Getting Fresh

With this site having been somewhat dormant of late I’ve been hatching a plan to refine my aims and to give a new platform for what little writing I may produce.  Much of what has evolved here will be core to my new activity, but the intention is to change, for the better, and to focus on some activities to the exclusion of others.

Go on, have a look, join in, and we’ll see where it takes us:



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I have been remiss

The regular book reviews have been an epic fail of late.  Here’s a selection of what’s crossed The Bedside Table in the last few months, two of which have made it to this year’s short list over on The Bookshelf:


And here’s what’s still to come, the current TBR pile:


Still reading, little writing…

But I managed to miss one mighty tome from that TBR shelf, for it rests with the other Montefiores, for one very rainy day which no doubt will be along soon enough.



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When did you last eat Mutton?

Other than the occasional weekly pie at the football, and the meat there may be subject to some debate, it must have been a while.  But a recent supply of succulent diced mutton from our good friends at Harris Farm Meats, had us scouring the recipes.  We came up with Mutton Kabsa, and one pot cooking on the hob is always good for me.


Firstly here’s what you need, and if you prepare the ingredients beforehand it really is a doddle:

2 medium onions, sliced; half tsp ginger paste; 500g diced mutton; salt to taste; zest of an orange; one large, or two small, potatoes cut into wedges; half tsp black pepper powder; half tsp cardamom, ground; half tsp cinnamon; tbsp tomato paste; 2 tomatoes, finely chopped; one and half cups rice, soaked; 2 cups shredded carrot; and for the topping – third cup flaked almonds, toasted; handful pine nuts and crispy fried onion.

Heat some extra virgin Scottish rapeseed oil in a wok and fry the onion, adding the ginger paste to saute when the onion begins to brown.  Add the mutton and brown on oil sides.

Add the salt, orange zest, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, tomato paste and tomato, and cook through.

When the oil rises to the surface add 1 litre water, cover and cook slowly (or as the recipe says, on a medium flame…).  When meat half done add the spuds and cook through.

Remove the meat from the pan and place on a baking tray and broil for 10 mins in the oven.  Here I’d suggest adding sufficient juice from the pan to cover the meat, letting it stay tender and moist, resting in a slow oven.

In the remainder of the liquid add the rice and carrot.  Cover and cook until rice 3/4 done and water absorbed.  Leave it for a further 10 mins.

Dish out the rice in serving platter, add the meat and potato, sprinkle with the almonds, pine nuts and  fried onion.  Stand back, serve and enjoy.  A glass of milk-from-your-childhood, the stuff that leaves a stain on the glass, fresh from the farm gate at Thorntonhall Ice Cream, completes the meal.

Strikes me this would be good with goat too.

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We need to talk about

Amazon, and in particular Amazon Logistics.  How do they perform where you are?

For the fourth time in recent months the wonderful Amazon have told me that my parcel has been delivered, handed to the resident no less.  Yet here I am, wondering what’s gone wrong this time.

In days gone by Amazon provided an excellent service.  The postie arrives daily in his little red van, and those cardboard wrapped packages are handed over.  Then they moved to couriers, professional ones.  I am thinking here of Derek, who drove for DPD, and who knew his patch intimately.  He gave a one hour delivery window, an accurate one, tooted his horn on the way past, went along the road to turn, and delivered, on time, always.

Now we are consigned to the mystery that is Amazon Logistics, and those packages disappear, regularly.  Once I had a driver phone for directions.  But these days it is the wonder of the satnav that replaces human contact.

And out here in the boondocks, where each postcode covers 15 properties, some several miles apart, the Amazon Logistics driver is found out.  In goes the postcode, and the screen points out a direction.  But it is usually the wrong one.  For those 15 properties are listed alphabetically, and off our man goes, following instructions, to the house beginning with A.  And it all goes wrong.  This one has a P, and he knows that.

Delivered, k-ching, handed to the resident, named on the website.  And so the process begins again – where’s my parcel – we’ll send another, round in circles.

Occasionally both turn up, and one has to be returned, now at the expense of the customer of course.

The latest delivery success came the following day, via the school bus, after the wrong address sent it to school, to be handed over and brought home by Girl Urchin, oblivious of course to those at Amazon and their Logistics team.

The latest has disappeared, even the school bus cannot solve the problem.

And get this, the solution from Amazon, is to cancel and refund.  We’re not sending any more they say, as they’re unlikely to arrive.  But feel free to re-order….

So there you go, Amazon, having been provided with all the reasons for the delivery failures, despite the information they have of safe arrival, now prefer to look after their current delivery arrangements, and to tell their long-standing customers that they won’t make rural deliveries.

Well guess what Amazon, having cancelled all the open orders in the system, there will be no more.  No longer will I turn a blind eye to the conditions and pressures on the staff in your sheds; no longer will I value the purchasing power of your prices.  You refuse to deliver; I refuse to buy.

If you insist in using unprofessional drivers, who have not the gumption to deliver correctly but instead feed bull back to the Amazon system; if you cannot see that delivery is the prime issue of customer service; if you cannot arrange an alternative delivery through those who have provided a proven and excellent service to you for years, then the buyer will beware.

So how do Amazon do where you are?  Live rurally, off the beaten track?  Don’t leave your online purchases to the whims of Amazon Logistics, their satnavs and their drivers.  And don’t even dream that customer services will come to your rescue.  Another month of the Prime you have already cancelled is not a solution.

Amazon – we won’t deliver

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A rare treat

It was intended for Sunday Lunch but events intervened.  It might seem a bit extravagant for a Monday after work but really we couldn’t wait to put this recipe to the test.  Let me bring to you Goat Kelantan.


We are very fortunate in these parts to have easy access to Harris Farm Meats.  Not content with producing delicious mutton and rare breed pork, the lovely Ruth Harris and her family have been nurturing and breeding goats for the past year or so, and it’s going down a treat with recipes and suggestions being shared on social media.

First up, here’s what you need:

750g diced meat; 4 tbsp Scottish rapeseed oil; 2 tsp tamarind pulp; 4 stalks lemongrass; 1 cup water (I’ve used bottled the chemical smell of the local supply being unsuitable for whisky, or goat); 1 cup coconut milk; half tsp sugar; 1 tsp salt.

For the marinade – 1 tsp turmeric; 1 tsp chilli powder; 1 tbsp sugar; half tsp salt.

And for the spice paste –  4 cashew nuts; 2 cm sliced ginger; 9 dried chillies; 6 cloves garlic; 3 fresh red chillies; 5 shallots.

The marinade is first.  In a bowl mix the ingredients from the second list and rub well into the meat.  Set aside for an hour, or more.

The spice paste can be made either with the aid of a blender or pestle & mortar.  After soaking the chillies in water, cut the chillies into lengths.  Halve the garlic cloves, and the shallots; slice the red chillies.  Four cashews is just a tad precise – chuLeave itck a wee handful in.  With Urchins to feed I’ve eased back on the heat from the above.  Blend all the ingredients, using a drop of oil.  Set aside.

Once the marinade has matured and the paste made, heat the oil in a wok and stir-fry the spice paste for 5 mins to release the aromas.  Add the tamarind and the lemongrass, using only the bottom third, outer layer removed, and inner part bruised.  Stir-fry for 3 mins.  Add the water, stir and cook for a further 3 mins.  Then add in the meat, coconut milk, sugar and salt.  Bring to simmer and transfer to casserole dish.

Leave it to cook slowly in a low oven for a couple of hours, whilst you head off to a music class.  On return, starving weans to feed, serve hot, topped with remaining gravy.

Not unexpectedly the reaction was mixed around the table, but these days if there’s only one whining I don’t like that it counts very much as a Yes Chef!  Too much chilli, moaned Boy Urchin.  And he’s not wrong; if I were to do it again I’d probably leave out the heat altogether, for there’s enough flavour in the other ingredients not to need to need it.

More importantly Ruth’s deliciously tender goat meat does not need it, falling apart, succulent.  Or as Girl Urchin said, when we can we have that again, and that indeed is very high praise.  Mind you I do have a recipe for Moroccan Goat looking very tempting.


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An Island In The Sunlight

A couple of books crossed the table recently, and as often is the case one leads on to the other.

First up was Islands, a grand piece of research by Canadian J Edward Chamberlain.  He takes us through time, from Formation to the Origin of Species; and around the globe, from Galapagos to Rockall, Jamaica to St Kilda.

From there he dips into island tales, inevitably touching on Defoe and Stevenson and so much more.  A short book, packed with goodies.

Another island beckoned.  As my addiction to Saturday night sub-titled drama grows I found myself in Iceland for a few weeks.  Unlike the Danish dramas it is particularly difficult to pick up the gist of the Icelandic without those words at the bottom of the screen.  But it managed to bring a series of darkness and gloom, long nights and harsh days, to brighten  a Scottish winter.

I came across Sarah Moss’ Names For The Sea during the school holidays, urged by Urchins to drop into a bookshop, for them of course.  Right from the opening pages I knew I was going to enjoy Sarah’s tales.  Planning to move the family to Iceland for a year, and arriving at the same time as the IMF, she packed some essential boxes.  From the kitchen came the sort of ingredients that have the drool rising, from pomegranate syrup to sumac, cumin too; and the one box of books allowed left thousands on the shelf.  Instantly appealing.


And so to Iceland we go, family of four, children young, for a year.  Long summer days; hot pools; long dark winter; unpronounceable names; and an economy in a bit of a crisis.

We learn early on that our guide is a Professor of Creative Writing, raising expectations of the read in store.  She is teaching in Iceland for a year, including on travel writing.  Higher still.  She does not disappoint.

Between taking the job and arriving the crash of Icesave has done untold damage.  The purchasing power of a local salary makes much of the little that remains in the shops unaffordable, and immediately the family is on the back foot, whilst trying to integrate and to learn.  But they are welcomed, and help is at hand.

The boys pick up the language, as their parents struggle and the locals revert to faultless English.  The cycle of the seasons rolls on and light becomes dark; layers added to the clothes.  Eventually walking and cycling is impossible and they succumb to driving.  It seems that indicators are surplus to requirements on the city free-for-all.  The lava roads through the hills bring other challenges.

There are sagas to hear, and knitting to marvel at.  And there are elves and hidden-folks which makes me think of a dear friend who would love those tales and pick up those vibes.  The local customs are different, from speaking on the out-breath to food; from studying to raising families.  The Yule Lads sounds to be my sort of winter festival.

During those post-crash years Iceland suffered, as foreign currency mortgages became unaffordable, and the diet went back to local produce with limited imports within the purchasing power.  But from there the country grew, as we find out later.

As the time on the island draws to a close there is another event.  Remember The Ash Cloud?  Well that keeps people stranded, visitors away, departures delayed.  Eventually the family gets back to England, to move house again, from Canterbury to Cornwall.  And as the summer tourists flock to the south west a holiday is due, and back they go to Iceland; to old friends and familiar places, to parts unvisited too.  The boys lose the language as quickly as they picked it up.  But they have purchasing power this time, and prices are affordable.

I think I’d like to spend time in Iceland, and certainly enjoyed reading these well-told tales of the Moss family’s year.  Could you do it, if you had the right job opportunity?

So with islands to the fore, and dreams of summer, I’ll sign off with the current ear worm;  enjoy The Island:


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Love Cake

Most of us do, but this is a love cake, Persian Love Cake, and it comes from Yasmin Khan’s The Saffron Tales, popping up on t’interwebby.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we have to make room for The Saffron Tales before long.


Boy Urchin it was who prompted a wee spell with the mixing bowl, keen to extend his lessons, or more likely keen to eat cake.  It’s largely his own work, finished off before breakfast.  Sadly I’ll have to wait until the school bus returns before sampling, so no tasting notes just yet.

Firstly, as always, the essentials:

200g unsalted butter; 150g caster sugar; 4 eggs; 12 cardamom pods; 100g plain flour, sifted; 275g ground almonds; zest and juice of one unwaxed lemon; 1 tbsp rose water; 1 tsp baking powder; pinch of fine sea salt.  And for the drizzle topping – 2tbsp caster sugar; juice of half a lemon; half tbsp rose water.  Finally the icing and decorations – 150g icing sugar; juice of a lemon; handful of pistachios, roughly blitzed; scattering of rose petals.

Pre-heat oven to 160C/Gas3.  Grease and line a 22cm springform cake tin.

In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter and sugar, then when thoroughly combined beat in the eggs.

Place the cardamom pods in a mortar and work with pestle.  Discard the pods and grind the seeds finely before adding to the mixture, along with the flour, almonds, lemon zest and juice, rose water, baking powder and salt.  Mix well.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin and bake for 45 mins, checking the middle before removing.

By the time the cake is due out you will have prepared the drizzle topping.  Melt the caster sugar, in the lemon juice and rose water.  Put the hot cake on a wire rack, still in the tin, and poke holes over the surface with a cocktail stick before drizzling with the syrup.

Once completely cool make the icing and spoon over the cake before finishing with the pistachios and rose petals.

Wait patiently for school bus.  Go on had a bit of love cake to the smiles round the kitchen table when the family gathers for tea.  It’s as easy as it sounds.

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A Landscape Without Raptors Is An Unnatural One

Those are the words of James Macdonald Lockhart, from his first book, Raptor.  Anyone who has delved into the pages of recent best-seller H is for Hawk, discovered the writings of such as T H White and J A Baker, or enjoyed with me Conor Mark Jameson’s Searching for the Goshawk, will love this book.  Lockhart takes us the length and breadth of the country and introduces us to all of the 15 birds of prey that grace our skies.


He is guided by the earlier works of his grandfather, Seton Gordon, who’s Days with the Golden Eagle was recently republished, and more so by the wanderings and the writings of William MacGillivray, from the first half of the 19th century.  I’ll find out more about MacGillivray later.  He walked 838 miles from Aberdeen to London, taking extensive notes of the flora and fauna along the way.  Later he became a contemporary of both Audobon and Darwin; in short an expert in his field.

With MacGillivray as his main guide, though not alone as a 17 page research bibliography confirms, Lockhart takes us from windswept Orkney to sun-kissed Devon, meandering far and wide, spotting hawks and eagles  and telling us much more.

On the trail of the red kite in Wales he reminds us that a couple of hundred years ago one of the perils faced by the egg collectors of the day was the threat of half-killed adders in the nest.  He confesses to a touch of cryptozoology – no I didn’t know either, but it’s the study of hidden animals, the search for creatures that may not exist.  Birds of prey may, at times, seem just as elusive.  MacGillivray’s Descriptions of the Rapacious Birds of Great Britain might be interesting.

Here at Grasshopper Towers the buzzard is an everyday presence, often mobbed by crows.  I remember vividly a golden eagle, grounded at the roadside by torrents of rain, on that memorable day with the BBC’s Mark Stephen and Helen Needham.  I’m told there may have been a hen harrier on the roof; the kestrel too hunts the fields regularly.  But other than the splendour of red kites, either in the hills of Wales or further north from here, raptors have remained elusive.

That said I haven’t watched the way Lockhart watches, spending days in hedges, on cathedral roofs, or anywhere else his prey may be likely to appear.  More often than not he spots something else, and is off on another tangent.  But MacGillivray leads him on.

He gives us a hugely enjoyable read, a book well worth a place on the nature shelf, and inspires us pay more attention to what goes on all around.

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One for the children

When can I learn to cook?  A plaintive call across the dinner table.  But not from Girl Urchin, oh no, for she’s quite happy with mixing bowls and beaters and licking chocolate spoons; no this was her brother.  He’d been more than a kitchen assistant for his sister’s recent easter cake – and I’m in big trouble for not getting a picture of that one and a recipe down for you.  Not content with making a cup of tea and putting milk on his cereal, he’s looking to do a bit more.

Chocolate Butterfly Cakes.  A good place to start, and one that involves some finger-licking bowl cleaning.  It also comes with more trouble for your host as the accompanying picture here is straight from the book.  There is a photo of the end result but it remains in the camera, which is now heading off to the Northern Wastes, leaving a period of quiet reflection here at Grasshopper Towers.  And they’ve taken the cakes with them.


Anyway, let’s start with the list of the necessary:

8 tbsp. soft margarine; 100g caster sugar; 150g self-raising flour; 2 large eggs; 2 tbsp. cocoa powder; 25g plain chocolate, melted; icing sugar for dusting.  And for the filling 6 tbsp. butter, softened; 175g icing sugar; 25g plain chocolate, melted.

And the instructions, ideal for your average 10 year old who of course weighs and measure precisely:

Put 12 paper baking cases in a muffin pan, or 12 double cases on a baking sheet.

Put the margarine, sugar, flour, eggs and cocoa in a large bowl and, using an electric hand whisk, beat together until just smooth.  Beat in the melted chocolate.  Spoon the mixture into the paper cases, filling them 3/4 full.

Bake the cupcakes in a pre-heated oven, 180c/gas4, for 15 minutes or until springy to the touch.  Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely.

To make the filling, put the butter in a bowl and beat until fluffy.  Sift in the icing sugar and beat together until smooth.  Add the melted chocolate and beat until well mixed.

When the cupcakes are cold, use a serrated knife to cut a circle from the top of each cake and then cut each circle in half.  Spread or pipe a little of the buttercream into the centre of each cupcake and press the 2 semicircular halves into it at an angle to resemble butterfly wings.  Dust with a little icing sugar before serving.

On reflection it might be best to make your cream slightly thin and to play with a piping bag – spreading thicker cream with a knife proved tricky.  But the end result was quite delicious and I suspect they may not survive the drive north to be proudly presented on arrival.

It doesn’t end there though, for I’ve had an assistant with the soup and the rolls.  Scraping the carrots needs a bit of practice but we’ll have him peeling the tatties before long.  Bread-making too is a longer project, after recoiling at getting the hands in and getting mucky.  But anything to do with weighing and measuring is fun; as is cutting the dough into rolls.  Measuring out the spices for the soup proved much more up his street than chopping the garlic.  Thankfully the soup and rolls have been left on the kitchen table, and I can guarantee there will be none left when they return.

One day we’ll have a meal prepared and presented by The Urchins, jointly and collectively, without squabbling, and packed with flavour.  All we’ll have to do is clean up the debris, after scoffing the goodies of course.  And at this early stage I’m pretty sure we’ll be well fed.

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All Bark and no Bite

Being a quiet, indeed calm, day it seemed a good time to refresh that need to hug a tree.  Those old Cadzow Oaks are still standing, still glorious, having seen it all before.


However a walk in the woods, a solitary one, provides a bit more than being up close and personal with a bit of rough, with soft bark, ancient or otherwise.  The steep slopes of Chatelherault were alive with birdsong that still morning, some identified, though most not; plenty of chirpy chirpy cheep cheep.  But when alone in the woods there is no troll peeking out from the dark depths under that wee bridge; no retort, not even a second line to the suggestion that a mouse may have taken a stroll somewhere in those woods, deep and dark.

Instead there is quiet and solitude.  Far below the waters burble over boulders; a dog barks and a goose honks.  The two may or may not have been related.  A woodpecker flits from one ancient tree to another, drilling away with no respect for the standard of his trunk call.

By the oaks new-born lambs frolic in the sun; tails a-wag; bouncing on all fours as they do.

On into the woods, sodden in places, ample evidence of seasons getting ever wetter and windier.  Fallen trees.  Thick mosses.  Glaur.


I return to the oaks from some distance towards the White Bridge, back across the sett where the badgers lie sleeping, plans changed.  Though this is no broadway the lambs lie down and an ear worm runs through my head.  Duke’s Monument, that’s a grand wee wander; less muddy perhaps.  Or not.

But time passes when lost with your own thoughts.  Its one o’clock and time for lunch, dum de dum de dum.  By the time the gazebo takes shape in the trees, past the stand of silver birch, all barky yet still bare; by then I realised that the car was some distance away; that time was not on my side.  The school bus might beat me home.  There may be trouble ahead.

Back through the mud, past the oaks again, was not an option; though a hug might help.  Onwards it had to be.  Childhood haunts.  Back then walls could be climbed; the path between the bings.  Now there are houses.  The long way round then, until eventually the Old Avon Bridge appears.  From there it is an uphill slog back to the car.  Legs complain.

But all was well.  And even the soup was finished by the time the bus appeared.  I’d forgotten they were going to be late, a day out at the Learning Hub, playing with computers.  Still, just wait till they hear what was under the bridge.  Two weeks off school looming; they might take a stroll in the deep dark wood; and hug a tree or two.


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