Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays- To spark your interest in books!

The Monster of Florence by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi (2008, Non-fiction, True crime)

The Monster of Florence, also known as Il Mostro, is an epithet (or name) commonly used for the perpetrator, or perpetrators, of 16 murders, nearly all of them couples, that took place between 1968 and 1985 in the province of Florence, Italy. The same gun and pattern were used in all the murders. (Wiki)

Quote from the book: "The summer of 1985 was one of the hottest in recent memory. A serious drought gripped Tuscany, and the hills of Florence lay stunned and prostrate under the sun...Along with the heat, fear of the monster hung over the city like a stifling blanket." (pg 106)

Actual crime scene photo.
Ponte Vecchio (The Old Bridge) a famous sight in Florence.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays- Quotes to spark your interest in books!

Sabriel by Garth Nix (Fiction/Fantasy)
"He paused in mid-stride, boots crashing, and his eyes once again looked at the bells, and the whiteness of Sabriel's skin, stark against the black of her hair, black as the bitumen under her feet." (Pg 43)

(Bitumen-the natural oily byproduct of decomposed organic materials, also known as asphalt or tar.)

Garth Nix is a best-selling author, over 5 million of his books have been sold and they have also been translated into 40 languages. He was born in Australia and lives there with his wife and two children. He has worked in various publishing and book related careers, and even served in the Australian Army Reserves, but is now a full-time author. He was writing 'zombie' books before they were cool or popular. Nix is the author of the YA Old Kingdom series of fantasy books: Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and Clariel. He has also written two science fiction novels; Shade's Children and A Confusion of Princes. Newt's Emerald is described as a romance with magic. His YA Keys to the Kingdom series include Mister Monday, Grim Tuesday, Drowned Wednesday, etc. He has also written for the children's Spirit Animals Series, and penned novellas with stories that take place in his fantasy worlds (To Hold the Bridge, Across the Wall). I have not read them all, just the Old Kingdom series so far. Of that series I think Lirael has become my favorite series book, and the disreputable dog is one of my favorite characters ever in a book (introduced in Lirael). I have read Sabriel twice so far.

Fan art rendering of the character Lirael (from the book with the same name) with the "disreputable dog", another character in the book, from the Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix.

Author Garth Nix holding two framed pictures of book cover art from his Old Kingdom fantasy series which includes the books Sabriel and Lirael.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays---to spark your interest in books!

Salt- (A World History) by Mark Kurlansky (Non-fiction)
"By the seventh century, the Basques built stone towers on high points of land along their coast. When the lookout tower spied a whale, it's great shiny back breaking the surface while spouting vapor, (the lookout) would shout a series of coded cries that told whalers where and how big the whale was...(pg 112)." 

Tons and tons of salt have been used over the ages to preserve seafood (think salt cod) and in the preservation of all kinds of meat.

                  Today's feature is a non-fiction book encompassing  the history surrounding salt! 

Basque stronghold; Arteaga Tower.

Basque coastal region.
Basque Countryside between Spain and France.
Map showing where the Basques originate.                            

Basques- an ethnic group of people that inhabit an area in north-central Spain and south-western France, thought to be the renmants of the early settlers of Western Europe. Basque tribes were mentioned by the Romans and today have limited self-government of a specific area. Historically sheepherders, ranchers and fisherman.

Bonneville Salt Flats near Salt Lake City, Utah, USA.
If the subject interests you, or if you are interested in Sicily, or reading a fictional work that will show you about the life of a salt miner, here is an e-book suggestion. This was one of my first e-book purchases when I received my Kindle. The setting is in Sicily and the story follows two brothers that make their living salt mining. The author does an excellent job of getting the reader into the Sicilian mind-set. Not a fairy tale book but one that has stuck with me over the years.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Teaser Tuesdays...To spark your bookish interest!- 2016.4

Holy Blood, Holy Grail- by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh, Henry Lincoln (History) "Shocking international bestseller!" 

"In 1653 an important Merovingian tomb was found in the Ardennes- the tomb of King Childeric I.
The tomb contained arms, treasure, and regalia such as one would expect to find in a royal tomb. It also contained items less characteristic of kingship than of magic, sorcery, and divination- a severed horse's head, for instance, a bull's head made of gold, and a crystal ball (pg 237)."

Merovingian- a dynasty that ruled ancient Gaul (France) in the 5th Century
Ardennes- a hilly region containing dense forests that extends to Germany but is mainly in France, Belgium and Luxembourg.

This book received a lot of negative attention when it first came out in 1982. It put forth the theory (that some perceived as blasphemous) that Jesus married Mary Magdalene and they had children whose descendants eventually became the Merovingian rulers of France. It talks about secret societies, Knights Templar, and the Holy Grail. The subject was dramatized in two later novels (The Woman with the Alabaster Jar by Margaret Starbird, 1993, and The DaVinci Code by Dan Brown, 2003.) This theme has been investigated on the BBC, The Discovery Channel, 60 Minutes, etc. Some say it is only pseudo-history but it makes for interesting reading. History buffs, open minded persons interested in religious themes, lovers of conspiracy theories, and those with a fondness for mystery should enjoy it.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

A Wee bit of a Feud in Caithness

Ackergill Tower
Ackergill Tower located in Caithness, Scotland, is now operated as a fancy hotel and reception center.

I started writing this with the idea that I would tell some tales about haunted castles in Scotland, as I am fascinated by tales of ghosts and also by castles (haunted or not). There's no shortage of haunted castles 'across the pond', so I had lots of material to choose from. 

While reading about Ackergill Tower/Castle, located in Wick, Caithness, in the extreme north eastern part of the land of Scotland, I was impressed by the creativity of the Keith Clan at a long ago fracas known as "The Battle of Champions", between their clan and the neighboring Gunn Clan. I was also surprised to find out that these clans had feuded for 500 long years and only in 1978 did they finally sign a friendship treaty with each other. The Hatfields and McCoys have nothing on these determined Scots!

The Tower at night.

 The story has it that beautiful Helen of Braemore (a member of the Gunn Clan) was kidnapped (woman-napped?) on the eve of her wedding to another man by the Chieftain of the Keith Clan. Helen was imprisoned in the highest room of the tower and rather than submit to the advances of her abductor she jumped to her death. Her ghost, with stylish black hair, and all dressed up for a party in a red ball gown is seen roaming around the tower.

The rude behavior of the Keith Chieftain started a feud between the two clans which went on and on, so the two clans decided to duke it out for good with each other near the Chapel of St. Tears.

"After long quarelling between the Keiths and Guns, it was agreed that riders on twelve horses each side should meet at the Chapel of St Tayr, near Ackergill, to adjust all their differences."

(Quote from Robert MacKay, who wrote an account of the battle in his book the History of the House and Clan of the Name MacKay (1829), wherein he quoted from historian Sir Robert Gordon (1580–1656).

So...riders on twelve horses from each clan were to meet and put an end to the quarrel once and for all. The Gunns arrived first and as their rivals had not yet made an appearance at the appointed place, the twelve Gunn riders decided they would go into the chapel and say some humble prayers, (no doubt for divine intervention in their favor, of course). While they were in the chapel, the riders from the Keith Clan arrived, only instead of sending one man on each of the twelve horses (as assumed), they sent two men riding on each of the twelve horses and promptly made short work of the rival clan members in the chapel. (Those Keiths really knew how to think outside of the box.)

The 'creativity' of Clan Keith at the battle turned out to be a more interesting story to me than the one of Helen's sad ghost roaming the halls of Ackergill tower (nothing personal, Helen).


Thursday, March 10, 2016

Mangia! Mangia! Who wants dinner?

I have a foodie friend and neighbor. He is part owner in a few restaurants. He is building another restaurant a few miles from where we live. One of the things his company publishes are cookbooks, and he often gives me a variety of cookbooks which he has had published.  Every year he hosts a neighborhood shindig where we get together and have a homemade pizza fest cooking delightful custom made pizzas in his outdoor wood fired oven. He is a lover of Italian food and likes it when I tell stories of my Italian heritage. He's been asking me for my recipe for tomato sauce. Call it whatever you want...spaghetti sauce, pasta sauce, Italian sauce, gravy, tomato manna from the Gods, etc. No matter what you call it, to me and my family we call it delicious comfort food. To any self respecting Italian or person of Italian heritage it is how you show love for your family, (both immediate and extended) --by cooking delicious food for them.

outdoor brick oven

     So, thanks to this enterprising and one of a kind neighbor, I have written down the recipe that I learned by heart from my Mother and my Nonna Lucia Fastiggi. And...just to set the record strait according to Lucy you're eating macaroni, not pasta, and you put gravy over it not sauce!! (Also...she always carried a pocketbook, say pocabook, not a purse.) Like any died in the wool person from New York or New Jersey she and Grandpa happily retired to Florida, with a few thousand other Easterners and lived happily ever after till the good Lord called them home.

     The one thing I have added to the recipe is the use of my home canned, home grown, pesticide free garden tomatoes instead of using store bought canned tomatoes (but feel free to use that if you do not have a garden). I always plant about a dozen Roma and other assorted types of tomato plants in my vegetable garden. It is an annual ritual at the end of summer to bottle all the delicious tomatoes that we have been blessed with. I use a water bath and add salt and lemon juice to each quart bottled. Nothing beats our home grown tomatoes. You can even make this sauce with fresh tomatoes but you must peel/skin all the tomatoes first, then make the sauce, which would make the process take up most of the day (but your taste buds will thank you later). 
Roma tomatoes

Please top your spaghetti with real actual Parmesan, Romano or Asiago cheese. Don't ever let me catch you sprinkling on that disgusting stuff that comes in a green can that is labeled cheese. Go to a deli or the deli section of the grocery store and get real grated/shredded cheese (yes even Wal-Mart carries it in the deli). Even better, go to a place like Costo and buy a delicious hunk of cheese and grate it yourself. I'm telling you a delicious chunk of cheese like that does not last more than a week in my house. Guess I've raised some good little Italian offspring around here. 
Real parmesan cheese!

 Grandma Lucy's Spaghetti Sauce

2 quarts of whole or quartered canned tomatoes (or use 2, approx. 16 oz., cans whole tomatoes)
1 tsp salt
3 peppercorns
2 small cans tomato paste
1 chopped onion
4-6 cloves garlic (crushed or diced)
1 tsp Oregano
2-4 bay leaves (remove before serving sauce)
1 tablespoon sugar
Basil, and Italian Seasoning to taste
6-8 qt large dutch oven/saucepan
Italian sausage, meatballs, or braciole (Italian pork roll- pounded/flattened pork chop stuffed with herbs and garlic cloves and tied with string...put it in the pot to cook with the sauce.)

**Make this sauce when you have 2-3 hours to spare because it is best when simmered slowly over an extended period of time.

**If you like chunky tomato sauce leave the tomatoes whole, if you want a smoother texture crush the whole tomatoes in a blender before using.

**If you are using meats, brown in saucepan with the onions and garlic first, then add to the saucepot. Brown meats (if using) and onions and garlic in saucepan. Add a little good olive oil while browning. (Really good olive oil can be found by mail order at Redstone Olive Oil.com or The Olive Press, if you live in place without a lot of Italian influence and delis like me.)

** For variety you can add chopped green pepper, if your family likes it, or diced porcini mushrooms to the sauce. Occasionally I even add some herbs de provence to the pot.

Into dutch oven add everything listed in the recipe and simmer for at least 2 hours. Serve with any kind of cooked pasta you like. Top with grated cheese. Also can be used to make baked ziti, lasagne, stuffed shells, manicotti, etc. Make sure you have some garlic bread to sop up all the sauce that is left after you eat your spaghetti! 

Mangia! Mangia!

"Life is a combination of magic and pasta." - Federico Fellini

"Everything you see I owe to pasta." - Sophia Loren

Speranza mi da vita - Hope gives me life


Thursday, February 18, 2016

Genetic or Ancestral Memory...

Our DNA does not fade like an ancient parchment; it does not rust in the ground like the sword of a warrior long dead.  It is not eroded by wind or rain, nor reduced to ruin by fire and earthquake.  It is the traveler from an ancient land who lives within us all.”   Bryan Sykes

Food for thought...

Have you ever heard of Genetic or ancestral memory?

Psychologist Carl Jung called it racial memory, feelings and ideas, traits, intuitions, inherited from our ancestors as part of a collective unconscious. It is a generally agreed upon principle that we inherit physical traits from our parents; height, eye and hair color, body shape, propensities for certain diseases or conditions. Why not the possibility that we can inherit certain memories, ideas, or wisdom also from our parents or even grandparents? Animals inherit instinct, can humans inherit some kind of instinct too? If your mother was frightened by a house fire when she was a child can that explain your otherwise unexplainable innate fear of fire, even though you have never experienced one in your own house? Can memories be encoded on the dna within us?

Sounds like a good idea to develop a novel around, doesn't it?

The 1988 movie, "Altered States" explores this idea. The main character experiences the memories of his ancestors.

Maybe it has something to do with deja vu, maybe what some people feel are memories from a past life are really memories from their ancestors that have somehow been transferred to them from their dna.
Brown-Crested Flycatcher

Here are some examples of genetic memory in the animal kingdom. Sparrows, thrushes and warblers have to learn their bird song from hearing other birds, but bird species such as flycatchers know how to sing their songs without ever hearing other bird songs. The songs are intricate, and even when the bird is raised in a sound proof room it can still give the complex bird call of it's species. It has never heard or learned it, it just knows it.

Monarch butterflies make a mind boggling 2500 mile trip from Canada to Mexico for the winter season. They return in the spring. But did you know it takes the butterflies three generations to complete this round trip? Butterflies returning to Canada have never been there before, how do they know the way? It's not like a salmon returning to where it was spawned. Does the butterfly inherit the knowledge of how to make this daunting trip from it's ancestors?
Monarch Butterfly

An interesting study from Emory University School of Medicine shows that some dna information can be chemically changed by the experiences parent mice have and that they do pass this chemically changed dna onto their offspring.

Mice were taught to have an aversion to a special smell, the smell was something like cherry blossoms. The offspring of the mice that did not like the smell inherited the same aversion to the smell, even though they were not taught to fear it by scientists. They were born with a built in distaste of the same smell their parents did not like. It was discovered that chemical changes occurred in the parent mouse dna that the offspring also inherited. Because of those chemical changes, the offspring also disliked the same smell. The same experiment was done with nervous or neglectful mothering by mice.

                "Darwin and Freud walk into a bar. Two alcoholic mice — a mother and her son —
                sit on two bar stools, lapping gin from two thimbles. The mother mouse looks up
                and says,  “Hey, geniuses, tell me how my son got into this sorry state.”
                                         “Bad inheritance,” says Darwin.
                                         “Bad mothering,” says Freud."

                        (Grandma's Experiences Leave a Mark on Your Genes, Discover, June 25, 2015.)

The nature vs. nurture debate has gone on for years, these two avenues of thought are essentially opposite one another. Now scientists are learning that some experiences actually have the power to change the make-up of the proteins surrounding our dna. These types of conundrums are what the field of Epigenetics studies.

Scientists used to think that these kind of genetic changes only occurred in the womb, before a person was born. But they have since come to realize that the molecular structure of dna could be modified also as an adult. These modifications can result in changes that, for instance, can lead to cancer.

A Duke University study showed that when female mice are fed a specific diet rich in the methyl chemical group (which changed the structure of the female mouse dna) that the offspring permanently inherited changed fur. It was like a mutation, only it did not change the actual dna, it changed how chemicals attached to the dna. The altered attachments were inherited by the offspring.

Professionals who study behavioral epigenetics are learning that traumatic experiences in our recent ancestors past have the ability to alter the molecular structure of the dna. For instance, if you are a person such as a "lost boy" from Africa whose parents or grandparents survived genocidal massacres, or someone wo grew up with abusive or alcoholic parents you may have inherited genetic "scars" from you ancestors whose genetic structure was actually modified because of those experiences. 

This modification can have negative and positive effects on the person who inherits it.

Scientists Michael Meaney and Moshe Szyf did experiments with the mothering of rats, the offspring of the rats inherited altered dna of their mothers from the type of mothering they had (either very attentive or neglectful mothering) when the scientists injected chemicals into the brains of the offspring rats that changed the altered structure to a more normal structure, the behavior of the rat offspring changed. This possibility shows amazing promise. When the scientists first tried to get their research paper about the rats published they were met with cries of "That's not possible." "We refuse to believe it." Their research did finally get published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, entitled "Epigenetic programming by maternal behavior." (June 2004).

Genetic Memory: How We Know Things We Never Learned by Darold Treffert

There are also several books about Epigenetics. One I've recently read is: 

Epigenetics- The Ultimate Mystery of Inheritance by Richard C. Francis