I’ve had a pretty hectic week, not least because I was away for work for half of it. As a result, my indulgence in the blogosphere has been restricted to access on my phone on the go – and my backlog of draft posts is growing. The opportunity to write posts relevant to Shrove Tuesday and Valentine’s Day passed me by. We enjoyed a couple of very nice venison-based meals that I did not photograph so I let them slip by for our own personal indulgence only. I will make these again, so there will be other opportunities to write a post for these recipes in the future.
We also have the good fortune to be benefiting from the adaptive management programme initiated to reduce greylag goose numbers and limit the significant damage they are currently doing to crops here. Geese are being shot under licence and we are very grateful to receive another 6 wild geese, all in excellent condition, to keep our freezer stocked. Of course, this means considerable time preparing the goose, so we also had to get this done on my return.
I arrived home on a morning flight a couple of hours before the musicians were due to play, so I didn’t have time to make my 3rd biscuit of the series for them. I decided to go ahead anyway as I wanted to try a biscuit flavoured with orange blossom water, an itch I just had to scratch.
Signs of spring
Despite the inconvenience of the snow on the mainland, here spring is showing signs of progression. On my return, I heard the first song thrush singing from the corner of our garden. A chipping snipe in the marshy grassland around the house means I will most likely enjoy the sound of the first drumming snipe imminently. If I stood outside for long enough at dusk, I would probably hear one – usually around Valentine’s Day each year we hear the first. I can see the lapwings beginning to assemble again on the croftland in pre-breeding readiness.
The lighter nights mean I have no excuse to get out for a run after work, or start getting more serious about the garden other than whimsically reviewing my seed collection and plans for 2013.
My last long run (12km) had the usual smattering of Uist-based incidents. I spent about 2 miles running behind a sheep flock being herded by a land rover and a collie from fields and along the roads to a fank. Nice waft of urine all the way along the road, followed by copious amount of fresh sheep droppings in my trainer treads. I opted to turn back when I caught the sheep up at the fank as I didn’t want to scatter them and the scene looked chaotic enough with one sheepdog doing his best to filter a large, tired flock into the fank.
On the way back, I passed a croft and a collie ran out to greet me. Sometimes they nip your heels as if you are a sheep but this one was friendly, too friendly, in fact. She followed me all the way back to my car, about 5 km. She had no road sense and although not much traffic passed us on the single track road, I had to keep stopping and grabbing her and had to wait on the verge until cars passed. They probably either thought I was an idiot for taking a dog with no traffic-sense out on the road for a run, or were possibly laughing, having recognised the dog as local and saw it had tagged along with me. I had to put her in the car and drive back to the croft. I did this just as the crofter was getting in his tractor to look for her. Not the first time apparently.
Where Eagles Dare
I was glad to get back and into my usual routine of dog walking over the moor near our house. Friday was a beautiful clear day and there was some bird activity up there too. The dogs flushed a couple of snipe and a woodcock and a pair of ravens passed noisily overhead. As we were coming over a rise, I could see another bird in the distance. The profile initially looked like a raven, but then it became apparent it was very much bigger and was in fact a golden eagle.
It is not uncommon for us to see golden eagles, or sea eagles around this area. It is part of a local golden eagle territory and there is a regularly used nest not too far away. The first job I had when I moved to Uist was a role for a certain well known NGO that involved checking golden and sea eagle nests. Golden eagles are much shyer than sea eagles and tend to keep their distance. I know this pair have a regular plucking spot overlooking a loch on the walk and I often see the silhouette of an eagle there. The pair regularly fly together over the hills surrounding the loch prior to settling down to breed.
The eagle was unusually inquisitive and passed directly overhead before turning and circling. Since it was directly above me and at a height of about 15 metres and began circling, I decided it would be pertinent to keep the dogs close. Though there was only an outside chance that an eagle would come down so close to a person and attempt to take a dog, it’s not unheard of. I had known of a falconer’s dog to be killed by a golden eagle they were working. The eagle stayed with us, circling close overhead continuously for about 3-4 minutes before heading back over its territory to the hill near the nest. Certainly a new experience for me. I managed to capture a few shots on my iPhone as it circled. It was certainly an unusually close and spectacular view of this beautiful raptor.
Spiced orange blossom biscuits with chocolate
I wanted to incorporate orange blossom water into a biscuit, as I plan to with other aromatic flavourings such as lavender and rose and I thought orange blossom was probably a safe place to start experimenting. I had some ingredients I wanted to incorporate including some lovely spiced orange slices given to me as a gift, golden sultanas and I also wanted to add a decadent garnish of candied orange. I had just made some to incorporate into Turron ice cream, the recipe courtesy of David Leibovitz. Cointreau was added for additional oranginess and decadence.
I added chocolate because there’s no denying that the marriage of chocolate and orange is tried and tested. I don’t often use milk chocolate, hence the inclusion. The Co-op’s Fairtrade milk chocolate is reasonably good, with 30% cocoa solids. I based the quantities of the basics of the dry ingredients on Ottolenghi’s spiced cookies from ‘Jerusalem’, but there is significant variation from that recipe. The biscuit-making stabilisers aren’t quite off, so wanted to use the basis of the recipe to ensure success.
125g golden sultanas
2 tbsp cointreau
240g plain flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1/4 tsp salt
75g golden caster sugar
75g light muscovado sugar
125g unsalted butter
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1 tsp orange blossom water
zest of 1/2 lemon
zest of 1/2 orange
1/2 a medium egg
1/2 tsp each of cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and allspice
100g milk chocolate
3 slices of preserved spiced oranges (optional)
- Soak the sultanas in the cointreau for 10 minutes.
- Mix the flour, baking powder, bicarb, spices and salt together in a bowl.
- Put butter, sugar, vanilla and zests in a food mixer and beat for 1 minute.
- Add the egg, slowly while the machine is running and mix for another minute.
- Add the dry ingredients, then the soaked raisins.
- Divide the dough into roughly 50g balls and place a couple of cm apart on a lined baking sheet.
- Rest in the fridge for about an hour.
- Preheat the oven to 190C and bake for 15-20 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes before moving to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Melt the chocolate in a bain marie and drizzle over the cookies. Top with candied orange just before serving.
Making this is vaguely reminiscent to marmalade-making and the resulting candied orange will keep for a couple of months in the fridge and can be added to cakes, biscuits and ice cream.
Zest of 4 large oranges
1 tbsp glucose syrup
Pinch of salt
- Using a veg. peeler, remove 3 cm strips of peel (no pith) from the oranges.
- Slice length-ways into very fine strips, no wider than a toothpick.
- Place the strips in a pan, cover with a few cm of water, bring to the boil, then reduce to a gentle boil for 15 minutes.
- Combine the water, sugar, glucose and salt in a pan. Bring to the boil, add the peel and cook at a low boil for 25 minutes. Add a sugar thermometer and when the mix is at 110C, take off the heat. Store the peel in the syrup in the fridge.