Ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!

I had an absolutely off-the-hook time at an Oktoberfest yesterday!

Pretzel on bavarian napkin

Brezel und Bier – Die besten Freunde!

Die Speisekarte was:

  • Märzenbier and Brezel
  • Wine:  Trimbach Riesling Cuvee Emile, 2009 (the best white I have ever had)
  • Rotkohl (the best red cabbage I have ever had, either in or out of Germany)
  • Kartoffelknödel (potato dumplings)
  • Spätzle (homemade)
  • Münchner Bratwurst

Bratwurst-Oktoberfest

Lots of laughing, singing, dancing, and toasts to die Gemütlichkeit!

And a new-found favorite German song – ‘Die Da?!’ by Die Fantastischen Vier.

Greetings from Scotland (Part 3 – Isle of Skye and Glencoe)

So after Inverness, the next destination was the über-tourist mecca in Scotland, Loch Ness.  We started the day at Urquhart Castle, which is about as picturesque as it gets. The entrance/visitors center is extremely well situated into the landscape; when you get to the castle, the buildings and the parking lot are completely camouflaged.

 

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Loch Ness, Scotland – 21 September 2016

 

 

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Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Scotland – 21 September 2016

 

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Urquhart Castle, Loch Ness, Scotland – 21 September 2016

After Urquhart Castle, we drove counterclockwise around the loch – most people go the other way – until we ended up on the Isle of Skye for our Fairy Pools hike.  This was another nail-biting drive on what amounted to a cart track going up the side of a mountain.  And while the weather started out fine in Inverness and around Lock Ness, the moment we pulled into the Fairy Pools hike parking lot, the rain started.  Coupled with the 30 mile-per-hour gale, it was like straight-line freezing rain right in your face. Most people were fleeing, but we were among the foolhardy (insane) souls that kept trudging on.  (We passed a girl in a wedding dress and a couple who were skinny dipping; such is the apparent allure of the Fairy Pools…)

 

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Isle of Skye, Scotland – 21 September 2016

 

 

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Fairy Pools, Isle of Skye, Scotland – 21 September 2016

After the hike, we were completely soaked.  There is absolutely nothing worse than cold, soaking wet jeans.

After the Fairy Pools, it was on to Dun Scaith Castle.  Another nail-biter, this time on a sheep path.  And once you got there, you were greeted by a pile of rocks.

 

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A sheep by the ‘road’ – Isle of Skye, Scotland – 21 September 2016

 

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Some cows – Isle of Skye, Scotland – 21 September 2016.

After the drive through the pasture, we went to our hotel, Kinloch Lodge.  Greeted with champagne by the fire in the drawing room, it was a nice way to end the afternoon.  (I had a whiskey here – the very definition of ‘fire water.’  My throat’s still burning.)  Dinner was fantastic; a Michelin-starred restaurant essentially in the middle of nowhere.

 

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Loch na Dal, Kinloch Lodge, Isle of Skye, Scotland – 22 September 2016

 

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Kinloch Lodge, Isle of Skye, Scotland – 22 September 2016

After leaving Kinloch, the next stop was Eilean Donan Castle.  It’s supposed to be one of the finest castles of its type in Scotland, but quite honestly, it was way too touristy for my taste.  We had to wait 3o minutes past opening time while a commercial was being filmed.  By that time, the tourist hordes had descended. Too many people…

 

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Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland – 22 September 2016

 

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Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland – 22 September 2016

After the castle was one of the unexpected highlights of the trip – the Glenfinnan Railway Viaduct.  It was a nice little hike to one of the quintessential scenes from the ‘Harry Potter’ films.

 

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Waiting for the ‘Hogwarts Express’ – Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland – 22 September 2016

Next, it was on to hiking on Ben Nevis, the highest mountain on the British Isles, but there had been a landslide on the route we were taking, so that got scrapped.  We regrouped and did some hiking in the Glencoe region, near our hotel for the evening.

 

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Glencoe Scotland – 22 September 2016

 

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Waterfall – Glencoe, Scotland – 22 September 2016

 

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Glencoe, Scotland – 22 September 2016

And then we arrived at Glencoe House.  This was a manor house built in the last quarter of the 19th century.  In the 1930s, the house was given to the National Health Service and converted into a hospital.  In the last few years, it was purchased and repurposed into an hotel.  This was the best place we stayed – right out of ‘Downton Abbey.’  (I highly recommend Suite 1 – it has one of the few working fire places.  Apparently, the when it was a hospital, they poured concrete down most of the chimneys.  Criminal.)  In total, the suite was three rooms – a huge dining room/drawing room; a very large bedroom; and a fantastic bath.  Suite 1 also has a private terrace with a hot tub.  There were even deer on the lawn!

There is no dining room at the hotel so all the meals are served in the suite’s private dining room.  Probably one of the best meals we had – created by Brian and Fionna Gunn who run ‘Bayleaf Catering.’  Brian was clearly passionate about what he does and it really showed.  A coursed meal – five or six, I think – in the dining room by a roaring fire.  It was decadent off the charts.

 

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Glencoe House (Suite 1 w/terrace on lower right), Glencoe, Scotland – 22 September 2016

 

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Loch Leven from Glencoe House – Glencoe, Scotland – 22 September 2016

We had to leave very early the next day – and I had to be practically dragged out of the place, but it was on to a boat ride, a potential resting place for the Holy Grail, and another ruined abbey.

Let’s Talk About Soup

So it’s definitely soup weather these days in Austin – and I love it!

We’ve gotten several large bunches of carrots the past two months in our weekly Farmhouse Delivery box.  Luckily, we’ve run across several great carrot soup recipes.  My favourite to date is this Fennel and Carrot soup from Bondir, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.  Silky and elegant, this would definitely be the starter course for the Christmas dinner I keep planning in my head.  This worked very well with a great cava I found.  I liked it so much, Brian bought me a case of it.  The background music for this dinner was Schumann, Waldszenen, Op. 82.   The Waldszenen and the Schubert Impromptus are essentially my fall soundtrack.

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Fennel and Carrot Soup from Bondir

This one – Curried Carrot and Apple Soup – from ‘Food & Wine’ was superb.  It’s hardier than the first one and really complex.  It was a fantastic meal on its own with rye bread.  The dinner music for this was a CD I got for Christmas – Masterpieces by Ellington.  Probably the best version of ‘Sophisticated Lady’ I’ve ever heard.

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Curried Carrot and Apple Soup – Food & Wine, November 2014

I was in the mood for goulash, so we had this Beef and Potato Goulash from Martha Stewart.  It was pretty good, but for me, the goulash gold standard is the one I had in Vienna at Die Zwölf-Apostelkeller.  The one we made was paired with this French Grenache, but I really enjoy goulash with a great Czech beer, Pilsner Urquell.

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Goulash with Domaine de la Damase Crenache

Gratuitous Post about Birds, Plants, and Wine

This has been a pretty good year for bird watching.  I’ve got a couple of painted buntings that visit fairly regularly.  These are generally one-time-a-year birds here – at least that’s my experience.

I also have a fairly substantial flock of European starlings.  Theirs is an interesting tale and instructive on the cautionary side.  The starlings were introduced to this continent in the 1870s by the American Acclimatization Society as part of a dubious project to bring each type of bird mentioned by Shakespeare to New York’s public parks.  They were successful, and then some.  Since their introduction, more than 200 million European Starlings have spread throughout the United States, Mexico, and Canada.  They may be responsible for the collapse of native species due to their aggressive nesting habits.

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European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)

Today is one of the first clear days we’ve had in quite some time.  It seems the haze that’s been hanging around lately is caused by a dust cloud the size of the contiguous United States which has drifted over from the Sahara.  It’s a relief to see blue skies again.

I recently enjoyed a very nice bottle of Sancerre (Domaine J. Gueneau, 2013).  It reminded me of a Grüner Veltliner – which I really enjoy.  It went quite well with vegetarian chipotle burritos.

 

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Sancerre – Domaine J. Gueneau, 2013

Last weekend, I planted an Australian Long-leaf Acacia.  I’ve decided to call her Adelaide, a nod to both the Australian city and my grandmother.  Its long tapered leaves are a nice contrast to the neighbor’s fig tree, the Japanese black pine, and the crepe myrtles that surround it.

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Long-Leaf Acacia (Acacia longifolia) – Adelaide

So here are the gratuitous plant photos – hope everybody has an enjoyable 4th of July!

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Bulbine; Roses; and Buddleia

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Wisteria Bloom

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Crepe Myrtles; Japanese Black Pine; and Pink Althea

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Morning Glory – Grandpa Ott – about to shut down for the summer

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Turks Cap and Holly Tree

Update –

My Black-Eyed Susan finally bloomed yesterday!

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Black-Eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta) and a Ghost Spider (Hibana velox)

And here’s a closer look at the edging…

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Edging – Norman Arch-Shaped Around the Elm Tree

 

Odds and Ends

 

I know I’ve been posting pretty erratically.  I’m still schlepping up to Abilene each week; sometimes twice.  I’ll be so glad when I can finally put that venerable city in my rear-view mirror permanently.  Ah well – that’s probably a while off for now.  Unfortunately, these Abilene sojourns are putting me way behind schedule in the garden.  I doubt I’ll be able to catch up this year – 2014 might actually end up being mulchless…sigh.

The trips to Abilene aren’t all that bad, though.  The wild flowers are stupendous this year.  Here’s a stretch on Highway 71 in Mason County between Llano and Brady.

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So, I past the half-century mark last Sunday.  Funny, I’m 50 but I feel 105.  Doubtless I’m that old geezer that yells “Hey…you kids…get off my lawn!”  I realized that I was old…really old…when I was setting up my mother’s apartment at the assisted living place and, when going through her CDs I thought, “Who listens to this rubbish?!? – AD/DC; Def Leppard; Rush; Cinderella; etc.”  My mother seems to be more hip than me.  My CD collection – vast as it is – starts with polyphonic chant from England and France and taps out at about 1938 with Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey.  During a recent visit, my sister was going on about Kim Kardashian’s wedding to Kanye West.  I’m not sure I know who either of these people are.  She looked at me like I was crazy when I said that Artie Shaw had been married to both Lana Turner and Ava Gardner and that Betty Grable and Harry James had been married.  I really think I’m quite fossilized.

In the yard, it’s been rather like a horror show.  Two weeks ago, I found a six-foot long shed rattlesnake skin in the storage bin where I keep some of my gardening equipment.  I needed a few stiff drinks after that.

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Rattlesnake Skin – 6-foot – YIKES!

At the same time, there was an industrious spider who build a 10-foot wide web between two trees.  The spider was about that same size as a Kennedy half-dollar – another old-geezer reference.  It was fascinating that the birds seem to be able to see the web and avoid it for the most part.

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This evening was a big grilling event.  The main course was grilled pizza, but I didn’t get a selffeed of that.  But here are the corn, carrots, and orange bell pepper I roasted.

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And with the grilled pizza, I had a fantastic Pinot Noir – Arrogant Frog.  A French wine from the Laguedoc, I highly recommend it!

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Arrogant Frog Pinot Noir

Here are some miscellaneous photos from the garden – hope everybody is having a great June!

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Celtic cross in buddleia and Turks’ Cap

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White Althea

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Caladiums and Buddah

 

 

Selfeed

So in today’s ‘That Should Be a Word’ section of the New York Times Magazine, the word was:

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(SELL-fede), v

To post photos of one’s meal.  “After Heloise selfeed the caviar for two minutes trying to get the best angle, Lucius grabbed the plate and stuffed it all in his mouth.”

I’m glad there’s a should-be word for my shameless posting (Thank you, Lizzie Skurnick).  Last evenings’ selfeed was Kerrygold Irish Mac and Cheese (recipe at the end).  I’d been craving this for awhile.  Macaroni and cheese is perhaps the best comfort food going and this version is my favourite.

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I’m never sure whether it’s red or white with Mac and Cheese, but I went with a red this time.  (On a related note, I recommend the four rules on how NOT to be a wine wanker.) The Fleurie La Cadole (2011) is a great Beaujolais – dark stone-fruit taste that went well with the creaminess of the Mac and Cheese.

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And speaking of wine, a couple of weeks ago I had a wine from Uruguay.  That sounds so unusual, but considering its proximity to Argentina, I don’t know why.  I can definitely recommend the Pueblo del Sol Tannat 2010.  It’s pretty sturdy stuff and paired very well with the chili and tamales we had.

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Now for the Mac and Cheese recipe.  Mac and Cheese is sort of like chili; there’s countless ways you can tweak the basics.  Enjoy!

Kerrygold Irish Mac and Cheese

The ultimate comfort food. Mac & Cheese is synonymous with fond memories, full bellies and family. Our version incorporates multiple members of our family of grass-fed cow’s milk cheeses into a gooey, bubbling crock of Irish flavor. Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter adds a creaminess that pushes comfort food into the realm of culinary magic.

Ingredients: 1 pound macaroni, penne or ziti, cooked tender and cooled 4 tablespoons Unsalted Kerrygold Butter 3/4 cup onion, small dice Pinch of sugar 4 tablespoons all purpose flour 3 cups milk 1 cup heavy cream 1 bay leaf 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves Salt and freshly ground black pepper 1 cup Kerrygold Aged or Reserve Cheddar, grated 1 cup Kerrygold Swiss, grated 1 1/2 cups Kerrygold Dubliner, grated 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg 1 cup breadcrumbs

Directions: Cook pasta according to package instructions and set aside to cool. In saucepan, melt Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter over medium heat, add onion and lightly season with salt. Add a pinch of sugar and cook onion until translucent.

Add flour and cook 2 to 3 minutes, stirring constantly. Do not cook long enough to color. Whisk in milk and cream and incorporate totally. Bring mixture to a simmer; add bay leaf and cloves.

Reduce burner to low heat. Cook for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Turn off heat and remove bay leaf. Whisk in 1 cup each of the Kerrygold Cheddar and Swiss Cheeses, until incorporated. Season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. In large bowl, combine pasta and cheese sauce. Spoon into 2 1/2-quart casserole dish. Combine remaining cheese. Top with grated Dubliner, thyme or other chopped herb, and a small handful of breadcrumbs. Bake at 375° F for 8 to 10 minutes.

Options: For an added touch of hearty goodness, add 1/4 cup of cooked and chopped bacon or French ham or 1 1/2 cups of wild mushrooms sautéed in olive oil with chopped shallots and garlic. Adding chopped parsley or another favorite herb is also an easy and tasty option.

Cooking Odds and Ends

So we had some really knock-out meals recently that I just had to get out into the ether.  Last Sunday it was super cold and dreary – the high for the day was 36F (2C) – and that put me in the mood for Pot Roast.  This recipe was in the crock pot, but it was seared first, which is absolutely essential, I think.  Quite simple – heat a Dutch oven to screaming hot; add 3 table spoons of grape seed oil and brown all sides of a 3-4 lbs chuck roast, 3 minutes per side.  Transfer to a crock pot and add 8 oz. beer and one packet of Italian dressing mix.  Cook for 8 hours on low.  I get creative with the braising liquid.  For this, I used a dark stout aged in whiskey barrels.  It was fantastic.

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With the roast, I had a Michael David Petite Petit from Lodi, California – one of my favourite Petit Sirahs…

With leftovers from Thanksgiving, we made the very best Turkey Pot Pie I have ever had.  Two secrets to this – the gravy was made from roasted Turkey broth and the ‘crust’ was essentially several cornmeal and chive dumplings.  It was really outstanding.  Nothing like comfort food…and this cast-iron skillet belonged to my great grandmother – it’s probably coming up on the century mark.  If there was a kitchen fire, I’d save this and my Le Creuset Dutch oven.

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And speaking of Le Creuset – and things French, I had a nice little Côtes de Bourg with this.  I was supposed to have the wine with Thanksgiving dinner, but as you’ll note from the photo, there was a ‘cork malfunction.’

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Côtes de Bourg w/ defective cork