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Sean's Blog

Feasting Local

So our power was out last night, through most of the night, but it came back on just before 6:00am and stayed on.  This was fortunate, as there was a lot of cooking planned for today.

The snow on the trees did look pretty in the sunlight this morning (click to enlarge):



It appeared that we got a total of 6 or 7 inches over the storm.


We did another shoveling of the driveway (which went quickly with the help of our houseguests), and knocked snow off the branches of a lot of trees and bushes that were being weighed down.

Our Thanksgiving meal once again had a bunch of local ingredients.  I did not take pictures today, but here’s a rundown of dishes we had and where various foodstuffs came from:

  • Chestnut bread stuffing: contained leeks from the Hampshire College farm center (about a mile from the house), chestnuts from our trees, and sage, thyme, and rosemary from our garden.
  • Mashed potatoes and celery root: the celery root was also from the HC farm center (they have a fall CSA that we buy a share in every year), and there were also chives from our garden in this dish.
  • Baked sweet potatoes: these are from the HC CSA.
  • Popovers: eggs and milk from specific area farms went into these.
  • Boiled beets: HC CSA
  • Steamed broccoli: HC CSA
  • Sautéed kale: HC CSA
  • Apple pie: made with Cortland apples from Atkins Farm, which is also about a mile from our house.

We also had a bit of a few different vegetables that we’ve pickled recently (turnips, eggplant, daikon – all from HC).  More on that activity will probably come in a future post.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Posted by seaking on 11-27-2014 at 10:11 pm
Posted in Food with 0 Comments

White (and dark) Thanksgiving

We’ve had a bit of a snowstorm come through today – the first snow to stick this season.  Here’s how things looked when we were starting to shovel:



Things were otherwise fine until I was defrosting some soup for dinner (to feed us and guests who were about to arrive to stay a few days), and then the power went out. It ended up being off for 2.5 hours.  The fortunate thing is that we have a wood burning stove, and I was able to finish heating dinner on it.

We we were worried about cooking Thanksgiving dinner tomorrow, until the power came back on just after 8:30.  Then things seemed fine.

However, the power went out again around 10:30 or so, and is still out as of this writing (I’m posting this from my phone).  Here’s hoping it’s back on by morning.




Posted by seaking on 11-26-2014 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Food, News with 0 Comments

The Old to the New to the Old

On Thursday of my visit to London, I headed up to the Tower of London.  Before entering the place, I went looking for some food, and got a mediocre partial English breakfast at a pub.  The person who served me did not seem to be experienced at serving breakfast, as she had to consult with someone to figure out what was in the different breakfast offerings on the menu.  She also gave me tea in a cup that didn’t match its saucer (it barely balanced on the saucer).

While heading to the Tower entrance, I saw a big field of poppies around it:




Here’s a close-up (click to make bigger):


They’re made of porcelain, and attached to wires.  They’re a commemoration of World War I – more info can be found here.

I went in and waited for a Yeoman Warder (Beefeater) tour to start.  While waiting, I noticed interesting looking buildings across the river:



Soon, this Warder, named Moira, showed up to start the tour:


Here is the entrance through the outer wall:


Some shots inside:








Moira talked about a number of executions and other bloody stuff that happened in centuries past in the Tower (which is actually a big fortress with multiple towers in it).  The tour did not actually go inside any of the buildings – we were left to do that on our own after the tour.  At the tour’s conclusion, she took questions, and there were some interesting ones.  For one, the Scottish independence vote was still a week in the future at that point, so she was asked her opinion (as she is Scottish).  She demurred.  She was also asked about the first female Yeoman Warder, to which she answered, “Yes.”  The questioner then said, “When was that?” and she replied, “I started in 2007.”  I later learned that not only is she the first woman to serve in the position, she is still the only one to have done so.

This portcullis is in the bottom of the “Bloody Tower”:


and here is the top of it, inside:


In another building, graffiti carved by people held prisoner there:


A guard outside the residence used by the royal family, if they are ever staying at the Tower:


and this guard is outside the building which houses the Crown Jewels:


The White Tower, at the center of the complex:


A narrow window:


There are ravens kept at the tower:


You can tell they’re used to people, as you can get quite close to them:


This is the Traitor’s Gate, where prisoners were brought in directly from the Thames (safer than bringing them in by land):



A cannon decorated with dragons:


Some grotesques:



I exited the Tower on the river side, and was able to see the sort of moat there:


as well as the other side of the Traitor’s Gate:


And here is the Tower Bridge:


From there, I took a bus west, and got off by St. Paul’s Cathedral:


I then walked south, to head over the river on the Millennium Bridge:


The view from the bridge:


Looking back toward St. Paul’s:


The bridge as seen from the south bank:


I was headed for the Tate Modern museum, which is pictured here from the bridge:


I spent a few hours there, especially interested in their surrealist exhibit (they had at least one Dali).  It’s also generally fun to see cubism and other 20th century stuff.

After the Tate, I went to a pub just downriver, and got takeaway fish and chips (with mushy peas).  It was quite good, and included a big slab of fish.

After dinner, I headed into Shakespeare’s Globe, a recreation of the original 16th century theater, to see The Comedy of Errors.

I had bought a ticket to stand in the yard, as it was cheap, and why not be right up by the stage?  My feet were a bit sore from days of walking, but I got in early enough that I was able to get a spot right at the stage and could lean on it.

Here’s the interior of the place:




and the exterior when I left later:


The play was quite funny.  I had never seen it before, but this is the Shakespeare play that involves a huge misunderstanding, and mistaken identity…   😉

The Millennium Bridge was lit up after dark:


I walked upriver to Blackfriar’s Bridge, and just south of there I was able to catch a bus back to my lodging.

Posted by seaking on 11-18-2014 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Arts/Media, Food, Travel with 0 Comments

Crater and Climb

On my fourth day in Iceland, I checked out of Héradsskolínn to head back to Reykjavik.  There was finally good sunlight shining on the town of Laugarvatn, so I took some last pictures of the hostel:



and of the nearby mountain:


and some other buildings in the town:


This is the Laugarvatn Fontana, where I had the geothermal bread and smoked trout.  It’s kind of hard to tell in the photo, but it has a grass roof:


I also got a picture of this re-purposed mixer inside the hostel:


I took a different route back to Reykjavik than I had taken out.  I first headed south on Route 37.  Here’s a view of the lake not long after I departed:


I headed south until I hit Route 35, which I then followed west by southwest.

At one crossroad, I made a point not to take the right turn:


although resistance was probably futile.


At one point on 35, I saw signs for a tourist site called Kerid (it can also be transliterated as Kerith – the last letter is an eth).  I did not know what it was, so I stopped to take a look.

It turns out to be a huge volcanic crater:



To give you an idea of the scale of the place, here’s a person standing atop the slope:


There was a path going all the way around the top, so I got to see the crater and its little lake from all angles.




One can also walk near the bottom, around the water, but I didn’t want to take the time, so I got back on the road.

Not too long later I came to Route 1, near the large town of Selfoss.  I started following it west (with it angling north a bit), and after another half hour or so, stopped for lunch in a much smaller town called Hveragerdi.  There wasn’t much there, but there was a bakery in a small mall that served sandwiches, so I got a decent meal.

I walked around the little mall after eating, and discovered this:



I did not know what to make of it until I saw this sign:


Thorir thú, indeed?  It didn’t matter whether I dared, as it did not seem to be in operation while I was there.

The riding had been pretty level so far that day, but as I left Hveragerdi I had a good-sized hill to climb.  I did not realize just how long a hill it was.  I was in the lowest gear, pedaling as long as I could hold out, and then stopped to rest.  Then I went another good ways, and had to rest again.  I thought I was getting near the top at that point, but I found out soon enough tha my second rest was only halfway up the hill.

Here are some pics from the halfway point:




Here’s the view up the hill:


Which at least contained a pretty waterfall:


After 2 more rest stops, I was at the top, and rode on a fairly long straightaway.  I could tell I was on a high plateau of some kind, because the wind was fairly unrelenting.  The temperatures had been in the 50s for most of my time in the country, and it was right around 49 or 50 that day, so the wind made it uncomfortably cold.  It also was often blowing from in front of me, so it was not easy to make headway.  Another unfortunate fact is that the shoulders of the road were not very wide through this section, and on Route 1 cars were zooming by at 90 KPH or more.

I do not recommend this road as a good cycling route.   🙂

Eventually, I got to a good long downhill portion, and though I still had to contend with cold wind, the going started to get easier.  I stopped off at a gas station to warm up a bit at one point, after which the shoulders got wider as I got near Reykjavik.

Once I got to the outskirts of the city, I was able to find my way back to the paths I’d used to exit the city earlier in the week, and so I retraced my route back to the airbnb apartment (I was to stay that night in the same place I’d stayed my first night in Iceland).

I got checked in around 4:30pm, showered and changed, and then went to the shopping mall nearby to look for a cheap backpack or something like it.  I was done carrying luggage on a bike for this trip, so I thought I should replace my broken bags with something better.  I found cheap, small backpacks at a sporting good store and bought 2 of them.

After that I headed into the city to get dinner. I saw this recycling container near the harbor:


I ended up at a restaurant called the Sea Baron, where you pick out skewers of raw food from a refrigerated case, and they grill them for you.  I got skewers of redfish, potatoes, and vegetables (pepper, mushroom, onion, tomato).

I looked around the downtown a bit after dinner before heading back to my lodging.  I saw this figure next to a gift shop:


One of many elves that populate Iceland, I believe.

I also passed by a little lake, which had ducks swimming around in the dark:


Usually I’d expect them to sleep at night.

Speaking of which, I got back without incident and went to sleep for my last night in Iceland.

Next: off to the UK


Posted by seaking on 11-10-2014 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Biking, Food, Travel with 0 Comments

Rain, Repairs, and Rocks

September 2 was my first full day in Iceland, and as detailed in my last post, it began with picking up a rented bicycle.  Once I rode back to the apartment I’d stayed overnight in, I packed up my things, including trying to compensate for the broken zippers on my luggage.  I loaded the panniers on the bike’s rack, and used a piece of stretchy netting with hooks (which I got years ago for holding things on a bike rack) to hold shut the side pocket.  I then covered the top bag with a plastic trash bag and wrapped the borrowed bungee cord around it.  This held it closed nice and tightly.  I made a few holes for the buckles that would clip it on top of the panniers, and attached it.  I then put over the whole array the rain fly that came with the bike luggage set.  That would keep things dry and have the added benefit of holding the bags together.

I got going on the bike around 11:00am.  I headed east, following a bike/walking path that paralleled the main road out of the city (Route 49).  On the way, I encountered a river with an island of ducks (click on any image to see the high-res version):


There had been a bit of drizzle off and on during the morning, but just after I took this picture, it began to rain in earnest.  The rain did not last very long, though, mostly letting up by the time I got near the outskirts of the city and Route 1, AKA the Ring Road.  Here I’m looking out at Route 1 from up a hill, the bike path having gotten away from 49:



I managed to make my way downhill to a road whose sidewalk went under Route 1, and then bent north, which was the way I wanted to head on 1.  The sidewalk went away from any roads for a bit, and I followed it in what I thought was the correct direction, but I eventually noticed I could see the city ahead of me.  I had gotten partly turned around and was heading northwest, into a residential neighborhood, and sort of back toward downtown.  I made my way toward high ground to see if I could find my way back to 1, and it started raining some more as I did so.  I did eventually make my way out of the subdivision, and saw a way down to 1.  I headed there and got on the proper bike path, which went north right next to 1.

After a short while, I came to this sign at a cross road:


Not sure what to make of the graffito on it (it’s reversed from the usual swastika orientation).

In that field were a bunch of horses:


with an impressive ridge behind:


The rain had subsided for a little while, and then started anew.  I had to get off the bike path briefly and ride on 1, and just as I saw where I could get back on the path, I suddenly had trouble steering, and discovered that the rear tire had gone flat.  I got off the road, and looked around for a good place to change the tube.  Fortunately, I was next to a small park, and I spotted a gazebo.

I had planned for such an emergency, bringing a spare tube, tools, and pump.  With the gazebo, I was able to get out of the rain, which made the repair work much more pleasant.  It also stopped raining again while I was working.

This is the gazebo, and Óli Stef with a fresh new tube in place:


There was a little pond right near the gazebo:

There were also some fairly hidden ducks there (at least, it took me a while to spot them):


The park seemed to be in honor of someone or something, according to this sign:


and it included this interesting sculpture that uses a big piece of lava rock:



I got back on the path and rode on to the intersection of 1 with Route 36.  The bike path headed off to the east, running along 36, which happened to be the way I wanted to go which was good.  It was also raining heavily at that point, which was not so good.  I had a rain poncho, but it only does so much good – especially annoying is the rain pelting one’s face in such circumstances.  Soon after starting to follow 36, I passed a cyclist going the other direction – the first other bike I’d seen since leaving Reykjavik.

After another couple of miles, the path ended and I had to ride on the edge of the road.  36 isn’t a very wide road, but there also is not a ton of traffic, so it was generally not an issue for cars to go around me.  As had been the pattern so far, the rain let up after a while, but this time a bit of sun peeked through.  Here’s an example of what the view is like along much of 36:


For a while after taking this picture, I had dry riding.  Before I knew it, I had reached the border of Thingvellir National Park.  There will be more on the park itself in a later post, as I was only riding through the park that day, and would be coming back to visit more thoroughly later in the week.

When I got to the park border, I found this field of rock cairns:



Beyond the field is the park’s lake, Thingfallavatn:


The road went a bit north at this point, then turned east again (so as to go around the lake).  In the middle of the park I stopped at the snack bar/gift shop and got something to eat.  It was a lamb and bean salad sandwich.  That is to say, the sandwich had a slice of lamb lunchmeat, and the bean salad was basically mashed white bean of some kind, with bits of green bean in it.  It wasn’t bad, and I was certainly hungry, even though I’d eaten some snack food that I brought along.

Some more rain started falling while I was at the snack bar, but the sun was out toward the west, so there was a rainbow in the eastern sky:


I headed on through new rain, as the road headed south a ways.  The rain stopped again shortly before the road exited the park, and I had dry riding the rest of the way to my destination.  Here are some more views from around the eastern park border, including looking back at the lake:




I soon turned east again, getting onto Route 365.  This took me another several miles to the town (and smaller lake) of Laugarvatn, where I would be staying the next few nights.

Posted by seaking on 11-07-2014 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Biking, Food, Travel, Wildlife with 1 Comment

A Feast for Your Eyes

As I promised last night, here are pictures of our Thanksgiving meal, some in-progress shots, and some of the finished dishes.

We first worked on the pies.  I don’t like making pie crust, but my partner is good at it and likes it.  The situation is the opposite with the filling, so while she was cutting butter and rolling dough, I was peeling, coring, and slicing apples.  We put together 2 pies , and here they are before they went in the oven:

The pattern on the first one may look familiar to you.

There is generally extra dough leftover after pies are assembled, so we put it in small pieces on cookie sheets, and sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar:

We had enough of those to fill 3 sheets (not to the wind).

Here are the finished pies (in late afternoon sun):

After the pies were done, I went out while there was still daylight and picked kale and chives in the garden (yes, both are still alive):

I spent about 2 hours on the cooking of dinner, and I made all the following dishes, except for the popovers.

Sweet potatoes that have been steamed, before mixing in the dressing:

After dressing (they got a little mashed from then stirring):

Mashed potatoes and celeriac (with minced chives):

Beets (white and striped):

Broccoli and purple cauliflower:

The cooked kale:


The sauerkraut (which was merely taken out of the fridge – we made it weeks ago):

Warm, fresh popovers:

We finished dinner a little while ago, and are waiting to have room for pie.  The aftermath of all this food includes, of course, a lot of dirty dishes to do:

We do have a dishwasher, but I expect it will still take a day or so to get caught up on those.  We also have plenty of leftover food, so we’ll have nice big dinners for a few nights, yet.


Posted by seaking on 11-24-2011 at 07:11 pm
Posted in Food with 1 Comment

Local Thanksgiving

So, I’ve been planning our Thanksgiving meal the last few days, and was working this evening on the cooking schedule.  During this process, I realized that a lot of the meal is composed of very locally produced foods.

To wit, here’s what will be having, with the local connections:

  • Popovers, made with eggs from a free range chicken farm about 10 miles away
  • We may have some crab apple jelly on those, made by us from crab apples grown in our yard and on some trees half a mile from here
  • Mashed potatoes and celery root (both from the Hampshire College CSA), with chives from our garden
  • Steamed sweet potatoes with miso/brown sugar dressing
  • Boiled beets (from HC CSA)
  • Broccoli and cauliflower (from HC CSA)
  • Sauteed red Russian kale (from our garden)
  • Sauerkraut, made by us from red cabbage from the HC CSA
  • Mixed green salad with dried cranberries
  • Apple pies, made with Cortland apples from Atkins Farms (whose store is 1 mile from our house, and the orchard about 2 miles away)

So only the salad and sweet potatoes don’t involve products from our immediate area.  Pretty neat.

Tomorrow, I’ll provide some pictures of this fine repast.


Posted by seaking on 11-23-2011 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Food with 0 Comments

Cake, Dogs, and Imported Candy

(Note: I’m writing this post while sitting in the airport.  I’m about to fly to Las Vegas – more about the trip in subsequent posts.)

Last weekend I drove down to West Springfield to drop some people off at the Big E fairgrounds, and to pick up a birthday cake from a bakery there (not my birthday).  I got to the bakery a little earlier than the time I was supposed to pick up the cake, so I took a short walk around the area (which I believe is the city center).

I saw this dog statue outside the public library:

Here’s the library building itself:

I thought the dog might be a unique thing, but a few blocks later I spotted another one, outside a bar/restaurant:

I suspect that these are remnants of one of those events where a city gets a bunch of fiberglass statues of a given shape, and has local artists decorate them in different ways (Easthampton did it with bears, and Springfield with athletic shoes, for example).

I then picked up the cake (which turned out to be pretty tasty – definitely better than other bakeries we’ve tried in the area).

While killing some time before I needed to pick people up at the Big E, I drove around, and ended up passing a place called Victory International Market (they don’t have a website).  I thought it might be an interesting place to stop.  In fact, it was.  Most of the products on the shelves appear to be Russian, and there were customers and staff speaking Russian around me, so I imagine it is run by a Russian family.  What I found most exciting about the place was a whole aisle full of candy.  Some of the candy was from other European countries, but much of it seemed to be Russian.  I got a few varieties of Russian ones, though they weren’t all actually imported.  A closer inspection of the wrappers later showed that some of them are manufactured in New York.

Still, I’ll want to visit the place again sometime.  I hadn’t even known it existed before, and it was just chance that I found it that day.

Posted by seaking on 11-13-2011 at 04:11 pm
Posted in Food with 0 Comments

Internal Turmoil

The other night I was cutting up several leeks to make soup.  When I sliced one of them open, I found that there was some waviness inside:

I’m not sure what could have caused this.  It seems like something was pushing down on the middle of the plant, forcing those center layers to buckle.  Maybe it was the snowstorm of a couple weeks ago (this leek came from the CSA we participate in at the nearby Hampshire College Farm Center).  I could imagine a weight of snow on the leek pushing down in such a way as to cause this, and maybe the dirt would have provided enough support to keep the outer layers intact.  This is pure speculation, of course.

By the way, the soup I was making is a pretty common recipe – potato, kale, and leek soup.  My version is based on a recipe out of a cook book (the New Basics Cookbook, page 100, “Winter Vegetable Soup”), but I’ve made so many alterations and omissions that it’s really its own thing now.  Basically, I saute a bunch of leeks (sometimes adding celery in I don’t have a ton of leek) in oil for 10 to 15 minutes, add some thyme and tarragon and saute a bit more, then add salt and many (12-14) cups of water.  Bring that to a boil, and add cubed potatoes (about 5 pounds), and boil until the potatoes are near done, then add a pile of chopped kale, turn off the heat and set aside.  The kale will cook fine with the residual heat.  I soak and cook the chick peas separately (2 cups dried), and then add them after the rest of the soup is done.  The soup is great with a big slice of bread.

Oh, and there was no discernible difference in taste because of the waviness of the leek.

Posted by seaking on 11-12-2011 at 04:11 pm
Posted in Food, Humor, Surreal with 0 Comments

Roasting Is Not Actually the Best Way

We’ve collected a number of recipes that use chestnuts, some of which we didn’t end up liking.  The one that has been the best was chestnut flour pancakes.  This is the recipe that we started with, and I converted the metric measurements to English (and the weights to volumes).  I further changed the proportion of white flour to chestnut flour.  Here is the form of the recipe I currently use:

.75 cups white flour
.5 cup chestnut flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 egg
1 cup milk
2 tbsp oil

To make the chestnut flour, we just take the good meats and grind them up in a small food processor.  Then we store the flour in the freezer until we want to use it.

As I mentioned in the previous post, peeling the roasted chestnuts is hard on the hands.  We did roasting again in 2010, though we hardly got any chestnuts that year.  This year, we wanted to see if there was a way to make things softer and easier.  From some more research, we decided to try boiling the chestnuts instead of roasting them.  The prep is the same – cutting an X in each nut – and then they get boiled in a pot for 20 minutes.

Boiling seems to make a big difference in the softness of the shells as well as the tenderness of the meats.  Our hands no longer hurt from the peeling, and we weren’t finding a significant number of hard nut meats.  Some sites say that it’s nice to boil the nuts and then roast them briefly to finish them, but we found with the nuts this year that the boiled ones taste just fine.  They’ve been great, and we’ve got a lot of flour put up at this point, as we had another bumper crop of nuts.

And chestnut pancakes have become our regular Saturday breakfast for the past 6 weeks or so.  We’ll probably have them again tomorrow.


Posted by seaking on 11-11-2011 at 11:11 pm
Posted in Food with 0 Comments

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