Doors Open Day 2016

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

At the weekend it was Doors Open Day in Edinburgh, a chance for the public to see inside buildings that are not usually open to them.

James (16) had volunteered to help his grandad as a doorman at the old Magdalen Chapel in the Grassmarket, but before we went to see him there, the other boys and I headed along to the Lothian Buses Depot.

They had a couple of vintage buses parked outside alongside one of their newest styles.

It was a popular attraction and I was glad we had arrived there just after it opened, because by the time we were leaving it had got really, really busy.

Most of the buses that were on display inside the depot were open for you to climb aboard. The boys have always wanted to go on an open-topped bus and so that was the first one they headed for.

This bus went into service just after the second world war.

Inside the vintage buses we noticed how much narrower they are than today's buses, and how sitting next to a complete stranger on those buses would have been much more of a squash! Perhaps we were less socially awkward in those days though?

We didn't find out why this lorry was here, but David (10) was thoroughly impressed with it!

One of the buses was jacked up with all the parts of the undercarriage labelled.

As well as all the buses, there was a stall selling some bus memorabilia, and we had to fight our way through some serious bus anoraks to get something there, but I'll save that for the end.

After we had seen all we wanted to see at the bus depot we made our way across to the Grassmarket and to the historic Magdalen Chapel. The chapel was built in the 1500s, and if you are interested in history you can read more about the history of it here.

When we were finished at the chapel, and James was relieved of his doorman duties, we walked up from the Grassmarket and towards the Royal Mile.

I have lived in or around Edinburgh for over 20 years now, and I never tire of the beauty in it's streets.

Once we were at the Royal Mile we headed down towards St Giles.

We weren't going to see the cathedral though, but the Supreme Courts which sit just behind the chapel.

The building dates from the 1600s and the main hall, Parliament Hall was where the original Scottish Parliament used to sit.

I was too busy watching a 2 year old to read all the info that was around about the Hall but I did manage to snap this photo of one of the information boards!

Further into the building we saw into one of the courts, we looked into the cells, and Ally (7) was able to try on the robes, wig and mace of a judge!

There were quite a few maces on display. This one that David is holding was the oldest there, dating from around the 1500s. Or maybe it was the 1600s. Anyway, it was really old either way!

Immediately outside the courts is the burial place of John Knox., now car parking space no. 23.

By the time we were finished looking round the courts we were all very hungry and so we grabbed a bite to eat. Rather appropriately, having spend the morning looking around so many historical Scottish sites, I went for some haggis and chips.

Suitably fuelled up again we headed across the Royal Mile and down to the train station to catch a train home.

Now, remember the bus memorabilia I mentioned? The bus company were raising money for a couple of charities and were selling off all their old bus stop signs. The signs were all in bundles against a wall and it was quite a scramble to get in to them, as there were quite a few eager bus fans all keen to get one! I wanted to make sure that we got one for a stop that was relevant to us in some way and was delighted when we saw one for Blackford Pond. 

Back in my earliest days in Edinburgh, and when my husband and I started seeing each other as more than 'just good friends', my in-laws lived near Blackford Hill and so we had many walks up the hill and around the pond. One of the buses that stopped at that stop was also one that I used to get to University so the sign has a double significance to us. 

David carried it about Edinburgh the whole day, and we had quite a few people stop us and ask where we had got it from! I have no idea where we are going to hang it in the house yet though!

There were lots more buildings open for Doors Open Day and if you have one near you coming up then I highly recommend you get along to see what is open. After all, you can't get much better than a free day out, can you?!

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Bake-Off Bake-Along: Weeks 1-4

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

I've finally finished and gifted my massive crochet project and so have a little more time to blog again, so I can now get around to sharing about my Bake-Along bakes.

As in previous years, I've set myself the challenge of baking along with the Great British Bake-Off this year.

It's always been a fun thing to do, even though I do sometimes fall a week or two behind, and I definitely don't always try the more difficult of the recipes from the show. That just wouldn't be practical given that most of my baking is done with a 2 year old in tow.

So, here's my progress so far.

Week One
Week 1 was cake week, and the technical challenge was Jaffa Cakes. These looked pretty straightforward and so I decided that they would be the first thing I would try.

I used Mary Berry's recipe, which you can find here, but adapted it to make them dairy and gluten free. They were really easy to make, and they tasted really lovely. The taste reminded me of posher brands of Jaffa Cakes, like M&S ones.

The first week also contained Drizzle Cakes, and so I made a couple of Orange Drizzle cakes, again using a Mary Berry recipe, this time from her Baking Bible. I've made these quite a few times before and they are always really popular.

Week 2
Week 2 was biscuit week, and again I decided to make the technical challenge, as it looked so delicious. I also didn't fancy my chances assembling a 30cm high gingerbread construction! 

I used Mary Berry's recipe for the Vienesse Whirls, which you can find along with the other recipes from the week 2 episode here

These biscuits were amazing, really melt in your mouth, and I definitely have to make another batch of them sooner rather than later!

Week 3
Week 3 was bread week. I don't make bread dough very often, and it's not something I have had an awful lot of success with. I think perhaps that I'm in too much of a rush to get things done and don't give myself enough time to knead properly. The only dough recipe I make with any sort of regularity is a pizza dough, using a trusty Nigella recipe from her How to be a Domestic Goddess book. I can make it entirely using the dough hook of my food mixer, which is a great time saver.

Still, I was determined not to let Bread Week pass me by without trying to make something. I didn't actually think that anyone in our house would eat anything from any of the three sections of the episode and so looked through some of my Bake-Off cookbooks from previous series' for inspiration.

I decided to try out Paul Hollywood's Chelsea Buns from the Series 3 book, and was delighted that they were a success!

Chelsea Buns always remind me of my Granny Tong, who would buy them for us from the baker's van when it visited her village. After dinner she would put out a plate of sweet treats that often included the Chelsea Buns and her amazing Griddle Scones, which were best served with her homemade Rhubarb Jam.

Buoyed up by the success of the Chelsea Buns, I decided to try my hand at Paul Hollywood's Doughnuts a few days later. 

Everything seemed to be going well, and the dough rose beautifully, but then things hit a snag when it was time to deep fry the doughnuts. They were so large, and the recommended oil temperature was so hot, that by the time the outside of the first couple was very dark brown, the inside was still raw. So I reduced the heat of the oil, halved the size of the doughnuts and tried again. It took quite a few frustratingly still raw in the middle doughnuts before the balance was found and they cooked right through without being too overdone on the outside.

The doughnuts tasted very nice, but for all the effort that went into making them, well, they still didn't taste as good as a Krispy Kreme, and I think I'll just stick to buying them whenever I fancy a doughnut treat in the future.

Week 4
And onto week 4, a new category for Bake-Off this year, Batter Week.

This would be an easy one to bake along to, given that nearly every Sunday morning we have pancakes for breakfast.

I haven't tried making the lacy pancakes that were the technical challenge on the show, as the boys were rather horrified at how little pancake that gave you to eat! 'Where would you put the syrup?' one of them asked, and. 'that wouldn't fill you up for long!' exclaimed another.

I do fancy trying them out just for fun one day, but will probably have a batch of 'proper' ones on the go at the same time.

Another challenge from this episode was Yorkshire Puddings. Not much can beat a Sunday roast beef with yorkshire puddings. Apart from a Sunday roast chicken with stuffing perhaps. It's a very close call in our house which of these two is the favourite.

Here are my Yorkies.

Mary and Paul asked for uniformity, which I'm sure I wouldn't have got marks for with these!

I don't use a recipe for them, just 3 eggs, a good dollop of milk (maybe around half to 3/4 of a pint or so) and enough plain flour to make a batter that isn't too thick. 

Another favourite of ours involving Yorkshire Puddings, and kind of fitting in with the challenge of making Yorkshire Puddings with a filling, is individual Toad in the Holes.

They don't make the most attractive food to photograph, but they do satisfy hungry boys tummies, and they make a packet of sausages stretch out further and a budget friendly family dinner!

This week the episode was about pastry. You can be pretty sure that I won't be posting about any filo pastry amuse bouches that I have made next week. Nor will I be making the Bakewell Tart given how many nut allergies are in the house!

 I'll just need to get my cookbooks out again and look for some inspiration for Pastry Week!

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Summer Holidays - Weeks 5, 6 & 6 1/2

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

My final round-up of our summer holidays - finally!

 I've been working on a big crochet make as a gift, and I have a deadline for it looming which has left very little time for blogging!

(For weeks 1 & 2 of our holidays click here, and for weeks 3 & 4 click here)
Day 24
Fraser (2) had seen something on TV where the children were eating jelly. Having never tried jelly before, he was fascinated by it and kept asking if we could make some. He was so excited when we were making it and loved helping to mix it. Although I think he loved the big chunks of un-melted jelly that Shen was sneaking to him even more!

We also enjoyed a lovely walk up to the top of the castle grounds in Stornoway that afternoon.

Day 25
The youngest boys were loving having James back from camp! As well as a run around the playpark we also played crazy golf, while David (10) played his first ever proper round of golf with his Uncle Ally.

Day 26
We went along to the beach in the village that my dad is from. The tide was almost all the way in but it was no less pretty for that, and the boys were still able to indulge in that favourite pastime of boys near water - throwing stones and rocks in!

In the evening my husband and I enjoyed a beautiful meal out to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary, which took place later on in the week.

 Day 27
David enjoying one of his favourite holiday treats, a Schmoo, at the lovely community shop and cafe after we spent another morning in the swimming pool.

Day 28
We took a trip up to the north of the island and had a lovely day there. We went to the playpark, spent some time at the beach, visited friends and finished off with a coffee and cake stop at a cafe over-looking the harbour. Calum (13) even managed to spot some whales playing out on the horizon!

Day 29
Because low tide was early in the morning this week, some of the boys and I headed out early to go back to the beach we had visited a few days before when the tide was in. Look at the difference when the tide is out! Although this was it coming back in again so not quite as far out as it goes.

The boys love to drink from the fresh water springs at this beach and they always want to take a bottle of the clear, pure water back to my dad.

Calum was busy with his camera again, looking out for more wildlife and he spotted a Great Northern Diver. He's always wanted to see one in the wild after reading Great Northern by Arthur Ransome. 

In the afternoon we headed to another Agricultural Show. Fraser kept calling this tractor the 'funny tractor' although I have no idea what he thought was funny about it!

Day 30
Very exciting day for the boys, and dad, as my uncle took them out fishing on his boat.

They had quite a successful catch of Mackerel, although they then fed quite a few of them to the seals who followed them into the harbour!

Day 31
It was our official wedding anniversary, so I made a special pudding with our Sunday lunch. This wasn't just one person's portion though!

And we spent the afternoon walking off the profiteroles in the castle grounds.

Then and now. 1998 and 2016.

Day 32
Somehow our three and half weeks flew by and it was now time to say Goodbye to Stornoway again.

Day 33
Back from holidays means a big food shop. Dory and her friends welcomed the littlest boys to Sainsburys!

Day 34
We decided that we would use the time with everyone off school to do some major bedroom shifting around. This was us taking the bottom bunk off one of the sets of bunk beds to make it into a high sleeper for Calum.

Day 35
There was so much to do in the house that we had been working non stop for a couple of days. I took the boys to see Finding Dory as a reward for all their hard work in the house. Fraser (2) had been so looking forward to going to see it.

Day 36
As well as shifting rooms around in the house, we had been helping out at the Children's Holiday Club at church every morning during the week. On the Friday evening we had a BBQ for the families of everyone who had been at the club. Fraser and his cousin Joanna both enjoyed the chocolate cake there!

Day 37
Calum goes to dog agility training with his Auntie Anna and her dog Shadow. He runs Shadow in the junior events and Anna runs him in the grown ups events. We went along to watch them in a show and saw Calum and Shadow get a clear run and a 3rd place. 

He has since taken part in a couple of other shows, with another 3rd place and has qualified for the Junior Team Agility competition at Crufts! He and Auntie Anna will be taking a trip down to the famous dog show in the spring time.

Day 38
Showing his support for TeamGB at the Olympics.

Day 39
After a wet but warm summer the garden weeds were getting out of control, and so the older boys earned some extra money by helping me get the garden tidied up again.

Day 40
An annual end of summer holidays event for us the last few years has been our trip through to Glasgow to visit the Lego shop. The boys save up their money through the holidays so that they can spend it in Glasgow. This year Fraser made his first Build-a-Bear teddy, and was delighted to hear he still had enough money left to buy some Mickey Mouse Lego. Ally (7) also got a new Build-a-Bear teddy, Captain America of course.

This year James (16) didn't come with us though, as it was also the day the the Scottish exam results were delivered and he wanted to be in at lunchtime when they arrived. He did amazingly well in his exams. His hard work for them paid off and we are delighted for him. Now he has to start it all over again for his Highers though.

Fraser just loves the new Bear.

Day 41
After a break of a week in the room shifting, while we waited for delivery of James' new bed, it was all back on again today. James was determined to build his bed himself, and in true manly form hadn't even looked at the instructions when I went through to offer some help!

Day 42
I was determined that this was going to be the day that all the room shifting was finished. It was a lot of work but is so worth it now that everything is sorted. My latest Little Box of Crochet arrived but I had no time to sit down and start it.

Day 43
James hadn't had the chance to spend his holiday money in Glasgow, but he was fine with that as what he really wanted was an old Game Boy Color, which we bought on EBay and it arrived in the post today.

Day 44
We had come back through to Glasgow again to visit my inlaws and spent a great day the Museum of Transport. Here are the boys scrubbing the decks on the tall ship.

Day 45
We loved watching some of the Olympic sports when we could, and were amazed to see that GB were above China in the medals table.

Day 46
Finally some hot sunshine, just as the holidays come to a close. I was called up for Jury Duty. I dropped the boys off with my brother's wife and hoped so much that I wouldn't be picked for the Jury! I was so relieved when after a couple of hours at the court I was told that I was excused and so dashed off back to get the boys, who weren't overly excited to see me as they had been having such a great time with their cousins! We stayed there a little longer and then headed back home to fill up the paddling pool again - the first time we had been in it for two months.

Day 47
More beautiful sunshine, so we went fruit picking.


The following day the boys went back to school. Fraser and I made lots of jam with all those lovely berries we had picked.

And fresh jam needs fresh, warm scones.

And that was the summer holidays over for another year. 

I think we managed to cram lots of happy memories in, and had lots of fun despite the lack of sunshine.
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