bee on a flower

Sausages in memorium

This week I’m…

Doing Sunday lunch. My family in total equals fourteen these days and it’s a tight squeeze fitting them all in our house. And if they want to eat at the table, we have to do it in two-three sittings.

Still, I like to play the grand hostess at least once a year. It means I get to make lists. A lot of them—five different menu possibilities, what we need to buy from the supermarket and a schedule for the day. (Which I never stick to. I’m writing this for instance when I should be making the pea and feta cheese salad. And Lord only knows when I’ll get round to chopping those carrot sticks.)

Too many sausages?

Today’s a special day for us as we’re celebrating the memory of John Gilmour Baird, (15/08/40 to 18/08/2010), and I’ve bought in some of his favourite things for us to eat—sausages, hard-boiled eggs, the fruit and nut version of Dairy Milk and beers. Can you eat too many sausages? My father often tried to prove you can’t put the words “too many” and “sausages” in one sentence. If we have any left post dinner, I’ll eat my… well, the rest of them obviously.

Writing THE END. Oh, the lovely, lovely satisfaction of typing out the words ‘the end’. I’ve finished Highland Wedding—the third book in the series that began with Highland Fling (available here). Initially, I thought three books would do it but truly successful indies publish what they call ‘deep’ series, so I’m going to aim for five books even if the prospect makes me shrivel up inside… I mean, what next? I’ve got Highland Fling, Highland Heart, Highland Wedding, so Highland Baby? Highland Divorce? Highland Funeral? Or, for that matter, Highland Tinder and Highland Grindr?

Reflecting on good fortune. The marvellous health care system that is the NHS system in the UK (if you ruin it, Boris, I’ll kill you with my bare hands) saw fit to reward me with a flash glucose monitoring system recently. I’m a type 1 diabetic and flash glucose monitoring allows you to check your sugar levels multiple times a day.

Flash glucose monitoring

I’ve got a sensor on my arm and I hold the meter to it to check the reading. Big, big plus—you can do it through clothes.

If you want to know the difference it makes to me, here’s the before example.

3am, chez Baird-Birnie household. I stir awake sweaty and head-achey, and think, “Blast it, I’m not feeling well. Better check what the heck my blood sugar thinks it’s doing…” Sticks out hand, pats around the floor trying to locate handbag. Handbag found and hauled onto bed. Make-up bag spills out, as do two pens, a purse, phone and the laminated bit of card that contains a four leaf clover my dad gave me twenty five years ago. Finally finds blood glucose testing meter kit at the bottom. Opens it up. Wrestles the top of the tube and inserts the stick into the meter. Pricks finger and tries to place blood droplet on the top of the stick. In the dark, so I don’t wake my husband. Give up as I can’t see it and switch the light on. Blood disposed. Wait five seconds. 3.2mmol. (Under 4mmol is too low.) Scrabble round for open bag of jelly babies and spill them all over the floor.

The after version.

3am, chez Baird-Birnie household. stir awake sweaty and head-achey, and think, “Blast it, I’m not feeling well. Better check what the heck my blood sugar thinks it’s doing…” Takes meter from bedside table and runs it over arm. 3.2mmol. Scrabble round for open bag of jelly babies and spill them all over the floor. (Yeah, haven’t nailed that bit yet.)

Finally, in case you were wondering, the picture up the top is one of the climbers in our garden (a special prize to any nature lovers out there who can tell us what it is—my husband bought it from Asda and didn’t keep the tag). The bees love it, and I love it for that reason. Save the bees, right?

Cakes, Sausages and Quality Street: You Know it Makes Sense

If I knew you were coming, I'd a baked a cake, baked a cake

If I knew you were coming, I’d a baked a cake, baked a cake

Granted that most of us in the developed world eat for many reasons – few of which are hunger and the necessity of refuelling with nutrient-dense food – my family decided to use food as the basis of celebration and remembrance today.

My nephew came up with the idea of a ‘grandpa’ foods day, as today is the third anniversary of my dad’s death. I suspect that the motivation behind ‘grandpa’ foods day may have been the idea that it was a licence to eat Dairy Milk chocolate all day. My nephew is eight after all. Nonetheless, a meal which showcased all of my dad’s favourite foods was greeted enthusiastically by everyone, including those of us considerably longer in the tooth than eight years old.

The menu was thus:

My own contribution was the Coffee and Walnut Cake. Here’s the recipe:

  • 225g Stork margarine*
  • 225g golden caster sugar
  • 225g self-raising flour
  • 75g walnuts, chopped finely (the Pampered Chef vegetable chopper makes this really easy)
  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 1tsp vanilla extract
  • 1tbsp instant coffee dissolved in 50ml boiling water and allowed to cool

ICING:

  • 50g unsalted butter
  • 100g cream cheese
  • 200g icing sugar
  • 1tsp instant coffee, dissolved in 2tbsp boiling water and allowed to cool.
  • 8 walnut halves

1 x 20cm loose-bottomed square cake tin, greased and lined with baking parchment. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

Cream the margarine and sugar together with an electric hand mixer for five minutes. Add a tbsp of the flour and add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. You can add in one or two extra tbsps of flour to make this easier. Add the vanilla extract, the cooled coffee and the flour and mix well to combine. Add the finely chopped walnuts and mix with a wooden spoon until distributed equally throughout.

Spoon into the prepared tin and cook in the oven for 40-45 minutes (if you insert a skewer into the cake, it should come out clean). Leave to cool in the tin for five minutes, until turning out onto a wire rack and leaving to cool thoroughly.

For the icing, cream together the butter, cream cheese and icing sugar for five minutes and then add the cooled coffee mixture. Chill in the fridge for 30 minutes. Ice the sides and top of the cake and decorate with the walnut halves. Serves 12-14.

 

*I know, I know – purists would favour unsalted butter (preferably organic, preferably from grass-fed animals) but Stork is the baker’s secret. Light cakes every time! Don’t you reckon?

Honeymoon Heaven: Food Glorious Food

Petals, I am about to embark on a delayed honeymoon. It’s going to involve a motorbike, a visit to the Culloden battlefield, a spa treatment or two and loads and loads of lovely food.

Nights one and two feature a six-course taster menu. Day three will include a stop over at the Hungry Highlander in Braemar, a fish and chip shop popular with bikers possibly due to the ginormous portions it serves up. Day five will take in the Michelin-starred delights of Sangster’s in Elie – I’ve drooled over the menu; seared scallops with lentil and coriander dhal to start? Or twice-baked cheese souffle? Seared monkfish tail for the next course and what about course number three – cheese with truffle honey, grapes and apples or a warm chocolate fondant? Mmm, mmm.

Our culinary tour ends with a stop-off at the world-famous Anstruther Fish Bar.

The cat attempts to join the motorbike tour honeymoon...

The cat attempts to join the motorbike tour honeymoon…

We’ve taken an annual trip to the Anstruther Fish Bar for the last three years and we’ve always been lucky enough to land there in good weather, which means you get sit on the harbour walls eating your fish and chips. I’ll revert to cliches, but vinegar-doused batter and chips tastes so much better when eaten in fresh sea air, so here’s hoping for a fourth year of sunshine…

I’d Like to Thank My Mum & Dad, My Fiance and My Cat…

Ooh, is there anything nicer than putting up a wee rosette on your blog?!

Ooh, is there anything nicer than putting up a wee rosette on your blog?!

Some time ago, a very nice lady called Jenny let me know she had nominated me for a Liebster award. I read her words, gasped with excitement and said to my hubbie-to-be – “Best we clear space on that awards shelf mister, another bauble is about to join it!”

Reader, I exaggerate. The awards shelf is not full to bulging. It does not, in fact, exist. In timely fashion (not), I am now taking advantage of this lovely opportunity. Jenny asked interesting questions as part of her nomination and I’m answering them below and welcoming you to the world of moi.

The rules of the Liebster award are:

  1. Cope and paste the award on your blog and say muchos gracias to the lovely person who nominated you. Of course you include a link back to their blog.
  2. Answer the 11 questions from the person who nominated you, list 11 random facts about yourself and come up with 11 questions for your nominees.
  3. Nominate 11 blogs with 200 or less followers who you think deserve attention and leave a comment on their blog letting them know what you’ve done.
  1. If you could be a superhero for just one day, who would it be?Wonderwoman. Even though I’m er… a lady of 35+. That costume…
  2. What are your 5 favourite films?Ooh, it changes from day to day. I did see The Place Beyond The Pines yesterday and enjoyed that.
  3. What food or drink could you not live without?Cheese and red wine. Preferably together and in splendidly large quantities.
  4. Have you ever met anyone famous?Erm, does ‘meet’ include standing gawping at someone who has just passed you on the street in a very obvious and embarrassing way? Me and the rich and famous are not natural partners…
  5. Have you got anything exciting planned for 2013?I’m getting married, hooray!
  6. Where has been your favourite place to visit?I love visiting places in general, but if there is delicious food attached then my excitement levels go slightly out of control.
  7. If you were in charge and you could get anything banned forever, what would it be?Rudeness, which can cover everything. It is rude to assault, kill, invade countries etc.
  8. Are you addicted to social media?Sadly yes. For someone whose attention span is approximately… ooh, status update what’s Julie up to now, whoops, sorry about that, got distracted there… very, very short, social media is ideal!
  9. Do you have any phobias?Not a one. I am fear free.
  10. Did you want to change your name as a child?A multiple syllabled option would have been good, preferably with a French-sounding surname too. Charlotte De Guyseuse, as something rather more exotic sounding than my own humble moniker.
  11. Are we human, or are we dancers?

We’re dancers of course!

Random facts:

  • I twirl my hair obsessively
  • I can get on and off a fast-moving treadmill (so I could audition for a stunt woman in an action film)
  • I eat peanut butter BY THE JAR
  • I was born on St Patrick’s Day
  • I have run a half-marathon
  • I have walked a half-marathon (I preferred the run one, actually)
  • My cat sleeps on my bed
  • I have gone for a run in five different countries
  • I have ridden a camel
  • I have started (but sadly not finished) two books by Russian authors
  • I know an awful lot about the Tudors.

My nominees all get to answer food questions!

  1. If you were a cake, which one would you be?
  2. Butter icing, or sugar frosting?
  3. What is the weirdest food combination you like?
  4. The world is about to run out of crisp flavours and producers will now only make one kind; which will it be?
  5. Have you ever eaten in a Michelin-starred restaurant and if so where?
  6. How many celebrity chef cook books do you own?
  7. What is the most impressive thing you can cook?
  8. What is your fail-safe date menu?
  9. Sweet or savoury?
  10. What % of cocoa solids should good quality plain chocolate have?

http://sunshineandcelandines.wordpress.com/

http://safiya91.wordpress.com/

http://sophiebowns.wordpress.com/

http://thecitizensoffashion.com/

http://theevolutionofeloquence.wordpress.com/

http://evelinagalli.com/

http://thriveonnews.com/

http://mevscake.wordpress.com/

http://jumpforjoyphotoproject.wordpress.com/

http://emmarossruns.wordpress.com/ and http://mysilvermemories.wordpress.com/

The gorgeous girliness of wedding planning!

My name is Emma and I’m getting married next year.

Apparently, the average UK wedding weighs in at just over £14,000 – so are weddings only for the wealthy? Does anyone really need favours? Or pipers or printed invites or make up trials, garters, special underwear and a £500+ cake?*

Now, I can think of plenty of ways to better spend £14,000 plus (which is not to say that financial common sense comes naturally to me; in the quest for the perfect complexion I have six bottles of foundation in my house). My budget is £7,000 and over the next few months I’d like to share with you (and invite you to share with me), my ideas for a wedding which might be cheap, but which won’t look it. Along the way, I’ll probably meander off topic and include musings on food, the bridal industry, shoes, diet & fitness and skincare.

*I don’t condemn you if you do. There sure is a lot of powerful marketing around the bridal industry and it’s a strong woman (or man?) who doesn’t get sucked into that quicksand of spiralling costs.

**Subject to change on a weekly basis. And £14,000 – that’s a flippin’ lot of skincare (or whatever else floats your boat).