Tuesday, December 1, 2009

First Day of Winter

The first proper chill of the season, -5 last night after a glorious sunny day. Its a great start to December. The frost provided a great view as the vivid pink sunrise spread across the sky. The brussel sprouts apparently become sweeter with the cold. I used to hate this veg but recently we've been stirfrying them with chilli and ginger or alternatively sesame oil, almonds and onions - gorgeous. We're planning to have some left for Christmas.
Last weekend we finally saw the departure of our 'number two' caravan - aka our guest van, Tommy Boy's caravan, also the laundry and overflow storage. Its taken us ages to give this van away but at long last the space has been cleared. We've still got the caravan we lived in during the house build but hopefully that one will move in the Spring.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Walking by the Bonnie Banks

In the later part of Sunday afternoon we had a very refreshing and lovely walk down by the loch with our friends. Plenty of leaves to kick along the path and lots of great views of Loch Lomond and the hills through the bare trees. The water levels are quite high but in the stillness of a windless day the clarity of the water was very good.
and yes they did all get very wet feet with water flowing over the top of their boots, before we continued with the walk through the nature reserve. It may be November but a short sleeved T shirt seemed to suffice for one young man.
We spotted an owl and a deer while we were walking back.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Some of the Apple Day activities for the children included planting crab apples from seed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Glencoe revisited

We're on school holidays here so spent 3 days in and around Glencoe and had a thoroughly marvellous time.

The combination of the mountains and the sea lochs give this area great presence whatever the weather. I used to come up here every year for a long time but haven't spent a holiday here for ages so it was fabulous to return for more than a day trip. Especially with a visit to old favourite the Clachaig, albeit dining in the lounge bar rather than the climbers bar (life post children).

We took the easy option of a ride on the Aonach Mor gondola to get to just over 2000ft up the hill. Had a stroll out to enjoy the views and a visit to perhaps the highest children's playground in Britain. At least it was done nicely in timber without vivid plastic . This is the ski area for the winter season but with the gondola operational throughout the year it brings people in particularly for hillwalking and big downhill mountain biking. The record for the downhill from this point to the car park, a distance of 2.6km, drop of 520metres, is something like 4 minutes which it totally and utterly beyond belief. Thankfully the children thought it was too steep (but for how long?).

The Pap of Glencoe, a mere foothill to the wild and scary Aonoch Eagach ridge but nonetheless an impressive sight either from the woodland south of the visitor centre or from Loch Leven to the west.

Finally - top foodie find - the Lochleven Seafood Cafe which is on the north side of Loch Leven. The food was divine, service excellent, views across the loch wonderful. Sorry no photos but do call in if you're up that way. We'll certainly go back there.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Storms, the garden, the heat pump - bit of a catch up

Sunday morning was gloriously sunny so a couple of hours in the garden was fun. With work during the week and a wet n windy day on Saturday I've barely looked at the garden.
Behold - the ravaged spring greens aka caterpillar central. I've tried picking off the caterpillars and feeding them to the hens but in all honesty I don't think the hens like them; the hens easily demolish slugs and worms but perhaps these hairy black and yellow (cabbage whites) caterpillars aren't awfully tasty.

The ravages of Autumn....we've had some proper wild seasonal weather now; this is Loch Lomond on Saturday, looking more like the sea than an inland water. The changing stormy skyline looks impressive and its great having a refreshing walk by the Loch; but also nice to get home to a roaring woodburning stove and the cosiness of the house. Last night the heat pump switched itself to winter mode which essentially means its been consistently cooler outside now (ie the average outdoor temp including nighttime is below 10degC) so if the internal temp drops then the heating will come on in the house. For us we've set the internal temp to 20deg, although its usually 2 or 3 deg cooler upstairs where we have no heating.
Not sure if I'm pushing my luck by trying to sow a few seeds this late but 2 weeks ago I carved out three mini-plots with some old Aberfoyle slate and distributed spinach, sorrel and mispoona. The latter is a combination of mizuna and tatsoi; essentially an oriental style green which should work well as a salad or cooking vegetable. I tasted a few leaves today, it has a full buzzy vibrant taste like peppery rocket. So long as we get a bit more sunshine I think we'll get some pickings through October. Nothing ventured....

Other parts of the veggie garden are still in great vigour; we've just finished the courgettes and cauliflower but have recently started harvesting savoy cabbage. Brussel sprouts are forming nicely, the leeks are growing and of course the ever exuberant chard. Plenty of iron rich greens!

There's still plenty of colour in the robust calendula which seem to have survived the early Autumn storms. I do like this flower, its so simple, so happy. When I remember I pick a few heads and pluck then dry the petals; they make a good addition to a bath for relieving excema and dry skin. Even better when placed in a muslin type bag with organic porridge under a running tap - it really works.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ex Battery Hen - 7 weeks on

Apologies for posting this photo again of 'scabby hen' as she's known by the children. When we first got hens we sweetly named them individually but after a fairly short while to be quite honest it was difficult to distinguish one from the other so the practice was soon dropped. Anyway here is scabby hen 7 weeks ago, very pale, fairly bald and with a very red sore chest and undercarriage. ...and here she is now....with lots of new feathers and a good appetite for the worms, grubs and greenery in the recently cleared potato bed. Nice happy hen story but its still sad to think that 85% of all eggs used in cafes, restaurants and pubs etc still come from battery hens.
Glad they and we are enjoying some sunshine for a few days. We got 8 eggs today, hurray!

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Apple Juice Pressing

Sunshine abounds, such a nice day for a change. Lots of solar warmth in the house too. So after work had ended for the day we spent time outside. Then we roughly hosed off a load of apples we'd picked at a friend's house last weekend and crushed and pressed them for apple juice. We used lots of cookers so the result is a rather tart sharp juice in flavour; we've frozen half unsweetened and added a bit of sugar to the other half - I think the lack of sweetness indicates the lack of sunshine here recently. The crushing is done in a big bucket with a drill bit which is like a paddle mashing the apples to bits and then the pressing takes place with the lovely Vigo press we've had for a few years now. The resulting apple juice has that cloudy homemadeness about it - doesn't look that appetising really! Tastes good though..and its an exclusive limited edition 'single estate' cold pressing.....

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Early Autumn?

The weather is too grim for words.
It has been overwhelmingly wet in this part of the world for the past 3 weeks. The fields are saturated with rivers and ponding where you don't usually seem them; Loch Lomond has reached winter water levels with the disappearance of beaches, shoreline and jetties; gardening activity has ceased except for picking veg for eating.

The horses could do with wellies.

However amid the gloom I've been preserving the summer as best I can with lots of jam and jelly making and my first attempt at lemon curd. I made this just before the village show; very fresh very free range eggs went into the mix alongwith the butter, sugar and lemons and I was a bit surprised just to get two jars in the end but it tasted divine...and got a third prize at the village show, hurray! We also won prizes for our spuds, shallots and plum jelly. There was a little tension in the house as 'my' potatoes beat 'his' potatoes but there's nothing like a bit of competition~#!?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Veg Heaven!

We're giving away lots of broccoli at the moment as it is in great abundance. The freezer is a bit full otherwise I'd maybe make some soup....need a bigger freezer!

This cauliflower however is the only one looking as fabulous as this; the others are much much smaller. This is the first time I've grown caulies and the baby plants were passed on by a friend so thanks to them I've grown something new to me.

Sarah Raven's Garden Cookbook is one of my favourites for veg oriented inspiration and this week I think I've tried a new recipe every day. Its not a veggie book as such but is terrific for new ideas when you're just about to present the family with another plate of steamed/boiled veg.

Top three recipe tips for your summer glut from Sarah's book - courgette and lemon salad, a fresh raw dish, v easy to make and tastes fab; grated beetroot salad with orange which is refreshing in both taste and the fact that usually I hate beetroot but actually really like this recipe with bbq food; and the lovely halloumi, mint, coriander and dill pittas which are great for lunch.

Chard - one of the easiest vegs to grow and more versatile than I first thought - the stems take a few minutes longer to cook than the leaves so its best to seperate them. Beyond steaming it I wasn't sure what else to do with the stuff -

so after consulting Sarah I picked an armful of varying coloured chards and prepared...
Chard Gratin.......which was gorgeous, I was quite surprised it tasted so good, and that is the test of a good recipe for me. Doesn't work for vegetarians as the recipe contains anchovies but the flavour was wonderful and I guess we had way over 10 'govt approved' portions of veg that day

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Good Life

Meet one of our new hens. Yesterday we went to collect and rehome some more ex-battery hens via the Battery Hen Welfare Trust. This bunch were in quite good form with a bit of strength and 'perkiness' about them despite the sorrowful state of their bodies. We first rehomed 10 battery hens 2 years ago and I'm pleased to report that some of those are still with us and have enjoyed a good quality life with considerably extended life expectancy.

The girls below are just venturing out of their transport box, somewhat bewildered at the concepts of sunshine, grass and fresh air. Before too long their combs will change to a more healthy red and their feathers will fairly slowly come back too. In today's rain showers some of them noticeably shivered so we popped them into the hen house to keep warmer as their bodies start adjusting to the variable temperatures of the outside world.

Today's weather was so much better than the forecast of storms and humungous rain so a bit of gardening time was presented. We're currently picking salad leaves, spinach, chard, sorrel, peas, broad beans, radish, onions and new potatoes. Plus one courgette so far. Very exciting! Well we're pretty chuffed anyway. Not too long ago this area was a bleak concrete n mud mess so the change is very inspiring. Most crops are thriving although the french beans are looking a bit peelywally and something ate all but one of the young courgette plants (mouse?). Thoughts and plans already abound for next year - more peas to be grown as they're just totally gorgeous; the potatoes are going in the bed which seems to have an awful lot of weed seeds in it to help clear those out; more beds will be under construction before too long and as usual I haven't really got my head around succession planting.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Holiday Postcard

The freedom of holidays....lots of larking about and some time together here on the long long sands at Holkham with all those fabulous colourful beach huts

watching the waves crashing on the shore at Salthouse

flying kites on the beach of millions of smooth peebles

the weather wasn't always good, you can just about see the driving rain on the following pic taken just south of Southwold, lots of glorious boats and huts on the quayside, a real hive of activity. We'd just spent an hour on the beach but the storm was threatening with spectacularly high and very dark clouds overwhelming the area inshore

elsewhere we cycled on a few trails, spotting lots of butterflys, bees, birds and a few other creatures; unfortunately Steve had a valve blow out so had to walk the final stage of one trip

but just around the corner we were lucky enough to spot this slow worm moving across the path

our lovely trip to North Norfolk is now over, its a very fine part of the country to visit
top food places - The Pigs, Edgefield (particularly fab for carnivores) and Pulse, Norwich (top veggie food)
great campsite - Kelling Heath, nr Holt
fave beaches - Holkham for sand, Salthouse for wind, waves and slightly more wild appeal
best bit of all was also getting to spend some time with our friends in Garvestone - best accomm and food of course, thank you t,j,i,m

Saturday, June 20, 2009

The Next Phase - Renovation of the Dairy

Welcome to your new holiday home..........needs a bit of work to get that roof sorted out but you can see the potential for the restoration of the stonework arch. We've been working on the design for the two holiday properties we're going to create out of the former dairy and these have been through the planning process so now the detailed drawings are underway before a building warrant application is submitted. We've used the same architect Thomas Robinson Architects (see links) because we like their ethos and design approach. The renovation will continue the low energy principles, using high quality materials and a sympathetic but contemporary design.
The design for this south elevation makes the most of the existing stone arch as the main entrance to the house and also brings some more light into the property with full height glazing both on and adjacent to the door. The stonework will be cleaned up, the slate roof completely replaced using the existing slate alongwith the slate we retrieved from the original farmhouse and there'll be a small area of larch cladding to tie in with materials on the adjoining holiday house and the main 'new' house. This is the East elevation - the stone building on the left is the one whose elevation and entrance door are shown above. The large doors on both holiday houses will open onto patios and terrific views across the fields towards the Campsies. So this is where I envisage guests may be sitting munching their cornflakes in the morning sun planning their day ahead!

Friday, June 5, 2009

We're making electricity!

It's now over two years since we dismantled our solar PV system from our previous house and nearly a year since we put the panels on the new woodshed at East Cambusmoon. So high time we made the connection to the grid again!
With Jim the electrician round to do some bits and bobs around the house, we took the opportunity to dust off the inverter, check all the cables and connect it up.
After a few hours work by Steve and Jim came the time of the big switch on late afternoon. Firstly the solar voltage was checked - 180V in cloudy conditions - then the final connection made. After a final check all disconnects were connected and all switches switched on, and the inverter buzzed into action. A couple of minutes later 300W of power registered on the output meter, then as the sun appeared from behind a cloud as if to clebrate our latest milestone we were up to 900W - 8 times more than we were using with our excess, renewable, organic green electrons spilling back onto the local grid!
By the end of the day (we were still generating a few watts at 8:30pm) we had generated over 2kWh, half of which was exported. Next step is to register with Scottish Hydro and get paid 28p for each of those units we export!
Home made power doesn't get much better than this...!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

totally fabulous weather, so much time outside, its such a great part of the world, bbqs, walks and mucking about....and the garden is coming together too!

hope you're all well

Monday, May 25, 2009

Today we walked up the Dumpling. A short refreshing stroll with a terrific view of Loch Lomond from the top.