Sunday, June 21, 2009

What about the garden?

I have been working on the vegetable garden this year. It seems to be going pretty well with only a few exceptions!The peas came up only very sporadically. I resowed more peas in the big gaps. Yesterday when I went to put some garden canes back in their place, I noticed that there were neat little holes in the soil where I had put the peas. Mice. Well, that's it. I am not sowing the peas a third time. Twice is enough.

The greenhouse is doing well. I have two tomato plants and although the plants themselves don't look as hardy as I would like, there seem to be enough tomatoes on the vines to justify the effort.
The cucumber plants are a lot more vigorous than the ones I planted last year! I've even had this warped little cucumber already! Here is the thing about growing cucumbers. There are two sorts of flowers on a cucumber plant, male and female flowers. Female flowers have little cucumbers behind them. Male flowers have nothing behind them. You must remove any and all male flowers that show up. If they are allowed to stay, the cucumbers will get pollinated and the fruits will be bitter.

Basil is doing well. I opened up the top of two grow-bags and sowed basil seed. It was a particularly warm Friday evening when I sowed the basil. The entire weekend was really hot and I kept the door to the little greenhouse closed to keep pets out. On Monday morning, the seed had already germinated and I could see tiny bits of green.
Here is the basil two weeks on from that.Here are the potatoes. Only half of the potatoes came up. I could have put some early potatoes in the gaps, but I won't. In one of the big gaps in the rows, I have put a pumpkin plant. Pumpkins need loads of room and that will fill the space. In the spaces between the cabbages, I planted lettuces. By the time the cabbage needs the extra space, the lettuce will have been harvested. I love the red and bright green of the two different varieties. The above photographs were taken last week.

What a difference a week makes in the garden!

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Gulyás - Hungarian Goulash

I think just about everybody has a memory of their school's version of goulash, I certainly do. It usually involved hamburger, macaroni and tinned tomatoes, possibly an onion or two. Traditional Hungarian goulash cooked by a traditional Hungarian!

I had my understanding of goulash gently corrected by my Hungarian friends the last evening of my stay in Budapest. Incidentally goulash - (to pronounce it in Hungarian, I think it is similar to English but one omits the "L" sound) is the word for herdsman or cattleman. It is a dish that was cooked outdoors by cattlemen, similar to the origins of American chili.

Last year when I visited Budapest there was some sort of May Day celebration in the centre of the city. It involved a goulash contest where large groups of people wearing team t-shirts slaved over an open fire that had a beautiful cauldron (bogrács) suspended over it by a large metal tripod. I was told that this was a goulash contest. It reminded me so much of a chili cook-off as they have in Texas. Indeed each cauldron had some sort of soup bubbling away in it. I was informed that this soup was none other than goulash and cooking it over the fire was the most traditional way to prepare it. So, proper Hungarian goulash is soup and not the casserole style dishes I was served throughout my childhood.A fire was lit in a front garden and proper goulash making started.

I get hungry just looking at this clip!

Tough bits of meat are made tender by the long cooking process. Indeed, my friend The Hungarian wished for longer to simmer his creation but time was not on his side.

The meat is browned first. Then onions, possibly garlic is then added . . . and then you start getting into the rest of the soup ingredients. The recipes are varied but goulash always includes but is not limited to meat, potatoes, paprika, peppers. This is when the peppers were added. Potatoes in this version were added last.

Incidentally traditional Hungarian goulash does not contain any tomatoes. It gets is wonderful red colour from the copious amounts of paprika that is thrown in. If you are wearing white, be careful as goulash splatters will be hard to get out later if you're a sloppy eater!We helped keep The Hungarian company by sitting outside in the beautiful evening air and sipping wine that was purchased earlier in the week.

I must say that the end result was sublime! It was served with big slabs of bread. Food cooked outdoors always tastes good but this was above and beyond better. I wish I had remembered to take a photo of the bowls at the table later on. My dear friends are so generous and though the goulash was delicious, I am ashamed to say that I could not finish the portion that was given to me.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Széchenyi Baths

I don't understand why Hungary isn't a more popular holiday destination. It has just about everything going for it. It has great currency with mustachioed kings on it! It has beautiful architecture, wonderful local foods served in generous portions, wine regions, nature AND because it used to be part of the old Ottoman Empire and there are thermal springs in Budapest, they have the baths!!
If I lived in Budapest, I'd have a lifetime membership to THIS PLACE!
The front desk

My pal Jo joined me on my trip to Budapest this year and the way the planning went this time around we got an entire day to play at the baths.We got there very early and immediately upon checking in we went up to the sports massage desk to book our massages. I'm glad we were early. There were two openings right away. Jo went first and then me.There are the private changing rooms with their enamel doors and more of that old world charm that seems to be as integral as the grout between the thousands of tiles.
Then there are the lockers which are less expensive and not quite so private. We went for lockers.
Our lockers

Last year I was comforted to note that this place is scrupulously clean. It still is. There wasn't a bit of dirt anywhere! In any forgotten corner there was an absence of the detritus that can usually be found there. With all the warm water and bathers, one would expect the occasional musty or damp smell but this wasn't there either.
The cold pool for laps - with statues

There are three large outdoor pools. Each pool is a different temperature. There is the cold pool in the centre where laps and serious athletic swimming occurs. There is this pool which is the warmest at 38 C. Famous photographs of old chess players are taken at the edges of this pool. Indeed the day we were there we saw at least two chess games going.
There was also a card game being played by these gentlemen. By the depth of colour on their skin, one can assume that they are regulars here. The cards were particularly interesting. The cards looked almost like a tarot deck. I have no Hungarian so I couldn't ask them if I could have a closer look at the cards. As it was, I mimed a request for permission to take their photograph.We had a glorious May day with barely a breeze and undiluted sunshine. After having been pummeled during our massages, soaked in the warm water and indulging in some serious people watching we got thirsty. For a mere 300 Hungarian forints, you can have beer. Nice beer too.
We had lunch on this terrace.OK, so with health inducing surroundings such as this, one would expect different food but sometimes you just want chips (french fries). Washed down with more beer, I felt completely relaxed!

After lunch we investigated the almost dozen rooms on the opposite side of the complex to the changing rooms.There is this room with exquisite red pillars surrounding the warm water pool.

There are pools with varying degrees of warmth from freezing cold plunge pool, 18C to very warm 40C. There is this pool that has a current. It reminds me of those pools that are used for therapy for injured race horses.
Of course there are saunas as well. There was the aromatherapy sauna that smelled of Olbas oil and this Finnish sauna that was the hottest one in the complex.We had a full and completely relaxing day. At the end of our day, we waited for our hosts in one of the temporary cafes and had . . . another beer!

Monday, June 01, 2009

Troon Harbour

Saturday was the first time that The Man of the Place, George and I went diving together in the UK. It was also George's first dive using his dry suit.Here we are in Troon Harbour getting the club RIB (rigid inflatable boat) and Chris's boat in the water.

It was another glorious day for diving, though the wind was up a bit. Because of that the sea was choppy when we got to the first dive site.

I went on the first dive of the day, even though I had started to feel a bit queasy with the pitch and roll of the boat on the sea. Chris Breen, my dive buddy, club trainer and all around good egg said that I'd feel better once I was in the water. He was right. Once I started making the descent, I didn't feel sick anymore.

The first dive site was The Adheek - 'AHDEEK' an iron steamship. It was launched 1881 Sank: December 1898 within sight of Troon harbour . Comments: There is a buoy marking the wreck that sits in about 20 metres of water. Suitable for Novice, Boat dive, Hull falling into seabed, boilers most prominent. The site is popular for local fishermen and that was evident by all the fishing line that is down there. (note to divers - don't go down without your knife!) Though the ship has been down there for over 100 years and is covered in soft corals, it is still a wreck and has lots of metal edges that have the potential to cut a new dry suit or a hand.

Chris and I saw a nice pollack down there as well as a several good sized Ballan wrasse. All the fish we saw, including a beautiful conger eel would have made a good meal! I never realized what a beautiful blue conger eels were. At on point, Chris who was swimming ahead of me handed me a fairly large edible crab. The crab was not pleased to be passed around for the enjoyment of humans and tried to nip me. Thankfully I was wearing 5mm gloves and didn't feel the pinch. Though the crab was big, he wasn't big enough to keep.

The dive was good and easy but once I reached the surface and the choppy waves, I knew my breakfast wasn't going to stay down for much longer. I managed to get to the boat and hang on before I started to heave. Note to self - take sea sickness pills even if the weather forecast is good. Being seasick really knocks the fun right out of things. Although the weather calmed down by lunchtime, the nausea never really left me until we were on the way home. I didn't do a second dive as I felt being as nauseous as I felt added a risk to my diving. Better to stay on the boat and help the other divers with their gear.

Chris and I had good visibility 10+ meters but the group that went second weren't as lucky. It indicates how quickly changes can happen and good visibility can disappear when diving in the UK. The tide or current had changed and with the change the visibility dropped to about 4 or 5 meters.

We tied the two boats together at lunchtime and in the calm water we watched the seals watch us.Chris Breen, Me, George and The Man of the Place.

The second dive site of the day was Lady Isle again. The seals were on the island in greater numbers and this is where George did his first dive into Scottish water. His dad and I were so proud of him!
I wasn't the only one to suffer from seasickness. The poor Man of the Place caught it too. We were the only two to get it though. George must have been so embarrassed, both his parents vomiting.

On the way in we saw a big raft of Eider ducks and there were some tiny babies with them. Sadly, I wasn't quick enough with the camera to get a snap of the babies who looked to be less than a week old.It was all smiles at the end of the day. We had a lovely day's diving with thanks to the Dumfries Sub Aqua Club!The terrific shower facilities for women at Troon Marina!
You need a lot of junk when three people dive! I wonder if we can take less next time!