Monday, September 12, 2011

Cat Nap

Thought of sharing this funny picture with you this week.  Here's a cat who decided to have a nap in one of the kids' play castles.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Gnien l-Istazzjon, Birkirkara

One of the greatest inventions ever to come about during the Industrial revolution was the steam engine. The first commercial steam engine appeared in 1698. Here, in Malta, this great invention took a long time to reach our shores. In fact almost two centuries passed since the introduction of the first trains. The Malta Railway was officially inaugurated on February 1883 and lasted for a period of around fifty years.

The train was lovingly known by the Maltese, as 'Il-Vapur tal-Art', meaning the land steamer. The dark green carriages were constructed out of wood and framed in steel chassis. There were only first and third class carriages. Prior to the introduction of electricity, carriages were simply illuminated by candles. After 1900 the carriages were lit up by electricity.

Trains were expensive to run and the introduction of trams and buses adversely affected the Malta Railway. Buses soon became popular. After almost 50 years the train performed its last service on the 31st of March 1931 . Unfortunately, from a total of 10 engines and about 34 passenger carriages, nothing is left to remind us of the existence of a railway system except for one surviving carriage which can be found in Gnien L-Istazzjon in Birkirkara.

The carriage that is in the garden is very dark, with no windows at all. I wonder why they were constructed in this way. Was it because they were third class carriages or for safety measures?

The Railway station at Birkirkara, is one of the most well preserved buildings in Malta. For a number of years, the station was used as office for the Local Council. Now it is presently being used as a childcare centre. The building is surrounded by pleasant gardens.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Our Lady Tal Hlas chapel (Protectress of mothers in labour)

A few weeks ago I took my little one to a thanksgiving mass celebrated at Tal-Hlas chapel in Qormi. This special mass is celebrated at half past 4 every third Sunday of the month and the children of all ages are presented to Our Lady in gratitude following a safe delivery. My siblings were all presented at this quaint chapel and for this reason I wanted to keep to this family tradition.

This small chapel is situated in a secluded part of Qormi and lies on the border with Zebbug. For a time its location was disputed as either being in Zebbug or Qormi territory. Incidentally, this chapel is also said to lie in a path halfway between Birgu and Mdina. Hence it was a convenient resting place for the pilgrims travelling between these towns. The unusual twin porticoed loggias on either side with stone benches and tables, were built in 1699 to provide shelter for the numerous pilgrims who visited the church.

The original church, now turned into a sacristy, was built around 1500. In the year 1560, Fra Christophe le Boulleur Montgauldry, the Treasurer of the Order of St John, who had a house by the church (I believe the building opposite the church is the one that is being referred to here) was a great benefactor of the church, building it anew and paying for the titular painting now kept in the sacristy, which showed Our Lady with St Paul and St John the Baptist. In this sacristy a large number of ex-votos are kept here.

The original chapel was seriously damaged in the violent earthquake of 1693 and was rebuilt by the architect Lorenzo Gafa. The titular painting of Our Lady tal-Hlas (protectress of mothers in labour) was placed above the old one.

The feast, which used to to be held on the 15th August, is now celebrated on the Sunday following that date. In the past there was the custom of distributing hazelnuts and a glass of wine to visitors on the feast day.

This year, the feast will be celebrated on the 21st of August and two masses will be celebrated - one at 9:30am and the last one at 6.00pm. Parents who would like to present their children to our Lady are invited to attend to this celebration.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Stuffed Aubergines (Brungiel Mimli)

This is another traditional Maltese recipe of parboiled aubergines stuffed with meat and baked in an oven until done.

Many think that cooking aubergines is complicated since you need to put them under salt for a couple of hours before you cook them. When I'm in a hurry I don't do this and I still get finger licking results!

Ingredients ( for 2 persons)

2 medium sized aubergines (eggplants)

1 onion, sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

300g minced meat (mix of beef and pork)

2 tbsp margarine (or butter)

2 tsp tomato purée

60g breadcrumbs

4 tablespoons grated cheese,

Worcestershire sauce

grated salt and freshly-ground black pepper, to taste


Cut each aubergine in half lengthways. Bring a pan of lightly-salted water to a boil, add the aubergine halves and parboil for about 10 minutes. Remove from the water and scoop out the pulp. Retain the pulp.

In the meantime, melt the margarine (or butter) in a pan, add the onion and garlic and fry for 5 minutes. Now stir in the meat, reserved aubergine pulp, tomato purée, and add a few drops of Worcestershire sauce. Fry, stirring frequently, until the meat is no longer pink. Take off the heat. Stir in the cheese then season to taste with salt and black pepper.

Arrange the hollowed out aubergine halves in a baking dish and stuff with the meat mixture. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the top then transfer to an oven at 200°C and bake for 30 minutes. Serve hot.

To make this meal more substantial you can add sliced potatoes and onions. Start the potatoes about 45 minutes before the aubergines.

Friday, June 24, 2011

A little old arch

Hush! Who's hiding behind the wall...

I took a photo of this little arch tucked away up on a hill in my home town. I came across this old arch while walking along an old disused path that leads down to the little old boathouses in front of St Anne's gardens. Beyond the old arch there was this confusion of entangled vegetation that most probably covered up any signs of a cultivated garden. That jungle of creepers reminded me that life is always about survival of the fittest. The sturdy weeds took over what was once a beautiful garden and are blooming uncontested among the other weak shrubs.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Kwarezimal (qua-re-zee-mull)

I don't suffer from sweet tooth but I have to admit that I've got a particular weakness for kwarezimal. They're my favourite cookie. The cookies in my photo do not look that appealing but I can vouch that they're really really good.

This sweet is usually made during Lent and contains no fat or eggs. The word 'kwarezimal' refers to quaresima - the forty days of Lent. In fact, the kwarezimal's popularity among the Maltese originates from the fact that it contains no fat or eggs, and hence does not interfere with fasting regulations. Although recipes vary, it is traditionally made up of almonds, flour, honey and spices.

(The ones I made were just plain ones because I had no crushed almonds in the pantry. )

Here's my mother's recipe

220g almonds
(Lightly toast or roast the almonds. Grind coarsely)
220g flour
330g sugar
1tsp cinnamon
pinch nutmeg
pinch mixed spice
orange flower water
1 grated rind of lemon + juice,
1 grated rind of orange +juice
and grated rind of tangerine
1 tbsp cocoa
1/2 tsp baking powder

First, mix the dry ingredients, then add the citrus juices and a little orange blossom water. If the dough looks a little dry add more blossom water or just natural water to make a stiff dough. Knead lightly until well amalgamated and shape into ovals, approximately 17.5 cm long, 5 cm wide and 2 cm thick. Place on greased and floured baking trays and bake at 190'C/375'F/gas 5 for about 20 minutes.

The most important factor in baking kwarezimal is that you do not overcook or let them get too hard whilst in the oven. This is because once they are out of the oven they will harden more due to the almonds.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Haunted Mansion

Old decaying leaves gently swirled beside my feet, as I stood in front of the imposing mansion. The cheery notes of a piano could be heard coming from the room on the left. This was the beautiful drawing room, all decked out in red velvet and golden bows. A mistletoe stood hanging in front of the huge window. Merry laughter broke forth from across the hallway - the guests were enjoying themselves in the warmth of the burning fireplace...

The clanking sound of a passing truck soon woke me up from my reverie and brought me back to the present. Of course, I had been daydreaming but I'm sure this house in front of me had seen better days. I'm referring to the haunted house situated in front of the Marsovin vineyards in Marsaxlokk. If I'm not mistaken this house was once known as the Sans Soucis house. At one point an English couple lived in it. I was told that the husband was a captain employed with the RAF. What happened to this couple God only knows.

Its once beautiful groundfloor windows are all barred up now. Although this house has long been abandoned by its human proprieters yet its ghosts still roam its floorless rooms. There have been numerous ghost stories tied to this place. Friends of mine who went to explore the house encountered problems in taking photos of its interior. Another friend of mine said he heard strange noises coming from inside the place. This house has been caught up for decades in a battle between the family members that inherited it and it now is up for development - but most probably the permit will not be granted. It seems that the ghosts of Sans Soucis mansion will be reigning supreme for the time being.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Pancake Disaster

What is it with pancakes? What's this trick that I haven't yet discovered in making pancakes?!! I tried frying some pancakes the other day and the first one got stuck on the pan - (which, by the way, has only been used twice and just for pancakes only)!!! I tried frying another one in another pan but I got the same results!!! I used to blame my pans but when I watch chefs on TV preparing their pancakes in old pans I realised it's not the pan which is causing the problem but rather ME. At the end I cooked my pancake mixture in my waffle maker but I kind of lost appetite after doing them all. I just can't understand what I'm doing wrong. Does anyone have any tips???

Monday, January 31, 2011

Stuffed Artichokes

I don't know what came over me last week when I bought these artichokes. I had completely forgotten how long it takes one to prepare the filling and to stuff them up. But once I got started with the filling I couldn't stop. Having a baby in tow did make my job of stuffing these two artichokes rather more difficult but somehow I managed in less than half an hour. I just couldn't abandon the artichokes - the filling smelled too enticing. So I persevered with Zack watching me with curiosity and sometimes moaning for attention.

If you're intimidated by this unusual-looking vegetable, you're not alone. But once you learn the simple procedure, preparing artichokes is easy.

Ingredients for two good sized artichokes

3 slices of stale Maltese bread (with crust removed)
olive oil
3 anchovies
4 sundried tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
4 or more green olives


Wash the artichokes under cold, running water. Pull off lower petals and cut off stem. Process the slices of bread in a food processor. Then add the rest of above ingredients in the processor and give them a quick whizz. Add a good amount of olive oil to the mixture. I don't add salt as the sundried tomatoes and anchovies are already salty.

Now here comes the difficult part. You have to separate each leaf and spoon the stuffing in between the leaves and place the artichokes upright, side by side, in a saucepan. Pour in water up to half the height of the artichokes, add a tablespoon of vinegar and some salt, and sprinkle with olive oil. Cover tightly, bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer; when the leaves are easily removed, the artichokes are ready for eating. Take the artichokes out of the water, and allow them to cool.