Quick Weekday Meal: Lamb Koftas

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A busy Monday and a quick meal for tonight, a healthy one.

I am using good quality minced lamb for my koftas, no oil required as I bake them on a sheet and they retain all the moisture. The salted watermelon and mint has no dressing.

I bake the koftas in a hot oven on baking paper and then put them on kitchen towel as soon as they are cooked to absorb natural oils. I also use a mix of fresh and dried mint to get more depth in the mint flavor. Preparation time for this meal is under 10 minutes and it is something a bit different. The koftas are delicious hot or cold. I serve them with a local yoghurt with with some torn up mint leaves.

With the watermelon, I only add fresh mint and a good sea salt. You would be surprised how good salted melons and watermelons are. I will serve with a small dipping pot of fresh yoghurt.

You will need :

Preheat oven to 200 C

Makes 12 koftas

500 g lamb
Fresh mint, I use about two sprigs
1/2 tsp dried mint
Maldon salt
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 tsp dried coriander
1 teaspoon Balsamic vinegar

Prepare an oven tray with a baking sheet.

I like to break up fresh mint leaves manually so that they are uneven in size and the taste in the koftas is more defined.

Mix all ingredients together.

Divide into 12 pieces and roll to a small sausage like shape. Do not add flour, it’s not necessary.

Arrange on baking tray. Bake in hot oven for 20 minutes and turn over for another 10 or 15 depending on how crisp you like them.

Serve hot or cold.

For the watermelon, chop up into neat pieces. Squeeze a bit of lemon. Arrange on plate and sprinkle some sea salt and fresh mint. I love the flavor and texture of Maldon Salt. Garnish with fresh mint leaves.

Have a good week !

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A smooth and spicy guacamole dip …

Still in a mood where I want to see vibrant colors in my food to compliment the holidays, I made a guacamole dip yesterday. As long as the avocados are ripe and you squeeze lime juice straight away to prevent it from loosing its color, you cannot ever go wrong with this dip. I usually like mine with chunks in it, more texture, but my avocados were very soft and I used a hand held blender to get a smooth consistency.

You will need :

2 ripe Avocados , peeled and quartered
2 small fresh limes, squeezed
1/2 onion, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon chili flakes, adjust according to your taste, we like our spicy
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 small garlic clove
A pinch of ground coriander
Sea Salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
Pinch of sugar, optional

Place all ingredients into a bowl. I used a hand held blender to make a smooth paste. Adjust seasoning. Place in bowls to serve and I sprinkled more chili flakes and it looks beautiful and vibrant !
Refrigerate in a covered container. Chill for at least 1 hour before serving.

I like serving my guacamole with tacos and lots of fresh carrot batons and celery sticks …

Another sunny winter’s day

Pistachio Brittle… a holiday treat …

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Making brittle is a fun holiday thing to do and I like the vibrancy of pistachios. This brittle is delicious served with coffee after a meal and I am making a batch to last me though the holiday week. I love it also sprinkled on yoghurt. Until a couple of months ago I used Greek yoghurt in all my desserts but now find I prefer the local one. I like its clean, fresh tangy taste and it is a fraction of the price.

You will need :

2 cups sugar
1 tablespoon honey and I use local eucalyptus honey from the winter harvest
1 cup water
½ cup corn syrup
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
½ teaspoon baking soda
3 cups roasted, salted pistachios

Line a baking sheet with baking parchment
In a saucepan, combine the sugar, water, corn syrup, honey and salt.
Bring to a rapid simmer and cook until deep golden for about about 20 minutes.
Remove from heat.
Stir in the butter, baking soda and pistachios.
Continue to stir until the mixture is no longer bubbling and the caramel is smooth
his usually takes about a minute.
Transfer to the prepared baking sheet and spread with a spatula
Leave to cool completely then break into pieces.
The brittle can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.

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I went to harvest the winter honey and these are my photos ….

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Pure honey just harvested an hour before this photo, from the bee straight into the jar …. mmmm
A honey-sweet island known as Melite in ancient times ….

Turkey Coronation with cranberries

Chicken Coronation was created by the Cordon Bleu School in London to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.  My recipe with cranberries or cranberry sauce is delicious with turkey leftovers.

You will need:

300g cooked turkey cut up into bite-sized pieces
1 red chili deseeded and finely chopped
Juice of 1 lime
1 tablespoon curry powder mixed with 3 tablespoons mayonnaise and a few drops of sesame oil
1 onion, finely chopped and cooked
Rocket leaves according to preference
2 tablespoons fresh chopped coriander
Handful of cranberries or 1 tablespoon of cranberry sauce
Handful of toasted flaked almonds
1 large peach, peeled and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Mix the mayonnaise with the curry powder.  Add the lime juice, sea salt and pepper and then the sesame oil.  Mix in well.

Cut the cooked turkey into bite sized pieces and toss in the curried mayonnaise mix.  Refrigerate for an hour or more.

Arrange the rocket leaves on a plate and place the peach slices around the dish. Scatter the cooked onions, then the chopped fresh coriander over the rocket leaves.  Place the curried turkey mixture in the centre of the plate.  Scatter the toasted flaked almonds and dried cranberries.  Cut  the fresh red chili into very thin slices and scatter sparingly over the turkey.

My turkey comes from Ta’Cancu Butcher Zejtun, dried fruit and flaked almonds by Good Earth, spices by Schwartz at PJ Sutters, fresh fruit and vegetables by Big Fresh Mosta

Amon’s Christmas tips ! A happy Christmas………

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Celebrity Chef Peter Dacoutrous , a good friend of mine handcrafted this beautiful crib….

Getting ready for Christmas makes us excited and a good part of the preparations are connected with food. Christmas is all about food and eating.

I had a number of requests to suggest alternatives to the main turkey roast and I spent a day with Amon at Le Meridien planning a special meal using traditional Christmas ingredients for those who choose to have a different main course.

Amon is very creative and he spent a year of his training programme working under Albert Roux who has been one of the most important sources of his inspiration.

As we associate turkey and cranberries with Christmas, Amon prepared pumpkin Ravoli with smoked turkey as a starter and he recommended cranberries with a light lemon tart as a dessert. This will allow families to enjoy their favourite roast on Christmas Day while keeping the Christmas spirit alive with traditional ingredients.

We tried out different alternatives and I am sharing his recipe the Smoked Turkey sauce that is suitable with any pasta. The sauce is very light and full of flavour and will leave you comfortable to carry on indulging for the rest of the day.

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You will need :

2 Smoked turkey breasts, cut up into small cubes
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 leaves fresh sage, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
100g onion
100g pumpkin purée
1 Tbsp. maple syrup
Maldon Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 glass Prosecco

In a saute pan melt butter and olive oil over medium heat and cook the onion, garlic and sage. Add the pumpkin puree and maple syrup. Cook for a few minutes and then add the smoked turkey and parmesan cheese. Add the prosecco and let simmer over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes. Toss the pasta into the sauce and serve immediately with Parmesan shavings and rocket leaves.

I loved Amon’s idea of pairing up the lemon tart with cranberries and I used Rachel Allen’s recipe from her book Bake for the lemon tart with Amon’s instructions for a festive cranberry sauce:

For the Lemon Tart you will need:

For the pastry
200 g plain flour, sifted
1 tbsp icing sugar
100 g butter, chilled and cubed
1 egg, beaten
Put the flour, butter and a pinch of salt in a food processor and process briefly.
Rub the butter into the flour until it resembles coarse breadcrumbs then, using your hands, add just enough egg to bring it together.
Place the dough in the fridge for at least 30 minutes
Preheat the oven to 180C
Line a 23cm tart tin with the shortcrust pastry and bake blind for 10-15 minutes.

For the filling:

3 eggs
1 lemon, grated zest
125 g caster sugar
150 ml double cream
3 lemons, juice only
1 orange, juice only
icing sugar, for dusting
Place the eggs, lemon zest and sugar in a bowl and whisk for a couple of minutes until the egg is all broken up. Add the cream, orange and lemon juice. Mix well, skimming off any froth from the top of the mixture. Carefully pour the filling into the cooked pastry case.
Reduce the oven temperature to 160C and bake the tart for 30 minutes or until the filling has just set in the centre.
When it is cool remove from the tin and dredge a little icing sugar over the top.

For Amon’s Cranberry and Date Sauce

2 cups water
3 cups sugar
3 spoons Honey, I use local thyme honey
Grated zest of an orange
1 cinnamon stick
2 cups chopped pitted dates
3 cups cranberries

Simmer water, sugar, zest, honey and cinnamon in a saucepan over medium heat.
Add the dates and cranberries and simmer, stirring occasionally, until cranberries begin to burst. Add more honey to suit your taste.

We both thoroughly enjoyed our day especially the testing session and I hope you will enjoy these dishes as much as we have. Have a wonderful Christmas !

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And on Christmas Eve, Raspberry Cream Tart …

Very early before sunrise on Christmas Eve in the heart of the Mediterranean today, the strong winds howl and from my bed where I sit with a cup of coffee writng this post I hear the waves splash viciously against the rocks. I close my eyes and dream of summer, I long for the sun, the warmth and the brightness that fills me with happiness but I must not forget that it will be with us again very soon.

And I can smile again as I have Luke keeping me warm and this is what I am looking at

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Impossible not to smile as he is adorable, soon to be 14, sweet and gentle Luke with his Santa hat getting ready for his Christmas treats.

And yesterday I met a group of 4th year culinary students who have so much to look forward to. They were the winners of a professional cooking competition run by a local company to promote creativity and innovation at the culinary school.

I enjoyed chatting with Rodianne, a sweet and gentle natured young lady. She is doing her practical training with the Corinthia Group at one of the local hotels and will be leaving in February for further training at Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland. I am excited for her as she has her whole life and career to look forward to.

It is her recipe I am sharing with you this morning as I know that there will be a lot of last minute preparations for tomorrow’s meal or even perhaps tonight’s dinner and this is an ideal dessert. I love something fruity after a heavy meal. It is simple, delicious and looks divine. I like Christmas food to be vibrant and colorful.

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You will need:

For the sweet pastry:

• 200g flour
• 125g butter
• 50g sugar
• 1 egg

For the raspberry pastry cream:
• 500ml milk
• 100g sugar
• 60g flour
• 2 eggs
• 1 vanilla pod
• 3 drops of raspberry flavouring

Extra ingredients:
• 100g dark chocolate
• 1 punnet raspberries
• 1 punnet blueberries
• 1 punnet blackberries

• 11 inch fluted tart pan

Method for the sweet pastry:

1. Rub in the butter into the flour until it looks like fine crumbs.
2. Whisk the sugar into the eggs.
3. Gradually add the egg mixture to the flour mixture until it forms into a dough. Add a few drops of water if the dough becomes dry.
4. Rest the dough for 30 minutes into the refrigerator.
5. When the dough has rested, roll out on a floured surface large enough to fit the tart pan. Do not trim excess dough when it is in the pan, in case it shrinks in the oven.
6. Cut a circle out of baking paper bigger than the pan, and put on the dough. Fill the pan with rice and bake the dough in a 175ÂşC for 8 minutes until cooked.
7. When cooked, remove the rice from the tart shell and leave to cool.
8. When cool, remove from the pan and place on a tart board.

Method for the raspberry pastry cream:
1. Split the vanilla pod in half, scrape the seeds with a knife and add together with the pod to the milk. Heat the milk on a low flame and let the vanilla pod to infuse.
2. Whisk together the eggs, sugar and flour. Whisk vigorously to avoid any lumps from forming.
3. When the milk is warm, remove the vanilla pod. Gradually add the egg mixture to the milk, stirring continuously with a wooden spoon. Cook until the mixture covers the back of the spoon.
4. Cover with a baking sheet, to avoid a skin from forming. Leave to cool.

Method of assembling the tart:
1. Melt the dark chocolate on a bain marie. Brush the bottom of the tart shell with the melted chocolate. Place in the fridge for 5 minutes for the chocolate to set.
2. Spoon the raspberry puree` in the tart shell and smooth the top into an even layer.

And here is a lovely photo of Rodianne…… I wish her and her family a lovely Christmas

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Renato’s sweet ricotta pies

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Maltese Sweet Qassat: Photography: James Bianchi

A savory version of these individual sweet ricotta pies are very popular on the island but the sweet ones are rarely seen. They will start making an appearance in the local confectionaries as Christmas draws closer.

They are very festive decorated with bright red and green sugar and delicious with bits of candid peel and chocolate grated into the filling. This recipe was passed on to me by Renato Briffa, one of my former lecturers, now a good friend. His father opened a very popular bakery in the City Centre in 1955 and he is truly a specialist on local sweets. I admire his work and he is always generous with sharing his recipes and his father’s old secrets.

With Christmas with us, you may want to bake some of Renato’s specialities to share with family and friends and I am including links to other recipes by Renato that are popular on the island during the Christmas season.

And I always say that sweets make people happy and at Christmas we should be happy even if we need a boost with some sugary sweetness. Making sweets makes me happy and I am in heaven in my kitchen. The very thought of spending a day in the kitchen excites me. And I will have the added bonus of feasting my eyes in appreciation of all my work when I finish….

For the sweet ricotta pies you will need:

For the dough
500g flour
200g chilled butter cut up in cubes
1 egg
pinch of salt
4 tablespoons sugar
about 1/2 cup water

Rub the butter into the flour until it looks like breadcrumbs. Add the salt and sugar.
Add the egg and work in and then the water gradually. You may not need to add all the water. Knead the dough. Wrap in cling film and leave in the fridge to rest for at least half an hour.

For the filling
500g ricotta
2 eggs
1/2 cup mix of grated dark chocolate and mixed peel
2 tablespoons sugar

Mash up the ricotta. Add all the other ingredients and stir until even.

Making the pies

Roll out the dough and using a 4 inch circular cutter, cut out rounds on a well floured surface.

Put a spoon of the ricotta mixture in the middle if the circle.

Pinch the edge of the dough into pleats until you have done it all around. You are trying to get an open funnel surface. Either pipe some more of the ricotta mix into the pie to fill the neck of the funnel. You can also use a teaspoon but do not fill it right to the top as the filling will expand and rise.

Brush the pastry with egg wash.

Bake at 200C for about half an hour until they are a golden color.

For the topping :

200 ml double cream
2 spoons sugar
Cherries.

Whisk together until thick.

And for the colored sugar : 1 drop each of green and red food coloring to every 4 spoons of sugar. MIx together.

I used a piping bag to top the pies with cream but you can spoon it in.
Top each pie with a cherry and sprinkle some green and red colored sugar for a festive look.

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Renato checking out his baking !

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A true Master Baker, Air Malta Magazine

Tangy Sunshine in a Mediterranean Winter … Preserved Citrus Zest

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We are now in the middle of the short winter season on a glorious island blessed with sunshine most of the year. For a very short period of time, the skies may appear dull and the clouds will temporarily cover the brilliant light that we are accustomed to. But it is also the time of the year when the citrus trees in the heart of the Mediterranean are very productive. During a grayish winter flecked with rays of sunshine, what a delight it is to see the trees heavy with fruit, a colorful backdrop of edible yellow, orange and green hues brightening up our countryside, our gardens, the fruit bowl on our kitchen tables and our food. I even love them in tall glass vases instead of flowers, the colors nearly a reminder of the summer that will be with us again very soon.

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Citrus on the island is at its peak with a variety of oranges of all sorts, lemons, sweet clementines, mandarins and in some gardens kumquats. An abundance of citrus so much so that this is when I usually get calls from friends begging me to visit and cut the fruit in their garden to use for my jam making and preserves. What a treat, the very thought of unwaxed, pesticide-free, home-cultivated produce with no artificial coloring excites me and I am lost in thought about the endless possibilities of what to cook and how creative I will dare to be with all the surplus fruit. There is something so satisfying about picking fruit from the tree and storing it in a jar, capturing all those flavors, literally from the tree straight into the pan. And on this island, with no distances too long, it is something so easy to do.

Mediterranean oranges come in all shapes, flavors and sizes, blood oranges with bright red flesh that taste of raspberries, some with big navels and no seeds, bitter Seville oranges brought to the island during Arab rule and in the open rambling countryside, fragrant bergamot oranges that look more like lemons. If you are lucky enough to have citrus trees in your garden, with more fruit than you can possibly eat, the best place to leave the fruit is on the tree until you need to use it. As well as incorporating citrus with your recipes, it is so lovely to give baskets of citrus gifts, and ideas are flowing of jams, preserves, lemon and orange curds, lemon tarts and cakes and freezing juices for cordials. Any kind of citrus is such a great enhancer to both savory and sweet dishes and can be enjoyed in salads, cocktails, baked goods and in sauces and vinaigrettes.

There are so many ways to have citrus always available in your kitchen without having to take up space in your fridge or freezer. There is never a shortage of good recipes accessible via the internet and you can experiment and be bold and creative. I am going through a phase of adding fresh herbs, flowers and spices to my marmalades and jams. My experiments are not always successful but I have produced some great combinations such as orange and rosemary, lime and oregano and lemon and sage. And a few more unusual ones, also very delicious, were kumquat with prickly pear, bergamot and lavender with quince and bitter orange with pomegranate. When you try to mix and match new flavors and are unsure, make a small batch and see whether it is to your liking before you plunge in and use all your supplies.

I stumbled on a preserved citrus recipe that has proved to be such a success in my kitchen, a shortcut in many ways when you are in a hurry and it is something I will be making regularly. I say that “I stumbled” as it was a result of an unsuccessful recipe and this is the one I am sharing today as I also discovered along the way that the pith of the island’s citrus does not have such a bitter taste and when it is preserved, the flavor of the pith from Mediterranean oranges and lemons is rather delicious. This must be quite unique and so contrary to what you will find in most recipes and what you are taught in culinary school. Not having to remove the pith is also less time consuming and obviously gives a greater yield. It is also a very nutritious source of vitamins, fibre and minerals and 80% of the Vitamin C in citrus is in the pith.

I call my recipe preserved Citrus Zest and you can store it in large tupperware boxes or something similar. This preserved zest can be added to cakes and all sorts of bakes; it is practical to simply add a handful to some water and immerse peeled fruit to retain its color. I also add it to savory dishes in small quantities just for the flavor when you do not want too much sweetness. It is also a good alternative to shop-bought candid peel and of course for any recipes that require zest. I have made a huge batch using lemons but will be doing the same with oranges. When you squeeze any citrus, do not throw out the fruit but use it to make preserved zest. You can store it in plastic bags in the fridge until you have accumulated enough to make a batch.

You will need:

Lemons, Oranges, Limes Citrus of your choice,
Sugar, 500g sugar to every liter of water
Salt, 4 teaspoons to every liter of water

Simply immerse the citrus in a solution of salt and water.
I use 4 teaspoons of Salt to every litre of water.
Leave to soak for 24 – 48 hours.
Rinse them very well and soak in water for an hour. Drain.
Mix sugar and water in a large pot, I use 500g sugar to every liter of water.
Use enough water to cover the fruit. Bring to a boil and keep at a rolling boil for 30 minutes. Allow to cool.
Drain the syrup and leave the citrus in a colander for a few hours.
Toss and roll the citrus in sugar and leave for at least a week stored in a covered container.
Shake off the extra sugar and pass the peel through a mincer.
This preserved zest can be stored at normal room temperature and there is practically no risk of spoilage because of the sugar concentration and time of boiling. Use as required.

And if you are visiting the island blessed with abundance and all the good things in life, I encourage you to have a taste of the unique fruits that have been basking in the glorious sunshine and nurtured by the Mediterranean earth and perhaps you may even take back precious memories of your visit captured in a jar !

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A marmalade of Seville orange and hyssop …

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Hyssop is growing in the garden and there is a lot of it. With a strong aromatic minty and bitter flavor, it is quite an unusual herb these days. But it has been around for a very long time and made its mark in the Old Testament when Moses ordered the Elders to mark their doorknobs with hyssop dipped in lamb’s blood. And we see it appear in Shakespeare’s Othello and The Last Days of Pompeii with guests washing their hands in hyssop and water after a decadent feast. Hyssop is associated with cleansing and priests mixed Hyssop with holy water before blessing the congregation. It has medicinal properties as it grows the same mould as penicillin and the English Botonist John Ray recorded a man completely cured from open wounds when hyssop was applied after he was kicked by a horse and badly injured.

It grows prolifically here so with two very large bushes in the garden, I am looking for ways to lace it into my food without overdoing it. Traditionally used in pie fillings and to season sausages, I am trying something a bit different today.

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I am making a small batch of marmalade using just a kilo of Seville Oranges that are plentiful on the island this month. If you do not have them in your garden, they are so cheap in the market at the moment and make a wonderful marmalade. Their seeds are very glutinous and there is no need to add any pectin or additives to achieve a perfect consistency. I collect the nets that garlic is usually packed in and wash them to use instead of muslin.

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This is a super easy recipe and I am still in time to make batches to give out as Christmas presents. It takes no time at all and sevilles make a delicious bitter sweet marmalade.

I use equal amounts of sugar and fruit as Seville oranges are quite bitter but if you are using another variety of orange you can reduce the sugar by half and sweeten with honey according to your taste.

You can leave the marmalade as it is without the hyssop or add any herb of your choice.

You will need :

1 kilo Seville Oranges
1 Kilo Sugar
250ml water
juice of 2 lemons
herbs of your choice or you can simply leave them out

Cut the oranges in half and remove the seeds. Keep aside.
Squeeze the oranges and pour the juice into a heavy pot.
Add the juice of two lemons.
Remove the pith from the orange halves and keep aside.
Chop the orange rind neatly into thin slivers.
Add to the pot.
At this point I also added two sprigs of fresh hyssop, as they are from the tree, rinsed. I removed them before I added the sugar and this allows the flavors to come out while making the infusion.
Place the seeds in a muslin bag with the pith of the oranges and tie securely.
Cover and bring to a boil. Simmer, keep adding water and cook until the rind softens.
If necessary add more water.
When the rind is tender and soft, remove the herb sprigs and add the sugar all at once.
Stir and bring to a quick boil. Lower the heat and keep at rolling boil for 10 minutes.
Test consistency.
Remove from heat and at this stage I added a very few hyssop leaves that I dried naturally a couple of weeks ago.
Store in sterilized jars and for my most favorite follow this link.

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Sevilles for marmalade

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The marmalade, Seville slivers laced with aromatic hyssop….

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“Our bodies are our gardens, to the which our wills are gardeners. So that if we will plant nettles or sow lettuce, set hyssop and weed up thyme, supply it with one gender of herbs or distract it with many—either to have it sterile with idleness, or manured with industry—why, the power and corrigible authority of this lies in our wills. If the balance of our lives had not one scale of reason to poise another of sensuality, the blood and baseness of our natures would conduct us to most prepost’rous conclusions. But we have reason to cool our raging motions, our carnal stings, our unbitted lusts. Whereof I take this that you call love to be a sect or scion.” Othello, Act 1 Scene 3