A quiet place to think things over

By no means did we become experts on Charles Darwin today, but we did visit the home where he did his studying and thinking before publishing his world-changing theories.

Down House was chosen for its size and distance from polluted London, and the growing Darwin family lived there from 1842 to 1906. The building has had a life as a girls’ school, but now is a museum containing exhibits on Darwin’s explorations, and his family memorabilia. His study, where his fateful book was written, has many of his original possessions, including his chair.

The grounds and greenhouse were particularly lovely at dusk, and it’s clear they were a both laboratory and a comfort to the (r)evolutionary who lived in this house.

Don’s Food Corner

There were four of us for lunch today at a pub/restaurant in a country setting called The Bottle House Inn near the village of Penshurst in Kent.¬† Originally built in 1492 (a busy year!), the building went through many owners and many lives before being turned into an inn and pub in 1938. They specialize in traditional British fare. Our friends had introduced us to this terrific spot during a previous visit. We liked it so much that we demanded a return visit. What we like about it is that their take on “traditional British fare” is what you would expect to get but rarely do. It’s not greasy and heavy as you find in a typical “pub” of this type.

We sampled a range of things. We started by sharing a baked small wheel of Camembert topped with chopped dried apricot. Since I assume that Great Britain is not as shy about eating cheese made with raw milk — unlike the prohibition in the U.S. of such products — that the Camembert served was the real stuff as the French intend it to be. Seemed to taste like it.

After that, I had a roast shoulder of lamb with mint gravy and an accompaniment of a Yorkshire pudding, roasted potatoes, carrot and parsnip. The lamb was tender, the gravy richly  flavored and the vegetables had that perfect roasted quality that seemingly only the Brits know how to do right. Ditto on that Yorkshire pudding. A real treat.

There were two orders of steak and ale pie that came a huge mound of mashed potatoes. We’ve had some pretty bad versions of this classic dish. But the Bottle House came through again and delivered tender meat in a nice thick sauce in a flaky pastry.

The other choice was a vegetarian Wellington. I didn’t taste that, but it looked like they were able to get watery vegetables to take on a meaty texture and not allow the pastry to get soggy. Not easy.

We were stuffed and didn’t have dessert. We did, however, take some cake and tea at the cafe at Darwin’s house. You always have to keep room for tea and cake (or scones) in the afternoon — especially after driving down the narrow lanes of the British countryside in a day that featured most types of weather, including bright sun, strong wind, rain, and then heavy hail. Tea makes you forget and forgive all.

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