Sunday, October 28


The Southwestern area of Ireland around Kerry is blessed with an unusually mild climate. We have both been to Ireland several times, but never to this corner. In the hedgerows the most dominant plant is the Fuchsia of all things!

Whole banks of delicate nodding heads, some robust, others more delicate, line the roadsides.

It is such a feature of the area that in Chapeltown, the northernmost village on the island, they even have a restaurant named after them, with this particularly fetching sign:

If you are in the area, pay a visit to Glanleam. It is a hotel with a sloping series of gardens working down a sheltered slope which actually boasts a sub-tropical climate. There are tree ferns abounding, glades of bamboo, and a fine walled vegetable garden.

This magnificent Ram's head decorates one of the iron gates which protect it. It has a pagan look to it, suggesting virility and strong growth. Maybe it is a reference to Puck Fair, celebrated in the nearby town of Killorglin.

Friday, October 26

Ireland Past and Present

Caherciveen is the nearest big town to our first stop, Valencia Island.

This is the civil war memorial there. The soldier has a soviet-era look to him. A little bit cuddly and rounded.

The strangest things can give you culture shock. We are so used to seeing Pound Shops in the inner cities, but over in Ireland they have...

Look carefully, and you can see what the Euro Shop was in a previous life.

How many people went into banking for job security, and were overtaken by technology?

Thursday, October 25

There and Back Again

Curses, foiled again! I took my card reader with me, and then ended up without a fast internet link to send the photos through.

I can't complain though. The countryside is simply stunning...

I was taking photos before I had even arrived at the terminal building. I couldn't resist this sign...

There is something "Twin Peaks" about it.

Friday, October 19

Autumn Vine Leaves

Our grape vine, Vitis Brandt, is not really designed for it's harvest of grapes. They are tiny, pea-sized. But at this time of year, the rich colours just demand a post all of their own...

I'm off to the West of Ireland soon, to meet my better half. This time I will take my card reader with me. Valentia here I come! More soon, with photos hopefully.

The Season of Mist and Mellow Chutney-ness

There really is something in the air. Just as I was posting my paean to all things pickly, Amalee came up with her own post. I feel a cheese and chutney sandwich coming on...

Thursday, October 18


As the evenings get longer and cooler, the Phantom's thoughts are of capturing the summer in preserves. Last Sunday was devoted to our annual chutney making session. The tomatoes, some barely bigger than peas, were from our garden, mostly from window boxes in fact. The apples were from my Mum's neighbour. The tree is more in my mum's garden than it's owner's!

There is something magical about chutney, such uninspiring ingredients brought together with breath-taking amounts of vinegar, producing something so rich and complex...

The finished result, dark, mysterious. Just three months till we can open it!

Saturday, October 13

Autumn Sunshine

Today was one of those fine Autumn days which start off misty and then burst through into a crisp sunny celebration of life. In our garden the mild weather means we still have perfumed roses scenting the air.

Our pelargoniums are still glowing red in the sunshine.

And in the shade at the end of the garden the last of the wild foxgloves keep their secrets, hoods bobbing gently in the freshening evening breezes.

Friday, October 12

A Treat For The Welsh Dog

After his comments on my previous post I can't resist posting this for Sky / Welsh Dog, now in Sydney. A reminder of the valleys he left behind...

Monday, October 8

Saturday, October 6

Shortcut Pastry

I love flans and quiches, but too often resort to buying ready-made pastry cases. It's just inertia, as I know I can make pastry in five minutes flat with a little help from my 20 year old food processor (a wedding present, thank you Mum!).

I favour a really rich pastry, say 14 oz flour, 7 oz butter, 3 egg yolks and iced water. Pastry this rich can be very crumbly, difficult to roll out and bake blind. A couple of weeks ago I tried out a couple of tips which I am pleased to pass on.

First, don't even try to roll out the pastry to fit the flan tin. Instead, roll the dough into a sausage shape when you make it (wrap it in cling film while you rest it). Then, to make the pastry case, just cut pound-coin thickness slices off the roll, and push them into the tin.

Just fill up any gaps as you go. It's so much easier than having the dough tear or stretch, and you don't waste any as off-cuts either.

The second tip is about baking blind. Usually the books tell you to line the pastry case with foil, then add baking beans to weigh down the pastry. I always find that the tinfoil sticks to the pastry, and it rarely shapes itself properly to the pastry case. So, don't use tinfoil, use clingfilm!

Don't worry, it won't melt at the heat used do bake pastry. It conforms perfectly to the shape of the pastry case, and never sticks.

The finished cheese and vegetable flan in all its glory...

Friday, October 5

Strike While the Oven is Hot

One of the ways of coping with after-work exhaustion is to cook some of your meals in advance. A couple of Sundays ago thats exactly what I did...

Saving time like this can only work if you have been shopping with cooking-ahead in mind. I had bought a piece of boned, stuffed shoulder of pork and some minced beef. I also checked that I had flour, butter and eggs in the store cupboards.The night before I made a batch of rich (2:1 flour to butter) shortcrust pastry. In the food processor this took 5 minutes,no more. I rolled the pastry in cling film, and left it in the fridge to rest overnight.
The pastry went to line two flan tins, was baked blind and turned into vegetable and cheese flans (or quiches, for the more pretentious of us.)
The flans were baked at gas 4, which was also the temperature I roasted the pork at. Whilst these were in the oven I made a beef chilli. Somehow adding the chilli heat and some(tinned)kidney beans makes mince-for-two go twice as far.

All in, I spent about two hours actually cooking, and by the time I finished we had the main ingredients for our dinners for the rest of the week.

I was particularly pleased with a couple of neat bits of technique with the flan cases which I tried for the first time...

More Tomorrow....

Apologies for Absence

Apologies all round for the lack of posts here. For those who have been feeling "sad and pathetic checking your blog for the latest news", can I recommend subscribing to this blog via a blog aggregator, such as Bloglines. You can then just go to one home page and see which blogs have been updated. :-)

What have I been up to?

I have the pleasure of working in one of London's best Sixth Form Colleges. However, anyone who has ever worked in education will tell you the same thing - the first part of the autumn term is exhausting.

No matter how well prepared you may be, when term starts everything needs to be done now, or preferably yesterday.

Most evenings recently have found my lovely wife and I crashed out in the sitting room, with just enough energy left to stroke our visiting cats. Most nights have found us too knackered to even try and find something decent on tv. The energy used up in hunting is rarely rewarded by finding anything watchable.

Even our diet has suffered, with that nice Croatian who delivers the Chinese takeaway becoming a regular visitor.

Things are easing off now though, and I have some posts ready to go.

The Phantom is Back!

Thursday, October 4

Free Burma!

Free Burma!

Link here

Thanks to Amalee.

The Phantom will be back tomorrow.