On this last day of the year, I like watching the last apple on the tree in my backyard. It grew from a single blossom in May , was surrounded by a riotous multitude of brothers during the summer and gradually became lonely in the fall.
Now it is still there – in the cold, freezing wind, waiting for the moment a hungry blackbird finally manages to take it down.
It is like tonight, when we close the books on 2016 and start on our new journey around the sun, called 2017 and lasting exactly 365 and 1/4 days.
What will our new journey bring us?
I hope it will be health and happyness and understanding….
I think most of us are by now fed up with tasteless, mass produced bread, stuffed with grease and preservatives to make it last longer. Finding a good, artisanal baker is about as likely nowadays as finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.
Is there no solution then?
YES – bake your own!
All you need is a breadform, a good mixer (preferably one with a bowl attached) and an oven. Supermarket flour is ground to fine (and often mixed with things you don’t want) so the challenge wil be to find good, slightly coarse flour. It is frequently stocked by health stores, as is dried yeast. Once you’ve found it, use this recipe to begin with: Ingredients:
500 gr flour
290 ml lukewarm water
12 gr dried yeast
10 gr sugar
10 gr salt
Mix the ingredients in the bowl and knead for 5 – 8 minutes;
Cover the bowl with plastic cling foil and let the dough rise for about 30 mins;
Lightly dust a flat surface with flour and firmly knead the dough for 3 minutes;
Use a rolling-pin (if you don’t have one, a wine bottle will do) and flatten the dough intil you have a (more or less) square piece about 1/2 inch thick;
Roll it up and put in a lightly greased bread-form, seam at the bottom;
Put it in a draught-free place (I use the microwave) and let rise for 60 – 65 minutes;
Pre-heat the oven to 220c;
Bake for 10 minutes at 220c, then reduce heat to 180c and bake for 30 minutes;
Remove the bread from the form;
Put it on a tray and bake for an additional 5 minutes (to harden the crust);
Take it out of the oven, put it upside down and let it cool off before you cut it. (This is the hardest part!)
Once you’ve tasted your own baked bread, you’re hooked. And you will soon get the hang of it and experiment with different kinds of flour, fillings, etc. And each and every time, your whole house will be perfumed by the wonderful smell of honest, freshly baked bread.
Smell is a powerful guide to the past. The smell of freshly baked bread always takes me back to my schoolboy days when each day, in the cold and dark of the early morning, I cycled past this bakery on my way to school. And each and every time I thought:
Alas, the winter Gods have decided to give the low countries a green Christmas. I therefore post a picture of how it should have been – and a poem by Sara Teasdale called “A Winter Bluejay”.
Crisply the bright snow whispered,
Crunching beneath our feet;
Behind us as we walked along the parkway,
Our shadows danced,
Fantastic shapes in vivid blue.
Across the lake the skaters
Flew to and fro,
With sharp turns weaving
A frail invisible net.
In ecstasy the earth
Drank the silver sunlight;
In ecstasy the skaters
Drank the wine of speed;
In ecstasy we laughed
Drinking the wine of love.
Had not the music of our joy
Sounded its highest note?
For suddenly, with lifted eyes you said,
There, on the black bough of a snow flecked maple,
Fearless and gay as our love,
A bluejay cocked his crest!
Oh who can tell the range of joy
Or set the bounds of beauty?
The days are growing shorter while the temperature goes down. December is upon us, the darkest month of the year. But sometimes, even during this period of darkness, nature has a treat for us. Here is one, a winter sunset of a rare beauty…
There are places that exert a kind of magnetic attraction. And this is one of them. A former island in the ‘Zuyderzee‘.
Barely 500 yards long and 50 wide, its three habitable pieces were connected by wooden walkways, barely wide enough for a single person. You could only pass each other by doing ‘The Dance’. holding on to each other and slowly change places, taking care not to fall in the sea or the mud.
The north-west gales battered the island for many centuries. As their short, powerful waves ate away the land, the Dutch government decided in 1859 that the safety of the few families still eking out some kind of existence there could no longer be guaranteed and evacuated the island.
What remained was a lighthouse, a church and a small protected anchorage that served as a refuge for local shipping during storms. Its island status finally came to an end when, in 1942, the dikes of the first large reclamation project closed and Schokland became just another spot in the newly created Noord-Oost Polder.
Fortunately for posterity, its unique historical value was soon recognized and it was the first Dutch location to be added to the UNESCO World Heritage List. Today, the former island is a museum and a wonderful location for cultural activities, such as this Christmas Concert.
Five gifted musicians and one of their students offered us a variety of works by various great composers such as J.G. Albrechtsberger, J.S. Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. The location and the ambiance, as well as the quality of the performance made one wish there would be a similar concert every week!