A quick trip home, but not for fun

Monday, 31 August 2015

A week ago today we received the sad, but not altogether unexpected, news that my granny had passed away.

She was 91.

One of my first makes of 2014 was a crochet blanket for her 90th birthday, which my mum said that she really loved.

This was her and her three daughters (my mum is back right) at her 90th birthday dinner, in January 2014.

Up until around the time of her 90th birthday she had been quite mobile and able to get out and about. Then she became increasingly more housebound, although she was always able to remain in her own home.

This was her and Fraser last summer. She was delighted that he was such a good baby who would sit on her knee without squiggling and trying to get away! He was a charmer from an early age!

I love this photo taken of me and the boys with her, back in October 2011. She was still keeping good health there and the difference between that photo and the one taken with us all this summer less than four years later is quite clear.

Because we are only able to make the trip home a few times a year, we could see her getting frailer with each visit.

So, on Tuesday morning we headed off on the journey home, just four weeks after we returned from our summer visit. It's a five hour drive and around 2 and a half hours on the ferry. 

It was such a beautiful evening to be at sea. Calum (12) took these photos from the deck of the boat using the new camera that he and I bought together in the summer.

We set up camp in a corner of the ferry, the boys and their four cousins, who were all excited about a trip across to granny and shen's and a few days off school, even though they were also sad about the reason for our trip.

Those of you who have travelled across the Minch will understand why Calum took so many photos of the sea! It was as calm as a loch, and not at all as temperamental is it so often is!

He practised his wildlife photography too.

And of course, he had to get a shot of the happy sight that is Lewis on the horizon.

We arrived at my mum and dad's at about 8.30 in the evening, and then my brother and I had a super quick change before dashing off out to the Wake.

On Wednesday it was the day of the funeral. Island funerals take place a lot quicker than those on the mainland do. After the service at an island funeral, as I've already written about here, the men present all line up on the road outside the church and take it in turns to carry the coffin while they walk along the road. The male relations of the deceased walk at the front of the procession and don't take part in carrying the coffin. James (15), Calum (12) and their 13 year old cousin Finlay were all old enough to take part in the procession.

Once the men have started heading to the graveyard, the women come and pass on their condolences to the female family members. Traditionally women didn't go to the graveside, and although some women choose to do so now, it is still the case that most of them do not.

James, Calum and Finlay went to the graveside and took part in laying their great granny to rest, which was quite a big thing for them all. When I was growing up I didn't know anyone who had a living great grandparent. It was quite special for the boys and their cousins to have one, and for so long too. Granny had 7 grandchildren and 11 great grandchildren.

After the ladies had all been to talk to my mum and her sisters at the church, we headed back to the house to pick up the younger children before going to the church hall at my mum and dad's church where the ladies there had laid on a beautiful lunch for the family members and close friends.

It's funny to think that my granny isn't there any more. We stayed on the island until Friday, and on the Thursday as we headed home from a trip to town I had it in the back of my mind that we should call in and see granny on our way back to my parents'. She lived less than two miles away from them and every day we went to town we would call in to hers on our way home.

My granny faced more than her fair share of heartache in her life. She lost her only son when he was only in his early 20s, a few years before I was born. Then the year after I was born she lost her husband. She also lost her youngest grandaughter in a car accident just over 10 years ago. She was only 20.

Now though, we believe she is at peace and her heartaches are forgotten about.

Last summer, when I was round one afternoon, she asked me to take this photo of a photo she had. I actually can't remember now why she asked me to take it! I think it was so that I would have a photo of her with my grandfather. She loved to tell me the story of when after I was born, on the first time my parents came to my grandparents' house with me, that my grandfather was so proud that he wrapped me up in a coat and walked the length of the village to show me off to one of his friends.

I don't know how many times she told me that story, and since it was such a happy memory for her, it seems quite fitting to finish this post with it and the photo she wanted me to remember.

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Bake Off Bake Along - Week 2, Biscuits

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Last week's Bake Off was all about biscuits.

I said in my bake along post last week that I would probably try out some Biscotti, something I have never baked - or even eaten - before, and that's what I ended up baking.

I had a look through my fairly large cookbook collection and really struggled to find a Biscotti recipe though. Then I checked on the BBC Good Food website and found this one here. I mentioned before that I wouldn't want to add nuts to it and so adapted it to become a Cranberry and White Chocolate Biscotti instead.

I had always been put off trying out Biscotti as I knew you had to bake them twice, which made them sound more complicated than they really are. The dough is so straightforward to make, as is shaping it into a few sausage shapes to bake the first time. Then once it is cooled you slice the sausage shapes into the biscuit shapes and bake again at a much lower temperature. Not complicated at all!

Here are my Biscotti..

After taking this photo I added some stripes of drizzled white chocolate over the tops of them too.

They taste lovely, anything with cranberry and white chocolate can't taste bad if you ask me! However, they just aren't the sort of sweet treats that I enjoy to eat. I much prefer a cake or a piece of shortbread. These are a little on the hard side for me. I think they would be good with a cup of coffee, or perhaps even some tea, so that you could dunk them in, but since I don't enjoy either of these any more then that's not much good to me! Still, I'm sure the hungry teenager in the house won't let them go to waste.

This week's show was all about bread,  something I don't tend to bake very often, but that I always think I should try to. One of the main reasons I don't make bread very often is that I don't like to have too much flour flying around as Calum (12) has had an allergic reaction to airborne flour in the past and so it's not something I want to risk again! Any time I am making bread then I make sure that none of the three boys with wheat allergies come into the kitchen until I am finished and everything is cleaned up. One day I aim to try and perfect a wheat free bread, but I haven't done much research yet about how to perfect the holy grail of wheat free cooking!

In the first round of this week's show the bakers had to bake a quick bread. One without yeast. I have made plenty plain soda breads before, but the ones on the show had lovely looking extras added to them, like cheeses, bacon and herbs. This is a definite contender for me to try out this week, and I think I will try and make a wheat and dairy free version.

The technical challenge was a tricky one, a French baguette. I'd love to be able to make one at home, but the thought of it scares me! I know mine would probably end up more ciabatta like, like some on the show.

The final round contained some impressive looking bread sculptures. I won't mention what any of them were in case anyone hasn't had the chance to watch last week's show yet.

Based on my own time constraints, and the allergy restrictions in the house, I think I'll stick to my original plan of trying out a soda bread for next week.

Has anyone else been baking along? Or is anyone else planning to be braver than me for bread week? I know my sister in law makes very nice homemade bread so perhaps I could challenge her to try one of the fancier breads!

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Back to School - followed by a touch of drama

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Seven weeks of summer holidays have flown by and yesterday it was back to school again.

I had great plans of posting these back to school pictures last night, but then things didn't quite go to plan.

First the photos.

{I thought I would ask the boys their favourite subjects and job ambitions so that I can keep track of them over the years and see if and how they change.}

Alasdair (6) has been looking forward to school going back for the last week or so as he was keen to see his friends there again. He was also looking forward to not being in the youngest class in the school any more. His favourite thing to do at school is maths. When he grows up he would like to be a teacher.

Doesn't he look handsome in his little tank top and tie?

Sport loving David (9) said he was looking forward to playing football with his friends at playtime. His favourite things at school are PE, maths and spelling tests. That last one is a new one to me! When he is older he would like to be a mechanic because he likes cars.

Calum (12) started his second year at high school. His favourite subjects are PE, Science and Geography. When he is older he would like to be a Vet, a Police Dog Handler or a Forest Ranger. Whatever job he does, he would also like to have a croft with some sheep.

James (15) started his fourth year at high school. At the end of this school year he will sit his first lot of major exams! His favourite subjects are Design & Manufacturing and Music. When he is older he would like to be an architect, product designer, electrical engineer or something else that involves designing things.

Incidentally, can you tell that he is the joker in the family?

Of course little Fraser (1) was hanging around while we took the photos and he wanted in on them too.

'Monkey see, monkey do.' A phrase we use a lot!

Now onto the drama.

After these photos were taken everyone stayed outside to enjoy the sunshine. Got to make the most of it when it's been as rare as it has this summer!

I heard Fraser start screaming and looked up to see him running towards me with blood pouring from the middle of his forehead. He had tripped over beside David's bike, which was lying on the ground, and hit his head on the metal where the front wheel attaches to the bike. 

The blood was pouring down his face, into his eyes and mouth. I tried to stop the bleeding and knew he would need patched up at the hospital. But dad wasn't home from work yet and I knew I couldn't drive to the hospital and hold something on to stop the bleeding at the same time. Also, nobody had actually seen Fraser fall so we didn't know how hard he had hit his head. I thought there may be a risk of concussion so in the moment of it all happening decided to call an ambulance.

I know that if it had happened to one of the older boys I wouldn't have called the ambulance, but with his age I just thought it better safe than sorry.

The paramedic confirmed that he would need his wound seen to at the hospital and so took us there in the ambulance.

Fraser perked up once we got there and wanted to run around the waiting room, with blood still dripping from his head, while we waited to be seen!

Thankfully A&E wasn't too busy and we didn't need to wait more than an hour to be see the doctor. She cleaned his wound and put him back together again with magic glue. He didn't cry once while all of this was done.

Back home last night, complete with a handout about head injuries in children, Fraser enjoyed the extra cuddles from his brothers, who had been quite worried about him.

Today he has been back to his old mischievous self, only once or twice complaining about his head and trying to touch it. It really is amazing stuff that glue. Yesterday there was a gaping hole in his forehead and now there is a neat red line under the glue.

It's been just over two years since our last trip to A&E with one of the boys - when then 4 year old Alasdair broke his wrist falling off the sofa - and I'll be quite happy if that's us done with visits there for quite some time!

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Bake Off Bake Along - Week One

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Let's start with the bakes from last week's show - cake week - shall we?

I knew as soon as I watched last week's show that I wanted to make a Black Forest Gateau. A quick search on the BBC Good Food website found this recipe, which looked pretty straightforward and only needed a few of things that I didn't have in my usual baking supplies - cherry jam, tinned cherries and buttermilk. 

It did also ask for Kirsch but I wasn't going to buy a bottle of it only to use a little of it for this cake and then to have it lying around the back of the cupboard for months years! The recipe said that you could use juice from the cherries instead of the kirsch anyway.

The chocolate cakes looked delightful when they came out of their tins, and I think I might use this recipe sometimes as just a chocolate cake when I don't need it to be free from.

Since a Black Forest Gateau is a 70s classic I decided to go for the full 70s kitsch when decorating it!

The hardest thing about this cake was actually leaving it after decorating it on Saturday night until we had it for pudding at Sunday lunchtime!

But it was worth the wait...

I was glad that my mum and dad are around just now (stopping off to spend some time with us after returning from dropping my wee brother off in the US), so that there were more to share it with. Not because I didn't like it, but rather so that I wasn't tempted to eat too much of it myself, although it is quite rich and so a little goes a long way!

I highly recommend trying out this recipe and it would be perfect for a special occasion. 

Also joining in with the Bake Along this week was Calum (12) who made this gluten free and dairy free lemon Madeira Cake.

Didn't he do a great job?

I'm pretty sure that I should share the recipe for that one soon.

And sticking with Madeira Cakes, here is another lovely looking one by my brother's wife. She did tell me if it was lemon or orange but I just can't remember which one she said it was right now! Whichever one it was, it looks delicious but I don't imagine my brother has left any of it for me to sample.

Calum commented that he likes the way the icing is dribbled on rather than spread all over, and says he might try that the next time he makes Madeira Cake.

Now, quickly onto this week's episode, and without giving away any spoilers!

This week was biscuit week and it was hard to decide what I should try and make. First of all they had to make Biscotti. While we were watching the show, James (15), who was watching the whole show despite last week only claiming to enjoy the final round, said that since I have never made Biscotti I should try making them. I agreed with him, Not only have I never made Biscotti but I've never even tasted them, mainly because they almost always contain nuts. Although I am one of the few in the house without a nut allergy, I've never liked the taste of nuts.

So, I've set myself the challenge of making some Biscotti this week, roughly based on this recipe, but without the nuts.

In the second round of this week's show the bakers had to make some Arlette biscuits. These cinnamon biscuits looked lovely and again James suggested I make these. The recipe for them is on the Bake Off site here but I'm not sure if I am at a stage in my life right now where I can dedicate so much time on rolling out butter and dough, then chilling, then repeat! 

The final round saw the bakers having to make a box out of biscuit and then fill the edible box with a different type of biscuits. James said, you've guessed it, that I should try making something from this round too. Maybe it's not such a good idea having him watch it with us after all!

I was inspired to try something from this round though, and might enlist the help of the boys to try something out.

Who else is ready to try out some biscuits for next week?

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Makings - Crochet Baymax from Big Hero 6 (includes link to free pattern)

Monday, 10 August 2015

At the start of the summer we all watched the movie Big Hero 6. It is such a lovely movie, although quite sad in parts.

 Baymax, the big, white, puffy robot is an adorable character and I think that everybody needs a Baymax in their life.

Alasdair (6) would very much agree with me and he asked if I would be able to crochet him one.

I found this free pattern here and to give him extra cuddle factor used a soft, organic cotton yarn.

It took just a few days to make and Alasdair is delighted with him.

Baymax is proving very cuddly and as well as being taken along on adventures throughout the day he is vital for snuggling up with at bedtime.
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Bake Off Bake-Along

Thursday, 6 August 2015

8 o'clock last night (Wednesday) and the boys and I were all gathered round the TV.

It was the first episode in the new series of the only TV show that I actually watch, The Great British Bake-Off.

The middle three boys all love it as much as I do, and I'm not allowed to watch it without them - especially Calum (12). James (15) and my husband say that they aren't particularly interested in it, although James loves the showstopper round and asks us to call him through when it's time for that. 

Did you watch it?

I thought this series got off to a lovely start. Everyone seemed quite likeable and it was good to see not one but two Scots to root for.

Apparently there has been some sort of uproar on Twitter as the Kitchen Aid mixers have all been replaced by Kenwoods. As a Kenwood owner I don't see the big problem!

Quite a few of my US friends are fans of the show too, although I don't think the series is shown over there until the beginning of next year. I have been reliably informed that the older ones are on YouTube though.

One friend invited me to take part in a Bake Along they were having along to the last series of the show when it was aired in the US, and this got me thinking that it would be fun to host a Bake-Along to this series. Don't you think?

You don't need to have seen the episode to take part, as I don't think anyone outside the UK can watch the episodes on BBCiplayer.

Every Thursday I will post about what types of Bakes were in the show, along with any links to recipes, and then those who want to take part can send me a photo of what they have chosen to bake. The following Thursday I will share them on here in the next Bake Off post.

Photos can be either emailed to me using the link at the top right sidebar, shared on my Facebook page, or shared on Instagram using the hashtag #housefulofboysgreatbritishbakealong

It's purely for fun and I hope that lots of you will be inspired to join in!

This week's show was about Cakes.

In the first round the bakers had to bake a Madeira Cake, which is traditionally citrus flavoured and with candied fruit peel on the top. I have made this type of cake in the past but I haven't added the candied fruit. I also can't remember where I found the recipe but I'm going to have a look through my old books as I know it was in one of the older cook books! I might try making an allergy free version of this one as it shouldn't be too hard to adapt.

The technical challenge was Mary Berry's Frosted Walnut Cake. The recipe for this can be found here if anyone wants to try this one out for the Bake-Along. I don't plan to make this one as we have a strict no nuts rule in the house thanks to allergies!

The showstopper challenge was a Black Forest Gateau. Mmmm, I love a Black Forest Gateau but I haven't had one in such a long time! I'm almost certain that this is one that I'm going to try out for the Bake-Along and I found a recipe here on the BBC Good Food website.

Which of these do you think you would like to try out? Is anyone brave enough to try the technical challenge? I'm looking forward to seeing what everyone comes up with and sharing them all here next week!

As Mel and Sue say, 'on your marks, get set.....BAKE!'

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Bon Voyage Uncle Ally!

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

At the end of last week we said 'bon voyage' to my youngest brother, Uncle Ally.

We call him Ally Mòr (ally more), which is the Gaelic for Big Ally, and our Ally is known as Ally Beag (ally bek), little Ally, when he is around.

Ally Mòr has always been a talented footballer and when he was leaving school last year he had the option of trying out for a couple of big name Scottish teams. He chose instead to work towards getting a scholarship in the US so that he could also get a qualification along with getting to play lots of football, and so took a year out after school to work and save hard, as well as to get through the lengthy application for a scholarship.

A few months ago he was offered, and accepted, a place at a college in Georgia. 

When I was his age I really wanted to visit Georgia too, as I was a huge fan of Gone with the Wind! I loved Scarlett O'Hara and her strong spirit, quite the opposite of mine which was more like that of mild mannered Melanie Wilkes, although I could never understand why she messed up so badly with Rhett Butler!

Anyway, I'm digressing a little here.

Back to my wee brother.

Big Ally.

He was due to fly out to the US on Friday, along with my mum and dad, via an overnight stop down with us, and so we held a little farewell barbecue for him here.

Pinterest came up trumps with some patriotic printable bunting, and we added any other American things we could find around the house.


The boys wanted him to try and memorise where all the states fit in the jigsaw.

Again, thanks to Pinterest for the US flag inspired fruit kebabs.

And of course no celebration these days seems complete without my current signature bake...

I actually really wanted to use some special US packs of M&Ms I had seen recently in the shops. They had red, white and blue sweets only in them, but I couldn't find them anywhere!

The weather behaved itself for once, and the sun made the occasional appearance.

Although as the evening went on it did get a bit colder. Much colder than a late July evening should be.

We came inside to the warmth for the cake cutting, which was followed by a ten pin bowling tournament on the Wii.

Before everyone left it was time to grab a farewell shot of the boys with Ally Mòr.

And of course they had to have a few out-takes too...

We are all excited for Ally on his 2 year US adventure and know he's going to do well. Equally football mad David (9) says that Uncle Ally's going to show them how 'soccer' is meant to played properly!

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