Sunday, September 29, 2019

September Ends

The last weekend of September can be melancholy. Summer is officially over and autumn is well and truly here. This year, September is ending with lots of sunshine.

My dahlias were slow to bloom this year, and it seems that they are just reaching their peak blooms now. Hopefully, they will continue for a few more weeks. The one above is called Sweet Violet and can bloom in a variety of colours, from white barely tinted with violet to all violet. 

I went for a long and solitary walk along the water this afternoon. Tim was busy with something unexpected at work. It's much more fun when he's along, but I enjoyed the wonderful views across the water. Lots of people were out enjoying the sunshine. 

Scenes along the way - a cluster of small stones cradled in a driftwood log, probably tossed there by the waves - golden grasses against the layers of blue water and blue mountains across the strait - a large rusting flat-head nail jutting up from the split rail fence along the cliff.

Then there was this line up of gulls perched on the peak of a roof. The building is lower than the pathway and the gulls were not much above my head. How different they all are - birds in a row. Made me grin.

I rushed the season a bit and started reading the October edition of Country Living early. I usually like to save them until the proper month, the one on the cover. Do you do that? Or would you read it as soon as it arrives?

Another bouquet of flowers from the garden yesterday - dahlias and hydrangeas. I'll clip as long as I can. 

Today we turned the gas fireplaces on as the house is beginning to get chilly. It's time for cozy meals like the one I made for today's dinner - Mushroom and Garlic Chicken Thighs, Couscous, and Broccoli. Cozy will be the goal for many months ahead. 

How is your end of September? Parts of B.C. and Alberta received lots of snow these past few days. Is it snow, rain, or sun for you?

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf. 

Thursday, September 26, 2019

The Autumn Table

Autumn is well and truly here. Last weekend I worked at pulling up some of my vegetable garden - the green beans and squashes, and a large bowl of carrots. We covered the tomatoes with plastic sheeting to prevent them from splitting in the rain. I noticed several more young zucchini forming and left the plants, hoping the zucchini would grow a bit more. That was a mistake. When I went out yesterday, I noticed they are rotting. It's gotten too cool and wet. 

Fall vegetables are growing nicely - Kale and Swiss Chard, along with Broccoli. I cut some of the kale and chard and we enjoyed them this week. 

On the weekend, I like to do some cooking in preparation for the week. Recently, I cubed a few of the smaller butternut squashes, washed and chopped the kale and chard, trimmed and cut the last of the green beans, and made a batch of carrot ginger soup with coconut milk. 

While surfing the web for ideas for apple recipes, I came across Invisible Apple Cake a few times. It's a bit of a misnomer, for it's barely a cake, being mostly thinly sliced apples baked with a bit of batter. It's quite good, if you get your head around it not being a cake. I played with the recipe and came up with my own that is not very sweet at all, and uses almond flour in place of white flour. I've been eating a wedge of it for breakfast, topped with plain yogurt and a sprinkle of cinnamon. It does look like a piece of pie and whipped cream in the photo. Here's a link to my version of Invisible Apple Cake

And here we are, almost to the end of another week, and almost the end of September. Rain alternates with sun. I wear a sweater in the morning and regret it in the afternoon. En route to school I have my seat heater on. On the way home, it's the air conditioner. The dahlias in the garden continue to delight me with bloom after bloom. A few chive blossoms add some colour to the herb garden. Hydrangeas mellow to rich burgundy or pale green or pink, depending on their location in the garden. Cups of tea are made more frequently. The window that was opened wide during the night is now open just an inch or two. Last night I awoke to the sound of wind curling around the corner of the house, pulled up the blanket around my shoulders, and I thought, "yes, it's autumn."

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Clam Castle

There is so much recorded history in Europe. Stories reside in every nook and cranny of old buildings and villages. In Grein, we took a short walking tour of the town that included an old theatre as well as the usual church and village square. 

The Danube is prone to flooding and 2013 was a bad year. The Austrians have come up with some ingenious engineering to create temporary walls to hold back up to 15 feet of water. However, not all of the town was protected and the waters crept up the streets, creating a lot of damage. 

The river looks so peaceful here, but if you search for 2013 Danube floods, you'll see many videos of raging water. 

Later, we took a bus to Castle Clam. Our tour was conducted by the Count himself, a young man in his early 40s who lives there with his wife and three children. He was very engaging, although it felt a bit odd, as if we were intruding a little. However, conducting tours helps to maintain the castle. The castle has been in this family for 16 generations, since 1454. I find that amazing. 
The tour began in the central open courtyard where a balcony runs along the second floor, seen above. The Austro-Hungarian Emperor Franz Joseph I enjoyed hunting and came here to visit and hunt. Some of the trophies mounted on the walls (and there were a lot of them) were shot by the Emperor. I preferred the flower boxes. 

We climbed a narrow, twisting staircase to the small medieval chapel where the Count told us Mass is still held. He said that celebrations, such as birthdays and Christmas begin with Mass here. It was quite something to imagine the many years of worship that went on and continue to the present. 

The family lives in a separate wing from the tour. I enjoyed seeing how the public rooms were furnished and set up as if someone had just stepped out of the room for a moment. 

One of the most impressive rooms is the dining room where the table was set with Meissen porcelain and fine crystal. The Count told us that this room is still where Christmas dinner is held. He grinned as he said that they use different dishes, as these are priceless, and with children and dogs in the room, breakages are inevitable. 

Just before entering the room he pointed out a portrait of one of his ancestors. He asked us to notice that his arm was in a sling. Casually he mentioned that this particular gentleman was one of three thrown out of a window in Prague during the Second Defenestration! You might remember that I mentioned the event a few posts back.  I was quite tickled to make this connection from one historical site to another. 

Clam Castle also holds big music festivals. Elton John, Pink, and others have performed there. The castle grounds produce wine and we were treated to a snack and a glass of wine before leaving. 

Here at home the trees are beginning to change colour and when I walked today, leaves swirled down from the trees. The heat of summer seems distant now. I'm loving going through my photos and remembering our wonderful trip.

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

St. Florian's Monastery

Today's look back at our European Adventure takes us to St. Florian's Monastery in northeast Austria. Tim opted to go on a bike tour while I chose to visit the monastery. My thinking was that I can go biking any day, but Baroque architecture and history are hard to come by in our region. 

St. Florian was a Roman soldier who ran into serious trouble for NOT persecuting Christians, and who became a Christian himself. Although condemned to be burned at the stake, he was thrown into the river with a millstone hung about his neck. As a result, he became the saint of floods and firefighters.

Our tour began in the crypt below the church, where the first church on the site began in the 900s. St. Florian is buried here, along with a lot of other people. In the top left corner of the mosaic above, you'll notice the ornate coffin of Anton Bruckner, the Austrian composer. Behind the coffin is an ossuary of some 6000 Christians whose bones were retrieved during some phase of building. The bones are neatly stacked in rows behind iron grills. It was a little freakish. 

From the cellars we climbed upstairs to the church which is full of light and loveliness. The ceiling is very ornate, but if you look very, very closely, you'll see that the ceiling frescos are trompe l'oeil, (fool the eye), and that the stucco work is painted, not 3-D, unlike the white pillars below. 

Anton Bruckner was a choir boy here, and loved to play the organ, seen above. His coffin is directly below the organ, when the organ is played, the music is heard in the crypt below. 

We wandered through long white hallways with marble floors and wide arches that opened to the courtyard below. I can't help thinking that it would have been very chilly to go from one room to the next in the winter cold. 

Our guide gathered our group together in front of a set of beautiful wooden doors with inlaid patterns and told us we would be seeing the library next. 

My heart went pitter patter when I stepped into the room. It is truly magnificent. Such a richness of books - 150,000 of them - on gorgeous wooden shelves reaching high, high to the ceiling. Sets of beautifully bound volumes filled the shelves - white, blue, brown, with the occasional red. Light poured in through tall windows set between the bookshelves. 

Hidden doors at each end of the room allow the curved shelves to open for access to the next rooms, also used for books. This is a working research library and when we entered a young man slipped quietly through the door to allow us our time in this magical space. I could have stayed all day. Our guide didn't hurry us at all, but allowed us to soak in the atmosphere and ask questions. Such richness.

How about you? Bike ride or monastery? Tim enjoyed his ride and the guide told the group about the history of the area. 

Linking with Mosaic Monday, hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf. 

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Apples, Dahlias, and other good things

It was a lovely afternoon - such an afternoon as only September can produce when summer has
stolen back for one more day of dream and glamour. (L.M. Montgomery)

Lucy Maud Montgomery's writings remain as popular now as they have been for many years. Anne of Green Gables and Emily of New Moon remain close friends of mine and I occasionally dip into the books even at my very adult age. 

Recently, a local sculptor, Nathan Scott, collaborated with an east coast artist to create a new statue of LMM. Grace Curtis did the sketches and Nathan sculpted the bronze piece that now resides at Cavendish, PEI. I love the way LMM is captured holding her face to the sky and soaking in whatever loveliness she felt. 

"Dear old world," she murmured, "you are very lovely and I am glad to be alive in you." (L.M. Montgomery)

This morning I went out to cut a bouquet of dahlias. I think I love dahlias more and more each year. I'm already thinking of what colours and shapes I want to add to my small collection. I think I need some dark burgundy blooms, and pale yellow. I have a yellow dahlia, but it's in a pot and because of that the stems are quite short and unsuitable for cutting. Next year I'll know better. 

"If I wasn't a human girl, I think I'd like to be a bee and live among the flowers." Anne Shirley (L.M. Montgomery)

Just before my clippers snipped this blossom I noticed two bees, curled up fast asleep among the petals. At first I wondered if they were alive, but one stretched his legs out and rolled over to let me know they were okay. I tiptoed away, not wanting to disturb their slumber. 

"I believe that the nicest and sweetest of days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens, but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.
Anne Shirley (L. M. Montgomery)

The tawny shades of hydrangeas fit so well with autumn. Where the light shines directly on them, they are burgundy, pink, and green. Underneath, paler blue. 

I have noticed a LOT of spiders coming in this year. I know they like to hide out in flowers, so as soon as I brought the hydrangeas into the house I plunged them into a sink filled with water mixed with some white vinegar. The crawlies soon came to the surface. 

I've been using peppermint oil as a deterrent for the last day or two and I think that's working, too. I diluted it and put it into a spray bottle to squirt around windows and door frames. 

"Everything we had was small except our love and our happiness." Emily of New Moon (L.M. Montgomery)
We have a bumper crop of apples this year. If you lived nearby, I'd be happy to share them with you. I've made apple cake, apple crisp (5 of them for the freezer), several apple tartes, and included them in salads and savoury dishes, too. They are wonderful! 

"Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It's splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world."
Anne Shirley (L.M. Montgomery)
This morning (I don't teach until the afternoon today), I made a Bavarian Apple Tarte, first tasted at my cousin Caroline's house and made many, many times since. It's quick and easy to make, and a great go-to recipe for a gathering. It's still in the pan here because I made it to share with friends and it needs to travel. 

What is September like for you just now?

Monday, September 09, 2019

Cruising the Danube

For our second week in Europe we enjoyed a river cruise along the Danube. This was our second cruise with Avalon Waterways and we have only good things to say about it. Delicious food, attentive staff, wonderful excursions, and so much more. We loved being able to slide open our stateroom windows and lean over the railing to watch the water drift by. 

All river cruise boats are roughly the same width and length because of the lock system along the rivers. Balconies have to fit within that width and Avalon came up with the great idea of having the windows slide fully open to give the sensation of a balcony without losing space within the room. 

On our first morning we woke up to the sight of green forested hills, utter quiet, and a small village, Engelhartszell, dominated by the Trappist Monastery. Founded in the late 1200s, the monastery has had its ups and downs with changing politics, religious differences, and fires. 

Tim and I took an early morning stroll around the village of well-tended homes and gardens. The blue building above is so beautifully maintained with its detailed paint work, and was built in 1598, according to the sign. 

Later, we toured the Monastery and learned more about its history. The church is a beauty, rebuilt in the 1700s in Rococo style. The ceiling fresco above contrasts dramatically with the one below. 

In the 1950s a fire destroyed part of the interior of the church, including one of the ceiling frescoes. The monks were told there was no money for restoring it in the style of the other frescoes, so a local artist, using the same paint colours, created a cubist fresco in 1957. I like the way it reflects the changing times of history although the differences were quite startling when I first walked into the building. 

In the grounds of the monastery is a garden and park that is open to all, and a playground and aquarium designed to educate visitors about the ecology of the Danube and the surrounding landscape. 

The monks began producing beer and cheese to augment their living. Although the production is now done by others as the monks are aging, the beer is still produced locally. We tasted three of them - I barely sipped as I don't really like beer at all. However, the cheese was great! They also produce a local apricot schnapps, and we brought a bottle of that home with us. 

In the afternoon we set sail downriver. Beautifully kept fields slipped by, cows munched contentedly, and the occasional castle dominated the hills. It was pure relaxation and loveliness. 

Linking to Mosaic Monday hosted by Angie of Letting Go of the Bay Leaf. 

Wednesday, September 04, 2019

These September Days

Today, Wednesday, was the first full day of classes.Yesterday was a soft start for new students only. And so begins another school year. 

On Monday evening we took a walk at Island View Beach. Light fades earlier and earlier. 

As twilight falls, shadows cast strong contrasts on sculptural driftwood. We walk in the sand where none of the sun's warmth remains. Gulls drift quietly on the water as if sensing the close of summer. 

In the garden, tomatoes ripen. Tomatoes, zucchini, and green beans play starring roles in dinners throughout the week. For a simple Sunday supper I roasted tomatoes - a mixture of plum, cherry, grape, and regular varieties with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and lots of fresh garlic cloves. When the tomatoes began to caramelize just a bit, I sprinkle feta cheese and capers over, then baked it for a few more minutes, and finally tossed fresh basil over it all. Spooned onto crusty bread or whole wheat toast, it made a fine meal. 

I tried something different for a recent breakfast. Sauteed mushrooms and chopped asparagus, plus crumbled fried bacon, and a scattering of grated Cheddar cheese on the bottom of the baking dish, topped with 8 eggs mixed with 1/2 cup sour cream and 1/2 cup milk, seasoned to taste, fresh herbs - chives and parsley, topped with sliced tomatoes and baked until set. Delicious, and the leftovers are great! 

What I'm currently reading. I finished Once Upon a River in short order and have been perusing the two cookbooks with leisure. Literary Paris is a book to enjoy slowly; it's full of quotes and photos of that lovely city. Louise Penny's latest I'm going to save for this coming weekend, for I know that once I begin, I won't want to stop. 

Summer still lingers in my garden. I picked a lovely bouquet of roses - Bolero, Winchester Cathedral, John Cabot, and an unknown variety, and arranged them in a marble vase that once belonged to my mother-in-law. It's sitting on the fireplace hearth and petals are dropping, a lovely litter of pink and white.

Days are summer, early morning and nights are autumn. A sweater to begin and end the day, a light dress suffices in the middle. Golden light through darkly silhouetted trees. Change is in the air.

Living Alongside Medieval History

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