Five Things: Recap


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It’s been a while, hasn’t it? Don’t worry, this blog isn’t going anywhere. I’ll even be posting in it again. I have an entire trip across Scotland to show you in pictures (the one that started here and here, if you’re keen to get going). In the meantime, here are five things to get you slightly caught up with my life in Scotland.

  1. My first academic article is appearing in a book next year! Grown-up problem: finding polite ways to request changes to your proof. Not subtle changes, those are easy enough. It’s the really, blindingly obvious ones that are hard to phrase. Also, fun fact: some research during this process revealed that some European languages don’t tend to differentiate between paragraphs with either an indentation (like a newspaper) or an extra return (like a blog). Nothing. Just a single carriage return. Mind blown by foreign typography.

2. Baskets. Because sometimes making rugs for a very small bathroom doesn’t use up your entire store of old clothes and sewing remnants. More details in a later post.

Rag basket blue

3. Conferences. Conferences are exciting and full of travel. (Some more than others; Birmingham vs. Brussels.) They are also full of panic as I bring my research into a presentable state. Sure, I started preparing for them a while ago. This has not stopped my panic. It turns out that research, like packing, always takes longer than you’re sure it will. But panic (of a certain kind) does get the job done. I expect that these conferences are the way my dissertation is actually getting written. No wonder my advisor is so keen on them.

4. Can we discuss the number of hours of sunlight in Scotland right now? In practice, it averages out to about one a day, in between rain. But even in theory it’s pretty terrible. See figure below:

Hours of sunlight

You see that yellow bit there? That’s my day. There’s maybe one more hour of twilight around 15:00, where that cloud is. Welcome to Scotland.

5. How does Scotland cope?

Royal mile whiskies postcard_FarOuterHebrides

Almost Southern: Pulled Pork with Parmesan Cauliflower and Sauerruben


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I really can’t take any of the credit for the main attraction on this one. When NTS came home with some deliciously thick, deliciously marbled shoulder cuts, it was obvious from the start that they were meant for the crock pot. NTS mixed up the dry rub himself–I have no idea what was in it–and massaged those shoulders.

I’ll take credit for the cheesy cauliflower, though. It seemed like the sort of comfort food you should serve with pulled pork. Especially if you don’t have any potatoes in the house. And for the sauerruben–like sauerkraut, but with thin strips of turnip in place of the cabbage–which I pickled with my own two hands. Well, with my own one hand. That was the day I skinned my knuckles jumping out of a cherry tree, so all the massaging was left to my un-bandanged hand. Clearly I need to practice tree climbing more, or on more forgiving trees.

Pulled pork

Not the best food-porn picture; my camera doesn’t really do low-light. But I promise you, it was delicious.

But I digress. The point is, sauerruben is delicious. Almost delicious enough to justify julienning an entire turnip by hand. (Almost.) I see a mandoline in my future. And it added the fresh, tangy notes we needed to balance out the rich, spiced pork and creamy cauliflower. Other options here would be a green salad or cucumber salad.

The recipe for sauerruben, part of my continuing quest to pickle all the things, can be found on the blog phickle, along with recipes for almost anything else you might want to home pickle. Unlike regular pickling that involves a canning bath, I have found that lacto-pickling produces delicious results with very little effort. (On the other hand, I won’t have produce from my own garden in the winter. As I don’t have a garden, I’m not at a life stage where this makes a great deal of difference.)

For cheesy cauliflower, you can use my previously posted recipe, which is fabulously rich and makes a fine dinner on its own. Or you can make the quicker version below, which is lighter, faster, and works well as a side dish. Especially when the main attraction is as fabulous as this pork.

Quick Parmesan Cauliflower

Serves 2-4
Time: 10 minutes active, 25 minutes total

1 head cauliflower
Olive oil for frying
2 cubic inches fresh parmesan
1/4 c Greek yoghurt
Garlic powder or minced garlic, 1 clove
Onion powder

  1. Remove cauliflower stalk and cut into bite-size or smaller pieces. (Make food-waste prevention pickles with the stem and the large veins from the leaves, if you like. I cut them into 1/4″ or thinner slices and add a spoonful of minced garlic to the brine. They’re deliciously tangy pickles.) Steam cauliflower 13 minutes in microwave.
  2. Coarsely grate parmesan. Parmesan from a can is not even a little bit the same; cheddar or other cheese would be better.
  3. Saute steamed cauliflower in olive oil over medium heat until edges are brown and caramelized. If using fresh garlic, fry the garlic for one minute before adding the cauliflower. If using garlic from a jar, add add at the same time as the cauliflower.
  4. In your bowl that’s still warm from the microwave, mix cauliflower, cheese, yoghurt and spices to taste.

If you struggle with meal planning, I leave you with this suggestion: pick one savory or sweetish meat, one starchy, creamy and/or cheesy side dish, and one lighter, green and/or tangy vegetable. If the latter happens to be fermented, it has the side benefit of requiring zero effort on the day you make dinner. Just scoop and go. Possibly my new favorite approach to side dishes.

Rugged Beauty


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I can’t tell whether this is the greatest rug in the world. If not, it’s definitely a tribute. You may recall my spate of rug-making last winter. A traditional (except for the material) braided rug, a super-dense woven mat, a floppy sort of woven rug for the kitchen. (The latter met its demise when it met a jar of honey. At that point the pink dye on the polyester was starting to discolor my socks, so it wasn’t a hard sell. Although it was awfully pretty.)

One other kind of rag rug, a twisted rag rug, caught my eye while I was working on that last rug (non-video tutorial here). It hovered in my mind for months. When I steeled myself to get rid of all the clothes I had been holding on to for one reason or another (surely it will fit again! or Just because you can see through the flannel doesn’t mean it’s worn out! or You’re never actually going to do the alterations on this, are you?), they just arranged themselves so nicely in my head as a rug that I had to give in. I could never sacrifice yards of pristine fabric, but I feel no less compunction about chopping up clothes I would never wear again.


Meet my loom, a.k.a. the top rack of my laundry rack. People who make more than one rug usually have a simple loom with a row of nails at each end to hold the weft, but I’m not one for extra equipment. The weft is held to the ends of the rack by a spiral of string. This is congruent with heritage weaving methods in a number of cultures.

The loom is strung with 2-inch strips cut from a worn-out chemise that started life as a worn-out sheet. This fabric has really gotten around. If I did it again, I would use 3″ strips of the sheet or 2″ strips of a sturdier fabric; the sheet strips tore through in several places. I fixed those spots with heavy thread and wove over them as usual.

I tried two different widths of fabric for the weft, 2″ and 4″. The thinner strips gave a more elegant result, but the thicker strips resulted in a cushier rug. In hindsight, I think I could have spaced the warp (the long ones) a little further apart to compensate for the thicker weft. In the end, I tore out the section with 2″ strips.
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The fabrics for this rug were a motley selection from my own closet and my husband’s. There’s flannel and even striped polyester from some SCA garb (more bedding that’s been around), printed cotton dresses, viscose scarves that were pilling, flannel pajamas, t-shirts, long underwear and a too-small running shirt (that’s the bright pink). Knowing my favorite colors and patterns were going to add interest to my rug made it a lot easier to clear some prints and colors from my closet that I had been holding on to for a while just because they were pretty.



Wish Fulfillment



For the past two days, I’ve been reading reviews and rebuttals of a paper written by a researcher scholar gentleman(?) whom I refer to in my head as that idiot*. His arguments are internally inconsistent and his methodology unsound; professional discretion forbids me saying more.

Briefly put, he is a Bad Scientist.

Right before I woke up this morning (when all my best and worst dreams happen) I dreamed I was at a conference lunch. At the next table the Bad Scientist (whose face was undoubtedly supplied by my subconsious, as I don’t know him) droned on to an awkward young researcher who was too polite to contradict him. Just as I was getting annoyed, the author of an impeccably-researched 30-page rebuttal set her tray down at the same table. Now, I thought, there will be fireworks.

I started my day’s research in a considerably better frame of mind.

* I suspect that developing professional antipathies is part of becoming an acadaemic. I once heard a lecturer refer to someone as “an absolute nutter of a historical linguist”.  

Have Fun Storming the Castle (Ffaire Rhaglan, part 4)


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(Ffaire Rhaglan parts 1, 2 and 3)

How many Princess Bride references did we make over the course of the week? I don’t even want to know.

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Cadillac Mountain: Views from the Summit


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Because summit sounds cooler than topIMG_7036

These cairns aren’t directional, just fun.

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Family, straight ahead.

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(For earlier instalments of our Cadillac Mountain hike at Acadia, see here, here and here.)

Summiting Cadillac


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Often, I hear someone say that they don’t mind the downhill part of a climb so much; it’s the uphill that gets them. I admit, the uphill is hard on the cardio side, but I find it’s the down part of a climb that really hits me where it hurts (i.e. the knees). A slow, controlled descent just gets my muscles wobbling.


The long-term solution, of course, is to build up the muscles in my legs. In the short term, though, there are times when other solutions are possible.


For example, hiking the mountain backward.


(There’s an image, right?)

See this? This is the trail. This right here.

See this? This is the trail. This right here.

On our Acadia trip in July (see previous posts here and here), we started at the scenic overlook (and convenient parking lot) at the top of Cadillac Mountain. From there, the trail led down a ridge of Cadillac Mtn into the saddle between Cadillac and Dorr, then up the middle of that saddle to a nearly-vertical climb back to the summit. The vertical was the best part. What can I say, I like climbing on things.


I wasn’t sure my theory of backward would work, but in practice I found it remarkably effective. The very steep downhill was much easier while my legs were fresh.

My sister, about to be eaten by a rock turtle. It was a narrow escape.

My sister, about to be eaten by a rock turtle. It was a narrow escape.

Since most of our hike was over bare granite, the way was marked with blue paint blazes on the stone itself, and by traditional cairns like these. The little houses main ‘straight ahead’.



My Own Country, or Pickle All the Things


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I’ve been keen to try preserving food for a while, but I haven’t made my way into water-bath or pressure canning yet. I’m trying to protect myself from sweets, so jams are not particularly helpful. Without a garden, CSA, or car for procuring large quantities of cheap in-season fruit, the impetus just isn’t there yet. If I’m going to buy from the supermarket, I can buy any time of year and much of it still won’t be local. (This is on the list of things to address when I have an income. But not while living on student loans.) Although the Netherlands aren’t really that far away. Not like Argentina.

But I digress.

While I’m not water-bath or pressure canning against the upcoming winter, I have started putting food in jars. This is due largely to the blog Phickle. It’s all her fault, and I’m sure she’ll be delighted to hear it.

early pickles

Yes, the middle jar is weighted with a jar of sesame seeds. It was just the right size.

Probiotic foods are good for you, you know. We all know. Most of us assume this means eating yoghurt, and we either eat yoghurt or don’t and that’s the end of it.

Or, as in the case of the lacto-fermentation community, the beginning. (Lacto-fermentation is the same as the process that makes beer and wine, but for food.) For me, it started a few weeks ago with carrot ginger pickles. After they’d been ageing for a week I wasn’t quite sold on the flavor. After two weeks, though, they were perfect.

My first batch of ginger beer, ageing in whatever large glass vessels were empty at the time. Including, since I drink cold-press coffee most of the year, my French press.

My first batch of ginger beer, ageing in whatever large glass vessels were empty at the time. Including, since I drink cold-press coffee most of the year, my French press.

Currently on my counter are radishes (with cloves), an enormous crock of ginger beer, and the stems from the kale I had for dinner last night (with garlic and juniper berries). Sauerruben will follow as soon as I procure another giant turnip. It’s madness. Madness, I tell you! Delicious, delicious madness. If I can’t have a pet, I’ll at least have my productive, invisible colonies churning out pickles. The output is the GNP of my own tiny nation in my kitchen, measured in preserves.

Looks like the 3 wise men from a Sunday School play.

Looks like the 3 wise men from a Sunday School play. They’ve obviously come bearing tasty gifts.

The Cauliflower Revelation: Parm-Roasted Cauliflower and Avocado Salad



Guys! Guys.

I just had cauliflower for dinner.

And it tasted really good.

It actually overshadowed the rainbow trout. Which, while unfair to the poor fish, was rather exciting for the rest of us.

Although really, it just goes to show that the old maxim “put cheese on it” remains excellent advice.

For people who like the pictures of food but don’t like strange grains, this one is for you.

Parm-Roasted Cauliflower and Avocado Salad 

1 head cauliflower
olive oil
1 avocado
2 cubic inches (2 oz?)  parmesan cheese
1/4c Greek yoghurt
lemon juice (optional)
spices: black pepper, salt, chili powder, garlic powder, thyme*

  1. Preheat oven to 230C (425F).
  2. Cut leaves and the largest part of the stem off the cauliflower. Dice into 1/2 inch cubes. Don’t worry about crumbles. Add to large glass baking dish. Toss in 1-2 tbsp olive oil, salt, garlic powder, thyme and fresh-ground pepper to taste.**
  3. Bake, stirring once at 10 minutes, until slightly browned on top/edges (20 minutes). Remove from oven and turn once more, pushing the pieces in slightly so you can’t see the bottom of the pan between them. This will prevent most of the parmesan from burning onto the pan. Sprinkle with fresh-grated parmesan and bake another 10 minutes.
  4. Dice avocado into small bite-sized chunks.
  5. Slice kale into bite-sized pieces, removing large ribs as desired. 5 minutes before the parmesan-baking is done, heat frying pan to medium. Fry kale in olive oil until slightly wilted but not crispy stirring often. Season with salt, pepper and a hint of chili powder.
  6. Remove cauliflower from oven. Toss cauliflower, kale and avocado with lemon juice and yoghurt, adding more spices as desired.


Patting the cauliflower into place to receive the parmesan. Note the browned edges.

*If you lack any of these spices, substitute in something similar. The thyme, for example, was supposed to be rosemary, but I grabbed the wrong jar and then really liked the substitution.

**Fresh-ground is much more flavorful than ground, and is better for almost all applications. Ditto for parmesan–the stuff that comes out of a green cardboard container does not count. Other Italian hard cheeses, such as Grano Padano, will also work. Even cheddar would provide a great taste, if quite different from the parm. Salt, however, tastes the same whether ground at the table or months in advance, provided it isn’t clumped together. (Mineral/sea salts taste better than plain iodized, though.)

The inspiration for roasting the cauliflower with parmesan came from this recipe. The rest came from a strong desire not to let a good avocado go to waste. Or the cauliflower. Or the farmers market kale. The cauliflower had been waiting for some love for quite a while. I think we can agree that the wait was worth it. 

Remember those kale stems we removed early on? Those haven’t gone to waste. But more on that tomorrow.


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