Wednesday, October 31, 2012

A few days rest

Here we are staying at the Auchrannie Hotel on the Isle of Arran because I got an offer I could just not refuse!  It arrived in my email just as Mom was transferred to rehab and it looked like she might actually be sent home sooner rather than later.  I  love visiting here, but have only done day trips before.

We arrived Sunday - the day the clocks went back so, in theory, we got an extra hour's sleep. Since I usually wake up at 6 (certainly not on purpose), I got up at 5am!  In the 3 hours before we intended to leave for the Ardrossan Ferry I managed to eat breakfast, watch the American evening news (NBC), paint my toes (after all it is a leisure spa!), do Mom's laundry, clean the downstairs bathroom and tidy the living room. I was on a roll!  Then I woke Alan up......

Although dogs are welcome at the Auchrannie, we agreed we didn't need extra responsibility and left Bailey with her grandparents. That will be fun for her and I think they enjoy her company too.

We knew the weather might not cooperate, but there are pools, gyms and all things you would expect at a leisure spa so who cared if it rained?  Famous last words...... It poured when we arrived and we had no car. So we sat in luxury by the wood fire waiting for our room to be ready, gearing up for the wet walk to Brodick. (oh, the reason there are plural pools, etc, is because there are 2 hotels - the house hotel and the newer spa. We were advised to stay in the house, for a nicer atmosphere. It is nice and our room has a view of Goatfell! The highest peak on Arran.)

We managed to get to Brodick in light rain and stopped at a pub for a beer - I had a Guinness. It is the last weekend of tourist season, and since this was Sunday, you could say the season is really over. No folks around except locals. Of course, no sensible people would go for a walk in teeming rain, we were soaked when we got back to the hotel! 
(Oh, I should mention that light rain turned into heavy, heavy rain. Even our socks were soaked by the time we got back to the hotel!)

Went to the Cruize bar for dinner. Not memorable, but affordable and here!  We ended up eating all our meals there.  The funny thing is - with this being a 4 star hotel, we both brought clothes to "dress for dinner".  Well, this is as casual a place as  I have ever seen, comparable to the hotels in the Lake District.  Most folks just wear jeans or hiking trousers, so we really didn't need to pack those extra clothes. We will definitely be back and definitely not wast the space next time!

So often when Alan and I stay in a hotel, I spend a few hours in the  bathroom when I wake up!  It is the only place I can go to read or whatever and not disturb him. Must be awful married to a morning person when you are not so inclined!  But this morning he was awake and we got such  an early start we kept surprising ourselves with how much we did - even before lunch.

First was breakfast at Cruize bar all you can eat buffet, great way to start the day. Then off to Arran cheese factory, Arran Aromatics,  Arran Brewery and Brodick Castle.  On our long walk, Alan saw his first red squirrel!  We also saw pheasants, herons, a bird of prey and seals. Not bad!
                                                                    View as we walked from our hotel to the other hotel and breakfast!

                                                                               This is the newer hotel, we were advised this is where most families stay and it is noisy!  But this is also where the Cruize Bar is and where we ate every meal.  Both hotels are close to each other so it was easy to stay at one and eat at the other.  And I really did prefer staying in the older building with the fireplaces and comfortable seating areas.

Mom came with us one year when we drove around the island in a day, long day but fun! We visited Brodick Castle and all the other things tourists do, but the main memory she took away with her - the number of palm trees on the island:

These are in front of the spa hotel.

Lovely Autumn scene on our walk to Brodick Castle

Nice setting for a sawmill!

There's the ferry waiting to take folks back to the mainland!

just a few of the flowers still hanging in there before the chill really hits!

Seals enjoying the sunshine.  Of course, Alan has better pictures where you can see their whiskers, but my lens is not that powerful.  He also has wonderful pictures of red squirrels.   The next two pictures are his!

                                                                                I come to Arran often for work and this is one of my favorite book/gift shops.  I always find something unique and perfect for someone, even if I am not looking for anything in particular!

Alan and I took an evening, moonlit stroll to Brodick and the beach after dinner.  The lights shining on the mainland are in Ayr.  Not so far from home, but a world away!

Brodick Castle at night

Another of my favorite places - the cheese shop!

Taken from the ferry on the way home....from being soaked on the first day, to having the perfect day and then this....a good day to leave!

"Beauty's of a fading nature
Has a season and is gone!"
Robert Burns

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Musing on a Saturday Night Pizza

Earlier this week, I was asked a question that made me think about measurements and cup sizes, not the obvious clothes sizes!  But why Americans use cups and the UK uses metric?  And I remembered when the great-grandmother of a colleague died.  We both worked at the home office of Butler Shoes, that was a long time ago!  Anyway, she was thrilled to inherit her great grandmother's baking cups.  Now these were not what you buy in a store with lines and numbers on them.  One of them was a type of mug and one was a smaller tea cup.  And the recipes that came with the cups said things like one large cup of this and a small cup of that.

So my private opinion about how Americans began using cups is that we had to!  Once the ships or covered wagons arrived at their destination - what else would they use to bake, but a consistent way to measure using whatever they had?  I think it makes perfect sense.  However, at this same time in history, I doubt the average resident of Great Britain owned a what did they use?

Anyway, I decided to retry a recipe I found on another blog called  The Yummy Life.  It is for slow cooker carmelized onions and they were a disaster the first time. But the reviews were so positive and the pictures made the recipe seem so easy....I had to rethink this and retry it.  My theory is my slow cooker is bigger than what she uses and the recipe calls for large onions.  Possibly Scottish onions are not as big as what she has access to... so I tweaked it and tried it again and it was delicious. And as easy as her blog makes it sound. 

Still on the frugal challenge, we decided to make our own pizzas tonight.  I found a recipe for an easy pizza dough and used things we already had, including extra bacon cooked at lunch today.  Great way to clear out the fridge since we will be away for a few days.

Quick and Easy Pizza Dough (taken from

375g (13 oz or 2 cups) plain flour
1 tsp salt
1 Tbs caster sugar (white sugar)
7g (1/4 oz) dried active baking yeast (I used a packet of yeast)
2 Tbs olive oil
225ml ( (8 fl oz or 1 cup) warm water

Prep:10 minutes       Cook:  25 minutes

1.  combine flour, salt, sugar and yeast in a large bowl.  Mix in oil and warm water.  Spread out on large pizza pan.  Top as desired.

2.  Bake at 190C / Gas mark 5 / 375F for 20 - 25 minutes.

This recipe said it served 15 people, but it never said what size pan to use! So I used a new one I got at Lidl, one that extends.  Then once I got the dough all stretched out, I had the foresight to check if it fit in the oven before putting the toppings on it.  Whew!  I had to push the extension in 3 inches!  Not much advantage in having a pan that can go so big, when I really can't use it.

Back to serving 15 people.....really?  Not in my house!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Peach Ham Sauce

Autumn comes to our street

Alan and I have been eating very conservatively while Mom is in the hospital, sort of an experiment as to how inexpensively and carefully we can get by on our food budget.

So last night, we cooked a "small" ham, 2.65 kilos  (5.8 lbs).  We almost never even see decent size hams on sale, and this really wasn't a "decent" size ham.  What I mean by that is, it would not feed the numbers I have been known to feed in the past - pre-empty nest.

This recipe was given to me by a friend who had this sauce at dinner along with a ham, of course!    In my little recipe collection - I have the date as November 1999!  This is also the cause of the subject of my previous blog - Identifying a Pattern
To give an idea of just how delicious this sauce is - my Mother in Law is diabetic and has to be extremely careful of her diet. She very rarely "cheats" because her blood sugar goes haywire.  But she makes an exception for this sauce, and will even ask me to make it for her if they cook a ham!


Peach Ham Sauce

4 oz (100gr) soft brown sugar
1 tsp each - cinnamon, allspice and ground cloves
1/2 cup (1/4 pint) water or peach juice
2 Tbs cider vinegar
1 can peaches in juice
Keep peaches to the side and mix all other ingredients.
Bring to a boil, add peaches and enjoy.
Does it get any easier that that?
Sorry that there is no picture of the finished sauce, with the peaches all speckled in spices.  I was in too much of a hurry to eat! 

 “Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” Mark Twain.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Black Beans and Rice

I wonder if all my recipes and cookbooks have their own stories?  It has been such a pleasure unpacking and getting reacquainted with my cookbooks. There has even been some heartbreak along the way.  Especially with my Diet for a Small Planet....I purchased this when I graduated from FSU in the mid 1970's and learned a whole new way of eating.  As a result, I was a total vegetarian and health food fanatic until I moved to Atlanta and realized I had to relearn how to eat like a "normal" person again.  Not that vegetarianism is not normal, but in the late 70's, it was unusual and not easy for a single girl to be taken on a dinner date when she did not eat meat, sugar, any processed foods, drink coffee or alcohol or even eat chocolate.  I was really a fanatic. The tragic truth is - I never felt better than I did then. But outside of a university town environment, it was too difficult to continue.

I packed away a whole bunch of cookbooks and put them in a box in the garage. And which one got chewed by a mouse?  Only the Diet for a Small Planet.  And really chewed too.  I was so unhappy, I immediately ordered a new one, but this won't have my scribbled notes as I got to grips with protein complementary cooking.  And the older one might even have been valuable, I don't think it was a first edition, but I did buy it in 1976.  Antique anyway!

But that is not the cook book I decided to use last night, this is one I bought in Las Vegas at the Girl Scout headquarters.  I am very involved in Girl Guides in Scotland and always try to visit local Girl Scout or Girl Guide headquarters or shops where ever we might travel.  In Las Vegas, I got two cookbooks and this one was mainly to cook ahead and freeze things, called Fix Freeze Take & Bake.   One recipe that looked fun to try was Black Beans and Rice.  Sounded wonderful, and it also turned out to be very simple. The most difficult thing about this recipe is cooking the rice, honest!

Finding black beans in this area has not always been easy and I have had to ask Mom to bring them when she used to fly over here.  But I found canned black beans in Morrison's and was ecstatic!  Another strange thing is - in the UK you won't find "sour" cream, but you will find "soured" cream.  Why the difference?  I guess we will never know, but they are exactly the same thing!

Last night was one of the rare nights when I was on my own, Mom is still in the hospital and Alan had gone out with friends. I am afraid readers will get the wrong impression but Alan really does not go out often and he is retired, so he is around quite alot.  Being an only child, I do treasure my "me time" so am almost always happy to see him go, also happy to see him come back!  Being alone and with not enough time to possibly consider house work, this was a chance to try something new, but the only rice I had was Arborio rice.  Oh who cares, rice is rice, or so I hoped - and this turned out to be a safe call.  (however, the rice did not make it into the ingredients picture!)

Black Beans & Rice - as written in the cookbook, sizes of cans will be different in the UK...

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained
1 (10 oz.) can tomatoes and green chillies, drained  (Had to use different tomatoes here, this is not available where I shop)
1 Cup Salsa ( I used the whole jar)  I also used mild and next time would go a bit hotter!
2 Cups cooked rice  (again, I had to guess, do they mean before or after cooking?  so hard to measure)
1 Cup sour cream
2 Cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese, divided

In the time it took me to shred the cheese, the rice cooked.

In a medium bowl, combine drained black beans, drained tomatoes, salsa, cooked rice, sour cream and 1 cup Cheddar cheese. Mix well. Transfer to a greased 2 quart casserole dish to freeze and top with remaining Cheddar cheese. Cover and freeze. 

(this never happened with me, I cooked it and ate it.  Will try freezing next time, it was delicious!)

To prepare:

Thaw in refrigerator or microwave.  Preheat oven to 350F or 160C. Cover and bake for 30 minutes.  Remove cover and bake an additional 10 - 15 minutes. 

Can freeze up to 6 months.

Bailey was patiently waiting for my dinner to be ready!

Fresh out of the oven.

                                                                                           Dinner is ready!
One thing I would change is to make this a bit more spicy.  I have never seen tomatoes with chillies here and I think they would really have made a difference. Plus I usually buy the mild salsa because I have an intolerance to cumin and it is difficult to find salsa without cumin.  But I will make an effort next time to find a hotter salsa or add more spices to give this a bit more zing!  It was good without that but I think it would be amazing with it!
Just the recipe!
Black Beans & Rice - as written in the cookbook, sizes of cans will be different in the UK...

1 (15 oz.) can black beans, drained
1 (10 oz.) can tomatoes and green chillies, drained
1 Cup Salsa
2 Cups cooked rice 
1 Cup sour cream
2 Cups Shredded Cheddar Cheese, divided
In a medium bowl, combine drained black beans, drained tomatoes, salsa, cooked rice, sour cream and 1 cup Cheddar cheese. Mix well. Transfer to a greased 2 quart casserole dish to freeze and top with remaining Cheddar cheese. Cover and freeze. 

To prepare:

Thaw in refrigerator or microwave. Preheat oven to 350F or 160C. Cover and bake for 30 minutes. Remove cover and bake an additional 10 - 15 minutes.

Can freeze up to 6 months.
"Vegetarian - that's an old Indian word meaning "lousy hunter." ~Andy Rooney


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Gingerbread - or a lesson in patience

It has been awhile since I posted - life is very, very busy with working and visiting Mom in the hospital. Last Thursday, she did make tremendous progress though, by being transferred to the rehab hospital.  This is fantastic news, but also puts more pressure on us, as we had postponed getting her room ready and focused on other priorities.  The whole house has become a priority and it is not a good place to be at the moment.

Last week, my daughter moved from a flat to a darling little house right on the edge of a racecourse and you can see the Isle of Arran from her yard.  How wonderful.  I took the day off work and Alan and I helped her begin to leave her old flat and move in.  This consisted of her unpacking the kitchen and Alan dismantling and rebuilding furniture.  Which left me going up and down the stairs all day long.  Good for my weightwatchers regime but I had to keep reminding myself that this was not unfair, we all had jobs to do!

Consequently, Alan and I were tired and accepted the fact that we had to get take away Chinese food for dinner, poor us!  Sat down for one hour and then traipsed off to the rehab hospital to see Mom, who continues to be fantastic and is getting better everyday. 
Alan got the opportunity to go out for drinks with the boys, I was delighted to be on my own and just entertain myself for a few hours.  Instead of sitting around and resting, I got inspired to find a recipe and bake myself a treat.  So I located a recipe I had not done in years, and I used to do this one all the time.  One of my previous employers used to have a newsletter and this recipe was published once and I had used it so many times.  I am not sure when it became "lost" but it is found again. However, in my haste, I discovered problems with this recipe and it was too late to correct it.  But you will see for yourselves.

When I was a sorority girl, many years ago, my big sister gave me a recipe book - the kind with blank pages and dividers so I could put in my own favorite recipes.  In my normal way - I saved this special book for many years, maybe even 20, why?  I should have started using it a long time earlier, but glad I did use it otherwise some special recipes would have been lost, like this Gingerbread.  One strange thing I had not noticed until doing this last night, the measurements are all in cups and teaspoons - just like an American recipe.  I did try to convert it to Imperial, but got stuck with the 2 cups of flour.  I tried weighing the flour, but it weighed in at 370g, and, when looking at the measuring cups, it looks like it should be 500 or 600g. Sorry, I don't know how to do this any other way than using the cups.

Gingerbread -                                                                                

2 cups flour (plain flour)          all metric measurements are sheer guesswork!
1 egg
3/4 cup sugar, I used demerara  (added October 22 after researching other recipes!)
3/4 cup treacle (molasses)  could have possibly used less, will experiment again
1 heaped teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaped teaspoon mixed spice
1 heaped teaspoon ginger
1 heaped teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
4 ounces margarine  (115g)
1 cup water   (250ml)
1 cup dried fruit (170g)    (I only had raisins and cranberries - in the picture.
                    Then discovered raisins were out of date!)
all present and accounted for (minus the raisins)
 Here is the first lesson in patience - read the whole recipe before starting, I did not do this and ended up ruining the whole batch of bread!  You have to plan time to cool the mixture after number 3. I failed to do this!  I did notice I had a scrambled egg on top and that was my wake up call.
1.  Place all ingredients, except for flour and egg, in a pan and boil.  Another note, put it in a rather large pan because it really boils! 
2.  Boil for 4 minutes and allow to cool
3.  Add flour and egg and mix well.
4.  Place in a loaf tin, prepared as you would for any bread baking, and bake for 1 hour & 15 minutes
     at 325 F, 170 C or gas mark 3 - 4.
this version tasted fine, but not exactly as I remembered and it did not boil like I remembered, so I looked up other Gingerbread recipes.  Lo and behold, it looks like when I copied this recipe into my little book I must have forgotten the sugar! And that must be why I stopped doing this!  So now my mission is to try it again using some sugar or similar ingredient. That is the next lesson in patience, we will all have to wait until I have time to try this again.  Sorry!
October 22 changes made due to experimenting with combining other recipes.  I added 3/4 sugar and 3/4 treacle AND let the mixture cool totally before adding flour and egg.  The result was delicious!  I felt like Paul Hollywood from the Great British Bake Off saying "there is such a crunch to the crust"!  And I made the mistake of taking some to work and have had to force myself to stop eating it. 
Although, I might cut down on treacle next time......Patience remains a virtue!
Not sure what I will try, some recipes call for sugar and others call for treacle, It was not until I double checked that I was sure treacle and molasses are interchangeable.  So here is the treacle I got the other day to get ready to try this again - I just could not resist!
And here is the recipe without all the pictures.  If any of you come up with an acceptable amount of sugar or whatever, please share with me!


2 cups flour (plain flour) all metric measurements are sheer guesswork!
1 egg
1 heaped teaspoon cinnamon
1 heaped teaspoon mixed spice
1 heaped teaspoon ginger
1 heaped teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
4 ounces margarine (115g)
1 cup water (250ml)
1 cup dried fruit (170g)   
Allow time for mixture to cool before adding flour and egg in number 3.
1. Place all ingredients, except for flour and egg, in a pan and boil. Another note, put it in a rather large pan because it really boils!
2. Boil for 4 minutes and allow to cool
3. Add flour and egg and mix well.
4. Place in a loaf tin, prepared as you would for any bread baking, and bake for 1 hour & 15 minutes
at 325 F, 170 C or gas mark 3 - 4.
"And I had but one penny in the world. Thou should’st have it to buy gingerbread." – William Shakespeare, Love’s Labours Lost