Thursday, 2 December 2010

Christmas Cake and SNOW!

Wow - what a completely mad end to November, beginning to December!  We have now spent a week with sub-zero temperatures and heaps (about 16 inches!) of snow.

A couple of weeks ago I started to make my Christmas cake.  I use a recipe from a Good Housekeeping AGA winter cook book, you cook the cake overnight in the bottom oven of the Aga.  Although this year I made a few (!) mistakes with the recipe!
 I got a bit over enthusiastic with the chopping and soaking of the dried fruit and put the cherries, peel and brazil nuts in with the rest of the fruit to macerate overnight in port and Cointreau - I'm really hoping it won't affect the taste of the finished cake.

It looked (and smelled) ok once it had finished baking, and I'm now 'feeding' it with brandy once a week up until the week before Christmas when me and the kids will ice and decorate it.

Meanwhile - outside we are living in a winter wonderland!  Snow hit the North East of Scotland last Thursday, 25th November and hasn't really stopped since.   Schools are all shut so we have all been stuck at home, thankfully my husband can work from home so he's been able to help with getting water out to the animals, clearing paths and bringing in logs etc!!

They say a picture conveys a thousand words - so I'll post the next few photos and let them speak for themselves.

View across the glen

Keeping the horses water filled up

Zac, Brea and Poppy

Robin in the stables

Garden - what garden?

Hard to believe that we'll ever see anything green in the garden again when everything is so white outside. Still counting our blessings that we have all our hay in for winter feeding, and our logs are all chopped and stacked to keep us nice and cosy inside.  I am really wishing I had heated waterers like the ones we had for the horses when we lived in Canada, but apart from that it is so beautiful outside and getting us all in the mood for a lovely Christmas holidays - time to get the skis out I think.

Tuesday, 9 November 2010

October catch up

October has passed by in flash it seems.  The shed has now been completed (see above) - and just needs the doors put on before the winter weather sets in.

We had a lovely holiday on a beach sailing club in Turkey - a first for us and enjoyed by the whole family.  Sadly, just before we left we discovered that one of our cats, Oscar, had been killed on the road outside our house.  He was only a year old and a fanatical hunter and unfortunately had spread his territory to the field on the other side of the road.  We still have his brother Spooky, but really miss him as he was a really affectionate wee chap.

The kids are now back at school and we are starting the headlong rush towards Christmas and New Year.  Our daughter is sitting prelim exams in November and our oldest son is getting ready to play his trumpet in a number of concert band events.

The horses are now coming in at night, for a bit of respite from the wet weather and also to 'save' our paddocks from turning into mud.  They seem happy with this, Zac (our oldest horse) especially!

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

More photos

Just been out to move electric fence for the horses. With this cold weather I'm now giving them more grass every day. So far the paddocks are standing up well to the rain we've had, but it could all turn to mud quite quickly.

Zac and Brea waiting for me.

This is the railway carriage we've got grand plans for. It's an old stock car and was previously used as a field shelter. The idea is to restore it and then use it as a summer house.

P (my husband) has helped one of his friends dismantle a deck, in return for getting to recycle the decking. We'll have a deck around the front of the carriage, hopefully to sit and drink gin and tonics on! (Not on a day like today though)

View of field from railway carriage.

Meanwhile Coco checks out the ground works for the new tractor shed. It's slow progress due to the horrible weather but at least it's progress!

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday, 11 September 2010

some photos from a peaceful week

I've been having a quiet, reflective time this week.  Started off last Sunday by a visit to Findhorn, one of my favourite places.  Situated in a beautiful spot on the Moray coast, there is a calm energy to the village and, of course, it's the location of the world famous Findhorn Foundation.

Darling daughter and 3 dogs on Findhorn Beach  

Next week, my husband (P) is going to be digging and building, as we are cracking on with building a new shed for hay, tractor bits, log storage etc.  As usual,our romantic plans about getting on with the railway carriage have been put down the priority list, as we have to get on with the practical stuff first!  Never mind, it's all good and moving forwards which is the main thing.

On Thursday this week, P and I took the opportunity of a free afternoon to go for a walk around the Back o'Bennachie.  It is a very beautiful spot, perfect for a quick walk - the photos speak for themselves I think.

Sculpture in the burn

"the tumbling of the waters is the teeming of life" 

I love spaces like this, the smells, sounds and atmosphere are so wonderful - I really feel as if I'm reconnecting and recharging, it's good for the soul.

Tuesday, 24 August 2010

tipping it down Tuesday

Pouring with rain today, just been out to bring horses in to their stables to dry off with some hay.  I'll put their rain sheets on before I put them back out in a couple of hours.  So, I'm sitting here with a coffee, perfect for catching up with what's happened in the last week or so.

Last Tuesday we visited D.A.W.G.S (link to their website below) rescue centre in Aberdeen.  We were interested in rehoming a wee dog from them.  After various questionaires and a home visit, I took our kids and our two other dogs into the D.A.W.G.S. Kennels to meet up with the dog (my husband met us there too, as he works in Aberdeen).   It was a huge success, we loved her and she seemed very happy with us too.  So we brought her home and she has settled in really well.  She is learning to respect our other animals, is a bit wary of visitors but she is a lovely addition to our brood!

fruit in here somewhere
On Saturday I braved our completely overgrown fruit patch to pick blackcurrants for jam and some gooseberries for pudding that night.  Whoever decided that gooseberries were good to eat deserves a medal, in my opinion!  They are the scariest looking fruit and the thorns and spikes on the plants make picking them downright dangerous (I have the scars to prove it).   My hens were very pleased with my efforts though and decided to help themselves to the gooseberries I had picked too.

Happily I've now got 7 pots of blackcurrant jam and made delicious Gooseberry Snow pudding (from Valentine Werner on Saturday Kitchen).

Monday, 16 August 2010

beetroots (and hornets)

Been really busy these last few weeks, spent a fortnight at home catching up with friends, then had 10 days in Norfolk/London visiting family which was lovely.  I've got a few photos to upload but have taken the huge (for me) step of getting an iPhone so I'm hoping that my blogging will be easier, and perhaps a bit more frequent.

We've had our first harvest of beetroot from the polytunnel - did my favourite roasted beetroot with balsamic vinegar, garlic and fresh herbs.

Absolutely delicious, really sweet and tender.  Roast the scrubbed (not peeled) beetroot in a foil parcel with some garlic, olive oil, a couple of good splashes of balsamic vinegar, scatter some herbs on top (I used thyme and marjoram), add salt and pepper and roast for 35/40 minutes in a moderate oven.  If the beetroots aren't so fresh I sometimes sprinkle some sugar on too.  This is nice served with quiche or maybe some a salad with some baked goats cheese.

The polytunnel is blooming, in fact quite a lot of things are bolting, so we need to work out what to do about that.  One thing that hasn't worked very well is that a lot of our broad beans are empty, which could be to lack of pollination? 

Therefore, we decided to leave the doors open on the polytunnel since we got back from London last Monday.  Unfortunately, we have ended up with some rather unpleasant insect visitors - I have no idea they are, hornets perhaps, but there was one buzzing about (quite scary!) and my husband found this one (see below) floating in his watering can! 

scary beastie! 

Finally a photo of the polytunnel with everything growing like mad!  Kids are back to school this week (yipee!) and I'm hoping that Brea (my quarter horse) will have recovered from her recent hoof abscess for me to get back in the saddle.  It's been a brilliant summer but I have to say it will be very nice to try and get back into a routine again, well sort of.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

back from our Cornish holiday

Or perhaps should be entitled what I ate on holiday!  But first of all just wanted to put a quick link to my friends' garden which is a few miles along the road from me.  They have started to open under the Gardens Scheme for charity and have transformed this beautiful garden by themselves!  It's well worth a visit if you ever get the chance.

We have just returned from our family holiday to Cornwall, around 700 miles from home and the first time I have visited.  So we had to make the most of it!

During our first week we had lunch at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant - Padstow, beautiful restaurant and food (I achieved one of my foodie ambitions by eating here) -  Seared Fillet of Seabass with roasted fennel seeds and sauce vierge; Braised Fillet of Hake with Mussels, Spinach, Chervil and a Malt Whisky Sauce and to finish had Strawberry Pavlova with Creme Chantilly and Vincotto. Fantastic.

On the second week we met up with friends (who own the garden above!) at Watergate Bay for lunch at Fifteen Cornwall - absolutely amazing food.  To start I had Grilled Cornish mackeral with herby fregola di sarda and green olive salsa; then Bocaddon Farm Rose veal 'scaloppine alla pizzaiola' with verdura mista of Florence fennel, red onion and zucchini followed by Strawberry and mascarpone mousse cake, Tamar Valley strawberries and almond brittle.  Completely brilliant food, amazing atmosphere and of course surfing at Watergate Bay too.

The rest of our holiday was spent on beaches, and sightseeing with the major highlight being the Paolo Nutini concert at the Eden Project, followed by a visit to Eden the next day.

All in all, had a brilliant time, now back to our own Eden project (polytunnel has gone mad in our absence), a wee injured cat - Spooky had to have surgery for a discolated hip we have no idea how he managed to hurt himself, and with BIG plans for the railway carriage project.  Looks like a busy summer ahead.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Last night's book group

I organise a very informal book group, which mostly involves 10 or so ladies who live nearby meeting once a month or so.  We discuss a book we have chosen to read (or not sometimes!) and generally drink wine and have a chat!

Last night was our final meeting before everyone heads off for the summer holidays, our next meeting isn't until September now.  Instead of nominating a book for reading over the hols, we came up with a list of suggestions which everyone can choose from (or ignore and add their own) and we'll have our first meeting back to discuss and review.

The books we have on our recommended list are as follows;

Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin
any books by Andrew Grieg - especially The Return of John McNab and Electric Brae
Shit my Dad says - Justin Halpern
One Day - David Nicholls
Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver
When will there be good news - Kate Atkinson 

West Coast - Kate Muir
Notes from an exhibition - Patrick Gale
The Summer Book - Tove Jansson 
I'm looking forwards to a very relaxed summer full of plenty of time to read a good book and have also sneaked some more cookbooks onto my personal reading wish list - 
Sarah Ravens Food for Friends and Family, 
Plenty by Ottolenghi
the Nigel Slater Tender books (couldn't resist!)
We've got one more week of the school term left, and then are looking forwards to two weeks in Cornwall, then three weeks at home before a trip to visit family and friends in Norfolk/London.   

Really hoping for a nice laid back summer, and hoping that we'll maybe get round to starting the renovations of our railway carriage too.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Photo catch up

Since the weather has been pretty cold and yucky I had decided to wait until the next sunny day to take some photos of our progress.  Here goes;

The chickens new spot -  Peach exiting the hen house, she's not quite at point of lay yet so I reckon she's just being nosy.

 Inside the polytunnel - so far we've planted broad beans, peas, salad leaves (mizuna, rocket,
mustard etc), sweetcorn, cucumbers,tomatoes are ready to be put into our big homemade grow bag, we've also got some strawberries in big pots too.

Hopefully this weekend we'll manage to go and collect some garden bark for the path between the beds.
I've managed to get a Brown Turkey fig as a Father's Day present for my husband from the kids.
(it's not in the photo, as I've hidden it until Sunday).

Sunday, 13 June 2010

June already....

Gosh, really can't believe we are on the second weekend in June already.  Haven't managed to post as things have been really hectic.

On the evening of Wednesday 2nd June, Brea, my quarter horse, colicked really badly .  I had been out cutting the grass as we were due to go to a friends' wedding that weekend, and my daughter had gone out to feed the horses (they get a handful of happy hoof and feed balancer every day).  My daughter came running in, Brea was down and she thought she was colicking.

When I got up to the field, poor Brea was flat out.  No noise, no movement, it was almost as if she was dead.  My husband had gone to phone the vet and I sat on the ground next to my mare, checking her pulse (racing) and started doing some of my Ttouch ear work on her.

Mark, the vet, arrived within 30 minutes at around 8.45pm.  By this time I'd managed to get Brea back up to her feet, and had walked her down the hill to our stables.  Brea's pulse was almost 70 bpm, there were no gut sounds and Mark decided to put a tube into her stomach incase we were dealing with grass sickness.  Thankfully, her stomach was clear but we were faced with what to do next.  The nearest vet hospital that can do abdominable surgery on horses is the Royal (Dick) Veterinary Hospital in Edinburgh.   It takes 4 hours to drive there under normal conditions but to transport a sick horse in a trailer would take over 5 hours.  Brea was in so much pain, things really were looking very bleak as we suspected a twisted gut, impacted colic or grass sickness.  However, I made the decision not to subject her to the long journey, if there really was nothing to be done to help her, I would rather she spent her last hours at home with us, rather than stressed out stuck in a trailer.

Mark gave Brea some painkillers and agreed to return within 4 hours at 12.30 am.  I spent the next few hours checking her every half an hour, doing more Ttouch earwork and also I managed to do some belly lifts with help from my husband.

Ttouch Ear work is one thing I wish every horse person knew how to do.  Basically, you make small circle and a quarter ttouches around the base of the horse's ears.  Then stroke the whole length of the ear, up to the tip and apply pressure to the shock point right at the tip of the ear.  By doing these ttouches around the ears you can help stabilise a horses temperature, respiration and  - this stops the animal going into shock and is exactly what to do when you are waiting for the vet or to aid recovery. - link to Linda Tellington-Jones website.   - UK Ttouch and Tteam website.

When Mark returned at 12.30am, Brea's condition was still looking very grim.  Although, her pulse had lowered to 44 bpm.  We agreed to keep monitoring her, with me checking her throughout the night, but with us both well aware that I may be calling Mark during the night to put my darling horse to sleep.

I checked Brea hourly during the night, (flashback to when the kids were babies and being up all night with them!).  At around 4.00 am when I had checked her, I was happy to hear slight gurgling and bubbling noises from her gut, she had been walking around with my other two horses normally.  (I can't believe how light it is here at 4.00 in the morning!).  I went back to bed, and slept until 6.30 am, the longest I'd left her - when I walked over the field I got the best welcome any horse owner ever gets, a lovely whicker from all 3 horses!

Mark, came back to check at 8.30 am.  I've never seen anyone so relieved as he did when he walked round the corner to see Brea standing quite happily at the gate.  I know that we both thought she wouldn't make it through the night.  We decided to not give her anymore painkillers and monitor her for the rest of the day.   

When Mark returned that evening, I was happy to report that Brea had been behaving normally the whole day, she was grazing and drinking (and poohing of course).  It had been a really close thing, and I am so thankful that we noticed as soon as we did that something was wrong.

My family and I decided not to travel down to England to our friends' wedding, luckily for us they are animal lovers too and knew that we couldn't leave a recovering animal (even though I have the best horse sitter around!).

We've now got the cover on our polytunnel, and have managed to plant most of our veggies in it.  And we have spent this weekend moving the chickens round to their new bit of garden - so things are slowly moving forward with the garden even if the weather has been wet and cold.  Some sunshine every now and again would be nice though too!

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Tortilla - (Spanish Omlette) with my wild garlic

This is one of my favourite dishes to make, not only does it taste good, but there are times in the year when everything I use is from the garden - eggs from our hens, potatoes and onions.  Decided to add some wild garlic as we've got tons this year.

Started off by lightly frying one large onion, sliced, until soft in olive oil. Next added steamed baby potatoes (used Jersey Royals which are in season right now) roughly crushed the potatoes, then gently mixed through the onions.  Added salt and pepper and continued to fry for a bit.

Next, I beat up some free range eggs (I used 13 from our own hens - this fed 5 of us with leftovers).   Added the eggs to the pan and gave the pan a shake  to make sure the egg seeped through the potato and onions.

I washed and sliced a large bunch of wild garlic leaves, (saved the stalks, chopped them up finely and chucked them in a chorizo & chickpea warm salad).  Finally sprinkled  the wild garlic on top of tortilla.

Finished off the omlette by putting in the oven to cook through (or under a grill maybe - I don't have one so just put in the top oven of the aga).  Then sprinkled the garlic flowers over the top before serving.

Really good to eat hot and even better to eat cold out the fridge (if there are any leftovers) - is also the perfect hangover breakfast or picnic food.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010

hottest weekend of the year (so far)

What a gorgeous weekend we have just had.  Things are moving on quicker with the polytunnel now, got the beds all in place now.  We have one narrow bed on the left hand side, to grow beans, peas etc in.  A double width bed in the middle and on the right hand side we have left bare.  The plan here is to make a huge 'growbag' from weed fabric, fill it with well rotted manure and grow our tomatoes in it. 

We have left a working area at both ends of the tunnel and have also got two paths (wheelbarrow width) down between the beds.  Next weekend will see us putting the plastic over the top of the frame, and doing the final adjustments on the structure.  All the wee bolts will be adjusted to tension the plastic cover (well, that's the plan at least).

Elsewhere in the garden things are really starting to take off, my wild garlic is blooming and looking perfect for adding to a frittata or soup maybe?  Our lovage is absolutely perfect right now - and very tempting to grab a mouthful when walking past (as well as adding it to salads - yum).    We have finally planted all our tatties and I hope to get our onions planted in the next day or two.

We've also added a couple of new hens to our wee brood, some Amber Star pullets, they are around 16 weeks old, so about 5 weeks from point of lay.  They are happy docile wee things, and have started life in our 'baby' chook ark, where they can see and hear the big girls but not be bullied by them.  Their names are Princess Peach (Peachie for short) and Daisy - apparently something to do with Mariocart (the kids chose the names!).  We'll introduce them all when we move all the chickens to the other end of the garden, at night of course.  One of my friends has just started keeping hens and it's been so much fun helping her with setting up her flock.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Slow Progress

The polytunnel epic continues! We are erecting the polytunnel over some existing raised beds.  This means that whenever we need to put up the next bit of the frame, we are digging up old strawberries, moving wooden boarding and heaps of soil. 

I'm not being very much use at all, still got a sore shoulder.  But at least I can hand my (lovely) husband bolts etc - so it does feel as if I'm helping a bit.

We had a sad day yesterday, as we lost one of our old chickens - Brownie (she was about 5 years old). She hadn't been very happy for a few days and I had to separate her from the rest of the girls as she was being picked on.  She seemed to perk up a bit on her own but then went down hill quite quickly.  We've buried her up in the woods behind our cottage.   It's very sad when you lose an animal that you've cared for and has provided you with lovely eggs during her life. 

Weather has been so mixed this week, with us having heaps of snow on Tuesday and temps of 3oC, with hard overnight frosts.  So hoping it's finally going to get a bit warmer and more like May.  Still on the bright side, we are so far behind with our planting this year that it doesn't matter having such a late spring. 

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

May Bank Holiday weekend 2010

Probably should be renamed the weekend where I didn't manage to get anything done.  After a warm and sunny day last Thursday after I had ridden my horse and walked the dogs, I decided to get serious in the garden.  One of the beds in our front garden had become so overgrown with Ivy that it needed to be pulled up before the plants underneath it suffocated.  So I spent around 2 hours happily digging, weeding and hacking away.  The consequence of this was a pulled muscle in my left shoulder, which started to hurt Fri/Sat but then became a full-on muscle spasm on Sunday (ouch). 

Therefore all the work we had planned to do ended up being done by my lovely husband on his own, albeit assisted by our two sons (aged 13 and 9) - in addition to having to do my usual chores of mucking our and feeding horses etc.

Anyway, major progress has been made!  The ground posts and frame of the polytunnel are now up and in place, now we need to re-work all the old existing raised beds and finally cover it!

Looks like a bit of a mess at the moment - but at least the skeleton is now in place.

Other stuff we managed to do this week was close up the railway carriage with some tarps as our swallows have returned and we don't want them to nest in there and start laying as we would disturb them with the building work later - it's just a precaution as they haven't nested in there for a few years (the stables is far nicer and cosier and they get to dive bomb me everytime I go in the yard!).

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Leftover lunch for a useless Tuesday

Today hasn't exactly gone as planned, went outside (as usual) this morning to give my hens some feed, broccoli stalks and weeds (they are confined to their run at the moment due to next door's cat and both legbars laying somewhere in the garden - yummy for Rosie and Dash our labradors, not for us), afterwards I had planned to meet my husband in town to choose a new carpet for our bedroom (probably more on that later!), of course he was busy so I couldn't get hold of him.
I decided that I may as well go and do some food shopping instead, and started getting ready to leave the house - no purse!  Pants, where was my purse? (and panic too!), picked up phone to call hubby (again) and there is a message from my hairdressers in Aberdeen (30 miles away) was there something wrong as I had an appointment at 11.15 (it's now 11.30!) - double pants, phone them back and apologise for completely forgetting about it, next appointment is in three weeks time - by which time I'll look like my Welsh Sec A pony!!!  Anyway, call to hubby is made, he found my purse in his car - so now I'm stuck, I tell him I may as well just go and lie in a darkened room......

However, I log onto to twitter instead and catch up with what's happening and see a post from a fellow blogger who I follow.... and it's all about food, lovely food and tea-flavoured cocktails and biscuits (I highly recommend following The English can cook) now I'm hungry and find some leftover filo pastry from last week's spinach pie and leftover tomato and mozarella salad from Sunday's dinner - excellent, the day has been redeemed!

Leftover Tuesday pie

some sheets of filo pastry
melted butter
leftover tomato salad (tomatoes, basil, mozeralla and good balsamic vinegar)
black pepper

Brush the sheets of filo with the melted butter and use to line a individual sized pie dish (I used about 4 sheets). Put in the salad and season with black pepper. Brush any left over filo with butter and then scrunch up to make the top of the pie (you just wodge it all in, it will look better once it's baked). Pop into a preheated oven (my aga is always on so I just put it on the bottom of the top oven - probably around 180oC?) - cook for 15/20 minutes until brown.

Eat straight from the pie dish - minimal washing up!

Eat and enjoy and feel as if the rest of the day can continue!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

Hello - welcome to my blog

24th April 2010 - 4.00 pm - Cup of tetley in the garden with some home magazines.

Finally it's warm again, spring did feel as if it had arrived a few weeks ago, but it really was a trick to make us hope that the worst winter we've ever had was over. On Tuesday this week, my husband was taking a group of P5's (9 year olds) on a environmental/geology fieldtrip and of course, it snowed on them! Still everyone came prepared and braved the 2oC to have a great day, complete with spotting adders.

Just come back from a shopping trip with my teen daughter, just us this weekend as the boys (husband, teen son and younger son) are off on a scout camp.

So finally I get to sit out in the garden with my tea. Plans for the garden this year include; putting up our polytunnel - (which arrived in about a million boxes yesterday); transforming the derelict railway goods wagon half way up our field into a summerhouse (would love one like MsMarmitelovers!); and perhaps putting in a pond.

Great dreams, but we'll see how we get on.

Now I'm off outside to muck out our paddocks - one of the major benefits of keeping horses at home is the easy supply of well rotted manure for our garden.