Category: Artists & Artisans

The Book! Scotland: Celebrations & Soul Food

The Book! Scotland: Celebrations & Soul Food

Well people, it is finally here. My dream, my joy, my very first book, Scotland: Celebrations & Soul Food. This is my around the calendar, around the country tour of Scotland’s unique celebrations, complete with history, photographs and of course recipes to give you the full flavour of each event.

For those of you who have ever wondered what it was like to write a book and bring it to publication, the process is remarkably similar to having an actual baby. You hold an idea in you head, then in your heart, then you get busy, then you are in complete denial, and then you realise you have zero idea what you are doing and wonder if  it is all to late to back out now.  Additionally, since it takes roughly twice as long as a traditional pregnancy you are therefore obligated to gain twice as much weight! (Just kidding.)

The Long Awaited Book Cover

The Long Awaited Book Cover

But at long last the day arrives and you can hold your baby in your hands. I couldn’t believe how beautiful she was when she finally arrived.  I carefully counted her pages and after some tea and toast, quickly retired for a nap in sweet relief.

The Burning of the Clavie

The Burning of the Clavie

The book itself is packed with full-page images of many of the events. (Seriously people, you can not imagine how many things Scots can set on fire and in such an array of ways as to make a dragon blush!)

Layout with Handwriting, Text & Images

Layout with Handwriting, Text & Images

The production team at my publisher Matador were the most helpful, kind and creative support I could have ever hoped for.  Everyone was fantastic, but my hero Terry Compton in particular just took my manuscript and ran with it, far exceeding my expectations.  He combined a wide variety of image sizes with traditional text and then picked out the areas of ‘my voice’ to evoke a true travel journal feel. (I know a few of you have wondered if that is indeed my actual handwriting and the answer is ‘Let’s all Thank Heavens it is not’!)

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Kelso Border Riding

Some of the events in the book are what you might expect in Scotland with bagpipe bands, kilts and castles…

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Lerwick Jarl Squad

and some are decidedly unexpected but spectacular none the less.

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The Burry Man of South Queenferry

And then there are some that are just so freaky no one believes you until you actually produce photographic evidence.

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Christmas Carousel in Edinburgh

For each event in our rock ‘n roll calendar, there are pictures, history, and eyewitness accounts.

6.5 Pheasant, Bacon & Port Bridies - 400

Pheasant Bridies with Bacon & Port

And then I had to go and create a recipes, with seasonal and regional ingredients to try to evoke the spirit of the event.

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The May Queen

So in order to honour the outrageous wildness of the Beltane celebrations,

Beltane Salmon on a Plank of Native Ash

Beltane Salmon on a Plank of Native Ash

There is a companion recipe of wild Scottish Salmon cooked on plank of Native Ash over an open flame (easy clean up for the dishes as well).

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Jeantopia Unleashed!

Basically this is my absolute dream come true of travel, adventure, history, parties and food!

Now, all of this is fine and well when it is kicking around your head or even when you are typing it up in your own dining room.  But when you have to then put it out there TO BE JUDGED BY OTHERS…the panic sets on hard.

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My First Ever Review (*sniffs with pride*)

So it was with immense relief when (after I was brave enough to work up the courage to read it) my first ever review had some very nice things to say. (Just click on image for full size)  And not that I don’t value the opinions of my family and friends, but these guys didn’t even know me so were under no obligation to spare my frayed feelings.

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Glossy Magazine Review

And then, big glossy magazines started to fall through my letter box.

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The Company My Baby Keeps

And I could see not only my baby being cheered on, but got to see her nestled in amongst her mates. (How am I ever going to cope with my actual children leaving the nest, really?)

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Scots Heritage Magazine Review

And then, you realise that this wondrous dream has left your imagination and begun a life of its own.  And it is really, pretty cool to watch.

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Marketing Material Ahoy!

So we are on to the next phase of the adventure where we will be taking things on the road.  With any luck you can catch us at one of our upcoming events at farmer’s markets, libraries and food festivals over the next few month.

In the mean time you can check out the official website for the book at www.jeanmuir.co.uk for any news or events.

Thank you to everyone out there for your support, patience, help and encouragement in bringing this project to fruition.  It has been a total blast and hopefully will be the first of many such adventures!

Huge love,  Jean

The Glass Angel

The Glass Angel

To continue on the theme of “My Fabulously Talented Neighbours”, I am pleased to introduce you to the lovely Vicky Gangel of The Glass Angel jewelry and home accessories.  A busy mum and local artisan, Vicky creates a wide variety of glass objects from fusing her work in a kiln from home.

Unique fused glass candle bases

Although she had always had something artsy going on, it was only when a friend suggested a day out at Retro Glass in Alloa  http://www.retro-glass.co.uk/ about four years ago that her new passion was born.  She made it official last year with the  launch of The Glass Angel.

How special is it to have something that is handmade, unique and can even incorporate elements of your own keepsakes into the pieces?

These stunning glass pendants were some of the first pieces of her work that I was introduced to last year.  Her pieces are of her own design but can be commissioned as well.  Her website in development is set to launch for the burgeoning Christmas orders.

How about some themed cuff links and earrings for wedding party gifts?

How about some themed cuff links and earrings for wedding party gifts?

The versatility  of her work is pretty groovy as well.  Not only are there things for the home such as candle bases and sets of coasters, but the jewelry also branches out to include cuff links and earring as well as the pendants.  The sky is the limit!

The gift of creativity in memory of Grandma

As cutting glass can be a poky and messy business with small children in the house, Vicky tends to work in the evening and places the pieces in kiln overnight to do their cooking and cooling.  It can lead to some moments of trepidation when the kiln is opened in the morning to unveil the successes on the nights work!

So hip and green - the ultimate in new cheese board style

So hip and green - the ultimate in new cheese board style

These are my new favorite pieces – melted wine bottle cheese boards – how cool.   After posting an image on Facebook of her first effort of the new bottle range, Vicky had ten orders for more at the end of the first day.  The squashed bottle base even makes a perfect space for some chutney.  People are now saving up their Bombay Sapphire and other coloured bottles to bring to Vicky to see what effects they can produce – and she is getting a mite concerned what her neighbours must think with these growing piles of empty bottles in her back garden.

Yet another area of development are these glass canvases.  Using small droplets of melted glass, sea glass (which we apparently have loads of), beads and found objects these wee pieces of wall art add just the perfect touch to your home.

 Again, the canvases can be made to order or chosen from The Glass Angel’s existing stock.

Here are the contact details but website to follow soon!

If you are local to the fabulous Fife and Lothians areas (no matter what Jade Richards of the X Factor says http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2dnp6N9jsLo) please give Vicky a call and she can bring her elegant displays to your home or you can order from her website (for those out of the area or country) in a few short weeks!

Ciao for now….

The Steamie Bakehouse

The Steamie Bakehouse

 What to do when you are a post doc in Cognitive Science and your fixed term contract is coming to end? Why, switch gears and open an artisan bakery of course!  Happily for us that is just what Matthew Roberts and his wife Zillah Scott did when they started The Steamie Bakehouse.
 
The Steamie Bakehouse Selection
Focusing on quality, sustainability and of course flavour, the Bakehouse operates out of a 3 meter x 3 meter summer-house with a custom built thin-walled concrete, super-efficient wood burning oven.  All of this was self designed and built with the help of local blacksmith David Henderson.

Matthew Roberts - Artisan Bread Baker

 

 Using off-cuts from The Scottish Woodland Trust  Matthew can heat and run two ovens to bake 200 loaves of bread from approximate 4 kilos/ 10 pounds of wood.  I told you it was efficient! ( I think I use more than that just to get a fire going…)
Super-efficient wood burning oven
Continuing on the sustainability theme, they try to source their flours from local, organic and whenever possible heritage grains. Matthew is also in charge of the ordering production and IT side of the business.  He uses his former professional knowledge to design ordering forms that can accurately configure the proportions of over 100 loaves of bread to within about 200 grams/ about 1 cup of flour! 

Homemade Sourdough Starter

 All their bread are made using a Rye sourdough starter (also homemade).  Currently, they offer an Oat Loaf, a Wholemeal Spelt & Honey, a Sourdough,  a Five Grain,  a Wholemeal & Rye, and a Fruit Loaf .  
 

So how do you get this these babies into your life?  Well, if you are local to Fife you can pop into Reuban’s Deli in Dunfermline, Blether by the Bridge in North Queensferry and Food For Thought in Burntisland.  The Steamie also operates Bread Clubs whereby you and a few friends get together for a weekly order (a bit like a veg box scheme) and the delivery will be made to the organisor of your Club in lovely bags with your order clipped on to the outside.  Everyone is invoiced separately on a monthly basis so there is no hassle with money for the host of the Club. 

So if you are looking for delicious, sustainable, artisans breads, be sure to check out the offerings of our Dunfermline based Steamie Bakehouse!

Scottish Woodland Trust

Scottish Woodland Trust

In the effort to coax my three-year old along to aid in my eclectic “To Do” for this blog, I try to entice him that we are ‘going on an adventure’.  While for me it often is just that, for him it is often long car journeys interspersed with visits to sites where good behaviour is paramount.  He usually gets a sweetie out of the deal.  That is until the day we set out to find a piece of untreated, indigenous ash wood to experiment for my Beltane Plank Smoked Salmon (which is coming by the way), and a real adventure ensued.
After several futile calls to builder’s warehouses, lumber yards and many fruitless trawls around the internet, we were directed to the “Scottish Woodland Trust” a small artisan wood mill.  Now most businesses and charities make some effort to be accessible but finding this site was like searching for Brigadoon.  After driving about 20 minutes on a country road to the town of Oakley, you have to find an unmarked entrance to what was once Inzievar Estate, now Dynamic Woods of the National Woodland Trust Charity.
After finding the unmarked entrance – travel down this unmarked road

The feel of the place brought to mind the scene from The Chronicles of Narnia, when the children return to what was their Kingdom of Cair Paravel, only it is hundreds of years later and they realise what appears to be a dense overgrown forest was once their apple orchards.  You are aware that this was likely a wealthy estate, but the woods are so dense that they block out what little sunlight makes it into Scotland in the first place, and completely disorients you as well.  It was about now that my son started to freak out.

The “Sign” for the shop
Somewhere along your travels down the unmarked road, you have to live in hope of seeing this sign post – see it?  Well, I certainly didn’t.
See it? Yeah, me neither!
After several wrong turns we were re-directed back to this sign, which even close up is so less than clear and finally found our destination.
The House the Forest Hides… Inzievar
But look what we found in our wanderings – Inzievar House.   A spooky gothic looking beast that emerges from the woods in a very surprising manner.  The house was built for one Archibald Smith-Sligo in 1855-6 by the renown architect David Bryce.  The Smith-Sligo family owned several coal mines in the area and the Forth Iron Works in Oakley.  As in the case for most estates, the public was not allowed on the grounds, but the house did host a very important guest in Jules Verne, the french science fiction author, who detailed his account of the house in his book Backwards to Britain.

Illustration of the Grand Salon of The Nautilus from Jules Verne's 2000 Leagues Under the Sea, based on interior of Inziever House

Even groovier was that Verne was to have based the interiors of the submarine The Nautilus from his classic novel, 2000 Leagues under the Sea on those of Inzievar House.  The house is now a collection of private apartments and is sadly no longer open to the public, but one was recently for sale so you can have a peek here….http://maloco.co.uk/property_pdfs/1276267034.pdf.

Oh, much better!
See what a wrong turn can teach you?  Anyway, back to our original mission to find the elusive Scottish Wood – that is clearly marked once you are already there – very helpful.

A small but fabulous mill

Apparently, Scottish Wood is the commercial arm of a much larger not for profit organisation call Woodland Trust.  The overall woodland was purchased in 1995 and is now open to the public  for education, walks and school trips.  The Scottish Wood focuses on  raising money from the sale of wood convenanted to the Trust to be used for local, environmental and community projects.

Woody hits the shop

They have a “shop” ( kind of) that you are free to rummage around to find what you are looking for….either in rough or very rough form.
Luxuriate amongst the selection
And you can ask to have your selection milled and cut to size right there on the spot.  On my first visit there was artisan furniture maker (didn’t get his name) loading up a fair bit of stock onto his rugged looking Landrover, with wife, toddler and dog in tow – tres idyllic.

Until next time...

Well we finally found our ash planks, took a quick detour 2000 Leagues Under The Sea, and emerged from the mysterious wood blinking away the magic of the experience – eager to return now that we know where the heck it is!  I think a family walk in the woods is on the agenda as well.

Scottish Sea Glass

Scottish Sea Glass

About a year and a half ago, I had the pleasure of meeting a lovely woman named Gaynor, who had just started up her own jewelry business created from sea glass that she found on the beach.  It was astounding! (All photos courtesy of Gaynor Hebden-Smith)

Emerald Sea Glass Commission March 2011

She had always enjoyed spending time at the beach, and as her husband would train for his open water swimming (bbrrrrrrr!) she  would while away the hours with her kids gathering treasures that they found on the shoreline.  Viola, a business was born.

Cornflour Blue Sea Glass with "Scottish Sweetheart" Hole

Each piece of sea glass, also known as mermaid tears or sea jewels, is in the state that it was formed by nature.  With only a wash and perhaps a small adornment such as the “Sweetheart” hole above, pieces are chosen and designed around their existing shape.

Blue Sea Glass (9 Pieces) Direct to Chain

Not shying away from the fact that these “jewels” are the result of littering, Gaynor relishes how nature can create such beauty out of others carelessness.  She is also garnering great local history such as the previous existence of a medicine bottling plant that specialised in the deep blue glass as in the above necklace, and even how pubs used to get around their refuse collection by dumping their bottles in the water.  Old maps with coastal pubs = shoreline bonanza!

Red Sea Glass Commission March 2011

Gaynor not only selects and designs the pieces herself but she is happy to take commissions.  Whether you found a piece of sea glass on your honeymoon or in your daily walk with your dog, she can create a piece with your personal treasure.  She even records the location of everything she collects so you can request that your piece originates from a place of special importance to you.

Multi-coloured Seas Glass Direct to Chain
This is one of my favourite pieces.  To me is just shouts sunshine, summertime and beaches and all the fun they entail.   For more information check out the Scottish Sea Glass website, www.scottishseaglass.co.uk and browse for yourself.
 
PS This is not an advertisement just wanted to share this groovy stuff from a lovely colleague!
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