Postcards from Mazury

There is something remarkable in the art of sending holiday postcards – the sender handpicks a beautiful card, writes the message sitting at a cafe or a bar, sticks on the stamp and posts to those far away at home. When you get your postcard it brings you a bit of the holiday magic, takes you to the wonderful destinations and tells you the summer stories.

Many of the cards I got from my friends are the ones from Mazury. All the picturesque places I saw only in the postcards. The red and orange sunsets. The calm flat surface of the lakes. The birds flying peacefully. The yachts sailing smoothly with their white sails catching the wind.

Up until now I have not been to Mazury, the nature lovers lake district. It was the holiday destination I missed to explore and experience and I discovered it only through the postcards that recorded the summer adventures of my friends.

I learnt that you could travel for one smile, that despite the bad weather the fishing was still quite good, that the waves were playing in the sails and that you mustn’t sail between sunset and sunrise in the dark.

I wish I was there. Jumping into the crystal clear lake, sunbathing on the deck, catching the breeze in my hair, sipping beer while watching the sunset, singing chanties in a cheerful company.

A very special bunch of postcards from Mazury are the ones I got from my boyfriend. We were two teenagers separated by 600 km, missing each other and writing cards full of passion, longing and daily reflections.

He wrote a cardful a day, yet of course the post came every now and then and some days I got a pile of postcards and some days the post box was empty. Some of the cards got wet or creased. Some of the cards he wrote in the middle of the night, waves splashing against the boat. Sometimes the writing was more difficult to read – slanted, smeared, miniscule.

The cards meant we kept in touch, even if slightly delayed. Each card came from a different port they docked for the night: Kozin, Giżycko, Sztynort,  Wegorzewo, Mikołajki, Ruciane Nida, Wilkasy and I was following their cruise on the map and sticking each card of the beautiful lakes on the wall. The cards were a means to remind, remember and revive.

This summer, for the first time I am spending my holidays here, in Mazury. The nature is truly amazing and unspoilt. The interconnected lakes invite for a sail and swim. And of course, I got a selection of sunsets postcards that I am sending to my friends with greetings from Mazury.

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Season for Cauliflower

You either love or hate cauliflower. I have always been a fan – it’s low in calories yet provides a substantial meal, it’s grown locally, well at least when it’s season, and it’s just pretty.

One of my favourite summertime salads is the cauliflower and dill – full of summer flavours and perfect for the barbeque. Cauliflower is a specific vegetable, it needs to be the star of the salad and it is best served on its own with herbs and spices to highlight and develop the flavours. It does not need to be cooked and it tastes great raw and crunchy.

Since I got the amazing Ottolenghi’s SIMPLE book I have enjoyed exploring new ways to prepare vegetables. The recipe for the cauliflower couscous or tabbouleh comes from the book and I first made it for my friend who’s on a diet and could not enjoy the full, calory packed barbeque menu. She liked it so much that we made it again the next week and the salad has been an absolute hit since the start of the barbeque season. Even a few cauliflower haters were convinced.

Cauliflower Couscous

1 cauliflower

juice of 1/2 lemon

3-4 spring onions

a bunch of parsley

a bunch of dill

a few springs of mint

2-3 allspice grain

3 tbs of olive oil

1 pomegranate

salt and pepper

Remove the leaves and the bottommost part of the stalk. Coarsely grate the cauliflower florets into a medium salad bowl. It will look like couscous. Squeeze the juice of half of a lemon and add the salt. Leave to marinate for 20 minutes.

Chop the spring onions, dill, parsley and mint and add to the salad.

In the mortal and pestle grind the allspice grains (or used the ground one). Add to the salad along with olive oil and season to taste with pepper.

Cut the pomegranate in half and remove the red seeds. Be careful as the fruit easily releases the juices and you can get a splash. Add the seeds to the bowl and gently mix to combine.

The salad tastes best served fresh but can be stored in the fridge for a day.

Enjoy your summertime.

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Contemporary Shakespeare

This post presents my reflections on contemporary adaptations of Shakespeare and links to the “Shakespeare Across Media” module that I signed up this semester. During the last three months, Shakespeare got integrated into my everyday life as I was reading the plays, watching the adaptations and following hashtags on social media. Funnily enough now my YouTube suggestions include videos of David Tennant and Kenneth Branagh and my Instagram feed is filled with #shakespeare. I wish to thank my lecturer, Dr Vanessa Lim for the exciting content she provided, her enthusiasm, guidance and support.

Shakespeare is the most distinct playwright, a part of the literary canon and the ultimate classic. The stories of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, Othello and Macbeth are as familiar to today’s audience as Harry Potter and Star Wars and even if the particular details may be unknown the very basic plot is recognizable. The knowledge of Shakespeare is also fueled by the media and social media. The films, ads, posts and hashtags make Shakespeare even more popular, relevant and engaging for the generation that interacts with screen rather than the text.

Illustration by Benedik Kaltenborn
Source: The New YorkerWhy Rewrite Shakespeare?

Shakespeare is a cultural phenomenon, abundant source of quotes and memes and inspiration for art and creative projects. The two graphic designs below show how many phrases we owe to Shakespeare and use nowadays, not even realizing they sank into our everyday lives from his works. Even the ultra-modern, Facebook-bound word “unfriend” was coined by Shakespeare in the 1600s and used in King Lear and Twelfth Night. So the next time you say: “come what may”, “laughing stock” or “wild goose chase” think of the writer who incorporated those phrases into his plays and enriched our language.

Douglas Lanier believes we should think of Shakespeare as a rhizome – a plant stem such as ginger or turmeric that grows horizontally and non-hierarchically forming a network of connections with no specific origin. Thus the plays, their translations, adaptations and appropriations as well as social media content create a web of interconnecting influences and multidimensional processes.

“Shakespearean meaning is available in the present only through processes of appropriation that actively create rather than passively decode the readings and values we attribute to the Shakespearean text.”

Douglas Lanier

Maurizio Calbi and Stephen O’Neill in their Introduction to #SocialmediaShakespeares use the phrase “Rhizomatic Bard” to highlight the importance of ongoing interactions and connectivity. The following graphic quote explains the need to modernize and contextualize Shakespeare to reflect the contemporary global culture.

Source: Pinterest
#SocialMediaShakespeares

There is a great demand for Shakespeare and he needs to be made contemporary to fully explore the issues presented in his plays. Translators, playwrights and creative directors all face the challenges of conveying language, setting, plot and characters to the modern audience. The language is beautiful yet funny. The setting is defined yet universal. The plot is intricate yet authentic. The characters are exalted yet relatable. One of the Shakespearean actors who played Hamlet in the Royal Shakespeare Company as well as the 2009 film production, David Tennant, explains the relevance of Shakespeare in the TV show interview. He points to the fact that the plays “get to the nub of what it is to be human being”. They present and study the complexity of real-life emotions: love, jealousy, greed, anger, desperation. At the same time they are full of humour and offer a good dose of laughter. Shakespeare “says it better than anyone has done since”, David Tennant adds before they move on to discuss the authenticity of Shakespeare’s writing, the celebrations of his 400th anniversary and finally watch Prince Charles giving the unsolicited advice on Hamlet’s soliloquy #worthawatch.

David Tennant Explains Why Shakespeare Still Matters on The Late Late Show with Stephen Colbert
Source: YouTube

Hamlet

The story of Hamlet focuses on the issues that are still relevant, current and ongoing. The conflict of generations, the passion of the youth and the drive to power and control of the middle-aged men. The politics and the leadership. The basic instinct of revenge. The alienation of mental illness. All those remain unchanged and need to be explored and reinterpreted into the modern reality. The only significantly noticeable change is the role and voice of women. The current adaptations and appropriations, including the ones that I will discuss later give a stronger voice and more prominent identity to the female characters even if they still recognize sexuality and vulnerability.

Source: Pinterest

Hamlet is quoted and misquoted frequently and abundantly. Apart from the outstandingly obvious “to be or not to be” there is a handful of recognizable, though not always correctly traceable, quotes such as:

“There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

Hamlet Act 1 Scene 5

Though this is madness, yet there is method to it”

Polonius Act 2 Scene 2

Shakespeare himself modernized and reinterpreted the story while creating Hamlet. His rhizomatic inspiration might have been the Scandinavian tale of prince Amleth who through insanity sought revenge on his father’s killer. Shakespeare twisted the plot and used appropriate language to wow and engage the audience. It is only natural that the same process applies nowadays and a good story is recognizable for its entertaining potential and adapted to address current expectations. A great example of rhizomatic nature of Shakespeare is Hamnet recently published by Maggie O’Farrell. She was inspired by the story of Hamnet, Shakespeare’s son who died from plague at the age of 11, and whose name is believed to be given to the famous play. Whether Hamnet and Hamlet are linked remains the question, yet it brilliantly shows the scope of interactions and influence of Shakespeare. Even Walt Disney ventured the adaptation of the story of Hamlet in his 1990s animated blockbuster “The Lion King”. The graphic below shows how similar the plots are, though highlights the difference of the final scene and Elton John’s Can you feel the love tonight performance.

Source: Twitter
#shakespeare
https://twitter.com/WeAreTeachers/status/535821269967855616/photo/1

Hamletmachine

One of the Shakespeare’s adaptations that is deeply rooted in contemporary culture and explores a range of socio-political issues is Hamletmachine written by Heiner Muller, a German playwright, in 1970s. Heiner Muller adds a variety of voices to the original theme of seeking revenge and opposing the authorities in control. The communist leaders: Marx, Lenin and Mao appear in Act 4 as three naked women speaking simultaneously in German, Russian and Chinese.

THE MAIN POINT IS TO OVERTHOW ALL EXISTING CONDITIONS …

Hamletmachine Act 4

Ophelia gives a final powerful feministic monologue in Act 5. She rejects the maternal role of women, of giving birth, of breastfeeding, of procreating. Even though she is strapped to the wheelchair at the bottom of the sea, a clear allusion to the drowning of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, she refuses to be victimized and sexualized and rebels against the oppression. The performance at the Castillo Theatre takes it even a step further by finishing the play with a strong performance of black woman rapper, Browneyes. While she raps the text reinforcing the words of the final monologue, Ophelia gets liberated and leads the entire cast in a hip-hop version of danse macabre finale.

Hamletmachine by Heiner Muller at the Castillo Theatre
Final scene: 1:01:40
Source: Vimeo

Hamlet rebels against the sociopolitical system, yet is unable to execute his call to action. He is confused, lost in his rejection of both communism and capitalism. Heiner Muller compares Hamlet to Germany before the fall of the Eastern Bloc:

The German writer Freiligrath, a close friend to Karl Marx, said: ‘Germany is Hamlet, never quite knowing how to decide and because of that always making wrong decisions.’ When I wrote Hamletmachine, after translating Shakespeare’s Hamlet for a theater in East Berlin, it turned out to be my most American play, quoting T.S. Eliot, Andy Warhol, Coca Cola, Ezra Pound and Susan Atkins. It may be read as a pamphlet against the illusion that one can stay innocent in this our world.

Heiner Müller, April 30, 1986
Source: Instagram

Hamlet lost his father and his mother married his uncle. Germany lost the war and was unnaturally divided when Eastern Germany became a part of the Soviet Bloc. The two countries of one nation grew side by side in two completely bipolar systems: communism and capitalism. Hamletmachine comments on the historical forces, on the influence of socialism and commercialism. In Act 1 a clown is in the spring of communism. In Act 4 Heiner Muller recalls Boris Pasternak’s Dr Zhivago and the revolution. In the same act three TV-sets and a refrigerator appear on stage and Hamlet speaks of bank accounts and Coca-Cola. These sociopolitical circumstances influence and redefine Hamlet’s internal conflict and make it modern and contextualized.

Berlin Wall Museum – Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
Photos and Collage: Kat Targosz

The production of Hamletmachine is postmodern, condensed and provoking. It asks questions rather than provides solutions. The actors say the stage directions and disconnect themselves from the characters they are playing.

I am not Hamlet. I don’t take part anymore. My words have nothing to tell me anymore. My thoughts suck the blood out of the images. My drama doesn’t happen anymore. Behind me the set is put up. By people who aren’t interested in my drama, for people to whom it means nothing. I’m not interested in it anymore either. I won’t play along anymore.

Hamletmachine Act 3 (translated into English by Carl Weber)

As the audience is constantly aware of the acting, they focus on the text rather than the story. The play offers a new perspective and studies the internal conflicts of the main characters. Hamletmachine retains the 5 acts structure of the play, yet the play focuses on Hamlet and Ophelia. In Fred Newman’s production the actors say, repeat and sing the lines together. That emphasizes the text and makes the staging absorbing and innovative. The few prompts are contemporary such a photograph of the author, refrigerator or this iconic chair that was designed exclusively for Hamletmachine by Robert Wilson.

Hamletmachine Chair designed by Robert Wilson
Source: http://www.robertwilson.com/hamletmachine

The tragedy of Hamlet desperately trying to take the action and of Ophelia being driven to death lends a series of new meanings in the reality of oppressive system and gender inequality. Heiner Muller raises the questions of individual struggles and challenges of living in the modern society.

Al-Hamlet Summit

Another example of modernization of Shakespeare’s play is The Al-Hamlet Summit written in the late 1990s and radically altered after the 9/11 events by Sulayman Al-Bassam, a Kuwaiti playwright and theatre director. Al-Bassam raises a question who Shakespeare belongs to and argues that Shakespeare can be relevant to the audience beyond the Anglophone world. Hamlet is an Arab prince “gambling and whoring the nation’s millions in the playground of Europe” (Act 1 Scene 5) who comes back to his country and plots to revenge his father and overturn the kingdom. While Shakespeare’s Hamlets plot includes actors performing The Mousetrap play, Al-Bassam’s Hamlet plots with the arms dealer. Al-Bassam explores the relationships between the Arab and Western worlds and employs stereotypes such as an Arab dictator, Islamic fundamentalist and suicide bomber.

Sulayman Al-Bassam
Photo: Jonathon Player
Source: http://muslimvoicesfestival.org/artist/sulayman-al-bassam

The Al-Hamlet Summit is set in the Arab world and it takes place anywhere and nowhere in the Middle East. The play mixes stereotypical and modern details. The setting of the play is a conference hall with a typical red carpet, a huge screen and loudspeaker announcements. The delegates – Hamlet, Polonius, Claudius, Gertude, Leartes and Ophelia (from left to right) are seated at the conference desks with their names on the place cards, a microphone in front of them and a desk lamp on the side. The only character who does not have an assigned place at the stage is the Drug Dealer, who speaks with American accent, dresses like a dandy and influences the course of affairs from behind the scenes.

Al-Hamlet Summit
Photo: Arne Magnussen
Source: https://www.ald.org.uk/sites/default/files/styles/full_size/public/showphotos/993.jpg?itok=x6rIiSWt

The New Order that they are introducing is in fact a dictatorship that uses violence to squash the opposition and propaganda to manipulate the nation. In his monologue Claudius speaks to God of his greed and imperialistic goals:

Your plutonium, your loans, your democratic filth that drips off your ecstatic crowds – I want them all, Oh God; I want your Vaseline smiles and I want your pimp-ridden plutocracies; I want your world shafting bank; I want it shafting me now – offer me the shafting hand of redemption – oh God let us be dirty together, won’t you?

Claudius Act 3 Scene 7
Cover of Al-Hamlet Summit
Source: https://www.bookdepository.com/Al-Hamlet-Summit-Sulayman-Al-Bassam/9781902806624

The Al-Hamlet Summit not only presents the clash of Western and Arab culture and conflicts underlying the Middle East but also uses stage directions and props to contextualize the plot. Each of the five acts of the play is named after a daily Islamic prayer: Al-Fajr, Al-Zuhr, Al-Asr, Al-Maghrib and Al-Isha’a. Hamlet appears on stage with a hobby horse dressed as an Abbasid general to announce he is going on a war. Ophelia worries that her brother will be killed and the terrorists will send her a post-mortem YouTube video. Polonius handles the list of the military order of: 500 howitzers, 12 B-2s, 4 Stealths, 500 Centurions, 17 Cruise Missiles, 200 hawks, 300 sparrows and one million of ammunition to the Arms Dealer (Act 4 Scene 3). Claudius opens a briefcase full of petrodollars. In the final scene the characters listen to the news report and collapse dead as their death is officially announced.

Sulayman Al-Bassam on making theatre across the cultural divide
https://youtu.be/n8XgntEFFXA
Source: YouTube

In his interview Sulayman Al-Bassam stresses the importance of the text as a medium of performance. In The Al-Hamlet Summit he uses a vivid language with strong sexual references and a good dose of humour. Hamlet speaks passionately when he calls to action:

words are dead, they died on our tongues. Admonishment is a weak form of faith, now we must mouth meaning with our flesh.

Act 5 Scene 2

The dialogues make the audience laugh. When Leartes passes his condolences to Hamlet and says “may Allah increase your wages in heaven” Hamlet replies “And yours in brothels” (Act 1 Scene 1).

The setting of the play in the Middle East opens Hamlet’s tragedy to new interpretation and casts a new light on his choices and actions. It proves that Hamlet is in fact an “everyman” that faces the issues of the contemporary world.

Source: Instagram @duginart
https://www.instagram.com/duginart/

The tale of Hamlet is very universal and can and should be made contemporary to appeal to the modern audience, make them see themselves in the story and make them laugh. Kingdom of Denmark can become a post-war Europe or Middle East “democracy”. Yorick’s skull can become a can of Coke or a hobby horse. Ophelia can take the action that the men fail to execute. It is the task of the translator and playwright to transfer the layers of plot, language, setting and characters into current culture. Modern appropriations of Hamlet can surprise, shock and stimulate. They can refer directly to Shakespeare’s plot or they can allude to the text. By and by the Shakespeare network grows stronger and the story of Hamlet is being retold over and over again. As we explore the connections and content we discover that a classic is in fact a contemporary story that happened before and will happen again.

Now cracks a noble heart. Good night, sweet prince. And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest. 

Horatio Act 5 Scene 2

Apple Cake

Each household has their own favourite recipe for apple cake – the well tested, repeatedly successful and very much loved. My grandmother used to make an amazing one. A round tart on a thin base with a good layer of slightly sour spicy apples and a fine crispy top sprinkled generously with icing sugar. I could eat the whole cake in one session. Or at least this is what I think I remember. Unfortunately, none of the recipe notebooks that she had and I inherited contains the recipe and I was never able to recreate the cake. However, I have a recipe that I got from my friend that ticks all the boxes and expectations for a perfect apple cake or szarlotka as it is called in Poland.

There are those types of cakes that when you taste them you just absolutely need to take the recipe and make them at home. When Wiola served this apple cake – with ideally balanced proportions of apple and shortbread: crisp, tangy and luscious – it was the one I knew I want and will be baking over and over again.

If I have any leftover apples (and I do like to stock up on my apples and lemons) I make apple compote or apple cake. Even if the skin is a bit wrinkled and the apples have lost their shine they will still make a great cake and it will be just a pity not to use them.

Apple Cake (Szarlotka a’la Wiola)

6 – 8 apples

1/2 cup of brown sugar

3 cups of flour

1 tsp of baking powder

3/4 cups of sugar

a few drops of vanilla essence

250 g cold unsalted butter

2 eggs

1 tbs of sour cream

First peel, core and quarter the apples. If the chunks are too big cut them in half. Cook the apples with the brown sugar in a pan over medium heat for about 5 to 8 minutes until the sugar has melted, the apples release the juice, yet are still firm and keep their shape. Remove from the heat and let cool.

In a large bowl mix all the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and sugar. In a separate small bowl lightly beat the eggs and pour into the dry ingredients. Use a grater to grate the cold butter (this is the trick that Wiola taught me as well and it works excellent for the shortbread pastry). Add to the bowl along with the sour cream and vanilla essence.

Mix all the ingredients with your hands working the butter into the flour and sugar until the dough is smooth and can be formed into a ball. Remember not to overwork the shortbread. Wrap the dough ball with cling film and put into the fridge for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 170oC fan.

Grease the rectangular 30 cm x 20 cm tin and line with baking paper.

Divide the dough into 2/3 and 1/3 parts. The larger one will be used for the bottom and the smaller one for the top. Roll the larger part of the dough to fit the tin. It should be 1 cm thick. Gently move and press into the tin.

Sprinkle the base shortbread with some fine breadcrumbs to keep it crisp. Add the cooled and strained apples (you might keep the sweet syrup for serving).

Roll the smaller part of the dough until it is 1/2 cm or less then cut into stripes. Arrange the stripes to make a checked pattern. This was my daughter’s, Natasha’s, idea and not only it looks great but also lets the apples steam so the juices do not soak the pastry.

Put into the oven for 45 minutes and enjoy the amazing smell of baking that fills the kitchen.

Remove from the oven and leave to cool. Then cut into rectangular or square pieces. Sprinkle with some icing sugar.

Serve while still slightly warm or fully cooled with a scoop of ice cream or on its own.

Enjoy and repeat!

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Sausage that is not for a dog, mustard after dinner and the joy of charades

Charades are my favourite party game, always have. Those moments when you shout out the words, search for synonyms, link clues. And those moments when you stand there in the middle doing your utmost to relate the meaning, frantically gesturing and jumping with excitement. I am terrible, I honestly mean it, at drawing but I do love showing things. We often play charades as a part of games such as Time’s Up!. I think charades are great one to play at school too as a way to practice titles, keywords, glossary. I still remember the great time we had at a study evening at our third year at the college when we decided to play charades as a revision. We rolled laughing and also, it must be noted did amazingly well in the exams.

Well, it’s been over a year since we could have a party and play charades with friends. As desperate pandemic times call for special measures and once the three of us got bored with 1000 pieces jigsaw and the selection of strategic board games we organized a spontaneous round of charades. I knew the theme had to be Polish proverbs and sayings – literal, though often nonsense meaning, is so easy to present and it is a great language practice for our bilingual daughter. We scribbled as many sayings such as to buy a cat in a sack or to throw pea against the wall as we could think of on little post-its. We invited grandma to join us online to help with guessing. The game was such fun that we did round two and three over the next few weekends and I thought it might be worth making proper set of clue cards.

So here is it a set of 30 Polish proverbs and saying charades cards. I heedfully included the literal English translation for the pure amusement of guessing the true meaning behind the old wives tales. And if you would like to use it there is a download link for the full set at the end of the post.

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Reading in the times of lockdown

books, reading

The last month was by all means the month of reading for me. I was reading novels, plays, listening to audiobooks (does it count as reading, I should think so). I have read academic articles and department of education guidelines. I swapped social media and Netflix for minutes and hours of reading – turning pages, highlighting the quotes, bookmarking the chapters.

All the quotes below come from Ian McEwan’s Nutshell, a murder mystery being unfold by an unborn but yet very eloquent baby. Surprisingly, they are very fitting in the times of the pandemic, lockdown and self-isolation and I am curious to share it here. 

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New What

Covid Elixir

I am not the type of person that makes new years resolutions along the line “new year – new me”. Perhaps, I came to accept all my (little) vices or more likely I set my goals one small step at a time and those changes are initiated by an arising situation rather than forced by a calendar occasion.

What I do at the start of the new year is getting back to the daily routines: 
getting up before 7am to use those precious hours before the day fully starts, doing my morning exercise that only takes 10 minutes and straightens my core and increases flexibility, and finally drinking what we call our Covid-19 elixir – an immune boosting smoothie. 

The smoothie combines the powers of anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antibacterial properties of turmeric, ginger and honey with vitamin C rich grapefruit that are even more beneficial if you are using the fresh ingredients and not the powdered spices. That said, brightly orange fresh turmeric is a very strong natural dye and stains the surfaces and hands alike so I always put on my gloves to keep my fingers and nails clean. 

Covid Elixir

Immune Boosting Smoothie (Covid-19 Elixir)

1 10cm-piece of ginger

3-6 turmeric roots

3 grapefruits

5 tbs honey

Using gloves peel ginger and turmeric, cut into small pieces and put into a blender. 

Roll the grapefruit (so that it releases more juice) and squeeze all the juices into the blender. Some bits are fine too but make sure you remove the pips and white pith as it will make the smoothie quite bitter otherwise.  

Add a good few tablespoons of honey.

Blend for about 2-3 minutes until smooth.

Use the sieve to remove all the ginger fibre to get a silky texture and improve the taste. 

Pour into a glass bottle and keep in the fridge for the daily use. This amount makes our weekly supply.

Pour one small shot each morning and drink with your breakfast. 

Smile and stay well.

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Cards and wishes

AnPost Christmas Card

I believe there is a certain kind of magic in sending the Christmas cards. From the moment of choosing the card design, through printing and sticking the address labels on the envelopes, attaching the stamps, through handwriting the wishes and signing the cards with all family names to finally slipping the cards through the post box. All those steps make you think about the friends and family that will receive them and you hope that with the little piece of card you will share the joy and good will at Christmas.

AnPost Christmas Card

I always loved sending cards and was never fond to swap the tradition to texts, gifs, videos and social media posts. Surely, those messages are quicker to send and instantly delivered but I do enjoy this more time absorbing process. I might skip some Christmas baking in the busy pre-Christmas period but year after year I find time to write the Christmas cards and sitting at the kitchen table I think of all those who are far away yet are close to our heart.

Christmas cards can be a state of art that you would rather keep than sadly dispose of after Christmas. One of my way to keep cards and at the same time reuse them is upcycling them for Christmas decorations storage boxes and you can read all about it in a post here.

When it comes to the card design I only realized that my favourite types of cards, and the ones that would always catch my eye at the shop when choosing Christmas cards, are the ones with snow and animals in various combinations: reindeer, robins, dogs or foxes in the winter wonderland or warm and cosy inside when it’s snowing outside are bet to steal my heart.

This year we picked a card with AnPost theme as so many packages arrived in the post in the last few weeks to help us cope with the non-essential but somehow so essential present shopping. I thought that was most fitting and a great way to show the appreciation. Yet, somehow, come December the postal services got overwhelmed with the pre-Christmas demands and while the Irish cards arrived to all the next day, the international cards travelled a long long time and even though they were sent at the very start of December, they have only just started to arrive in their destinations. I hope they will get there in time and I hope when they open the card they will now that we are thinking of them warmly and dearly this Christmas.

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T is for …

It would seem now is just a perfect time to busy yourself with the DIY and art and craft projects. Kept away from most social interactions during the lockdown. Staying at home during long dark evenings. Hoping creative activities will bring the sense of achievement. All very true. With the tiny little hiccup though, namely the art and craft supplies.

It all started with rather vast collection of stamps that belonged to our beloved grandad. While for the last 30 years I had absolutely no interest in collecting stamps not did I care about their possible (or not) market value, I definitely appreciated the beautiful design of the series: colour palette, attention to detail, motifs, typography … I instantly knew I would like to showcase the artwork, display rather than store in an album and turn this collection into creation.

When I grew up, back in the eighties, collecting stamps was one of the most common hobbies and many a times a girl would get a seemingly innocent invitation from a boy to come for a visit to see the stamp collection. I never got into philately, preferring more innovative and practical hobbies, however I greatly admire the story that a single image on a tiny square or rectangular can tell of a country, its history, landmarks and highlights.

The design I picked was simple. I wanted to shape the stamps into a T – the first later of the family surname that would also honour their previous owner who collected the stamps over his life time. I sorted the sets of stamps by size and then decided to use only the ones of Polish origin, again to make it more meaningful and cherish the memory of our grandad. The next steps seemed very much straightforward. Or were they? Once I managed to buy the black 70X50 IKEA RIBBA frame in between one lockdown and another I did not expect the complications and challenges to get an A1 black card. As all the non-essential shops were closed for at least six weeks I ordered online with the cost of delivery exceeding the cost of product, but hey the project was well worth it. And now the story of funny incidents starts, and even though I did not plan it to be the part of the original blog post it is certainly worth telling here.

The first good news came 10 days later. It was Friday and my order was on its way and being delivered. My excitement was somehow subdued when I came back home and saw a medium size box in the hall. It took me a while trying to imagine any creative way of fitting an A1 size card into that. Simply impossible. We opened the box and unpacked a collection of toddler jigsaw and colouring books. It was clearly not our order and clearly someone else was not getting theirs either today. A few phone calls and an email exchange later, the package was collected and I was promised the correct order was on its way. After another couple of days a package was delivered to the neighbours. It was even smaller than the first one but at least inside was one out of two items that were ordered – the embroidery frame for my daughter’s Home Economics classes. Yet, still no sign of the A1 black card to keep myself busy over the weekend.

All that time my collection of stamps were spread on the frame, carefully arranged in the same size rows, casually minded by our cat, Nero, who choose the spot for his regular daily naps.

On a Saturday morning, a big white van parked in front of the house with another delivery from Arts&Hobby. The courier handed in a very disappointing looking small box that contained, will you guess… the second embroidery frame. Ta-dah! It was at this stage that I decided to make fun of all the situation rather than get frustrated. And so we laughed and laughed and laughed until the door bell rang again and the same courier came back this time handling me a huge flat package with a Do Not Bend label and very visible signs of bending. Happy days! I did not mind if it was bent or not. He was like an angel bringing good tidings. Finally, after five long weeks I could start and hopefully finish my project.

All that happened then went spectacularly smoothly and considerably quickly. First, I made up a T letter shape template. Then attached it to the black card and cut out the shape with a wallpaper knife. The greatest and most creative part was to arrange the stamps so that they fit and fill the shape neatly. I mixed butterflies, flowers, fruit and vegetables with sports, landscapes, paintings and folklore. I threw in a king, a cartoon and some significant events. I rearranged a couple of times to get it just right. Then, I used the spray glue on the back of the frame to attach the stamps and applied the final layer of glue on the top to keep them in place. The next day once the glue dried we could finally frame it and hang the picture on the wall in our home office. This T-art truly took time.

Monogram Art
Sonia-signature