Friday, 27 January 2017

How to make a James Bond martini (but limit yourself to one)

Iconic: the martini, a favourite tipple of James Bond
Iconic: the martini, a favourite tipple of James Bond CREDIT: ALAMY

Women might desire him and men might want to be him, but you wouldn't want to have James Bond's liver.
According to a recent study in the British Medical Journal, the spy drinks so much he is at risk of impotence, liver damage and early death.

Researchers worked out that across the James Bond books, the spy downs 1,150 units of alcohol in 88 days: around 92 units a week, or four times the recommended maximum intake for men in the UK. Not, then, the kind of person you'd want to be aiming a gun.

None the less, the glamorous image of 007 the hard-drinking spy lives on in the public imagination.
Over time, he's sipped eveything from Dom Perignon to Heineken, but the drink he is most inextricably attached to is the martini, which he likes "shaken, not stirred"
The new film, Spectre, will mark a return to classic Bond after the studio signed a multi-million pound deal with Belvedere Vodkato put 007’s martini back at the heart of his story.
Daniel Craig as James Bond
Daniel Craig as James Bond CREDIT: (ALAMY)
Martini coinesseurs will tell you this classic cocktail should really be stirred: shaking it clouds the drink and can even make it weaker, as more ice dissolves, so Bond is actually a little uncouth in his demands. (Perhaps he assumes a shaken one will get cold quicker, and thus be in his hands sooner?)

Sadly, Bond never specifies his exact martini recipe - though he clearly has a soft spot for vodka over the classic gin. Given his love for hard-hitting booze, we reckon 80ml of vodka shaken with a small amount (say a capful) of white vermouth, and served with a twist of lemon, would probably tick all his boxes.

He does, however, give the exact specifications for a drink now known as the Vesper in the book Casino Royale. This is basically a sort of super-martini, made with gin and vodka, and a French aperitif wine instead of vermouth. Bond says:

“A dry martini. One. In a deep champagne goblet. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel.”

Sadly, though he might have be a good agent, Bond isn't much of a mixologist: the Vesper is a harsh, not-very-balanced tasting drink. But maybe he was just after a really, really big hit of alcohol.

If you want to make the Vesper martini at home, Kina Lillet is sadly no more, but Lillet Blanc (made by the some company) is a reasonable substitute, though it's slightly less bitter in taste. Alternatively, try Cocchi Americano, which tastes not too dissimilar to Kina. Just don't drink more than one of them - after all, you wouldn't want to end up in the British Medical Journal.

The Vesper Martini recipe


  • 60ml gin
  • 20ml vodka
  • 10ml Lillet Blanc or Cocchi Americano.


Shake all the ingredients with ice in a shaker, then pour into a chilled martini glass or - if you have one - a champagne goblet. Add a lemon twist.

Maltesers chocolate cake

  • Serves:12
  • Prep time:
  • Cooking time:
    (plus 20 mins cooling time)
  • Total time:
  • Skill level:Bit of effort
  • Costs:Mid-price
This easy Maltesers chocolate cake recipe is perfect for special occasions. It's also easy and quick - only an hour from start to finish, including cooling time making it an ideal bake for when time is tight or you might just have forgotten about someone's big day. This cake's smooth and rich cream cheese frosting makes it taste extra special and the crunchy malteser finish adds flavour, texture and that added wow factor too, yum! This recipe serves 12 people and will take around 1hr and 10 mins to make and bake. This cake can be stored in an airtight container or cake tin for up to 2 days. There's no need to keep this cake in the fridge - storing in the fridge will dry the cake out.


  • 3 medium free-range eggs
  • 200g soft brown sugar
  • 60g cocoa powder
  • 150g plain flour
  • 180g ground almonds
  • 50g butter, melted in the microwave until liquid
  • 284ml buttermilk
  • 2tsp baking powder
  • Small pinch salt
Frosting ingredients:
  • 100g mascarpone
  • 100g icing sugar
  • 30g cocoa powder
For the top and middle:
  • 175g pouch Maltesers


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (160°C fan).
  2. Line the base of two 18cm loose-bottomed round tins with baking paper, and lightly grease the base and sides with a little vegetable oil.
  3. Whisk the eggs and sugar for a full 4 mins until they turn pale and treble in size.
  4. Add the flour, cocoa powder, almonds, baking powder, salt, buttermilk and melted butter to the bowl and mix to combine.
  5. Divide the mixture between the two prepared tins and place into the middle of a hot oven for 30 mins.
  6. Once cooked, leave to cool on a wire rack for at least 20 mins until cold. You could speed up the process by placing the rack in the fridge if you wanted to. The cake must be cold before you ice it or it will simply run off it.
  7. While the cake is cooling, make the icing: place the mascarpone and icing sugar in a bowl and mix together with the help of a rubber spatula. When they are totally blended together and there are no lumps, add the cocoa powder and mix again. Refrigerate until needed.
  8. To assemble the cake, spread a thin layer of icing on the underside of both cakes. Scatter half of the Maltesers on the base layer, then sandwich with the top half. Finally, place Maltesers all over the top of the cake before serving.
See Karen Fraser's brilliant version of this Maltesers chocolate cake in Cake corner.

Monday, 23 January 2017

Moroccan Meatballs

Recipe courtesy of St. Francis
Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives
Traditional Gone Wild

Moroccan Meatballs
Total Time:
1 hr 40 min
1 hr 10 min
30 min
Yield:15 to 20 servings
Moroccan Meatball Sauce:
1 gallon tomato sauce
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup ground cumin
1/4 cup harissa
3 tablespoons smoked paprika
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
Moroccan Meatballs:
1 gallon bread cubes, day-old, no crust
5 cups minced yellow onions
3/4 cup minced garlic
5 pounds ground chuck
5 pounds ground pork
3/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
3/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
1/4 cup cumin seeds, ground
1/4 cup smoked paprika
1/4 cup black peppercorns, ground
1/4 cup salt
4 teaspoons ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon ground ginger
10 eggs, whipped before adding
Vegetable oil

For the sauce: Mix together the tomato sauce, cilantro, cumin, harissa, paprika and cinnamon.
For the meatballs: Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F. Soak the bread in just enough water to cover for 1 minute. Pour into a colander and let sit for 10 minutes. Squeeze all the excess water out.
Meanwhile, gently cook the onions and garlic until translucent. Let cool, then transfer to a bowl. Add the chuck, pork, cilantro, parsley, cumin, paprika, pepper, salt, chile powder, ginger and eggs and mix thoroughly.
Portion and shape the mixture into 3 1/2-ounce balls. Heat oil over medium-high heat in a large saute pan and brown the meatballs on all sides.
Transfer to a large baking dish, cover with the meatball sauce and wrap with aluminum foil. Braise the meatballs in the oven until cooked through but not dry, 20 minutes.
Let cool slightly, then serve.

Recipe courtesy of St. Francis

Read more at:

The Voynich Manuscript

by Richard Davies
The Voynich Manuscript has been confusing clever people since the 15th century, give or take a few centuries when it disappeared into the back of cupboard somewhere in Italy. This remarkable illustrated document is written in an unknown language that has defeated all efforts to decipher it by the world's greatest cryptographers.
Buy Yale's facsimile of The Voynich Manuscript SHOP NOW
Now it's your turn. The manuscript is housed in the Beinecke Library at Yale and Yale University Press has published a facsimile of this intriguing document complete with background essays that shed light on what is known about this baffling object.
The manuscript is named after Wilfrid Voynich, a book dealer who purchased it in 1912 and exhibited the book across America. However, its history goes way back.
Yale's facsimile of The Voynich Manuscript
Here is what we know. It's printed on vellum. Carbon dating reveals the book was created in the first half of the 15th century, so it's late medieval. Some pages are missing. Some pages include foldouts. It's rather small at 23.5cm by 16.2cm by 5cm. The pages may not be in the correct order. Its plain goat skin binding is not its original binding. The text runs from left to right. There is no obvious punctuation among the 170,000 characters.
We don't know who wrote it.
The content, judging from the illustrations, appears to cover herbology and pharmacy, astronomy and cosmology, human biology, and perhaps recipes (which would make the mystery rather comical if true). There are many intriguing illustrations in blue, white, red, brown and green paint.
"It is surprisingly small given its reputation as the world's most mysterious book, and its physical appearance is underwhelming."
The illustrations are rough but the colors have not faded. The text sometimes weaves its way around the artwork. Where the Voynich Manuscript has a foldout, the Yale facsimile has one too.
Yale's facsimile of The Voynich Manuscript
Is it a bizarre handbook for medicine and health? Is the book an elaborate joke? Why create an informational book written in a text no-one can understand?
To my untrained eye, the book covers woodland plants, a reoccurring dumpy medieval lady who bathes frequently, and some guesswork about what goes on in the heavens. The main reason for secret code is so only a select number of people can read it. Was this an attempt to limit learning to one particular group?
Yale's facsimile of The Voynich Manuscript
The Voynich Manuscript is catalogued in Yale's archives as MS 408, which is how it is referred to in much of Yale's facsimile. It was donated to Yale by book dealer Hans P. Kraus in 1969 after he had failed, bizarrely, to sell it.
The book has bounced around Europe. One confirmed owner is Georg Baresch (1585-1662), an alchemist from Prague. Someone called Joannes Marcus Marci (1595-1667) owned it after Baresch and sent it to the great 17th century scholar Athanasius Kircher in Rome.
Yale's facsimile of The Voynich Manuscript
A letter in Latin found inside the cover - written on 19 August 1665 or 1666 (sloppy 17th century handwriting) - accompanied the manuscript when it was sent to Kircher and it reveals the book once belonged to Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II (1552-1612).
"Many hands have held Voynich's now-eponymous book over the centuries: mathematicians, botanists, alchemists, cryptographers, clerics, university professors - yet none of them have managed convincingly to solve its mysteries."
There are no records of the book's whereabouts for the next 200 years, but it was perhaps stored with Kircher's archives in Rome. It turns up at the Jesuit Roman College, Collegio Romano, and they sell it to Voynich in 1912. Voynich died in 1930 and it was then owned by his widow, Ethel, the author of the novel The Gadfly. She died in 1960 and left the manuscript to a friend called Anne Nill, who sold it a year later to Kraus.
Yale's facsimile of The Voynich Manuscript
The highlight of the essays in Yale's facsimile is Arnold Hunt's profile of Voynich himself, who went from Poland, where he was a revolutionary, to London, where he gained a foothold in society and a bookshop on Shaftsbury Avenue, to America, where he exhibited the mysterious book and other rare manuscripts. Without Voynich's intervention, this manuscript would still be languishing in obscurity.
"Those who met Voynich never forgot him... Voynich's research laid the foundations for much of what we know about the manuscript, at the same time, his tireless efforts to promote it and the sensational claims he made for its importance threw an aura of romance around it."
Other essays describe the physical properties of the book and the methods used to date and examine it, the fruitless decoding efforts, and the tradition of alchemy.
Buy Yale's facsimile of The Voynich Manuscript SHOP NOW

Thursday, 19 January 2017

How Meditation can Reshape your Brain

By Liss Caldwell on Monday January 16th, 2017

New Research Shows the Power of Mindfulness

There are many forms of meditation but all promote the quieting or calming of the mind. Meditation can be deeply personal and may be done whilst you are gardening, walking or going about your daily life. Likewise, there are many different practices that focus on different aspects of mediation. For example, yoga practises encourage focussing on the breath, guided meditation takes you through a step by step process verbally, creative visualisation takes you on a guided journey. Additionally, techniques from Buddhist monk’s meditation practices have been adapted to mindfulness meditation and are becoming widely accepted in today’s society.
Mindfulness meditation can be a way of life and more than a quiet moment each day. The surging popularity of mindfulness meditation in today’s global society has initiated a number of recent scientific investigations and reports, with the scientific benefits for holistic well-being now widely researched and publicised.
There are many forms of meditation but all promote the quieting or calming of the mind.There are many forms of meditation but all promote the quieting or calming of the mind.

How Meditation Changes Your Brain.

Studies show meditation can assist you in being less stressed, and increase clarity of mind and decision making. Regular practitioners say it is life changing and helps us to deal with challenging situations. The art of clearing one’s mind through meditation has been used to enhance performance with athletes, the military, and has been introduced within schools as a tool to centre and focus without distraction on the task at hand. Essentially, that’s what meditation is, aligning your attention completely to the present moment. Allowing yourself to become aware of your breath and of your physical reality in this moment.
Due to its surging popularity, mindfulness meditation has been at the centre of a number of recent studies focussed on investigating and recording the changes within the brain as a result of regular practise. Brain scans have confirmed increased activity involving self-control (left prefrontal cortex – LPFC) and focus, which allows internal centring on thoughts through the default-mode network – DMN.
Brain scans have confirmed increased activity involving self-control and focus.Brain scans have confirmed increased activity involving self-control and focus.

Meditation Changes You

Physical changes have been recorded with blood tests showing reduced blood levels of IL-6, which is a stress related substance associated with pain and inflammation and is often present prior to health problems developing. Emotional benefits recorded include increased empathy towards others without being overwhelmed. Improved focus despite distraction was a recorded benefit, with studies involving Buddhist monks showing the ability to comprehend new information and make decisions greatly improved.
Multiple studies have also shown emotional and mental health benefits, including reducing the symptoms of depression, anxiety and psychological stress. Mental, emotional, and physical benefits of a relaxed body result in overall improved wellbeing. Why not choose the mindful path?
Multiple studies have also shown emotional and mental health benefits.Multiple studies have also shown emotional and mental health benefits.

Decreased Gray Matter

Not all gray matter increases as a result of regular mindfulness meditation, there have been studies that show decreased gray matter. Lucky for us, it is decreased in the Amygdala region of the brain, which is a key stress response area. This area is known for inciting the primal, fight or flight response that is triggered by fear, emotion, and stress. This shrinking gray matter results in an increase in the prefrontal cortex, which heightens our awareness, concentration, and decision making. Adrienne Taren, from the University of Pittsburgh, believes the size of the changes in the brain directly relates to the amount of time spent meditating. The longer time invested meditating, the more consciously aware and thoughtful we become, replacing our primal reactions with more thoughtful balanced responses.
Dr Creswell, Associate Professor of Psychology from Carnegie Mellon University, led a study with a number of scientists from a broad spectrum of global universities to record and prove the changes in brain activity and physical health. Conclusions of the study included finding the first evidence that mindfulness meditation or being present in the moment “couples the DMN with a region known to be important in top-down executive control at rest (left diPFC), which, in turn, is associated with improvements in a marker of inflammatory disease risk. How much mindfulness Meditation is needed is unknown.”
A group of Harvard Neuroscientists, led by Sara Lazar, Ph.D., have reported the changes in gray matter structure of the brain following eight weeks of mindfulness meditation. Thirty minutes a day led to participants in the study being non-judgemental and more aware within their actions. MRI scans proved increased gray matter in the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporal-parietal junction, and cerebellum. What does that mean? The gray matter affected areas of learning, recall, identity, perspective assessment, and emotional response. The participants reported feeling more relaxed, which is an added benefit within itself and a medically accepted effect of meditation.

Mindfulness Increases Pain to Decrease Pain

Mindfulness meditation pain relief involves multiple brain mechanisms which results in reducing pain. In mindfulness practice we pay more attention to the pain we are suffering, and bringing an intense focus to the painful sensations. As we do this, the pain reduces. The interesting result is that instead of decreasing activity in areas of the brain associated with pain, mindfulness increases it, with the result of decreased physical pain. Dr Joshua Grant, a Post Doc from Leipzig, Germany, who specialises in Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences continues to update his research on mindfulness and the benefits for chronic pain sufferers. His study recorded increased brain activity in the areas associated with pain in mindfulness practitioners but decreased physical pain. Our negative thoughts and judgements about the pain in fact increase the pain, yet mindfulness brings in a curiosity about the pain and we relate to it differently. For anyone with chronic pain, this is a huge break through.
Sara Lazar, from Harvard Medical School’s studies, observed increases in the insula, sensory regions, and auditory and sensory cortex. The increase in these regions resulted in enhancing senses, heightening the working memory and the executive decision making areas of the brain.
For anyone with chronic pain, this is a huge break through.For anyone with chronic pain, this is a huge break through.

Age No Barrier with Mindfulness

One of the standout performance factors from the numerous studies on mindfulness is the increase of the cortex despite age. It is well documented and medically accepted that our cortex shrinks as we age. Sara Lazar’s studies show 50 year old mindfulness meditators have the same size cortex as 25 year olds.
So with all these benefits why not start with the basics and if you reap the rewards grow your practise from there into a lifestyle choice?

Mindfulness Essentials

The Breath
Allow yourself to become aware of your breath and your breathing rhythm.
Your Senses
Allow yourself to become aware of your surroundings, the sounds, smells, what you can see, what you can feel, what you can taste.
Notice any thoughts within your consciousness, acknowledge them and let them go.
Scan through your body and hone in on any areas of pain or discomfort. Acknowledge the area. Know that it is ok and that it just is.
The Present Moment
Become completely aware of your surroundings, completely aware and accepting of your body and its current state of being, aware of your mind, aware of your breath and allowing yourself to become one in this moment, in this task you are doing and no other. There is nowhere else to go, nowhere else to be just right here, right now. Complete in your presence. Completely breathing to just be.