Friday, 15 May 2015

On cinnamon and happiness

Cinnamon - I know ... hmm - actually, I know not a lot about cinnamon. It sits on a shelf (labelled Cannelle, because I like my quirky, bought in France, spice jar) with its fellow (English bought) spices nutmeg and ginger, but where it, or indeed they, originally came from is a bit of a mystery. Nutmeg, comes from a roundish, knobbly nut. I know this because I have a tiny version of a cheese grater which is for grating nutmeg nuts (and fingers). Ginger comes from the root of a (I guess ...) ginger plant and cinnamon is from the bark of a tree (... perhaps?)

Brief intermission while I do some research -

Yes! Cinnamon is the bark of a tree, specifically the Cinnamomum tree and most of it comes from Sri Lanka. The bark is removed, dried and rolled into quills. These quills are cut into the cinnamon sticks that are the essence of Christmas and are ground into the fine powder that is used in everything from curries to apple crumble to mulled wine.

Discovering that my hunch regarding cinnamon and tree bark is correct is all very nice but the common culinary uses as listed above are all so very conventional. How about - drum roll, please - cinnamon wedges? As in potato wedges. Or sweet potato wedges, if you prefer. Try it - scrub the potatoes and cut into wedges (skin still on); toss in a mixture of melted butter and oil, add salt and ground pepper, and dust generously with cinnamon. Yes, really! Spread out on a shallow roasting tray and bake in a hot oven, tossing frequently to ensure even browning. You won't be disappointed. Thank you to Bar Le 5 a 7 Siete in Plagne Soleil for this recipe.

I love crumble - apple, rhubarb, plum or gooseberry - served with vanilla ice-cream or custard (depending on the time of year).
I tried banana and tropical fruits once - it turned into hot mush infused with the sickly smell of banana gloop (disconcertingly liquid amoxicillin-like) - which wasn't good.  'Don't do this again!' was hastily scribbled in my recipe book. And the assembled company of crumble-lovers was not happy.

What makes you happy?

Banana-pudding that smells of medicine? No, I didn't think so. But smells are powerful triggers of emotion.

When Littlest is 'feeling sad or "stressed" she goes to the larder and sniffs the cinnamon.' This apparently makes her happy again.

Singing works for her too. But not cello practice ...

What works for you?

For me, it's a dog lying at my feet.
Or on my feet - when I'm gardening. It's the wagging tail when I get home. And the vertical bouncing of Bertie Baggins when the most exciting two-legged friend in the world suddenly appears and not only that, but she's coming to release him from his run!

And it's walking the dogs.

And it's my children.
And the sounds they make. Alone and together - the magic of music created out of silence and of laughter shared.

And it's friends. And sharing time with them.

And it's my orchids.

And it's Scotland

and Italy.

And it's writing.

All of these things work for me. They make me smile. And, quite often, they make me cry.

What are your happiness triggers?

Cinnamon, dogs, children, friends, favourite places? A good glass of wine, chocolate, lemons, an afternoon spent cycling, riding your horse, a book, cheese, ice-cream, a joke, mountain climbing, macaroons, opera, painting, gliding, the first blossom on the apple tree - so many different things that reflect our differences: our unique abilities and interests encapsulated in the simple emotion of happiness.

Why does it matter? Why is it important to know the things that make us happy?

Because as Littlest has discovered, black moods sometimes creep up on us and we need a way to thwack them away.

I'm off to sniff some cinnamon. And pat the dogs.
Then I will put the kettle on. And smile.

Coffee anyone?

Wednesday, 6 May 2015


Spoil: verb - to destroy or reduce the pleasure, interest or beauty of something (Cambridge Dictionary)

All very 'that's a pity and how sad' but we all know what spoil means, when to use it and how to spell it, don't we; no matter which side of the Atlantic we stand on? Yes, probably. And why mention America - even if I didn't exactly, other than in a backhanded sort of a way? Well - this is embarrassing, so I'll get it out quickly - as with 'learnt and learned,' I have a difficulty with 'spoilt and spoiled.' Phew! Awkward (if you're hobby is writing) admission out, if not quite over - as an English speaker, I sometimes feel less native when it comes to writing things down. I know how to say my words. I know what I mean. I just sometimes don't know how to spell them. So, which is correct? Does it matter? Does anyone else care?

Is an overindulged child spoilt or spoiled?

Or both?

Actually, I think a spoilt (adjective) child is spoiled (verb, past tense). But plenty of people refer to such children as 'spoiled children.' And if a day goes down the drain, is it a good day spoiled or spoilt? Are they interchangeable? 
Personally, I dislike the feeling of '-oilt' in the mouth. It's clumsy and harsh and difficult to pronounce without pushing down on the back of the tongue to expand the neck in a toad-like manner. Spoiled is much softer and much less I-want-to-audition-for-that-fairy-tale wicked-witch-turned-me-into-a-frog-Prince. However, how it sounds is seldom a reliable indicator of the correctness or otherwise of the  grammar. A trawl of on-line dictionaries confirms that both spoiled and spoilt are correct - those to the West of the Atlantic (see 'why mention America' above!) tend to prefer spoiled and learned, while we, who dwell on the Eastern Atlantic seaboard, opt for spoilt and learnt. 
Apart from me. 
Maybe, my vocabulary is spoiled by an over-reliance on phonetics. Maybe, I listen too much to the sounds made by the little I'm-a-Scot-who's-lived-too-long-South-of-the-border-accented voice inside my head. Maybe, I'm just a pedant at heart. Very probably a wrong pedant in the opinion of other ... well, pedants.

However, I'm sticking with spoiled. At least for the duration of this blog post -

Ho hum sings the little voice ... changing the subject quickly.

Lists are in. Social media pages fill daily with them. 

Here's my addition to this obsession - a list of things recently spoiled (... subject not changed that much!) -

A good walk

spoiled by the nose-tickling, eye-watering, caustic, pungent, reeking, horrible smell of oil seed rape.

A blossom ... before

spoiled by overnight frost ... after

A diet

spoiled by brioche and ginger and lime pudding and wine and biscuits.

A day

spoiled imminently by rain

A newly swept floor

spoiled by wet paws and shaken coats.

A weekend spoiled by not being long enough.

This state of being spoiled is known as spoliation. No - until a few minutes ago, I didn't know that either. So, I have given you a new list, a few new pictures and a new word. Perhaps you feel overindulged - or spoiled even?