I HEARD IT ONCE, IT SAID 'GOODBYE'
And that was before it had even reached my bank account...
‘A kiss on the hand may be quite continental, but diamonds are a girl's best friend’ sang Marilyn Monroe in the movie adaptation of Anita Loos’ immortal classic ‘Gentlemen prefer blondes’. I have to confess I have never been much of a one for diamonds but show me a fire opal – ah ha, now we’re talking, and if my arm were really twisted I might just be forced to accept a large square-cut tanzanite set in yellow gold.
There can’t be a woman in the world who isn’t interested in small, beautifully crafted, shiny, sparkly items that can be worn on a finger, on earlobes, round neck, wrist or ankle, and nowadays in navels and nostrils as well. So I can’t imagine that anyone wouldn’t find this book absolutely fascinating.
Buried Treasure: Travels Through the Jewel Box by Victoria Finlay is about the jewels that have been prized throughout history. She uncovers their histories, the stories and legends attached to them, and visits the places where they originate. Using the scale devised in the early 1800s by a young German mineralogist called Friedrich Mohs, the author starts with the softest mineral and ends with the hardest; in ascending order these are Amber, Jet, Pearl, Opal, Peridot, Emerald, Sapphire, Ruby, and Diamond. Her travels take her from Whitby on the Yorkshire coast, which has been producing jet jewellery since Roman times, to the famous Big Hole at Kimberly in South Africa and in between she visits underground mining towns in the Australian Outback noodling for opals, military controlled Ruby mines in Burma (or as we are now supposed to call it Myanmar) and a hick town called Peridot in the Apache reserve in western Arizona. Exotic tales of Helen of Troy and her sapphires, Cleopatra’s emerald mines, and the fabulous red opal which Napoleon gave to Josephine, are juxtaposed with lurid tales of diamond scams, fake amber, murder, war and corruption. The whole book is stuffed with illustrations and nuggets of information from how synthetic gems are now so good that they may undercut the traditional market prices for precious stones, to a miscellany of useful facts and figures, including this list of birthstones:
January – garnet; February – amethyst; March – aquamarine; April – diamond; May – emerald; June – pearl/moonstone; July – ruby; August – peridot; September – sapphire; October – opal/tourmaline; November – topaz/citrine; December – turquoise.
I leave you with a quote from a Burmese taxi driver “There is something mad about valuing little stones so highly, you can’t eat them, you can’t read them, you can’t shelter under them…”
Ranting at myself for sheer idiotic stupidity - last night we went to a show put on by a whole lot of folk in the publishing industry to raise money for two charities. A dear friend of ours was acting in it and so a whole group of us got together to go and support him and support a good cause at one and the same time. Nothing idiotic about all that.
BUT, on Friday evening I had a phone call from a newish friend who said she was phoning to remind me we were due to have dinner with her last night. YIKES, what had I done?
And this is where my idiocy kicks in. Some weeks ago at a mutual friend's 50th birthday party she had asked us for dinner and I had said yes. However I had obviously had one (or two) too many glasses of champagne and completely forgot about the invitation. So when she phoned (once I had picked myself off the floor where I had collapsed with embarrassment) I had to eat huge helpings of humble pie, apologise profusely, and admit I had made a complete cock-up. DH is very, very annoyed with me for making this bugger's muddle. I should learn from this, but what is it I should learn? never accept an invitation given at a party when I don't have my diary with me? or never to have too much champagne?
At the moment the whole of England is basking in the most glorious weather, simply perfect for lazing about in the garden, reading the Sunday Papers, and slapping a piece of meat on the braai when a meal is required. Years ago we did a house-swap with a family from Santa Cruz in California, and whilst over there I was given this marinade for lamb which has become my all-time favourite. Next time you are going to braai (barbeque) some lamb do give it a try, I predict you will love it too.
CALIFORNIAN MARINADE FOR LAMB
¼ cup soy sauce
½ cup red wine
¼ cup brandy
Juice of one orange
Juice of one lemon
2 Tablespns honey
1 teaspn dry mustard
1 large tomato cut in pieces
3 medium cloves garlic, crushed
10 grinds black pepper
Put all the above ingredients into a blender and whiz together to make the marinade. Pour into a large plastic bag, Butterfly a boneless leg of lamb (approximately 2.5 Kg), and put it into the plastic bag with the marinade and seal the top tightly. Give the bag a good sloosh* about so all the meat gets covered with the marinade and put it in the fridge. Every time you open the fridge give the bag another sloosh about. Do this for between 3- 24 hours prior to cooking.
Remove meat from marinade (which you reserve), and cook it on the braai for about 15 minutes each side. Let it rest before carving. Also works well under a domestic oven grill.
If you want a gravy, pour the reserved marinade into a smallish saucepan, boil down to about half its original volume, and stir in a cup of chicken stock. Bring to the boil again, and reduce by half.
*sloosh is a very useful culinary term in my kind of cooking.