Saturday, July 26, 2008

At last!

FINALLY, the big tomatoes are starting to ripen. It's about time, I have waited months for this!

This is the Brandywine tomato you saw in the prior post.

And this is a ripening Mortage Lifter.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A little garden chatter

Sorry there's been no blogging lately. I've just not been up for it. But I'll do a little this evening.

The Brandywine tomatoes are finally getting big. Interestingly, they don't look as big in this picture as they really are. This one is about 4 inches across. This is a picture from about four days ago.

The Mortgage Lifter tomatoes are the most prolific. This is just one of the clusters of tomatoes on it. There are probably four other clusters like this, though not quite as big.

These are Big Beef tomatoes. There are about 10 of them on this plant of varying sizes, but six of them will ripen at about the same time (in about 7-10 days).

Here are my favorite pink glads (again). Some more glads are blooming on the shaded side of the house, and they are gorgeous - pure white with a whisper of lavender in the throat. No pics of those yet; they haven't bloomed enough yet. Maybe tomorrow.

These tiny clematis bloomed just recently. This is their first season, so they are miniature in size, but you can tell that in coming seasons, they will be beautiful. They are called "Double Blue" and the center is really huge.

Now for some photos by Jess. The Sweet 100 tomatoes are ripening. They come in clusters of 10 or more. This is just one of about 30 clusters on one plant.

See the ripening ones?

These are the Mortgage Lifter plants. About 7 feet tall.

Jess had me hold my hand up to the tomatoes so you can get an idea of how big they are.

Bernice strikes a pose by the cherry tomato plant, also about 7 ft. tall. Unfortunately, it keeps flopping over!

And our three children: from left, Bernice, Dodger, and Mandy.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

In a jam

I bought some peaches and apricots Saturday at the market. The peaches I wasn't so impressed with; even though they seemed pretty ripe, many of them actually were green with a few overripe spots.

The apricots weren't much better; I had to choose carefully at the store so that they wouldn't be rotten by today, but once again, I was fooled - they had some overripe spots, but overall, they weren't ripe. The quality of fruits and vegetables that aren't grown locally is a crapshoot, and usually, it takes almost a week (sometimes more) for them to ripen on the inside. But any overripe spots on the outside are moldy by that time. And I don't eat fruit with mold anywhere on it. So you have to choose carefully, and I was jonesing so badly for peaches and apricots that I didn't exercise my usual highly discriminating taste, instead opting for fruit that felt near-ripe. Bad call. But I still wound up with enough fruit for a pint jar of jam, so I made it up. The flavor was quite good - better than you'd buy in any store.

Let me just say that even though making a single pint of jam was a bit of a pain, making the single pint was a lot easier than making the sixteen pints I made a couple of weeks ago when we went strawberry picking. That was just crazy.

Here are the red astilbe that I bought at the half-price sale last week. I love them!

My beautiful Macarena gladiolas bloomed this week. They are a great deep shade of purple - this photo doesn't do them justice, really.

A nice accompaniment to the Macarena glads are these pink and white ones.

Here's a closer view.

These Gingerland caladium look great in the backyard.

These Florida Cardinal caladium were the perfect thing to complement the front walk to the house.

The tomatoes are coming along. These Mortgage Lifters have a few weeks to go before they are ripe, but the cherry tomatoes are ripening now and should be ready in a day or two.

These Big Beef tomatoes are looking nice, too.

He's alive!

Today, I was busy planting some of the bargains I bought at the local garden center's 4th of July sale. Everything in the place was 50% off: plants, accessories, garden equipment, everything. I had to restrain myself, and still I spent too much.

At any rate, I was planting the beautiful fuschia-colored astilbe plants I had bought when I sensed that there was something creeping across the yard, very, very slowly. As I turned to look, he stopped for a second, looking me straight in the eye. And it was unmistakably Junior, our younger cat, whom we haven't seen in more than a month, about six feet from me. He has one blue eye and one green eye, so he's pretty unmistakable. I called him, but he turned and quickly trotted off (not surprisingly...he's a feral cat who is very skittish). He looked as though he hadn't been eating well, he was pretty thin. Hopefully he will come back around, but he might not...after all, his mom is under the house decomposing, which is probably why he ran away in the first place.

I put out some chow for him just in case he should decide to come back through. I hope so. But I do feel better knowing that he's still alive.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Moher driving - the long, long trip to Galway and back

If you read Jess' blog (and I'm sure you do), you have already seen pictures of some of our Galway drive. These are some of the shots I took.

The drive was long and arduous. It was supposed to be about 3 hours, but it turned into almost 5, and lemme tell ya, it was very frustrating. The infrastructure of Ireland isn't well developed, so the roads in most places are not like our freeways. On the trip to Galway, we took a "motorway" a good distance. The maps were marked as though the motorway ran from Dublin all the way to Galway, but that's a wish, not reality. Because of construction, we were on the road, off the road, on the road... and when we were off the road it wasn't like it was so scenic that we would enjoy it, it was mainly open fields and rolling prairie. A few sheep and cattle and horses here and there. We were driving to Galway to sightsee, but there weren't that many sights to see as we found after we got there. On the way there, we stopped at a roadside cafe that is actually a chain in Ireland, called Mother Hubbard's. It was really a roadside place...dirt parking lot, hard green tile floor, heavy wooden chairs and tables...very spoartan. Mostly truck drivers, locals and a few sightseers. The coffee was so strong it could have stripped paint. We had to ask for more milk because we used the entire container between us on our first cup. At any rate, we had our first fish and chips of the trip here, and it was pretty good.

So we drove out from Galway a bit north to view the seashore and such, and there we had our first encounter with a real Irish road. One lane, enough room for one car, and very high growing grass (or the road was built into a rut so there were high sides) so that turns were completely blind...and there were many, many turns. It was very stressful, and what's more, being on the wrong side of the road didn't help. It's hard to get your spatial orientation for the left side of the car when you are driving it from the right side. Here's a view, though this wasn't very twisty. However, you can see that it has some blind hills in it, which are every bit as bad as the blind corners.

At one point, we were stuck behind this tractor for almost 20 minutes. The road was too narrow and too winding to safely get by:

Once we had explored north of Galway, we headed for the Cliffs of Moher. We were hoping for decent light that wasn't overpowering. Contrary to the look of the map, it was a loooooooooooooong drive. Lots of narrow little roads. The one thing I will say for all this driving is that the roads weren't busy at all anywhere, except in Dublin. Most roads we drove on in the countryside had very little traffic.

We arrived at the cliffs and it was heavily overcast. So much for good light. However, a friend of mine who went told me that it's always a complete crapshoot and that she knew a number of poeple who had gone and that the skies are almost always that way there. In fact, when she went, she didn't even get to see the cliffs because there was a thick fog covering the area. Now that would have made me mad, because that is no easy drive to get there. It was a long walk up the sides of the cliffs to see them. Here's how they looked:

Don't let the size of the daisies in the foreground throw you off. That's about a 300-foot drop from the top of the cliffs to the water.

And here's a view of the cliffs on the other side...

There were some moo-cows on the cliffs. We wondered how they were smart enough to stay away from the edge.

On the walk back, we saw this shop. Jess thought the name was quite funny, being a play on "Cliffs of Moher". It was closed, so we couldn't go in. I was crushed (not).

So, leaving the cliffs, we had been driving for a long time and we were starving. It was well past time to be eating. I had scoped out a restaurant I wanted to try in (relatively) nearby Lahinch called Barrtra. The guide book praised its seafood and its location, which had a view of the ocean. We went off in search of it. It was about 8:40 when we arrived. Thankfully, they were open.

The dining area was a lovely glassed-in sunroom. We took this shot at about 9:00. You will note that the sun has not gone down yet. All the pics we took here were taken without flash, just to impress upon you how much light there was so late in the day.

A breadbasket arrived. We dug in. There was some white and some country wheat. It was delicious.

It took no time to polish off this basket, so they brought us another.

We ordered from the prix fixe menu. My soup was a nettle-and-something soup. It was very green-tasting, and very bland. I didn't like it, even after I salted it and put butter in it. I traded with Jess, who ate it, but I felt bad that he had to eat it. He said he liked it. I wonder if he just did that to be nice.

I actually wasn't crazy about his soup (I forget what it was) but I ate it all because I was hungry! it was some type of chicken-y, broth-y thing. Again, low on taste.

Yes, keep that bread coming, please.

Jess' salad was mixed greens with smoked salmon and capers. It was pretty good. They had their presentation down on everything.

My salad was mixed greens with scallops and bacon, and a blue cheese vinaigrette. See that scallop on the right? It was raw. I bit into it and got a blast of ammonia taste which means it was bad, and it also wasn't cooked. I was polite and didn't send it back. I should have. Oh, but they knew how to dress the plate.

A gin and tonic sorbet was served in a martini glass between the salad and the meal as a palate cleanser. Even the industrial pine-powered taste of the gin couldn't cleanse the ammonia taste from the bad scallop. I wouldn't dream of using gin as a palate cleanser unless I were Joan Crawford. The taste is just wretchedly strong. They were all about the show.

They were out of the crab and shrimp dish I wanted as the entrée, so I requested the stuffed halibut. It was beautifully presented, but the beauty ended there. It was dry and bland.

Jess chose the fisherman's plate, which had a sampling of many things on it. He graded it as "okay, not terrific."

A statuary cat kept watch over the grounds. Here, kitty! Go catch something nicer for us to eat.

If only the entrées had been as good as the accompanying sides. These were scalloped potatoes. They were not fabulous, but very good.

These mashed potatoes, on the other hand, were fabulous. I am sure they were locally grown.

Ah yes, dessert. Jess had sticky toffee pudding with a sticky toffee ice cream. This was phenomenal. If only the meal would have been this fantastic.

I had chocolate cake that had a little peach fritter alongside. The fritter was better than the gooey, almost bitter chocolate cake. It had almost no sweetness. The ice cream, however, was wonderful.

The sugar in Ireland is usually served cubed. There's refined sugar (white) and raw sugar served in a cup together. We rarely found artificial sweeteners. It's as if they don't believe in them.

Time to leave. It's about 10:45 and the dining room here looks darker than it really was.

So we took this shot outside, to show you, that at ten minutes to 11:00, there was still some light in the sky! Sorry for the blurriness.

Yuck. It's almost 11:00 and we are on the west coast. We have to drive all the way back to the east coast. At night, no less. Double yuck. I am usually bad to fall asleep on any drive of more than 20 minutes, but I forced myself to stay awake for the three hour ride, for Jess' sake. I wouldn't have wanted to drive that at night. But he did a great job. We arrived back at the hotel after 2:00 a.m., exhausted. No more drives like that during the trip.

After the Gardens...

Okay, enough flowers. After all that walking, we were hungry and we knew we'd need to we stopped in the Avoca store which was in the Powerscourt Mansion. Avoca has stores all over Ireland and they are known for their knitwear and souvenir items as well as food items. They are overrated. I didn't find anything there that I had to have. However, we did think some of the food items looked interesting. We picked up a loaf of Irish cheese soda bread, a tub of herb butter, a tub of smoked salmon and trout spread, and a jar of tartar sauce, which Jess thought looked good. We also picked up a couple of chocolate bars - one was an Irish Coffee Truffle, one was a Key Lime and Black Pepper bar.

We put the items in the trunk and headed back for the hotel.

On the way home, we passed the mall, where the Marks & Spencer was, and I asked Jess to drop me off so that I could run in and get some M&S food stuff (if you are ever in the UK or Ireland, you MUST go to Marks & Spencer and buy some food). It's a bit weird walking into a clothing store and seeing a supermarket in the back. But trust me, it's very good. At any rate, I picked up a package of Chocolate Rolls and a package of Chili Lime Chicken to go with our bread and salmon spread and other goodies.

The bread and spreads.

And the Chili Lime Chicken Mini-Fillets, Chocolate Mini-Rolls and sodas.

The spread. It was quite smoky and salty...and fishy.

The bread. While it was supposed to be cheese bread, it wasn't really that cheesy. But it was moist, cloud-like and unlike any soda bread I'd ever had before. Too bad the trout and salmon spread wasn't better, because it disgraced the bread. And can we talk about the herb butter? It was horrible. It tasted sour. We read the ingredients and found out why: lemon juice. Who puts lemon juice in butter? It curdles it! So the butter was useless, too. I was mad. I wanted something good on the bread! So I opened the M&S Chicken Mini Fillets. They were terrific, and I should have expected no less. Marks & Spencer saved the day.

Butler's Irish Chocolate bar. Like Avoca itself, overrated. American chocolates are much better than these, folks. The "truffle" center was almost dry in texture and fairly tasteless. When we were in Dublin the next day, we happened by a Butler's store, where they insisted on giving us a free sample - we chose Raspberry Truffle. It was as underwhelming as the Irish Coffee Truffle bar we had tried the day before. Don't waste your dollars.

I am all for trying the new and unusual, but this...this...thing was positively horrible. The key lime flavor was cardboard-tasting, and the bits of black pepper were off-putting. Red pepper would have been much better. This was just nasty.

Thankfully, I had the good sense to buy these babies while in M&S. We had them when we were in London, and it was love at first bite. Absolutely fabulous. Dessert was successful after all! These also come in mint, orange, and other fab flavors.

So, would you like to see the room? I took few shots. I didn't shoot the sitting area, where there was a table and another TV, so the room was bigger than it appears here. it was a lovely room (the hotel was new), but the bed was torture. Like sleeping on concrete. No, wait...concrete would have probably been more comfortable.

The tub. The tile job was very attractive.

Here's a close-up of the tile detail. The accent tile was a glass tile...really pretty.

Nice shower. I liked it, it had very nice pressure.

Okay, that's it for today. More tomorrow.