Archive for the ‘Winter’ Category

Sebastian Barry’s “Days Without End” and Spring flowers (1)

March 17, 2017

It’s not often that you come across a novel that is absolutely riveting and makes you want to write down a quote from every page of the book, but the new novel by Sebastian Barry –  Days Without End comes into this category. You can listen to an excellent Guardian podcast featuring an interview with Barry about his novel and this adds further insight into the book. The novel tells the story of Thomas McNulty, who was among thousands who fled from Ireland when the potato famine struck. McNulty briefly tells us of his arrival in Canada on a ship where “I was among the destitute, the ruined and the starving for six weeks”. The Irish who reached Canada “were nothing. No one wanted us… We were a plague. We were only rats of people”. When McNulty subsequently meets a fellow teenager “handsome John Cole” who becomes his life-long friend and lover, he tells us “I was a human louse, even evil people shunned me”. This feeling of McNulty’s – that he and his kind are worthless – continues throughout the book, and McNulty explains that his and John Cole’s ability to withstand the horrors they see, comes partly from this. The book tells of the boys’ and subsequently men’s lives as dancers dressed up as women to entertain miners, then as soldiers engaged in “cleansing” the frontier of Indians and then as regular soldiers in the American Civil.

Barry’s writing is described by reviewers of the book as “vibrant”, “beautiful and affecting”, “exhilarating” and “vivid”. He is one of these writers with an enviable ability to produce descriptions that make your read them again. Open the book anywhere and you’ll find them. The soldiers eat with “the strange fabric of frost and frozen wind falling on our shoulders”. Other soldiers, sent out to meet an Indian chief and his followers “rode like chaps expecting Death rather than Christmas”. There are detailed battle scenes in the book, but also moments of tenderness and humour. Barry does not shrink from describing mass killing – of Indian men, women and children and of rebel soldiers – but he manages to focus on the personal. In the heat of the battle with the rebels, McNulty reflects “Other things I see is how thin these boys [rebels] are, how strange like ghosts and ghouls. Their eyes like twenty thousand dirty stones”. I am two-thirds through this astonishing novel already and I know that when I get near the end, I’ll want it to continue for another 300 pages. Go and buy it.

 

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Sebastian Barry’s stunning novel

Spring really has sprung around here and there is now an abundance of colour in my garden, with much more to come. The first photo is of a tulip from a vase in the house – my own tulips are biding their time, letting the daffodils have their spot in the sunlight, before they upstage them with a glorious display of colour. As readers of this blog will know, what fascinates me in particular is the insides of flowers and their often surreal appearance. I love the symmetry in this tulip as well as the vibrant colours and the central feature, which could be a creature from a sci-fi film or something inexplicable found by archaeologists in a 3000 year old grave. What do you see here?

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Close up of a tulip flower head (Click to enlarge)

The 2nd photo is of violas on the side of our hanging basket at the front door. The cyclamen in the body of the hanging basket has passed its best. The violas, planted last autumn wore plain green coats all winter and shrivelled in the frost at times. In the past 2 weeks however, they are transformed and show us purple and yellow dresses in a display of sartorial elegance. They are delicate little flowers but have eye-catching, mascara like centre patterns. As the title of this blog post indicates, there will be more Spring flowers to follow.

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Violas in a hanging basket

 

 

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Ditchling Beacon and Ditchling village

January 25, 2017

During our trip to London, we ventured south from Thames Ditton, where our rellies stay, to the village of Ditchling, an hour’s drive away. Before going into the village, we headed up the steep hill, passing a few cyclists straining hard, to Ditchling Beacon (good photos). This historical site – a hill fort was found by archaeologists – has 360 degrees views across Sussex. On the day we visited, we could see the sea behind Brighton to the south but we couldn’t see the coast of France. The Beacon is on the South Downs and you can see for miles across the rolling countryside. The Downs are made mainly of chalk and it was a new experience for us to walk on the creamy coloured clay. It had been snowing the previous day and there were quite large – but headless – snowmen to be seen next the icy path. The bitterly cold wind ensured that we didn’t stay long as, unlike the groups of walkers we saw, we were not dressed for the conditions. The photos show part of the Beacon and the snow still lying there.

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Ditchling Beacon paths

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Snow on Ditchling Beacon

The village of Ditchling has a long history and there are some very attractive Tudor-style houses in the main street. Our first stop was to the jewellers  Pruden and Smith where my sister in law wanted to buy a necklace. I wouldn’t normally stop for long in a “goldsmiths, silversmiths and jewellers” but we were given a short tour of the workshop below the main shop. What you find here is a small space which features a few work desks,  but also on display are the tools of the craftsmen and craftswomen who make the jewellery. The first photo shows a dazzling range of tools and it’s interesting to reflect that these tools, some of which are quite powerful, are instrumental in producing such delicate jewellery (see shop website for examples), along with the combination of the well-honed skills and artistic talents of those making the jewellery.

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Silversmiths’ tools in Ditchling

The second photo shows some of the older equipment used to roll out the silver and gold into which a variety of precious stones would be inserted. There was also an admirable display of jewellery on display in the cabinets. So an interesting visit to the shop and an excellent insight into the extensive and delicate work that goes into producing the rings, necklaces and bracelets.

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Rolling and printing equipment in the Pruden and Smith workshop in Ditchling

Our next stop was Ditchling Museum of Art and Craft which featured work by Eric Gill, whom I knew as a famous typographer from the 1920s and 1930s. Some of Gill’s typography is on display and I’d like to have seem more. I learned that Gill was also an accomplished sculpture and one of his works, with its beautiful flowing lines and delicate depiction of the woman’s face, is shown below.

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Eric Gill sculpture in Ditchling Museum

Also on display were examples from the Kelmscott Press founded by William Morris. There was an example of an old press, along with typefaces on display and you could see how intricate a task it was to put in letters individually – and upside down – to make a page of a book or newspaper.

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Printing press at Ditchling Museum

We had an excellent lunch at The Bull pub in the village. The pub has some very good examples of local beer from its own Bedlam Brewery. The food was impressive and I had a very tasty venison pie with chestnut mash and broccoli. It rained on and off on our stay in Ditchling but we managed a walk around this very attractive village, which is well worth a visit.

Auld Year’s Night and A Walk on New Year’s Day

January 7, 2017

We had Australian friends staying over New Year. They arrived on 31st December which is known locally as Auld Year’s Day. This expression is, I think, restricted to the south eastern part of Scotland, while other parts use the term Hogmanay, the meaning of which is disputed, but it may be Scandinavian or Flemish. The term New Year’s Eve is used in other parts of Britain. Until the 1950s, New Year was the major festive event in Scotland, with people still working on Xmas Day. Bringing in the New Year in Scotland is seen as attractive by people across the world, as the cosmopolitan crowd in Edinburgh’s Princes Street on Auld Year’s Night will testify. Dunbar Running Club organise a short run on Auld Year’s Night at 7pm and my wife Val and our visitors took part, while I helped with timing. The race is known as the Black Bun Run after the tradition of giving people whisky and black bun to bring in the New Year, to ensure that people would have enough to drink and eat for the following year. I was the (non-running) President of  Dunbar Running Club for 14 years and the local paper, the East Lothian Courier would print my reports of the race – known then as The Auld Year’s Night Race, until one year the paper’s reporter used the headline Black Bun Run a Success. Thereafter, we used this title for the race. After the race, we joined the other runners (23 in total) in the nearby Masons Arms pub, for a pint of Belhaven Best ale, which is brewed just around the corner at Belhaven Brewery. Back home, we had a meal – a tasty Beef’n Beer (photo below) and brought the New Year in with rather less traditional champagne and red wine.

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Beef’n Beer done in Le Creuset pan (Click to enlarge)

On New Year’s Day, we took our friends on one of our favourite walks – to Seacliff Beach (good photos). We parked the car about a mile away from the beach. As you leave the car, just past the farm buildings, you get a magnificent view of Tantallon Castle (good photos)  and the Bass Rock and the view is enhanced (photo below) with the foreground of the emergent spring wheat’s subtle green.

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Tantallon Castle and the Bass Rock

You walk down a fairly muddy path to get to the beach but you are rewarded with a view of a long stretch of sandy beach to the right and left. We went left towards the tiny harbour – claimed to be the UK’s smallest – where there was quite a swell here with the white sea caressing the rocks.

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Swell at Seacliff Beach

On the harbourside, you can still see the remains of old iron winding gear, which, with the backdrop of Tantallon Castle (see below) makes for an intriguing view.

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Winding gear at Seacliff and Tantallon Castle

We walked back along the east side of the beach and up the sandy slope to the path/road where cars can exit. At the top of the hill, you pass under an archway and when you look back, the Bass Rock is framed by the archway. The photo below was taken on a frosty afternoon a few years ago.

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Arch at Seacliff Beach

As you walk back past the farm buildings at Seacliff Farm, you pass many horses as there’s a riding school there. I managed to catch one horse having a feed and another peering at me through the bare hawthorn hedge (see below). So, an excellent walk on a bright, sunny if cold day gave us an exhilarating start to 2017.

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Horse feeding at Seacliff

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Horse through a hawthorn hedge

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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Calm day at Dunbar Harbour

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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.

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Fishing boats near Dunbar Castle

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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:

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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.

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A plate of minestrone soup with basil leaves

The Bone Seeker, views of St Abbs and the Number Four gallery

December 6, 2016

I’ve just finished reading M J McGrath’s  The Bone Seeker, a crime novel set in the Canadian arctic. This is a crime novel with interesting characters, including the heroine Edie Kiglatuk, a teacher who is seconded to help the police solve the mystery of a local girl’s murder. One the key “characters” in this novel is the arctic itself as well as the local Inuit culture. McGrath introduces us to Inuit words like  qualunaat – white people and avasirnguluk – elder, to create a convincing environment for her story. The history of the exploitation of the Inuit by outsiders, such as the US and Canadian governments, is  covered but with a light touch. McGrath is a story teller and the plot is well-paced. The reader does get a real sense of how people live in this (to most of us) extreme climate. Most of the novel is set in the summer where darkness is absent and the endless light can prevent people from sleeping, but winter approaches fast near the end of the novel and the transformation of the land and sea is well portrayed. Perhaps the ending features too much action in a short space of time in this book where the story builds to a complex conclusion. This is not just a book for readers of crime novels, so get it if you can.

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The Bone Seeker by M J McGrath

Regular readers will know that my wife and I visit St Abbs Head on a regular basis and these visits have featured on this blog many times. This visit was on a very cold and frosty Sunday morning but the sky was huge and Australian blue. Leaving the car parked at the number four art gallery (of which more later), into which my wife ventured, I walked along the path which leads to another path, which leads to one of the cliff-top walks. In this photo, you can see the cliffs in the distance, with sheep in the field and before that rows of winter wheat, which are a delicious green in the winter sun.

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Looking towards the cliff-tops at St Abbs Head

I crossed the road towards the village, with a large field on my right and the disused church at the top of the hill. What I liked about the field (photo below) was the bright yellow of the grasses at the edge of the field, and the way your eyes are drawn to the lines in the field, both the narrow crop lines and the wider tractor tracks. All seem to lead to the now abandoned church on the hill. The pink-tinctured clouds are also attractive.

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Stubble field at St Abbs Head

Across the road is the imposing Northfield House, with its head of St Ebba above the gates. I’ve photographed the gates from front-on and the head in close up before, but I’ve never taken a side-on shot of the entrance. In this photo, the impressive stone entrance is shown off by the field and sky. There is a large walled garden here, part of which is in view.

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Side view of the entrance to Northfield House in St Abbs Head

I walked to the St Abbs Visitor Centre (open March-October) and looking down to the harbour, I saw a strange sight – a tractor was reversing into the harbour. On a second look, I could see that the two yellow poles behind it were part of a platform. One of the wee fishing boats reversed and sailed gently on to the tractor’s trailer.

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Tractor in St Abbs Harbour

I walked back to the car in the fading afternoon light and you could feel the cold deepening, ready to freeze anything that didn’t keep moving. We’ve been to the number four art gallery many times over the years and have bought paintings and glassware for our home and for presents. With my camera at hand (and this blog already in mind) I took some photos, with permission. The gallery is part of a very well maintaned stone built row of what presumably were farm buildings and has a very attractive entrance – photo below.

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number four gallery in St Abbs

The inside of the gallery (photos below) is bright, well laid out and encourages you to walk around to view the paintings – some superb landscapes were on view on our visit – prints, glassware, ceramics, sculpture and jewellery. See examples here.  One of the reasons many people revisit this gallery is the warm welcome given by the staff, who are very helpful, informative but unobtrusive. The original works available here are of excellent value, so pay a visit if you are in the area.

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Inside number four gallery in St Abbs

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Inside number four gallery in St Abbs

Late autumn trees and the woes of cycling

November 22, 2016

When I came back from my cycle this morning, having passed a field of frozen sprout plants standing motionless in the field, their now yellow lower leaves stuck to the ground, and also having gone past an exquisitely coloured avenue of trees and roadside leaves at Bowerhouse (local pronunciation Boorhoose), my intention was to add to my photos of late autumn trees and early frosts here. This plan was thwarted as the wind from the east got up and the rain arrived, meaning leaden skies and rising temperatures. A walk last week through Lochend Woods in Dunbar (about 1K from our house) was particularly enjoyable because of the variety of colours in the trees and on the floor of the woods – a hundred shades of yellow, brown and green. So I went back with my camera.

The first photo is of rose hips. I have now learned that you can make rose hip syrup although it looks like it might be too sweet for me. Also, rose hips can be cultivated from sophisticated garden roses and not just the dog roses you get in the wild. I like the contrast between the bright red of the hips and the leaves, which are in various stages of maturity i.e. from green to pale yellow.

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Rose hips in Lochend Woods (Click to enlarge)

The next photo takes in a range of trees. In this photo, I like the way the leaves contrast with the dark trunks of the trees. The erect trunks draw your eye up and down the photo and when you look closer, many of the trunks are not straight but bent at various angles, and they are of various girths. The sun on the woods here actually makes some of the trunks look darker than they are.

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Autumnal trees in Lochend Woods

Contrast this photo with the one above. In this photo, the sunlight is making the tree trunks lighter and the trees take on the look of gum trees in Australia. This photo is deceiving as you might think that it was taken on a very hot day if you only look at the shining trees. I also like the shadows on the ground which are extensions of the trees and often lead your eye from one tree to another.

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Sunlight on trees in Lochend Woods

I also liked this photo. Firstly, there is the startling colour of the yellow leaves, made paler by the sun and they show off the smooth tree trunk behind. Secondly, there is the real sense of height and I think the photo makes these trees look taller than they actually are. There are many lines to follow in this photo – up, down, to the right and left and back again.

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Autumnal trees in Lochend Woods

On the way home, at a house on the edge of the woods, I passed this copper beech hedge, shown in close-up below. This is purely accidental on my part but when I look at this photo, I have the impression that the leaves are in motion and are falling although they are not. Also, the shadows of the leaves appear to increase the number of leaves on show. The colours and leaf patterns are fascinating the more you look.

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Copper beech hedge leaves in autumn

So to cycling, at least last Friday’s cycle. There are some days you go on a bike and no matter how flat the road or how light the wind, it’s a struggle. It was a very cold but bright morning and I was well rugged up in my winter gear. One thing about late Autumn/winter cycling is that it takes a long time to get ready. In the summer, on go the shorts and top and shoes and helmet and half finger covered gloves – and off you go. At this time of year, it’s top and shorts and leggings and another top and a jacket and head cover like a monk’s cowl and a buff and a helmet and shoes and overshoes, which are tight and hard to get on. 5 minutes later – off you go. I was about a mile into the bike ride on Friday and started to feel my legs heavy and my back sore. Now, in these situations, to what extent your legs and back are  actually sore is open to question. What happens is that your mind takes over. Then there’s the good angel and the bad angel. The bad angel says “Well, you were going for 20 miles (32.4K) but, hey if you turn at 6 miles, who’s going to know?”. The good angel says “Who will know? YOU will know! Are you  a man or a mouse? Forget 6 miles pal, 10 is the turning point – if not further”. The nearer I get to the 6 mile mark, the voices get louder. Which one will win? I nearly turn at the roundabout at 6 miles but keep going and – this always happens – once I’m on my way, my legs are lighter and my back is not sore. What you need to do when cycling on these kind of days is to detach your mind from your body and just let your legs take over. On these days, there much more sense in your legs than in your weak and complaining brain.

 

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.

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Whitesands Beach near Dunbar

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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.

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Bostock Bakery loaf

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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.

 

Cooking Beef’n’Beer, RSNO Concert and tulips

February 2, 2016

We were having family over for a meal last week and we decided to cook something that has been off our menu for a few years. Beef’n’Beer i.e. beef cooked in beer is very simple but very tasty, and has the added value of a crusty bread topping. We’ve had a Le Creuset casserole dish for many years and the wee book that came with the dish has the recipe in it – now it’s online here. For my Beef’n’Beer, I used round steak instead of the beef chuck  (aka chuck steak) in the book. Round steak is much more tender and certainly takes less time to cook – it’s also much less fatty. For four of us, I bought 1.5lbs (0.68KG) of round steak. In our local butcher’s, everyone still asks for their meat in a pound, three quarters of a pound, half a pound or just “a quarter” e.g. of cold meat. I covered the steak lightly in flour and gently browned it in some Flora oil. I then added 2 medium sized shallots (I sometimes use a red onion) , a garlic clove, 2 thickly sliced carrots, 2 bay leaves, some dried thyme and rosemary (the recipe recommends fresh herbs) and some fresh parsley from my garden. After the shallots had softened, I added a bottle of real ale, in this case, a bottle of locally brewed Belhaven St Andrews Ale. I cooked this in the oven at 180 degrees Centigrade for about an hour and 15 minutes – you are always better to try it for tenderness after an hour. You can eat the dish on its own but adding the topping makes all the difference. I cut thick slices from a large baguette bought in our local community bakery (photo below) and covered the top of each slice with some Dijon  mustard  (interesting article). Two things are key here. Firstly, you need to make sure that you have enough liquid for serving the meat, as the bread will soak up some of it. Secondly, you need to squeeze the slices to maximise the number of slices – I allocated 2 slices per person. You put the dish back in the oven and in 20 minutes, the bread should be going brown at the edges. I served it with mash potatoes and broccoli but other vegetables  e.g. peas, green beans or buttered carrots would do as well. It is very tasty and …. roll of the drums... this is what it looks like.

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Beef’n’Beer cooked in a Le Creuset dish.

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Dunbar Community Bakery

I haven’t been to a classical music concert for years although every year I’ve promised myself that I will do so. Last week, I took the plunge and went to the Brunton Theatre in Musselburgh which is half an hour’s drive from Dunbar, to see the Royal Scottish National Orchestra. The concert started with the lively Romanian Concerto (very good video) by Ligeti, a composer unknown to me. Ligeti was a Hungarian composer who received many honours for his wide range of works. The second part was Mozart’s enchanting Bassoon Concerto in B Flat Major (video of the piece), featuring the principal bassoonist of the RSNO, David Hubbard (interesting video). It was fascinating to see how Hubbard controlled his instrument and seemed intent on getting the best out of it. The sound was melodious and you could not help but admire this man’s craft. The main event of the evening was Brahms’ Symphony No 4 (video of the whole concert with Daniel Barenboim). To this uninitiated listener, this was a melodic and joyous symphony with a combination of slower, softer sections and a crescendo of a final section. For a more detailed analysis – and a much darker view of the piece – see Tom Service’s review. So, a very enjoyable concert – the only thing missing being my camera. The photo below is included by permission of the RSNO.

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Section of the RSNO

We’re still in thick of winter in Dunbar but it’s now February and my garden is suddenly strewn with emerging heads of daffodils and a few tulip heads have also appeared. Today, with Storm Henry approaching, they are being blown about relentlessly. Inside the house, safely and serenely arranged in a vase are a bunch of multi-coloured tulips. These tulips are a welcome flash of colour, and a promise of Spring being not so far away, on an intermittently dark and windy day. Tulips have their origins in Turkey and came to Europe in the 17th century. An interesting fact from this website is that multi-coloured tulips were originally diseased but the modern versions are safe hybrids. The first photo shows the tulips in a resplendent array of contrasting colours, offset by the green of the stems. The second photo is taken from above the flowers and shows them in a completely different way, possibly bursting into song or yelling with pain at being shown at such an unflattering angle?

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A dazzling array of tulips

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Tulips from above

Sylvia Plath wrote “The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here” in a rather melancholy poem entitled Tulips. A much more joyous celebration of tulips comes from A E Stallings and she writes “The tulips make me want to paint” and “Something about the way they twist/ As if to catch the last applause” which could be an acute commentary on the 2nd photo.

 

 

Winterfield walk, apricot stuffing and Auld Year’s Day

January 1, 2016

Note: The photos do not appear to be opening in a new tab as normal – trying to fix this.

A bright and sunny day with a big tide haring towards the shore around Dunbar meant that it was ideal for a walk along the promenade at the end of  Winterfield Park. The origin of the name Winterfield is thought to be related to the fields where cattle were put in the winter, probably as it’s by the sea and less prone to frost. In the park, there is still the Pavilion standing, although it is likely to be demolished. My own memories of Winterfield Park and the pavilion include seeing cricket matches and sheep-dog trials. It was a very stylish building in its heyday but has been neglected for many years.

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Winterfield Pavilion Photograph by Richard West used under Creative Commons Licence

Once we got on to the promenade, originally built in 1894 as a gift to the town from the local Baird Family, we were presented with an outstanding view across the Firth of Forth to Fife and west to Edinburgh. In the article from the local paper in the previous link, it was stated that “a more commanding position could not be found where from to survey the wildest tumults of the North Sea when under a winter sky it rushes against the cliffy defences of the town. From far up the Firth out as far as the eye may pierce there stretches a scene of stormy thunderous turmoil”. On this walk, there was much evidence of the sea in turmoil with the waves engulfing the rocks around the shore. As it is still the holiday period here, the promenade was quite busy with families, including visiting relatives, out walking on the prom.

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Incoming tide viewed from Winterfield promenade

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Waves hitting the rocks near Winterfield promenade

When you leave the promenade, you go along a path at the edge of the picturesque Winterfield Golf Club (good photos) which was busy with golfers and walkers. You are then presented with a panoramic view across Belhaven Bay (good photos), now a major surfing site all the year round. The tide was well in on our walk and the waves had smoothed out as they stretched across the wide span of the beach. I always love watching the waves extending themselves when they reach the flat beach and, fresh from hurling themselves at the rocks, taking a more leisurely approach, like a long distance swimmer.

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Incoming tide at Belhaven Bay

I’ve featured Belhaven Bridge many times on this blog and taken photos of “the bridge to nowhere” when the tide is in. You never get the same height of tide, or the same light or the same motion of the waves around the bridge. As ever, there were people taking photos of the bridge and I’m sure some of them were wondering why it was there at all.

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The bridge to nowhere at Belhaven Bay

I’m not a great turkey fan but I get outvoted in our family when I suggest that we have something different. So, the highlight for me at the Xmas Day meal – food-wise of course – was my home made apricot stuffing. I still use a recipe from the 1977 book Farmhouse Kitchen and the photo below shows our well-worn copy. The book was one of series from the popular 1970s TV show Farmhouse Kitchen.

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Farmhouse Kitchen book

There are many apricot stuffing recipes of course, but this one is simple and delicious. You can of course stuff your turkey or chicken with this but I prefer to cook it separately. I finely chopped 2 small shallots and sweated them in butter. I made 6oz (it’s a 1970s recipe!) of wholemeal breadcrumbs ( FK recommends white) and in a bowl, I mixed the shallots, breadcrumbs, 4oz chopped apricots, 2 oz chopped peanuts, 1 tablespoon chopped parsley from my garden, the grated rind and juice of a large orange, salt and pepper and one beaten egg. I just mixed it with a spoon until it was moist but not wet. I put it into a flat, greased metal dish and cooked it for 30 mins at 180 degrees. This is it before it went in the oven. No post cooking photo as pressure was on to serve. All agreed that it was very tasty.

Apricot stuffing uncooked.

Apricot stuffing uncooked.

Today in Dunbar is known as Auld Year’s Day and later as Auld Year’s Night. No New Year’s Eve (too southern) and no Hogmanay (too northern) in this wee part of south-east Scotland. I was wondering how it might have originated. I’m sure one    theory may be that it was a product of strict Presbyterianism. The more extreme Protestants were very suspicious of being presumptuous. So, saying New Year’s Eve would be to presume that you would, in fact, see in the New Year but, sinner that you were, how did you know that you would be spared? So Auld year’s Day looks back to the year past and not the year ahead – until it arrives! To all my readers, have a very Good New Year and a lively 2016.

Six little terns, wintry St Abbs harbour and green shoots

December 16, 2015

I’m reading the new Poetry Book Society ChoiceLes Murray‘s Waiting for the Past. Murray’s poems are dense with images and he has the poet’s knack of reducing into a few words what the rest of us would need a paragraph to explain. One of the early poems in the book is entitled Dynamic Rest:

Six little terns

feet gripping sand

on a windy beach

 

six more just above

white with opened wings

busy exchange of feet

 

reaching down lifting off

terns rising up through terms

all quivering parallel

 

drift ahead and settle

bracing their eyes

against the brunt of wind

So we have four short verses and like all the poems in this book, you need to read and re-read to gain an insight into the depth of what the poems is about and what happens in the poem. The title is an oxymoron in that dynamic and rest appear to be contradictory. My English teacher at school, Mrs McKie, would be impressed that I remembered the term oxymoron. The terns are “resting” on the beach and in the air, and in the last verse, they “settle”. Murray imagines the birds – I assume that you cannot see birds “bracing their eyes” – perhaps narrowing their eyes in the face of a strong (and cold?) wind. The last phrase is “the brunt of wind” i.e. not the brunt of the wind, suggesting a forceful and unpleasant wind for the birds. The wind also affects the birds on the ground as their feet have to grip the sand. So the poem is dynamic, with “terns rising up through terns” and there is constant movement in this attempt at rest. Murray’s white terns are common in Australia and have striking blue/black beaks and black eyes.

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

White tern (Public domain photo from http://www.ozanimals.com/Bird/White-Tern/Gygis/alba.html)

We drove down to St Abbs Head on Sunday on a cold and damp winter’s day. It was grey all day and dark in the morning until 8am and dark again at 4pm. Despite this, we were well rugged up for a short walk, there was still plenty to see. The harbour, which still contains the now defunct lifeboat station, has fewer boats, with some on the shore for maintenance (see photos). The sea, of course, never stops and the waves were gently caressing the sea walls – the wind was light and south westerly, so no dramatic coastal scene on Sunday, but the sea still looked cold. There were some people about but you felt an absence – of tourists, divers and fishermen that throng the harbour in the summer.

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

St Abbs Head harbour in winter

Before walking to the harbour, we parked at the Nature Centre and visited the excellent Number Four Gallery. On the way to the gallery, I remarked that it would not be long until we saw snowdrops here. Looking down at the leaf strewn ground, there was no sign of growth, but when I pushed back some leaves, the green shoots of the snowdrops were well above the ground – see photo. I pushed the leaves back over the stems for protection. I remembered the final lines of Shelley’s Ode to the West Wind – “O Wind, / If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”. Apparently not, as the snowdrop growth looked strong and healthy and the green provided a good contrast to the ever-fading leaves from the trees, although some ivy leaves were still green.

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head

Emerging snowdrops at St Abbs Head