Monthly Archives: March 2015

The broth pot is full again

More than just a simple broth, it says in the introduction in Persiana, a wonderfully hearty meal, containing whatever you have in the fridge.  We made a tweak or two.  First the suggested ingredients:

olive oil; 750g butternut squash, peeled and cut into 4cm chunks; 2 large or 3 small onions, diced, plus a further onion thinly sliced into half moons; 3 fat garlic cloves, crushed; 3 leeks, trimmed, cleaned and finely chopped; 3 potatoes, unpeeled, cut into 4cm chunks; 5 ripe vine tomatoes, roughly chopped – we used some tomato paste; 4 heaped tsp ground cumin; 1 heaped tsp ground cinnamon; 2 tsp sweet paprika; 3 tsp chilli paste – we used chilli flakes; sea salt and freshly ground black pepper; 2 400g tins chick peasl; large courgette, finely diced – not in this house; 100g feta cheese; handful flat-leaf parsley; handful dill; handful pistachio nuts; squeeze lemon juice.


So a lot goes in, and we need to mega soup pot.  At the end of it are no less than three garnishes, each playing a vital part.  Here we go:

Cover the base of your cauldron with olive oil, preheat.  Add the squash, diced onions, garlic leeks and tatties.  Saute without browning, until slightly softened.  Then add the tomatoes, spices and chilli and give it all a good stir to ensure the spices evenly coat the vegetables. Cover with freshly boiled water, add a generous amount of sea salt – up to 4 heaped tsps., crushed, and a good amount of black pepper, stir once more and cook for 30 mins.

Insert a knife into the squash and when soft puree until the soup is lovely and smooth – this is where a wand blender comes in handy.  Once smooth add the chickpeas and their liquid, reserving a couple of handfuls for the garnish.  Add more water if you prefer your soup thinner, and check seasoning.  Cook for a further 20 mins, then add the courgette and cook for a final 20 mins before serving.

Meanwhile drizzle some olive oil into a frying pan on a high heat and fry the sliced onion until brown and crispy.  Add the reserved chickpeas and brown with the onions.  Remove the onions and chick peas from the pan and set aside.

To make the herb oil put 6tbsp olive oil, parsley, dill and coriander – this isn’t on the ingredient list, but if you’ve got any… – along with the pistachios, lemon juice, sea salt and pepper and blitz until finely shopped with a pesto-type consistency, adding more oil if need be.

Pour the soup into large bowls, preferably wide and shallow, though it’s deep hereabouts, then crumble the feta into the bowls.  Drizzle a couple of spoons of herb oil over the feta.  Top with the crispy fried onions and chickpeas.  The home made bread for dipping is optional.

Have fun.  Enjoy.  Savour the flavour.


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Black Shadow

It was intended to be a short break, stretch the legs, fresh air, break the journey.  With a third consecutive dry and calm day the outdoors was calling.  Signs of spring were all around, the birds singing at last.  And in the fields the lambs had finally been let loose, to bounce and frolic and suckle as lambs do.  We had our first spring lamb a few weeks back, slow roasted with more than a dusting of eastern spices, but that’s another story.  Now they’re out in the fields for all to enjoy.  Lipsmacking.

I digress.  We found ourselves in a park, vaguely familiar.  I had been there before, once, and I put the time to be somewhere in the late 70s.  Gradually memories started to come back.  Hot summer day, possibly a picnic?  Maybe three girls, and me – I was the one that had a car – but the details were long since gone.

Anyway Castlebank Park, Lanark.  Hidden away beneath the old part of the town.  And the town is old, 12th century and more.  What was once a fine baronial pile now hosts flats.  But the location is the same, with steep banks down to the Clyde, far below.

Boy Urchin and I had a wander, and soon were skimming stones and making splashes.  The river was moving swiftly, and the banks suggested a recent five foot drop in water levels that had seen them expand by twenty feet or more in places.

I want to go back to that walk through the woods, in just a few weeks time.  It will be alive with primroses, carpeted with bluebells, which just happen to be a certain person’s favourites.  There are rhodedendrons between the trees.  And the trees grow tall and straight, reaching for the light far above.  The slopes are steep, but the path zig-zags down.  The upper stretches are terraced and the local garden club is doing what once the estate gardeners would have done, being creative on walled steps.

We descend through the trees and the sounds of the river rise to meet us.  Above, a woodpecker is busy, unseen, tapping away in busts.  There is great tit, and crows circling.  Then the river takes over.

The Clyde chugs away for over 100 miles, and we were nearer source than sea.  Not far away The Falls of Clyde, a SSSI, brought the waters down from the higher ground, and marked the end of the run for the salmon and the trout.  Too steep, too far, even for them.

And as we ploutered on the banks, putting off the wheezy path back to the top, a shadow passed overhead, silent, wraith-like.  It flew upstream, not 20ft above the broiling surface.  It had all the appearance, to my very untrained eye, of a heron on the hunt.  But it was black; all black.

I can only think it may have been a cormorant on the wing.  Those wings are more familiarly seen hung out to dry on some salted and barnacle encrusted rock offshore.  We were some distance from those shores, some flight upstream.  And even if the cormorant had followed the crow, some way from the nearest shoreline.  Was it a cormorant, or a wraith heading for Mordor?

We’ll be back for the flowers soon.  Wraith or no wraith.



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It’s Neukie Time

Those good folks in Fife have me yearning for the ancestral family stomping grounds once again.  When last we made the trip for the East Neuk Festival we were treated to gems from, among others, Linda Cracknell, Esther Woolfson, and John Lister-Kaye.  All three are back again this year.  And there are others to add to the spells they will no doubt weave.

Featuring on The Bedside Table this past year or so have been both Jim Crumley and Mark Cocker.  But the literary name of the year, and one that has yet to find a place on said table, has been Helen Macdonald.  This trio adds to the offerings for the Littoral weekend.

The East Neuk Festival has something for everyone.  There is music all week; and outdoor fun, as well as the author talks and discussion over books.  Activities focus on Crail on Saturday 27 June, by which time the schools have already broken for the summer, moving along the road to Cambo Estate for the Sunday.  With a performance from the Gwilym Simcock Trio on the Saturday evening the old tent must just need an airing for a night away.

Sunday morning starts with a group discussion on Gavin Maxwell’s masterpiece, one of my very favourite writers, and of course John Lister-Kaye was hauled from his tedium to the Highlands, and has remained ever since.  His first-hand recollections will be prompted by Mark Cocker and Linda Cracknell.  I put this in the must hear category.  Since tying me up with silk Linda has been busy writing too.

Helen Macdonald will be doing much more than talking about her award winning H is for Hawk.  For she’s bringing her favourite birds with her to aide a falconry display from Elite Falconry.  I really must get round to reading her book soon, for it is much more than hawks, covering memories and recoveries through those times in life.

Birds have been central to the works of both Cocker and Crumley, and indeed with Esther Woolfson.  Lister-Kaye’s latest is on the shelf awaiting attention, a narrative of the yearly cycle and the changing habits of the birds, and more, on his Aigas Field Centre.  I’ve been waiting on this book since his last talk at Cambo two years ago.  JLK’s first book was The White Island, published in 1972, of his times with Maxwell on Eilean Ban after the disaster of the fire at Glenelg.  He’s been producing marvellous works ever since.

And there is no need to be selfish.  Crumley leads a Tree Walk, which The Urchins should enjoy.  There will be hugging, of the Cadzow Oaks type, I’m pretty sure.  They still talk about their beach foraging when last at Cambo.  The Genealogist will revel in the Budpaest Café Orchestra.  Flying falcons is one for everyone.

Time to leave the lethargy behind methinks.  A weekend in the country is just the thing to have in the diary.  Not long now.

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