Friday 22 April 2016

Blackberry and raspberry muffins

I’m through a difficult period as my dad is in hospital in Rome, I am constantly worried about him and I have traveled back and forth to Italy to stay with him and help my mother and sister. At the same time I’m keeping up with my job and the house work.
In this mayhem trying new recipes is my way to relax. Here are two slightly different muffin recipes I have recently tested at home. I brought some of the muffins with me to Rome, my dad loved them.

Blackberry muffins
You need: 100 g of melted butter, 250 g of flour, 4 eggs, 1 tsp of baking powder, 150 g of blackberries, 200 g of golden granulated sugar, 100 g of ground almonds, 100 g of grated white chocolate, some drops of vanilla extract, icing sugar to finish.
Put aside 12 blackberries and simmer the rest in a pan for 15 minutes with one tbsp of water and half of the sugar. Beat the eggs and the rest of the sugar; add the flour, baking powder, melted butter, white chocolate and ground almonds. Finally add the vanilla extract and the cooked blackberries. Prepare a muffin tray lined with 12 muffin paper cases. Scoop the mixture in the cases and place a blackberry on top of each. Bake for 30 minutes, 150 °C.

Raspberry muffins
You need: 200 g of raspberries, 250 g of flour, 2 eggs, 1 tsp of baking powder, 200 g of golden granulated sugar, 4 tbsp of olive oil, some drops of vanilla extract, icing sugar to finish.

Again put aside 12 raspberries and simmer the rest in a pan for 15 minutes with one tbsp of water and half of the sugar. Beat the eggs and the rest of the sugar; add the flour, baking powder, olive oil, the vanilla extract and the cooked raspberries. Prepare a muffin tray lined with 12 muffin paper cases. Scoop the mixture in the cases and place a raspberry on top of each. Bake for 30 minutes,150°C.

Saturday 2 April 2016

The Lightbox in Woking

Recently I had a wonderful day out with my husband in the centre of Woking. We went to the shopping centre “The Peacock” where I found some fabulous clothes on sale for me and my daughters. A maroon coat for me that matches perfectly with a dress I already had, a pair of warm grey trousers for my eldest daughter and some leggings and tracking suit bottoms for Valentina, my autistic daughter, who can never have enough clothes especially when she is in the ripping mood.

My husband didn’t enjoy this first part so much as he couldn’t do anything but wait in a corner while I was madly browsing the clothes rails and queuing for fitting rooms for what seemed to me ten minutes, but must have been at least an hour.

But he enjoyed the second part for sure. We went to visit Lightbox, Woking’s museum, which has also a shop, a cafĂ© and galleries with temporary exhibitions. I must say that it had a lot of interesting things; besides the permanent collection, displaying objects linked to Woking’s history, there are talks, workshops for children and for adults, yoga sessions and art and craft fairs.

The main gallery hosted the exhibition: John Constable, Observing the weather. It was about the painter’s ability to observe and depict how the weather changes, reproducing skies and clouds in exceptional sketches. He also considered his works as experiments of ‘inquiry into the laws of nature’. He believed that painting was ‘a branch of natural philosophy’, a way to explore the world, to know it better. According to him landscape painting could give us the key to understand what is around us. He thought that not only science can observe, describe and discover the laws that regulate nature, but art can do it as well, using a deeper insightful kind of observation. Therefore artistic intuition and attentive scrutiny can attain important results. Certainly his artistic intuition and skills worked together to produce exceptional landscapes. On the walls there was a stanza from The Cloud by P.B. Shelley and extracts from Constable’s journals. Interestingly I believe that studying the changing of the sky and clouds is something typical of northern countries and undoubtedly very interesting in England. I can’t think of something similar in Italy where the weather is less changeable and the sky is often clear, and there is therefore not much to study.

In the upper gallery there were some pieces from the Ingram Collection. My favourite: Mini Death by stick 2014, sort of ice lolly wooden sticks painted with inks, acrylics and felt tip pens with figures reminding of people lying in coffins, very original and funny in a way.

Other interesting events I took part in recently were a wonderful poetry workshop at Freud museum in London with Pascale Petit and the parents’ dinner at my son’s college in Oxford.

I had never been to Freud’s museum before; it’s a beautiful house in Hampstead where Sigmund Freud lived only a year before dying, after fleeing Vienna occupied by Nazis. There’s a huge collection of antiquities, mainly Egyptian, Greek and Roman pieces, statuettes and fragments he loved to collect. In the upper floor, which was the space used for the poetry workshop, there was an interesting exhibit that looked like a net where visitors were encouraged to weave patterns using threads and write their dreams on postcards. An interesting space to have a poetry workshop and explore the deepest parts of your soul.

At my son’s college we attended a lecture by Alison Wolf after dinner about her book The XX Factor, an interesting study on women’s work market and how it changed from the 70s on. According to this study education is the key to attain a successful career and today’s women don’t have to be extraordinary to be successful and have a good career as in the past. Still the background counts (as it is for men I suppose), girls from well-off families tend to go to the best colleges and tend to marry high status men. At the same time being successful means postponing the birth of the first child and consequently there is a drop in fertility rates. It is almost impossible to work full time in a demanding job and look after children at the same time. Women need to take time off, sometimes for years, from their careers, or postpone or give up childbearing. Besides women need help at home if they have a career, while servants were taken for granted in the past, today house maids can be expensive. Wolf says that to allow the chance of a career for all women, housework jobs have to be cheap. And this necessarily leads to inequality, if some women can’t do their house works because they are busy with their careers, other women have to do it at low rates, because the career women can’t necessarily afford to pay them more. Significantly the title of the lecture was Not quite Utopia?

In my opinion a possible alternative to postponing marriage and childbearing could be postponing the career. Women can have children earlier and start a career a bit later. When the children start school (primary or secondary) they don’t really need a full time mum any more. Grandparents or friends can help and women can work longer and dedicate time and mind to their careers. I don’t think today we need house maids with washing machines, dish washers, vacuum cleaners and all the rest and we don’t need to spend a whole day cooking to arrange a meal. I had never had a help at home (though my parents had one), my husband and I shared the house works and the care of the children, though I was the main carer and had breaks in my career, sometimes very long breaks. My parents and parents in law helped and I could carry on with a part time job. Our house has never been perfect or impeccably tidy, but clean and welcoming.

On the whole today men and women live longer and work longer, and this may trigger a crucial change. Women can catch opportunities later in life (somebody would say: better late than never) if they wish to have children earlier on. This can happen only if good opportunities are offered to middle aged women as well, which is not always the case today, as being over 40 or over 50 sometimes means that society sees your perspectives as limited. The children are grown up and don’t need to be looked after, it’s time to think about you. Can this be a solution?