Wednesday, March 21, 2012

a moroccan birthday

Today's soundtrack:
The dove on top of the chimney.  Again.

Yesterday was Miguel's birthday, so I gathered up my newfound culinary skills for the occasion.  I made this easy chicken tagine last week, found a harissa recipe a few days later, and so a North African night was inevitable.

It's not a spicy dish, but it is hot.  Well, more like waves of heat.  By the end of the night, Miguel was eating the harissa like candy.  And the whole thing wasn't at all finicky to make.  Not that it looks at all impressive on the plate - a bit of a mess, really - but a tasty mess.

And then, of course, there was cake.  I meant to put 35 candles on it, but by the time I reached 18, it already looked like a crazed porcupine.  Also, it was a fire hazard.  But my sister was right: it's a good idea to let the cake cool for a day before icing it.  No layers slipping off this time.

This morning, I'm going on a nice, long bike ride... mainly so I can justify eating the rest of the cake.

Sunday, March 18, 2012


Today's soundtrack:
"Camilo (The Magician)" by Said the Whale
"Down by the Water" by The Decemberists

First, a quick bread update:  Not only did the loaf turn out to be appropriately loaf-sized, it's been steadily disappearing.  A little less than half a loaf now sits on my counter.  These disappearances seem to coincide with a certain Spaniard finding his way to the kitchen, but I don't want to speculate.

Dad helpfully pointed out that the loaf, being head-sized, round and follicle-free, could easily be mistaken for said Spaniard.  I suspect this comparison between Spaniard and bread explains his underlying animosity and the rapidly shrinking loaf.

But more important than the bread, the 107th Annual Anstruther Philharmonic Society Concert was last night.
I'm hiding behind the double bass.
We sang Purcell's "Come Ye Sons of Art", Haydn's "O Coelitum Beati", and Hummel's "Mass in Eb+".  We had four soloists and an orchestra, complete with recorders and a harpsichord.  Yes, a harpsichord!  Everything sounded much like I imagine it did when first performed, although I suppose the credit for that goes to Robert Dick, our conductor.  The whole concert, as well as the past six months, was so much fun that I'm a little sad this morning that it's all over now until October...  although, this bright Sunday morning is dulling the pain a bit.

At the very least, I suspect our neighbours are relieved to have a six month reprieve from my screeching along to Classical music while the shower.  Of course, this may mean a resurgence of "The Hundred Pipers" and one very bad Scottish accent...

Friday, March 16, 2012

bread: disaster in the making

Today's soundtrack:
Mass in Eb+ by Hummel

I've developed this rather odd habit over breakfast.  While watching Jeremy Kyle (oh, go on and judge me), I leaf through my copy of The Joy of Cooking.  Since moving to the UK, I've been trying to take advantage of different produce and attempting different recipes.  This is only partly because of a severe pieorgi (or pedaheh, for the Prairie folk) deficiency at the local Co-op.  So far I've turned out some fairly successful curries, unwittingly made béchamel sauce, and have mastered both shepherd and cottage pie.  Needless to say, I've turned into a bit of a cook, which Miguel regards as nothing short of a miracle.  He delights in reminding me that when we first met, I believed that Kraft Dinner with ketchup was a great culinary event.  Sure, I still make a homemade version of mac and cheese, only now it comes with a béchamel sauce.  It's a kind of culinary improvement.

In light of all this, I decided the other week that I should try to make bread.  I took a quick look at the recipe and decided that it wasn't all that dissimilar to scones, which I'd eventually mastered after a few botched attempts.  Full of confidence, I grabbed some ingredients, threw them together, and made bread.

Ah, hubris.

There are subtle differences between cooking and baking that I didn't fully understand until the Great Bread Disaster of 2012, the main difference being that unlike cooking, baking requires exact measurements.

I didn't appreciate this until I began to knead my bread and ended up with a wicked case of dough hands.  I then ran about the kitchen, searching for kitchen paper, unable to open any cabinets or doors because of the aforementioned dough hands.  I finally gave up and threw my hands under some water, losing a substantial part of the dough to the bin.

Undeterred, I set my timers and waited for the dough to rise.  And waited.  And waited.  And was rather disappointed with it's anemic version of rising.  "Ah," I said to myself self, "this is because we're so close to the sea.  It must be a humidity thing.  All will be well."

Ah, hubris.

After punching down the dough..  or perhaps it was more of a gentle swatting..  and waiting for the second, even less uneventful rise, I plopped the concoction on a piece of wax paper, put it all on a pan, and fired it in the oven.

And then I found out what happens to wax paper in a hot oven.

So after the smoke cleared, I flipped over my still-stubbornly-attempting-to-rise loaf, ripped off the paper, which in turn managed to take even more of the dough away, and threw it all back in the oven.  Half an hour, doughy hands, and a smokey kitchen later, I had a loaf of bread that could probably be used as a discus.

But bread is bread, and since it was still technically edible, the Spaniard stuck in and quite enjoyed himself.

Today is Bread Redemption Day.  This time, I carefully measured all the ingredients.  This time, I kneaded the dough by hand, yet didn't end up with the terrifying dough hands.  This time, I've not poked the dough every five minutes whilst it rises.  And oh, it is rising (please insert your Easter and/or Confederacy jokes here).

Then again, hubris.

Thursday, March 01, 2012

tour de east neuk

Today's soundtrack:
Mass in Eb+ by Hummel

As part of a rather belated New Year's resolution, I've taken up cycling a few days a week.  I see this as a clever plan on my part as it allows me to traipse around countryside for 60-90 minutes at a time whilst getting enough exercise to warrant the celebratory eating of an entire Toblerone.  See?  Clever, no matter what that damned scale in the bathroom says.

My first tentative ride out into the country took me only a few miles.  I've been meaning to visit Kilrenny and their lovely church since we moved here.

While most of the church is an early-19th century, it was first consecrated in 1243 (around the same time as St. Nicholas Church in Anstruther Wester).  Like most churches along the East Neuk, the steeple serves as a guide for fishermen.

All my time was spent, somewhat predictably, in the graveyard.  Call it a morbid fascination, but the various styles of tombstones are intriguing.

Although, for me, these momento mori pieces are the real attraction.

Even though this crypt is really dedicated to General John Scott of Balcomie, the S in the ironwork works well enough for me.

After the Kilrenny Church, I cycled out north.  On the way I saw both flora

Gorse, or broom, used as hedgerows.  See, Mom, they do have some sort of purpose.
and fauna.

Slightly intimidating sheep
A few days later, once some of the pain had worn off, I set out with a more ambitious goal - a 12 mile/19 km circuit looping around Kellie Castle.  I also wanted to see the interestingly named Kittlenaked Wood.

Canadians, be forewarned.  When Scots say "wood", do not mistakenly read "forest".  Instead, read "small acre of trees, most of which are not first but rather hundredth growth".

The road up to Carnbee is picturesque, but it is up to Carnbee.

Not pictured: the wind that pushed me back downhill
All the uphill slogs paid off once I left Carnbee for Arncroach, passing by the appropriately gloomy Kellie Castle, first built (in part) in 1360, with subsequent additions and restorations.  I've been assured that in the spring and summer, when the gardens are in bloom, that the prospect is slightly less Udolpho-esque.

Can you spot the madwoman in the attic?
Isn't this the kind of day in which all castles in Scotland should be viewed?  Sir Walter Scott wouldn't have been unhappy with such a gothic prospect.  Something about the overcast sky, the barren farmland, the moss and mould on the grey stone that makes me want to reread The Bride of Lammermoor while snacking on yet another Toblerone...