The Price of Blaeberries

One of my fellow Little Trekkers Ambassadors posted a drool-worthy photo of ripe blaeberries (bilberries) yesterday, and noted that they were particularly abundant this year. So although the forecast was for murky drizzle and rain, we decided to brave the mental driving* over the Cairn o’ Mount road and go back to an old haunt at the foot of Clachnaben, in Glen Dye, to go foraging.

*’Mental driving’: expect to encounter slow-moving cyclists round every corner, and oncoming speeding 4×4’s overtaking them on blind bends. I’ve yet to drive this road without swearing loudly at oncoming traffic.

I think the whole of Aberdeenshire had the same idea: the wee car park was full, the overspill layby was full, cars were parked along the side of the narrow road and in the slowly-dripping-downhill bog opposite. One white car blocking a forestry path nearby had already been written on with blue marker pen. So we kept driving on to try out Scolty Hill near Banchory. Well, we quickly abandoned that, too, because we were 5p short of the £1 minimum parking charge. The Boss agreed to see whether he could ask another motorist at the ticket machine for the missing 5p, but came back muttering darkly that we were to give up and go home.

Ever the optimist, and determined not to have a long drive in vain (it was now 1pm), I stopped again at the Glen Dye car park. And found a space! Within a minute, we were out, covered in waterproofs and off down that forest path.

blaeberriesThe best blaeberries are only about 100 – 200 yards from the car park, so we didn’t have far to go at all. As usual, we reminded the kids not to strip a bush bare, not to be too greedy (one Treasure Jar = 500g of fruit (ish) = plenty), and not to trample the ground. And oh my stars, they certainly are / were abundant! There were very, very few under-ripe ones, so I should think they’ll be gone by the end of the week.

tick baitAfter about 3 minutes of picking, the midges found us. I giggled through a long-winded explanation of what ‘Character Building’ meant to the minxes and how midges crawling over them would do just that. They didn’t appreciate it, and went from being irritated to angry to howling with rage within another 5 minutes. Midi started to get a bit distressed at the midges, so I looked up. It was quite a swarm around us! So we split up and headed in 5 different directions to try to lessen the swarm. Nah – they just called all their friends to come feast on the foragers. midge foodAnother 5 minutes later and The Boss called a halt to the foraging – his sensitive skin comes up in big weals with midge-bites and the poor man was beginning to look like Lizard. We ran away bravely to the car, where I keep a first aid kit containing a packet of loratadine antihistamine tablets. Luckily I’d got the one you can give to children over 30kg – poor Midi Minx obviously inherited her Daddy’s skin, whilst the other pair are a bit more midge-resistant like me.

jelly contentWhen we got home, we immediately displayed our fundamental priorities: I started weighing and washing the blaeberries to make jelly, Maxi turned on the Tour de France on the TV, her sisters got out their My Little Ponies, and The Boss checked his bare legs for ticks. He found 3 immediately. Screeeeeeech to a halt! The minxes were told to drop everything, strip off their lower clothing and line up on the white bedspread for a tick check. Midi found 2 crawling on the sheet, Mini had been bitten by 2 and had another on her. Bleurgh! I’m not overly concerned about the risks of Lyme disease (I caught it myself in 2005) because they were off so quickly, but I’ll obviously keep a wee eye out for bulls-eye rashes on her or flu-like symptoms over the next 3 weeks.

I think you can see by the photo of Mini way up there ^^ that those bare ankles were enough to attract them. Even though we weren’t near bracken, it’s obviously tick-heaven in Glen Dye right now. We’ll go back in a day or 2 for more berries, but next time will remember to tuck long trousers/leggings INTO socks, do buddy-buddy tick checks after being out, and I’ll buy another of my favourite tick hooks at the vet’s – I gave the one I keep in my purse to my mother-in-law and forgot to replace it because The Boss has one too. You can’t have too many O Tom tick twister hooks, in my view!

I’ll let you know how the jelly turns out. How would you use a glut of blaeberries yourself?

Moonshine

Ah, summer! When you’re woken early by the dawn chorus, or the morning sunshine streaming through your window. Or your 5 year old sneaking into your bed and singing, “What Does The Fox Say?” loudly in your ear till your eyes open… Oh, I will have my revenge when she’s a hungover teen with a pot, a metal spoon, and a clear exit route!

Mini Minx was just excited because my sister, her partner and kids are visiting. Like the other big kids the minxes have been terrorising this summer so far, my niece and nephew were superstars with the noisy, boisterous trio – indulging them, listening to their enthusiastic witterings and patiently playing with them.

All my favourite things start with creamy butter, tangy lemon rind and egg yolk.

All my favourite things start with creamy butter, tangy lemon rind and egg yolk.

How did I reward them all? Well, with food! I made my favourite pudding (lemon meringue pie) and showed my niece how to cut salad leaves from the garden for dinner. The next day I taught her how to make 20 minute fruit scones in the food processor, then sent them all on their way home with homemade red grapefruit marmalade and foraged elderflower cordial.

Moonshine. OK, elderflower champagne. Well, for the first 2 weeks; after that it's drain cleaner

Moonshine. OK, elderflower champagne. Well, for the first 2 weeks; after that it’s drain cleaner

They were going to try the elderflower champagne, but I like my relatives too much to send them blind. Y’see, I made it using the River Cottage Elderflower Champagne recipe and left it 4 days (see photo, right). By then, the cork in the old caorunn gin bottle kept blowing out, so me and The Boss tried it tentatively. It was lovely! Gentle fizz, sweet lemon flavour, strong elderflower aroma. We had a couple of glasses each and agreed that it was only mildly alcoholic. Perfect! So we kept the stuff in the plastic bottle (left of photo) for a further week, just releasing the bubbles every day.

We tried it on Thursday night, excitedly. It smelled eggy, was too fizzy and had a woody taste to it. Not nice at all. I chucked my glass down the sink, where it fizzed and frothed like a mad scientist’s concoction. That gave me a brilliant idea – I poured some big generous glugs of it down the slow-draining bath plughole. The Boss is now terrified that it’s festering away near a blockage somewhere, about to explode. So either I’ve wrecked the pipes, or I’ve invented some frugal, superstrength drain cleaner. Excellent!

Trouts Go Brambling in Moray

Normal people decide to go brambling, set off, pick brambles, have a nice time, come home. Not us…

It took us a whole hour to get out. Well, 2, really. Straight after breakfast I recognised the signs of a sluggish family on go-slow, so suggested to The Boss that he go shower, get dressed, get the kids dressed, get the bikes out, and in the meantime I’d dive into town and do a grocery shop. It took me 45 minutes. When I came back everyone was mostly dressed. Ish.

I chivvied and nagged and they were ready to go after maybe half an hour. Then Mini Minx decided that she hadn’t had a tantrum in, ooooo, an hour. Perfect time for it. She didn’t want to wear her bike helmet. She wanted her bike. She didn’t like the rule ‘No Helmet, No Bike’. She didn’t want to wear a hat. She didn’t want to wear mitts. She didn’t want to go on my bike. She did want her bike. She didn’t want her helmet, still. She did want to go to sleep in her buggy. With her helmet. And her bike. She wouldn’t go in her buggy without them. She didn’t want to hold Evil, End-of-her-Tether Mummy’s hand. She’d hold Daddy’s hand if he begged. Well, he had to notice her, first – up till now he’d been staring vacantly into space, hoping that I’d organise everything and everyone. She decided that she would walk after all. So she did.

With a long line of neighbours tutting at the windows, we did the Walk of Shame down the road, a full 20 minutes after shutting the front door, Mini still sniffling, me gnashing my teeth. Foster Cat decided that it was all a disaster waiting to happen, and followed us. We spent a fruitless 5 minutes trying to shepherd him back home, eventually giving up and just plodding / walking beside the bikes the half-mile down out of town, across a few roads, to the coastal path. I even got to do my now-traditional “Slow down, you moron!” yell and hand-signals at a speeding orange car. Go, me…

I got 3 kids, 2 bikes, a sulky adult, an old cat (and a partridge in a pear tree) safely across the road, down the hill, and straight onto some of the shiniest, juiciest brambles I’ve seen in a long time. Brilliant! We abandoned the bikes, jackets and cat, and picked and picked. With a 1kg fruit jar full, we decided to cycle on down the path a bit. Foster Cat got nervous and started to miaow-cry. Poor old boy! OK, let’s set off back for home. Foster Cat bounded off happily, shepherding Mini and slow-coach Midi along the path back up the hill. Till we came across 2 big black labradors…

Exorcist Cat

I yelled to Maxi and Midi to stop cycling and wait. Mini clung to The Boss. The Boss glared at Foster Cat. I shooed the dogs away. I guess the dogs have heard Exasperated Old Bag before, because they obeyed me! Get out of town! So I lavished some Good Boy! praise on them till their owners caught up. Foster Cat decided that this was boring, so arched his big back till he was bigger than the dogs and spat at the biggest one: “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough, Fleabag!” The dog was having none of it, so bounced at the cat. The cat made a  faux-pounce at the dog. The dog yelped. Mini burst into tears. Maxi and Midi got bored and started to cycle around. I lunged at crying Mini to scoop her up. The Boss lunged at the cat to scoop him up. The cat obviously wasn’t in the mood, so turned tail and sprayed cat-diarrhoea straight at The Boss, and bounded under a gorse bush.

Maxi and Midi were now out of sight. The Boss was staggering around like Shaggy out of Scooby Doo moaning, “My eyes! My eyes! He got me up the nose!” Mini was near hysterical. The dog owners were saying: “You took your cat for a walk…?” I ran up the hill to call the elder minxes back. I ran back down the hill to dab at The Boss’s face. I ran back up the hill to drop Mini off with her sisters. I ran back down the hill to coax Foster Cat out of the bush and frog-marched him back up the hill. We set off for home, Maxi proudly yelling to anyone who’d listen, “This is the first time EVER that my Mummy’s let me cycle on the pavement by an actual road!”…

We’re now safely home. The cat peeled off as soon as we hit the outskirts of town and went for a browse in one of the big, posh, manicured gardens. I hope he returns soon; The Boss doesn’t. Our dog-poo strewn shoes are in a big pile outside the front door, humming gently in the sun. The bikes are a big pile of metal alongside. The Boss is going for his second shower and the minxes are lying in front of CBeebies, exhausted. Me? I need gin. Lots of it…

“We’re not going on a bramble-hunt again!”

(Till next time…)

Growing Up

children scrambling bouldering rocks

Mini / Orville: “I wish I could fly… right up to where my sisters can climb, but I can’t: I’ve got silly wellies on”

Mini collecting strawberriesMinx is really beginning to spread her virtual wings and grow up a little.

Everything is “I do i-self! Me do!” which 8 times out of 10 are Mini’s last words before being engulfed by a furious tantrum, or having a toddler-prang – she chipped one of her perfect little front teeth on Tuesday because she slipped whilst simultaneously teetering on her potty and spitting toothpaste in the sink in the longest spurt that she could. Or when she came barrelling into the house, the proud bearer of 5 big green strawberries: “I do i-self! Stobbees! I pick. Tum-tum, yum-yum!” So I guess we’re not having any strawberries this year – those 2 red ones were our lot.

Talking of potties, our battle over potty-training continues. I put her in pants briefly (boom-boom) over the weekend, but she made such a mess *and didn’t notice* that it was straight back into nappies. Then tonight she lifted her bum off the highchair at dinner-time, wailing that she’d done a poo. There was nothing there when I checked, so I plopped her on the potty, where she delighted in producing something that she declared “super-stinky”. Then she threw a tantrum because I wouldn’t put Big Girl Pants on her. Wow, roll-on school summer holidays so that I don’t have to be chasing my tail everywhere and everywhen, and can just concentrate on getting her in pants.

And talking of chipping teeth, she did make me smile when she copied me reminding The Boss to get the lawn mowed. “Daddy! You go chop a grass; NOW! Peese”.