Monthly Archives: September 2015

Unctuous & Decadent

In response to popular demand let me set out for you the secret to the Spiced Maple & Pecan Cheesecake Bars that went down a storm at a wee function in town the other night.  Sadly no pictures, but the aftertaste…

Anyway, as always we start with what you need:

250g ginger nut biscuits; 140g salted butter, melted; 200g pecans; 750g cream cheese; 300ml soured cream; 275ml maple syrup; 130g light muscovado sugar; 3 medium eggs; 2 tsp vanilla extract; 4 tbsp plain flour; 2 tsp ground cinnamon; 1/2 whole nutmeg, grated; 100g salted butter; 100g pecans, roughly broken.

And here’s the four stages to yumminess:

Heat oven to 200C.  Line a 20 by 30cm brownie tin with baking paper.  Blitz the biscuits to fine crumbs, adding the melted butter and the pecans.  Blitz again until well combined with the pecans finely chopped but still with some texture.  Tip into the baking tin and press to an even and compact layer.  Bake for 10 mins, then set aside to cool.

Beat the cream cheese and soured cream in a large bowl until smooth and combined.  Add 150ml maple syrup, 85g sugar, eggs, vanilla, flour and spices, and blend again until smooth.  Pour onto the cooled biscuit base, put in centre of oven and bake for 15 mins.

Lower the heat to 110C and continue cooking for a further half hour.  Turn the oven off and leave the cheesecake inside for an hour, then a further hour with the oven door open.  Finally leave at room temperature until completely cool, then chill for at least three hours, preferably overnight.

To make the topping, melt 175ml maple syrup with the butter, the remaining muscovado sugar, and a good pinch of salt.  Bubble for 2-3 mins, then stir in the chopped pecans.  Leave to cool and thicken.  Before serving remove the cheesecake from the tin, spoon the maple-pecan caramel over the top of the cheesecake, then cut into bars.

Enjoy with good friends.  Leftovers will keep in the fridge for 3 days, but you probably won’t have any.  I realise that I misread the recipe and was well short of cream cheese.  Didn’t seem to detract from the finished product.




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It’s Not All About The Otters

Eilean Ban is one of my favourite little islands.  The name may not be familiar, though you may have visited it, perhaps unwittingly.  Not so many years ago it was hard to reach, but for the last dozen years or so it has anchored the Skye Bridge, the little hop from Kyle of Lochalsh before the road rises above the lighthouse.

It is a Stevenson Light, decommissioned when the bridge hosted navigation lights, but now the most accessible of the Stevenson Lights around our coast.  I have a Stevenson interest, and a lighthouse interest.  Above my desk is Jean Guichard’s magnificent Phares Dans La Tempete – Lu Jument. 

A short walk from Stevenson’s tower are the cottages.  One is available to hire and I often have a hankering for a few days solitude, notes to write, places around to visit.  That cottage on Eilean Ban is where I would go.

It is also where Dan Boothby went.  He stayed for two summer seasons, through one winter.  He had some work to do, unpaid.  He too had places to visit in the area; places he had visited two decades earlier.  Island of Dreams is his tale of those days.


The second cottage on the island is a museum, packed with memories, in need of some attention, and some funding.  On the day I walked in I was surrounded by familiarities, enthralled and entranced.  For that former lighthouse keeper’s cottage was the last home of Gavin Maxwell, and Teko, his last otter.

Down the loch lie the ruins of Camusfearna, Sandaig, and memorials to the man himself, where his ashes are buried, and to Edal, who perished in the fire that wrought ruin.

Boothby too had read the books, from the shark fishery on Soay, to the memories of childhood; from that jaunt with Thesiger and the first otter, Mij, the one who perished beneath the spade of the road-mender, through the otter trilogy, and to the life and the works and all those who shared in it.

Island of Dreams has me yearning to dip once again into those works, to Douglas Botting’s brilliant biography, to the recollections of John Lister-Kaye – the first of his what is now a terrific catalogue of nature writing and of Richard Frere.  And it has the island calling me again.  Boothby met with Jimmy Watt, and with Raef Payne, so integral to the goings on in the west highlands, with Maxwell’s other otter boys.

Sadly now the survivors of those days are few.  Terry Nutkins, who settled in Glenelg, succumbed a few years ago.  Kathleen Raine, who penned those immortal words that titled the most famous of Maxwell’s works, made it to 95.

Dan Boothby’s work is well worth a place on my Maxwell shelf.  He has done what many who have placed a pebble on the plinths at Sandaig may have wished they were free to do.  He has given his time to the island, and he has written about it, well.

Satisfied with a quick delve into Stevenson and Maxwell, I was chuffed to bits to stir another cherished memory.  Boothby’s acknowledgements take me to Ty Newydd, his thanks to Sally and Awen, to Nia and Ceri.  If there is ever somewhere to write of islands and dreams it is that magnificent retreat down Criccieth way.  Memories, and more.

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On The Doorstep

A quiet day brought the opportunity to change lunch habits, from al-desco to al-fresco.  So armed with camera and binoculars, fortified with a flask of hot haggis and a peppercorn sauce, off I went, for a wander in the hours before the school bus was due to return.


For more than 30 years the Baron’s Haugh lands, that were originally part of Dalzell Estate on the other side of the Clyde, have been managed by the RSPB.  Today there are wetlands and bird hides, the Clyde Walkway which runs from Glasgow to Lanark, and all the old gems from the estate, including the Japanese Garden and the Arboretum.


On the path heading for the Phoenix Hide a cyclist stopped, looking for directions.  But it was unknown territory for both of us.  Despite living minutes away for longer than there had been public access I had never set foot in the reserve.  A first exploratory walk confirmed it would not be my last visit.  The walkway along the north bank of the river is one of those places that Urchins should be cycling, and will be, soon.


My own aim though, aside from a bit of fresh air and relaxation, was to exercise an injured knee, and to walk off the effects of that haggis.  A fox crossed the path, and I knew I was in for a treat.  The river was still, murky and dank in places.  But on a bend the water rippled, a stramash.  Below the surface a torpedo locked on its target.  A merganser emerged, dinner locked in the bill.

The hide opened out across the wetlands.  Reeds and rushes were overgrown, and several of the hides now stand some distance from open water.  A line of ducks stretched the length of a mudflat, sleepy heads tucked under wings.  The heron took to the wing, stretching those hefty black tips lazily, after a lunch that may have sat as heavy as the haggis.

He emerged again, as I turned back to the river, teasing, back and forth, disappearing only when the lens cap was finally removed.  A wood pigeon, of all things, flew down to the water.  It perched on a branch of dead tree emerging from the deep, dipping his beak to the surface.  Far to the left something disturbed the flock, and they rose as one.


Leaving the waters and the walkway behind, for another day when wheels might be turning, I headed up the glen, past the well and the temple, the mausoleum too.  Chestnuts ripened and the conker season might just be one excuse to get the babes in the wood.  Down below burbled the burn, anxious to join the river that I’d left behind.  There is much to see hidden in the woods, and much to hear.


As the ground rose, so too did the canopy above, until I found the arboretum in front of the old house.  The Japanese Garden has had some work of late, and the emerging sun picked out the colours of the acer.  I recall a school project last year, a model garden on the hearth.  They might be interested.


Some of the life is not as wild as others.


But there is much more to discover, and I’ll be back at Baron’s Haugh time and again, sometimes alone, sometimes not.  I’ll look forward to it all.


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