I seem to have been low in spirits of late and not at all outward-looking. I have done little in the way of blogging, blipping or general on-line socialising and certainly not felt like being sociable in real life either. I have to confess that I prepare for spinning group and then find that I cannot face going.

Enough! I said to myself and I took me in hand and offered up some knitting, saying “you know it to be centering” and so, I knat. I knitted. I knit. I did summat with needles and yarn. I would have spun, if only I could be bothered to go out to the caravan and bring my wheel in.

In fact, I completed the Colinette blanket and followed it closely with a hooded scarf, which I cast off this morning and it now awaits blocking before stitching together.

Needs blocking before attaching the scarf to the hood
Needs blocking before attaching the scarf to the hood

One of the indicators, or it may be a cause, of this low spirits phase is the recent lack of inspiration and action in the kitchen and so I have been concentrating in stretching myself there instead of making the same old things over and again. I have followed a policy of “simple but different” and am learning to love things that I always believed that I did not enjoy. Split Peas have made several appearances lately. Split Peas! I had Pease Pudding once in my early Twenties and that had been sufficient to inform me that Spolit Peas are the Food of the Devil. Oddly, they turn out to be quite delicious when handled with love — and  a few tasty store cupboard ingredients. I boiled a bacon joint last weekend and retained the stock to make a ham and pea soup and it was wonderful – simple but deeply comforting and very tasty indeed. Pulses in general are making a big revival in my kitchen and a recent pan-ful of chickpeas went to some very good uses. Home-made Hummus with some freshly baked flatbread will stay in my mind for some time to come and Mr L was moved to make a stupendous Chana Dal last weekend.

The first cake to be baked in my new AGA emerged this week (a carrot cake) and I also found my milk roll tin and baked a Milk Loaf for the man in my life – happy to say that was much appreciated.

The fish van came again this week so yesterday saw me deep-frying Monkfish “scampi” – somewhat naughty but oh-so-delicious. Friday had Plaice on the table. It was so fresh! I simply dusted the fillets in seasoned flour and introduced them to a frying pan with a little olive oil for a couple of minutes. Lemon juice and butter with some parsley, swished around in the pan juices made a simple but wonderful sauce.

I cannot tell just how good it feels to have my cooking enthusiasm restored by the presence of simple, good-quality fresh ingredients.

The rest of the fish went in to the freezer, to join what is left of last month’s purchases. I have cod, smoked haddock, pie mix and scallops at hand for those days when I wish for something fresh-tasting, fast and simple. The next scheduled visit is on Mr L’s birthday – we may place an order in advance and lobster has been mentioned – he fancies a Thermidor.

I watched TV while I knitted – just some mindless watching on the iPlayer.  I watched Masterchef and began to think about planning for the forthcoming feasting days – work is well in hand on plotting Mr L’s birthday dinner. I watched Nigella and was sufficiently moved to send for the new recipe book and have a list of things I want to try soon and which may well appear on the special menus in the forthcoming weeks. I remain frustrated by the lack of choice and quality in the fruit and veg and absence of fresh herbs etc. here on the island though and these remain the biggest stumbling block when I plan my meals and my cooking adventures; I need to venture into Kirkwall, where the situation is better, though only slightly so.  I hope Mr L keeps his promise to start a veg garden in his retirement… not that we’ll be able to grow much unless we put in a poly tunnel. I’d settle for a small greenhouse and a year-round supply of coriander, parsley, chives, sage and rosemary!

Simple things
Simple things

Overall, with the kitchen and the knitting output as evidence, I would say that my gloom is lifting slightly. When I find myself lifting the camera again, I shall know that the upward turn is well on its way. I shall keep working at it anyway and trying to avoid a full slump – just keep pushing gently with simple, achievable tasks and setting a highlight in each day with a tasty simple meal made from good things.

I have foolishly set myself a large challenge and ordered some yarn for a bloke sweater – some very cheap yarn, so I hope it’s not too horrible. It won’t be the first time that I have attempted a birthday sweater in a far too narrow a time-frame. Let us see what happens. The yarn should be here in the coming week, giving me just about two weeks to knit the sweater in. It’s DK weight and if I concentrate on nothing else at all, it might be on Mr L’s back for his birthday. I suggest he does not hold his breath on that one. I for my part, promise not to get depressed when I realise that I can’t achieve the finish line before the time runs out.

This is the pattern he has chosen.

Sir Lancelot

It appears simple enough for a quick knit.

The big problem with time is that I also have the deadline looming for the Orkney Camera Club’s monthly competition. The deadline is the day before Mr L’s birthday. The topic is “Myself” the direction is: “Doesn’t have to be a selfie but it can be if you wish! It is time to turn the camera around and create a set of images that reflect you as a photographer. You can take it quite literally if you wish.”

It does not speak to me. I am struggling to work out a plan and remain uninspired.

Now, my big problem for today is – where on earth can I find space to block this scarf? I’ll ponder that challenge while knitting on my Warriston smock. I should like to complete that before the new yarn arrives. Can it be done?

When I was looking at DK patterns for Mr L, I fell across another knitted smock – I like it a great deal.

Norfolk Slop

Although the Warriston is meant to be a cheap-yarn proof-of-concept before embarking on a hand-spun one – I am wondering whether I might not prefer to make a Norfolk Slop instead. It’s written for New Lanark yarn, which is cheap enough but I have to confess not my favourite yarn when it comes to quality. It is in fact what I knitted Mr L’s previous last-minute birthday sweater in and I really did not like the way that it washed.

Mr L now has the solar panel wired in and charging the battery in the camper van. Today he is torturing me by investigating the kitchen plumbing and making great noises of anguish, together with naughty words in abundance.  How on earth are we going to survive his retirement? Once again, I hope for that greenhouse…

Oh – also in this week’s post, alongside Nigella (and a Meerkat addition to the family), and again on the topic of a simple pleasure was the Riverside Handbook on Booze. The plan is to return to home-brewing as a retirement time-filler and cost-saver. I want to get started sooner rather than later, so that the bottles we put up this winter will be ready to drink when retirement day approaches. We need to get our skates on and once again a trip to Kirkwall is indicated. Actually we need to take Ted in this week, though the weather forecast is not promising and gales are set to return.

As for the brewing – I thought we might start with a Rice Wine and perhaps a Ginger Wine (to be fortified), both of which are readily made in the winter months as no fresh fruit is required. We could also make a root veg wine, this being the season for those. I was always partial to my father’s Parsnip Wine so that springs to mind as a brew to make soon. We might work on a monthly schedule, making one 6-bottle brew at a time, to minimise the amount of kit required – though we do have a fair amount of kit kicking around already and could probably cope with a more frequent brewing. Looking on the bright side, I shan’t need to visit the bottle bank so often and can now begin to collect bottles and not worry about disposal.

I shall make Mr L a pizza later. Hopefully that will soothe him a little. Simple pleasures, you know… fresh-baked pizza and a bottle of red. True comfort eating.

No, you are not wrong, the diet is not going well. (I was hoping to get away with that one.)


  1. Anne Williams
    November 22, 2015

    Dear Beth, I recently was introduced to your blog by a friend. I wanted to tell you how much I appreciate reading it. My own hobbies are much like yours,fibre arts, painting, cocking etc, and as an expatriate I enjoy hearing about your daily round. Though I am not originally from Orkney, I can relate to many of your experiences. I would like to correspond with paper and pen, but I doubt you could read my writing as my mind goes faster than my pen, and I usually end by scribbling out so many words that no one, other than myself could understand it.
    Than being so, I note with interest the addition to your household of a meerkat. If this is a real animal, I envy you, as these are almost my favourite of all. You may note that meerkat is my email address.
    Will you knit the Norfolk smock? I like the look of that one also, and since I live in a place with very cold winters ( and also detest being cold about the neck) I am always on the lookout for warm and comfortable clothing. I do knit a lot, though my first love is lace knitting, but everything is grist to my mill.
    Perhaps I should tell you that I live in the Shuswap area of British Columbia in Canada , a very beautiful place, where we overlook the lake. Before I retired, I operated a greenhouse business which gobbled up a great deal of my time.
    Please forgive my rambling on.
    Best wishes,

    • November 24, 2015

      Hello, Anne, and welcome.

      1. I don’t originate in Orkney either, am a Yorkshire lass by birth
      2. My writing is awful too – comes of too many years of computer use and resulting nerve damage. That being so I give a lot of leeway at the receiving end.
      3. Alas, the meerkat is not real but a marketing tool for an insurance comparison company. We now have two. The dog refuses to have anything to do with them so they will be photo props for some time to come.
      4. I should very much like to knit the smock. I am not confident that I can get around to it in this lifetime however – you should see my heap of unfinished projects and its sister pile of planned ones!
      5. I too am a lace fan
      6. I shall look up Shuswap on the map immediately
      7. Ramble on any time you like – it gets lonely around here these days

      • Anne Williams
        November 24, 2015

        Dear Beth, I too have a heap of ufo’s, and at the moment am adding to the pile. Indecision has me in its grip, I feel some lace coming on, but do I give in and design a shawl, or do I buckle down to gifts for Christmas? I’ve been making doll clothing for number five granddaughter, the only one young enough for dolls. Alas, she will be too old for dolls very soon, so I hope she will appreciate the hard work of the last two weeks and save what I’ve done for offspring of her own.(always providing girls play with dolls by that time, I won’t be here to know.)
        My meerkat is a soft toy, given to me by number three granddaughter and cherished for that reason.
        I came originally from Onich which is near Fort William, though I spent my winters in a town near Glasgow being ” educated” by my Victorian grandmother and assorted great aunts, who thought I should at least know how to arrange flowers, be able to sing in company, and curtesy gracefully, all of which are no earthly use to me in my present life. They did , however, teach me a lifelong love of all things fibre, and now I spin, knit, crochet, and do anything that involves creativity, and for that I’m very grateful.
        I unfortunately made them very sad when I declined their offer to send me to the London school of art, in favor of coming to Canada, a decision I have never regretted. I am planning a trip “home” next summer, the second time only since coming here in 1961 as a young person. I’m sure to find things have changed, and for that reason am swithering on the decision.Maybe it’s better to remember things as they were? Anne.

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