Tuesday, 17 October 2017

In Search of Autumn

October is marching on, and although I've settled into a 'sort of' routine I haven't managed to post as much as I would like. I think it has just taken me a little longer to adjust than I originally anticipated.
Life is very good, however, and with weekdays now being filled with work and school it has been even more important for us to make the most of our precious time together at the weekends. Therefore, when Lily came home from school last week with a little note requesting we go out and search for signs of Autumn, it didn't take much persuading for us to gather together our warm socks and boots and head off into the woods.
We ambled through the fields, which have become incredibly muddy over the last couple of weeks. Being careful of my footing I was very glad of my new 'sorry I forgot your birthday' field boots. The hedgerows are full of berries with bursts of red everywhere and there were still plenty of Rosehips for the picking, the birds having seen off the last of the elderberries. Although the sky was grey, the air was warm and still and it didn't take long for jackets to be removed.                         
Since our last walk the woodland floor had become covered with leaves. On the pathway beneath the now scant canopy of the trees they had turned brown and squelchy, but in the clearings where the track opened up there was a great variety of colour, the russet, yellow and orange underfoot in sharp contrast to looking upward at the black silhouette of the tree branches against the murky sky.
At this time of year my inner child never tires of kicking through the leaves, so when Lily is around I make the most of every opportunity, along with trying to catch some as they fluttered down on us from above. We gathered leaves of each colour to take into school along with a handful of conkers.
At the farm shop there was a gorgeous display of locally grown pumpkins for sale. I couldn't resist taking a photograph.
I think we found Autumn.
J. X

Sunday, 1 October 2017

Routine

We have finally reached the end of Lily's first week comprising of full days at school and thankfully all is still going well. 
Following some employment changes over the Summer months, as a family we have now settled into a new pattern which works for us and I am slowly realising that dealing with school paperwork, requests for my time and sudden changes to term dates etc. amounts to a full time job! It is never ending.
Lily appears to be keeping the teaching staff busy (there was a running rogue on to the school field incident!) and although she is thoroughly enjoying her days at school I can tell she misses the freedom of being outdoors, so I am keen to make up for this at the weekends to enable her to burn off some of her endless energy.
We've been out for some shorter, although lovely walks recently. The light is beautiful in the woods at this time of the year, the trees are beginning to shed their leaves now and it won't be long before we will be walking on a carpet of red and gold.
The Autumn Equinox (over a week ago now) brought with it some wetter weather, yet it is still fairly mild here. I have some gardening jobs which need completing once the weather decides to co-operate and the grass might need cutting back one last time.
I'm finding that I'm spending more time in the kitchen, which Autumn lends itself to so very well, filling the stores in anticipation of the Winter months. I finally got around to making my blackberry jam - five jars and enough blackberries left in the freezer for five more. I've made various soups and the daily packed lunch box always contains some delicious homemade flapjack or ginger biscuit.
I have started running again. Hurray! After several months of inactivity I decided (once I knew Lily was settled at school) to make a huge effort and went out for a short run every morning last week to give myself a kick start. It gave me such a boost and my plan is to go out running on only three days this week but to increase the distance slightly. I'm enjoying it so much and I didn't realise how much I had missed that time spent just for myself. So important, but easily overlooked.
As much as I am always so very ready for the Summer months to arrive, along with the freedom and unpredictability they seem to bring, I do find I'm now craving the routine and steadiness of these Autumn months.
J.X

Wednesday, 20 September 2017

One-pot Cooking - Shakshuka


Thank you all so much for your kind words and good wishes with regard to Lily's first week at school. It means so much and it's lovely knowing there are so many caring people around.
She looks forward to going each day and appears to have settled in well, returning most days with muddy trousers, which can only be a good sign where Lily is concerned. I'm gradually getting into the swing of the school run, rushed mornings and the daily checking of the book bag for the seemingly never ending stream of letters (which get sent by email anyway so I don't understand why they do this.) It's all good so far.
So, for a while now I have been promising the lovely Sheila I would post this recipe for her and finally, here it is!
Anyone who knows me knows I am not  natural in the kitchen and quite honestly I become all fingers and thumbs when it comes to attempting to juggle various pots and pans, get timings right or serve up in an attractive manner (me or the food!) ending up a bit frazzled and unable to properly enjoy my meal.
To this end I am a huge fan of one-pot cooking. I find this way of cooking far more relaxing and enjoyable. Being able to produce a delicious meal with a glass of wine in one hand and at the same time holding down a conversation can only be a good thing, right? Add to that a lot less washing up and I'm on a winner.
One of these dishes which has recently become a firm favourite is Shakshuka, a delicious Middle Eastern dish with flavours which can be adjusted to suit your own taste. There are various recipes online with suggestions for alternative ingredients but this is my favourite as it is so simple, fresh and tasty.


  
You will need,

1 onion
2 cloves of garlic
1 courgette
2 peppers
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
4 medium eggs
50g Feta cheese
1 teaspoon of smoked paprika
A little oil for frying
Fresh mint

Slice the onion, garlic, courgette and peppers and fry using a little oil for around 5 minutes. Add the tin of tomatoes and simmer for a further 10 minutes. Make 4 wells in the mixture and crack an egg into each one. Put the lid on the pan and cook for 8 minutes by which time the eggs will be cooked through but still soft in the middle. Sprinkle over the crumbled Feta and chopped mint and serve with some pitta or crusty bread.

 

I hope you enjoy this recipe, please do let me know if you try it.
J. X

Friday, 8 September 2017

Last days of Summer

As I write this it is a damp, grey day outdoors and it is time to finally accept that, for me at least, Summer is now over. I know we can still expect some warm sunny days ahead but the nights are getting longer now and there is a distinct coolness in the morning air.
I have so much enjoyed these late Summer days and really wanted to make the most of this precious time spent with Lily before she begins school next week.
Naturally one of our days was spent at the beach. I think it will be a while now before we will once again be wearing our shorts and running into the sea.
We've been walking and collecting  more blackberries and some elderberries. There have been so many this year. Some of the blackberries are currently being transformed into blackberry vodka while the rest are still in the freezer waiting to be become jam at some point during the coming week. The elderberries will be turned into syrup. It is delicious on porridge during the colder months and apparently it also has antiviral properties.
While we were in Settle, a couple of weeks ago, we called in at a lovely little toy shop where I picked up a colourful  pocket kite for Lily and when we were out walking last weekend it was breezy enough to try it out. Initially a little unsure of how it worked she soon got the hang of it and thoroughly enjoyed herself. Luckily there is no shortage of wide open spaces around here so I will keep the kite folded up in the rucksack in anticipation of the next flying opportunity.
Also, last weekend I made a brief foray into the world of cycling in order to try out our recent purchase of a trail-gator. I found I enjoyed it much more than I expected. It's been a few years since I was last on a bike, let alone one with another attached  to it and being told 'faster, faster!' We're hoping to get out again very soon, suffice to say I will be getting hold of some padded shorts before I do.
Yesterday I spent an hour sewing name labels into school uniform and this time next week Lily will have spent her very first week at school! I can't think where the time has gone. She seems excited but no doubt it will take her a while to settle in. She's certainly reached a stage where she is ready for new challenges and once she find her feet I'm sure she'll thrive. It doesn't stop me worrying though.
The changing of the seasons sees us finding a new routine to our days which, although very different from the freedom of the Summer months, is reassuring to return to at this time of year.
J. X

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

August

I'm sure you will understand the reason for my lack of posts this month. I have been the sole source of entertainment for a (very) lively four year old which, although tough going at times, has also been a enormous amount of fun.
This month has flown by.
When I initially booked our holiday for the end of July I naively thought the rest of the Summer would stretch on forever and yet now, here we are, almost at its end.
I've really enjoyed the time off and it seems that, once again, we've spent most of the month outdoors. I've made up endless picnics, cleaned muddy boots and swept up A LOT of sand.
We've visited the picturesque towns of Kirkby Lonsdale, Settle and Skipton, walked up Wansfell Pike, overlooking Ambleside and, of course, spent a lot of time at the beach.
In the middle of the month I spent my birthday by the lake at Grasmere. It was a gloriously sunny day and Lily and I had a wonderful time paddling at the soft shingle shoreline. Her confidence has grown in leaps and bounds over the Summer, mastering the zip wire and fireman's pole at the local park and learning to read. We have spent so much time together it is going to be such a wrench when she starts at school in a couple of weeks time.
We've collected plenty of blackberries. Or rather I collected blackberries while Lily stood and kept me company. They are in abundance around here this year and I have a freezer drawer full of them just waiting to be made into jam and possibly some blackberry vodka.
Over the last week the weather has hinted at Autumn, but with the temperatures set to rise again towards the weekend I will be making the most of Summer while it lasts.
J. X

Thursday, 10 August 2017

A Week on Arran

Looking back now I can't remember what made us decide on Arran for our Summer holiday this year, but I'm so glad we did.
Far away from the hustle and bustle, some breathtaking scenery, quaint little villages, quiet sandy beaches and an abundance of wildlife. Arran is a beautiful island and offered everything we could have wanted from our holiday and is so easily accessible we were left wondering why we had never visited before.
Our week began with a short ferry crossing from Ardrossan to Brodick. This takes just under an hour, but plenty of time to relax, enjoy a coffee and catch our first glimpse of the island as we approached.
Our cottage was lovely with views to the sea and Kintyre peninsula and we had been left a welcome gift of fresh bread from the village bakery, locally produced cheese and chutney and some free range eggs from a nearby farm. Delicious, and they didn't last long!
On our first evening we took a short drive up the coast and were thrilled with our first sighting of a seal. We stood watching it for a while in the warm evening air. It was so quiet, there was no breeze and even the sea was incredibly still.
Most mornings after enjoying a leisurely breakfast we went out walking before it became too hot. There were so many walks to choose from on the island. Over the week we walked some of the coastal way, through woodland and up onto hillsides. We enjoyed a visit to the King's caves, the rugged and imposing cliffs at Drumadoon point and to the stunning Glenashdale Falls and Giant's Graves at Whiting Bay, taking in some amazing views over towards Holy Isle. Lunch was always a picnic usually followed by time on the beach.
Our favourite was the beach at Kildonan on the South of the island. Kildonan is a small village which overlooks the tiny island of Pladda with Ailsa Craig beyond. The golden sandy beach stretches around the bay to rocky shores which attract seals and otters. Lily was so happy to run in and out of the crystal clear sea, clamber on rocks - 'I'm on my own island!' and make sandcastles. Simple childhood pleasures which, I think, make a holiday.
We indulged in just a tiny bit of retail therapy when we visited Arran: Sense of Scotland (formerly Arran Aromatics) where I purchased some gorgeous scented candles and soap and, of course, a trip to the Distillery at Lochranza resulted in a bottle of Whisky.
In the evenings we would return to the cottage, enjoy a drink in the garden followed by a simple but tasty dinner, talk, read, and later spend some time in the Jacuzzi, gazing out to sea enjoying the stunning sunsets with an accompanying glass of wine.
The pace of life on the island was wonderfully slow and easy. Nowhere was busy or crowded. There was space, peace (when Lily was quiet), so much sky, and I can honestly say it had been a while since I had felt so relaxed.
Arran, we will return.
J. X

Monday, 31 July 2017

Holiday

There's nothing quite like a Summer holiday. A chance to get away from it all and unwind.
The excitement for me begins when I start browsing the internet for places to stay and visit, closely followed by confirming the bookings and making travel arrangements.
Nearer the time this is accelerated as I then decide what to pack in my suitcase. A book to read, sun cream, how many pairs of shorts? and for holidays in this country a handy waterproof and a sweater!
Last week was our Summer holiday and, although still exciting, in reality the build up to going away as a family can be quite a frantic time of organising, lists and getting those last minute errands done on time.
Thankfully we enjoyed a wonderful and relaxing week away from the moment we drove onto the ferry. We had some glorious weather; blue skies, sunshine and warm breezes. I read my book, enjoyed some internet free time (no Wi-Fi) and on one of our beach days my legs turned a little bit pink! Proper holiday stuff.
Mornings were easy. We took time over breakfast and didn't rush anywhere. We filled our days with walking, hanging out at the beach and enjoying each others company without distractions.
The sea air did an amazing job of knocking us out and after a glass of wine in an evening we would sit in the Jacuzzi and watch the sunset, it was blissful. As is often the case we were very reluctant to return home.
We now have six weeks until school starts and I'm sure there is much more fun to be had in the meanwhile, but for this year our holiday is over. I have a funny feeling that one evening this week I will be found looking at ideas for next Summer. Maybe once I've vacuumed all the sand out of the car.
J. X

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Strawberry Jam


This year, much to my disappointment, our strawberry plants did not provide us with a bountiful harvest. We only managed to pick five!
Thankfully, our local greengrocer has had a plentiful supply of tasty Scottish strawberries at a very reasonable price which have provided us with some fruity deliciousness over the Summer months.
Is it just me or have this year's strawberries been particularly flavoursome? Tasting like strawberries should taste. Maybe it's been down to the extra sunshine we've been having. I'd like to think so.
The strawberry season is now coming to an end, so in order for us to be able to enjoy them for just a little while longer I decided to turn some into jam.
I used to think jam making was some kind of magical art, created in farmhouse kitchens and involving lots of specialist equipment, but I've recently discovered it is far more straight forward than I first thought. In fact it really isn't complicated at all. Just as long as you don't spill it over the kitchen work surface - that's when things can get very sticky!
To make this jam you need 950g strawberries, 800g granulated sugar and the juice of one lemon. This makes approximately three jars.
Hull and slice the strawberries and then crush them in the bottom of a large stockpot or heavy based saucepan using a potato masher.
Add the lemon juice and sugar then transfer to the stove top gradually increasing the temperature and stirring regularly until the sugar dissolves, then bring to a rolling boil.
Allow to boil for around ten minutes then transfer (carefully) into sterilised jars.
Just delicious served with freshly baked buttered scones and even better outdoors in the sunshine.
J. X

Friday, 14 July 2017

Time Out

The general chaos of the last week of term is fast approaching, so in an attempt to create some sense of equilibrium before the forthcoming onslaught of the year end party, sports day, pyjama day and graduation (yes, really!) we have been spending time doing what we love most - getting outdoors.
We've grasped at every opportunity to get out and about and enjoy the sunny days and have been rewarded with some beautiful places and gorgeous views.
Some days were planned for and others were on the spur of the moment ideas. Work and some other mundane aspects of daily life have been taking their toll lately so a change of scenery was just the tonic we needed.
We juggled work, finishing off some outside chores and pre-school, scrabbled picnics together at short notice and off we went.
I am trying really hard not to think about the state the house is in due to a lack of cleaning and tidying. I've been doing the bare minimum to see us through and it shows. Never mind, unless the housework fairies have been to call it will still be there waiting for me. I'm letting the dust settle, literally, because for now the sky is blue and the sea is warm and we're busy having fun.
J. X