2018 – reflection on the year past

It has been such a busy year at Ar Bruidair this year, it almost seems to have passed in a flash so I though it might be a good thing to pause and reflect on things before getting stuck head on into 2019.

Every year has ups and downs, and it’s important to remember this, rather than fixate on the things which didn’t go to plan or went wrong. That’s not a healthy way to live your live. I spoke at work recently about how blogging is a good tool for mindfulness and reflection so let’s reflect. Yes there was snow but there was so much more.

2019 was a year of extremes, the so-called ‘beast from the east’ brought with it ridiculous wind and snow meaning most of the UK suffered in spring. Then summer was a roaster with heat waves and droughts. Too cold for plants one minute and too hot the next.

January

The fear and emotional turmoil after an accident, some time to sit and reflect and the positivity that cycling can bring as a new charity venture was born near us.

February

From mental health to physical health, new greenhouse gadgets and making the greenhouse taller.

March

Learning to love the birds who visit the garden, jazzing up the raised beds and a warming bowl of barley risotto.

April

April saw us dealing with a deluge of compost, a deluge of youtube viewers and the final retreat of the deluge of snow.

May

We accepted our limitation and the power of the UK weather and learned about buying plug plants when growing from seed doesn’t work. New skills, new knowledge and new opportunities.

June

The new greenhouse gadget is working a treat meaning we had more basil than we knew what to do with, so we learned to make pesto, oh and we perfected our honey, roasted seeds. It was a tasty month.

July

July gave us sunshine, peanut butter and focaccia. What a wonderful month. Lots of time outdoors.

August

Sunshine and warmth brought abundance to the greenhouse. indigo Rose tomatoes were a new addition we wouldn’t have tried had it not been for the awful spring weather. Plugs plants gave us new things to try.

September

I get insanely excited by new cookware. Enough said.

October

The garden winds down and the kitchen winds up. Spiced muffin treats, a hug from some spicy butternut squash soup and using up the last of the tomatoes to make passata. We are feeling the autumn richness.

November

When the cold sets in, you enjoy being indoors. Hygge or còsagach? Cast iron or non stick? And a shiny new greenhouse.

December

December is always such a busy month, so much food, so many crafts and so much fun. Mince pies, advent calendars and eggnog.

2018 was a wonderful year full of new things, new adventures and lessons learned. We can’t wait for 2019, bring it on.




The hotbin composter – the big reveal. Did it work?

Firstly I must apologise for this incredibly late post. We did a big reveal video showing the hotbi composter and the results way back in July and unfortunately, I forgot to share it here. Unforgivable!

So for those of you who were watching out for this… from July

And just for a special update for you guys, we’ve emptied the bin at least twice since then and been more than happy each time.

I’ve got a bit of a routine going with this now, I empty the compost onto a big tarpaulin, as it’s easier for me to deal with, I then drag this into the greenhouse and leave it for a few days to dry out a bit, before sieving it and adding it to the beds etc as needed.

I just feel that straight from the bin its a bit wet to use other than to dig it through, but as we garden in raised bed, there is limited options for digging through properly, so instead I sieve it and use the best stuff for the beds etc and put the larger pieces back into the bin. It works great though.

At one point I had 6 sacks of compost stored behind the shed because I couldn’t use it fast enough to keep up.

So thumbs up, big success.




Halloween here isn’t about pumpkins… apple spiced muffin recipe

I’ve been involved in a bit of facebook rant recently about Halloween and the fact that Scottish kids celebrate this as the American version (trick or treat) rather than holding onto the traditional Scottish celebrations I knew as a kid. It’s just one of those things, the world is becoming smaller with the advent of communications technologies. We grow up with American, Hollywood films and TV shows regularly come from the states, so it’s only natural that there is a crossover of cultures. So I suppose that’s where bloggers like myself have to talk about our cultural traditions so they don’t get forgotten.

Pumpkin

Pumpkin is everywhere at this time of year… now. It wasn’t a thing really when I was a kid, but these days Halloween and Autumn, in general, are filled with pumpkin. We have pumpkin decorations in the shops and pumpkin spiced coffees in the coffee shops etc. Here in Scotland, the tradition at Halloween was to carve a turnip. Yep, a turnip and it was bloody hard work, really only adults had any chance. We also had a few other traditions which I loved.

Dookin for apples

Pic from  https://www.glasgowlive.co.uk/news/glasgow-news/glasgow-school-children-take-part-12106270

Dookin for apples was simply lots of apples bobbing in a big tub of water, which you had to catch with only your mouth – hands behind your back. There was much hilarity and soggy kids. We also ate apples coated in toffee with a stick stuck into them to hold, a bit like a lollipop.

Treacle Scones

Pic from  https://www.scotsman.com/news/how-scotland-celebrated-halloween-in-7-pictures-1-4272133

I have to tell you about treacle scones just for my baby sister Leigh (who turned 41 a couple of days ago – happy birthday Leigh! The game of treacle scones is basically, bits of scone, covered in black treacle, hanging from strings across the room (so they swing) and kids, again with hands behind their backs have to bite the scones. Imagine treacle all over your face, in your hair, on your clothes etc… My sister had long, thick curly hair and she was always a complete mess but the end of the game (it didn’t help that I worked out that I could nudge the scones just right so they’d swing right at her).

Guising

Lastly, in Scotland we go guising, not trick or treating. We made our costumes and go out prepared to “do a party piece” to earn our sweets. It could be you tell a joke, sing a song, show off your dance moves… or if you are my little brother, Arlen, tell an adorable cute poem when you are 3 – completely set up by myself and Leigh cause his cuteness got us extra sweets… We coached him well!

Anyways…. enough of my rant, you came here for a recipe..

Spiced Apple muffins (not pumpkin) for a warm autumn night treat

Ingredients for 12 large muffins

  • 500g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 0.5 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cardamom
  • 1 tsp ginger powder
  • 2 eggs
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 180ml oil
  • 150ml milk
  • 400g jar of Bramley apple sauce (with chunks of apple in)

I am being completely lazy and using a jar of apple sauce, but feel free to use your own homemade sauce it will probably be sooooo much better.

Get Baking

Muffin wrappers

Step 1.  First, preheat your oven to 170 C for a fan oven or 190 C for a conventional oven & then prepare your muffin tin – if you aren’t using muffin wrappers as I do (see above), oil your tin.

Step 2. In a bowl, combine all your wet ingredients and sugar and then give it, really good mix to break up the egg and combine the egg and oil. Then add your applesauce and mix it through.

Step 3. Sift the flour, spices and baking powder into a big bowl and give it a good mix.

Step 4. Pour your wet into your dry, give it enough of a mix to combine but don’t over mix. How to know it’s right, it should drop thickly and easily off a spoonBaking can add more milk if it’s too thick and a little flour if it’s too runny.

Step 5. Add the batter to the muffin wrappers. They should be NO MORE than three-quarters full. Do not overfill, trust me, as they will rise heaps in the oven.

Step 6. As quickly as you can, get them in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 mins, until they are golden brown on top.

Step 7. Let them cool and then nom!




Growing tomatoes in the cold climate of Scotland. Yup it is possible.

I think it’s fair to say that tomatoes have been one of my favourite things to grow over the past couple of years but I hear all the time that you can’t grow tomatoes in the Scottish climate.  Yet I grow lots, blue tomatoes, purple tomatoes, red tomatoes, yellow tomatoes, even stripy tomatoes.

So what’s the trick?

Well simply, it’s about choosing the right variety for the space you have to grow them. Let me explain. You get two types of tomato plants determinate (bush type) or indeterminate (also called cordon). Determinate tomato plants grow as a bush, they are usually compact and all the fruits ripen at pretty much the same time. They don’t need a lot of staking or pruning. Indeterminate tomato plants grow to be tall, very tall, sometimes over 6 feet and continue to grow and produce fruit until they are killed off usually by cold weather. They also need a lot more care and maintenance, lots of pruning.

Within these plant types there are lots of different varieties which in turn will all have different positives and negatives for you as a grower. For example, the bigger beefsteak type tomatoes take a lot of sunlight to ripen, so if your garden doesn’t get a lot of direct sun or if your summer season is short, then these can be difficult to grow. The little cherry varieties, however, can be easier as they need a little less sunlight to ripen.

I am lucky because I have a greenhouse, which means I can have the tomato plants growing for an extended season, meaning when the weather changes in Scotland and we start to get cold and even frost (which is much earlier here than other parts of the UK, I can keep my plants safe in the greenhouse, unaffected. If I was growing my plants outdoors, I’d have to take this into consideration and chose a variety which would ripen quickly to get the best of the shorter season.

So here are some of my very quick tips for growing tomatoes.

Planting

You can plant your tomatoes directly into the soil or into pots. I prefer pots as this gives me the option to move things around in the greenhouse. If you use pots, make sure they are a decent size, your tomato plants get quite big. I usually go for around a ten-inch pot with good quality compost. You can also use grow bags, but try to keep it to one or two plants per grow bag.

Watering

This is one of the most important parts of growing tomatoes and I can’t stress enough how important it is to water your plants regularly and evenly.  The reason I say this is because if you neglect the plant, even just a little and then suddenly try to catch up on the watering, the skins can split, meaning you are likely to get mould growing in the fruit. Try to keep a strict watering regimen.

Feeding

Feeding your plants is essential, once they start to flower you need to feed them weekly with a good, balanced fertiliser. After all the plants are making lots of fruit for you so they need lots of nutrition.

Support

Your plants will need support, especially when they are full of heavy fruit. I use canes and wires to support mine. You can also buy cages especially for growing tomato plants but basically, you just need to find a way to keep them upright and support heavy branches.

Pruning

Determinate varieties (bush) should have their side shoots removed from below the first truss of fruit to allow air and light to penetrate and prevent disease. Try not to remove too many shoots after this as it will reduce your crop so keep them “bushy”.

Indeterminate varieties (cordon) should be encouraged to keep only one or two main stems. Remove any “suckers” by pinching out the growing tips from the leaf joints. These plants will be tall.

Remove “suckers” from your tomato plants

With both types, you may have to regularly remove excess leaves to allow sunlight and air to reach the fruit and help it to ripen.

Good luck with your tomato growing, I hope you guys will get as much fun and pleasure from growing tomatoes as I do, and remember, there are lots of types to grow, so be brave and try at least one that’s not a standard red salad tomato?

Once you have a gut of tomatoes and don’t know what do do with, take a look at some of our tomato recipes to help.

Tomato chutney

Tomato and red pepper soup

Summer pasta

Some of our other posts on growing tomatoes




planning your garden – you have to start somewhere

We seem to have so many friends either revamping their existing gardens or creating brand new gardens at the moment, so this has created quite a few questions about how exactly you begin. The simple answer is, with a plan.

Starting with the front garden

Kate and I moved to Ar Bruidair back in 2012 and had pretty much a blank slate to start with. The people who had owned the house before us had gotten rid of their gardens and replaced them with very easy to manage blocks and gravel, so we got to completely start from fresh which was both exciting and daunting. We started very simply with our first garden adventure, which was our front garden, the one on the street that everyone could see.

It made this a very public journey with lots of people asking questions and watching, so I’m glad we had a plan and at least “looked” like we knew what we were doing.

Our first plan was very basic, a pen and paper. We measured the space to give us a very rough idea of what we were working with and we sat down and drew what we’d like the garden to look like. Kate had obviously eaten too much cheese or something that day, as it was Kate’s idea to have the weirdly shaped lawn but it does make for a really interesting garden in our sea of suburban square lawns and small ornamental trees :P.

Our plan really was as simple as a doodle, but it gave us ideas to work from. You can see that it didn’t really give defined shapes, just rough areas of where we thought things would be. When we took this doodle outside, that’s where things got interesting. We had to lift all that monoblock, which was going to be a huge job, so we drew our actual plan right there onto the ground with chalk, that’s when we were able to really visualise things and our shapes took hold.

We started with the rockery and shrubbery, the two little beds on either side of the lawn, this gave us a small practise area first before tackling the much bigger lawn area. A chance to back out before it was too late if things didn’t work. Luckily it did.

The back garden

By the time we’d got around to planning and creating our back garden, we’d gotten a little bit of experience under our belts. We recognised how useful the planning stage had been and with a much bigger garden to work with, we knew a plan really was going to be essential. Especially as this time, the garden wasn’t just a huge suntrap like our front garden, this time there were sunny areas, shady areas, buildings and furniture to think about. So the plan got bigger and more complicated to match the project this time, there was software!

Hey we are both tech geeks so you knew a gadget or something would appear!

There are loads of options out there for software that helps you plan and visualise a garden, some charge you but a lot are free. Really, most of them are no different from getting out your coloured pencils but we wanted to really think about the plants too, as we were very new to gardening so I tried out Mr Fothergill’s Garden Planner. It is a paid for app, but I found the free trial gave me plenty of time for my needs. It also let me project plan my growing season so I knew when all my tasks needed to be done. Hey I like a good plan!!!!!

It meant we could log the sunny areas, shady areas, wet ground, frost pockets etc, meaning we really could make sure we had the right plants in the right places. It also meant we could test out how the shed and greenhouse were going to work, before doing all that hard labour, cause trust me, that was hard work. Oh and the raised beds, if we’d got them wrong, that would have been catastrophic.

 

There are lots of different garden planning tools and processes, find the one that’s right for you but if you do want to try out some software to see if it helps, I put together a short video on how to use a free tool from smallblueprinter.




Tablet. The Scottish Sweetie

Tablet is a very, very, very, very, very sugary traditional Scottish sweet. Or as we say in Scotland, a sweetie. Every kid in Scotland grew up eating this stuff and it’s probably responsible for the appalling dental health of my generation and before.

Before I go any further I want to just explain one thing to anyone reading this who wasn’t lucky enough to grow up eating tablet, you have probably seen tablet called fudge or Scottish fudge in tourist shops. Tablet is absolutely not fudge. Although fudge, tablet and toffee are all made with similar recipes, they have a very different texture. Tablet is brittle, but soft and melts in the mouth. It’s not chewy at all. It’s slightly grainy in texture and very sweet. Did I mention yet that its super sweet? And it melts in the mouth. Heavenly!

When you mention tablet, almost everyone in Scotland has a story of a legendary family member who made the best tablet, I learned today that apparently, my gran made tablet but I don’t have any family recipes so wasn’t aware that she had (my gran died when I was about 4 so I don’t really remember much of her).  Luckily though, Kate’s mum was the tablet legend in her family, and Kate’s dad happily shared her recipe with us. Talking about traditional Scottish recipes though, Kate’s mum’s recipe is written in a school book (we call these jotters, school jotters), which is where her dad found it. Given that Kate’s mum would have been 73 this year, that’s an old school jotter and a proper old recipe 🙂

So a massive thank you to Mike for sharing this.

Recipe exactly as it was written (in old measures)

Ingredients:
2 lbs sugar
2 ozs butter
Half pint milk
1 small tin condensed milk
1 teaspoonful Vanilla essence

Method
Put sugar, milk and butter into a pan, stir with a wooden spoon until sugar dissolves and bring to boiling point; add condensed milk slowly and boil steadily for  10-15 minutes.
Add Vanilla essence, remove from heat and stir well with wooden spoon until thick.
Test for suitability for pouring by putting a little of the mixture into a small bowl or cup of cold water, if ready it should form a soft ball.
Pour into a greased tin. Mark when set but before it cools.

It took me a couple of attempts to get this right, the first attempt I got too hot and it became toffee. So to try to help you, here are my directions.

Bring the sugar, butter, and milk to a boil slowly, stirring constantly.  You want to give the sugar time to dissolve, and you don’t want the mixture sticking to the bottom of the pot so keep stirring. Once it’s boiling, slowly add the condensed milk and keep stirring.

 

Now once you get the mixture boiling again, and of course keep stirring, you want to get the temperature up to around 118C, this took me 15 minutes but the time will vary determined by your cooker. You can see in Kate’s mum’s instructions that she talked about testing the mixture by dropping it in cold water. I went with the thermometer method as it seemed a bit more reliable.

The mixture will darken as it heats and thickens slightly.

A word of warning, use a very deep pan, with a heavy bottom. This mixture bubbles furiously when boiling and increasing in mass by about 2 thirds.

Once you have the mixture up to temperature, take it off the heat and add the vanilla essence. Be warned, however, this will cause the mix to froth, so be careful.

This is where the hard work starts, keeping it off the heat, either with a wooden spoon or with an electric whisk, beat until the mixture thickens. This took 5 minutes with an electric hand whisk.

Now pour it VERY CAREFULLY into a greased baking tray and leave to cool completely. It will harden and set.

Once its cool, you can cut it into small square portions. Remembering that this is just sugar and fat, make the portions small. This is definitely no health food!

There you go, Scottish tablet.

Enjoy!

 

 




Easy to make fluffy pancakes (Scottish style)

As a wee weekend treat, I like to make pancakes for breakfast and wake kate up with a big plate of pancakes, egg and sausage and a cup of coffee.

We’ve been doing this for a few months and even created a youtube video showing you how to do this but only just realised that we forgot to share the recipe here on the blog. So apologise folks, here it is.

Big, fluffy pancakes to make you smile

A bit like morning rolls, pancakes are another one of those foods which cause a little bit of controversy here in the UK.  Why? Well simply because depending on where you are, when you order pancakes, it’s a bit like roulette waiting to see what you get.

Here in Scotland, pancakes are fluffy, thick and delicious. Much like the American pancake although we tend to eat them cold, smothered in butter with a cup of tea. Down south, they would call this a drop scone, not a pancake. In England (down south) they tend to eat thin french crepes style ones and call them pancakes.

So today’s recipe are for Scottish pancakes – please don’t say scotch, it hurts my ears and annoys me greatly. There is no such thing as scotch (unless you count what Americans call whisky), it’s Scots or Scottish. 😃

Ingredients for 8 big pancakes

  • 270 grams of plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons of melted butter, allow it to cool slightly
  • half a teaspoon of salt
  • 4 tablespoons of sugar, just normal granulated sugar will do
  • two beaten eggs and
  • 260 ml of milk

Get to making your pancakes

Firstly,  add all the dry ingredients to a bowl and give it a mix, then add the wet ingredients to another bowl and mix well. Now combine the wet into the dry, mixing to form a thick batter.
There, that’s it. Easy huh?

Well, you still have to cook them…

Get a non-stick frying pan nice and hot. You don’t want it too hot because then the pancakes can burn. So keep it on a nice medium heat, you want the pancakes to spend enough time in the pan so that the insides cook not just the outsides.

This recipe will give probably about eight kind of average sized American-style pancakes.  I just find my big kitchen spoon is just the perfect amount for that so basically I use that as my batter to pan transference device.

Once the pan is hot, spoon some batter into it, enough to make a pancake the size you want. I’d say a nice big dollop but more importantly, I say – once it’s in the pan, leave it alone. Don’t fiddle with it. That’s very important! Let it sit in the pan and what you’re watching for the little bubbles repeatedly busting through the batter.

Once you have little bubbles all over it, you can turn it over and give it 30 seconds or so to brown on the other side. The little bubbles are how you know it’s cooked and it’s ok to flip it.

Watch our video to see what we mean. https://youtu.be/9rfCss5k4w0

It really is that simple and in less than 20 minutes you will have a big stack of lovely pancakes to share for a weekend breakfast.

 




Morning Rolls – fire them how you like

finished rollsI grew up in Glasgow, Scotland and like everyone else around me I absolutely love a bacon and scone roll in the morning. Now that doesn’t seem like a hugely political statement, but trust me, as you are reading this, some folk are scoffing at their computer screens because I called it a morning roll.

The reason being that depending on which part of Scotland you grew up in, the morning roll has a different name and in some instances is even a completely different animal.

Now as I said, Glasgow. In Glasgow we call the soft bread rolls you get from the baker in the morning a morning roll. You know the one you have to tear apart from each other and are all sort and fluffy?

However I have found that on the east coast of the country they call these rolls Glasgow rolls. I have no idea why, they just do. Kate who grew up in Monifieth near Dundee says it’s because in the east coast they tend to eat baps. I don’t know how accurate this is but Kate says so and I believe her. Again to confuse things even further – there is an Aberdeen roll. Although I would struggle to call this a roll as it’s flat and is more like flakey pastry (also called a butteries).

Right, just to throw a spanner in the works I’m going to add a layer of confusion to this. In Glasgow you are split into two camps where morning rolls are concerned. Soft and well fired. Holding your head in confusion yet? (I am having fun)

Ok a soft roll is as you’d expect, soft and has no crust on it. However a well fired roll has been cooked a bit longer so that the top of the roll is crispy and very dark. Personally I’m a soft roll girl, but my dad is a well fired roll guy and this caused some grief when I was growing up as he’d always by the well fired rolls so I’d have to eat them. I have to admit there is more taste to a well fired roll, but the problem is that as you bite down on it, the crispy crust just shatters and half your roll ends up on the floor. So I’ll leave it up to you how much you want to “fire” your rolls.

Ok shall I tell you how to make these delights so that you can have a go for yourself?

How to make morning rolls / Glasgow rolls

Makes 10 – 12 rolls dependent on size

Ingredients

  • 10g yeast
  • 120ml warm water
  • 120ml milk
  • 1 egg
  • 2 melted butter
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 450g bread flour
  • 1 tablespoon melted butter to brush rolls before baking

Method

Making the dough

1. In the bowl, stir the yeast into the warm water and let it sit for a couple of minutes then in a separate bowl, whisk together the milk, egg, 2 tablespoons of butter, sugar, and salt.

Add this to the yeast mixture and stir until combined. Add all the flour and stir until it makes a rough dough.

2.  Knead for 8-10 minutes, until smooth but slightly tacky. It should spring back when poked. If you aren’t sure about kneading bread dough, check out our other blog post – Bread isn’t scary after all

3. Cover the mixing bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until doubled in size, about an hour.

Shape the rolls

second rise - rolls1. Dust your work surface with some flour and turn the risen dough out onto it. Knock it back a little basically by kneading it again for a couple of minutes, then divide the dough into 10 to 12 pieces depending on what size rolls you want. Remember these will rise again so will get maybe twice the size.

2. To shape into rolls – roll the dough between your hands until they are little round balls.

Let the rolls rise a second time

1. Line a tray with baking parchment and arrange the rolls spaced maybe a cm apart. Let the rolls rise until they look almost twice the size and like little pillows. This will probably take about 45 mins.

While the rolls are rising, pre-heat the oven to 180°C or 170°C for a fan assisted oven.

Cooking the rolls

1. Brush the rolls with melted butter to help them brown and keep the crust soft.

2. Bake the rolls until golden, 15-18 minutes.  You’ll know they are cooked when they sound hollow when you tap the bottom.

Let the rolls cool on a wire rack until cool enough to handle.  Then most importantly, enjoy. I like them with loads of butter (thick enough to leave teeth marks in).




Planting up – monster courgettes year three

image

This week’s update, well the work starts here. It’s time to start potting up the first batch of seedlings, tidy up the beds a little, get weeding and feed the soil. And that’s just this weekend.

Kate and I were out in the lovely sunshine yesterday, each with a list of chores.

My chores were mostly about getting the seedlings I planted two weeks ago moved into pots and into the greenhouse. They’ve really come on and Kate claims everytime she goes into the den the courgettes try to grab her. So into new soil and pots they’ve gone along with the beans and peas. The peas were actually so big that they were srarting to bend to fit into the shelving of the bookcase where I had them.

I’ve potted them up into 3 inch pots for just now, they will stay that way for another few weeks before I pot them up again into their final pots.

For just now, it’s still too risky to put young plants out, the cold snaps and frosts don’t pass in Scotland until end of May so they are snug in a clear box in the greenhouse just now. This will help keep them slightly warmer as I start to acclimatise them to the Scottish weather.

image

You can see the clear boxes with young plants in them on the shelf in the greenhouse above.

On the side closest, the potato bags are along the floor. It’s still far too cold to plant the potatoes out but starting them off in the greenhouse lets me get them going a little early.

The greenhouse is a bit messy just now because it’s such an active time in there, it’ll settle out in a month or so when I get everything into their final pots.

image

Kate had a bit of an exciting time yesterday. Not only did she do a bit of tidying up around the flower beds but she also replanted some of our perennial plants. We have two big wooden planters in the back garden that have a selection of some of our prettiest flowers in them. Unfortunately some of these plants have gotten really big and are now covering the others around them. Kate spent some time yesterday moving these to new homes where they could flourish.

The first two she moved were our bleeding hearts.

image

These are gorgeous flowers but spread out a lot, so Kate has moved them into their own pots and we’ve moved them to the front of the house. We’ll keep an eye because the front of the house gets the wind but if they take, they will look stunning out there when they flower.

We have also moved a plant that’s really special to us but hasn’t done so well. Our friends Dave and Valerie gave us a hydrangea when we moved into the house but it just didn’t seem to take, so Kate moved that to a more sheltered spot and the good news is…

image

It’s starting to bud. I promise we’ll keep you updated on how the hydrangea and bleeding hearts go.

Next week we are going to transplant two of our bigger plants so check back then to see us covered in mud as usual.




Shortbread – getting ready for new year

shortbread

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I don’t think it’s possible for any child growing up in Scotland to not have encountered shortbread usually over Christmas and New Year. It seems like everyone has an auntie with a perfect recipe and every household drags out a tin of shortbread at New Year. There are traditions involving shortbread all through Scotland from the borders right up to Shetland. In Shetland it was traditional to break a decorated shortbread cake over the head of a new bride on the threshold of her new home.

One tradition I came across while living in Dundee on Scotland’s east coast is that of eating shortbread with cheese. A sugary biscuit with cheese? I know I couldn’t believe it at first either but trust me, once you’ve tried it… mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

So what’s the skinny? Where did shortbread appear form?

For those unfortunate souls amongst you who have never had the joy that is shortbread dipped in your tea…… it’s a crumbly, buttery biscuit topped with sugar.

It’s thought to have started life in the medieval period as the left over dough from bread making which was scraped together and dried on the floor of a low oven, making it into a kind of rusk bread/biscuit (biscuit meaning twice cooked). Gradually over time, the yeast was replaced with butter and the biscuit developed into what we know as shortbread.

Given its high butter content it was an expensive luxury and a treat rather than something the ordinary folk could enjoy frequently so tended to be kept for special occasions like weddings of New Year. (The custom of eating shortbread at New Year has its origins in the ancient pagan Yule Cakes which symbolised the sun. In Scotland it is still traditionally offered to “first footers” at New Year. A first footer is the first person to enter your home after the new year has started. Traditionally thought to bring good fortune and luck if they are tall and dark-haired, although fair hair or red hair is seen as unlucky, they bring a gift of coal and whisky to symbolise warmth for the coming year and good cheer.)

Shortbread is traditionally formed into one of three shapes: one large circle divided into segments (“Petticoat Tails”); individual round biscuits (“Shortbread Rounds”); or a thick rectangular slab cut into “fingers.” The “Petticoat tails” style has been attributed to Mary Queen of Scots with two theories regarding the name of these biscuits. It has been suggested that the name “petticoat tail” may be a corruption of the French petites gatelles(“little cakes”).

However these traditional Scottish shortbread biscuits may in fact date back beyond the 12th century. The triangles fit together into a circle and echo the shape of the pieces of fabric used to make a full-gored petticoat during the reign of Elizabeth I. The theory here is that the name may have come from the word for the pattern which was ‘tally’, and so the biscuits became known as ‘petticoat tallis’.

Shortbread is also a staple of the Scottish tourist industry with its image of traditionally Scottish biscuits being used to sell boxes to tourist, adorned with images of the highland and tartan. This has led to the phrase “having a shortbread tin view of Scotland” usually refered to in terms of tourism where tourist only think of the “image of Scotland” seen on a shortbread tin and don’t see the real Scotland.

So, to make your own shortbread ready for the New Year.

Ingredients (about 20 biscuits)

  • 225g unsalted butter (softened) and a little more for greasing the tray
  • 110g caster sugar and some for dusting the top
  • 225g plain flour
  • 110g corn flour
  • pinch of salt

Method

1. Lightly butter your baking trays

2. Cream together the butter and sugar in a big bowl until it’s light and fluffy. Then sift in the corn flour and plain flour add the salt and combine together.

3. Tip the mixture onto a lightly floured surface and knead into a soft dough.

4. Roll the kneaded dough out between two pieces of baking paper to a thickness of about 1cm and cut into your desired shapes then prick them all over with a fork.

5. Put your biscuits onto your greased tray and chill for 30 mins.

6. meanwhile heat your oven 170 or 150 for a fan oven.

7. Bake your shortbread for around 20 mins until they are just starting to turn golden on the edges. They will still feel slightly soft, so leave them on the tray for a few moments to firm up before transferring them to a wire cooling rack.

8. Dust with sugar and enjoy.

 

Shortbread will keep in an air tight container for about 3 or 4 days.