Sunday, 28 February 2010

Wide open vistas

Part of the (Royal) Canal near us is quite narrow; the stretch is known as the Deep Sinking. It runs through an old quarry, and some of it is up to 30 feet below the tow path. It doesn't look wide enough for two boats to pass - I don't know how they used to manage when it was a functioning waterway. We've passed a memorial to an accident in the late 1800s when some people died.
So for us, it's always nice when we walk a bit further than normal, like yesterday, and can enjoy wide open spaces like these, and more sky and sunshine as the paths are wider and less crowded by trees.

Aren't the colours in the photo of the railway maintenance car wonderful! It was worth stopping to switch to a wide-angle lens to capture it. They're working on a new spur off the railway line - when we got the train back, we could see all the concrete ties laid down, waiting for the rails to go on.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

Swan's Way

We had a lovely walk along the canal this morning, as it was bright and sunny when we woke up. Just as well we had a good porridge breakfast, as in the end it was almost a two hour walk - we got the train home.One of the highlights was seeing an otter - we've seen muskrats in France, but neither of us had ever seen an otter before.
It was, indeed, cold last night and a lot of the canal was lightly glazed with ice.



Friday, 26 February 2010

Greens are good for you...

It was a very dull and grey day today. At least the snow was almost all gone. Yesterday when I was waiting for the bus, all the boys waiting for their school bus were busy trying to make snowmen before the bus came.
This morning I did spot these bulbs coming up at the end of the road , and couldn't resist adding some text to the stone slab.
RIP Winter is a vain hope, though - tonight and Sunday are both forecast to have temperatures below freezing.

Tonight we had one of C's favourite dinners - a curried beef and potato stir-fry. We always have it soon after one of his other favourite dinners -Chicken Kebabs with Satay Sauce. I used to be able to buy a lovely commercial Satay Sauce, but since it went off the market I've tried I don't know how many brands, and gave up on all of them. It's fiddly roasting and skinning the nuts to make your own, though.
Anyway, with the chicken kebabs we almost always have this recipe for Stir-Fried Chinese Leaves, from Jane Grigson's Vegetable Book. There are enough Chinese living in the neighbourhood that our local grocer almost always has Chinese Leaves. One large head will make enough for about 3 people.
Stir-Fried Chinese Leaves:
1 large head Chinese Leaves (Chinese cabbage, wong bok)
4 tblsp oil
1 heaped tablespoon finely chopped onion - I usually use one French shallot
1-2 cloves finely chopped garlic
2 slices fresh ginger
1 1/2 tblsp each  sherry and light soy sauce
1 tsp ginger
1/4 chicken stock cube
1 tblsp melted lard, chicken fat or sesame oil (I like the flavour this gives, if it's one with some toasted sesame oil in it, and not just all untoasted)

Shred the leaves.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok. Put in the garlic, onion and ginger and fry for one minute, to flavour the oil.
Put in the Chinese leaves and a good teaspoon of salt, and stir constantly for about 3 minutes, so it's all finely coated with the oil. Add the sherry, soy sauce, sugar and stock cube. (I don't like cubes and don't buy them, but if and when I find jars of a good concentrate, I use a quarter teaspoon of that). Reduce heat and continue stirring and frying for another couple of minutes. If it looks too watery, turn the heat back up. If it's drying out too much, add the least amount of water possible. Just before serving add the fat or oil and season to taste.

Another green leafy stir-fry we are partial to is this Gujerati-style Cabbage with Carrots, from Madhur Jaffrey.We normally have it with curries, but when catering for holiday camps I've served it with boiled ham or bacon.

Gujerati-style Cabbage with Carrots: (4-6 as a side dish)
3/4 lb green cabbage, finely shredded
3/4 lb carrots, peeled and coarsely grated 
1/2 - 1 fresh green chilli, cut into long thin strips
4 tblsp oil
pinch of asafetida (optional - it's not always easy to find)
1 tblsp whole black mustard seeds
1 whole dried red chilli
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp sugar
4 tblsp chopped coriander / cilantro
1 tblsp lemon juice

Heat the oil in a large frying pan or wok. When hot add the asafetida, and then straight away the mustard seeds. When they start popping, add the dried red chilli. Now add the carrots, cabbage and green chilli. Reduce the heat, and stir the vegetables for a minute. Add the salt, sugar and coriander. Continue to stir-fry for another 5 minutes till the vegetables are just tender but not overdone. Add the lemon juice and serve.

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Last pick from the Botanics

 Bench and Flare

Backlit grass (there was a bad case of unwanted flare in this one which I cropped out. There's a fine line between too much sunshine, making for too high contrast and flare, and that light that gives any picture a lift from the dump-it into the keep-it category. Some from Saturday have too high contrast and aren't worth keeping.

Backlit cyclamen (in the Alpine House)

Cropped this photo and cleaned up the line across it to make this card for the MMTPT challenge this week. Printing in on linen-effect paper has washed out the vibrancy of hte colours but gave me the abstract effect I was hoping for.

Shooting up: I always like bracken. It grows pretty much everywhere here, but I have particular memories of the fields behind the cottage in Killybegs, Co. Donegal, which is really the first place I remember from family holidays. The fields were edged with fuchsia hedges, and full of bracken, sheep and the sound of corn-crakes. At least it was something to compete with the smell of the outdoor chemical toilet!! I also remember picking ripe fronds and laying them on paper, to get the pattern from the spores as they fell off - and doing the same with mushrooms, too.
Shooting out: the old Cactus House and the Waterlily House are the last of the Curvilinear range waiting for restoration. Seems like they've been waiting a long time, when the last time they grew the giant Amazonian Waterlily was in 2003.

Monday, 22 February 2010

Bits and Pieces

It was a lovely bright (cold) sunny day today, but I couldn't leave the house as I was expecting a delivery of wine. When we married, C was a white wine only drinker, and it took a long time to get him to be open to red, let alone come to prefer it. Then last summer at my aunt's he had a lovely Italian white. So lovely - to him - that he would happily have bought a whole crate of 12 bottles. I just ordered 7, and made up the dozen with other wines. As we opened the last bottle and he still likes it just as much, it was time to order some more.
Anyway, aside from waiting for the delivery, it was good to catch up with in-depth housework, as the last few weeks have been so busy that usually one thing has got neglected each week for the last month.
I did have to go to the post, and having spotted the ice still remaining from yesterday, nipped out with the camera when I got back from posting all my stuff. It was amazing out in the back garden hearing all the ice falling from the trees - sounding like heavy rain, but with almost nothing to see.


The lace cap is an afterthought for last week's Fabric challenge on SCS, and even the previous one for Delicate.
I'd have to pull out the family tree to work out the connections  of who made it, but the little envelope it was enclosed in reads as follows...
Well help, I appear to have mislaid the envelope, which is similar to the one in the photo. I hope it didn't blow out the window this morning. Going to have go on a hunt for it, I guess... The one in the envelope is just plain fabric with a tiny lace inset in the crown. Anyway, this lacy one was made in Lincolnshire in the early 1800s by some distant family connection.

The catkins are on a tree at the end of the road - I've been noticing them the last few days coming home from work.

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Still in the Botanics

Bridge over Frozen Water

Paradise Chatter - C thought I really didn't need any more photos of Strelitzia, but I liked taking this silhouetted against the windows; they really did make me think of some exotic birds or animals gossiping away.

??? He also thought the last thing in the world I needed was another 20 shots of a robin.

 Open a little wider, please!!

I do have a wooden heart:  this is a bench in a little Sensory garden - full of grasses for sound, a water feature and heavenly scents. This time of year it was the Wintersweet that was dominating.

Saturday, 20 February 2010

First visit of the year to the Botanic Gardens...

...which will keep me supplied with photos to share for a few days. Yesterday the forecast for today was bright and sunny, after a cold night below freezing. We woke up bright and early, to discover that it was NOT bright or sunny, just cold. So cold that I went off to find an extra blanket for the bed till it was time to get up. But by the time I was coming back from getting the paper and vegetables, the blue sky was peeping through, and by the time the brownies were out of the oven, C was happy enough to come along for a trip to the gardens.

Some dead clematis in the fence around the magnolia patch. I think C must have wondered why I took this, as when he saw it on screen he said it was a hundred times better than he was expecting.

One of the few times I actually remembered to stick some nuts in my pocket for the squirrels - and the only squirrel we saw was already being fed by somebody else.

I always love the structure of the Curvilinear range of glasshouses.

This was a tiny little magnolia in a pot in the Australian/S. African zone glasshouse. The tree can't have been much more than a foot or 16 inches tall, and the copper bloom can't even have been as big as my thumb.

And a bud, on the same little magnolia

Thursday, 18 February 2010

Signs of Spring

Some of the flowers from my aunt's garden yesterday.
The heliotrope, however, was taken on the walk up, at the top of Church Lane. When I was a baby, the avenue to the Dower House my parents were renting on a farm belonging to relatives had heliotrope growing all along it. I was only three when we moved to Greystones, so I have almost no memories at all of Belcamp, but I feel the heliotrope must have "imprinted" on me, because I always love it, and will always pick a stem to smell any time I see it.






And no, the teasel isn't exactly a sign of spring - but it's a lot better photo than the ones I took in her garden back in the autumn!

When I was thinking about Greystones now having a half-hourly train service, I remembered how, when growing up, we used to have a *code* for ringing from Bray if we got that far and had aages to wait for the next bus or train - we could ring from the call-box at the train station, and if we let the phone ring three times and then hung up, my mother would know that there was someone waiting at Bray station. It was just 5 miles, so it wasn't too far to come in the car.

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Somewhere over the rainbow...

...away above the chimney tops...
I was out in Greystones today visiting my aunt. It was a cold, sunny day, and her garden was full of signs of spring. Before I got there, though, I took these pictures as I walked up through the village. Not that it's really a village any more, now that it has traffic lights, a half-hourly train service (big advance this year on the previous hourly service) and some very busy parking wardens giving out tickets.






Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Fabric of Life

The photo challenge on SCS this week was Fabric.
Like cooking, I've loved sewing as long as I can remember. I was making little skirts and waistcoats and pinafore dresses by the time I was seven or eight, on my own old Singer machine - even if I did run the needle through my finger the very first time I tried it. It was an old one Dad got from somewhere, and painted blue and white with little flowers on it for me. And up till recently I still sewed a lot; but when C stopped being away overnights it meant tidying up all the time, so it's been a while since I've made much. When I got out some fabrics to pile together for my photo, I realised I really need to do some sewing this summer. For starters I'd like to use that grey, black and white print from Italy to make C another shirt. He had one made from it years ago, and the other half of the fabric was meant to be for me. But he wore his shirt till the cuffs were frayed and it was going at the elbows before he finally let it go, so maybe he deserves the other half of the fabric too.

My other photo is an old linen tablecloth, from my grandmother, maybe older. I use it quite often, despite the fact that it takes AGES to iron, even if I am organised enough to do it while it's still slightly damp. The piece of embroidery sitting on it is also Irish linen. And goodness, it was expensive - I think it was something like £60 a metre, but it's quite wide so I've fitted several embroideries out of it and there's still plenty left.

No photo, but when I was walking to the bus after work today, I saw someone ( a supermarket delivery guy, his van was parked along the quays) throwing pieces of bread into the Liffey. One solitary seagull in sight...and two minutes later they were mobbing the bread as he threw it in. I don't know how they communicate, but I now know that if I want to get some good seagull shots, all I need to do is save up some stale bread and bring it along. There were at least three different types of gull, and it was interesting watching their different flight patterns.

Sunday, 14 February 2010

Developing Photographs

I'd really like to say a big thank-you to those who appreciate my photography. When I started my blog I wasn't sure what way it would take me - as things have turned out, it's more a photo blog than anything else.
There have been a couple of questions about the camera I use, so I thought I'd go back a bit.
When I thought about titling this some way to do with developing, it brought back such vivid memories of watching my dad develop photos when I was little; the glow of the safe-light in his darkroom (the old larder off the back scullery), the smell of the chemicals, the shallow trays and smell of chemicals, the glass rods with rubber stoppers for stirring things around...the magic of seeing the negatives develop and trying to work out what, and who, they were with the inverted colours, and then the even more amazing magic of watching the black and white images emerging from nothing on the paper - first the palest hints of the image, growing stronger until it was time to stop them at just the right point and fix them. That's something that has been lost with digital photography.
I got my very first camera the Christmas I was thirteen, from my half-brother. I think it was some sort of Kodak instant camera, with those flash cubes that you popped on top. I still have some photos from back then, but I was always aware of how expensive they were (that's a big plus for digital!).
My first real camera was a Minolta range-finder, manual focus. Try as  I might I can't remember the year. I am sure it was when I was still living at home, so before I was twenty, but in that case why didn't I have it with me when I was working in the UK? The manual focus didn't work with close-up filters, so I had a little notebook with all the right settings, and a piece of cord with knots in it to mark the different distances.
This photo was taken on my first outing with that camera, at Kilmacurragh gardens. Now they are run by the Office of Public Works and run by the Botanic Gardens, and have been done up enormously. Back then it was a ruined house in a decaying garden with a wonderful sense of being lost in time. As you can see, I always had an eye out for reflections.

(and yes, this is upside down, but that's how I have it hanging on my wall)

My next camera was an Olympus IS-2000 for my 30th birthday, from all the family. My half-brother was working in Riyadh at the time and was able to get it at a good price, but even so it was a munificent present. It was one of Olympus' hybrid cameras, SLR capability but no interchangeable lens, just a built-in zoom.
The cow picture was maybe the second roll of film I took with it, when we took a cruiser on the Shannon for our holidays. Yes, it really was that blue-green colour, it was heading rapidly towards dusk on a sunny June evening.


The two swan pictures were two years later, when I'd acquired a tele-converter to extend the zoom range. Again it was a cruise - this time on the Erne; we were out in the dinghy when I took these.

My first digital camera was an Olympus Camedia, which someone gave me when he was upgrading to something better. Like the IS it was a hybrid, with a built-in fixed zoom,but SLR capabilities. And even then, the peculiar memory card it took was already discontinued and only available on eBay. But it was a wonderful gift to receive, and when the time came to pass it on, I FreeCycled it to someone who had had the same model and knew the vagaries of the battery performance. I could take it to the Botanic Gardens and the batteries would be flat in over an hour, and yet on one trip to Paris the batteries lasted the whole trip.
A photo from my first outing with that camera, May 2007. I loved the macro capability...

Then C gave me an ultra-compact Olympus point and shoot for my handbag, Christmas 08.
When I decided to finally buy my own camera so that at long last I could have interchangeable lenses, I read all the reviews in WHICH Camera Buyer and various magazines.Nikon and Canon always came out tops - but you can see that I've used mostly Olympus cameras (the "family" camera as we grew up was also an Olympus Trip), and I'd always had positive experiences with customer support and getting cameras serviced. So I tried the feel of a Canon in my hand to keep an open mind, but as I liked the feel of the Olympus just as well, and was used to their commands and menu system, that was what I bought. That was back in October 2008, when I bought an Olympus E 520. I mostly use a 40-150mm f4.0-5.6 lens. Because of the sensor size and crop ratio on Olympus' Four Thirds mount, this equates to 80-300mm on a 35mm camera, but my new lens is a faster f2.8-3.5 model.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Staying on Track

Mr UPS man delivered in the afternoon, and oh my - I am going to start saving NOW for an E3 body to go with my groovy new lens. C says it had ought to be groovy - he was the one who got the call from our card-issuing bank to check was it OK to authorise the transaction.
Actually, I wasn't expecting it today. I saw this morning before work it had arrived in Ireland, but when I got home it was still just showing the destination scan, and not as out for delivery. I have been tracking something else too - C used his Christmas money to order a new bigger windscreen for his bike.
The DHL tracking page may have fancy little logos to show you what stage your delivery is at, but with the poorly translated descriptions, it certainly needs the logos. The UPS interface is much cleaner and easier to read.

(The On Track photo is obviously from the snowy weather in January. While there has been some snow on the mountains the last few days, that's as far as it goes)

And how can I not post my first shots with my new lens, too :D.

We are off to visit my brother and his family tomorrow. It's about a three and a half hour drive each way, so it's going to be one long and tiring day, but it will be great to see the family.
And right now I smell that French Onion soup, and I'd better go and dish it up.