New Banner!

A short post this evening but a rather exciting one:  I have a new banner!  Rosie and me flying over the Highlands.  :)  Isn’t it gorgeous?  Chuffed to bits with it!

The original painting (which will be hanging in my living-room very soon) is by Faye Anderson, an artist and friend whose work I’ve adored since she drew a gorgeously intricate birthday card for a mutual friend.  Ten years on I was reminded of how wonderful her work is when I received the following invitation her and Ross’s  wedding. 

It’s caught them perfectly!

Faye has now set up her own business designing personalised invitations/greeting cards and painting commissions.  To see more of her work visit:

www.fayeanderson.co.uk

Tortillas and Teal

 

 If I thought really hard I would undoubtably be able to think of someway to link this photo of my friend’s puppy (Teal) to the following recipe.  But I’m swamped.  It’s a funny photo and spanish omelettes are delicious. 

Forgive my laziness.  :)

Spanish Tortilla

(Serves 4)

4 medium floury potatoes, peeled and sliced VERY thinly

1 onion, sliced

50ml olive oil

5 medium eggs

Seasoning

Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

  • Heat the oil gently in a medium non-stick frying pan.  Add the potatoes and onions and cook for 20-25 minutes or until soft.  Don’t worry about the potatoes falling apart a little, it adds to the texture of the finished tortilla.
  • In a large bowl beat the eggs and season well.
  • Drain the potatoes thoroughly and add to the egg mixture.  Add the parsley and combine gently.
  • Pour egg and potatoes back into the non-stick pan and cook over a medium low heat for 10 minutes, loosening the sides frequently.
  • After 10 minutes place a plate over the top of the frying pan and flip over, removing half cooked tortilla from the pan. 
  • Slide the tortilla back into the pan (uncooked side down) and cook for another 5 mins.
  • Remove from pan and cool. 

Eat cold or at room temperature.  Keeps well for a couple of days.  Great picnic or packed lunch food. 

Crabbit

“Crabbit” is another great Scots word meaning grumpy.  Crabbit reminds me of my sister when she’s been woken up too early (i.e. before noon) or D when he loses a mountain bike race to his brother-in-law or Gen when I tell her to slow down though she’s only driving at 40mph.  Crabbit is me after a crappy day at work.

Frankly, I’ve been avoiding writing about school recently because quite a lot of my days are crappy just now.   The problem is that I am really struggling with the youngest of the five classes I teach: the first years.  Never ever ever have I come across such a badly behaved bunch.  And, my goodness, have I had some crackers!  Moreover, I have never come across such a low ability group before.  Despite being 12 years old, most of the kids have a reading age below 8 years old, the lowest being 6. 

It’s a chicken and egg question whether their behaviour is the source of their learning problems or whether their learning problems are the source of their bad behaviour.  And even if we could answer that question, we’d still have to ask what was causing the behaviour/learning issues in the first place.  Undoubtably, much of it stems from less than ideal home lives (just call me Queen Understatement).  It’s a heartbreaking situation and one I (and the rest of the staff, of course) are desperate to improve.

The question that’s keeping me awake at night is how?  All the strategies I usually employ with difficult classes are having absolutely no effect at the moment.  Am I expecting too much too soon?  It’s not even three weeks into term yet.  Perhaps I am.  Just got to keep on trying.  My main worry is that so much of my energy is being drained thinking about and dealing with this group that my general enthusiasm for teaching is waning and, as a result, my other classes are suffering.

Sigh.

If you are wondering about the photo, it’s one I took last night in the garden.  A dirty spider’s web nestled between a rotten wooden post and some garish blue tarpaulin.   Isn’t it strange the things that can cheer you up for a while?

Blueberries – Part 2

 

I generally don’t get excited over dessert.  Cake, pie, pastry, ices: they are all very nice but I’m a savoury girl.  Give me a choice between a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s finest or a buttered slice of toast and the toast wins every time. 

At least, that was the case until yesterday.

Yesterday, with the intention of complementing some plump, juicy blueberries, I tried my hand at pannacotta.  The result was more-ish in the extreme!  So much so that if today I had the choice between that same perfect slice of toast and the following dish, the dessert would win hands down. 

Really.

Buttermilk Pannacotta with Blueberries

(serves 4)

For the pannacotta:

150ml double cream

2 tblspn sugar

1 tsp vanilla essence 

250ml buttermilk

1/2 packet gelatin

  • Heat the cream, sugar and vanilla essence gently until warmed through and sugar has dissolved.
  • Meanwhile, dissolve gelatin in 50ml warm water.
  • Pour the cream mixture over the gelatin and stir well. 
  • Gradually add the buttermilk whisking gently.
  • Once all the ingredients have combined pour into four individual ramekins and cover with foil.
  • Place in fridge for at least 4 hours.

For the blueberry sauce:

50ml blueberry jam (I made my own using frozen blueberries – it’s really good on toast!)

15ml water

1/2 lemon, juice and rind

  • Gently warm all the ingredients until the jam loosens into a thick, glossy sauce.

To serve:

Tip pannacotta mixture out of ramekin and place in the middle of a large plate.  Top with a good handful of blueberries and pour over sauce.  A sprig of mint looks cute on top.  :)

Blueberries – Part 1

 Christina of A Thinking Stomach asked me recently which fruit or veg in my garden was my favourite.  I gave her a very vague answer naming pretty much everything that I’ve grown this year.  Grower’s pride, you know?  Here and now, I would like to amend that wishy washy answer: blueberries are my favourite crop.

Blueberries.  Big, fat, purple (blue is a total misnomer), juicy, bouncy blueberries.  Sigh.  They are wonderful. 

Though there are only three blueberry bushes  in my garden and though this is their first year in my garden, the bushes have still produced a respectable amount of berries.  I had great plans for them but must admit that every single one of those berries was picked from the bush and immediately popped into my mouth.  My lack of self control has meant that the following cake and the next post’s recipe were made with bought blueberries.  :)

Before I share the recipe I must tell you one very important thing.  One thing which may actually put you off trying the recipe.  This cake only tastes good warm.  For some reason, the sponge becomes gritty and a little greasy when cold.  Warm it up and it is a moist, buttery, decadent treat.  Especially when topped with a blob of yogurt or cream.

 Lemon and Blueberry Polenta Cake

 250g caster sugar

250g soft butter

3 medium eggs

100g polenta

200g ground almonds

1 tsp baking powder

2 lemons, both zested, one juiced

200g blueberries

  • Beat the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy.
  • Add the eggs one by one, beating well to combine.
  • Add the polenta and almonds and fold in carefully.
  • Add the lemon zest and juice.  Fold in.
  • Line a buttered 23cm tin with baking paper.  Tip blueberries in so that they cover the bottom of the tin.  Top with the cake mixture.
  • Bake at 160oC for 1 hour.
  • Eat WARM with cream or yogurt.

Better Late…

 It’s here!  It’s here!  Summer!  It’s finally here!

This evening I arrived home from work to a 20oC garden bathed in glorious sunshine.  It was heaven.  If the weather forecast is to be believed the rest of the week should be similar.  Wonderful.  :)

 But only a fool would believe the weather forecast in Scotland. This sunny moment had to be seized!   And seize it I did.  The box of marking I had intended on working my way through did not make it out of the boot of my car.  Instead, I spent the evening lying in my garden examining blades of grass, ogling my moody neighbour’s fruit trees, reading about my favourite Botswanan lady detective and savouring every single sunny moment.  Such a night deserved a summery supper.  The following salad served with rye bread was perfect.

 Tomato, Tuna and Butterbean Salad

(for 2 with bread)

400g tin of butterbeans, drained

1 tin of tuna, packed in oil

4 tomatoes, seeded and chopped

1/2 red onion, sliced

Handful of fresh parsley, chopped

Olive oil

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

Seasoning

  • Combine the beans, tuna, tomatoes and onion.
  • Drizzle with olive oil, add the lemon, seasoning and parsley and combine gently.

The Famous Four

 

I’m doing my very best to get back into the swing of things at school but it’s tougher than I had anticipated.  Probably because I didn’t anticipate it being tough at all.  School ended on such a high last term that I was really quite excited to be going back and expected just to pick up where I left off.  Forgot that’s not how it works.

So, I’m a busy busy bee just now trying whip my classes back into shape (metaphorically speaking, you understand!).  Perfect time for a meme.   Thank you to Sophie at Mostly Eating, Antonia at Food Glorious Food and Celia at Purple Podded Peas for tagging me.  :)

Four Jobs I’ve Had in My Life

  1. Cinema usherette – The perfect student job: watch films, eat popcorn and, if need be, study by torch in the back row. 
  2. Teacher of English as a Foreign Language – I wanted to live abroad for a while after university.  This seemed like the best option.  I’m a bit of a grammar geek now.  :)
  3. Summer school head-teacher  – 16 hour days and I still couldn’t get everything done!
  4. English teacher – My current job.  Hard work but great fun and very rewarding. 

Four Places I Have Lived

  1. Hokkaido, Japan
  2. Ottawa, Canada
  3. Turku, Finland
  4. Various locations in the north of Scotland (currently Inverness)

Four Places I Have Been On Holiday

  1. New York City
  2. Iceland
  3. New Zealand
  4. Thailand (see photo)

Four Of My Favourite Foods

  1. Purple sprouting broccoli
  2. Pasta
  3. Blueberries
  4. Black pudding

Four Places I Would Rather Be

I am currently sitting on my sofa with a cup of tea.  So very tired I don’t really want to be anywhere else!  Instead I’ll tell you four places D and I are debating going to next summer:

  1. West coast of the US
  2. Nepal
  3. India
  4. Laos

Realise I’ve been really lazy here by not expanding on my answers.  I’m too sleepy to do so right now!  If you’re curious about anything, ask away!

Will tag four bloggers that I haven’t tagged before: Little Mainyacha; Holler at Tinned Tomatoes; Amanda at Figs Olives Wine and Johanna at Green Gourmet Giraffe.  Apologies if you’ve already completed this meme.  :)

Dreich Day

“Dreich” is a wonderfully evocative Scots word meaning dull and wet.  Damp, sodden, grey, rainy, overcast – no standard English word captures the mood of a truly miserable day like “dreich” does.  From the moment I woke up this morning until this evening the sky has been a solid mass of slate grey forbidding any hopes of brightness, let alone sun.  The temperature hasn’t risen above 11oC and the rain has been falling ceaselessly.  It’s been a dreich, dreich day.

And it’s been great!

This soggy Saturday has meant a leisurely morning munching on toast and honey in PJs, free from the I-should-go-out and-do-something guilt that gnaws at me on brighter mornings.  It has meant an afternoon curled up in the corner of our local bookshop surrounded by cook books, travel guides, novels and maps.  It’s enabled me to bask in the glow of the candles I lit this evening.  And it’s inspired me to make some warming comfort food to enjoy on the sofa whilst watch this year’s X-Factor auditions! 

 Roast Tomato Soup

(for 2)

8 tomatoes, halved

3 garlic cloves, whole

1 tsp thyme leaves

1/2 onion, chopped

1 stick of celery

Pinch of chilli flakes

200ml stock

Olive oil

Seasoning

  • Preheat oven to 200oC.  Place tomatoes, garlic cloves and thyme in a roasting tin, drizzle with olive oil and season.  Roast for 45 minutes.
  • Meanwhile, gently heat 1tblspn of olive oil in a pan.  Add the chilli, onion and celery and cook until soft.
  • Squeeze the roast garlic from its skin and add to pan along with the tomatoes.
  • Pour the stock into the roasting tin and stir well to ensure all the juices from the tomatoes are used. 
  • Pour stock into pan and simmer for 20 mins.
  • Liquidise, season and serve with…

Courgette and Sage Scones

225g wholemeal flour

1 tspn salt

1 tspn bicarbonate of soda

40g butter, grated

130ml plain yoghurt

1 courgette, grated and left to drain in a sieve for 30 mins

2 tblspns chopped sage

  • Sieve flour, salt and bicarbonate of soda into a large bowl.
  • Rub in the grated butter.  Stir in the courgette and sage followed by the yogurt.  Stir until mixture forms a soft dough.
  • Roll out to 1cm and cut into triangles.
  • Brush with a little melted butter or egg white and bake at 220C for 30 mins or until golden.

PS Wonder if I’ll be raving about how wonderful dreich days are tomorrow morning when D drags me out mountain biking on the Black Isle…  Watch this space! ;)

Lessons Learnt

 

Summer (HA!) is coming to an end and my vegetable patch is looking rather bare, mostly because I tore everything out in a fit of rage on Tuesday evening but also because the majority of summer crops have been harvested or have passed their best.  Still growing are blueberries (more on them next week), raspberries, leeks, cabbage, Brussels sprouts and, quite unbelievably considering I must have eaten over thirty already, courgettes.  Will begin my winter planting soon.

Tunesia from All Things Barkley asked me recently to post on how I started my raised vegetable patch as she’d like to create one herself but doesn’t know where to start.  Frankly, I’d be a total fraud if I started to dish out gardening advice.  This was my first year of gardening and my plan from the very beginning was to dive into growing food with total abandon and learn from all my mistakes.  It worked a treat!  I’ve had enough successes to keep me motivated and glowing with green-fingered pride, and plenty of mistakes to remind me that I am a total amatuer and have a lot to learn.

 I did promise Tunesia that I’d explain how I started and so here it is.  The raised bed, itself, I made last Autumn out of mini-border fences from B&Q.  They are all higglety-pigglety and have lots of thick posts holding them up but they are doing the job!  Had I known that railway sleepers are fairly easy to get hold of I’d have used them instead.   The soil (which must be “graded” – don’t know what that means) I ordered from a local landscaping company and they filled the bed for me.  Over the winter I piled manure (obtained from friend with a horse) on top and left it until spring at which point I dug it all over and began to plant.

Quite simply, I planted what I wanted to eat.  Followed Delia’s Kitchen Garden’s advice on what to do and when (though I added a month on to all her spring/summer dates as it’s colder up here).

As I said, I’ve learnt a lot.  The following are just ten of my many many discoveries.

Lessons Learnt

1) There’s only so much sorrel one can eat.  Do not plant a huge row of it.

2) If you plant seeds at the same time they are ALL ready to be harvested at the same time.  Plant seeds a week or so apart (in particular rocket and other salad leaves).

3) Not only are courgettes are easy to grow, they also turn into marrows.  Who knew?! Sow in a pot, plant out under a cloche and remove cloche when warm weather is here to stay.  Three plants were ample for my small household.

4) Brussels Sprouts need room to grow as do cabbage plants.  Plant much further apart next year.

5) DO NOT PLANT SO MANY BLOODY SWEET PEAS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

6) Pea plants get pretty big too.  And grow really tall.  Plant further apart and support really really really well.

7) There are lots of different kinds of basil.  The one I grew was tough and mild tasting.  Wish I could remember its name as I want to avoid it.

8) Carrot flies are not a myth.  Thin out and pick carrots in the evening when it is cool or risk having your entire crop ruined.  Sob.

9) No matter how brown and dry your mint looks, it isn’t dead!

10) The rate of illiteracy amongst creepy crawlies is shocking.

Gremlins, Gizmos and Broccoli

Last night I left school with a dark cloud hanging over my head.  At some point during the previous six weeks a large number of my lovely, fluffy pupils had been fed after midnight and had mutated into hissing, fidgeting, sneering gremlins with wild, wild looks in their eyes.  It was a hellish day.  A day which had me driving back down the A9 wondering if I was in the right job.  

Released some tension on arriving home by ripping out the forest of sweetpeas which had taken over my garden and furiously forking the soil over in preparation for my winter planting.  It was a cathartic experience but I still wasn’t relishing the thought of going back to school the next day.  I had to sit down and think very carefully about how to deal with the boy who wouldn’t stop singing, the “am I bovvered” girl, the writing refuser and the multitude of monkeys that are my new first year class. 

A couple of hours later, still muddied and grass-stained from my earlier gardening, I was satisfied with my plan of action and ready for a treat.  A hot shower, a cheesy crime novel and my favourite pasta meal.  :)

This dish was adapted from  a Nigel Slater article.  Lost the original recipe sometime last year but I make it so often I really don’t need it anymore. 

 Broccoli, Anchovy and Herb Pasta

(for 1)

2 tblspn olive oil

3 anchovy fillets

1/2 onion, chopped

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 tsp chopped rosemary

1 tsp chopped parsley

6-8 black olives, chopped

Big handful of sprouting brocolli (or normal brocolli if the sprouting isn’t available)

75g wholewheat spaghetti

Seasoning

Parmesan shavings

  • In a heavy based frying pan, melt the anchovy fillets gently.
  • Once the anchovies have melted into the oil add the onion, garlic, rosemary, parsley, and olives and fry gently until onion is softened and the flavours have combined.
  • Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in plenty of salted water.  Add the brocolli to the pan 5 minutes before the spaghetti is cooked.  Save a little of the cooking water.
  • Drain the spaghetti and broccoli and add to the onion mixture.  Loosen with a little cooking water.
  • Season very carefully (remember the anchovies and parmesan are salty) and serve with parmesan shavings.

So did any of my carefully planned strategies work?  They might have if I’d had any reason to use them.  Today the gremlins had vanished and instead I was faced with classes of coo-ing gizmos.  Well, perhaps that is a slight exaggeration but I did have a great day.  Love this job.  :-D

P.S. This is my entry for the Food in Film event.  Tenuous in the extreme!!!