Sunday, 24 October 2010

THE GENERATION BRIDGE

One of my earliest memories as a child was of coming downstairs first thing in the morning and gazing upon plates of dainty sandwiches left over from my mother's bridge night. The room held 4 or 5 card tables covered in diagonally draped embroidered white tablecloths.

So, this weekend, it was a trip down memory lane when I decided to prepare a picnic of these special sandwiches. I don't recall actually eating them as a child; my school sandwiches were strictly bologne (American sausage meat called 'balony' these days) and Velveeta cheese!

The first of these special sandwiches were ribbon sandwiches, basically, a 3 tiered sandwich of brown and white bread. The 2 fillings were Cheddar cheese and mayonnaise mixed together in one layer and the other layer was mashed-up dates (heated with a little water). Having cut the crusts off, after the fillings are spread, the idea is to slice the whole sandwich into thirds making 'ribbons'.

The second type of sandwich was asparagus rolls or circles. Again slicing off the crusts, and I think soft white bread would be the bread of choice here, spread mayonnaise on the square. Then place a stick of cooked asparagus (canned for the likes of most of us) on the bread and roll it up. These should be left a bit before slicing into rounds. Very dainty!

What my mother used to do was place all of the sandwiches in a cardboard shoe box and place it in the fridge. But first she lightly sprinkled water on a cloth napkin and placed this in the box. Maybe she put a butter paper, or something like that, in first? Once the sandwiches were stacked she placed the 4 ends of the napkin over neatly like finishing off a parcel.

Being an exceedingly organised person, it occurs to me that she probably made these a day ahead without cutting, then took them out of the fridge and sliced the ribbons and rounds when they were ready to be taken to the bridge tables.

I think she learned to make these sandwiches at school (1930s). They certainly remind me of days when time - more time than today - was spent in the kitchen slicing, setting aside and then coming back to finish off later.


My trip down memory lane had an unexpected bonus! I had to pause in the preparation to go and dig out a proper white cloth table napkin. I do own a few which were handed down to me by my (paternal) grandmother. And sure enough, when I opened out the napkin to place it in the (plastic) box, there was the laundry marking in the corner! It is my grandmother's (married) surname (and my maiden name) with the date, 1913, and the number 6. Presumably this was No. 6 napkin of a set.

So there you have it: 3 generations for a 3 tiered sandwich!






Friday, 22 October 2010

KITSCH AND CASHMERE

Eye candy comes to our television in the form of Nigella Lawson who coos to the camera in her latest cookery programme. I love it! And I am the only person of my circle of friends who does! "It isn't a real kitchen; it's a shed made up as a film set!" ... "the 'friends' sitting down for a meal at the end are actors".

I sit in amazement as she proclaims "Your family will just love it when you present them with this creation I am about to show you!" Really? FantasyLand as far as my experience is concerned!

Dream on ... I fancy myself as a Domestic Goddess so I put this cookery book (cookbook, to my North American friends) on my internet Amazon Wish List last year and received it for a Christmas present. I love it! It makes me laugh! But I have discovered something. She talks about 'food kitsch'. I mean, she says this of herself, i.e. some of her recipes.

Now what, exactly, would you call 'food kitsch'? I have asked a few friends and they say "Well, for example, hundreds and thousands [sugary, multi-coloured pin sized sweets that go on top of cake or trifle].

As far as I can see kitsch is about, perhaps, gawdiness, say Hallowe'en orange icing on cookies? or falseness. I give an example, to my way of thinking, below.

Anyhow, here's Nigella, a good lookin' lassie, make no mistake (very much cashmere and cut glass). And, blow me, if she didn't demonstrate a dish that my mother produced in the 1950's or 60's - Grasshopper Pie!

We are talking about cooking with a can of this or a bag of that; in this case, a bag of marshmallows. I mean, I remember when mini-marshmallows came in around the mid 1950's. Oh, it was quite exciting! (You put them into Jello and thought it was wonderful!) Anyhow, she refers to this as 'food kitsch'.

Now ... I want to do a test. Be honest, do you think that this creation above might fall into the category of 'food kitsch'? Come on ... yes or no?! (You can see, roughly, that it is vegetables that appear to be in soil served on a light coloured plate or perhaps it is bread.)

What's the scoop?

Well it is all here. You can't be bothered to look? Well I am here to tell you that this is a dish from not just ONE of the top 50 restaurants in the the world for 2010, but THE top one! For this year, 2010, it is, according to The S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants, NOMA in Copenhagen. This is one of their 'signature dishes'.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

BIG BOYS' LEGO Part 2 and 3

The upstairs and downstairs have now been joined up! So today is a Red Letter Day! Hooray! For the first part of this construction refer to Part 1 (yesterday's post). Part 3 should finish everything tomorrow!

These lads call the structure 'Fred Astaire'! It is certainly is turning out to be some feature ... you enter the hallway from the front door and .... Wow!

I came back from Anne B's house, having helped her with a sewing chore, bearing a bottle of wine. Time to crack it open for a swally!

Tomorrow we turn the corner ... and in more ways than one! The lads are still glued to the video as they work their way down the levels, packing and adjusting as they go along making sure that everything is going to be OK for the landing to be inserted before the last step is secured.

Part 3

Two days later and everything is basically finished. It turned out to be quite a lot of work mainly because of the checking and aligning at every step of the way. I get the feeling these lads who put it together (with Iain supervising) are used to getting out the Black and Decker whiz-bang equipment and bang, br-r-r-r, kachunk ... the job is done. "A different mind-set" sez one!


Monday, 18 October 2010

BIG BOYS' LEGO Part 1

The house renovation continues at a better pace. I think because there was a school holiday this past week workmen arrived in pairs, rather than on their own, so more projects were achieved.


The upstairs is finished and the downstairs is finished. It is now time to erect the staircase and place it in the opening in the hall ceiling, the space where Iain fell.

We bought the stairs off the internet* . It arrived in 2 crates from Italy 5 months ago. Having opened the crates, the bags of bolts, treads and spindles have been stored under Iain's bed and in the bedroom. The living room has now been turned into an assembly area.

Think of it as Big Boy's' Lego. Or as the young lad helping said "Lego for Smart People". Actually I have to admit the hardest part of all of this is trying to figure out how to work the video which gives the instructions for assembly! It is well done however. No language is used, just demonstration of screws, screwdrivers, drills etc.




Once finished we will be able to unpack our possessions and place them on shelves and in cupboards both upstairs where we have a room set aside for storage and downstairs in the room which Iain will now vacate as he is taking over the upstairs rooms.

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Website reference for make and model of supplier, Albini & Fontanot, Rimini, Italy: www.stairplace.co.uk/stairs/dc/modular/dcModularF.html

Sunday, 17 October 2010

HUMBLE HARVEST CELEBRATIONS

It's my idea to have the family for dinner Sunday, October 31st as it is Hallowe'een and I know that the neighbouring children are coming all dressed up ready to recite or sing their party pieces.

It is a wet Sunday so my thoughts turn to ideas of things I can prepare ahead of time for the little visitors. Chocolate cornflake crunchies? Rice-Crispie marshmallow squares?

As I was thumbing through my recipe box I came upon a great family stand-by recipe for high days and holidays: clootie dumpling!

Now actually Hallowe'en is the night before a Holy Day (where we get our word 'holiday'), i.e All Hallows Eve, the day before All Hallows’ Day and now called All Saints Day, November 1st. It goes back to pagan times and the Christian festive day was 'grafted on to' the pagan one marking the end of summer/beginning of winter. People would wear masks to frighten the roaming spirits away or go from house to house begging for 'soul cakes' (bread with currants) and in return they would pray for the householder.

So it occurred to me that I could make a clootie dumpling and invite some of our neighbours in for a cup of tea and dumpling after the children have departed.

My recipe is tried and tested both from the person who passed it on to me and also by myself over many years.

It was Iain's Aunt Jean who gave me the recipe and I think of her every time I make this humble, but celebratory, solid pud - for that is really what it is. You simply take all the ingredients listed above in the photo, mix them together into a sort of mud-pie ball, and tip the ball on to a floured tea-towel (cloth or clootie). Lift up the 4 corners to the middle and tie with a string, (like making a hobo's bag) and place the bag in boiling water in a pressure cooker or other large pot and secure the lid. The water should cover the round dumpling ball.

When boiled 2 hrs in the pressure cooker, lift out the bag, undo the string and fold down the 4 corners taking care not to tear the skin. Place a dinner plate on top and flip the whole thing over. Remove the top plate and peel back the rest of the clootie. Dry off the dumpling either in front of the open fire or in the oven. Perfection! Slice and serve either in a bowl with custard or on a plate with a cup of tea.


There is a much-loved story in the MacLeod family about Aunt Jean and her clootie dumpling. She made a dumpling every year for the baking competition in the Aberfeldy Highland Show. Furthermore, she always won. Every year.

Until one year ... she did not win. Her dumpling was perfect in every way, even in texture and no tears in the outer skin. However, she had altered the recipe by adding some whisky! And, horror of horrors, the judges noticed! She was most put out by this! What made us laugh over the years of re-telling this tale (that she used to tell against herself) was that she was brought up as a Rechebite (abstainer from drink, where women, especially, joined the Rechebite Movement in Scotland to fight against the evils of strong drink)!


Saturday, 16 October 2010

PHOTO-OPPORTUNITY

Linda and Dave, Dawn's mum and dad, kindly gave us a gift of a large photo album of Dawn and Alastair's wedding photos taken 8 weeks ago. The large ablum arrived today in a big box. We couldn't figure out what it could possibly be! Our mind was only capable of thinking of bolts? energy-efficient light bulbs? books from Amazon?


Iseabail and Iain are sitting at the kitchen table enjoying the selection of 40 beautifully reproduced photos.

And here are Iain and I recalling the big day in August. Iseabail had made the dinner earlier. This is the last of the Fitou 2008 that she and I quaffed during the meal.

Iain is feeling more like his old self these days particularly as he is starting to do long marches up and down the surrounding streets.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

APPS

It all started when Alastair gave me an iTunes voucher this summer. I am an iPhone user who thinks this technology is Just The Business. Paradoxically, I am not a phone-sort of person, i.e. I have this mobile phone but I seldom use it as a phone.

So when is a mobile phone not a phone? When it's a computer! This bit of kit that sits in my back pocket (with the ringer turned off) never ceases to impress me!

I decided that I must learn all about these things called 'apps' which is short for 'applications', i.e. things you can do on the iPhone that are neat and ... as I shall show ... jaw-droppingly amazing!

The iPhone has a camera, a very sophisticated one, that takes many of the shots seen elsewhere on this blog. However, I learned in the Tips and Tricks section that it is possible, using the camera in the iPhone, to take a photo of my home page which displays all the apps (or at least this first page) I have downloaded. And there it is above.

Probably the most amazing technology here, apart from accessing the internet itself, is the Google Maps which was pre-installed on iPhone. It shows maps as a satellite view or as a drawing. It helps me find where I am when I am lost! I use it more than I use the phone!

But this app with the green swirly arrow above I have only just discovered (Adam G told me about it). It is called Go SkyWatch Planetarium. The idea is that you can identify and locate stars, planets, constellations by simply pointing your iPhone up to the sky. Website here.

It cost £5.99 and was my first purchase using my iTunes voucher. You must understand that I am hoping to impress my 10 year old friends with my technology. That I still need to figure out all the bells and whistles we shall gloss over....!

So far, it's a great way to meet the neighbours on a clear cold night as I stand outside with my arm raised to the Big Dipper trying to see if the Control Test works!


I am in the process of downloading radio stations as I am a great radio listener. There are various ways of doing this and I am still on the learning curve here. (The iPhone actually does not have a radio as part of its hardware, though I believe the new 4.0 version does.)



Lastly, London Lady told me about this app in which 2 people who have iPhones can "kiss". The app is called Bump (website review here). What happens is that you can exchange (your chosen) information and then tap or bump each other's iPhone and in doing so, the information, say your email address, is automatically exchanged. Is that not amazing?! I tried it with another friend but the transfer only worked in one direction. M-m-m-m ... need to work on this one some more!

Monday, 11 October 2010

BACK IN HARNESS

Take a look at who is back aboard! Iain suggested we push off mid-afternoon, as the weather was simply glorious, and head down to the boat. So we ended up sitting in the cockpit basking in the sunshine. Heaven! Absolute heaven!

For him it was being back in harness (ooops... that may not be a good metaphor...!) and for me it was simply sitting there, feet up with the warmth of the sun on my back.

An hour of this view - leaves still on the trees, colours starting to turn, absolutely glassy surface on the canal, shadows falling on the hulls of the tied-up boats - and my spirits were quite revived.

We'd only been there 30 minutes when Peter arrived! Out comes the whisky from the locker and Peter and I shared a dram. Wonderful!

He is in good form, just back from Plockton. He plans to have some day or weekend sails before mid-November and then he has boats (note the plural) up on the hard that need his attention... like about 3 of them in various places.

As we sat there 2 tugs, or a tug and a pilot boat, passed by just to the left of this photo. There had been a launch of a destroyer further up the Clyde today. These tugs were heading home.


Sunday, 10 October 2010

THE GANG

Sunday is round-up time. John as taken some wonderful photos of the children. They were on holiday in Perthshire and spent the time puddle-jumping, playing hide and seek and scaling the heights of anything with appreciable elevation.


This shot just reminds me of how different this child's games were to the ones I played, i.e. hide and seek was in an orchard or sheds with equipment or tea-boxes for furniture-moving jobs.

Imagine how wonderful it must be to be able to climb castle walls! This is Alastair making his first ascent of Direlton Castle walls! I just love this photo! I hope someone makes a slide-show (or the modern equivalent) when he is 21 and shows this one!

Alastair and I made pancakes which is a good dull Sunday activity. He loves being in the kitchen helping. Is there maple syrup to hand? No... he heads straight for the cupboard for the sploochy chocolate sauce. And why not?!

The kids are old enough to go a bike (that's a Glasgow expression) with stabilizers so they can make the journey from their house to ours in one go. And the whole gang arrive smelling of fresh air... such a pleasant change in this house of dust and tracked-in dirt.

Saturday, 9 October 2010

AMBIENT WORKING CONDITIONS

The young lads who turn up to work always come prepared. Tools? Yes... Lunch? Well, there's a MacDonald's within walking distance. Audio kit? Definitely!

Today our young tiler arrived to put the kitchen tiles on the wall. Here, he has put in place the picture, painted by Alison Borthwick of Buchlyvie from a scene (Torridon) that Iain gave her, that goes above the kitchen sink area.


However, what caught my eye was this lad's iPhone. First things first, having cleared the sink area, he sets it up on the counter.



Now I like that bit of kit ... a lot! He downloads the Smooth Radio app from the internet and simply docks it in this speaker set up. Santa: I want one of those! (Also, I have been buying a few apps this week for the first time so I keen to talk shop with these young techies - more on this anon.)



A couple of weeks ago I was alone in the house and yet I could hear a pop radio programme going upstairs when another lad was plastering. After a couple of hours I could stand the 'music' no longer and went against my rule of not scaling the ladder (especially on my own in the house) and carefully ventured upstairs to search for the blaring radio with intention of, not throwing it the window, but at least turning it off!

Having negotiated the ladder successfully I searched each room and could find no tranny on the window ledge nor perched on an upturned pail on the floor. Eventually the sound lead me to this bit of kit! Every workman's essential equipment - a ghetto blaster!

Friday, 8 October 2010

CANAL NAVIGATION

I had a pleasant few hours along the Forth and Clyde Canal this week as the Carseview Drive Dramblers were out for a long 9 mile walk from Kirkintilloch to Wyndford Lock 20, the one east of Auchinstarry Basin. I only did a bit of it; the day was fine and proved exceptional for my photo-shoot.

After setting off (twice!) in the wrong direction I marched along the canal and took these photos.

I am (still!) really bad at navigation! I first set off along a path only to find there was no canal. "M-m-m ... this can't be right." So I went back and started again. This time the sun was in my eyes and I thought "Why is the morning sun in my eyes when I am supposed to be heading west?" You guessed it: I was (as usual) 180 degrees out. Believe me, over the years I have often been known to head off in completely the wrong direction. And what was really worrying to me was my certainty of being right! Iain has an equation: BB = CB + 180 degrees! (Barbie's Bearing Plus 180 Degrees). At least now I know enough to doubt my direction.







Wednesday, 6 October 2010

THE HERON WAS HUNGRY AND NEEDING TO SUP

I wasn't the only one out to get something for supper today. On leaving Tesco's in Milngavie - my local supermarket - I was wheeling my loaded trolley to the car park along the covered walkway over the River Allander when I was arrested by this sight below me ... a heron! He was patiently waiting, head cocked to one side then the other, for a passing fish (without the chips).


I guess the trees and bushes keep that space quiet as all around the area are people and cars coming and going.

So why not have a poem which gives a nod in the direction of Mr Heron? This one is from the Scottish Poetry Library here. It is about a Scottish frog (a puddock), a rather self-satisfied frog, who gets his comeuppance.

The Puddock

by John M Caie

A puddock sat by the lochan's brim,
An' he thocht there was never a puddock like him.
He sat on his hurdies, he waggled his legs,
An' cockit his heid as he glowered throu' the seggs.
The bigsy wee cratur' was feelin' that prood,
He gapit his mou' an' he croakit oot lood:
"Gin ye'd a' like tae see a richt puddock," quo' he,
"Ye'll never, I'll sweer, get a better nor me.
I've fem'lies an' wives an' a weel-plenished hame,
Wi' drink for my thrapple an' meat for my wame.
The lasses aye thocht me a fine strappin' chiel,
An' I ken I'm a rale bonny singer as weel.
I'm nae gaun tae blaw, but th' truth I maun tell-
I believe I'm the verra MacPuddock himsel'."

A heron was hungry an' needin' tae sup,
Sae he nabbit th' puddock and gollup't him up;
Syne runkled his feathers: "A peer thing," quo' he,
"But - puddocks is nae fat they eesed tae be."

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Photo: taken on my iPhone

Monday, 4 October 2010

A WINE FOR EVERY OCCASION

It's that time of year, I mean for bringing in the grapes. Well, at least it is for some parts of the world. Sadly, we are not of the grape-growing latitude but there are ways of compensating for this. Someone has to check out the product!



For one reason or the other some wine tasting has been going on at chez MacLeod lately due to special offers in the supermarket, left-over bottles passed in from someone's Sunday dinner or whatever.


Maggie gave me a hot tip about some New Zealand Marlbourgh region 'Cruz' Sauvignon blanc on offer at Morrison's supermarket. We work on the premise that there is no bad Marlbourgh wine so I hot-footed it down there and bought a good few bottles. I am the only one who drinks in our house; it is my one pleasure living in this island of dust and workmen (read 'no workmen' many a day...).



I got a bit carried away on my trip to get the New Zealand wine as I recognized a brand I do not see very often 'Masterpeace' and this was Shiraz (brand: Andrew Peace Wines, Murray River, Australia). Now I have bought this in the past because I was introduced to it by our lovely neighbours in Helensburgh. This wine used to fly off the shelves in the Helensburgh Co-op (who often had seriously good wine at reasonable prices). And I like the name, i.e. the label. It is a pun on Masterpiece which means I can always give it as a present to a musical recipient.



Anyhow where was I? It is bad to drink alone and you never know if it might be off so Maggie and I have been known to have the occasional tasting session. We did have a very acidic wine the other week but that is a post for another day.



And last but not least this photo marks a historic occasion celebrated last night in our front room. Maggie and Brian's Number One Son and girlfriend announced their engagement! So nothing for it, but their bottle of champagne was opened as we raised a glass in the young couple's honour!

Friday, 1 October 2010

BEE-BUSINESS

As the equinoxial gales arrive I am staying inside as I have bronchitis. Which is better? Stay in and keep warm midst the plaster dust and hammering? Go out in the fresh but damp air?

The good news is that I still have flowers to bring into the house. These are the last of the summer display. Very simple but have given so much pleasure!


This is bergamot, a herb which I associate with Earl Grey tea. It seems to really like this climate as I have grown it quite successfully before.



Lastly, this showy display represents the flowering of a packet of give-away seeds obtained at the corner shop by my neighbour. It seems my packet did better than hers! (My neighbours are seriously good gardeners!) These packets were wild flowers that have been distributed to communities to encourage the bee population as they buzz about their bee-business.