).

Artichokes Served with a Mild Mustard Sauce

Artichokes are not fiddly. If you still feel daunted, just follow my easy step-by-step recipe for a basic boiled artichoke served with a no-frills mild mustard sauce.

Bring a large kettleful of water to the boil. Meanwhile shorten the artichoke stalks with a kitchen knife, if necessary (to no shorter than an inch from the base). Rinse off the artichokes, place them in a big saucepan where they will be able to 'swim' about (as per above picture), and add a splosh of cider vinegar to kill off any bug or slug that might linger, and to prevent discolouration from the cooking process. Pour boiling water all over the artichokes. Put on the stove and return to the boil. When the water starts bubbling away, turn down to medium heat and cover the pan. Leave to a soft boil for approx. 20 mins (globe artichokes will take a good 5 mins longer). The best way to find out if the artichokes are cooked is to stick a small peeling knife into the length of the stalk. If the stalk is still hard, leave to cook a few more minutes. Drain the pan and serve the artichokes. Keep additional artichokes in the pan with the lid on until ready to be eaten.

Serve with a ramekin of Mild Mustard Sauce, only two ingredients: pure virgin olive oil and mild mustard! Add as much virgin olive oil as mild mustard to ramekins (one per person) and stir with a teaspoon (or small whisk) until both mustard and oil have creamed into an emulsion. If using stronger mustard, move to a 3 to 1 ratio.

How to Eat: Discard the outer leaves at the base of the stem which naturally tend to remain hard. Then detach one leaf at a time, plunge its fleshy root tip (pulp) into the sauce and insert halfway between the front upper and lower teeth. Then gently close the teeth onto the leaf and pull it off gently, scraping the artichoke matter off the leaf. Discard the rest of the leaf. As you work your way through the artichoke, things will get easier, as the leaves get thinner and melt in the mouth. This is where they are at their tastiest! You can end up actually eating most of the leaves as you get closer to the heart.

When you are left with the peduncle (stem and flower base), scrape off any of the downy matter if any (prevalent in globe artichokes mostly). Roughly slice the peduncle and toss in the sauce. Enjoy the tasty finale!

7 May 2015

Stylelessness is Lawlessness

Take the properties that make it to The Style Files: they have oodles of charm and character and are tastefully appointed. In fact, in my latest comment on their website in relation to the lovely guest house on the Greek island of Lesvos (pictured below), I simply summed it up as: "The period features have been retained and there is just the right amount of modernity added to the interior to create that fine balance between ancient and contemporary." Balance is key - and so is respect to the fabric and soul of the property.

As featured on The Style Files

The kerb appeal is a preview, an anticipation, an invitation of what awaits inside, in a kind of "as above so below" formula (the interior being a transposition of the exterior), and in the case of our Greek abode, there was no disappointment to be had. The quirkiness is there in terms of what gives the house its unpolished charm. The period feature details that confer the property both its ethnic (i.e. mediterranean at large, and more specifically 'Greekness') and rural origins: whitewashed walls, blue shutters, paved terrace, working fireplace, wooden floors and ceilings, etc. We imagine nooks and crannies, niches and other little tidbits of charm to discover for ourselves.

As featured on The Style Files
These old places are little gems of style and inspiration. That is because they have been compassionately and painstakingly restored, and carefully brought to the 21st century while retaining their old charm and character - thanks to their owner's common sense, good taste and vision, facilitated by a competent architect and/ or interior designer, and materialised by builders in the know and skilled craftsmen. This might end up being a costly endeavour, yet not necessarily so. I have seen some stunning restoration projects conducted on a tight budget, but on a limitless amount of passion, belief, research, patience, personal investment of time and effort, and caring.

Sadly I have also witnessed the exact opposite: the utter wrecking of style and character of an older property, either on a tight budget or on a generous amount of cash! I could not resist posting some photos that speak the horrid results better than words could. Here we go: -

Case Study - Apartment for sale in Bastia (Corsica): Judging from the kerb appeal, we anticipate the interior to be just as quaint and provincial and Italianate as the outside... Well, better prepare you for the shock!

Montmartre in the sun, looks poetic and promising! (pict source)
Oh joy, it's a nightmare! (pict source)
Ermm... A 2015 revisit of a 70s canary birdcage (pict source)
Bland and cheap and non-descript pop to mind like a squirt of mustard to a hotdog. I can only commiserate the tomettes that would have clad that floor, or the ornate walls, and maybe cornices and millwork that would have asserted the interior its bourgeois status. The current interior is as exciting as a cheap roadside motel. I just want to rip this canvas up and start again! Don't you?

I blame those fly-on-the-wall TV property programmes that strongly encourage homeowners to 'depersonalise' their interiors as a lifestyle must, or in a view to selling their property fast. By depersonalising, they mean remove (or at the very least reconfigure and blend in) any striking structural or period features from their abode, dumb down style so that it appeals to the widest array of people.

House in Doli (Mani, Greece), via My Paradissi

Secondly I blame those home improvement retail stores, as they channel mainstream products, associated to mainstream ideas and results, to a mainstream customer-base that along the years have levelled down their personal tastes to align with and match what the market offers. The convenience of those stores has taken natural curiosity away and made practicality the end-all and be-all. You end up with those mass-produced standardised fixtures repeated across towns... and countries, like a bad case of fleas. Convenience also means that there is a tendency for buying ready-made rather than make it yourself or have it made to spec and customised.

Finally I blame those cowboy builders, who take on property renovation work that goes way beyond their scope and skillset, just for the paycheck. They deliver a botched job that includes the intentional wreckage of period features - because they were incapable or unwilling to salvage them - and replacement with poor substitutes from the above-mentioned retail outlets. It's all about shoddiness and expediency and maxed out profit. Sadly I've had to deal with this sort of situation.

Exquisite! The Royal Makkum Collection from Country Floors

As a consequence of the above three factors, we get impoverishment in taste, and that leads to stylelessness. And stylenessness is the ripping up of style and the ripping off of our cultural and architectural legacy. Where we should be able to be the depositary of heritage and carry it into the future, preserved and enhanced, we witness swathes of heritage being disfigured and wrecked, and replaced by a mock-modernism of 'style' that is nothing less than styleless.

1 May 2015

The Human Paradox

The 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp a couple of days ago, 29th April, has brought back to the fore a thought that is never afar the fore for me: the duality paradox that inhabits Man, a Yin & Yang of frightening capabilities.

Life & Death, Love & Hate, Wealth & Scarcity, Creation & Destruction, Success & Failure, Order & Chaos, Heaven & Hell. The human capability for improving social welfare, saving lives from disease, nourrishing souls, inspiring minds, elevating spirits, and soothing hearts -- overshadowed by the human capability for their exact opposite, turning the earth into a purgatory. Man is Man's own best (worst?) friend and worst (best?) enemy. It wouldn't be far-fetched to report that: -

The greatest danger and fear on earth to Man is Man.

"Arbeit Macht Frei" (Labour Brings Freedom) at the gates of Dachau (also Auschwitz).

26 Apr 2015

Getting Used to Less on Agenda 21 - Call to Action

I do realise that it would take a heavy word count to truly get into the nitty-gritty of U.N. Agenda 21. My aim has been to raise awareness via my blog, and to provide the facts within a three-part presentation (1) Preamble, (2) Setting the Scene, and (3) Counter-Growth, that would cover most of the basics. As with every bit of research that I conduct, I have dedicated a fair amount of time to this particular subject, yet no doubt will I have the opportunity to debate it further in future articles, as my knowledge base expands.

Solar Impulse, prior to take-off from Chongqing, China, 21-Apr-2015
Now the last thing I want is to sound like some Doom Master. On the other hand, I could NOT not share my views and findings and those of other individuals in the know, because sustainable development as purported by Agenda 21 is no planet-friendly ecology manifesto.

My definition of U.N. Agenda 21 Sustainable Development: It is about the global acquisition of land and resources, and the redistribution of wealth, alongside the re-alignment of westernised societies to a post-industrial counter-rural model, with accrued monitoring and surveillance of our customer habits and lifestyles.

If you believed that films like Minority Report or books like George Orwell's 1984 were crazy fiction, I would expressly request that you rethink.

Occupy Wall Street (pict source)

In this last part to Getting Used to Less on Agenda 21, I propose a CTA (Call To Action) in a few pointers that will keep you alert and smart as a consumer and citizen. Prepare for take-off:
  • Share my article, and do find out more about Agenda 21 for yourself and at your leisure.
  • Watch alternative news to the mainstream elite-owned news channels.
  • Cultivate or take a keener interest in the world. Have opinions, be involved, sign petitions, join peaceful protests to defend our civil rights and liberties, volunteer to help (save your local church, clean up your local beach, walk the dogs from the local shelter, become a hospital visitor). Protect the causes that are close to your heart. Make it loud and clear that you oppose GMOs and other poisons that are being manufactured to create disease and decay.
  • See life as on-going education. Expand your knowledge. Read, learn, write a blog, be curious about the world, your history and heritage. Stay smart, do mental exercises (brain gym to keep your brain alert!). There are plenty of free educational tools online as a starter-point, as a teaser to awaken your curiosity. If used smartly, Wikipedia or Pinterest will introduce you to topics as varied as antiquities, travel, inventions, history, astronomy, physics, theatre, etc. Check my mood boards for ideas.
  • All in all, cultivate your critique and do not take things at face value or what the media or politicians tell you as truth. Attune to reinterpret what they actually mean. Wonder, ponder, question, doubt, find out for yourself. Be or remain a free spirit. Stay inspired and fired up for life.
  • Keep social media on a leash. Do not get sucked into it. You have a life to live out there in the real world and life goes by fast enough as it is!
  • Reduce your intake of junk food. Aim for organic produce whenever possible. Cook your own meals. Become a vegetarian. Steer clear of those zero calorie (i.e. aspartame) drinks. Boycott unethical brands. Ditch ibuprofen painkillers and ditch fluoride toothpaste!
Do not lose sight of the fact that world governance does NOT like NOR does it want a smart, educated, intelligent, dynamic, involved and spirited citizen and consumer. They want them dumbed-down and therefore easily-manipulatable.

Thanks for taking part in the journey. Meanwhile on a personal note, I would like to thank Roby, my better half, for being an inspiration powerhouse and a keen supporter of my work.

Surfing for Change

23 Apr 2015

Getting Used to Less on Agenda 21 - Counter-Growth

U.N. Agenda 21 sets the tone as a land planning and resource management set of directives spearheaded for the New World Order for this century and ratified by a quasi-global allegiance of no less than 178 governments. Agenda 21 is no pie in the sky or some hazy conspiracy theory because it is being implemented as we speak.

Moynaq, ship graveyard on the Aral Sea (pict source)

We saw in our earlier articles how (a) unsustainability has been fostered, and how (b) sustainability has now been engineered in such a way that the world populations - without exception - are being channelled into migratory fluxes as a result of economic recession, changing pools of employment, land redistribution, and/or war and unrest. The populations are being organised into controlled settlements, and their lifestyles regimented. The process may creep in faster in certain areas than others where it may only appear incremental and insidious.

Land grabbers: In the USA, federal land ownership and compulsory land purchase has increased at the expense of the small farmsteads, family land owners or indigenous (Indian) tribes, as witnessed too in Canada, Argentina and Brazil. What we see is federal land being then leased off to big Corporate for fracking, mining, and for other unsavoury uses.

Always idyllic on paper! The proposed Trafford Waters mixed-use development (pict source)

Mixed-use development: As a result of Agenda 21 and as early as the 1990s, mixed-use (housing and retail) developments under public-private partnerships have become the norm, and in a rather compact ('high density') form. For my part I shall look no further than Britain as Agenda 21 in action. Housing estates (subdivisions) and blocks of flats have mushroomed in the inner cities, in the sprawling suburbs with the shrinking green belt, and alongside the main road corridors. Home ownership is made to appear irresistibly affordable ('Move in for only £99.00 a month!'), hooks you up into debt. You get nothing more than ultra-compact - understand poxy, space-restricted, basic and flimsy - dwellings and the multi-layered problems that high-density living comes with: car parking, privacy, noise, lack of space, neighbourhood nuisance, non-descript architecture, shoddy workmanship, etc.

Made-up neighbourhoods: Besides the veneer of brand new floor space, is the not-so-hidden agenda of ridding of past heritage including historical landmarks, and creating communitarianism from the ground up, in a standard and pretty styleless built environment whose architecture is mass-marketed worldwide. You end up not knowing anymore whether you are standing in Atlanta or Barcelona or Cannes or Brisbane. Communitarianism throws together often-transient individual comeuppances into those cramped family-unfriendly settlement situations that planners and architects fondly refer to as 'communities'. "Regionalisation is the stepping-stone to globalisation and globalisation is standardisation of all systems." explains Rosa Koire.

Get rich or die tryin? The Neon Boneyard (pict source)

In my 11 years of living within such a so-called community, I had the chance to repeatedly witness how the passing of time and the lack of TLC are unkind to those residential estates, especially as original owners move on, or the properties are being rented out, or couples split up, or troublemakers from the local council estate move into the private estate and impose their lawlessness.

Human habitation, as it is clinically described as by Agenda 21, is urban-focused. Within each country, swathes of land described as wilderness will eventually be declared off-limit to humans by the world governance, as it will emerge. The plan has defined specific settlement areas, roughly corridor-shaped, for human habitation. In the meantime any agrarian land lost to road and building infrastructures, is being compensated by higher crop productivity. Surely Frankenfood professors Monsanto, Bayer and Syngenta are to facilitate this, aren't they?

Palm oil plantation vs. original Borneo forest (pict source)

Dependence upon convenience: As per the laws of nature, macrocosm transposes to microcosm. As much as nations are losing (have lost) their financial, economic and political autonomy, so have now individuals. A century ago, for instance, a family living in the countryside would traditionally farm the land and live off it (husbandry), no matter how humbly. Beyond being farmers, they would multi-task as grafters: fruit growers, gardeners, shepherds, cooks, clothes-makers, builders and craftsmen. Those were independent folks. Nowadays individuals are lured into the convenience of convenience food and ready meals, not to mention the garage servicing your car, the window-cleaner attending to your windows, etc. while you pay for those extended guarantees that will give you 'extra peace of mind'. Basically you get charged for peace of mind and convenience, and you lose independence and autonomy in the process. You become increasingly entertwined to the system. Do keep in mind though that Agenda 21 is the system. Dependence upon convenience means that you lose your liberty.

As much as we saw in our preamble how consumers just keep on buying to offset planned obsolescence, and to satisfy an unquenchable materialistic need orchestrated by the media and the brands, you not only keep on buying but also keep on paying, in order to try to keep up and make your life easier. The costly paradigm costs you not only cash but your liberty too.

It might just so happen that liberty be the first step towards the pursuit of happiness. After all. (to be continued)

Further Resources:

22 Apr 2015

Getting Used to Less on Agenda 21 - Setting the Scene

Previously in our preamble to our U.N. Agenda 21 topic, we saw how wasteful - and therefore 'unsustainable' - our westernised civilisation has become, forced into an economic model of mass-consumerism aided by rampant loan and credit facilities (in other words debt) and fast turnover of production with limited lifecycle, based upon the principle of planned obsolescence, and praised by a marketing strategy that celebrates the satisfaction of needs in the moment.

Dubai City Marina District aerial photography by Dmitry Moiseenko, via AirPano
Meanwhile quality educational programmes, quality employment and in-job promotion opportunities are being degraded down to those Mickey Mouse diplomas leading to Mickey Mouse jobs (yes, the guy who 10 years after graduation is still flipping burgers, stocking shelves or Starbucking the coffees). The working class is now the service sector class. Welcome to the working poor! The erosion in quality academic and employment prospects results in the mental, cultural, spiritual and financial impoverishment of the lower-middle and working classes - in perfect contrast to today's (super) rich list hitting a historical wealthiest high - by the extra millions of dollars per (rich) capita compared to the 1960s.

At the other end of the spectrum, 30 million slave labour in poor parts of the world are 'chained' to the assembly line, producing the goods outsourced by those American, European and Japanese brands. The consumeristic profile as it is right now is escalating into a situation of no return, tainted by the ultimate fear of resource scarcity, a FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) of material, social and financial proportions. The powers that be - the elite above the elite - who engineered unsustainability in the first place, came up with a world governance document back in 1992, set for the 21st century and designed to reverse excesses and make our world sustainable again.

Child labour in India (pict source)

Of course this sounds like some twisted fairytale, whereby a quack poisons the local well, causes mayhem, and then eventually pulls out the magic cure potion from his bag of tricks. Are you not feeling a little duped?

The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and the Statement of principles for the Sustainable Management of Forests were adopted by more than 178 Governments at the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janerio, Brazil, in June 1992. The full implementation of Agenda 21 was reaffirmed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held in Johannesburg, South Africa, in September 2002.

Street art by Banksy

And this is how that magic promising word - 'sustainable' - seeped into our vocabulary like a Freudian slip that would autocorrect 'ecology' into a workable lucrative economic model to address climate change and post-industrial society. For this is basically what Agenda 21 is in a nutshell, beyond its lofty parlay. Sustainable is the magic cure potion. How it is achieved is via the entire world inventory of its resources, and the redistribution of land and wealth, at the expense of the small family land owners, and at the benefit of governments and Big Corporate. Agenda 21 is no panacea. It is a socio-economic division that makes movies like The Hunger Games or Mad Max closer to reality than the scary fiction they are supposed to purport.

Agenda 21 is about the redistribution of wealth, and a lowering of living standards in westernised countries that epitomises the continued assault onto the middle class and seals its eradication. It accelerates governmental control of our lives, in pure Orwellian style. Agenda 21 sets the scene for communitarianism, with individual rights bowing to the collective. (to be continued)

Anonymous (pict source)

Further Resources:


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