Tag Archives: culture

UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden

One morning, before the conference began, I had time to wander around the UCLA Mildred E. Mathias Botanical Garden at the edge of the UCLA campus. I was so glad I could go and was amazed at the difference in vegetation between that of Europe and that of California. Even though there is a certain roughness to the plants, obviously designed in such a way due to harsh climate and to enable their survival, I still found a beauty applied to them. The garden was superbly kept and I was surprised at how underused it was. There was hardly a soul about while I walked about. There were only squirrels for company. I hope I captured some of that beauty in these photographs.

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I had never seen so many cacti before! I loved the many varieties and their shapes and sizes. Some looked positively lethal!

I  came across this beast of a thing, which kind of left me in awe. It was a tree but had spikes on its trunk. I loved the symmetry of the spikes and the leaves. I decided to give tree-hugging a pass this time around.

There were many plants with vivacious colours such as these Californian poppies, which really brightened up the place.

When I think of bamboo I am reminded of the fight scene which takes place in a bamboo forest in the film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Tall, vibrant green forests of the stuff. So I was amazed to see the bamboo below which has red berries, red rimmed leaves and is a smaller variety. It is known as Heavenly Bamboo.

Heavenly bamboo

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This plant’s leaves felt so thick and surreal, almost cloth-like in texture. Some trees were very surreal. For instance, the tree on the left reminded me of a hand sticking up in the air, in salute, and the tree on the right made me think of the mythological character, Medusa, who had a head of snakes for hair!

              I enjoyed watching the tortoises sunning themselves on the rocks in the stream and watching the world go by. Well for some, I guess :)

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Filed under Garden, photography

Up the airy mountain, down the fairy glen …

Fairy ring in Deer Park, Dublin, with Dublin Mountains in the background.

I went a walking and came across a fairy ring! The title of this post is from the first line of a poem written by William Allingham, which we had to learn in school.

On my way to work today, while passing through Deer Park, I came across a fairy ring. I have not seen one in a long time. I am aware of the fact that these rings occur as a result of a naturally occurring phenomenon, but there is still an aura of mysticism about them which makes me almost nostalgic for an era that is coming to an end in Ireland. Well, in the cities anyway. Nowadays, we cityfolk are all too busy to notice nature around us and are too easily distracted by work, deadlines, finances etc. However, in rural Ireland, fairy folklore is still rife.  

When I was young, there was a field behind my house in which there was a fairy fort.  Of course now, there is a housing estate built on top of it. The myth was that if one put a bottle of milk into the centre of the fort and left it there overnight, the milk would be rancid the next morning. We never played inside the fort for fear of being kidnapped by the fairies or ill-luck befalling us!

The Fairy Ring by George Cruikshank

The belief was that fairy rings were created by fairies dancing at night. The ground within the ring was considered dangerous. It was not thought  a wise decision to build upon this land. There are tales in Ireland of roads being re-routed to avoid building upon a fairy fort. Ireland is strewn with ancient structures such as these forts, megalithic tombs,  hawthorn trees etc. and the common belief was that it was best not to destroy them as the fairies would curse those who disturbed them.

What always disturbed me were the folktales which related how fairies would kidnap children in the middle of the night and replace that child with a fairy look-alike.  Irish literature is full of these incidents. William Butler Yeats writes in The Stolen Child:

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

Instagram photo of the fairy ring with gloomy trees

However, on a  more uplifting note, I also came across snowdrops, which herald the true beginning of Spring.  I love the way the drooping flower looks like a lamb bowing its head!

Galanthus ‘snowdrop’
 
 
 
 
 

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Love locks of Pont des Arts

On a beautiful sunny afternoon we crossed the magnificent foot bridge known as Pont des Arts in Paris. It links the Left bank to the Louvre museum. I loved walking across the bridge and reading all the inscriptions on the love locks adorning the fencing. Seren loved playing with them along the way. We even saw a wedding take place on the bridge. Here are some photographs of a small selection of what seems to be thousands of locks.

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doors in paris

This post marks my return from a foray into academic conferences and a week’s holiday in Paris. Both were enjoyable although I don’t think a trip to Paris with two children under four would exactly be described as relaxing! I have always been fascinated with doors of every shape and size and while in Paris, I took lots of photographs with the bestt intention to post on WordPress upon my return. But I can’t believe someone beat me to it with this beautiful post. So I thought I might as well add to the trend.

There are many big doors such as the one below:

or this magnificent door. Does anyone recognise what famous building the door below belongs to?

There are little doors dotted throughout the city. Blink and you pass by without even noticing them.

There are wide doors…

and narrow doors… (the mind boggles as to how people move bulky furniture in and out of doors like this one below!)

I came across several enchanted doorways such as this one. It looked so enticing.

Of course, then there is also beautifully painted and ornate doors such as these two. I love the grid-iron in both of these doors.

I can’t leave out the funky door! There is an Asian feel to this one.

There are also some very contemporary doors. This one is courtesy of my husband! Thanks Pete…

Some doors have been disguised…

You can’t have a door without a knocker! Here is one I came across.

Call me a geek but I am always saying there is a good coffee table book in the making from European doors. I am sure someone will beat me to that too!

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Dad’s delights

We went to visit my father last weekend. We always leave stuffed to the gills due to the good food consumed. A great effort is always made to make sure we eat well. This weekend was no exception. My husband, Peter, likes to raid the cheese drawer in the fridge. I should explain that since my father is Swiss, he is a keen cheese lover (as is Peter). Peter was not disappointed when he stumbled upon a stinky, creamy, gooey gorgonzola. This cheese was so runny. The smell was so strong that it could singe nose hairs and although a cheese lover can appreciate that a strong-smelling cheese is indicative of a good flavour, this cheese’s smell was maybe a bit too intense. It did not deter us from putting lashings of it on a french stick. Butter was not required due to the cheese’s creaminess. It tasted divine. So smooth and salty.

My other favourite thing I had to eat was a starter salad. The previous day my dad took us to the Milk Market Limerick. It was a great experience with many sights and smells of fruit, vegetables, fish, baked goods, meats, cheeses, coffee etc. Of course, when we first walked in we were met by a magnificent fruit stall. The figs looked sumptuous so Peter bought enough to feed an army. We rambled through the stalls tasting here and there. I especially liked the food stall selling dried salamis and cured meats. My dad bought a creamy goat’s cheese and a mixed berry tart. That had us sorted! So the next day, we had this starter.

It consisted of fresh salad from the garden topped with grated kohl rabi (also from the garden), a halved fig, a sprinkling of crumbled goat’s cheese. I picked some red currants to add a bit of colour. A nice Dijon vinaigrette was drizzled over the plate and served.

For main course we had fresh lemon sole which we bought at the market, served with new potatoes from the garden and my dad’s homemade tartar sauce. The fish was tossed in flour and fried in the pan for a few minutes.

Despite all the glorious food I had consumed, I made sure I had enough space left for that berry tart staring at me from the counter!

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Velvety sin.

I made this for dessert for our Easter Sunday feast. Yes, it has taken me a month and a half to post it, but better late than never! It was to die for. The chocolate was so rich.  I used O’Connaill’s organic chocolate, which is made in Co. Cork. The smell of the chocolate alone was enough to send me into a cocoa coma.

The chocolate really acted as a launch pad for the floral-citrus flavours of the cardamom. This spice changed the mousse into a luxury, which was sinfully delicious. I loved crushing the cardamom pods in the mortar, releasing the smell throughout the kitchen. The kids loved sticking their noses in to experience this new smell.

I poured the mousse into little Moroccan tea glasses. It was great because I could prepare it and put them in the fridge the day before. This saved on time the next day amidst the frenzy of cooking three other courses.

Chocolate & cardamom mousse, amaretti and coffee

Chocolate & Cardamom Mousse

2oog good-quality dark chocolate (minimum 70% cocoa solids)

100ml single cream

4 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon caster sugar

half teaspoon cardamom seeds

(this serves 4 people)

Method

Break the chocolate into a glass bowel suspended over a saucepan of simmering water. Stir often to make sure that no lumps form.

Ready for action!

Remove from the heat and stir in the cream, egg yolks, sugar and cardamom seeds.

In a clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until they form stiff peaks.

Fold the whisked eggs into the chocolate mixture.

Fold in gently to allow air into the mixture

Pour the chocolate mixture into individual glasses and place in the fridge for 1 hour or until set.

Pour into cups or glasses, even espresso cups will do

This recipe is taken from Homemade: Irresistible recipes for every occasion by Clodagh McKenna, 2010

Of course this would not have achieved without the help of my two trusty tasters helpers.

Olwyn's gobstopper

Seren's chocolate beard

Then it was seriously a case of death by chocolate…

I don't need instructions on how to eat this!

See! I am an expert at it.

I think Babi and Olwyn approve.

And the award for the biggest chocaholic goes to...

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Filed under food, Recipes

Bloomin’ marvellous

This Bank Holiday weekend saw Bloom 2011 take place in Phoenix Park, Dublin. So we packed up the kids, snacks and teddies and went along on the last day. After getting the train, tram and shuttle bus, we arrived to the buzz of thousands of people attending. We were not alone!

Arriving at Bloom

Upon arrival we quickly made a bee-line through the Victorian walled kitchen garden and were made jealous of their perfect crops of potatoes, strawberries, onions etc.

Seren climbing up to the sky

The first port of call was the massive playground to tire out the kids. We were lucky to get there early on in the day before the crowds came so the kids got a turn on the swings and had plenty of fun running around, climbing, jumping without bumping into other little ones. Olwyn loved the bug slide and went down it about fifty times and in the end was just as happy climbing up and down the step. Seren had a blast joining in with the big kids on the climbing frames. 

Olwyn loved the bug slide

Once we had sufficiently ran the legs off the girls, we grabbed two sausages from the nearest vendor and sat in the walled garden to eat them. We were a bit dismayed not to have brought a proper picnic. The sausages cost 6 euro each and to be honest were not worth it. Peter’s could have done a few minutes extra on the grill.Oh well, it gave us sustenance and the girls enjoyed the bread! Now that we had full tummies we were ready for the madness of the show gardens…
 
It was difficult to tackle the crowds with a double buggy! But nothing  that a little patience helped with. Although some people seemed to fail to notice the giant buggy and tried to plough straight through it! Some of the gardens were really inspirational and a real delight to look at.
Foxgloves galore!
I loved this garden for the shere amount of foxgloves dotted throughout the garden. It was magical and the photograph doesn’t do it any justice. I think foxgloves were highly fashionable this year as we saw lots of people carrying these plants around, after having bought them. However I thought to myself “would they actually survive the trip home”? My favourite garden was designed by Anú Green and Hortisculptures, but unfortunately I did not get the opportunity to take a photograph of it. This garden was aiming to promote conservation of Ireland’s unique boglands and incorporated moss and lichens into the sculptures. We even got talking to one of the designers, who was very cool and a pleasure to chat to.
 While Peter went to help out a friend who had an exhibition stand, I took the kids to Hamley’s kids corner. This was such a huge hit with Seren and Olwyn. Seren got to pet a real snake and she didn’t blink an eye in fright. There were two baby dinosaurs too and their keepers were brilliant with the children.

The dinosaur keeper!

 Next it was down to some serious business doing colouring in!

Do not disturb!

There was great excitement in the area when the Hamley bear appeared out of thin air. He was surrounded by children. The girls were real lucky though as they got story time with the bear and they got to sit right on front of him. It was so much fun observing them. Olwyn was nearly beside herself with excitement. Here are some photographs of their joyous moments.

Story time with Hamley bear

Big bear hug!

Next it was off to make some bird feeders out of peanuts, which I ended up making myself. But it was nice to just sit down in the sun for a minute, hee hee.

Clearly enthralled in the art of making a bird feeder - not!

Then it was off to the chill out zone where the kids got to laze on gigantic bean bags and listen to someone read stories aloud. Seren was enthralled.

My little bookworm

 Seren had been going on about having an ice-cream for about two hours now. Not only that but it had to be a vanilla ice-cream, not chocolate! So we eventually gave in and got her a cone. Pure bliss and …silence!

Happiness is....eating ice-cream

 and coffee for mum and dad – phew

A bit of r&r

So now that the kids were happy, we went to the artisan food stalls and got to pick on lots of yummy samples. We couldn’t resist and bought some Bluebell goat’s cheese and a jar of ginger and chili jelly, which we devoured once we got home. The trip home was a mammoth task in itself. The women’s mini-marathon was on that day also. So all the public transport was packed. But we made it without the kids having a meltdown! We were so happy to be at home at last after a great family day out for all the kids (big and small).

 
 

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