Friday, 31 December 2010

the sun goes down on 2010.................

the last sunset of 2010

The sun shone as we took our last walk of 2010 and as it went down it cast a long, lingering, pink glow on the snowy hills.  It was a beautiful afternoon on which to end the year and the dogs were bursting with energy, racing around barking out their own noisy farewell to the old year.  The sky was still pink and a soft, apricot glow backlit the trees as we turned and headed home across the fields for tea and Christmas cake.

Sunday, 26 December 2010

a walk in black and white....................

Out in the fields with the dogs today I was amazed at how colourless the countryside was.  The sky was a soft, dull grey and the trees looked as though they'd been sketched into the landscape with charcoal and ink.  The blacks seemed blacker and the whites very white indeed.  All other colour seemed to be completely bleached out.  Very Ansel Adams!  

snow capped silage bales

Christmas cake.......................

I rushed off the other night as the timer rang for the Christmas cake and I'm pleased to say that it turned out well.  Before you add the dried fruit etc to the cake, you reserve some of the basic mix which you use to make the florentine topping.  While the cake's in the oven you add cherries and nuts to the reserved cake mix and after about an hour you spread that over the top of the part-baked cake, cover it with foil and continue baking.  When it's cool, I trickle icing over it but don't completely cover it.  

florentine topping mixture

just out of the oven

ready to eat

I also made another batch of orange marmalade with cardamom and ginger which we have given to friends for Christmas along with jars of apple chutney and vanilla sugar.

midwinter sun

The midwinter sun rises in the dip between the two hills and we tried to photograph it as it appeared.  All was going well, then just before the sun finally rose, a freezing fog descended and these are the results.

before the sunrise

getting brighter.............................

fog comes down - sun comes up

midwinter sunrise

Monday, 20 December 2010

puzzling postmarks..........

The snow has returned and it's softer and fluffier than ever!  Our intrepid milkman (who is also a local farmer) was well prepared when he appeared yesterday evening delivering  today's milk  in his tractor.  The snow wasn't going to beat him  -  what a service!

When I went out later with the dogs I took this photograph of the greenhouse and my little snow clad  witch hazel. 

We have finally written all our Christmas cards which is quite efficient for us as some years the last ones are posted AFTER Christmas!  However, with the way the postal service has almost ground to a halt it'll probably be February before some of these cards reach their destinations!   I can't complain too much because we did get a huge bundle of mail today but one thing did puzzle me and that was the strange postmarks on some of the Christmas cards.  One card which would have been posted about five miles away was postmarked Lancashire and South Lakes while another from a neighbouring village had a Plymouth postmark and a card from Inverary was postmarked Windsor!  What is happening?  Why on earth would mail posted in Perthshire for a Perthshire address end up in various parts of England? 

This morning the sun was shining and everything was sparkling so I decided to walk to the village to post the cards and collect the newspapers.  This soft powdery snow gets into all the crevices and nooks and crannies and I thought these lodge gates suited their dusting of snow and the gate posts look like they're wearing white bobble hats!

The trees looked lovely with snow clinging to the north faces of their trunks  and I liked the way the snow helped to pick out the shapes of the stone in these walls.

I can't resist taking photographs of seedheads.  They never fail to fascinate me especially when they're frosted or snow covered.

While in the village I delivered a few Christmas cards then set off for home by a different route which was just as pretty.  I came along this road............................

..............................and then down this track which hadn't been walked on so I had the fun of making the first footprints in the snow.

I'm making our Christmas cake ( yes I know it's a bit late but this recipe works well at the last minute) and the timer has just gone off so must go!

Saturday, 18 December 2010

a magnificent creature....................

This is how he was described over the telephone and he is certainly magnificent!  He is our Hebridean tup who arrived yesterday and he's already happily "socialising" with the ladies.  He is a wonderful, primitive looking character and his neck must be incredibly strong to hold up a head adorned with two such magnificent pairs of horns.  We have decided to call him Hector the Hero after the beautiful Scott Skinner slow air and he does have a heroic look about him!   Of course I was desperate to take photographs of him but it started to snow quite heavily just as I reached the field but I managed to get a few shots before it became a complete white-out.

a magnificent creature!

he already has a following!

with one of his admirers

Monday, 13 December 2010

wonderful winter sky.........................

By the end of last week a steady thaw had set in and has continued ever since resulting in treacherously slippery conditions.   Fortunately, the first snow fell on unfrozen ground so much of the melting snow is soaking into the fields which cuts down the flood risk.  It's amazing how quickly the snow disappears!   I took the dogs out this afternoon as the sun was going down and managed to get some photographs of one of the most beautiful sunsets we've had this winter.  It started off like this........................... 

and then it turned to this................................

Meanwhile, the hills to the north and north east were clad in this beautiful pink glow.

A few weeks ago I made the fig and cinnamon cake featured in the December issue of Country Homes & Interiors and froze it as we had plenty of cake around at the time.   I decided to use it yesterday as there were four of us for supper and it would save having to make a pudding so I prepared the topping, decorated it with some chunks of orange and popped it in the fridge for later.

We went to a lovely, evening, Christmas service of lessons and carols in the village church.  There was some excellent singing interspersed with all the familiar Christmas readings.  Then it was home for roast partridges with roast parsnips and pumpkin and lovely, fluffy Golden Wonder potatoes followed by the fig and cinnamon cake which was most delicious.   I'll certainly be making it again!

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

footprints in the snow...................

The temperature dropped to  -18C  through the night and  we woke this morning to a power cut.  Power cuts don't generally affect us too badly as we have an L.P.G. cooker and the woodburning stove also heats water, so as long as we have plenty candles we manage quite well.  The main worry is that if the power is off too long the deep freeze will start to defrost, but thankfully the lights were back on by the middle of the day.  

Today's news was dominated by the chaos caused in the central belt yesterday by heavy snow bringing the main road networks to a standstill.  The snow seems to be moving south and west and the forecast is for rising temperatures towards the end of the week.  When it eventually does start to thaw there are bound to be problems with flooding as there is so much snow lying.  There are also massive icicles hanging from many buildings and in some local towns the fire brigade have been going round knocking them down as they pose such a danger. 

There are no longer cattle in the lower fields so we headed down there for a walk today.  Although the snow is about 10" - 1' deep you can walk on it without sinking right in. There are a couple of inches of fine powdery snow on the surface but underneath it's quite firm.  Trails of deer and rabbit tracks criss cross the snow and the dogs added their own unique tracks as they rushed around pursuing exciting smells along the fencelines.  The bottom south west corner of the farm gets very little sun at this time of year and I took lots of photographs of the icy trees and frozen grasses.  It's quite a stark, black and white landscape when the sun goes down and I think this picture looks particularly cold!


Monday, 6 December 2010

.........meandering in marmalade

This was Saturday's beautiful sunset which turned the snow pink and made everything glow.

Although we haven't had any more snow, it is extremely cold and when I set off with the dogs just before three this afternoon it was  -11C and this freezing fog was descending on the fields.

..............and this is the last that I saw of the sun!

We had a lovely walk and the dogs raced around like mad things, barking  and kicking up the powdery snow,  then it was home for tea, fruit cake and a cosy half hour in front of the stove reading the papers.  

The "to do" list is beginning to lengthen, mainly with Christmas related tasks!   Home made gifts are planned for various friends and I've begun by making several jars of vanilla sugar and I plan to make apple chutney, apple jelly and marmalade.

We ran out of home made marmalade and after buying various jars to keep us going, I decided to try some Mamade.  I used it years ago but couldn't remember how it turned out.  It's basically prepared Seville oranges with pectin and citric acid to which you add water and sugar.  The instructions are very clear, however, I would advise anyone making it to test for setting long before the stated fifteen minutes as mine reached setting point after about eight minutes!   I made a batch of orange marmalade and was so pleased with it I decided to try a variation.  This time  I used a mixture of granulated and dark muscovado sugars and added cardamom seeds which I'd ground down to release the flavour.  The result was a lovely, dark, aromatic marmalade which we enjoyed this morning on toasted soda bread.  Lemon Mamade is also available, so I think I'll continue my experiments with that, perhaps adding ginger for a start.  That should keep us stocked up until the Seville oranges become available in January when  I usually buy a box of them and for a few days the delicious aroma of boiling marmalade permeates the whole house!      

Friday, 3 December 2010


It was reported that Braemar was the coldest place in Scotland last night with a temperature of  -21C.  We recorded -20C and other reports from the village include -19C and -19.2C.  That was our coldest night so far this winter.

We had arranged to have a few tunes down in the pub last night and had planned to take the car but it was so icy we decided to walk and I'm glad we did because it was a beautiful, clear, starry night and we had a great view of the Square of Pegasus. 

It was a lovely evening of tunes and songs and it was good that quite a few people turned up on such a bitterly cold night. 

we're all off to the pub for a tune


Thursday, 2 December 2010

a new use for potato peelings?

The hot topic of conversation this morning as the usual waifs and strays gathered round our kitchen table to put the world to rights was the avoidance of chimney fires, especially with woodburning stoves.  Not that any of us have had a recent chimney fire (touch wood), and I can hear you all saying "sweep your chimney regularly etc etc etc", but if you're a woodburning stove owner you'll know that it's like having another member of the family with all the associated quirks, foibles and tantrums.  We have had a couple of chimney fires in the past which were quite frightening and on one occasion we called the fire brigade in the end as we couldn't stop the burning in the T-piece pipe at the back of the stove and it was glowing red hot!  Now, as well as cleaning the chimney regularly, we dismantle the chimney at the back of the stove and scrape it out thoroughly.  We only burn hard wood, but we still get that sticky, treacle toffee-like substance forming and it's not easy to remove.  We even took a hoe to the blacksmith to have it re-shaped into a made to measure, curved, scraping tool!

The exciting news from the front this morning is that burning potato peelings can combat the formation of this black stuff and reduce the likelihood of fires caused by it igniting.  Much discussion followed and we decided that the peelings should be dried first rather than dump a heap of damp matter on the fire.  They could be laid out on a tray on the stovetop overnight and added to the fire in the morning.  I consulted various books including the wonderful Cooley's Encyclopaedia of Practical Receipts (published in 1880) but could find no reference to such a practice.  However, I remember my mother recommending boiling up potato skins to remove the black deposits from a burnt saucepan.  I have done this once or twice and it seemed to work but I have no intention of deliberately burning a pan just to try this out again! 

I can only assume that some compound in the potato must react with the carbon or whatever has stuck to the chimney (or saucepan) and break it down or perhaps it's just an old wife's tale.  Anyway, from now on potato peelings will be dried and added to the stove - just in case!

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

and snow it continues both day-ay and night........................

After various discussions and helpful comments I think we can safely say that winter has begun. ( even if some of you say it doesn't officially start until some later date)  We've had more winter in the last week than we've had in some whole years and the countryside is stunningly beautiful.  It's a photographer's paradise out there and I've just spent ages filing  masses of images taken over the last few days.  

Yesterday evening we went to the village pub for a St. Andrew's night ale and the talk was very much of the weather and how we were all coping.  Our most difficult job in this weather is keeping the out-wintering cattle supplied with water.  When they're fed silage they drink a lot  and we don't have mains fed troughs on the farm so water is taken out to the field by forklift truck in large tanks which are then used to fill the water baths.  A tank of water might last several days, but keeping the whole system running at this time of year means checking it regularly and if necessary, defrosting it, which can involve all sorts of precarious antics involving burning newspapers while trying not to melt the plastic tap!

taking a water tank out to the cattle

The garden to the front of our house is a large area of rough grass and trees surrounded by beech and hawthorn and it's looking very pretty just now.  I took these photographs this morning when the sun appeared between snow showers.

The roads have been very quiet although I think the occasional bus is running and our road is still passable if you have a 4WD.  We have a Subaru which is great as long as the snow isn't too deep, but we can easily walk to the village or, if necessary, bumble along in the wee tractor! 

The postman appeared for the first time this week but I can't see the bin lorry making it along here tomorrow.  I think the village school is closed for the week which is quite surprising as most of the pupils live within walking distance, but I think it's perhaps because the teachers live elsewhere and can't make it to the village.

I spent most of this morning baking and making soup.  Yesterday I made a huge pot of stock from two pheasant carcases and I used that to make vegetable soup today.  I baked some soda bread with sesame and sunflower seeds, and it was still warm when we had it with our soup at lunchtime.  Delicious!