U.K. Castles n Mushy Peas: Harlech, Conwy, Penrith, Ullswater by da-AL


Our visit to the United Kingdom was studded with castles, each well worth a stop. We were on our way to see Harlech Castle, Conwy Castle, and then to overnight in Penrith with a look at Ullswater.

On my way to Harlech Castle.

Our vacation began in London, where we enjoyed the British Museum here and here and here. We left with a rented car and were almost accustomed to driving (my husband) and riding (me) on the ‘wrong’ side only inches from England’s gorgeous stone-walled roads by the time we reached Bath. We admired Avebury, then a little of Wales on the route to Stokesay Castle, and later we would be awed by the Kelpies of Scotland.

Even this black dog admires the sights.

Harlech Castle in Harlech, Wales, a World Heritage Site, is categorized by UNESCO as one of “the finest examples of late 13th-century and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe.” Enormous, it offers grand views…

The panoramic views from Harlech Castle are impressive…
…even on a cloudy day.
The city of Harloch is lovely…
…including when you see it…
…from here with my honey.

It was time for lunch. A short drive further up the coast, we stopped in the city of Conwy for fish and chips fried in beef fat for Khashayar, and mushy peas (marrowfat peas cooked down to mush — a love-it or hate-it staple throughout the U.K.) with vegan gravy for me. Conwy is a walled market town in the north of Wales. After the filling meal, we strolled the nearby river and marveled at the Conwy Castle’s exterior. Writer/TV personality/activist Rick Steves offers a fascinating view of the interior. UNESCO calls Conwy Castle one of “the finest examples of late 13th-century and early 14th-century military architecture in Europe.”

Conwy Castle is worth a visit…
…and so is the region around it.

We spent the night in Penrith, Cumbria, a market town with more sights than we could take in. Exhausted and the evening late, we checked into a beautiful bed and breakfast, glad to find an attractive room with a scenic window. Once settled, we strolled to what must have been a theater at one time. Whatever it was, it’s now the biggest Indian food restaurant I’ve ever seen!

Elaine, Richard, and Dora are terrific hosts.

That following morning, our hosts, Elaine and Richard plus their lovely Dora, charmed us with their kindness. Their extensive English breakfast equally accommodated my meat-lover husband and my veggie self.

Ullswater is a quick twenty-minute drive away, so we enjoyed a nine-mile ride along the lake. It’s the second largest lake in the English Lake District. Here’s a video by someone else of the boat jaunt we took.

Rain or shine, a ride down Ullswater is fun.

What’s your fave region in the U.K.?

Guest Blog Post: More Eats from Less by Angela Bell


Do you adore lyrical, thoughtful novels? I want to meet you! Thank you, blogosphere, for introducing me to blogger Angela Bell who I met through her love of books. Self-described as, “New England-born, Pennsylvania raised, and 100% Italian-American, ” Angela’s posts are filled with intelligence. My favorite line of hers is, “While time marches on, life around you, if you allow it to, also becomes more interesting, more stimulating, and even a tad freer… and age, in fact, matters less and less.”

Here Angela teaches us how everyday forgotten abundance can be diverted from landfills and nourish us…

Blogger Angela Bell.

Making the Most of Stems and Scraps by Angela Bell

My daughter Emily is a Culinary Institute of America graduate with a nutrition certification from a Cornell program. She points out that if this (COVID10) confinement continues, we may have to learn to make better use of what we have. Recognizing that everyone is overwhelmed and probably worried about managing the household food right now, she and I had the following conversation.

Me: Can you give us some ideas for using our kitchen scraps?

Emily: Soup! If you have broccoli or cauliflower stems, dice them, add onion if you have it, and sweat in fat — oil, butter, rendered chicken fat, or bacon fat — over medium heat. When they’re soft, dust with flour and add chicken or vegetable stock. Stir to thicken, season, and puree. You’ve now made a classic French soup from kitchen scraps.

Angela performs alchemy on scraps to achieve epicurean delights.

Me: You taught me to do this with whole broccoli and chicken stock. It’s delicious—a creamy soup without the cream.

Emily: You can make a vegetable stock with any vegetables or vegetable scraps you have on hand, or make a chicken or beef stock with bones leftover from a roast. The longer you simmer the stock, the more collagen you’ll extract. Collagen adds body and may have health benefits. Add vegetable scraps to the pot with the bones, cover with water, simmer for about two hours, strain, and season. Roast chicken or turkey carcasses make great stock, as do bones from beef roasts and fish bones for fish stock. Add that meat “jelly” in the bottom of the roasting pan, too—that’s pure collagen. If you have a pork bone, just throw it in with a pot of beans or a pot of spaghetti sauce, rather than make stock with it.

Me: If I don’t have time to make stock from a roast chicken carcass, I freeze it. All the flavor in the roast chicken, from the herbs or vegetables, roasted it with transfers to the stock. I add water and let the slow cooker do the rest, then strain when it’s done, cool, and use or freeze.

Ice cube trays are handy for freezing pesto and stock.

Me: You mentioned using bacon fat.

Emily: Save rendered bacon fat after cooling and straining, and use in place of olive oil or butter. It adds so much flavor! If you’re making soup or a stew, you can sauté anything that’s going into it in bacon fat first. This is another classical French technique. Refrigerate rendered fat and use within two weeks, or freeze.

Me: What else can we do with stock?

Emily: If we get to a point where we can’t get meat because of supply chain interruptions, we’ll appreciate having stock and rendered fats on hand for flavor. You can cook rice in it, add it to beans, use it to flavor sauce or gravy. I freeze stock in ice cube trays in case I want to deglaze a pan or thin out a sauce.

Me: Some of us have loaded up on fresh vegetables, perhaps more than we can use. How can we prevent waste?

Emily: If you have vegetables ready to expire, blanch, and freeze them. Some, like carrots or green peppers, can be sliced and frozen raw. For best results with vegetables that don’t freeze well, like celery or escarole, prepare a dish and freeze that. You can also make pestos. If you have a bunch of a particular herb, purée it in the blender or food processor, along with the flavorings or ingredients you like, and freeze in ice cube trays. You may want to add a bit of oil to facilitate this. Enjoy over pasta or add to other dishes for flavor.

Vegetable soup is a great way to use up miscellaneous vegetables. The key is not to overcook the vegetables. I sweat them until they’re about half cooked, then add the liquid and simmer just until they’re done. Use water if you don’t have stock—just season it well. You can add shredded leftover meat, rice, pasta, beans, whole grains like farro or bulgur.

When you’re going through the refrigerator or freezer, use a first in/first out mentality. Before buying food, think about using something from the freezer to free up space.

Me: I’ve promised myself I’m going to use up what I have on hand.

Emily: It’s going to take some planning and thought to prevent waste. That might mean taking a look every other day at your fresh fruits and veggies, then deciding to bake some apples or juice some lemons, or make a soup and freeze half of it.

Me: If you’re blessed to be healthy and practice good personal and kitchen hygiene, you can always leave a care package on a neighbor’s doorstep.

Emily: Absolutely, and if you’re experiencing food scarcity for financial reasons or an inability to get to the store, there are programs now to address that. Check with your municipality to see what is available in your area.

Here’s a longer version of this post at Angela’s site.

What are your tips for getting more out of less?

Bubbly Fun at Bath, England, by da-AL


The city of Bath, England, is famous for — its ancient Roman Baths! First, we’d seen London here, visited the British Museum here and here and here, Avebury henge, Stokesay Castle, Harlech and Conwy and Penrith and Ullswater, and later saw Scotland’s Kelpies

The Roman Baths at Bath are beautiful, but only to look at.

The Roman baths of Bath are a fantastic bit of time-travel. The green bubbling waters are no longer available for soaking in. Once upon a time, they were said to cure just about anything, but then a young girl died from catching a bug while swimming there in 1978…

Waive hi! The 2nd floor is newer. On the top right is the tea room.

There’s a museum with artifacts and explanations of their glory days. Dioramas show the site in its glory days…

A diorama of how the Roman Baths looked in their heyday, eons ago.

Back in the 1st century AD, this bather sported quite an intricate hair-do, front and back…

Rich ladies like this one must not have done their own hair.
Her hair is even more detailed in the back.

The gods were honored there…

Goddess Sulis Minerva had her own temple at the Roman Baths at Bath, England.
The gods were everything back then.

Some people flung their prayers, or rather their curses, written on lead and pewter to people who stole their stuff while they bathed…

The waters took care of gripes like these ones written on little tablets.

After a sample of safe-to-drink thermal water that’s piped in from nearby, we were ready for high tea there. Far more than a mere snack, the elegantly presented occasion included live classical music…

Tea refreshes mind, body, and spirit — along with delicious food, a storybook setting, and delighfful music.

Our tummies full and our leftovers packed in a doggie bag, we visited Bath Abbey next door…

There’s always something happening at intricate Bath Abbey.

And walked along the river.

Even without the Roman Baths, Bath is wonderful to stroll.

Are there natural baths, water, or mud or otherwise, around where you live?

A plea and a solution for food sellers by da-AL


My dear blog reader, if you or anyone you know agrees with the letter below, won’t you please share it, hashtag it, copy/paste it, add your name to it, and do whatever you like to get the basic sentiment out there? (And read on for an additional message to you that follows it.)

Dear Trader Joe’s, as well as other grocery stores and processed food manufacturers,

Food, glorious food! I love your stuff, and I adore it all the better when you sell it in containers that are healthy and easy to re-use.

Rather than cans and near-impossible-to-recycle (let alone repurpose) plastic vacuum-sealed boxes, sell us stuff in containers like these!…

Something delish…
Tastes better when it’s in something useful…
Like how this keeps a snack fresh!

Here’s the kind of jars I love best — think healthy, easy-to-clean, and uniform in which to store my beans, grains, flour, pasta, and such:

  • Straight-sided and where I can easily reach in wash clear down to the bottom.
  • Labels that require just a quick soak to remove.
  • Better yet, no labels at all, as in the case of the adorable drinking glasses illustrated after this letter — how sublime that the Welch’s name appears only in fine print!
  • Interchangeable sizes and lids would be extra classy!

The mustard sauce in the photo is great — and is all the better for the jar!

Yours truly,

da-AL — a customer who I doubt is alone

P.S. Don’t think you can get away with overpricing products with super-cute holiday gift-type containers and expect us to think you’ve done anyone a favor.

Back to you my dear cyberland friend,

As you can guess from above, I’m asking businesses to go beyond using less plastic. It’s lovely when grocers sell us food in glass jars. Let’s encourage them to take it up a gazillion notches by doing something that’ll benefit us while making us more loyal to them!

I hope you’ll share this with anyone who’s as upset as I am with how impossible it is to get away from plastic. Share this with individuals as well as with businesses. Even small gestures can go a long way when they’re multiplied. As consumers, our wallets wield immense power.

Every time I turn around, I read more scary stuff about how corrosive plastics are to our bodies, and downright catastrophic to the environment. There may have been a time when we deluded ourselves that plastic was better than glass, but these days, we know better.

When I was small, my family ate Welch’s jam. Why? Sure, it was tasty, and we needed something not too expensive for our toast — but with all the jams out there, Welch’s outsmarted the others! Theirs was in glass jars meant to be repurposed into drinking glasses! Customers wanted to collect the cute freebies while getting decent jams at the same time.

In the stone-age, harhar, jam came in these. They were great to drink out of and made shoppers want to go buy more to collect them!

Win-win joy here, there, everywhere!! Pardon me while I do a little jig at the keyboard! Why the heck don’t all stores and all brands continue to do something like what I described?

For crafty readers and those of us who enjoy looking at stuff we’ll never do — here and here and here and here and here and here and here are some links. Key search words: repurpose and up-cycle.

Are you concerned about plastics?…

Beach Eats at Gold Coast, Australia by da-AL


My new Gold Coast pal!

The city of Gold Coast is part of the Australian state of Queensland. Visitors flock there as much for its sunny subtropical temps as for its surfing beaches, architecture, theme parks, nightlife, and rainforest hinterland.

We stopped there to visit wonderful relatives, a cousin my husband hadn’t seen since he was a child, along with her marvelous family who we met for the first time. Little did we know, after seeing New Zealand’s Auckland / Rotorua / Redwoods / Huka Falls / Craters of the Moon / Waitomo Glowworms Caves / Taupo / Pirongia / Hamilton Gardens — that Australia also had so much to offer! Starting with Tai Chi in Gold Coast, birds of Australia Part 1 and Part 2great Gold Coast views, some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, fun with Rita Rigby, the beasts of Brisbane and the beauty there, and enjoying Sydney this much and that much.

From any angle, the city skyline to Gold Coast is wonderful…

Such stunning scenery (including my honey!).
Khashayar rests after a shoreline bike ride with Cousin Mark.

All the food we ate in Australia was tasty! For instance, we enjoyed an exceptional meal on the beach, at Rick Shores’ Restaurant. In addition, we were given great service everywhere. Here’s the menu just to give you an idea of prices (here’s a link for exchange rates) — keep in mind that prices pretty much always include sales tax and that tipping is not customary there…

This fine dining was worth the splurge.
Page 2 of Rick Shores Restaurant menu.
Gold Coast beach behind our dear family.
The food looked (and tasted!) too good to wait to snap photos until after we’d dug in.

Does your city have a mascot?

Family, Vegemite, and Tai Chi in Gold Coast, Australia by da-ALi


Our first evening in Gold Coast, Australia!

Australia is a quick flight from New Zealand. Getting there marked the second half of our vacation, which began with Auckland + Rotorua + New Zealand’s Redwoods + Huka Falls + Craters of the Moon + Waitomo Glowworms Caves + Taupo + Pirongia + Hamilton Gardens, as well as the birds of Australia Part 1 of 2 plus Part 2 of 2 + Spectacular Views in and Around Gold Coast + enjoyed delicious meal on the beach + saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary + had fun with Rita Rigby + met the beasts of Brisbane and the beauty there + enjoyed Sydney this much and that much, as well as the purring there!

We landed in Gold Coast to visit cousins who I’d heretofore not had the pleasure of meeting. Lovely inside and out, they were generous to us in every way!

What took me so long to meet these lovely family members?!
Good food, greater people!
Some of my Australian family is striped!

The following morning, a delicious breakfast awaited us — including yeast extract to spread on our buttered toast. Brands for the ‘acquired taste’ can be a heated topic: Australians generally vote for Vegemite, New Zealanders like Our Mate, folks in other places are partial to Marmite or Promite or Bovril or Cenovis or…

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After all the eating and relaxing, it was time to get moving!

Tai chi is healthy for all ages!

Admirably fit and flexible Rita (the beautiful lady with her arm around my waist) introduced me to a free tai chi class at the local park. If you’re ever in the area, Robina Tai Chi Club Secretary/Treasurer Yulan deSalve assured me that all are welcome to email her at yulandesalvo@gmail.com for particulars. Ask her nicely, and she might demonstrate the sitting koala pose!

Geckos are common guests in Gold Coast, Australia.

What animals do you have near your home that are unique to your area?

Awe for Auckland, New Zealand by da-AL


Too little time for da-AL to discover all of Mt. Eden, Auckland, New Zealand.

Mount Eden is the place to go for a fantastic full-circle view of Auckland, where my husband and I began and ended our visit to New Zealand. (Next we’d be off to Rotorua, then New Zealand’s Redwoods and Huka Falls, plus Craters of the Moon and Waitomo Glowworms Caves, then Taupo and Pirongia, as well as Hamilton Gardens. Later in Australia’s Gold Coast, we visited family, admired the birds of Australia Part 1 of 2 plus Part 2 of 2, then we marveled at the Spectacular Views in and Around Gold Coast, enjoyed a delicious meal on the beach, saw some wild things and cute things at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, had fun with Rita Rigby, met the beasts of Brisbane and the beauty there, and enjoyed Sydney this much and that much. as well as the purring there!

The site here in Auckland is actually three cinder cones, two of them filled in by the last one. Auckland is a lovely city filled with great restaurants with menus from all over the world — and great independent bookstores!

Time Out Bookstore, Mount Eden, Auckland, New Zealand. Auckland has some great independent bookstores, like this one!

Claire and Sam (our hostess and her golden retriever), along with her young neighbor (and the darling girl’s black dog), were all very welcoming. To stay at Claire’s lovely B&B, email her at duncan5@xtra.co.nz or call her at 0274512691

Khashayar, hostess Claire, and a charming young neighbor with da-AL. Khashayar, hostess Claire, and a charming young neighbor with da-AL.

So much to do in too little time …

da-AL at non-active crater, Mount Eden, Auckland, New Zealand. da-AL at non-active crater, Mount Eden, Auckland, New Zealand.

Next, we visited the rousing city of Rotorua

Have you visited a crater?

Easy! Yummy! Healthy! Brown Rice Corn Island with Seafood by K. Parsi


Healthy eating is fun with recipes that don’t require a lot of skill and time, yet can even wow guests. Famed chef Jacques Pépin inspired my husband to create this one…

Brown Rice and Corn Island with Seafood Stuffing
Healthy cooking can be simple.

Brown Rice and Corn Island with Seafood Stuffing

(serves about 8)

Read this recipe all the way through before you shop for ingredients and cook. It involves four cooking steps: a) rice, b) seafood, c) sauce, and d) plating.

Step A: Rice

1 medium diced onion

3 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 head (about 5 cloves) of diced garlic

3 cups brown rice

1 bunch (about 1 1/2 cup) chopped green onions

1 cup corn kernels

3 cups water

3 cups fish or chicken broth

1 tablespoon salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon saffron

1 cup shredded cheese (cheddar or Monterey Jack)

In a 5-quart pot, sauté onion in olive oil until lightly browned.

Add garlic and sauté for another couple of minutes.

Add brown rice and sauté until rice is covered with oil.

Add green onions to rice mixture, and sauté for another two minutes.

Add corn, water, broth, salt, pepper, and saffron.

Bring to a boil, occasionally stirring to avoid a crust forming on the bottom.

Reduce heat to simmer, add cheese, and cook for half an hour, or until rice softens.

Set aside to cool to room temperature.

Step B: Seafood Stuffing

1 medium julienned onion

2 tablespoons coconut oil

1/2 head (about 5 cloves) of diced garlic

2 pounds mixed seafood (e.g., shrimp, calamari, and scallops)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon turmeric powder

1 cup white cooking wine

Using a medium saucepan, sauté onion in coconut oil, until lightly browned.

Add garlic and sauté for a couple of minutes.

Add seafood and sauté for 5 minutes. Add cooking wine, salt, pepper, and turmeric, and cook for five more minutes on medium heat.

Remove the seafood mixture with a slotted spoon and place in a large bowl. Seafood will be used during plating, in Step D. Set aside juice for use in the sauce, which you’ll make next, during Step C.

Step C: Mushroom Sauce

2 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup white flour

6 cups milk

6 cups sliced fresh mushrooms

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

In the same saucepan, melt butter. Whisk in flour, stirring quickly to avoid lumps.

Whisk in milk.

Add mushrooms, salt, and pepper. Bring to boil.

Take off heat and set aside for plating.

Tip: If you get flour lumps, you can put the mixture in a blender before adding the mushrooms.

Step D: Plating

Parsley or chives for garnish

Butter the sides of a bowl.

Add a few spoonfuls of rice mixture to fill about 1/3 of the bowl.

Press rice down into the sides, creating a cavity in the middle of the bowl.

Fill to 3/4 full with seafood.

Cover with more rice, and gently pack it down.

Place a plate over the bowl, and flip them quickly, to get the rice onto the plate. Carefully unmold the rice by removing the bowl.

If your guests are not ready, you can place all the dishes in a 180-degree oven to keep them warm. Dishes may be kept there for up to half an hour. Any longer and the food will start to get too dry.

When ready to serve, gently spoon sauce around the ‘rice island.’

Garnish with parsley or chives.

Tip: If you have enough bowls, you can leave them over the rice plates until you’re ready to add the sauce around.

Enjoy!

Ancient and Modern: Lovely León, Spain by da-AL


Photo of da-AL at León book fair.
Rain can’t dampen the beauty of León’s historic district — especially when it’s got a late night book fair!

I love Spain! It’s no accident that one of my soon-to-be self-published novels is called, “Flamenco & the Sitting Cat.”

A dream to sightsee on foot, León, Spain, was the next to last stop of a fun-filled vacation that my husband and I began with a weekend in beautiful Barcelona and then a stop in wonderful Huesca. We crossed the French border into pretty saint-jean-pied-de-port, enchanting Espelette, and phenomenal French Basque Country cities Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Bayonne, and Biarritz. Upon our return to Spain, we enjoyed delicious food and seaside dogs in San Sebastián, and then the breathtaking city of Bilbao.

León, founded in 29 B.C., has so much fascinating architecture that the two days we visited weren’t enough to see everything. León’s gothic Santa María de León Cathedral was constructed mostly during 1205 to 1301, its north tower and cloister during the 14-century, and its south tower in 1472. Ever see Mother Mary pregnant? (Tap on photos to see them bigger and their captions.)

It’s an important cathedral on The Way of Saint James (El Camino de Santiago) religious pilgrimage route.

Architect Antoni Gaudí welcomes company. He’s best known for Barcelona’s Sagrada Família Cathedral. In León, he designed Casa Botines from 1891 to 1892. In 1929, it became a bank but has since reverted to its original appearance. Downstairs featured a display of Francisco Goya’s political cartoons.

Photo of da-AL with employee and Susana, owner of 'a comer' restaurant.
Susana and her employee cook with love — ‘a comer’ restaurant is a must-eat-at!

Spain’s homestyle food (unlike typical restaurant fare most anywhere) is loaded with delicious veggies. I swooned when we happened into a tiny eatery that cooked like I was visiting someone’s gourmet granny — we ate there twice! Every single morning, ‘a comer’ take out restaurant owner Susana shops for the best of what’s in season, then cooks a new menu from scratch — thank you from the bottom of my stomach, querida Susana!

Photo of hosts Marco Tsitselis and Mariu Alvarez Garcia.
We’re so glad Marco and Mariu rented us a lovely room!

Our hosts, Marco and Mariu, made our stay at their home extra cozy and our visit to León extra memorable — many thanks to both of them!

It was time to hit the highway to Madrid!…

Breathtaking Bilbao, Spain by da-AL


The Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain
The Guggenheim Bilbao, Spain, features many American artists, from Frank Geary’s architecture to Jeff Koon’s “Puppy” flower sculpture.

Sure Frank Gehry’s amazing architecture at the Guggenheim Museum helped put a failing Bilbao, Spain back on the map. Front, back, in, and out the Guggenheim Museum, Spain, turns perceptions upside down and inside out (tap or click each photo for more info)…

However, art and art-worthy architecture abound everywhere in Bilbao.

There's much notable architecture in Bilbao, Spain.
There’s much notable architecture in Bilbao, Spain.

Along the way to the museum, we stopped to see Azkuna Zentroa. Built in 1909, it now houses a building within a building balanced on unusual columns.

It’s part of the Spain half of Basque Country. That means that both Spanish and Euskara are spoken. Good food abounds, including pintxos, Northern Spain’s version of small delicious plates of tapas.

Bilbao, Spain is a beautiful city.
Bilbao, Spain is a beautiful city.

Our airbnb hostesses Iciar Ruiz (who owns her own design business) and her daughter, Alba, helped us decide what to see.

Iciar and her daughter made our visit extra nice.
Iciar and her daughter made our visit extra nice.

My love and I had just left the beaches of San Sebastián, toured the phenomenal French side of Basque Countrywonderful Huesca, pretty Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and enchanting Espelette. Our adventure started with beautiful Barcelona. There was more for us to see…