Monday
Dec092013

Naivety

After the pain comes the breakthrough. They tell me with a smile which maybe doesn't reach their eyes. The nod of a head. It's coming. It's coming. Breakthrough. It will all be worth it.

Their words a platitude to something not understood. Not misunderstood but brutally not understood at all.

Words not quite empty but without compassion. Empathy on vacation.

Naivety grates. Nails on a blackboard. My spine shivers.

I used to try & make sense of it.

Pain.

Ill go through it to help others my mind reasoned. Only eyes washed by tears can see clearly.

True thoughts. Accurate. Prophetic. Positive. Pushing through here to get to there. There is help for others when you experience something & come out the other side.

Then the sitting began. When sense was no longer agile enough to whip pain into shape.

Until sense was no longer sensical. Just exhausting.

Sometimes there are no words.

Pain erodes them all. Well meaning epilogues fall into a shuck.

And when there's nothing to say, say nothing. Even say 'I don't know what to say.' Just don't hide the insecurity of not knowing in a catchphrase.

Instead a hug or a hand on the shoulder. Or the words ' I have no idea what's going on, but I'm here' these are perhaps what are needed most.

Not explanations and promises of breakthrough. Or suggestions however well meaning that 'it always gets more painful before it gets better.'

Sometimes breakthrough comes. Sometimes it's elusive.

Attempts at explanations are unnecessary. Unwanted.

Nor questions needed especially before major surgery asking 'what is God trying to teach you.'

Touch the person. Sit with them. Don't promise. Just be.


Sunday
Dec082013

Missing Foinn

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Friday
Dec062013

Thank you for your Legacy Nelson Mandela

Today the world mourns the passing of an extraordinary man.

As we remember Nelson Mandela, we must remember how he encouraged everyone to be the people they were created to be.

He once said,

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It's our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, "Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God.

We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we're liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."

How are you remembering Nelsom Mandela?

That's it for now ...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Wednesday
Dec042013

Thoughts

“People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone.”

― Audrey Hepburn

Tuesday
Dec032013

Getting through 100%track record 

That's it for now...

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

Saturday
Nov302013

The Bajan “Conkie” - a guest post from Phil Robinson

Today I am delighted to introduce you to a very special friend of my family - Philip Robinson, known as Phil.

Phil is a family man, a musician, singer, songwriter, sojouner, warrior poet, writer, cook, entertainer, engineer, and altogether great bloke.  

Phil wrote a song in the spring of 2013, that will raise every hair on your neck when you hear it.  The song is called More Than DNA, and talks about how we are more, so much more than our DNA make up.  You can listen to and buy here.

Phil has lived with his wife Nicole and their children Nadrianne and Nicole in Northern Ireland for several years, but he hails from Barbados.  Today he is sharing his take on a Bajan National Dish.

For as long as I can remember, the week leading up to November 30th- Barbados’ Independence Day - would be highlighted by the indulgence of a yellow, speckled steamed pudding wrapped in a banana leaf. This is a rather crude description of the Barbadian (col. Bajan) Conkie, but is an attempt to prompt the audible gasp most people express when first laying eyes on this delicacy and eventually mustering up the courage to place it in their mouths.

The word Conkie is used in Barbados but practically the same recipe can be found in Jamaica known as Duckunoo, Blue-Draws or Tie-a-leaf (bless the Jamaicans). In Mexico and other Spanish-speaking Caribbean and South American countries they prepare a dish called Tamales, which uses the same base ingredients and cooking methods but is savoury.

I admittedly have a special love for Conkies. This is not just because of their rich, satisfying taste but because of the memories and impressions of my childhood and culture they evoke every time I prepare and eat them. They are unique in taste and take you on a journey through the past of Barbados, with ingredients and methods that can be attributed to the various people that inhabited Barbados over the last 500 years. T

The Arawaks and Caribs used maize as their staple starch and one of the ways they would preserve it was to dry and grind the corn into meal – a coarse-grained corn flour. This meal was used to make breads and other accompaniments for their diet that consisted predominantly of fish. It is thought that in the absence of wheat and wheat flour that later inhabitants of the island would have adopted cornmeal (also known as Polenta) as a substitute, bringing a new taste and texture to recipes they would have brought with them from Europe and Africa.

The majority of African slaves brought to the Caribbean and Barbados are thought to have originated from West Africa, such that it is likely that many foods eaten by the slaves would have been influenced by West African cuisine. In Ghana there is a dish called “Kenkey”, from which it is likely that the name and concept of the Conkie was derived. The Ghanian Kenkey is a corn meal, sourdough mixture steamed in a banana or other large leaf. It would be served as a starch with meat, fish or vegetables, almost like a type of bread as opposed to pudding.

The inclusion of sugar in cooking and baking came predominantly out of Europe, and was both a cause and effect of the sugar and slave trade between Africa, the Caribbean and Europe. The idea of including sugar, spices and fruit to an African dish probably came as a result of these ingredients being available. I like to think that the Conkie is a history lesson in itself, although some of my understanding of its origins could be wrong.


I was never taught to make Conkies explicitly but remember what I saw my mother and aunt add to the mixing bowl. Plus I was known to hang around the kitchen out of curiosity but moreover a very active appetite.  Nevertheless, hanging around the kitchen always meant being put to work grating coconuts and pumpkin, as well as measuring the ingredients. Speaking of ingredients, let me just give you the recipe that I’ve developed.

If you’re in the UK or Europe, most ingredients can be obtained from your supermarket. Corn meal (not cornflour – don’t make that mistake) can be probably found in the so-called “ethnic aisle” or drop into your local Asian or African supermarket. You will probably have to get the banana leaves from the Asian supermarket (last time I bought 8 leaves for £1.25). As an alternative you can use baking paper and aluminium wrap, but this is frowned upon locally and considered an unacceptable compromise.

This recipe should provide 12 Conkies:

-       2 cups Cornmeal (this is the main ingredient and body of the Conkie)

-       1 Cup grated Pumpkin. I typically use Butternut Squash in November as all of the pumpkins have disappeared with Halloween).

-       1 cup grated coconut (Can also use 1 cup of desiccated coconut, which avoids grating and is easier to find). If you have the coconut water/milk, keep that to use as the liquid in the mixture.

-       1 cup sugar (add more if you want to have a really sweet dish)

-       ½ Cup grated Sweet Potato (You can leave this out as it doesn’t add a lot. In my case it adds some sweetness as I avoid too much sugar, plus it can support the consistency of the mixture if the pumpkin falls apart when steamed).

-       ½ cup raisins (add more if you love the taste of dried fruit)

-       ½ cup plain flour

-       1 Tbs mix of Cinnamon and Nutmeg (adjust this based on which taste you prefer)

-       1 tsp vanilla essence

-       100g melted Butter or Margarine

-       (some people add 1 or 2 eggs to get a tighter-bound mixture but this reduces the shelf-life)

Start by mixing the cornmeal, plain flour and sugar. Make sure that the mix is more yellow than white. If not, add more cornmeal to make sure that the balance is given to the cornmeal flavour and texture. If more cornmeal is added, add a commensurate amount of sugar.

Stir in the raisins into the meal mix, as this makes it easier to stir without the fruit sticking together. You get a better distribution of fruit in the mix.

Add the grated pumpkin, coconut and sweet potato to the flour mixture, stirring it in until it looks loose and grainy.

Make a hole in the middle of the mixture and pour in the melted butter followed by the cinnamon, nutmeg and essence. Before stirring, have a cup of liquid - water, milk or coconut water/milk prepared. Stir in the butter, spices and essence into the dry ingredients, slowly adding liquid until no more dry mix is seen. However, do not make the mixture too soft and wet, as it is going to be steamed. The texture should now look like the picture below and drop slowly from a spoon.

If the mixture is too runny then add more cornmeal and sugar as it will not set. If it too crumbly, then add more butter and liquid, else it will fall apart when cooked.

The banana leaves should be cut into as close to squares as possible about 20x20 cm, removing the rib of the leaf. Some of them might tear but they can be doubled up to reinforce them. Once cut, wash the banana leaves in warm water to remove any remaining dirt or oil. If purchased from the Asian supermarket the leaves are already wilted due to freezing or packaging and will easily bend. If coming directly from a tree they will be firm and need to be slightly singed over a flame or stove top in order to soften the leaf.

For each square of banana leaf, add 2 – 3 tablespoons of the mixture to the centre, shaping it into a bar shape, as shown below

 

Fold the leaves like a tight parcel, ensuring that there is no seepage of the mixture or holes for liquid to enter. If there is any seepage or holes, then wrap another banana leaf around the parcel.

The Conkies are now ready to be steamed. I use a multi-layered steamer but a large pot of water and a metal colander can also be used. In the latter case the Conkies are placed in the colander to avoid them being immersed in water. It is important that they are steamed and not boiled, as immersing them in water will not allow the mixture to solidify.
They take a while to steam. I would usually leave them for 60 minutes steaming unattended then press them with my finger to see if they are still soft. If they are firm then I would leave them for another 10 minutes. If they are still soft, then I would leave them for another 30 minutes.
It is worth noting they can take up to 90 minutes to steam, depending on how well wrapped they are or the moisture in the mixture.
To serve the Conkies, remove them from the steamer and leave them wrapped in the banana leaf to cool for a few minutes, which also increases their firmness.
They can be eaten on their own as a dessert/pudding or alongside any type of fried fish or fish cakes as a main dish.
I would have also had them with my morning coffee or tea for breakfast as they are really very filling. If serving a single person, they would be presented with one full banana-leaf-wrapped package, while for crowds they would be opened and sliced on a plate decorated with the steamed banana leaves.
This week Phil is ...

Eating whatever is available at the moment but made some coconut and raisin scones for breakfast that worked well
Dreaming of creating a Christmas song that talks about forgiveness being the greatest gift
Spending time with my wife and kids but still most of the time working on automating a demonstrator for work that shows monitoring of a networked cluster of virtual computers.
Creating our family's Christmas post card, mixing elements from live photo's and drawings done by my daughter
Thinking of how to optimally complete my current project for work by end of the week
Listening to Tony Bennett's "Classic Christmas Album" and Take 6's "We wish you a Merry Christmas"
Reading articles discussing faith and science, but taking a stance that they are complimentary as opposed to contradictory
Traveling to Galgorm in Ballymena for a small Belfast Community Gospel Choir gig
Preparing for a busy 2 days of children's Christmas events and BCGC's concert and album launch
Excited about seeing friends next week coming to stay over the week of Christmas
Connect with Phil - 
Twitter: phildmusic

Thank you for dropping by Phil, and sharing your recipe for the Bajan Conkie with us.  We look forward to welcoming you back to Salt and Sparkle soon.
That's it for now ...
Nics
Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable

 

Photography Credits

Bajan Conkie photographs - Phil Robinson

Robinson Family photographs - Nicky Cahill

 

 

Saturday
Nov302013

Thankful - 30

Today I am thankful for ...

The ability to love

The knowledge to love is all I need to do

That I am not responsible to fix things

The knowledge I cannot or do not have to try to save people

That my past is my past, and I am not held in its chains, as I walk into the future

This non-alcoholic mulled wine from Ikea, is absolutely delicious.  I highly recommend it.

For a reader who has been cooking our recipes

The chance to read and share a book of photography with some special little girls

That I live in Gods plans and His infinite grace

This is my story, I get to live it

For the opportunity to deal with the pain of the past

For the freedom of the future

For the patterns of destruction that have been recognised and torn

What a month it has been!  We have had many wonderful comments from you telling us, how much you have enjoyed having the encouragement and the opportunity to recognise how essential it is to be thankful.  How being thankful changes things.  

To this end in 2014, we will be starting a new section of the blog called Thankful.  If you would like to write a guest post for this, please email us hello (at) saltandsparkle (dot) com with a few photographs and a list of things you are thankful for, and we will share them.  So excited to start the new year in a place of thankfulness

That's it for now ...

Happy Thanksgiving

Nics

Salt & Sparkle = Life Remarkable