Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Paul Bartlett paintings, St Emilion and Paul’s Place

June 6, 2017

A recent exhibition (now closed) at Waterston House in Aberlady featured the intriguing work of wildlife artist Paul Bartlett. I was rather late in contacting Paul Bartlett, but he kindly sent me two examples of his work to use in this blog. He uses a mixture of media, in particular collage and papier mache with acrylic paints. From a distance, the works look like paintings but as you approach, you see the often stunning effects of the use of different media together. For example, in the first work below, it’s not clear that this is not a “normal” painting i.e. using only paint. Oystercatchers are a very familiar sight on the rocks near our house and I often watch them through my scope, as they poke with intent at limpets on the rocks. Once the limpet has been eased off the rock, the oystercatcher will scoop out of the flesh and dip this tasty ( I assume) snack in a rockpool before eating it. They are also very disputatious birds and you can hear them often before you see them. The ones in the picture below look at ease with the world and Bartlett captures their orange beaks and legs very well, although his aim is not to reproduce a copy of an oystercatcher. This is a representation of the bird and its seaside environment, which is cleverly depicted by the blues and greens in the background and the various colours of seaweed, sand and rocks beneath their feet. When you see the actual picture, the effects of the mixed media enhance the quality of the colours and the flowing shapes in the birds’ feathers.

Bartlett The roost (thumb)

The Roost by Paul Bartlett

The second work shown here depicts a shoal of rainbow trout swimming determinedly upstream to spawn. You can see the determination in the eyes of the fish, intent on one purpose only. It looks a glum business but maybe in real life, this is an exhilarating process for the fish, in their communal venture. Rainbow trout have the intriguing official name Oncorhynchus mykiss  which comes for the Greek for hooked snout, with mykiss being a name the fish are given in Russia. A romantic fish? As with the oystercatchers above, the colours in this work are very impressive and you find yourself going from fish to fish to see the multitude of colours on display. This work is so detailed that it must have taken the artist a long time to create and paint. There is also great motion in the work and when you look away and look back, you think that another group of trout have swum into the picture. Bartlett’s work will shortly be seen at the annual Pittenweem Arts Festival, so if you can get  to see his work there or in the future, don’t miss it, as you will be very impressed.

Bartlett Rainbow (thumb)

Rainbow by Paul Bartlett

On our trip to Bordeaux, we took the train to the lovely village of St Emilion, famous for its surrounding vineyards and world famous chateaux, which produce superb wines. There’s a distinct classification of the wines, with Premier Grand Cru Classe A deemed to be the best and of course this is the most expensive. For example, a bottle of Chateau Ausone from 2011 can set you back £835. I did buy a bottle of wine in one of the many wine shops in St Emilion but it was a Grand Cru and not a Classe A. Would I know that the Chateau Ausone 2011 was worth over £800 if I tasted it? I doubt it but give me a few free lessons and tastings and I will learn quickly.

The village itself is charming – once you get there. When we got off the train, we and the other passengers looked around to see vineyards all around us, which was a bit perplexing. We then saw a sign saying that the village of St Emilion was a 20 min walk – we did it in 15 min in 28 degrees and sunshine. You walk up cobbled streets past the old houses and the never ending succession of wine shops. It’s a steep climb but at the top you get great views across the village. We climbed the church tower to see the two views in the photos below.

IMG_1581

St Emilion from the church tower

IMG_1582

View of St Emilion vineyards from the church tower

The village is over looked by the huge Monolithic Church (includes short video) originally built in the 12th century. The church is so-called because the hillside was excavated and the church built upon the catacombs to form one building. It’s a very impressive sight as the photos below show. In the first photo, you can see the magnificent carvings on the entrances as well as on the bell-tower and your eye is taken from the older, rounded parts of the church up to the bell-tower. The 2nd photo shows how the church was built to dominate the village and to remind the population of the power of the church, as well as being a tribute to Saint Emilion, an 8th century hermit.

IMG_1590

The Monolithic Church in St Emilion

IMG_1591

St Emilion and the Monolithic Church

A final note on Bordeaux. There are some excellent restaurants in the city and the three most memorable are shown in the business cards below. From the right, Chez Dupont (good photos)was a real find on our first night in Bordeaux. The hotel suggested the Rue Notre Dame, where you’ll find a number of good restaurants away from the city centre and Chez Dupont provided us with an excellent meal, the sea bream being delicious. Near the river, but not on the quayside, the Restaurant Au Bouchons de Chartrons was another great find. We had swordfish with vegetables served in neatly tied plastic, see through bag. This method is known as sous vide and is popular in France. The third restaurant Paul’s Place proved to be more than just a restaurant. On leaving the Chez Dupont, we passed Paul’s Place and saw that on the Saturday evening, there was a singer performing Bob Dylan songs, so we booked a table. This turned out to be a great evening, with Andy Jefferies playing a range of early Bob Dylan songs – and singing them very well – accompanied by a slide show of Dylan photos and video. The food in Paul’s Place is rustic, very tasty and extremely good value for money. The co-owner Paul is a friendly and welcoming host, formerly of Cambridge. The restaurant has bohemian (but fascinating) décor e.g. the ceiling is papered with the front pages of the Times Literary Supplement. This restaurant is certainly worth a visit.

Scan_20170606

Bordeaux restaurants

Tigh Na Leigh and their orchids

April 18, 2017

We went for an overnight stay last week to the village of Alyth (good photos) in Perthshire. As we drove towards Alyth, we passed many fields of raspberry canes and others with polytunnels for strawberries. We were now in the area of the Berry Fields O’Blair –  a famous Scots song about the people who used take a holiday in July and spend it picking berries. Another song is When the Yellow’s on the Broom (contains old photos) which is about the travelling people in Scotland who spent the winter in scaldy (i.e. non-travellers) houses, often in very poor conditions, but went berry picking in the summer. The song describes the travelling people as the gan(g)aboot folk, who tak tae the road when the broom flowers. We were booked in to the Tigh Na Leigh (pr Tie Na Lee) Guest House. You have to take the Guest House part with a pinch of salt. This is no ordinary guest house, it’s more of a boutique hotel, with luxurious accommodation. The website has several photos of the interior of the house and there were some exquisite touches such as the egg tree shown below in one of the very comfortable guest lounges.

IMG_1412

Egg tree at Tigh Na Leigh (Click to enlarge)

Also in this lounge, is a log fire built into the wall, with a glass front. Many years ago, we used to live in a house with 2 wood stoves, and there is no better heat than that which comes from burning logs. Also, there is the fascination with the action taking place in the fire itself. The logs attract the flames and are consumed by them, after changing shapes and colours many times. It’s hard to look away from the wildly exotic aerobics of the flames. Sitting by the fire with a glass of wine before dinner was a real treat.

IMG_1423

Log fire at Tigh Na Leigh

The owners, Bettina and Chris, made us very welcome and if you like aeroplane business class service, then Tigh Na Leigh is the place for you, as that’s what you get. We opted to eat in and were sent a menu the day before. For starters, I had a delicious twice-baked smoked haddock (smokie) soufflé, pictured below. This was delicious, with a creamy cheese sauce to enhance the light and delicate soufflé. Our main courses of duck comfit and salmon fillet were also very tasty and the food and wine is very reasonably priced

IMG_1426

Double baked “smokie” soufflé at Tigh Na Leigh

The large dining room, which also has a lounge area, looks out on an extensive garden with a large pond (photo below) and while we had dinner, there were a succession of birds appearing on the lawn or the pond. Behind the pond is large stone fronted mound which was built by the present owners but looks as if it’s been there for centuries, and it has a very natural looking waterfall emerging from it. You also have breakfast in this room and there were numerous bowls of fruit – raspberries, strawberries and blueberries – and fruit compote, as well as yoghurt and a range of cereals. This is in addition to the varied breakfast menu, which includes some of Chris’s excellent omelettes. When you stay here, you start the day very well. Bettina did tell us of one very unwelcome (and non-paying!) guest – an otter which ate all the fish in the pond and threatens to return if the pond is re-stocked. We cannot recommend this superlative accommodation too highly, so if you are travelling in Perthshire, don’t miss it.

IMG_1414

The pond at Tigh Na Leigh

Tigh Na Leigh has flowers in every room and on the stair, there are two beautiful orchids which were instantly attracted to my camera. According to the RHS “Indoor orchids are mainly epiphytic (growing on trees) or lithophytic (growing on rocks)”. So, two new words for my vocabulary, although don’t test me anytime soon. The orchids I saw were beautifully balanced and delicately coloured. In the first photo below, the petals appear to be made of whipped egg whites and stroked with purple food dye, while the centre looks like a small stage with an ornate backdrop.

IMG_1402

Orchid at Tigh Na Leigh

In the 2nd photo, we move into the surreal. The more you look, the more different images you are likely to see. A tiger’s head? A Daliesque set of tonsils? The colours are numerous shades of purple and yellow. The 3rd photo is perhaps more dreamlike and the top half could be an imaginary creature in a SciFi film. What of the bottom half? Purple moons from a planet hundreds of light years away? As ever, you are bound to see something else or different.

IMG_1403

Centre of an orchid at Tigh Na Leigh

IMG_1405

Centre of an orchid at Tigh Na Leigh

 

Highlights of 2016

December 31, 2016

I was going to give myself a festive break from the blog but, every day in the paper there is some sort of review of 2016, so coming back from my walk today I thought I might do one as well. This is what went through my head: best photo, best meal cooked, best restaurant, best visit, best novel read, best book of poems read, best …. Not to mention major highlights such as the arrival of our new grandson Zachary Buddy in June and in the previous month, the glorious victory – the Hibees won the cup after 114 years! So I started to read the blog from the beginning of January and realised that it was going to take a long time to read all of the posts. So this is a flick through, fairly randomly and not covering all the categories mentioned above.

In January, we went down to London as I was going to the T S Eliot Prize poetry readings at The Royal Festival Hall. I’m going again in January, so more of that later. A highlight of the visit was a meal at The French Table in Surbiton. The meal was delicious and one of the dishes on offer was monkfish which was served with crispy samphire and truffle froth – photo below sent to me by staff at TFT.

tft-2

Monkfish served at The French Table (Click to enlarge)

Flowers feature often in the blog and I’m always trying to improve my close up photography in my garden and other gardens and wood lands. So here’s some examples (photos below) – snowdrops at Pitcox, tulips in my garden and the multi-coloured and delicate honeysuckle, also in my garden.

img_0110

Snowdrops at Pitcox

img_0331

Tulips in my garden

img_0406

Honeysuckle in my garden

Best picture I took this year? A hard one this as there’s such as variety of photos that I like – of favourite places like St Abbs Head or Dunbar harbour, but I’ve settled on one from my garden again, except the focus this time is not on the flower but on the bee. This is from a post entitled Summer flowers. Bees are not obedient. They move constantly and their wings beat even when they are attached to flowers. This one must have been enjoying the nectar so much that it momentarily stopped moving, allowing me to capture the bee’s complex physical structure, its vivid colours and its wing, which looks like a piece of ornate glassware you might find in an art gallery.

img_0666

Bumble bee on a hebe flower.

The best visit we did this year undoubtedly to the stunning Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. From the moment you walk towards the outside of the building, you are in for a series of eyebrow raising moments and you lose count of the times you say “Wow!”. The external and internal structure of the museum represent a triumph of modern architecture, so impressive is the design and flow of the building. The two photos below can’t capture the wonder of this building but if it inspires you to visit, my efforts will have been worthwhile.

img_0793

Back of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

img_0817

Front of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao

So that’s (part of) the old rung out and next week/year, I’ll ring in the new – more travel, more novels, more poetry, more photos – and anything else that comes in to the mind of this (at times) Bear of Little Brain – even if my favourite word is crepuscular.

 

 

 

Harbour reflections and making Minestrone

December 14, 2016

I took my camera for a walk along to Dunbar Harbour (good photos) last week. The day was so wind free that the water in the harbour hardly moved and the wee boats, which are usually swaying gently to an unheard waltz tune on the accordion, were statuesque. It’s very unusual not to have any kind of wind in Dunbar and at one point, it looked as if the sea had given up coming into the harbour, as the water appeared – very briefly – to be motionless. Then a gentle ripple spread from the entrance to the harbour across to the boats.

The two photos below are taken at the east end of the harbour and the perfect reflection in the 1st photo shows how calm the water became. There’s a hint of movement in the water in the 2nd photo and the wee boat looks isolated. This is because all the small yachts that lie in the harbour in the summer have been removed for safety. I like the way the harbour walls are reflected in the water in the 2nd photo.

img_1163

Calm day at Dunbar Harbour

img_1164

Calm day at Dunbar Harbour

The next 2 photos are taken at the castle end of the harbour. In the first photo, the reflections look as if they might come from an impressionist painting e.g. the squiggly lines in the castle walls’ reflection. It was a cold day but the colours in the boats and in the fish boxes on the quayside inserted a warm feature into this walker’s experience. In the both photos, the castle ruins still show the white patches left by the nesting kittiwakes, who visited in the summer. The kittiwakes have featured on this blog more than once e.g. here. In the 2nd photo, the wider angle shows the castle ruins and the narrow entrance to the harbour. Another unusual feature of this visit to the harbour was the absence of birds on the water, as you often get small groups of eider duck. On this RSPB site, you can listen to the gurgling, whoo-hooing of the eider duck, and you can usually hear this from the harbourside.

img_1165

Fishing boats near Dunbar Castle

img_1166

Reflections of the ruins of Dunbar Castle

Having made lentil and vegetable, tomato and lentil, and parsnip and pear soup recently, I thought that it must be the turn of minestrone. The term minestrone comes from the Latin minestra meaning soup with pasta (and/or other ingredients) and one as a suffix meaning large, thus giving us a soup with big vegetables. The soup is mentioned in a cookbook by Apicus (the whole book from Project Gutenberg here) published in 30CE, so it has ancient traditions. You could spend the rest of your life looking at the myriad of minestrone recipes on the web i.e. almost anything goes as long as you have vegetables and pasta in it. Almost all recipes include tomatoes. Today, my minestrone has a large leek, 3 stalks of celery, diced turnip (aka swede) and carrot, dried basil and oregano, a tin of tomatoes, 2 tbs tomatoes puree and a litre of chicken stock. I put a little oil in the bottom of my large soup pan and added the basil and oregano. I then sweated the leeks and celery, and added the turnip and carrot until it looks like this:

img_1172

Sweating the vegetables in the making of minestrone

I then added the tomatoes, tomato puree and broken spaghetti, brought it  to the boil and simmered it for c20 minutes. I always find that you should never eat minestrone soup right away – let the flavours develop for at least 8 hours or preferably overnight. You can then have a colourful, tasty and winter warming soup which served up will look something like this photo from last year. Have it for lunch with crusty bread and if you are lucky like me, go for a walk along to the harbour with your camera afterwards.

img_9074

A plate of minestrone soup with basil leaves

San Sebastian: beach and museum, and Santander’s bronze figures

September 27, 2016

We spent three days in San Sebastian, the picturesque resort which is close to the French border on the Bay of Biscay. The internationally renowned San Sebastian Film Festival began while we were there – in the pouring rain. Fortunately, the previous two days were warm and sunny and we could walk along the semi-circular promenade next to the beach. This is similar to the Promenade Des Anglais in Nice and all day and well into the evening, people from a multitude of nations stroll along, looking at each other and wondering where everyone comes from. They also look at the wide sweep of beach where swimmers and surfers enjoy the breaking waves. On a sunny day, as in the photos below, the colours are contrasting – blue/turquoise sea and white waves; blue sky and white clouds.

img_0875

San Sebastian beach

img_0876

San Sebastian Beach

At  the end of the prom is a funicular railway which takes you to the top of Mount Igueldo from which you get spectacular views across the bay and far into the mountains.

img_0880

San Sebastian from Mount Igueldo

San Sebastian is famous for its food with a number of 3 star Michelin restaurants in the city such as the famous Arzak which offers a delicious tasting menu with a glass of champagne, although this will cost you about £150 per person. We thought we’d keep it for our next visit. We also went to the San Telmo Museum (good photos) which is near the sea front. This gave a fascinating insight into the history of the Basque people, in particular their agrarian background. While the first part of the museum is very modern, you walk through cloisters with beautiful ceilings (photo below) into an old church with its dramatic frescoes by Josep Maria Serp. One of the key features that you immediately see in San Sebastian (and to a lesser extent in Bilbao) is the prominent use of the Basque language. San Sebastian is the Spanish for Donostia, the Basque name for the town. All signs and menus are in Euskera, the Basque language, first and then in Spanish and then in French.

img_0897

San Telmo Museum cloister ceiling

Our last port of call was Santander where we only stayed one night but could have stayed longer. The town has a large ferry port and extensive promenade which leads to it sandy beaches (good photos). On the promenade, there are four bronze figures (good photos) of young boys, one of whom is diving into the water and it is fascinating to look at the figures from different angles.

img_0912

Los Racqueros in Santander

Like Bilbao and San Sebastian, the architecture in Santander is outstanding with many balcony strewn buildings which are kept in very good condition, as below. This was a new part of Spain for us but it comes highly recommended for many reasons.

img_0907

Santander architecture

Craster and Dunstanburgh Castle

July 30, 2016

 On our visit to Bamburgh – highlighted in last week’s post – we went to the village of Craster twice. The first time was to visit the gallery there and have a drink at the Jolly Fisherman’s pub which has superb views over the sea. Craster is of course famous for its kippers which are, appropriately for this blog, smoked herring. On the way to the gallery at the top of the hill, the smoke from the kipper house was bellowing out of the roof. It had a fairly gentle smoky odour which was not very fishy, so quite pleasant. Kippers are an acquired taste and can be quite oily. For a more gentle introduction to kippers, try kipper pâté. There is an attractive little harbour (good photos) at Craster (my photo below) and on the sunny days when we visited, it was very pleasant to sit and look out over the harbour to the sea. It’s unlikely that anyone would sit there in the winter with a strong north-easterly blowing directly across the harbour and threatening to cut off part of your face.

IMG_0655

Craster harbour

There is no parking in Craster, so you park (very cheaply) at a car park nearby and walk into the village past the numerous holiday homes which appear to dominate the village. You pass through Craster if you are walking to Dunstanburgh Castle (good photos). The castle dates back to the 14th century. It is a magnificent ruin and must have been an impressive stronghold in its heyday. The castle is built on a promontory with sea at its back. This meant that anyone trying to capture the castle would be unlikely to attack by sea and if they attacked by land, the occupants of the castle would see the enemy approaching from a great distance. The castle has a significant place in English history and was owned by various nobles as well as the king of England. The first photo shows the approach to the castle on a track leading from Craster. People, cows and sheep mingle freely on the track.

IMG_0640

The walk to Dunstanburgh Castle

Closer up, you can see the extent of the castle and how it dominates all the land around. Apart from the height of the castle and the 2 metre thick walls, what impressed me about this castle (and many others) is the achievement of the stonemasons who constructed this stunning edifice in the 14th century with little more than their tools and block and tackle for lifting. I always like to imagine being a peasant working in a nearby field and watching the castle getting bigger and bigger in a previously unimaginable way. Castles of course were built to show power, to impress and to threaten, as well as for protection and relative comfort.

IMG_0643

Dunstanburgh Castle

The views from the castle walls are enthralling. It overlooks Embleton Bay and the golf course nearby and you can see for miles along the coast as in the photo below.

IMG_0645

Looking north from Dunstanburgh Castle

This was a huge castle with a range of living areas and many people would have lived in the castle to serve noblemen and women who owned the castle, including servants, cooks, blacksmiths and masons. The extent of the castle can be seen from the battlements as shown below. The castle is well worth visiting if you are in the area.

IMG_0649

Dunstanburgh Castle

Hailes Castle and municipal tulips

May 26, 2016

A visit last week from friends whom we met in Australia many years ago. I worked with my former colleague, now Professor Anne Lloyd of the University of Boras (pr Boroos) at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga, where her husband Jim Zantiotis works as an educational psychologist in local schools. We took Anne and Jim to nearby Hailes Castle (good photos) to give them a flavour of historic East Lothian. The castle is not as well-known as other castles in the county such as Tantallon Castle (many photos) and nestles in a dip in a narrow country road, where I often go cycling. Depending on the time of year, you can have the place to yourself. We went on a Sunday morning and a few people followed us in. At first, the castle looks restricted in size as you enter the gate and cross the wee, gurgling burn but when you get to the entrance, you see that the castle extends greatly to your left and right. You can see a possible reconstruction of the castle here.

IMG_0376

Stonework at the entrance to Hailes Castle

There is a wide range and age of stonework in the castle which was originally built in the 13th century, and as you can see from the photo above,  the more modern finished red sandstone sits beside the original rough stonework used to build the castle. The castle has a long history and the Hepburn family, one of the greatest landowners in Scotland, occupied the castle for long periods and there is speculation that Mary Queen of Scots may have stayed there briefly. As you walk around the castle, you come across the pit prison (photo) which went into a deep dungeon and you get the feeling that if you were put down there, you might never see the light of day again. One of the main parts of the living quarters of the castle was later turned into a doocot (photo). The castle sits by the river Tyne and if you walk round the back of the castle – see photos below – you get a peaceful feeling and a great view up to the castle walls and along the river. If you are visiting East Lothian, put this castle on your list – just don’t tell anyone.

IMG_0380

North wall of Hailes Castle.

IMG_0377

View along the River Tyne from Hailes Castle.

I wasn’t going to put any more photos of tulips on the blog this year, in case readers might get tulip fatigue but taking our friends to North Berwick Gardens we came across 2 vibrant displays which the local municipal gardeners had planted. The combination of the tulips and wallflower was not too harsh, despite the bright colours – see photos below. I took a close up of one of the tulip heads and it could be an example of Japanese art.

IMG_0356

Tulips and wallflowers in North Berwick gardens

IMG_0357

Tulips and wallflowers in North Berwick gardens

IMG_0358

Stunning tulip head in North Berwick

 

The Creel Restaurant and Olhamstocks walk

April 18, 2016

We are lucky here in Dunbar (good photos) with a population of between 8ooo and 9ooo  to have a range of good local restaurants. While The Rocks has a fine reputation for excellent service and very good food, The Creel is the pick of the restaurants. The Creel is a small restaurant owned and run by award winning chef Logan Thorburn. We have visited The Creel many times with family and friends and have never had a bad meal. I contacted Logan who kindly answered my two questions and sent me the photos below. I firstly asked Logan ” What is your approach to cooking the meals you serve in the restaurant?”. His answer was “Great simple combinations using the very best of local produce that is available – season dependent – and all prepared in a true  modern-rustic artisan style”. The second question was “As a restaurant owner, what is your philosophy of service to your customers?”. The answer was ” We strive to offer relaxed, efficient and unobtrusive service that meets our customers needs and also matches our pricing bracket. We do try our very best although staffing a small restaurant in a small rural community can sometimes be a challenge”. If asked why I would recommend The Creel to locals and visitors alike, I would reply that the meals are of a  very high standard, cooked to order and with a depth of flavour often missing from other restaurants. For example, Logan’s fish and shellfish soup, served hot in a generous bowl with his own bread is as good as any bouillabaisse I’ve had in France. The two photos below show Logan’s extensive tapas dishes, including  Griddled Pork Loin with Green Peppers and Spanish Onions; Moroccan, Aubergine and Courgette Tagine,  Steamed Local Partan Crab Claws;  Classic Chic Pea Hummus; and Slow Rioja Braised Chorizo Sausage and Fennel Casserole. We haven’t tried this but it looks very enticing. The 2nd photos is  Steamed Clams with Garlic and Parsley Butter and served with Homemade Farmhouse Loaf. The Creel is a must visit restaurant if you are in the Dunbar area.

Logan 1

The Creel’s tapas dishes

Logan 4

The Creel’s clam dish

We stopped for a walk at the bonnie wee village of Oldhamstocks (good photos). This is a place with a long history. Olhamstocks (pr Old HAM stocks) is set in a valley between steep hills, one of which is a testing climb on the bike and the other is a steep, grassy slope where sheep graze. It is up the latter hill that runners strive when doing the annual hill run as part of the well-known Flower Show. There are many substantial stone buildings in the village and the one below had a grand display of daffodils on display.

IMG_0293

Impressive stone house in Oldhamstocks

We walked along to the local church where there is a very interesting historic graveyard.  The gravestone that caught my eye was that of Philip Orkney who died aged 86 – a very long time to live in the 19th century – in November 1875. Next to his name is the word feuer. When I looked this up, I had to search beyond the German word feuer meaning fire. In this context, a feuer is one who pays a feu or rent. So Mr Orkney had “a perpetual lease granted at full rent giving the feuer a continuing right of occupancy and the granter an ongoing rental”. This probably put him in a higher status than other people who paid rent but had no life-time guarantee of occupation. The graveyard is set in an idyllic spot with the countryside in full view.

IMG_0292

Gravestone in Oldhamstocks churchyard

Parma ham dishes and East Lothian Life

March 21, 2016

We bought some Parma ham which is defined in the OED as “A strongly flavoured Italian cured ham, eaten uncooked and thinly sliced”. Parma ham can only be reared from pigs in selected farms around the city of Parma. There are numerous recipes available which used Parma ham and I’ve followed some of them to an extent and then added my own variations. The first dish was chicken fillet with Parma ham and I used the Jamie Oliver recipe as the basis for my dish. There is a video version of this but it’s 7+ minutes long and I’d rather just read a recipe. One key difference between this recipe and others using Parma ham is that you do NOT wrap your chicken in the Parma ham – I find that it won’t crispen up under the chicken. Instead, you lay the ham on top of the chicken breast and pound it with a rolling-pin to flatten it out. Mr Oliver uses parmesan cheese and thyme leaves. My own version goes like this. Lay your chicken breasts on a chopping board and gently score the top of the breast. Cover the top with grated parmesan cheese and then add 2 heaped teaspoons of crème fraiche on each one. Add one teaspoonful of wholegrain mustard to the crème fraiche – or mix both ingredients together in a bowl and then add them. I then lay two slices of Parma Ham on each chicken breast, cover them with cling film and bash them flat. I brush an enamel dish with olive oil and lay the chicken in, adding cherry tomatoes in some balsamic vinegar. Into the oven at 180 degrees for no longer than 25 minutes. If you cook them for longer, the chicken will dry out.

The second dish is cod with Parma ham and again, I laid the ham over the fish, after adding the parmesan cheese, crème fraiche and mustard ( half a teaspoon this time). Obviously, you don’t bash your cod. Cook the fish with the tomatoes for no longer than 15 minutes – or again it will dry out. I served both dishes with a packet of Ainsley Harriet’s cous-cous (yes, yes, I should make my own) on to which I added grill-panned peppers, with green beans as well. A bit too much on the plate for some tastes I would think – see below and judge for yourself – but we enjoyed it.

IMG_0269

Cod with Parma ham – straight from the oven

IMG_0270

Cod with Parma ham, cous cous, peppers, cherry tomatoes and green beans

When I retired, I promised myself that I’d continue writing. I write a full page in my diary each day and this weekly blog. I’ve also been writing up my local history research. The other writing I intended to do was of a more journalistic nature and – aye, it’s taken quite a while – but this week, I had an article published in a local journal East Lothian Life (my home town of Dunbar is in the county of East Lothian) which contains an eclectic mix of articles on local housing, farming, gardening, cooking and history. My article was about Dunbar Harbour and it is to be published in two parts. The article is my personal reflection on the harbour and while it contains aspects of history and nature, it also has my own images – and my interpretation of these images. For example, I always notice the still manual nature of the work done by the fishermen and this has changed little in hundreds of years. While the boats themselves have modern equipment such as radar, when a boat brings in a load of prawns, the shellfish are sorted by hand in the boat. The initial article looks at Dunbar Castle (good photos), the fishing boats and the kittiwakes, which have just arrived back on to the castle walls. I know I might say this and I would certainly have said it whether I had an article in the magazine or not, East Lothian Life is a very well written and extremely well produced journal which is enjoyed not only by local people but by many people who have emigrated (e.g. to New Zealand). The editor and publisher Pauline Jaffray makes a great contribution to the county in keeping this quarterly magazine going and maintaining such a high standard. Two photos similar to those in the article are shown below.

IMG_9306

Kittiwake chick on Dunbar Castle walls

IMG_8150

Fishing boats in Dunbar Harbour

Winter cycling and broccoli and Stilton soup

March 5, 2016

It occurred to me the other day that I had not mentioned cycling for quite a while on this blog. In the winter, while the mileage goes down, the regular bike rides on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday still take place. Winter cycling is obviously very similar to summer cycling insofar as I go on similar routes, but there are differences. The first difference is in clothing. In the summer, I put on my cycling top, shorts and shoes and off I go. In the winter, I have 3 thicker, but breathable tops and my winter jacket. I also have a skullcap to protect my ears and a snood for my neck. This means that it takes me longer just to get going. It also means that you have extra weight on the bike AND because it’s so cold, you use up much more energy, so you need to extend more effort to go the same distance as in the summer. My pals and I also go on our mountain bikes more in the winter and it’s very enjoyable, as you get off the road and face the challenges of rocky tracks, mud and ice at times. One of our routes when there’s an east wind is out past the Whitesands beach and on to Barns Ness Lighthouse.(good photos). On our last ride there, the track next to the beach was flooded, so we cycled along the beach itself. It’s OK on hard sand but you have to get off now and then when you hit soft sand or slippery rocks.

IMG_8684

Whitesands Beach near Dunbar

IMG_9956

Barns Ness Lighthouse

On Saturday, I went through part of the Dunglass Estate and on towards the village of Oldhamstocks. This is a good cycling route for mountain bikes (good photos). At one point, I was at the top of a hill, going along tractor tracks in a grassy field and I approached a flock of sheep about 50 yards from me. They stared intently, then one or two stirred and as I got nearer, as one they ran about 20 yards down the hill, turned and stared at me again. What came to my mind was the sheep in Far from the Madding Crowd, Thomas Hardy’s wonderful novel and also a well known film from the 1960s (video trailer) and more recently. Did my sheep wonder why Gabriel Oak from the novel was on a bike? It was a beautiful morning, with the  sun coming through the clouds and in the next field below, a tractor was ploughing, followed by a flock of feasting seagulls. This reminds me that I must buy a video camera for my bike – I’ve been meaning to do this for years.

To misquote an old adage, of the making of soup there is no end. I thought I’d try something different this week and it was the leftover broccoli in the fridge that reminded me that I’d never made broccoli and Stilton soup, something I’ve enjoyed in restaurants over the years. So, on to a well-known search engine and after a browse of different recipes, I settled on the BBC Good Food recipe as it had a variety of ingredients and was healthier than others e.g. the ones suggesting double cream. It’s easy to make. I sweated a finely chopped large onion, a celery stick and a medium sized leek and added a teaspoonful dried mixed herbs, then added a chopped (and soaked) large potato. I stirred this around for a minute and then added 2 heads of roughly chopped broccoli. I added a litre of stock – ham stock cubes for me but you choose your stock – and let it simmer for about 25 minutes, until the potato was soft. I then mashed it down with my potato masher and used my hand held blender to make it smooth. The recipe suggests 140g of Stilton cheese but when I measured this out, it was too much cheese. I added 85g of the cheese and this turned out to be to our satisfaction as the cheese does not over power the broccoli flavour. We had the soup today with a lovely loaf from Bostock Bakery in North Berwick.

IMG_0225

Bostock Bakery loaf

IMG_0229

Broccoli and Stilton soup with fresh bread

While the soup looks (and was) very tasty, any good chef would have told me to properly clean the plate before serving.