Friday, 26 November 2010

Rather tasty

I have just spent a delightful few days with two friends of mine at their homes on the east coast of Scotland, one in Arbroath the other in Newport-on-Tay.

A number of years ago a good friend of mine, Judy, bought a little place in the historic town of Arbroath, as a getaway-from-it-all retreat. It sits right on the edge of the beach looking out across the North Sea, with occasional fishing boats ploughing their way in and out of harbour in what were fairly rough seas, the swell of the water and the breaking waves making for a dramatic framed picture through the French windows.

Arbroath is the largest town in the area of Angus and lies just north of Dundee. During the industrial revolution Arbroath boasted 34 mills making jute and sailcloth and was also prominent in the making of lawnmowers, supplying the nearby St Andrews Old Course. Today its best known export is the Arbroath Smokie.

The Smokie actually originates from a small fishing village just north, Auchmithie. Legend has it that the Smokie was born when a barrel of haddock preserved in salt caught fire one night and the cooked haddock found the next morning was found to be “rather tasty”. Typically it takes less than an hour of smoking and having tried it in a cream sauce wrapped up in a thin pancake, I can confidently agree that it is rather tasty.

It was bitterly cold the following day but we ventured a little further north to Montrose to visit the statue of Bamse, a St Bernard dog that belonged to a captain of the Norwegian Navy during WWII. Bamse lived with the crew on board the ship, even sporting his very own tin helmet. He performed many acts of heroism, rescuing fellow crewman that were attacked or drowning overboard and would even break up fights between crewmen. He was also well known for escorting crew back to the ship when in port in time for their duty. To round up his crew he would travel on buses and so they bought him his own bus pass. A truly remarkable dog, he died in July 1944 and was buried with full military honours in Montrose and in 2006 HRH Prince Andrew unveiled a bronze statue of him on Wharf Street.

Further up the coast is a fabulous long beach called St Cyrus, with the North Sea on one side and high dunes on the other. It was so bitterly cold and near the end of the day that unfortunately we had only a fleeting visit, but I vowed to return one day.

On my final day, as I headed back in the direction of Edinburgh, I stopped off in Newport-on-Tay to see another friend of mine, Louise. Having met at the train station in Dundee we headed off to the picturesque university town of St Andrews. It is estimated that it has been a place of importance since its earliest churches in the 8th century and today it can boast having the third oldest university in the English-speaking world. Of course its most famous institution is that of golf. Founded in 1754 it is the ruling authority on the game of golf everywhere, except for Mexico and the USA, though they work together to form the rules.

Louise is an excellent cook and that evening she dished up venison in a lovely sauce with roasty-veg and made the whole thing look effortless. Just like the Arbroath Smokie pancake it was another supreme meal that was “rather tasty”.

Friday, 19 November 2010


It’s the enemy of progress but a regular event in all our lives. Sadly the biggest changes that we notice are when we lose someone close to us through death or a breakdown in friendship. Sometimes though the opposite happens and a new life is born, or someone new comes into our lives. This past few weeks have seen all of these events take place.

A close friend of mine very recently had to make a difficult decision about his beloved pet dog Arca, a beautiful male Weimaraner, who had been ill for some time. He will be missed.

The breed we have today appeared around the 19th century but originally they were bred for hunting lions and were originally black in colour. The modern day breed is an all round family friendly dog, capable of guarding the home while at the same time being a loving and loyal friend. Arca was testament to this fact. I remember when I first saw him as a puppy ten years ago. Back then he had a body about the size of a spaniel but very silly gangly long legs that seemed to want to go in a different direction to the rest of him. He was very excited most of the time and would bound about all over the place, As he grew he lost none of his appeal and would always give you a welcome nudge with his snout when visiting his home. To own a dog is to appreciate just how important a part they can play in your family and how much happiness they contribute. They need just as much care and attention as a new born child.

A new life came into the world recently for two friends of mine. A baby boy called Matthew. It is nothing short of a miracle that we have the ability to nurture another life within us and bring this little person into the world. Who knows what great adventures lay before him. Maybe he’ll become prime minister, or journey into the stars. A new dawn awaits him.

In the ancient world of the Aztecs, fear surrounded the setting of the sun in that maybe the new dawn would never come. It was considered that the sun was a God and having served the people of that day sacrificed itself at the end. Mayan sacrifices were made as an answer and a strong sense of indebtedness. Thankfully we no longer sacrifice ourselves, for the event is as sure as another crash in the housing market. But to sit and watch the glory of a sunrise, with it’s golden rays and the first of its warmth touching your skin, is truly something wonderful to behold. At that moment the world is free from troubles and a truly peaceful place.

Scotland is in the final throes of autumn, with its coat of many colours and piles of crunchy leaves that young and old alike enjoy kicking their way through. Crisp chilly mornings, with cloudless blue skies and the occasional jewels of frost on the grass, are typical of the joy that autumn brings. Beyond this beauty though lies the passing of many a beautiful thing in nature, together with increasing grey skies that will lead us through to the cold and colourless time of winter. But it is a short journey to spring, when new life will blossom and beauty will return in all its glory.

Given time the blue skies will return.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Wondeful seasons

What a great week it has been: autumn sunshine, gardening, wildlife, cycling, satsumas and gingerbread syrup.

On the first Saturday of every month, Portobello plays host to a market, which takes place in the local Brighton Park. This was the fourth such market, but it was the first for me. How wonderful it was. Little blue and white striped roofs sheltering tables selling all manner of interesting, curious and occasionally, edible, goods. 

This wasn’t some eclectic mix of bric-a-brac of unwanted items from someone's dusty attic. No, far from it. Big names were there, including Real Foods. Some stalls sold home made candles and jewellery, while others had a more farmers market feel to them. From mouth watering venison pies and organic soups, to my old deli, with the new owners, selling some great cheeses, the variety was terrific, and I'm already looking forward to December's one. All the locals were out, wandering in the sunshine, and it was very pleasant to often stop for a friendly little chat with people I know.

The blue skies and the diminishing colours of autumn just had to be further enjoyed and I took off on my bicycle, through the royal park and on to the far side of the Meadows in the centre of the city. Turning for home I decided a reward had been earned for my efforts and a latte at Starbucks sufficed nicely. This was not just any latte though. As if you didn’t know from the annoying TV commercials already on our screen, Christmas is coming. However, some things show a welcome return in the lead up, such as satsumas in the shops and individual christmas puddings. On this occasion it was the return of Starbuck's gingerbread syrup flavouring for my latte. Bliss.

On the subject of food, I was very disappointed recently to discover Patersons have stopped making their bran oatcakes. This was serious. I have a veritable dairy-load of cheese in my fridge, and nothing to put it on. So it was that this weekend I experimented with making my own. Guessing at the ingredients and quantities, I threw together a little wholemeal flour with oatbran, wheatgerm and butter. First attempt was a disaster. Second attempt was getting close but still too dry and fragile. A slight adjustment and I am proud to say that I now have oatcakes for my cheesy comestibles that are even better than Patersons. Wallace and Gromit would be proud.

Something I’ve been putting off for a few weeks now is to clear the leaf litter in the garden. I don’t normally bother and just let the worms get on with it, however, the level of soil they have produced over the years is slowly starting to turn the gravel into a lawn. I have been putting it off, not out of laziness, but because the leaves from the Rowan, Birch and Honeysuckle had created a wondrous golden carpet and it was a pleasure to behold. 

But it is past its best, and this afternoon I set to work, on my hands and knees, picking up the leaves by hand, for two hours. It was very therapeutic and all the more enjoyable as I was not alone. Occasionally the Robin popped down to have a look and see how I was getting on, curiously cocking his head to one side, most probably thinking I was quite mad.

To round off my week just nicely, my friend Pauline was in touch to say she’s reached Brazil on the container ship and all is well. Between the two of us we were able to update her blog with news and maps of the crossing. If you’ve lost the link take a look here:

Pauline’s blog

The autumn colours are now past their best, but it has been an autumn to remember. I noticed on the BBC weather forecast last night that snow was to fall over the mountain tops this weekend. We are about to enter another wondrous time of year in Scotland and instead of gathering piles of leaves I will be gathering piles of snow to build a snowman.

I love Scotland's seasons.