An Odder Tabbouleh

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Because with a name like “tabbouleh”, it’s not odd enough.

As I was beginning to experiment with whole grains this month, I staggered toward the checkout with my kilos of rice, millet, bulgar wheat and coconut milk (not a whole grain). I had room in my hands for just one more thing: a bag of assorted greenery. Things that are marked down in grocery stores often lead to interesting meals. For 29p, how could I not go for it? And besides, it had flowers.

tabbouleh

(Related link: My favourite ever description of why it’s more entertaining to go grocery shopping yourself instead of sending your husband, by author Diana Gabaldon. She is hilarious.)

Which is how I ended with the most specialest tabbouleh ever. I’m sure you will never eat tabbouleh with this particular combination of ingredients, as I don’t even know which of the herbs listed on the bag were included. It was tasty, though.

tabbouleh mix

If you want to make real tabbouleh–which I highly recommend you do, it’s a delicious and refreshing summer salad–I suggest this recipe from the BBC. I based mine on that recipe. Ish. Since I substituted many of the ingredients with similar ingredients, including all of the green and red components, I can’t exactly say I’ve tried it, but I can say it’s a good baseline. I skipped the flatbread and ate it right from the bowl.

Bolton Castle, Part II: Blacksmithery

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We saw some picturesque stone houses in the village by Bolton Castle.

Bolton Castle

In fact, that entire section of Yorkshire seems to consist of nothing but violently rolling dales and houses made of old grey stone (and sometimes flowers).

Bolton Castle

I started to explore the castle. Much of it had been closed off when were were there in February, and it turned out that the castle was much bigger than I had realized. About four times as large, really, as the on intact section was mirrored by three now-defunct towers, all facing on a courtyard.

Bolton Castle

Before I could explore thoroughly, however, I got distracted by the forge. I was drafted as a blacksmith’s apprentice. I have always been fascinated by blacksmithery at living history museums like Sturbridge, Colonial Williamsburg and Leonards Mills. (Never heard of that one, have you? It’s a pioneer outpost in Maine with a working stream-powered sawmill. Daddy used to do axe demonstrations, and occasionally I helped. Nothing like peeling logs on a Saturday afternoon in the fall.) The smiths are understandably reluctant to hand over tools and yellow-hot iron to members of the public, though, so I’d never gotten my hands dirty before.

Bolton Castle forge

But this time I wasn’t a member of the public, and my hands got dirty, sweaty, and before I got the knack of the hammer, slightly bloody. It was a good day.

Bolton Castle forge

It’s tiring work, but very satisfying in the end. It also goes a lot faster once you get the knack of using the hammer correctly. Needless to say, I hadn’t, but I did improve toward the end.

Bolton Castle forge

I helped make these. Not just pumping the bellows, either. Among other things, I did the twisty handle on the end of the fire rake. It was a lot easier to manage the forge fire once we had finished that.

Bolton Castle forge

I have now found a re-enactment hobby even less portable or convenient than wood carving or basketry. Bolton Castle forge mistress

Zugunruhe: The Continuing Story

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From The Fiery Cross:

“We were talking of birds; he bein’ uncommon fond of them. I asked him why it was that in the late summer, the birds sing at night–the nights are shorter then, ye’d think they’d want their rest, but no. There’s rustling and twittering and all manner o’ carryings-on, all the night long in the hedges and the trees.”

… “And did he have an answer?”

… “What he did was to capture a number of the birds, and shut them up in cages lined with blotting paper… only on the floor,” he explained. “He put out a wee plate on the floor filled with ink and  cup of seed in the middle, so that they couldna feed without getting ink on their feet. Then as they hopped to and fro, their footprints would show on the blotting paper.” 

“Umm. And what, precisely, did that show–other than black footprints?”

… “There were a great many footprints, Sassenach–but most of them were on one side of the cage. In all the cages… And it seems that all the night through, the birds were hopping and striving toward the southeast–which is the direction in which the migrate, come the fall.”

“That’s very interesting.” I pulled my hair back into a tail, lifting it off my neck for coolness. “But it’s not quite the time to migrate, is it, in late summer? And they don’t fly at night, do they, even when they migrate?”

“No. It was as though they felt the imminence of flight, and the pull of it–and that disturbed their rest. The stranger it was, because most of the birds that he had were young ones, who had never yet made the journey; they hadna seen the place where they were bound, and yet the felt it there–calling to them, perhaps, rousing them from sleep.”

…”Zugunruhe,” he said softly… “The wakefulness of the wee birds, getting ready to leave on their long flight.”

“Does it mean anything in particular?”

“Aye. ‘Ruhe’ is stillness, rest. And ‘zug’ is a journey of some sort. So ‘zugunruhe’ is a restlessness–the restlessness before a long journey.”

-Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross
Condensed for your reading convenience

o O o

Tomorrow we fly for home and another wedding, NTS’s sister’s. I’m well pleased with this development, as I find the groom an excellent young man, and am delighted that we will be keeping him, so to speak. I’m also delighted to be seeing all of our friends and family again, especially now that (as of half an hour ago) all of the arrangements are finally made. Coordinating a family gathering from a different continent when not in possession of a house, car or cell phone is not easy, but it’s done now. Mostly perforce: If you can’t reach me to tell me about it, the problem doesn’t exist.

I’m so excited. And with it, completely useless for anything not directly related to travel. Or for much related to travel. I’ve been packing for three days, as packing the night before never fails to engender in me a strong feeling of antipathy for the trip in general and my luggage in particular. I’m still not sure exactly how to pack a silk dress to avoid wrinkles. I’m not sure it can be done, and am looking forward to ironing out the wrinkles in the heat of a Connecticut summer. NTS is certain he shall melt. To be sure, every time the weather turns nice,we have the conversation that goes like this: 

BRID Looks like it’s going to be eighteen degrees tomorrow.

NTS Sooo hooottttt. Oh wait, that’s only 64 Fahrenheit. Never mind.

BRID Wow, you’ve really gone native. Let me check your ears, I think there may be haggis leaking out of them.

If the natives are leery of temperatures over 20 C, it’s no surprise: the record high in Edinburgh is 31.4 C (88.5 F). The average high for August is just 18.9 C (66 F).

I grudgingly dug into the back of my wardrobe for my two skimpiest tank tops, saved specially for this occasion. That is, the occasion of summer. I shall not so much melt as burn to a fiery crisp, sunscreen notwithstanding.

It was in a bone-melting August that I first packed for Scotland, with the result that my arrival in . Now, in the cool and breezy summer of Scotland, I dig into my memories of that time and root in the wardrobe for the clothes that I mistakenly packed then, that get so little use here and are so appropriate to summer in (southern) New England. I shall, no doubt, complain of the heat within the first hour, but at the moment it remains an interesting concept, a distant and hazy memory of another life.

Although the haziness may have been caused by humidity, not time.

Bolton Castle, Part I

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Bolton Castle

A “gate” in the wall. Too narrow for a sheep. Almost too narrow for a human, but we made it in the end.

Sometimes we like to go to castles and re-enact the Middle Ages. Sometimes our friends come with us.

Bolton Castle

We had to go through quite a few pastures to walk to the castle. Which we did exactly once.

And when it’s really nice even adequate outside, we like to camp. You can sleep in the castle, in the room where Mary, Queen of Scots once slept (we did, in February), but it’s awfully dusty.

Jonas Centre

So this time we camped. Given my tendencies in this direction, it was the obvious choice. We (I) regret nothing.

Jonas Centre

The company was especially good.

Jonas Centre ducks

I left the kitchen sink outside the tent in hopes that it would dry. Or at the very least, be wet outside the tent instead of inside. I put it out clean, but in the morning, it seemed rather muddier inside than the mild overnight rain would account for. I suspected fowl play. (I still regret nothing.)

Jonas Centre ducks

NTS reported that during the night, the runner ducks had huddled under the eaves of our tent, enjoying the shelter of the rain fly. Though you wouldn’t think ducks would mind the rain much. When they started pecking at the walls of the tent, though, he unzipped the door a few inches and waved them off. (Ok, I regret that I didn’t see that. I bet it was hilarious.) I like the idea of cuddling up with ducks.

Jonas Centre

 

A Medieval Church in the Netherlands

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A day and a half after my return to Scotland, I departed for the Netherlands and a splendid conference. The conference was an interdisciplinary look at the place and period I’m working in. It gave me some great context for my research.

Terp church

It also meant that I spent the night before in conclave with one of the archaeology students, making sure my presentation on the implications of certain linguistic features would make sense to archaeologists.

Terp church

The last day of the conferences was an excursion of archaeological sites. At our first site, the archaeologist leading the tour led off thus:

Terp church

“I know a lot of you are archaeologists, so you’ll be used to the way sites look where things have been found and excavated. So I won’t worry  too much about showing you sites where there’s nothing to see.”

Terp church

So he did. But we didn’t get out of the bus to walk around on things that weren’t there to walk around on.

Terp church

The next site had a more interesting feature: a church built smack in the middle. Relevant finds in the Netherlands tend to be on mounds that raise the living structures above flood levels, which makes them attractive building sites for later periods. The mound in this particular area was partially dug up in the 19th century for the peat it contained, before the archaeologists took over and (slowly) dug up the rest.

Terp church

Despite popular conception, it appears that there is at least one Dutchman who doesn’t like windmills.

Terp church

Our guide expressed some regret that the diocese refused to let them dig under the church itself so they could finish their excavation. I suppose you can’t have everything.

What’s-in-the-Fridge Salad

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One secret to eating well without spending a great deal of time is the creative use of leftovers. Whenever I make a grain to go with dinner, I invariably make two or three times as much as we need and shove the rest in the fridge. Today’s delicious salad features bulgar wheat. Possibly the most easily cooked grain, bulgar wheat cooks the same as couscous: pour 1 cup bulgar wheat and 2 cups boiling water into a bowl/pot; stir; cover; let sit 20 minutes. Boom. Dinner. I like to add my seasonings before I add water. This particular batch involved salt, pepper, rosemary, and onion powder. It smelled disconcertingly like ramen when I opened the pot, taking me back to fifth grade, when I discovered that least healthful of snacks. Ah, childhood.

I used the original as a rice replacement in a bastardized Mexican salad. Mixed with whatever I have in my refrigerator, it will provide lunch for the next 3 days. Win.

So what did I have in my refrigerator?

Ingredients

2 cups leftover bulgar wheat, already seasoned (if unseasoned, add garlic or onion powder)
1 green pepper, chopped
15 black olives, quartered
2 oz mature cheddar, grated
1 can chickpeas, drained
fresh-ground black pepper
smoked paprika
dried basil
1 tbsp white wine vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil

Instructions: Combine ingredients, season to taste. Microwave before serving, if desired. (I did.)

Bulgar wheat salad

It looks like a lot of ingredients, but half of those are herbs and spices. Season to taste using any spices you please. The real point here is that you can make several days worth of salad by cooking extra grains whenever you make dinner and throwing them together with veggies and maybe cheese. Lunch prep tomorrow will consist of pulling a container out of the fridge.

What’s that? The only grain you cook is pasta? Actually, the same steps can be followed to make a tasty pasta salad, too. If you cook white pasta, it probably won’t be the healthiest lunch in the world, although the veggies redeem it some. (White pasta is digested faster than whole grain, which means you’ll want to eat again sooner.) I don’t want to get too nutrion-y or make a lot of claims that I can’t back up, which is a problem I’ve encountered on a lot of sites that offer recipes involving whole grains. I’ll just make this observation: whole grains that you cook yourself retain the nutrition value that whole grains are known for, while food labelled as “whole grain” has been taken apart and put back together again, which affects its fiber content and makes it digest faster (source).

Despite anything I’ve written above, pasta is tasty. But allow me to open your eyes to a new world. Different grains have different tastes and textures, which means you can serve them often without feeling like you’re eating the same thing all the time. Some of them have a longish cooking time (up to 45 minutes), but unless you deliberately set out to make a risotto, you don’t have to babysit them the whole time; being immersed in water, they’re unlikely to burn. (Just set a timer and keep an eye on them in the last five minutes.) Here are the ones I’ve personally used in the past two month:

barley Oblong grains, doesn’t cook down too soft. Delicious nutty taste and texture. Goes well with bullion, parmesan and mushrooms if you want a rich dish, or use unflavored for a salad.

bulgar wheat The most convenient of grains, bulgar wheat is quick and easy to cook. It has light, fluffy grains that make a very good substitute for couscous, and is a main ingredient in tabouleh.

couscous Regular couscous has the same nutrition value as pasta, being made of the same material. There is a “whole grain” alternative, which is better, but it probably doesn’t have quite the same health benefits as actual grains that are whole, since it’s been processed somewhat and mixed back together.

millet Corn-like flavor, smallish round grains with a tendency to stick together. I have seen warnings that millet tends to get dry when refrigerated overnight. To counteract this possible tendency, I made up the salad the same evening, adding feta, tomato and cucumber. As those ingredients tend to produce a very wet salad when left overnight, they did in fact cancel out any drying effects, and the salad tasted the same the next two days.

pinhead/steel cut/Scotch/Irish oatmeal Like regular oatmeal, but a much nicer texture. I can’t go back to instant oatmeal after eating this. This is the one food on this list that requires moderately attentive cooking, but only for 20 minutes, and it refrigerates well for the week. This is also the one grain I don’t use for salads, although mixing in fruit is tasty.

quinoa Round grains, like couscous, but slightly larger and a more substantial texture. Full of protein, so an even better meat substitute than whole grains already are. We’re not vegetarian in the least, but I don’t find it convenient or cost-effective to have meat every day. Quinoa is not the cheapest of grains in our local shop, though, which was part of the motivation behind branching out our grain selection. The three mentioned above are much cheaper.

rice Not that hard to cook on the hob, without a rice cooker. And the leftovers are really good for rice pudding. (If you cheat, you can make a very quick rice pudding, even with the wrong–e.g. brown–kind of rice. Recipe to follow.)

I get these grains from my local Real Foods store on the way home from my office. The prices are comparable to the local supermarkets, so this isn’t like WholeFoods, which charges a fortune. In the US, you can probably get these at your local large supermarket. Bob’s Red Mill produces a lot of different grains and is carried in many grocery stores. Or try your local health/whole foods shop. It’s not just for hippies. Sometimes it’s good for a little variety.

For a more complete list of whole grains, including some I haven’t tried yet (amaranth, anyone?), see this informative list.

 

 

The Tides of Cramond Island

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Last weekend, we finally realized a long-held ambition: to explore the Firth of Forth, which we often traverse by train but seldom see at close range. The train bridge is a very long way up in the air.

Tree of Life

To get to the island, you cross a causeway. The causeway is submerged for about six hours between tides, and every now and again people get trapped out there and have to be “rescued” by the coast guard. (I was surprised the coast guard bothers. But I suppose leaving people on a small island for six hours would not really be considered a nice thing to do, even if they did bring it on themselves.) We, of course, were needlessly cautious and were well off the causeway before the tide came in. Of course, I did go back on the causeway to meet the incoming tide, but that’s another matter entirely.

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The second and third Forth Bridges.

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Yes, I see you.

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I got to paddle in the ocean for the first time in a long while. The bit near the shore was less muddy than I feared, being quite sandy. I gave up on the idea of going past my knees when I suddenly sank in too far and remembered that this was, after all, a mud flat. Although it had nothing on the mud flats on the Cape, where we sank to our knees in places.

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The mussels blew up small streams of sand to clear their air holes.

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The Voices We Heed: Ann Lamott

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From Ann Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life

Quieting these voices is at least half the battle I fight daily. But this is better than it used to be. It used to be 87 percent. Left to its own devices, my mind spends much of its time having conversations with people who aren’t there. I walk along defending myself to people, or exchanging repartee with them, or rationalizing my behavior, or seducing them with gossip, or pretending I’m on their TV talk show or whatever. 1 speed or run an aging yellow light or don’t come to a full stop, and one nanosecond later am explaining to imaginary cops exactly why I had to do what I did, or insisting that I did not in fact do it.

I happened to mention this to a hypnotist I saw many years ago, and he looked at me very nicely. At first 1 thought he was feeling around on the floor for the silent alarm button, but then he gave me the following exercise, which I still use to this day.

Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in any high-maintenance parental units, drop in any contractors, lawyers, colleagues, children, anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away, trying to make you feel like shit because you won’t do what they want–won’t give them more money, won’t be more successful, won’t see them more often. Then imagine that there is a volume-control button on the bottle. Turn it all the way up for a minute, and listen to the stream of angry, neglected, guilt-mongering voices. Then turn it all the way down and watch the frantic mice lunge at the glass, trying to get to you. Leave it down, and get back to your shitty first draft.

A writer friend of mine suggests opening the jar and shooting them all in the head. But I think he’s a little angry, and I’m sure nothing like this would ever occur to you.

When I read this–kicked back in a big chair, sitting in on a D&D game (a normal Wednesday evening occupation when dance classes are on summer hiatus) and tugging absentmindedly at the other end of a tug-of-war with a ferocious puppy–I laughed out loud in delighted disbelief, that classic “you too?” moment that lies at the heart of writing. I managed not to drag my husband away from the table, or distract the party en masse from the eponymous dragons, but it was a near thing. On the bus on the way home, he assured me that it these voices are in fact a thing; which is to say, a commonality among a good plurality of the populace, if not the entirety.

I immediately saw that this could be true, but not falsifiable, which was a small pang to my scientific heart. As anyone I knew well enough to ask is a creative person, and thus probably swarmed with their own wee demons, any inquiries into the subject would result in approximately the same level of accuracy as the telephone poll that declared Dewey’s success in the 1948 presidential election.

This was last night. So today, when my internal monologue starts to explain itself–which it does, with odd and foolhardy regularity, considering how little use it is, I repeat to myself, for every little detail, this little truth:

No one cares.

If I were presenting a major work to an audience, this would be a crushing sentiment, and one I ruthlessly crush in the bud as needed. But for leaving and coming back to my cafe table three times because I had forgotten things and changed my mind, it is true. And it is freeing.

And if some cynical young writer is sitting in a balcony making observations on human nature… well, let her speculate as she will.

Around the Interwebs

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Possibly my favorite encomium of all time:

British Army: “I feel proud that our nation still produces nutters like you” – Major General G J Binns CBE DSO MC
In reference to Microadventures, a website, book, and company that advocate taking advantage of the time between workdays, the 5-to-9 shift, if you will, to refresh with a night in the wild. The idea is compelling. As is the idea of being sincerely praised for being a nutter. I think that is now a life goal for me. To the surprise of no one who knows me.
o O o
Blogger–and now author–Kjerstin Gruys has made a name for herself by kicking her own image obsession… by going a whole year without looking in the mirror. I have to admit, I can see the wisdom of her ways. Evaluating my appearance every darn time I go into a bathroom or my bedroom is a waste of energy, even when I’m in a mood to like what I see. And when I’m already cranky, the focus on my own appearance just adds fuel to the fire. So I’m about ready to cover up the mirrors in the house and only use them when I really want to see something. Just like I put the candy in the cupboard so I don’t constantly have to remind myself that no, I don’t really need or even want candy right now.
What I’m saying is, the woman has something to say that really resonates with me. Today it’s not the mirrors, though; it’s this:
The good news is that I’ve improved dramatically since college.  Instead of being motivated only by the “stick” of looming deadlines, I occasionally move towards the “carrot”of feeling sane, productive, and well-rested.  I’ve also abandoned the myth that I work “best” under pressure, because I don’t.  Instead, I know that I write best when I’m feeling positive and confident, and when I regularly set small, achievable goals (and then accomplish them).  Even knowing these things, I still struggle with procrastination.
Kjerstin, in turn, is pulling from Chuck Close, who says that “Inspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get the work done.”
I suspect this means that I should stop reading her blog archives and get on with my paper, though. Finishing things in time to get lots of sleep is my new, extra-simple life goal.
Along with taking microadventures and being praised for insanity, that is.

The Ruddy Great Mouthful of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

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A strange and lowering realization: I don’t know what ‘United Kingdom’ is in German. I can give you ‘Scotland’ or ‘England’, but oddly, those aren’t in the dropdown menu for destinations. Not being countries and all.

A look at dict.leo.org (the best online foreign language dictionary I’ve seen yet, I have to say) yields three results. The first translates to ‘Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, the second to ‘United Kingdom’. Which was not on the drop-down; I did try the obvious translation first. The third was the rather outrageous ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’, which for purposes of the postal system is surely overkill.

The German bookseller went with Grossbrittainien*–Great Britain. I really can’t blame them. It was a bit of a mouthful.

* Using the ess-zet (ß)–that great big character that looks like a large B, is pronounced like two esses, and in fact stems from the combination of an old-fashioned tall lowercase S and a short S that got a little too friendly–is more easily avoided than accommodated when it comes to internet addresses and computer code. You can work around it, but using two esses is faster and less prone to complications.

What sort of country has a need for such a ceremonious and, dare I say, excessive name?

The sort of country in which I plop down for a quiet bit of a read in the park on a Tuesday and come out with pictures like this:

Chiefly Confab

But that’s a story for another day.

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