Tuesday, 29 December 2009

December

December at the cottage
Welcome to our cottage in December. This is my very last entry on A Year In A Country Cottage and I’d like to extend a very big thank you to everyone who has visited or followed this blog over the past year. I've had a lot of fun taking photographs throughout the past twelve months and sharing my country cottage with you. Early in the New Year I’m hoping to get my new author website up and running and I will be working hard on finishing my next novel - so I do hope you will all keep in touch.

This month started out on a festive note with a Christmas lunch in Babbity Bowsters restaurant in Glasgow. I took the train to the city, as I had said goodbye to my trusty Landrover during November in anticipation of a new and more economical vehicle, which had not yet been delivered. After enjoying a wonderful lunch with my writer buddies, I returned on the train but somehow, in the pitch black, I managed to get off at the wrong station! Mr Country Cottage, who was waiting to meet me, was not amused when I phoned him on my mobile phone to say I was stranded in a village almost twenty miles away. What happened next, however, was so absolutely typical of the lovely folk who live in the rural hamlets and towns in this part of Scotland. A woman on the platform, overhearing my anxious phone call, immediately offered me shelter in her home near to the station. She said I was welcome to sit by her fireside with a nice cup of tea – or something stronger if I felt it was needed. I was deeply touched by her generosity and grateful for the kind spirit of her concern. In a world were people are often shown to be uncaring and selfish, this I felt was a wonderful reminder, especially poignant at this time of the year, that there are still plenty of good and thoughtful people amongst us.

Mid month, the snow caused disruption here just as it had all over Britain. Getting out and about, by foot or in Mr Country Cottage’s van, proved difficult as the ice and snow deepened in the narrow lanes leading to our cottage. A weather warning had been issued and a white Christmas promised so I set to making lots of soup. Chestnut. Broccoli and Stilton. Scotch Broth. Pea and Ham. Bacon and Lentil. I love soup at any time of year but especially in the depths of winter!

The garden in the depths of winter

In the days that followed, Mr Country Cottage made sure we had fuel for the generator in case of a power cut and plenty of logs in the woodshed ready for the Yule Time fire. The dogs and the hens prepared themselves too. In Polly and Ruby’s case – this was to lie by the fire or warm themselves by the Aga. To the hens, it meant tucking into an extra meal of corn and making sure the local pheasants and wild birds didn’t steal it from under their very beaks.

Kylie watches out for those feathered friends who might steal her corn...


An opportunistic corn-poaching Pheasant heading for the hen hoose..!

Meanwhile, Polly toasts herself by the fire....

With Christmas fast approaching, I iced and decorated the Christmas cake - made last month and ‘fed’ with a very good Scotch Whisky - and adorned the seven foot high pine tree, now sited in the sitting room, with all it’s festive tinsel and baubles. Then, when number One and Two sons arrived back from their respective universities and declared that our family Christmas could officially begin - I suddenly remembered that thanks to not having a Landrover anymore - I hadn’t actually done any Christmas shopping!

In the sitting room: The Christmas tree decked in traditional decorations

In the garden: The Buddlia - decked in traditional winter snow

Just four days before Christmas, my new eco-vehicle – a retro styled Fiat 500 – finally arrived. The car transporter driver telephoned to say he couldn’t make it up to the cottage and so the car had to be delivered into a snowy lay-by a few miles away. I was beside myself with excitement and, although it had been ordered many months earlier, it being delivered so close to Christmas, made me appreciate it even more. I immediately drove into the village to do my Christmas shopping, and then, feeling very pleased with myself, I bravely headed back uphill to the cottage where I was met by my husband and three burly sons who helped me to coax the little car safely home. Since then, and to date, the snow and ice around the cottage has worsened and so I’ve yet to take a second drive out in my lovely little new car!


A four-wheel-drive it isn't!

Recipe for December: Turkey Soup.

There are so many things to do with turkey leftovers. This year I made a turkey and ham pie with the leftover Boxing Day ham and white turkey meat. I made a turkey Balti curry with the leftover brown meat - and a delicious turkey soup with the absolute pickings and bones. I’m pleased to report that not a morsel was wasted. This is how I make my tasty and warming turkey soup.
Ingredients:Leftover turkey meat scraps picked from the carcass
Several of the larger turkey bones, scraped clean
2 carrots, chopped
1 stick of celery, chopped
1 leek, sliced and chopped
1 onion, chopped
3 large potatoes, peeled and diced into small peices
1.5 litres of chicken or turkey stock – I used 3 Knorr chicken stock cubes
Seasoning of salt, black pepper, & thyme – fresh or dried.
A splash of olive oil
A dash of cream
Method:Wash, peel, and chop all your vegetables to a similar size and put into a large stock pot. Sweat over a low heat in the oil. Once softened, but not browned, add the stock, the turkey meat, and the bones. Stir together and bring to a rolling simmer. Skim occasionally as the oil and residue from the bones will come to the surface as a foam.
Simmer for 40 minutes either on the hotplate or in a simmering oven. Remove the bones. Use a hand blender or whizz in a processor to blend the soup and add a dash of cream before serving.

As Hogmanay approaches, I’d like to wish you all not only a very happy New Year but a wonderful New Decade to come. I hope that the year 2010 and beyond offers us all hope, peace, and prosperity.


Happy New Year!
Love from, Janice

Sunday, 29 November 2009

November

Happy Birthday Mr Country Cottage!

November is Mr County-Cottage’s birthday month and this year it was a Big One. We wanted to celebrate the occasion with family and friends at home, and so we decorated the whole cottage with balloons and streamers, installed a barrel of traditional beer from our favourite small brewery in Strathaven, and prepared all the food ourselves. As it is November, and likely to be cold outside, I decided on a buffet table of both hot and cold foods, including my now famous Haggis Bake (see my January blog for the recipe), a mustard and honey baked ham, a chicken lasagne, cheese and chive baked potatoes, a selection of finger foods and cold salads including feta and olives, prawns in a seafood sauce, a bread basket, and my own personal favourite food - smoked salmon from Loch Fyne (you’d think it was my birthday!) For dessert, we had sticky toffee pudding and/or mincemeat lattice, followed later by a selection of delicious cheeses – and, of course, last but not least – the Big Birthday Cake! Then at midnight, under clear skies and an almost-full moon, we all went outside into the cold November air to watch a firework extravaganza, prepared in advance and executed to perfection, by Number Two son and his very good friend M. The party then continued inside to dancing in the kitchen or conversation by the fire in the sitting room and a good time was had by all until around five thirty in the morning!

Smokey air outside the cottage, after the wonderful firework extravaganza!

The weather this month has been mostly wet, and mid month, Cumbria and Dumfries and Galloway experienced the worst flooding for over thirty years when a whole month’s rain fell in just twenty-four hours. Living half way up a hillside as we do, we were not in danger of being flooded, but the steep dirt track outside the cottage became a fast flowing river of torrential rainwater during that time – and now that the rain has finally subsided, we have been left with a trail of deep muddy ravines and rocky potholes instead of a track to the cottage.

Flooding at Dumfries (Photo: BBC News)

The hens have not enjoyed the wet cold weather and have needed an extra feed of corn to keep them going. It’s dark now by four o’clock and they seem to spend a long time in the hen house on their perch. Poor things. On drier days they still enjoy getting out on the hill – as you can see from the photo below.


Ruby and Polly, our West Highland terriers, have spent a lot of their time recently, not in the garden, but by the Aga in the kitchen or curled up by the fireside in the sitting room. Another favourite spot is the sofa. A cosy place to snooze while they wait for the rain outside to stop.


The 22nd of November this year is the last Sunday before advent and, in our house, the day we call Stir Up Sunday. This is the perfect time to make your Christmas pudding or cake, giving ample time to then ‘feed’ the cake with alcohol over the next few weeks. In our house we use whisky, but you can use brandy or rum or even just fruit juice, if you like. All the family should take a turn in stirring up the cake mixture while making a wish on Stir Up Sunday. In previous years, the children have all taken part in this precursor to Christmas but this year it was just me making the wish. How times have changed!

Another special day in November for all Scots is the 30th of the month. It’s St. Andrew’s Day and since 2007 it has been a national holiday in Scotland. This year has also been Scotland’s ‘Homecoming’ and many events are taking place around St. Andrew’s Day all over Scotland to finalise the celebrations. In Dumfries and Galloway, the Dumfries -Reel Thing will be a feast of traditional music - including Bag-Rock (rock music on bagpipes!) from The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, street theatre, fireworks, and the switching on of the Christmas lights in Dumfries. I do hope the weather allows for a good St Andrew’s weekend.

Bagpipe Rock!

To conclude - my recipe for this month is not for cake or pudding but a recipe I put together while expecting friends for lunch on a particularly cold and wet November day. I call it November Casserole and it is made with smoked bacon pieces, chunks of chorizo sausage, beans, - I used butter beans but you can use any type or variety of bean or use chick peas if you have them in your larder – the last main ingredient is either pumpkin, squash or sweet potato, cut into chunks. I used sweet potato. It was so delicious I wanted to share it with you.

November Casserole.
Ingredients:

Chopped and chunky smoky bacon pieces.
Chopped and chunky pieces of chorizo sausage.
One small onion.
A dab of butter and a dash of olive oil.
One pint of stock – I used knorr ham stock.
Tablespoon of plain flour.
One tin of chopped tomatoes.
Four fresh tomatoes, chopped into chunks.
A sprinkle of coriander – either fresh or dried.
Chunks of pumpkin, squash, or sweet potato.
Tinned or soaked beans or chick peas.

Method:
Put the chorizo sausages in the oven or under the grill to cook.
Meanwhile, fry the bacon pieces with the butter and oil in a pan or cast iron casserole pot. Add the onion and cook until softened but not browned.
Chop the cooked sausage into chunks and add to the bacon and onion in the casserole.
Stir in the flour until it absorbs the oil and butter and coats the other ingredients.
Then add the stock and stir until thickened slightly. Cook for one minute.
Add the tin of tomatoes. Sprinkle in the coriander. Add the fresh tomatoes, the pumpkin, squash, or sweet potato. Stir it all together and bring to a slow boil.
Add the beans or chick peas and put in a simmering oven for 40-60 mins.


November Casserole

See you next month, when the boys will be home for the holidays and we will be celebrating Christmas at the cottage!

Janice x

Friday, 30 October 2009

October

The hawthorn-trees blow in the dew of the morning
Robert Burns.

At this time of year, while outside the cottage is a swirling mass of gold and rust coloured leaves, the hawthorn trees in the lanes and the hedgerows are at their best. With its abundant clusters of blood-red ‘haws’ the hawthorn tree heralds the onset of Winter. Many people think its berries are only fit for the birds but they are very tasty, high in vitamin C, and can be made into jams, jellies, preserves, and even wine. Folklore in this part of Scotland tells of how a circle drawn around a hawthorn tree provides a special trysting place for Fairies!

Country walks at this time of year are particularly refreshing. Polly and Ruby love to play in the fallen leaves and pine cones. The air is both fresh from the hills and pungent from the pine forest and, while walking through the fallen debris, I am continually having to stop to inspect the fascinating array of fungi hiding beneath it all. The landscape picture shown below is my all time favourite view from the cottage. Whatever the weather or season this scene is constantly changing colour and it both inspires and thrills me. The colours are fiery just now and the hawthorn in the foreground, although it looks bare, is actually full of bright-red berries and is where I took this month's opening photograph.
The view from the cottage
October has been a difficult month in the henhouse. Prince, the new cockerel, has been given many chances to settle in and numerous opportunities to behave himself but I’m afraid he has to go – and it’s not just Kylie, Britney and Beyonce who are afraid of him – I am too! He raises his illustrious feathers whenever I come near and he hisses: resembling a rather terrifying Raptor from the Jurassic Park movie.

The Cockerel formerly known as Prince

His bad behaviour, at first, I put down to him being in a strange new home and, as he had obviously suffered from being previously pecked, he has been given plenty of time to settle down. However, he had gone from being understandably defensive to downright offensive and the ‘girls’ are not happy. I’m not happy either, in fact, this morning, for fear of being attacked by him again, I asked my six foot four inches tall youngest son to open up the hen house and lay down the food. Although, I still have to plan how to retrieve the eggs (if he hasn’t stamped on them) and clean out the hut. I expect the cockerel formerly known as ‘Prince’ not to be with us much longer…

On a lighter note, Polly and Ruby have had their Autumn hair cuts and are feeling very proud and pretty. You might think they would prefer long thick coats in the wintertime - but they will be much easier to keep clean (and white!) with short coats as the wetter and muddier weather sets in.

Polly and Ruby with their new haircuts

This month, Mr Country-Cottage and I had shared rare quiet time and evenings out together when our youngest son decided to spend his half term in Edinburgh visiting his brothers who are at university there. Then, in complete contrast, we had a busy weekend mid-month when they all returned home. Suddenly the washing machine was going non-stop, the bathroom floor was continually laden with wet towels and, although I had filled the fridge and baked lots of tray bakes and cakes, every scrap of food in the cottage had disappeared by Monday. It was wonderful to see them!

We had a lovely time socially this month when we were invited to dinner by some good friends who live in a converted mill just a few miles away. My dear friend JB is a wonderful cook and a perfect hostess and she always sets the table so beautifully. I took a photo (with her permission) of the impressive table centre she had created on an Autumnal theme.

JB's Autumnal table centre

I was delighted and excited to be given a ‘Lovely Blog Award’ this month by my dear friend, wonderful writer and writing mentor, Anita Burgh. The rules say that you should:

1) Accept the award, and don’t forget to post a link back to the awarding person.
2) Pass the award on.
3) Notify the award winners.

So, I happily accept the award from Annie and pass it on to two friends who have very interesting and consistently updated blogs. They are (drumroll) Rosemary Gemmell, a multi-talented writer who writes articles, short stories, poetry, and novels. And, Sue Houghton, a wonderful writer whose blog is always informative and entertaining.

Finally, this month I’m cooking venison. I consider it a flavoursome treat and something to look forward to eating at this time of the year. The richness of the meat, which is low in fat, is complimented by many of the other long awaited seasonal treasures - like chestnuts, wild mushrooms and seasonal vegetables. I source my venison locally and inspect the carcass for myself. This assures me that the animal I am serving to my family has, until recently, lived a good life on the land around me; that it has been shot for the table by an expert marksman and that, even in death, its life has been respected. This is important to me as a meat eater. Some of you might find the picture below a little distressing but I’m showing it to you because I absolutely believe that if we choose to eat meat, we have to take responsibility for it, and to know that while it was alive, it had the opportunity to live a free or a well-cared for life.

Photo: courtesy of A. Treadaway

Recipe for October:
Roasted Shoulder of Venison with seasonal vegetables
As venison is so low in fat, I always marinade the meat overnight before roasting it and this is my basic venison marinade recipe:

Venison Marinade:
4 tablespoons of good quality oil – I use olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 small glass of red wine
1 grated lemon rind
A sprinkle of nutmeg
1 tablespoon juniper berries, crushed
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 dessert spoon tomato puree
1 dessert spoon soy sauce
1 level teaspoon mustard – I use wholegrain
1 teaspoon brown sugar
salt & pepper

Venison in Marinade

Method:
Place the marinated venison meat, in this case a whole shoulder, into a suitable oven tray, covered for half the time in a roasting oven of 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 for about one and a half hours. Then prepare the seasonal vegetables. I’m roasting potatoes on the shelf above the venison and boiling carrot and swede. When the meat is done, slice it and make a gravy with the strained meat juices. Pour the gravy over the sliced meat and serve with the vegetables.

Next month, in November, we are planning a Big Birthday for Mr Country-Cottage, with friends, family, and fireworks. See you then!

Janice

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

September

All summer long, the cottage has been filled with the turbulence of our three teenage boys and all their visiting friends, fellow students, girlfriends, friends-friends, and cousins. So, September and the start of the autumn term, has given me a real taste of empty-nest syndrome. Son number three is staying on at school to take his Scottish Highers and is thankfully still living at home - but his elder brothers have both flown the nest to their respective universities in Edinburgh. Mr Country-Cottage and I are very proud - but feel the cottage is suddenly too quiet.

We decided to solve the problem of a too quiet life – by introducing a new and very noisy member to the family. We now have a rather handsome pure bred Welsommer cockerel to entertain and protect our three hens. He crows very loudly every morning at dawn. It’s a good job we don’t have neighbours!

What shall we call our cockerel..?

The new cockerel needs a name and, bearing in mind that the hens are named Kylie, Britney, and Beyonce, we would favour keeping with the theme of popular stars. So, this is where you come in, dear cottage-blog reader. Do click on this month’s poll to choose a name for him!

And, our other animal news is that on the 2nd of the month, it was wee Ruby’s first birthday!

Wee Ruby is one year old this month...

This month, interest has been expressed in knowing more about the cottage, so I thought I’d tell you a little about it’s fascinating history. It was built as a shepherd’s cottage in the mid 1800’s from the very same pink sandstone used to build nearby Drumlanrig Castle. Until we bought it twenty years ago, the cottage was owned by the estate of the Duke of Buccleuch and Queensberry. We bought it in a derelict state. Before it fell into decline, however, it was lived in over very many years by families who were born here, happily brought up their children here, and died here.

Years ago, at the end of our lane, there was once a local school and schoolhouse. Both are now privately owned houses. So our own children, and all the children in the outlying farms and cottages, have to travel six miles into the village for their schooling. That is also where we go for the nearest shop and post office. The nearest supermarket is well over twenty miles away!

The aerial photograph below, taken by the Ordinance Survey in 1964, shows our shepherd's cottage being lived in by a family who worked the land. You can see the neat rows of cabbages and potatoes growing on the patch of land opposite the cottage and the greenhouse/potting shed in the garden. I suspect it was these keen gardeners who originally planted the blackcurrant bushes which still thrive today.


The next photograph was also taken by the Ordinance Survey but in 2004. You can see that we have bought a bit more land, expanded the boundaries, and built an extension to accommodate our growing family. In 2004, we were still to landscape the garden and to begin planting vegetables of our own, but this photograph shows the cottage more or less as it stands today.

To give you an idea of how the cottage looked when we bought it derelict from The Estate, these photos show the kitchen before and after. The sandstone fireplace which now houses the Aga is an original feature found behind the crumbling brick fa├žade of the previous century fire and oven housing. What a find!

Above: Original Kitchen vs now and the cottage hallway in 1990..!

In the garden this month, I’m still picking tomatoes from the greenhouse. The peppers are doing very well but are all still green. They will go from green, to yellow, to red as they ripen over the next few weeks. The pumpkin was doing marvellously until wee Ruby thought it was a football for her to play with on the lawn. It goes without saying therefore that we won’t be having a home-grown pumpkin at Halloween this year. The weather in September has been much improved and I have spent some time in the garden doing a last sowing of salad, rocket, and coriander. Plants to admire this month have been the flowering Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’ and the white-scented Prunus, which has taken over from the Buddlia in the garden as the focus for butterflies.


The White Flowering Prunus

Sedum, Autumn Joy

Recipe for September: Oven Baked Squash Frittata

A frittata practically cooks itself and is an excellent supper dish.

I cook mine by lining an oven dish with butter or olive oil rubbed greaseproof paper and letting the oven do all the hard work. This month, I’m using seasonal squash instead of my usual potato as the main ingredient and the result is texturally sublime.

The method:

Use the middle of the roasting oven on a range cooker or turn up the oven to moderately hot at 180 degrees C, 350 degrees F, or Gas 5-6. Chop up whatever squash variety you have to hand into cubes and together with a sliced onion, I used a red one for a fabulous colour contrast, roast until soft and golden/caramelised. Scrape into a mixing bowl and add grated or crumbled cheese for a contrasting flavour. Again, use whatever you have to hand, cheddar, feta, mozzarella: it will all taste good. Scatter in a handful of rosemary with rocket, spinach or watercress for texture and beat in the eggs – as many as you need for how many you are feeding and the capacity of your oven dish. Pour the whole mixture into the greased greaseproof paper lined oven dish and bake until it is fluffy, set, and a little bit wobbly on top. Turn out onto a plate or slice into wedges for serving. This is fantastic with a seasonal pickle or chutney!

Next month, in October, I’ll be looking forward to the golden days of Autumn closing in. Already, the leaves of the deciduous trees in the woodland opposite the cottage are starting to curl and dry with the increasingly shorter days. I feel there is something comforting about the gathering in of crops at this time and the enthusiastic collecting of fallen wood for the log fire. The village thanksgiving festival, celebrated every year in October to signify the end of the harvest, and known locally as ‘The Cairn’ is the official start of the long winter ahead in this part of Scotland. No doubt, I’ll have lots to tell you about it all next month…

Janice


Monday, 31 August 2009

August

From the bonny bells of heather, They brewed a drink longsyne,
Was sweeter far than honey,Was stronger far than wine…
From Heather Ale, by Robert Louis Stevenson

You know it’s August here at the cottage when the hills all around are carpeted with vibrant purple flowering heather - that tough traditionally Scottish plant used for centuries to thatch cottages, fuel the fire, to make ale, tea, honey, as well as being woven into fences around the croft. Today, here on the shooting estate, the heather is managed by game-keepers to ensure it is plentiful enough to feed the grouse and so maintain the local shooting industry. Which, come the Glorious Twelfth, is the reason we have so many tweed-clad trained guns trooping past our cottage and through our blooming heather until the grouse shooting season ends in mid-December!

In the cottage garden, early in the month, we harvested our not-so-early potatoes. I was a little late in putting them in the ground this year but this didn’t stop us getting several buckets full of delicious potatoes in return, which I have used, stored, and even frozen ready for roasting later in the year. As I might have expected, Polly and Ruby, who have made a great job of digging up the flower beds this month while persuing mice, voles, or even frogs and toads, wanted to help me dig them up.




Also in the garden, despite a summer of torrential rain and little sunshine, the Buddleia has been taking centre stage by flowering magnificently and attracting plenty of butterflies into the garden – which I then have to keep ‘rescuing’ when they flutter into the greenhouse!



The hens have been disgruntled with the wet weather throughout August. They hate it when their feathers get wet and, instead of trouncing through the muddy fields after juicy worms and bugs, they sit all dedraggled looking under the henhouse, complaining loudly. I do hope September offers us more in the way of sunshine...




Socially, the highlight of the month was a village wedding. Robert and Laura, a local farmer and his new wife, were married amongst the August summer flowers in their farmhouse garden and with the magnificent heather-clad hills behind them. Afterwards, they held a reception for everyone living in a twenty five mile radius, in their cattle barn. Except that, despite what it sounds like, this was no traditional barn dance! Everyone was taken by surprise when, upon entering through the flower festooned barn door, they suddenly arrived into a sumptuously decorated silk-lined and glass-chandelier lit marquee, fully carpeted except for the bedecked dance floor and stage, over which tiny lights sparkled and resembled a midnight sky. Seating was at one of the dozens of tables set for a what turned out to be a fabulous evening of celebration, great food, lots of drinking, and dancing to a live band. Not a hay bale or stray heifer in sight – and the only green wellies and waterproof jackets - were the ones Mr County Cottage and I took from the back of our Landrover at around two o’clock that morning in order to walk home over the hills. Congratulations to Robert and Laura and thank your for sharing your special day with us all in such fine style!


Back in the garden, the new greenhouse, a welcome addition to the cottage garden this year, has been a saving grace for the tomato plants. Last year, grown outside against a sheltered wall, the tomatoes rotted on their vines before ripening due to the wet summer. This year, the summer has once again been wet and, not particularly warm either, but the tomatoes have thrived and are ripening nicely. They are full of flavour and delicious in salads and summer soups just now and, the end of seasonal glut, will keep us in tomato based sauces for some time to come. So, this month's recipe, made mostly from the contents of my greenhouse, is called Greenhouse Soup...

Greenhouse Soup.

Ingredients:
1 Medium sized onion, chopped.
3 medium sized potatoes, peeled and chopped.
Dash of olive oil/butter.
1 kilo or approx 2lb of tomatoes.
1 sweet red pepper
2pts or approx 1 litre of vegetable stock (I use stock made with Knorr Stock Cubes).
1 tablespoon of tomato puree.
1 tin of chopped tomatoes
Good handful of fresh basil, washed and torn up.

Method:
Wash peel and roughly chop the red pepper, tomato, and garlic. Place in a tin and sprinkle with olive oil. Roast in a hot oven until starting to blacken. Remove from oven and allow to cool – then you will then easily be able to peel away the skins and discard them. Put the onion and potato into a large soup pan and cook in a dash of oil/butter until softened. Prepare the vegetable stock cubes (2 or 3) by adding 2pts/ 1 litre of boiling water together with the tomato puree. Add the roasted vegetables to the onion and potato in the large pan and pour on the stock. Add the tinned tomatoes and torn basil leaves. Simmer for 20-30 minutes. Season to taste. Puree with a blender and serve up with your favourite crusty bread.



I hope you have enjoyed this month’s county cottage update. I’d love your comments and I have extended the preference poll until the end of September, so please do vote on what you’d like to see more of on a year in a country cottage blogspot before you click away!

Janice.



Tuesday, 28 July 2009

July

O flower of Scotland, when will we bee, your like again

They say, if you don’t like the weather in Scotland you should wait a minute… It’s very true that you can have all four seasons thrown at you in one day here. So, this month, when the sun was shining we went outside to enjoy the countryside – and when it wasn’t we stayed inside – with the Aga turned back on and the fire lit!

Polly and Ruby enjoy the July sunshine

At the start of the month, my dear mum came to stay for a couple of days with her little dog Bracken. Polly and Ruby were delighted to have the company of their boyfriend while mum and I went to explore nearby Drumlanrig Castle. As the castle is built entirely of pink sandstone, it is known locally as the Pink Palace. Nationally, the castle is known for its history, its antiques, and especially for its fabulous art collection. Drumlanrig was in the news a few years ago when one of its paintings, a priceless Da Vinci known as 'Madonna with the Yarnwinder', was stolen. Happily, the masterpiece has since been recovered and by the end of this year, it may be on display again. The formal gardens are also a great attraction and provide a lovely walk in the sunshine, so before mum and I went inside to enjoy our afternoon tea, I took a few photographs.


The formal gardens at Drumlanrig

Back home, the garden is blooming with annuals. My particular cottage garden favourites are the Antirrhinum or Snapdragon. I have memories of them from my childhood, when we used to pick them and use the flower heads as finger-puppets!

Another flower in the garden at this time of year is the one pictured below. It is a delicate tall, orchid-like plant, that enjoys having its roots in wet conditions. It self-seeds prolifically and, consequentially, the hedges and ditches are filled with them. It’s a breathtaking display to behold on a July day and I’ve seen motorists stop and get out of their cars just to admire them. But what are they? It’s not a trick question - we really do have no idea. So, if you can help us identify the mystery plant - please do!

A mystery plant in the garden...?

The hens have continued to enjoy roaming on the thistle festooned hills around the cottage. Sheep and their fully grown lambs, rabbits and their bright eyed kits, and a full compliment of pheasant and partridge, keep them company. In the July skies above the cottage, it is fun to see the swallows teaching their young ones how to master aerial acrobatics and, in the garden, it is fascinating to see the pied-wagtails demonstrating the best way to catch small flies and bugs from the clover heads and buttercups that cover our lawn.



Kylie, Britney, & Beyonce happily roam on the field and hill

In the vegetable garden, the runner beans are climbing up their bean poles and the little gem lettuce are all looking good. The tomatoes in the greenhouse are doing amazingly, displaying lots of lovely green tomatoes of differing sizes, which with care should start reddening up next month. The pumpkin is growing like a proverbial beanstalk and keeps flowering prolifically. I have to continually ‘nip them in the bud’ to make sure the plant's energy is directed towards the three biggest pumpkin buds to maximise potential for giant pumpkins come Autumn time!

Green tomatoes on the vine

Mid month, I attended a writer’s conference in Penrith, Cumbria. It was the Annual Romantic Novelist’s Association Conference and a wonderful opportunity for me to spend a whole weekend with fellow members and writer buddies. By day, I attended workshops and listened to talks from the industry professionals, top writers of women’s fiction, editors, agents, and publishers. In the evenings, I chatted to friends in the bar over a glass of wine and attended the late night kitchen parties afterwards. On the Saturday evening, I enjoyed the Annual Gala Dinner and on Sunday evening, I returned home to the cottage and to my family, having had an awful lot of fun, while learning much more about the craft of fiction writing. Hurray for the RNA!

While I was away in Penrith, Mr Country-Cottage was kept equally busy. As part of a champion Scottish axe-throwing team, he was booked to put on a demonstration of axe-throwing skills at the Village Gala, an important annual local event. I thought you might like to see a photo of the team, dressed in their tartan finery, and ready for action.

Ready for the Royal Highland Show, Edinburgh

The recipe for July is in celebration of my blackcurrant bushes, which are ‘currently’ weighed down with fruity produce - please do pardon the punnet! I will of course be making lots of jam and freezing as much of the surplus as I can manage to harvest. It’s handy having the boys home for the holidays in times like these. Blackcurrants freeze very well, and I think there is always something very special about defrosting them in the middle of winter, for a cheesecake topping or sorbet, and experiencing all the scents and flavours of a July day that has long gone.

So, here is the recipe for this month. It’s the one I use to make my own blackcurrant ice-cream. It’s a real taste of summer – whatever the weather.

Blackcurrant Ice-Cream
Ingredients:
1lb (450g) fresh blackcurrants
6 oz (175g) sugar
5 fl oz (150 ml) water
10 fl oz (175ml) double cream
You will also need a freezer proof plastic box with a lid and a nylon sieve.

Method.
Pile the blackcurrants, about one third at a time, into the sieve set over a mixing bowl, and mash with a wooden spoon until you have extracted all the pulp and only the stalks, pips and skins are left in the sieve.
Now place the sugar and the water in a saucepan over a medium heat, stir until all the sugar has dissolved, then let it come to the boil, and boil for 3 minutes exactly.
Remove from the heat and stir into the blackcurrant pulp.
Whip the cream until it just begins to thicken.
Fold the cream into the fruit mixture until thoroughly blended.
Pour it into the plastic box, and freeze in a freezer or in the ice-making compartment of a fridge turned to its coldest setting. As soon as the mixture begins to set (after about 3 hours) turn it out into a bowl and beat thoroughly. Then, return it to the freezer (in the box) until set, which will take about another 3 hours. Remove to the main part of the fridge about an hour before serving. Serves approx 6.

Next month, I’m sowing salad leaves and spicy rocket, to enjoy with our late summer salads. I’m hoping to harvest ripe tomatoes from the greenhouse and use up all the basil I’ve grown to go with them. Socially, we have a wedding to attend in early August and a dinner engagement mid-month, with some good friends. So, until the month end, do let me know what you enjoy about the country cottage blog. As you can see, I’ve gone all high-tech by adding the visitor map, a followers listing, and opinion poll that I hope you will all consider voting on.

Love, Janice