Sunday, November 22, 2015

Fifty five

Hello - it's me. My annual birthday self-portrait. My birthday was yesterday, and it was a much nicer day than I imagined it would be. My daughter and a dear friend secretly collaborated to make sure a wee boy had a present for his mum to open in the morning. And there were cards, messages, phone calls, and the sweetest video of a two year old lisping "Happy Birdy to ooo... "

Later, there was a community event at the hall - a Soup and Pudding lunch, and a car wash. It's alway a bit daunting going on my own to a public event, but, oh, how good it was to be among known faces. The kindness and love of this community has helped me so - so much. And thanks to the wonders of Facebook - several people knew it was my birthday too! Warmed by good wishes and a few hugs, I took a bowl of salt meat broth, and found a seat. (James disappeared almost at once, to play with friends.) The chat was pleasant, the food was good. I really had to try the chicken and rice soup too, and then there was dessert - hot puddings with custard, trifles, cheesecake, lemon meringue pie - the table overflowed with delights, and so did we, after filling our plates - maybe even twice? 

Later there was the fun of the raffle draw, as we laid out our tickets expectantly - groaning that we were 'so close!' and when one table seemed to win all the prizes. Isn't it always the way?

Then, after stocking up at the baking stall, we headed back home to already darkening skies. I lit a fire and we began to settle in for the evening. After a light tea, and another couple of birthday phone calls, I treated myself to a wee dram of malt whisky, with lots of water, and settled down to watch TV.

So - a lovely day, really. I missed John, a lot, though. He loved community events, and indeed, the last time there was a car wash, he was there, wearing his yellow wellies, helping to organise it. And yet, maybe he organised it all.. I like that thought.

On reflection, the main thing about yesterday was that I was not alone - that I was known, and the small fact of my being in this world was acknowledged. I felt loved, and what better birthday present than that?

Sláinte Mhath

Friday, November 13, 2015

Shades of Autumn

Autumn is a short season here - it creeps in slowly, and next thing you know Halloween is already over. Maybe its the lack of trees here, and the mild(ish) climate, but all too soon the daylight has shrunk to a few hours and the winter gales begin roaring in from the North Atlantic, blasting away what precious fall leaves we have.

Despite this, I do love the golden season. The busy-ness of the endless long summer days slows down, and I look forward to the turning inwards - that feeling of exhalation and rest is so welcome.

I was asked recently what my favourite things about autumn were. There are the obvious ones - the glorious colours of the Earth; the cosy fires; those huge skies - sometimes brilliant blue, but often daubed with great dramatic clouds; pumpkin spiced lattes and cake - with friends; seeing the sheep gathered in; retreating back to bed on a stormy morning with a cup of tea and a new magazine, or getting out for walks on a crisp morning. 

Autumn is also about getting ready - preparing for winter. Usually I have garden produce to harvest and preserve; in the past we had sheep dipping and tupping to organise, and laying in winter feed for the cattle. Although there is no garden or livestock to worry about, this year, I still have to think about the winter ahead, and that responsibility is now mine alone. It feels heavy.  

We are not isolated - and have good neighbours and friends nearby, but we are on an island, and many supplies are weather dependant. There are frequent gale force winds, (the first major storm of the winter was just last night) along with the inevitable power failures, so making preparations is a very important part of Autumn. Ordering the fuel for heating and cooking, making sure there are lamps and torches, sorting out the larder, fixing loose tiles and guttering, making sure everything is secure and as windproof as possible, and just trying to think ahead as much as I can.

There was a story of a local farmer, who was looking to appoint a foreman. A man applied for the post, and the farmer asked him why he thought he should be given the job. Among other things, he answered that he slept well every night. The farmer was a bit puzzled by this, but liked him and gave him the job. All spring and summer, the foreman worked hard, did all his tasks well, and the farmer was pleased. Then came the first big storm of the winter. The farmer lay listening to the gales whirling around, and the hail lashing the windows, and was frantic with worry. At last he could bear it no longer, and got togged up and went out into the storm to check his barns. He was amazed and angry to see no sign of the foreman out checking the livestock, and went round to his cottage and barged inside. He was furious to discover the foreman sound asleep in his bed and shook him roughly - "Why are you lying in bed when this storm is raging?" he demanded. "Because I had made sure everything was safe and in no danger beforehand" he said. And then the farmer understood...

So, there it is.  Autumn, with all its cosy, spicy, golden delights, is a wonderful season, but - for me - now, it's all about making sure we can sleep safely in a storm.  

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


A boy was nine years old yesterday. So hard to believe, but it's true. The first of our big 'first time since...' occasions but we were ok. Lots of cards, a few gifts, FaceTime calls, his favourite meal and a chocolate banana cake helped a bit. So thankful to have him - he's a great boy. xxx

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Then a whirlwind happened...

We're quite used to the wind blowing here, but - oh my goodness - we've just been hit with a full on whirlwind! Two and a half year old granddaughter, Breagha, stayed with us for five days, while her Mum and Dad had a well earned holiday. She is such a delight - funny, cute, deadly serious, cheeky, loving - everything is new and life is a joyful adventure. 
We took her home yesterday. Oh, she was so happy to see her parents - and rushed around her house, exclaiming in delight and amazement "I found my chair - I found my bed -and look- I found my red truck!" She is just the sweetest girl.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Holiday postcards: Portugal


We disappeared! Not far - an off season break in Portugal's Eastern Algarve. Just James and me. It was fine - everything went smoothly, the weather was mostly sunny and warm, the food was wonderful, and the people were lovely. We were in the pool every day, I read three whole books, and we caught up with some vitamin D. It was different for us, and a bit sad, but we are ok.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

October kitchen

I always love spending time in the kitchen, whatever the season, but autumn is a bit special. I love how the menu shifts unashamedly into warm, spicy, rich mode. I thought I would share some of the foody goings on in my kitchen this month.

Spiced banana muffins - recipe from here, except I substituted the cinnamon and nutmeg for 1 tsp of pumpkin spice. Well, it is October, after all.

These were delicious freshly baked, and lasted well too. We enjoyed them warm, with butter for breakfast next day.

We've been eating lots of soups, stews and risottos. Pumpkin risotto is our all time favourite meal.  I tried this recipe, for chicken stew with dumplings, just for a change. We did enjoy the stew very much, but the dough balls just weren't a hit. I possibly didn't cook them for long enough, but they were disappointing and stodgy. We'll just stick to potatoes and rice.

Much more success with my Caramelised Apple Turnovers. Peel and chop 5 apples - I just used a selection from whatever was sitting in the fruit bowl. Add to a pan with 2 oz brown sugar and 1 oz butter. allow the butter and sugar to melt.  Add spice if you like, but I like the pure apple taste in this recipe.

Simmer away in the carmerlised juices until the apple is soft. As these were desert apples, they stayed firm when cooked. Leave to cool. Make shortcrust pastry. I used 8oz plain flour and 4 oz butter. Allow pastry to rest in the 'fridge. While all this resting and cooling is going on, let's pop out for a wee stroll down to the pier. 

Enjoy the autumn seaside colours.

Watch the waves.

Wish you had brought a basket.

Notice the beauty everywhere. 

And now we're back and its time to make the turnovers. Roll out the pastry, and using a tea plate as a pattern, cut into rounds. There was enough for 4. 

Spoon some of the apple caramel onto one half of the pastry round and then turn the other half over and seal the edges together. I added a spoonful of cream cheese to a couple of the turnovers, just because I thought of it at the time. Brush tops with milk and bake until golden brown - about 20 - 30 minutes at 190C (375F) 

Dust with icing (confectioner's) sugar when done, then  serve with cream, ice cream, custard or whatever you fancy.

.I love that Americans call them hand pies - they are made to be held in the hand, and munched as you walk around the garden. Perfectly portable.

If you have any leftover caramel apple, which we did, it is delicious as a topping for porridge, yogurt or ice cream.

So that's what has been going on around the my table this month - good, hearty, comforting food, What's cooking in your kitchen? xxx


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