Sunday, June 25, 2017

Cherry Pie

Not a piece of cake to make.  Two separate 2-crust pie doughs. Top crust with white sugar mixed in. Bottom crust without sugar.  Cherries are halved, pitted, and marinated in a mix of cornstarch, brown sugar, salt, lemon juice and almond flavoring.  Bake the bottom crust 350°/180° for 30 minutes with parchment and beans. Drain cherries, add another round of cornstarch, sugar and salt, mix and fill pie form, add dabs of butter.  Apply top crust with cut outs so pie can bubble. Bake 350°/180° about 1 hour.  Pie today with 5-1/2 cups of pitted cherries.  Second Round: 2 tablespoons cornstarch and 1/4 cup of brown sugar, plus salt. Add dabs of butter. Pie had just the right amount of jelling, no juice, and just a hint of tart (from lemon juice marinade) and a hint of almond flavor. 

Wednesday, June 21, 2017


Photo Credit: Westlife/
Westlife were an Irish boy band, formed in Sligo in July 1998 and disbanded in June 2012. Originally signed by Simon Cowell and managed by Louis Walsh, the group's second and final line-up consisted of Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan, Mark Feehily, and Shane Filan. Brian McFadden was a member from July 1998 until his departure in March 2004.
Westlife sold over 50 million records worldwide, a total that included studio albums, singles, video releases, and compilation albums. The group accumulated 14 number-one singles in the United Kingdom. They achieved a total of 26 UK top ten singles over their 14-year career. In 2012, the Official Charts Company listed Westlife 34th amongst the biggest-selling singles artists in British music history. Despite their success worldwide, Westlife never managed to break into the U.S. market, achieving only one hit single in 2000, "Swear It Again". Based on BPI certifications, the group have sold 11.1 million albums and 6.8 million singles in the UK. Wikipedia

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Evgeny Tsurkin claims second medal in Barcelona

Photo Credit: Belarus News
MINSK, 15 June (BelTA) – Belarusian swimmer Evgeny Tsurkin won the second medal at the 2017 Mare Nostrum meeting in Barcelona, Spain, BelTA learned from the Belarusian Swimming Federation. The Belarusian won the 100m butterfly heat in 52.46 seconds. Second was Hungary's Cseh Laszlo (52.51 seconds), with bronze going to Matteo Rivolta of Italy (52.86 seconds). Evgeny Tsurkin claimed the 50m butterfly bronze in Barcelona. The winners of the international tournament Mare Nostrum will be announced after points scored at each of its stages (two have already taken place in Monaco and Barcelona) are calculated. The final is scheduled to take place in Canet-en-Roussillon, France on 17-18 June. Belarus News

Monday, June 12, 2017

Reasons to love Irish rain

Photo Credit: Irish Central/Getty
Anyone who’s spent any time in Ireland knows exactly how useful it is! On average in the west of Ireland it rains up to 225 days per year. Of course, Ireland has a lot to thank its mild temperate maritime climate for! It’s lush green fields, the countryside’s famous 40 shades of green and of course it’s wonderful crops, meat, and dairy! Who did rain ever hurt? Sure we won't rust! Here’s why:
1. Good for your skin:
Soft rain helps complexion, say the experts, and you are bound to get lots of it if you live there.
2. Forty shades of green:

How do you think the place got so green looking? It’s the water stupid, falling and endlessly falling.
3. Cozy nights in:
What can be nicer than snuggled up at a fire with the rain falling and wind howling outside. Many a child was created because of the stormy night.
4. The official explanation:
From Ask About Ireland: “Geography places Ireland at mid-latitude, not too close to the heat of the equator or to the cold arctic and its position on the north-western edge of the continent ensures a constant supply of clean unpolluted air and plenty of cleansing rain from the Atlantic Ocean.”
5. Year-round rain:

Not just a rainy season, no monsoons, more a steady diet of showers and not too extreme.
6. Great climate to grow crops:

Lots of rain means lots of growth and Ireland has some of the healthiest food in Europe.
7. The jokes:
For example, “I went to Ireland for a week and it rained twice, once for three days and once for four days.” Har, Har!
8. The chat:
As in “Nice soft day” (meaning “It’s lashing out of the heavens!”).
Makes the weather a great topic of conversation.
9. Irish mist:
That gorgeous light rain that cleanses the landscape and is fabled in song and story – they even named one of Ireland’s most famous drinks after it!
10. Uisce Beatha literally the “water of life” is Irish for whiskey:
Irish whiskey is made from the greatest water in the world. Thank you, rain. Irish Central

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Jelena Ostapenko stuns Simona Halep to win the French Open By Charlie Eccleshare

Photo Credit: Libby Sonnet/EUROSPORT
Jelena Ostapenko overpowered title favourite Simona Halep to become one of the most surprising grand slam champions of all time. The 20-year-old, ranked 47, had never been beyond the third round at a grand slam before nor won a senior title. But she was unfazed, hitting 54 winners in a 4-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory to become the first Latvian ever to win a grand slam singles crown. The Telegraph

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Angela Merkel seeks to manage expectations in Argentina, Mexico By Michaela Küfner

Photo Credit: Chancellor Merkel and President Macri
DW/Reuters/M. Brindicci
German Chancellor Angela Merkel began her visit to Argentina with a speech at a synagogue in Buenos Aires. DW's Michaela Küfner described the background to the Latin American trip. Before meeting Argentine President Mauricio Macri, Merkel visited Buenos Aires' Templo Libertad synagogue (pictured above) in recognition of Argentina's role in offering refuge to Jews fleeing from the Nazis. The Chancellor acknowledged Latin America's largest Jewish community, which today comprises roughly 250,000 people. She recalled the "terrible attacks" on the Israeli embassy and a Jewish community center in Argentina in the 1990s, noting that a newly restored synagogue organ symbolized a bridge with Germany. Merkel's itinerary is also set to include a stop at which she will pay tribute to the victims of the country's 1976-1983 dictatorship, during which between 7,000 and 30,000 people were killed.
No anti-Trump alliance
Berlin insists that this trip is not about forming any kind of alliance against US President Donald Trump's protectionist economic rhetoric. Officially, Merkel's stops in Argentina and then Mexico were simply the last countries left on the list to visit prior to the G20 summit in Hamburg. The former chief of government of Argentina's capital, Macri has earned some respect with the German chancellor for beginning to pull his country out of the all-out economic mess that had its origins in Argentina's 2001 state bankruptcy. He secured a settlement with hedge funds where both the previous presidencies failed, regaining Argentina's access to financial markets. Yet this "success story" came at a high price for ordinary Argentinians. Merkel noted Thursday her first visit to Argentina came after Macri helped open Argentina to international credit markets following a long absence. "My first visit as Chancellor is taking place as President Macri has managed the re-opening of the country to the financial markets," Merkel said. "We believe that beyond political discussions we can support economic development. Argentina needs infrastructure, Argentina has to modernize and for that Germany can be a good partner." DW-Deutsche Welle

Before Maya Angelou Was a Poet, She Was a Dancer By Lauren Wingenroth

Photo Credit:
This week marks three years since brilliant and beloved poet Maya Angelou passed at the age of 86. And of course, we're taking the time to remember timeless works like I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. But we also discovered something that makes us love Angelou even more—and gives us a new perspective on her writing. Before she became renowned for her poetry and memoirs, Angelou was a bonafide professional dancer, touring Europe in a production of Porgy & Bess, studying with Martha Graham and performing with Alvin Ailey (she was even one of Ailey's first partners!). She was also a professional singer and recorded an album called "Calypso Lady," according to NPR. "I was known as Miss Calypso, and when I'd forget the lyric, I would tell the audience, 'I seem to have forgotten the lyric. Now I will dance.' And I would move around a bit," she said in a 2008 interview. Of course, later in her career Angelou acted in various movies and television shows, including the mini-series Roots. Dance Magazine

Birthday girl Jelena Ostapenko blazes into French Open final

Latvian Jelena Ostapenko blazed a trail into the French Open final with a 7-6 (4) 3-6 6-3 victory over Swiss Timea Bacsinszky in a battle of the birthday girls on Thursday. On the day she turned 20 the free-swinging world number 47 launched a fusillade of winners to become the first unseeded player to reach the women’s singles final at Roland Garros since Mima Jausovec lost to Chris Evert in 1983. A match of wildly fluctuating fortunes, with barely a service hold in sight, appeared to be slipping away from Ostapenko when she lost four games in a row to lose the second set against Bacsinszky, who was hoping to celebrate her 28th birthday by going one better than her semi-final run in 2015. But Ostapenko played fearlessly in the decider and pounded away a 50th clean winner to become the first Latvian player to reach a Grand Slam final. The Irish Times

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Armenian Cellist Karen Ouzounian’s String Quartet Takes Top Prize in Osaka

Photo Credit: Aizuri Quartet/U.S.
Asbarez/The Strad
OSAKA, Japan (The Strad)—The Aizuri Quartet (U.S), featuring Canadian-Armenian cellist Karen Ouzounian, has won first prize, worth 3 million JPY ($27,000 USD), in the string quartet section of the Ninth Osaka International Chamber Music Competition in Japan. The triennial event took place May 13-21 in the string quartet and wind ensemble categories, which ran alongside masterclasses, concerts, and an informal Festa, with no age or repertoire restrictions. Second prize in the string quartet division, worth 1.5 million JPY went to the Ulysses Quartet from the U.S., while third prize, worth one million JPY went to the Viano String Quartet, also from the U.S. This year’s jury was chaired by cellist Tsuyoshi Tsutsumi and included violinists Martin Beaver, Kazuki Sawa and Levon Chilingirian; violists Yoshiko Kawamoto and Homggang Li; and cellist Paul Katz. Third prize winner at the 2015 Wigmore Hall International String Quartet Competition in London, the Aizuri Quartet comprises violinists Miho Saegusa and Ariana Kim, violist Ayane Kozasa, and cellist Karen Ouzounian. The ensemble was Ernst Stiefel String Quartet in Residence at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts from 2015 to 2016, and String Quartet in Residence at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia from 2014 to 2016. Described as “radiant” and “expressive” (The New York Times) and “nothing less than gorgeous” (Memphis Commercial Appeal), cellist Karen Ouzounian approaches music-making with a deeply communicative and passionate spirit. At home in diverse musical settings, she has become increasingly drawn towards unusual collaborations and eclectic contemporary repertoire. In addition to her work with the Aizuri Quartet, Ouzounian’s commitment to adventurous programming and the collaborative process has led to her membership in the Grammy-nominated, self-conducted chamber orchestra A Far Cry, and the critically-acclaimed new music collective counter) induction. Highlights of Ouzounian’s recent and upcoming seasons include performances of the Elgar Concerto in Chile with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Santiago, tours with the Silk Road Ensemble and Mark Morris Dance Group, recitals at the Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts with pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute, a tour of Japan with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, and tours with Musicians from Marlboro and Musicians from Ravinia’s Steans Music Institute. Additionally she has performed with The Knights, Trio Cavatina, and as guest principal of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, IRIS Orchestra, and Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. Born to Armenian parents in Toronto, Ouzounian was a prizewinner at the 2012 Canada Council for the Arts Musical Instrument Bank Competition. She holds Master of Music and Bachelor of Music degrees from The Juilliard School, where she was a student of Timothy Eddy. Asbarez

A Brooklyn eatery that taps into America’s new craze for avocados By Eugenia Coppel and Susana Urra

Avocadería was started by three Italians and only uses fruit from the Mexican state of Michoacán

At this restaurant in the New York borough of Brooklyn, the avocado reigns supreme. All the dishes at Avocaderia come with generous helpings of the green fruit, which is imported from Michoacán. This Mexican state accounts for four-fifths of the national avocado production, and the United States is the main importer. Consumption of the fruit has grown exponentially in America in recent years, and Avocadería’s founders – three Italians in their 20s – have tapped into that. Avocadería touts itself as “the world’s first avocado bar.” One of the founders, Francesco Brachetti, said in a telephone conversation with Verne that their goal was to incorporate elements of the three cultures involved. They called their place a bar because that is what Italians call the establishments where they eat croissants and drink capuccinos. Being in New York, they used the English term avocado (which in Spanish would be aguacate), then gave it a Spanish-sounding ending, ería. Brachetti got the idea for this project soon after moving to Mexico City in 2014 to work for the fashion industry. He soon began consuming avocado, which is a staple ingredient of the Mexican diet, and quickly became a fan. “Eating it comes very naturally to Mexicans, but in Italy it is not very common and the quality is low,” he explains. He enlisted Alessandro Biggi, who was already living in Brooklyn at the time and was familiar with the local market, to help develop the concept. And the chef Alberto Gramigni designed a menu meant to be “healthy and tasty” at the same time. According to The Washington Post, “sales of Hass avocados, which make up more than 95% of all avocados consumed in the United States, soared to a record of nearly 1.9 billion pounds (or some 4.25 billion avocados) last year, more than double the amount consumed in 2005, and nearly four times as many sold in 2000.” In short, avocados are all the rage in America, and Brachetti knows it. “We are not trying to promote them, because they promote themselves: everyone loves them,” he says. “But we do want to convey the fact that besides being delicious, they are also a pretty healthy food.” Avocaderia is located inside the food hall at Industry City, a complex of warehouses located on the waterfront. “There are a lot of offices for creative types, media firms, artists and decorators,” notes Brachetti. These young workers make up the bulk of their clientèle, because, he says, they share their own ideals of a healthy lifestyle. Thanks to them, the three Italians are reaching one of the goals that they had set for themselves: to offer healthy food in the land of cheeseburgers. EL PAÍS

French Open 2017: Jelena Ostapenko shocks Caroline Wozniacki

Photo Credit: Latvian Jelena Ostapenko
French Open 2017 - Quarter-Final
BBC/Getty Images
Unseeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko became the first teenager to reach the French Open women's semi-finals since 2007 with a shock win against former world number one Caroline Wozniacki. The 19-year-old lost the first five games of her first major quarter-final before winning 4-6 6-2 6-2. She will play Swiss 30th seed Timea Bacsinszky, who beat France's Kristina Mladenovic 6-4 6-4. "I'm really happy, I can't believe it," world number 47 Ostapenko said. BBC


Def Leppard

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Oslo is Europe's Green Capital 2019 - finally

Photo Credit: Grensen, Oslo, Norway
After Stockholm and Copenhagen, another Scandinavian city has won the title European Green Capital, honoring green urban achievements. It is the third time Norway's capital Oslo was shortlisted. Raymond Johansen, the mayor of Oslo, broke into a broad smile when the decision was announced. This year is the third year that Norway's capital had applied for the title - and it is also the third time that the city was shortlisted. A city has to go through the entire labor-intensive application process each time it applies - so Oslo authorities were happy the work has finally paid off. "I am proud to tell you that we have one of the lowest carbon footprints in the world," Johansen says. The European Green City Award is an initiative of the European Commission. Since 2010, one city in Europe is awarded the title each year. Winners are announced 18 months in advance. For 2019, the jury announced its decision on Friday in a theater in Essen, Germany - which is the European Green Capital for 2017.
'Long-term vision'
All European cities with a population of more than 100,000 are eligible to apply for the European Green Capital award. The award honors high environmental standards, sustainable urban development and green job creation. Indicators for being a green city include local transport, biodiversity, air quality, waste management and noise. Oslo, with its 660,000 inhabitants, is green not only due to its low carbon footprint of 1.9 tons per capita per year, Katja Rosenbohm tells DW. As head of communication at the European Environment Agency in Copenhagen, Rosenbohm was part of the jury that awarded Oslo its new title. "They have very ambitious targets, for example of having a car-free city by 2050." Rosenbohm also praises Oslo's "front-running activities in electro-mobility." "They say it is about giving the city back to the citizens and taking the space away for cars."
Political will and public engagement
Northern countries tend to do well in general when it comes to protecting the environment, she adds. But that richer countries like Norway might have it easier when it comes to investing in new technologies is not the only thing that counts. "It is not about money. It is about political will and public engagement." Rosenbohm points out that also Lisbon, a city from Europe's south, has been shortlisted this year and "was very impressive for us." Three other cities were shortlisted for the award this year, and presented their concept to the jury in Essen: Ghent (Belgium), Lahti (Finland) and Tallinn (Estonia). In total, 14 cities across Europe had applied. For 2018, Nijmegen in the Netherlands took the title, while Ljubljana in Slovenia won for 2016. Since 2015, the European Commission also honors cities of 20,000 to 100,000 people with the European Green Leaf Award. This year, Leuven in Belgium and Växjö in Finland both won the title for 2018. Last winner of the European Green Leaf Award was Galway, Ireland. DW-Deutsche Welle

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

What makes Belgium’s chocolate so popular? By Martin Banks

Photo Credit:
When you think about chocolate, Belgium is probably the first place that comes to mind. If so, you are not alone. In a recent article in the U.S-based Huffington Post - “16 Ways Europeans are Just Better at Life”- the one ranked number eight was Belgian chocolate. Belgium is well known for its chocolate history and its chocolate is, nowadays, a gold standard for the world. High-street brands such as Leonidas, Neuhaus and Godiva are excellent, but even those you find in supermarkets, such as Galler, are very good too. But there are hundreds of other less-known brands and artisan chocolatiers to discover: Dumon, at Torhout, for example. It’s even listed by Gault and Millau, a bible for food lovers. As most Belgians will know, it’s impossible to walk more than a few metres in Brussels alone without bumping into an excellent chocolatier. Chocolate is estimated to be 3,000 years old but what is it exactly that makes Belgian chocolate so famous and, in an ever-competitive market, can it stay ahead of the pack? To find out how the country earned its formidable reputation, first a little history.

Belgian chocolate history

The first trace of chocolate in Belgium dates back to 1635, when records show that some chocolate was bought by the Abbot of Baudeloo in Ghent. Towards the end of the 17th century Emmanuel Soares de Rinero (who was from Portugal or Spain) was issued a license to manufacture chocolate in Brabant. Chocolate making was not considered a profession at the time but more of a sideline for apothecaries and merchants. As in the rest of Europe, chocolate making really took hold in Belgium in the 18th century, when several manufacturing centres sprang up in all the major cities. At that time, chocolate was worth 15 loaves of bread, so naturally only the upper classes could afford chocolate drinks (then the most common form of consuming chocolate). Chocolate appeared in the kitchen in the late 18th century in all kinds of desserts (cream dessert, cakes, biscuits etc). And when the industrialisation process got underway in the 19th century, the price of chocolate began to fall, making it more accessible. For Belgian chocolate, 1912 was a very significant milestone: that year Jean Neuhaus (often referred to as Belgium’s most famous chocolatier although he was actually born in Switzerland) invented the “Praline” (a filled chocolate bonbon and a Belgian specialty) in Brussels. Three years later, his wife invented “the Ballotin”, the typical chocolate box in Belgium.

Leading producer of chocolate

Fast forward to the present and, with over 2,000 chocolate shops throughout the country, the reputation of Belgian chocolate remains as high as ever. Belgium has the world’s biggest chocolate factory at Wieze in East Flanders. Brussels Airport is said to retail the most chocolate of any airport in the world. The country also supplies 20 per cent of the world’s industrial chocolate. There's even a chocolate academy in Wieze, opened in 2014 by Callebaut, the renowned chocolate maker, on the same spot where it started producing its first chocolate over 100 years ago. It offers pastry, confectionery, bakery and culinary workshops. Callebaut is the largest importer of cocoa nibs and processes most of the beans into untempered chocolate for distribution in Belgium. For the uninitiated, untempered chocolate dries slowly, does not harden fully and has a dull blotchy finish.  Tempered chocolate hardens to a glossy and firm finish. It is estimated that the chocolate sector in Belgium represents 10.4% of global turnover. Overall, the Belgian chocolate, praline and confectionery industry comprises 332 companies, supports 11,900 jobs and has an annual turnover of some €5 billion.

The secret behind chocolate quality

Experts say Belgian chocolate enjoys an enviable international reputation thanks in particular to the fine balanced taste created by the quality of the cocoa butter. Since 2003, European Union legislation has allowed the use of up to 5% of vegetable fats, other than cocoa butter (such as palm oil) in chocolate. But this added ingredient is regarded as tantamount to a loss of quality, hence chocolate manufacturers in Belgium continue to use 100% cocoa butter. For each of the past four years, Belgian chocolate has even had its own show, the annual Brussels Chocolate Fair, which brings together chocolate lovers from all over the world for a veritable bean feast of all things chocolate. Naturally, the country also has an assorted array of chocolate museums, one of the best known being the Brussels Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate which tells the Choco-Story. Peggy Van Lierde, its director and daughter of the founder, is proud that over 75,000 people visited the museum last year. However, she says that the role of the port of Antwerp in the story of Belgian chocolate should not be underestimated. “Antwerp is, after Amsterdam, the biggest port that imports cocoa in Europe: around 200,000 tonnes of cocoa is imported per year via the Flemish city.” Asked why Belgian chocolate continues to be so popular, she replies that one reason is because the Belgians like good food and, therefore, “Belgian chocolatiers have to satisfy their customers.” Brussels is not only the self-proclaimed “capital of the EU” but also, as far as most chocolate aficionados are concerned, the “world capital of chocolate.” It is also home to Mary, a chocolatier founded in 1919 by Mary Delluc which, through the years, has been a favourite of the Belgian Royal family. The secret of its success is that it makes small batches of chocolate, so they do not have to be stored (which is when they lose their flavour). But Belgium boasts a new class of chocolatiers like the renowned Pierre Marcolini, who are finding innovative and ever-sophisticated ways to hold on to the country’s chocolate crown. They have broken away from traditional pralines and infusing ganaches with exotic flavours like wasabi and creating such imaginative pairings as blackcurrant and cardamom.  

Research on chocolate

Another example of how Belgium refuses to rest on its chocolate-covered laurels is the work being done at Cacaolab, a spin-off of Ghent University and a unique small-scale experimental chocolate and fillings production facility. Its researchers probe the science of chocolate making, with the potential to dramatically improve quality and shelf life. They partner with industry to create innovative chocolate products and stimulate the export potential of Belgian chocolate. Given the relatively high level of chocolate consumption in Belgium (6 kg per person every year is one of the highest in the world though still less than the British), it is perhaps encouraging to discover that latest research has found that chocolate is actually good for the brain. Chocolate, according to Nature Neuroscience, has also been found to reduce blood pressure and the risk of stroke. Dark chocolate, with 70 per cent cocoa solids, is the healthiest, since it has less sugar. So, forget obesity - who wouldn’t want to devour chocolate to keep their brain working as well as it did 20 years ago, especially if the chocolate is made in Belgium! The Brussels Times

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Chicago weddings among most expensive in U.S. By Lauren Hill

Looking to get hitched? Prepare to fork over the equivalent of a year's worth of in-state tuition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The average cost of a wedding rang in at $35,329 in 2016 — an all-time high — according to an annual study done by wedding planning website The Knot. Chicago couples can expect to pay almost double that. The report surveyed nearly 13,000 brides and grooms across the U.S. Manhattan topped the list at $78,464, followed by Long Island ($67,831) and New Jersey ($62,606). Chicago came in fourth with an average price tag of $60,035, down ever so slightly ($1,230) from 2015. This doesn't surprise Charlene Liang, owner and lead planner of Sweet Chic Events, a Chicago-based wedding planning company. She said venue cost is what makes the Windy City so pricey. "We are lucky to have such a variety of venues in the city, but they are expensive to rent," Liang said. Among the most popular Chicago locations: Ovation, The Ivy Room and The Chicago History Museum, according to Liang. The Chicago suburbs, which The Knot considers a separate category, hasn't made the top 25 since 2014, when it came in just over 33K. Nationally, couples spend the most on venue (averaging $16,107), the reception band ($4,156) and photography ($2,783), according to the report. It lists catering at $71 per person. The couples Liang works with tend to spend the most on venue, food and beverage. When budgeting for venues, Liang recommends the bride and groom get a written proposal of the total venue costs before committing, so there are no surprises. This prevents couples from becoming "venue poor," a term used by wedding planners when the majority of a couple's budget is spent on the event space, leaving little for food, music, dress, etc. "Off-premise" venues are a different ballgame entirely. Imagine a blank slate — ranging from $5,000 to $10,000, according to Liang — that doesn't include staff, tables and chairs, linens, catering or decor. Sweet Chic Events recommends couples start planning with an estimated guest count and their top three priorities — where they want to spend the most money. They should also consider which elements are not important. For most of Liang's clients, that would be transportation or invitations. The Knot report noted that while the amount of money spent on an average wedding has gone up, guest lists seem to have dwindled, implying couples are spending more per attendee and focusing attention on guests' experience. "Couples are also using their wedding day to make their first big statement as a couple," Kellie Gould, editor-in-chief of The Knot said in a press release. "From invitations to the reception band, couples are spending more to put their personal stamp on every detail." For example, 75 percent of couples surveyed said they had at least one "signature element," such as a signature cocktail. And 41 percent had some form of custom entertainment, including photo booths (most popular), games, musical performances and fireworks. Liang suggests saving money by getting married on less popular days or times, like midday Friday. To save on photography, only buy digital versions of the photos, and handle printing on your own. For off-premise venues, consider ordering liquor in bulk from companies like Binny's. But there are some penny-pinching ideas Liang says aren't worth the potential hassle. For one: having a friend or family member officiate the wedding, instead of getting a professional. The move may seem sentimental but can go downhill fast. To avoid disaster, make sure your loved one is well-prepared ahead of time. Some couples are opting to use an iPhone or music streaming app in lieu of a DJ or live band. But don't be surprised if some awkward silences ensue. "DJs are trained to know the rhythm of the room and how to get people to dance," Liang said. "We're trying to help the couple save but trying to get the professionals when needed." Couples can work with wedding planners or fly solo when it comes to budgeting out their big day. As for after? Let's just say, the 60K Chicago price tag does not include a honeymoon. Chicago Tribune

Monday, May 8, 2017

Your Song Baby !!

Photo Credit:
Elton at 60

Yale Drama Series Prize Announces 2017 Winner By Andrew R. Chow

This year’s Yale Drama Series Prize has been awarded to Jacqueline Goldfinger for her play “Bottle Fly.” She will receive $10,000, and her play will receive a staged reading in London. “Bottle Fly” is a multigenerational family drama set in the Florida Everglades. “Its voice is passionate and straight-from-the-heart; the world it shows us is earthy, cruel and hilarious,” Nicholas Wright, the playwright who selected the winner, wrote in a statement. This is the award’s 11th year, and it is sponsored by the David Charles Horn Foundation. “Bottle Fly” will be published by the Yale University Press, and a staged reading will take place in November, at the National Theater Studio. The runners-up were Andrew Rosendorf, for “Cottontail,” and Carla Grauls, for “Natives.” One of last year’s runners-up, “The Wolves” by Sarah DeLappe, went on to become a finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Another one of Ms. Goldfinger’s plays, “The Arsonists,” was developed at the Kennedy Center in Washington and is currently running in Philadelphia. International New York Times

Snow for Munich

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Composer Gudnadottir nominated for the 2017 Harpa award

Photo Credit:
Icelandic cellist and composer Hildur Gudnadottir has been nominated for the 2017 Harpa award with her score for Balthasar Kormakur’s feature film The Oath (Eidurinn). Other nominees for best score are Danish Sune Martin for his score to Martin Zandvliets drama “Land of Mine”, Norwegian Gaute Storaas for his score to Hannes Holms comedy “En mand der hedder Ove”, Swedish/Finish Marko Nyberg for his score to Ville Jankeris comedy, “Onnenonkija” and Swedish Sophia Ersson for her score to Alexandra-Therese Keinings drama “Pojkerne”. The award will be handed out at Cannes, May 2017 in connection with Directors Fortnight and in cooperation with ECSA. According to the nomination text her score for “The Oath” has been hailed as a major success, complementing every scene with a confident vision of the correct angles and moods, serving the film perfectly. Her very modern sense, combined with her classical background, makes for a rare outcome in this most outstanding score of the year in Icelandic filmmaking. At a reasonably young age she has, with her score to The Oath, created an identity, which is both original and stylish” Gudnadottir is a veteran in contemporary music despite her young age, she’s a classically trained cellist and has played and recorded with a wide range of bands such as Pan Sonic, Throbbing Gristle and Mum, as well as her solo project Lost in Hildurness. She has also toured with Animal Collective and drone metal band Sunn O))). Gudnadottir has released four critically acclaimed solo albums and composed music for theatre, dance performances and films. The Icelandic Symphony Orchestra, Icelandic National Theatre, Tate Modern, The British Film Institute, The Royal Swedish Opera in Stockholm and Gothenburg National Theatre are amongst the institutions that have commissioned new works by Gudnadottir. IceNews Photo

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Starbucks barista has meltdown over Unicorn Frappuccino By AP

Photo Credit: AP/The China Post
SEATTLE -- A Starbucks barista has taken to social media hoping to make orders for the coffee chain's much buzzed about Unicorn Frappuccino disappear. Starbucks' entry into the unicorn food craze was released Wednesday and its popularity was too much for 19-year-old Colorado barista Braden Burson. He posted a video (now-deleted) on Twitter after his shift complaining that it was difficult to keep up with orders for the drink and he's "never been so stressed out" in his life. The Unicorn Frappuccino is a sweet and sour pink and blue cream swirl topped with what Starbucks calls "fairy powder." Burson says in the video that a day of making the treat left him with sticky hands and residue from the drink stuck to his clothes and in his hair. Burson tells The Associated Press that he didn't think his rant would get this much publicity and he didn't intend to "downgrade" the drink. "It's a great drink. But it is difficult to make when there are like 20 fraps all at once both front and drive thru," he wrote in a Facebook message. Starbucks said in a statement Thursday that the popular reception of the drink has "exceeded everyone's expectations." It added that it is reaching out to Burson "to talk about his experience and how to make it better." Burson said he hadn't heard from the company as of midday Thursday. The China Post

Friday, April 21, 2017

Il Giro d’Italia ritorna a casa Volata finale in piazza Duomo By Maurizio Giannattasio

Photo Credit: Ryder Hesjedal/Ansa
Fiato sospeso fino alla fine con la tappa a cronometro dall’Autodromo al Duomo. Il sindaco Sala: «Milano capitale del ciclismo. Non sarà soltanto una passerella» Un ritorno al passato e una promessa per il futuro. Milano e il Giro d’Italia si riabbracciano. La tappa finale dell’edizione numero cento della corsa rosa non solo torna nella sua città d’origine, ma sceglie di nuovo il cuore di Milano per il traguardo finale: piazza del Duomo. Con un impegno del sindaco Beppe Sala: «Non mi dispiacerebbe che l’arrivo del Giro fosse sempre in piazza Duomo, sarebbe una bellissima cosa». Gira la testa alla sua destra. Vicino a lui c’è Urbano Cairo, patron Rcs: «Facciamo subito un contrattino?».
Appuntamento domenica 28 maggio. Crono individuale con partenza dall’Autodromo di Monza e arrivo in piazza del Duomo. A presentare la tappa milanese, oltre a Sala e a Cairo, gli assessori allo Sport di Comune e Regione, Roberta Guaineri e Antonio Rossi insieme al direttore della Gazzetta dello Sport Andrea Monti e al direttore generale di Rcs Sport, Paolo Bellino. Ventinove chilometri e 300 metri di tracciato. Non sarà una passerella, assicurano tutti, ma una tappa che potrebbe cambiare la classifica finale. Autodromo, parco di Monza, viale Italia a Sesto San Giovanni, viale Sarca, Bastioni di Porta Nuova, corso Venezia, corso Matteotti, piazza Duomo. Prima partenza alle 13 e 10, ultimo arrivo alle 17 e 10. Tifosi e automobilisti sono avvertiti.  
Il Giro torna a casa: 47 volte partenza da Milano, 76 volte arrivo a Milano. E numeri importanti: 12,5 milioni di italiani che scendono in strada per vedere i loro beniamini, 840 milioni di spettatori in tv. Poi la separazione, non si capisce quanto consensuale. A sbloccare la situazione un incontro a tre: Sala, Cairo, Monti. Il sindaco, attento alla vocazione internazionale della città, rilancia il «matrimonio». Accordo fatto. Il Giro torna sotto la Madonnina. «Non poteva essere altrimenti — dice Cairo —. C’è un legame speciale con la città, Milano è una destinazione naturale per il Giro. Il legame tra il gruppo Rcs e la città nasce più di un secolo fa: il nostro gruppo è cresciuto con Milano e da sempre trova in Milano un campo pieno di entusiasmo per tutte le nostre manifestazioni». A Sala viene consegnata la maglia rosa. In prima fila c’è Vittorio Adorni, vincitore del Giro nel 1965 e del campionato del mondo nel 1968. Un bignami della storia del Giro che conta più di un secolo di vita. È lui a riannodare il filo tra il passato e il futuro. Tra l’arrivo al Musocco del 1909 (spostato all’Arena per problemi di ordine pubblico) e il traguardo in piazza Duomo del 2017. Ma non ci sono solo i professionisti. La passione delle due ruote che ha contagiato molti milanesi potrà trovare uno sfogo la mattina del 28. Prima della crono individuale ufficiale, gli amanti della bici potranno provare il brivido di percorrere il tragitto ufficiale con una cronometro a squadre. Corriere della Sera

The best Greek Island hotels By Telegraph Travel Experts

Other island silhouettes on the horizon, a transparent sea lapping a sand or pebble shore (there’s a special Greek word for the sound – flísvos), a congenial beach bar a few steps away… for many visitors, these are the essentials of a holiday in the Greek islands. Venture further inland, however, and you will find atmospheric villages and monasteries, world-class museums and a laid-back lifestyle pursued mostly in public.


Corfu has figured in our consciousness since Edward Lear visited and painted while it was a British possession from 1814 to 1864. It’s one of the greenest of the Greek islands – thanks to intermittent but torrential rains from September to June, and the thousands of olive trees that carpet the land­scape. It is also, perhaps surprisingly, one of the more rural, sleepy islands away from the touristic honeypots.


Crete boasts one of the longest beach-lounging seasons; north-coast beaches tend to be long and sandy if a bit exposed, while others are apt to be shorter but more secluded. For those of a non-beachy disposition, there’s plenty of interest inland: exquisitely frescoed country chapels of the 14th and 15th centuries, ruined Minoan palaces and towns, plus top-drawer hiking and botanising opportunities.


With miles of beaches, a forested, mountainous interior, Crusader castles, frescoed churches, one of the finest medieval towns in the Mediterranean and eight sunny months a year, Rhodes can’t help but be a winner for holidaymakers. The walled old town of Rhodes has justly been accorded Unesco World Heritage status, and rarely fails to impress with its sandstone architecture, flying buttresses over cobbled streets and a skyline exotically stooked with minarets and palm trees.


Santoríni is really best approached by sea; as your arriving craft manoeuvres over the impossibly midnight blue waters of the caldera, the sheer lava cliffs of the caldera lip, layered in varicoloured rock, loom overhead, with white houses on top like a dusting of snow It’s one of the spectacles of the Med, as is the reverse practice of staring out over the caldera waters from up top – something not lost on the strangely assorted clientele.


Once among the poorest, barest Greek islands, Mýkonos - starting in the late 1950s - became a bohemian mecca and is now one of the glitziest, most renowned tourist destinations in the country. This central Cyclade was briefly the premier Mediterranean resort for gay travellers, though since then Mýkonos has tried to reinvent itself for a more varied clientele. There’s also no shortage of clothing and jewellery boutiques in the main town (Hóra) for a spot of retail therapy.


Sumptuous mansions and humbler vernacular homes arrayed amphitheatrically around Hydra’s marble-quayed harbour date from the 18th and 19th centuries, when Hydriot seafaring prowess brought great wealth. The island remains endearingly time-warped: as a listed architectural reserve, all new construction is (theoretically) banned, and it’s blissfully free of motor vehicles except for a few miniature rubbish trucks – photogenic donkeys (or mules) do most haulage. The clip-clop of the beasts' hooves on marble pavement and their drovers' cries are very much part of the soundtrack here.


Pátmos’s volcanic geology, with basalt formations pointing evocatively skyward and quirky islets floating just offshore, adds to the palpably spiritual atmosphere. But the corporeal certainly gets a look-in, with excellent beaches and arguably the most varied clientele of any Greek island, ranging from backpackers to current and deposed European royalty.


Páros has a bit of everything you’d expect from an island in the Cyclades archipelago – whitewashed villages, blue-domed churches, blonde-sand beaches, fishing harbours overlooked by taverna tables, plus lively bars and cafés. The landscape is perhaps not the most dramatic, with its modest 771-metre (2,388ft) -high Ágii Pándes summit, but from the ring road the views out to sea over dozens of surrounding islands are unbeatable.


The largest and loftiest of the Cyclades archipelago, rugged Náxos is one of the few Greek islands besides Crete that could feed itself – you see flocks of sheep, goats and cattle everywhere, along with all manner of market gardens. The local small potatoes are renowned, commanding a price premium, as do a range of island cheeses. The biggest draw is Náxos’s entire southwest-facing coast which, from the resort of Ágios Prokópios down to Agiassós near the island’s southerly cape, essentially forms one great long beach, separated by little headlands.


Skiáthos was the first northern Sporade to be developed, back in the mid-1960s. It’s not hard to see why, with more than 50 beaches lapped by an almost Caribbean-coloured sea, plus a lushly green backdrop inland. Its original forest, alas, has burnt frequently (last time in 2007), but such is the humid climate and ample groundwater that replacement growth springs up quickly. A busy yacht marina and drydock are a natural outgrowth of the traditional local caique-building industry. The Telegraph

Thursday, April 20, 2017

How to Photograph White Birds By Michael Milicia

Photo Credit: Snowy Egret, Michael Milicia
The brilliant white plumage of some birds can also show exquisite detail. Here are two tricks for capturing both in an image. One of the great things about bird photography is the seemingly endless diversity of colorful subjects. But while birds such as the Painted Bunting and Scarlet Tanager are certainly eye-catching, images capturing the elegance, grace, and simplicity of predominantly white birds, such as the Great Egret, Snowy Egret, and Trumpeter Swan, can be just as spectacular. When photographing white birds, we want to portray their brilliance while still preserving the subtle and often intricate detail in their plumage. This can be a delicate balance and is often a source of frustration for beginning bird photographers. Exposure theory tells us that if we come up with camera settings that render a gray bird as gray, those exact same settings will work for a white bird in the same light. While this is true, there is far less room for error with bright white subjects: Underexposing will make them appear too dull, and overexposing even a little can cause a complete loss of detail in the highlights. As a first step, put your camera in manual exposure mode. For many reasons, automatic exposure modes like Aperture Priority can make it difficult to achieve the level of accuracy and consistency that is critical for proper exposure of bright white subjects. This is especially true if your subject is in a dynamic environment or if its size in the frame is changing frequently.  There are many ways to come up with the correct settings but here are two simple and effective methods.  
Utilize Highlight Alerts
By enabling highlight alerts or “blinkies” on your camera, any areas that have lost highlight detail—the detail hidden in the brightest part of a scene—will blink during image playback. For white subjects, these blinkies are both accurate and reliable and can be used to your advantage. Take test shots in manual mode with increasing levels of exposure until you see blinkies on the subject and then reduce the exposure by one third or two thirds of a stop. You can now use these locked-in settings to get the optimal exposure regardless of the subject’s background or its size in the frame, as long as the amount of light hitting the subject remains constant. If and when the light changes, again take test shots to come up with new settings. This method is not the most efficient or elegant, but it is simple and very effective.
Choose Spot Metering
Even though you are in manual mode, you can still use the camera’s exposure meter to guide you to the correct camera settings. Choose a spot metering pattern, which yields more predictable and consistent results than patterns like matrix or evaluative. Fill the spot metering area with white from the brightest part of the subject and adjust the camera settings until the exposure scale in the viewfinder reads +2. This should be very close to optimal, but you may be able to go one or two thirds of a stop more without losing highlight detail. As with the previous method, you can now fire away with these locked-in settings regardless of background or subject size until the light changes. When this happens, again fill the spot metering area with white plumage and adjust the camera settings to get back to the same reading on the exposure scale. Once you have used the meter as a guide to lock in the correct exposure, you can ignore the exposure scale while you are shooting—it may bounce all over the place as your Spot metering area falls over different parts of the scene.
Other Considerations
Fine detail in the plumage of a bright white bird can often be made more visible by reducing the exposure by one or two thirds of a stop. You might want to consider this in the field if you are shooting JPEGs, but if you are shooting RAW, you can and should wait until post-processing time to make this decision. It’s also best to avoid shooting in bright midday sun, when blazingly white plumage seems to become even more reflective, obscuring highlight detail. Audubon Tips and How-To's

Michael Milicia is a Massachusetts-based bird photographer. He also specializes in teaching photography and takes great joy in helping others take their imagery to the next level.
Audubon is a nonprofit, and stories like this are made possible by readers like you. To support our work, make a donation today.

Prepariamo il profiteroles a casa

La Cucina Italiana
aka Eclairs ?

Cycling to work could help you live longer and greatly reduces the chance of developing cancer, study reveals By Sarah Knapton

They are often derided as Mamils (middle-aged men in Lycra), but a new study suggests Britain’s urban cyclists will have the last laugh. Cycling to work lowers the risk of dying early by 40 per cent, and reduces the chance of developing cancer by 45 per cent. Similarly a daily bike ride to the office nearly halves the risk of heart disease, according to a major study by the University of Glasgow, who tracked the health of more than a quarter of a million people over five years. Over the study period 37 people in the cycling group died, but the researchers say the findings suggest that 63 would have died if they had all commuted by car or public transport. The findings held true for both men and women. Just four per cent of adults cycle to work each day, around two million people. Dr Jason Gill, from the Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical Sciences at Glasgow University, said the government must do more to make cycling safer and more popular. “Cycling all or part of the way to work was associated with substantially lower risk of adverse health outcomes. “If these associations are causal, these findings suggest that policies designed to make it easier for people to commute by bike, such as cycle lanes, city bike hire, subsidised cycle purchase schemes and increasing provision for cycles on public transport may present major opportunities for public health improvement.” Walking to work was also found to be good for health, although it does not offer the same benefits as taking a bike. Commuting on foot was associated with a 27 per cent lower risk of developing cardiovascular disease and a 36 per cent lower risk of dying from it. Overall walking to work lowered the risk of early death by 27 per cent. But there was no link with a lower risk of cancer or dying early from any cause in walkers, the study found. People who preferred to stroll to work also had to walk for two hours a week in total to see health benefits, at an average speed of three miles per hour. Experts behind the study, published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), said the lower benefits seen for walking compared to cycling could be due to the fact cyclists covered longer distances in their commutes than the walkers, cycling is a higher intensity exercise and cyclists were generally more fit. Dr Carlos Celis-Morales, from the University of Glasgow, said: "Walking to work was associated with lower risk of heart disease, but unlike cycling was not associated with a significantly lower risk of cancer or overall death. "This may be because walkers commuted shorter distances than cyclists, typically six miles per week, compared with 30 miles per week, and walking is generally a lower intensity of exercise than cycling." The study also found some health benefits if people cycled part of their journey and took public transport or drove the rest of the way. The people taking part in the research were aged 52 on average at the start of the study and were followed for five years. Professor Lars Bo, an expert in sports science from the Western Norwegian University of Applied Sciences, Bergen, Norway said the UK government must do far more to help people cycle or walk to work. “The UK has neglected to build infrastructure to promote cycling for decades and the potential for improvements to increase cycling and the safety of cycling is huge,” he said. “Cities such as Copenhagen have prioritised cycling by building bike lanes; tunnels for bikes, so cyclists do not need to pass heavy traffic; and bridges over the harbour to shorten travel time for pedestrians and cyclists. Today, no car or bus can travel faster than a bike through Copenhagen. “The findings from this study are a clear call for political action on active commuting, which has the potential to improve public health by preventing common (and costly) non-communicable diseases. “A shift from car to more active modes of travel will also decrease traffic in congested city centres and help reduce air pollution, with further benefits for health.” The Telegraph

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

French election: Le Pen, Macron... or Mélenchon? By James Masters, Maud Le Rest, and Margaux Deygas

Paris (CNN) It has been one of the most unpredictable and dramatic presidential campaigns in French political history -- and with less than a week to go before the election, the outcome remains too close to call. Only a few weeks ago, it appeared almost guaranteed that the French electorate would vote for a face off between National Front Leader Marine Le Pen and independent candidate Emmanuel Macron. But as Sunday's first round of voting draws ever closer, the political whirlwind that is far-left candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon appears to be gathering speed. Will Le Pen ease through? Can Macron persuade voters he's got a plan? Or will the left-wing firebrand Mélenchon cause widespread shock? (... continued.) CNN

Germany gains popularity among foreign investors By Hardy Graupner

Germany is becoming increasingly attractive to foreign investors, a fresh study by a leading business consultancy has shown. The authors say the country stands to profit from the UK's exit from the European Union. Renowned consultancy A.T. Kearney on Wednesday published its 2017 Foreign Direct Investment Confidence Index, looking once again at changes in investors' perception of the business climate in specific countries and regions. The authors of the study said they were surprised by this year's results, pointing out that a year ago investors were concerned about the rise of populist policies in the Brexit referendum vote and the US presidential elections. "And yet this year, despite Brexit and the equally unexpected US election outcome, the US maintains its No.1 rank on the index, and the United Kingdom gains one spot to rank fourth," A.T. Kearney's Paul Laudicina said on the consultancy's website.
Not as bad as previously thought?
The study said the discrepancy could best be explained by the fact that the US and UK markets were both large and open economies with relatively efficient regulations, transparent tax rates and strong technological capabilities. It added investors had pointed to these characteristics as the primary factors they considered when determining where to invest. There's also the perception that both Brexit and US President will be good for business at least in the short term. This is based on London's prospect of having to deal with fewer cumbersome EU-mandated regulations and a more rational immigration policy, once it's left the EU. The study remarks that Trump for his part has promised to lower corporate tax rates and invest heavily in US infrastructure.
Germany a winner
This year's index provides some good news for Germany as it rises to second place in the table behind the US, marking its highest ranking in the nearly two-decade long history of the FDI Confidence Index. A.T. Kearney says the improvement likely reflects the country's business-friendly regulatory environment and its robust labor market. Many investors expect Germany to benefit from the fallout from Brexit. The number of European markets on the index fell for the second year in a row to 11 countries in 2017, signaling a downward trend in investor interest in Europe as a region. Nonetheless, the five largest European economies all made gains in the ranking this year. Emerging markets secured a share of 28 percent of the positions, "rebounding from a historical low of 20 percent last year." A.T. Kearney viewed this as a nascent trend of global investors increasing their risk tolerance and eyeing emerging economies for growth opportunities, particularly China and India. DW

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Ronald McDonald House is home away from home for families with hospitalised kids By Deirdre Reynolds

Ronald McDonald House provides ‘a sense of normal’ for families with children confined to hospital in Dublin, writes Deirdre Reynolds.

When Sandra and Brendan Ryan discovered their baby daughter needed life-saving heart surgery, life as they knew it changed for good. Already parents of two little boys, the Cork couple welcomed baby sister Kate to the clan last December, after a pregnancy scan revealed she had hypoplastic left heart syndrome, which would require a string of gruelling surgeries to repair. “Immediately, on diagnosis, they said you’ll have to deliver in Dublin,” said mum Sandra. “That didn’t work out in the end. She was stubborn; she wanted the Cork birth cert!” Two-and-a-half hours away from their Carrigtwohill home, the devoted couple have since maintained a 24-hour vigil by their youngest child’s cribside at Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital in Crumlin, something they say has only been possible with the help of the neighbouring Ronald McDonald House. “Essentially, she has half a heart,” explained husband Brendan, who is a Garda. “She has no left side to her heart. The bigger she gets, the more pressure it puts on her heart and her arteries. “We were, I suppose, lucky and unlucky that we knew a couple whose daughter had the exact same condition and they told us about Ronald McDonald House. “It’s like a little comfort blanket for us, really. It’s somewhere to go at the end of the day.” Opened in 2004, the redbrick building nestled in the heart of Dublin 12 serves as a home away from home for more than 300 families from throughout the land every year. Despite being just metres away from the heaving children’s hospital, inside, it couldn’t be more different. “In the hospital, it’s very stressful,” agrees Edel O’Malley, volunteer CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities Ireland. “You can imagine: You’re at the bedside and everything is beeping or there’s lights or there’s noises. “Then you have other people’s activity going on around you as well on wards. “Here, it is much more like coming into your aunt or your uncle’s house — coming home. The parents give each other a huge amount of support, because they are on the same kind of journey. The child mightn’t have the same issues, but they have the same stresses and same sort of worries and concerns. “At the moment, our average length of stay is running at about 24 nights for a family, but we have had people who have spent over 600 nights, nearly two years solidly from their child’s birth. “About 10 or 12 families a night are still knocking on the door to see if they can get in.” When their son Denis was diagnosed with a rare congenital heart disease called Shone’s Complex at birth last October, first-time parents Jenny Jordan and Declan McClair from Meath were forced to dip into their life savings to stay close to him in the capital. Six months on, just like the other parents and grandparents staying at the house, the couple make a €10 daily donation to the organisation, which goes towards the true cost of €55 a night to house a family. “They call it the rollercoaster,” said Jenny of her son’s condition. “You fix one problem and something else arises. One in 8,000 babies gets it and he was one of them. It’s a big shock when you’re in that situation, where you don’t know what you’re going to do, where you’re going to stay. “We spent about €800 the first week we came here.” With anxious mums and dads from across the country clamouring to secure one of the 16 bedrooms in the house, which receives no Government funding, geography is just one of the deciding factors in who gets one of the coveted quarters, which can sleep up to four and has a private bathroom and shower. Fundraising is underway to gather the €16m needed to build a new supersized Ronald McDonald House at St James’s Hospital in the city. “We would love to accommodate everybody,” added Ms O’Malley. “We just don’t have the facilities to do it. “How far away you are, how long they predict the child is going to stay, if there are other siblings in the family unit, they would be the main kind of criteria. “The new house will have 53 bedrooms. “It is going to be a big building in an effort to try and accommodate as many people as possible. “Do we think it will take all families? We hope it will.” Although home is less than hour’s drive from the hospital, as doctors continue to battle to better baby Denis’s life, for Declan and Jenny from Ballivor, the service has been a lifesaver of a different kind. “When you have a sick child, half an hour commute is bad,” he argued. “We’ve seen it over there with Denis, they act so fast. Several evenings we’re over there in the house; next thing, the nurse will ring us to say the cardiologist wants to have a chat with us and can you tip over there. “You’re getting out of that bubble of being in the hospital the whole time. Your head would be melted if you were over there the whole time. “All you’re seeing is people sad the whole time; it does drain you.” Home-style meals, laundry facilities, squishy couches, a big screen TV, and limitless toys for the little ones are just some of the home comforts affording the country’s most embattled families a sense of normality in the most abnormal of circumstances, and all completely free of charge, due to big-hearted Irish companies and volunteer staff. “It’s really made a difference not having to worry: ‘We’ve been in hospital all day… we have to eat something’,” dad-of-three Brendan said. “There’ll always be something in the fridge. “No matter what’s going on in your own scenario, there’s never doom and gloom. People do have bad days, but you never get the air of sadness. “It’s a nice place to be, in the worst possible circumstances.” More than anything, the Carrigtwohill couple say staying at Ronald McDonald House has given them the opportunity to just be parents, both to Kate and her brave big brothers, Conor, 7, and James, 5, not to mention check in with each other. “When Kate is on the ward, we really are like ships in the night,” he went on. Sandra would be here and I’d be below minding the lads and then we’d cross over. “When the boys are off at the weekend, and I’m off, then it does give us a chance to come together as a family, which is great. “When they get up here, you can make it all about them, because they love coming up.” Sandra adds: “A place like this allows you to parent your other children… because when your child is in ICU, you don’t parent, you flitter in and out and you kind of sit there. “It gives you a sense of normal in the most abnormal situation and it becomes your normal. “You find yourself going out for day trips and saying: ‘We’ll go home.’ “I went to Cork two or three weeks ago and it’s almost like that was the abnormal for me and this was the norm. This was the norm, because you have a sick child that’s here and you want to be near her. “I was actually relieved coming back up.” See for more. Irish Examiner Ronald McDonald House Charities

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Obama to give speech in Berlin to mark Reformation anniversary

Germany's protestant church has secured a coup: Barack Obama will address the annual assembly to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It could be Obama's first major appearance since leaving the presidency. Former US President Barack Obama will visit Germany in May to address the Protestant Church Assembly, or Kirchentag, the organizers confirmed on Tuesday. Obama will join Chancellor Angela Merkel and other dignitaries at the four-day festival. He is believed to be making a speech at the closing event in Berlin to mark the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It would be his first public talk since his second term came to an end in January. Organizers refused to confirm Obama would be attending, saying they would announce the official line up of speakers later on Tuesday. As Germany looks towards federal election in September, it is safe to assume that most of the country's major politicians will be in attendance. The former president can likely look forward to a warm welcome in Germany, where he still enjoys a favorable reputation despite revelations that the NSA once tapped Chancellor Merkel's cell phone under his watch. Obama visited Germany six times as president, but he captured the hearts and minds of Germans before he was even elected. In 2008, hundreds of thousands gathered to hear him speak at the Victory Column, or Siegessäule, in Berlin. DW

Monday, April 10, 2017

Berlusconi cuddles lambs in vegetarian Easter campaign By Reuters in Rome

Former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has infuriated Italy’s meat industry by joining a vegetarian campaign and “adopting” five lambs that would have been butchered for Easter. A video by the Italian League in Defence of Animals and the Environment, showing Berlusconi cuddling, kissing and feeding the lambs with a baby’s bottle, was circulated widely on social media over the weekend. The 80-year-old former prime minister was filmed in his parkland estate in front of a sign saying “Defend life, choose a vegetarian Easter,” while a scrolling message urged viewers to “Be like him. He saved five lambs from the Easter slaughter.” Berlusconi was expelled from the senate in 2013 following a conviction for tax fraud, but his Forza Italia party is still the third or fourth most popular in Italy with about 12% of the vote, according to opinion polls. Italians traditionally eat lamb or goat on Easter Sunday but consumption has declined sharply over the last five years due to an economic slump and the growing success of vegetarian campaigns. The Guardian

A Coffee Empire Grows, as Panera Is Sold to JAB Holding Company By Stephanie Strom and Chad Bray

LONDON — Over the last several years, a European family business has spent more than $40 billion assembling a coffee empire. JAB Holding Company has acquired the American brands Peet’s Coffee, Caribou Coffee and Keurig Green Mountain, all since 2012. It also combined the European coffee giant D.E. Master Blenders 1753 with the coffee business of Mondelez to create a company now known as Jacobs Douwe Egbert. Then it bought the high-end coffee retailers Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia. Mondelez continues to own 25 percent of Douwe Egbert and has a similar stake in Keurig. Now JAB needs somewhere to sell all that coffee. On Wednesday, JAB, which is privately held, said it would add the Panera restaurant chain to its growing empire of American coffee and food favorites for $7.5 billion, including debt. It is only the latest effort to expand into restaurants by JAB, the investment arm of the Reimann family of Germany, who are heirs to the consumer goods company Joh. A. Benckiser. In 2014, JAB bought the bagel chain Einstein Brothers, which it has been combining with Caribou is some markets. And last year, it paid $1.35 billion for Krispy Kreme, the struggling doughnut chain. In Panera, JAB will acquire a popular fast casual chain that serves soups, salads, sandwiches and baked goods at about 2,000 locations. Panera has set itself apart by offering relatively healthy options and being one of the first national restaurant chains to distance itself from high fructose corn syrup. But Panera, which went public in 1991, has chafed under Wall Street’s relentless demand for growth. Ron Shaich, Panera’s personable chief executive who controls roughly 15 percent of its stock, said one of the biggest attractions to the JAB deal was the chance to take his company private. “For the last 20 years, I’ve spent 20 percent of my time telling people what we’ve done to grow and another 20 percent of my time telling people what we’re going to do to grow,” Mr. Shaich said in an interview. “I won’t have to do that anymore.” Investment analysts have speculated for years that Mr. Shaich, 63, has been looking for a way to reduce his role at the company after spending more than two decades building it up from a tiny 400-square foot cookie store in Boston. Mr. Shaich, however, said that he planned to continue to lead Panera. “Nothing will change,” he said. “The management team and I will remain.” With the acquisition of Panera, JAB will have spent more than $40 billion in what appears to be a big bet that it can muscle in on a market dominated by Starbucks and Nestlé. It takes on Panera at a time when it has two large turnarounds on its hands, Krispy Kreme and Keurig Green Mountain. The doughnut chain was a phenomenon several years ago, then fell on hard times and has never fully recovered. Keurig, which dominates the single-serve coffee market, has struggled as competition cut into its profitability. Then it made a big bet that fell flat on a single-serve machine to make cold drinks, and JAB stepped in. The restaurant business in general has been in the doldrums for the last couple of years, with most big chains struggling to eke out increases in same-store sales of even 1 or 2 percent. Panera has done better than most. The company moved faster than others to build a mobile ordering system and cleanse its menu of ingredients like artificial preservatives and high fructose corn syrup that consumers do not want. The NPD Group, a research and consulting firm, predicts that traffic in restaurants in the United States will remain stalled this year as well. The firm predicts that quick-service restaurant chains like McDonald’s and KFC, which account for 80 percent of the total traffic in the restaurant industry, will see a 1 percent increase in visits this year. On Wednesday when it announced the deal with JAB, Panera said its same-store sales in its company-owned stores were up 5.3 percent, which is stronger than most. But roughly 60 percent of its stores are owned by franchisees, with sales in those units not doing as well. Mr. Shaich said that was because the fruits of initiatives like the mobile ordering system, which were rolled out first in company-owned stores, have yet to fully show up in the performance of franchisees. He said JAB had no plans to make changes. “They are hands off,” Mr. Shaich said. “These guys have a track record for investing in great brands and companies and letting management do their jobs.” Under the terms of the transaction, JAB BV, the investment vehicle executing the transaction for JAB, would pay $315 a share, representing a premium of 30 percent to Panera’s 30-day volume-weighted average stock price as of March 31, the last trading day before media reports that Panera was exploring a potential sale. JAB BV would also assume about $340 million in net debt. “We strongly support Panera’s vision for the future, strategic initiatives, culture of innovation, and balanced company versus franchise store mix,” Olivier Goudet, JAB’s chief executive, said in a news release. “We are excited to invest in and work together with the company’s management team and franchisees to continue to lead the industry.” The transaction is expected to close in the third quarter and is subject to shareholder and regulatory approval. Mr. Shaich and entities affiliated with him have agreed to vote shares representing about 15.5 percent of the company’s voting stock in favor of the transaction. Morgan Stanley and the law firm Sullivan & Cromwell are advising Panera. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America Merrill Lynch and BDT Capital Partners, and the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom are advising JAB. In addition, entities affiliated with BDT are acting as minority investors alongside JAB, which they also did in the Krispy Kreme deal. International New York Times