Sunday, May 29, 2011

for want of a spurtle

Today's soundtrack:
"Take a Minute" by K'naan
"Love Song to Canada" by Jason Collett
"Skinny Boy" by Amy Millian

Last fall when Miguel travelled to St. Andrews for his job interview, I asked him to try to find a porridge stirrer. I gave him - I thought - an excellent description based on my parents' porridge stirrer. "It's a stick for stirring porridge. A porridge stirrer," I explained simply. Too simply, as it turned out. Miguel returned home porridge stirrer-less, which was a disappointment... although he did get the job, so I suppose it all evened out in the end. There were no porridge stirrers in all of Scotland, and certainly none with a thistle on top.

In light of my past blog post and after making a larger batch of porridge, I thought I should really reignite my porridge stirrer search. Miguel remained skeptical of the whole plan, as well as more than a little confused as to what a porridge stirrer really was. So a-Googling I went and discovered, to my utter amazement, that a porridge stirrer is really called a spurtle.

I suppose that would have been good information for Miguel to have had before he went around to all the souvenir shops in St. Andrews, asking bewildered clerks if they had any porridge stirrers.

Spurtles, it appears, have been around since the 15th century and are easily found in any kitchen shop. So common and well known is the spurtle that the prize at the Annual World Porridge Making Competition in Carrbridge, Scotland is The Golden Spurtle (this year's competition is on October 9, one day before World Porridge Day. Mark your calendars).

And so, while up in St. Andrews yesterday, I ducked into Mica (a kitchen shop) and one minute later, I had my very own spurtle. It even has a thistle on top.

Mission accomplished.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

psa: porridge

Today's soundtrack:
"Má Vlast: 2. Vltava (The Moldau)" by Bedrich Smetana, performed by Wiener Philharmoniker and James Levine

Little known Kate fact: I love porridge.

"Really?" you scoff. "Who, aside from 2 year olds, eats porridge? Willingly?"

Answer: Me.

"Okay," you concede, "but it's not as though you can't eat anything else for breakfast, right?"

When I went to Florence, Italy for five weeks, I brought along Quaker Oat Bran. Really. Ask Lady J.

I still remember sitting at the kitchen table, trying to sneak in another spoonful of brown sugar before Dad noticed. And, oh, the trauma of too much milk liquifying the brown sugar chunks too quickly. However, the porridge never tasted better than when it was in Nana's fishbowls. I thought it had to do with the crockery, but I now suspect it had more to do with the Scottishness.

Naturally, my love of porridge in the morning has led to porridge-related mishaps. Although, in fairness, these mishaps had more to do with a lack of morning coffee than with me accidentally pushing the wrong buttons on the microwave, exploding the oatmeal bomb inside. Once I had to clean my own dishes, I realized what a pain dried porridge is to clean up, so the oatmeal went into the pantry for a 6 year time-out.

But no more. I live in Scotland now (did I mention?) and the only way to convince my body that it's not freezing to death is with a porridge breakfast. So the other day off I stopped by the Co-op and picked up a bag of Scottish porridge oatmeal and a big bag of brown sugar.

What follows is a photo tutorial of how to make the perfect bowl of porridge.

Step One: Move to Saskatoon, marry a Spaniard who then finds work in St. Andrews.

Step Two: Move to Scotland.

If you can't complete these first two simple, easy steps, move directly onto..

Step Three: 1/2 cup water, 1/2 cup milk, and 2/3 cup porridge oats

You can tell by the photo that it's proper porridge oats, not oat bran, that you'll need.

Step Four: Combine all three ingredients in a pot, stirring occasionally.

Bring to a boil, then immediately reduce heat to a simmer for 3 minutes. Stir constantly, or you'll end up with lumps.

Step Five: Pour into a bowl. Add all the brown sugar you can before your dad finds out (Spanish husband won't mind, as his sweet-tooth is about as bad as yours). Add a wee bit of milk.

Et voila! The perfect bowl of porridge. Now you can go and face the gale-force winds and damp cold that is a Scottish spring.

a quick and windy update

Today's soundtrack:
"True Patriot Love" by Joel Plaskett Emergency
"I'll Bring the Sun" by Jason Collett
"Step Off the Map & Float" by Library Voices
Glass Cage performed by Bruce Brubaker

Our once clean windows are utterly covered with dried salt spray from the sea. I didn't believe our landlord when he told us the salt will cover everything in town when there's a strong gale. Now I'm just amazed this village hasn't rusted out completely. At some points yesterday afternoon, I was half-convinced we were going to lose tiles off of the roof... so naturally I walked down the block to the harbour to snap a few pictures.

Here's just outside the Cellardyke breakwater on a calm day:

And here it was yesterday:

Out on the Firth, I think the swells must have been reaching near 5 feet. The Isle of May was behind a thick haze, completely invisible from the mainland. While walking near but not on the pier (I know better than to tempt fate, especially after the winter storm/blizzard confusion in Saskatoon), the wind nearly took my feet out from under me. Anyone who had hung up their laundry earlier that day spent the afternoon chasing their socks and underwear through farmers' fields. £10 says that there's no way you could hear bagpipes over the howls.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Today's soundtrack:
Arrested Development

Yesterday, during a fit of writer's block, I went for a walk out east. Miguel has been running along the Fife Coastal Path and I decided that if he could run it, I could probably walk it. Still running over a particularly tricky theoretical argument in my mind, I ended up at the Caiplie Caves before turning around and heading back home.

I woke up today determined to make the 6 mile (roundtrip) hike to Crail. The weather had other plans. After the second rainstorm, the skies seemed safe enough, I grabbed my camera (which I'd forgotten yesterday) and set out. After I passed the pig farm, the sheep (sheep!), and the few houses at Caiplie, there are empty rolling fields (well, the odd herd of goats) on one side, the North Sea on the other. It's still too early in the year for tourists, so the path was mostly empty. Well, aside from the aforementioned goats and ridiculous number of droppings (what are they feeding these beasties?).

There were rock walls with built-in steps (no unladylike straddling of fences today!)...

and wee bogs with stepping stones...

all before I even got to the Caiplie Caves.

These caves were once underwater, but were uplifted (along with the rest of Fife) after the last ice age. There are Christian carvings on the walls of the caves from when The Coves were used as a settlement of sorts for Christian missionaries, possibly around 800-1000AD, although this cannot be confirmed (Site Record for Caiplie Caves). Judging by the litter, the caves look more like a convenient place for a bush/beach party. Still, they are stunning.

After the Caiplie Caves (and the goat droppings) are the ruins of an old salt works and salmon bothy.

It was at this point that I started humming the music from Lord of the Rings in my head. I alternated between thinking I was strolling through the Shire, Rohan, or Braveheart. How can you not feel part of an epic walking through open fields, past ruins, beside the sea? Well, epic aside from orcs, hobbits, and deranged Australians. Of course, that epic feeling could have been the result of dehydration, so it was probably good that Crail was around the next bend.

I wandered into town, grabbed a bottle of water, and set back off again. I was determined to make it to Crail and back in two hours. The wind, however, was now fiercely southwest and my legs, which really didn't need the resistance training at this point, weren't at all impressed with me. I attempted to appease them by taking a few more photos on the way back, the result of which is that I think I may have captured the Scottish green (Lady J, I think this is the verdant those Romantics kept going on about):

If west of Glasgow looked like this, my ancestors never would've left Scotland.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

waiting to exhale

Today's soundtrack:
"My Baby Loves a Bunch of Authors" by Moxy Fruvous

The other night I inhaled a spider while I was sleeping.

It was only the latest in a string of bizarre nighttime occurrences. First, there was the dream that a Canadian Superstore could be found in a little strip mall just to the east of Cellardyke. "Excellent," I said in my dream to Miguel. "I bet they have quinoa!" Also in the strip mall: a dodgy pizza place, a dry cleaner, a pharmacy, and a notary public. Dr. Jung?

Then there was the truly bizarre melding of various households to make up our home here. These houses had everything, even a can opener, but I could not find my dishes. Then I found my dishes, but was stuck back in Calgary/Saskatoon (a bizarre blend of the two, not unlike myself). It came down to a choice: dishes in Calgary, or fancy loft apartment in Cellardyke. I've no idea how it turned out.

Finally, the other night, I am half-awakened by a strange little tickling under my nose. I take an involuntary snort, the tickling stops, and I wake up completely convinced that I've just inhaled the tiny spider that lives in the skylight above our bedroom. The next morning, I jumped out of bed to check if Wee Spider was there. Gone. He's been gone for two days now.

I told Miguel, who reassuring stated that "on average, a human eats eight spiders during their lifetime."
"Yeah, eat. Not inhale," I complained. "No one said anything about inhaling."

However, this past week hasn't been all inhaling spiders. I spent Wednesday (pre-spider) up in St. Andrews with Kristin, drinking and knitting my way through town, much to the apparent disgust of one old man. He turned to Kristin and me... or possibly to the fellow studying by the bay window... and said loudly that he'd "never been so embarrassed to be a graduate of this university". Over the hours and beers that followed, we narrowed down the cause of his outburst to a few possibilities: he was offended I didn't know who Muriel Sparks was, that we were knitting, that we were discussing past teaching experiences, or that the bar service was poor (which it wasn't) and was taking it out on everyone. Or he was a crazy old man. At least I could understand what he was saying, unlike the crazy old toothless woman I met a few days earlier in the bus station. I should start another blog all about crazy old people I've met in St. Andrews.

In knitting news, I finished Herbivore (Rav Link), but as it's still in amoeba-state, photos will follow once I have the chance to block it. I've already started on my next scarf, Nikol Lohr's Woodland Shawl with Wollmeise* 100% in "Rosenrot". Up close, the yarn looks orange and purple, but from a distance, it's a lovely bright red.

The concern, however, is this only leaves me two more projects, a lace scarf I've been working on for Mom, and a lace scarf for my mother-in-law, Angeles. Judging how fast I'm going through these projects (one every three weeks), I'm beginning to doubt that I've brought enough wool with me to survive until the boxes from Canada arrive. I expect this means that tonight's dreams will feature me in a Dali-esque hellscape, searching desperately for quinoa and another skein of Wollmeise.

Of course, I've just realized that I live in Scotland now (did I mention?) and can order Wollmeise without having to stay up until 1am. Hah! This is me, gloating!

Of course, this same me inhaled a spider two nights ago...

* Dear German friends, know that every time I've written Wollmeise today, I've pronounced it in my head as "Wool-meese". Just try and stop me!

Monday, May 09, 2011

come again another day

Today's soundtrack:
"Stamp" by The Rural Alberta Advantage
"King of Kreuzberg" by Shotgun Jimmie

It's not that I like the rain. I grew up on the West Coast. Rain is just a fact of existence, as inevitable as moss between the toes come summer. So don't take me for some kind of deranged rain-worshipping hippie (I am, at worst, a mild-climate with a seasonal drizzle-worshipping hippie). It's like Paris. If you went to Paris and it was bright and sunny, wouldn't you be disappointed? It should be overcast with a slight drizzle. London should be damp and foggy. And Scotland... well, Scotland should have ducks swimming in the streets.

Not that it hasn't been humid here. My hair alternates wildly between adorable ringlets and ridiculous frizz. But nearly everyday thus far, we've woken up to bright, blue skies. Nary a cloud. It's not that I'm disappointed with the beautiful summer weather (as in, this could be it for the summer, so enjoy the sun now), but it just doesn't fit with my stereotype of Scotland. I think even Miguel was eager for a proper rainstorm. The other day I was hanging wash up on the deck while Miguel was going round the side of the house, into the utility room. All of a sudden, Miguel excitedly shouts up "it's raining! Kate, it's raining!"
I look up and there's not even a cloud in the sky. "No, it's really not."
"Yes, it is! It's raining," he insisted, followed by a very long pause. "Oh. Nevermind."
"Sprinkler from next door?"

You'd think that by now I'd know to be careful what I wished for. When the weekend rolled around and Shivaali and Madeleine were due to visit, then the rain was inevitable. On Saturday, we headed up to St. Andrews for the afternoon, raingear in tow. Luckily, the rain held off until about half an hour before we left for Cellardyke, so I was able to get a good few photos of St. Andrews Cathedral (c. 1160-1409) entrance,


and east end, behind the altar

St. Rules tower (which predates the Cathedral, c. 1130 AD)

a 1750 (?) gravestone with a (possible) death's head at the bottom,

the Castle (c. 1200 AD, but many improvements until 1689 AD),

and my favourite photo of the day which is of the north side of the Castle's wall:

The tunnels under the castle, which were built during the siege of 1546, are interesting, but not very expansive. Essentially, it's one tunnel that leads into a larger chamber where the counter-mine was encountered. It's a little narrow in parts, but nothing like the Horne Lake Caves.

But after so bravely going underground, we felt a hearty lunch was due. Miguel led us to the West Port,

which is by the West Port (originally the So'gait port, c. 1589, renvonated in 1843). However, by the time we finished lunch, the skies had opened up and the rain was bucketing down.

After we returned to Cellardyke there was no more than an hour left before Shivaali and Madeleine, our very first house guests, were back on a bus for Edinburgh, in spite of all our machinations to get them to stay another night. Miguel and I settled down in front of the fire, watched Doctor Who, and listened to the wind-whipped rain on our tile roof.

Friday, May 06, 2011

two weeks

Today's soundtrack:
"Letter from an Occupant" by The New Pornographers
"Piste 1" by Galaxie
"Black Day in December" by Said the Whale
"True Patriot Love" by Joel Plaskett Emergency

Now that we have our own internet connection and I have no qualms about using up bandwidth, I can finally offer up a summary of our past thirteen days.

April 24th - Our last day in Canada: We began, the only way we really could, with a Tim Horton's breakfast.

Clearly, Miguel was still feeling the lingering effects of becoming an artist.

Neither of us were too excited about the 23 hours of travelling that was ahead of us.

Although the heart-attack on a plate that Miguel ate in Newark seemed to brighten things up.

April 25th - Are we there yet?: Bleary-eyed and punchdrunk, we arrived in Cellardyke and discovered not only is our place amazing, but we have the sweetest landlords. Norman gave us a quick tour of our new home and Audrey brought over groceries so that, as she put it, "we'd have something to eat when we woke up at 2am".

Our house, by the way, is called "Craighouse". It also has windows and is above-ground, concepts that have us very excited, although the excitement is generally punctuated with someone shouting "Miguel! Pants!".

April 26th - We live in Scotland now: Jet-lag be damned! We want to explore! So off we trotted to the Co-op in Anstruther, taking pictures of the harbour and our neighbourhood along the way.

Our neighbourhood, by the by, comes complete with 18th-century graffiti.

April 27th - Too many people: After a quiet 1 1/2 days in Cellardyke, we travelled up to St. Andrews for the day. Compared to the 3000 souls of Anstruther/Cellardyke/Kilrenny, St. Andrews is a thriving metropolis. With an H&M! Also, ruins of a castle,

and a cathedral.

Not to mention, of course, The Beach.

You're humming the song right now, aren't you. It'll be stuck in your head all day now. You're welcome.

More importantly, we spent the afternoon with Kristin and Peter (she blogs here), who were busy preparing for their wedding on Saturday. We drove up to Dundee, which is about 30 minutes from St. Andrews, a trip I was told would take "all day". I also learned that beer doesn't come in anything smaller than a pint here.

April 29th - An eccentric neighbourhood: Our landlords threw a wee and well-watered meet-and-greet so that we could get to know our neighbours who, like us, are from everyone else. Professors, artists, professionals, and retirees. We're apparently eccentric enough to fit right in.

About 10 years ago, Cellardyke was apparently in decline, then this group of folks moved in and revitalized a fair bit of Dove Street and the surrounding neighbourhood. Unlike Elie, which is full of houses only used in the summer, Cellardyke has a year-round, rather active community.

April 30th - The Other Wedding: The aforementioned Kristen I'd met once before moving here, at CSECS in Ottawa. But as knitters are a friendly bunch, and English Lit grad students even more so, Kristen and Peter invited us to their wedding. It was a High Anglican service or, as Miguel and I began referring to it, more Catholic than Catholic service. Incense, bells, and choir singing hymns. I think by the end of it Kristen and Peter were married about 3 times over. And they looked thrilled.

At the reception, we drank champagne out of Union Flag-emblazoned dixie cups (they do it up classy here) and met even more of our neighbours. I've since discovered that everyone in Cellardyke can be considered your neighbour. That's how small it is.

May 1st - Sunny Days in Cellardyke: Taking advantage of our amazing weather, we propped our laundry up outside and kept a vigilant eye out for seagulls. Miguel, still channeling his inner artist, headed up to the back garden to read and enjoy the view.

Unable to resist the sun and view, I've spent a few hours up in our garden as well. NB: To get up to our garden, you either need a sherpa or to be half-goat.

The past few days have been more quiet as Miguel's started work up in St. Andrews and I spent my days working on my dissertation and running errands. There's also been a period of extended mourning given the results of the Canadian federal election. This afternoon, however, Shivaali and Madeleine arrive to the Ivory Tower (our alternative name for Craighouse) and the Fence Record's Home Game Festival kicks off in Anstruther this evening. This may or may not lead to photo documentation of the elusive Scottish hipster. Chances of sighting one are pretty decent, as the Co-op stocked MGD, there's a indie-folk festival this weekend, and the creatively-bearded abound.

Speaking of the Ivory Tower, we've made a Google Calendar for those of you planning on visiting us in Scotland. Just drop a line to Miguel or me, we'll send you the calendar, and you can pick your dates.

A h/t to everyone who helped us out in our final days in Calgary: John and Kristy, Cousin Mike and Amanda, Lindsay and Lawrence, Linda, and the whole iLab.