Butternut Squash and Lentil Soup

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Fall brings some of my favourite foods. Apples, apple cider (unless you live in the UK, where cider is alcoholic only), squash. Soup.

The apples have gone past that first perfection that calls for eating them out of the bag, but I’m not done with them yet, no-sirree Bob. I made applesauce on the stove the other day, and it was delicious. So delicious, it’s joined cold-brew coffee on the list of things I make every week just for the pleasure of having them to hand.

Once I’d decided that, I thought how much easier it would be with a Crock-pot. And from there, it was a short step to how much easier everything would be if I cooked my meals in a Crock-Pot. Needless to say, we are now the proud owners of a (rather small) Crock-Pot.

But this is not a Crock-Pot recipe. That’s because we didn’t go grocery shopping until 4pm. So I used the slow cooker to make applesauce instead, while we went and enjoyed the National Museum of Scotland. It was a good use of a Sunday afternoon. It was also a good use of the Crock-Pot. I tell you now, if you have a slow cooker and a stick (immersion) blender, applesauce can be yours with almost no effort. I don’t even peel the apples; once the sliced apples are soft, the immersion blender just makes them disappear, leaving only a hint of extra texture, which I enjoy and thus don’t blend entirely away.

I’m not one for owning kitchen gadgets I don’t need, so I would never have thought to buy an immersion blender for myself. The last tenant left it, but I’m so glad they did. You need some sort of blender or food processor for this recipe.

Don't be turned off by the photo.

Don’t be turned off by the photo.  I managed to plate it beautifully the first night, but we were too hungry to take pictures. The overhead light in our kitchen is also burned out at the moment. This soup is soooo much more delicious than it looks. Mumsy Dearest, you, at least, have to try this soup. It is currently my favourite way to eat squash, even better than squash and barley risotto with parmesan, which is saying something.

Ingredients

1 1/2 butternut squash
1 red pepper
2 red onions

300 mL dry green lentils
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 cups stock
salt
pepper
basil and/or thyme

1. Preheat oven to 350F (180C).

2. Thinly slice (5mm) squash, roughly chop pepper and onions. Roast in roasting pan 20 minutes.

3. Add vegetables, lentils and seasonings to stock pot. If making stock from a cube or mix, add mix and pour boiling water into the pot. If you aren’t British and don’t have an electric kettle, just add the stock and let it heat on the stove. Cover, bring to a boil (if needed) and simmer covered for 30 minutes.

4. Remove from heat and very carefully puree with immersion blender until it reaches a consistency you like. Serve with dollop of cream cheese and oatcakes, toast or crackers.

Squash and lentil soup

This recipe is inspired by this one; I changed the proportions, adding more lentils for a more filling meal, and added some spices. Soup is much more forgiving of my meddling than most foods.

If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can blend it in a regular blender, though I’ve never tried it. You cannot just blend it as normal, though, or you risk explosion due to escaping steam. Read some articles about how to go about it safely, such as this one, before blending.

Making Autumn

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It’s been a while since I posted a serious post, one with more words than pictures. It’s been that sort of fall, really. I’m not sure where the first month of term went; it comes back in fractured images.

(No, I’ve not been drinking the term away. Though we did have an Arkham Horror and Scotch-finishing party one night, to help some friends finish off all their Scotch bottles with only an inch left before they went away for a few months. Let’s say that their liquor cabinet is now substantially tidier. Sadly, the dead bottles have not in fact disappeared, but have merely relocated to the graveyard of departed whiskies. That’s the problem with the beautiful bottles of beautiful whiskies: it’s hard to discard them afterward. The graveyard of departed Scotches is a known phenomenon.)

Term brought with it my first TA-ship. Tutoring, they call it here; after lectures with more than a hundred students, the students break out into groups of ten or so to go over the exercises with a tutor (e.g. me) and get clarification on tricky points. Not having been through the British undergrad system, I wasn’t sure what to expect from the students. In the event, though, it’s the ease with which they accept my authority that’s a little freaky. I suppose I do have nine years on them; they may think of us as hardly younger than the lecturers (professors), which is frankly disquieting.

For some time, the awareness as been growing in my mind that my voice, which I’d always counted on, was no longer quite there when I called on it. It hid. Used to constant lessons and practice through high school and college, it sulked under its neglect and, when demanded, showed up in poor form. In short, singing had been the second biggest part of my life for a good portion of my life (behind studying), and I want it back. It lacks the social usefulness of being able to play a useful instrument (piano, say, or guitar), but I have an affection for it nonetheless. I have joined a chorale.

This, in turn, necessitated finding a dance group that doesn’t meet on Tuesdays to make up for the dance class I dropped, which led to Irish step on Sundays and possibly before my Scottish dance class on Thursdays. You could say my schedule remains a work in progress at present.

My first-year review, which included the forty-page introductory chapter to my dissertation, was held in September. I did not flunk out of my PhD. Now I am in the phase of actually starting the research itself.

As a consequence, I have been getting a number of things done around the house.

Yesterday I made thick wool slippers, as the soles of my commercial ones had worn almost through. Mine are vastly superior, having 2 layers of lambswool sweater for the uppers, and the following for soles, from top to bottom: 1 lambswool sweater, 1 wool sock (left over from my leg warmers), 4 layers of rather thin polarfleece pullover, and 1 heavy cotton twill from NTS’s old trousers, for ruggedness. They are the most comfortable thing that has come between my feet and the cold kitchen floor. Making applesauce

Today I made applesauce. It seems that applesauce is not a mainstream food in the UK and I have not found it in regular grocery stores. I left the skins on, which adds some texture. I would only recommend it if you have access to a food processor, stick blender or food mill, though, in order to get the puree the skins. (Happily, the previous tenant of our flat left a stick blender. Hooray!) Mine is much thicker and tastier than the organic stuff from the co-op (the only place I’ve found it), although that’s pretty good, too. I have decided against investing in formal canning apparatus while I’m here, so this is for the fridge. I hear you can freeze applesauce, though, so I may try that sometime if I ever have a very large stockpot.

Plantain and calendula | FarOuterHebrides

Plantain and calendula (pot marigold)

Other projects I’ve undertaken this fall include hand salve, plantain calendula salve, 2 rag rugs for the bathroom, 1 for the kitchen, and a completely refashioned wool knit shirt (very fiddly). More on those later.

Flow’rs of Scotland

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I finished a year’s worth of research paper a few weeks ago. The day after I submitted, I was damned if I could sit down and concentrate on anything like work. So I didn’t.

Pentlands, September

I went hiking.

Pentlands, September

I’m always telling Mumsy Dearest that it’s fine to hike alone, but I seldom take my own advice. Mostly because I do try to work on work days like the rest of the world, if not always at the same hours. And on weekends I can usually drag NTS along. I feel guilty leaving him at home while I go play in the woods. (Although I did, last weekend.)

Pentlands, September

So I packed up the most important of my 10 things, just to feel super safe, and left.

Bee on thistle, Pentlands, September

Well, when I say left, I mean ‘lost interest for a while and then got going in the afternoon’, but eventually, I left.

Thistle with bee, Pentlands, September

This is heather.

This is heather.

Heather, Pentlands, September

 

Pentlands, September

It was very hazy, but also sunny. Scotland.

Beware: hiking may cause death.

Beware: hiking may cause death.

STAR BATTLE SHOOTING AND ANTI-AIRCRAFT RANGE

PERSON PROCEEDING BEYOND THIS BOARD WHEN 2 RED FLAGS ARE FLYING BY DAY OR 2 RED LIGHTS SHOWING BY NIGHT… IS IN DANGER

Sun on a reservoir, through the spruces

Sunset on a reservoir.

Mexican Food in a Scottish Byre, Part II

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There were too many pictures of that gorgeous old dairy farm to fit into one post. So lucky you… today’s post is more pictures! Enjoy the rest of your virtual tour. I’m afraid we’ve eaten all the Mexican food, though.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

 

Another woodshed. There was wood everywhere.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

 

Wood for sheep, anyone?

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

As someone who used to heat my house with wood, I find myself drawn to a good wood pile.

Wood | A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

Or three.

Wood and a Tractor | FarOuterHebrides

Tractors are good, too. The bus I took to get to this place got stuck behind a tractor for a while. It gave me a nice tingle of nostalgia.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A memory of zipping along back roads on a sunny day, while My Girlfriend Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy blares on the radio. I didn’t get much money from my job that last summer after high school, but I did get the best drives.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

Mexican Food in a Scottish Byre, Part I

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One of the common themes of expat life is the things you miss from your old life. For Americans, Mexican food and NY Jewish food (notably bagels and reuben sandwiches) rank fairly high on this list.

Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

Even though my home state of Maine could not be further from the Mexican border, and I didn’t eat Mexican food until I moved to Boston, I quickly learned to value a well-wrapped burrito. And fresh bagels were a mainstay of every trip to visit family in New Jersey, from the time I was first old enough to lick the cream cheese off my bagel and ask for more.

Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

So we were delighted to hear a few weeks ago that fellow SCAdians (reenactors), a group with a high proportion of expats, were cooking up a big Mexican feast and wanted us to help them eat it.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

The food did not disappoint. Sooo good. I wanted to keep eating until I exploded, but I refrained.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

Which is to say, I didn’t actually explode, so the laws of cause and effect imply that I must have refrained a little. I only ate one really enormous burrito. It took all afternoon.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

The company was excellent. Our friends have very interesting friends.

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

And the location was to die for. Those of us who currently reside in cities were very jealous. The estate was once a dairy farm, with the cows housed in the courtyard. Now there’s one apartment and the main complex, which is used seasonally and on weekends (not for dairy farming). Isn’t it spectacular?

A Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebridesA Scottish Byre | FarOuterHebrides

Sunday Sun

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The star of a good picture is always the light.

Emerson "Too high a spirit"

When I noticed the light streaming through my window on a perfect Sunday afternoon, I couldn’t resist.

Sunday Sun | FarOuterHebrides

 

I know some of my family (Mumsy) are always eager to know what our flat looks like.

Sunday Sun | FarOuterHebrides

Apparently giving virtual tours of one’s house is also common on the blogosphere. That’s my mending basket in the back corner.

Reading nook | FarOuterHebrides

My wee, ill-lit kitchen is nothing to write home about, but the sun perks everything up.

Oil lamp | FarOuterHebrides

So here is my new reading nook, complete with my hard-won chair and bathed in sunshine.

A Mad Tea Party: Cucumber Salmon Crescents

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Tea time is always at four in the afternoon. And when one’s companion in tea is providing the scones with clotted cream and jam… well, then one needs to provide ballast, so as not to roll away from the party. My will power doesn’t extend to ignoring scones with clotted cream while at a tea party. Probably because I don’t really want it to. There’s no point in spoiling a good tea party with ill-timed abstinence.

scones

She makes really good scones.

On the other hand, adding cake or cookies on top of the scones seems unnecessary.

Enter the fish.

salmon crescents

Ingredients

1 large cucumber
1 small tin tuna or salmon
1 small red onion
1/4c plain greek yoghurt

dried or fresh chopped parsley
1 tsp lemon juice
freshly ground pepper
garlic powder
pinch of salt
dried or fresh chopped basil
paprika

1. Cut cucumber in half lengthwise. Use a melon baller, measuring spoon or teaspoon to scoop the seeds out of the middle and discard/eat them. The cucumber should resemble two dugout canoes.

2. Drain salmon.

3. Finely dice the onion. Mix onion, salmon, yoghurt, lemon juice and spices to taste.

4. Fill cucumber canoes with salmon mixture. Sprinkle with paprika. Cut into 3/4″ slices and serve.

I used salmon because apparently I stopped eating tuna several months ago, when I decided I didn’t like it enough to buy mayo only for that purpose. I hadn’t yet thought of using yoghurt. I had completely forgotten this decision, but happily I did decide, around the same time, to try tinned salmon. Then I promptly forgot about the fish.

(The last time I tried tinned salmon, I got the tin Trader Joe’s that still had bones in. When I opened the can to make tea sandwiches, Dani and I got too freaked out by the bones to actually use it. It was not a proud day for an outdoorswoman.)

So there you have it: tiny cucumber crescents fit for a tea party. Or perhaps for lunch. Finger-food-friendly, and much faster than making and filling individual cucumber cups. I’ve tried this with tuna, too, and it tastes just as good, if slightly more like tuna.

salmon crescents

A Mad Tea Party: Enter the Cavalry

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I suppose it was only to be expected, really.

Holyrood Park | FarOuterHEbrides

In 1865, Mr. Dodgson set the bar for British tea parties.

IMG_5460

Since he immortalised the great British institution in story, the Great British Institution has become synonymous in my mind with outlandish hats and absurd circumstances, though I dare say our jokes are of a somewhat higher calibre.

Holyrood Park | FarOuterHEbrides

Dodgson can’t really be held responsible for the hats; just look at the royal wedding. But for fantastical circumstances surrounding the consumption of my afternoon tea and cakes… that I lay entirely at his door.

Horses from Parliament | FarOuterHebrides

Really, how else can you explain having a bus diverted on the way to tea by a pipe and drum corps, a dozen revolutionary-era redcoats with assorted hangers-on, and great long parade of horses coming up the Royal Mile from Parliament?

Horses from Parliament | FarOuterHebrides

Horses from Parliament | FarOuterHebrides

Down at the foot of the hill, by the Queen’s Gallery, there’s a small street sign I hadn’t noticed before.

Horses from Parliament | FarOuterHebrides

Seems fair.

When Summer Meets Autumn

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When summer meets autumn:

Leaves and sea glass

I feel bad picking the wildflowers in the park, but for the leaves I have no such qualms. There will be more soon.

I was proud of myself earlier this week because I opened up my broken alarm clock and fiddled with the connections until the backlight was no longer stuck in the “on” position. Sadly, it didn’t take; the light came on again last night. I think the metal piece has just lost its spring and can no longer bounce back. But I like the picture.

Alarm clock

A Mad Tea Party in the Botanical Gardens

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After wandering through Stockbridge Market and along the Water of Leith last Sunday, we made out way through the Botanical Gardens.

Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens Botanical Gardens

Eventually, we pulled out a wool rug and a flask (thermos) of hot tea to keep our biscuits company. It was, after all, four o’clock, and tea time is always four o’clock.

Botanical Gardens

 We also nibbled on one side of a mushroom. Things were rather large after that.

NTS in the Botanical Gardens

But really, we were only a little mad.

The Gently Mad book shop Edinburgh Fringe hairdresser

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