About Grace @ Cultural Life

Hey there, I'm Grace. I blog at culturallife.wordpress.com, about things that I love. Culture, books, music, movies, food, cooking....

Zucchini parmigiana

This delicious dish is ideal for a simple, nutritious evening meal. Technically, you should use Parmesan cheese in parmigiana recipes but I used cheddar instead and it worked very well!


1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 zucchini, cut into ribbons about 1/2 cm thick
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1 400-gram can of tomatoes
2 cups breadcrumbs
100 grams grated cheese (Parmesan or cheddar)
1/2 tsp pimenton (smoked paprika)
4 tbsp olive oil

1. Dice the onion and sauté with the crushed garlic in 2 tbsp olive oil until golden.
2. Add the can of tomatoes and the pimenton. Simmer, stirring frequently, for 20 minutes.
3. Shallow-fry the sliced zucchini in the other 2 tbsp of olive oil (you will probably need to add more while frying) until the slices are golden and slightly brown. Turn the slices while frying so they are golden on both sides.
4. Layer the zucchini in a baking dish (I used one which was 27 x 21 cm), followed by the tomato sauce, then sprinkle the breadcrumbs over the zucchini and tomato. Finally, sprinkle the grated cheese evenly on top.
5. Bake at 340F/170C for 20 – 25 minutes, until the breadcrumbs are crispy and the cheese is golden.
6. Enjoy! I served it with a side of garden peas and steamed cauliflower but it would also make a great lunch dish along with a green salad.

A heads-up for the Austin 100

Concert (public domain image source).

Concert (public domain image source).

Thanks to the team at NPR Music, from now until April 3 you can download 100 free songs (that’s 6 hours of music!) by artists who appeared at this year’s South By Southwest festival in Austin. Enjoy!

NPR Music – “The Austin 100: A SXSW 2014 Mix”

Saturday Shelfie

It has been three weeks since I last blogged. I guess that hiatus has effectively broken my “one post per week” goal! But now I have five weeks of spring break (five whole weeks!) in which I hope to find more time to blog, as well as writing all of the essays and tackling the mountain of coursework I need to catch up on. And of course, more free time equals more time to read! My current read and this week’s Saturday Shelfie is an intriguing re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.


Saturday Shelfie is a fortnightly feature and blogging event here at Cultural Life. If you’re a blogger and would like to take part, the guidelines are simple: grab the Saturday Shelfie badge for your post (right click on the badge and “save as…”) and publish a photo of your current read, along with a brief synopsis and/or your thoughts on it. Don’t forget to link back to this post so that your Saturday Shelfie post will appear as a “pingback” link below this post!


Longbourn by Jo Baker is a re-imagining of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice from the perspectives of the servants who live and work in the Bennet household. Although I have written before about my objections to the retelling of classic novels in my posts Do Modern Retellings of Classic Novels Actually Work? and Classic Novels, Retold, I was mostly focusing on modern re-imaginings of Jane Austen’s novels. Those irk me because I see no need to update classic novels for contemporary readers.

However, Longbourn is different. It uniquely complements Pride and Prejudice because it provides an insight into the world of the people who worked behind the scenes. Although beloved characters such as Elizabeth and Darcy are, of course, present in the book, they are always viewed through the eyes of the household staff. For example, those of you who have read P&P may remember the scene when Elizabeth enjoys a walk across the fields to visit her sister Jane.

“Elizabeth continued her walk alone, crossing field after field at a quick pace, jumping over stiles and springing over puddles with impatient activity, and finding herself at last within view of the house, with weary ankles, dirty stockings, and a face glowing with the warmth of exercise” (P&P, chapter 7)


In Longbourn, Jo Baker gives a new perspective to this scene and presents a very different view of P&P: the ‘other side’ of genteel Georgian England:

“If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to trudge through muddy fields” (Longbourn, page 11).

What are you reading this weekend?

Saturday Shelfie


Saturday Shelfie is a new fortnightly feature and blogging event here at Cultural Life. If you’re a blogger and would like to take part, the guidelines are simple: grab the Saturday Shelfie badge for your post and publish a photo of your current read, along with a brief synopsis and/or your thoughts on it. Don’t forget to link back to this post so that your Saturday Shelfie post will appear as a “pingback” link below this post!

My Saturday read!

My Saturday read!

The book I am reading at the moment is an advance reader copy of Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler. Set primarily in small-town Wisconsin, it traces the stories of four people, Ronny, Lee, Kip and Henry, who grew up together and were boyhood friends. Now adults, their lives have diverged onto four very different paths but their shared past links them together, including old rivalries which threaten to reappear. I am only half-way through this novel and so far, it is an engaging read which is making me want to read on. The characters in this story seem very real and authentic and the author has a gift for portraying the nuances of friendship and loyalty.

From This Valley

I drive an average of forty-five miles a day, much less at weekends when I like to stay home and unwind after a busy week! I don’t like driving in silence; listening to the radio or to a good CD makes the time pass much quicker. The CD which has been in my car stereo on repeat for the past few months is the self-titled second album by The Civil Wars, the singer-songwriter duo of Joy Williams and John Paul White. I have mentioned them before on Cultural Life because I absolutely adore their music. They have a wonderful creative chemistry. When I first heard about them and saw videos of their live performances on YouTube, I assumed they were a couple (they’re not) because the atmosphere between them when they performed was so powerful.

The unique blend of different influences – country, alt/indie, Americana – combined with wonderful song lyrics and talented harmonies is a compelling mix. Unfortunately for me and many other fans of their work, they split up in 2012, citing “internal discord and irreconcilable differences of ambition”. I hope they will one day, perhaps, find a way to reconcile the issues which caused the break-up. I would love to see them release a third album.

Here they are performing the Grammy award-winning song, From This Valley, live in New Orleans. I love listening to this positive, upbeat song!

Do you like The Civil Wars? Can you recommend me some similar bands/singers which I would also enjoy?

Saturday Shelfie

Inspired by participating in the Daily Post’s Zero to Hero blogging challenge, Saturday Shelfie is a new fortnightly feature and blogging event hosted by my blog. I invite other bloggers to get involved and take part.

The criteria are simple: take a photo (a shelfie!) of the book you are currently reading, write a short, spoiler-free synopsis of the book and your thoughts on it so far, and post it on your blog with the title “Saturday Shelfie” and the event badge (right-click on the image and “save as…”, then upload it into your post).


Make sure you link back to this post when you publish your Saturday Shelfie post; it means a link to your Saturday Shelfie will appear below this post. And that means we can all find each other’s posts. Not only does it help to introduce book-loving bloggers to exciting new reads, it is also a great way for all of us to find new blogs and that helps publicize our blogs too. Score! You can also use the hashtag #saturdayshelfie on Twitter when promoting your Saturday Shelfie post.

The book I am currently reading is Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld. I have nearly finished it – only a couple more chapters until the end – and it’s a very compelling read.

Growing up in St. Louis, identical twins Kate and Violet shared everything like two peas in a pod, including the ‘gift’ of having senses: being able to see some parts of the future. But a couple of decades later, their lives have gone in different directions. Kate is a suburban stay-at-home mother while Violet, who makes her living as a psychic medium, is eccentric and unconventional. When Violet predicts that a massive earthquake will hit St. Louis on October 16, both of their lives are jolted off course.

This is Sittenfeld’s fourth novel and, like all of her writing, it engages the reader and is very readable. In my opinion, it is her best novel so far. Sittenfeld has a knack for writing about the many aspects of family life and Sisterland is a book which will make you stay up late to read more!

Poll results – How do children learn language?

A month ago, as part of a discussion about linguistics and language acquisition, I asked my readers what they think about how children learn language. You can read that post and view the poll by clicking on the link here: We Need to Talk About Language.

Language Acquisition wordle. Created by Grace @ Cultural Life using wordle.net

Language Acquisition jargon. Created by Grace @ Cultural Life using wordle.net

In the poll I asked the following question: “How do children learn language?” It seems simple, doesn’t it? But there are no simple, straightforward answers. In order to give you some background information before I discuss the answers of the poll, I’ll outline three main approaches to language acquisition, with reference to another linguistics post I wrote: The Language Instinct. I wrote about the behaviorist and nativist theories at greater length in that post if you would like to read a more detailed explanation.

1. Behaviorist theory = based on Skinner’s experiments in the 1950s where rats learned to press a lever when they received positive reinforcement. Skinner said that native language acquisition is based on a system of imitation and reward.

2. Nativist theory = the ground-breaking linguist, Noam Chomsky, proposed that we are born with an innate ‘Language Acquisition Device’. A key part of the LAD is Universal Grammar: the concept that “children arrive in the world with grammatical principles wired into their brains” (quoted from my previous post which contains a more detailed summary of Universal Grammar).

3. Constructivist theory = as its name suggests, constructivist theory hypothesizes that children learn the grammar and syntax of their native language by acquiring a set of constructions, e.g. nouns, pronouns, verbs etc, based on the input around them (note that it is not the same as imitation). These components of language can then be formed into sentences. The constructivist theory does not agree with the concept of an innate language device.

It was very interesting to see the outcome of the poll.


41% of you chose the option that children begin by imitating the language they hear around them. While it is true that imitation plays some part in language acquisition, the exact nature of it is disputed. As I wrote in a previous post, “this argument for how children acquire language has many flaws. Firstly, if children learn how to produce their language solely as a result of [imitating others], their lexicon would be extremely limited”. The book, Language Acquisition, by Jill and Peter De Villiers explains that “The child…needs to extract the rules of the language in order to produce sentences appropriate to his changing situation” (De Villiers & De Villiers, 1972:199). Therefore, language acquisition is much more than simple imitation.

The second most popular option, with 35% of the vote, was the constructivist approach. The least popular option, at 25%, was the theory that we are born with innate linguistic principles. There is a lot of discussion and debate about these two theories. There aren’t any conclusive answers because each theory has advantages and disadvantages and it is very hard to disprove either theory for definite. I wonder if we will ever find definitive evidence on how we acquire what is arguably the most important component of our daily lives.

Thank you to everyone who voted in the poll. I hope you have enjoyed the linguistics posts I published here during the past couple of months. Let me know if you would be interested in more linguistics posts (but not about language acquisition – I think I’ve said enough on that topic for now) here on the blog.


De Villiers, J.G. and De Villiers, P.A. (1972). Language Acquisition. Harvard College: United States of America.

To the guy I wish I’d spoken to in the café queue

Public domain image: source

Public domain image: source

It was two o’clock on a rainy afternoon. I was waiting at the counter for a whole-wheat roll to go with my leek and potato soup when you jumped ahead of me in line. I wasn’t in a hurry and besides, I hadn’t gotten my roll yet. But when you realized, you apologized and after my insistence that really, it was okay, you ordered your coffee and I waited for my turn.

I looked at you and you looked at me. And I knew that I knew you from somewhere; it was like déjà vu. You looked so familiar, standing there wearing your smart-casual jacket and those retro, black glasses that I find so undeniably attractive, and yet my brain couldn’t place you.

I wish I’d spoken to you because — and this is going to sound ridiculous — I thought about you for most of my drive home later that afternoon and I rehearsed in my head what I should have said. I regret not saying something to you. I’ll probably never see you again but if you cross my path once more on a dreary Monday afternoon, I’m not going to let my self-doubt win.

I don’t often write personal posts about my life and part of me feels really silly for writing about this brief encounter which wasn’t really of any significance at all. But something about it nagged at me; it is a reminder to myself not to let opportunities pass me by.

Classic novels, retold

For my Day 19 Zero to Hero post I published a gallery of photos accompanied by a cento, which is a poem created with lines by poems from different authors. The Zero to Hero challenge for Day 21: “publish a post inspired by your post from Day 19″.

Initially, ideas for this post didn’t flow freely but composing the cento got me thinking about reimaginings and retellings of other peoples’ work. A lot of retellings are of classic novels ‘updated’ for the modern age. Sometimes these reimagined works add something new to interpretations of the original, for example, a novel which retells Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice, from the point of view of the servants was published last year and received very good reviews. I haven’t had the time to read it yet but I saw copies in a bookstore today and was very tempted to buy myself a copy!

Public domain photo source

Public domain photo source

However, most of the time I feel that rewriting a classic novel to bring it up to date is unnecessary. I wrote about this in September when I published a post, “Do Modern Retellings of Classic Novels Actually Work?”, in which I discussed Joanna Trollope’s updated version of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

One of the problems I found when reading the novel was the sheer amount of social differences between Jane Austen’s time (the Georgian era) and modern-day life:

“Do modern retellings of classic novels work? It is impossible to translate the restricted roles which women had in Austen’s time to the present day. Therefore, some of Trollope’s Sense and Sensibility comes across as a bit far-fetched; Marianne and Elinor do not need to marry to find a way out of their impoverished situation. This type of issue is one of the problems with updating classic novels into a modern-day setting”

Click here to read the full post. What do you think about updated versions of classic novels?

Snow and Poetry

For Day 19 of Zero to Hero, the challenge is to “publish a post using a format you’ve never used before”. The slideshow below contains a photo gallery (a format which is new to me) of wintry pictures which I took a couple of years ago, plus a cento I composed to go with them. A cento is like a poetic mash-up, with lines from poems by different authors rearranged into a new, unique poem. For a wonderful example of a cento that the BBC recently produced as a promo for one of their channels, click here: BBC Cento.

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And here is my complete cento in order. All of the authors’ names and the titles of the poems are in the captions of the gallery slideshow. In respective order, I composed the cento with quotes from poems by Robert Frost, Emily Bronte, John Clare, Thomas Hardy, George Meredith and Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep
And fifteen wild Decembers
From those brown hills have melted into spring.
The winter comes; I walk alone.

Around the house the flakes fly faster,
And all the berries now are gone.
Sharp is the night, but stars with frost alive
Leap off the rim of earth across the dome.

The secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.