Sunday, 2 September 2012

Birds hide and seek

Normally, I'd consider the birds in the garden to be very macho: they would approach cautiously when I would do the weeding or cutting the lawn, wait until my back was turned, then swoop down and gobble down any incautious worms on the ground surface. In the winter months, the robins, especially, who look deceptively cheerful, but are one of the most ferocious predators (at least, as far as worms are concerned) would come closer to keep me company.

However, when tidying up the garden, I found the bird feeder, and very shortly found that the birds rather liked it - or the contents. And I found that I rather liked sitting in the verandah watching the birds and trying (often unsuccessfully) trying to photograph them.

So I extended the bird feeder situation to the side of the back sun room. My sister warned that the buzzards and eagles from Mull may come in search of easy meals, so I put a roof on top of the seed tray; my daughter wondered if the cats of Iona would invade my garden, so I put the other seed tray on top of one of the many spare tables in the garden. Daily, more and more birds came, though my attempts at photographs were still pretty awful; this is the absolute best I could manage:

Saturday, 25 August 2012

When summer meets autumn

I've always assumed that autumn would start on St Durin's Day, which I've decided should be the 5th November, though due to the Scottish weather, perhaps that would be a better day for the beginning of winter.

But today, with the excitement and frenzy of the Festival gradually beginning to fade, I thought maybe this should be the first day of autumn. I was walking down the abandoned railway which runs from Leith to far further than I normally go and saw one of the last raspberries hanging. I picked it and ate it: the slightly tart flavour exploded in my mouth, the fruit dissolved and left the woody seeds waiting to be spat out discreetly.

And then, I saw one of the first ripe blackberries - first of what looks like a huge crop this year. It was black and glistening, a mouthful of ripe, warm sweetness, yet still with the tint of bitterness.

There's still time for one last autumnal summer pudding of raspberries and blackberries before the elderberries are ready. Last year, there were so many that the boughs bent under the weight of the pigeons, feasting on them. But I still managed to get a few, though the tannin flavour is strong enough to overpower practically everything so, frankly, I was quite willing to leave the berries to the pigeons.

Monday, 30 July 2012

Then, like a thunderbolt, he falls

I haven't seen this eagle statue before, but couldn't resist the contrast of that in the foreground, the nasturtiums in the background, the wood against the fragility of the leaves and flowers. There's just something about statues, a moment frozen in time, which fascinates me. The statue's in Iona - in the gardens of the Argyll Hotel, I think, or the next one along, but Edinburgh's the city of statues, always another to discover.

Later note: My sister points out that  it's actually in the garden of Carol and David Kirkpatrick, so abject apologies for suggesting that it might be in the Argyll Hotel garden .

Friday, 27 July 2012

And now for foraging

I had the first raspberry of the year today: warmed by the sun, with a slight tartness, it was the perfect way to announce the official opening of an Edinburgh summer. The blackberries are flowering on the abandoned railway path I walk along between home and work, promising a bumper crop later on.

So when I went to a talk on Wild Harvests, I felt a kinship with the editor, Fi Martynoga, who had started foraging at age 3. I think I must have been a bit older, since my first memory of foraging is when my sister and I would go onto the railway embankment and collect ripe blackberries. We'd climb up and down the slope, disregarding the thorns and the occasional trains; we had a small sandy den where we'd squat and wave to passing trains. In those days, we'd no idea of the risks we were running, either annoying the staff in the station a mere couple of hundred yards away, having an accident with the train or even eating polluted fruit. In my memories of those days, the sun was always shining.

Fi praised nettles and made some nettle browse from chopped up nettles, oatmeal, seasonsings and a knob of butter: nutty, surprisingly delicious, I may make it myself another time. The book has a recipe for nettle pesto, which sounds interesting. This time of year, though, the nettles are fully grown, but that's no problem - apparently it's possible to weave the strings of the stalks and even make silk-like stockings from them - and never mind the stings, they can be beneficial medicinally.

Will I be more than an opportunistic forager? Unsure at present. I will still pick the wild berries I find and celebrate St Patrick's Day with wild garlic. I'll make teas from more than the Iona mint I use which romps round my balcony. Collecting and eating seaweed will be a challenge. St Columba did it, and discussed  the delights of "cropping dulse from the rock", so maybe I'll use the seaweed for more than the annual fertilisation of the garden.

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Religion on Jubilee Day

Today, I walked down to the Bay of the Corracle, down the south end. It's a longish walk (though only about 4000 paces, according to my rather temperamental pedometer), but I must say I was glad of my holy socks.

 I got them first as a bit of a joke - this is the source, but despite walking round with mini whales on my socks and other relevant images, they've certainly kept my feet dry and that's the main thing. Normally, I'd sit down in front of the fire and watch tv. There's just two small obstacles: no fire (being replaced), no tv (being replaced).

So I did some baking instead, and felt that this was a very suitable recipe:

 Bible cake receipt:
A. 1/2 cup Judges 5:25 (Milk)
B. 2 cups Jeremiah 6:20 (Sugar)
C. 2 tbsp. I Samuel 14:25 (Honey) - my own! deliciously golden heather honey, just on the point of crystallising.
D. 6 Jeremiah 17:11 (Eggs)
E. 1-1/2 cups I Kings 5:2 (Flour, sifted)
F. 2 tsp. Amos 4:5 (Baking powder)
G. 4 tsp. II Chronicles 9:9 (Spice, likely cinnamon)
H. A pinch of Leviticus 2:13 (Salt)
I. 1/2 cup Judges 4:19 (Milk)
J. 2 cups (chopped) Nahum 3:12 (Figs)
K. 2 cups I Samuel 30:12 (Raisins)
L. 2 cups (chopped) Numbers 13:23 (Pomegranates?)

Cream together A, B, C and the yolks of D. Sift together E, F, G, and H. Combine the above together with I. Add J, K and L. Add in stiffly beaten whites of D. Bake in a well-greased rectangular 13"x 9" pan at 325°F for an hour or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Serve with ice cream - if you can find a biblical verse which mentions ice cream. I ate the ice cream, but I must admit I'm still looking for the reference ... It was delicious.

I think I'll have another slice, and listen to the radio. It's set to Radio Scotland. It's a nice way to end Jubilee Day.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

I never realised there were so many stars

In Iona, I'm normally pretty tired after manual work all day, so tend to sleep from 9 at night to about 7 in the morning, as opposed to my more placid Edinburgh life where I sleep from about midnight or 1 in the morning to precisely 5.18am (and don't ask me why: it's totally inconvenient).

So in Iona, I don't normally see the night sky. It was different at the weekend. For once I woke up about 3am and couldn't get back to sleep, so climbed down from my lair in the attic and absent mindedly walked into the back sun room where I stopped short in amazement.

The night sky was totally black, a dark deep of textured velvet; there was nothing to see, not even the reflection of the sea, no lights, no shade of the hills, no shapes of the sheep, lying to wait for dawn.

But there were the stars, hundreds of them, so bright, so clear, so many. In Edinburgh, I can just about pick out Venus, Jupiter, Orion's Belt. But here, it was difficult to find sky without stars, it was magical and really humbling.

I spent the night, wrapped in the knitted blanket I knitted for my father's room in shades of ice blue, sleeping on the bed sofa in the sun room, opening my eyes every so often to make sure that the stars were still there.

I woke at dawn to find them gone, just a soft streak of soft sienna in the middle distance, but my memories hadn't gone. It's one of those memories which I'll cling to during the stressful days in Edinburgh, when I have to remember why I'm in Auld Reekie earning money to give me the chance to be in Iona at the weekends.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Tulips in Amsterdam

Families are full of traditions: my husband and I go to Amsterdam for our wedding anniversary and have done so long enough for me to ask for advocaat and cream at Wynand Fockink in very understandable Dutch. This year, we went on a tulip hunt, though it would have been easier to have done a tulip avoiding one: of course they were everywhere. These, predictably, are at the Tulip Museum.

There's even tulips around at night:

More importantly, and as a bonus, the circus were in town. Not just any circus, though, The Circus, the Cirque du Soleil. We knew about it in an abstract sort of way and were strolling along the canal (any canal, it doesn't matter which) when we saw this:

After which, I defy anyone not to rush to get there. The circus was at the arena, so we shared the space with football fans, very strange. About the actual performance, what can I say? I think it was obvious the performers enjoyed it, which made it more enjoyable for the audience. And the sheer skill of it was breath taking. When the show finally ended, there was a spontaneous standing ovation.

And when I got back from work, they asked what I did in Amersterdam, with many nudges and winks: when I said I went to the circus, they looked at me in total blankness. But I stared back with a secret smile: I had memories from the circus performance which will last a lifetime.