Wednesday, 30 September 2009


The photo challenge this week on SCS is "Timeless". This photo, being about 12 years old, is not eligible, but when I was thinking about the theme this morning, and about the Botanic Gardens, this photo came to mind.

It was taken in the chateau grounds at Villandry. Villandry isn't one of the chateaux you visit to see the castle, particularly. It's the gardens that are the real show-stopper. And strangely, for the official website, the photos in that link are a bit disappointing. There are nine square formal beds, planted totally with vegetables, using proper crop rotation. They are quite amazing to see - I'll have to scan and post a couple of my better photos. We took the car to France that year, and stayed part of the time with friends, and then took off on our own and camped around the Loire Valley. We had to specially buy a roof-rack; we knew that our friend F was going to take advantage of coming back to Ireland in a car to bring stuff that she couldn't normally manage on the plane or as a foot passenger. My last photo from the holiday is C trying to load everything into the car - the fact that we now had two guitars instead of just one added considerably to the volume.
I love this dog statue, gazing out over the garden with his patina of lichen.
And while I'm on the theme, here's an even older dog photo. This was taken a couple of months before we got married, so 22 years ago - so not the best photo. My last job in the UK before I came back here was in Brodsworth Hall, when it was still a private home. It looks as if it was just the next year that English Heritage took it over. The greyhound (?) sculptures were at the bases of each flight of steps down into the garden - you can just about see in the photo on the website :D.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

More Greek memories

Nothing special about this - it was our local beach in Argassi - all of about 3 metres in some places, nothing in others. The ruined bridge you've already seen used to be on land, and there were a couple of other ruined walls in the sea too - parts of old churches, I think. I liked the colours in this...

We spent a lot of time trying to find an aqueduct quite near us. We did find it on our last full day - we found this little church on one of our many false trails...

One of the areas we drove through where there had been a fire...

A view over Zakynthos port from halfway up the hill behind it. It's actually quite a busy port, there were always ferries coming in and out, and the occasional cruise ship.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Cheap rice - bad idea....

We eat a lot of rice - it's our main carbohydrate. Unfortunately C doesn't really like pasta, except for thread noodles, so we don't have pasta too often - it's rice, then potatoes and then couscous. Normally I buy the Tilda basmati rice, but it's got a lot more expensive this last year, so last time I was in Asia Market I bought some cheaper basmati rice that they had bagged themselves. was a while before I copped why it wasn't coming out properly any more. No matter whether I soaked it, rinsed it, cooked in the right amount of water, cooked in extra water and drained it it was ALWAYS sticky, and that's not normal for me. So in a drive to use it up in ways where residual stickiness wouldn't matter, we had stuffed rice and split-pea pancakes (dhosas, really) today. And yesterday we had this lovely summer tomato soup - based on another of Anna Thomas's recipes. I've cut it in half.
Tomato Soup - serves 4
2 lb tomatoes, skinned.
1 small onion
1 tblsp olive oil
1 clove garlic
handful of coarsely chopped basil
2 ounces COOKED rice
salt and pepper to season
1/2 pint water.
Heat the oil in a pan and gently fry the onion for a few minutes, till soft but not coloured. Add the crushed garlic and fry for another minute.
Whizz the coarsely chopped tomatoes in a food processor, but not long enough to totally liquidise them, there should still be some texture left. Add these to the pan, and the basil. Cover and simmer for at least half an hour. Add the cooked rice and water (mild stock, if you like), heat through and season to taste.
I always like this soup, and it was a good pick for yesterday because I'd got tomatoes in a pack that was 50% extra free. I am sure that works for families, but with just the two of us I often end up paying more to buy less, rather than have it go off. I know it's the same for single people living on their own, too.
Saturday is the Inspiration Challenge on Splitcoast Stampers, and I made 3 punch-art type cards which I was very happy with - not my normal style.
The inspiration site was The Pajama Squid and these were my cards:

Friday, 25 September 2009

Coffee Cream

I've been meaning to do a best of the rest of photos, but with being sick this week haven't got round to it. OK, so I do only work part-time, but Wednesday was the first day I've had to call in sick in two years.
So here's the promised recipe for the Coffee Crème Caramel. It's from From Anna's Kitchen by Anna Thomas. One of my well-thumbed vegetarian recipe books.
Coffee Cream - serves 6 - 8
600ml / 1 pt milk
120ml / 4 fl. oz. cream
3" cinnamon stick
50 g / 2 oz whole coffee beans
225 g / 4 oz sugar
4 eggs
2 egg yolks
1/2 tsp vanilla

Heat the milk, cream, cinnamon stick and coffee together. Bring to a simmer, turn off, cover and leave for at least an hour. Bring it back to a simmer again, and then allow to cool slightly.
While it's cooling, melt half the sugar over a low hear (I always find this easier in a non-non-stick pan, so I can see the colour) till the sugar has melted and turned a rich caramel colour. If you find it easier, you can add a little water at the start to help the sugar dissolve. Use this to line the base (and sides if you choose) of a 1.5 litre / 2 1/2 pint soufflé dish or similar.
Whisk together the eggs, yolks, remaining half of sugar and vanilla till thick and smooth.
Strain the milk into a clean jug, and gradually pour over the egg mix, continuing to whisk gently.
Pour over the caramel in the soufflé dish. Set this in a larger roasting tin with at least an inch of boiling water. Bake at 175C / 325F / Gas 3 for about 50 minutes to an hour - it should be just barely set, not too firm.
Remove from the oven, and when cool put it in the fridge for several hours. Turn upside down onto a plate, remove dish and serve.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009


Butterflies and bugs - and one bird...

Flies for dinner, anyone?

Spotted this the morning I went out for sunrise photos. Had the wideangle lens on, so this is cropped out from a bigger photo.

We saw this beautiful swallowtail butterfly when we went to try to find some ruins of a Baroque mansion. After several attempts we did find them - but they were so overgrown by trees that they were next to impossible to see. Just as well there was some interesting wildlife so that C didn't feel the detour was a total wild goose chase. He hadn't been impressed by the photo in the guide book.

We saw this on a beach. I haven't been able to identify it yet, not helped by the fact that we only saw the underside of the wings really. They remind me of a Persian carpet...

Monday, 21 September 2009

Out and about

Various photos from the holidays.
The crème caramel turned out well - I'll try to remember to bring the book upstairs tomorrow and post the recipe. On Saturday C had been very suspicious when I described it as a sort of Crème Caramel, and he'd seen the coffee beans infusing. But he didn't notice the coffee flavour at all on Sunday, and only knew it was there this morning because he was looking for it.

This was in the town, loved the colours in the striped curtain. One of the BIG problems with trying to take pictures is the amount of telegraph wires trailing across everywhere. Even up in the hills - if there are houses, there will be wires that you just can't crop out of the picture you want to take.

This was on the walk up to the Venetian fortress (ruined)

Typical terraced olive trees.

Greek Still Life - this was just a little alcove in a wall near a gate, on the way up to the Venetian fortress.

There are whole calendars devoted to Greek cats. They're thinner than ours, and what I think of as Egyptian looking. This one was enjoying the sun and the smell from the skip!

Old cannon in the ruined Venetian fortress above Zakynthos town. It was a steep walk up. Near the top we went through a belt of pine trees, and the sound from the cicadas was almost deafening. A lot of the ground within the fortress walls was also wooded, but it wasn't as noisy. Rather, it was very peaceful and quiet; the carpet of dead pine needles was so soft underfoot. There were quite a lot of ruined little churches, an old Venetian prison, old British barracks and sports ground, German fortifications from WW2 - and fire hydrants everywhere you looked. It must be a real fire hazard, there were big No Smoking signs as you went in, and just outside we saw two firemen sitting in their car. They were still there when we left, so presumably it was a duty post. There were nothing like the fires we'd been hearing about in Athens, but we did certainly drive through several burnt-out areas, smelling of wet charcoal.

This was just near the old Venetian bridge that I kept trying to get sunset photos of. Hardly anyone tried to take pictures of either these or another beached boat...

This was when we were walking around the marshy area with the bitumen ponds, at Limni Keri. Someone had been clearing, and there was a lot of dead reeds, grasses and bougainvillea lying on the ground.

Saturday, 19 September 2009


We were all set to watch the next instalment of The Beiderbecke Tapes as light entertainment last night. And the DVD player wouldn't work. Bit of thinking, and maybe my 30 day trial of the nVidia decoder for using with Windows Media Player had expired. So I tried loading my old DVD program - no joy. Ten o'clock last night, and I was still getting nowhere, even after paying to download a PowerDVD decoder. Frustration all round. Things are partially working today - but I want my money back if CyberLink's tech support can't deal with what seems to be a common fault. They suggest I update my graphics drivers - well, I had enough cop to do that before I contacted them.
Anway, today was spent mostly in the kitchen. We have a Tanzanian friend coming tomorrow before she heads back home for good. I was going to make a tagine, but there was no fresh coriander in the local greengrocers, and he wasn't going to be getting any in till after lunch. I hoped to be finished in the kitchen by then, so we're having a curry instead. It's called Beef with Cashew Nuts, but really I think it's a case of a Korma by any other name, with a bit more cardamom than normal. For dessert I'm trying a creme caramel with a difference: the milk and cream were infused for a while with coffee beans and a cinnamon stick. It smelled almost like toasted coconut, for some strange reason. I also made a batch of brownies, and right now it's time to go and cut them, ready for afternoon coffee.

Just two Greek photos today - a beer bottle on the old disused salt flats, and an old Venetian bridge. I think the name translates as five arches. Five something or other; I recognise the five, and am guessing the arches. These were both on the east coast. The salt flats were amazing, very photogenic in an abstract way. Swirls, and cracked ground, and red and white texture. I don't know if the red was just from the soil - not the colour of the rest of the earth in that particular area, or from iron salts somewhere reacting with all the salt.

Friday, 18 September 2009

Still on holidays...

...I wish. Mind you, work was cancelled yesterday, and when it's cancelled at short notice we still get paid. I was just about to sign in when I heard my phone beep, so I promptly headed home again.
These photos are all from the south of the island. I've included a rare one of me. The biggest problem with the dirt-bike (for me - having to to kickstart it all the time was getting to C after a few days) was that there was no storage space, so I had to carry a backpack all the time. Next time I'll remember to pack a bungee cord or two.
The first two photos are both of Marathonissi Island - also known as Turtle Island, for obvious reasons. It is, actually, also one of the beaches that the loggerhead turtles nest on. The following two pictures are another turtle-nesting beach, Gerakas, at the southern end of the island. It has amazing rock structures, clay and red rock. The turtle beaches are lovely beaches to visit - they are all in a National Marine Park area. Because of the nests, people have to stay within 3 metres of the sea, and also any known nests which are marked with little wooden cages. There are also no water sports - beyond pedalos and little canoes - and people have to leave by sun-down. This was our favourite of all the 12 beaches/swimming sites we visited. Even though it was at the end of a pretty windy road with a LOT of hairpin bends over gorges (dry now, but rivers in winter) we went three times.

This is Agios Sostis - no turtles here. The sand was rock hard, the sea stayed shallow for as far as I swam out, and was so warm it was like swimming in a tepid bath. There was a little islet off it which had been formed in an earthquake in the 17th century. But since there was a €4 admission charge to see it, including a *free* drink in one of the two bars, we passed up on the experience. And having seen it from the far side on the morning we hired a motorboat, I don't think we missed a lot. We could see the clay formation in this picture as soon as we came over the crest of the hill above the port.
The next photo is Limni Keri port and village, seen from a headland above it. There is a large marshland area behind it, where there are some natural bitumen ponds. It's so overgrown with rushes and long grasses that we couldn't see them, but my goodness, we could most certainly smell them. And the last photo is nothing special, it was taken at Keri headland, and I've only stuck it in because I am in it :D. The whole headland was lovely, heavily wooded with some type of light-green pine, and smelling just heavenly.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Sunrises and sunsets...

Sunsets were easy. The only problem was that the old bridge, which features in a sunrise photo, was VERY popular at sunset. We'd go down, and there would be two people already there, one posing on the bridge left right and centre, one taking photos, and then changing over. Sometimes with just a mobile phone camera...that's fine, they're entitled to it... but sunset doesn't last long. After we'd tried for four nights, I gave up and went for sunrise instead. This isn't the best photo of the bridge, but it does show the sunrise. I'll throw in a night photo of the bridge, too. In fact, even in the morning a group of lads arrived for a photo shoot. It took them all of three minutes at the most - they hopped up, took one photo and walked on.
I don't know how these photos will look - I edited them all last night to look as I remembered, and then when I tried uploading a couple for the SCS photo challenge, they looked too dark. Thanks, Elisa, for letting me know it's not just me who has this problem!
So here's hoping...
The first three are sunrise. Which was about quarter past seven, so not too early, and the clouds on the horizon slowed it down a bit too. There were several people raking their parts of the beach, getting ready to put out the loungers for the day. And even a couple of people swimming. It was so peaceful and tranquil, I really enjoyed being out that early. Plus, no need for suntan lotion!!

This was taken from our balcony. I am glad we were in a hotel a bit over the town, even if it was an uphill walk. It gave us beautiful views over the sea from the balcony, and over some rural inland parts from the back door. One evening there was a storm over the mainland. It was so far we couldn't even hear the thunder, but we could see the lightning - sometimes just an orange glow round the clouds, and sometimes real forks flashing across the sky.
One sunset was taken on the beach. One was from a taverna on the hill above us - an even steeper walk. We did go up on the motorbike for dinner, but we'd walked up a couple of times. The views were wonderful - unfortunately it was probably the least nice of all the meals we had, so we didn't go back.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

North Zakynthos

All these photos were taken up in the north of the island. The little lighthouse at Cape Skinari is pretty much the northern tip, and the yacht was taken just below it. The two windmills were just slightly to the east, a few hundred metres. If I was understanding the Greek signs correctly, the house one may have been available for renting. I'd have loved to see inside it, but I'm not sure if I would want to stay somewhere that had so many tourists looking at it! We climbed down a lot of very steep steps and swam at the bottom of the cliff. I think that was where C became addicted to snorkelling...I am too short-sighted to see the fish well unless they're near the surface, so I did better in shallower waters.
The shipwreck is often described as one of the iconic views on Zakynthos, although it's only been there since the early eighties. The story is that it was being used to smuggle cigarettes, and ran aground in the cove in stormy weather. The cove is only accessible by sea, and it is even more beautiful than it looks in the photos. C was rhapsodizing about it. In fact, he had to take some of the photos - I climbed down a long way, and then it just got too steep and sheer. Wish I hadn't lost my head for heights! The sheer cliff in the first photo is the left side of the cove. There were some beautiful butterflies, almost impossible to take photos of. For sure we saw some Scarce Swallowtails. I don't know what this little one that landed on my toe was - and of course I had the wide-angle lens on the camera at the time, for all the panoramic views. A visit to a good butterfly site is called for, as there are still two or three I am trying to identify. It amazed me how far out over the sea they flew - you could be swimming a long way out and still see them, and the morning we hired a boat I saw one a long way out.
More to follow...

This last photo was taken on the way back from the lighthouse. I thought I'd spotted the umbrella hanging by the door on our way, and asked C to stop on the way back. Unfortunately neither the scooter nor the dirt-bike that we hired were very good at starting. At least with the dirt-bike there was always a kick-start option, but it meant I was a bit slower than normal to ask him to stop for photos.