This is my favourite of the year. There is a distinct change in the weather and you can almost smell winter in the cold air. Colours change too; the sky seems to go from bright blue to deep reds at sunset, and the trees become vibrant and colourful in their last flourish before winter sets in. Some people would love to have hot weather all year round; not me. Having lived abroad for a few years, I just remember days and nights merging into one hot continuous mass of heat with no break in the temperature. It wasn’t pleasant. It became exhausting. I remember the end of my first summer, when the rain eventually came after those six long hot months, running onto the roof with my workmates and dancing in the pouring rain as if we had never witnessed rain before. I like the fact the we have seasons in Scotland and I look forward to the change in the weather.
For the past 13 years or so my family have headed up to the far side of Rannoch Loch, where you will not witness a more splendid sight in this change of season. It is a bit of a trek to get there, as the road winds itself round forests and hillsides, making each mile seem twice as long. The poor kids always end up green and sick after their ‘safari tour in the highlands’. We compete as to who can be the first to catch sight of the big house through the trees. Each time it catches my breath as I see the magnificent house standing proud at the head of the loch. There are 4 cottages scattered amongst the grounds each with their own names, such as the Ghillies, the Ploughman’s, the Gamekeepers’ reminiscent of times gone by.
We have just returned from a week there with friends. Each time I love to watch their initial reaction when I show them the breath-taking view from the end of the loch for the first time. It has become a tradition that we open a bottle of bubbly by the loch side to welcome us all and stand in silence as we let the quietness seep over us having panoramic uninterrupted views of 11 miles of loch . There are no phones, or connections here and you are totally isolated and cut off from the world. It takes a day or two to get into the slow pace of life. We spend our days walking, chilling by the loch side, ‘playing’ outside, reading, sleeping and just generally unwinding.
Of course, there is lots of eating, however each meal has to be planned right down to the last ingredient, since it’s a 22 mile round trip to the nearest shop; this means the car is loaded to the hilt with everything we need for the week. A menu is planned for each night and alternate cottages chosen each night to share the chores. Having spent most of the day outside everyone is famished, so there needs to be a good a few courses to fill the troops. It was lovely having everyone pitching in, setting the table, helping make the dinner, and then spend hours chatting round the table, swapping tales of the day which normally ended-up in a rowdy game of cards most nights . It was so nice not to have the distraction of TV! We chatted into the wee small hours over a dram and it was lovely to get back to the basic pleasures that we seem to lose in our busy daily schedules. It was wonderful to share this wee haven with friends.
One of my favourite times of the day is first thing in the morning, when I would pull on my boots and coat over my jammies and quietly sneak out when everyone is asleep, stand by the loch with a hot cup of coffee watching the morning sunrise, feeling totally at peace taking in the silence and the surroundings. One such morning I was aware of someone watching me and as I turned round behind me stood a magnificent stag. We stayed examining each other for some time then, when he grew bored of me, he slowly sauntered off into the hills. What a magical moment. Talk about being one with nature.
I miss my wee bit of heaven but know that it will always be there for more memories to be had shared with friends and family.
I have chosen a dish that uses a seasonal veg.
Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto Recipe
- Olive oil
- 1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
- 1 red birds eye chilli, finely chopped (optional)
- 300g risotto rice
- Fresh or dried thyme
- Cloves of garlic
- 1 butternut squash –peeled and chopped into small cubes
- 100ml white wine
- 1 litre hot vegetable stock – keep on a gently simmer
- About 4 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Dollop of butter
- Parsley for serving
- Place the butternut squash in a roasting tin sprinkle with thyme, drizzle with olive oil. Place the cloves of garlic (you can still leave the skin on) and put in a hot oven for about 35-45 mins or until tender and cooked through and slightly coloured. Stir occasionally.
- Gently warm the olive oil in a wide, heavy bottomed pan. Add the onion and cook for 5-10 minutes or until softened. Add the chilli (if using) and stir and cook for 1 minute.
- Add the rice and stir until all the grains are coated in the oil, they should be lightly translucent.
- Make sure you stir round the pan and not across.
- Add the wine and bring to a rapid boil. Turn down to a simmer and stir in the hot stock, a ladle at a time. Keep stiring.
- Ensure the stock is totally absorbed before adding each ladle. This will take approx 15 – 20 minutes. At the end of this time the rice and the tender but still have a slight ‘bite’.
- Gently stir in the butternut squash and squeeze out the garlic out of it’s if you want additional flavour.
- Stir in the Parmesan and butter and season to taste. Leave the risotto to stand for 5 minutes then served on warmed plates with extra Parmesan grated on top and a sprinkling of chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.