Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Travel Europe

The technique challenge on SCS yesterday was the Van Gogh technique. There were quite a lot of sunflowers out - and they reminded me of this photo from France, 1995 or 96. We took the car over, stayed with friends, camped, and then went back and picked F up to bring her back home with more luggage than she could normally carry when she flew. It was a lovely holiday...this was from the camping part, down in the Loire Valley, somewhere near Angers.

I know it's Christmas, but for lunch today we had Flaounes, which are Easter Cheese Breads from Cyprus. My original recipe called for mozarella, the ones I checked out today called for halloumi, which is much more authentic. But I've tried both, and don't see a significant difference. I can get good mozarella locally, so that's what I go with:
FLAOUNES    makes approximately 12, I halve the amounts.
1 1/2 lb strong white floer
1 sachet yeast (unless you're lucky enough to be able to get fresh easily - I wish!)
1 tsp salt, 2 tsp sugar, 2 tblsp olive oil, lukewarm water to mix.
Make a dough and leave to rise in a warm place till doubled.
Prepare a filling with:
8 oz coarsely grated cheddar cheese
4 oz coarsely grated halloumi or mozarella
1 tblsp plain flour, 1 tblsp or more dried mint, 1 tsp baking powder
4 eggs, lightly beaten.

Mix the cheeses in a bowl, add the eggs and then stir in the flour, baking powder and mint.
Divide the dough into twelve to fourteen pieces, and roll out into 4" circles. Put a generous heaping spoon of the filling into the centre, spread out slightly. You can either gather up the 3 points of the triangle or 4 corners of a square to pinch together at the top, to hold the filling in. I like 4 - it keeps the filling in better for me. Leave to rise again for at least half an hour. Brush with beaten egg, sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake in a hot oven (Gas 8, 220C, 425F) for about 12-15 minutes till golden. I like them warm, and I have to admit I like to have butter on the bready bits. But I wouldn't in Greece - their butter isn't so good, and their flour is different and makes lovely bread.

Never been to Cyprus, but here's a little Corfiot house to go with the Greek theme. When we learned Greek, our teacher was from Cyprus; although he'd been in Ireland most of his life, he was still a proud ambassador of all good things Greek.


This is the teapot I chose to use for the MMTPT74 challenge, which I am privilege to be hosting on SCS today while Cindy takes her well-deserved break - but we all hope she's back soon. I can't remember what I was looking for when I found this image on eBay, but I loved it as soon as I saw it, and nearly bought the teapot. Even with international shipping it would have been cheaper than some of the teapots I looked at here, but I just couldn't decide whether it would dribble when it poured, and I left it too long to decide. I still think it looks as if it would probably dribble, though, and one dribbling teapot is enough.

This is my card based on the pot:

A frosty spider's web, a sparrow (I think, hard to tell at that angle - it's quite a finchy beak, but lets say I'm 98% sure it's a sparrow, and what a surprise - our little robin.

Sunday, 27 December 2009

Winter Photos

Sneak Peek for the MMTPT74 challenge:

C says the photo of the heron is my reward for going for a walk in the park with him this morning when I didn't really want to...

The deer picture was taken on Christmas morning.

In a way the park was disappointing then - our local green was much more of a winter wonderland.

But it was fun to see the lake frozen over, and after we heard a bit of clashing of antlers going on, we saw that buck in the photo above give chase to another one - at quite some speed.

Friday, 25 December 2009

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Christmas Eve

and all set for tomorrow to be (another) cold and frosty morning.
All the baking is done, I am just about to make the frosting for my Pumpkin Roll-Up (thanks, Lorraine - it smelled so heavenly baking), the presents are wrapped, C is working on his card for me...so I need to vacate my desk.
Here are some macro photos from the cold and frosty morning today...
The frozen insect in the ice is only about the size of my little fingernail. C saw the photo first, and then I showed him the bowl of ice when he was covering the motorbike - he was surprised to see how small it was.
One plus of the cold weather - no worries about leaving the cinnamon rolls rising overnight in the back porch!

One plus of the cold weather - no worries about leaving the cinnamon rolls rising overnight in the back porch! I'll roll them out tonight after my sister and her husband have left.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Today's birdwatch...

...netted the usual elusive coal tit. I don't know how I am going to get a good picture of him. Even with the tripod, and the camera pre-focused, he just flies onto the feeder and off again so quickly.Also the sparrows, pigeons, a blackbird - I think they are feeling the cold and scavenging more nuts and seed from the ground than they normally would.

This little blue tit was much more cooperative. He's tiny, the fat ball is only about 2 inches diameter.

Temperatures still below freezing - when I went shopping at 9 this morning, I had to get in the passenger side, and even when I got to the shopping centre the lock on the driver side was still frozen. Just so long as it stays dry - black ice is a worry for C on the motorbike.
I know there are so many photos of our little robin - definitely two now - but I loved this one because for a change it also has a more picturesque background.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Two robins!!

The tree is up - my little New Jersey goldfinch is nesting near the top.
I bought the tree on Thursday and left it in the car till C got home - by which time it had rained quite a bit, so I left it in the back overnight to drip dry. Overnight it snowed lightly, so I hung a fat-ball up for the birds. The little robin looks so puffed up, he must be feeling the cold. Today I was delighted to see that I had not one but two robins - it was worth sitting in the cold back porch with the door open for a while just to watch them. One of them is our regular, happy to fly down for mealworms when I whistle. The other is new on the scene - and since I know robins are quite territorial, I wonder are they a pair, or at least a potential pair.I heard my little one singing to the newcomer, who didn't fly down for worms at all, sticking to the feeder and the fat-ball. Along with the great tit - and briefly both the coal and blue.
There was an article in today's Irish Times - in the print version the rather misleading title was "Robins at the top of the pecking order". As far as I can make out, what they really meant was that robins were the most commonly seen bird in Irish gardens this year. Certainly when it came to pecking order on the fat-ball, the great tit won hands down.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Still baking...not that we were quite ready for the mince pies yet, there are still four slices of Baklava left. But after C brought the peanut butter cookies into the print room in work, one of the guys there wondered would they be getting mince pies this year. As it happened, today is my first day of holidays, and as well as buying the tree, I had been contemplating making mince pies. I need to make some fresh mincemeat, but still had enough left from last year to make a couple of batches.
This is the recipe I use:
2 cups suet
3 cups coarsely grated cooking apples
1 cup apple jelly
2 pts grape juice or cider
1 pt peach jam
3 cups brown sugar
2 lb raisins
1 lb currants
1 tsp salt
1 tblsp cinnamon
½ tsp nutmeg and ½ tsp cloves
Grated rind and juice of 2 oranges & 2 lemons
To be honest, I use any jellies and jams that need using up. When we first got married, C told me he loved apple jelly jam. My parents were still living in the house I grew up in, with plenty of apple trees, so I made jars and jars of apple jelly. Turned out it was actually crabapple jelly that C loved so much, so I had apple jelly in my mincemeat for years. The recipe comes from a Canadian Heritage collection published by Chatelaine Institute. I add brandy, and it will keep for at least a year in an airtight jar.
Disclaimer - my mince pies are not things of beauty, because I think there should be lots of mincemeat in them, but then it overflows. I vary the pastry I use according to mood. Rarely is it flaky, though - because it puffs up too much and you can't use a lot of filling.

This photo is more or less the same view as the one I took last week for the SCS sparkle, shimmer and shine challenge. Same time of day, a week later. Not an ounce of sparkle or shine, just cloud and rain...but lots of great reflections in the river.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Busy in the Kitchen

The print-room in C's work have bound 3 photo-calendars that C made. Well, so far they've bound the one that headed off to Australia - the other two will be going in on Monday. So I wanted to send in some biscuits as a thank-you, and also my Secret Santa likes cookies...this morning I made a big double batch of peanut-butter cookies and some Baklava for our weekend treat. I also made a big pot of lamb curry, a beef and Guinness stew to have when an Italian friend visits on Tuesday, and a beef and vegetable casserole. I don't anticipate having a lot of cooking to do this week!
I was out in the garden - I've been seeing this fading beauty of a poppy out of the corner of my eye, but in the bright sunshine this morning it was worth going over for a second look, and then getting the camera. I was tidying up my memory cards from the camera, copying everything over to the PC - quite startled to see how few pictures I took in November. I suppose we didn't have the weather.

A book to read: Bright Earth:The Invention of Colour by Philip Ball. I read it some years back, and for the last while it's been on my bedside waiting to read again. He starts with the early cave-painters, through the Greeks with their basic colour palette and right up to the modern day. It's seeing all the rich nativity blues and reds at the moment that has reminded me of it; as the most expensive pigments in the Middle Ages, they were used sparingly, and only when painting special characters. He writes about the early age of synthetic colours, when nobody realised how fugitive some colours were, so that artists would be surprised to see what their paintings now look like. Certainly I remember that when I worked in the fine-art supplies field, permanence was still the Holy Grail for some colours. I remember too that artist's quality ultramarine was unavailable for some time, because it used Lapis Lazuli, and it was, back then, in short supply because of the war (with the Russians) in Afghanistan, where most of it came from.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Birds and more birds

On Monday I linked to Lorraine's beautiful bird ornaments. Well - the most wonderful package was waiting for me at the post office today, including this lovely goldfinch, which will be a treasured decoration for the Christmas tree for years to come. I am amazed at the detail, right down to a catchlight in the eye. I guess I have to add goldfinches to my growing list of birds that are different in the States and here, even though they have the same name. Hmmm, what was that I was reading only this morning in Colin Tudge's The Secret Life of Birds about the Linnaean system making identification easy even internationally.
Thank you, Lorraine - for everything in that lovely parcel.

Lovely sunny day, so a few bird photos. I don't like magpies, but there's no denying that they are quite beautiful birds. The little coaltit - not the best of photos. And yet another robin, but I like this one because it shows the two little fluffy white stripes. I don't know if that's part of his juvenile foliage, I don't ever remember noticing it on robins before.

The SCS photo challenge this week was sparkle, shimmer and shine. Our tree won't be going up for at least another week, but this morning I was struck by how the strong low sunshine was reflecting off all the glass in the building and reflecting on the Liffey.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Old Tree Decoration...

I was searching my hard drive today for a photo from a commercial package. Didn't find it, but I found this photo of one of the little snowmen I made our very first Christmas together. We didn't have a lot of money - C lost his job 5 months after we got married, and it was a pretty bleak time back then as far as the job market went - plus ca change!! This is the first year for a long time that Ireland has had net emigration figures again. Anyway, we did get a little tree, and I knit about a dozen snowmen to help fill some of the gaps. Some of them had knitted scarves, and some were scraps from the scrap-box. (This particular scrap was from a trouser-pocket lining, and there's one with a lovely silky red and black scarf. One knitted one was wool from a sweater that I knit 3 times for my brother. The first time I knit it in real Icelandic wool and Mum shrunk it in the washing machine. The second one, same colours only mohair, he got caught in a lathe in college and it mangled it. The third one I knit in the same colours again with really cheap wool from the pound shop - and he wore it for years!) The snowmen still come out every year, in spite of the fact that they are a reminder of a difficult time.

Monday, 7 December 2009

New Tree Decoration

I had to smile when I saw Lorraine's post this morning with her lovely bird decorations. On my to-do list today was to take a photo of the lovely little Venetian glass ornament I got at the Craft Fair in the RDS last week. Time was when all the crafts were Irish - not true any longer. I went on Wednesday with someone from work, but didn't get to see all the stands. So when C came home on Wednesday night with two free tickets for either Thursday or Friday - well, there wasn't much deciding to do. I'd seen the Venetian stand on Wednesday and had been admiring the beads. I have some antique Venetian glass beads which I wear quite a lot - these modern ones were much glitzier, but lovely. There were a lot of masks too - very pretty but not my style. On Wednesday the stand was so crowded I never saw the tree decorations, so I was delighted on Friday to find that as well as the less nice Santas, they had just one little boy ornament left. I like getting a special ornament each year - but only if it's something I really like, not anything for the sake of something. This little guy will look much better on the tree than hanging from my Anglepoise.

We had a power cut just a few minutes after C got home. It's the second one in just over a week, and this time my computer did not like it, Thunderbird was acting up in a major way. I'd just got about half a dozen candles lit in the sitting room and hall when the power came back on.

Sunday, 6 December 2009


This morning, when I should have been cooking dinner.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Torrone Molle

I haven't shared a recipe for a while. Someone asked about chocolate biscuit cake being hard to cut recently, and it reminded me of this recipe from Elizabeth David's Italian Cookery which was the chocolate biscuit cake I grew up on. I can remember making it for me brother's birthday when he was maybe 8 or 9. So I made one for the weekend, since we have a friend coming over later on.

Torrone Molle
6 ounces each cocoa, butter, castor sugar, ground almonds, Marietta biscuits. 1 whole egg and 1 yolk.
Beat the butter and cocoa together till it is a soft paste, then stir in the ground almonds. Melt the sugar in a heavy-based pan over low heat with a little water - you're trying to melt it rather than dissolve it. Add to the cocoa mixture. Stir in the the egg and yolk, beating them together first, and then stir in the broken biscuits carefully.
Press into a round tin (about a 20cm diameter, I think) and chill. It is even better the day after you have made it.
According to the recipe this serves 6 people - I think it's more like 10, as it is very rich.
I'm sorry I don't have this in cup measurements - C couldn't believe how much cocoa there was as he watched me sifting it. I had to settle for regular Rich Tea biscuits - time wasn't on my side yesterday, and of the three shops I tried near work, only one of them even had Rich Tea. I am sure it will still taste good.

To go with it, I've made my chicken risotto, loosely based on a recipe from the same book. You take the skin off half a chicken and cut the flesh into thin long strips. Cook a thinly sliced onion in some olive oil and butter over a low heat till soft. Add the chicken, a thinly sliced red pepper and a couple of sliced tomatoes. Stir for a few minutes, then add a cup of white wine. Add enough water to cover everything, herbs to taste (I usually use bay and thyme, as I can pick them fresh from the garden, and peppercorns), cover and simmer over a very low heat for at least an hour. Use the liquid from this, and more water as required, to make risotto in the regular way, adding the chicken and vegetables about a quarter of an hour before the end, to give them time to warm through. For once I even had some white wine handy - often I just use some sherry instead.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Too many buttons...

The photo challenge on SCS this week was Too Many to Count. This is my sewing and knitting button box, so a lot of the buttons have memories attached to them. The ceramic ones with the cat and mice came from Paris; there are some from waistcoats I have made C; there are little pewter ones with a sheep grazing under a tree that came from a jacket of my mothers, and tiny little mother of pearl and brass ones that came from her mother. Big silver ones from my aunt - in need of a polish. A little barrel-shaped one that I loved as a child and used to have more of...a little Misha badge from the year of the Russian Olympics...Snoopy buttons from my one and only visit to the States, and all sorts of oddments.
I need to put a coat and hat on and sit and watch the feeder some sunny day - I see the little coaltit a lot these days, along with the robin and sparrows.