Figs

A few small figs

I always think of bright Mediterranean sunshine when I eat figs, forgetting that my mother had planted a fig tree in our garden in Staffordshire (England) when I was in my teens. That tree yielded masses of delicious figs within a couple of years.

In the garden where my mother now lives in Erice, Sicily, there is a fig tree that has provided us with a few figs in the last couple of weeks. We have eaten perhaps half a dozen but a neighbour harvested about 25 figs to take to his brother on another island. These were all large, soft green fruit and, in general, sweet.

July is expected to see the tree in full production, though a lot of the figs on the tree now are small, are turning black and have a tendency to fall off easily before reaching maturity.

Figs (Ficus carica) is related to the mulberry, about which I wrote just recently, and has been cultivated by humans for thousands of years.

Nutrition

Figs are high in soluble fibre and natural sugars. They are also rich in minerals including potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron and copper and are a good source of antioxidant vitamins A and K. As they are a low calorie food they are an ideal addition to a weight-loss or weight-maintenance diet.

Fresh figs are nice at anytime of day. I like them at breakfast, after meals and between meals as a snack.

Sicilian fig biscuits

Dried figs are nice too though a bit on the seedy side. The seeds are softer in fresh figs, to the point of being unnoticeable. And the flavour is quite a lot different too – much stronger in dried figs.

I hope the tree produces a few decent fruit soon as, despite the countryside and gardens being edged by fig trees, the fruit in supermarkets are pretty expensive. Time will tell.

A Sicilian Caper!

Caper bush (Capperis spinosa), also known as Flinders Rose

Capers are well known as a pickled condiment. It is the flower buds that are harvested and pickled though, after flowering, the fruit or berries can also be harvested for pickling.

The bush, with its long stems, is a perennial plant that is found throughout the Mediterranean region and in my mother’s garden in Erice.

Flower buds and leaves on the Caper Bush

In addition to the culinary use of the buds and berries the leaves can also be pickled and used in salads.

The delicate flowers of the Caper Bush

The plant is said to have several medicinal benefits including remedies for diabetes, fungal infections, chest congestion, intestinal worms , and skin disease caused by a form of leishmaniasis.

Slender, young seed pods

Capers are used in many Sicilian dishes and salads, while the leaves are more often seen in Cypriot food.

Nutrition

While rich in some nutritional aspects pickled capers have a high sodium content.

Macro-nutrients

Micro-nutrients

Sources: US Dept of Agriculture via Wikipedia

A visit to the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

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Palm House at the Royal Botanical Gardens, Edinburgh

Nature was in a good mood. The day proved to be relatively sunny and mild, sandwiched by cold wet days that prompted me to think about cancelling my visit to the gardens.

I arrived at the East Gate entrance, a gate festooned with metal flowers on a wire background. After purchasing a ticket to enter the Glasshouses I bought a coffee and snack before starting my photographic tour of the gardens. The first subjects were the colourful crocuses and daffodils near the gate.

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East Gate (pedestrian) entrance to the gardens

My walk took me, with the bright winter sun in my eyes, up to the left of the entrance and among bushes at either side of the path. The gardens are, in the main, wheelchair friendly with signs indicating which paths were, or were not, accessible.

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Direction signs on path

The only real issue with photographing the gardens at this time of year is the fact that some plants are not yet in bloom, and many trees were still bare. That said there were plenty of colourful plants to see and photograph and I came away with about 400 pictures for the day.

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As I reached the Nepalese garden the clouds gathered overhead so I made haste to the Terrace Cafe for lunch. I arrived just in time as the heavens opened and it rained quite heavily for an hour. Although hot food was available I decided to have a Coronation Chicken wrap, followed by a cherry slice and a cup of hot chocolate. At £10 for this simple meal  I was not unhappy but have heard comments that the food is regarded as expensive by some people.

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    Terrace Cafe near the Nepalese Garden

The rain cleared as I finished my lunch so I then made my way towards the Glasshouses, passing the huge beech hedge and the Queen Mother’s Memorial garden, then the rockery and finally the Glasshouses themselves. I entered via the Palm House which has palm trees (obviously!) and orchids.

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One of the many species of orchids on display

One then passes (after the ticket desk) into the series of 10 huge glass houses, a couple of which are very hot and humid!. A note here to those with cameras – the lenses will steam up as the camera/lens units will have come from the cold outside ambient temperature to a hot humid environment. I had to hug my lens for about 15 minutes, to bring up its temperature, and wipe the front lens with a micro-fibre lens cloth to clear the condensation. I also had to remove my jacket as I too was suffering from the heat (ironic considering I live in Brazil where temperatures are high).

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Amorphophallus konjak, also known as the Corpse Flower, in bloom

The exciting feature of the visit was the Amorphophallus konjac, also known as New Reekie or the Corpse Flower, which was in bloom for the first time in many years – a rare event. I have a poor sense of smell so did not notice the famed bad odour. Interestingly the plant is used as a source of vegan food in its native home in Indonesia. New Reekie was in the last of the 10 glass houses so I then retraced my steps back to the reception area.

Photographic Tour of Edinburgh

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It’s as cold as it will get in Edinburgh at this time of year. Best to stay indoors near a warm fireplace, drinking hot chocolate. Or not!

Why not venture out? If you had a New Year resolution to take up or improve your photography then why not wrap up warm and take a photo tour of the beautiful city of Edinburgh with an experienced professional photographer to guide you in a practical walking workshop.

Apart from the opportunity to get fresh air and see parts of the city, you will gain an understanding of how to control your camera and to see the city with a different point of view.

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What you will learn:

  1. Starting: Camera basics – the camera body, interchangeable lenses and camera sensors
  2. Seeing: Composition and objective
  3. Capture: How to use the camera’s shooting modes*
  4. Control: Making the most of aperture, shutter speed and ISO
  5. Lighting: Daylight and artificial light
  6. Histograms*: what they tell you

* If your camera doesn’t have these features, let me know in advance of the tour.

What you will need:

  • A digital camera with the ability to control exposure:
    • Programmed Auto (P)
    • Shutter-Priority Auto (S)
    • Aperture-Priority Auto (A)
    • Manual (M)
  • Flash (optional) There may be a flash incorporated in the camera that you have
  • Standard/wide-angle. (Telephoto/zoom lens – optional)
  • Tripod (optional but useful)
  • Water and warm clothes

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The 9th March, 2019 Tour – Royal Botanical Garden

It will be a slow walking tour, not a long trek, but one that will enable us to get some good views, to stop and chat about what we are doing, and to discuss/answer questions.

We will stop half-way through to have a light lunch (cost not included in the package)  which will give us time to talk through any issues.

Total time from start to finish will be about 5-6 hours.

Meet: East Gate 10.00am

Don’t forget to ensure you have a fresh memory card and fully charged battery in the camera. If in doubt bring back-up!

Note: This tour assumes that images captured will NOT be used for commercial gain, solely for personal use. In order to use images captured in the gardens commercially it is necessary to obtain prior approval from the RBGE press office.

Please note that entrance to the Gardens is free but there will be a charge of £7.00 to enter the Glasshouses – well worth the visit if only to warm up on a cold day – where we can photograph exotic flowers, cacti and orchids.

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Price

£90.00  £60.00 per person (Winter Special!)

£30.00 on booking to secure place (non-refundable)

Balance to be paid on the day of the tour.