Hiking Along the Hedgerows

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Saturday was sunny, so NTS and I hopped the bus for the Pentlands once again. I didn’t have any particular plan in mind. Mostly, we just wandered. First we were passed by cars and cycles on a track that led past a long reservoir between hills.

The cars found their rest at the Clubbiedean fishery, but we had miles to go before we slept, and meandered on down a dusty lane between sheep fields bordered by dry stone fences. To the north, the Forth rail bridge bounded redly over the blue Firth. It really is the loveliest of the Forth bridges. Fields turned to farmhouses, and dust to asphalt, and it looked like we might have to contemplate a premature return to society.

Happily, no such fate befell us. We branched off again into that most delightful bastion of the British countryside, the country lane, drowsing in the sun. There we took our tea (the other great bastion of the British, country or otherwise).

It was at the end of this lane that we reached a crossroads (cross-lanes?) of trails, with a signpost I had seen before. Should we go on to Balerno, or circle back to Bonaly? With a hearty and heartless belief in building up one’s endurance, we circled.

It was a large circle.

Map of Pentlands by hedgerow, Bonaly

Map created at gb.mapometer.com. I am now in love with this site. Especially the altimeter.

Happily, the days are long, so there was never any question of being caught out after dark. By the time night fell, we were tucked up in the pub, consuming a well-earned beer and late dinner.

The First Iced Coffee of the Year

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It’s 61F here (16C), and sunny.

tree

Tiny grills spout tiny plumes of fragrant smoke in every park. Even now, I’m sipping my first iced coffee of the year. (As I now cold brew my coffee year-round, this was deliciously easy. This year, I’m prepared. Iced coffee is not a Scottish tradition.)

iced coffee

Yes, that’s a sweet potato cookie on top. With chocolate chips.

birch with burlsMeanwhile, Maine got six inches of snow Wednesday night.

To Bivy or Not to Bivy: March in the Pentlands

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Just a quick hike.

Pines in the Pentlands, Bonaly

While we were out, we scoped out a few possible sites for camping.

stone pound, Pentlands, Bonaly

Scotland allows you to camp nearly anywhere you would want to (not in people’s backyards), so long as you’re not in the way and you leave no trace. We’re still working our way up to this. I’ve never camped without a car or a canoe before, except at SCA events. But I’m determined we will soon.

pentlands, April

BRID Maybe we should try bivy sacks instead of a tent. People say that you feel closer to nature that way, not in a smaller version of a building.

NTS I don’t see how that’s a recommendation.

Pentlands, Bonaly, March

BRID Oh, well. It probably doesn’t work so well for two people. You know what they call a two-person bivy. b

NTS ?

BRID A tent.

In the Kitchen: Amaranth Granola and Butternut Tabbouleh

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Hello, my dears. Are you feeling fearfully neglected?

Well, you have been. My leisure of late has been spent largely in my kitchen.

I spent much of Sunday poring over a newly discovered food blog, Cookie & Kate. Isn’t that the best name? Cookie is a dog. (Kate is a person.) It’s a vegetarian blog, which means new and interesting dishes. Since meat isn’t expected to be the star, a lot of effort goes into making veggie dishes really interesting and appetizing. Even if I sometimes serve them with a side of steak.

butternut squash tabbouleh

Sunday’s dinner: butternut squash tabbouleh with a side of steak. So good. The only change I made was to use currants instead of cranberries, since I had them on hand, and add a bit of coriander and pepper. But not too much. The point of tabbouleh is to let the fresh herbs speak for themselves.

Inspired by Kate’s list of make-ahead breakfast foods, I set my mind to puffed amaranth and date bars. (I wanted to make granola, but it turned out that I didn’t have anywhere near 4 cups of oats.)

Popping amaranth is fun. Once you get the hang of it. You have to heat up the pan really hot–always hotter than you think you need–then put in a spoonful of grains. If they start popping immediately, you’re good to go: put the lid on, and in ten seconds they’re fluffy and done. Pour them into your “keep” bowl, heat the pan a little and make another spoonful. If they don’t start popping immediately, the pan isn’t hot enough, and that batch is never going to pop right; pour the scorched grains into a bowl to throw away later, heat the pan hotter and try again. Learn from my experience and don’t dump the ruined grains in the bin until they’ve cooled, unless you have a metal or glass bin. You’ll melt the plastic.

Having popped the amaranth, I turned my mind to the dates. It turns out that tiny food processor really can’t handle dates. They just kept whirring around and around in the bowl. Wop, wop. Amaranth date bars were a no-go.

granola

What to do with a quantity of popped amaranth? I almost ate it then and there with a spoon, but that wouldn’t lead to delicious breakfast food. I persisted and finally substituted the popped amaranth for half the oatmeal needed for granola. The granola recipe I had intended to make in the first place. I made a lot of substitutions for half the ingredients in that recipe, but it came out delicious. I will be making more this weekend. (In my defense, I only had enough amaranth and oatmeal for half a batch the first time.)

chia berry jam

To keep the granola company, I made chia berry jam from frozen berries, with a frozen banana for sweetness. It simmers for half an hour on the stovetop, so I kept an eye on it while I made dinner. Smelling the granola in the over while I stirred jam on the stove gave me the strangest sense of cognitive dissonance.

granola and jam

I enjoyed the granola and jam with greek yoghurt for breakfast all week. The turbulent and truncated affair of the amaranth date bars turned out deliciously in the end.

Chai Concentrate from Scratch

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As promised, the recipe I use for DIY chai concentrate. This is an amalgam of recipes found in various places on the internet, plus things I had in my kitchen and minus ingredients I don’t go for (fake sugar, anyone?). The result has no calories and no dairy (or dairy substitutes) and can be mixed up with a number of different bases. Notably, as lattes.

Ingredients

4 cups water

10 whole cloves
12 whole cardamom pods, crushed slightly to expose seeds
12 whole black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks
1 star anise (optional)
1-1.5 inches fresh ginger, thinly sliced

6 tsp black tea, or 8 tea bags

  1. Bring water to a boil. Add spices, simmer covered 15 minutes.
  1. Add tea bags or tea (in strainer), let sit 5 minutes.
  1. Remove tea and star anise. Let sit 30-120 minutes.
  1. Strain (or pick spices off the top) and pour into a jar. The straight concentrate looks like rich apple cider and packs quite a punch. It will keep in the fridge for at least a month.

Uses:

Chai latte
1/3 c chai concentrate
1 c milk

Heat milk and concentrate in saucepan over medium heat, swirling pot occcasionally, until thick steam rises from the top. Pour into cup from about 8 inches up to create foam.

Coconut chai latte
I hear it’s also very tasty with coconut milk. Haven’t tried it yet, though. For a less rich beverage, try one part each coconut milk, water and concentrate.

Chai soda
Add dash of concentrate to club soda or ginger ale.

Five Things: Live Flowers, Dead Flowers for Live People, and Tartan

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1. Valentine’s orchid.

orchid

Just as my tulips were wilting in the window, my delightful husband arrived home with two bottles of wine (for a dinner party, see 2), a bottle of Scotch and an orchid. A good V-Day haul. Now I’ll have fresh flowers every day for as long as I can keep it alive.

2. Friday night, we joined some friends for challah, a Jewish tradition involving the eponymous braided challah bread, wine, candles and lots of food. It was a delightful evening of good food and good friends. We all commiserated about the inability to get our hands on Jewish food in Edinburgh–plans for matzo soup were scrapped owing to the lack of flour, and none of us has had a bagel in ages. (As usual, the one Brit in the room couldn’t see what was wrong with the Edinburgh bagel scene, but we knew. I’m from Maine and I won’t eat the bagels here.

I didn’t consider myself cosmopolitan or cultured when I got here. Until I went to college, I could count the number of non-white people I knew on my fingers and toes. But living in a land where no-one has a passing acquaintance with an edible bagel or burrito–even a chipotle burrito or a blueberry special from Mainely Bagel–makes me feel downright worldly.

On the other hand, I don’t think I’d ever had challah before this weekend. Live and learn.

3. Chai soda. I don’t mix my chai with milk until I go to make a latte, so it’s just concentrated spices and tea (no sugar, either). A splash of it is really good in club soda. They should sell this stuff. Recipe tomorrow.

4. Remember the plantain calendula infusion I was brewing? Yeah, neither did I for a while. Consequently, this is really well steeped infusion. And now that I’ve finally strained it and mixed with beeswax, it’s a well-steeped salve.

plantain calendula salve

Both plants are known for their healing properties when applied to skin, so the salve acts as a natural neosporin for bug bites and small cuts and abrasions.

plantain calendula salve

I now have quite a lot of it.

5. Tartan sling bag. There’s a kilt shop on the Royal Mile that sells wool remnants (my mother thinks it’s hilarious that I get wool there). I had the luck to find a larger than usual piece this week. After much fiddling, I’m now the proud owner of a one-shoulder sling bag that I think will do very nicely for re-enactment type events.

tartan bag

It turns out it’s quite hard to get model pictures of bags when you’re alone in the house.

The basic idea is from very like the tutorial on sew mama sew. I added internal instead of external pockets and an adjustable strap (still made from a belt). The fabric on mine had to be pleated at the top so many times that I had to backstitch it by hand; it wouldn’t fit in the machine. The pleats make it look a bit like a shoulder plaid, though, and I like the effect. tartan bag back

The internal pockets and long metal zipper came from an old sundress. I hesitated about using a zipper, but it was the only way to achieve the shape I wanted. So I made sure to use a generous zipper flap. You can’t see it at all. You can’t see the pockets, either, which is for the best…

tartan bag pockets

Five Things: Sometimes Blog Tech Doesn’t Work

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1. I submitted a paper for peer review. My very first paper! If it’s accepted, my paper will be published in a book with those of other professional academics. (!!)

If.

Now we wait.

2. Flowers! Though not from a garden.

Tulips

At 2 quid a bouquet (Lidl), supermarket flowers more than pay for themselves in morale.

3. Smoothies.

smoothie

Or sorbet, depending on how much I defrost the frozen berries. Yet another use for the intrepid stick blender.

4. Wedding rings for adventurers. I don’t like to wear my wedding ring when camping, hiking, on SCA trips that involve sleeping rough, hitting my friends with sticks… Either it’s uncomfortable because I’m using my hands (especially carrying things), or very messy, or I’m afraid of losing it while running around in the woods.

Enter the silicone wedding ring, a comfortable way to stave off that weird feeling you get from not wearing your wedding ring. (This feeling developed a surprisingly short tim after I got my engagement ring. Apparently, being reminded of your marriage is addictive, and engagement is a gateway drug. Most people who contract engagements go on to marriage. Consider yourselves warned.)

UPDATE 5. No thanks to wordpress, which deleted the “Winter in Scotland” post after it was published, and substituted this draft. And then messed with it. 

This may be for the best. It was about how winters in Scotland differ from those in New England. Only when I went to make sure the link was working on facebook (and it was working fine then) did I start browsing facebook and notice that no-one in Boston has seen hide or hair of the MBTA this week due to snow and incompetence. (As opposed to usual operations, in which you don’t see them for several hours, but then three 77 buses come in a row and leapfrog down Mass Ave.) I didn’t mean to rub everyone’s face in it. But apparently karma wasn’t accepting that rationale.

Chickpea, Mozzarella and Rosemary Salad

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Low-carb and full of vegetables. More importantly, full of fresh mozzarella and balsamic vinegar. Usually I would just make caprese, but the tomatoes you get in January are just depressing.

I’ve been writing my first-ever paper for submission to a peer review panel, so life has been busy lately. At least, there was was much sitting at the computer, if not always a lot getting done.

But at least there was tasty food today. And tea.

mozzarella salad

Ingredients

1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 ball (125g) fresh mozzarella, drained and rinsed, cut into 1/4″ cubes*
15 black olives, roughly chopped
1/2 yellow bell pepper, roughly chopped
1 stalk fresh rosemary, chopped (or 1 tsp dry)
fresh-ground pepper, lots
balsamic vinegar
olive oil

* Lowfat or full fat, your choice

Combine everything; season to taste. I happened to pick up some fresh rosemary last week, so it’s been finding its way into everything. I regret nothing. Except not having an enormous rosemary plant of my own.

desk

Also, I found a very simple riser for a pound, so my desk setup has become much more streamlined. And now NTS can have the lap desk back.

desk setup

Five Things: Teas, Soup, and Angst

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1. Tuscan white bean soup. Extremely rich; if you’re mixing bouillon from a paste, I recommend using about half the amount it says on the pot.

IMG_60122. Home-made exotic teas. I’ve cut back on sugar and alcohol lately. Most of the time I don’t eat sweets or drink tasty, tasty mead because I want sugar or alcohol, especially; I just want something that tastes special. (Or I’m somewhere where the only food is junk food.) These teas taste special.

Tea ingredients

From left to right: Chamomile peppermint; red Christmas tea (red tea, vanilla, peppermint, cocoa nibs; recipe here); black vanilla rose. The ingredients mostly come from the local co-op, where I measure them out myself.

Homemade teas

3. Showering by candlelight. Our tiny bathroom features a super-bright white light and a super-loud fan, plus the drone of the hot water machine. (Brits only sort of understand plumbing. Frankly, they’ve been resisting it ever since the Romans showed up with their baths.) Putting a candle on the one horizontal surface–the sink–removes the sensory overload and gets me ready for sleep.

4. Homemade chai concentrate. No sugar, and very tasty for homemade chai lattes.

5. One student’s offhand comment after a tutorial: “Oh good, I actually understand it now.”

No thanks to: writing first drafts of conference papers.

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