Category Archives: Food

Three In A Marriage

When Freddie and I first got together, nearly 21 years ago now, we didn’t give a lot of thought to things like meal planning. We went out a lot, and he cooked for me now and then, but for the most part, we were in restaurants for much of our courtship.

When we moved to Indiana, we kept up that habit. It was easy then – we lived in an apartment the size of a NYC city block and paid $400/month for it. We were fucking loaded (living off grad school loans and my three jobs). Then we moved to New Jersey and things changed. We downsized from a fairly palatial spread to a teeny tiny garden apartment for more than twice the rent. He went to work and so did I, but money was… different for us. We had to eat at home a lot more.

Enter: Jamie Oliver. You know him better as The Naked Chef. Right around the time Freddie and I got married, I acquired the first Naked Chef cookbook. It was a revelation – instead of a rigid list of ingredients and instructions, his book encouraged the reader to trust their instincts and wing it, when necessary.

Now, THAT is how I like to cook. None of this measuring bullshit for me! A handful of this, a pinch of that, extra garlic, more butter, cook until it’s done. How long? UNTIL IT’S DONE.

And so, Jamie Oliver became a very real and important presence in our marriage.

Fast-forward sixteen years – Freddie is working full-tilt, 25 hours a day. Jillian is in school and basketball and Scouts and cello and Hebrew school and and and and and and and all of the busy-ness that a good suburban Jew kid gets up to. I myself am back in school because I have too much free time and money, apparently.

Through it all, Jamie Oliver has been my go-to, my godsend, my guru. I have 11 of his books and they all show signs of heavy use: tears, grease stains, spatters, post-it notes sticking out all directions. They are my love and my life and if the house ever catches fire, those are the books I’m gonna save. Luckily, they’re near the front door.

This semester promises to be a challenge in almost every way. My classes don’t get out until afte r4PM every day, and most after-school activities for Jillian start around 6. It takes me about 45 minutes to get home, which means I have about a half-hour to get food on the table for people. Thanks to Jamie, I can do this. His book “Meals In Minutes” promises that I can get a full meal (plus dessert, bitches) on the table in about a half-hour and JAMIE DOES NOT LIE. In sixteen years of cooking his recipes, he has let me down only once (some chorizo soup thing that everyone hated). Without him, things would look very different in my house, that’s for sure.

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Lessons learned (probably not)

Of our two dogs, it is universally acknowledged that Ellie is “the stupid one.” She’s sweet and adorable and profoundly not smart.

Piper, on the other hand, is a quick learner and will happily do all the tricks she knows. She’s very sharp.

Yesterday, I had half a stick of butter out on the counter (pushed way back, because dogs) so it could soften enough for me to use it for something. When I went to get it, it was gone.

I’d been putting things away and doing general straightening so I thought maybe I’d put it back in the fridge. I did not.

It was gone. I figured one of the dogs ate it, since they have a history of stealing butter off the counter (Ellie) when they think I’m not looking. So I looked around to see if I could find the bit of wrapper or something. No dice. Nothing. No evidence at all!

My guess was that Ellie had gotten it, since it was really pushed back on the counter and she is taller than Piper is. She will also eat literally anything, whereas Piper is a bit more fussy in her choice of foods.

Turns out, I was wrong. It was PIPER who ate it. She decided to barf all over the floor and there were bits of butter wrapper mixed in with the grass she was obviously eating due to an upset stomach FROM EATING ALL THE BUTTER.

Stupid dog.

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Filed under Ellie, Food, Piper

What the hell?

Today was the first day of summer and one of the only weekdays this summer where Jillian and I have nothing at all that we need to do. We decided to have adventures, which included sweeping and mopping our six acres of hardwood floor.

After that, we drove up to one of the local farmers’ markets. This one is attached to a pick-your-own farm, and over the years has added other attractions like a tower made of hay bales, various animals, and a bouncy house. Jillian wanted to chat with the animals, so off we went.

Most of the animals were hiding out in the shade, but we did manage to have a serious conversation with a donkey, a chat with a rooster, and we tried to get the peacock to display his tale but he was giving us the stink-eye. On our way out, we visited the actual market and got some strawberries (too lazy to pick our own) and a couple of tomatoes for dinner tonight.

For lunch, Jillian chose California Pizza Kitchen, which is bloody awful but I’d promised that she could choose. So.

Now, here’s what I don’t understand, at all. When we were seated, the host-boy asked “have you been here before?” Uhhhh, yes? Does it matter? This happened to us once before when we went to Bonefish Grill (we had a coupon and you can’t mock a place effectively if you don’t at least give it a try), and Freddie made the mistake of saying “no” to that question and we were treated to a 15-minute presentation on How a Restaurant Works.

You mean, you look at this little book you gave me and pick something from the list? MARVELOUS!

I quickly told host-boy “yes, we were just here last week” (even though it was like, a year ago) to make him go away. I want to look at the menu, not smile and nod while you hover at the table and explain things to me like how a menu works. I am perfectly capable of reading the special offers and deals on your tabletop display thingy, thanks. Also, yes – that is a drink menu. I’m very clear on how that works. GO AWAY, LITTLE MAN.

But… what the hell is that even about? Is that a new thing at chain joints? We don’t eat at very many chain restaurants, mostly because they are almost always disgusting and we have literally hundreds of other options. The only exception is BW-3 (or whatever the fuck it’s called now. It will always be BW-3 to me, B-Dubs for short), because duh – wings aren’t easy to do and they do them well. Trust me, we’ve tried them all.

So, is this a thing that restaurants do now? They ask you if you’ve been there before and if you say “no” you get a hand-holding through the menu as if you’re some kind of alien who isn’t familiar with our ways? Now, I could see this being helpful at a place like the Melting Pot, or at a hibachi place, where there is some participation and things aren’t quite so straightforward as “pick a starter, main, and dessert” from the menu. That’s understandable and even welcome for n00bs who don’t get out much. But for the rank and file of restaurants? GO AWAY. We know what we’re doing.

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I am bad at tomatoes

We are in the midst of a drought. Sort of. It’s been raining with some regularity for the past week or so, and that’s been great for my garden, but not so wonderful for my tomatoes.

You see, I operate my garden with benign neglect. I pay attention to it when I HAVE TO, but other than that, it’s more or less left to its own devices. This would explain why I have no fewer than six zucchini on my kitchen counter at the moment, each of them weighing in at over 4 pounds.

I suppose I would get better results if I paid more attention to my garden, but I make up for it by planting approximately 34 zillion plants. Statistics are in my favor, is what I’m saying.

Anyway, tomatoes are fairly delicate and thrive under regular, controlled watering, not this drought/flood situation I’ve got going on. In the beginning, I did try to get out there at least every other day and wave the hose around, but you guys, it’s been SO HOT. So I haven’t been watering the plants as much as maybe I should have.

And lately, it’s been raining. The tomatoes are so happy about it that many of them have split their skins in appreciation. My garden’s name is now Mr. Creosote’s Garden, because shit be exploding all over the joint.

The good thing is that even with the splits, most of the tomatoes are salvageable. I have to get some heavy-duty stakes out there because the plants are so enormous and heavy that some of them have fallen over and tried to crush the others. I think the jalapeno plants are done for, smushed as they are under the weight of my giant tomatoes.

Gardening! How does it work?

This is the fourth year of our not-quite-raised garden beds. Once the tomatoes have given us everything they can, we are going to pull it all up and start anew in the spring with actual, purpose-built garden boxes that I might just pay more attention to. Maybe.

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Filed under Food, Garden Adventures

Budget Junkie

I drink a lot of coffee. A LOT. Way more than is considered “normal” or even “healthy” by whatever the standard du jour happens to be.

Thus, I go through A LOT of Brand Name Chemical Coffee “Creamer” Sludge, preferably in the Peppermint Mocha form. The default used to be the French Vanilla “flavor” and I would buy gallons of the Peppermint Mocha during the holidays when it was out. Then I discovered that it’s available ALL YEAR and well, damn. Granted, I have to go to the Other Grocery Store to get it, but that’s a small price to pay for a happy [strike]cup[/strike] pot of coffee.

I am perfectly okay with the amount of coffee I consume. I learned long ago that caffeine doesn’t affect me the same way it affects most people – I don’t get jittery and wired up. If anything, it keeps me on a more even keel than I otherwise might be on. As a migraine sufferer, I’ve found that a couple of days without a pot or three of coffee is a bad, bad thing.

Sure, that’s probably withdrawal, but my own personal experience is that I haven’t had regular migraines in years – coinciding rather nicely with my daily pot o’coffee. Lots of migraine meds contain caffeine, so According To Science, what I’m doing is just fine.

Anyway, given how much coffee I drink, it stands to reason that I go through a proportionate amount of Coffee Sludge. This is why I buy it six bottles at a time. When I run out, BAD THINGS HAPPEN. One thing that bothers me about The Sludge is that there is usually a perfectly respectable amount of it left in the bottle, but, it being Chemicals and Whatever Else, it clings to the bottle and settles in the bottom a little bit.

This will not do. Mama needs her coffee, and there is at least a cup’s worth of sludge hiding out there. So, since I have always been resourceful and am working hard at being thrify (-er), I poured a bit of coffee into the bottle, shook it up, and added the whole mess to my cup.

Not all junkies are stupid and lazy!

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Holiday Mindfulness

I spent last weekend whining about my knee. I know I need to hit the doctor and get it checked out so I can get on the road to recovery (whatever that looks like) but Thanksgiving is coming up, blahblah excuses blah. I *am* going to hit up the doctor today because I woke up feeling like I had swallowed broken glass, so I will definitely make my appointment then.

The problem is, as the problem always is, is scheduling. Jillian has been on half-days since last Thursday, which means I only have about an hour to myself. That’s not enough time to get to the gym and back, and because my knee has been hurting and the weather has been iffy and THESE ARE MY EXCUSES.

I need to break this cycle but of course Thanksgiving is happening this week. We’re headed out to my ancestral land of Ohio, where we will eat food and drink wine and beer with abandon, and I know there isn’t going to be any working out happening.

I will try to be as mindful as I can be and not EAT ALL THE THINGS but it is going to be difficult. Our hotel has a pool, so I will try to take advantage of that. And then come Monday, we are back on a regular schedule and thus back on track.

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MacGuyver Moments

I have a few of these – when my ingenuity surprises me.

Yesterday, I was too lazy/forgetful to clean out the coffeemaker. It’s one of those fancy grind & brew thingies, and as such it needs to be cleaned after every use or shit gets crazy up in there. I forgot to do it yesterday and usually when that happens I will switch to methadone tea, but today I really, REALLY needed coffee because I was nursing an Alka-Seltzer Plus Cold FacePunch hangover. Coffee was a necessity.

So I did my half-assed best to get the thing cleaned (and dried, because eww) and scooped out the right number of scoops (the frequency of my having to start this step over is high), water, blahblah, and hit the “YAY COFFEE SOON GO” button. Then the uh, filter door mechanism thingy decided to unlatch itself and fly open, which OH NOES. I managed to get it to close without too much ground coffee loss but it wasn’t wanting to stay closed so I had to MacGuyver it with a napkin.

WOO!

The second of these moments happened just now – I was getting ready to make dinner and like usual, I had forgotten to take the chicken breasts out of the freezer. I do this a lot.

Now, we have a microwave and apparently the #1 use for microwaves after burning popcorn in them is to defrost shit. Well, knock me over with a feather because I have RARELY done this successfully, despite having been an enthusiastic microwave owner for near on to 25 years. Nothing ever defrosts like it’s supposed to, especially chicken because the edges get all cooked and shit while the middle is still icy. Unacceptable.

So what’s a lady to do? If I have a good 15 extra minutes, I’ll run some super-hot water into a bowl and dunk my chicken in there (protected by its ziploc bag, obvs), and it will soften up enough for me to do whatever needs to be done to it with an eye on a slight cooking time modification. I am usually awesome enough to pull this move off fairly successfully.

Today, however, it was getting a bit late and The Jillian was frothing at the mouth, wanting food because apparently you have to feed children more often than once a day. In a rare burst of multi-housewife-tasking (meaning I was doing more than one housewife task at a time, not that I have multi housewives, despite me asking for a sister-wife for my birthday every year), the dishwasher happened to be running (I totally almost typed “dishwarsher” because I am my grandmother’s favorite grandkid) so I may or may not have tossed the ziploc’d chicken bosom in there on the top shelf.

Yeah, I did. I’ll set you a place if you’re coming over for dinner.

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Scotland, Part The Fifth

Read the other four parts first! Why wouldn’t you? I don’t write these for fun, you know. Oh… right.
Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Considering the shenanigans that Wednesday night witnessed, a great many of us were up and at ’em early enough on Thursday. Reed greeted me at breakfast with a fresh Bloody Mary, because that guy is a genius. Everyone looked a little rough around the edges except for Michael, who looked like he was rocking the hangover sweats writ large. Poor guy. I am more than a little surprised that I wasn’t hung over at all, despite my Professional Drunk In Public status. I’ve been pro since 1994, and have had less-boozy evenings that resulted in suicidal mornings. There must be something magical about Scotland (duh) that prevents hangovers. I might have to move there.

Anyway, once breakfast was done, we hucked our luggage down to the front door and said our goodbyes. The gang was headed into Tarbert so the GSH boys could visit the office there and the rest of us (Ashley, Jim, Freddie, and I) could do a whirlwind shopping trip at the Harris Tweed Shop (the 2nd one). I struggled mightily, but managed to restrain myself from buying more yarn. I did try, though. I hugged it and everything. It was only when Freddie reminded me that over-weight baggage costs eleventy million dollars to fly nowadays that I reined it in.

Across from the shop was a warehouse, and that warehouse was FILLED WITH TWEED. I’m very happy we didn’t have a whole lot of time to spend or I would still be in there. On the back wall, there was a loom like the one we’d seen earlier in the week. It was obviously in use, judging by the TV that sat on the table nearby and the Barbie-style Duchess Catherine doll next to it. I did NOT take a photo of that, but I totally should have.

Loom
Loom at rest

Across the aisle was an example of an hand loom. It looks very complicated and scary but was really quite a beautiful piece. There were three spinning wheels next to it but I couldn’t get the best photo, unfortunately. I wonder if Freddie would let me get a loom?

Olderloom
Hand loom

On the wall between the two looms was this array of photographs, documenting the tweed process from sheep to store. It used to be done by one person (or family group or similar) and the last known person to do the whole thing herownself, from start to finish was Marion Campbell, who died in 1996. I’m kicking myself now for not picking up a copy of a book that was written about her, because the photos are fascinating.

Tweedprocessphotos
Tweed, from sheep to store

Oh, you can just see the Duchess Catherine doll in the left-hand side of this photo! HA!

Loomagain
Another angle

Tweed, from floor to ceiling, in every shade of tan and grey. The dyes are traditionally made from plants and other vegetation on the island, so if you’re kitted out in full tweed, you might as well be wearing camouflage.

Warehouse
Tweed

MoreTweed
More tweed

StillMoreTweed
I just like to say tweed

We had a flight to catch, so we all got back in the van and went up the hill to the GSH office to pick up the others. Somehow or another, I ended up in the back of the van with Frankie (and Mark, I think), which was a bad idea because we were both a little bit green around the edges when we got to the airport. Luckily, I am cured by terrible coffee, and started feeling better almost instantly once that happened. Just to be safe, I took my Dramamine for the plane ride because the rule is: propellers = nausea.

[side note: Dear Scotland, an Americano is a shit cup of coffee. Get some filters and make me some NORMAL COFFEE next time I’m there. Love, Me]

While we were waiting to board the plane, I was playing with the settings on the camera and got this next shot, upon which I will not comment. [grin]

RockStar
Rock Star?

The island gave us many things over the course of those few days, and I think it was fitting that we were given a rainbow as we got on the plane to leave.

Rainbow
Rainbows are my favorite

We flew into Glasgow and then piled into various cars and vans (Frankie and I in the middle this time) for the short ride to Edinburgh. I love that city and really need to spend more time there. Two days ten years ago and then less than 24 hours this time is not nearly enough. Our hotel in the city was a basic Holiday Inn (not the Parliament House, which would have been tremendously funny), within walking distance to the Royal Mile, which was our first destination. When we’d landed, the sun was almost out, and while it was a bit sprinkly during the drive over, by the time we were ready to head out into town, it was a full-on downpour. Yay for jackets with hoods!

Our first stop, THANK GOD, was a real, actual, what-I-wanted-in-the-first-place pub. Hooray and Hallelujah, plus it was nice to get out of the rain. The bartender was um, handsome, so I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out what I wanted.

Hellothere
Well, hello there.

I can’t believe this is the best picture I got of Frankie, who is one of the most hilarious people I have ever had the good fortune to meet.

Frankie
Frankie on his home turf

It turned out that the beer I’d ordered (with Freddie and Steve copying me like the good boys they are) didn’t have enough in the cask for three full pints, so Mr. Handsome Bartender did a very neat trick to make it two-and-change. Did I mention the bartender was kind of hot?

Bartricks
Bartender tricks

Finally, a photo with Jim and Ashley in it. Great people, those two. We had a wonderful time talking and sharing pictures of our kids and all that jazz.

Gang!
We happy few

Here’s one of Frankie and Jim talking to Ashley and Freddie. Action photos are my favorite.

Frankie/Jim
Throwing back like a pro

It’s true that alcohol is the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems. The rain was pouring on us as we’d entered the pub, but as we left, the sun was out. Beer cures all, and that’s a fact. We made our way up to the Royal Mile and I got a good shot of it. In my head, the Royal Mile and Diagon Alley look exactly the same.

RoyalMile
Royal Mile / Diagon Alley

On our first trip to Edinburgh, we were wandering up the Royal Mile and at one point we’d lost our Freddie. Backtracking to the shop where he’d last been spotted, we found him inside here, talking with the proprietor, who was handing him samples. We were on a tight schedule, so he wasn’t allowed in this time.

Freddiehome
Freddie’s spiritual home (ha, get it?)

At one point, we had stopped to wait while some of our number looked in the shops. We found ourselves standing near the statue of Adam Smith, and I watched as different groups of tourists would come up and get pictures taken in front of the statue, in various strange poses. It seemed like such weird behavior and made me wonder if these people knew that they were making stupid faces in front of the statue of the father of modern economics. I have always tried to avoid stupid vacation photos of that nature (indeed, I have tried to avoid MOST photos of any type) because it’s one thing to look stupid, but it’s quite another to look VERY stupid.

AdamSmith
Adam Smith, the babydaddy of Capitalism

We stopped to wander through St. Giles’ Cathedral, which is completely gorgeous. I’m not a huge fan of religion but I love churches, and this one is just wonderful. The building dates from before 1385, when it was mostly rebuilt following a fire (though some sources claim the four main pillars are 200 years older) and from what I could tell, they built it all at once instead of starting at one end like a lot of cathedrals that date from that time. The late 15th century saw the addition of the crown steeple, which is a prominent feature in the Edinburgh skyline.

StGiles
St. Giles’ Cathedral

Because I should have paid £2 for a “photography permit” and I didn’t, I didn’t use any flash and a lot of my photos aren’t all that great. They wouldn’t have done the place justice anyway because the whole thing is inexpressibly lovely, with different memorials and plaques here and there. The Thistle Chapel is especially amazing.

I’ve never been accused of being straight and narrow, and I think that’s why geometric designs appeal to me so much. Looking upon order and harmony sometimes has a similar effect in my mixed-up brain.

StGilesfloor
Floor detail of St. Giles

George VI isn’t buried here, but there is a memorial to him in the Thistle Chapel. I love these kinds of things, because the churches here don’t tend to do them. I think it makes the building even more interesting, as a way of saying “HEY. HISTORY HAPPENED HERE. LOTS OF IT.”

GeorgeVI
Memorial to George VI

According to the Survey of Scottish Witchcraft, over 3800 people were accused of witchcraft during the years between 1563 and 1736. Apparently, it has been extremely difficult to come up with any kind of reasonable number of people who were actually executed, but on the wall of the Tartan Weaving Mill, there is a small fountain with a plaque below, commemorating the site where “many witches were burned at the stake.”

Witchcraft
Witches’ Well

plaque
“This Fountain, designed by John Duncan, RSA is near the site on which many witches were burned at the stake. The wicked head and serene head signify that some used their exceptional knowledge for evil purposes while others were misunderstood and wished their kind nothing but good. The serpent has the dual significance of evil and wisdom. The Foxglove spray further emphasises the dual purpose of many common objects.”

[Insert obligatory William Wallace/”Braveheart” reference here]

Freedom
You’ll never take it! Or our blue face paint!

To my sadness, we were unable to get into the Castle. It was closed for the day by the time we made our way up there, which is a huge bummer because I wanted to get a photo of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce guarding the front door and maybe visit the Mons Meg and see the view Firth of Forth and pay my respects to St. Margaret’s Chapel (the oldest surviving building in Edinburgh, dating from the early 12th century). It was one of the highlights of our trip there in 2001 and it would have been nice to refresh those memories. Alas, we were too late.

Castle
Edinburgh Castle, from the south

Instead, we walked around, did some window shopping, and took photos of random things.

TronSquare
Tron Square – no sign of lightcycles, though.

Stopped at another pub, obviously.

pint
Pint – possibly one of my favorite words

Calton Hill, home of St. Andrews House, which is the headquarters of the Scottish government. The Hill features prominently in a surprising number of paintings and photographs, and it’s easy to see why.

CaltonHill
Calton Hill

After all the wandering around, we went to dinner at The Dome, which was very fancy and nice. The original building on that site was built in 1775 and was the Physicans’ Hall. It was purchased in 1843 by the Commercial Bank of Scotland and promptly demolished. The building as it stands today was begun in 1844 and the caduceus stained-glass windows (added in 1930) are a nod to the original purpose of the site. The room was beautifully laid out, and our meal was great, but by then, I was just so over food. Everything was starting to be too much. But I rallied and had sticky toffee pudding for dessert so all is right with the world. I keep thinking I have to try my hand at making it, but then I realize that I would weigh 400 pounds if I were successful. So I shall save that particular dessert for my UK jaunts.

DomeCeiling
The Dome

After dinner, we went on a tour of the supposedly haunted underground vaults. That started with a museum of sorts that featured various instruments of torture. It’s amazing the sorts of things humans invent in order to do damage to fellow humans. The vaults themselves were fairly interesting – I’m always amazed that cities are just built on top of people sometimes. I’m sure the tour was utterly fascinating, but as I can’t hear in the dark, I was left to watch the others. The vaults share a wall with a pub, and the band in there was playing “Tribute” by Tenacious D which made me laugh and took me completely out of the moment. Oh well. I got a huge laugh at one point because I could see Steve standing next to Frankie and, ever so sneakily, Steve was inching his way behind Frankie in order to scare him. I watched the whole thing happen and nearly fell over trying to stifle a laugh.

After the tour, we got to go to “Edinburgh’s Most Haunted Pub” (mmhmm, sure) for whisky and shortbread. I don’t know about haunted, exactly, but the ladies’ room was something out of Trainspotting and the jukebox was terrible, so close enough I suppose. Freddie and Reed went downstairs to explore a bit and found more instruments of torture on the walls. I was pouting (a little) because I was tired and not getting nearly enough attention (it’s a sickness), but I rallied and we closed out the night in a different pub, laughing our fool heads off.

I got this photo on Monday in an email from Reed:

DungeonFreddie
No, this wasn’t taken in my basement

The next morning, we were up and on our way to the airport by 9AM. After we checked in and all that, we went off in search of breakfast and I wound up sitting next to these gentlemen, who pretty much sum up Scotland.

Airportmorning
9AM kilts and beer

When anyone asks “how was your trip?” My answer is always the same. “It was astounding.” Just really, really, really amazing on all levels. Every other vacation I take is going to be ruined when compared to this one, because I really could not have asked for a better place to stay or a better group of people to stay there with. Any other words I try to use to describe the thing are just not even close to being enough.

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Filed under Food, Freddie, Friends, Me Me Me, Musing, Other People

Scotland, Part The Third

By the second full day, it looked like weather and jet lag were catching up to me because I was not feeling super-great at breakfast. It didn’t help that the majority of the party were planning to go stalking all day, which would have been interesting to me on a dry day but with the wind the way it was, I knew I would be miserable doing that so I opted to stay in. My knees were giving me trouble just going up and down the stairs because I am a chubby geriatric sort of person who can tell what the weather is going to be based on what body parts ache. So after breakfast, I went back to bed for a few hours and it was the best decision I ever made.

Just across from the Picnic Room is the Luggage Room. It’s filled with things like life vests and Wellington boots and other bits and pieces one might need to add to her outfit if she were planning to go stomp around the hills all day. The hunting party started there, making sure everyone had Wellies and gear enough for their trek. Lunches were also made, and then they all gathered in the Fishing Room for a safety briefing. Or maybe that happened before they all gathered their gear. I don’t know for sure; I was napping.

FishingRoom
Fishing Room

The Fishing Room has wonderful maps of the estate, showing the various lochs and roads, as well as relief map showing the hills and likely places to find stag. There’s a big table in the middle and smaller tables around the edges, for tying flies and all the other things that go along with fishing and hunting. The photographs around the room show various guests and groups with their trophies, and on one wall is a collection of fish sketches, noting the details of who caught it, where it was caught, and just how big it was.

FIshwall
Wall of Fish

I went back to bed, snuggling happily under the VERY fluffy down comforter and had myself the best nap I’ve had in decades. I woke up feeling so much better and refreshed. I took my journal and my book down to the Drawing Room and settled in on one of the incredibly comfortable sofas to read and write and look out the window. A few times I caught myself feeling a little guilty because I wasn’t taking full advantage of this amazing castle, but then I realized that being able to sit in a quiet room to read and write at leisure is something I never, ever get to do.

Once in awhile, I would get up to stretch and think “hm, maybe I’ll go for a walk in a bit.” However, the very second I would stand up to go get my shoes, I’d glance out the window to see that it was raining. This happened at least six times, so eventually I gave up and figured that the universe wanted me to have a nice, relaxing day. So that’s what I had. At one point, I moved out of the Drawing Room and into the TV Room, where I found Reed doing exactly what I was doing – precisely nothing. We had a good time flipping channels and wondering what the hunting party was up to.

It turns out, they were up to braving the weather, mostly. After some shooting practice, they set out up the hill. Freddie reported that they didn’t follow any kind of path or do any kind of switchbacks in order to go up, they just clambered up after the ghillie as best they could (My Knees: “Oh, HELL NO”) and tried to keep pace.

Freddieshooting
Shotgun Freddie

Freddieshooting2
Ready, Aim, Breathe…

From what I heard, the wind was astounding up on the top of the hill. It was amazing enough down at the castle, I can’t imagine what it would have been like without any windbreaks.

Freddiewind
Freddie in the wind

Apparently, Steve nearly blew away.

Stevewind
Steve showing the wind who’s boss (or vice-versa)

Stalking the deer is an exercise in walking and patience. When they finally did get themselves in a good position to get a shot, Freddie reported that he was all set up, ready to shoot, and the stag… walked away. I’m not sure how excited I would have been had he returned to the castle with a deer head, but it was cute how excited he was.

Shotsetup
Peeping over the ridge

Not to change the subject, but…

All the best country houses have resident ghosts, and Amhuinnsuidhe Castle is no exception. The rumor is that Lady Sophie Scott (whose remains lie with those of her husband in the cairn up the hill from the castle) still checks in from time to time. Over the years, various guests have reported feeling chills and seeing reflections of things that aren’t there in windows and mirrors.

At dinner that evening, I finally managed to get up and get some photos of that magnificent dining room. The following is a shot of the tapestry above the fireplace.

LadySophie
Lady Sophie is in the top left.

Occasionally, ghosts (or whatever you wish to believe they are) can be caught in photographs. They tend to show up as smears of light or bluish orbs, and are usually explained away by skeptics as smudges or dust on the camera lens. I grew up in a house that had at least three ghosts (so I’m in no way a skeptic), and I am certain that this is Lady Sophie. I took the photo below about three seconds after the other one – the hair on my arms was standing straight up, and my ears started ringing. Do with that what you will, but if it were dust on the lens, it would have shown up again, don’t you think?

LSproof
Hmmm.

My journal is utterly hysterical on the subject of meals. I had originally planned to transcribe it verbatim, but after reading it over, I decided against that because I tend to ramble and repeat myself a lot (not that I’m not doing that here). The first night, I described dinner in detail, discussing how amazing the meal was. Each meal was more amazing than the next, and by the time I got to the third dinner, the journal simply says “Dinner = OMG.” After dinner, drinks were happening and at least one necessary bottle needed to be replaced (I don’t even remember what), so Mrs. Hall invited Steve and me to join her on a trip to the wine cellar. I certainly don’t need to be asked twice, so away we went.

WineCellar
Wine Cellar

Wine3
I could get through these in about a week.

I don’t know that I could ever be a wine collector. I’m an enthusiastic wine drinker, for sure, but to collect it? That’s just not my thing. I am, however, quite impressed with the collections of people who do it, because they do end up with some rare and interesting bottles. Mr. Hall has been collecting wine for about 40 years, and he’s got quite an array. His personal collection was housed on the top shelves of the cellar, so I didn’t get a chance to really peek at the labels. I’m sure Mrs. Hall would have produced a ladder out of thin air if I had asked, though. That lady is magic.

Winecellar2
Mrs Hall in the wine cellar

Because the castle is also one of the Hall family’s homes, they have their own private kitchen and sitting room off to the one side. Mrs. Hall graciously allowed Steve and me to go in and look around and I have to say, it’s pretty much the best kitchen I have ever seen. I think the entirety of the downstairs of my house would fit in there comfortably. The room was beautifully laid out, painted a cheerful yellow, and featured a tiled backsplash that was just… right. There’s not really any other way to put it. That room is a wonderful example of harmony, and it reflects the personalities of its owners in that it is warm and welcoming and completely comfortable.

Frankie
Frankie taking a shot

Yes, of course there was snooker after dinner. It became something of a joke whenever Frankie would play, because he would inevitably end up wanting to go to bed but still be in the game. At one point, he was begging people to let him lose.

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Filed under Food, Freddie, Friends, Me Me Me, Musing, Other People

You gotta believe

So I have this ongoing issue with baking bread, namely that I suck at it. It’s something I have always thought I should be able to do and I’ve never really been successful. Until recently.

I started making a challah every Friday, mostly because I like challah and also because Jillian really loves Shabbat, so it’s nice to have a challah and light candles and all that. The first few I made were really really dense. I got lucky a couple of times and they came out really well, but for the most part, there has been some extremely heavy bread up in here.

I think I know what the issue is, and that is that I don’t knead the dough long enough, at all. I use the dough hook on my stand mixer for about 6 minutes and then I turn it out on the counter and beat the shit out of it for another six or until my arms start to hurt. This takes some patience, which is not a trait I am known for.

But I’m learning.

So for Hanukkah, I decided to get myself that artisan bread book. You know, the Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day book. Making fresh bread every day is a pain in my ass. It takes way too much time, so I figured I would give this method a shot.

So far, so good. I am not a precise cook or baker by any stretch of the imagination. I prefer to feel my way around rather that measure and sift and level off and all that. This bread-baking process almost rewards that approach, because you honestly just chuck all the ingredients in a bowl or whatever, mix briefly and let it sit for a few hours. Then you can make bread out of it, and the bread is pretty damn good. Well, the first day it was. The second day was kind of dense and the third day was just gross, but I think that’s more to do with how I’m storing it than anything else.

Also, maybe I’m a little impatient.

The second batch seemed to go a bit better. I made two small loaves for dinner last night that were a tiny bit on the chewy side, but still quite tasty. Today I used the rest of the second batch to make rolls, and they look lovely but I haven’t busted one open yet.

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