carpaccio, halibut, creme brûlée and bears

Inverness has changed a lot since I was a child and one of the greatest improvements is The Rocpool Restaurant.  I don’t think anyone will disagree with the observation that eating out in the Highlands during the sixties and seventies was more of a miss than a hit affair.  Tinned tomato soup was usually the safest option for dinners in draughty castles where the staff were understandably as miserable as the customers.

Stephen has changed all that and The Rocpool is quite my favourite restaurant anywhere, not just Inverness.  We have tried and failed to work out how many meals we have enjoyed there, but suffice to say Eloise was about three the first time she ate there.  This was her on Saturday.

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That rather tasty cocktail’s name now escapes me, it was essentially gin and bramble puree, here is a close up of it in all its deliciousness.

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Neither Bea nor Susie were able to join us, so we very kindly sent them some pictures of our meal.  I’m not sure quite how much they appreciated our generosity, I could feel the breath of the green-eyed monsters sitting on their shoulders!

As usual the choice was difficult.  Eloise was really struggling and opened the bartering process with some subtle hints about what other people might want to order.  Scotch fillet of beef carpaccio with crisp fried artichokes, fresh greens and shaved manchego cheese with gremolata was my opening gambit and I can confirm, was an excellent choice.

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After our recent visit to Shetland and Stuart’s fish bothering exploits it seemed only reasonable to try the Shetland halibut with curry spiced cauliflower, spaghetti of courgettes with roasted pine nuts, golden sultanas and brown shrimp with hot buttered new potatoes.

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It did not disappoint.  For me the choice of pudding was a no-brainer.  It had to be the excellent creme brûlée,  thick vanillary cream with a satisfying spoon bashable top.

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This was the one course where Eloise had no difficulty at all.  She can recite the full Lemon meringue pie entry on the menu from memory (including the bit about the 10 minute wait!).

We had worked up our appetite with the traditional Bear Walk.  Its real name is Raven’s Rock Gorge.  But Bear Walk makes more sense to us.

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We have been walking here since the girls were tiny and have taken a photograph at least once every year.  The bear seems smaller now even to me!

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And last week with Poppy on only her second Bear Walk.

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Sadly the storms of a few winters back have heaved out the pine trees and it is no longer possible to walk the full circular path, instead you have to do one walk to the view point and another to the Bear.

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We did venture quite a long way back from the viewpoint but eventually had to concede defeat.

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It was excellent mushrooming though and we came back with plenty of oyster and hedgehog mushrooms and spotted a few chanterelles.

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Eloise fortunately did not repeat the great dunking of 2009!

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Autumnal glory.

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

much mushroom mmmmm

Summer took its time, yesterday I wore my first sundress of the season!  But who cares about sundresses when we can have mushrooms?  One of the advantages of lots of damp weather followed by the glorious warmth of the past few days is the massive growth in fungi in the woods.

The first was the chicken of the woods (Laetiporus sulphureus), one of the few edible bracket fungi.

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Then the boletes (Boletus sp.) and puffballs (Lycoperdon perlatum)

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As with all foraging only collect what you know and can positively identify.  After many years of foraging there are only a handful of mushrooms I will pick unless I am on a formal course/led walk.  These are boletes, chanterelles, jelly ear, puffball and shaggy ink cap.  There are plenty of others I am fairly confident in identifying but it is too easy to be confident and wrong so I leave them be.  The most useful advice I have ever been given, by a professional forager and chef, is to learn one mushroom at a time.  Learn everything you can about it until you can identify it and explain why you can identify it and distinguish it from any other potentially inedible or poisonous mushroom and then, and only then, start to learn about another one.  The same advice works well for any plant you might forage from aerial parts to berries to roots.

Many of the boletes have been sliced and popped in the dehydrator for use throughout the year.

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But when there is an abundance of fresh fungi then you can be sure it will be on the dinner table.

The boletes and puffballs were just sliced and fried in seasoned butter with lots of garlic.

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Delicious, but not quite as utterly yummy as the chicken of the woods.  A solid and meaty fungus with a strong, very chickeny  flavour, it is one of my favourites.  Today I chopped it into large bite sized pieces.

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Dipped into beaten egg and then seasoned flour with lots of paprika.  Fried in butter it is hard to stop sneaky fingers stealing it straight from the pan.

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A friend also suggests frying larger pieces without the egg and flour coating and then covering with grated cheese and popping under the grill.  It also pickles very well, holding its shape and flavour (use a lightly seasoned vinegar with with additional sugar and maybe some thyme and oregano).

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

 

 

professor smellie sprout

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I have several nicknames, my husband endearingly calls me the Septic Ferret, this has nothing to do with my personal hygiene but was a result of his response to me calling him a lazy old goat at precisely the moment during an episode of Blackadder in which Baldrick had clearly done something unspeakable.  Such billet doux as we send each other (please remember to feed the dog/electrician arrives at midday/we are out of  milk) are invariably signed off sfx or luvlog.   Beat that Cyrano de Bergerac.

However, it is  my most recently acquired nickname that is relevant today.  Professor  Smellie Sprout.  Again this has nothing to do with overcooked Christmas vegetables.  This name was given to me by my knitting group on hearing that I had recently completed a certificate course in Herbology at the Royal Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh.  .

[Oh and I got a distinction by the way] 

Much mirth ensued until I cured a very swollen ankle with my sore muscle salve , and offers of beatification followed.  Sainthood is not my thing, I couldn’t keep up the good behaviour for a start,  but herbs most certainly are.

[Did I tell you I got a distinction?]

So in October 2020 I start fours years of training to become a fully fledged, officially registered Smellie Sprout at the School of Plant Medicine in Cork.  In the meantime I need to keep my hand in so I have been writing up  my Materia Medica.  I imagine most people write up theirs electronically.  I don’t, not least, because come the apocalypse when the internet is but a dimly lit memory my Materia Medica will still be going strong.

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Even its box is a thing of beauty, and apparently an office appliance no less.

On one of the first mornings when I could wander around the garden without the need for wellies and waterproofs I began to take photographs to attach to the notes.  It’s surprising how much medicine you can plant in your garden.

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Verbena officinalis  Vervain.  The subject of my first monograph.  One of the oldest sacred herbs for the Romans, Greeks and Druids.  Useful for tension headaches, migraine and may also have a role, in conjunction with some antibiotics, in the control of MRSA.

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Hypericum perforatum  St John’s Wort.  Well known as an antidepressant it is also an important external wound healer.

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Tanacetum parthenium Feverfew.  Best known for the treatment of migraine (and its ability to self seed with gay abandon) it is also an anti-inflammatory and is used in the alleviation of arthritis pain.

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Borago officinalis  Borage.  One of my favourite garden herbs, so pretty and a delicious addition to summer drinks.  A cooling herb it was once called “cool-tankard”.  “Borage for courage” is an oft-quoted expression indicating its ability to restore life and vitality to the  downhearted and those weighed down by mental exhaustion.

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Artemisia verlotiorum  Chinese Mugwort.  One of the many medicinal Artemisia, one of the digestive bitters and strongly linked to the female reproductive system.

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Artemisia absinthium  Wormwood.  Forever to be linked to the era of Toulouse Lautrec and the apparent hallucinations brought on drinking copious amounts of absinthe.  The hallucinations were believed to be the result of the high levels of thujone in the plant, although that has now been debunked.  Today its extreme bitterness makes it a valuable member of the digestive bitters group of herbs and may also help the body cope with infection and fever.

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Verbascum thapsus  Mullien.  Unsurprisingly also known as Aaron’s rod, it provides dramatic structure in the garden both when flowering and as a dry autumnal stem.  Primarily a respiratory remedy, reducing inflammation and increasing fluid production. During a long and nasty viral infection this summer I drank mullein tea every day and can confirm that it is an excellent expectorant and soothing plant.

2019-08-23 08.45.08Leonurus cardiaca  Motherwort.  A member of the mint family, the clue is in the common name, motherwort has a long association with the female reproductive system and motherhood.  Its Latin name indicates its use as a cardiac tonic.

2019-08-23 08.45.30Foeniculum vulgare Fennel.  Almost ready to harvest the seeds.  A carminative, aiding digestion, antispasmodic and often used to relieve colic.

2019-08-23 08.41.17Matricaria chamomilla  Roman Chamomile.  This isn’t doing quite as well this year since the husband “weeded” my original plants earlier this summer.  These are the replacements and with only two flowers thus far my  harvest will be very low this year!

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Lavendula sp Lavender complete with friend.  I’ve been cutting and drying all summer, we have about six bushes which have been very productive this year.

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And here it is drying in the kitchen.

Time to write up all the notes now.

Love Gillie x

herbal loose ends

At this time of year you can usually find me either grubbing around in the garden and hedgerows collecting herbs or in the kitchen infusing, decocting and generally making remedies for the year ahead.

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Today was a catch up day.  I have several tinctures that are ready to be bottled up.  A tincture is a simple method to harvest the medicinal qualities of a herb.  All you need is the herb itself and base solvent.  The most common solvent is alcohol as it has the ability to dissolve almost all the constituents of most plants and acts as a preservative at the same time.  If you prefer not to use alcohol then vinegar or glycerine can be substituted.  Vodka is my preferred tincture solvent, a minimum of 37-40% proof.  I have bought much stronger vodka in Romania and Latvia where is was quite reasonably priced compared to the UK.

The common home method for making a tincture is to fill a small jar with the chopped herb and cover with the solvent liquid.  There are guidelines for different ratios of herb to solvent (see Hoffmann or Bartram for details).  I tend to use the common method but I do make a note of the strength of alcohol used.

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Earlier this summer I had put aside :

  • Turmeric
  • Ginger
  • Chilli
  • Chickweed
  • Lemon balm
  • Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris)
  • Hawthorn leaves
  • Motherwort
  • Dandelion leaf and root
  • Lemon balm and basil in witchazel

So  much of this morning was spent bottling up and labelling.  I add the plant (Latin name if there is a risk of confusion), date of bottling, solvent and place the plant was harvested.

The first three (turmeric, ginger and chilli) are part of my personal treatment for muscular strain in my upper arms/shoulders as a result of hypermobility.  I’ve made a very effective salve using these three ingredients and was interested to see if the tincture taken internally was as effective.  I’ll do a post on the salve later this month.

Chickweed and lemon balm are both exceptionally good for skin irritations.  Mugwort is bitter tonic and helps with digestive disorders, stimulating bile production whilst also providing a carminative action reducing gas in the digestive system.  Hawthorn (more commonly the berries but also the leaves, I shall harvest the berries later in the year) and Motherwort are both cardiac tonics and whilst everyone knows dandelion as a diuretic few also know that it is an excellent source of potassium thus negating the need for potassium supplements required when synthetic diuretics are prescribed. (See Bartram or Hoffmann for detailed information on the herbs listed).  Finally some of you will remember the lemon balm and basil witchazel tincture as the basis of my first attempt at home made insect repellent.  I’ll let you know how it works!

The lemon balm infusion was ready to be turned into a salve.

  • 60 ml Lemon balm infused oil
  • 6 mg beeswax granules

Add both ingredients to a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and stir until the beeswax is melted.  Pour into clean jar and leave with the lid off until the salve is solid.

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Now, I have to bottle up the rest of the tinctures and get out in the garden and do some more harvesting, the sage and verbascum are vast and the mint needs my attention!

Love Gillie x

 

 

 

autumnal herbs

When I wake in the morning I can no longer hear the dawn chorus, when I sit outside in the evening even I need a jumper and we lit the stove for the first time last night.  I can no longer pretend that summer isn’t coming towards its end.  I had never really thought of myself as a summer girl, but as I have got older I have become aware that summer is the time that I truly come alive.  I am more productive and my creativity ups several notches.  Getting dressed in the morning takes seconds and I live in my Birkenstocks all day and every day.  The garden is full to bursting and we have fresh flowers in every room of the house.

However the is a reason for every season and as autumn begins to take the upper hand I can start to gather in.  Our vegetable garden, along with much of the house, was being rebuilt this year so we didn’t have as big a harvest this year.  However, the winter veg are in, the greenhouse has brought forth a bumper offering and the herbs have been as abundant as ever.

I do have a dehydrator, but I prefer to use that for roots and fruits.  For leaves I leave them to hang in the boiler house.

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Parsley, lavender and marjaram.

The mint, lemon balm and sage have been hanging for a few weeks and are now ready to put away in jars.

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We have also made our own bacon, salt beef and lox.  Today I shall be picking the rosehips for syrup, shrub (sweet vinegar), jelly, ketchup and elderberry and reship tonic.

What are you drying and preserving this autumn?

love Gillie x

 

Wear the Wild

Regular readers will know I am huge fans of Chris and Rose Bax of Taste the Wild.  I have been on plenty of their courses from Herbal Medicine (where my recently macerated knee provided a live demonstration of how to make a poultice)  two and a half days foraging in Staithes.  We have also been mushroom foraging with them and Stuart learned how to butcher a deer.  So you can imagine my glee on my birthday when I discovered I had a morning with Rose making cosmetics.

I make a lot of my own cosmetics and potions etc, but there is nothing more fun than doing it with other people and there is always more to learn.  So last Tuesday I got up early, scraped the ice off the car and headed down to North Yorkshire.  Boy was it cold so the cup of tea on arrival was most welcome.

Cop a look at this.

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Infused oils and dried herbs and flowers all ready to be played with.  First we made shampoo.  Rose gave us comprehensive tables with the properties of the various herbs and flowers. She had already made a birch decoction which we would all include in our shampoo as birch is a wonderful all rounder for hair, then we chose three other ingredients.

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We steeped our additional ingredients in the hot decoction and added it to pure castile soap.

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And there you go.  I don’t even use conditioner now, though do be careful not to get castile soap in your eyes!

Next up was a healing balm.

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Melt pure beeswax into the infused oils of your choice.  Note the clever homemade bain marie.  When slightly cool add an essential oil of your choice.

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Pour into clean pots and leave to set.  Wait until it is almost set before putting on the lid so avoid contamination with condensation.

 

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Next was lip balm, made in much the same way but this time with peppermint essential oil.  We finished up with a bath bomb and some wonderful herbal bath salts which I used when I got home that evening and there were just the ticket.

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Finally, as I was in the area I popped into Ripon for lunch on the way home!

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Love Gillie x

 

Rosehips

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We have a huge Rugosa hedge and at this time of year it is bursting with hips, more than enough for me to pick my fill and still leave plenty for the birds.  They are one of the richest sources of vitamin C (rosehip syrup was a popular means to keep vitamin C levels up, especially in children, during the winter months).  We use it for rosehip jelly, rosehip syrup and also rosehip oil.

Rosehip oil is wonderful for the skin.  Packed with anti-oxidants and anti-inflammatory properties it is a permanent resident in  my bathroom cupboard.

True rosehip oil is made by cold pressing the seeds. Despite the fact I have succeeded in distilling my own rosewater (and broke a sink with the brick afterwards) I have yet to build a cold press in my kitchen.  However, I have found an alternative.  First of course  you need to pick your rosehips.

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750g of fresh rosehips

Remove the stalks and tails and any of the hairy seeds (great for itching powder).  I harvest with a pair of kitchen scissors and cut the debris away as I pick.  Next chop finely, I put mine in a food processor.

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Finally you place the macerated rosehips in a heavy bottomed pan with the oil of your choice.  I used 1 litre of Avocado oil this year, but any natural oil will do, avoid olive oil – it has rather a strong smell and can overpower the rosehips.

Bring to the boil and then leave to simmer on the lowest heat possible for about 6-8 hours.  You could also use a slowcooker or yoghurt maker.

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Strain through a jelly bag or cheesecloth and store in sterilised dark bottles.  Store out of sunlight.

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Love Gillie x

 

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