Saturday, 29 April 2017

The Friendly Alien Eats Edinburgh

My search for a good croissant led us this morning to The Wee Boulangerie, and there I hit buttery gold. Yes,The Wee Boulangerie sells plain croissants that taste like croissants and not--as they do perhaps everywhere else in Edinburgh--like bread. And they are NOT £3 a pop, as someone claimed on TripAdvisor. I do not know how much they are exactly, however, as B.A. ordered a pain aux raisins. Together our pastries came to £3.75. We ate them happily while wandering down Nicholson Street in the direction of Brew Lab.

Brew Lab, that hipster mecca of coffee, was not overcrowded, and so we sat and enjoyed an espresso (B.A.) and a macchiato (I) made with Has Bean beans imported from Kenya. B.A. sat in one of the red leather armchairs in the window and read The Spectator while I sat on a bench beside two philosophical young Poles and wrote a letter in Polish. I hope the Polish youths did not think I was recording their conversation, averting to the Collins Polish-English English-Polish dictionary when I got stuck on the spelling.

The letter having been written, B.A. and I went next to Central Library where I returned two books and took out five more. Then B.A. complained of the dizziness and double-vision that come upon him when he is hungry, so we went straight to Mother India's Café. There we ate a dhosa (lentil pancake) wrapped around spicy spinach and served with lentils; smoked chicken with peas; onion bhajis and pitta bread and drank a bottle of sparkling water. This tasty feast cost £19.75 + tip.

B.A. then proposed another coffee, so we decided to visit Baba Budan under the Waverley Arches after I picked up my new glasses from Specsavers. These are very special glasses that you can wear both to see the world in front of you and to read.  We took them to Baba Budan and ordered two filter coffees (£2 each) and sat on a bench. I read Ada i Adam na Wsi  aloud to B.A. using my new spectacles and was slightly nonplussed when I realized that the hipster girl crocheting in the armchair at my elbow was Polish.

Baba Budan is constructed on the usual hipster brick-and-board lines, only its ceiling is a bona fide stone archway and its walls are smooth and white. It advertises itself as a "donutterie", so I went back to the counter to buy a doughnut (a whopping £2.50 each) for BA and me to share. Baba Budan was down to passionfruit-mango and strawberry jam, so I picked the latter and it was TOO SWEET. Sugar is evil; I shall not do that again. Believe it or not, Goodfellow & Stevens offer a very decent chocolate-covered ring doughnut in supermarket bakery counters, so one need not search Edinburgh high and low for a good doughnut.

The coffee was served in round juice glasses, but we will not hold that against the café. It came from the Coffee Collective and was very good. The young ladies (Irish and Polish) beside us chatted amiably about taking each other on visits to Ireland and Poland and what their relations think of Lesbianism (e.g. fashionable, curable) and how, as these girls are Artists, their relations cut them some slack. I haven't seen these girls at Mass, but then perhaps they go to the Cathedral.

As B.A. and I were so close to Waverley Station, we took the train instead of the bus home, stopping at Co-op to purchase something for B.A. to eat later for supper. (I shall have a restorative mug of miso soup.) B.A. would have bought the boxed corned beef-with-mashed-potato dinner had he not noticed that it had something like 150% of his daily sodium requirements. He put it back with the haggis-and-mash and macaroni-and-mash (etc) boxes, and I reflected that the brand's motto could have been "Slowing killing Scots since 1904."

Skipping lightly over our supper prospects, we can reflect that we have had a very good foodie day. For croissants, we highly recommend  The Wee Boulangerie*. For a relaxed coffee, we vote for Brew Lab. For an excellent Indian lunch, we are all for Mother India's Café. For a quick coffee near Waverley Station, we give Baba Budan the nod although I didn't like the doughnut.

Update: B.A. made himself corned beef stovies according to his mother's recipe. It is composed of corned beef, mashed potatoes and a can of baked beans. Although B.A. refers to it as "Splodge", it is actually very tasty. Instead of having soup, I had a half-cup of Splodge and then began to make croissants according to Ruby Tandoh's recipe. If all goes well, B.A. and I will have homemade croissants for breakfast.

*Correction: Not La Petite Boulangerie but The Wee Boulangerie!

A Friendly Alien on Authenticity

Like it or not, this is my national symbol. Woe.
A talented American writer I know went to an Edinburgh bookshop to ask the sales staff to stock her latest book. When she explained that she is a local author, she was sent to the person who runs the Scottish section. She was stunned when this personage wondered aloud why the writer had been sent to her. The salesperson then asked if her book had any Scottish content, and as the writer was still too stunned to reply, the salesperson said something like "Obviously not, or else you would say so."

In a welter of negative emotions, my colleague turned to Facebook to say she had had a tiny insight into what ethnic minorities must feel in Scotland, etc., and instead of groaning along in sympathy,I thought aloud about authenticity and cultural appropriation.

This American writer is a proven cultural asset to Scotland, by the way, and she loves Scotland so much she applied for, and received, British citizenship. Legally, she is British---more British than I, for example, as I haven't felt like forking out the £1,000 for the rights I, as a resident Canadian, already have. No doubt she would have applied for Scottish citizenship, if there were such a thing, but there isn't. And there's the rub. You can become British, but you can't apply for Scottishness. Either you are Scottish or you are not: you can't earn or buy your way in.

That said, "Scottish" is larger than an ethnic group.  One of Scotland's principal cultural movers and shakers is named Richard Demarco; he was born in Edinburgh of Italian parents. Nicola Benedetti is our most famous violinist. Peter Capaldi is our Scottish Doctor Who. The list of Italian Scots is long.

Then there are the Scotland-born Polish Scots, including playwright  Matthew Zajac, a number of my Polish-language classmates and a whole lot of other Scots whose Polish grandfathers were marooned here during or after World War 2.

There are also a relatively small number of South Asian Scots, including a Member of Scottish Parliament (Humza Yusaf) and a beloved celebrity chef (Tony Singh).

There are also a tiny number of black Scots and East Asian Scots (actor Katie Leung, who played Cho Chang in Harry Potter, comes at once to mind).

And what do Richard Demarco, Matthew Zajac, Humza Yusaf, Tony Singh and Katie Leung all have in common? They were all born in Scotland, they were all raised in Scotland and they all sound Scottish. They're Scottish.

I am not Scottish--which is quite obvious to any Scot whenever I open my mouth and speak. Ironically, in roots-obsessed Toronto, I would be considered "Scottish" by whoever followed up the usual question with, "But, no, where do you [meaning, actually, my 19th century immigrant ancestors] REALLY come from?" A Filipina-Canadian I know hates this question and thinks it is racist, but Canadians of Colour have asked it of lily-white me often enough. Frankly, it IS a stupid question, and I think the next time I'm asked it I will retort in my flat Margaret-Atwood honk, "Where do I sound like I'm REALLY from?"

That is important because although naturally we change a bit and grow a bit and become better or worse as we age, for good and for ill we have become who we are around the age our accent is set. I moved to Scotland in my late thirties; my accent isn't budging. Moreover, I am a product, not of Edinburgh's merchant schools or Dundee's comprehensives or of Glasgow's sectarian system, but of the Metropolitan of Toronto Separate School Board of the 1970s and 1980s, of the Girl Guides of Canada, of the Toronto pro-life movement, of Toronto multiculturalism, of being Catholic at the University of Toronto, and of being a Caker (from mangiacake) in Toronto and quite obviously a tête carrée while in achingly beautiful, contemptuous Quebec.

Incidentally, people who eat Nutella for breakfast have a heck of a nerve calling me a mangiacake. Neanche per idea! 

This is not to say that I don't love Scotland. Of course I love Scotland---and my Scottish husband,  too. In fact, I love Scotland too much to pretend that eight years in Scotland have rendered me just as Scottish as Benedict Ambrose, Peter Capaldi & Co. Too little, too late, people.

And I think this is important in the same way that Rachel Dolezal not actually being black is important. It's not like the Scots have had the most excellent time ever during the 20th, or any other, century. Benedict Ambrose lives comfortably now, but like other Scots over 30, he was shaped by the post-war collapse of heavy industry in Scotland, Thatcherism, English attitudes towards the Scots and their accents, Scottish poverty, Scottish sectarianism, and generally belonging to a minority of roughly 5 million in a country of roughly (when he was born) 56 million. And now that Scotland is suddenly a much nicer place to live--less obvious heroin addiction, more hipster cafés--it seems rather cheeky for adult foreigners to show up, stay a few years and then identify themselves as Scots.

No, I just don't buy it. Obviously it isn't very nice when Scots are frosty (or worse) to expats like me, the American writer and the born-and-raised-in-Poland Poles. Xenophobia is offensive. However, there are forms of cultural appropriation that also strike me as offensive. To say that Tony Singh--born and raised in Edinburgh--isn't "really" Scottish would be racist and contemptible. However, to say that expatriates who came to Scotland in our late twenties, thirties, forties....aren't actually Scots is just good sense.

BUT ALL THAT SAID I think the American writer's books belong in the "Scottish" section--or at least in an "Edinburgh" section of the bookshop. She IS a local writer, after all. She lives in Edinburgh, her latest book was written in Edinburgh, she's done amazing work for writers in Edinburgh. Contemporary Edinburgh teems with ex-pats. She's an Edinburgher, and Edinburgh is in Scotland. Of course, this is a very Canadian (or Torontonian) point of view.

Friday, 28 April 2017


Not being prepared to banish wheat flour entirely from my life, I have begun a mission to find Edinburgh's best croissant. This may be a difficult task, for I am used to the splendid croissants of French Canada and have encountered superlative croissants in Paris and so far no plain croissant in Edinburgh can compare. I have threatened on several occasions to make my own. It may still come to that.

Today I had a hazelnut croissant from Edinburgh's Twelve Triangles, and it was delicious. However, the plain croissant I had afterwards (the hazelnut croissant having disappeared in a frenzied attack), though good--and indeed aeons better than the horrors one gets from Costa Coffee, Caffé Nero, et al,, did not conjure up Montréal or the Chartres Pilgrimage.

The game's afoot!

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Mantilla Can See Ya

Today's traddy entertainment came from the FSSP Supporters page on Facebook, where a young thing tells the story of how she and some mantilla-wearing friends went to Daily Mass, only to discover themselves subject-fodder for sermon. Did I mention this was the Novus Ordo? Anyway, the priest looked at them pointedly and condemned people who bring attention to themselves, and the young thing wonders whether she ought not to wear her mantilla to this priest's masses in future.

Unsurprisingly there followed was an elephant stampede of traddy male commentators virtually shouting about our Lord's commandment to women to wear veils--one I did not know about previously--and even shouting down sensible suggestions to wear a nice beret next time.

What a mantilla in a teapot. I am trying to squash any uncharitable suspicion that the young things did want to attract attention or make personal statements about what they thinks they ought to wear to Mass, especially as I have headscarfed up for the Novus Ordo myself. (I seem to have lost the nice black mantilla I bought in Barcelona [made in China].)  Given my experience, the poor gal probably just feels a bit naked in church without something on her head.

Naturally I think the cranky priest was a meanie and he ought to have had a proper homily prepared rather than wing it on the expense of  innocent mass-goers. But I also think traddy men should calm down a bit on the subject on mantillas. Mantillas are very pretty, but the point of them is not for women to be pretty but to show reverence for the Blessed Sacrament and, perhaps, not distract poor susceptible men with our snake-like tresses. My tresses are more like wild pythons, so I generally bundle them up into a jar-like bun before adorning myself with a scarf, shawl, hat or fascinator the size of a two pound coin.

A fascinator may not sound as veil-like as a proper Royal Enclosure at Ascot hat, but aesthetically it beats a Kleenex tissue, which is what schoolgirls in the old days would perch on their heads if they were caught without anything else. I should like to see the man who would tell me my snazzy new mini-hat isn't good enough for Mass--but then traddy men in the UK are not that interested in female millinery. Trad women in the UK often go to EF Mass completely bare-headed, just as German women went bare-headed to Mass for decades before Vatican II.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Work Abroad

My first piece in venerable Canadian-American institution. Hold on to your hats!

Fighting Weight

As a part time teacher, I guard against being a bad influence on my pupils. This sense of caution was reinforced for me when one of them came to class with her hair braided up just like mine. ("Look!") Well, that's okay, but I would be abjectly horrified if any of my pupils talked about food and dieting as much as I do.  I have explained that dieting stunts teenage brains, but occasionally I still let it slip that I am anti-sugar or not eating bread. Over-emphasis on food, dieting and body-size is a North American epidemic, and I do not want to pass on the germs to naturally slim, healthy, physically active Scottish lassies.

(She collapses forward and bangs her had on the coffee table.)

Okay, that's done. Now let's talk about my super-brilliant Low Blood Sugar Diet. I promised an overweight male reader  I would post about it, so here we go.

Right. So I followed Dr. Michael Mosley's Low Blood Sugar Diet more or less strictly for 8 weeks, and then, as it was Good Friday, I baked up some delicious full-wheat hot cross buns from scratch and ate two or three. I ate another two on Holy Saturday although for supper I had the ever-tasty Red Pepper and Squash Soup from my best-friend-for-eight-weeks, the Low Blood Sugar Diet Cookbook. So, incidentally, did everyone else at the table. There are a number of garnish options for this soup, and on this occasion I chopped up some of the mountain cheese Polish Pretend Daughter brought from Poland and fried it like halloumi. It melted much faster than halloumi, but it was still delicious, adding much-needed texture and salt.

On Easter Day I had that splendid breakfast, including cake and a potato pancake or two, and I ate a magnificent dinner, including cake and trifle, but a minimum of roast potatoes. On Easter Monday I tried to keep bread and sugar to a minimum while otherwise scarfing what I was served. By evening my resolve had collapsed, and I ate the sugared wedding almonds. Next to dates stuffed with walnuts, I adore sugared wedding almonds.

Sugared wedding almonds are the official snack of marriage. They symbolize marriage because the sugar is sweet and the almond is wholesome but the almond skin is bitter. Sugared wedding almonds are a reminder that Marriage is Hard and has its bitter elements although, all-in-all, it is lovely and eventually your teeth fall out.

Actually, our teeth wouldn't fall out quite so much if our Elizabethan ancestors hadn't added sugar to our diet, but they did, so good-bye teeth. However, I believe you can preserve what teeth you have left by cutting out as much sugar as possible, plus visits to the dentist who beg you to floss.

Besides cutting out sugar and anything that swiftly turns to sugar in your blood--wheat flour, anything made from wheat flour, rice, alcohol, potatoes, oranges, dates (boo)--the Low Blood Sugar Diet discourages SNACKING. All my current diet gurus, including Toronto's Doctor "Obesity Code" Fung, hate snacking and love fasting between meals. Dr Fung also loves fasting between supper and lunch, which is not all that difficult, if you sit down to work with a big mug of coffee and forget all about eating until noon.

Some diet gurus think you should eat all your meals in eight hours, leaving your body 16 whole hours to recover. If you eat,brunch at 12 PM and finish supper at 8 PM, this is doable. When I finished eating my allotted 800 calories much before 8 PM, however, I went to bed feeling hungry.

It was possible to stick to 800 calories or thereabouts thanks to coffee, herbal tea, water and--especially--sparkling water. Sparking water is a profligate use of money--as drinking water is more-or-less free from the tap--but in our house it has replaced wine, which costs at least ten times as much. Because we derive a lot of water from our food, not eating food makes us dehydrated and headachey. Also, most of the recipes I tried in The Low Blood Sugar Diet Cookbook were delicious.

Underscore most. There were some failures, most notably the almond flour pancakes I tried to make on Pancake Tuesday. Woe. Then there was the lackluster Chicken Korma, so inferior to my usual korma, which could have been easily adapted to my stringent regime. However, the "Thai Red Curry" was a hit, as were the "Thai Fish Cakes" until B.A.'s gag reflex decided fish sauce (i.e. fermented anchovy juice) is a kind of vinegar.

The "Guilt-free spaghetti" recipes were so good that eventually I bought my own spiralizer for the courgette (zucchini) "noodles". You really can trick yourself into thinking you are eating pasta when you eat a bowlful of "courgetti" with sauce.

"Fast off, fast on" is the usual advice about losing weight, but I have been weighing myself every morning since I ended my eight week regime, and I am still 15 lbs lighter than when I started. This is 10 lbs heavier than my "fighting weight" when I was a 20-something boxer, but I'm not complaining as I am not a 20-something boxer anymore.

The Low Blood Sugar Diet is predicated upon "lifestyle change", and my lifestyle changes include:

- drinking over a litre of water every day

- eating a lot more veg and berries

- not snacking (except on coffee, tea and water) unless in a social situation

- keeping the simple carbs to a minimum (so only small helpings of the ever-fattening potatoes)

- counting ye olde calories

- continuing to use the Low Blood Sugar Diet Cookbook

- avoiding sugar

Not snacking and avoiding sugar are difficult in social situations, as I reflected the day I was handed a piece of sugar-topped mazurek during a mid-afternoon visit. I took it with thanks and ate every delicious morsel. I don't think the odd lapse made to please a hostess is hurtful in the long run.

However, I am keeping the German and sugar-loving part of my ancestry in mind.  My father's Great-Aunt Tilly features hugely in family legend as, thanks to her addiction to soda pop, she weighed well over 300 lbs. I appreciate that my German ancestors and relations were good at making money, loved to cook and loved to eat, but some of them had a fatal tendency to run to fat. And, alas, none of my siblings are naturally twig-like in adult life, and we all have to fight against the inexorable creep of fatness.

By the way, I cannot emphasize enough how silly it is to think we will keel over and die if we do not eat 2000 calories a day. A woman my height and weight who sits at her job and takes only mild exercise should eat about 1500-1660 (and these 1500-1660 should be full of nutrients). Here is a handy calculator.  Oh, and this is where I should say I am not a medical doctor, am just stating my layman's opinion, and am no substitute for a proper medical adviser, etc.

Update: Another lifestyle change: daily weigh-in. I've heard that's important.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

A Wedding in Scotland

My glorious mini-hat
Having got together my own outfit for the Easter Monday wedding, I began to think about other people's clothes. Thus, Polish Pretend Daughter got an email explaining that--contrary to Polish mores--it is customary in the United Kingdom for women to wear hats (however small) to weddings.

PPD was grateful for this advice and, soon after her plane landed in Scotland, bought a cunning little confection of red net. After that, I seriously hoped most of the woman would indeed wear hats. One can rely on Englishwomen, but one never knows with Scots. Scotland's shops are filled with glorious frocks, but does anyone wear them?

Actually, the Easter Monday bride wears them. She has become a byword in the parish for her excellent and super-feminine dress sense. In fact, I was told that So-and-So believes that the bride clearly "comes from money"; "you can tell from her clothes", etc. Meanwhile, although she was born on the Continent and has married a Scot, she is very much an Anglophile, and therefore I was going to wear a hat even if I were the only woman to do so and the groom's Glasgow relations threw rocks at me.

Another exotic feature of Scottish life is the rivalry between Edinburgh and Glasgow.

Benedict Ambrose also pondered his wedding guest clothes and worried aloud about his lack of a day jacket. He has a splendid kilt and the waistcoat and jacket necessary to Scottish evening dress, but his traditionalist's soul shrank from the idea of wearing a Prince Charlie jacket at 11 o'clock in the morning. He mused aloud about wearing his grey suit (which I hate) instead---and I forbade him to make any appearance before 5 PM. So it wasn't just his health: it was also the joy of seeing B.A. in his proper Scottish evening dress, the clothes that suit him best.

When Easter Monday dawned, the attic of the Historical House buzzed with wedding guests flying about ironing shirts, fixing hair and finding earrings. Poor Quadrophonic had a terrible hangover from drinking ruby port with his Polish Pretend Nephew the night before. PPN, meanwhile, was smugly chipper, having consumed milk thistle or some other witches' brew before indulging. However, Q looked very well in his borrowed grey suit and silver tie. I have to admit, though, that his outfit could not compare to that of Franco-Polish Pretend Son-in-Law.

B.A. called us a cab, and off we went in style. It was chilly, but the sun shone for the bride, thank heavens. Q regarded me with the jaundiced eye of a homicidal maniac, so I stopped voicing such observations.

When we got to church, I looked around eagerly for hats. The mother-of-the-bride had a lovely big hat, and the mother-of-the-groom had a sweet wee fascinator, and there was enough of a sprinkling of other hats and fascinators that PPD did not poke me and say "What about that £10 you made me spend?" Meanwhile, the groom, his brothers, his father and perhaps some of his friends wore kilts, and so looked splendid.

I did not see the bride until she appeared on her father's arm, of course, and she was a vision in soft net and white lace, with lace sleeves to the elbows. We all sat frozen in our pews, which made me panic a little, as were we not supposed to stand for the bride? However, my next thought was that if we all remained sitting, we could all see the bride, so I stayed down.

The wedding service and the following Mass were done all according to the Extraordinary Form, and the Continental guests kept the sighing, muttering and yawning to a minimum that surprised and edified me. (The homily, given by a visiting priest in Glaswegian, was about the disciples on the road to Emmaus and contained no reference to the martyrdom, red or white, likely to be visited upon the happy couple by the venomous, anti-Christian state.)

When Mass was over, the guests queued up in the carpark to get into the parish hall, eat the nibbles and, especially, drink the champagne. The sun shone strongly enough that one could linger outdoors without freezing to death, but I was happy when the chartered buses arrived to cart us off to the reception hall. I clambered aboard with my now-cheerful brother, who attempted  a snooze while the driver wended his way from Edinburgh's West End to Darkest Musselburgh, getting lost among the stone country walls in his hunt for the coaches' entrance.

The warm drawing-room upstairs.
We arrived at Carberry Tower to the sight and sound of a fully uniformed piper outside the front door, which cheered my tradition-loving heart. Indoors there was another queue for champagne, and then we all went into the formal gardens behind to have our photos taken. It was still cold, so when we decently could, Quadrophonic and I went indoors and found a warm drawing-room upstairs.

Dinner was served in a marquee beside the house, as there were too many guests to serve inside the house. There was a bit of a wait, which I ceased to notice when B.A. appeared, resplendent in Scottish evening dress. The meal was seriously British: smoked haddock tart, lemon sherbet as a palate cleanser, roast beef with scalloped potatoes and veg, and sticky toffee pudding with champagne sorbet. It was all quite good but ran overtime, so B.A. and I hoovered our puddings and went in search of the arrived "evening guests" or, rather one particular evening guest, i.e. Polish Pretend Son. We found him and took him to the warm and cozy drawing-room where--to our great joy--coffee and petits fours were to be served. We had first dibs, scarfing the miniature "millionaires' shortbread" in particular and draining cups of life-restoring coffee before the other guests arrived.

We dance a sedate Gay Gordon.
This was in preparation for the ceilidh, or Scottish dance party, which followed downstairs. The bride is a keen Scottish country dancer, and indeed there is nothing so festive in Scotland as a live ceilidh band. This one began with the tune to "Mhairi's Wedding".

For generations Scottish schoolchildren have been taught Scottish country dances in P.E. (Phys. Ed.) classes, so most Scots know how to do them. It's the only dancing my highly unathletic husband will do, and for once I had to actively restrain him from dancing. The sedate "Gay Gordon" was fine, but when he reappeared to attempt an energetic "Strip the Willow", I shooed him back into the hallway.

When the band left--too soon, alas!--we queued up in an adjoining room for corned-beef stovies and wedding cake. We sat about eating them, and then there was recorded rock music, to which PPD and F-PPSiL danced elegant tangos. Benedict Ambrose was by then rather tired, so he called a taxi and I gathered up all my little Historical Household chicks--except PPS who was coaxed from the Men's Schola and their bottles only with the greatest difficulty--and sat in it.

Then B.A. went to bed and the rest of us rejected any more Scottish ceremonial in favour of Polish wedding music, Polish cheese and Polish vodka. This, paradoxically, may also be characteristic of Scottish life, as the Poles are--after the English--Scotland's largest minority group. By 2 AM, Disco Polo  had given way to Pieśni Patrioticzne, and after crying tears of vodka to "Dziś do Ciebie Przyjść Nie Mogę",* the last survivors retired on a satisfactorily gloomy note.

As most of my readers are in the USA, I hope this gives an authentic yet exotic picture of Scottish life. Lest it seem overly civilised, I should note that certain guests took the half-empty bottles with them when shooed from the dining hall to the drawing-room and that a small amount of outside beer may have been smuggled in. That there was no fighting or unrestrained snogging is a testimony to the sterling characters of the bride and groom, who either were a good influence on everyone else, or don't associate with pugnacious snoggers, or were clever enough to know that nothing restrains a Scottish crowd like a cash bar. The choice between getting tipsy and saving money throws us into a confusion and renders us docile--and relatively sober.

*"I Can't Go to You Today (Because I Have To Hide From the Germans in the Woods, Where They Will Probably Shoot Me.)"

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Okay, I Laughed But... I feel bad for laughing. Darn you, Rorate Caeli!

Stop me if I repeat too often the story about the visiting Irish bishop who ended his Toronto St. Patrick's Day sermon by emoting that Ireland would never, ever give up the Faith. I believe that was in 1996. I was terribly impressed.

Not Funny At All: Rorate also reveals that Trads don't eat meat on any Friday that doesn't fall a big solemnity, even Easter Friday. Oops. Still, one may feast, so next Easter Friday we will have lobster.... Um... do we like lobster?  There's no point feasting with salmon in Scotland because zzzzzzz. Unless, of course, one is very poor. (I am reading about food poverty in the UK.)

New Traditionalist Community of Women in New Zealand

I have had an appeal from a young trad woman I know, and I thought I'd pass it on.

Bigos It's Delicious

My mother is rather deaf, so when my parents picked up my brother from the airport, and he regaled them with tales of his Edinburgh Easter, all my mother gleaned was that I had been very busy.  How true that was. I caught up on sleep only yesterday when, to my great relief, I managed to have an afternoon nap.

It really was a splendid Easter. My brother Quadrophonic arrived, dog-tired, on Holy Wednesday night, and I put him in the best guest room. On Holy Thursday, I brought Quadrophonic along to Tesco to help carry bags of ingredients home, and in the evening we all went to Mass. Afterwards Benedict Ambrose reminisced about the Holy Thursday curries of his youth, and so Quadrophonic treated us to a splendid curry feast at the nearest snazzy sit-down. In deference to B.A.'s recent surgery, we took a taxi home.

After that, it was cook, cook, wash, wash, clean, clean, bake, bake, rush off to church and welcome another guest or two. Occasionally I would leave B.A. in my brother's or Polish Pretend Son's charge with the instruction that he wasn't allowed to do any work. It cut me to the quick to prevent B.A. from washing the dishes, but my top priority was conserving his energy for church and, ultimately, our friend's Easter Monday wedding banquet.

With all the baking and cooking to do (self-imposed, I know), my life was a round of going to bed very late and getting up rather early, and by Easter Wednesday I was beginning to lose things and leave them behind. On Easter Thursday night, I informed the same stranger two times that there had been an accident on the South Bridge. He looked at me warily, poor chap.

I went to Polish class on Thursday night, and I was rubbish. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. This is partly the fault of my Polish Pretend Children, who did not speak to me in Polish while they were here. The only guest who addressed me po polsku was Polish Pretend Daughter's French husband, and we exchanged greetings and information in learners' pidgin, to PPD's great amusement. "You both make mistakes, and yet you both understand each other," she observed. However, this was no great wonder to me, as I speak Polish more often with non-Polish students of Polish than with actual Poles.

Yes, my performance during the Easter Thursday Polish class was abysmal, but the day was not a washout, for I had made Polish hunter stew---bigos (pron. BEE-ghos)--for the first time ever, turning dry roast lamb into nectar and ambrosia. And it was a REVELATION. In general, the longer you cook meat, the tougher and stringier and more horrible it gets, but for some reason, the process of turning a leftover roast into bigos makes it melt into delicious meat manna.

My Polish teacher said she had never heard of making bigos with lamb, and when I cited Anne Applebaum's recipe, she sniffed about Polish-American cooking. I argued that baranina is what I had, so baranina is what I used. Frankly, I think any Polish babcia would agree that it is better to use roast lamb in bigos than to waste (marnować) it or, worse, serve it cold and tough or, worst, warmed up with gravy. I suspect that bigos is the best solution for any kind of leftover roast meat.

Having looked at several bigos recipes (and every Polish family has its own) in advance, here is how I did it:

Edinburgh Bigos

1 big jar of Polish kapusta kwaszona (preserved cabbage)--NOT vinegar-laced sauerkraut!*--mixed with carrots (The carrots aren't at all essential.)
1 handful of dried mushrooms (I had Italian, so I used Italian. Next time I will use Polish.)
1 cup pitted prunes
2 cups of hot water
4 strips of streaky bacon
1 onion, chopped
1/2 a medium green cabbage, chopped
4 medium tomatoes, skinned and chopped
1/2 lb smoked kielbasa, chopped into 1-inch pieces
leftover cooked white kielbasa, chopped into 1-inch pieces
leftover chorizo sausage (mine was already sliced for a pizza that didn't get made)
almost 1 lb leftover roast lamb cut into approx. 1-inch pieces (Next time I will use leftover roast pork.)
1 bay leaf
1 cup of red wine (okay, it was dry sherry, but that is what I had open)

Use an enormous hob-safe casserole with a lid.

1. Soak preserved cabbage in cold water for half an hour and drain.

2. Pour 2 cups of boiling water on dried mushrooms and prunes in a medium-sized bowl and let them sit for half an hour.

3. Skin the tomatoes after pouring hot water on them and letting them sit in the hot water for a bit. This makes the skins loosen enough for you to pull them off. Don't burn yourself, however.

4. Fry bacon in the casserole at low temperature to get the fat out, and then tip in the chopped onions and fresh chopped cabbage to fry merrily.

5. When the fresh cabbage has reduced to half its original bulk, put in the drained preserved cabbage, the mushrooms and prunes and their soaking liquid (being careful to leave any sand at the bottom of the soaking bowl), the tomatoes, all the kielbasa and other sausage, the leftover roast, the bay leaf and one cup of red wine.

6. Bring to a boil on medium heat and then turn heat down to lowest setting. Cook with the lid on for at least 2 hours. However, the longer you cook bigos, the better it gets. (Just check periodically to make sure the liquid hasn't all evaporated.) Many Polish cooks say it tastes better the next day and even better the day after that. Salt and pepper to taste. (I'm just salting and peppering each serving.)

There are 6-8 large helpings of bigos in this recipe. I had some for Thursday lunch and left the casserole bubbling away on "1" until I came back from Polish class and had more for supper. (B.A. had had his by then.) I left the pot on the chilly windowsill overnight. Yesterday, after I returned--dead tired--from teaching Ancient Greek class, I put the casserole back on the burner, brought it to a boil, turned the heat down to "1" and napped for an hour or so. Then I had a big bowl of bigos for lunch, and it was splendid. I turned the heat off, and B.A. turned it on again to get hot bigos for his Easter Friday supper. Before we went to bed, I put the remainder--enough for three helpings--in the fridge.

It's supposed to be served with dark bread and/or boiled white potatoes. This is probably a good idea, keeping you from compulsively eating too much bigos. If you know anything about Polish cooking, you are probably amazed that the only herb used is a bay leaf, but I assume this is because there is so much flavour in the mushrooms, prunes and kielbasach. As for how the dried out lamb became so squishy and delectable, I can only guess that fresh cabbage + preserved cabbage = magic.

*Anti-sauerkraut note: Vinegar makes Benedict Ambrose nauseous, so I was delighted to inform him of the many times it is condemned in bigos recipes. To preserve cabbage, Poles usually just stuff it in jars with salt and let nature carry on. However, commercial giants cheat, so if you are cooking for someone who hates vinegar as much as B.A. does, check the label on the jar. Vinegar in Polish is "ocet." Due to commercial use of ocet, I had to make our own horseradish sauce this Easter, so thanks to my brother Nulli for the awesome food processor. Grating raw horseradish by hand would have been a beast.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Catholic Three Date Rule

I love this hat. Too small for Ascot, but delightful all the same.
The entire Easter household of the Historical House was at a wedding on Monday, and when the groom told of his ill-fated first attempt to impress the bride years ago, I thought about my three date rule. 

My three date rule, which I seem to recall telling the bride in a snazzy dress shop no more than two years ago, is "Every good Catholic guy deserves three dates." 

Good Catholic Guys are not usually at their best on first dates. They are nervous and awkward and blurt out the most bizarre inanities, and really the whole point to first dates is getting them over with. Never judge a Good Catholic Guy on his first date savoir-faire. He's unlikely to have any.  Unless he does or reveals something really morally appalling--which disqualifies him as "good"-- tell him you had a lovely time and accept a second date, if he asks. 

Having got a second date, the Good Catholic Guy will be a bit more confident and relaxed and less prone to setting the tablecloth on fire. You are now much more likely to see what his friends and family like about him. Also--crucially--you yourself will be a bit more used to being alone in a crowd with the chap and less likely to feel that if you let down your guard for a second, an armed gang  will bundle you both into a van and race you towards the altar, trapping you in a loveless marriage with a drooling secret sex fiend. Once again, unless he does or reveals something really morally appalling--disqualifying him from the title of "Good Catholic Guy"--tell him you had a lovely time and accept a third date, if he asks. 

By the third date, you will have had time to grow affection for this awkward, imperfect, deodorant-wearing, Mass-attending individual--or not. If not, nobody can say you didn't give a Good Catholic Guy a chance. However, if time has worked an affection-growing magic, you will be very grateful that you took my Catholic Three Date Rule advice, and so will he. 

Getting married properly in this crazy modern world is so difficult that just asking a nice girl on a proper date is an act of tremendous courage, as is crushing irrational fears long enough to accept the date with him. Awkward Catholic men say "Would you like to go for a coffee?" and wound-up Catholic women hear "Let's get married." This is why, along with such great advice as "Every Good Catholic Guy Deserves Three Dates", I like to repeat "It's Just a Coffee." 

Occasionally women tell me they are married now and have children because they took my advice. This makes me very happy, especially as I have no real children of my own. At Monday's wedding , Polish Pretend Son argued that he was much better than any real child could ever possibly be, but despite his manifold perfections I was not entirely convinced. At the time Polish Pretend Daughter (no relation) was dancing with her husband, whom she married without any advice from me. She is very beautiful, which I think frightened a lot of men, so I suspect one of the principal reasons Franco-Polish Pretend Son-in-Law was successful in his suit was that he had the guts to ask her out on a proper date. 

The best part of this wedding, by the way, was when Benedict Ambrose turned up for the dinner in correct Highland evening dress. He felt so well on Easter Sunday, that he proposed going to the Easter Monday wedding ceremony in the morning, the champagne reception afterwards, etc., but I put my foot down and forbid him to budge from home until a cab whisked him to the reception venue for 5 PM. He looked a bit wan, and a bit grey, and he has what may be a permanent lump on his head, but the thing about love is that he is MY wan, grey chap with a possibly permanent lump on his head. When I first saw him in person over eight years ago, I thought "Right! No attraction! We're just going to be friends." Ha! Now I'm a willing slave to the bearded weirdie. 

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Celebrating Easter with Food

Well, here I am again, 16 lbs lighter than I was in mid-February. At least, I had lost 16 pounds by Holy Saturday. (One day the scales claimed I had lost a whopping 20 lbs, but it [they?] changed its [their?] mind the very next day.) The feasting began on Easter Sunday and it hasn't quite  stopped yet. I am avoiding Mr Scales until tomorrow morning when I go back to low-carb, no added sugar life.

As far as I am concerned, the Low Blood Sugar Diet--strictly followed according to the recipe book--works very well. What I liked best was that no gym membership or boring exercise regimen was necessary. The only overall change to my physical activity was carrying out Spring Cleaning---and, come to think of it, a lot of rubbish and recycling, since my husband is not yet physically fit enough to take them out himself.

The funny thing about living on 800 calories a day is that I thought about food quite often, watched even more cooking shows than usual and read several books about cuisine. I feel a bit ashamed of that; I am relatively sure that when monks and nuns fast, they don't spend that much time dreaming about food.

Be that as it may, I very much enjoyed planning, preparing and--at last--eating special Easter dishes. We had up to four overnight guests in the house, so all this food was as necessary as it was enjoyable. Two of the guests were Polish, which gave me an excuse to make exotic stuff, not just solidly British fare.

The Home Cooking and Baking Menu

Good Friday: Hot Cross Buns

(It is traditional in the UK to bake hot cross buns on Good Friday.)

Easter Sunday Breakfast: Żurek (Polish sour soup with white kielbasa); coloured hard-boiled eggs; grilled white kielbasa with ćwikła (beetroot-horseradish sauce); potato pancakes; śledź w oleju (herring in oil, which I forgot to serve); chałka (braided egg bread); mazurek królewski (shortbread pastry with jams); baranek (cake shaped like a lamb--the centrepiece, not to be eaten yet); makowiec (poppy seed cake); coffee.

Easter Sunday Dinner (4:30 PM): prawn salad on baby gem lettuce; roast leg of lamb with butterbean-mint sauce, roast potatoes, gravy and peas; Easter Trifle; leftover makowiec, leftover mazurek; white wine; red wine; cava; pudding wine; Laura Secord chocolate Easter Egg; coffee.

Easter Monday Breakfast or Brunch : Random selection of bread, cheese, black pudding, bacon, fried banana, as half the household gets ready for a wedding, and the other half takes its time while waiting to go to just the wedding dinner/dance.

Easter Tuesday Brunch: Leftover żurek; black pudding; fried eggs; morning rolls with jam and/or butter; the baranek (eaten at last); coffee; tea.

Both my Polish Pretend Children and my Franco-Polish Pretend Son-in-Law were here, so Easter meals have been all very entertaining, with Polish Pretend Daughter insulting Polish Pretend Son at intervals by telling him that he is actually German.