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

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Sunny Saturday

Last Saturday I was all set for a relaxing morning. No rushing about, just a few chores needed completing to be followed by a quick trip into the local town in order to buy a new swimsuit for Lily, when out of the blue came a request for a trip into Liverpool.  Within the hour I had a picnic lunch made up and we were on our way.
Of course, being a weekend it was bustling with activity. It was a beautiful day and it seemed like the whole city was out enjoying the sunshine just as we were.
Errands quickly out of the way, we ate our lunch and wandered up to the cathedral. At first glance, from our approach, it wasn't overly impressive to look at but inside it is such an amazing building with the most stunning stained glass windows. I was so glad we had taken the opportunity to have a look around for once.
Next stop was Keel Wharf and the Albert Dock. It was the busiest I have ever seen it. Lots of tourists  and a continuous stream of open top bus tours. 
We decided it would be a great opportunity to take a ride on the Wheel of Liverpool. I'm not a fan of heights but it was such a clear day and we were able to see some really lovely views of the city that I was soon able to relax and enjoy it.
A quick turn on the Victorian carousel by the Pump House followed by coffee and the obligatory  browse around John Lewis and we were on our way home again, barely having stopped for breath. It had been a very enjoyable, albeit impromptu, day out.
Oh! And if you're wondering if, after all that, we managed to get a new swimsuit, Lily was given a choice between a rather tasteful blue and white striped number and a lurid pink one depicting two flamingos wearing sunglasses! Guess which one came home with us? 
 J. X

Friday, 30 June 2017

This and That


It's been an ordinary old week here. I've been keeping busy with this and that but I don't appear to have an awful lot to show for it. Summer has made a swift retreat for the time being, which means I am, once again, reaching for my jeans and sweaters.                             
Thankfully, unless the weather has been far too wet, we've still managed to get out and about.
The start of the week was lovely and bright, so to make the most of it we went to the beach. I hadn't counted on it being so windy though, which made it feel quite chilly at times. The cold did not stop Lily going for a paddle, however. I'm now finding sand in all sorts of places and seashells in random pockets of various jackets and bags.
I've been out running along the country lanes. A familiar route which I love. With just the cows, sheep, horses and wildlife for company it felt so invigorating. A large Heron took off from the stream as I ran past. Not a bad way to spend a morning, I just wish I had the opportunity to enjoy it more regularly.
I made some very tasty flapjack using my favourite recipe which was well received and is now all gone! I still haven't got back into baking as often as I should. In fact I've become a bit lazy in that department. I do get that way from time to time, then before I know it I'm back at it, struggling to find enough storage tins for all the cakes and biscuits I've made - not that they ever last long in this house.
Midweek, I went out for tapas with my closest friend. It was the quirkiest little restaurant I have ever been to. I would like to say it was authentic but authentic to what? I'm not quite sure. The d├ęcor was nothing I have ever previously experienced and included plastic grapes, coloured lights and artificial Christmas tree branches! The food, however, was absolutely delicious and conversation flowed as only it can with such good friends. We don't get to meet up as often as we would like so really appreciate it when we do.
I finished the cushion cover which I was part way through making in my previous post. It was so simple but I really like it. I think it's the colour. I do love a dusky pink. I might even make a couple more.
To round off the week, and the month I suppose, we went for a short walk. The Meadowsweet are now in flower here and line the pathway alongside the stream. The elderberries are starting to grow, any flowers left being past their best and to Lily's delight the raspberries are beginning to ripen.
So that's it. That's been my week. Now it's all written down I guess there has been more going on than I first thought.
J. X


Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Bright Sunshiny Days

Oh, I'm so easily pleased. Sunshine and balmy hot days make me very, very happy indeed. Hasn't it been glorious? From waking up in the morning with a room flooded with sunlight, to long days spent outdoors ending with evenings relaxing in the garden. 
Naturally, we have been making the most of every moment as, of course, this beautiful weather is likely to change any day now.
We've been at the beach, enjoyed a picnic, explored the rock pools and idled the day away. Having heard how busy some beaches were at the weekend I was pleasantly surprised by just how quiet it was.
We ventured slightly further afield and enjoyed a walk somewhere we would never have thought to visit before, through the fields, along country lanes and old canal towpaths. Beautiful scenery.
Mostly, however, we have been spending time in the garden. We've had the paddling pool out which, incidentally, is THE best way of keeping cool in this weather, especially as most of the water gets splashed over anyone within close range. Any left over by the evening is used to water the plants.
Our tent has been checked over, aired and tent pegs replaced in hopeful anticipation of enjoying the occasional camping trip during the summer break.
Sitting in the garden has also enabled me to pick up my crochet hook again. I'm not creating anything exciting, just a cushion cover, but it's a lovely way to unwind.
To avoid too much time cooking and having the oven unnecessarily warming the house, I've been keeping meals simple. We've eaten pasta, quick paella and this evening we'll be eating mushroom and spinach omelette with salad. I do love how this weather lends itself to eating healthily without any real effort. I'm drinking lots of water too. I'm hoping my body will thank me for it.
I have so many things I need to be getting on with - hedge cutting, painting the front door and sweeping the drive to name but a few, but they will have to wait. I'm enjoying this weather while it lasts. After all this could be the only Summer we get!
J. X




Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Elderflower Cordial

I'm not sure where the lovely Summer weather has disappeared to this week but I would really, really, very much like it back please. It has turned grey and cool here once again, so I am very happy that I was able to make this year's elderflower cordial while the sun was shining.
It was a beautiful sunny day when we walked through the fields gathering the elderflowers from the hedgerows.  We, of course, being me and Lily - my partner in crime. I love that she enjoys being outdoors and is more than happy to walk by my side and listen as I ramble on with my very limited plant knowledge.  
The gorgeous elderflowers are in abundance at the moment and are so easy to spot with their frothy, creamy-white flower heads. To make cordial they are best freshly picked on a dry day and when the buds have just opened.
Just as I thought, it didn't take long to collect the twenty five flower heads we needed but we continued on our walk regardless, embracing the warm weather, blue skies and fields filled with Buttercups.
On our return home I rinsed the elderflowers to remove any little insects and set about making the cordial. This recipe is my favourite and makes about 1½ litres of cordial. It is so simple to make and once diluted makes for a refreshing drink with, I think, just the perfect balance of citrus and floral flavours.
You will need :
1.2 kg granulated sugar
1 unwaxed lemon (zest and slice)
25 freshly picked elderflower heads
40g citric acid
Put the sugar and 750mls water into a pan and heat gently until the sugar dissolves. Bring to the boil then immediately remove from the heat.
Add the citric acid, sliced lemon, zest and elderflower heads and give it a good stir. Leave to infuse for 24hrs.
Line a colander or large sieve with muslin, strain the mixture through, discarding the bits and decant into a sterilised bottle.
It is very concentrated so you don't need much. I find it is most delicious mixed with sparkling spring water but it has been recommended I try it with Prosecco so I will definitely be trying that- thank you Selma.
It is a delightful taste of Summer in a glass. A little bit of bottled sunshine.
J. X