Sunday, May 31, 2009

Snails in summer


As I was driving along the countryside in the limits of Zejtun I came across these weird masses of white shelled snails on top of stones and poles. These creatures are really weird. With the onset of summer they enter a period of inactivity known as estivation. They find the highest possible places so as to avoid damage from high temperatures of summer. Doesn't the heat of the sun bother them when they are under its cruel mercy? They're lucky that they've got white coloured shells but I still cannot understand how they survive the intense heat of our Maltese summers! Instead of finding places in the shade they suction themselves to the walls, dry branches or poles and retreat into their shells. Thus protected, they wait until the weather becomes more suitable.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Old Abandoned Buildings in Marsascala

What is it with abandoned places, frozen in time, that makes them seem more real than any other representation of history we encounter? Why do they fascinate us so? It makes you wonder how many ghosts roam these deserted buildings...


Villa Mondello




On reaching the BOV branch in Marsascala one is bound to see the imposing beauty of Villa Mondello which was built around the 1930s. It used to be a school in its prime time. The children of that time must have been exceptionally lucky to attend to such a magnificent school. It now stands there - a derelict building, witness to the continuous changes that have been taking place in this village.

Ta' Grabiel's family house




This house used to belong to the family which at present runs the Grabiel business in Marsascala. This house had an unmistakable beauty in its heyday. Unfortunately now it's up for sale. I hope whoever buys it restores it back to its original beauty. We don't want to see any more lovely old houses demolished and replaced by high rise buildings. We have more than enough in Malta.

Incidentally, this week I happened to come across an old photo of Marsascala taken in 1885 and I was quite surprised to note that the house above was already in existence at that time! The old house is the last one in the right hand side of the photo. Here's a close up of the house.



Apap Bologna Palace



As I was strolling along the promenade a couple of weeks ago I found this old abandoned building up a slope behind Brighton take-away. Looking at this derelict building I couldn't believe that it was so quiet up there, so secluded. Only two fighting cats broke the silence that reigned in that place. The garden with the overgrown shrubs and creepers next to the house reminded me of Estelle's house in Dicken's Great Expectations. I was almost expecting an old woman hobbling in the garden. Curiosity got the better of me and back home I did some research as to what this lovely building used to be before. It belonged to the nobles Apap Bologna, on whom the title of "Marquis of Gnien is-Sultan" was bestowed by Grand Master de Rohan in 1792. These were great benefactors of the parish of Marsaskala. In the year 1997 the Apap Bologna Palace together with the chapel, was donated to the Bishop's Curia to serve as a rest house for elderly priests. However, I got the impression that the building is no longer in use..Who knows maybe I'm wrong..

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Carob Tree - Il-Harruba

The Carob Tree (il-Harruba) is quite common on the Maltese Islands and could still be found in its natural habitat. The carob is one of the Mediterranean’s oldest trees, and grows without care or cultivation, surviving on meagre rainfall. This low-spreading tree with its characteristic canopy effect is part and parcel of the Maltese rural landscape and is protected by law.

The carob is indigenous to the eastern Mediterranean, and the Bible is replete with references to what are likely to be carob-pods, like the pods that the prodigal son fed to pigs when he wasted his father’s inheritance and was forced to become a humble swineherd. The pods are also known as St. John's bread or locust beans because the pods were once thought to have been the "locusts" that were eaten by John the Baptist in the wilderness. In the past carob seeds were used to weigh gold, hence the word "carat."
During the second World War, carobs fetched the highest price ever at a penny a pod. The seeds were ground along with precious and rare supplies of coffee-beans to make it last, something that the French did at the same time with acorns. In Malta and Sicily up to fairly recent times, carob syrup was used to soothe sore throats and ease coughs. I remember quite clearly when I developed a whooping cough and there was this old farmer (whose farm was situated in front of our home) who used to bring mum a lot of carob pods. She used to prepare this brownish mixture which she then made me drink. It didn’t look appealing but it really soothed my horrible and intense coughing bouts.

Carob sweets (il-karamelli) are still popular, and often sold at Good Friday processions because they are deemed traditionally to be the only sweets allowed during Lent, having supposedly medicinal properties. These sweets are made from the carob pods. According to an old Sicilian recipe for ‘Caramelle Di Carrube’ one needs to prepare equal amounts of carob pods and honey and have them boiled together until caramelised. The mixture is then strained and poured onto an oiled surface, marked into little squares and allowed to cool before being cut up into sweets.

Carob-pods, are now making a comeback as a health food in Europe. The carob-flour is made by grinding carob-pods that have been dried and roasted. It has a very strong flavour and must be used with care. The taste is a little like honeyed chocolate, and in fact carob is sometimes used as a substitute for chocolate. The dark-brown carob pods are not only edible but rich in calcium, sucrose and protein. Moreover, the pod has vitamin A, B vitamins, and several important minerals. And although carobs are very sweet, they contain far fewer calories than chocolate!! They are sold at high prices in many European food-markets, but in Malta they are no longer even harvested as food for animals!! Are carobs set for a revival in Malta too?


Monday, May 25, 2009

Capers - Il-Kappar

Capers (kappar) have been a part of Mediterranean cuisine for thousands of years. In fact, they were often used as a type of currency among merchants travelling ancient trade routes. Soon, capers became favorite additions to fish sauces and marinades, along with brined and dried anchovies. The indigenous bush which produces capers is very well-suited to the sandy and nutrient-poor soil found in Malta. Caper bushes can often be found growing between the cracks of sidewalks and broken roads.
The salted and pickled caper is a distinctive ingredient in Maltese cooking: often used as a seasoning or garnish. The buds, when ready to pick, are a dark olive green and about the size of a kernel of corn. Capers ready for the market place are usually packed into distinctive glass jars filled with coarse salt or vinegar brine. They are used in salads, pasta salads, pizzas, fish dishes and pasta sauces. Examples of uses in Maltese cuisine are the “Hobz biz-Zejt”, "iz-Zalza tal-Lampuki". (Dolphin Fish sauce)

A number of kitchen supply stores and grocery stores in Malta sell bottled capers, so cooks should not have difficulty finding enough for a recipe. Capers straight out of the jar are far too salty for consumption, so it’s recommended placing them in a small strainer and rinsing them under running water before adding them to sauces or to fish. Because the flavor can be so intense, most recipes only require a few capers to add sharpness to a savory dish or sauce.

I still remember those days when our parents used to take us siblings for a walk in the countryside and to keep us occupied they used to give each of us a plastic bag to pick the capers from the bushes. It was kind of tedious but I used to love exploring all the nooks and crannies around me. Those were the days!


The caper bush

Monday, May 18, 2009

Strawberry and Coconut Cheesecake


And here's another tried and tested recipe that has strawberries in it.

Ingredients

200g coconut biscuits (e.g Nice biscuits)
25g desiccated coconut
75g melted butter
405g light condensed milk
500g low fat cream cheese (e.g Philadelphia)
juice of 1 small lemon
450g strawberries
2tbsp strawberry jam

Method

Grease and line a 20cm tin with baking paper.

Mix together the crushed biscuits, coconut and melted butter. Then lightly press into the base of the tin. Chill.

Beat together the condensed milk and philadelphia cheese until the mixture is completely smooth. Add the lemon juice and combine thoroughly.

In a blender or food processor, pulse half the strawberries with the jam until lightly crushed, leaving small pieces.

Spread half the cream mixture on to the biscuit base. Spoon over all the crushed strawberries, then top with the remaining cream mixture. Chill for 4 hours or overnight.

Halve the remaining strawberries and arrange on top of the cheesecake.

Best Blenders For Mixing - Wowzio

Best Blenders For Mixing - Wowzio

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The Valletta Waterfront

In the 18th century Grandmaster Pinto built these baroque style warehouses in the Grand Harbour, a natural deep water port, which for many thousand of years was the centre of Malta’s maritime activity. There are 19 warehouses in all and these stretch along the water's edge and the historical Quay Wall where the Knights of St John and European merchants used to unload their wares.

The Valletta Waterfront has been brought back to life with the restoration works carried out by the private consortium VISET Malta. The Valletta Waterfront is also the gateway to Malta’s capital city, Valletta – a city built by gentlemen for gentlemen. In fact, as one of the most successful Mediterranean ports, the Port of Valletta welcomes more than half-a-million cruise passengers a year.

The Waterfront is currently being used as a popular venue with a concentration of upmarket bars, retail outlets and restaurants. International names such as Hard Rock Cafe operate in the area. Whether you are looking for a dining experience, shopping, a memorable event, or simply a stroll along the promenade, the Valletta Waterfront has something for all your senses.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Marsascala police station


Coastal redoubts were one type of coastal defences built in the early 18th century. The most numerous types of fortifications of this period were the coastal batteries, which were generally built in vulnerable bays opposite each other and armed with cannons. On the other hand coastal redoubts were built in the middle of the bay in order not to let enemy forces disembark their troops ashore.

They operated as an infantry defensible stronghold to resist enemy troops. The idea of building this type of fortification was brilliant because if enemy soldiers were able to disembark their soldiers, they would overwhelm these fortifications quickly. The reason was because in the middle of the bay there was no fortification. But with the introduction of the coastal redoubt the situation was different because all the vulnerable points of the bay were defended by these coastal fortifications.

This redoubt is currently being used as a police station in Marsascala and is very close to the parish church. It is one of the best preserved redoubts in the Maltese islands. It was built in 1715 at the expense of 768 skudi by the Commendatore Gio.Battista Briconet and was initially garrisoned by local militia from the Zejtun Regiment. It consists of a pentagon-shaped fortification and entrance was from the side today facing a private building. A redan, ( a work in a V-shaped projecting angle) fitted with musketary loop-holes, was erected. Obviously such a small fortification was not meant to deter any potential landing, but to slow down an enemy's movements once on land.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Lemon Meringue

And here's my lemon meringue recipe. In the photo my pie looks a bit messed up. The humid weather didn't help much but I assure you that it was gorgeous.

Ingredients

CASE:1 x 23cm pastry case, made from short crust pastry, baked blind and cooled.

LEMON CURD:

Juice and grated rind of two lemons
300ml water
110g sugar
4 tablespoons cornflour, dissolved in 3 tablespoons water
4 egg yolks, lightly beaten

MERINGUE:

4 egg whites at room temperature
¾ cup sugar

TIPS: When making meringue, your utensils must be squeaky clean and bone dry.

Method

1. Combine the lemon juice, rind, water and sugar.
2. Heat, stirring till the sugar is dissolved.
3. Stir in the dissolved corn flour and egg yolks, and continue cooking till the mixture is thick (about 5 minutes).
4. Remove the pan from the heat and leave to stand for a few minutes..
5. Spoon into the pastry case.
6. Beat the egg whites till stiff. Gradually beat in the sugar. The mixture should form stiff, dry peaks.
7. Pile the meringue on top of the lemon filling, taking care to cover it completely.
8. Bake at 150ÂșC for 20 - 25 minutes, or until the meringue has set and is golden brown.
9. Leave to stand till cool.

Let me know if you try this..

A Busy Sunday

When I set my mind to do something I just have to do it. For this mother's day I came up with the idea of preparing something good and homemade for mummy rather than going materialistic. Last week I had thought of preparing her a strawberry cheesecake as it looks aesthetically pleasant and I had already bought the stuff. However, when I called my mum last week she mentioned how much she liked anything to do with lemons...I mean, I knew she liked lemons but I never knew they were her favourite fruit ...so my strawberry cheesecake idea was shelved temporarily .. So I asked myself what lemon tasting dessert could I make for mum. A friend of mine suggested I try a lemon meringue. I liked the idea but the only snag was that I had never tried it. And this was definitely not going to discourage me.

Come Sunday morning and I woke up at around 6:20 when even the birds were still snoozing near our house. I went to check the recipe and realised I was missing the short crust pastry. So off I went to the nearest confectionery. Back home I started preparing the Sunday lunch (spare ribs, baked cauliflower - thanks to my friend Doreen's recipe, chinese noodles, and potato wedges) while defrosting the pastry in the microwave.

I was very careful to follow the instructions word by word and everything seemed to be going perfect until I came to the meringue bit...That's where I blew it. I mixed the sugar and eggs together before having beaten the eggs by themselves. So 4 egg whites went down the loo.

Luckily I had another batch of eggs and managed to beat the egg whites until I had 'dry peaks'. Boy, didn't I feel relieved! At around 9:30am my hubby woke up, and came to see what I was up to. He asked me if I was ready - well I wasn't but we had agreed to go out with his family at around 10am. I took a quick shower, dashed to the roof to hang the clothes, checked on the lemon meringue in the oven and tried to clear some of the numerous utensils I had left on the cupboards...

We went to San Anton fur and feather fair to see the cute rabbits and strange looking hens and cocks. Back home I said to myself why don't I prepare a strawberry cheesecake too. Sometimes I am simply unstoppable. And I started taking out some more utensils to finish this cheesecake. By 2:00pm I managed to prepare Sunday lunch + 2 desserts. I was dead tired, what with all the cleaning and clearing but was so glad to have managed my Sunday itinerary perfectly well. As the saying goes...it's all a matter of timing!

And by the way when I took the lemon meringue to my family's home they thought I had bought a lemon meringue packet and whipped it up in 5 mins! I didn't know whether to feel offended that they couldn't recognise the real thing from a ready made one or pleased that my dessert tasted so good that it seemed like a professionally done one. hehe. Anyway to cut the long story short they liked it so much that they asked for second helpings. Another success story!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Il-Majjistral Park Walk


This is the best time to go out for a walk in the countryside. We went to the Majjistral Park Guided Nature Walk when it was still free and I can say it was a really lovely experience! It's a walk that offers you an opportunity to learn more about Malta's flora and enjoy the spectacular countryside. The walk is six kilometres long and takes approximately two-and-half hours, while the terrain consists mostly of rocky paths along the cliffs, and dirt tracks.



The site is rich of biodiversity and history giving you an experience of natural beauty, a walk in history and a sense of wilderness that is hard to imagine and experience in Malta – an island densely populated and under the pressure of development and progress. The highlights of the area included amongst others: beautiful views on the northwest coast, wild rugged landscapes along the boulder scree below the plateaus, a large number of traditional corbelled stone huts (giren) and a rich garigue bursting with flowers.


The park extends from ir-Ramla tal-Mixquqa (Golden Bay) to Il-Prajjet (Anchor Bay) and the walks are led by a qualified and experienced guide. The site was first earmarked as an area to host a Golf course with an aim to attract a niche of golf tourism to our Island. In the process the authorities changed their decision and declared the site a national park aimed for public enjoyment and with a focus to attract niche tourism – this time ecotourism. The NGos that had lobbied to convince the Authorities to change their position on Golf ended up being assigned the management of the Park. Today Din L-Art Helwa, Nature Trust (Malta) and Gaia Foundation are working hard withthe local authorities to conserve the area.

Here are some more highlights of our nature walk :

The cart ruts

The Cave Dwellings

A lost cameleon

A rare view of sheep grazing in the fields

The place which marked the end of our Nature walk.

For more details go to http://www.majjistral.org/.

Lemon Drizzle Cake

Last Wednesday I had only one and a half hour to spare before going out and as I looked at my bowl full of lemons one thought came to mind...a lemon cake..!! The result was a tangy and gorgeous cake.

Ingredients

50g unsalted butter,
50ml oil
Finely grated zest 2 lemons
150g caster sugar
2 large eggs
50g ground almonds
150g plain flour
2 tbsp cornflour
2½ tsp baking powder
90ml lemon juice
75g icing sugar

Method

Line a small, 17cm-long loaf tin, or similar, with nonstick baking paper, and preheat the oven to 180C (fan-assisted 160C)/350F/gas mark 4. Melt the butter, then pour into a mixing bowl along with the oil. Add the lemon zest, sugar and eggs, whisk for a minute until smooth and slightly bubbly, then stir in the almonds.
In a separate bowl, mix the flour, cornflour and baking powder, then sift half of this into the butter/egg bowl. Beat in 75ml of the lemon juice, then sift in the remaining flour mixture and beat until smooth.

Spoon the cake mixture into the loaf tin, and bake for 45-50 minutes, until a skewer comes out clean. Remove and leave to cool for five minutes. Beat the remaining 15ml of lemon juice with the icing sugar, and spread this mix over the top of the cake while it's still in the tin. The icing is spooned on while the cake is hot, and this helps it turn into that beautiful, crisp lemon glaze as it cools. Leave until barely warm before serving.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Spring is in the air...






Yes!! The lovely smell of regeneration is in the air. It's the season of new life. Most of the flowers are in full bloom. The roundabouts and the centre strips are a myriad of colours. Spring makes me feel alive again after having spent winter under wraps. Winter makes me hibernate and slow down. It is the season which makes me go dormant. But spring awakens my senses. There's the sound of bees, flies and nestlings. The perfume of the beautiful flowers tickles my sense of smell. The sight of the different and bright colours makes me realise how lucky I am to be alive.

The photos above show some of flowers that have bloomed in our front garden.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Maltese balconies in Marsascala


The balconies are unequivocally an important feature of the Maltese streetscape. They are amongst the first characteristics of Malta you notice. In many ways, they are similar architecturally to those of the North African countries. In Gozo and in some older Maltese villages, you’ll see square stone balconies, often elaborately carved. The elegant wooden balconies of Valletta (the capital city of Malta) were used as a view point for families to catch up on the business of the streets below. Today in Valletta you will see baskets lowered from balconies for the baker to pop in a loaf of bread. This simple act saves the home owner several tortuous flight of stairs. The finest and longest balcony is that of the Grand Master’s palace in Valletta. It stretches around corners and along the side street walls.

It is believed that the first open balconies built entirely from stone began to appear locally during medieval times and that the first closed timber balcony appeared around 1679, when the corner balcony of the Grand Master’s Palace in Valletta was covered with a timber and glass structure joining all the rooms on this side of the Palace. During the 18th century the popularity of the closed timber balcony spread from Valletta to the villages where it became fashionable to replace the open balconies with an enclosed timber one.



Last Friday I woke up early and went for a drive round my lovely hometown. I took photos of some particular houses which caught my attention. These three houses with their different colour schemes look really lovely next to each other. Don't you agree?






I took photos of the above balconies because I think these Marsascala houses are pretty old. And their balconies are rather unusual. I have never encountered such balconies anywhere else in Malta.

Lemons: Sorbetto Sicilia



Last weekend, my mother in law gave me a bag full of lemons! So last week was strawberry week. Now it seems it's gonna be a lemon week. First thing I thought of making, was a lemon sorbet. I served it yesterday for dessert. To be honest with you when I first tasted the cold mixture it was so good that I didn't give it ample time to form into sorbet. I served it as it was.


Here's the recipe.


150 ml fresh lemon juice
150 ml fresh orange juice
150g sugar
250 ml water
grated orange peel (1/2 an orange)
grated lemon peel (1/2 a lemon)


In a mixing bowl, put the sugar, water and fruit juices and stir well. Add grated peel. Pour in Ice-Cream bowl and let the ice-cream machine stir the mixture for around 20 minutes. Serve immediately.

Strawberry Cocktail




Here's another way of using some more strawberries.


Ingredients for 2 martini glasses :
6 ice cubes
8 strawberries
a little lemonade
100ml vodka


Blitz the strawberries and ice-cubes and divide the mixture between the two glasses. Then add 50ml of vodka to each glass. Add some lemonade to mellow the vodka's powerful taste. Decorate with a couple of strawberries. Enjoy!

Friday, May 1, 2009

Chicken a la Carte

Here's a film which has left me pondering about the dire situation of so many people around the world... and yet they are so happy.


Chicken a la Carte : Director: Ferdinand Dimadura Genre: Drama Produced In: 2005

Synopsis: This film is about the hunger and poverty brought about by Globalization. There are 10,000 people dying everyday due to hunger and malnutrition. This short film shows a forgotten portion of the society. The people who live on the refuse of men to survive. What is inspiring is the hope and spirituality that never left this people.

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