The first Cruise Ship

Today the first of the cruise ships visited Orkney after the winter break. This meant that coaches are laid on to hurtle the passengers from the ships around the island in less than a day, no doubt so that these visitors can ‘tick off’ Orkney from their bucket list. They have no idea what they are missing! As our friends Jan and Colin who are visiting for the third time said, in an attempt to try and define what makes this area so special, ‘Orkney is a land of experiences’ . It certainly is as they experienced a magnificent display of the Northern lights ( see here Anna’s time lapse ). Jan & Colin had come up to help look after the animals on the Corsie farm in Burray as Catherine Corsie was recovering from an operation and Colin and Jan also wanted to see how our house was looking before they disappear for their annual summer stay in their flat on the French south coast.

Whilst they were staying, Anna suggested that they might like to learn how to play MahJong as she already plays with some friends every Monday afternoon. Anna left out the more complicated rules for us and after a few games we began to get the hang of it, to the point that I feel Jan will be getting her own set when she gets back home. Our friends on the island, Vickie and Ian are also lined up for this treatment, Anna has really got the MahJong bug it seems!

The awakening

 

 

Well it has been a while since I last posted, this is mainly because everything has quietened down after all the building and my son’s wedding. The weather this winter has been varied with the usual high winds and a fair bit of rain which on occasions turned to snow, although the temperatures are such that the snow has not amounted to much. But we have also enjoyed a lot of clear days and beautiful winter sun.

Looking out of our new office window we are very aware of the different visitors that each month brings. The starlings are back in force, covering the few trees here and chattering away. The geese fly in like an air force squadron to feed in the fields, and we now have the arrival of curlew and the oyster catchers, who as they fly en-mass and change directions their black and white bodies appear to flash on and off. Obviously these numbers are supplemented by the masses of sea birds of various varieties which arrive unexpectedly in their masses. The destination for all the birds is the loch at the bottom of our garden, whilst Stenness loch is one of the deepest lochs in Orkney, our end is fairly shallow and is a favoured feeding area for these visitors along with the beautiful white swans who live around here and share the area with the seals who come and sunbathe on the rocks in the very shallow areas on the nicer days. Herons, cormorants are other visitors as is a pair of Hen Harriers and a merlin.

As we slowly move towards spring it is interesting to see the island ‘awake’ as the hotels and restaurants that are closed for some of the winter start to reopen, although often for only a few days in the week. Talking to locals the topic of conversation is often about preparations for the influx of visitors, the local paper has published the list of cruise ships visiting Orkney this year, a few more than last time. During the winter the island belongs once again to the islanders and is blissfully quiet although give it a sunny winter’s Sunday and the popular spots can soon become as busy as when the season is in full flood, as the locals ‘escape’ and try and get a couple of hours of sunshine. We found this out when we took a drive out to Birsay, when we left, the place had filled up and there wasn’t a single space to park ! Visitors at this time of year can become frustrated that so little is open, even the main Hotel in Stromness closes for a couple of months, a number of people ‘disappear’ during the winter to warmer climes so getting things done or agreed can be frustrating , but that is the way of things.

We have had several local visitors come and see our house improvements and their reactions have been very favourable, we are loving the whole living environment, very different to before but just what we had planned. It is now ready for people to stay with us when they visit and we are looking forward to seeing you all.

Confessions of a kitchen addict

My collection of boxes -
A tidy cupboard
Very flat biscuits

I promised details of my other kitchen addiction in addition to my spice habit. So it’s confession time now – I can’t get enough Lock’n’lock boxes ! Since having all these lovely cupboards I keep all my ingredients in them, so I don’t have loose packets just waiting to tip over and deposit their contents on the floor/worksurface/cupboard interior. They are all neatly decanted into my airtight boxes and stored (dare I say it) in orderly areas – all nuts and seeds in one part, dried fruits in another, rice and pasta elsewhere .. it is a lovely feeling to be well organised but for those of you who know me well, it must be rather scary ! My work life has been well ordered for a long time, with things filed where I can find them and so forth, but my cooking life hasn’t been nearly as good.

And I am loving it. It means I can go into town and buy whatever meat or fish is there and inspires me, and know that I have the wherewithal to produce a meal without having to think about the added ingredients – I can come home with my lovely piece of halibut (yes, that’s on the menu tonight as a treat) and know that I can now go to my latest discovery of www.cooked.com and find a recipe that I can use and that I will have the rest of the bits I need safely in the cupboard or freezer.

For me this makes cooking such a pleasure … and having he storage space, especially with the utility room available so I can buy plenty of flour for my bread making, store my onions well away from any potatoes, squirrel away the large packs of catfood that make life so much easier when buying in bulk and (my family will laugh at me) keep plenty of spare loo rolls … they all know that I have a horror or running out of loo paper !

I now make all my own bread as a matter of course, and am really starting to get to grips with the new oven – it’s actually very different from a normal fan oven (it calls itself 4D) but the latest batches of rolls and hot-cross buns have turned out well, as have the Victoria sponge and the lemon drizzle, though I confess that a batch of chocolate and marshmallow cookies were something of a disaster … the recipe said it made 12 and they should be put well apart on the tray. So my two biggest baking trays came out and I was very obedient – six on each. And it turned into one enormous flat biscuit on each tray ! I had to take a knife and cut them apart, and now they look like a large jigsaw puzzle for  3 year old. Mark says they taste OK but I am unconvinced. Maybe I weighed the flour wrong or something – it was a James Martin recipe and his are normally very good so I blame me and not him. Maybe I will stick with simpler ones in future !

So – there we go – confessions all round ! Spice addiction, lock’n’lock addiction and flat biscuits. Says it all really J

More of our lives anon … 

Do I need Therapy ?

Spice Jars in the cupboard
Spice Drawer
Spice tins

My wonderful new kitchen is developing nicely and I am finding a space for everything and keeping everything in its space …

This was an interesting exercise when it came to my spices though – but I accepted the challenge gladly and as a result have an up-and-over cupboard full of the small jars, plus a drawer full of the lovely spices from Seasoned Pioneers, then another drawer with my two Indian spice containers – one with seeds and one with powdered spices. The danger now is that I have discovered a new company doing spice oils – Holy Lama Spice Drops – which  sound amazing. Fortunately a friend here, Vicky, is also interested in them, so we are going to club together to make up an order, because you have to order quite a bit to get free delivery. Hope they are as good as they sound – will report back in due course ! Hopefully I can find space for the ones I decide to buy.

One of the great joys here is “discovering” fish. I have never really cooked much fish as Mark doesn’t normally like it, but he does enjoy it here – says it doesn’t taste of fish ! Though actually I can see where he is coming from, because it has no fishy smell, it is so fresh. I wanted monk fish for a curry the other night and sadly the Orkney Fish Company in Stromness didn’t have any on the counter – but I had a quick rummage in their freezer and found that they had it there, frozen by them three days earlier. Result! So that was dinner for friends Vicky and Ian sorted. Except. Ah. Where was the recipe ? Well, I managed to recall which of my (rather too) many cookery books it was in and also remembered that it had been one of the ones unpacked and used when we first moved up. But then they got re-packed when the kitchen was demolished and put back in the container where we are storing everything (and I mean everything) that we haven’t unpacked.

Mark came to the rescue as he generally does. With infinite resource and no little effort he located the boxes marked Kitchen books from house (were there really six of them? Oh dear), and extricated the required book – Rick Stein’s India – within which is the most excellent recipe for a monkfish curry with naan bread. And it has to be said, myriad other recipes which I fully intend trying in the fullness of time.

It’s great using fish I know about – lovely skate wings in a court bouillon with a brown butter and caper sauce – halibut (oh yum), the most lovely cod fillet which I turned into “fish fingers” and did with a cross between chips and wedgies and mashed minted peas and home made tartare sauce. Delicious.

But there are also fish I haven’t tried yet – I can’t even remember all the names. Ling, I recall, Witches Fillet (must try that), Lythe Fillet. And others. Adventures in fish cookery beckon.

So – what can I say – more to follow (and details of another kitchen addiction … bet you can’t wait to read about it can you !!)

Storm Gertrude

Yuck!

Before you move to Orkney the locals will tell you that you have to survive at least two winters here before they consider that you are a ‘stayer’. Apparently many who make the move head back, unable to stand the long dark nights, the ferocious storms and the fact that almost everything shuts for the winter. Well this is our second winter….

The lack of sunlight can be an issue for many, particularly if you like us work indoors. Going to work in the dark and coming back in the dark can get some down, and when I say dark, I mean very dark. Where we live there are no street lights for at least 5 miles until you get to Stromness. We have had many a delivery guy or visitor who although are sure they know where we are, have got lost coming out here in the evening!

This lack of sunlight can also men that your body does not get enough vitamin D and this can result in depression and a condition called SAD ( Seasonal Affected Disorder ). This is not limited to these far norther isles but can apparently affect anyone living in Northern Europe, but the chances are greater the further north you live. We have had a special light called a SAD lamp for some years now as we find it helped even when we lived in Suffolk. It only needs to be on for an hour in the mornings and is a worthwhile purchase. We have recommended one to some friends who have moved here and are feeling a bit of the ‘winter blues’.

The storms are quite an experience, you normally get plenty of notice so have time to go out to put things like wheelie bins away and to make sure other outside items and pets are tied down! Our two cats unsurprisingly do not like the high winds and stay indoors sleeping all day ( not much change there ) . One of the first times Nimbus went out in some high winds to relieve himself he judged the direction of the wind incorrectly and experienced what could only be called ‘blow back’ ! He was not impressed!

But it is incorrect to think that it is all bad weather in the winter here, I am writing this in the middle of Storm Gertrude with 80 – 90 mph winds here and a Red weather warning for Shetland and whilst it has been pretty wild today, the skies have now cleared and the sun is shining. We shan’t be going outside though as that wind is still fierce and being hit by a piece of wind borne detritus at 70mph is no fun! It is just a case of being sensible and staying indoors until the storm has passed, and then we will dash out to get some photos of the stormy seas if we can!

Short Video of the storm 

Christmas visitors

Anna in the new Office

Christmas day morning and we both went to the men’s Ba in Kirkwall we met up with some friends as you do. The day was fine but several hours of standing around does mean that you get very cold and we did ‘wimp out’ and left before the end as our Christmas turkey was calling us!

The Christmas holiday period we had set aside for starting to get the new house straight and to start unpacking our things for the third time! Even as I write this, at the end of January, we still have a long way to go but we have decided to take things easy and to think carefully about what goes where. The new house with its blank white walls and ceilings does look very modern if a little stark, but we are having fun slowly deciding where things should go. The new office is coming along and it is a real treat working from it, having a proper office after over a year, although we keep getting distracted by the bird life that is visible from the large window behind our screens. No only are there huge flocks of birds of varying sorts that settle on the loch along with the swans and the seals, we also have a pair of Hen Harriers who visit us every day as well as a heron and a pheasant and some other raptors of an indeterminate nature ( we are not true birdies just love watching the wildlife )

Throughout the main area of the house we have a lovely heated tiled floor but I have discovered that it is not very mobile phone friendly. Now although throughout my mobile phone owing life which started with one of the original ‘brick phones’ I admit that I have on occasions dropped the handset although I have never broken one, until now that is! The phone landed face down on the solid floor and the ‘unbreakable’ gorilla glass forgot for a moment who it was and cracked. Now in theory the crack was not too bad but on closer examination the cracks were right across the now non-working ‘home’ and back buttons. This meant that although the phone still worked, every time that I wanted to go from one app to another I had to reboot the phone! After a lot of soul searching I decided to upgrade to a new Windows 10 phone, which means according to a friend who sells phones in Orkney that Anna and I are still the only Windows Phone owners on the Island! It’s nice to be unique!

After Christmas our good friend Steve came to visit to see the New Year Ba which turned out to be an excellent day as there was lots of action and it finished at about 3:30 before the light went. We had a great day following the pack and at times dodging out of the way! Steve and Anna took some great photos and Steve did a rather clever video of the day. Later during Steve’s stay we heard that some whales had been see down in Burray, so Steve and I went to see if we could see them. When we got there it was obvious something was going on as there were loads of gannets all diving a little of the shore, this happens when there is a large shoal of fish. It was this shoal that was attracting the whales, we first saw a couple of Minke whales and then a little later a couple of humpback whales put on a display for us. Steve got a couple of pictures but it was quite tricky to get a decent photo so we decided to just watch the display instead. A couple of evenings before Steve had seen the Northern lights dancing out the back of our garden, so he had an eventful and successful stay. Although the house is now ready for visitors and you are all ( well almost all : ) ) most welcome we cannot promise Northern Lights and Whales every time, after all you have to leave time for the Puffins!

Heaven is a new Kitchen

Bread is getting better
Making my coffee
The view

Well, cooking in the utility room was challenging and quite fun to begin with, but it has to be said that the novelty did wear off a bit after about 6 weeks of it. I could open neither the fridge nor the oven doors completely, nor the unit doors opposite the appliances. Still managed (just) to keep up with baking for the builders, (who ate a LOT of cake and cookies, especially if Peter was here) and cooking for us in the evenings, and even managed the occasional loaf and some hot cross buns, but mostly those were purchased from the local Co-op. But it didn’t lend itself to interesting cooking and was quite frustrating.

So it was with a degree of excitement. that I am sure anyone who enjoys cooking will understand, that I was able to start moving into the new kitchen once Brian had finished the wiring. Finding a place for everything was the first task – not a problem of space but a problem of organisation – which things should go where. This took several days and even then I didn’t get it right first time and had to move things around … and may yet change some areas though I think I have it nearly how I want it. Probably. Possibly. Maybe.

And just look at that view – that is what I can stand and gaze at when preparing food (well not at the moment as the evenings are still dark of course) but isn’t it just gorgeous ?

We don’t have a kettle … we got one of those boiling water taps and it is a joy, not just for making tea and coffee but also for those moments when you need a bit of boiling water to top something up. I don’t use it for general filling-of-saucepans because my incredible induction hob boils water so damn fast I don’t need to ! And I am starting to get used to my 4D oven and its workings and getting the bread right. The grill still sets the fire alarms off though, unless I remember to close the door to the corridor – and boy are they ever noisy. Frighten the sheep big time they do !

It was quite nerve-wracking cooking the turkey at Christmas – what a time to do your first joint in a very new and unfamiliar oven, but it cooked beautifully and was excellent, if a trifle on the large side for the two of us so there is quite a lot in the freezer now awaiting transformation into a pie or curry or something, but I promise not to dish it up if friends and family come over … it’s strictly destined for Mark and myself!

When ordering the turkey and associated bits and bobs from lovely Williamsons, we got chatting with “the boss” about the seaweed-eating North Ronaldsay Sheep, and treated ourselves to a boned shoulder. We were advised that long, slow cooking is the right thing to do with this, so onto a bed of onions, carrots and celery it went in one of my Le Creuset casseroles with just a splash of white wine (truly) and some stock and into the oven for about 5 hours. Steve was here at the time and we all agreed that it was truly splendid. A very distinctive flavour, a very dark coloured meat, but delicious. 

We move in !

View from Office into Living Area
View from Dining area to Office
A working kitchen
Master bedroom
View from kitchen

The journey back from the wedding was thankfully pretty uneventful and again we managed to drive ahead the worst of the weather, the ferry crossing was smooth and we arrived mid-afternoon, looking forward to seeing what extra work had been done during the three weeks we were away. The main guy, Ross, was also away on holiday in this time so we were unsure how much would be done. We walked into the new kitchen area and ….. It looked much the same… The painting had been finished which was promised to be done but I have to confess that we were a little disappointed that it was not obvious that more had been done, not quite sure what to expect but with Christmas looming it looked like things would be tight.

We needn’t have worried, good old Ross had everyone organised to be on site the next day and they worked hard over the next few days. A couple of weeks before Christmas we were able to ‘move in’ even if we had to make do with the folding chairs from Badger as armchairs in the living area. On the way back from the wedding we called again in a Vertigo Interiors in Loughborough to order our new very modern furniture. It was arranged that the removal specialists on the island , McAdie & Reeve, would collect these items as Vertigo’s courier does not deliver to Orkney. All was set until the day before collection when we were told that because of a large delivery coming in we could not pick up until next week ! Our lorry was already on its way and reorganising a thousand mile plus round trip would not be possible.  After a lot of fairly fraught phone calls, the next day we managed to get the very sensible Hanna from Vertigo on the phone, and she arranged with our couriers that Vertigo  would courier the items to Glasgow to McAdie & Reeve’s depot and then these would be picked up and ‘come home’ ( The Orkney term for stuff arriving on the Island ) the day before Christmas Eve.

McAdie & Reeve would then deliver our chairs and dinning set on Christmas Eve. We thought this was cutting things a bit fine, but they were totally confident that all would be fine. Apparently every year they do this run and use it to ‘hoover up’ any deliveries for Orkney that might be waiting in other couriers depots so that those last minute deliveries get there.

Come Christmas Eve our furniture all arrived in the morning, also the shop in Kirkwall K2 turned up to fit the blinds in the master bedroom and I spent the rest of the day unboxing and assembling the furniture, at last it started to feel that we had finally moved in! We are so grateful to all the trades who worked so hard to get everything sorted. There are a few extras to do, most of these are on the outside but these can wait until the better weather. 

2015 Posts

Here are the Blog posting for 2015 to try and keep the menu a bit tidy.

Trip 3 - The wedding

Oliver and Nicola

The next morning I left Anna and Steve at the Hotel to go and pick up Oliver to take him to the wedding. As agreed I was wearing a dark suit and the gold bow tie that Oliver had bought for me to wear. He was understandably nervous but excited as well. After a few moments of chatting we decided to make our way to the venue so as to be in good time.

The Venue was Layer Marney Towers in Colchester, this is a beautiful Tudor building set in lovely grounds. 

The Wedding went very smoothly and everyone seem to have a great time, the Bride, Nicola, turned up in a 1950's American car and not shoes! She had planned not to wear shoes to her wedding and that is what she did, but Oliver made up for this with his gold shoes! I asked Oliver what was being done about the rings, he said that his godson dressed as batman was bringing them down the isle on a spiderman cushion! This was certainly going to be a very personal wedding. After the ceremony we all went outside for photos and then headed back to the Hotel to meet up in the bar so that Oliver and Nicola's many friends who could not be invited to the reception could come and wish them well. It was certainly a packed bar! 

Around 5pm we all walked across the road to the reception  at an underground American diner in Colchester called ‘Sloppy Joe’s’. This restaurant Oliver has been going to since he was a babe in arms and it was the first time that they had ever done a reception. They really pushed the boat out! The photographers set up a studio there with lots of fun props for people to have their photos taken and a magician went around the tables and amazed everyone with his sleight of hand tricks. I still have no idea how he did them!

The food was fantastic and a huge selection, there was no dancing as Nicola and Oliver are not the dancing type and so there was lots of chance to chat and it seemed that everyone have a great time and it was lovely to meet up although there was not enough time to chat fully to everyone there.

We ended up back at the hotel for a night cap and arranged to meet up the next morning for breakfast, it was at this point Nicola announced that she had forgotten to pack a going away outfit and so she would have to come to breakfast in her wedding dress! This caused some merriment amongst the other guests at the hotel the next morning. Well I did say is was gong to be a very personal wedding and as one guest said to me later, " Of all the weddings I have been too, this was the best". Well done Oliver and Nicola, and good luck on your lives together. 

More Photos from Anna here

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