Monthly Archives: November 2013

The original, the authentic

I’m a self-proclaimed foodie! I dislike half-baked attempts at creating dishes with substitute ingredients, and short cut methods. One of the great pleasures of living in most Canadian cities with their large multi-ethnic populations, is the access we have to authentic food from different cultures, made from original recipes!

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In the picture here are some ‘spanakopita triangles’ made by my friend Helen, who is Greek. Spanakopita*, or spinach pie, is a popular Greek dish and comes in different styles. My friend makes these small cocktail sized bites that melt in the mouth. I twisted her arm to start making them to sell :)! It was a bit sneaky of me, but how else could I have a regular supply ;)? The last person who tasted them at my place loved them. They said that the commercially available ones are pretty greasy, and that these were wonderful. I completely agree!

On that note, if interested, you may message me for Helen’s contact info if you’d like to order some, especially since Christmas is around the corner and we’re all looking for interesting ways to entertain! For obvious reasons, this is only for people living in or around Montreal! Endaxi**? That’s how Helen ended her telephone conversation with me yesterday when I called her to make a fresh order.

*Spanakopita means a spinach pie — made in a baking tin and cut into squares. Here we’re talking about triangular shaped, spinach and cheese filled phyllo pastry

**Endaxi in Greek means Ok? Is that alright, then? People usually end a conversation with ‘Endaxi’ if plans are being made, or a conversation is being ended. Now you know a Greek word too 🙂


The cicadas of Provence, France

Anyone who has ever visited Provence in the summer is familiar with the sound of the cicadas, known in French as ‘cigale’. During a visit there, in the middle of a hot summer, I was surprised to find that the sound was all-pervasive — all the time, everywhere…and at times pretty deafening!

The most interesting fact about their chirping (some call it singing :o), is how it is completely related to the temperature — as soon as the temperature rises above 28° C (82.4° F) the air begins to vibrate with their chirping. Some cicadas produce sounds up to 120 decibels, which is loud enough to make humans deaf if they should sing right outside the ear. It’s the males who make the noise to attract females to the tree where they’re sitting. They produce the sound by contracting and relaxing their tymbals, ribbed membranes inside their stomachs. Below 22 degrees Centigrade, the resounding sections of the diaphragm lose their elasticity, and that’s why the cicada shuts up during rain or after sunset.

cigale_rect-stripeThe Cicada is a very popular symbol of Provence. It is found everywhere — in many different forms in souvenir stores, and also on provençal fabric as depicted alongside — and jumbo pottery versions hang on the façades of houses to supposedly attract luck and happiness. And, if anywhere in the world you find a restaurant called ‘Les Cigales’, you know the food there will be provençale! Until you know, it doesn’t seem obvious ;)…and then you go, “Of course!” 🙂

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My most favorite souvenir from Provence is this gift I received from my hostess! It is in polyresin, but looks sculpted from wood. It is actually an essential oil diffuser. Five-and-a-half inches long, this cicada has an opening on the underside to place an essential oil-soaked ball of cotton wool inside.

There’re about 2,500 species of cicadas in the world of which 15 or 16 are in Provence. The cicada became the noisy ‘spokesinsect’ of provençal culture thanks to the poet Frédéric Mistral, who in 1854 created the Félibrige, an association to promote the provençal language and traditions. He illustrated his bookplates with a cicada and the legend, “Lou souleu mi fa canta,” provençal for “The sun makes me sing”.

Here’s a youtube clip of sound made by a cicada:

So, love them, or hate them, they’re everywhere in Provence! And, I must confess, I finally learned to love them 🙂


Just TEN songs :)

Some seven years ago I started a new English course and the student told me she had just moved to Montreal from Quebec City and was going to spend the weekend painting her new apartment. I had recently moved into my new condo which needed to be painted too. Not being familiar with this kind of handiwork, I thought it would be cool to learn how to paint one’s own place. So, I made her an offer — if she would show me how, I’d help her paint her apartment! It was a kif-kif* deal…


The best part of the day came when we finished and cleaned up. I had noticed a classic guitar, like the one in the picture, lying in her bedroom and asked her about it. She told me it had always been a dream of hers to play a few songs on the guitar. At her age (still only in her 40s 😉 ), she didn’t want to try to become a serious guitar player but had a list of just TEN songs that she wanted to learn to play. She’d got a guitar, got a teacher and was working on her list. She even played the famous Peruvian song El Condor Pasa (If I Could) for me! The experience was too much and too emotional for me…because like her, I too had always wanted to sing, and play a few songs on the guitar.


Her story was terrific inspiration for me! For seven years I hung on to the dream and then mentioned it to a friend, a new guitar player, who too is passionate about playing the guitar and who had spent hours and hours on studying different kinds of guitars before buying his own. He immediately offered to help me get a good second hand guitar. I sent him a list of my favorite ten songs and he graded them according to difficulty so I’d be able to start with an easy one. Yaaayyyy…I’m very excited, and this will be another check mark on my bucket list of things to do. I’m waiting now for a good cutaway acoustic guitar to be found and then get started! Right now it seems I might get one that looks exactly like this blue one in the picture! Why acoustic? Because after trying different guitars, I preferred the sound of all-metal strings as compared to the classic metal and nylon. Why cutaway? Well, there’s a purpose for these which at my level I don’t need at all, but heck, to this Libra, looks are important 😉 — if it doesn’t look pretty, why get it ;)? 

For, what is a man***, if he doesn’t have a passion, and then goes all the way to fulfill**** it!!! What hidden, or unspoken, passions do YOU have, that have yet to see the light of day? I hope this post will make you sit up and pay attention to them — to set your heart free ;)!

*Kif-kif is a word of Arabic origin, meaning ‘it’s the same thing’ or meeting someone half-way or 50-50

**Molding is the American English spelling of the word ‘moulding’ (as used everywhere else in the world where English is written and spoken)

***’What is a man….’ is an expression — it applies to humans in general, and even though it doesn’t say, it includes women 😉

****Instill is the American English spelling of Instil. Since I live in North America, and am an ESL teacher, I have adopted the American spelling system, but may still sometimes trip up, as I’m basically a product of the British education system


Politically incorrect, or…

Here’s a poem from my Grade 7 English Reader, The Radiant Reader Book 5, which today might be considered ‘politically incorrect’ because of a few words in there, but it has such sound common sense that I felt it must be seen. I memorized it all those years ago 🙂 — so, here I am, sharing it! Unfortunately I cannot remember who wrote it, but have a faint recollection that it was by an unknown author…

Here you go:

He who knows, and knows he knows, he’s a wise man — seek him!

He who knows, and knows not he knows, he’s asleep — wake him!

He who knows not, and knows he knows not, he’s a child — teach him!

He who knows not, and knows not, he knows not, he’s a fool — shun* him!

I have found, it’s the biggest waste of our time and energy to try and teach those who don’t know that they don’t know. It’s best to wait until they somehow wake up and realize that they don’t know and ask for help!

 * To shun means to avoid, to stay away from

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

Autobiography In Five Short Chapters

by Portia Nelson

Chapter I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost… I am hopeless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

Chapter II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in this same place.
But it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

 Chapter III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it there.
I still fall in… it’s a habit… but,
my eyes are open.
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

 Chapter IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

Chapter V

I walk down another street.

This beautiful  poem written by Portia Nelson, is a highly popular self-help and recovery text. During different stages of my life, specially during intense periods of personal growth, I often measured my ‘progress’ against the Chapters, using them to understand my own life’s journey as it unfolded! It would be useful for anyone committed to their personal growth…


What sets your heart free?

Yes. What, indeed, does set your heart free? While shopping for souvenirs in New Orleans on my last trip there, I suddenly noticed this 5″ x 5″ pottery plate inscribed with this question. No answers sprang to mind instantly but I just knew I had to buy it, and then ponder over the question. At home, I placed it where I could see it easily so as to remember to reflect on what it said!

2013-11-11 23_57_06-1The more I thought the more I realized that the answer could be deeply philosophical, or spiritual, or just simple and straightforward. It also occurred to me that an honest, straightforward answer would be closest to a spiritual one!

It was fun thinking of things that make my heart feel free, and I became aware that the question could have been worded “What brings joy to your heart?”

So, did you come up with a few things that set your heart free?

I came up with my list, and realized that most of them had to do with activities I have chosen to include in my life, such as writing this blog, flamenco dancing, travelling, spending time with like-minded people, especially over a glass of wine — all this just, well…just sets my heart free!!! Your turn now — ready? So, what sets YOUR heart free??? 🙂


Why wear the Red Poppy?

Most people know that Remembrance Day is observed on November 11 of each year. Ceremonies take place in many Commonwealth and non-Commonwealth countries, to honor all fallen soldiers since World War I. People gather at the local cenotaphs* and lay wreaths, observing a 2 minute silence at 11:00 a.m. This day actually marked the end of World War I in 1918. Hostilities formally ended “at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month,” after the Armistice was signed between the Allied nations and the representatives of Germany. The War officially ended with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles on 28 June 1919. But what about the poppies we all wear starting a few days before November 11?

imagesCA8C4X6VThe poppy connection comes from the poem ‘In Flanders Fields’** written by a Canadian medical officer John McCrae, who tended to the wounded soldiers in the second battle of Ypres, in the Flanders region of Belgium. There, McCrae noticed how quickly the poppies grew around the graves of the soldiers, and wrote his poem, the first line of which is ‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow’. As his poem got known, the idea of creating poppy wreaths for graves, and wearing the poppy on Remembrance Day caught on.


Writing this piece has flooded my memory with haunting images of thousands upon thousands of white crosses in Ypres, I saw some 30 years ago on a visit there. A sad testimony to the insanity of war!

I know some of us are considered idealists when we say this, but I’d really much rather live in the kind of world John Lennon describes in his song ‘Imagine’!

*The word cenotaph comes from the Greek language and means an empty grave — it signifies the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’ which almost every country has, to honor those soldiers who never ‘returned home’!

**The poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ has a French version, translated by Major Jean Pariseau of the Canadian Army. It is titled ‘Au Champs d’Honneur’


The Last Post / Taps / La Sonnerie aux Morts

Having grown up as an army child, bugle calls were a part of my life. In the various army stations, called cantonments*, we were especially used to the sound of the ‘retreat’ — the bugle call at sunset. And if out for a walk then, en famille, my father would stop and stand at attention for the duration of the bugle call, and of course, so did my mother, my siblings, and I! Anyone who wears a uniform probably understands the sentiments!

imagesCA7TWVVNBut one bugle call was always sad… Known as the Last Post in the British Commonwealth, Taps in the U.S. and La Sonnerie aux Mort in France, this short call is played at funerals and on Remembrance Day, November 11 of each year.

There are several legends associated with Taps. A very popular one is from the American Civil War. The legend goes that during the Peninsular Campaign in 1862, a Unionist infantry officer Captain Robert Ellicombe heard the moaning of a dying soldier on the battlefield. He decided to bring the man back for medical attention, but the soldier died. As Captain Ellicombe saw the stricken man’s face in the light, he was devastated to see that the dead young soldier was his own son, a music student, who had joined the other side, the Confederates. Ellicombe was denied permission to give his son a full military burial with a band, but was allowed only one musician. The Captain chose a bugler, and asked him to play a series of music notes he had found on a paper in his son’s pocket. Thereafter, this haunting melody started to be used at military funerals, and at Remembrance Day ceremonies.

imagesCAF1C53SThe second story goes that the Union Army Brigadier General Daniel Butterfield rearranged the notes of another bugle call and composed “Taps”. This story is considered more verifiable, having numerous witnesses, including the bugler Oliver Wilcox who first performed “Taps”. The picture alongside shows a Canadian bugler playing the bugle somewhere in the world.

Whatever its origins, you can click on this YouTube link to listen to the Last Post here 

*A cantonment area today is an army base in an urban area. Depending on the context it may also mean the billeted army area.


Must-know wine facts :)


  • “Beer before wine? Nein, nein!” This funny sounding expression means, don’t drink beer just before wine :)! Nein, means ‘No’ in German. Strong tasting drinks and high percentage alcohol are not drunk just before wines, because the taste buds are not able to discern and appreciate soon after, the aromas* and bouquet** of wines, a discernment which is a very important part of the enjoyment of wine-drinking.


  • Another wise quip goes, “Rouge avant le blanc, ne bouge pas!” This translates from French to mean, don’t drink red wines before white — for the same reason as described above. Red wines, with their tannins***, and a more robust taste, would overpower the more delicate whites if drunk first. First white, then red, always! The exception are the sweet white wines that accompany desserts or drunk on their own as dessert.


  • There IS a right and wrong way to hold a wine glass. Wine glasses should always be held by the stem and not the bowl because the heat of the hand will raise the temperature of the wine in the glass. This is especially true of white wines. Anyone who knows anything about wines will NEVER hold a wine glass from the bowl — if you want to look knowledgeable about wines, pay attention to how you’re holding your glass ;)! The picture alongside is very feminine, but the rule applies to men too ;)…and I have this from my wine instructor…
  • Then there’s the person known as the “cork-tease” — this is someone who’s always talking about a fine bottle of wine he/she will open, but never does 🙂

*The word ‘aroma’ is used for the fragrance of young wines

**The word ‘bouquet’ is used for the fragrance of mature wines

***Tannins, through their astringent taste, are what make the gums tingle and the mouth dry and puckerish when you take a sip of red wine. Tannins are very important to red wine, providing, color, flavor and structure and acting as a preservative. Often, wines with heavy tannins are meant to be aged or “cellared” for some time. This makes the tannins mellow out, enhancing the wine’s body and flavor. A good example is the Bordeaux wines, which may be “cellared”


Melted cheese — Ooooh :)

It was in a certain inflight magazine, during a certain flight taken some years ago that I read a food article with interviews with a few chefs. One of them said that all restaurants have at least one dish with melted cheese on their menu, and this was the most popular dish of all. Being a huge melted cheese lover myself, I wasn’t surprised to see this information and yet it WAS new information, vis a vis restaurant menus 🙂


In trying to find out why, I stumbled upon the Popular Science website and this is what they say about this phenomenon, in an article titled: ‘Why does cheese taste better when melted?’ The writer says the reason is mainly how it feels in the mouth. Melted cheese has a creamy texture which most people find very appealing, and the warmth of the cheese adds to the taste.


All together, the sensations associated with melted cheese—smoothness, gooeyness, and warmth—speak of a fatty delight…and humans love fat :)! Ivan de Araújo, a researcher at Yale, has studied how the nervous system responds to fatty foods. He says, “Receptors in our mouths are keyed in to the texture of oily, calorie-dense foods.” This sort of food, evidently soothes the nervous system, and in today’s world, and our fast-paced life our nervous systems can use all the help they can get from us! Everyone, agree? 😉

I don’t know about you all but writing this post has got me craving a dish with melted cheese! There’s none at home, so I’ll just have to go and eat out 😉 — nice excuse, eh?

Do be sure to get white wine to drink with warm or hot melted cheese dishes. That’s my preference at least…so, until you experiment and find other wines to go with melted cheese dishes, just trust this choice ;)! You won’t be sorry…