Monday, 27 September 2010

Views from the Beach

Goodness, it already hardly feels as if we'd been away. Boiler problems today, and when we went through our mail we discovered that C's insurance company had NOT transferred his motorbike insurance from one bike to another as requested, and in spite of the fact that he'd emailed them all the info they were requesting, they had just re-issued insurance on the same bike. Lucky he didn't have an accident during the week he was riding the new one, assuming they had done their job properly...
We did have a very lazy and relaxing two weeks; we were three minutes from the beach and spent most of our time either on the beach or in the sea. One of these photos is the view if you looked left as you were swimming, with the older part of the village, castle on the hill, lighthouse and two piers. The other is the view to the right - a couple of villages and just ranges of mountains in monochrome. The water was very salty which made floating easy; a lot of local people would come and just gently drift, chatting away. With their sun-hats, it looked rather like a whole load of buoys bobbing in the water.

The other photo is from one of our longer walks around the curve of the bay. As well as all the sailing holiday ships and larger cruisers it was a real working port with a lot of small fishing ships. So one afternoon we watched as something like 12 yachts from one group tried to find space to moor on the far pier, and another afternoon we watched as a fisherman prepared his octopus for sale on the stones at the back of the nearer pier.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Butterflies Can Fly Away

And so can we...
This butterfly was on the roof of one of the derelict greenhouses in Birr - I really liked the texture of the painted glass underneath.

A couple of butterfly/dragonfly cards from the MMTPT challenge this week.

By the time this posts we should be in Athens, with time for a bit of sightseeing before we get the bus to where we're staying. I've had two bad dreams about leaving the keys for the apartment here, so they are already safely packed in my handbag along with passports and boarding cards. I just have to remember that if I have another dream tonight.

Do you remember I knit my nephew a little hooded jacket for his birthday. My brother just recently sent me this photo, although from the ones my sister showed me when she was here, he's grown quite a lot since this one was taken.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Birr Miscellany

Since we leave on holidays at the weekend I'd better finish off with my Birr photos. I mentioned the carpet of colchicum, so here a couple of photos of that. I'd seen it from the near side of the river, and as I thought I still had half an hour till C would be ready for lunch, I crossed the river to get nearer. And then he rang and said he'd be at the café for lunch in 5 minutes and he didn't have very long as the meeting still wasn't over. So I went back after lunch to get some better, less rushed photos.

A lovely sculpture made from oak, commemorating the completed restoration of the Millennium Gardens, which include the hornbeam cloisters.

Derelict greenhouses

By one of the rivers

Another riverside path

Do you remember this ? I left it longer than I should have to strain it, it should only have been a few weeks. But I strained it recently - first through a strainer, then through muslin, then through coffee filters. Even after all that it still as some sediment, but it smells heavenly,  like essence of Christmas cooking - mincemeat, plum-puddings, all those lovely spicy treats. My sister tried it as an aperitif when they were here over the weekend, and enjoyed it.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Little Boxes...

...makes me think of the Pete Seeger song, but these are not at all ticky tacky, just very rich and chocolatey. I made an easy dinner for my sister, and put more effort into a prepare-ahead dessert. These used to be my dessert of choice on my birthday when I was growing up, although Mum used to make them with After Eights. In hindsight I wonder how on earth we managed to eat them - they would have been bigger, and these days I couldn't eat more than two After Eights in a sitting, never mind the cake and chocolate cream. And as my sister pointed out, she's sure we didn't used to have chopped pistachio either, just birthday candles.
The recipe comes from an old Family Circle Christmas magazine dating back, I think, to the early sixties. At least, we presume that Mum brought it with her when she moved here from Canada - she'd certainly never have got it here back then. I can remember doing some of the crafts from it, too. There are lovely string balls made by dipping coloured yarns in starch and wrapping them round balloons. Then when the starch is set, you burst the balloon and are left with a lovely lacy balloon shape. I remember we made those one Easter...

Saint-Honoré Chocolate Creams (Saint Honoré is the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs)
12 servings

Boxes:  4 squares unsweetened chocolate, 1 6 0z package semi-sweet chocolate pieces and 2 tblsp butter. (Given that we STILL can't get unsweetened (as in Bakers) chocolate here in the year 2010, no wonder my mother opted for After Eights back in the seventies!!)
Combine these ingredients and heat gently over hot water till melted. Line a cookie sheet with tin foil and spread the chocolate into a 13"x10" rectangle. When cool but not totally set, mark into 1 1/2" squares and then leave for several hours till set firm.

Filling: 1/2 cup butter, 3/4 cup sugar, 1 square unsweetened chocolate melted and cooled, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 eggs.
3 slices pound cake cut 3/4" thick.
Finely chopped pistachios.

For the filling, cream the butter till soft, and then add the sugar very slowly (take about 10 minutes) beating continuously. Mix in the cooled chocolate and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating for 4 or 5 minutes after each addition. Chill till firm. Although it starts out slightly granular because of the sugar, in the end it is ultra-smooth and rich and creamy. And I suppose not to be made if you think your local eggs might be contaminated with salmonella.

To assemble: cut 12 strips of double-thickness tin foil 1" high by about 7" long. Make a cardboard form 1 1/2" square and using paper clips to hold it, form the foil into square collars. Put on a board.
Cut the cake into squares a bit smaller than 1 3/4 inch, so that when you fit the chocolate around them, it will fit. Put a square of cake into each foil collar, and then carefully slip in the chocolate squares. Fill generously with the chocolate cream and sprinkle with nuts. Chill till serving time. To serve, unclip the paper-fasteners and remove the collars.

I went the whole hog and tried making a pound cake as I didn't think I'd ever made one before (well, I made a half-pound cake, as I didn't want too much left over), but I think if I make these again I'd make something lighter like a Genoese sponge.
We ate six on the night, my sister took a couple home in a doggy bag and we'll finish them off tomorrow.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Birr - Hornbeam Cloisters

If I had to choose a favourite part of Birr, which would be an almost impossible task, this part of the garden might  just be it. For years I had a couple of enlarged photos hanging on the wall. There are old weathered statues at the ends of two of the alleys, with rambling old roses growing around them. Since it was far too late for the roses, I've opted for a photo looking in the opposite direction with a ladder at the end. This time round the cloisters weren't the usual haven of peace, as they were being trimmed for the winter. So when I went around in the morning, the gardeners were on their break and they had the radio on, and when I went back in the afternoon there was a duet of hedge-trimmers. But it's still a place that always fascinates me, even with that noise going on! It was grey in the morning, lovely and sunny in the afternoon. I'd love to see it in the winter when it's more bare and skeletal. But then, I am just assuming that hornbeam is deciduous.
p.s. - that big dragonfly was a Brown Hawker -

I have a sudden horrendous attack of hay-fever caused by I don't know what; I am itchy and scratchy, my eyes are itchy and scratchy, my throat is itchy and scratchy. I brought in the last of my Stargazer lilies, but I didn't react like this to any of the others. Off to bed, hoping that it's better tomorrow as we are expecting my sister and her husband round.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Feeding Frenzy

We take an unscheduled break from Birr to bring you these action photos of the sparrows. I derive a lot of entertainment from watching them, they're such an unruly, scruffy little gang. You'd think they might come to the feeder in smaller groups, but they often arrive in a whole flock of around a dozen or so, and they're not all the same age so I think they might be two or three different broods. One or two fly in, and then a couple more, and then it's a case of the gang's all here. And goodness, do they fight - and make so much noise. There's only room for two on the feeder,  because I don't fill it above the first two hoppers, and then a couple can also go on the peanut feeder - which is why you'd think they'd make solo forays, but they must be a very gregarious bunch. With all the fighting and squabbling it's no wonder I am forever picking up a few feathers each morning when I go out to put some seed. I had to take these through the back door, so they are slightly less sharp than I would like, but it always amazes me what I see in a frozen fraction of a second that I don't see when I am watching with the naked eye.

The little one at the bottom is the youngest, and a smart cookie. He perches there till there's a free space on the perch and then hops in - no fighting and flapping for him!


Thursday, 2 September 2010

Birr - Wildlife

I have never seen so many of these butterflies all in one place - Brimstones, I think.
On the agapanthus they had to thrust themselves right up into the flowers to get at the nectar, whereas on the more open flowers they could just land - if you look, you should be able to see the proboscis of the one on the pink flowers. Even in flight when they were coming in to land on those flowers, the proboscis was out and ready - but the photo is blurred.

No dainty butterfly this - that body and legs are positively chunky!

One super-size dragonfly - haven't had time to check out my wildlife book yet. The first time I saw one flit across the lake I thought it was a small bird, and when I finally got to see one at rest after a long time stalking them and waiting, I'd say the body could have been 3 inches long.

He's pretty well camouflaged, but in one part where there was a little swampy stream with reeds and grasses, there were a whole flock of blue tits flitting around. Delightful to watch. (And with any luck, soon C is going to decide to get me a tele-converter for my lens!). I just wish I was better at remembering bird calls - while I was watching them there was something in a bush behind me making a funny almost hissing sound. But while I am good on music and can generally pick out the right chords for a song after hearing it a few times, I just can't get to grips with bird calls.

Swallows on the wire in the car park. When we arrived the lines were full of birds, which C thought were swallows but I thought were swifts or martens. As we were a bit later than we would have liked, he didn't have time to check through his spotting scope, he had to head straight to his meeting. But on comparing the photos I took then with the ones I took when we were leaving, I still maintain the ones in the morning didn't have those long forked tails.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Birr - quick snaps

I am glad I pushed myself a bit to go for the trip to Birr today, it was such a lovely day weatherwise, and lovely to see the gardens coming into their autumn colour.
Top memories with no photos -  the yellow flash of a grey wagtail flying down the river, two ducks swimming through the weeds and snapping at flies, the most ginormous dragonflies I have ever seen - still working on identifying them, the swallows flying over the lake...
Just a couple of photos till I get more sorted out. I gave myself another push and took almost all my photos on manual, and was pleased with how they turned out.