Archive for November, 2013

The Queen and Her Swans

Posted on November 14, 2013. Filed under: Great Britain, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , |

Travel - Queen's SwansHere is a swan from my 1985 visit to Scotland’s Loch Ness.  It was a picture perfect event and the guide told us very seriously that the Queen owns all the swans in Great Britain.

I’ve always wondered about this.  Is it true?  If so why?  A little poking around today answered my questions.  The BBC says:

“The annual event (Swan Upping, or the annual count) dates back to the 12th Century when the ownership of all unowned mute swans in Britain was claimed by the Crown in order to ensure a ready supply for banquets and feasts.

Swan Upping now serves a conservational rather than culinary purpose.”

Other sites explained that it is a way to make them protected because many years ago they were hunted to near extinction.  Leave it to the British to make something like legal protection of a species into a fancy royal ownership affair.  I do love the quaintness of this tradition, even though I’m very glad we do not have royalty in the U.S.

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St. Peter’s Dome in Rome

Posted on November 14, 2013. Filed under: Italy, Rome, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , |

Travel - St. Peter's 1

Being claustrophobic I didn’t know how I would do climbing the many steps to the top of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome.  The walls curve in and they actually become narrower as you go!  I had to try, though, how often does one get to Rome?

Travel - St. Peter's 2

What most amazed us was the coffee shop on the roof where we enjoyed an espresso!  Everything at St. Peter’s is enormous, so we shouldn’t have been surprised by an entire coffee shop on the roof or the fact that the roof we walked on seemed like a street complete with buildings of its own.

The view is magnificent owing to the ordinance that no building in Rome can be higher than the Vatican dome.  It was a very blue sky and perfect day for the climb.

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An Alien in the Garden!

Posted on November 12, 2013. Filed under: Just Fun | Tags: , , , |

Alien 2

This concrete dog in the garden is not so sure about the alien’s laying of hands.  My thrift store alien thought he would try some mind control here but he’s not too smart.  It just looks like a dog, but it is solid concrete.  Hmmm…these humans are complicated.

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Wheatless Apple Cake

Posted on November 11, 2013. Filed under: Food Made Simple, Health | Tags: , , , , , , , |

Food - Apple Cake 3This is a great time of year for apples.  I came into a free bushel of very small, somewhat wormy, but organic apples.  After cleaning some up I adapted this recipe I found at a blog called Buttered Up.  I include the original ingredients and then my changes in parenthesis.   This was a nice way to go without using wheat which is still what I’m trying to do.  Almond flour is too heavy/sticky to use all by itself, but it was great to include here as it made the batter heavier so it sunk under the apples and created almost a dense crust there.  I know spelt is an ancient version of wheat, but remember, I’m not trying to be gluten-free, just modern wheat-free.  I will say this was delicious especially with a dollop of vanilla ice cream on top.  My plan is to make coconut milk ice cream today for the leftovers.

Wheatless Apple Cake

½ cup spelt flour
¼ cup (almond flour)
¾ teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
4 large apples (+1/4 C. buckwheat honey and 1 T. cinnamon mixed in as I was chopping)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar (1/2 C. buckwheat honey)
3 tablespoons dark rum (or light rum which worked fine since I had the dark honey)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup (1 stick) butter, salted or unsalted, melted and cooled to room temperature (or ½ C. melted coconut oil)

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC) and adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven. Heavily butter an 8- or 9-inch (20-23cm) springform pan and place it on a baking sheet.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder, and salt.

3. Peel and core the apples, then chop into pieces. Food - Apple Cake 1

4. In a large bowl, beat the eggs until foamy then whisk in the sugar, then rum and vanilla. Whisk in half of the flour mixture, then gently stir in half of the melted butter.

5. Stir in the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining butter.

6. Fold in the apple pieces until they’re well-coated with the batter and scrape them into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Food - Apple Cake 2

7. Bake the cake for 50 minute to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then run a knife around the edge to loosen the cake from the pan and carefully remove the sides of the cake pan, making sure no apples are stuck to it.

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Marie Antoinette’s Play Village

Posted on November 10, 2013. Filed under: France, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , |

Travel - Marie Antionette

Marie Antoinette had a small village built on the grounds of the palace at Versailles in 1783 where she could enjoy the “charms of country life” as explained by the Versailles website.  This small village allowed her to escape the pressures of court life as she could pretend to be an average maiden in the country.  I wonder if it fueled the hatred for her by the common people who came to see the royals not as benevolent leaders, but as rulers who exploited them and indulged in decadence.

I also wonder why the buildings seem to be crumbling badly.  I first saw them in 1985 and even then visitors could not enter the structures.  Looking through the windows it was interesting to see them in their unrestored state, just a mess.  The mind pictures the elegant queen and her ladies-in-waiting strolling about the marble floors, balconies and spiral staircases.

I went back in 2010, expecting that by then there had probably been restoration and maybe it would even be possible to enter the buildings.  But no, they looked to be in much worse shape than when I had last seen them.  I even checked my photos from 1985 to confirm my suspicions.  After a little checking I see that the main building, the Queen’s House will begin restoration in 2014.  Perhaps enough funds have finally been raised (it seems Dior has pitched in financially).  I’m glad because the hamlet represents an interesting time in France’s history.  It’s also just darned cute and I’d like to see them preserved!  I think this may warrant another visit in 2016, perhaps, as the project is expected to take 18 months.  I always like having an excuse to travel!

The Queen's House

The Queen’s House

Travel - Marie Antionette 2

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Cairns in the Dolomites

Posted on November 9, 2013. Filed under: Italy, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Travel - Dolomites Cairns 1

Cairns in the Dolomite Mountains of Italy are different than other places I’ve been.  The stones are blockier, it seems to me.  Here is a big field of them built over time, I’m sure, by many, many hikers.

Travel - Dolomites Cairns 2

It was hard not to stop and spend some time looking at these many small sculptures.  I really, really wanted to make one too.  But, alas, we could not take the time to play here on this day.  Sigh.

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Fun with Aliens

Posted on November 8, 2013. Filed under: Art, Just Fun | Tags: , , , |

Alien 1

Just a little goofy alien for today’s post.  I found him at a thrift store and I just had to have him.  Every time someone makes an appointment with me (or Bill) and doesn’t show up for it I say, “Another alien abduction, apparently.”  So when I found this guy he had to come home with me.  He might make regular appearances here on my blog.  Today he is checking out the garden from atop a world-like bowling ball on a pillar.  I think he secretly wants to take over the world, but he is actually too small (unless he calls on a lot of friends.)

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Winterizing a Potted Japanese Maple

Posted on November 7, 2013. Filed under: Plants | Tags: , , , , , |

Plants - Japanese Red Maple 2I have grown a Japanese maple in a pot for 2 years now.  If you live in the hardiness zone 5 like I do you cannot leave a potted plant out in winter if you want the plant to survive (and usually the pot too!)  It will freeze solid, killing the plant and busting out the pot.  You also cannot bring a plant inside like this maple because it needs a cold period.  It’s possible to over-winter it in the garage.  The other possibility is to sink the whole pot into the ground.  Here is my maple sunk into the ground between 2 of my compost bins.  I saved the hole from last year and the cover I used is right there adding additional support to the tree and also serving as a reminder not to step on the tree after it loses its leaves (which I did several times last year!)

I bought 2 of these little guys last year because they were so cheap ($2.49 at Aldi.)  I had gotten burned with a larger, more expensive Japanese maple a few years ago.  I lovingly planted it behind the house and then – wham- one day it was eaten to the ground.  Living in a woods has its animal challenges!  So I thought I would keep these two in pots close to the house.  It has worked for animal damage.  But I was curious if the hole-in-the-ground method was better or worse than the garage method.  Last winter one pot went in each place.  Well, this one that was out in the ground did about 4x better than the other one.  I have now planted the other one right in the ground near the front door.  We’ll see if it catches up this next year.

Plants - Japanese Red Maple 1The vibrant red of these delicate leaves is well worth all this effort!  I came out the other morning and they were all on the ground.  So this little guy is ready for the winter now.

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Midwest Plow

Posted on November 6, 2013. Filed under: Art | Tags: , , , , , , , , |

Art - plowI thoroughly enjoyed the latest issue of Smithsonian entitled:  101 Objects that Made America.  Here I read about the John Deer plow that the Smithsonian owns.  It was revolutionary because he redesigned the plow for the sticky mud of the Midwest.  Previous to this plows were not so curved and sculptural because they had to work with rocky soil.

This got me thinking about the old plow we have lying in a heap in the woods.  I pulled it up and had a good look at it.  I definitely have a descendant of that John Deere, because the heavy iron of the plow is beautifully curved to “scour” the heavy earth as it was dragged behind a horse.  This makes sense since it came from here, Wisconsin, in the middle of the country.

I agree with the author of the plow article, Ian Frazier, who states, “Beyond its bold utility, the plow qualifies as different categories of art.  It is sculpture:  The lambent black of its wrought-iron surface and the sinuous twist of its shape prefigure the abstract steel sculptures of the 20th century.”

This was fun to do – look at something I already have in a new light.  I appreciate this implement for it’s beautiful lines in the here and now.  I also appreciate this implement for how it helped to make farming more productive for my ancestors.

Just a side note:  While I enjoyed aspects of the magazine,  I was really annoyed by how they photographed many of the objects in such dramatic lighting you could hardly see the thing and also some of the objects weren’t photographed at all but rather rendered in drawings!  The whole point of this issue was to show these 101 objects, but many of them are impossible to see well.  Ridiculous!

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Italian Sausage Bean Soup

Posted on November 5, 2013. Filed under: Food Made Simple, Health, Soup Made Simple | Tags: , , , , , , |

Food - Sausage Soup

Staying with my Monday-make-soup theme, I whipped up this beauty yesterday in about 30 minutes.  It will feed us for 3 days!  Whoo-hoo, I don’t even have to think about dinner until Thursday!!

Hunting in the freezer I found 3 leftover Italian sausages from summer which I fried up in a pan and cut into small chunks with my kitchen scissors while they were still a bit frozen which made the cutting easier.  I had some yard work to do so I gently simmered 2 small bags of black-eyed peas and 2 small bags of garbanzo beans which I found in the basement storage bin.

I cooked them separately because the beans are two different sizes and I didn’t want the little ones getting mushy while the big ones were still cooking.  Each took about an hour and a half to cook up.  This was fine as I was busy with other things.  I like to do this because I freeze about 3/4 of the cooked beans and then it’s really easy to take them out and use them without having to start with the dry beans.  I avoid canned beans because of the plastic can lining which leaches into the food inside.

So, again, I started with sautéing a big onion in butter/olive oil.  Then I plopped in some frozen turkey stock with a little water.  The turkey stock was too much for this batch of soup so I just waited until enough of it melted to pull it out.  I threw it in a container with some of the beans and into the freezer for a future soup.

Then I chopped up some carrots and cabbage.  Also, I found some gorgeous dried mushrooms I brought back from Italy last month to throw in.  Then when there was a lot of hot liquid in the pot I put in a dozen medium sized frozen tomatoes.  After about 2 minutes I slipped the skins off of them and they just melted into the broth.  I really love frozen tomatoes in soup broth.

Lastly the spices and sausage went in.  I used Penzey’s Cajun spice again (trying to use that up) and some thyme, marjoram, and Aleppo pepper for zing.  I also peeled and crushed up about 8 cloves of my garden garlic to throw in.

Well, one bowl of this was plenty, it was so filling!  It felt like a grand reward for all the yardwork and window cleaning I did yesterday!  It would be easy to make this vegetarian/vegan by simply omitting the sausage – the beans were plenty of heft.  Also, veggie stock would be fine and the onion can sauté with coconut/olive oil.  Give soup-making a try – it is so much better than anything that could possibly come out of a can!

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