Friday, 27 December 2013

Smoked Salmon Roulade - an easy-peasy starter

This simple starter would be ideal for New Year's day lunch with family and friends. DD1 made it for our starter on Christmas Day this year, and it went down a treat with all three generations present round the table.

All you need is: around 450g of smoked salmon slices; lemon juice (and lemon slices to garnish); a large pack of Philly cheese (the deep container); greaseproof paper and clingfilm.

Spread about three-quarters of a 300g pack of salmon
out flat over a sheet of greaseproof paper.

 In a food processor, blend a large pack of Philadelphia 
cheese (plain)with several teaspoons of lemon juice (to taste) 
and 150g smoked salmon. Place the mixture in a large 
oblong shape on the carpet of salmon (see above).

Carefully use the greaseproof paper to lift the salmon
carpet up and roll it over in the same way as you'd
assemble a Swiss roll, with the Philly in the middle.

Keep rolling until a long sausage shape is formed (see 
photos above and below).

Roll the completed salmon roulade up in the greaseproof
sheet and then wrap the resultant parcel in clingfilm. Place
in the fridge for an hour to allow to chill.
Remove the clingfilm and unwrap the salmon roulade from
 the greaseproof paper and slice as shown below. 
Slice the salmon roulade - Be very gentle, as
otherwise you'll end up flattening the roulade!
Serve two slices of roulade per person, with a half moon of
cucumber slices and a scattering of salad leaves. Garnish
with a small slice of lemon.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Square Sparrow 2013 - the Antidote to Round Robins

We wish you a berry Christmas!
Since the first Christmas catalogue of 2013 ricocheted off the doormat in early August (and was promptly consigned to the recycling bin), Yours Truly has been trying assiduously to avoid even the faintest mention of the festive season.

However, November is already but a distant memory, and December seems to be galloping past at high speed – giving even Rudolph, Donner, Blitzen & Co. a pretty good run for their money. Alas, it would seem that Yours Truly can prevaricate, procrastinate and postpone no longer: the time has finally come to pen the annual epistle...

DD1 (now 22) spent the first half of the year continuing her pâtisserie language studies in Paris, but at the end of June – much to her “grand chagrin” – her stint in the fabulous French capital came to an end.  After a patience-testing month minding dozens of recalcitrant foreign students at a Cambridge language school, she spent August completing a three-week internship with a commercial law firm in London, which was followed by a week in their Brussels office.

Evidently they didn’t try hard enough to put her off their profession, and the upshot of her summer brush with the law was a training contract with the said firm. This means that once she finishes the French degree, she’ll fly off to a “coven for law converts” in London, which will no doubt entail wearing more black gowns and poring over yet more weighty tomes.

But first things first: after a swift 10-day respite at home, our aspiring legal eagle had to psych herself for her return to Oxford’s dreamy spires (though she claims “perspiring dreams” more accurately describes the experience of the dreaded final year at St Something’s). 

She began the term training with the Blues ladies’ rugby squad, but her chances of Varsity were kicked into touch when a (considerably larger) opponent landed on her ankle during a match, leaving it distinctly mangled.

The only benefit of having to drop out of rugby for a while is that she has had more time to devote to her customary marathon-length reading list, which comprises around 100 impenetrable titles (none of which appeared even remotely tempting to her cultural philistine of a mother!).

The lure of France is, it would seem, strong among Sparrowholding incumbents, because while the start of summer 2013 saw the return from Gallic shores of DD1, the end of the summer saw 20-year-old DD2 depart for an ERASMUS year at Aix-Marseilles University in the south of France. 

Until May 2014, she will be based in the picturesque town of Aix-en-Provence – rather alarmingly the third most expensive place to live in France after Paris and San Tropez. This explains why she, too, was obliged to spend most of her summer at a language school in Cambridge, managing a house full of edgy teenage English students “with attitude”.

Recent perusals of her blog – the appropriately titled “An (Academic) Year in Provence” – suggest that she is rapidly acquiring a Mediterranean sun tan the French phrases essential to any self-respecting music student, including “Do you know any sympathetic accompanists?” and “Where’s the nearest pub?”

Hockey is never too far from DD2’s thoughts, so she quickly sought out a local mixed club, where (she claims) playing against men is “toughening up her game”. However, anyone who has previously witnessed her physicality on the pitch in Scotland has to feel a soupçon of sympathy for the poor unsuspecting French male hockey players currently encountering the razor-sharp elbows of the “Ecossaise”.

Son&Heir (18) finally finished school in June, and it was debatable which were louder: his sighs of relief or those of his teachers…He then spent most of the summer honing techniques for avoiding tidying his midden of a bedroom, interspersed with the occasional sortie into paid employment, e.g. using our garden wheelbarrow to provide tent transportation services for festival-goers at nearby T in the Park.  Surprisingly, this proved a relatively remunerative pursuit – almost compensating for the outlay on plasters for the myriad blisters on his hands and feet.  

In the autumn, he took up residence in a basic-but-serviceable, six-person, third-floor flat in Edinburgh with a “lovely” landlord who (we later discovered) has a history of terrorising his tenants. Of course, after the heinous experience of sharing a house with his invidious, evil mother for the past year, our intrepid hero was unfazed by the prospect of one of Edinburgh’s worst landlords. 

In other news, he has finally found a way of making hockey pay (i.e. stop playing it and coach other people instead) and is currently doing a creditable impression of Tom Cruise while learning the dark art of cocktail mixing in a hip and trendy Edinburgh pub. So if you want “Sex on the Beach”, apparently he’s your man…

By early October, our humble household had thus entered a momentous new phase: after 22 years of full-on parenting, the final fledgling had flown the nest, leaving HunterGatherer and Yours Truly frantically trying to remember what we used to talk about in the BC (before child) era. 

Fortunately, distractions abound hereabouts in the form of a seriously untamed garden and industrial-sized polytunnel (alias weed-breeding hothouse) plus 20 wild and woolly Shetland sheep to chase after – though this is not recommended when you’ve recently turned 50, are wearing wellies and are nursing a slightly torn Achilles tendon…

In between all this, we attempt (when our middle-aged muscles permit) to play hockey for our respective local teams and to fit in the mandatory day jobs, HG wielding a spanner or a tractor and Yours Truly a virtual (red) pen. In short, life is anything but empty – even if the nest is. Better still, although the sheep may need herded occasionally, at least they don’t require picked up from parties in the wee sma’ hours!

All that remains is for me to thank you all for reading and commenting on this eclectic collection of posts throughout 2013 and to wish you and your families a wonderful Christmas and a healthy, happy New Year in 2014. As we say in these parts, slàinte mhath J

May your days be happy and bright...

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

November and December: late strawbs, amorous sheep and fairy lights!

Blink and you'll miss them... That's certainly how the last two weeks of November and first two of December have felt here at the Sparrowholding. So here's a quick compilation of photos of the local flora and fauna (including HunterGatherer!) taken over the past four weeks...

We love this pretty pink shrub that flowers all winter in
 the garden, though sadly we haven't a clue what it's called.
Loch Leven (seen in the background of the photo above
is just over a mile and a half from our house). Stunning....
This strawberry was growing in the polytunnel in the
 third week of November - not a bad effort :-)
Same goes for this tomato - we harvested the last of them
in the third week of November, too. The chutney is busy
"ripening" in the jars as I type!
Yikes! After yielding asparagus, carrots, parsnips, potatoes
grapes, herbs, strawberries, tomatoes, courgettes, spinach
and runner beans, the polytunnel looks exhausted!
HunterGatherer has some digging to do, methinks...
Mid-November was "tupping time" - Mungo the Magnificent
Shetland ram was looking his best for the occasion.
Initially most of the girls seemed quite interested...
But not everyone was that keen! HunterGatherer's rugby
skills proved advantageous!

Meanwhile, the postie arrived to find the track blocked
by our rudimentary sheep gates...

Eventually everyone was where they should be, and
Mungo wasted no time in snatching a quick kiss!

Couldn't resist photographing this year's wool - the
colours never cease to amaze me. So varied :-)
Someone was NOT amused at all the attention being
paid to the sheep.
There's always something needing done outside on the
Sparrowholding. Our wood-burning stove is a hungry
beastie, so HG has been wielding his axe.
And the result of his hard labour means that we'll stay warm,
come sleet, frost or snow.
Heavy rain, followed by frost, left a huge skating rink in the
pony's paddock.
The colder weather means that mice gravitate towards the house,
so FatCat is kept busy. Only I can't bear to let him kill the poor
wee souls, so I set them free whenever I can! (Supergran tells
me that this slightly defeats the purpose...)
The Sparrowholding by night during the festive period. The sheep are
 slightly bemused. But then that doesn't take much ;-)