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Archive for October, 2012

It has been quiet on athomeinthehebrides for a couple of weeks as I had my parents up and then spent a bit of time in Austria and Slovakia.

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The Uig-Tarbert ferry bringing my folks across.

Although offset slightly by the mountains of debt, my globe-trotting youth has left me with a stack of travel related books which means that when I do leave for a new destination I usually have a guidebook to cover it…

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On the Stornoway-Glasgow plane

The picture above makes me happy not just because of the frugality it encapsulates (free refreshments, re-used guidebook, reduced fare courtesy of the Air Discount Scheme for rural folk like me) but because I am so often tormented on the shorter flights to Barra and Benbecula where no refreshments are served. This is not a diva-esque complaint; I would be quiet fine to sit on a plane for 30 minutes without refreshment but for the fact that shortly after breaking the news there will be no refreshments the air hostess promptly makes herself a brew with enough time to dunk two packets of biscuits in!

The trip to Austria and Slovakia was for an Uncle’s birthday and it brought together family and friends from New Zealand, North America, UAE, South Africa, Sweden and other parts of the UK. Given the relative proximity of Austria to the Outer Hebrides I was a little surprised my total travel time was one of the longest.

Vienna was stunning…and although I don’t think I could go back to living in a big city full-time, I certainly enjoy being able to walk round them, stopping off for local tastes along the way…

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The place where I stayed in Vienna was also home to one of my favourite writers for a period too…

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While I am not a huge fiction reader his books about youthful adventure hold great appeal. I also find the various quotes attributed to him amongst my favourites…

Suppose you were an idiot, and suppose you were a member of Congress; but I repeat myself.

It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one’s mouth and remove all doubt.

A banker is a fellow who lends you his umbrella when the sun is shining, but wants it back the minute it begins to rain.

It is better to deserve honors and not have them than to have them and not to deserve them.

Slovakia was a quite incredible experience that was heightened by the extravagant accommodation at Chateaux Bela ( not featured in my guide to Europe on a Shoestring!).

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While the fairytale surroundings and good living in Slovakia was ideal given the long hours I have been putting in a work since arriving up here, I did return to the Stornoway with a renewed vigour for exercise and healthy grub!

Lucky I have some of the most beautiful runs literally on my doorstep…better go!

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My mum is a tremendous cook and so when a request for baking came round for Breast Cancer Awareness month she was my first port of call.

“They are complicated!” mum warned when I asked for her famed Mallow Fridge Cake recipe.

“But there’s only four ingredients and no baking?” I urged.

I am still cleaning up after putting a batch together!

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Much less hassle was the caramel coconut slice…

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Both were gratefully received and sold alongside other donated goodies to raise money for a great cause.

I was also able to get a day’s fishing on the Garynahine Estate waters. The river was stunning with great pools holding a large number of wonderfully conditioned Salmon. I went with Mike Sullivan who basically does everything I love doing only exponentially better! Not only does he like canoe and kayaking but has written the definitive guide to the Outer Hebrides along with two friends. Like me Mike also climbs, unlike me his first accents can be found in national climbing guides. While in the tackle shop hopefully searching for a fly to help pull in a good-sized trout from the lochs I have visited I noticed a picture of Mike holding a cracking fish of several pounds that won him ‘fish of the month’.. What makes it worse is that he is also a really nice guy who has helped keep me right since arriving on the Island and managed to sort the fishing at Garynahine Estate for us. I’m sure you can imagine how the day turned out for Mike and I!

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The weekend itself has been fantastic…certainly one of the best since arriving on the Island. I met a writer on Friday night who had recently moved from England which led to an opportunity to explore some of his work on the Saturday morning. The writing was very good and was interspersed with small Polaroids from his travels, great stuff!

After that I met up with a few other members of the Canoe club and paddled out towards the mouth of the Creed from Cuddy point.

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Fortunately we had been practicing assisted rescue earlier in the week as a wave caught me off balance and before I knew it I was swimming.

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I also managed to do a bit more cooking outdoors which is something I’ve been able to do a lot more of since arriving here (see langoustines on the beach and the hammock trip for example)

My love for the outdoors is matched only by my love for food. Although I am happy to do the austere outdoor trips where I survive on thin shavings of leather from my hiking boots in order to stay light (well almost), I like where possible to dine just as well as I would indoors. And because this is the setting…

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…you end up eating meals which can’t be beat!

What made it more special was the opportunity to use the most beautiful bothy as a base.

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The starter was vegetable pakora with a light raita. I was aware that hot oil might not be an aroma to everyone’s taste and so these were prepared on the cliff just below the bothy.

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The main event was a butternut squash risotto with sage and pine nuts. Unfortunately the camera’s battery died before I could plate it up but the preparation was almost as wonderful as the finished dish.

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I’m not sure if you’ve seen the original Total Recall (I haven’t yet seen the remake)? Well I feel a little bit like Arnie in the sense that this life I am currently living is one I dreamt about for so long and a few extremely specific elements of ‘the dream’ may still come to pass (things that I have yearned for since a wee boy) and it does make me wonder if it is really happening or just something I may wake up from at any time.

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I love sleeping in a hammock. It’s nice getting rocked to sleep by a gentle wind and being able to look at the night sky as you drift in and out of sleep. I also love sleeping in a hammock because you usually need to be near trees. This weekend I spent some hammock time in a pine forest that sits in between Harris and Lewis…

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For those who would prefer a video account of the trip please have a look at the video below…please don’t be put off by the still that YouTube has selected for the video, the content is suitable for all!

Last weekend I had probably the best Mexican food I have ever had at a dinner party. It left me wanting more and so in addition to the overnight trip I also wanted to put together some decent Mexican food, preferably cooked over an open fire.

The plan was quesadillas for the first night followed by huevos rancheros for brunch the next day. However first thing was to explore the forest to find a nice spot to watch the sun rise from my hammock in the morning…I let my head rule my heart and so passed this hammock island by…

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I settled for the spot below (this was taken the following morning):

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The quesadillas the previous night were delicious, particularly when washed down with some chilled Mexican beer…yes that is a tray of ice in the background!

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The night in the hammock was pretty special. I had initially been a bit disappointed about the cloud cover as I had been hoping for a repeat of the Uig star-gazing extravaganza but in a strange way the clouds actually enhanced the sky views. Every so often there would be a break in the clouds which would give you a passing glimpse at the constellations that were otherwise hidden. I find that when given an unrestricted view of the star I gravitate towards either familiar constellations, the brightest stars or satellites. Having a small moving window encouraged me to focus intently on parts of the night that I’m quite sure would have normally passed me by.

I was treated to a stunning morning which was calm but also still cloudy enough to allow the sun’s oranges, pinks and purples to complement the shades of the heather and rowan trees.

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Although I was happy to use my gas burner for dinner given that an open fire would have been a bit irresponsible in and around the campsite I selected, I was keen to prepare breakfast using a more traditional approach. From the campsite I made my way down towards
Loch Seaforth hoping I would come across a good supply of driftwood and a rocky area where I could prepare the huevos rancheros and ‘Navajo’ flatbread…I wasn’t disappointed!

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I like the pace of ‘camp days’, where you have the time to cook and eat properly rather than having to eat quickly so you can cover the distance between different legs of a longer journey. A case in point was the flatbread which not only enhanced the breakfast greatly but were enjoyable to prepare and let settle on the warm stones around the fire. As you can see from the pictures below I used Quail’s eggs. This is not as frivolous as it may sound and were used purposely instead of chicken eggs because of the speed at which they cook. Getting huevos rancheros right (I.e. not too dry, eggs poached just enough to ensure a cooked white yet running yolk) is hard to achieve on an open fire and so using Quail’s eggs you are more likely to avoid the difficulties associated with the unpredictability of hot coals.

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I have to say the end result was fantastic! The flatbreads had taken on a smoky quality from the driftwood while the depth of flavour from the huevos rancheros was exquisite. I served it up alongside homemade salsa, guacamole and soured cream…wonderful!
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