Saturday, January 28, 2012

Seven Days

Another week over already! - What reminders of the last Seven Days did I find in my camera?
A beautiful sunrise - earlier now - the light is surely returning to this Northern land

The remains of a pleasant afternoon tea, and memories of a lovely visitor.

A light frost be-jewelling the mosses.

A handsome neighbour wishing us Good Morning.

A new (secret) hideaway for a boy.

My first home-made cheese.*

And finding little scenarios of play, here and there around the house.

So many joys and blessings surround us - moments to treasure as we go through our days.  Wishing you a wonderful and memorable Seven Days ahead. xxx

*I will be sharing the cheese making project in a separate post soon. x

Friday, January 27, 2012

This moment...

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember. 

I am happy to be joining in again with Soulemama this week.  Have a beautiful weekend. xxx

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gypsy Creams - eventually.

Well, here is the first of my occassional recipes from my Grandmother's notebook. My Grandmother, Elizabeth, was born into a large Methodist family in the North East of England in 1901.  She became the manageress of Pattinsons - a large Tea room/bakery in the city of Durham, and many of her recipes were inspired by her time there.  She died at the age of 84, and I still miss her today.  She was my friend as well as my Gran. 

In fact, she wasn't my grandmother at all, although I didn't find out until I was much older.  My father's parent's marriage was one of the hidden casualties of WWII.  I don't really know all the details - my dad always says he was too young to remember, and he was far too busy playing football, or hide and seek  -  but I have heard bits and pieces from various sources over the years - particularly from my Aunt.  All I know is that there was an affair, a baby born out of wedlock, and my Grandpa coming home from the war to take care of his two abandoned children who had been left with their grandparents.  One of my cousin's has vaguely talked about writing a novel about it, and I am sure it would be a good one. 

Anyway, my grandfather had gone to visit an old army friend in Durham, just after the war, had gone to the tea shop,and there met my Gran, who would have been a spinster in her mid 40s at that time. They fell in love and married. I am always filled with admiration thinking of how strong a woman Elizabeth must have been. For a middle aged, single, religious woman -  to have left her family, come back with her husband ( a war veteran and recently divorced), to the small town where everyone would have known about the "scandal", to take on the care of  his two children, who had lived through all the deprivations of the war, and the trauma of their mother leaving, and to become involved in the life of the community, church and family in the  graceful way she did deserves more than a medal. She is my hero and inspiration to this day. 

Wow - it seems a bit mundane now to turn to recipes after all that drama, but, that is what we are here for.  No doubt various family anecdotes will find their way in to these posts as we go along. This recipe book was a Christmas gift to my Gran the year after her marriage.  It is inscribed:

With best wishes
Xmas 1948
from Hannah and Tite.

Aunt Hannah was the youngest of my grandmother's siblings.  There were 6 in all - 5 girls and 1 boy, and I was privileged to know them all, as we often took trips down to England to visit. "Here's Scotland coming!", my Uncle George used to say, as we piled out of the train, or the car. 
Uncle Tite was Hannah's husband - his full name was Titus.  All the family had wonderful exotic Biblical names and were just the most wonderful kind people you could ever meet.  

Ok - the recipe.  I will be sharing mostly recipes that I remember fondly from the groaning tea table that we sat round every week, but also some that I don't know - bearing fascinating names like "Humpty Dumpties" or "Goody Boats" - just to see what they are.
This week, though, in response to a special request, we are baking Gypsy Cream biscuits - a crunchy chocolate cookie sandwich with a chocolate cream filling.  Gypsy creams were made by the McVitie biscuit company, and were very popular as I grew up - I seem to remember they came in a brown box. They are no longer made, as far as I can tell, but I did see a reference to Romany creams somewhere, which may be similar.  This is the recipe in my Gran's notebook, and they did feature quite regularly in the weekly baking session

melt together
2 oz butter
2 oz lard
3level tablespoons golden syrup 

 (do try and make the syrup spoonful level - I think mine were a bit too generous and the biscuits were quite hard as a result)

Sift together
6 oz flour
1 heaped tablespoon cocoa or drinking chocolate
1 teasp baking powder
1/4 teasp baking soda

stir in 
2 oz sugar
2 oz porridge oats

mix dry ingredients into wet

add a teacup full of milk

shape into walnut size balls, place on a greased baking sheet and flatten out with a fork.

Bake for 20 minutes at 325 def F (160 C)

When cooled, sandwich together with chocolate butter-cream icing (frosting)

Not bad at all!  I was never really a bought gypsy cream aficionado, so I don't know how they compare to McVitie's. They did taste a lot like I remember my Grandmother's.  A bit harder - see my note on the syrup - and a bit chocolate-ier, as I used cocoa instead of drinking choc, but all in all, pretty tasty. Don't fear the lard - I think it does make a difference, but you could use a white vegetable fat instead  - just stay away from the hydrogenated stuff. xxx.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Around the croft.

Let's have a little wander around and see what's been happening around the croft lately.
In fact - not very much has been going on over these last few weeks. The short days had us rushing around to complete the daily chores before darkness fell.  Also, the weather has been pretty inclement, so those odd jobs - roof works, fencing repairs, little construction projects and such like have had to be put off for now. The animals have been looked after, of course, but apart from that - rain has pretty much stopped play.

The ditches and drains are full and overflowing...

and we are squelching around in deep mud.  A few really hard frosts would be helpful - I think we have only had one light dusting this Winter.  Ah well, we have to work with what we have I suppose, and I certainly don't want to bore you all with my weather grumbles.

So - let's be cheerful - there are many reasons to be.  Look at this garlic!  How fabulous it is.  I couldn't get a closer shot, as the door to the growing shed is blocked off to keep the cows out. They managed to squeeze in and eat all the kale and spinach and salads.  See that incriminating hoofprint in the middle there? Luckily they knew how important the garlic is.  I am so pleased with this result - I think this could be my best ever crop yet.

And I am pretty sure that is new lush grass growing.  This is the front field, which has had a good rest from grazing over the Autumn and Winter.   The sheep will be coming back soon and will go there for a few weeks, before the lambing starts.

Still in the front field, the fencing has been completed and a nice shiny new gate swings in the top corner, replacing the old one at the bottom.  A handy dandy tap has been installed too - not that we need water right now, but we do get the odd dry spell - usually a Tuesday in early May ;-)

Mick is enjoying his training - here he is showing off his - stay, come by, stop and stay routine.  He has been back to his old owner for a session with some sheep and did very well.  Our friend, who put us on to Mick in the first place is keen to train his dog alongside John and Mick, and already there is vague talk of obtaining some hog lambs for both dogs to work with.  Hmmm - we'll see just how vague that turns out to be.

Delia and Baby have weathered the Winter reasonably well.  On dry and sunny days they can be seen down the back field catching what rays they can, or they might agree to walk across the road to the front field for a nibble at the fresh grass. Most of the time, however, they have elected to call room service, and stay put in their warm, dry shelter up by the barn. And, lets face it, given the choice - who wouldn't?

Mind you, the back field is not the most inviting of places right now.  The drainage ditches have been dug, but there is mud everywhere - thick, sticking, wellie sucking mud.  The field is draining, we can see that, but there is just so much water lying around right now - did I mention the rain..?  Nevertheless, we are confident that some growing will happen here later on in the year.  We have a tractor and a plough so...

Did I mention mud?  Yep - the pigs are indeed swimming in it.  They still have a few dry bits, amazingly, but most of the time they are jumping up and down in their muddy puddles - when they are not escaping....sigh.

To tell the truth, I have not enjoyed having pigs as much as I thought I would.  Aside from their full time escapology act, I just have not bonded with them.  A good thing, really, considering the pending outcome, but I am sad about it too.  They are lovely animals - look at that face in the previous photo - how could you not respond to that?.  It's just - well, there are many reasons and I will be writing a separate post about them soon.

We still have 4 hens - although we nearly only had three.  On the morning of Christmas Eve, before Mick arrived,  John opened the door to find a strange collie with one of our girls in his mouth!  Feathers were everywhere and this dog was really savaging her.  It ran off as soon as he shouted (we had got into the lazy habit of leaving the gate open), but we thought she was gone.  Not so - those pizza girls are tough chicks.  We brought her in for some first aid - all the feathers were off her back and she had some deep wounds, including a really nasty one under her wing.  I gave her some rescue remedy, and we kept her in a box in the back lobby for a few days.   She was eating and drinking well enough, and her eyes were bright. I didn't want to put anything on her wounds, so I just misted the general area with tea-tree and lavender.
After a few days, she seemed to be improving, and wanting to move around, so we began putting her outside during the day in our neighbour's cat carrier.  Our main worry was that if she went back with the others she would be attacked.  They have never been an aggressive group of hens, though - unlike some we have had, and I was pretty sure she was the leader, but still, I was worried.  I needn't have been.  She was accepted right back in to the flock. For the first few days she stayed in the hen hut, only coming out to feed.  The other hens stayed in with her too, but I never saw any sign of pecking or bullying.  She has made a remarkable recovery.  Her feathers are coming back in, she is out everyday, scratching around with the others - and she is laying again!!!

So - what  are the plans?  Quite a few, in fact.  It is seaweed collecting time again.  This year it will be going on to the planned raised beds up at the house.  We are hoping that a small greenhouse or polytunnel will be in place very soon, to get us going with the fruit and veg for this year.  A much larger one is in the long term plan.  Ploughing, then sowing oats, potatoes and grass for hay - more laying hens and possibly some birds for the table - lambing in the Spring - the list keeps growing.  And there is an exciting development in the pipeline just now, only I can't tell you about it for a few weeks....  I will as soon as I can though. xx

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Seven Days

What a very wet and windy week it has been here on the Isles, with gales and hailstorms battering off the windows more often than not. Nonetheless, it was a very busy time for us - lots of business-ey type things had us leaving the fireside and heading into Stornoway most days this week. Not much time for photography or for computers at all.  Let's just say it has been a purposeful week - it included:

A visit to the smart new dental facility, with it's jolly yellow door. I am very glad to finally be on the list here - travelling back to the mainland for check-ups was not very convenient.

I have started going to a Gaelic class - good fun, several people there that I know, and a couple of hours away from the house, along with my knitting.  This week we talked about the weather, (you really need to be able to do that here), learned how to tell the time, and played pictionary - all anns a' Ghaidhlig!

I have been doing a lot of research into cheese.  My first batch is currently underway!

And I am studying for my livestock transport licence test in a couple of weeks.

There were a couple of breaks in the weather, when it felt really quite springlike.  One of the hens is laying again, so it must be on it's way. We all rushed out to soak up as many of those luxes as we could.

And there was even a rare sighting of the Lewis Panda!

Just a few random happenings from my week - wishing you all a wonderful and joyous seven days. xx

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Gorgeous Gooey Meringues

 I posted a picture of John's birthday meringue the other day.  They were indeed most gorgeous and gooey.  I have to say that this is not a special tradition, but me being a thrifty cook.  James had requested custard and banana for desert the day before, which called for 6 egg yolks, so the whites were lingering in the fridge.  Normally I forget about them, or stick them in a small tub and bung them (unlabelled), in the freezer whereupon they disappear into the depths. But - the birthday was suddenly upon us (as January birthdays often are) and some kind of celebratory sweetness was in order.  Meringue it just had to be. And here is the recipe. (Makes loads - I forgot to count - sorry)

 Put 6 egg whites into a metal or ceramic bowl  
(apparently if you let them stand for a day or two before using then they whip better)

Beat until they look foamy and cotton woolly,  and stand up in soft peaks. 

Then it's time to add the sugar - 300g (2 cups).  I used a mixture of icing sugar and soft brown sugar (half and half), because I wanted a soft squidgy meringue.

Beat in a tablespoonful of the sugar at a time until you have a stiff, satiny mixture.  See the picture? It isn't quite dropping off my whisk and is just holding it's shape.

Then put spoonfuls of the mix onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  I brushed a little sunflower oil over the paper too, for some added non-stick value.

My instructions said to bake at 150 deg C (300F Gas mark 2) for 40 minutes, when they should come away easily from the baking sheet. Cool on a wire rack. They will be a beautiful pale golden brown colour.

I would say that they were just a wee bit softer than I wanted.  Next time I would bake them for  a shade longer - maybe 5 or 10 minutes. Still wonderfully fudgy and melt in the mouth delicious though. And James has just suddenly appeared from outside. How did he know they were ready?  He takes his chief taster role very seriously.

Looks like it passes the test, but he rushes back out again, as an important construction project is in progress in the garden.

Anyway, when cool, sandwich two halves together with some whipped cream, or melted chocolate or both.  Add fruit if you like, but whatever you do, savour that exquisite moment when you bite through the crisp shell and reach the melting gooey interior -  just sublime...

I am thinking of doing a regular weekly recipe slot.  I was asked by a lovely commenter  if I had a particular recipe and when I looked through my grandmother's notebooks, I found it.  Unfortunately I realised that these precious notebooks are beginning to fade and fall apart, so in the hope of saving these treasured recipes, I plan to begin a Granny's Kitchen Notebook series next week.  What do you think?  Would you like to see that?  It will be mostly sweet things - cakes etc, as my Gran was a skilled baker, but I think I can struggle through... virtual calories don't really count, after all... #fact :-)

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Seven Days?

The week has just flown by.  I was hoping to do an "Around the Croft" post, so my camera was filled with photographs intended for that.  I did think about doing that today instead, but then....what about those other images that might not fit into a post later on? Hmmm - Sunday, for me, is about looking back and appreciating those ordinary but special moments over the past week, and anticipating the joys and excitement of the new. So, Around the Croft will appear early in the week, and today I give you Seven Days - crammed into Three :)

The evenings are noticeably longer now.  This was taken at around 5 pm - already I can see the movement in the Earth's axis, as the sunset moves further and further Westwards.

And on the other side of the house - East facing -the sky is suffused with a glorious pink light - see how it makes those rushes glow. (Sorry about the window reflection, but I couldn't resist sneaking this snap of John taking it all in.)

And talking of John - is that a birthday cake or a meringue?*  You're right - it's a Birthday Meringue! Very decadent and delicious it was too.

We had a touch of frost - Only the second frost I can think of this whole winter. It has been so mild and wet - such a difference to last year's snow and ice. 

But we took advantage of some blue sunny skies and nipped off for a wander along the beach.

We had a proper baking day, so the tins are nicely filled - for a wee while...

And I spent a long time trying to capture the power and beauty of the Atlantic rollers - but you really had to be there.

Just a few moments from our week here.  Ordinary moments that filled my days with joy. I wish you all a wonderful seven days ahead. xxx.

*Scottish joke reference.  A man walks into a baker's shop, points at a cake and asks the assistant
"Is that a doughnut or a meringue?"  
The woman replies
"Naw - yer right - it's a doughnut"
Really needs to be said in a Glaswegian accent to be appreciated.

Friday, January 13, 2012

This moment...

{this moment} - A Friday ritual. A single photo - no words - capturing a moment from the week. A simple, special, extraordinary moment. A moment I want to pause, savour and remember. 

I am happy to be joining in again with Soulemama this week.  Have a fun-filled weekend. xxx


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