Monday 10 October 2011

Rhubarb & Cinnamon Cake

Gone are the days when I spent hours during the summer months slaving over a hot oven to fulfill cake and pudding orders for my visitors.  However, there is still always cake of some sort to welcome you on arrival.  This one has proved popular and I have had several requests for the recipe.  The version pictured is apple and rhubarb because, thanks to John and Zoe, I have lots of apples to use.

This can be made with any fruit you like - it is especially good with plums.  The rhubarb version is the one I make most because rhubarb grows well in my garden and people who claim they are not too keen on rhubarb, think that this is pretty good.  You could try cherries, peaches, gooseberries or pears too.

2.5 ounces of Soft Margarine or butter
4 ounces of white or wholemeal self raising flour
1 ounce of white or brown sugar
0.5 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 large egg

Enough fruit to cover the base generously

3 ounces of sugar 
1 ounce of flour
0.5 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
1 ounce soft margarine or butter

Put all the base ingredients in a food processor and whizz to make a soft dough.  If you don't have a food processor you'll have to do it the hard way.
Grease and Line 7" square tin or dish (I don't bother to line a ceramic dish).
Put the base dough in the tin and top with fruit, peeled, chopped, sliced or stoned depending on what you are using.
Put the crumble ingredients in the food processor (don't bother to wash the blade or bowl after making the base - the ingredients are more or less the same) and pulse until it looks like crumble.  Sprinkle over fruit.

Bake in oven Gas 4, 180C (conventional oven - adjust for fan oven) for about 50 minutes.

Double up the ingredients.  Use a 9" baking dish or tin and cook for an hour.  It freezes well.

Serve warm or cold with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.  Eat and enjoy


Wednesday 5 October 2011

Seafield Goes Greener

I've always loved the cost and quality advantage of home made over shop bought – or maybe that is another way of admitting to a more than healthy dose of thriftiness. If I had thought of it, reduce, re-use and recycle would have been my mantra long ago. We baby boomers have enjoyed a life of ever increasing affluence, benefiting from what we didn't realise were fantastically cheap house prices and power and a time when astonishing technological advances made an ever increasing choice of consumer durables for the home available to everyone. And yet deep, or in my case, not so deep in our psyches is the World War 2 mentality of make do and mend, dig for victory and don't throw anything away unless it is completely past it – and frequently, not even then. I have tins of string, jars of rubber bands, boxes of buttons, collections of carefully folded wrapping paper and despite a recent cull, a plastic box mountain of european proportions. 
Woodburning Stove at Kirkland Lodge
The Green movement suited me down to the ground. A way of spending less and being lauded for my environmental concerns rather than castigated for my meanness. The light bulbs were changed for low energy, never mind that in our less than tropically heated house they take some time to give more than a dim glow and fail to fulfill their promise of long life. The loft is heavy with insulation, the windows are double glazed and woolly jumpers are de rigeur when the temperatures drop.
Log Boiler and Insulated Hot Water Storage Tanks
In 2007, being ever more concerned by the rapidly rising cost of LPG to run our central heating and a boiler which was starting to make strange noises, we decided to install a log fired boiler to provide heating for the house, cottages and workshop. Surrounded by trees on our own land and Knapdale Forest, free logs rather than costly chips or pellets seemed the way forward. Offcuts from the sawmill add to the stocks so rather than hand over vast amounts of money, we have taken on vast amounts of work to supply the fire monster in the boiler house. Our dismay when, in a bid to deal with overheating, visitors ignore the thermostats in preference for open windows and jumper removal, is now motivated by the work rather than the cost of providing the heat. We may not do it all with a hand axe and bow saw but it still requires effort which we would rather use in the pursuit of keeping cottages cosy, than in the impossible task of warming the whole of Argyll.
Firewood Pallets - each one provides about 10 days of heating
Now we have joined the ranks of the Kilowatt Bores. The hot topic at dinner parties (if we ever get invited to any) will not be the state of the economy or house prices but how many kilowatts we have generated from our photo voltaic solar panels. Our lovely slate roof has been partially covered with fifteen shiny panels which, in theory, with unbroken sunshine shining at exactly the right angle, could generate 3.75 kilowatts of electricity per hour. We could have had the full 4 kw with sixteen panels but that would have left one panel on its own and aesthetics won over maximum generating potential. My new hobby will be attempting to use as much of the power generated to maximise the savings on the electricity bill as well as gaining from the feed in tariff. Sadly this will mean slaving over a hot oven, hoovering or doing the ironing whenever the sun is shining – or maybe not.
Solar Panels on Stable Cottage Roof
 Earth Fuel Scotland installed the panels and did a great job. It would be nice to be able to say that the sun came out as soon as we were plugged into the grid but instead, the panels got well soaked by a rain shower. But even during the late afternoon, post rain gloom, the meter stopped turning and for a short while before darkness set in, at least some of the power going into the fridge and freezer was home grown.

And the forecast for this week? Showers and rain giving way to torrential downpours. It might be a while before our investment pays for itself.  In the meantime, I'll keep saving string.

Friday 10 June 2011

Isle of Gigha

We have had our campervan for six years and slept in it for a grand total of 10 nights.  It was a long held but hugely impractical dream of mine to have a 'proper' old style VW camper.  When this Transporter van appeared in the local paper during a spell of fantastic summer weather, with friends waxing lyrical about their campervan experiences, we got carried away and bought it on the spot.  With a son aged fourteen at the time whose dreams did not include being jammed in a small campervan with his parents; holiday cottages, chickens and a large garden to attend to during the summer months, I'm not sure when we thought we would use it.  It has been useful for moving furniture, taking baskets to craft fairs, being an emergency vehicle when others were in the garage, taking the lawnmower down to Kirkland and moving aforementioned son in and out of various student accommodations but as far as holidays on the open road go, it's been a bit of a dead loss.  Several luxury holidays in far flung sunny places could have been paid for with what it has cost to keep the old van on the road.
Following John and Zoe's wedding, we thought we would treat ourselves to a holiday in the campervan at the end of May.  The original plan was to head north to the Uists for three weeks.  House sitters were arranged and the North West of Scotland would be our oyster.  Various things happened and the holiday was reduced to two weeks, eventually becoming an eight day break on the island of Gigha.  The change of plan was not without advantage - only an hour's journey to get to the ferry at Tayinloan and economical on diesel.  Gigha is a beautiful and manageable island being only six miles long and travelling over water always adds to the holiday atmosphere.
 May and June are generally our best summer months in Argyll.  The days are long and often gloriously sunny.  Not this year.  The wind which had threatened to blow John and Zoe's wedding marquee away in April, continued to be a feature.  Our holiday vision was of sitting outside in the sunshine, barbecuing fresh fish for dinner and just relaxing, away from the never ending list of jobs at home.  We were certainly able to relax; spending many hours sitting inside the van, reading, sleeping and eating, wondering when the howling gales might allow us to get outside.  At night it was like sleeping on a boat, the campervan rocking alarmingly in the wind.  
 We enjoyed meals at The Boathouse and the Gigha Hotel.  The Gallery has lots of lovely crafts and art and regular exhibitions.  Sitting watching the wind turbines spin gave us hours of entertainment and a walk up to the trig point was the only time I have ever been blown up a hill.  
Having discovered that there is no trout fishing on Gigha, James ventured to the mainland for a fishing trip.  We had a day trip to Campbeltown by bus.  Luckily our visit coincided with Springbank Distillery's Open Day with free tours and tastings.  Our 'free' day became expensive, when, relaxed and cheered by our complimentary drams, we came away with four bottles of cask strength single malt whisky.  Somehow we kept forgetting which one we liked the best and additional tastings only served to confuse us further so we had to buy them all. 
 Achamore Gardens were a delight and wonderfully sheltered from the wind.  We wandered about all by ourselves, not another person to be seen, just this friendly pig.  It was like stepping into 'The Secret Garden'.
 The highlight of the week was an Auction and lunch at the Village Hall on a particularly foul day.  The food was amazing. There were delicious soups - I had seafood chowder, with rolls filled to bursting with fantastic local produce.  Endless cups of tea and coffee with wonderful home baking and puddings.  The Auction was fun and raised a good sum for the Gardens.
In the evening we were entertained in the pub by Henri from the Gallery on Mandola, Graham on Chromatic accordion and Micky, head gardener at Achamore Gardens on Mandolin.
The sun did shine some of the time and the weather was entertainingly dramatic rather than grey and dreary.  The islanders were friendly, helpful and welcoming. We were given lifts by locals when caught out by the ferocious showers on our walks to and from the ferry. On what we thought would be our day of departure, the ferry was stormbound so we had an extra day on the island looking out at the dramatic seas battering on the shore. It's a fabulous place to visit and if you have bicycles you can take them on the ferry for free.

Wednesday 8 June 2011

John and Zoe Get Married at Seafield

The last wedding at Seafield was in 2008 when James and I finally got around to getting married on rocks overlooking Loch Sween with a guest list of twelve and a reception in the boat shed. The ceremony was conducted by our friend and Humanist Celebrant, Annie.

When my eldest son John and his girlfriend Zoe became engaged, they decided they would like something similar, here at Seafield but with around 50 or 60 guests, a marquee on the lawn and the ceremony in the field. Not quite the simple event I had in mind.

It is quite terrifying but also an enormous privilege to be entrusted with hosting the wedding of your son and future daughter in law. It might have been completely daunting had I not known how much work Zoe and her Mum were putting into the arrangements from their homes in Cheshire.

The wedding was nearly completely home made - with an enormous amount of help from friends and family on both sides. Flowers, cake, marquee dressing, food, music - everything was done 'in house' and the result was stunning. Weddings can be a source of enormous stress and conflict but John and Zoe's was conducted in a fantastic spirit of co-operation, laughter and joy. Once again Annie conducted the ceremony beautifully. The sun shone all day, wellies were not required and the dancing went on until four in the morning. A fantastic day to remember and treasure - I almost wish we could do it all again - almost.

Monday 14 February 2011

Winter Arrives Early

For years our winters have mostly been green, damp and dreary. After the freezing conditions of early 2010, we were not expecting a repeat performance at the end of the same year. Once again, water supplies froze up and we were glad of our firewood stocks to keep ourselves and our visitors warm.

The cold clear air gave us stunning views of the area and beautiful sunsets. We are lucky to have fantastic walks around Achnamara and rarely feel the need to go further afield. Loch Sween froze over completely at Achnamara; a sight not seen for many years.
The freshwater lochs were covered with a thick layer of ice for several weeks.

The winter solstice coincided with a lunar eclipse and Kilmartin House Museum organised a guided walk around some of the Cairns and Stone Circles of Kilmartin Glen. The cold was toe numbing but the atmosphere and the sunrise were worth the discomfort. Cups of coffee and sausage sandwiches in the museum cafe helped revive the intrepid souls who braved the elements at 8.00 am.

The thaw started on Christmas morning so after weeks of very festive, Christmas Card weather, green grass began to show through the snow. January was unseasonably mild but after the extra work and stress of freezing conditions I have vowed never to complain about rain and mud ever again.

Now we are well into February and the days are beginning to lengthen and signs of spring are appearing. The hens are starting to lay again and we hope to raise some new chicks in a few weeks. The cockerel has proved to be extremely bad tempered so as soon as we have a batch of his progeny, he will make a very delicious casserole. Newts have appeared in the ditch next to the road up to Seafield Loch. Blue tits are emptying the peanut feeder as quickly as we can fill it and there are delightful drifts of snowdrops in woodland and churchyards.

We have not had any sightings of beavers for some time due to the long hours of darkness and for a few weeks they will have been laying low in their lodges. Now the ice has melted and temperatures risen, their activities are easy to spot. According to the minutes of a meeting of the Species re-introduction Forum in August, the juvenile male on Loch Linne has dispersed from its family group but we have had no information on this from the Beaver Trial Team. Hopefully, we will learn more at the next stakeholder meeting in March. The lodge on Loch Linne is covered with de-barked sticks to the beavers must be using it as a feeding station as well as living quarters.