Archive | June, 2012

As American as …

30 Jun

What do you get when you combine this

With this

And this

Like this

… ?

Getting the picture?

When this

Becomes this

You’ve made dirt pie!  Mmm-mmmm!

There are hundreds of recipes out there for dirt pie.  This one is a devil’s food cake, baked and cut into squares; cooked chocolate pudding, cooled and mixed with whipped cream; doublestuff oreos crushed with a rolling pin; and gummy worms.  It’s a dessert trifle, really: layer of cake, layer of cream, layer of crunch, with the gummies throughout, and presented in a (clean!) flower-pot with a child’s garden shovel and a daisy spinner.  Is it any good?  Tell you later: we’ll be digging in to it in a few hours …

(PS – the English ladies in the checkout line may be slightly appalled when they compliment you on your new garden accessories and you tell them it’s all for your kids’  pudding.)


Day out IOW: Carisbrooke Castle

28 Jun

So far, my favorite castle visit has to be Cardiff Castle in Wales.  But give me a bit of sunshine and some more time to look around, and Carisbrooke makes my top ten.


Why should you know about Carisbrooke Castle?  When anyone mentions it, just nod your head (or shake it sadly) and say “Ah, yes, the martyr king, poor Charles I.”  They’ll all think you’re brilliant, and you won’t have to go to the trouble of reading the trial proceedings that decided his death (like I did).  For good measure, you can add in a fist shake and a growling “Cromwell!!” like a good royalist cavalier.

Of course, like any castle worth its garrison, royalty and nobility have been hanging out here for ages. Queen Victoria’s daughter Beatrice lived here with her husband — so she could be close to her mother who was established just a bit down the island at Osborne House.  (Queen Victoria refused permission for her youngest daughter to marry unless she promised to stay in England.  It’s freaky to be the Queen.)  When we visited during the Jubilee celebrations, there was a savenger hunt through the castle ground to find all the kings and queens of England with connections to the castle — represented with these cute cartoon posters.

From Princess Beatrice’s garden, where she reported enjoyed a nice stroll, sometimes with her mum.

(Do I need to mention my feelings about heights again?  The walk about the castle walls was an effort for me, but paid off.)  Here is a view from the top of the Norman motte-and-bailey castle, built here in about 1100, after the Norman invasion.  Carisbrooke has remained a castle with a primary focus on the defense of the Isle of Wight, access to the Solent, and southern England.

Walking the walls.  Don’t make the mistake I did, of telling your children in a very serious voice, that the green over there to the left is the parade field for the soldiers to practice.  It was the bowling green built for the entertainment of Charles I when he was incarcerated here.  It’s good to be the King in jail.  Until they chop off your head, of course.

Another view from the top of the Norman tower, toward the remains of the medieval and tudor hall.  Did you know the richest women in thirteenth-century England was Countess Isabella de Fortibus, who lived here at Carisbrooke?  Now you do.  It’s good to be the Countess.

Keep walking.  Every time we walk a castle wall, I wonder how anyone who had any vision problems survived their medieval life.  Then I remember that they didn’t.  Thank god for optometry.

View past the formidable gatehouse, which has a cozy interior reminiscent of the Victorian version of MTV Cribs.

Maybe ‘cozy’ isn’t the right word for a 900 year old gatehouse, even if it was restored and renovated in the 19th century.

View from the wall over Beatrice’s garden.  On the day of our visit, the tents held living-history actors playing the lute (!!) and discussing Tudor weaponry and war.  I had a slightly nerve-wracking discussion with an apparent partisan of Richard of Gloucester, later Richard III.  I really really didn’t want to ask him about the princes in the tower, but it was like one of those inappropriate questions you just can’t help wanting to ask.  We moved along.

What a view this would be, when the Isle of Wight is not swollen with rain and mist.  I don’t know these purple flowers, but they were everywhere, bringing a bit of cheer.

This is Jack, showing us how the medieval well house was used to keep the castle defensible.  (In 1136 the well in the keep failed, and the castle was forced to surrender to a seige.  So embarassing.)  Carisbrooke is famous for its donkeys, who walk the wheel to pull water from the new well dug in the twelfth century. The current well house and treadwheel were built in the sixteenth century — although water is now supplied by pipe and the donkeys work for only a few minutes a day giving short demonstrations.   While we watched, Jack hopped off the wheel and wandered into the crowd of children looking for pats and snacks.

The bedroom of Charles I during his imprisonment at the Castle.  In a move of questionable taste, Princess Beatrice turned his chamber of imprisonment into her dinning room.  For visitors now, it is furnished in a style close to its appearance during Charles’ enforced visit.

A little known sadness of history.  Charles I’s daughter Elizabeth was forcibly brought to Carisbrooke, became ill on the boat ride over, and died at Carisbrooke. Read more about her sad story.

The Chapel of St. Nicholas within the castle complex dates to 1904, but a chapel dedicated to this saint has been here since Norman times.  Today the Chapel is a parish church and the church commemorates the war dead of the Isle of Wight, as well as the ‘martyr king’ Charles I.

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day …

Stairs back up to the walls and the gatehouse.  And more of those purple flowers.

Beatrice’s initials still grace the gates.

The exterior fortifications are extensive and well-preserved, but as the rain began to pour down we didn’t have the spirit to explore them.  But what a great day out! Entry to Carisbrooke Castle is free to English Heritage members, has plentiful parking, and if you are on the Isle of Wight it is an easy drive from anywhere.  Do you see some wall walking in your future?

Purple haze

26 Jun

This post is a bit of a cheat — life has exploded all over my, um, life, and I’m treading water — but here’s a teaser of something completely amazing, something I’ve been waiting to see since we first decided to move here:

I wish you could scratch-and-sniff the screen and experience the powerful-yet-ethereal fragrance of the lavender fields here in the Cotswold.  Soon they’ll be at their peak, then harvested and gone.  Here’s hoping we can find a sunny day for another visit before this annual gift disappears …

Today, I’m English

24 Jun

Of course, that’s not at all true.  But I felt very English, one day last week, while I was hanging out here:

I learned that the best way to feel English is to

-walk a mile to the train station before 7am to catch a train
-watch the rolling green countryside fall under cold rain while a cheerful old man pushes a tea trolley up the aisle of your train carriage
-arrive at your station and walk another mile — through the rain — to your destination
-have a jacket potato for lunch
-at the end of the day, unroll the whole experience backwards, but with sleeping cows instead of rain and lads drinking beer instead of men with tea trolleys
-double points if your train home is delayed due to flooding from all the day’s rain, and you walk the mile to your house from your home station after dark because why pay for a taxi when your feet work just fine.

And there you go: English for a day.


Solstice summer

21 Jun

If you’ve been following along, you’ve seen my love-hate-fear-despair relationship with the sun here in England.  The days of darkness haunt me.  When we first arrived here in Camelot, the sun was stunning, the air was warm and dry, the trees waved gently overhead — it was gorgeous and summer was going to be endless.

Then we came to November, December, January, February, March, April, May, and June.  Dark.  Cold.  Rainy.  Grey.  Forever.  Even as the days grew longer, they stayed cold!  They stayed grey!  How is this possible?

Although it wakes me up and gives me no peace, I have to soak up the sun whenever it appears — even at 4:30 am:

Five am in June is brighter than 10am in December.  I may be exaggerating — but only a very little — I have been trying to block those dark days from my memory.

Yesterday was the longest day of the year — the day we’ll see the most sun — a whopping 16 hours and 44 minutes of daylight. And in a welcome change from most days this June, it was warm and bright and sunny.  I walked outside; I wandered; I even got a little sunburn.  But in the back of my mind I couldn’t shake the dreadful feeling that from here on, it’s all downhill.  The days grow shorter, the nights grow longer until they almost cover the day.  Here in the middle of summer, the memory and the promise: winter is coming.

And so for no reason but a bit of romantic sadness (and maybe because he made his home on the Isle of Wight) I have Tennyson running through my head this week.

The splendour falls on castle walls
And snowy summits old in story:
The long light shakes across the lakes
And the wild cataract leaps in glory.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes dying, dying, dying.

O hark, O hear! how thin and clear,
And thinner, clearer, farther going!
O sweet and far from cliff and scar
The horns of Elfland faintly blowing!
Blow, let us hear the purple glens replying,
Blow, bugle; answer, echoes dying, dying, dying.

O love they die in yon rich sky,
They faint on hill or field, or river:
Our echoes roll from soul to soul,
And grow forever and forever.
Blow, bugle, blow, set the wild echoes flying,
And answer, echoes, answer, dying, dying, dying.

Poppy haze

18 Jun

A quick step away from the trip to the Isle of Wight, to poppies growing in a field near(ish) my house.

Not the greatest photo, in part because my posterior was hanging into traffic as I tried to keep my front from falling into a barbed wire fence, while balancing on a marshy roadside berm about a foot wide.

But for me an awesome moment.  How often in life do you answer a random knock on the door to find two fellow explorers asking: “We heard there’s a field of poppies around here somewhere, want to come find it?”  And joining in the challenge, you find this.

Poppies in a field of rapeseed, near Ullenwood, Gloucestershire.

Here’s to explorations, and to answering the knock at the door.

Day out IOW: the garlic experience

16 Jun

There’s no competition for best experience on the Isle of Wight, but if there were, our experience at The Garlic Farm just might win.  Although garlic probably has an unfair advantage in any competition.

The Garlic Farm was a completely unanticipated find on the island.  As we drove from our ferry crossing (top of the island) to our hotel (bottom of the island) —  (Again, you see why I get lost everywhere, with my oh-so-technical understanding of maps and the earth and stuff.) — we passed a sign for The Garlic Farm and cafe.  We looked at each other with uncertainty — really?  A whole farm devoted to garlic?  A whole restaurant devoted to garlic?  We put a visit on our radar for the next day.

I like the invitation.  You can (perhaps) tell that on this first trip to the farm — yes, that’s right, we were on the Isle of Wight for four days and we went to the farm twice — it was raining.

It was actually pouring rain.  But through the power of garlic, we did not care.

The garlic sculpture, which was created in situ here in the farm courtyard.  Am I the only one who thinks it looks kind of, um, well, nudge-nudge, wink-wink, say no more, say no more?  It’s impressively large, let’s just leave it there.

You’re free to walk around the farm.  Check out the scapes!  As tall as me!  (And I’m a whopping not-tall-at-all, but still, it was cool.)

On sunnier days, there’s a tractor ride through the fields.  Those are the farm’s highland cattle in the background.  My little Skye imps shouted “wee coos!  wee coos!”

Whimsical garlic cartoons are everywhere.

Don’t laugh!  In further proof that if you scratch the soil anywhere in Britain, you’ll find rubbish dating back thousands of years, the farm showcases some of the discoveries found while building and farming — including roman artifacts.

Oh, yeah.  The taste experience that tastes you back — garlic.  Inside you’ll find the many varieties of salsa, chutney, dips, dressing, butters, oils, etc, that the farm produces (and sells on site and online).  As well as a cooking demonstration.

This young lady showed us how to saute scapes in a little rapeseed oil (that’s the local Isle of Wight  Oil of Wight she’s using) with some fresh crushed garlic and salt and pepper.  So simple and so delicious.

Inside the shop is everything from books — including the farm’s Garlic Cookbook — to garlic:

This is (I believe) the Solent Wight garlic.  I had no idea there were so many varieties of garlic, all with different characteristics.

This video (from the Garlic Farm website) made me laugh (the Anglo Saxon love of garlic?) but gives a good sense of the place, and check out the beautiful allium flowers in the fields!

You won’t be at all surprised that I took photos of our meals at the restaurant, will you?  You knew this was coming.

A fairly typical kids’ menu, with some fun garlic additions.  But check the specials board — the most amazing things seem to show up there.

A whole roasted bulb (in that local rapeseed oil) with local granary bread and a rocket salad.

A chili dish with avocado, garlic mayo, sweet potato chips (fries), whole wheat wrap — and a bit of garlic ciabatta seems to have snuck on to the plate.  Wonder how that happened.

Tried the local cider.  Which didn’t disturb me as much as some of my earlier cider tastings, but seemed like slightly off apple juice.  I think I should give up on cider.

For some reason this was called a ‘changa’, which I found a little confusing until I looked up ‘changa’ — and then I found it completely confusing.   Two poached eggs over asparagus and a soft herbed goat cheese, covered in chili oil, served with local bread.  Oh.  My.  God.

For a final sweet treat — Jubilee cupcakes.  We sampled quite a few more dishes than this, but seemed to start eating them before I could take a photo.  Also, the best hummus I’ve ever had in my life was here — made with broad beans instead of chickpeas and, of course, plenty of garlic.

If we are lucky enough to get back to the Isle of Wight, the Garlic Farm will be a must-visit stop.  Oh, and if you thought it didn’t get any better?  They host yoga weekends.  I really wanted to go to Paris for my birthday, but garlic and yoga?  Now I’m not so sure.