Tuesday 31 January 2017

Creamy Portobello Mushrooms

 Take some firm, meaty Portobello mushrooms - their Italian name 'Cappellone' - 'big hat'

thickly slice

adding chopped garlic sauté in olive oil and butter - season with freshly ground nutmeg, and black pepper

Finish with Greek yogurt, a dollop of cream, and plenty of chopped fresh parsley
Ten minutes only and supper is ready - serve with rice, vegetables and a sprinkling of Parmigianino cheese 

Tuesday 24 January 2017

The Mosaic

Roll up! Roll up!
a marching band played
the crowds cheered
as Chapman's Great London Circus arrived in Cheltenham town
photo from Cheltenham News
One Spring day in 1934 three elephants were being paraded through Cheltenham town to announce the arrival of the circus. On smelling some interesting aromas drifting across the road from Bloodworth's, a local seed merchants shop, one of the elephants decided to pay a visit, closely followed by the other two.
The first elephant gained entrance, but the second became stuck in the doorway, the third was quickly caught and restrained by his keeper. 
Imagine the surprise of the owner standing behind his shop counter and suddenly seeing this giant shape looming inside the premises. Not only that, but an elephant that was busily helping itself to his seed potatoes, dog biscuits, and other tasty morsels
Yum - delicious
The spectators watched with amazment and some alarm
but finally peace and order was restored
so the wind musicians played on
the drummer banged his drum
and the parade proceeded out of town
This series of mosaics in an alleyway off the High Street in Cheltenham depicts a glimpse of our social history from over 80 years ago. It shows the style of clothing worn, including that of the police, and importantly the use of wild animals in a way that most would consider unacceptable today.

Wednesday 18 January 2017

Winter's Beauty

The sap is rising, days grow longer, bulbs busily thrust themselves through the earth, some even have flowers. Trees stand unadorned, silhouetted in their skeletal nakedness against Winter's skies. They too await Spring's arrival, their bare limbs show signs of buds but throughout the year many play host to some of Mother Nature's frilly, lacy, little jewels.
Lichens are a partnership between members of two different kingdoms that live together in a special, mutually beneficial relationship - a symbiosis
Each lichen is made up of a fungus and an algae: the body of the lichen is built up by a tough fungal hyphae, and the algae lives inside that framework 

The fungus protects the algae from the harsh world outside, and provides it with water and mineral nutrients. The algae makes its own food by photosynthesis, then leaks some of this food, which in turn is absorbed by the fungus as it cannot make it's own food
Their partnership is so tough and self-reliant that lichens can grow on rocks in the desert where nothing else survives. When it is too dry, too hot, or too cold, lichens go into a state of suspended animation until conditions improve. Because the algae make up only 5% of each lichen, and are out of action for much of the time, lichens grow very slowly - only a few millimetres per year. They make up for this by living for centuries, or in some cases, millennia 

Lichens have one serious weakness - they must absorb their mineral nutrients from the rain. So if the air is polluted with sulphur dioxide, this dissolves in the rain and is absorbed by the lichens which often die as a result - lichens are a predictor of good air quality.
All of these lichen photos were taken in our garden - the row of skyline trees was taken on Exmoor 

Tuesday 10 January 2017

Utstein Monastery, Norway

 The coping stones running along the tops of our garden walls are frosted, but already beginning to melt in the early morning sun. There's no tempting me outside, I am like the cat that got the cream, warm, cosy, and content to stay indoors

Endeavouring to tidy up my iPhoto storage I came across a visit made during a past trip to Norway
The trip was taken at a time when our eldest son and family still lived in Norway. The images are from my first digital camera - long gone now, and not very good, but they hopefully convey a sense of place.
Utstein Monastery 
To reach Utstein Monastery you travel through a deep undersea road tunnel from Stavanger to the island of Mosterøy in Rogaland. On arrival at the island there is a brisk walk to the monastery across a natural causeway - an area surrounded by inlets of water as far as the eye can see, distant mountains, and sheep grazing along the pathway. 
I had assumed that these sheep were a Norwegian breed but in fact they come from Wales - Balwen Welsh Mountain sheep whose striking tails are traditionally left undocked as in the photo.
Utstein is the only preserved Monastery from the Middle Ages in Norway and one of it's important landmarks

It served as the Royal residence to the very first Viking king of Norway; Harald Fairhair, and is first mentioned in historical records going back to the C9th.

King Harald from the c14th Icelandic manuscript Flateyjarbók
 The building was later donated to the Augustinian monks of Stavanger towards the end of the c12th.  They lived a pious life of strict discipline and prayer at Utstein Monastery until the Reformation in the c15th.
At its height there were 12 monks in residence, but the abbey was sustained by double that amount of local lay people who worked on their farm, grew produce, cooked the meals, and generally took care of the monastery. The extensive lands belonging to the monastery were sufficient to support 250 people throughout the year.

The monastery church has traditional Nordic/Scandic painted wood and carved stonework

Although medieval they have a contemporary feel, and I suspect that this could already be heralding their innate sense of style and design which many of us admire today
With its tranquil setting and fine accoustics it is now a favoured place for concerts, seminars, conventions, and tourists.

Thursday 5 January 2017

A Vegetarian Supper Dish

The halls are now undecked, the 'thank you' letters written - the festivities are over, and I want simpler food on my plate.  
Take a handful of fresh basil leaves, two fat cloves of garlic, two tbspns extra virgin olive oil and blend together, add more oil if necessary
Place on prepared vegetables and roast - fresh herbs and garlic elevate the flavours of the vegetables to another level
I served mine with some homemade macaroni cheese, dressed salad leaves and runner beans. To make the cheese sauce really tasty add proper English mustard, freshly ground nutmeg and use a mature grated vintage cheddar cheese.

Sunday 1 January 2017

New Year 2017

Thank you so much for your visits - I really enjoy your observations and thoughtful comments, but above all I value your friendship - Happy New Year