Wednesday, 23 May 2007

Going Doon the Watter…

The Loch is an endless source of amusment and fascination; daily we watch water birds and waders as they perform acrobatics in the pursuit of food and every morning just before daybreak, the Mallard Duck family come and rootle along the shore, searching out tasty tidbits. Weekends bring assorted watercraft, piloted with varying degrees of skill, and occasionally there will be a seaplane (for variety). Just how much we still have to discover about our new neighbourhood was brought home this weekend when we started out for a walk and saw something very big out on the loch…no, not a whale, although we live in hope! What had us scurrying for the camera was this…

The paddle steamer, Waverley, built in 1946, is the last remaining sea-going paddle steamer in the world. Originally Waverley was one of over 300 Clyde steamers that started service in 1812 with Henry Bell’s Comet and were still operating in the early 1960’s. Named after Walter Scott’s first novel, this elegant steamer sails a full season of cruises every year from her base in the Firth of Clyde. The Waverley was built on the Clyde in 1946 as a replacement for the original PS Waverley of 1899 that took part in WWII, working as a minesweeper. The original Waverley was sunk in 1940 while helping with the evacuation of troops from Dunkirk. Her replacement was launched in Glasgow in 1946. You can read the whole story here.

The revival of pre-war fortunes in the 1950’s and 1960’s saw a change in holiday preferences which led to a decline in passenger numbers and competition from new forms of holiday travel brought the era almost to a close. The paddle steamer Waverley still continues to provide the leisurely delights of Clyde steamer excursions thanks to the efforts of the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (PSPS). Every trip serves as a reminder of the time when holidaymakers swarmed onto steamers to go doon the watter, sailing from Glasgow down the Firth of Clyde to the seaside holiday resorts and quiet West Highland piers. The 1900 steamer SS Sir Walter Scott still sails on Loch Katrine, while on Loch Lomond, the PS Maid of the Loch is being restored.

With a restaurant and bar on board, an excursion on the PS Waverley, sounds like a great way to get close to sealife and explore some of the lovely coast around here, accompanied by the rhythm of paddle wheels and steam engines.

Thursday, 17 May 2007

The Dreaded Scottish Midge Swarms, Attack!...

All day the mist has hung low over the loch, lifting now and then revealing tantalising glimpses
of the opposite shore. The last few days have given us slightly cool, slightly grey and non-windy weather. Perfect for gardening and perfect for the emergence of the famous, dreaded, scary Scottish midge; the tiny insect with the huge reputation! We began to hear the advanced publicity within a week or two of our arrival but didn’t pay too much attention…I mean summer was still a way off and we had more pressing problems to deal with.

May arrived and with the soft spring weather bringing less rain and wind we have headed into the garden to start our massive clean-up and clear-out program. One evening at supper after an afternoon outdoors, M began scratching some small bumps on the back and two fingers of his right hand; application of a antihistamine ointment stopped the itch and we thought nothing of it…just some ‘funny’ gogo (SA word for unknown insect) in the garden. The weather became windy for a few days and then rainy and we worked in between the showers. Three days ago, after another late afternoon in the garden making a new bit of lawn, M came it scratching some small bumps on his abdomen. Once again the ointment worked well but now we were suspicious…could it be? It most certainly could and it probably was…the terrible, bloodthirsty Scottish midge!

OK so the time has come, now we must find out how to get rid of these things. Hoping to find an entry or two on the Internet, I googled ‘Scottish midge’ and received 106,000 results! Oh my goodness, that’s a lot of results for such a small and insignificant insect. Big brave African adventurer that I am (think Tsetse Fly, African ticks, Anopheles Mosquito), I’m thinking, ‘how bad can a midge be?’ Well, very bad, as it turns out! The Scottish or Highland midge (Culicoides Impunctus) is expected to cost Scottish Tourism an estimated £286 million this year.

A large amount of research is going into the development of reliable midge forecasting (read all about it here, Latest on midges) which will enable tourists to plan their visit to Scotland and as midge populations can be quite localised, visitors should be able to plan trips to midge-free locations. Dr Alison Blackwell explains: "By the end of the summer we should have enough data to do forecasts with confidence. It would go quite nicely with the pollen data on the weather forecasts." And where does that leave us and all the other unfortunate residents of prime Midge country here on the west coast of Scotland? Well, I can only speak for us and we are going the repellent route for now. I’ve invested heavily in the stock at our local Health shop, purchasing two different organic options and as back up, I also bought an “all natural” option from the pharmacy. Hopefully one of these will work. If not, there are still a couple of dozen others to choose from, including one from an Internationally known cosmetic company. Ahhh I should order some...maybe midge-free beauty will work for me!

In the meantime, this is where I’d like to be, on the shore reading in the sun!

Monday, 7 May 2007

I’ve Been Tagged…


Jessie LaVon, over at Purple Cucumbers Folk Art has tagged me and now I have to tag my favourite five blogs here. Thanks Jessie, you’ve tagged some very talented people and I’m humbled to be included in such good company.

Jessie is one of the bravest, friendliest people I’ve had visit my blog; she had an AVM a while back and uses her colourful paintings as a means of capturing and recording her memories. She also hosts fun things like her recent ’Porch Party’ and is currently running a swap, so go on over to Purple Cucumbers to read more about her and see her real southern folk art.

I am totally incapable of singling out five blogs from my favourites, which are all the ones in my links on the right. They are absolutely the best and are always great to read. What I am going to do is tell you a quick story of how I went moonlighting at Co*ntry L*ving’s website and for a short time, tried to write two blogs.

For my birthday this year, I was given a subscription to my favourite magazine…Co*ntry L*ving. While going through my first edition, I saw that they had just started a website and were inviting readers to participate. The magazine was looking for a new columnist and dangled this 'carrot' to encourage would-be bloggers. Typically, I thought GREAT and jumped right in, not even pausing to consider I had an armful of unfinished paintings, a website to finish and a blog already to keep me busy. I lasted almost three weeks. Blogger is a delight to work on, quick, and user friendly and pretty much self-explanatory. The CL site was for me (techie dinosaur that I am) an absolute nightmare…but there were so many fabulous, funny people writing there!

It soon became clear that I’d over reached and I stopped posting and then had to catch up with some of my real work. When I went back to CL to visit, I discovered there had been some cataclysmic problem with the competition and all the best and brightest had left for pastures new. Fortunately, on a farewell post on one of their blogs, I found a link to where they’d gone… Children, Chocolate and Wine. This is really a directory and bulletin board of the ex-CL bloggers…the names on the right hand side there will take you to the individual blogs. And in the meantime as a taster here are four of these new blogs I am currently reading:

Dear Diary

Her On The Hill

Exmoor Jane


The rules of the tag are as usual; each one of the 'tagged' must, in turn, pick five of their favourites to tag on their blogs.

Hope you enjoy this as much as I have!

Thursday, 3 May 2007

And Now For Something Completely Different...

Somehow in all the months I’ve been blogging, I have managed to avoid writing anything about food! Amazing, since my two favourite pastimes, after playing with my paints or digging in the garden, have to be cooking and eating. This little piece of paradise has most needs sorted out for its residents; the fish truck comes around once a week with fresh seafood and lovely vegetables and fruit, the library bus is here once a month, wood and other fuels are delivered and, for a price, a national supermarket chain even brings groceries. All that’s lacking is a really decent, fresh loaf of bread!

No problem! I’m an old bread baking veteran well versed in the lore of yeasts and starters so armed with ‘Old Faithful’ (my tried and tested recipe that erupts with risen goodness), several packets of organic whole wheat flour, freshly bought yeast and our lovely spring water, I prepared for battle! Six loaves later, I was ready to surrender. Each and every batch had produced a wonderful first rise, functioned perfectly with the second rise and come out of the oven like a well formed brick! Inedible, only we ate them…there wasn’t anything else. Sandwiches were out of the question; too far from the dentist to risk a broken tooth, cheese or pate on bread was unwise and toast…well you can only imagine!

Lacking books, I did what any IT savvy, self-respecting rookie would do; I turned to the Blogosphere. Following on the great success I’ve had with inspiration, focus, and motivation I decided to take my bread problem to the experts out in Blogland. Of course this meant plenty of lurking on food blogs…oh boy what riches are there for the picking! Hunger; however, kept me focussed and it wasn’t long before I found answers here at Farm Girl Fare, thanks Susan!

Results of all of this were encouraging; the loaf was satisfyingly dense but not at all stodgy with a lovely wheaty taste. I’m going to experiment with using a loaf pan and if it works, this recipe will be hard to beat as an everyday loaf, not just tasty but time saving and so very easy to make.
Although this bread has been doing the rounds since November of last year, the recipe seems to be confined to the US and Canada. Originally the brainchild of New York baker, Jim Lahey, the recipe appeared in The New York Times last year and originally used white flour but works with almost any type of bread flour. I have used both stone ground whole-wheat flour and malted grain whole-wheat flour with equal success. The free form shape doesn’t work too well for sandwiches but according to Susan, she has successfully used loaf pans with this recipe. This will be my next experiment; the only change I made was to cut the salt to a scant teaspoon. Oh, and the bread in the photo was baked in an ordinary stainless steel roaster as my heavy pot was in service, full of Tuscan Bean Soup.


No – Knead Bread

Time: About 1½ hours plus 14 to 20 hours’ rising

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, with more for dusting
¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1¼ teaspoons salt
Wheat bran or extra flour as needed

In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 and 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest (rise) at least 12 hours, preferably 18, at warm room temperature (about 21 degrees C, 70 degrees F).

Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour work surface and place dough on it (it is very sloppy); sprinkle it with a bit more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice (I found it too sloppy and used about ½ a cup, folding 4 or 5 times to incorporate). Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest for about 15 minutes.

Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton tea towel (not towelling) with flour or bran; put dough seam side down on this towel and dust with flour or bran. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 more hours. When ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not spring back readily when poked with a finger.

At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 400 - 450 degrees (depending on your oven). Put a heavy, covered, 6 to 8 quart pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in the oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under the towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look a mess, but that’s OK. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake about another 15 - 30 minutes until the loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack. Makes one 1½ pound loaf.


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