Tag Archives: Food

The unaddressed haggis

I’ll just give you the first verse of the Address to a Haggis by Robert Burns, or we’d be here all night.

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.

I’ll also just give you the first verse in translation, or we’d be here all night.

Good luck to you and your honest, plump face,
Great chieftain of the sausage race!
Above them all you take your place,
Stomach, tripe, or intestines:
Well are you worthy of a grace
As long as my arm.

Our dinner did not involve any of this poetry (we were hungry), nor did it involve intestines, seeing as we went to ‘Butchers Corner’ and got their veggie version. The haggis was very nice, if a bit dry. Can’t fault the flavour at all, and I’m fairly picky when it comes to haggises.

The tatties were Golden Wonder, which was partly because that’s what they had at Butchers Corner, and partly for the fun of it, remembering the Grandfather. He spoke of Golden Wonder potatoes All The Time.

Finally, there was me, the swede, or neeps as they call me here. (Rutabaga if you live on the other side of the Atlantic.) Daughter mashed me, I mean the swede, well and good, and I don’t know why, but this was the best mashed swede I’ve ever had. Could be that Butchers Corner know where to get their neeps.

Then we talked about Gay Gordons and Dashing White Sergeants. And the haggis was neither addressed nor piped in. Life can be rough sometimes.


Our Cookbooks

We discussed gateaux, Daughter and I. She is going to bake. I, apparently, get to have some say on what and how.

I now have crème pâtissière coming out of my ears. Not literally, unfortunately, as that would save on the making of it. If that’s what we’re having.

Consulting my old and trusted copy of Vår Kokbok, I issued my thoughts on the how and the what. Not ready to completely agree, Daughter eventually came to the conclusion her own copy of it would have to come out of hiding.

We made our way out into the garage where I proceeded to slit open several boxes of books. The first two were upside down. Very disconcerting. You stand there looking at all these anonymous opposite ends of book spines. However, we could tell none of them were Daughter’s Vår Kokbok. That was in the third box we tried.

Then we sat down and compared the recipes for the same, classic cakes, discovering they varied quite a bit at times, and not at all for some. I also discovered I had been staring at the wrong recipe for about three decades. Not all in one go, but still.

The Resident IT Consultant joined us, looking for his socks. He seemingly misheard my reading of a recipe, believing it had mustard in it. Most of my kitchen disasters involve mustard. The socks were in his pocket, which, if you ask me, is a stupid place for them.

As for me, I am hoping Daughter is still willing to bake after all this cream here, crème there business.

Grace Dent’s shoe

It was Sherlock Holmes – the real one – who said something along the lines of making a few disjointed comments about unrelated things in order to make you sound genuinely ill and raving. Mention loose change.

I’ve enjoyed Grace Dent’s restaurant columns in the Guardian ever since she started. Almost, anyway. I didn’t take kindly to the change, but I love her now. And, well, with me feeling off colour, I’ve not really done an honest day’s work for over a week. Watering the pot plants takes it all out of me.

So I’ve spent too long hanging over the laptop, and what’s a Witch to do but read her own ancient wit from time to time? So by complete coincidence I discovered the post about my 2008 trip to Godalming to the Queen of Teen event! I believed I’d never see my home again.

I had thought of that day only recently. Something to do with The Book People going bankrupt, and me feeling that maybe they shouldn’t have arranged these pink limo events, however fun.

Where was I? Loose change. Yes. So the first thing I noticed was Grace Dent’s shoe. I remember it well. I recall thinking I needed to get a shot of shoe and leg, and it seems I succeeded. Didn’t remember whose shoe at first, but then it all came back to me; Grace, her teen books that I had not read and that she willingly dressed up in frills and pink for a day.

Long before eating all that food on our behalf. For which I am grateful. Obviously. Having got this far I had to look her up, and discovered she went to the University of Stirling…

Anyway, anyone – almost – can write teen novels. I’m really enjoying those restaurant columns. And my temperature is down.

Chai and crime

Still trying to get my head round being ‘back to work’ properly.

One of the many interesting books the Resident IT Consultant was given for Christmas – not by me – was the one about Dishoom, which some of you will know is a chain of rather tempting ‘Indian’ restaurants in the UK. It’s both a travel book and a recipe collection.

As I was idly looking through it, I noticed the map of Mumbai folded into the inside hard cover. Once unfolded by me, it revealed place names I recognised.

They were from another book, or rather, series of books. Vaseem Khan’s crime novels are set in Mumbai and his retired Inspector Chopra drives around his city, taking in these places. I realised I’ve just never had a visual idea of how these places relate to each other, or indeed, what Mumbai looks like at all, apart from the odd photo.

So that was nice; two different genre books having this in common. Both are about food, in fact, since Mrs Chopra always cooks and always makes me hungry. As does Dishoom.

Then I finished off by reading up on how the divine chai at Dishoom is made. I will have to make it, although I will use less sugar.

Some more literary ladies who lunch

Where else would Scotland’s children’s authors want to go on a mediocre – weather wise – Wednesday in June, but to Bookwitch Towers? Admittedly, some ended up going to America or to Singapore, even Orkney, but many were kind and headed my way.

They were far too kind and generous in other ways, too. You might have thought it was my birthday. I spent the evening unpacking gifts and admiring my flowers.

Some of my guests have come every year, for which they deserve a medal. One each, obviously. Some were new and ‘had heard so much about my lunches.’ And still they came!

As in other years, it was nice and noisy. They do know how to talk. It could have been the Prosecco, I suppose. The wine cellar of Bookwitch Towers (i.e. the IKEA shelves in the garage) has for some time been well stocked with Prosecco, but this is no longer a pressing problem. If only I’d known this earlier!

And it’s odd. Yesterday morning I told myself I’d never do this again. But as I waved goodbye to my guests I started thinking ahead to next time. Could there be something wrong with me? (No need to answer that, btw.)

Lunch aftermath

Cooking the books

I had a good long moan to the Resident IT Consultant a few days ago. Good thing I did it then, or it would have seemed as if I’d read Phil Daoust in the Guardian and didn’t have an original thought in my head. Zeitgeist, maybe.

In Phil’s article Recipes, schmecipes he basically says that writers of cookbooks might not be as open or honest as we’d like them to be. And anyway, you can always adapt a recipe without world-shattering consequences. After that, I had a look at Yotam Ottolenghi’s summer recipes and immediately found things that illustrated my and Phil’s thoughts, so had another lovely little moan.

But never mind that.

I spent a few days cooking in Switzerland last weekend. Quality time with Daughter and all that. It was nice.

She had a new Indian cookery book (I forget by whom or what the title was) and had post-its all over to mark what she might consider eating, as long as recipes were adapted to have ‘no bits.’ And you can do this when cooking for yourself. Daughter felt it was high time she cooked something proper, rather than merely throwing the odd thing in with pasta or couscous every time.

I chose a cauliflower dish, which was lovely. But even without the excessive chopping to pulverise chillies and onions, that was no midweek easy dinner as it said. It was not much faster the second time round when I went home and coooked it again. And that cauliflower was massively al dente after the suggested cooking time.

The second night we went for Bombay eggs and homemade nan bread. We had to adapt like mad, seeing as we had not shopped for it and it was Sunday in Switzerland (no shops), but it still worked just fine. That photo in the cookbook was never of the –  recipe quantity – egg dish, or the author had access to the most enormous coriander leaves I’ve ever seen. Ignoring the way the author’s baking specialist ‘aunty’ makes her nan bread still got us [faster] to the best nan I’ve ever eaten. Why make it harder for yourself? (Yes, Ottolenghi, why?)

Bombay eggs

So, why lie? Why this need to improve on reality, when results can be got anyway?

I’ll calm down now. The food tasted divine. And some serious quality time was had by both Daughter and Witch. Even with chopped frozen spinach sourced at the local railway station’s tiny Sunday shop.

Full circle

Five years on, Candy Gourlay and I were back where we started. No, not on Facebook. At Carluccio’s St Pancras. When thinking about what we might do – briefly – before I got on my northbound broomstick, I realised that we could finally have some more of the coffee ice cream we have reminisced about over the years. We both like it, and we both eat it sometimes, but never together.

I got there early, and was sitting reading, completely engrossed in Lucy Coats’s Cleo, when I realised someone was standing there, staring at me. But I suppose it’s fairly suitable to be found nose down in a book when you have a brunch date with an author.

And over my poached eggs we discussed lots of publishing stuff and books and writers. None of which I’ll tell you about. Children. Interior decorating. How to stay warm in our old age. Yes, really. Actually Candy believes she’s already too old, which doesn’t leave much hope for me. But we agreed that you need to have lived before you can write worthwhile stuff.

After the eggs, and the coffee ice cream, Candy accompanied me across the road to the other station, the one with a perennial queue for platform 9 3/4, but I said there was no reason for her to wait with me. I promised to leave town even if not escorted, and I did so by following the sudden stampede towards platform 4, once the Aberdeen train had been announced.

It’s good to have gone to London, but better still to get home again. I’m too old for all this big city life, seeing lots of people in crowds. I’ll have to set up meetings with people one at a time in future. If anyone ever wants to see me…

(The recipe for the coffee cheesecake will, possibly, turn up some time if I don’t forget.)

Preserving books

Much to the bemusement of the decorator, we started making marmalade when he was here to paint Son’s bedroom. Pardon, I mean the library. I’ve come to the conclusion that Son and any other over-night visitors we may have, will be sleeping in the library. Not at the same time, naturally.

I think we’re past the stage where we put books into Son’s room. It will have to be a library of sorts, in which one can also put sleepers. Dusty, perhaps, but with plenty to keep an insomniac company.

Where was I? Yes, we were making marmalade. And by that I mean that I chop citrus fruit until I’m blue in the face, while the Resident IT Consultant puts the largest cauldron on the hob and boils Seville oranges and lemons for hours on end.

I reckon it was this that struck the decorator as odd. If he eats marmalade, he gets it out of a bought jar. I feel it’s odd that in all his visits to people’s homes – and in his job he makes a lot of house calls – that he hasn’t come across more preserving going on.

So he asked lots of questions on the how and the what, and a little on the why.

‘We’ make two kinds. The marmalade with loads of peel in it for the Resident IT Consultant. And the – nicely bitter flavoured – jelly for the peel-hating witch. Although, I have to admit to occasionally scraping a peel-free spoonful out of his marmalade jar, because it does have a very good flavour.

I sent the Resident IT Consultant out for some last Sevilles yesterday, and he panicked because they were coming to an end, and he had to go to one more supermarket in his search. But we should be all right now.

Just wish I’d hung on to more of my empty jars in the move. I used to have a very nice jar collection…

The marmalade books


Yesterday I saw the Retired Children’s Librarian.

That is a phrase I have so far been unable to say on this blog, which makes it noteworthy. Saw her the day before as well. And before that it had been eight years. Bookwitch is only seven, which is why I’ve never said it on here. The RCL doesn’t travel much these days, and I find that the town where she now lives is – quite frankly – on the wrong side of the country.

It is far and it is not on the railway. That’s where the Resident IT Consultant comes in, because he can be made to drive witches to places not so easily reached by other means. (Before you ask, the broom suffers from heat exhaustion.)

The town where the RCL lives is a lovely town. Don’t misunderstand me. It’s just not convenient. So, in-between lunch at her place one day and dinner at a restaurant the next, we went to see her niece at Växplats Nybyn, which is where the RCL does most of her work in the summer. My old mentor might be gasping for air in the hot weather, but she still helps her niece with serving coffee at her herby heaven in the countryside, almost daily donning a pretty purple pinny.

Växplats Nybyn and the RCL

If you think the photos look a little dark, I’ll just mention this was immediately before some magnificent thunder and lightning. Which did make it a teeny weeny bit colder. Not to mention wet.

It’s a lovely place, even if it does have a geranium room, which is a sort of witchy hell on earth (me and geraniums don’t mix). Beautiful, but smelling of geraniums.

Geraniums at Växplats Nybyn

With a Pippi Longstocking hut for children, the niece has clearly had the same mentor I had. She used to have – pet – pigs, who all bore the names of children’s literature characters.

Växplats Nybyn, Children's corner


Church of the Holy Rude

I took the day off. And so did Helen Grant. We went to look at the Church of the Holy Rude (which is not rude at all), up next to Stirling Castle. They have stained glass and carved heads and stuff, which is the kind of thing Helen likes.

Church of the Holy Rude

So on a day when she didn’t write her next book, Helen walked round the church and photographed everything, while I did what I do best; sat down and rested. We had elevenses before, and a spot of lunch after. Looking at stained glass takes a lot out of a person.

Church of the Holy Rude

They wouldn’t let Helen climb the tower. After all, she might have ‘killed’ someone up there.