Saturday, 25 October 2014

Posh Pumpkins

There are pumpkins everywhere as Halloween approaches.  Many are huge and bright orange, ideal for sculpting.  But there are also many wonderful varieties of pumpkin and squash and even ornamental gourds at some supermarkets.

These were on sale at Trader Joe's today.

These 'Fantasy' pumpkins were rather lumpy and pale and less appealing.

Inside the store, butternut, acorn and spaghetti squash amongst others and some hints on how to cook..

My favourite Roast Butternut Squash Soup recipe is very warming and pretty healthy (from a WeightWatchers book):

(For 4):

Roast 1.5 kg peeled and de-seeded butternut squash or pumpkin cut into chunks on a baking tray at 200 C for 30 mins until tender.

Meanwhile slice 2 onions into thin wedges and stir fry in a large saucepan with very little oil until softened, adding 1 tsp ground cinnamon,  1/2 tsp ground cloves and a one inch piece of root  ginger, peeled and grated or finely chopped. Add a little water as necessary.

When the squash is roasted and soft, add to pan together with 2 pints of vegetable stock.  Bring to the boil, turn down and simmer for 5 mins.

Liquidise the soup in batches and pour back into pan, season with salt and plenty of freshly ground black pepper.  Heat through.  Enjoy!

And finally, a PS to yesterday's Bastille Key blog.  As Steve pointed out, it is difficult to know the size of the key.,

Here it is with a quarter and a £1 coin for scale.  It is a big key!

Friday, 24 October 2014

The Key to La Bastille

When we visited Mount Vernon earlier this week, I completely forgot to look for the key to the Bastille, the infamous prison in Paris overthrown during the French Revolution.  The key is kept in a glass case in the house.

The key was sent in 1790 to George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette, a leader of the French Revolution who had served under Washington during the American Revolutionary War a decade earlier.

The key has remained at Mount Vernon for more than 200 years.

David had heard of the story and asked me to look for the replica keys which are on sale at Mount Vernon.  I forgot, of course, but we ordered one online and it arrived today.  

Made of cast iron it is very solid and very heavy!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

The Potomac at Mount Vernon

In October the boat trip from Alexandria to Mount Vernon only runs on Saturday and Sunday but it would be a delightful way to arrive at the Estate - one to think about in the Spring.   On the day we visited there were no pleasure cruises running from Mount Vernon either so the jetty was closed.

The walkway at the edge of the Potomac is very beautiful.  George Washington's 'Pioneer Farm' is close by at water level but we did not have a chance to visit this time.

One rather sad aspect of the waterside was that there was a little beach which was covered with dead wood which had presumably been carried downriver and also hundreds of what I originally thought were empty shells...

In fact it was quite smelly nearby and it turned out that these shells were not empty but their owners were dead.  I am not sure of the reason for this.  I think the Potomac at this point must be partly tidal, at least a little salty but perhaps prone to pollution due to the size of its watershed in the Washington area.

Leaving the waterside behind, it is a little climb up some wooden stairs to the path back to the garden.

This is the view looking back down the steps to the river.

There are several of these very large Sycamore trees with very white bark - we had seen them in January at Riverbend Park and had thought that they were dead trees but here they were still in full leaf.

Walking back to the house we passed the tomb of George Washington and his wife, Martha.  Their remains were re- interred here from a large family crypt.

Nearby there is a memorial to enslaved workers at Mount Vernon at the site of their burial ground.  As at Monticello, work is underway to determine the precise number and nature of the burials which were unmarked and largely unrecorded.

Back on the 'East Lawn' near the house it was possible to see the colonnaded 'back' of the house, facing the river and, by turning around, the view over the grass to the water..

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

More of Mount Vernon

The kitchens and dependencies at Mount Vernon were very complete and it was quite easy to imagine them in use.

The quarters assigned to the Gardener seemed quite comfortable (above) and the working conditions for those working the weaving loom and spinning wheels were reasonable too..

The office and living quarters (below) were those of the Overseer for the Estate, which was self-sufficient.

In the forge, two blacksmiths were demonstrating their skills..

We then went to look at some of the other outbuildings and the fruit and vegetable garden.

The wine cellar..


..carriage houses ..

..stables...were all set up as if they had quite recently been in use.

The vegetable garden is large and beautifully laid out.. and very much a working garden, packed full with different varieties of vegetables from chillies to sweet potatoes, with very old espaliered fruit trees cut short at the edge if the beds and against the surrounding walls.

We were fortunate to have had such wonderful weather for our visit yesterday as it rained all night and much of today so we have had a quiet, at home day, apart from a visit to the Bargain Loft and into the town centre.

I still have a few more pictures from Mount Vernon of the grounds and the Potomac river which I will post to the blog tomorrow.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Mount Vernon

Today, at last, I made my first visit to Mount Vernon, George Washington's home outside Washington, overlooking the Potomac river.

Claire and I made the trip by public transport and from the metro platform in Alexandria we had a great view of the rather impressive George Washington Masonic National Monument at the top of King Street.

(On our way back the weather was not quite so good...)

Arriving at Mount Vernon we started our tour in the beautiful Upper Garden..

Even at this point in the year the garden is full of flowers and very colourful..

We then visited the house where photography was not allowed inside.  It was a lovely home of manageable size with very high ceilings and elegant plasterwork downstairs.  

Many of the key rooms were painted in their original deep colours - including one room in vibrant green, said to have been made using powdered malachite and hence rather expensive!

The exterior of the house is wooden but painted to resemble pale stone.  The characteristically red roof shingles are made of wood and painted.

There are beautiful views of the Potomac from the colonnaded terrace and, at the front of the house, covered walkways to connect the house with the 'dependencies'.

So many pictures.. I will blog some more tomorrow..