Sunday, 16 November 2014

Johnny Depp never had it so good

It's probably fair to say that Our Lass is a down-to-earth sort, a gal driven by life's priorities and who is a firm believer in the old mantra of 'success is all of what you need and a little of what you want'.

For example, my nearest and dearest cooks but does not bake. To live, we all need to eat food, so Tense Towers is a home of tasty, few frills, nutritious meals. OK, we ship in, or I bake, the occasional cake, but that's where the 'want' comes in.

So, it's probably an indication of our changed lives that, today, Our Lass decided that a little frivolousness was called for. As we're fans of dark chocolate and only slightly dark movies, 'Chocolat' is a perennial favourite at OTT. So much so, that we even have a recipe book inspired by the film.

And today was its day!

Our Lass reckoned we could do without the whipped cream, the sprinkles were optional, chilli flakes would suffice for a whole chilli, but the alcohol was a necessity. See? Priorities!

A pint of milk, a cinnamon stick and the chilli flakes were simmered in a pan.

Then, a bar of dark chocolate (85% cocoa) was broken up and melted into the pan.

This was then whisked, whilst off the heat...

a little brown sugar added, and the mixture allowed to stand for 10 minutes to infuse. This was the difficult bit, as Our Lass is not THAT patient :o)

Then, a bit more whisking, before returning the pan to the heat to bring back to simmering point.

Finally, the mixture was sieved into two mugs (MINE had sprinkles!) and then the last ingredient added...

a shot of Cointreau.

And the  verdict?

Vianne would've been proud!

Friday, 14 November 2014

Chuffed chef

Our Lass was watching Masterchef on television last night. Several young professional chefs were given scraps or leftovers and asked to make stunningly tasty and aesthetic-looking dishes. From a Love Food/Hate Waste point of view, I thought this was a spiffing idea.

Unfortunately, simply cooking nourishing, hearty food isn't good enough, of course. Therefore, although I would have happily eaten any of the dishes produced, staple fayre doesn't make for great television viewing, so there were some harsh criticisms of perfectly good food and several dejected chefs wandered off into the night.

Tonight, after a dreich day with gale force winds and driving rain, some warming, wholesome grub was required to lift the mood at Tense Towers. Yours Truly was ushered into the kitchen, whilst herself disappeared off for a rendezvous with a lusciously hot bath.

On her return, a freshly-pampered Our Lass was treated to a Spécialité de la Maison:

Steamed Heritage Winter Vegetables,
on a bed of Yorkshire Pudding,
with a Sweet Potato Purée
and a Jus de Knorr et Bisto

The judge's comments ranged from "Nothing wrong with your portion control" to "Nice sprouts", which modesty barely allows me to take as constructive, yet piquantly saucy, criticism. Or even saucily piquant.

I mentioned that I thought I had prepared the gravy before. "Déjà vu?" Our Lass asked. "No," I replied, "Dévà jus."

Wednesday, 12 November 2014


I have an undeserved reputation for "Bah! Humbug!" when it comes to Christmas festivities. I am not anti-celebration at all, merely pro-celebration at the appropriate time. More of a Twelve Days of Christmas kinda guy, than a twelve weeks of Christmas commercial zealot. I'd rather hear a paean to paganism, than the electronic beeping of checkout tills.

Even so, I had a very strange experience last weekend, which in some ways, I'm still trying to understand.

Voluntary Action Orkney, an umbrella organisation representing a whole raft of Orcadian charities, sponsors a Charities' Christmas Bazaar every year in the Kirkwall Town Hall. At this year's event, there were more than 20 charities taking part, all selling festive fayre and raising money for good causes.

I was helping out on my employer's stall, which covered two of our projects, 'Love Food, Hate Waste' and Steptoze Yard. One table was laden with all manner of tasty homebakes, with hot soup or non-alcoholic mulled wine also available. The other table featured a range of recycled gifts, things handed in at our re-use yard, from candlesticks to soft toys.

But, yes, it was only the 8th of November. And there's something rather surreal about decorating a stall with tinsel and lights, whilst still wearing your Remembrance Day poppy.

Don't say a word, just don't...

Sunday, 9 November 2014


Fifty three years ago, in 1961, approximately halfway between the time that Our Lass was born, in West Germany, and when the infant Tense first grizzled his way into the world, in north east England, the East German authorities constructed the Berlin Wall to divide East from West.

We were each blithely unaware of the others, or, at least, I know that Our Lass and I were not introduced... and neither of us were keeping tabs on East Germany.

Some time later, Our Lass and I found ourselves living together in West Germany...

Then, twenty five years ago, we left Deutschland to return to Britain. Twenty five years ago, the Berlin Wall came down.

Weird, huh?

I was thinking these odd Cold War thoughts, this morning, as Our Lass and I stood on the cliff tops at Hobbister, looking out across Scapa Flow and observing a two minute silence for Remembrance Sunday. As it is one hundred years since the beginning of the First World War, the occasion seemed to have a deeper significance still.

The 'safe' anchorage of Scapa Flow has seen its share of tragedy in the past century. In 1917, an accidental explosion aboard HMS Vanguard resulted in the loss of over 800 men. In 1939, the sinking of HMS Royal Oak by a German U-boat, also saw the loss of over 800 men.

This morning, the skies were overcast and sombre, there was not a breath of wind, allowing sounds to travel much further than normal.

After our respectful silence, remembering the sacrifice that others had made, we lightened the mood by wandering along the path, watching Eiders and Long-tailed Ducks on the sea below. Their calls rang out through the still air, mingling with the gentle sounds of waves on the shore. Amongst an array of grebes, divers and Black Guillemots, one small bird stood out. We looked at it... we looked at each other... and then we looked at it again. It was tiny, really small. Squat and compact in shape, mostly black but with white cheeks and breast, it had a short bill and a hint of an upturned tail. I could only think of one possible bird that would fit the description, but neither of us had ever seen one before, a Little Auk.

We will certainly remember today.

Monday, 3 November 2014

Local loop

For the beginning of November, this morning was absolutely peachy... bright sunshine and the softest of breezes. The sort of morning when all of your plans, no matter how important they were, go out of the window, along the road and off into the wide blue yonder.

I opted for a local loop, all on single track tarmac roads, so boots and car could be left at home. Grabbing my bins but eschewing the camera, I made my way along Cornquoy Road, which together with Greenwall Road and The Tieve Road make up the circular walk that I refer to as the Kirk Loop.

As I dropped downhill towards St Nicholas' Kirk, a few waders could be seen in neighbouring fields: lapwing, curlew, redshank and golden plover.

On a flooded field behind the church, eighteen teal watched me warily from the water's edge. Where the road skirted the cemetery wall, I could see dozens of birds sat on the tarmac. This was a bit of a conundrum until I realised that, with the high tide, huge swathes of seaweed had been thrown onto the grass verge, and swarms of flies were emanating from this 'aromatic' mass. The starlings and pipits were having a grand time! Rounding a bend in the road brought me out of the lee of the cemetery wall and into a suddenly stiffer breeze. All the flies and other invertebrates were being propelled along by this wind, so that it felt a bit like walking into a living hailstorm.

Once away from the shoreline, the situation improved, so I could stop to take a few more photos with my phone.

The gentle climb up to Greenwall (reputedly the oldest, continually-occupied current dwelling in Orkney, at approx 400 years) emphasised just how warm it was. I was wearing way too many layers, which isn't something you can say too often around here.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Gey swappy

This blogpost so very nearly turned into the third instalment of 'The Perils of Listening in English'.

Yesterday, a lady turned up at work, looking for a second-hand racing bike. Fortunately, this week, the Yard had a couple of them 'in stock', and my cycling customer opted for the rustier of the two, as she intended to break it down for spares.

Bearing in mind the time of year and the likelihood of inclement weather, I asked the lady if she cycled much during the Winter, to which she replied that she did. This was the reason for the purchase of the racing bike, as it would provide the rider with the opportunity to huddle down over the handlebars and reduce wind resistance.

"But it can still be gey swappy," she added as she swung the bike onto a carrying frame at the rear of her car.

Several of my brain cells triggered a system-wide warning that this wasn't the time to open my stupid gob and make a guess at what that meant. Instead, I rewound the conversation in my head, played it through again and politely asked the lady to repeat what she'd just said.

As I later found out, 'swap' has five different meanings in Orcadian dialect*, but in this case it referred to a gust of wind. So, I would conclude that 'gey swappy' is 'very gusty'. Yep, I imagine that cycling in Orkney through the Winter months (actually, any time, really) is prone to this effect.

Incidentally, 'gey' meaning 'very' does indeed derive from gay. It is used in much the same way that it is in English, in phrases such as 'the experience was pretty bad'.

This morning, following a leisurely start to the day courtesy of the clock change from BST to GMT, Our Lass cajoled me into going for a walk, despite the overcast conditions, blustery winds and the omnipresent threat of rain. OK, yeah, I'm just a wuss, but as we parked the car nearby to the Covenanters' Memorial in Deerness, Our Lass's phone beeped to inform her of an incoming text. The message was from one of the most outdoorsy folk we know, who was happily sharing the news that she was cosily tucked up indoors, with a wood-burning stove and her hi-fi giving it max therms and volume respectively. My response was not repeatable.

Still, we had an entertaining three mile amble, out through farmland, across a moor and back along a cliff top. We saw our first Barnacle Geese of the Autumn, a big flock of Golden Plover and Turnstone, a female Sparrowhawk and the occasional Rock Pipit. We returned to the car, rewardingly tired and rather windswept.

Aye, hid wis gey swappy, beuy.

* As defined by Gregor Lamb's 'The Orkney Wordbook'.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Size is relative

This is a guest photo-blog by First Born (the peedie muckle sister, seeing as she's our elder daughter, but not as tall as Second Born).

All of the following images were taken by FB.

Saturday was unexpectedly warm, that is, unexpected by the population of Orkney and the woefully-incorrect weather forecaster for the region. Still, every cloud..., eh?

Our Lass and FB went to Yesnaby on the west coast, soaking up the rays and admiring the views.

The following day, in more normal October weather for Orkney, they ventured to Rose Ness.