Category: Food & Festivals

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’!)


Kelso Border Riding

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

4 Jarl Squad 2013 - 400

Lerwick Jarl Squad

and some are decidedly unexpected but spectacular none the less.


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.

6 Edinburgh Christmas - 400

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.

7 The May Queen - 400

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).

8.5 Jean & Jarl 400

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.

9 Undiscovered Scotland Review - 400

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.

10 Magazine cover - 400

Glossy Magazine Review

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

11 review page - 400

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?)

12 review - 400

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.

12.5 Local Author Flyer - 400

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 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

Up Helly Aa - Additional Gems of Shetland

Up Helly Aa – Additional Gems of Shetland

Apologies to all for the lateness of this post, but there have been big doings here in Jeantopia of which explanations will follow soon.  Additionally, a very important bit of information in viewing these images is that I have very wonky ankles.  May seem random information I know, but it does have relevance I promise.  If you are in a rush, let me summarise the whole post by saying SHETLAND IS FABULOUS!  Put it on your bucket list and get yourself up there sharpish.  It rocks!

Welcome Sign 600

Ok, let’s starts with how to get to Shetland.  There are only two ways to get to Shetland, 1) take a very expensive hour long flight from a major airport such as Edinburgh or London, or 2) brave the 12 hour journey on the ferry.  As I was travelling under my own steam and needed to take my car for on-island mobility, I chose option 2.  Being an ex-Yankee, I was only familiar with the general stink-pot class of maritime transport that dominates the New England ferry fleet.  The very thought of a 12 hour journey in the open ocean ( let alone the North Sea in January) had me very nervous indeed.

So image my surprise as I left my car (as per usual on ferries) and got into an elevator (not at all per usual) and sauntered into a beautiful marbled lobby!  Things were looking up for sure as what now appeared to be a floating hotel complete with movie theatre, restaurants and lounges completely upended the leaky, rusty visions that I had in my head.

4 UHA BP 1 - 600

Not only was it a higher spec that the Love Boat, but carved Viking heraldry was everywhere.  Super cool.

5 UHA BP 1 - 600

As the engines revved and our departure time arrived, we all went up to the top deck in the brisk gloaming to watch as we slipped out of Aberdeen Harbour.   Smiling groups huddled and camera phones flashed until the announcement came over the loudspeaker that we were heading into Gale Force 8 winds and should probably find some place to hunker down as soon as possible.  Oh Nelly.


As this was the last boat going up to Shetland before Up Helly Aa, the very kind woman from the booking office strongly suggested that due to “crowding” ( I think she actually said “the mayhem of bodies lying all aboot”), I should spring the extra £22 to have a single bed in a shared female bunk of four.  That woman deserves a medal.

The good news is that my bunk mates turned out to be a fabulous mother and daughter team of Americans, who were not only fun, not only helpful with photography tips, but like me – could talk paint off a wall!  So for several rocky hours I chatted with my new friends about life, the universe and everything.  A little after midnight we congratulated  ourselves on being seasoned old salts for not getting sick and thought we really should get some rest and hit the lights.  The bad news was that we  didn’t realise was that we had just docked in Orkney and were now heading out to sea for real until our arrival in Lerwick in several hours time.  I now know what it feels like to be put in a cocktail shaker for 8 hours.

Bruised and battered but alive, we finally landed in Shetland (OK I may have kissed the ground) and after dropping my new friends at their B&B I headed out of town to find mine.

Omaruru - 600

Never has a more welcome sight emerged from the morning mist than the Omaruru B&B. The name was rather curious and whenever I typed it into the search engine it kept coming up with a Game Lodge in Africa but I needed to be horizontal immediately so questions could wait.

There are times in life when everything just works out better than you could have hoped, and that is exactly what happened with I met the Erica & Bryan Pearson, the fabulous owners of the Omaruru B&B.

erica & bryan pearson - 600

A few years earlier, these two native Shetlanders took up  the suggestion of a friend to visit his home country of Namibia ( like you do).  They decided if they were going to have such a special trip, they may as well take the opportunity to get married while they were there, which is exactly what they did.  They did so at a Lodge called Omaruru and in return named their new venture back home after that special place.


Anyway, back on Shetland my exhaustion was getting the better of me.  Whilst Bryan showed me to my room and I dropped off my bags, Erica was busy preparing this most welcome sight of a hot cooked breakfast replete with fabulous views.  Ten weary steps later and I was asleep for the rest of the day.

Now let me just tell you how above and beyond these guys went in hospitality.  Upon hearing about my project to document the Up Helly Aa celebrations and Shetland foods, they:

  1.   called their friend and stayed up late in the evening to let me ask a ton of ridiculous questions all about the festival,
  2. gave me a heads up of all the places to be before the crowds gathered so I could get  good pictures, and
  3. went to the Hospital the next morning to get me supplies to make a temporary cast so I could drive back home.

Let me explain.  As previously stated, I have very wonky ankles, and after a full day running around hillsides of cobblestone following the morning processions, standing in the lashing rain literally soaking up the experience of the galley burnings, and enjoying serving soup and watching the madness of the Halls until 3 am I went to my car to get more batteries for my camera.  En route, I stepped into a very deep water-filled pothole thus dousing myself in freezing water and twisting my already strained ankle.

That was my signal to head back to the Omaruru for a hot shower and cosy sleep.  (Well that was the plan.) Being newly renovated, the en suites were fitted with snazzy wet rooms.  After being soaked and frozen in at least 3 different cycles throughout the day, it was all I could do to stand shivering in the warm shower to try to shake the chill. Shower done, dressing gown on, I had just gone back in for a fresh glass of water, when the tiny incline of the wet room proved too much for distressed ankle and I went down in a heap.

Do you know when you can just feel every tendon in a section of your body rip all at once?  Yep, it was a doozy. So there I was, four paws down in a world of hurt, in the middle of the night on a remote island having the biggest party of the year amidst a hurricane.  I gritted my teeth, gathered my strength and hopped across the room to fling myself onto the bed.  A single fleeting moment of relief was dashed as the angle I had hit the bed had popped the slats out of their sockets.  Yes indeedy, I had broken the bed and found myself packed in a pile of blankets and mattress slung hammock-style wedged within the bed frame. A quick scan revealed I was warm and my leg was elevated, and I decided anything else could be sorted in the morning.

Rainbow 600

So, stone-cold sober and all alone I had managed to recreate a scene reminiscent of my younger wilder youth.  But morning dawned brightly and another wonderful breakfast and medical supplies provided by the Hostess with the Mostest Erica, and I set out for some sight seeing around the mainland before heading off to the ferry.  Unfortunately whilst I could drive, I couldn’t actually walk, so all the following photos had to be shot from my car.  There was so much more I wanted to see, and I was only able to swing by a few so I guess I will just have to go back!

Clickimin Broch

There was the Iron Age settlement of Clickimin Broch,

scalloway castle - 600

the atmospheric Scalloway Castle,

Shetland Ponies

and of course, loads of Shetland Ponies.

It really was such an adventure full of wonderful sites and people that you really should put Sheltand on your places to  visit.  And if you do, be sure to call try out the Omaruru B&B and heavens above, get yourself  to Up Helly Aa at least once in your life!

Major Improvement

Major Improvement

 Who would have thought that such a neat little piece of kit that cost just £35 ($50) could so totally transform what is possible and practical to photograph!
Who’d a thunk?

 I have really been struggling to get an even passable photographic representation of some of the recipes I have been cooking up as of late. 

Baked Croque Monsieur - super tasty but hideous when photographed:(.

This was a super yum Baked Croque Monsieur that I made for a girls lunch one day.  It was a sunny day, about 12.30 – decent light, and golden brown when it emerged from the oven.  But I could only capture a rather sad-looking grey appearance.  Totally JV (amateurish) and not at all what I was hoping to show you.

Even tea cakes in the Conservatory look less than glamorous.

Even my friend’s homemade tea cakes that she artfully arranged for a get together were OK when photographed but nowhere near how lovely they were in real life.  (She is starting a vintage china hire/rental service for hosting high tea in your home – how fab!)

Still lots of room for improvement...

But as of today a whole new day had dawned.  I am so excited to get cooking now that I can have some hope of presenting you with a pleasing image that may just want to make you give it a try!  Hooray and thank you Laura!

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