26 May 2013

The Coast and the Grampus

It's Photo Friday. It's not Friday? Whatever. The thing is that we are in an absurdly beautiful place, and such places warrant posts based solely around photos.
The view off Lee Bay, North Devon. Give it about a 15-minute walk, and there you are. 
Days run similarly here at the Grampus Inn: Wake up or sleep in (depending on whose turn it is to clean the floors and bathrooms), maybe work the three-hour lunch shift, or maybe work the two-hour dinner shift. A little Cream Tea in the afternoon. Perhaps some Texas Hold'em at the end of the night.
Looking out at the backyard of the Grampus Inn and the stone art that John made of an orca whale at the top right ("Grampus" is an old local word for orca).
Such a schedule provides us volunteers with a fair amount of free time, so we explore.
Low tide at the bay and a nice big ancient tree
A cat sitting in a box staring out the window. Of course.
Heading from Lee Bay to Woolacombe
Action shot on one of the footpaths
The Brits want you to believe that all they have are royal families and nasty weather. Nothing to see here, folks!

But I'm going to let you in on the secret of the England coast: It's divine.
Catching the sunset colors off a footpath and attempting to spot some seals (but failing)
If you reach the tiny town of Lee Bay, take a five minute walk down a petite path and you've reached the water. There will be no getting lost unless you happen to be blindfolded. At low tide, you can venture out toward the water and pass a set of Victorian stairs that were carved into the rock face and used for who knows what kind of water party shennanigans. As these stairs spend most of their time covered nowadays, the water levels must have changed a bit since then.
Hopping around what the high tide will soon hide
A close-up of the Victorian steps, only seen at low tide
Or just skip the stairs and run the opposite way, in to the freezing Spring ocean. There's nobody around, so do whatever you want.
John and our new friend Stan decide to take a sunset dip 
Spring is just beginning to show on the trees here
Or hike the five miles to the three-mile-long stretch that is Woolacombe Beach, Britain's "best beach" (according to a 2012 poll) located in the quaint surf town that is its namesake. Did you even know that England had surf towns??
A dramatic cliff-line stroll as we round the corner from Lee Bay toward Woolacombe Beach
Perhaps these parking lot picnic-goers didn't realize that the beach was literally a 2-minute walk away?
The sheep...they're everywhere
A sheep dog patiently waiting for sheep
If that's not enough entertainment for you, just come by the Grampus on a Friday night for some authentic Celtic music and open-mic time.
Mischievously stationed behind the bar with John and Stan, attempting not to help ourselves to all the real ales.
Bill's (our host) local band, M'Larkey (the woman had a literal basket quiver of reed instruments)
A view of Bill's cozy pub on open mic night.

We are on a "working holiday," aren't we??

22 May 2013

Wild Ramson Pesto (aka Garlic Broccoli Pesto)

There is an explanation: A new volunteer
was arriving and we very reasonably
thought she should walk in on a nice, genial
scene of murder. (Nobody was fooled.)
Between trying to scare new volunteers into thinking that we're dead and making some very amazing scones, we've been getting on pretty well here at the pub.

Ok, I'm unexaggerating, it's amazing here. I'm living above an authentic pub on the Devon coast of England. I'm "working" maaaybe four hours a day. There is a three-legged dog, there are endless coastal hikes, there's house-smoked local trout,  a fine espresso machine, Sunday roasts, and poached free-range eggs any time I please.

What else could a girl want??
Low tide
Nothin' better than a leaping lamb
No matter how hard you try Lucy, that shoe is not going to fit your nonexistent paw
Neil the chef's Sunday roast being made as I hover nearby waiting for crispy bits.
Actually, there is one thing...I would like to have a boundless supply of some previously unknown-to-me form of garlic.

Wait, you have that? you have a previously unknown-to-Chowgypsy form of garlic??

Oh life, why must you be so grand?!
Several of the houses throughout the small village of Lee Bay  have little signs such as this one advertising the eggs from their backyard chickens. Quaint is the word.
And so it is that I have discovered "wild garlic," more technically known as ramsons, especially technically known as Allium ursinum, and additionally called "bear's garlic" (because bears know what's up). I suppose it's not actually garlic at all, but it certainly smells like it even if it doesn't look the part, and beggars can't be choosers. And even if you're not a beggar, you's a damn fool if you miss out on this.
Bill (our host) had a neighbor who needed this wild garlic "cleared out" of her garden. Oh, we'll clear it out all right. 
Ramsons are simply aromatic leaves that smell (you guessed it) of garlic and taste like a very young and mild bulb, but in leaf form. You can eat the leaves (just don't pick the ones with bird poop on them) and the white flower bulbs for a big garlicky burst. The flowers themselves are also edible, but lots of flowers means the leaves have probably gone a bit tough and bitter. As far as those leaves go, throw them in a salad, soup, omelette, use in bruschetta, or if you want to follow one odd suggestion, put on a peanut butter sandwich.
The tasty ramson bulb, which is a nice bursty addition to salads along with the leaves
The white-petaled flowers that cover everything when the time is right, but also signal a decline of the leaves' "edibility"
And of course, you can make wild garlic pesto. And you can add a bit of raw broccoli to secretly boost the nutrition and add some beautiful texture. You can even add real garlic to said pesto.  And then you can love and kiss everybody in the world.
Did somebody say pesto?
Healthy Ramson Pesto (Wild Garlic Pesto) with Broccoli
Ingredients*
4 cups ramson
1 cup raw broccoli, chopped
2 cups toasted nuts (anything but peanuts should work fine, I used walnuts and hazelnuts)
2 cloves coarsely chopped garlic or 4 cloves roasted garlic
1/2-3/4 cup EVOO
1/4 cup fresh squeezed lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
*I chose to take a healthier approach and decide (quite sinfully), not to add cheese to this recipe. There's plenty of flavor as is, but you can add cheese to taste or as a side when serving the pesto.

Directions
Pulse all ingredients except the EVOO in a food processor. With processor on low speed, slowly add EVOO until desired consistency is reached. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add grated aged cheese to taste when serving.
I can go through a batch of this stuff in about three days, and as long as I don't sweat a lot or talk close to other people's faces, I'm ok. What's your record?
A closer look at the ramsons. When in doubt, rub a leaf between your fingers and use your nose, the garlicky, spring oniony smell is unmistakable.

Ahhh, it's nice to be somewhere with a commercial kitchen at my disposal.

Up next, let's talk more about that amazing Devon coast, shall we?

15 May 2013

Devon Cream Tea, Scones, and Pub Volunteerism. This is Great, Britain.

Finally, a place to speak the mother tongue.
Curiosity killed the sheep...or it simply allowed the sheep to walk along eating grass.
After nearly a year of sputtering out attempts at foreign languages, we've come to a place of fluency. A place where our own American language originated. A place where people understand dry humor!

It feels good. Sarcasm doesn't translate well into other languages, and I am throwing out so many built-up jokes with the new people I meet here that I can only assume they are actually becoming afraid.
The beer garden at our current host's place, The Grampus Inn, an orca whale-themed pub ("grampus" meaning orca whale)
But speaking of feeling good, we've anchored ourselves in a cozy room atop a traditional British pub serving "real ales" and surprisingly good, local food. Grub is provided to us straight from the menu in exchange for a smattering of work throughout the day and two days off per week. Luckily, our host "over-staffed" with volunteers, so the workload is quite light, leaving plenty of time to explore the Devon coast (that lies a mere 400 yards distant) or to simply take leisure time (a personal favorite) catching up on reading, writing, and beating John in backgammon.
Care for a stroll?
A favorite walk with a taste of wildflowers
But what's the use in trying to tell you about a traditional British pub if you don't first understand one of the basic building blocks of traditional British food and drink?
I need three takers. Anybody?
Cream Tea.

It's not tea with cream in it, and it's not tea-flavored cream.

It's tea with scones (rhymes with "johns"!), clotted cream, strawberry (!) jam, sugar, a saucer of milk, and an extra pot of hot water in case you feel the need to dilute the brashness of black tea (and yes, you will be having black tea with that cream, because what other tea exists in England??). The name doesn't really make sense, but it's British and it's a tradition and that's just what it is, ladies and gents.
Obviously the Brits are going to cut their scones circle-style, but as a crazy American you can cut any shape you please!
The first batch had a smoother top, probably because they were done by Bill the expert and he had added a bit more milk
Tired from your hike? In need of a pick-me-up? Or maybe just in the mood for a healthy snack based on flour, butter, and sugar? Well look no further than the British Cream Tea, starring a perfectly baked scone (which, I suppose, is the British version of what we might think of as a dense southern-style biscuit) and tea. Black tea. With milk and sugar.

It is a cute tradition, I can't deny it. These polite Brits politely duck into the pub, throw polite looks around and settle finally upon you with a smile, "Might ye have any cream tea?"

Why of course good sir, of course we have cream tea! And I know exactly how you want it because I know that you want it exactly how it has always been served according to British tradition. How simple, how orthodox!
Could you say no to this tradition? Really?
Health-wise, it's questionable...to say the least. So I've warned you.

But damnit, it's tasty. And who wouldn't want to take a break for something called a "cream tea" even if the name doesn't fully make sense?

We were shown scone makery by a British master, Bill, our host here at the pub. The contents are amazingly simple and throwing it all together is surprisingly easy. Just make a batch, put it in the oven, and while it cooks, make your second batch. Keep that system going for as many batches as you like, because these babies freeze for the long-term.
Which babies freeze? THESE babies freeze! Baby freezing!
(and yes, we broke the mold and made a star shaped scone, seen at the top of the scone pile. America!)
Cream teas for days, months, years!

Once you get a hold of your jam, clotted cream (ask a specialty store*), and black tea, all you need is a tasty scone. And fancy that, I have a recipe right here....
*I didn't tell you this, but conceivably you can substitute butter for clotted cream. But at least use a quality butter.

Authentic British Scones
Ingredients
800g sifted self-raising flour (or regular flour + 1 tbs baking powder)
200g margarine or butter, room temperature & cut into chunks
80g sugar
350ml (about 1 1/2 cup) or less milk
Directions
Preheat oven to 220 C or 400 F

Sift flour (this is not just to remove impurities, but to allow air to get in there for a better scone texture), then combine with sugar, baking powder, and a dash of salt. If using a stand mixer flat beater attachment, mix flour and sugar on low until combined, add butter and mix until combined, then slowly add milk until mixture just begins to stick to itself, but isn't too wet. If mixing by hand, combine flour and sugar, then mix in butter. Make a well in the center and mix in milk until dough sticks together. The dough will be relatively set and just past the "crumbly" stage.

Turn dough on to a lightly but evenly floured surface and press out (don't knead!) until you reach a thickness of about 3/4 inch. The goal is to just barely flatten the dough out, so use your hands and don't over-knead.

Use a deep cookie cutter to cut out your scones, working quickly because once the milk hits the self-raising flour, the "raising" component in the flour is activated, so you want to get these babies into the oven asap to get the full effect. Gently press out leftover dough and cut more scones out.

Once scones are placed on baking sheet, brush tops with a quick sweep of milk or beaten egg.

Bake for nine minutes, take out and flip pan around, and bake nine minutes more.
One bite of this and you're basically British
Ideally (once you're at pro-status), you'll make another batch of dough during the first nine minutes, and when you open the oven door to rotate the first batch, you throw in the second batch, and so on.

Bake each batch for 18 minutes total, or until barely golden on top.
Bill the scone master tests the texture
Have you ever seen a tray of scones this creepy?

Cream tea away!

(follow me by e-mail for more British adventures--yes, they do exist!)

10 May 2013

La Catedral de Justo: The End (and Hellooooo Madrid!)

On Day Three at La Catedral de Justo, I woke up and for some reason was yet to find myself adjusted. I was still on a dusty floor that I shared with one very generous rat. My yoga mat was still far too firm to be a sleeping pad. There was still nothing for breakfast (unless you considered the leftovers from Angel's shopping spree yesterday that had gifted us with about three pounds of raw pork and chicken).

If there was some ideal of coziness, this was about as far away from it as you could get.
To me, a structurally-unsound already 50-year-old gutted and unfinished cathedral has "cozy" written all over it. Right?
John encouraged me with notions of patience and endurance. I checked bus schedules. The hot chocolate of Madrid was calling my name.

We waited to see what Angel would be having us work on that day. Turned out it was lifting huge boards of wood that had been sitting outside of the cathedral with intended use for building, but due to months of procrastination (too much prayer, perhaps?) had become too damp and would not be usable. There were about 200. We would be carrying each one, individually, to the interior balcony of the cathedral, throwing them over said balcony, where they would break upon impact and then wait for a bonfire to claim them. In short, a completely useless job. Angel showed us what to do, then drove off.
The interior courtyard (don't you just love the electric blue railings?) and the balcony to the left over which we threw our  five-by-ten boards
We moved, slowly shuffling with one person carrying the front, one in back. After about five boards, I reached a tipping point. We packed our bags, I made up some excuse to Justo about mixing our dates up, and we were gone before Angel even returned. I left a note. Perhaps he'll add it to the pile of boards that were never used before being thrown into a fire.

And so we found a cheap hostel near the Plaza de España and made our way back into the big city.
And this is how we returned: like stealthy badasses on our motorcycles.  Or we just took public transportation.
Flinging off the dusty blanket of bitchwork and despair that had covered us at the cathedral, we decided to treat ourselves a bit, and soon after arriving made our way to tapas town, which included the obligatory visit to Mercado San Miguel, Madrid's chic it spot to flaunt your touristic urge to sample every Madrileño dish imaginable.
Maybe mozzarella isn't very Spanish, but daaamn it was good
Pickled baby eggplants, need I say more?
At the fresh fish stalls in the mercado, you can have items cooked to order for a rather hefty price, but won't you look so very stylish walking around with your ocean fare and glass of wine?
At the ominous sound of synchronous drumbeats (see the video at the bottom of this post), we pulled ourselves away from the mercado to find a "parade" for Semana Santa taking place on the street just outside. "Parade" meaning spectacle of mass mourning and repentance of sins. Fun!
There's something about this image that positively screams "party time"
"Don't mind us, just carrying an imitation body of Christ past  the Carrefour..."
Yes, it is ok to feel innately afraid of any man you see wearing a pointed, hooded cap. Reports tell me that they have no relation to the infamous Ku Klux Klan, and the hoods are more of a symbolic covering of the face thing. 
What better to do after a somber, mildly scary parade than go air out morbidity at a public park? So off to the Parque de Retiro we went to explore the Crystal Palace and a bit of Modern Art strewn about the park.
We stumbled upon a free Heimo Zobernig exhibit in the Palacio de Velázquez. The piece at  right is made of toilet paper rolls, yes!
Dear ol´King Alfonso XII looking out over the parks large lake. The monument was erected by Alfie's mother...can you say "Momma's boy" in Spanish?
The beautiful Crystal Palace, once used as a greenhouse for imported exotic plants, is now generally for temporary art exhibitions (photos of which can be found on my Facebook page)
After a day full of escapes, eating, and park-dwelling, we made our way back to the hostel, preparing ourselves for the next morning. Hot chocolate time.
And by hot chocolate, I mean heated, thick, delectable chocolate. No powder here, just melty melty goodness.
  
We became friends with the owner of the best place for hot chocolate in Madrid, Chocolat, perhaps because we went there at least four times.
And what do you add to hot chocolate? Liqueur? Whipped Cream? Sugar? Coffee? All of the above? Yes?
And after another day of city meanderings, we prepared ourselves to set out toward the Devon coast the next day!
Madrid wouldn't be complete without introducing you to this Le Tigre employee, where you will find the most generous drinks and tapas in the city
Nor would my recount of Madrid be complete without introducing you to this dog and her tongue.
  
Farewell Royal Palace! Farewell Madrid!

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Views from the march of Semana Santa (these drums go on for as long as six hours--maybe more!)

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