Mists, mellow fruitfulness and books

This week I’m…

Revelling in autumn. You can keep spring. Autumn is GORGEOUS—the trees turning such beautiful colours and the spiders webs you spot on hedges, doors, railings (everywhere, really). Plus, we get to wear more clothes (always a bonus), dig out boots and feel less guilty about getting into bed with a book at 7pm just because. (For much, much better outdoor autumn pics, check out Sunshine and Celandines post about Strid Wood here.)

Wishing I was braver. This ties in with the paragraphs above. Enjoying nature means you automatically worry about the future, and the lack of action governments and businesses are making to ensure Planet Earth remains habitable. I’ve been following the Extinction Rebellion revolts, applauding as ordinary people glue their hands to pavements, deliver climate change lectures on planes and ultimately get themselves arrested. I love the ‘uncooperative crusties’ and what they are doing. “Emma,” I said to myself this week, “you could handle an arrest, couldn’t you?” Promise, promise, promise next year I will carry out action.

Eating more plant-based. See above! Most of the time, I follow a low-carb diet because I have type 1 diabetes and that is the way of eating that works best for me. It’s never sat well with how I feel about animals. (Love ‘em!) But I’ve been making more of an effort to explore alternatives such as tofu and Quorn and reduce how much meat and dairy I eat.

Eating at a Glasgow institution. Despite having lived in Glasgow or nearby for seventeen years now, I have never visited Rogano’s—Glasgow’s oldest restaurant. As the great Cunard liner, the Queen Mary, was built on the Clyde in the 1930s, a restaurant was refitted in the same Art Deco style and a Glasgow stalwart was born. The 30s feel is delightful and the food delicious. (I, er, veered away from plant-based, too tempted by the Stornoway black pudding topped with a perfectly poached egg and chorizo crumb.)

Publishing books. Ah yes! Highland Heart, the second in the Highland Books came out this week. Funnily enough, it begins in autumn…

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…