Monday, 13 July 2015

Le treize et le quatorze


In my mind just now, I'm sitting at the table in La Huttière.  The red table cloth I've known for over 25 years on the table in front of me, the dresser I've known for just as long behind me, with the glasses and other dishes in it that I've used to share drinks and meals with friends and family for nearly three decades inside it.  Dad's sitting opposite me with his Sudoku, Mum's sitting on the sofa made by Philippe, with a good book to keep her company.  The boys are in bed in the bedrooms through the glass door behind me.  Ealasaid is playing on the swings outside,  trying to convince us that she doesn't need to be in bed yet.  Colin's either asleep on the sofa beside Mum, pretending to read, or he's asleep in the boys' room, pretending not to be.  The crickets are still calling outside and now and again we can hear fire crackers and/ or fireworks being set off, as a prelude to the official ones which will be set off tonight in some villages or tomorrow night in others.  I can smell all the aromas of the place I know so well.  I can see all the sights.  And my heart is breaking that I'm not there in person, with my family around me…and my French 'family' close by too.  I know everything happens for a reason, and I know it's God's will that we're not there at this time this year…but I would so love to be able to go to lay flowers on Roger's grave at the cimitière in Fougeres sur Bièvre tomorrow, as we always do.  I know he'll understand, but still…it hurts not to be there for our old friend, and not to be able to visit Gilberte to reminisce about old times.  No Jean-Paul popping round with home grown tomatoes or Francis coming round with the children to say hello, or Daniel appearing for aperitifs.  But still, what wonderful memories…and hopefully many more to come.  À la famille Samin, et les MacLéans… Bonne fête à tous pour demain! xx

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Lismore Show, 2015


It's barely 9 o' clock at night and I'm sitting here needing matchsticks to prop my eyes open.  I know I won't be the only one… half of the island will probably be in exactly the same boat.  Today saw the first Lismore Show since around the time of the Second World War.  A huge amount of work and effort had gone in beforehand to make the day the great success it was.  The show was the brainchild of Neil Carmichael, but I think it's safe to say his whole family was involved, including his Gran, Cathie Carmichael, who would be presenting the prizes later in the day. 


Many a household on the island has been a hive of activity for the past few days, culminating in a frenzy of baking activity yesterday and even first thing this morning.  Children's classes were popular, with lots of baking and handicraft entries, from 2 year olds and upwards.  Adult baking classes were also hotly contested, along with handicrafts, flowers, photography and art. 

 

Our own day started with transporting our exhibits to the hall… no mean feat, given that we had 27 entries between us and a rather bumpy road to drive along.  All went well though, with everything arriving safely. 






When we returned to the hall in the afternoon, we were delighted to discover that Ealasaid, Alasdair, Ruairidh and myself had all managed to win some prizes, with Ealasaid being particularly successful.  A further surprise came later in the day, when Ealasaid was announced as the overall winner of two trophies, one for junior handicrafts and one for junior baking.  What made this even better was that both trophies had been donated by our family – one in memory of my grandmother, Flora MacLean (MacGillivray) of Achuaran and the other by the Achinduin branch of the family.  Lovely to see the senior baking prize going to Kiki MacColl, of Achinduin…we really do like to keep things in the family!! 

Now it's time to wind down, eat lots and lots and lots…and even more lots…of baking, clear away a million paint brushes and other craft stuff…and sleep!  It was all well worth the effort though, especially for the children, who are delighted beyond belief with their prizes – rosettes are just the best things ever, according to Alasdair and Ruairidh!  Roll on the next Lismore show…hope it's not 70 odd years till then. 

Friday, 2 January 2015

New year, new start...well, good intentions, anyway!

I wonder if 2015 will see me actually remembering that I have a blog.  It all started with great intentions, but, well, that's about as far as it got.
2014 was a challenging year for us as a family.  Dad had to learn to cope with his newly diagnosed diabetes, we lost Colin's Mum really quite suddenly, Ealasaid hasn't had the easiest time in school, then Mum was diagnosed with osteoporosis...bit of a shock, but perhaps better than what we were all imagining.  She's still in incredible pain, but at least she knows what she's dealing with now.  On top of that, we don't even want to talk about the quote Dad's received for the dental work he needs!!
However...we have so, so much to be grateful for inspire of the difficulties.  We had a lovely family Christmas...everyone was together, everyone enjoyed at least a measure of good health, three generations of the family had a wonderful time surrounded by gifts galore and, more importantly, love.  When I think of what so many other people I know and love are going through, I realise I have so much to be grateful for.  Like our friends who lost Great Grandpa just a few days before Christmas...or my old school friend coming home from Canada to visit her parents, knowing that her Mum will be oblivious, as she's suffering from advanced Alzheimer's ... Impossible to comprehend what they must be feeling.
We (well, Mum, Dad and myself...Colin was on babysitting duty!) started off Christmas by attending the Watchnight service here in Lismore...our first time here, believe it or not, after all these years.  It was lovely...the church was lit by candlelight, the air was filled with the sound of much loved carols (though Dad had a serious complaint - no Silent Night!!), followed by the sound of he bells ringing at midnight.  It was a special, family occasion...and another reminder of what a difficult time this can be for some families...one island family lost their son on Christmas Day 2014 in the most difficult of circumstances.  How appropriate that we were asked to wish each other a thoughtful Christmas, as well as the other, perhaps more usual, wishes.

Christmas morning brought the usual chaos, fun, love, laughter...and did I mention chaos?!  It was so good to see Ealasaid's entry on her calendar for the 25th December...she'd marked it in as God's day.  So despite the chaos, etc, it was good to know that Jesus was still at the heart of our celebrations, even in the eyes of  a little child who might have been expected to have eyes only for the gifts she would receive.  That said, she was just a teensy wee bit excited, delighted, ecstatic, etc, etc to get her much longed for tablet...along with one or two other presents.  The boys didn't do too badly either...mini tablet-type things among their gifts too...to the extent that whenever they get a present from friends of family now, Alasdair yells 'more, more!', while searching for Santa's sack behind the poor person who has just been kind enough to give him a present!
Christmas dinner was also a lovely, family affair.  Everyone was there, everyone enjoyed their food (salmon steaks, in case anyone's wondering, along with one or two other bits and pieces!) and we had connections with other family members not present.  We sat at my Gran's table, on her chairs, ate with cutlery given as a wedding present by Mary, served some of the food on plates which came from Aunt Violet, while surrounded by decorations which have been in my Mum's family since her Granny  was alive.  And yes, the dogs did indeed receive their Christmas gifts too...the chews which were meant to last for ages are, of course, ancient history.  Just imagine...Oscar (their MacLean predecessor) had a squeaky Christmas cracker he got when he was not much more than a pup and that he had (the remains of, at least) till the day he died, aged 14...that pair...squeaky toy??  Nae chance!! For the record, the fish got a wee extra bit of Christmas dinner too...they never get over fed, honest!
A few days later, and I realise just how much I have to be thankful for.  Glancing through Facebook, I see a post from an old childhood friend saying how hard Christmas Day was and how heartbroken she's feeling, despite having got her Dad home for Christmas.  That's when I realise they only just managed it, as he died a few days later.  I just can't imagine what that family is going through...and to be honest, I don't want to.  Roddy was always this larger than life character, so full of fun...such an integral part of life growing up in Coll each summer.  For so many reasons, mainly health related, we haven't managed to get out to Coll for way too long, so we lost the closeness we once shared with the family, but oh, the memories... One positive is that Colin is now more determined than ever to find out what he's been missing...watch this space for Coll developments - he's mentally measuring up the house as I type, with a view to getting out there as soon as possible.  I can't express what it'll mean to me to be back home...the best place in the world.
New Year was lovely too.  Didn't start the best, with Colin attending his Great Uncle John's funeral on Hogmanay, but we had the unexpected bonus of everyone being together in Lismore for New Year.  Ruairidh was the only one who missed the Bells...even Alasdair got up to party...and Ealasaid wasn't in bed till after 2am!
So, after all that...new year, new start?  What are my intentions?  No resolutions as such, just a renewed determination to make the most of every moment with my loved ones, to be so much more organised so that I have a better chance of doing so.  Didn't manage to send a single Christmas card this year, so a good start could be writing a real, live letter to some of my closest friends (yes, Rhoda, you are top of that list).  Might even remember to write a blog post or two.  Not much to ask...is it?!

Bliadhna mhath ùr dhuibh uile. xx

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Baked Eggs with cheese and mushrooms


Whole family meals in our house can be a bit challenging.  The adults will eat almost anything, but with a relatively picky eight year old and a fussy beyond belief two year old, it’s not always easy finding something that everyone can, or rather will, eat.  One meal ingredient that is guaranteed to bring a smile to everyone’s face though is egg.  Mr. Fussy will eat just about any other meal item, as long as he can dip it in egg yolk.  Mrs. Not Quite so Fussy (but still somewhat choosy) will almost certainly be demanding seconds if there’s egg involved, especially of the fried variety.   Tasty though it is, if it’s a meal for the adults as well as the children, I tend to look for an alternative to simple fried egg and chips.  A firm favourite in our house is Baked Eggs with cheese and mushrooms…or whatever else we happen to feel like adding to the mix on any given day!  The beauty of this meal is that it can be resized to fit virtually any meal, for any number of people.  When we had it most recently, there were, in fact, only two of us eating, at lunch-time.  However, it is so simple to convert into a meal for the whole family, by increasing the amounts described below and adding a ring of mashed potato to the dish before putting it into the oven.  Having said that, we couldn’t have managed another bite the other day – it’s a rather deceptive dish and was incredibly filling. 

 

Ingredients (serves 2)
  • 1 shallot (or small onion)
  • 1-2 cloves of garlic
  • 250g chestnut mushrooms
  •  Handful of chopped parsley
  • 50 -100g cheese
  • 2 tbsp crème fraiche
  • 2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 180°. 

 

1.  Melt a little butter in a frying pan. 

 


2.  Chop the shallot relatively finely and then fry it in the butter until it is softened. 

 

3.  Meanwhile, chop the mushrooms.  For this dish, I chopped them into smaller pieces than I would ordinarily.  Once the shallot has softened, add the mushrooms to the pan, along with the garlic, which should be crushed.  The mushrooms will release quite a lot of moisture – cook until this has pretty much disappeared before moving on to the next step. 

 

4.  Add the parsley, some salt and pepper and the cheese to the pan.  The cheese should be grated or crumbled into the pan, depending on what works for the kind of cheese you decide to use.  I went with a Double Gloucester with onion and chives this time, which kind of half grated, half crumbled, being rather soft.  Stir this mixture over a low heat until the cheese has melted. 

 

5.  Put the mixture into an oven proof dish.  If you prefer, you can divide it between two individual sized dishes, but I just used one – saves on the washing up!  Make a slight well at each end of the dish and break an egg into each.  Put a tablespoon of crème fraiche on top of each egg (I gave it a quick whisk so that it was a bit runnier, instead of sitting in a lump on top of the egg).  Top this with a little more cheese and seasoning, if desired and bake in the oven for 15 minutes or so, until the egg white has set, but the yolk is still runny.  Obviously, if you prefer your eggs to be more thoroughly cooked, you can leave the dish in the oven for longer. 

 
When we had this for lunch the other day, we served it with crusty bread, but for dinner, I would use a much bigger over proof dish, which I would line with mashed potato.  I would then spoon the mushroom/ shallot/ cheese mix into the middle, making wells for enough eggs for everyone to have at least one each.  I’d also tend to add a leek to the mix to bulk it out a bit…and possibly some cooked chicken if Dad was joining us, seeing as he doesn’t think it counts as food unless there’s some meat/ fish/ poultry in it!  That’s another advantage to this meal – it’s so easy to make it in individual dishes, which can come in really handy if people have different tastes or dietary requirements. 

 

Empty plates in record time (ably assisted by Mr. Fussy himself, who begged from our plates, despite having scoffed his own lunch earlier) indicated that this eggy meal was a great success, beautifully succulent, wonderful tastes and very filling indeed.  An added bonus is that it’s very quick and easy to make – more time is spent chopping than anything else and even that is pretty minimal.  All in all, an excellent way to enjoy some lovely British Lion Eggs. 

 

This post is an entry for the #ShortcutEggsperts Linky Challenge sponsored by British Lion Eggs. Learn more and find recipes at www.eggrecipes.co.uk

 

Learn more and discover delicious recipes from celebrity chef Dean Edwards at www.eggrecipes.co.uk/mainmealsinminutes.   

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Winter Warmer Recipe

Around 4pm every Monday evening, my thoughts always turn to the same subject:  food.  It’s not that we don’t eat on other nights, just that Monday is one night when we have to be really organised, as hubby has to be out before 6pm – he’s a volunteer fire fighter  and Monday night is training night.  As this can mean quite a bit of physical exercise, outdoor work, often with vast quantities of freezing cold water involved, come Monday night I’m looking for a meal that ticks several boxes.  It has to be relatively straightforward and preferably child friendly, to save having to make something different for the kids.  It has to provide lots of energy for Mr. Fireman, without sitting too heavily in his stomach during training and, perhaps most significantly, it has to be really warming, to help him withstand the cold while he’s out training on a cold, winter’s night.  If he’s lucky and there are some leftovers, it might even make a useful supper dish to warm him up again once he gets home! 
 
 So when The Co-operative Electrical suggested looking out a favourite winter warmer recipe, it seemed such an easy topic but, in reality, it was hard to know where to start, as we have so many favourites that fit the bill.  As the emphasis is on our delightful “arctic British weather” though, I thought I’d share one kind of dish which is particularly popular in many British homes (although with a slight twist here):  a stew. 

As I’m semi-vegetarian (I still eat fish), I used to think that I was somewhat more limited than our meat-eating friends when it comes to stews.  However, since discovering Quorn, in its many forms, this is no longer the case.  With so many more recipes opened up to me, I therefore have so many more filling and warming recipe options to cook to keep hubby warm on a chilly winter evening on a windswept west coast island.  It’s one of these recipes that I have chosen to share with you here. 

 Winter (Quorn) Chicken Stew

 Ingredients

·        1 tbsp olive oil

·        1 onion, sliced

·        4 garlic cloves, sliced

·        700ml hot vegetable stock

·        1 large potato, finely grated

·        ½ - 1 tbsp dried thyme

·        2 tsp dried rosemary

·        300g pack Quorn chicken-style pieces

·        3 carrots, halved lengthways and cut into chunks

·        2 parsnips, halved lengthways and cut into chunks

·        1 leek, well washed and thickly sliced

·        Mashed potato/ baby potatoes/ rice/ couscous, to serve (optional)

Serves 4
 Utensils needed
 Method

1.  Heat the oil in a large pan – one which has a lid (you’ll need this later). 

2.  Meanwhile, prepare the onion and garlic.  We like quite chunky onion, so that it has a bit of a bite to it but, if you prefer, the onion can be finely chopped.  Likewise, the garlic can be chopped or crushed – makes little difference to the end result. 

 
 
 3.  Fry the onion and the garlic for a few minutes, until soft.  I tend to leave it until the onion is starting to brown, but try to avoid letting the garlic brown, as it seems to be more inclined to burn than onion. 

 
 
 
 
 
4.  While the onion and garlic are frying, prepare your stock and potato.  I obviously use vegetable stock, but chicken would work equally well, I’m sure.  I have grated the potato here, but if you prefer a chunkier stew, it can be cut into pieces instead.  It’s going to be boiling for quite a while later, so even larger pieces should still be thoroughly cooked. 

 
 5.  When you’re happy with the onion and garlic, pour in the stock.  Beware of hissing stock as it hits the base of the pot!  Stir in the potato and the herbs.  I used dried herbs, as it was freezing cold and pouring with rain and I had no intention of going outside to pick any fresh ones, but it’s equally, if not more, tasty using fresh herbs.  Adjust the herb amounts according to the intensity of flavour you prefer. 

6.  Add the Quorn chicken-style pieces and bring to the boil.  Unless you have prepared the rest of your vegetables beforehand, bring to the boil quite slowly to give yourself time to chop everything. 

 
 
 
 
 
  7.  Prepare the carrots, parsnips and leeks.  Once each one is prepared, it can be added to the pot straightaway, otherwise you’ll have quite a mound of vegetables to add all at once.  Once you have stirred in all of these vegetables, use your discretion in deciding whether you need to add more stock.  I felt that the stew was looking a little too thick at this point, so added some more – unfortunately, I got distracted and added more that I intended to.  On the bright side, that’s a good excuse to add something else tasty to the meal to mop up the extra gravy! 

8.  Cover the pan and leave to simmer over a low heat, stirring occasionally, until all of the vegetables are as tender as you like them.  The original recipe suggested 40 – 45 minutes, but it was trying to cook real chicken – if you don’t want very mushy vegetables, you probably wouldn’t want to leave this particular version simmering for quite so long.  Once it has been simmering for a while, check for seasoning.  I chose not to add any extra salt, as we’re trying to cut down in sympathy with my Dad, who was recently diagnosed with diabetes, so has to watch his diet very carefully.  However, I did add copious quantities of black pepper – no restrictions there! 

This stew is filling enough to eat on its own, especially if you don’t add too much stock like I did!  We have tried it with various accompaniments, such as couscous or boiled potatoes.  Any extra couscous can also be stirred through the stew and reheated with it the next day, if there are any leftovers. 
 
On the Monday night in question, we ate the stew on its own, so Mr. Fireman wasn’t going out on too full a stomach.  He, of course, polished his off easily, but I was struggling to finish mine, delicious though it was.  I persevered though!  There was plenty left over to give us another meal the next night, this time with a couple of boiled potatoes. 

On both nights, this winter warmer most definitely did its job, as it cooked, while we were eating and long afterwards, banishing all thoughts of the wintry landscape outside the window, which we could admire from our cosy kitchen, safe in the knowledge that our piping hot, tasty winter (Quorn) chicken stew was there to defend us against the elements. 

 
This post is an entry into The Co-operative Electrical winter warmer recipe competition, which can be found at:


 

 

Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Moments That Mattered


It was a beautiful November day in 2013 when I sat waiting for my “Moment that Mattered”.  I knew it was coming, but I just didn’t know what kind of moment it was going to be.  Glorious sunshine streamed through the windows, horses and sheep, along with the odd chicken, wandered by outside, revelling in the unexpected winter warmth.  I, however, while I was aware of all of it, wasn’t really seeing any of it. 
All I could see was this unexploded bomb sitting right in the middle of my family.  And that November day was the day I was going to find out if the bomb was about to destroy us or if it could somehow be disarmed. 

 

For months now, my Dad had been losing weight with a frightening rapidity.  Everyone he met would comment on how slim and svelte he was looking…and every comment was like a knife going through us, because we all knew he was eating just as much as ever.  It’s easy to imagine the one thing that was on every family member’s mind…he’s losing weight, he’s getting tired so quickly, so many things…it must be cancer.  With one thing and another and, in retrospect, with fear probably playing a huge part, he didn’t get round to going to the doctor, despite my Mum’s repeated pleas for him to do just that.  Finally, however, it couldn’t be put off any longer…and there I was, sitting staring blindly out of the window, trying to imagine what life was going to be like when the phone finally rang and we knew what was wrong. 





Autopilot somehow got me through the day.  By the time evening came, I had gone over almost every conceivable scenario a million times.  The one thing of which I was certain was that nothing  was ever going to be the same.  It’s not that I hadn’t been worrying before then…I’d been taking pictures like crazy, even secretly recording his voice as he sang to and played with the children, just in case.  It’s just that now, I actually had to face up to the reality; no more “what ifs” and “maybes” – a few more hours, minutes, seconds and I couldn’t avoid it any longer…we would know the truth. 

 

 
The phone rang and, with more fear and trepidation than I had ever experienced in my whole life, I answered.  It was my hubby, calling to say that he was just heading off to pick my Mum up from the ferry to bring her back to our house.  My heart sank.   I heard this tiny, scared voice asking him if it was just her who was coming.  “Don’t be daft!”, was the response, “Dad’s coming too.”  He had no more details for me at that point, so the agony continued.

 

 
 
In they all trooped, chatting away, kids running around delighted to see Grandma and Seanair (Gaelic for Grandad) back.  My heart was beating so loudly in my ears that I thought I was going to pass out, but even so, I couldn’t bring myself to ask.  I was desperate to know, but equally desperate to remain blissfully ignorant.  After what seemed like an eternity, Mum said to Dad that he’d better give us an update.  “There’s good news and bad news,” he said, glass of wine in hand and looking years younger already.  “The good news is, it’s not cancer.”  Now I realised that Mum had had this broad grin on her face since she arrived back on the island and that they both had a bounce in their step that had been missing for so long.  Never has the word “diabetes” sounded so sweet.  He went on to explain that things were still serious, but with some, admittedly major, dietary and lifestyle changes, along with some medication, things were looking so much brighter than they had been a few short hours before.  I heard little more…my daddy was going to be ok…that’s all that mattered.  I was quiet for a while, then disappeared upstairs to utter the most heartfelt prayer of thankfulness I have ever said…and also to have a good cry, tears of sheer and utter joy, as well as the release of months of pent up emotion. 


That diagnosis was a “moment that mattered” in so many more ways than the obvious though.  In the months that have followed, my family and I have learned so much about diabetes (although we have much, much more to learn).  We have all become increasingly aware of what is actually in our food and the effects each ingredient can have on our health.  However, I think that one of the most important things which has followed on from this “moment that mattered” is my approach to life and my attitude towards my loved ones.  Having come so close, or at least having felt like I was coming close, to losing someone so adored and so important to me has made me realise where my priorities lie.  The little, annoying things no longer bother me.  So what if my parents phone in the middle of a TV programme or if the kids interrupt when I’m at a really intriguing part of a book.  Does it matter if a friend pops in to visit when I’ve got something on the cooker?  All of these and a myriad of other niggling little complaints no longer feature in my life.  I have found a peace and am capable of appreciating every moment, every little thing about all of my family.  I know that one day, we will inevitably be separated for a season, but until then, my 2013 “moment that mattered” has given me the encouragement I needed to live life to the full, surrounded by my wonderful family, enjoying and appreciating everyone and everything…even the moments that really don’t seem to matter so much, but are still important in their own special way.  Thanks to the diagnostic “moment that mattered”, I’m so indescribably thankful that my Dad, the children’s Seanair, has been able to take his place at the centre of so many more “moments that matter” in all of our lives. 

 

 
 
This post is an entry into the Lloyds Bank “Moments that Mattered” competition.

 

 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013


School Holiday Shenanigans

This half term break kind of crept up on us really.  Miss Ealasaid had been off school with some bug that had been doing the rounds, so there was no pre-holiday excitement at all.  That was until her best pal Katie came up from Dumbarton with her parents to spend some of her school break in their holiday house next door to us in Lismore.  We couldn't say that Ealasaid was miraculously cured or anything, but it really helped her to have that added incentive to get out of bed each day, so that she could see her beloved Katie.  A bit of fresh air and lots of quality time with that lovely wee girl has definitely helped her recovery.  The pair of them went to an afternoon tea in the village hall, where Ealasaid 'encouraged' some of my adult Gaelic learners by telling them that it really wasn't that easy a language and that she found it difficult too…despite it being the language she learns through in school and it being second nature to her to use in whatever situation arises!  Lovely that she could be a source of encouragement though, in some way or other. 


 

Once Katie had gone back home, it was time to think up some other way to entertain the hordes during the holidays.  Grandma and Seanair came up trumps here – they decided to go down to Glasgow for a few days, taking Miss Ealasaid with them.  Colin and I popped down with the boys for part of the time as well, so it was a real family affair.  Much of the time was spent at my late aunt's house, which was lovely – so nice that she's still part of family life in a way, even though she's not here with us any more.  Much fun was had by all with the grandparents, including Ealasaid and Seanair going on a trip to Pollock Park and the Burrell…I feel this amazing connection, seeing my parents doing all these things with my daughter that my Gran used to do with me.  Such a lovely feeling having her 'share' in her own childhood the experiences and places which were so important to me in mine. 














Back home again and back to school for Miss E, but time for the remaining members of the family to have their holiday outing - a lovely day spent with Collach and Liosach on the shore at Point.  Oh, and the boys were there too!  Not that Ruairidh was feeling very photogenic, due to extreme starvation – it had been at least 10 minutes since his last feed, so he was in a foul mood!  Managed to get a couple of snaps of Daddy and Alasdair though, to supplement the doggy photo shoot!