Thursday, January 31, 2013

So Much For Clarity

Sorry, lost my way there for a bit. J'ai perdu le fil de ce pourquoi je suis venue, de ce que je cherche. Also, did you know that Amazon has a free Kindle app, and that there are a lot of free books on offer?

For some reason the fact that the cheese program is happening after all (the first class is tomorrow) made me start thinking harder about what comes after that, and after my year here, and whether I really am doing what I want to be doing, and if so how to continue to do it, and if not what I want to do instead. And where, and how, and means of financing and oh god I do not know what comes after this.

One thing I know for sure is that I am getting tired of traveling alone. Oh, I like living alone (or at least having a private room), but I am finding that I don't really have any urge to go out and see stuff by myself. Sometimes I think of all of the places there are even within a day bus/train trip of this apartment that I could go explore, instead of hanging out here, and feel like I'm passing up opportunities that may not come again. I think I need to get back in with those On Va Sortir groups and do something. I'm back spending all my time at the computer, which is not good.

In a fit of madness/loneliness I joined OKCupid. Not sure where that's going to go.

But the cheese class does start tomorrow, and maybe that will give me a jump start on shaking myself out of this random flailing state, where I'm feeling so bad about not feeling good that I lose sight of how ... content I am. Not precisely happy right now, exactly, but not unhappy. Just unsettled.

And really bummed again, this past week or so, about the fact that I cannot eat cheese. I'm still struggling with that.

Wish me luck!

Friday, January 11, 2013


When you just have to get out of the house and into the sunshine.

When the brilliance of the day goes deep into your body.

When it is enough to walk, and breathe, and turn your face to the sky.

When the colors of the water and the grass and the graceful swan are so true, the distillation and definition of the words blue and green and white, that you know no matter how many pictures you take, none of them will match the pure and heart-shocking beauty of the glimpse you had of that perfection as you left the lakeside and turned for home, grateful for having the luck to be, and to be here, and for now, no matter what comes next.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Meat and Two Veg

The meat recipes in La Cuisine de Monsieur Momo - those using domesticated animals - weren't as interesting or as doable as those in some of the other sections: a whole goat roasted over an open fire, a whole sheep baked in a pit, a basic sausage-and-apples recipe, and several tripe recipes (too much work), including the infamous pieds et paquets, a mixture of sheep's feet, calves' feet, and garlic-stuffed tripe wrapped in caul fat, all layered with tomatoes and cooked for 18 hours. Madame A. Tapié of Céleyran d'Albi (this young man's mother or grandmother, probably), gave Toulouse-Lautrec a few recipes for geese "fattened until they're morbidly obese" and Lieutenant Mizon of the French Navy, "explorer of the Congo and Niger," has a handy tip on how to make sure your chicken is tender.
In order to quickly turn your chicken into tender meat, take the chicken out of the coop, chase it across an open field, and after you've made it run for a little bit, kill it with a shotgun blast of many tiny pellets of lead. The chicken's flesh, which had tensed up in fear, will become tender. This method used by the Pahouin tribes appears to be infallible, even for the oldest and toughest birds.
Not all French vegetables are traditionally boiled to death in water, which is what I assumed after my summer as an au pair back in 1989. No, sometimes they're boiled to death in oil instead. Or stock. Or red or white wine. And many of the vegetable recipes in this cookbook incorporate meat, or at least pork belly or bacon as flavoring. 19th-century France would have been a difficult place to be a vegetarian. Even today I don't see too many veg-centered dishes on the menu, and when they are there they're usually covered in cheese. No matter where I live or what I do in France, I will have to make sure I can continue to cook for myself. Last night's dinner was all vegetables, a salad of chopped endive, grated carrots, halved Moroccan cherry tomatoes, and loads of fresh green baby mâche, which like endive is widely grown and available and very inexpensive here, all dressed with a red-wine vinaigrette with shallots I bought at the store, plus a heaping tablespoon each of whole-grain mustard and black olive tapenade. I am eating the leftovers for breakfast as I type this. My breakfast choices, which often get a raised eyebrow in the United States, cause horror and consternation over here, a country that breaks its fast with strong coffee and a slice of bread with butter and jam, and nothing more - and certainly not with leftover salad.

There are lots of recipes for mushrooms in the cookbook, most involving cream and butter. However, Countess Adèle de Toulouse-Lautrec of Château Malromé suggests simply cooking cleaned chanterelles in salted water until the water is gone, then adding butter, garlic, chopped parsley, and pepper. I tried that with the yellow-foot chanterelles I bought at the market last month and greatly overestimated the amount of water at first, requiring some quick work with a ladle. On the plus side, I had a nice quart of mushroom stock to play with, but on the minus side the mushrooms may have lost some flavor.

Monsieur Momo gave his recipe for potato salad, which would be easily identified by anyone at a Midwest summer potluck: thin-sliced onion, shallots, green onion tops, parsley, chives, chervil, rounds of sour pickles, and chopped egg whites, and a dressing of mashed egg yolks, oil, vinegar, mustard, salt, and pepper. Crisp-fried bacon (because there must be meat in our vegetables!) is a suggested topping.

And that was about it for vegetable recipes. Other than one recipe for tomatoes topped with mayonnaise, all the vegetables were cooked. I have to go get the rest of the salad now and crunch my breakfast raw, just to compensate.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Eight Years of the First Week of January

Standing stone near Fort William, Scotland (2013).

Rivers Edge Chèvre's "Puck" bloomy-rind goat's milk cheese (2012).

Laurelhurst Park, Portland, Oregon (2011).

Lunchtime walk along the Portland waterfront (2010).

Leah playing Big Papa's piano, Gresham, Oregon (2009).

Putting together the new futon frame after moving back to Portland (2008).

Rivers Edge Chèvre's "Yaquina Bay Pavé," Logsden, Oregon (2007).

Itty bitty banty eggs, Portland, Oregon (2006).

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Lochs and Highlands

Loch Lomond, looking north from waterside at the village of Luss.

The last time I was in Scotland, as Bill was driving us up and over from Glasgow to Buckie, I saw the highlands stretching up to the left, red-heathered grey slopes surrounding deep valleys leading to unknown mountains, and swore I'd go there the next time. So even though the weather wasn't the best, and the lack of daylight meant that the last four hours of the trip would be in darkness, I signed up for a coach tour out of Glasgow to Loch Lomond, Loch Ness, Inverness, and Pitlochry. The guide and driver was a bekilted man in his 50s named John, who had a wealth of information and really awful taste in music (in my opinion). The other 15 passengers were all in their 20s and most of them appeared to pay little attention to his lectures, either chatting in Spanish to each other or dozing off in the seats. I was the first one to arrive, so I snagged the front seat behind the driver and was able to ask questions easily. We learned things geological, historical, and political about Scotland as we drove out of Glasgow and headed north. Glasgow itself, said John, is built on drumlins, hills formed by the movement of glaciers; by contrast, the towns of Stirling and Edinburgh were built and centered on volcanic plugs and on the debris around them. It's all glacial aftermath in this area, and like the west coast of Norway this side of Scotland is creased with lakes (lochs) and fjords (firths) gouged out of the ground by ancient ice. Loch Lomond, now the largest body of fresh water in Great Britain, used to be open to the sea, and some of the "lakes" like Loch Linhee are really just arms of inlets stretching up towards the north and east. The Vikings used to bring their longboats in to sail on Loch Lomond.

Because of the low clouds, we couldn't see very far into the Trossachs, the southern end of the highland mountains. I still wanted to get out of the coach and go up into the valleys, though from what I could see of the ground the hiking would be difficult, since it's all boggy marshy moorland, the kind where you squelch through matted undergrowth, tripping over tussocks of sharp-edged grasses. At least that was what the ground was like nearer to the roadway; maybe it dries out as you go further in and higher up. The roofs on the few houses we saw are tiled in slate, and there's an old slate quarry that runs right under Loch Lomond.

We learned that the word glen refers to a narrow steep-sided valley and the word strath means a wide low valley. We learned that the Scots (or Caledonian) pine and the juniper and the yew are indigenous to the area but lots of Douglas Fir was brought in over the last decades to reforest, though it's a slow process. I saw a few red deer just past Bridge of Orchy, but no other animals, and no birds but seagulls. We learned that a small gold mine will be starting near Tindrum, and Auch Farm is where J. M. Barrie first came up with the "Peter Pan" stories.

The Glencoe Gorge is where the famous Bridge of Death scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed ("Who would cross the Bridge of Death must answer me these questions three, ere the other side he see!") but I couldn't tell exactly where. Apparently quite a bit of the movie was filmed in Scotland, and the crew of the Flying Circus was frequently in the area as well, since the uninhabited moorland gave them lots of scope for filming without having to block people from the film sets, plus it was cheap. Doune Castle, which we didn't see, played the part of Castle Anthrax, Camelot, and pretty much any other castle cameo throughout the film.

Once we got out of the lower highlands, we continued up the A82 along the shores of Loch Linnhe, the inland sea lake, and Loch Lochy, which to me appeared to mean "Lake Lakey" and be a bit redundant to say the least. The guide said it was probably an English mistranslation of a Gaelic word, and I find now that it's really Loch Lochaidh, but since I can't find a translation for "lochaidh" that's not clearing things up too much. Past Loch Lochy was a deer farm where the animals are raised for meat, though we didn't see any of the deer either pre- or post-processing. The lakes are connected by canals and locks, but I'm not sure how much transport, if any, happens on that route these days.

We stopped at Fort Augustus, at the southern tip of Loch Ness, and saw the former Benedictine Abbey, which started out as a military fortress in 1715 as a defense against the Jacobite rebels, and has ended up as a guest house for tourists. There's a lot of tourism in the area, even in the winter, though more of it's up in the ski areas rather than on the lakes at this time of year (except for silly outlanders like me who take coach tours in the fog and rain). There were several other tour buses making the same stops; I was reminded why I don't usually do these tours when I wanted to spend more time in the smaller interesting places, or pull over by the side of the road for a closer look at the mountains, or wander down through alleys looking at slate walls and old churches. As it was I, like the rest of the group, piled out for five or fifteen minutes, glanced around, took some photos, and clambered back in for the next stretch of road travel.

Loch Ness is 900 feet deep, and since 700AD those depths have been said to harbor a monster that once ate fishermen and their boats. These days, it's a gentler kinder monster, often portrayed in purple or green plush, with big googly eyes. There's another, deeper lake called Loch Morar which also has a monster, but since it's hard to get to, Morag languishes alone, with no tour coaches or trinkets dedicated to her.

We had a choice of getting off at Urquhart Castle and taking the ferry up to the visitor's center, or getting off at the visitor's center and taking the ferry down to the castle and back, or just getting off at the visitor's center and hanging out for an hour. I decided to do the ferry ride, and get out in the fresh air. The winter wind was so cold as we skimmed across the peat-dark waters. I stood outside for the trip down to the castle but went inside for the trip back to thaw out my fingers.

Sunset came an hour later as we reached Inverness, where we made an unscheduled stop just to see the town briefly where the canal coming out of Loch Ness goes into Beauly Firth and on to the North Sea. If we had kept going a bit farther north to Cromarty, we could have hiked to MacFarquhar's Bed, a natural rock arch supposed to have been a smuggler's hideout. The guide told us about that, with a nod to me, and about the pod of bottlenose dolphins that live in the waters around Cromarty. Another item for the future Scotland travel list. I'm thinking that a train trip would be nice, with a bicycle, so that I could get on and off and explore where I wanted, from London to Exeter to see Mandy, and Camilla and the girls, then Gloucester to visit David and Caroline, then up the west coast to Glasgow to visit Bill and Sheila again, perhaps at the time of the World Pipe Bands Competition (August 17-18, 2013), and finally north through the Cairngorms to Inverness. Too many places to go, too little time (and money). But it sounds like fun.

Once out of Inverness, the sun faded entirely, and so only the ghosts of the Cairngorms were visible for a while, but that's another place I'd like to go; more high mountains and deep valleys and wild Scottish moorland. Since we couldn't see anything, and had two hours to drive to Pitlochry for the dinner stop, the guide put on some music. And it was horrible. Instead of traditional Scottish music, it was a bastardized series of cheesy 1970s and 1980s American love songs, made cheesier by their interpretations on this mix CD. Adding a pennywhistle and some vaguely Gaelic drum figures to "Wonderful Tonight" and "Wind Beneath My Wings" does not a Celtic music soundtrack make. I tried my best to ignore the music, and stared out at the glimmers of snow-filled ravines, and dreamed of adventure.

Once at Pitlochry, deserted in the darkness and shut down for the season, except for the few places open for drinks and food, the tour bus unanimously voted to only take a bathroom break and to head back early to Glasgow. In the summer, with the long light evenings, Pitlochry (a very pretty but tourist-driven town, from what I could see) is apparently quite the happening place, but at 6pm on a dark cold Wednesday evening there was no one out on the streets but the people from the tours buses looking for a place to pee.

But for all the grumbling I've done here about the tour, I did enjoy the day, and am glad I didn't put it off. I said that I'd visit the highlands on my next trip to Scotland, and so I did. Now I'll plan the next trip during a time of the year when I can see and do more. Possibly next August ...

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Festive Set Lunch

It was a mostly nice day on the first of the year here in Glasgow, and I thought I would do some more exploring. I was, unfortunately, hindered in this both by my still somewhat sore feet after all the walking in Edinburgh and by the fact that all the bus lines and the subway were shut down. All of them. No public transport on January 1, at all, anywhere. "But Elizabeth," you ask, "don't public transport workers get the right to a holiday too?" And yes of course they do, I answer, but also no, they don't. At least not all at the same time. Maybe it's my days as a public radio person, where you don't just shut off the transmitter and go for a drink, but I think there are some services that need to stay running no matter what. So since my plan of walking fairly far down the Clyde in the sunshine suddenly meant also walking all the way back in what might turn into rain again at any point, I decided to look for something to eat instead. All the supermarkets I came across were closed as well, however, except for the ones with big sacks of basmati rice in the window and tropical fruits in tiered crates out front; good places to buy ingredients but I didn't feel like cooking, or like hauling back anything to the hostel. But as I got near the bus station downtown I walked by a Thai restaurant that looked and smelled very good.

I opted for their "festive set lunch" option and chose to start with the tom yum hot and sour soup, and had stir-fried rice noodles with seafood and chicken after that. But I could have just stopped with the soup, which was excellent and very filling. My digestive system has still not recovered from the excesses of Christmas. I really, truly, need to resign myself to the fact that I Just. Cannot. Eat. Cheese.

There was a Christmas cracker on the table, but I couldn't figure out how to pull it open to make that snapping sound they're famous for. Fatigue was catching up with me after the early-morning bus ride back from Edinburgh. I tore its belly open and drew out my lucky New Year's gift, a pink oversized plastic paper clip. That will actually be fairly useful. I didn't put on the paper crown. The slip of paper had a joke (What happens when a frog parks illegally? He gets toad.) and a fun fact about how in the UK you say tap and in the US you say faucet. I sipped my soothing cup of green tea and listened to the 80s American pop - seriously, Glasgow, get a new soundtrack - on the sound system, and then decided to be extravagant and give in to my fatigue and get a taxi back up to the top of the hill, and go to bed early. And that was New Year's Day in Glasgow.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Needs More Bagpipe

The end of the year is a good time to look back over the past, or so I hear. I did a little reflection yesterday as I walked around Edinburgh, thinking about the fact that the last time I was here I was 16 years old, on a highschool month-long trip led by the Honors English teacher Mr. Merriman, whom we christened "Mr. Grumpy" by the end of the first week or so. I don't remember more than one day in Edinburgh back then, so the visits were about the same duration. I remember climbing up to the top of Holyrood, to Arthur's Seat, and taking a photograph of a thistle on the ground, because it was Scottish. It was the first time I'd been overseas and everything seemed exotic just because of the location. I think I remember seeing the slide of that photograph among the many that I threw away this past summer, its exoticism tempered by time and experience. But on the other hand, the child's eye, the beginner's mind, the ability to stop and take a breath and look around and fully appreciate the wonder of being where you are - that's something to keep.
I didn't climb up the hill this time, though there was a fairly steady line of rain-jacketed folk doing so; the weather wasn't inspiring, and due to the traffic my bus had gotten in later than expected, and there were other things I wanted to do with my time. I went over to look at the Palace of Holyrood House, "the Queen's official residence in Scotland" as the sign on the gate informed me. They were charging admission to get in, and while I considered making the argument that since Clan Farquharson had given the Queen Balmoral Castle, I should be allowed to go in for free, I decided to keep walking up the Royal Mile. We (she says with proper pride) still have another place farther north, Braemar Castle, and I would like to plan a trip back to Scotland in the summer months to explore the highlands and see it.
If you don't live in the castle, you live in the scruffy place across the street, or down one of the narrow alleys (wynds) threading through the buildings on either side of the main street.
I didn't go in to any of the churches, but there are plenty to visit. I stopped to sit for a bit in the courtyard of Greyfriar's Church, home of the iconic "Greyfriar's Bobby," a terrier that faithfully sat vigil at his master's grave for 14 years until he died himself. I can't decide whether that's a touching vision of enduring commitment and love or an example of pointless dedication to something that is dead and gone beyond recall. As it applies to my cheese career, it could go either way. There's a photo/meme going around the internet lately that I like, something about taking the perspective that one step forward and one step back isn't a retreat, it's a dance. Sideways is a good move too, if the only thing stopping forward movement is narrowly but solidly blocking your way.
At the top of the Royal Mile is Edinburgh Castle, a high fortified structure built on an old volcanic plug that has been used to defend the surrounding territory all the way back to the time of the Romans. It's no longer used as a royal residence, but it still gets a lot of tourists, and two of the woman staying here at the hostel who also went over for the day took the tour and said it was very interesting. But I had a mission to find lunch, and a gluten-free recommendation for a place down by the harbor.
I did more walking into more neighborhoods than there are photos; intermittent squalls of rain made me reluctant to get my camera out, and the light was iffy. Edinburgh is a hilly but very walkable place, and the bus system comprehensive even with all the detours for the street fair. I caught one of the lines that head down into the area called Leith, near the harbor, and went to Roseleaf, a funky little place tucked away near a kilt museum (something else for a future visit) that offers gluten-free options for their homemade food. Unfortunately not a lot of it is also dairy-free; though you can get things vegan, most of those are breakfast dishes, and I wanted something more substantial. I ended up getting a nice beef patty, and a pint of Scottish cider. I know, burger and fries is just too, too American of me, but I couldn't help it. The haggis wasn't gluten-free. Though there is a local butcher who makes that dish.
Then it was back to wander around the streets which were becoming increasingly filled with people, and with buskers, and vendors shouting about warm hats and mittens, and with the skies sort of almost clearing off, the temperature was starting to drop. I had my two wool scarves and Papa's Italian gloves, and they were keeping me warm for the moment, so though I was tempted (okay, not really) by the hats formed of fake orange-red frizzy hair topped with a garish red tartan tam o'shanter, I just snugged my scarf closer around my ears and kept walking. There were a few pipers playing in doorways; John had mentioned that one of his nephews, I think it is, had been busking in Edinburgh this week and had made 80 pounds in one afternoon, and I wondered if one of these pipers were he. There was a street performer as an empty-suit mime - wearing a too-large suit, with a hat and glasses suspended above the collar, and I think gloves on wires at the end of the sleeves - and another who was Charlie Chaplin, and The Most-Pierced Woman In The World, according to her claim.
The sun went down, and the alcohol came out. I am not sure if it's legal to drink on the streets in general, or just during a street fair, but there were lots of bottles and cans and glasses of beer and whiskey and anything else you can think of being consumed, and often tossed on the street. It was mostly the young men who were shitfaced first, but as it got later there were more young women in that group, many of them in short prom dresses without coats, barefoot on the icy cobblestones. I went down to the pub where I was to join up with a group at 8pm even though it was only 6pm because it was dark, and getting cold, and since I didn't have a ticket to the céilidh or the street party and fair area, there wasn't much else to do after walking up and down the main road. I'm not much for crowds, or for shouldering my way through masses of people with drinks in their hands, though the fair area seemed more family-oriented, with the carnival rides. I did not want to even think about those carnival rides in conjunction with the inebriated young men I passed, especially not the one ride that swung people on either end of a long arm vertically high overhead in circles.
I walked back up to the castle one last time to see it lit up for the night, and for a quick hit of fireworks - they were doing brief bursts on the hour, leading up to the midnight finale - and then went all the way back down to the bottom of the hill to the Tolbooth Tavern, the official meeting point for the Couchsurfing group. The locals were there at that point, with more people eating up in the area where we were going to meet at 8pm. I asked for a bit of peppermint tea (still dealing with the aftereffects of rich food, oysters, and forbidden dairy [yes, I nibbled some cheese and had a strip of buttery roast turkey skin]), and tucked myself away into the corner of a small round booth to read and people-watch. With my second cup of tea I had a shot of OVD (Old Vatted Demerara) rum, a dark smooth sipping rum from Guyana and a taste of British colonialism.
At 8pm the other meet-up people started to arrive, and while I spent about 15 minutes or so chatting with a young man named Isosceles from the Philippines, just finishing up three months in Scotland for his investment company, I realized that I didn't want to be chatty with anyone else. That, in fact, I am not chatty. I am not a mix-and-mingle sort of person, something that was evident at the wedding a few days ago as well. I could have gone around introducing myself and finding out about people - I often have a "What Would Bea Do?" mantra going in social situations, she being the most unselfconsciously social person I know - but honestly it had no appeal; at the wedding as well I truly was not feeling good, and ending up going home and into bed and falling asleep for 12 hours by about 6pm that night. I wasn't feeling poorly last night, however, and I could have done what Iscosceles did after I started to get ready to go, which was to pick up his drink and go right over to another table and start exchanging names with the people there. I could have even waited until the other two women from the hostel arrived, Mirna from India and Seishi from Japan, both now studying in England. Seishi graduated from Waseda University, although we weren't there at the same time. As a matter of fact, the year I was there was the year she was born. Passage of time, anyone?
I had climbed up to the top of Calton Hill just as the sun was going down, earlier. I'd misread the Hogmanay website and thought that there would be a torchlight procession up to the top of the hill, but that turned out to have been the day before. So I missed the massed bands, which I really wanted to hear. There was just not enough bagpipe music around in this street fair; the musicians on the stage at the céilidh seemed to all be contemporary rock groups, and other than the lone busking pipers shivering on the street, or the piped music coming out of the dozens of authentic Scottish souvenir tartan kilt paperweight tea cozy magnet get your clan history here stores everywhere, all I heard in the shops and restaurants was 80's American pop. I will have to look for events with the music I want to hear, like a pipe band competition perhaps, and see if I can combine that with a trip back up here to visit the ancestral castle, and also Bill and Sheila Garden again. Bill is one of Papa's remaining Scottish cousins, and the only one still living in Scotland. I went down to Beith where they live on Sunday, and they took me out to lunch, and we enjoyed a quiet afternoon's conversation. Sheila's invited me back any time, saying that the guest room is ready.
There will always be reasons to come back, and always reasons to move on and see something new. Part of revisiting a place is thinking about the years that have rolled by; part of planning for the new is hoping for the years that stretch out ahead. More often these days, whether due to physical setbacks or dated references that people around me don't understand, I'm reminded of my age, and that there is indeed a limit to the years I have. It doesn't bother me, but it is starting to spur me to see and do everything I can before I can't anymore. But there's one thing I can cross off my list, now: I've watched the fireworks over Edinburgh Castle welcome the new year in with exuberance, beauty, and light. I will take those three qualities with me into 2013, and enjoy making new memories.