Musings

Before
After
Easter Bunny
Bunny two
A Blackening

Things are getting busy as summer approaches, although when
the winter showers that bring a light dusting of snow on the hills and the icy
cold winds from the north blow it is sometimes difficult to believe. My step
daughter, Anna’s eldest, Vickie, and her partner Mark a long standing friend
came to visit for a week. They drove up and as it was Mark’s first visit to
Orkney and he is very interested in the military history of the area, I arranged
a half day guided tour by Norman Shearer who does this sort of thing for a
living. I am quite happy to show people around the Neolithic stuff but I don’t
know quite so much about newer history, although I am learning! Although Norman’s
tour occurred on perhaps the worst day for weather of their stay, Vickie and
Mark said that they really enjoyed it and learnt a lot, Norman certainly seemed
to have covered a lot in the time. Poor old Vickie did come back freezing and
damp but a nice hot bath soon sorted that out.

The rest of the week we spent some of the time sight-seeing
and showing them the island plus we had some time to ‘chill out’ with them and
chat which was great. It is very easy with so much to seem on the island to overdo
things and not leave time for the important things like nattering. Vickie and
Mark seemed to have really enjoyed their visit, so much so that they were
talking of possibly coming back up for a visit in the summer this year which
would be great.

Easter has come and gone there were some egg hunts for the
children, one of which a lot of the shops in Kirkwall joined in, and some large
dressed up Easter Bunnies in the town. Bank holidays don’t seem to happen here
like they do in England, whether it is because of the large agricultural community
who can’t take time off or another reason I’m not sure, so the shops are all
open and it seems like any other day, obviously the kids are off school but
they are generally so well behaved that you barely notice them!

The weekends in Kirkwall, and to a lesser extent Stromness
are punctuated by the raucous noise of Blackenings. These are where a prospective
Bride or Groom are grabbed by their mates and covered in molasses, rice
krispies and all sorts of stuff, then bundled into the back of an open lorry
and driven around the town several times to the much blowing of whistles and
banging of sticks on the sides of the lorry, I believe a small amount of alcohol
may also be consumed. After this parading through the streets the ‘victim’ is then
tied to the stone cross outside the Cathedral or some other landmark. Their
mates then drive off only to return a little while later to release them and
usually throw them into the harbour! A good time is had by all! We never fail
to be amused by the reactions of any visitor who does not know what is going
on, it is often a mix of puzzlement and apprehension, the participants can look
quite scary and threatening, and that is just the girls!

Just another Saturday in Orkney.

And the year moves on ...

My new shelves for cookbooks
My lovely utility room
Kevin and Badger
Vickie and Mark enjoying Orkney

Oh my it’s been a while since either of us wrote a blog –
shocking ! I think it must be something to do with the way the year is moving
on. Suddenly. January and February are very dreary months, with the occasional
interesting storm to liven things up, but the evenings are still long and dark
and although we had some lovely days, to be honest there weren’t that many of
them.

 However, we had plenty to keep us occupied. We have, as most
of you will know, purchased a very splendid blue container, now named Kevin,
which serves a dual purpose – he provides shelter to Badger in the storms and has
stored our worldly goods for the past 18 months or so. Bear in mind we could
only live in half the house while the builders did their stuff getting the old
part of the house renovated and insulated and then we “moved” into that bit
while the relatively new part was also insulated and the extension built. So
the first two-three months of 2016 saw us starting to unbox all the exciting things we hadn’t
seen for so long.

 Except … you just can’t believe how much “stuff “ we brought
up that we find we neither want nor need ! Of course there were lots of things
we greeted with little cries of joy and tenderly moved to places within the
cottage. But OH BOY were there a lot of things that we looked at with amazement
and put hastily in the Charity Shop pile.

 We also hadn’t realised how many books and pictures we
possessed – the Old Railway Station was just SO much bigger than Mill Cottage.
So a lot of the books have gone to a new home in our award winning library
(they had a visit from JK Rowling a couple of weeks ago … she just dropped by
for tea and cake!), and at the moment the pictures still reside either in Kevin
or in the roof space that Mark had thoughtfully arranged to be created above the
new office.

 So with the unpacking and unboxing we have been kept busy –
and Mark has spent time doing the extra jobs like putting in some bookshelves
for my cookery books, putting up the pulley for the clothes airer, into the
extremely useful utility room, painting the wardrobe doors in the spare room
and a load of other bits and bobs.

 Watching the year gather momentum is an amazing experience –
the light changes constantly and the evenings are getting longer and longer –
seems faster since the Equinox somehow, and of course the clocks going forward
helps a lot. The cacophony of birds wakes us in the mornings – we have loads of
sparrows and starlings of course, fighting over the bird feeders and fat balls,
but overhead the curlew “wind themselves up”, the oyster catchers swoop across
shouting at each other, battalions of geese fly overheard and you can see
exactly where the farmers are busy either putting slurry on the fields or
ploughing by the following of gulls making the field look white as they search
for all the yummy bits being churned up. The Sea Eagles have returned to Hoy
and we are all hoping they manage to raise a chick this year. There are daily
postings on the Orkney Wildlife
Facebook
page about incoming migrants and we have been blessed with many
nights of Aurora sightings, some just a green glow (but then you get the
amazing starscape to enjoy as well) and others with real dancers. We are so
fortunate that there is very little light pollution here. Well none really. So
a clear night is a real treat.

 Last week my daughter Vickie and her partner Mark came up
for a week, which was just wonderful ! We had been looking forward to it with
great excitement and weren’t disappointed. Vickie knows the Island but it was
Mark’s first visit – he ran the gamut of the weather from cold and very wet to
glorious sunshine, but as they both say they would love to come back I don’t
think we managed to put them off.

 And now we look forward to the visit of Mark’s son Oliver
and his wife Nicola who are flying up in early May.

 And now … having baked a loaf of linseed and sesame malt
bread, a dozen seeded rolls and 2 dozen Swedish cinnamon buns it’s time to cook
supper. More about our lives in due course !

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. 

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