Merry Mondays

Mondays are usually days of woe, where instead of appreciating a bright new day most people (me included) moan and groan about a number of things. We moan about having to wake up early to go back to work after the weekend. We groan about having to head back to our usual daily routine. We grumble about the morning traffic. We mumble about all the irritating, yet needful things we need to do, not to mention all those little tasks we still have pending from last week.

In other words, EVERYONE hates Mondays.

So, instead of moaning and groaning as usual, today I have decided to focus on the GOOD things I have to look forward to this week. This does not mean that there aren’t going to be tough days and things which I am NOT looking forward to at all… but I’d rather look on the bright side this morning, so, here are some things which I AM happily thinking about and looking forward to today, yes even though it is MONDAY lol:

  • The weather – today is dark, cloudy and rainy. My favorite weather. And yes it is cold and slows things down, but I love it. So there!
  • Mushroom soup – I cooked a big pot of my favorite soup yesterday, and it will be just perfect for this weather too!
  • Resolutions – As of today I will start going for a 30 – 40 minute walk everyday. In the rain you say? Well, YES! Believe it or not I enjoy it… I even sing ‘Singing in the Rain’ under my breath sometimes hehe
  • Pampering – My hairdressing salon has relocated to a 5-star hotel (with the same prices). I always love going there because I feel really pampered and I can’t wait to take a look at their new place
  • Chef’s life – Looking forward to baking a couple of new ‘experimental’ recipes this week. Love baking. It relaxes me for some reason.
  • Friendship – Will be celebrating a good friend’s birthday in a few days and can’t wait to meet up and share gossip with some of my oldest buddies. We always have such a laugh because unlike many others, they totally get my twisted sense of humor hehe
  • Love – Have also decided to take my other half to a trendy men’s store and buy him a serious tailored suit as a treat… which will be lots of fun because I have this soft spot for men in double breasted suits, not to mention three-piece suits, pinstriped get-ups etc, so I will be tickled pink while I get him to try all the suits I want, before choosing one to my liking… mmmm TASTY lol

In the end, there are no ‘little things’ and ‘big things’, there are things which make you happy, and things you have to go through even if they don’t. So, make every happy and special moment count… even if it’s a Monday! 🙂

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Using Herbs – Sage

Wild sage (Salvia Selvaġġa in Maltese) is an indigenous plant, originating in the Maltese islands before man. It is to be found frequently in garigues rich in soil, rocky places, roadsides and valley-sides. It flowers between October and June and may reach a height of 60 centimeters and a spread of 45 centimeters. Sage has a very pleasant scent and is easily recognizable from its light grey-green, velvety leaves.

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Sage is a perennial evergreen sub-shrub of the mint family. Its flowers are white, blue or purple and it has a long history of medicinal and culinary use in the Mediterranean region. The flowers and leaves can be dried for herbal uses, although the leaves are most commonly used. The light peppery flavor of sage is the perfect foil for meats such as pork, turkey and chicken. Sage also pairs well with cheese. Sprinkling roughly chopped sage leaves near the end of cooking caramelizing onions or mushrooms, egg bakes, omelettes, and even tea are other delicious ways to use this herb. It can be used both fresh or dried. Dried sage tends to loose its flavor after a year or so and its best stored in a cool, dark place, in a glass jar with a tightly fitted lid.

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Common sage is also distilled and used to make essential oils, as well as ceremonial incense.

In traditional medicine, especially during the middle ages, sage leaves were made into a poultice and used externally to treat sprains, swelling, ulcers and bleeding. It was also commonly used to make teas in order to treat sore throats and was considered to be a good herb to alleviate coughs, as well as in the treatment of menopausal ‘hot flashes’. When made into a tea, sage is said to further ease anxiety and fight off depression.

Sage contains high percentages of Vitamin K, and is also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin A, folate, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, and B vitamins such as folic acid, as well as Vitamin E and copper. Although it has not been officially verified, said is also said to have the power to enhance memory and cognitive recall.

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Salvia Officinalis has also been clinically shown to contain anti-fungal properties, therefore making it beneficial for people suffering from certain conditions, such as candida, eczema, and influenza. Sage helps reduce excessive perspiration and salivation. It may also support liver and pancreatic function and it does appear to have a mild calming effect as well.

Old wives’ tales maintain it can also be used dissolved in water and applied over an aching tooth to relieve pain, as well as placed into bath water to darken hair.

Sage is very easy to grow in plant containers. It is better to place such a container in partial shade and to use dry soil. Be careful not to over-water it. Pests such as slugs and garden mites may be an issue with this plant, as well as mildew and root rot, which may be a problem. It is important not to harvest sage during the cold winter months, as this may damage the plant. It should be harvested in spring or summer. Further plants may be propagated through cuttings or seeds.

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This article was written by me and originally published in the online magazine LivingInMalta. It can be found here.

Herbs for Cooking and Healing – Rosemary!

Would Maltese food taste as good, if we didn’t add herbs to it? Many Maltese recipes would lose their special taste if we left out certain key herbs and spices. Rosemary (klin in Maltese), a herb which is native to our shores, is one of these. Being indigenous and pertaining to the mint family, this herb tends to grow on rocky outcrops and valley sides. Its habitat and also growth is similar to that of wild thyme, and these plants are often found growing side by side on our cliffs. It does not need a lot of water and grows well even when left to fend for itself.

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Rosemary is a very useful herb. Often called names such as ‘Dew of the Sea’, or ‘Old Man’, it was mostly well-known in folk medicine for boosting memory and improving one’s mood. A study conducted in 2016 by Northumbria University aimed at proving how the scent of rosemary oil could titillate cognitive emotions and researchers in fact found that a percentage of the test subjects exposed to the aroma of rosemary oil could in fact, perform better in feats of memory. It is no wonder that in ancient Greece, students would wear rosemary garlands during their exams!

This perennial evergreen plant has needle-like leaves and small purple, white or blue flowers. Apart from being used as a fragrant essential oil, it is also frequently burnt as an incense and used in cleaning and beauty products. Extracts from its flowers and leaves are also used to treat a variety of disorders, since it contains antibacterial and antioxidant rosmarinic acid. Its oil extracts also contain anti-inflammatory, anti-fungal, and antiseptic properties. Rosemary contains a significant amounts of Vitamin A, which is mostly renowned for providing vision protection, healthy skin and mucus membranes, as well as containing Vitamin C, which synthesizes collagen, the protein required for optimal blood vessels, organs, skin, and bones. It also contains manganese, iron, potassium, fibre and copper, among other beneficial properties.

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It is worthwhile to note that when dried, rosemary is more concentrated. Fresh rosemary on the other hand, can be used to make flavored olive oil, as well as for a number of tasty recipes. A good idea would be to mix fresh rosemary with softened butter or Greek yoghurt to create a delicious sandwich spread. Some well-known traditional Maltese recipes which use rosemary as one of the main ingredients include rabbit in gravy with rosemary and bay leaves, lamb stew, lamb rack with rosemary sauce, and poultry marinated in rosemary and olive oil. Another succulent dish consists of fresh lampuki, or any other kind of fish, baked after being marinated in lemon juice and rosemary.

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Rosemary, both fresh and dried, can be bought from any farmer, spice shop, or apothecary in Malta and Gozo, however if you prefer to grow your own, rosemary plant care is pretty easy. It is better to start the new plant off from another plant’s cutting, rather than the seeds. Rosemary needs well-drained, sandy soil and at least six to eight daily hours of sunlight. Rosemary plants prefer to be dry, so be careful not to water them too much.

This article was written by me and originally published on http://livinginmalta.com/miscellaneuos/maltese-herbs-rosemary/

Easter Celebrations in Malta

Malta is a predominantly Catholic country, this means that most Maltese follow and adhere to a yearly religious calendar which gives importance to a number of recurring feasts and traditions. Among these, Easter is one of the most prominent periods, since it not only has a specific religious meaning, symbolizing the rising of Christ, but also coincides with the beginning of Spring, which also serves to bring new life in nature, better weather, a flourishing of crops, and add energy and verve to the life of each individual in general.

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During this time, numerous processions, plays, marches and celebrations take place throughout the islands of Malta and Gozo, since here, Easter celebration can be said to be at a par with Christmas. As in most Mediterranean countries, Malta starts to officially celebrate the Easter period with Palm Sunday, which this year will be on Sunday 9th April. Many activities take place even before that, during Holy Week, which technically commences on the Friday preceding Good Friday, when the statue of Our Lady of Sorrows is carried in a procession through the streets of Valletta and many other towns and villages. This is a historic and traditional demonstration, where penitents who have made certain vows or asked for intercession from above, walk barefoot through the streets behind the procession, with chains and shackles tied to their feet as a symbol of their guilt and willingness to atone for their sins.

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Prior to Good Friday, many believers also celebrate Maundy Thursday or, as it is known in Maltese, ‘Ħamis ix-Xirka’, whereby most churches are decorated with flowers, models of the last supper, pennons and other specific decorations. During Maundy Thursday, it is traditional for the devout to perform ‘The Seven Visits’, or ‘Is-Sebgħa Visti’, which entails visiting and praying at seven different churches. Maundy Thursday is also referred to as Holy Thursday or the Mass of the Chrism, since on this day, the Archbishop of Malta blesses the Holy Oils during a ceremony at St. John’s Cathedral in Valletta.

Good Friday, which is a National Public Holiday in Malta, is considered to be a serious and solemn occasion. Churches are adorned with dark colors, and several processions occur throughout most towns and villages in Malta and Gozo, where priests or devout carry different statues symbolizing the Passion of Christ. Most villages also prepare short dramas or plays, enacted by devout dressed as characters from the Bible. Processions are almost always accompanied by marching bands, playing funeral marches or religious songs.

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The mood of the celebrations starts to change on Saturday evening. This is known as Holy Saturday and while starting in a somber manner, culminates with a celebration whereby all churches are illuminated with candles, lights, song and the tolling of the bells.

Easter Sunday, starts with a procession which commemorates the Risen Christ. The most famous of all such processions which take place around the island is surely the one which takes place in Valletta, and which is organised by the Confraternity of the Risen Christ, which traces its origins to the 17th century. The procession is a festive one, accompanied by beautiful traditional tunes and statues. Children also form an important part of the procession, carrying traditional foods and sweets, of which the most important is surely the ‘figolla’. This is a Maltese sugar and almond pastry which can only be found served in Maltese bakeries and confectioneries during the period of Easter, since it is synonymous with this feast.

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This article was published on LivingInMalta.com – to view the complete article go here.

PERSONAL – December Ups and Downs

This has been one roller-coaster of a month. Plenty of highs and lows. So, in a nutshell:

During the first week of December, me and my boyfriend went to Sicily for a short 4-day break. You can read the first part of how that went here, but I’ve still got to continue writing about the rest of the trip. You might ask yourself – why is she taking this long to write about a mere 4-day long trip? The point is, I love travelling – I am simply enchanted by the plethora of emotions, new thoughts and ways of perceiving the world which open up whenever I set foot in a country different from my own, with ‘exotic’ mentalities, colors, history and trends, SO I actually don’t find it that easy to describe it all when I come back, because there is just SO MUCH TO SAY! In fact, if you look through my past posts, you’ll realize that I’ve never actually sat down and documented each and every one of the places I’ve traveled to – simply because there are so many of them. However I told myself I’d make an attempt with this 4-day Sicily trip just to see how it would go. Anyhow, there you have it, still to be continued. And don’t worry, it WILL be, all in its own good time.

Got sidetracked there. Sorry.

On our last day in Sicily, I woke up suffering from some serious back-pain. Sciatica to be precise. The pain extended down to my left leg and I could hardly walk. Needless to be said, the last day was the climax of our trip, as we had planned on going for a jeep-trip up Mount Etna… you think I flunked that? AS IF! I still went. Hopping and wincing and dragging my sorry carcass up the whole mountain. And boy, was I glad I did!

More of that in future posts relating to the actual holiday.

We came back on the 12th. Tuesday 13th was a local Public Holiday so I didn’t have to go to work, and spent the whole day in bed resting and hoping my back would get better. It didn’t. On Wednesday, I went to the doctors’ who gave me pills, painkillers, and the advice to get MORE rest. So, that was the second week of December – which I spent in bed sleeping off my pills.

Luckily for me, the pain retreated, and I was okeyish for the weekend. This was important since my birthday was on Saturday 17th, and I knew that my boyfriend had planned the whole weekend with events for me. That is what we do – I plan stuff for his birthday and he plans stuff for mine. We spent some days meeting friends and family, and I really enjoyed that. Kudos luv! Not to mention that one of the pressies I received is a nice voucher from Ryanair to be redeemed by November 2017! Yay!

On Monday I felt a bit better and so went back to work, taking a large cake with me for my colleagues in celebration of my birthday. The cake was in fact so large, that we are still eating from it (we are a small department). And today is the 27th! During the third week of December we also had our ‘official’ Xmas party at work. The food, I admit, wasn’t anything spectacular, HOWEVER I did make up for it with alcohol consumption… enough said. Unfortunately this also meant that I was too tipsy and suffering from a hangover to actually do my Yule ritual. Ah well, I’m sure the Gods didn’t mind all that much since I celebrated with libation anyways.

On the 24th I cooked and slaved the whole day to prepare an enormous family dinner. Family members came late, and I was quite angry about that, but it was ok in the end and the food was a huge success. We still have our fridge packed with delicious left-overs. On the 25th we ate an enormous Indian buffet, after which Aunt Flo came to visit, and actually floored me. I had to stay home and rest to cope with that, so I missed another family gathering in the evening.

I’m so so tired of eating… AND YES my weight has gone up again! Frankly after noticing the first 3 kilos, I stayed away altogether from the bathroom scales… they scare me.

January will come soon enough, and then it will be time to face the music all right!

 

Recipe for a Tasty Maltese Lunch!

FINALLY the weekend is over. I seriously never thought I’d say that. Usually people look forward to the weekend – however this time by Saturday afternoon, I was already looking forward to this particular weekend’s ending. Not gonna go into details – suffice it to say that it is true that bad things come in threes, except that, for me, this time they came in fours… lol

The most I can say for this weekend is that I watched a couple of good horror movies with my bf, and that I cooked some tasty food. So, instead of glossing and agonizing over the details of my unfortunate series of events, I’m going to focus on what I cooked for Sunday lunch.

This is a ‘torta tal-irkotta‘ in Maltese, that is, a Ricotta Pie. I just love ricotta, and hadn’t cooked such a pie in a while.

Here’s my own personal recipe:

Ingredients

1.5kgs fresh ricotta
dough (this can be either home-made or ready-made)
bacon
peas
2/3 eggs
grated cheese
garlic granules
margarine
salt

Method

As you can see, I’m going to omit the making of the pie-crust and just focus on the making of the pie itself.

1. Take the margarine and cook it in a small pan. When it’s done cook the bacon.

2. With the rest of the margarine, smear the borders and all crevices of a large round pie-pan. Open half the dough and place it to form the lower part of the pie-crust.

3. In a large bowl, mix the ricotta, cooked bacon, eggs, grated cheese, garlic and salt to taste. Make sure to mix them thoroughly.

4. Pour the mixture into the open pie-crust and place the other half on top making sure to cover all the mixture.

5. IMPORTANT – Use a fork to puncture the pie-crust in order for the mixture to breathe. This will prevent the dough from inflating due to the eggs.

6. Leave in an oven at medium to high temperature. It will take approximately an hour for the pie to bake to a lovely golden brown.

Enjoy!

The Kitchen Witch – Samhain/Halloween Recipe

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Being kind of stressed and busy cause of the new house and stuff (still unpacking slowly), I did not buy a pumpkin for Samhain this year (SHAME), ergo I couldn’t prepare any pumpkin-based recipes for the occasion. However knowing that another very important food for Samhain were oranges, I cooked an orange-based meal instead.

I was very lucky in that a book I had bought only 4 days before, arrived by post just the day before Halloween, so I could also break-in my kitchen for its first Halloween by using it. The book is called ‘Kitchen Witchery’ by Soraya, and I simply love it. It’s just what I need. I’m so tired of these ‘beginners’ books’ with their ‘ways of celebrating the Sabbats’ and tables of correspondences! I don’t need them and at this point I’m definitely NOT a beginner anymore. Haven’t been that for ten years lol. Anyways, the book has a brief introduction by Soraya, and that’s it – then you have all these delicious RECIPES, togather with some info about essences, oils and incense.

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The actual recipe I prepared for Samhain was not exactly found in the book, but it was inspired by it. I took Soraya’s own recipe and changed it, making it my own. After all – that’s the fun of cooking! So – here it is!

Chicken Thighs with Oranges 

Ingredients:
6 Chicken thighs
2 large onions
500g baby carrots
3 large oranges
1ltr orange juice
sunflower oil
water
Thyme
Mint
Whole cloves
Garlic powder
Salt

Method:

Dice the onions and disperse in a large baking pan. Put in the carrots and the defrosted chicken thighs. Sprinkle garlic powder to taste. Submerge the chicken in 2/3 orange juice to 1/3 water. Drizzle the sunflower oil at the top. Sprinkle the thyme, mint and salt. Start pre-heating the oven. Take the oranges and peel them. Take the rind of one orange, chop very finely and sprinkle around the pan. Do the same with the whole cloves. Divide the oranges into slices and position them between the chicken thighs. Put the pan in the oven and leave for around an hour and a half or until the chicken is crisped.

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I also prepared mashed potatoes with milk and butter to be eaten with the chicken.

Enjoy!

Recipe – Baked Rice with Bacon and Sweet Paprika

Being currently on a diet (which is working by the way), I was trying to cook some filling and nutritious food which would last a couple of days, since my new regime is to eat small portions, every three or four hours. So, yesterday I did this recipe, which I had never done before, though I had a previous idea on how to prepare. It is quite simple really, and the results are quite good too! I was not going to post anything online, this not being that kind of blog, however some friends saw the result yesterday and urged me to share it – so here it is 🙂

P.S As you can see from the pic, the ingredients produce a very big dish, which serves at least 8 people.

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Ingredients

700g rice
1.5 ltr tomato sauce
500g minced beef
250g bacon
100g baby carrots
1 small onion
sweet paprika to taste
salt
baking paper
water
3/4 eggs

Method

Boil the water and add the rice. Leave until cooked and then filter the water.

Chop and cook the onion slowly in a large saucepan, then add the mince beef and bacon. Stir well until they are semi-well-done, Add the tomato sauce and the carrots (diced) and leave it cooking slowly on a small flame, while stirring on and off for five to ten minutes. Add the sweet paprika and some salt and leave it for another five minutes.

Pre-heat the oven at medium heat.

Pour half of the cooked rice back into the pan where you had boiled it (minus the water of course), and beat three or four eggs and mix them in with the rice. Start adding the sauce while mixing it thoroughly. When half the mixture is evenly mixed, add the other half of the rice on top, and mix it with the remainder of the sauce.

Line a large baking dish with baking paper and pour in the mixture of rice + sauce. Spread it evenly. Put in oven and leave it until it has a nice brown-golden color.

Enjoy!! 😀

Another Joke presented by… THE MALTESE GOVERNMENT!! *sigh*

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This is hilarious, seriously, the Maltese government, no matter which political party is manning the post, is a total joke. I admit, they have their good moments, like finally opening up their eyes and realizing we now live in the 21st century and finally bring us to step with the rest of the world by ‘introducing’ divorce (yes divorce in Malta only became legal a couple of years ago), making same-sex marriages legal (last year), and providing a choice for children who wish to take another subject at school instead of one which promotes only the Christian religion, under the misleading title ‘religion’ (this is still in process).

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However, every silver lining is to be found in the middle of a very dense and smokey cloud… metaphorically speaking.

The latest joke is this – apparently a certain study showed that more of half of the over-70s in Malta are suffering from high blood pressure (most old people do – unfortunately it’s one of the ‘perks’ of getting old). One of the reasons for high-blood pressure is also a salty diet, that is, eating salty food.

http://www.timesofmalta.com/articles/view/20150303/local/health-authorities-to-discuss-salt-content-reduction-in-maltese-bread.558236

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Since the problem is that middle-aged and senior citizens seem to disregard the fact that due to body changes which happen later in life, one’s physical synapses and metabolism change, and that therefore one cannot continue to eat the same foods one ate during one’s youth with impunity, the obvious solution here would be to educate the masses. Maybe provide free classes or other information in order to make people aware of the importance of a balanced diet.

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BUT NO – The Maltese government, in a funny twist of mind-numbing and mind-bending trapeze-scrambling, has decided that since old people eat a lot of bread, and this is ‘salty’, new laws stating that the percentage of salt used in dough should be written, in order for the bread one buys in shops to be ‘more healthy’… seriously… WTF?

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I love Maltese bread. It’s fresh and crunchy and really different from the bread I bought while I was in other countries lik Britain, Ireland, France and even Italy. There is no bread like Maltese bread – PLEASE LEAVE IT AS IT IS! THIS IS PURE STUPIDITY!!

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What’s wrong with you people??

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Success! When expectations are fulfilled.

Yesterday’s recipe was a real success. Instead of carrots, which I didn’t have after all, I used mushrooms. And instead of oregano, I sprinkled loads of rosemary, sage and thyme, and it was all delicious.

Here’s a pic of the dish before I put in the potatoes, and after.

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And a photo of what it actually looked like after it came out of the over (and before we started to dig in!)


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mmmm nom nom nom