Category: Jeantopia

The Fantastic Elastic Nature of Love

The Fantastic Elastic Nature of Love

Suffice to say that my heart has run the gamut of Olympic level emotion this past week.

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Romantic Love

I had the incredible honour of attending my niece Allie and her new husband Calvin’s wedding in Vermont. I love all weddings but this one, in particular, was extra fun as almost half of our immense family was there for their first kiss almost ten years ago. Allie and Calvin’s love story began as a High School ‘Showmance’ and even us Hottie Scotties were present due to our one and only trip home for Thanksgiving when I was pregnant with my son. Can you imagine the pressure of knowing that your family, that easily comprised a quarter of the entire audience were all leaning forward in their seats with bated breath to see if the scripted kiss would be on the cheek, or *gasp* actually be planted on the lips?!

Through the years this wonderful couple has grown and overcome so much, especially in the face of Allie’s chronic Lyme Disease. She has not only written her first book, Suffering the Silence about this epidemic, but has gone on to found a non-profit of the same name to serve as a platform for so many others who suffer from often invisible diseases. They are both total rock stars!

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Love of Place

The event was held at their family home in Vermont. The Cashel Family have moved numerous times and even between countries over the decades but this home has been a constant for them.

In preparation for the wedding, they got everything all spruced (or cedared) up, which made Michael, the father of the bride in particular beyond happy. My wee family has had the privilege of staying here several times over the years as well and has always been a source of great warmth and comfort.  (File image under #WeSoYankee!)

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Love of an Event that Reflects your True Nature

It was a beautiful event that was a great reflection of the couple and the families that love them. It was simple, authentic, and unabashedly emotional. I have never seen so many bridesmaids cry during the whole ceremony (which was officiated by Conor my nephew and Allie’s brother), but someone else who was standing at a different vantage point said, “that was nothing, you should have seen the groom’s side!”

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Love of Proud Parents & Grandparents

Now, lots of people both feel and enjoy strong emotions at a wedding, but considering that much of the family are not prone to big public displays of affection, it was all the better.

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Love is Love!

Everyone was feeling the love and enjoying themselves, even my sister Liz and her wonderful wife Beth! It was only a handful of years ago that these two finally were able to have their own legal celebration, on the 20th anniversary of their first date. (Let’s all make sure it stays that way, m’kay!)

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Young Love

I also really enjoyed seeing my now adult nieces and nephews and to get meet their significant others. To see them all so happy with such lovely partners is a real treat considering many of these guys were about ten years old when I moved abroad! With any luck, I may have some more excuses to come home in years to come. *wink, wink*

(I thought being an Awkward Auntie was one of the great joys of life, that is until my daughter reached the age of adolescence where my sheer existence causes her to cringe with embarrassment. Mwahahahahah!)

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Love of New Life

But meeting this wee dude in person was a real highlight of the trip. This gorgeous bundle of cuteness is Cole, my niece Katherine & her hubby Matt’s baby, who is the first of this next generation. My God those cheeks, that smile…what else can you say?!

Although thrilled at this guy’s existence, it does officially make me a ‘Great-Aunt’ which is slightly disturbing as I still associate that term with somewhat stern elderly ladies with grey perms, hearing aids and serious neglect of the need for decent breast support.

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Love of Nature’s Beauty

The day itself was overcast and a bit damp, but the rain held off for the ceremony and the sun broke through to illuminate a cracking cocktail hour.

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Love of a Great Sunset

And its warm rays stayed out until it had a proper chance to show off and illuminate the entire sky an amazing array of pinks and purples. As the tent had a clear roof we could all savour the beauty as we sat down to our dinner.

Four Generations of Love Shaking Their Booty

The night continued with all the usual joy and merriment one would expect. But for me, perhaps a bit of a combination of jet lag, an acute awareness of how far away I live from so much of my tribe and just a bit of awe at the beauty of the setting, I found myself uncharacteristically just wanting to sit back and drink it all in.

For it is not often you get to see people you held as babes in arms, dancing proudly with their own wee bundles surrounded by sisters, mothers and grandmothers and great granddads. Just magic.

The Purest Love Possible

But as oft happens, just when you are basking in the moment of one emotion that ole needle on the record of life will scratch loudly announcing an unexpected change of tune.

I awoke joyfully on Sunday morning and posted some happy pictures on Facebook, which was the cue that a dear friend who was watching my beloved Luna had been waiting. “Could you please find a quiet moment to call me,” was her gentle message, hoping to help prepare me for a terrible shock.

This kind soul had the awful task to inform us that our most magnificent dog (she has my dog’s sister, so is an official canine Aunt) had unexpectedly and very suddenly experienced a fatal abdominal bleed out two nights earlier. My friend had provided the very best care and made sure that Luna was surrounded by love and comfort, but alas there was nothing that could have been done. She very bravely and very kindly held onto to the news so that we could enjoy our wedding, but the time had come.

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The Everday Goofiness of Love

As we had a very long journey home that day we, in turn, held off telling the kids so that they could have few more minutes in the glow of wonderful family event and be safely back in their own home before letting them know what had happened.

FYI, jet lag and grief are a rotten combination.

In a small stroke of fortune, this is our October Holidays so the kids don’t have to go to school as we come to terms with our loss, after all, it can take a bit to adjust to all the residual momentum of your routine.

(Check out my ace gardening skills, I can grow rosemary, a badminton racquet AND a terracotta pot!)

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The Heartbreak of Lost Love

As sad as we are to have lost such a huge part of our life, we’re all in agreement that even the (now) brief time we had with her was all totally worth it – even the heartache.

And we are so very thankful that we were able to travel to the States to take part in such a happy event.

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Love of a Familiar Haven

So here we are, tucked back up in our wee cottage in Skye, to rest our weary hearts and take a moment to remember that much of what makes life and love so very special is their inherently fragile nature.

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Love of Epic Landscapes

And something about walking along the quiet beaches of not only an ancient landscape but also a place that has endured a pretty spectacular amount itself over the past several hundred years provides a wonderful reminder that another day will indeed come.

So all that is left is just count the blessings you have today and enjoy every drop of love in your life, whatever form you may find it in.

Love. x

 

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.

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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 Scottish Referendum

You can’t really have a blog about life in Scotland without addressing the Independence Referendum held this past week. Just is case you may not know me personally or can’t conclude from my previous writings, I am whole-heartedly in support of not just Scottish Independence but all movements that seek democratic self-determination.

It was the most amazing, exciting experience that I feel so privileged to have been able to part take in such of moment of history. The votes were cast and counted and things didn’t go our way. But because this wasn’t just a political campaign but a real grassroots social movement, like many others I don’t think this is the end of the story.

By all accounts I should feel devastated…but I don’t. Whilst having a wee chat with myself to try to explore if my reaction is one of shock, denial or just plain insanity a strange but very powerful knowing came over me. The clarity comes after reviewing the posts on social media expressing incredible relief and for calls to please let’s just accept this, hug and move forward together. “It is all over” friends, the media and the politicians say. “We asked the question and the matter has been settled for a generation, let’s discuss it no more.”

But as a woman I know something. And this knowing has given me great hope and a surprising sense of peace on this of all days.

Having been there myself and coached numerous others over time, I understand it is actually much harder to leave a relationship that is crappy but not horrific. When it is horrific people organise interventions, offer money and help you pack. When it is just crappy, people tell you to try harder. You tell yourself that if you try harder maybe they will stop being such jerks. I mean, it’s not like they beat you or anything, but the constant insults, belittling, and control over money does stink. When it is just crappy even your family and community do all they can to keep the norm, keep the peace, it’s not so bad is it? You just need to try harder.

When you try to express your frustration people are tempted to size you up and say, “You seem all right to me. Are you really going to throw this all away, take your kids out of school, give up everything you have worked for all these years and risk being an outcast just for the chance that things may be better?” After endless aurguments when your partner has told you you’ll be destitute, nobody would ever have you anyway, you’re worthless without them for the umpteenth time and even though you fight back, a part of you believes them.

And then you reach a point where you’ve had enough. You mean it this time and you have made up your mind. A teeny part of you maybe even starts to get excited by what the future may hold. A few adventures and opportunities may even await. You pack your bags, take the kids and head to a hotel or your Mum’s house. Then comes the pleading, the flowers and the promises to change, “weren’t we great together years ago? Can’t we get back there again? Can’t we try one…more…time?” And maybe because you’re tired, maybe it’s because the kids are crying that they want to go home, maybe your mother is still tut-tutting away in your head for what she sees as selfishness, you buckle and go back.

The No vote won by appealing to people’s fears of money, security and division in people’s communities. I hear people expressing a strong desire for change but from within the existing structure. Sure that structure is crappy, insulting and disrespectful but it’s our job to roll up our sleeves and clean it up, isn’t it? Make it fairer, more respectful, more equal…because that is what we were promised.

But I know a little something.

Once things come to this point, everyone recommits and tries their best for a while. It might last for a few months maybe even a few years. But before you know it you are back to the same old crappy dynamic. And then one day something happens that just encapsulates everything. Often it is not the big blow out that you would think, but a teeny thing. I experienced this myself and have heard it from scores of others.

Maybe they make a cutting remark without thinking. Perhaps they drain the bank account when they knew you needed that money. They hand you burnt toast. And when that one thing happens, you simply get up and walk out the door.

I wanted Scotland to have a great victory today. It would have been the right way to do it in a joyful, democratic, legal way with the whole world cheering us on. But too many in Scotland are still committed to the vision of what they wish the relationship with Westminster and Britain to be, and not how damaging only 45% of us seem to understand. The other 55% chose to return home to recommit one more time.

But it won’t last, not after coming to this point. It never does.

I have no faith that Westminster will deliver anything but more hardship for Scotland. And when those who voted No, those who so desperately just want to paper over the cracks, keep the peace, forget any of this ever happened, soon find themselves being served burnt toast yet again, well let’s just say that folks may just find themselves at a breaking point and things may come to a rather abrupt end.

I don’t think Scotland will ever have another referendum as we just had. I fear for those who are suffering at unfair cuts and chronic lack of investment whilst those who are the most well off do what they can to protect their own wealth and stability. But I know that the flowering of engagement, awareness and self-empowerment that has come about, whilst severely dented today will not just go away. As a student of history, as a human and as a woman I know this is not the end of the story for Scotland’s self-determination.

At this point I have no idea how or when Scotland’s Independence may come about, and I feel now that when it does it may just surprise us all. But while what we currently have now seems to be working for enough of us, it is really, really not working for far too many to be sustainable for very long.

So for not the first time in my life, I have a deep and profound sense of knowing that sometime soon everything is about to change. I wonder how it will all pan out.

I will be continue to use this blog to explore the food, history and lifestyle of Scotland, and I will move my political writings that have appeared on the Huffington Post and Wings Over Scotland to my new blog of NewScotGirl.com. Come visit me there is you are curious as to the next chapter of Scotland’s journey toward Independence.

Thank you for your patience!

A New Day Dawns (Finally)

A New Day Dawns (Finally)

So, the day had finally arrived…my children were in school full-time! This is THE point in time where (ideally) years of creative preparation were to emerge from development to magically transmute into reality.  As per the fickle finger of fate, the starting gun was waylaid by a horrendous multi-week cold.  However, don’t feel too sorry for me as the cooties were most likely the direct result of the shenanigans I have been up to for the past months (more on that in a bit).

So, let’s start with a recap of recent doings in Jeantopia.  Following up on the creation of this blog about two and half years ago, this past  year saw the official launch of my artisan food business of Alba Flavour!

snapshot AF 2012

I began with a line of hand-made chicken sausages, full of flavour of free from all the nasties that are often found in mass-produced meats.  Thanks to the support of a few stalwart fans, word began to spread and before I knew it I was filling weekly orders up to my limits of time and space – happy days!

A few additional products  joined the party with my Balsamic Bacon Chutney, Pickled Fennel, Italian Olive Salad and  Salmon Jerky, and I had officially maxed out my utility room and spare fridge. So Alba Flavour is expanding to its own purpose-built structure in my back garden to hold dedicated prep & ready-to-eat fridges, a freezer, smoker, dehydrators and lot of storage!!!

Here is a sneak preview of what will soon be on offer either direct from me or (hopefully soon) from a local fine food cafe, deli or farm shop.  The goal is basically to be a poultry & seafood-based artisan charcuterie, highlighting many of the ridiculously fantastic resources that Scotland has to offer.

snapshot AF 2013

So far so good.  We have the blog – which is due for a revamp, the business – which is growing and now let me introduce you…

THE BOOK!

This next project has been simmering away in my head for at least a decade and probably since my very first visit to Scotland in 1998. For reasons I simply can not fathom, within the UK Scots have a reputation as being quite grumpy and dour.  I think it has something to do with over-emphasis on the weather & chagrin over producing John Knox, but I can assure the experience of living here is ANYTHING but sullen!  In addition, Scotland is home to some of the most unusual, bizarre and outrageous celebrations on God’s green earth – so there.

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So, after waiting a  full 10 years for someone imminently for worthy than I to do this, I set out to travel the country to try to capture the history, customs, food & spectacle of some of Scotland’s unique events. (See, nine months of travel & party are surely to blame for my recent malaise.)  Let me tell you this stuff is UNBELIEVABLE  and I can not wait to share it with you.

The book begins at one minute past midnight on New Year’s with the tradition of ‘First Footing’ and follows the calendar through a whole variety of events that culminates back on the 31st of December with Scotland’s signature New Year’s celebration of  ‘Hogmany’.   Along the way I have been doing some serious feasting and will provide my own recipes highlighting seasonal and local ingredients to best capture the essence of the events, so you too can enjoy the spirit of some these too-fabulous-for-prime-time parties.

The good news for readers of this blog is, that I have decided to use this space to share the all singing/all dancing tales of each of my adventures, which will then be trimmed down to a bit more polished and condensed version for the book. I will hold back on the recipes that will be in the book, but will continue posting other tasty treats from my day-to-day culinary adventures.

So there you have it – the blog/business/book extravaganza that will all hopefully blossom magnificently over the course of this next year.  Ideally, (this is Jeantopia after all) the book will be available in time for the Glasgow Commonwealth Games & the Ryder Cup next summer so fingers crossed.

So that is the starting gun fired, and as we all get settled into our new school routines don’t forget to take your vitamins and watch out for some wild & woolly tales of  hurricanes, Vikings, reggae tents and a shocking variety of things set afire.

Happy Back to School!

Elderflower Madness

Elderflower Madness

It is just not easy being me.  As it is Monday, and I savour the mix of post-emergency room embarrassment, missed Father’s Day guilt and travel exhaustion, I feel I must share my tale of woe to try to ease your life journey with a cautionary tale from my own.

The Culprits

The Culprits

For the past several years, our lifestyle TV presenters have urged us to get out and enjoy the riches of our countryside.  And the example that almost ALL have advocated, the virtual training-wheels exercise of foraging,  is to get out and make yourself some Elderflower Champagne.  All you need to do is to look for the little white flowers that grow in bunches in wild roadside settings…

Elderflower in Bloom

Elderflower in Bloom

ferment them with a little lemon and a whole lot sugar, and SHAZAM, home-made champagne.  Do a quick internet search and you can find videos, kits and endless blog posts about how easy and wonderful this elevated yet homespun delight is for the taking.

Home-made Elderflower Champagne

Home-made Elderflower Champagne

So, several months ago I set my cap for this project.  I shared my enthusiasm with friends, family & anyone else to please keep their eyes peeled for the first sign the fleeting but bountiful blossoms.  I was NOT going to miss them this year.  At last, the word had arrived.

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Elderflower Updates from Friends

That was the good news.   The bad news was that the start whistle of the season had blown right in the middle of a few very busy weeks, with family events, lovely house guests and a tag-a-long trip to my sister’s self-declared mid-life crisis in the south of France.

However,  I returned from France and my champagne kit  had arrived, so I was pleased to still see a few of the tell-tale white flowers on one last stretch of hedgerow…or so I thought.   My mantra was, “head to the hedgerow, find little white flowers that grow in bunches..”, which I repeated over and over.   As such, I powered through the exhaustion of my 4:30 am waking time to run out and fill my bucket with the blossoms, but as I was rushing I managed to grab a fair few leaves as well.

Highly Allergic NOT Elderflower

Highly Allergic NOT Elderflower

I didn’t feel my best and had a tricky tummy, but anyone who single-handedly tried to drink the south of France dry in four days, downing lots of teeny fried sardines en route and sleeping very little would feel the same.  It wasn’t until I sat down with my bucket on my lap to ready the blossoms for fermenting that my lips began to tingle, which I quickly dismissed due to probable sunburn.  I thought I would watch a few refresher video demonstrations so I could proceed with more confidence, and as my tongue started to swell and breath became shallow I started to get a bit nervous.

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My very sensible husband quickly referred to his handy guide for edible plants in Britain, only to discover that if my little white flowers were not in fact Elderflowers, most of the likely substitutes all had alarming illustrations of skulls & crossbones next to their entries.

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Here are the entries for the most likely plants that also produce little white flowers that grow along the hedgerows in Britain.  Let’s review shall we?

Cowbane (Deadly)

Cowbane (Deadly)

Cowbane, a member a parsley family that is so toxic it can kill a cow in 15 minutes. In humans it can burn skin badly and render the affected area photosensitive (as in can never be exposed to the sun ever again)  for life.

Fool's Parsley

Fool’s Parsley (Deadly)

Fool’s Parsley, which features heavily in deadly foraging accounts on the internet (even involving veteran foragers), with one man dying after pinching two leaves to taste.

Poison Hemlock (Deadly)

Poison Hemlock (Deadly)

And then we have the Grand Daddy of deadly roadside blossoms, the Poison Hemlock.  This is  the delight that sent Socrates to meet his maker and is most potent when prepared….as a drink.  It’s poison is not only a neurotoxin but also causes muscular and respiratory paralysis.  Needless to say, now I am properly worried.

Out of an abundance of caution, I thought I would check with NHS 24, the phone service you call for them to say, “let’s wait and see for a few hours” so you don’t have to travel to a doctor to tell you the same thing.  They tell me to get to a hospital immediately.  Crumbs.

Now, even though I was told to go the hospital that doesn’t mean that the staff there were particularly happy to see me on their doorstep.  No one wanted to hear my tale of mistaken champagne making and absolutely no one wanted to inspect my little baggy of offending flowers.  As I was there anyway, they felt obligated to do something with me and since one of my symptoms was some chest tightening, they decided to treat me as if I was having a heart attack.  When the electrodes taped all over me refused to register a heart irregularity, they felt they had done all they could for me.  At that point they sent me…in an ambulance…to a different hospital  A&E (emergency room),  that was enjoying the aftermath of a baseball bat brawl amongst a herd of very drunk, partially clothed youths.

Please picture six “stalls” of curtained areas with at least 4 police and 2-3 medical personnel IN EACH STALL attending to head traumas, smashed hands and collapsed lungs, and there is me in the middle stall, with my hounds-tooth wrap, a baggy of blossoms and an edible plant field guide to try to clarify if  my stingy lips meant I was going to peg it on Father’s Day.

After the bleeding screamers were hauled off to surgery, jail or ejected out the door, a doctor came in to basically say that since I wasn’t dead yet I was probably fine, and prescribed an antihistamine for a week. Relief quickly soured to embarrassment and I wearily called a taxi at 1:00 am.  My very nice driver politely inquired (after negotiating me through the residual fight participants laying on the pavement/sidewalk) why I was at the hospital at such an hour.  So I confessed all, stating the whole episode was going to sent to the vault immediately after that single airing.

Guess what?  HE HAD DONE THE EXACT SAME THING! Only he had come across another nasty white blossom known as Hogsweed and erupted in painful blisters on his face and hands that took a week to heal.  He told me I absolutely had to share what had happened as there were probably loads of other people that could make similar mistakes as we had, perhaps with even worse outcomes.

It's All About the Leaves

It’s All About the Leaves

So, SAFETY TIP: there are MANY little white flowers out there in Britain at this time of year, and ANY that ARE NOT Elderflowers  either contain highly allergic substances or can kill you.  So for Pete’s Sake be careful and share these tidbits that no previous celebrity, program, blog, video or brewing website happened to mention!

The key is in the leaves, not the flowers and you need to look out for large, single-shaped, shiny leaves that end in a point.  If you see little white flowers but the leaves have complex shapes or look like ferns….RUN!

Champagne Kit for Sale!

Champagne Kit for Sale!

For me, I fear that I am indeed going to give this seasons champagne a pass.  Unused kit for sale anyone?

Dangerously Smug Tossers

Potentially Dangerous Smugness

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/jun/01/how-to-make-elderflower-champagne

Now, the fact that I gathered the wrong plant is not a huge shock given my gardening status as a Black Thumb.  But  that  lots of people are happily sending us out there WITH NO WARNINGS AS TO THE SEVERITY if things do go wrong feel quite irresponsible.  So the next time you come across a show, blog or article such as the link above, remember to ALWAYS be careful before you gather or eat ANYTHING in the wild with knowing exactly what it is AND  if there are any potentially dangerous plants similar in appearance. And wear gloves, even on a hot day…you will thank me later.

Now, I am off to the wine store to retreat to the safety of  ready-made Prosecco for another year.

Have a Happy & Safe Monday!

Old Skool Xmas 2012 - The Wonderbag

Old Skool Xmas 2012 – The Wonderbag

Well contrary to popular belief, apparently I was very good this past year! I have been itching to share my excitement over the lovely things Santa brought me this year and have finally found a quiet moment to do so, so sit back & relax as this is sooooo cool!

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From left to right let me introduce you to the super exciting Wonderbag, a new 9 cup (Stovetop) Espresso Maker, and my 5 Level Food Dehydrator with adjustable temperature controls. Can you tell I might have made my Christmas list during Hurricane Sandy when many of my nearest and dearest were without power for up to 10 days?  For the sake of brevity (my signature strength) I am only going to focus on The Wonderbag in this post, but fret not as subsequent adventures of espresso on the BBQ and home-made jerky will follow soon.

Now, onto the Wonderbag.

Metro Article

I first heard about this marvel just about a year ago when my husband brought this article home from his commute (he’s good like that).  This write up told the story of very enterprising woman based in South Africa named Sarah Collins, who after experiencing a frustrating round of power cuts and subsequent half-cooked meals in 2007 remembered her grandmother packing cushions around her pots to keep them hot.  She tried it, it worked and once she partnered up with friend and poverty activist Moshy Mathe in 2008, *SHAZAM* the Wonderbag was born.  At the time of my reading the article these were not yet available in the UK (as it is now) but my interest had been piqued.

Wonderbag

The Wonderbag itself is basically a super-insulated bean bag that acts as a slow cooker.  You cook your stew, curry, casserole, chowder or pasta bake up to a boiling temperature for anywhere between 5 to 15 minutes depending on the dish, you remove it from the heat, cover securely and place it in the bag with its hat and pull the drawstring tight.  The food will continue its cooking and stay hot for up to 12 hours without any additional energy,  allowing you to create deeply flavoured, healthy meals that are flat-out impossible to burn!

instructions

Not only is this just great kit but depending where you are in the world (such as Africa), it can help reduce the average family’s fuel consumption by up to 30%, which is not nothing when you consider many families need to spend up to a third of their income on fuel.  Worst still the fuel available to those same families is often in the form of paraffin, wood or dung which may require huge amounts of time to gather and often forces them into places that are not so safe.  When burned these fuel sources can produce nasty toxins in the home for all to breathe.  The Wonderbag actually works on the same principle as burying a pot in the ground as humans have done for thousands of years (think cowboy baked beans &  New England clambakes but with portability) and in more modern usage in the ‘hay boxes’ in Britain during WWII.

According to Oliver Thring writing in the Guardian newspaper, “Collins calculates that a family of four using the Wonderbag two or three times a week will save $80 a year on fuel. (Zimbabwe, for example, has a GDP per capita of $471.)”.  For every Wonderbag purchased in the UK, another is donated to a family in Africa, so the £30 price tag doesn’t sting so much. They retail for about £14 or $22 in South Africa or at a reduced price (or even free) for those in need.

The company founded by Collins is called Natural Balance and in 2011 it presented the Wonderbag to the UN Conference on Climate Change in Durban, South Africa.  After impressing the likes of Ban Ki-Moon and Microsoft, the product was picked up by global distributor Unilever.  The Wonderbag is now in over 150,000 homes in South Africa, has created over 8,000 jobs and Unilever has placed an order for over 5 million more bags to begin world-wide distribution. Not too shabby, eh?

I have left a few messages and emails as to when this will be available in the States & Canada and will post the information accordingly. The Wonderbag website is here http://nb-wonderbag.com/ if you want to check it out.

Wonderbag with pot

Right then, that is the Eco bit – let’s get down to how super cool this can be for absolutely everybody, not just those experiencing fuel poverty.  Now, I have been loving my slow cooker for the past several years, but it does indeed have a few drawbacks.  Firstly, I am not entirely keen on leaving it plugged in overnight or when I am not at home for great lengths of time (I am a Nervous Nelly I can’t help it).  Also, I do not have a massively spacious kitchen where power outlets and counter space can accommodate 6 litres of simmering hot stuff for extended periods, and finally I have had some experiences with larger stews that can burn on the bottom imparting a bitter taste if it gets mixed into the dish.  I have also found that conventional slow cookers are not terribly flexible as to the amount of  food you would like to cook, so you are kind of stuck with very large or very small amounts depending on your unit.

The Wonderbag solves all these issues in a one go as demonstrated by my Cuban Black Bean Chili.  (It is really Black Bean Soup but I renamed it for my British friends for whom it makes more sense to call it “Chili”.)  On Christmas Night I put a 500 g (1 pound) packet of dried black beans in a pot with a few bay leaves tucked in, covered with water and brought it to a boil for about 5 minutes and reduced to a simmer for 5 minutes more.  I removed it from the stovetop and packed it into its bag.  Now, here it where it gets good…

Resting

I could stick it in an entirely different room, away from harm’s (and turkey sandwiches’) way and leave it fire-hazard-free all night!  And it did just what it said it would, 12 hours later it was still hot and the beans had soaked up to perfection.  I removed the pot from the bag, sautéed up some veggies, spices and a garlic sausage that I dumped into the pot – brought it all back up to the boil for 5 minutes and simmer for 15 – back in the Wonderbag until we felt like eating our a wonderful post-Christmas lunch!  I have included the recipe below which can be made with canned/tinned beans but there is a difference in the overall flavour when they are soaked warm overnight.  Apologies for the over exposure of this image, but it is hard to make black bean look yummy at the best of times – but trust me it tastes divine.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This is the obvious way to use this bag, but think of heading out for a long car ride to a holiday or ski home.  After several hours you reach your destination in the dark, cold & tired – but clever you stuck a big pot of Beef Stew, Veggie Chili or even Mac & Cheese into your Wonderbag before heading out and now have a hot home cooked meal upon arrival instead of a rubbish takeout!  What about hot pulled pork sandwiches at the soccer game or ice rink and just think about what you could do at a tailgate!  It is also great for camping or fishing trips and since it can keep food cold as well as hot it would be fabulous for big summer salads for picnics, reunions or a trip to the beach (without getting waterlogged in a regular cooler and/or squashed by your drinks).

My next trial is to pour some hot milk over oatmeal with maybe some cinnamon & raisins as I hear you can wake up to perfect oatmeal every time even on a school day – will let you know.

wonder bag cookbook

The Wonderbag comes with a handy little cookbook to get you started which included roasted meats (once seared) and even some sweet dessert recipes.  However,  when I was first getting started in slow cooking I had great luck with this next baby.  The reason being I wanted to be THOROUGHLY convinced of the science and safety of slow cooking and also of how to adapt many of my favourite recipes to the slow cooking process.  This book provided all and has become a fast favourite.

Slow Cookers for Dummies

The one single negative I have come across about the Wonderbag is that some reviewers are quite sniffy that it currently uses recycled, but non-biodegradable polystyrene (Styrofoam) beans as the insulator, even though they are working to develop a biodegradable polyurethane.  My thoughts are, “Hey, we just had Christmas and if any of that polystyrene that is still heavily employed in packing can stay out of the ground as landfill and be put to work as an Eco Cooker and reduced carbon emission – rock on babe”.

And finally, I wish you could all have seen the look on my Scottish Mother-in-Law’s face when I unveiled each of these Santa treats, but then again she did give me a live plum tree for my Christmas and even snuck into my yard with her gardener to plant it, so maybe she’s getting a kick out of all this as well. 🙂

Wishing Everybody a Happy & Healthy ( & Reduced Emissions) New Year!

Cuban Black Bean Chili

Ingredients

  • 500 g dried black beans soaked overnight OR 3 cans/tins ready made black beans with liquid.
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large mild pepper, red or green is fine
  • 2 stalks celery,
  • 2 cloves garlic, smashed
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 can/tin of chopped tomatos
  • 2 cubes of beef boullion dissolved in 1/4 cup water or Brewers Yeast if veggie
  • 1/3 cup (or one big glug) red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/4 cup or 50 mls of jarred/tinned jalapeño peppers with some liquid, chopped
  • 250 - 300 grams or half a pound of cooked smoked ham, or smoked pork sausage, diced.

Instructions

  1. - If soaking the beans from dry, put them in a large lidded pot with a few bay leaves tucked in the beans. Cover with water and bring to a boil for 5 minutes and simmer for 5 more minutes. Cover and turn off heat for 2 - 10 hours OR if using the Wonderbag, cover, remove from heat and place in bag for 4+ hours but 10 hours or overnight is best. (If using an electric slow cooker please follow instructions for your appliance.)
  2. - In another pan sauté/ fry diced vegetables (not including beans) in a bit of oil for 3-5 minutes.
  3. - Once softened, add vegetables to the large pot with the beans.
  4. - Add remaining ingredients to the large pot, stir to combine and bring back up to the boil.
  5. - Reduce to simmer until ready to eat or place in a Wonderbag for 1- 4 hours or longer until you are ready to eat.
  6. - Garnish with grated cheese and spring onions/scallions.
  7. - Serve with rice, cornbread or simply a butter roll - Super Yum!
http://albaliving.com/2013/01/old-skool-xmas-2012-the-wonderbag/

Head'n Upstream - Recent Readings

Head’n Upstream – Recent Readings

I (like many folks of a creative bent) can get knocked off my perch with disheartening ease.  For me, this book was the most recent culprit.  It is well written, highly acclaimed and billed as “The Complete Guide to Writing Cookbooks, Blogs, Reviews, Memoir, and More”. So naturally I thought, “Hey, this sounds fabulous for me!”.

I researched this book.  I asked for this book for my Christmas, and I dually read this book whilst taking copious notes. And in return, this book paralysed me and brought my outward creative expressions to a screeching halt. (Bad book, Bad!)  There was of course, nothing wrong with book itself,  just my reaction to its sage words.  The nasty little chorus in my head (that sounds startling like the Wickersham Brothers in “Horton Hears a Who”) struck up their music and somehow convinced me that everything I had been doing in regards to writing about food had all been horribly, shamefully wrong.  Alas.

So, I waited for the chagrin to pass and tried to distract myself with a little light reading about the average Scottish woman’s life in the Tenement buildings of Edinburgh and Glasgow in the first half on the 20th century…good times.

I tend to read rather quite a lot of books like this as I am fascinated by the different aspects of life in my adopted home and their various histories.  The Scots are not terribly forthcoming with helping you understand the “why” in how things are the way they are, but then again – they are not terribly forthcoming with each other in general, so I don’t take it too personally.  Anyway, this is a brilliant book with wonderful insights into the everyday lives of an often silent (at least in historical records –  not in real life I am sure) majority of woman who lived, loved, and coped in unimaginable conditions and whose experiences influence much of what is modern Scotland today.

I can HIGHLY recommend this wonderfully researched book for ANYONE who for more than ONE SECOND is tempted to retreat into their inner core to host a little pity party for themselves about how life is treating them.  Strong tonic this!

However, my writing funk was still not shifting, school holidays were now upon us and all schedules went out the window.   Luckily, on the recommendation of my brother, I began this next ditty. This is the equally impressive corollary to this same author’s Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs & Steel.  I LOVE Diamond’s work as it soars through time, space & catastrophe with his unique blend of super smarty-pants observations and humour.  Who else can take you through the demise of Easter Island and Medieval Greenland, straight into the impending doom of our modern environmental actions and leave you begging for more? (Very important folks…do NOT cut down all your trees for grazing and/or farming – Top Tip.)

Well, with my brain properly humming with thoughts of over-salinisation of our eroded and depleted soils and the general precariousness of our existence, my next read came packing a surprising wallop. This is Douglas Adams’s (of the Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy fame) posthumous book.   It is not just a collection of articles and notes from his hard drive, but also the first chapters of the books he was working on at his untimely death in May of 2001 during a gym workout. ( Stay with me – things cheer up from here on…)

Well, anyone who knows Adams’s writing knows the sheer joy of his absurd ramblings. Yet even though he brought so much joy and humour to so many, in his life he constantly struggled with a (seemingly bizarre) lack of confidence.  So, although the title of the Salmon of Doubt began life as a possible sixth book in the Hitchhiker’s trilogy (yup that’s right), it is also a reference to his own creative journey and what hard it work it can be to keep those taps flowing.  This collection was compiled by his family and editors so that we could all savour just a bit more of his genius after his death.  As quoted in the Financial Times, “Douglas Adams threw away better ideas than most people have ever had…”.  Crikey, if it could be a challenge for him, what could I possibly be stressing about?

As my inner perspective regained a slightly more permissive and chilled stance, I encountered this next absolute gem of a book.  Now, I admit I was bracing for another worthwhile but very academic tome when I cracked the cover, but joy of joys this book was anything but a dry read!  It was written by a woman who was born in a fishing village in Fife in 1895 and whilst she lived with and amongst the fisher folk of the village, she and her family we always slightly “other” and therefore apart as her father was a fish buyer and caretaker of one of the churches in town.  Bottom line this was one of the richest, most interesting, enjoyable historical accounts I have ever read (and I have read a few) which very nearly never saw the light of day!

It was written by the author many decades after she moved away from Scotland, first to travel to Algeria as a Missionary and then to relocate in England (doon Sooth).  After her death her son passed it to her sister who insisted that she needed to take a black marker to most of it and promptly stored it in a bottom drawer.  For many more years that it where it sat until well after the sister’s death when the son came across it again.  Perhaps he had grown a bit, but not only did he overcome his embarrassment at his mother’s long remembered childhood in Scotland, he had the humility in the forward of the book to acknowledge, “I think I always underestimated my mother”.  He finally saw that this treasure was published – almost 100 years from when many of these observations occurred and over 50 years from when they were recorded as a book.

So, what do I take from this random collection of readings? Well, just that life is fleeting and precarious at best and that to waste any of that time panicking about the calibre of your creative output is a waste.  Everyone brings something different to the table and there is no one way or even right way to go about letting your free flag fly.  Hopefully, things improve with time and effort, but even great creatives have the same struggles no matter what their external trappings of success.  So lighten up, get cracking and enjoy sharing your thoughts, dreams & creations with each other because if not, the world will be less rich because of your hesitations.

Happy Weekend!

 

Recent Projects

Recent Projects

My husband has been travelling quite a bit as of late which usually gives me a chance to catch up on some reading.  However, while putting fresh sheets on my bed today the most recent pile of books got knocked off their various perches on and around my bedside table.  The ensuing mess made for a good visual of, “oh dear, if anyone sees this they will think I have really gone off my rocker” moment.  So, after a quick giggle, I thought I would share…

It all started innocently enough with a primer on building with straw bales in the UK.  I was aware that this was a more widely accepted and understood means of eco building in the US, but British building regulation can be positively Byzantine and I wanted to get a clearer picture on how it would work over here.

For those of you that have zero idea what I am talking about, you can build a small to very complicated structure using bales of hay (yep, really).  You can either just stack the bales like giant bricks, securing them with wooden stakes (as metal would gather condensation), or you can build a wooden/ timber frame for your house and infill the spaces with the bales of hay.  The whole shebang gets a coating of lime based stucco/ harling/ parging both inside and out and viola  – you have a super-insulated house for cool summers and cosy winters.  Or cosy summers as the case may be over here.

But my curiosity of  how to build a straw bale for the eco home than led me to start visiting plots of land for sale where I could begin such a project.  And that’s when things began to go off the rails.

Many of the plots for sale in our price range are abandon farms, decommissioned forest areas or just really, really remote.  As the cost and logistics of bringing mains water and electricity are likely to surpass the overall budget for the eco build – and isn’t the whole idea to reduce dependency on those very systems – I thought I better brush up on my basic knowledge of wind mills, solar panels, micro hydro options and composting toilets.

It was daunting to say the least.  Everyone featured in this book was just a tad (read a whole lot of) fringe for my tastes.  I think I may have actually hugged my combi-boiler in appreciation of my central heating when I finished.  Regardless, even if I personally don’t want to squat and shiver in a yurt well into my dotage, there were some elements that were really interesting.  I just needed a bit more…gourmet and a little less hermit-like (and furry) case studies.

Mothers who have no time for themselves and a pocketful of book gift certificates about to expire should NOT be let loose in a mall 15 minutes before closing time.  Without really knowing what I was looking for and having annoyed employees shutting lights around me in punishment for ruining their early closing, I grabbed this next beauty.  Written by a  father and son team who work a small holding farm part-time, I was feeling hopeful after a quick flip-through.   I spotted instructions on how to make butter, cheese and most importantly elderflower champagne.  This appeared to be more up my street.

It was very organised and informative with lots of helpful pictures, but really I don’t think having to single-handedly dispose of a turkey by stuffing a traffic cone on its head was really what I had in mind for my next chapter of life.  So in a rare burst of realism I thought that maybe I needed to scale things back,  short-term only of course.

After reading just how much flaming work it would be to constantly manage recycled truck or submarine batteries just to keep the lights on, and then to have to build, grow and/or kill everything around me, I though maybe learning how to “put up” or “can” might be a good winter project instead.

My palette is feeling like the grasshopper in the Aesop’s Fable who danced all summer while the busy ant was packing away stores for the winter.  When I open my cupboards lately I feel a great lack of inspiration having not spent the growing season making  jams, chutneys, and dilly beans.  That feeling, coupled with the shocking price increases on fresh fruits and vegetables (£4 or $6.50 for a small tub/punnet of strawberries) that winter always brings – set me on a mission to learn the basics of at home food storage and maybe even plant a small patch of peppers and tomatoes next spring.

One small glitch is that I have absolutely no idea what I am doing and did not even grow up witnessing a Granny go through the process (but she did have a cellar full of impressive jars I can tell you that).  So on the great authority of my friend-in-law Jess I purchased this home canning or bottling kit.  Now, I like to think I am pretty snappy in the kitchen but I will be honest with you and say that these just about  looked like veterinary obstetrics tools to me so unfamiliar were they to my eyes.

So it was with great relief that I prized this very informative slip of paper from the bottom of the box, so I could at least know what these things were called and to what purpose I should apply them.  Magnetic lid lifter…who’d a thunk?

I am now ready to roll and will be experimenting with hot pepper jelly for Christmas gifts, my own dill pickles to properly complement my left-overs sandwich from Thanksgiving and maybe, just maybe I can finally reverse engineer my B&G’s Sandwich Spread for sublime homemade Italian subs.  And as I continue to search for a suitable plot of land and read about passive solar gain from the comfort of my centrally heated house, I will take a few new steps down the road to preserving and maybe even growing some of my own food.

Wish me luck!

 

 

Things That Keep Me Sane - Part 1

Things That Keep Me Sane – Part 1

Hello again after an unscheduled month-long break!

Back in July I encountered what turned out to be a perfect storm of;  a few technical challenges I wanted to conquer, the school summer holidays and the not unexpected but unexpectedly debilitating evaporation of any and all childcare.  As I enter a new autumn schedule I pledge to hopefully maintain a minimum of  my previous three posts per week to keep you smiling.  As a quick welcome back, I though I would share with you some of the things I rely on (quite heavily some times) to keep me sane.  Let’s face it, some of us just need a lick more help in that department and I am here to share some of my most favorite helpful hints to help steady your rocky boat.

One of the unexpected things of parenthood is not just how much time you spend on the floor but also the Sisyphean task of trying to keep said floor devoid of dirt, glitter and pulverized Cheerios.  Whether your mother-in-law is just on her way over or your little darling (human, canine or other) has FINALLY fallen asleep and you desperately need to get going with a Pilates DVD, I can highly recommend rediscovering your Granny’s Carpet Sweeper.

So Simple Yet So Very Effective

Now it is not like I don’t own and love my Dyson, but if you are going to go through the hassle of dragging your vacuum out of the closet you want to be doing the whole once a week job.  But the problem with real life is that some spaces really need to be done a whole lot more than that – particularly to clean up after the play date for which you just spent the morning cleaning!  This baby is cheap, super effective on hair, grit, crumbs and aqua beads.  It also has two chambers that are incredibly satisfying to empty in horror after each use but most importantly it is QUIET.  No one’s nerves are going to get jangled and everyone’s stress levels are going to come down when mama is not stomping and growling in frustration at having a grotty front room.  It is also lightweight, teeny and can be stored behind a floor length curtain.  Additionally, the handle can be reduced in size to comfortably fit the average 3-5 years old offender’s frame to aid in clean ups.  PS don’t be fooled into getting the more expensive versions – the brushes do fall out but pop back in easy enough and there is no great improvement for spending more money – go cheap and replace once every few years – remember there is no electricity involved.  A quick warning – DON’T let your children stand on your beloved sweeper as they can dent the frame and make popping the brush back in place trickier.

Anyone who has known me within the past ten years knows of my deep love for GONZO stain remover.  It is a colourless, odourless, environmentally safe and a fantastic stain remover.  In my pre-parent life it was mainly put to use for red wine spills, blood, Tikka Masala sauce and ink stains.  I still love it but it is very hard for me to acquire me in the UK.  As you see I can only purchase (pre-shipping cost) for £7 / $11.50 in the UK but it only costs about £1.25 / $2.00 in the States (an issue filed under “Things That Make Me Nuts”) and is widely available at home goods and hardware stores.

To fill the void my reduced access to Gonzo has created,  I have since discovered something that could rival and in some areas even surpass my treasured stain remover – this is the magic of Sol-U-Mel.

Sol-U-Mel is available from a company called Melaleuca, which is a direct-selling type of manufacturer, specialising in eco products that kick butt.  Sol-U-Mel is also great on wine, grease and permanent marker, but has the added bonus of both de-odourising and disinfectant qualities which come in very handy in the potty training/ car sick emergencies.  As my friend Judy said, “I have young children and old dogs in my house – I need this in my life!”  Personally, my son has had a penchant for wall/carpet/body art all inspired by his “Red Marker” phase and Sol-U-Mel has saved my sanity and a small fortune –  and it is available in the US, Canada, Ireland and the UK.  Find someone who is a Melaleuca customer or dealer and get yourself a stash of this stat.

 

Now this next beauty may just make a bit more sense for UK life but maybe not – so  let me introduce you to the inexpensive, ubiquitous and super handy pasting table!  As they name suggests, it is in theory a tool for wallpapering but is also fantastic for kids parties, buffets, car boot/yard sales, fundraisers and most importantly laundry marathons.  Now unlike in the States, British homes don’t tend to have basements or separate laundry rooms.  While almost every house or flat will have a washing machines (even rented flats for all you New Yorkers out there) they tend to be located in the kitchen and are  even considered to be a kitchen appliance (don’t ask, it just is the way).  I have already addressed in a previous post about our weather that Brits just LOVE to hang multiple loads of washing out to dry, only to have to sprint to its rescue when an inevitable rain storm appears…every day.  Well, all that laundry needs to go somewhere and with your trusty pasting table (that can be easily stored behind –  you guessed it – a floor length curtain) you can fold and sort to your heart’s content without sacrificing a table, counter top or even a sofa,  as I very much begrudge any food or eating space being occupied by household chores.

 

 

I did have a peek for some sources for pasting tables in North America, but as in most things everything there just had to be bigger and better.  Most households may still have a folding card table that can serve some of the same functions, but the beauty of the true pasting table lies in its long,  narrow lightweight design.  If you can find one on either side of the pond – get one for sure.

Well that wraps up my first installment on things that help me keep my lid from flipping in today’s modern world.  And I can say with some authority, having been single, room-mated, partnered, married and now a parent  all in various flat/apartment and house settings, these are affordable and helpful additions to any size dwelling or income.  Until Next Time…..

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

Things On My List To Covet Today

Things On My List To Covet Today

At any  given time there is usually a pretty impressive list things of which I am desirous.  The vast majority of which is food, kitchen and entertaining related must have’s, that exist on a scale of mild craving to white-hot, keep-you-up-at-night  blind yearning.  As with most people with small kids and ever rising food and power bills, most of these darling must either remain in the golden haze of Jeantopia or be put a very long waiting list until they can be accommodated.  It is alright….I can be very patient.  So in the spirit of sharing, I thought I would take you window shopping into the realms of things that are tickling my fancy at the moment.

What is driving me to distraction is the big news that Anthropolgie http://www.anthropologie.eu is opening in Edinburgh (on George Street) at the end of the month.  Back in the day when I was single and gainfully employed, I would often frequent my local Anthropolgie in Boston.  Except for the briefest of visits last summer, the eight years free from the temptations of this store have provided some relief in these difficult economic times.  Now, it’s back.

OOOO I want I want I want....particularly the orange flowers

Now I am just  trying to think of a way this could be a tax deductible purchase.  Perhaps if I used the one with the orange flowers solely and exclusively for the photographing of food for this blog that would qualify?  Do you think a pair of earrings might be pushing it a bit?

How Fabulous are These?!

And speaking of pushing it – did you know that Brits will simply NOT help themselves to any platter, dip, buffet or canape unless they have a plate? For real, even when you tell them specifically to just grab a napkin (artfully twisted with a wine bottle for full fan effect) and help themselves.  No smoked salmon blini with sprig of dill, no seven layer dip, or for some reason under no circumstances can a deviled egg be eaten without the security of holding a plate in your hand – maddening.  It can really interrupt the flow of a casual cocktail event and make getting a bigger event underway a big bother – not to mention increase the load for clean up.

My Current Solution to the Conundrum
Up to this point I have resorted to this caddy of appetizer plates which I am reluctantly willing to put out along side a spinach dip.  A good solution, but limited in number and the moment people have a plate in their hands – they sit down!  What is a girl to do?  And then, I saw them…

You Could Even Bring Your Own!

Finger Foods from Fred, miniature catering plates on RINGS to slip on while your get your mingle on – or take seconds of something really tasty in the server is passing your way.

Come On!

 Blissfully negotiate deep-seated cultural reservations and increase conversational mobility, all while looking fabulous throughout the evening.  Not to mention this makes great strides in moving ever closer to abolishing the dread first course for the much more versatile hor d’oeuvre spread – allowing the host to actually join the party.  The verdict is in  – utterly fabulous!  (Available from Amazon)

A Table Top Photo Studio to combat my lack of natural light.

 You may also have noticed that there has not yet been a whole lot of food on this so-called Food & Lifestyle blog.  Well, truth be told my food photography is leaving much to be desired.  Things that look fantastic and welcoming when they emerge from the oven are appearing grey and poxy in the photos.  I blame the lack of natural light.  Today I took a few shots at 12:30 pm, right inside a south-facing window, on a mostly sunny hour (see Weather).  The result was blech.  Therefore, I have decided that I must augment the “natural” light that seems to be the written law of food photography with a little help.  If anyone can think of any reason that this must not be so, please comment now …….

Wait a minute….does this mean that these are already in my possession?! (Oops, Just don’t tell my husband)

I mean really, here is an example of some sample photos from today…. just dreadful don’t ya think?

My Blessings, My Wrinkles

My Blessings, My Wrinkles

A Brief Introduction to My Dreams Come True

Boudicca

 
My Ladybug is an amazing combination of Snow White looks and Wednesday Addams world perspective.  She chose to dress up as Boudicca http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boudica for World Book Day at school. She also runs a booming Rock Shop from our home most days after school – even in near hurricane conditions. That should provide a good clue as to her interests.
 

Rebel Without a Pause

 
 
Then there is my Rebel Without a Pause.  I am very tired at night – and come to think of it most of the day as well.  Still, I am very happy he is here and I have it on good family authority that he will settle down, eventually.
And here is the man who has made it all possible.  Thank you for making it soooo worth it to change my name and run off to a foreign country.

 

On Our Way to Elope

 I will do my best to keep you updated on all of our adventures!

 

Future Plans Du Jour

Future Plans Du Jour

While we are very happy right where we are with good friends, good schools and the Mother-ship of all Tesco on our doorstep, we find ourselves winding down one five-year plan and cooking up another one.
Skye Homes Kit House

The basic idea is to move a bit more into the country, not too far just enough to be able to afford decent piece of land.  Now it gets fun, we are thinking of a self-build kit house like the one above or maybe even a straw bale house with full eco kit, to be as off grid as possible without giving up the convenience of modern living as I am a wimp.

Wigwams with Heat for Year Round (or Scottish Summer) Camping

We need to have enough land, say 2-5 acres so that at one end we can host a few of these wigwams.  Part of a growing trend in “glam camping” and as a reaction to collapsed travel companies, ash clouds and the recession in general, Brits are staying close to home for their holidays.  I love the idea of structured camp site, not too much maintenance but a steady income to support our more creative endeavors.  These babies come with curtains already hung and heat, a very real need for camping in Scotland whatever the time of year.

Alpacas in Scotland? Wool, Wee Ones & Weed Whackers

 And then come the Alpacas.  As an eco-friendly grass cutting scheme, a source of fine wool and breeding for additional income and of course keeping a small holdings farm in agricultural use.  Sounds like a plan, no?

Born to Run

Born to Run

If you are looking for a great read, a bit of inspiration and a fresh take on you and your feet – than this is the book for you!

Born to Run

Whilst this has nothing to do with Scotland per se, it is my favourite read of the past year.  Whether you are an avid runner, a couch potato or a tired middle-aged mama with a bad back like myself, you can not help but enjoy this book.   It has already take the States by storm and is now making waves over here in the UK.

Vibram Five Finger Shoes

It is available in the UK from Amazon either as a book or Kindle download.  I won’t spoil it too much as it is such a fun read, but don’t blame me if you find yourself walking (or running) around in a pair of these before too long!  Enjoy!
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