Rain, Kombucha & Eibhlin…

March 1, 2012 § 2 Comments

There had to be a point in this whirlwind romance with Mull where we would hit a bump in the road…. Our newbie astonishment on hearing any kind of discontent from the islanders, as we conveyed our glee and passion for all things Mullish, must have rather grated on the locals…(though they hide this very well).

As some, if not most of you, already know…the weather here truly SUCKS at times.  To say it has been grey, wet and windy of late, is frankly an ironic distortion of the truth…it has been miserable.  More so for Ian who works outside and has been forced to take vitamin D drops on his tongue daily to fight the grey sky blues.

Ian has been very good through all of this..considering the fact that he is from “America” – (cue hand on heart and wistful sigh out to the horizon line and beyond), this sort of weather in its grey banality does not exist over there.

Despite all of this however, Ian is fiercely devoted to Mull and shows no signs of ever wishing to leave, which is incredibly touching and one of his finest qualities.

Perma-grey

Other victims of the weather include our potted herbs..they are currently held in captivity on our window sill inside to protect them from the elements and enhance what sunshine we get.  A few have sadly already died.

1 unhappy camper

So we are currently experimenting with angle poise lamps to see if we can simulate a more tropical climate.  Time will tell…

home made Hawaii

I however am not suffering so much from the winter blues at the moment for a couple of reasons:  1) I am lucky enough to skip to Edinburgh once a week where I am attending a textiles course and 2) I have a serious new passion known as ‘Kombucha Tea‘.

Kombucha, kombucha, kombucha…I salute you.  I love you.

Whilst this is already a popular drink in the States, it is little known in the UK and I hope to be a disciple in turning people on to it here.  Kombucha is not a new thing, it has been around for more than 2000 years and is known as the ‘elixir of life’ (hinting at immortality on many websites) – quite a claim I agree.  Rather than bleat on about this myself – see link to one website (of which there are thousands) outlining the basics:

http://www.foodrenegade.com/kombucha-health-benefits/

Essentially to brew kombucha – you need the following:  tea bags, hot water, a large glass jar and a kombucha ‘mother’ (a.k.a. ‘scoby’ – symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts).

Black tea fermenting, green tea kombucha bottled & grape juice & green K.T

I do not wish to brag (I do) – but I feel extraordinarily well after drinking this daily for a few weeks – my mood has improved, skin cleared, energy levels have leapt, and a few other things which I know I shouldn’t mention on a blog !  I do not even care if people think it’s psychosomatic or otherwise…it is irrelevant – I feel awesome.  If you are even slightly open to this kind of thing – I would strongly urge you to give it a go also as it is one of the most delicious drinks when brewed at home…the taste is a kind of magical combination of iced tea and beer.

My last piece of life changing news tells the tale of a small wild animal that we have adopted..

We first met Eibhlin (pronouned Eileen and named by Ian) on our frequent trips to the island when she lived in a barrel.  We know from the previous tenants that she is about 15 years old and has lived outdoors for her entire life, having occasionally sought shelter in the sheep barn amongst old fleeces.  She is, to all intense purposes, a feral cat (a wildcat descendent I like to believe).  Unfortunately, she was matted all over and slightly unnappealing to touch (I cross myself when I say this with the guilt)…she wanted attention but was so mangy and not exactly accustomed to much human contact. When the previous tenants left a couple of years ago – sweet Jimmy (mentioned in my last blog) would come up to the house and feed her when possible.

Eibhlin has been tugging ferociously at our heart strings since we moved here…every night when the wind was blowing and horizontal rain crashing down – I had to fight back the tears.  In fact, my brother Charlie aptly said she should be renamed ‘guilt’.  Unable to withstand her allure, Ian and Martin (good friend and short term next door neighbour) – built Eibhlin her very own 5 star kennel to live in, they lined it with insulation and added an extra lining of sheepskin.  She took to her kennel immediately and refused to abandon it at any given moment.

Eibhlin's kennel

Fast forward 1 month to our friends arriving for New year – cue daily hurricane force wind storm and E’s kennel blew over – crippling our resolve to leave her to nature’s fate.  With much encouragement, we started letting her into the house for an hour a day to see how she would react.  She liked it….a lot.  Noting her true desire to be indoors, Ian and I tried to tackle the fierce matting on her back.  Without going into too much detail – all 3 of us were hysterical after the matting tore at her skin when we tried to cut it out.

Pre makeover

The next day I drove her kicking and screaming to the vet.  The wonderful vet shaved her and despite the initial freaking out, she is now a very happy ‘house trained’ puss who absolutely loathes the outdoors… Cruel as we are – we put her out sometimes so she feels the benefit of the soft breeze caressing the fur on her face..

Post makeover - E shares the coveted radiator spot with Ian's boots

Needless to say..she will not touch her kennel anymore for love nor money…kennels are for ruffians.

She is just little.

We love her intensely..
So Ebhlin..this is for you.
I have inserted the words before should you wish to learn them…
GERALD GRIFFIN (1803-1840)
EILEEN AROON’
WHEN, like the early rose, Eileen aroon ! Beauty in childhood blows, Eileen aroon ! When, like a diadem, Buds blush around the stem, . Which is the fairest gem? Eileen aroon I
Is it the laughing eye ?
Eileen aroon ! Is it the timid sigh ?
Eileen aroon ! Is it the tender tone, Soft as the stringed heart’s moan ? Oh ! it is Truth alone,
Eileen aroon !
When, like the rising day,
Eileen aroon ! Love sends his early ray,
Eileen aroon !
1 Eibhlin a ruin, Eileen, my treasure.
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A day on the farm..

January 25, 2012 § 2 Comments

An average day for yours truly is whittled away easily with several hours spent boiling the kettle, sitting around speculating wildly about the health benefits of eating basically anything you can find rotting away on the shore and doing some good old needlework.

However sometimes we are lucky enough to be dragged out of this microcosm by genuine visits from real people.

And today is such a day !

Lachlan MacLean (our resident farmer and hero) is coming up to treat the sheep for liver disease.  A preventative measure I believe to stop them developing an ailment of the liver resulting in sudden death with no apparent clinical signs.

I watch as the story plays out..with rapt attention.  It really is a thrill to watch… I have possibly been here too long and am suffering from the ‘island effect’.  My brother Charlie cautioned me when we moved here to watch out for the following danger signs manifesting in Ian: ‘dramatic slowing of pace, staring out to sea for long periods, listening out for the shipping forecast and becoming a fan of the Archers’…

As far as I know Lachlan and co. are immune to the island effect and have come to do an honest day’s work.  The routine is pretty consistent:

1. Arrival of dogs – followed by swift but thorough defecation of the premises.

2. Arrival of Jimmy –  I HEART Jimmy.

Jimmy is famed for having displayed L plates on his motorcycle for the last 30 years, not having seen any particular need to take his test at any point – but why would you up here ?!  He also possesses a sharp wit and is known for his heroic strength – he can carry about 8 sheep at a time..well according to my mum anyway.  A sort of modern day Mulloch Popeye.

3.  Arrival of Lachlan – The monarch of the Glen (as named by sweet Franny)

Lachlan is a certified charmer, witty raconteur, sheepdog whisperer and general celeb in these parts.

4. Arrival of Lachlan’s brother – Donald.

I do not know Donald very well…but I do know that he is 1 x cool cat.  Even if we are just speaking from a style perspective – I get and dig his outfit.

As the sheep are herded, gathered and administered their medicine I discover the following acute points:

Sheepdogs love sheep.
Sheep love Jimmy.
Sheep do not love Donald (for the duration of these pics).

and Lachlan loves sheepdogs.

I would not think that this could possibly get any cuter…but it does.

Lachlan has customised his quad bike to accommodate a pup …in this case 2 sitting comfortably in their rickshaw with 1 spectator.

but now 3…slightly cramped pooches…with Cap (Jimmy’s sheepdog) looking on with a touch of the green eye.

The end.  It has been an ultimately cute day.

Mull Weeds

January 15, 2012 § 6 Comments

Biongiorno everyone.  I have chosen to dedicate my first blog to seaweed…..because there is so darned much of it…and as both a strict hypochondriac of most ailments and a one time user of ‘crème de la mer’ – I know it’s the good stuff.

Seaweed...everywhere

After doing some research on the island and on the internet I have discovered the following: 1) seaweed contains all 56 vitamins and minerals you need to live (no other plant boasts the same), containing 25 times the nutrients of land vegetables  2) it is said to be an anti-ageing ingredient used in numerous beauty products and supplements  and 3) the high iodine content is believed to help prevent cancer by stimulating the thyroid gland – with particular reference to breast cancer *.
This said, no one on Mull that I have spoken to actually seems to know anything about seaweed or what to look for.  They do however know of an old recipe used by the elders… a recipe that combines my two greatest fears – milk and gelatine.  (milk as I am intolerant/repulsed by dairy – and gelatine as I have had some difficult experiences with wartime dishes made almost entirely from aspic with floating sprouts, hotdogs and bits of cheese – courtesy of ma famille).
Consequently – with the help of the world wide web I found ‘Wild Man Wild Food‘ – by Fergus Drennan (a prestiged forager) which is a pretty informative site dedicated to all wild food, and I settled on finding Dulse and Sea Lettuce (2 very common edible varieties).
Fergus does recommend that one should purchase a book before scouring the shore…but not wishing to be restrained by the confines of Amazon – I choose to go it alone ..(with Ian).  So at low tide we ventured down with a Tesco polythene bag (moi), and a bucket (Ian)  – his bucket adorably filled up with fishing equipment.  After trudging through relentless slippery mounds of eggsack weed… we lucked out and found a few wisps of sea lettuce tangled up amongst some other reeds.
With no Dulse in sight and slightly disillusioned – I dragged behind Ian as he scaled the rocks at pace to find a fishing spot.  I am slow on the rocks.  He is not.  It’s annoying.  When I did eventually catch him he had found a sweet alcove from which to cast out.  And even better – there was a whole crop of dark red Dulse growing out of the rockpools !  I gathered this up with my knife and plastic bag and was ready to leg it for home – when Ian reminded me of my duty to watch him fish.  On his first cast the line got caught on the weeds.  On his second cast he lost his bait entirely in the reeds.  So  reluctantly he agreed to come home with me…
 
After harvesting the seaweed and attempting to dry it in the kitchen (it stinks) – I have used it in every recipe since including lentil soup (this did not really work..it tasted of fishy lentils), ottolenghi’s sweet potato cakes (totally delicious), chickpea burgers (again scrumptious) and have put it in all of our salads.  I would say the Dulse was particularly good and the sea lettuce a little too potent for my liking… but overall a success in that the Dulse can substitute some of the salt/stock in a recipe and absorbs the other flavours around it resulting in chewy, crispy, caramalised bits of goodness.

derish.

However – it is worth being cautious with your quantity to prevent overpowering any dish and consequently I was left with a fair bit to get through…. So I decided to make it into a face mask…well why the hell not ?!
I just used the 1st face mask recipe I found online and added…my seaweed.

Recipe:  Make a mixture of one egg yolk, one teaspoon honey, one teaspoon olive oil and one teaspoon vitamin E oil or baby oil (optional)  + seaweed.

I would make the following points about this having experienced it first hand:
  1. It is a bit of a struggle not to retch with egg congealing on your face mixed with strong smelling seaweed.
  2. I felt stupid… so in fact I hid in the bathroom for 20 minutes fearful that Ian would come in and launch a somewhat humiliating attack on my appearance.
  3. I realise now that I should perhaps have blended the seaweed with the mixture in the Magimix to create a seaweed dust rather than the mottled appearance I did achieve.
However 20 mins later – there is no denying it – I look… c.l.e.a.n.
As a final note I think it is important to give a mention to the traditional Scottish/Mulloch recipe for Carrageen seaweed for you milk and gelatine lovers:
  • ½ lb. (250g) dried Carrageen (Chondrus) – washed and soaked for 2 hours.
  • 1Pt (500ml) milk.
  • Grated lemon rind.
  • Sugar to taste.

1) Place the seaweed in a pan with the lemon rind and cover with the milk.
2) Bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 30 minutes.
3) Stir in sugar then strain into a wet mould and allow to cool.
4) Once set, turn out.

Au revoir dudes.
*The iodine content in seaweed and its link to thyroid stimulation and cancer is a point I have just had confirmed by Professor Frithjof Kuepper (Chair in Marine Biodiversity at the University of Aberdeen) – specialist in seaweed and its iodine content – who by chance came over to dinner last night at my hosts in Edinburgh…what luck – it’s as if he KNEW I was about to do this blog !