Achiltibuie

What a way to start the holidays!

 D and I are just back from an amazing few days camping near Achiltibue on the west coast of Scotland.  We saw otters!!!!!  I have promised D not to disclose the exact location but if you really want to know, do get in touch. 

I’m shattered from all the fresh air and exercise so I’ll let the pictures do most of the talking.

Dark skies and cold winds on the journey across.  Felt like we were travelling through Mordor at times!

On arriving in Achiltibue it took some time for us to find the perfect place to camp but after a trek we found it.  The views were amazing (video here).

 We set up our tent;

Located the shower room;

Set up the kitchen;

Said hello to the neighbours;

And relaxed.  :)

Ginger and Turmeric Fish


foods 048

Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

Holidays start tomorrow! Six weeks and three days free from a 50 mile (roundtrip) commute and piles of marking begins at 12 noon.

To celebrate the beginning of our holiday, D and I are going to leave school and drive straight to the west coast (Achnaherd, probably) to camp on the beach for a couple of nights. We’ll be bringing our bikes, a BBQ and a bottle of bubbly. Wonderful!

In keeping with my summery mood I offer the following recipe. Not only is it light and quick to prepare, the tangy but sweet sauce is also a beautiful golden colour. Perfect for a June evening. :)

Ginger and Turmeric Fish

2 large fillets of firm white fish (I used Pacific cod), skinned and cut into large chunks
1 tblspn walnut oil
1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
3 spring onions, cut into 2cm pieces
Thumb of ginger, peeled and very finely chopped
1 tblspn brown sugar
1 tblspn fish sauce
1 tblspn turmeric
Juice of ½ a lemon
250 ml chicken or vegetable stock
Generous grind of black pepper
1 yellow pepper, deseeded and thinly sliced
2 tblspn dried mushrooms
1 tblspn cornflour

  • Soak the mushrooms in a 20ml of warm water and set aside.
  • Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan over a medium low heat. Add garlic, ginger, spring onion and sugar. Cook for 3 mins until flavours have started to blend.
  • Add stock, turmeric, fish sauce, lemon juice and pepper. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and simmer for 2 mins.
  • Drain the mushrooms (reserving water). Add the mushrooms and yellow pepper to the pan. Cook for 2 mins.
  • Mix the cornflour with the reserved mushroom liquid and mix to a paste. Add to the pan and stir well.
  • Add the chunks of fish to the liquid and stir carefully to coat fish in the golden sauce. Cook for 3 mins more.
  • Serve with plain rice.

Iron-tastic Ruby Red Grapefruit & Baby Spinach Salad


foods 021
Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

Lots of good things have happened this year already. Too many to list, really. But, without a doubt, the absolute best thing that has happened to me in the last six months is this: I discovered that I have a severe iron deficiency.

For years and years I have been absolutely exhausted most of the time. And I’ve always thought this was totally normal. I put my constant fatigue down to a crazy work life. So I couldn’t stay awake after 9pm at night? So I needed several days to get over a day of activity? So if I didn’t get 10 hours sleep per night I couldn’t function? That was normal, right? WRONG! It’s not!

When I mentioned one day to my doctor that my hair had started to snap off she did some tests. It turned out that I had an extremely low iron reserve count and so I was put on an very high dosage of iron tablets. All I expected was to have my hair grow in healthier. What I got was my energy back.

I feel great! And I didn’t even know I felt crap in the first place!

In a bid to maintain my new vigour I am supplementing my daily 1200 mg of Ferrous Sulphate with an iron rich diet. Lots of green vegetables, red meat and red wine. Sounds like my kind of diet. ;)

Apparently the body can have difficulty soaking up iron from leafy greens. Eating vitamin C rich foods along with these vegetables can improve this absorption. Which is why I can often be found snacking on the following salad.

It’s very pretty too.

Ruby Red Grapefruit & Baby Spinach Salad

Large handful of baby spinach
1 ruby red grapefruit
Black olives
Extra virgin olive oil
Black pepper

  • Remove peel from grapefruit using a knife. Half the fruit and remove all pith. Some juice should have seeped from the fruit at this point. Pour this into a small bowl.
  • Add a tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil and a good grinding of black pepper to the grapefruit juice. Mix well using a fork.
  • In a bowl toss the spinach and dressing until the leaves are lightly coated. Remove the spinach to a large plate.
  • Add grapefruit slices and olives and a little more pepper.

Braised Fennel for a Weary Camper


Braised Fennel

Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

Just back from a very wet weekend in Glen Tanar. It rained heavily and constantly from the moment I left Inverness until I arrived back today. Not the perfect conditions for camping and a BBQ one might think. But one would be wrong!

The barbeque was dragged into a dilapidated old stable. The holes in the roof let the smoke out and we had a perfect cooking area. Outside we erected a tarpaulin shelter under which we chatted and ate and drank and eventually danced into the wee hours.

And the best bit? Listening to the rain pitter patter on the tent as I fell asleep. Wonderful. I am now a fan of camping. D will be delighted.

After a weekend of excess dinner this evening had to be light: braised fennel with steamed salmon. This is my favourite way to eat my favourite vegetable. The fennel’s flavour is enhanced by the slow cooking and the butter gives this dish a wonderfully luxurious edge.

Braised Fennel
(for 2)

2 medium fennel bulbs, fronds and stalks removed (keep fronds)
30 g butter
200ml stock
Salt and pepper

  • Half the bulbs length ways and slice into 1cm wide strips. Wash and dry thoroughly.
  • Melt butter in heavy based pan.
  • When the butter starts to turn brown and smell nutty add the fennel strips.
  • Cook gently for 10 mins, stirring frequently to ensure all sides are cooked in the butter.
  • Add enough stock to cover the bottom of the pan and cover with a tight fitting lid.
  • Simmer over a very low heat for 20 mins. You may need to add a little more stock.
  • When ready the golden fennel should be entirely soft with just in a little buttery stock remaining. Sprinkle with the fronds.
  • Season very carefully.

Lavender Cocktails


Lavender

Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

This weekend I’m heading down to the Glen Tanar Estate in Deeside. Thankfully, I will not be traipsing through scratchy heather counting grumpy capercailles as I was last time I visited the area (saw a grand total of zero). Instead, I’ll be joining friends for a leaving party: Keith is moving to Mexico. To mark the occasion we are all going to camp out on the estate and have a big BBQ. Unfortunately, the weather forecast is absolutely appalling! Rain all day and a low of 1oC at night. Hmmmm…

I refuse to be disheartened by this though. I’m armed with my lavender syrup and ready to make everyone a summery cocktail to drink in the rain. D thinks this is hilarious – “Camping equals beer, Wendy. Not girly cocktails!” I disagree. :-P

Thank you to the Inadvertent Gardener for the lavender syrup idea.

Lavender Cocktails

For the Lavender Syrup

1 cup water
1 cup sugar
2 tbspn lavender flowers, bashed in a mortar and pestle

  • Boil the water and sugar until the sugar dissolves.
  • Add the lavender and simmer for 20 mins.
  • Strain into a jar.

For the Lavender Cocktail

1 part lavender syrup
1 part vodka
4 parts soda water
Squeeze of lemon
Ice

  • Pour syrup, vodka and soda over ice. Add lemon to taste.

The Games!

Cakes Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

  

At noon things were not looking good. Not only was the rain bucketing down on the Highland Games arena, our main tent had blown down in the gales. The wild weather meant the school’s stage could not be taken outside and the Highland dancers worried that their delicate foot pumps would become sodden dancing on the wet grass. Only two stalls were set up. From the staffroom window where I stood the sports field looked empty and distinctly wintry.

We were all concerned about the weather preventing activities from taking place.  We were especially worried that the weather would deter people from coming. Despite this, everyone was determined to make the best of the situation and enjoy the night no matter what happened.

And what happened was that the rain stopped and the wind dropped. The clouds remained but the temperature rose. Food, craft and games stalls sprung up out of nowhere. A lorry trailer was brought in and used as a covered stage for the bands and dancers. Police dogs arrived. An assault course appeared. Bands set up their instruments. Barbeques were lit. The gates were opened. And people came in droves to the Alness Academy Highland Games. :)  

It was a spectacularly good night. The teamwork and efforts of the pupils and staff was phenomenal. I’ve always been delighted to be a part of the school but last night I was bursting with pride.

For the majority of the night I was on duty selling tickets and directing traffic but I did have some time to wander around and soak up the atmosphere. The vast majority of the crowd were locals which created a real sense of community, one that is becoming rare these days. It was fun to meet the families of the kids and to bump into ex-pupils. I laughed to see two local boys, known in school for being rough lads, walking around proudly with a pair of perfectly groomed toy poodles – “This one took first place in the Toy category, Miss,” one proudly told me.

The tearoom was a roaring success. There were was a vast selection of goodies ranging from traditional scones and crispy cakes to quirky sugared mice and continental biscotti. I asked how my cakes had sold and was delighted to discover that not only Holler’s Mum’s fruitcake and Johanna’s grubs had been snapped up quickly, the chocolate brownies that I fretted over had been extremely popular too!

Just as the games were coming to an end the heavens opened and the rain came down but those of us who remained didn’t care much about getting wet. I ended the night dressed in an inflatable sumo wrestlers costume bouncing in the pouring rain to one of the school’s rock bands.

A perfect end to an amazing night.

Today everyone is exhausted. Staff and pupils alike are wandering the corridors with tired, happy smiles on their faces, eating the leftover cakes and talking about how we’ll make the event even better next year.

Fool Proof Baking


Fruit Loaf
Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

A lazy post tonight. But a happy one. My baking panic is over.

The Highland Games take place tomorrow night and, despite yesterday’s disasters, I have managed to make some cakes! Hooray!

A massive thanks to Holler from Tinned Tomatoes and Johanna from Green Gourmet Giraffe for providing me with the following idiot proof cake recipes. They both turned out perfectly.  :)

Here are their recipes:

Holler’s Mum’s Fruit Loaf

Here, is my mum’s fruit loaf, it has never failed me yet. You may even enjoy it yourself, as it is more spicy than sweet and lovely and moist! You could served it sliced or as a whole loaf.
Pop all these ingredients into a large pot.
1/4 block of butter
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
1 cup sultanas
1 tsp ground mixed spice
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1tsp ground ginger
1 tsp baking soda
Bring to the boil and set aside to cool.
Once cool, add 1 cup plain flour, 1 cup of self raising and 1 medium egg.
Mix together and pour into a loaf tin.
Bake in a preheated oven at 150C in the centre of the oven for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours. Insert a skewer or something else that is long and pointy (no rude comments please). If it comes out clean, it is ready.
It is lovely warm, spread with butter (I think that is a Scottish thing to do!)

Johanna’s Grubs

My favourite [no bake] is what I called grubs as a child.
A tin of condensed milk – about 400g
2-3 tbsp cocoa
2/3 – 1 pkt rich tea biscuits bashed to crumbs
1/2 cup coconut
Mix it all together, roll into small balls and roll them in coconut.
Tastes great and is so easy – except when a cat lies on a plate of them (oh, yes it happened once).

Thank you again!

Marshmallows and Mayhem


Marshmallows

Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

It appears I cannot bake.

On Wednesday night my school is holding a Highland Games. If the weather is good (you never can tell in Scotland) we expect around 5,000 people to turn up. Exciting stuff! Miss McDonald is hosting a tea-room tent and has asked for lots of baking donations from the school’s staff. Being the keen cook that I am, I happily announced that I would be delighted to make a large amount of goodies.

It is now clear to me that I didn’t really think this offer through… I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, therefore, do not bake at home. Ever. I wasn’t terribly concerned about this. Yes, I’d heard that baking is a science but, arrogantly, I didn’t believe it! I can cook, thought I, therefore I can bake.

Idiot.

The brownies I made, Nigella Lawson recipe, are inedibly rich.

Though my carrot cake mixture came together nicely I ruined it with the genius idea of baking them in a muffin tin. Individual carrot cakes – cute, right? On placing the filled tin in the oven the mixture expanded and overflowed all over the tray creating a bubbling sticky layer all over the tin which dribbled over the sides hissing as it hit my new CLEAN oven’s base.

My fairy cake mixture melted in the heat as I was trying to rescue the carrot cake(s) and was reduced to a greasy juice. Didn’t even try to bake that.

And finally, I attempted to make vegetarian marshmallows using agar agar rather than gelatin. Fishy marshmallow anyone? No? Thought not.

So after four hours work I’m left with some Brownies that I’m pretty sure people won’t like and a very dirty oven

And I burnt my tongue on my dinner. >:-(

I have one night left to make cakes. Any suggestion for fool proof (and I do mean FOOL proof) cakes? If you don’t, I am seriously considering cheating! Tescos’ fairy cakes, home-made icing… It’s starting to sound like a plan to me!

My only consolation after this frustrating night is that I made a fresh batch of marshmallows last week and they turned out perfectly! Wee sugary clouds of heaven. Will bag them up and offer them to the tea stall.

Marshmallows

460g granulated sugar
1 tblspn liquid glucose
9 sheets of gelatin
3 medium egg whites
1 tblspn vanilla extract
Icing sugar
Corn flour

  • Soak the gelatin in 140 ml of cold water.
  • In a heavy based pan bring 200 ml water, the sugar and glucose to the boil. Keep the mixture boiling until it reaches 127oC (no idea why it has to be this specific).
  • Meanwhile, beat the egg whites until stiff.
  • Once the sugar mixture has reached 127oC carefully add the gelatin and stir. Take the mixture off the heat.
  • Add a little of the mixture to the egg whites and beat briefly. Continue to add the mixture bit by bit, beating after every addition, until the entire sugar mixture is combined with the egg whites.
  • Add the vanilla extract and beat for 10 mins (thanking the heavens for the invention of electric whisks as you do so).
  • Leave mixture to stand for 5 mins then beat again until the mixture is thick enough to hold its shape on the whisk.
  • Lightly oil a baking tray and dust with icing sugar and corn flour.
  • Pour mixture into tray and leave for two hours.
  • Dust a work surface generously with icing sugar and corn flour.
  • Use a spatula to remove the marshmallow slab from the baking tray. Cut into squares and roll in the icing sugar/corn flour mixture.
  • Leave for an hour.
  • Store in a tightly sealed container.

The first time I made these was to serve with strawberries and a chocolate fondue for a Christmas dessert. My nieces went crazy over them and so did everyone else.

Onigiri


Onigiri

Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

On leaving university I moved to Japan to live and work for a year. I was based in Tomakomai, a small-ish town an hour south of Sapporo on Japan’s north island, Hokkaido. It was an amazing experience in a million different ways. Looking back on it now I find that many of my memories are based around food. This wouldn’t be surprising if I had been as interested in food then as I am now, but I really wasn’t.

In fact I’d go a little further than indifference and say that I almost had a problem with food. Nothing as serious or devastating as anorexia or bulimia, please understand: I just couldn’t stand people watching me eat or expecting me to eat. If I felt I was being watched or if I felt under pressure to eat something I suddenly lost my appetite. Restaurants and other people’s dining rooms were places to be avoided unless I was dining with my nearest and dearest only.

Well, Japan certainly cured me of that problem.

There is no doubt in my mind that the Japanese are one of the most welcoming and friendly people out there. You may always feel like an outsider in the country but you are an extremely popular outsider! The result of this was that I ate out several times a week in restaurants and, occasionally, friends homes. Being a 5”10 (178cm), foreign female in a town with very few gaijin indeed I was a matter of interest everywhere I went. In restaurants, in particular, people were intrigued to find out what I liked or didn’t like. It wasn’t terribly unusual to have entire restaurants watching me eat, even occasionally interrupting my meal to tell me that I wasn’t holding my chopsticks correctly or to comment on the size of my breasts.

This should have been my worst nightmare but I just found it funny. Problem solved.

Do I miss Japanese food? Sometimes. There were foods I loathed, including sea urchin (AKA fishy, slimy sand) and sea snail (no-one told me the black tip was poisonous so I politely ate the entire minging thing and was violently ill for days afterwards). And there were foods I loved: shabu shabu (simmering pot of stock to dip meat and veg into); sashimi (much nicer than its ricey cousin, sushi); Melty Kissses ( the most divine chocolate EVER) and, finally, onigiri.

Onigiri is generally translated as “rice ball”, a misnomer if ever I heard one as they are rarely spherical. I absolutely adored them and kept one in my bag at all times in case of an attack of the munchies. Only recently did I try to make them myself and discovered how ridiculously easy it is.

Onigiri
(makes 5)

250g Japanese/sushi rice
350 ml water
3 sheets of nori (seaweed) – cut in half diagonally
Filling e.g. tuna, salmon (cooked or not), softened bonito flakes, cucumber, avocado, red pepper
..

  • To cook the rice – Add the unwashed rice and the water to a heavy based pan and bring to the boil. Reduce heat to medium, cover and cook for 10 mins. Remove from the heat but do not remove the lid! Leave for 10 mins to finish cooking process.
  • Meanwhile, fill a bowl with cold, well-salted water and layout fillings and nori triangles ready to be used.
  • Tip hot rice into a bowl (the rice must be hot if it is to stick together). Wet hands in salted water (this will not only make the rice stickier, it will also season the rice and enable you to mould the hot grains comfortably). Use a wooden spoon to ladle some rice into your hand.
  • Mould rice into a ball and use finger to make deep indent. Fill with tuna or cucumber or whatever filling you fancy. Mould rice over filling and shape ball into a thick triangle (see here for visual instructions).
  • Lay out nori triangle with the widest corner pointing at you. Place rice triangle on top with the corner pointing away from you. Fold nori corners into middle of rice triangle and seal with a little salted water.

Eat hot or cold.

NB If your nori is very brittle hold it over boiling water for a couple of seconds to soften.

Creamy Walnut & Parsley Pesto


Walnut & Parsley Pesto
Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

Earlier this week a bolshy, fourth year pupil, L, marched up to my desk and demanded to know if the rumours were true. Was I moving school? Was that true? If it was true there was no way that L was going to speak to me ever, ever, ever again. Luckily, the rumours were not true and L and I remain on speaking terms.

I’m not moving school but I am moving classroom. My colleague, Mrs D, is emigrating to Egypt (exciting stuff – though she’s rather regretting calling her son Cairo now) and before the replacement teacher arrives I am going to claim Mrs D’s room. Very excited about this as for the last three years I have been teaching in a room which acts as a corridor to another classroom: a highly annoying situation. Plus, Mrs D’s room is bigger and is not located next to the noisy 4th year common area. Hooray!

So though school breaks up at the end of the month I intend on spending the firsts week of July at work organising my new domain. Might even paint a mural on the wall. Of what I’m not sure. Any ideas will be gratefully received.

Moving on.

Whenever my Mum is in town we go out for a girly lunch together. Our favourite haunt is Contrast, the swanky Glenmoriston’s more affordable brasserie. Located on the banks of the River Ness, beautifully decorated and offering a set two-course lunch for only £5.95 it’s a lovely place for a leisurely meal. The food is very good though perhaps more suited to smaller appetites. I’d never take my partner D there for fear he’d loudly exclaim: “is this it?!”

It was in Contrast that I was absolutely wowed by a pasta dish: tagliatelli in parsley sauce. The dish was incredibly simple and all the better for it. The colour was a vibrant green and it tasted fresh and creamy at the same time. Yum.

Since that day I have been trying and failing and trying and failing to recreate the sauce. My only consolation is that the following recipe was born from one of my failures. In its own right it’s very good too.

The ragged pasta in the photo was an idea I got from “Totally Addicted to Taste”. Simply break dried lasagne sheets into large, irregular pieces and cook as normal.

Creamy Walnut and Parsley Pesto

Small handful of walnuts, bashed
Large handful of parsley
Glug of olive oil
Pinch of salt
Very small clove of garlic, chopped
2 tblspn crème fraiche
Squeeze of Lemon

  • Briefly whiz the walnuts, parsley, oil, salt and garlic in a food processor.
  • Add the crème fraiche and whiz again briefly. Pesto should be lumpy textured (light green with flecks of parsley and nuts) rather than a completely smooth consistency.
  • Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir and taste.
  • Happy? Add to freshly cooked pasta and sprinkle with a little chopped parsley and walnuts.