Thursday, 31 October 2013

That's another month gone!

I can't believe October has been and gone already.  Halloween had been duly observed by the ghoulish troops next door, although North Berwick shuts up shop at 8pm so they didn't get a huge haul.  

I spent today in Edinburgh.  I started off by having a wander round the churchyard at Greyfriars Kirk, whilst waiting for the Museum of Scotland to open at 10.00.  I was in the church last weekend for an exquisite concert performed by The Sixteen.  Edinburgh was the last stop on their Choral Pilgrimage (http://www.thesixteen.com/page/2013-concert-programme).  

There are some great views of the city from the churchyard and some very substantial tombs.  
And of course there is Bobby, still waiting.
At 10.00 I crossed the road to join my fellow students from the Leith School of Art.  We have been out and about today and I have spent the day in the Museum doing some colour studies of this vista!

I daresay the thought has crossed your mind that this could be anywhere and why would I not choose to draw some of the contents of the museum ? However I like this arrangement and there is a lot more to it than meets the eye, I can assure you of that because I have spent all day looking at it, and I will be there again for another day next week!

The Museum of Scotland is an amazing place.  It was buzzing with visitors today and there was even a mother and baby music group stationed in that pool of orange light you can see in the photo above.  I was serenaded all morning by 'The wheels on the bus going round and round' and 'Old MacDonald', amongst other ditties.  I found myself joining in, under my breathe.  The original museum has had a massive refurbishment quite recently and it really is a fantastic building to visit, stuffed full of wondrous things to see.  Don't miss it if you are visitor to Edinburgh.  I am looking forward to next week's visit already! 

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Quote for today

'When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.'

I've been on a school trip today!  
My grandchildren's school asked for volunteers to go along and make up the numbers to keep an eye on P5 during their visit to the birthplace of John Muir.  Who's that I imagine you saying.  Well, stand by, he was a totally awesome man and I can't believe that although he was born in 1838 in the UK, Dunbar to be precise, he isn't really known here.  However in America, where he emigrated with his family in 1849, he is still a legend.  He was a naturalist, inventor (eat your heart out Wallace and Gromit), conservationist, traveller - everything.  He had been a child with a thirst for knowledge, an enquiring mind and a love of the natural world which had been engendered by his grandfather.  He started life in a quiet and unspectacular way in a small Scottish coastal town and ended up as a hugely respected man on another continent.   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Muir  - have a look and see what I mean.

There are some wonderful quotes at the museum we visited today.  Here are a few, including the opening words of this post. 
 

The photograph below is not good but I hope you can read the wording.  It would seem that we were de-foresting the planet back in the late 1800s, which distressed John Muir considerably.  So much of his work was in conservation.  He even met President Roosevelt in Yosemite Valley and in later years helped the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890.
When Tilly and I walk round the block in the morning one side of our rectangular route is part of the John Muir Way.  It is a walk which links the edge of Edinburgh with the Scottish Borders and most of it runs very close to the lovely coastline in this part of the world.  Next time I am walking along the track I will keep some of John Muir's words in mind, especially the opening quote.  He was a very special man and the planet has much to thank him for.


Tuesday, 29 October 2013

A Tuesday morning in Autumn

There are no special plans for today.  It's just a normal Tuesday.  Just before eight o'clock this morning I walked down the drive with the (grand)children to wait for the school bus.  It's a bright sunny day with a cold wind blowing across the fields.  We played the usual round of guessing games and had a competition to stare each other out.  The wind catching the corner of our eyes made it tricky and there were one or two disappointed losers!  

After the children were whisked away to school on the bus, I walked round the block with Tilly. The sky is a lovely washed pale blue today and I saw a small squadron of swans, twelve in all, flying along a couple of fields away.  They are fabulous birds and the shape of their flight always reminds me of Concord.  There were also the familiar skeins of geese on their daily Autumn commute, their V-shaped flight pattern constantly changing as they nattered and chattered their way across the sky.

I am relieved to know that the weather down south has settled after the ravages of yesterday. What a very sad and tragic day for a number of families who have lost their loved ones to the storm.  Lives changed for ever.  I do know though, from my own experience, that contrary to how one is feeling, the sun continues to shine and that helps a lot.  Today is a new day and here is some glowing Autumn colour to give a little much needed light for those families.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Spicing things up a bit

... in the kitchen!  

Have you come across Seasoned Pioneers? (http://www.seasonedpioneers.co.uk)  It's a brilliant company selling spices from all around the world, online.  I heard a programme about it on the radio some years ago.  It all began with a young chap who loved to travel and every time he got home his backpack was full of wonderful spices which were not available in the UK, and that gave him the idea for his company based in the Wirral.  
You can find a handful of their spices and mixes (e.g. Ras-El Hanout, barbeque rubs, sauces etc) in some supermarkets but the range they offer from their website is jaw dropping.  You can take a little trip round the world just from the comfort of your laptop, picking up recipes on the way.  The spices are sold in small quantities in dinky ziplock sachets so that the contents stay fresh for as long as possible.  If, like me, your mind is turning to a spot of cooking in preparation for Christmas (cake, pudding, mincemeat etc) then you might like to check this company out.  

I wonder if they would like any fennel seeds from this year's crop in the garden!

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

It's not all over yet!

It's 22 October and my sweet peas are still flowering.  They have been on the go since July and they have been a real treat.  I have just picked these and although they are very wet from the heavy rain this morning, their spirit is undaunted.  There are more buds to come and I just hope they get a chance to do their thing before a sharp frost gets them.
And they still offer a faint smell of summer too.  

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Sunday morning saunter

I was awake in the night and the moon was casting a sharp silver fragment of light on to the floor, where the curtains were just apart. It reminded me of a poem I learnt when I was very young, 'Silver' by Walter de la Mare


Slowly, silently, now the moon
Walks the night in her silver shoon;
This way, and that, she peers, and sees
Silver fruit upon silver trees; ...

I have often wondered what 'shoon' meant and I suppose it is obvious really, if you think about it! Anyway, I looked it up and it is plural for shoes.  An archaic word.

This morning has been beautiful.  Mellow Autumn colour, a soft southerly breeze and the sunshine beckoned to Tilly and me to take a walk.  I checked the tide times and as there was going to be a good expanse of beach we went off to Belhaven.  Others had the same idea.  It is a vast beach but even so we managed to cross paths with dogs, seabirds, a cyclist and a couple of horses.
Man Friday and Mrs Friday were there, braving a bare foot walk through the chilly North Sea wavelets
and there were surfers.  Lots of them.
Above all, though, it was a walk of sounds.  Sky larks and sea birds, curlews and a flypast of geese, all with the background noise of the crash and swoosh of the waves.  A good start to my week.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Autumn

I am going to let Autumn speak for herself.  She is here in all her glory and no observational chat from me is going to add anything to what is going on around us at the moment!  It's all just too wonderful for words!  I hope you enjoy these photos taken over the last two or three weeks.
 





Wednesday, 9 October 2013

One step at a time

I was in Edinburgh recently.  I had to get from Waverley Station to the Museum of Scotland and decided to go up the Scotsman Steps, which I hadn't used for many years.  I was a bit dubious about taking this route because the last time I climbed the steps, which bring you out on North Bridge by the Scotsman Hotel, the enclosed staircase was clearly being used by a rather unsavoury collection of people who thought it was some kind of public loo.  Not nice.  Imagine my surprise, and relief, to find that the more enclosed spaces were not unpleasant and furthermore the steps themselves looked rather more interesting than the last time I climbed them.
As recently as 2011 the steps were re-laid using a variety of 104 different marbles.  The colours were beautiful.
 The step below is my favourite.
The swirl in the blue and green step below looks a bit like Hokusai's woodcut image The Great Wave off Kanagawa - at a stretch!
The next step reminds me of a cave painting.
If you are visiting Edinburgh and want to make your way to the Royal Mile from Waverley Station, the steps are definitely a route worth taking.


Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Spud Watch's last gasp

I felt suspicious at the beginning of August when I saw the spud field I have been watching being sprayed.  There are many potato fields in this part of the world and generally speaking the only attention they normally receive during the growing season is a jet of water, to make up for the lack of rain.  When I saw a tractor working its way up and down the field with two long arms extending out over the rows of plants, emitting a fine spray, I thought something was up.  A week or so later, once the plants had turned brown, there were a couple of signs at either end of the field to warn people not to walk on the land.  The plants were destined to become seed potatoes.  I assume the spray was to knock off any lurking bugs.

In due course they harvested the spuds, ready for them to fight another day next year and the field looked a bit sad.  It had held so much promise but I suppose potatoes have to come from somewhere and it is entirely reasonable that these should be seed potatoes!  Shame about the spray, it must have been loaded with chemicals.
The field is now showing a new haze of green.  Something else has been sown and already pushed through.  

The farmers are now harvesting the normal potato crops and you wouldn't need to stand in the middle of the village street for very long before having to jump aside for a gigantic tractor, with a whopping great trailer behind it, piled high with freshly dug spuds.  

My plan was to show a photo of the potatoes from our field and then I thought you might like a recipe to go with it.  When we were in Australia earlier this year I found a scrumptious recipe in one of the Sunday magazines.  The potatoes accompanied an easy peasy slow roast lamb recipe and it really is delicious.  Here it is.
Ingredients
2 - 2.5 kg leg of lamb, on the bone
sea salt, freshly ground black pepper
1 tbspn dried oregano
1 tbspn olive oil
juice of 1 lemon
1.5 kg new potatoes
5 anchovy fillets, torn
half tspn dried chilli flakes
2 garlic cloves, chopped
125 ml double cream
4 sprigs fresh thyme
15 g butter
3 tbspns freshly grated parmesan cheese

Method
Pre-heat oven to 220 centigrade
Put lamb into a roasting tin.  Season with salt and pepper.
Sprinkle the oregano and lemon juice over the meat.
Drizzle with the olive oil.
Roast for 20 minutes, to seal and brown the meat
Add 250 ml (1 cup) water to the roasting tin.
Cover the tin with foil.
Reduce oven to 160 centigrade
Roast another 3.5 hours, basting every 30 minutes.

The original recipe didn't note this but I never add raw potatoes to any recipe because in my experience they don't cook well.  I always parboil them for a few minutes, just to the cooking process started.  I think it makes a world of difference, to parboil the new potatoes for a few minutes and then drain well.

After 3.5 hours cooking, remove the roasting tin from the oven.  
Pour off any roasting juices and set aside.
Arrange potatoes around the lamb and return to the oven for one hour.
Take out, remove lamb and set aside to rest.
Top potatoes with anchovies, garlic, and chilli.
Pour the cream into the roasting tin.  
Top with thyme, butter and grated cheese.
Increase oven to 200 centigrade and return potatoes to oven for 10 minutes.

Serve the lamb with the potatoes and either a green salad or some plain, steamed vegetables.

Yum.