Friday, July 31, 2015

Drinking Like the English. . . . . . . .

When home in England in June I fell head over heels for chilled, sparkling
 Elderflower drinks. They seemed to be easily available and perfect for 
the beautiful warm days we encountered during our days in Devon.
Not being a 'soda' drinker at all, I found a chilled bottle of this 
very slightly bubbly, floral and lemon drink perfect for my taste.

The Elder is an ancient hedgerow plant steeped in superstition and mystery.
All parts, bark, leaves, flowers, berries have been used for centuries for 
medicinal purposes, and folklore attributes many powers and properties 
to this plant. 
Now back in the US I've been looking for a similar drink for these 
hot days and found (at my local Fresh Market store) the Belvoir Fruit Farms 
version, imported from England, and ready to drink. 
I have yet to find the cordial over here - a concentrated version which would 
last longer and give one more options, such as adding to white wine for a 
refreshing spritzer. I have however added a dash of chilled sauvignon blanc to a 
glass of this elder flower lemonade and enjoyed it as an aperitif!

Go HERE for more detailed facts and folklore on the Elder plant - shared by 
Belvoir Fruit Farms.
We all love water, but what's your favorite flavored chilled drink for these hot Summer days?
I'm ready for a cool one right now!
Edited: August 2, 2015

Yesterday I found Belvoir Elderflower CORDIAL at my nearby World Market store! I was so pleased because this is the concentrated version - an infusion of freshly picked flowers plus lots of fresh lemon juice - which can be used mixed with still or sparkling mineral water, or mixed with white wine for a spritzer. I bought two bottles as the sell by date is Nov. 2016 - open one now and keep one tucked away for later. 
There are also some interesting recipes using the cordial in desserts, baked goods etc. on Belvoir Fruit Farms website. Elderflower and Lemon Drizzle Cake sounds really yummy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

National Lasagna Day. . . . . . . . .

. . . . . . . . was today!
Hope you didn't miss it.

I try to cook mostly from scratch but today 
I didn't spend any time preparing a baking dish full
of lasagna noodles, not even those quick version ones which 
you don't have to boil ahead. The better tasting noodles that you 
pre-boil must then be rescued, all heavy and slimy, from the
 gigantic pot of water steaming up the already hot kitchen,
definitely not a job for July in the south.

Yesterday at Costco I found the perfect - for us - lasagna.
No meat, no unctuous too sweet or too salty red sauce, and no thick
chewy pasta.
We really enjoyed this lighter spinach and broccoli version
with just enough béchamel sauce and cheese between a minimum
of thin pasta noodles. It wasn't frozen and took only 30 mins. to bake
to a golden bubbling top.
Enough for supper on National Lasagna Day with plenty leftover for 
another two meals.
I think I would even enjoy this cold with a little Cesar salad on the side. . . . .
it would make a cool lunch on a stifling Summer day.

Wednesday Wit and Wisdom . . . . . . . .

I was in my late sixties when I made my first run, alone. Crossing one of the most beautiful lakes in northern California. Deep, sparkling water, tall green pines along the shoreline, a snow-capped sleeping volcano in the distance. Somehow, in these later years, I've become brave, adventurous. My heart pounds sometimes and I wonder if this the right thing for an aging heart. On that day, in the quietude of an early morning, I graduated from riding pillion behind my friend on her wave runner. I straddled my own bright red machine, checked my life jacket, looked across the pool of shimmering diamonds, and started my engine. . . . . . . . . . . 

Today I'm joining Linda Kay's WEDNESDAY WIT AND WISDOM
on her blog Senior Adventures.

I like the idea of a writing challenge.
Choose a photo - write a story, a poem, an observation.
Visit Linda Kay HERE for more stories. Perhaps add 
your own, after all we each have a story to tell.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Celeste figs are ready. . . . . . . . .

Yesterday afternoon when Bob appeared in the kitchen with more figs than 
I knew what to do with (I may pass on jam making this year as we still have a lot 
remaining from last Summer), I decided to try this easy recipe as I had all the
 ingredients on hand. Fast and easy little pastries, really rich and light - I shared 
with my neighbors as we certainly didn't need to eat them all, and they are best
the day of baking while the pastry is crisp.

I'm also sharing bags of fresh figs. People are quite surprised when they 
bite into a fresh fig - many turn up their nose at first thinking they will taste 
like dried figs - but then love the soft, subtle fruit flavor with no tough skin or pits 
to bother with.
I enjoy them for breakfast chopped into Greek yogurt with a dab of wildflower
 honey, or baked in the oven with Acacia honey, butter, and scattered with 
walnuts. I'm now scouring my fig cookbook for new recipes - will share
them later as the figs ripen and pile up on the kitchen island!

Ah, a beautiful fresh and juicy fig, fresh-picked from the garden.
We've started harvesting beautiful plump figs from the largest of our two 
trees, the now huge Celeste
The Brown Turkey is also coming along but, as in other years, 
the Celeste seems to be doing much better here in our growing area. 
The little trees I planted in 2008 are now 10-12 feet tall, and it's just about 
impossible to reach the figs in the topmost branches. 
Guess who's enjoying those tasty tidbits, and it's just fine with us . . . . . . . . many 
birds, especially robins, catbirds, finches and cardinals, and of course our 
resident squirrel family!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

A quick trip across the moors. . . . . . . .

Dartmoor National Park is an area of moorland in South Devon 
covering 368 sq mi. It was my 'playground' on many a weekend 
as a child. . . . . a quite magical, historical place, one which I'm 
always thrilled to visit when home.

Besides the massive granite rock formations called 'tors' on the uplands, 
tucked into the valleys are farms and tiny villages.

I so wanted Jasmin to visit Dartmoor during our visit in June.
Fortunately my wonderful friend Jackie - she of the beautiful garden I recently shared 
with you HERE - picked us up one morning and took us across Dartmoor, on to Plymouth 
and then Dartmouth (both coming up in another post).
Despite cloudy skies we were able to enjoy views as I related my childhood 
stories - such as falling into the River Dart from a boulder at a favorite 
spot called Dartmeet whilst on a Sunday family picnic. A close call I was told 
when older. We wondered if the same boulder was still there along the bank, 
or has it moved down river during sixty plus years!!!

Dartmeet - where the River Dart is so beautiful.

We stopped here for coffee - and Jasmin enjoyed a 'cream tea' - I think
she loves them as much as I do! It's where we were able to photograph 
the beautiful peacocks HERE, also miniature ponies and goats.

HM Prison Dartmoor 
Opened in 1809 to accommodate prisoners 
of the Napoleonic Wars with France. 
A foreboding sight to come upon in the small moorland town of 
Princetown. It is still in use and currently has over 600 inmates, much changed 
from its original days when at one time it housed over 6,000 prisoners!
The whole story here is quite fascinating.

Dartmoor is often referred to as 'the last wilderness'.
Over the past 12,000 years man has hunted, farmed, mined, quarried, and 
lived on and around Dartmoor.
A place of intrigue and fascination.
If you've visited you already know that - if you have a chance to 
visit be sure to go.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Movie matinée . . . . . . . . .

We took a break from some heavy cleaning yesterday - staying indoors is so 
much cooler these days that even household chores aren't so bad!
 Noting in the morning paper a movie I'd been awaiting had opened, 
we headed to a local 'art house' cinema just up the road for the early matinée.

What a fabulous movie Testament of Youth proved to be. 
Based on the true story of Vera Brittain's best-selling memoir,
it was beautifully filmed in several English locations including Oxford, Yorkshire, 
Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire and Greenwich, London. Although scenes of the 
devastation, futility, and immense sadness of World War I brought tears and a lump to 
my throat, the acting, costumes, and on point period settings of the scenes, made 
for a breathtaking, enjoyable movie.
Speaking of acting, the entire cast did a splendid job. Alicia Vikander, a stunning
 new to me actress, plays Vera. She's in almost every scene, and is truly amazing.

Hope you have a chance to view this movie, especially if you're a history buff. 
Bob and I were enthralled. I left the cinema thinking it's one of those films I could 
watch again and again, and that doesn't happen to me often.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Shelter from the storm. . . . . . . . . .

Torrential rain, booming thunder, lightning illuminating the black skies.
All happened this morning around 10 AM as a bad storm passed through.
The dry garden is refreshed. 
The bird baths are overflowing. 
The robins are pecking at wriggling earthworms. 
The sun is now shining. 
It's so hot and humid.

I grabbed my camera when I noticed a titmouse sheltering from the storm
on the porch candolier.
Sorry, the photos taken through the steamy windows are somewhat blurred.
He/she came with a seed in its beak, probably from the feeder filled yesterday. 
Little birdie stayed on the front porch for the duration of the storm,
but after about 15 minutes dropped the seed, then spent 10 more minutes 
looking down at it. I missed seeing if it picked it up again before flying off when
the rain stopped. 
I love knowing the birds enjoy our front porch and must feel it is a safe shelter.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

The Pavilion, Torquay. . . . . . . .

Torquay's historic Pavilion, once a beautiful theatre - the interior ceiling was 
exquisite - was quite an important part of my childhood. 
Memories of attending shows there include the annual Pantomime over the 
Christmas holiday, always a long awaited treat for many children. 
I can recall quite clearly how exciting that outing always was for me. 
Wearing a new 'party dress' (always made by my dressmaker mum), and 
carrying a box of chocolates to nibble during Intermission - that's a British 
tradition for theatre-goers - I was ready for a fabulous time.

Now, and not unexpected, new plans are in the works to try and rescue this 
beautiful building and bring it back into use, perhaps as the entrance to a 
proposed multi-story attached hotel/apartment complex. 
It could also include a spa, restaurants (which it used to have), 
and other public spaces. Anything would be great as 
the wrecking ball should never be permitted anywhere near it!
Early one morning we decided that, although cloudy, we would take a Ferris wheel 
ride to view the harbour area from a bird's eye view. 
The wheel has become a Summer installation for the past couple of years and has 
proved very popular.
The Pavilion was built on land reclaimed from the sea, on a concrete raft on 
which steel stanchions and girders were erected. This early work commenced in 1890, 
and the Pavilion building itself started in 1911. 
It was opened in 1912 with a foyer, auditorium with large curtained stage, lounges 
and cafe, all oak-panelled and elegantly plastered. 
There was a curved balcony, stained glass and potted plants, with an open-air 
promenade and a tea garden. 
Here Jasmin and I are standing near the now boarded up main entrance 
to the Pavilion. Note the historic plaque commemorating Dame Agatha Christie, 
also the blue one below with the building dates and info.
 These particular windows were at one time my mother's office during the years she 
worked as the theatre's box office manager in the 1960's after I left Torquay and 
moved to the US.
Statue of Mercury above the main entrance.
Britannia topping the central dome.
Looking back from the Ferris wheel across the Pavilion roof toward the Strand 
and clock tower - my first real job in an insurance company was in that area.

The building's facing tiles, Doulton's Carrera enameled stoneware, made the 
Pavilion appear like a white palace. The impressive central copper-covered dome is 
topped by a life-sized figure of Britannia, two smaller domes on each side of the entrance 
support copper figures of Mercury, and other exterior decorations include flowers and 
urns topped with pineapples and scrolls. Fine cast ironwork in the Art Nouveau style
edged the steps to the promenade deck and the octagonal bandstands or 
summerhouses. All very impressive in the building's heyday of course.
Looking down from the Ferris wheel on the beautiful copper roof.

In the late 1970's the theatre was closed and demolition proposed due to years 
of neglect due to lack of funding for repairs. 
In 1973 it became a listed historic building which meant, thankfully, it had to 
be preserved. 
In 1976 it was leased out to continue as an amusements venue, a bingo hall, 
a skating rink, and finally a shopping center - all of which destroyed the interior - and 
now it stands closed and rapidly deteriorating whilst awaiting restoration. 
The deal with the local council for proposed building permission on the land 
next to the Pavilion, includes that all the Pavilion restoration work has to be done by the 
developer - quite a huge undertaking but so worthwhile. I wish them luck and 
hope to return home in the future to see it all completed and the beautiful building in use 
once again.
I must say I was able to view my home town in quite a different way from the 
heights of the Ferris wheel - and I loved it. Here, looking across the Outer Harbour 
toward the just visible town of Paignton, you can also see to the right, the old 
Princess Pier I mentioned in the earlier post on Agatha Christie.
This is the Inner Harbour area showing the fairly new pedestrian bridge on the right joining the two harbors.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Keeping house in Summer. . . . . . .

It's SO hot here this week - just checked the local weather and the temperature 
is 90 at noon and climbing steadily to 96 in the late afternoon hours.     
Horrible, sweltering heat. It almost dismisses any thought of leaving the 
air conditioned house, getting in the air conditioned car, 
to get to the air conditioned shops!

Staying home and keeping house seems the best policy on days such as these.
A little time moving things about, dusting here and there, Swiffering the floors,
refreshing the damp towels, creating a big cool salad bowl, whizzing a fresh fruit 
smoothie (with a little kale tossed in of course) for a cool snack.
Well I've done all that. Now I have to move about a bit so have made a nail
appointment for late in the afternoon, yes I know that means sitting, but first I'll run 
couple of shopping errands which will give me a little walking inside where it's
cool hopefully.

How are you handling the heat of Summer?
If you tell me you're chilling in your pool, dipping your toes in the ocean,
collecting seashells along the shore, or boating on the lake, I'll be envious, 
but I hope you have wonderful time!