New Year, New Start: an End, a Beginning

It’s hard to know how to start this, but let’s go for it anyway. If you’re a regular reader/viewer of Contemplating the Clouds, have you noticed that the frequency of posts has dropped substantially over the last month or two? Well, there are at least three of you that probably have, but then agian that’s because you already know.

Know what? I hear you ask. Well, to put none-too-subtle a point to it, Contemplating the Clouds is coming to an end. In fact, this is the final post.

Bratislava at sunset

The final sunset of my three-city holiday in 2012: Bratislava Castle

After two and a bit years of blogging away, it is time to move on and move up. From my perspective, Contemplating has reached a natural point at which to stop and I’d like to take the opportunity to thank each and every one of you for reading. Whether you read virtually every post or just one or two, I do appreciate the fact that it is being read.

In the last 26 and a half months the blog has come quite a long way – and I hope very much for the better. From simple photos with barely even a title that no one really saw to certain posts which get traffic almost every single day, and from silence to long wordy rambles; it has, above all, been one gigantic learning curve. One that has made me realise some things I absolutely love doing, helped me to get and understand my job, and one that has allowed me to share my passion for various things in a way that people seem to quite enjoy.

The Giraffe, National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

The Giraffe in the NMS

Some of the most popular things that I’ve done are probably not too surprising: posts on the Edinburgh Military Tattoo, the National Museum of Scotland and The Water of Leith all rank in the top 10 posts, in terms of visitors (with reviews on the NMS’s exhibitions on Mummies and Catherine the Great also featuring in the top 20). The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee gin-fest, the Olympics and my trip to Moscow are also up there, along with a couple of posts about St Andrews and Graduation (the latter two get visited almost every time either of them is in the news). All in all, I think I can say with some confidence that the blog that started out as a good way to procrastinate that looked more studious that staring out the window, contemplating the clouds, has morphed into something a whole lot more.

Tower bridge and the Olympic Rings

Tower Bridge, during the Olympic Games

There are definitely some things I’ve really enjoyed: going on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Virgin Money Festival Fireworks in 2011 was a treat, so was writing about the Olympics and my little holiday to Moscow, Vienna and Bratislava last year. The two blog-birthday ‘Year in Photos‘ series also rank in my highlights, as do the G&T cheesecake and the Chilli and Lime gin.  The entire premise behind Instagrammers Anonymous has been great fun, and that’s without even mentioning St Andrews and some of the heartfelt posts about it.

A year in photos, st andrews, sunlight

St Andrews: Where it all began

But in this world all good things must come to an end. It is not without sadness that I’m hanging up my boots for Contemplating – and don’t worry, it will still be here if you want to read it, there just won’t be any updates – in fact, it was not an easy decision at all, but it’s time to move on to something more.

Chocolate and Ginger cake with Orange butter icing

The Chocolate and Ginger cake – the most viewed post

In the round up of popular posts above I ommited an entire category of posts: food. Food and drink is, as is probably fairly obvious to regular readers/people that know me, a big part of my life. I absolutely love it. I love making it, I love sharing it, I love tasting it, I love talking about it and I love writing about it. Of the top twenty posts on this blog, 10 of the top 20 are based around food or drink. And if you look at the search terms the blog gets found for then 14 of the top 30 relate either to food or drink. Can you spot where this is going?

If you’re curious, then the top two search terms, and the most read post relate to this: the chocolate and ginger cake with orange icing that I made for my Mum’s birthday back in 2011. The searches in positions four and five relate to the second most popular page – the Gin and Tonic Cheesecake. Thinking about it, there’s a fairly obvious direction that we’re heading in.

Sure, I could have just continued on Contemplating and just altered the blog’s theme to be more foodie-orientated, but I took the difficult decision to start over a little while back. Since late November I’ve been writing a few posts and getting a few things sorted out elsewhere on the big bad world-wide web and now seems like the right time to take it to the rest of the world. Please let me introduce you to The Usual Saucepans. Here you will find my latest kitchen adventures, my successes, my ‘must do better next time’ dishes, my love for all things local, and many other things besides. Over the next twleve months I hope to add more and more to this little recipe list and maybe throw in a few exciting twists here and there. So why don’t you pull up a stool, grab a plate and a glass and join me?

I’ve had a lot of fun writing Contemplating the Clouds, and have learnt many valuable leasons from it. But with a new year comes new priorities, new opportunities and so much more. I hope you will come over to The Usual Saucepans and join me there, but first and foremost let me say thank you for reading Contemplating the Clouds and making it such a pleasure to write.

Until the next time,

Craig

The first photo to ever appear on the blog

The first (and last) photo to ever appear on the blog

Instagrammers Anonymous: Christmas Lights and Excitement

Guess what! It’s almost Christmas!!!!

Yes, the festive season is about to come to its turkey-stuffed climax. I’m now at the point that I begin to get very excitable, and even the inevitable supermarket crush when I go to do the Christmas food shopping seems bearable. Although I’m yet to wrap any presents (I have bought them, but I did forget to buy the paper…), but I’m sure my mad (w)rapping skillz can only be improved by mulled wine or Pimm’s, right?

Anyway, to continue the festive mood and celebrate the fact that the Mayans really just needed to go out and buy a new calendar (I see them as the ‘extreme meerkat‘ sort), I thought I would ignore the lashing rain outside and go for a Instagrammers Anonymous special all about Christmas lights.

One of my favourite things that we do in Edinburgh is stringing little lights around all of the trees round Princes Street gardens and St Andrews Square. At this time of year, empty trees can look a bit glum, so illuminating them adds a certain sparkle.The trees in St Andrews Square

There are – as there always seems to be – building and roadworks in the centre of town. But this year the company have got into the spirit and even decorated the big tower crane that’s sitting just off Princes Street. Maybe even a firework or two off it at New Year?A light-up crane?

And finally, it wouldn’t be Christmas without a tree. This is the tree in St Andrews Square – whoever thought that a red tree would look so good?The Christmas tree in St Andrews Square

However you spend your Christmas (or indeed if you don’t celebrate it) I hope you have an absolutely fantastic time.

Merry Christmas!

Craig

Instagrammers Anonymous: Moving Closer To Christmas

And so this is Christmas – or so the song goes – and as if to confirm it there was a light scattering of snow on Edinburgh Castle this morning (I’m being uncharacteristically organised and writing this on Thursday). But at the same time, I’ve found myself questioning quite a few times where on earth December has gone. I’ve not even had any mulled wine yet this year – so that’s not even a potential excuse for loosing a few days/weeks.20121213-143400.jpg

I guess the biggest reason for the festive season’s disappearance is that I moved house last weekend. Yes, packed up lock, stock and most of the barrel and decanted across town. So whilst tidying, packing and unpacking have sapped most of my time, I can confirm that life is back on track and I can once again think only about all things festive!20121213-143332.jpg

Talking of unneccessary festiveness, another completely unnecessary trip to a well-know, tax-avoiding coffee company happened this week. But it has a snowman on the cup, so I’ve totally justified it to myself as being festive. In the branch across the road from the office, they have, however, learnt my name. And what size of drink I have. And what type of drink I have. And that I don’t want cream on top. Come January, I think it might be time for a change…20121213-143343.jpg

And finally this week, since it’s Christmas we’re going to have an extended edition of Instagrammers Anonymous!

It’s the office party today (Friday)! Yes, that awkward time of the year when everyone tries not to get too drunk, but inevitably someone has one too many and photocopies their backside. We’re trying to counter that this year by going out for a nice meal, but so as not to be too dull, we’re also having a Christmas jumper competition! Here’s my entry, and yes, the nose and scarf do stick out…20121213-143350.jpg

And if one extra wasn’t enough, here’s a second. Hamilton and Inches have my favourite festive display of the year. Not for all the jewelery on display and not for the little trains they have going round each window, but for the fact that in one of them there’s also a little piece of track on which a tram that can go nowhere is sitting. This subtle, festive dig at the city is by far my favourite thing I’ve seen this Christmas; good work H&I!Tram in Hamilton & Inches Christmas display, Edinburgh

I’m off to find my hangover tea now, in preparation for Saturday morning. Have a great weekend.

Cr

Instagrammers Anonymous: Tied to the Kitchen & Boxes

Whilst the weather outside isn’t frightening it is a touch on the bloody freezing side. Monday’s ice managed to partially melt by Thursday it was back this morning with a vengeance; the number of Christmas trees is also rising almost exponentially. As they say in the song: it’s winter time, in the city.

Although whilst I have encountered my fair share of the ice whilst walking the dog, I have spent a lot of this week in my warm kitchen, going on various baking adventures. So here is this week’s quick round up of festive fever – Instagrammers Anonymous.

Last weekend I went up to Perthshire and took lots of photos of the frost. I also took advantage of Historic Scotland’s offer of a free trip to Edinburgh Castle.Edinburgh Castle from the Esplanade

I bit the bullet and finally made good on my pledge to attempt to make macarons. Sure, they weren’t even in the slightest bit successful, however, the newly-branded dark chocolate and almond bites taste lovely, and go really well with the white ganache. This is what they looked like, before they didn’t quite rise in the oven.Chocolate macaron ready to go into the oven

And finally this week I have the excuse for not writing a post for Monday.The key to my new flat!

Yes, this is my new front door key! I’m (finally) moving house this weekend and consequently don’t think I’ll have much time for anything that doesn’t involve lots of cardboard boxes. On the plus side, my new flat is less than two minutes walk from a cheese shop; that can surely only be a good thing.

Enjoy the weekend!

Cr

A Weekend of Frozen Adventures

I think we can all agree that winter is now well and truly with us. But, on the plus side, it’s now CHRISTMAS TIME!!!!!!!!!

I’ve ditched my “It’s not even sodding December yet!” hat and replaced it with one of festive excitement and (bad) singing.

This weekend I definitely got well and truly into the festive spirit, and then promptly got back out of it by attempting to do some Christmas shopping. However, with a mince pie in hand and the Michael Bublé Christmas album on in the background I’m getting back into the mood.

Frosty leaves on atree trunkI went on a bit of an adventure on Saturday up to Perthshire, to go visit my great uncle. I don’t get up nearly as often as I’d like, but when I get the chance, I don’t hesitate on breaking free of the city and head of to more rural lands; so with the dog in the backseat we headed up the A9 for a day out. This is where most of my festive spirit came through – it was beautifully crisp and clear day, and the hills were all dusted with frost and snow. With the Christmas music drowning out my tuneless singing it was hard not to wish it was the 25th already.dog looking at river

To give her Majesty a bit of a walk I stopped off at The Hermitage, near Dunkeld. This turned out to be both a lot of fun and a bit precarious as it was, for the most part, a large ice rink. Keira had a whale of a time, of course, and I only had one unscheduled sit down, so I would definitely call the walk a success. It also gave me plenty of opportunity to take photos of frosty things. I don’t know why I’m so fascinated by them, but each time I’m out and about I end up taking more photos of them.

Once I’d ditched the boots we headed off to the village of Blair Atholl for a few hours of coffee, cake and chat (he still thinks I’m slightly nuts for going to Moscow, but we put pretty much everything else in the world to rights and I learnt a lot about Burma during the second world war). By the time we got round to leaving it was pitch black, but we were just in time to make a quick visit to one of my favourite shops – The House of Bruar. Whilst I would love many of the jackets and boots they sell there my salary doesn’t quite cover it, so I made do with a visit to the foodhall. On the somewhat transparent excuse of ‘looking for Christmas presents’ I managed to come out with some roast duck pâté, claret-infused cheddar and some honey and whisky smoked salmon. Definitely the best shopping I’ve managed so far, and definintely not one I’m keen on sharing. Our drive home was pretty uneventful, but I can confirm that my singing abilities did not improve.

Front of Edinburgh CastleSunday was another bright and early start, but this time to make use of my free Historic Scotland weekend pass and go have an up-close look at Edinburgh Castle. I only discovered last year that Historic Scotland do this pass each year on a weekend around St Andrews day, but some friends and I decided to monopolise on their good will and take a look at the most famous landmark in Edinburgh. Very little has changed since I went last year, which I guess isn’t hugely surprising but it was a lovely morning to stare at every horizon. One thing I did observe though, is that people are rather dim and were definitely waiting for the One O’Clock Gun to be fired, despite the large sign that says that it isn’t fired on a Sunday.

After our trip to the Castle I went on an unsuccessful attempt to buy others presents and have established that I am not a fan of festive shoppers. I am also very disappointed in the selection of Christmas jumpers on offer! Even the Jeremy Kyle recruitment centre (aka Primark), which has many in its window, couldn’t provide me with something for the office party. And even more upsetting, Whittards had sold out of Mulled Wine tea! I did get an orange and cinnamon rooibos, but it was the icing on the cake of a spectacularly bad (even by my standards) shipping trip. Time for mulled wine and Amazon shopping, I think.

Click on one of the photos below to see the slide show.

Cr