Friday, 15 October 2010

cool cushion

I love cushions - I like to be cosy and comfy but still like my lounging to have a wee bit of edge to it through its design. This 'read all about it' cushion from Dwell would be perfect for my window chair when reading the Sunday papers.

Thursday, 14 October 2010

mull of galloway lighthouse

I love lighthouses - the engineering, architecture, their purpose and the stunning places they are built are a powerful combination for me.

So it was a real treat to spend the day at Mull of Galloway and visit the lighthouse there - it is roughly an hour and a half away from Kirkcudbright but well worth the journey. The day started off pretty driech but as we got closer the skies cleared and the sun came out - the soft quality of the light was amazing against the green of the hills and the blues and greys of the sea.

My first sighting of the light house was in the distance and over several cliffs and was stunning - appearing through the clearing skies, the sun hitting off the fresh whiteness of the lighthouse, it was really thrilling to see.

We parked up and strolled over to the lighthouse - unfortunately we couldn't get up the tower that day but we did get access to the exhibition [two pounds each - bargain!]within the old lighthouse keepers area. Now, I go to a lot of exhibitions and some are great and some are pretty rubbish. I don't know how many times I have gone to an overhyped exhibition - either making out it will take days to fully experience when it could take 20 minutes, or with 'techy' interactive bits that don't work or are not that impressive, or are just plain dull.

Well, maybe my judgement is biased given I love lighthouses, but I think they got the balance just right on this one. The videos that you could watch were a good balance between being educational [one explained how the lamp, lens and engine worked] and giving you the story right from the horses mouth [one video was one of the lighthouse staff talking about his life and work].

The engine room contained technical information as well as correspondence between Stevenson and his contractors and artefacts like the instruction book issued to lighthouse staff - see below for the rather detailed instructions on how staff should wash themselves!

The balance between serious information and more human, funny anecdotes, like the staff reaction to having a lighthouse bible issued to them, was well done and we spent quite a long time looking through everything.

The lighthouse itself is stunning - Stevenson was of course an amazing engineer but he also managed to create beautiful buildings in incredibly challenging environments. Inside there are pictures of all the lighthouses in Scotland and you can tell a Stevenson designed lighthouse - although they were designed absolutely for their purpose, if you didn't know what a lighthouse was, and just saw the design anywhere, you would be impressed by the architecture. The fact it is beautiful and functional is an achievment and echoes William Morris' edict about having nothing in your house unless it has a function or is beuatiful - Stevenson's lighthouses manage to combine both with elegance.

After we had exhausted the exhibition, we took pics of the lighthouse and then popped into the Gallie Craig Coffee Shop just a short stroll from the lighthouse.

This has to be the best view from a cafe anywhere - the building is well designed with large glass panoramas to take in a 270 degree view. The building is dug into the hillside with the roof covered in the same plants and grasses as the hillside, so it blends in amazingly well to its surroundings. And, a major bonus, the cafe is run by lovely women who do proper home baking and a selection of daily specials for hot meals. The carrot cake was to die for and the scones were actually better than the ones we had bought from the bakers in Castle Douglas. With so many cafes now either being Costa or Starbucks outposts, or just below par serving bad coffee and cakes in wee packets, it was good to see a well run establishment. If they can do it in such a remote location why can't others in towns and cities achieve the same?

We then took a walk along the cliffs - it was very windy but after we had walked over 2-3cliffs we found a wee sheltered area where we sat for ages just enjoying the sun, fresh air, amazing views and the sound of the sea.

Andy sorting his hair in the very blustery wind!

Andy with sorted hair!

I really miss the sea now that we live 'inland' and could have spent hours just listening to it.

The amazing view from the cliffs

As a souvenir Andy got me a map of Scotland that has all of the lighthouses marked on it - what a geek I am but I was very chuffed he spotted it - not many maps will show where even the more well known lighthouses are.

If you like bird watching, you can access an RSPB nature reserve where you can bir watch to your hearts content. I know nothing about bird watching so can't say whether it is worth it or not, but given the coastal position imagine the seabird element would be good.

It is definitely somewhere I would visit again and would plan for doing more walking next time too. And while I am landlocked in Stirling I can checkout the lighthouse's webcam! Well worth a visit.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

carlingwark loch & castle douglas

Castle Douglas is tagged a 'food town' by Dumfries and Galloway and so Andy and I couldn't resist a visit. Particularly as we had heard that Ballard's the butcher was a particular pleasure to visit. But first we took a walk to work up an appetite and take in the beautiful countryside around the village.

We followed the Carlingwark Loch trail which takes you around the loch, over marshlands [see Andy on the board pathways across the marsh below] and past Threave Castle.

The castle was closed for the winter but it was fun to point out where my parents would take us on trips when we were little.

The Mausoleum at Threave

It was a sunny day and we got to really appreciate the softer landscape of the area - quite different to what we are used to in Dundee or Stirling.

Andy stole my hat...

We then headed into town and had lunch at 'designs' art gallery and cafe [see top of post for pic]. The cafe is excellent - Andy had a chicken and avacadoe wrap and I had croque monsieur. The salads that were served alongside were very good - actual salads - not just lettuce, tomatoe and cucumber. There was a bean salad, coleslaw, carrot salad and your usual lettices and tomatoes. The dressing was good to - mustardy and with the right balane of lemon juice and olive oil.

The gallery itself was also lovely - a large airy room at the back had an exhibition inspired by the charity Shelter, this led on to a room selling a small but well chosen selection of books and then through to the front where there was a gift area. In fact, we picked up two beautiful masks for the Diabetes UK Scotland masked ball at the end of October.

We then took in the food town - the shops are small but well stocked and with several bakers, butchers and delis there is a good choice on offer. We visited Deli 173, which also has a branch in Dumfries, and picked up some amazing blueberry jam. We then hit Ballard's which was as good as we had been told. A really good selection of cuts but one of the things I really liked was the prepared meat available. When you are cooking for one or two it is always good to get prepared meat choices at the butcher and we tried the chicken wrapped in bacon and stuffed with haggis. We decided to come back later on in the week to pick up more tasty morsels.

We then bought vegetables to go with the chicken from the local greengrocer - including some yellow courgettes which we had not tasted before.

When we got back home, I made the chicken with sweet potatoes, peppers and courgettes roasted in olive oil and black pepper. Despite the fact I had no foil to cover the chicken with, and compounded this by over cooking by 5 minutes because I wasn't sure of the cooker and chicken is not something you want undercooked, the meat was tender, juicy and fell apart as we dug into it. The haggis was good - spicy but while creamy it wasn't too heavy. The bacon wrap wasn't a wee mean strip but instead was a thickly sliced piece of meat, very lean. We enjoyed it very much and cemented our plans to go back for more.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

gatehouse of fleet & the ship inn

We decided that a walk was in order - mainly so that we could indulge in a Sunday roast provide by the recommended Ship Inn in Gatehouse of Fleet. The Fleet has a lovely area of ancient forest with well signed walks and amazing scenery. The Ship Inn also has a literary connection - Dorothy L. Sayers famed novel Five Red Herrings was written while she stayed at this hotel, then known as the Anwoth Hotel. She referred to the then landlord, Joe Dignam, as "the kindliest of landlords" and had a true affinity with Gatehouse of Fleet, Kirkcudbright and the surrounding area in which the novel is based.

Walks through forests are always good for windy, rainy days - sheltered, you can enjoy a good long walk without getting soaked. We took a flask of tea with us to keep us going and enjoyed looking out for red squirrels. We saw this ancient tree - and took turns keeking out from it.

After our walk we nipped home to change then headed back out to have dinner at the Ship Inn. The Inn has been recently renovated and it has been done tastefully. Lots of warm wood, sturdy tables and chairs and a good atmosphere. We both had the roast beef with yorkshire pudding and all the trimmings and for pudding Andy had lemon cheesecake while I had profiteroles.

The beef was great - lots of it and very tender. The puds were good too. My only slight criticism were the roasties - they could have been a wee bit crispier but then I imagine churning out dozens of roast dinners on sunday takes its toll.

The profiteroles were excellent with a strong chocolate sauce. The sauce was evidently made from a good chocolate - no cloying sickliness or grainy texture. Andy thought the cheesecake spot on and from my taste it was clear it was a homemade not out-of-the-freezer job not just from the smooth creamy, cheesiness of the filling but particularly from the base which was buttery, crumbly and with the right amount of crunch. There is a difference to having crunch and just being brittle. I mention the cheese tang detected in the filling because often cheesecake filling can taste like a bland and tough cream - it is good to taste a filling that stands up to the name cheesecake

Monday, 11 October 2010

fabulous fabric

While in Kirkcudbright we took a wee look round the art galleries and visted Jo Gallant's shop on the high street. I have seen her work in the Fotheringham Gallery in Bridge of Allan so it was good to see the main shop. The attraction for me is the mix of colour and textiles she uses. I like autumnal colours but not sludgy - with a bit of vibrancy about them - and items that use different fabrics like silk and wool. Her cushions and throws are lovely and I particularly like the sunset designs she has. I will be keeping it in mind for the new house.

the waterhouse

On our holiday this year we stayed at an eco lodge called the waterhouse - although it is 'eco' it is very comfortable and well appointed - I am all for saving the world but would prefer to do it with running hot water!

The waterhouse has one double bedroom, a bunk room with two bunks, a bathroom with waterfall shower and kitchen/dining/lounge area. It is a small building but just right for two. Often when we try and find self catering accommodation it tends to be big in size and you feel like you are rattling around in it - not to mention paying for space you won't use. It is good to find somewhere that caters for couples.

The waterhouse is owned by Martin and Sharon who bought the land about 15 years ago, renovated their own house, developed the gardens and then built the waterhouse. The gardens are really magical with ponds, arbours and a summerhouse. The design although carefully planned does not look planned - but very natural. It is very private and you feel very much closed away from the outside world.

Martin looks after the gardens and waterhouse and Sharon is an additional support for learning teacher at the local school. Martin will also cook dinner for you and we did this on the Tuesday night - his cooking is very tasty and we had baked onions with feta cheese and pine nuts, beef in red wine and fruit kebabs and ice cream. It was really good and it is always nice to be cooked for.

The waterhouse has a hot tub on the decking area and this is a real added bonus to the place. Even if it is cold outside you can be toasty warm and enjoy the outdoors and we enjoyed having a wee drink, watching the sun go down and gazing at the stars in the evening. A really good way to end your day of walks and sight seeing.

Andy eating his lunch

And me making it!

We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and would definitely go back.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

feminism - apparently committing home cooking mass murder

A while ago Jan Moir wrote an article in the Daily Mail about how she thought feminsim killed home cooking. And put forward the continuing myth that home cooking is somehow 'feminine' in and of itself. This annoys me no end. I really dislike rose tinted glasses combined with a hefty dose of sexism, and in this case would go so far as to say misogyny.

Cooking up until second wave feminism wasn't all hearty, healthy meals. Finance, education and time all played a part in ensuring children got badly cooked, badly balanced food on a daily basis - we may have a problem with obesity and that is serious but we also used to have problems with rickets. Stay at home mothers didn't guarantee wholesome meals - and that isn't the fault of mothers.

Also, working women have always had to find ways to feed their families - and by that I mean all women who have had either paid or non-paid work. The work that goes into running a home and raising children seems to be brushed aside - I imagine keeping a 'good house' in the 1950s wasn't exactly a picnic.

Apparently feminism killed home cooking and created take aways, microwaved meals and is responsible for the obesity epidemic. If only we would just give up on all this using our skills and intelligence to run our homes well, run a business, teach, be doctors, nurses, care workers, lawyers, politicians or, you know, earn enough to pay the bills, the world would be a much better place. And while we are at it, lets repeal the legislation that gave us the vote and the right to not be raped by our husbands.

Feminism didn't kill home cooking - some people would argue the microwave and ready made meals did. The modern age desire to make machines, speed things up and out smart one another did. Percy Spencer - bloke - invented the microwave. MacDonalds wasn't invented by Mrs Beeton. I am being flippant, but seriously, it is quite a stretch to say that feminism - that invisible dementor - killed home cooking.

First - feminism actually means you get a choice. A choice for every woman and man to home cook or not to home cook. And if the argument is that home cooking is more healthy how come men aren't smart enough to a) figure that out and b) act on it? I thought men were supposed to be smart?

Second - where are the fathers/other adults? Obesity in children requires two things - children and an intake of food that doesn't outweigh the activity output. However a child comes into the world they are brought up by more than one adult - in other words 'Mum' - whether it's dad, granny, grandad, uncle joe etc you get the picture. Where are these other adults providing meals, taking kids out to play etc? What about the adults that give kids sweets thinking it is a 'treat' or prevent girls from playing football because it isn't 'ladylike'.

Third - the fact you don't like women is not a causal effect for obesity.

Rose Prince in the Daily Fail article says that -

"The way we cook has to change if the gentle art of feminine food is to be revived."

The last time I looked there wasn't much that was gentle about home cooking. I just made pancakes for afternoon tea alongside baking some bread for tomorrow [how feminine of me] - beating eggs, frying over a high hot-oil heat, kneading dough, flinging things in and out of the oven, smoking my oil so hot the smoke alarm went off, the occasional swearing when you realise you haven't boiled the kettle yet for the coffee but the last batch of pancakes is just about done. And I am sure my husband would back me up that out of the two of us it is me that is the most messy in the kitchen. Yes, working in a hot kitchen is very sweet and dainty.

I love cooking. I love home cooked meals and regularly spend weekends cooking for hours for it to be devoured in seconds. As much as possible I try and cook most meals during the week albeit of a more basic pasta and sauce variety. But here is the thing. I get to choose. And I get to choose what is right for my circumstances - and so does my husband. Our food intake and health are entirely in our own independent adult hands which is just how it should be. And when we are looking after kids, the impact feminism has is one showing that adults and kids regardless of gender can contribute to - and enjoy - cooking and cleaning up, and that healthy food is about a balanced diet and not starving yourself to the size of a toothpick. What an awful attitude to have, eh Jan?

So in the light of all of this 'feminism is to blame for pretty much everything we don't like' it is refreshing to see a new blog,
to serve woman, start up by writers from the F-Word designed to counteract both the idea that cooking is essentially ‘feminine’, and the idea that feminism is anti cooking. The point of the blog is to bring the intersections of cooking and food and politics and feminism together. There will be two loosely grouped themes - one covering aspects related to food and the other using food as a launching point to discuss feminist topics including -

The labour aspect of cooking
the chef vs cook conversation (different versions of the same recipe custard/ creme anglaise)
cultural and religious intersections of food
feminism and veganism/vegetarianism
communal cooking/eating
cooking for families/

I am pretty excited about it - feminism and cooking - two of my favourite things in one place.

Check it out and contribute. I am off to sit and watch TV while my husband cooks the dinner - I hope this doesn't send the world off it's axis.

PS - I have a feeling that describing feminism as an invisible dementor is something I may have read somewhere at some point - so if I did steal it apologies! It has now become so much a part of my lexicon I can't remember if it is original or not!

Saturday, 9 October 2010


The past two weeks we have been on holiday - the first week we just lazed about the house and the second week we stayed in self catering accommodation in Kirkcudbright. I will be posting over the next few days what we got up to but here is a quick summary.

We stayed at 'the waterhouse' an eco lodge set in amazing gardens with a lovely decked area complete with hot tub. We had a great time exploring the area, visiting Wigtown, Castle Douglas, Gatehouse of Fleet and the Mull of Galloway.

We were quite lucky with the weather - while there was perhaps a day and a half of rain most of the time it was dry and we had at least two days of really summer-like weather.

Although we now live full time together and so can't really say we don't get to see one another, there is something about being on holiday and away from your usual setting. The waterhouse has no phone or internet connection and having time where no-one expects you to be around [and really I mean work!] is very freeing and lets you relax properly.

What we have both realised is that as time has gone by and our jobs and lives in general have got busier, we really do need proper time off in a way we didn't 5 or 6 years ago. Commuting, busy jobs and dealing with the house means real time off is hard to come by. We usually don't bother too much with forward planning our holidays and just take time off as and when we realise we haven't had a break for a while. But that doesn't seem to work as well now - now we really do need to plan regular breaks and make sure we don't work for months without proper time off. Certainly we both felt the weeks on the run up to our hols this time around were tiring and we weren't quite as energetic as usual.

So, along with having a fantastic holiday we have agreed to try and plan our time off to make sure we don't burn like we did a bit this time round.