May 16, 2005

1. The Piccadilly line on the London Underground, which provides the cheapest ride from Heathrow into London, terminates in a neighborhood called Cockfosters. Thus, when you get on the Tube and a snazzy LED zipper informs you that "This train is for COCKFOSTERS," it doesn't mean anything dirty. You will be tempted to snort like a 12-year-old boy, particularly if you got less than an hour's sleep on the plane and as far as your body is concerned, it's 3 in the morning. It's understandable, but nevertheless, it's best not to snort, guffaw or wonder aloud if this is some clever form of advertising for a brand extension of Foster's Lager.

2. When you browse in bookshops and buy a single book in each one, it doesn't feel as if you're buying a lot of books. If you visit 20 different bookshops over the course of your visit, though, you will be in for a rude shock when it's time to pack everything and go home.

3. This month Cadbury and W.H. Smith are having a special promotion: Every time you buy a newspaper or magazine, any newspaper, any magazine, you can buy a 200g Cadbury bar for 85p. If you take advantage of this offer every time you pick up your morning copy of the Guardian, you will be in for a rude shock when it's time to pack everything and go home.

4. To say that Scotland is beautiful is to understate the case grossly, but there is simply no other way to put it. Of course, I could go on about the hills covered with evergreens, bright yellow Scotch brush and green grass that looks like the dictionary definition of plush and practically begs you to lie naked on it, but even those words fall short. This would be one of those moments where a picture would be worth a thousand words, but to my eye, even this picture, taken from the window in our room in Galashiels, doesn't come close to showing just how magnificent those hills are.

Room_vu

5. Note to my fellow music nerds: Teenage Fanclub's new album, Man-Made, was released on May 9. It was not my plan to buy it on the day of release in Glasgow at the nifty and friendly Avalanche Records, but that's exactly what I did, and for some reason doing so gives me what my pal Homer calls a warm glowing warming glow.

6. Scotland is Beautiful, Part Two: It's a good thing I don't actually live in Edinburgh, particularly in an apartment with views of Old Town and Edinburgh Castle, because if I had this greeting me from my front window every morning, I would stand in silent awe, and thus feel no inclination to go to work. I would be evicted from my apartment, and then I'd have to find a place to put my refrigerator box so that I could still have that view.

Park_vu

7. I did not need more proof that Lloyd is the perfect travel companion for me, but I got it anyway: Every time we were in sight of Edinburgh Castle, I felt compelled to recite the opening lines of Sir Walter Scott's Red Gauntlet (a/k/a the story Michael Palin et al. can't read in the McKamikaze Guards sketch on Monty Python's Flying Circus). I must have mentioned the sun setting behind Solway Firth and the lone piper on the battlements of Edinburgh Castle at least seventy million times, and not once did Lloyd display the desire to jab a fork into my head. What a man.

8. Scotland is Beautiful, Part Three: Get your forks out now, because I cannot resist making a hideous pun. Here, taken by Lloyd in Glasgow, is a picture of the Bridge Over the River Clyde. (Ow! My head!)

Clyde_pedbridge

9. This is my absolute, positive, favorite food store in the known world. Upon finishing our lunch at the cafe bar behind the store, I wanted to move in. Yes, there will be a proper post about this.

10. There will also be a proper post about the baked goods I was lucky enough to try, from black bun to Selkirk bannock to fruit slices (currant and sultana) to madeira cakes studded with candied cherries to butter tablet to tar-like slabs of gingerbread. Have I mentioned that I love Scotland?

Since I'm still feeling a bit of residual guilt over that terrible pun, I'll leave you with a lagniappe, in the form of a picture of the Tweed River, which runs through Galashiels, and a promise to be one step closer to gamefacedness tomorrow.

Tweed

Posted by Bakerina at 12:23 AM in valentines • (0) Comments • (0) Trackbacks
May 14, 2005

Scotland_111

Hello, dearies.  Thank you for keeping the place so shiny while I was gone.  There will be tales to tell, just as soon as my brain stops insisting that we're still on British Summer Time and it is, in fact, 3 in the morning.  Until the morrow, sweet thangs.

Posted by Bakerina at 10:57 PM in valentines • (0) Comments • (0) Trackbacks

Eggsforjen
I just wouldn't be able to hold my nakedjen head high if I didn't leave you with at least one naked picture.  Oh and look at that?  Today's the day you return to that snuggly apartment you share with Lloyd here in America.  I'm sure you're bringing with you loads of good scrummy tales to tell that will make all of us just sigh with the contentment of a full belly of Bakerina goodness. 

Meanwhile, should you need some eggs, I've gone to the Farmer's Market today and fetched you some very fresh organic ones.  Now, what shall we bake?

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May 11, 2005

Sit down.

Sit down.

Would you like a nice cuppa?

I'll be mother.

Milk or Lemon?

In honour of the delightful Bakerina's trip to lovely Scotland and other places across the pond, I thought I might offer up a favourite recipe of my beloved who came from the North of England 7 years ago yesterday to marry me here in a beautiful 14th century castle.  Our honeymoon took us further north to Scotland and through Edinburgh, Glasgow and eventually over to see my 'family's' castle ruins.  The MacLachlans lived in the parish of Strathlachlan in Argyllshire and all along the way we had to hop on ferries and drive along winding roads with lochs on both sides.  A most beautiful, romantic way to spend some time.  I can't tell you how happy this raised in the 70's girl was to actually throw in my Wings CD as we were awaiting a ferry on the Mull of Kintyre.

In honour of our anniversary I made husband one of his favourites sweets this weekend.  It is called Sticky Toffee Pudding.  And let me tell you, if you think that means it is heavy and leaden you would be so wrong.  Sticky Toffee is a steamed pudding done in a pudding mold and it is light and filled with chunks of dates, rather like a nice date bread on steroids. Shall we have some with our tea?

You begin by pouring boiling water over 6 ozs. of pitted, roughly chopped dates.  Not a lot of water!  Just enough to cover them.  Now, put those aside to cool.

Butter the inside of your pudding mold generously and cut a piece of parchment paper to close in the lid.  Take a pan larger by height and by width of your pudding mold and fill it with enough water to submerge the mold about 3/4 of the way up its sides.  Now, put that on a burner to heat up.
In a saucepan, toss in 4oz. unsalted butter, 8 oz. of dark brown sugar (muscovado if you can find it), add 1/4 pint of heavy cream and 1 tsp of lemon juice (zest the lemon first, you will need it later).
Let this all melt and get gooey.

Get out your mixer and cream 3 oz. of unsalted butter and 4 oz. of sugar and then add that lemon zest you saved.  Break two eggs (large please, we are baking here) into a small bowl and while beating, plop them in one at a time until they are nicely incorporated.  Don't worry if it curdles!
Now, measure out 6 ozs. of self-raising flour, sift it with 1/2 tsp of baking soda.  Mix about half of this flour and baking soda in to the butter/sugar and eggs along with those dates you soaked and their soaking liquid. Plop!  Right in.  Easy isn't it?  Mix in the rest of your flour until it looks a bit like a muffin batter.

Bring that pudding mold back over, pour half of that lovely, syrup you made into the bottom.  Pour your batter on top of that.  Put the parchment paper on top and clip the lid to your mold on.
Place this in your pot of water which should be gently simmering by now.  This pudding will cook for 2 and 1/2 hours.  All you need to do is top up the water occasionally.

When the time has elapsed, get a nice plate, pull the mold out of the water and let it sit, oh say 3 - 5 minutes.  Clip off the lid, take off the parchment and put your plate on top of the mold  Breathe deep, hold your breath and FLIP!  Take a butter knife and tap the top and sides once or twice for good luck and to ensure it has turned out and reveal your lovely pudding.

If the gods of baking were kind, it should look like this

When you are ready, you can slice it and maybe drizzle a bit more of the syrup and some heavy cream on top. 

It makes a British boy happy it does.

Posted by Bakerina at 12:44 PM in • (1) Comments • (0) Trackbacks

Walking down Old Spain or Back Old Spain, I’ve never been sure which it is or why, but I know I need some of the intense red sweetness there. Domestic strawberrydom is forever bankrupt to me because I‘ve known these perfect gems.

I pass the factory my grandfather lost. He put it so close to the house we still live in, so close to the unclearly named dusty road. Swimming in acres of cheap space, buildings in this town huddle together, designed for the feet of horses or people, not eighteen wheels at once. The factory’s awfulness is mostly due to the semi trucks. It ate the raspberry bushes to ease their travel; it ate the ancient chestnut trees for the same reason. A barn that had seen centuries, an orchard planted in my father’s childhood, devoured and paved. We small cousins throw rotting apples and our most vicious playground curses at its ugliness. This angers and embarrasses the adults. They grasp for dignity while the white cinderblocks nibble at our land. Please don’t take the house.

I keep walking. The road hides me in clouds of brown when my feet scrape. It can’t hide the recently decapitated chicken on the edge of the cornfield, killed for sport by a well-fed dog. A man is fly-fishing in the shallow spring fed crick. Only an auslander would call it a creek. I see his pickup first, catch a glimpse of him casting, hip high rubber waders though the water is not to his knees, and wonder if he will eat what he reels in. I suspect he, like most people here, doesn’t care to know about the water.

I walk past him. The fields this far back have given up trying to yield corn; they are content to nourish riots of blue chicory. Generations ago, maybe also more recently, this tired purple soil was prodded into raising grains, though its richness has been washing towards the Chesapeake for millennia. They say this range was the tallest in the world once.

Old Spain, Back or not, is the name of the mountain, too. The road turns up and I enter its shade. The day after Thanksgiving, we poach Christmas trees here, malnourished college students, prodigal sons and their new babies, caucasian debris all. Our carols and laugher drown out the siblings’ shame. I alone among cousins keep this memory; the others are too young. Even my brother, only two years my junior, does not know his earliest holiday cheer was illicit.

The spring predictably inspires thirst when I reach it; water gurgling cheerfully from between Thomas Kincaid's moss-covered stones and perfect ferns. A small tin mug sits on one of the idyllic rocks, secured to another rock with a delicate chain. My great grandmothers house, the original on the property I’ve walked from, had a mug like this attached to a spring outside the front door. Her oldest grandson’s wife, my mother, finally took that mug away because she couldn’t get us to stop drinking what flowed so temptingly from the ground. The water is sweet because mercury is tasteless.

I turn and walk back the way I came, stopping at the edge of woods and field. It is late in the season for strawberries, there may not be any left. I drop to my hands and knees, search for hot rubies among triplet leaves. There is only one, tiny as they all are. Inside my mouth, my tongue memorizes the roughness and diamond shape, sucking a soft film of dust from delicate skin, so little sweetness draws through. I savor this prelude until I can stand it no longer, then press the berry reverently against the roof of my mouth. It does not disappoint, they never do. Sunshine and hope drip to the back of my throat with the rich pectin. I slacken my jaw, allow my teeth their pleasure, gradually. The seeds resist just enough, the texture brings ecstasy, more sugar bleeds from the pulp. One small involuntary moan escapes as I swallow.

My eyes open.

It is over.

Posted by Bakerina at 12:41 AM in Eating With Your Hands • (1) Comments
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