Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter Wonderland!

The tree was cut yesterday. We didn't get around to pulling it inside and placing it in the stand until this morning. As it had snowed last night - indeed it is snowing still - the branches were stuck with frozen snow that wouldn't brush off. Cold puddles on the tiles were a major feature of today's activity.

The Man of the Place went off to visit assorted aunts and cousins near Sunderland today. George and I shopped closer to home. When we returned, the snow looked so pretty that it was required that we go and have a romp in it. Naturally as I am a grown woman, I called it "walking the dog".The chickens are in there somewhere . . . . but where?
Ah, I see them!

Poor things - huddled out of the snow. Don't worry about them though. They still have food and water. I bring the water can in each night and place it by the kitchen door. This way, the hens don't have to try to peck at ice. I check for eggs twice a day in the coldest parts of winter as a frozen egg is of no use to anybody. The shell cracks as the egg expands and must be thrown out.
The lane looking north from our place. Notice Polly having a romp. She bloody LOVES snow!A view of our place in the snow. I love the blue light that one gets in the snow at twighlight.
The lane up to the (now frozen) duck ponds. We saw loads of pheasant tracks in the snow, but little else. Polly smells something in there - it is so exciting!

Photo of yours trulyand fair George

Now that the tree has had the day to drip dry, we're going to set about decorating it!

Sunday, December 20, 2009


First thing - I FOUND my camera! Edinburgh at night - I think if you click on the photo, you can see Edinburgh Castle in the distance, up on the hill.

The camera was in a little and seldom used side pocket of my handbag. See? Proves my point that smaller handbags are better. The handbag I am using at the moment is much large than ones I have used in the past and I'm not liking it. In addition, if one is going into town for a boozy night with your pals, you really shouldn't take a camera as you may lose it.
This is at my friend Nina's place in Livingston on Thursday night. The roads were not plowed and I was so glad that we were taking the train into Edinburgh instead of driving.
Merry bunch of work colleagues - before the copious amounts of wine set in . . . .

Then more snow yesterday . . . . The road in front of our house.Another merry bunch! - the Dive Club Christmas party - We had squeaky balloons that we used to launch at other tables at the hotel.
Alex - in stylish Christmas cracker hat - Our drive - Doesn't it look so Christmassy?

Friday, December 18, 2009


I've been laid off.

I went out last night in Edinburgh with my now former colleagues to say farewell. I got a bit squiffy and left my camera somewhere. It's a shame as there were some nice photos of all the snow in Edinburgh.

I've known about the impending layoff for a while. I was hoping that with my glowing record of success in the pharmaceutical industry, I'd have a new job in moments. *sigh*

Now it seems that companies have stopped interviewing in the run up to Christmas. I'll have to wait until January to continue my hunt.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Old Favourites!

This is my favourite view of our place, tucked into a Scottish hillside.

This weekend is all about comfort for me. I made comforting foods for my family to eat, onion soup and lasagne. I served the food up on the most robust plates ever made, Corelle by Corning. The plates were wedding presents when The Man of the Place and I were married over 17 years ago. Sure there are a few that are showing signs of wear, but there are few broken. The plates lived through a lively family with kids who resented having to wash the dishes. Sometimes the dishes took the brunt of their resentment. Lesser plates are no longer in service. Though the pattern has dimmed over time, the Corelle plates are still plugging away. I think the pattern is no longer available so I can't buy the few items to replace the ones that did manage to break, but there are still plenty of plates to set the table, plus occasional guests.

We have had a rare, dry weekend. My family and I have been enjoying the fact that there is less mud in our lives these days. When the rain starts again tomorrow - naturally we can't have more than three dry days together, I won't be inundated with mud at the back door because the finishing layer of gravel is down. I wish we had done this YEARS ago! It looks so much better around here and (forgive me for repeating myself) there is LESS MUD!

Sunday, December 06, 2009

New Gravel!

We've had a LOT of rain. It is official. This is the wettest year since records began. There has been flooding in the area as well. Our house is on a hill so we are in no danger of rising water but that doesn't mean that the ground hasn't been completely saturated!

The Man of the Place and I were sick to the back teeth of rain and mud. We can't stop the rain, but perhaps we can manage the mud a bit better. The drive and yard are getting new gravel.

First the ancient and crumbling concrete was scraped up and hauled away. Bits of the old cobbled yard, from the days when Whitelees Cottage used to be the location of a lumber mill (between the wars) Then a new sub-base of scrapings from our local quarry was dumped and leveled. Later on we will get nice finished gravel to make it all look lovelier.

Meanwhile in the house, the pets compete for the best spot in front of the fire.Polly has won this round.

I love having friends that own heavy machinery. Stuart has a JCB, Innes has a heavy duty trailer. Gamekeeper Mike doesn't own any heavy machinery that I know of, but he did bring me a couple brace of pheasants that were shot yesterday. I couldn't take Polly out for a walk yesterday as there was a pheasant shoot on. This little gift makes up for it!!

As I write this, our cat Julio is out in the tunnel, yowling at the pheasants. I think he wants to eat them . . . . sorry Julio.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Double Yolker!!

The girls have been in high production lately. We can't move for eggs!
I sell the surplus. In addition to selling the odd dozen, I give eggs to neighbours and friends. Fresh eggs always grease the skids. Our neighbours have been very good to us in the past. It is always nice to be able to return the favour.

The chicken run has turned into a quagmire lately. On the weekends when we are around to keep foxes away, I will let them out. The garden is resting and there isn't anything they can destroy this time of year.
Sometimes these chickens will jump up onto the window ledges. I love this picture. It looks as though the hens are saying, "Look they've got popcorn"!
One of the eggs I collected this week was considerably larger than the others. I knew that cracking this puppy open would reveal the elusive double yolker.
Yup a double yolker. It was a weird one though. The yolks were conjoined!

Saturday, November 07, 2009

The Man of the Place's Moment of Stardom

I thought I'd do this whilst he is away for the weekend at a banjo playing course. . ..

Here is footage of my dear husband singing A Boy Named Sue during the karaoke night at the Marina Lodge, Marsa Alam. Thankfully footage of me singing Like a Virgin and Waterloo and a group effort of Blame it on the Boogie were not filmed. We (and "we" means me) were lamentable.

Watching the footage makes me laugh all over again. I will state that I am not laughing AT The Man of the Place, I am laughing because we had so much FUN on that holiday.
It is the mark of a good vacation when you smile and laugh as one goes through the pictures, wishing yourself back again.Me and The Man of the Place - both wearing great hats!

Looking through a window in the office, all I can see is dark. I know that on the other side of the glass it is raining and about 4 degrees. I can remember what the sun and heat of Egypt felt like and I miss it

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Beautiful Boy

A couple of years ago three of us: me, The Man of the Place and the youngest boy went to Dublin. TMotP and the boy went to some REM event at the Olympia Theater. As I reached my REM saturation point a number of years ago, I went to the pub next door and nursed a couple of gin & tonics for two hours.

That was the year that we stayed in the horrible guest house with boogers on the wall and surly service.

It turns out that the camera crews were out in force at the theater. Footage created was later added into a video.

About two thirds of the way through the video is a clip of a lovely young boy. It's George

Here is the link!


He's older now but still as sweet.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

4th Quarter

In the world of business, the year is divided into quarters. As of the first of October we have arrived at the final quarter of 2009. I've never had a year whizz by so fast!

The two costly and fun weeks in July went by like the blink of an eye. After enjoying proper heat and sunshine we came back to our northern home and unrelenting rain for the rest of the summer. From the end of June until September we didn't see three dry days together! I found myself just getting my head down and tackling things as they came. When the first dry days in September came along, we found ourselves looking up and being amazed that summer such as it was had passed.

With all the rain, the garden has suffered again. I swear this is the third vegetable patch in a row that hasn't done well. There were a few good lettuces earlier on and the cucumbers in the greenhouse did well, but everything else wasn't great. The potatoes got terrible blight and almost the entire crop was ruined. The rain melted all the sweet pea blossom and the mice at the peas before they could sprout. I did manage three small pumpkins. They're all a good cooking size. I find the big jack-o-lantern sized pumpkins are far too watery and tasteless for cooking. Two pumpkins are ripe now and one is still quite green. I will try to store them until November.

I may give up on the vegetable garden. I know that I'll change my tune in the spring. I'll get all optimistic with the warming weather and think that there is no way that we can possibly have FOUR rainy summers in a row.
The dog walking hasn't given me anything more notable than some fly agaric mushrooms with the tops nibbled by local rodents.

There have been a large number of owls in the area lately. Dusk around here has become a noisy affair. There are at least three tawny owls hooting their territories and a couple of barn owls peeping as they hunt. I wish I was better at owl hoot identification because there is a third owl species (similar to tawny owl but higher in pitch) that I can't figure out.

In the meantime, I cracked open my new copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking and made a stunning boeuf bourguignon. Oh my! It was fantastic! It takes a long time to make, but if you don't hurry and start skipping steps, it is wonderful! Never confuse a difficult recipe with one that merely takes a long time to make. We had pot au chocolat for desert. The recipe called for 500 grams of dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids). It was so rich that we had to serve it with ice cream. I think I'll modify the recipe to make it less rich for next time.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Visiting Friend

My after school and weekend job when I was in high school was at the college food service at Cornell College in Mt Vernon, Iowa. I made lots of friends in the bowels of the Cornell kitchens and dining rooms. Some are still friends to this day. Anne is one of those friends.

This is a souvenir of an award Anne and others had made for me back in 1981. I kept it all this time. I don't remember the circumstances that led to me getting this, or why I never threw it out after so many moves and life changes, but there it is.

She was over here in the UK, far from her native Minnesota to be a referee in a tae kwon do tournament in Manchester. As a 5th dan black belt, she's kind of a big deal in tae kwon do and travels all over the world to be a referee. Manchester is a mere jaunt down the motorway from us. In fact, we regularly travel to and from our family holidays from the Manchester airport. Armed with this information, she extended her visit to the UK for a few days and came up for a visit.
I had not clapped eyes on Anne since she was a guest at our wedding over seventeen years ago. I must say that the years have been very kind to Anne.

We did have a bunch of fun during her stay. I took a few days off so that I could devote all my time to her visit. We went to Edinburgh one day and the Scottish Whiskey Experience at the top of the Royal Mile and slap up against Edinburgh Castle.
Anne accurately described the whiskey experience as" sort of like Disneyland for drunks". Pretty accurate description! We bought tickets, went on the ride (yes there is a ride) that informs about the process of making whiskey. On to the good bit - whiskey tasting! We bought the higher priced ticket that included extra whiskey tasting (naturally). Sitting in front of four jars, each jar having cotton impregnated with one of four different elements you might taste/smell in Scottish whiskey. Mostly I was thinking "blah blah blah . . . give me whiskey". I still don't like the smoke riddled Islay malts. Give me a gentle Speyside malt anyday! Oh, blends are nice too.

After the whiskey experience we went to The Jolly Judge for some lunch. Outside Inside

We toddled around the centre of Edinburgh for a bit - took the obligatory photos of Fleshmarket Close. Have you read the book by Ian Rankin named after this small bit of Edinburgh?
Anne was here for about three days and we really packed in a lot in that time. When she was getting ready to depart, I gave her my copy of Julie/Julia. Anne had already taken her mother to see the movie and we talked about the film/book. The film hasn't arrived at our local cinema yet, but I had finished the book and was happy to see it go to a good home. I liked the book well enough, though I did find Julie a bit of a drama queen and ever so slightly whiny. Despite that, the story was engaging and it had me all fired up to inflict some experiments in French cookery on my family.

About a week after Anne left, a parcel arrived for me. . . . From Amazon . . . . . boxes from Amazon are always good. It was addressed to me! More intrigue! It was box of presents! As a generous thank you Anne sent me My Life in France by Julia Child ( a delightful autobiography) A History of the World in 6 Glasses by Tom Standage, A Primate's Memoir by Robert M. Sapolsky (which I am reading just now and really love) AND the ultimate fabulous book of all time Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Child, Bertholle and Beck!! I was thrilled beyond speech to have these lovely books. With this kind gesture, Anne has cemented a permanent and standing invitation to visit whenever she wishes, with whom ever she wishes and stay for as long as she wants. In addition to that, I solemnly promise that she will never ever have to eat fish or cooked spinach.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Grandma's Cook Books

I am SO lucky to be the caretaker of my late grandmother's cook books. They were entrusted to me by her only daughter, my mother.

The three old books no longer live their lives in a kitchen. They're too fragile for raucous kitchen life. They now stay on the sedate shelves of our guest bedroom. From time to time, I will go in there and visit them, leaf through the pages and marvel at them. They are church cook books from Fargo, North Dakota. These are books created to raise funds for a church or ladies aid society with recipes donated by members of the parish. One book still has its cover so I know that it was created by The First Lutheran Ladies Aid, Fargo, North Dakota.

The other two cook books are missing covers but in the body of the book one can see that underneath each recipe is a woman's name and town of residence (usually Fargo), the standard format for crediting a recipe in a church produced cook book. I love that a lot of the time the woman's name doesn't actually appear. What comes instead is something like Mrs. Walter A. Rost or Mrs. Gordon Naylor. The recipe and the husband's name lives on for all to see, but the woman who donated the bit of kitchen lore is hiding behind her husband's name. The tradition still lives on in our family with ancient aunts and uncles. You get points for addressing letters to Mr and Mrs Paul F. XXXX leaving the aunt's name off altogether. When Christmas cards come to the house address to Mr and Mrs Henry, I know that they are from beloved ancient relatives. In the blank and mostly blank pages of these books, my grandmother has written in recipes that she liked. Sometimes a recipe has been pinned to a page with a straight pin - no staples just yet.
Her grandchildren have lovely memories of her visits as she would almost always make a special batch of cookies, a pie or cake.Here is one recipe entitled Susan's cookies. The Susan in the title can only be my cousin Susan, the only Susan in the family and one of her first and most treasured grandchildren.

I had a brief instant message conversation with yet another cousin, dear Lu Ann yesterday she recalled quite vividly Grandma's lemon meringue pie and molasses crinkle cookies. The pie recipe was one that was written on of the blank pages right underneath a recipe for grasshopper pie. The pie is not made with real grasshoppers though grasshoppers are plentiful in North Dakota! The pie is made with creme de menthe. Sounds yummy!

I trawled through for which recipe could be the molasses cookie recipe. None were called Molasses Crinkles and there are more than one recipe for molasses cookies in each of the three books. There was one recipe that stood out amongst the others due to the well spattered page it was on. It could very well be the ones that Lu Ann remembers. Lu Ann will have to make the cookies and see if this is the recipe that she remembers.