Category Archives: Seasonal

Happy Scotland Week!

In the USA (and for the first year in Canada) this week is Scotland Week, which runs from the 3rd of April to the 10th of April and celebrates all things Scottish.  4.8 million Americans reportedly have Scottish ancestry (2000 census) and 4,719,850 people in Canada can be described as ‘Scottish-Canadian’ (2001 census), so both countries’ strong heritage links to Scotland are represented by this weeklong exploration of Scottish culture.

We’re quite obviously biased, but we think Scotland Week is a great idea.  There is indeed so much to celebrate about our fine country!  One such example is our excellent (and unique) cuisine, from Haggis to Selkirk Bannock, Cock-a-leekie Soup to deep-fried, battered Mars Bars we Scots have an interesting variety of ‘traditional’ foods.  Therefore, it is only right that as part of Scotland Week one of our renowned chefs, Michael Smith, shares his expertise with Scotland’s kindred spirits across the pond.

Born in Inverness, Michael Smith is scheduled to appear on a number of well know TV programs in American and Canada, including the ‘Martha Stewart Show’.  However, for those closer to home who wish to sample the culinary delights of this highly commended chef, he will then return to his usual stomping grounds as Head Chef at the highly rated Three Chimney’s restaurant on the beautiful Isle of Skye.

On the edge of Loch Dunvegan, the restaurant offers a first class dining experience on an island that can accurately be described as magical!  Unique Cottages has some wonderful self-catering properties within easy reach of this acclaimed eatery, including The Missionary’s House (sleeping 5) only a 5 minute drive away, Kinlochfollart (sleeping 10) and, new for this year, the extremely inviting Claigan House (sleeping 4).

Although dinning out every night at the Three Chimney’s may not be within everyone’s budget, the joy of self-catering in Skye is that you can recreate the experience back at your home base, with a variety of fresh, local produce available from suppliers on the island.  For more information about our self-catering properties in Skye (because, let’s face it, on an island so beautiful it’ll not just be the fine food that tempts you to visit), send us an email enquiry or call 01835 822277 and we’ll be happy to help you find your dream island get away.

And to those celebrating across the Atlantic, from all at Unique Cottages, may we wish you an splendid Scottish Week this week and an terrific Tartan Day tomorrow!

A unique gift.

So, this Sunday is Mother’s Day which, for me, always brings with it the quandary about what to give my dear old Mum as a token of my appreciation for her and all she has done for me (a great deal if I’m honest).  When I needed her she was always there and continues to be there for me no matter what (Mother’s job you may say) but considering my poor attitude and obnoxiousness at times (especially during my teenage years), I really have pushed the limits of a mother’s love in my time!

I know that people often say that it is the thought that counts and that Mums especially will be pleased with whatever you give them because it’s from you, but still, considering all she has done, I feel the need to get her something that she really will be pleased to receive.  But this is not the easiest of tasks!

I’ve made my mistakes over my lifetime when it comes to choosing that all important Mother’s day pressie. In this particular matter is seems I take after my father, who also, more often than not, purchases presents for my mother that antagonise rather than delight!

After numerous mistakes and leaving my parent’s home with a feeling of failure, despite my Mother’s efforts to reassure me that she “really does appreciate the thought” (my mum could never have made it as an actress) a solution had to be found. And I think I have finally found one, which, over the last few years at least, seems to ensure a happy Mother’s day for all.

My secret weapon in the battle of choosing an appropriate present for the woman I owe my life to is (drum roll please)…..Gift Vouchers!   Yeah, I know sounds boring but I have found that the benefits of buying a gift voucher vastly outweigh the fact you are not giving a gift that you can wrap.  The joy of gift vouchers is that the recipient gets some element of choice, meaning that it is harder to go wrong when making sure the present is something they really like.

However, as with everything in life, there are rules to make gift voucher giving work for you!  Some thought is still involved. It would be fair enough to get your Mother a voucher from Halfords if she’s really into her car, but my Mum’s main concern when it comes to her car is that it gets her from A to B (with plenty of space for shopping bags).  Therefore, a Halfords voucher isn’t going to work for her.  My Mother works hard (keeping an eye on me, my siblings, and my Dad, as well as earning a living) so I find that getting a gift voucher which allows her to treat herself and take time out from the daily grind goes down well.  Last year I got her a gift voucher for a spa day, the year before that I got her a voucher for a posh meal so she could get some ‘quality time’ with my Dad and not have to cook.

With the increase in things you can get gift vouchers for, they really have become a very simple way of giving something that the recipient can tailor to their own tastes, therefore ensuring they like what you give and you can truly show your appreciation of them.  A potential idea for a gift voucher, which may suit some Mothers this year, is one that gives her money off a holiday and offers her a chance to escape and relax for a while.

At Unique Cottages we offer Gift Vouchers for a holiday retreat to Scotland available in multiples of £25 which are valid for 2 years, so your mum not only has a choice of fabulous holiday cottages to choose from but also plenty of time in which to book her well deserved break.

(Scotch) Pancake Day!

It’s Pancake Day tomorrow all across the UK (also known as Shrove Tuesday) and I for one am looking forward to the excuse to cook an old favourite.  As a child, I used to be thrilled at the thought of returning home from school to the warm farmhouse kitchen where my mother would be making Scotch pancakes on the Aga.  Also known as Drop Scones, my mother would cook the pancakes directly on the simmering plate of the Aga, but in the rather less traditional kitchen of my hilltop cottage, I now use a normal frying pan to produce just as scrumptious results.

Scotch Pancakes in comparison to normal pancakes are smaller, thicker and (in my humble opinion) much more tasty and satisfying!  If you fancy a change from normal pancakes this year I strongly recommend the following recipe, which only requires four easy to source ingredients, to bring a bit of traditional Scottish cooking to your home.

To make approximately 20 yummy Scotch Pancakes you will need:

100g/4oz Self-Raising Flour

25g/1oz Caster Sugar

1 (medium size) Egg

150ml/1/4 pint Milk

1)      Mix the sugar and flour together in a bowl and then make a well in the centre.

2)      Beat the egg and pour it into the well, along with half the milk.

3)      Mix to form a thick batter, then add the remainder of the milk and mix again (you should now have a runny batter and be ready to cook the first batch!)

4)      Heat a frying pan over a medium heat and once hot spread with a little lard or oil (I use a piece of kitchen towel to do this, as it avoids putting too much on).

5)      When the fat is hazy (but not smoking), spoon the mixture into the pan using a tablespoon (one spoonful for each pancake) making sure they are spaced well apart.

6)      Bubbles should rise to the surface of the half-cooked pancakes and at this point turn them over.

7)      Cook for a further 30 seconds (or until golden brown) then remove and place between a clean tea towel to keep warm and moist and until you are ready to eat them.

8)      You may need to re-grease the pan between batches to avoid the pancakes sticking.

You can enjoy Scotch Pancakes on their own, buttered, with jam or even chocolate spread (very popular with the kids)!  You don’t have to eat the pancakes straight away, indeed, once cooled you can put them in an air tight container and store them for up to 3 days – heat them up or eat them cold, whatever your preference.

If you fancy trying this, or any other traditional recipe, Aga or Rayburn cooker then you’ll be please to hear that a number of our unique cottages do have them (in a lot of cases as well as a standard cooker ) so why not get in touch and let us help you find your ideal cottage?

From all of us here at Unique Cottages have a delicious and enjoyable (Scotch) Pancake Day!

Puts a ‘spring’ in your step

I don’t know about where you are, but for us here in Scotland this weekend it has really started to feel like spring has arrived!  No longer do I have drive to work in the dark as the days get increasingly longer.  The sun which was shinning most of the week (and is doing so again today) has taken the crispness out of the air and I’m pleased to say that my trusty hat and scarf remain on the coat hooks at home!

However, it seems that I am not the only one who has noticed this welcome change of season.  Indeed, there have been some obvious signs that nature also is beginning to revel in the winter drawing to a close.  The birds definitely sound happy about it – their chirping is distinctly more cheerful.   Ewes look proud and content as their recently born lambs race each other across fields that appear increasingly green and lush with each day that passes.  The bright colors of spring flowers brighten a landscape that appeared bleak just a few weeks ago. 

My favorite of these early (and almost valiant) flowers has to be the daffodil.  As it has rises from the cold, hard ground and spreads its bright yellow petals towards the sun it reminds me that after the harshness of winter new life always (thankfully) ‘springs’ anew.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I was pretty pleased to see these beautiful flowers begin appearing in the garden around the Ecosse Unique office, providing a jubilant greeting each morning to all employees and visitors!  In case you weren’t aware, our company headquarters is a attractive white washed cottage in the Scottish Borders which has been (sympathetically) converted into office space (I know, ingenious isn’t it, not only do we do we provide quality holiday cottages throughout Scotland, we have also based ourselves in one!)

It is not only our cottage headquarters that are benefiting from an abundance of these striking golden blooms; throughout Scotland they are now adorning the gardens of a number of our properties – providing proof that Spring is here!  But don’t take my word for it – take advantage of the Unique Cottages’ spring deals and come see for yourself.

Wolf Moon

It occurred to me when driving home last night that the interior of my car was illuminated more than usual, so much so that I check if I had accidently left one of the car reading lights on!  Normally as I make my way along the twisting country road which eventually takes me to the hill top on which my cottage perches, the darkness is all enveloping, with only the headlights to guide my way.  With not a street light for miles and very few other properties in the vicinity of my home, I often feel very lucky that each night I can escape from the hustle and bustle of society and I gain a strange sense of comfort from the blackness which demonstrates my seclusion.

But last night the whole landscape was glowing in the brightness of a moon which staggered me with its immensity and created a rather eerie supernatural atmosphere.  And it was a full moon at that!  I don’t know about you, but when I see a full moon, especially one which generates such a spine-chilling quality, legends of werewolves spring to mind!

I’ve seen the 2002 film ‘Dog Soldiers’, which is set in the highlands of Scotland (and some of which is filmed in the Glen Affric area) and although I realise it is entirely a work of fiction, as I made the short walk from where I park my car to the front door of my cottage I felt the need to remind and reassurance myself that it was just a movie!

It turns out that the January full moon is actually referred to as the ‘Wolf Moon’ and the reason for this has nothing to do with the mythical creatures which transform from their human form when it rises (perhaps living in such an isolated location is starting to affect me!? )  The ‘Wolf Moon’ is thought to have been so named by Native American tribes who saw hungry wolf packs howling at the January moon outside their villages. Seeing as wild wolves have not been sighted in Scotland in the last 300 years it appears the only thing I really have to fear is my overactive imagination!