Saturday, 31 December 2011

New Year, old photos

Wishing everybody a happy, healthy and peaceful year for 2012.
One of my holiday projects has been scanning some old slides for my dad and transferring them to CD. It's amazing how many things are familiar - there are blankets and counterpanes I remember, and there's even a skirt my mother is wearing in one of them that I remember wearing myself at one stage! Those old tweeds certainly lasted and lasted...

We've had a lovely restful week. A large pot of ratatouille provided several meals, and the leftover beef from Christmas Day was enough to make a bobotie and a shepherd's pie to eat plus one of each for the freezer. But the weather has been awful - wet, grey, cold, windy...C has gone to (hopefully) help his friend fix the last major issue on the car, but it started raining a while back and I hope they're not getting too wet!
I'm amazed at how new and fresh the wood looks in the photo with the trailer! I remember it well as we used to love riding in it to the dump to see what we could find to bring home with us, and on summer holidays the crates with the dogs were always packed onto it as well as all our bits and pieces. But I never remember it looking as fresh and pristine as it does in that photo - I guess it was very soon after Dad had made it!

Sunday, 25 December 2011

Happy Christmas

I was feeling lazy on Saturday  and didn't make my usual cinnamon buns for Christmas breakfast.
Instead I made this Moravian Sugar Cake - it's been a while since we've had it.

Moravian Sugar Cake: 2 large or 3 medium sugar cakes

2 medium potatoes
1/3 cup lard
1/3 cup butter
1/3 cup honey
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs
1/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 tblsp dry yeast (I used between 1/2 and 1/2 an ounce fresh)
1/2 tsp sugar or honey
approx 6 1/2 cups flour

For topping: butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, cream.
Cook the potatoes till soft, reserve 1 cup of the water and mash the potatoes.
In a small pan heat the reserved potato water with the butter and lard till they are melted. Add the honey, salt, and mashed potatoes and mix well. Cool to lukewarm.
While cooling, activate the yeast in the 1/4 cup warm water with sugar or honey. You can do this in a large mixing bowl ready for the next step.
Add the eggs and potato mix to the yeast. Add 2 1/2 cups of flour and beat for about two minutes with an electric mixer.
Gradually add more flour as needed till you have a soft elastic dough.
Turn into a buttered bowl, cover and leave to rise.
Knock the dough down, turn onto a floured board and knead lightly. Cover and leave to rise for about 10 minutes.
Butter shallow baking pans.
Pat or roll the dough out to fit - it should not be more than 1/2" thick. Brush the top with melted butter.
Cover and leave to rise till almost doubled in size.
With your thumb, punch little indentations over the surface of the dough and fill with dots of butter.
Sprinkle lightly with cinnamon and liberally with brown sugar, and then dribble heavy cream over it.
Bake in a preheated oven 400F / 200C for about 15-20 minutes till golden brown.
Serve warm.
To freeze, wrap tightly in foil. When ready to use, heat in  a moderate oven still wrapped in the foil.

This comes from The Bread Book: A Baker's Almanac  by Ellen Foscue Johnson.

Friday, 23 December 2011

Alternative transport for Santa!

C had a half day today, so I walked into town after work and we met for lunch in a little Indian deli which came recommended by a work colleague who is half-Indian and knows what he's talking about. Certainly the food was lovely, and there are more things we'd like to go back and try some time. I will say, though, that C's "Indian Fanta" as opposed to Irish Fanta was a rather lurid orange, although he reckoned it tasted much better.

 Anyway, on the way to meet him I stopped to watch a cormorant flying up the river, and then spotted Santa and an elf in what looks quite like a currach. It's obvious that they're not used to rowing, though,  and they certainly weren't going at any pace. We're used to seeing far more expert rowers racing along further up-river where all the rowing clubs are.

Monday, 19 December 2011

New garden visitor

I was so excited this afternoon to spot a new bird on the nyger seed feeder. I've been clearing a lot of chaff of it, and was hoping that meant that goldfinches were coming regularly even if I hadn't got to see them. Then I spotted some chaffinches also enjoying it. But this afternoon I saw a redpoll - a first for me. Not great photos, because it was a very grey and overcast day and I had to take the photos through the window in case I frightened him away. But now I know I may see him again, I'll be ready with the right lens on the camera and the tripod handy to the back door.

I actually managed to accidentally delete the best photo - I thought I had it locked, but instead it disappeared into thin air. Last time I downloaded data recovery software it came complete with something that my AV flagged up, so I was slightly reluctant to try again. But I can happily endorse this programme:  Pandora Recovery.  I'm glad it occurred to me to go and look on CNET rather than a random Google search, as they normally scan the downloads they offer to ensure they're virus-free.

I got my little redpoll back. According to my book they're about the same size as goldfinches, but he looked smaller to me. Pretty sure it's a male, as the females have a less prominent red patch compared to the male.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Sunset in the Park

We had a fruitless walk through the park this afternoon in the vain hope that we might spot the pannier that C lost off his motorbike last week. He hasn't walked that far since he had to walk home from work in the snow this time last year, and is still suffering. I walked about the same distance on Friday on the same errand but a less scenic walk.
At least we were rewarded with a beautiful sunset as we trekked back to the car cross country...
At the start of the walk I spotted more unusual fungi.

As we started the cross-country bit of our walk back, we spotted lights in some trees. As we got closer we could also see white roses and lots of little tealights in glass jars. As we were taking a closer look, two guys arrived to disassemble it all. Apparently they had been setting the scene for a friend to propose (successfully) to his girlfriend, and now that the coast was clear they'd come to take it all down again. They'd even highlighted the couples initials carved in the tree a year or so previously with a heart-shaped garland of lights. Then they were looking forward to the cigars and beer that they'd been promised in return for their help.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Round and about

This morning I saw a blackbird on the ground picking at a fallen rowan berry. I wished I'd had time to stop and take the camera out - even in the miserable grey windy weather the contrast between the berry and the bright yellow beak was wonderful. But the train service here isn't frequent enough that I could afford to miss the train...
However, I did snap these last week - on another wet, though not so wild, day. The rose is in a garden just up the road. I'd seen the fungi a week previously when they were fresher, and they looked like lovely glossy wood, almost. But it was a day when I'd decided that a camera on top of six library books was just more than I wanted to carry, and by the time I passed that way again they had faded a little from their original beauty.

This is another one I saw on the way to the bus stop one morning  - it almost looked as if it were melting into the ground. I don't remember seeing such a wide variety of fungi in the local area as I have this year.

Did I say that last time we went to the park we saw more deer gathered together in one spot than I think I've ever seen there before?

And they weren't all at a distance either - a small part of the herd was quite close to us.

Monday, 5 December 2011

France - finis

Just a few of the birds from the bird park. I can't actually remember what this first one was called - and I thought I'd taken photos of most of the signs for reference. The flash of green was just beautiful. I feel it was perhaps some type of teal.

 I did see a Night Heron perched in the hedgerow when we were having our boat trip. This one, however, was in the bird park - in the same enclosure as the storks.

We've always just driven past Morlaix on the main road, but as we were early for the ferry we decided to leave the main road at Morlaix and drive up the coast to the tip of the peninsula, and then cut across to Roscoff. We stopped along the quay in Morlaix for a walk. It was a very picturesque town - we'd definitely make a detour and spend more time there again. We missed France's tallest lighthouse, somehow.

We drove on up to Carantec, a tiny village on the north coast, and had another short walk along the cliffs.

Lighthouses reminds me that I never posted this photo from La Rochelle - it was strange to see a lighthouse that far inland. Perhaps it was to guide boats towards the lock gate into the basin, I don't know...

Saturday, 3 December 2011

Park morning

I blew it and accidentally had my camera set for flash colour balance. Luckily all the files are there in RAW and I can convert them, but for the time being I've only done these two. It was a lovely bright sunny morning so we took a quick trip to the park. Lots of deer, and a charity run with bicycles and runners.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Favourite cards for November

No hesitation here - these two are still sitting on the piano.

It looks like a busy month ahead, but I hope to finish the last of my French photos over the weekend. I'm not going to bother with all the bird park ones, but we had a lovely walk along a headland in Brittany on our way to the ferry, as we had some time to spare.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Marais Poitevin

A windmill near Marans. Being off-season it wasn't open at the time we were passing, but it does still operate (primarily as a tourist attraction) and produces flour which I would definitely have bought to try if it had been open. The sails are wooden slats which fan out - I think you can see in the second photo. And the weather vane is a hen and chicken.

Photos from our boat trip along the canals in the Marais. As posted in an earlier post (the one with the storks video): according to Wikipedia it covers about 970 square km , and according to our guide there are about 6000km of man-made drainage canals, as well as some natural ones. This work was started during the reign of Henri IV (1553 - 1610), who called in the Dutch experts, (just as the English did  with the Norfolk fens in the early 17th century). We saw a lot of wild hops and teasels, there was also a lot of willow, ash, birch, alder and hazel. In the old days, according to our guide, they used to transport cattle from field to field on flat-bottomed "barges".  I saw a night heron perched in some bushes, and a quick glimpse of a kingfisher. You can pre-book dawn or dusk boat trips which would probably be much more fruitful in terms of wildlife spotting. Introduced animals include the coypu - we saw their holes in a bank, but not any out and about.

The tiles on the roof of this little hut are typical of the region. They're made from local clay - at intervals along some of the canals you could see excavated areas at the edge where the clay had been quarried. Our guide could remember either his grandfather or father (I should have made a note, as at this stage I can't remember!) working in the clay pits. My recollection is that the guide told us the tiles were called dames (ladies) because originally they were shaped over the thigh, but quick research hasn't yet confirmed this.


Wild hops

We really enjoyed our boat trip - it was shaded enough that we enjoyed the sun without getting burnt, it was very peaceful and there were no flies. We'd certainly do it again if we're back in the area, although having had a guide this time and learnt about the area we'd probably hire our own boat next time. The poling certainly doesn't look as arduous as rowing, although I am sure there's a knack to be learnt before being able to do it smoothly and evenly.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Sunny Park Day

I was on a day off today and it was a beautiful sunny day with blue skies. Still can't drive the car, waiting for circuit diagrams and so on...but I hopped on the bus and went for a walk.

The American Wood Duck has been so hard to get a good photo of in the water - I think because its plumage is so dark - but on land I managed to get some much better ones.

I saw a lot of rippling in the water at one end of the lake and spotted a little rat swimming along. I don't know if we have water rats or if it was just a regular one, and he's so small in the photo that it would be hard to tell. I was looking to see what caused the ripples in case it was the terrapin I saw a while back.

In Farmleigh I saw a little bluetit feeding from the base of a tree - shooting into the sun, so the photos aren't the best. Makes a change from seeing them on the feeders here, though.

Lots of toadstools around - this one was lovely:

Plenty of holly berries too. I was intrigued by this little sapling which must have rooted from a berry a bird dropped into the cleft in the tree trunk.