Category Archives: Uncategorized

New book out soon!

Very excited that my book ‘A Life in Mouthfuls: Scottish Food and Drink Memories‘ is very nearly in my eager grasp! Final proofreading being done today, changes to be IMG_3523uploaded to Amazon and then whoopee! We’re off! In homage to my blog efforts of the last few years, I’ve named my publishing imprint ‘The Porridge Press’ – logo on the right designed by my friend Jane.

Self-publishing is a challenge and I’ve spent the last few months working on a website, buying ISBN numbers and generally embarking on steep learning curves, ever onwards and upwards! But we’re nearly there now.

In order to streamline all the online traffic, I’m moving my blog to my website – so from now on, you’ll find my stories at https://www.hlwelsh.co.uk . I hope you’ll come and join me there; I’m really grateful to those of you who have followed ‘A Drawerful of Porridge’ over the years, and especially those of you who sent me comments. It would be really great if we could keep in touch. Not goodbye I hope, but au revoir!

 

Daemons and Comfort Food

I’ve just finished reading Philip Pullman’s new(ish) book, ‘The Book of Dust’. It’s the first part of his ‘Belle Sauvage’ trilogy, and seems to be a prequel to Northern Light, which I guess I read about 10 years ago and still remember the thrill. Especially engaging was the fact that every human character has a daemon – a little animal which is part of you, a constant companion, which accompanies you through all the joys and sorrows of life.La Belle Sauvage: The Book of Dust Volume One (Book of Dust Series) by [Pullman, Philip]

One of the most immediately-attractive things about this book is that it has pictures in it. Lovely black and white illustrations, which took me straight back to the 10-year-old delights of Swallows and Amazons and all the other Arthur Ransomes. Drawings are so evocative; spread through the text, they seem to give you a breather, help you visualise what you are reading and check your understanding. And in their own right they are so downright enjoyable. After half a page of ‘Dust’, I was hooked.

I remember however being encouraged to read books without illustrations – pictures were for babies – you were a big girl, or a clever girl, when you could read a whole book without pictures. What a shame. Nowadays we’re all so much more visually aware so I hope for lots more illustrations in my reading materials henceforth.

DSCN0222.JPGThe hero of this book is 11-year-old Malcolm Polstead, who lives with his parents in an inn on the Thames near Oxford. His mother serves up big hearty plates of old-fashioned food as bar suppers, and to Malcolm at the kitchen table. Steak and Kidney Pudding. Cauliflower Cheese. Rhubarb and Custard. When Malcolm has to endure some pretty gruelling experiences in protecting Lyra from the nasty Child Protection people, it’s the memory of his mother’s cooking that makes him homesick. And sustains him for the perilous journey. Well done, Mrs Polstead. I’m with you.

I’ve just written a book of food memories, entitled ‘A Life in Mouthfuls’, and am teetering towards self-publication. I asked a couple of people to read it and give me an endorsement for the back cover, and here’s some of what I’ve got back so far:slow-roasting tomatoes.JPG

“… brought back happy memories of my own where various meals were associated with family members who are no longer with us. I remember a great aunt who always served us lunch of ‘toad in the hole’. My Grandmother had a particularly good recipe for beef olives!”

“… beautifully reflects what happens around our own kitchen tables, where people come together for company, conversation and peer support.”

Very happy to have evoked some of what Philip Pullman has evoked for me. Will keep you posted re my book! Have a nice dinner tonight.

 

 

 

The Miller’s Tale

Fresh from the sourdough workshop, the Troubadour and I headed south to IMG_1138Dumfries and Galloway for a look around some museums that had been tickling our fancies. This wide, green, rolling corner of Scotland is often overlooked by travellers heading north to south or the other way round – and yet it holds some magnificent rural and coastal scenery, great gardens, and a host of cultural interest.

On the way down we stopped for coffee at Biggar and found, quite unexpectedly, a great wee local museum, run by volunteers, with an amazing collection of artefacts dating from prehistoric times to the 20th century. We especially liked a series of beautifully-crafted models showing cross-sections of local historic buildings like towers and mills and castles. There was also a huge reconstruction of old shops and businesses from Biggar’s main street in years gone by. Well worth the £4 entry fee us bus-pass-holders get to enjoy! And only £5 for the rest of you.

Above righIMG_1162 (2)t is a picture of Sweetheart Abbey, in the village of New Abbey where we were staying. It’s run by Historic Scotland and currently being renovated for safety reasons but dates from the 12th century and has a story about Queen Devorgilla who carried around her dead husband’s heart in a box tied to her waistband. This was seen as an act of great romance and devotion hence the name  given to the Abbey. I don’t get it. I mean – why??? Anyway it’s a picturesque visit with a nice tea shop and great cream scones.

Left is a picture of the 19th century foundations of the stills at Annandale Distillery. It’s a great piece of excavation work, carried out by Glasgow University – you can see very clearly the hearths from the two stills, with the chimney intact at the back. Like many distilleries, it closed in 1918 and then had a number of decades changing hands. The new owners started distilling in 2014 and the newmake spirit and 3 year old, both peated and unpeated, are a delight. ‘Man o’ Words’, the unpeated, invokes our bard Burns who lived and worked in Dumfries for a while, as an exciseman no less; and ‘Man o’ Swords’ invokes Robert the Bruce. In my heart I’m a woman o’words, not o’swords; but I have to confess I preferred the latter in a glass.

Our main intention when booking the break was to visit ‘The Devil’s Porridge’, a museum in Eastriggs near Annan which commemorates the massive armaments factory which was created there to produce cordite for the first world war. Apparently it was the biggest producer of cordite in the world at the time, and whole towns were built to accommodate the 9,000 staff who were needed to run it – 75% of whom were women, under 21, and working class – coming from jobs on farms and in service or other low-paid work. The collection of photos, uniforms, machinery and other artefacts is excellent and there’s a lot of really helpful interpretive information. There are lots of photos of young women delving into vats of cotton fibre, bare hands and up to their oxters in explosive materials. And yet apparently the workers were delighted to be there, earning two to three times their previous wages, enjoying a great social life, and freed from the servitude and lack of opportunity which had been their previous lot. I regret to say that I didn’t take any photos when we were there – partly because it was a bit cramped and the exhibits too big to get a proper viewpoint. But mainly because I had just come from my tasting session at the distillery and wasn’t entirely sober! Great museum though and I thoroughly recommend it.

And finally to the Corn Mill, also at New Abbey. This is run by HiIMG_1165 (2)storic Scotland, and we were shown round by a really enthusiastic local woman who brought its entire history to life for us. Originally it was built to grind oats for the monks at nearby Sweetheart Abbey; but the mediaeval origins are lost and the mill was rebuilt in the 18th century. It only closed for business in 1948. The interior of the mill shows how successive millers innovated and redesigned to ease the back-breaking burden of hauling sacks of oats around. You have to take your hat off to those informal engineers – the skill and dedication it must have taken to devise ways of, for example, hauling those 200lb sacks of oats from the bottom of the mill to the top. And you also have to spare a thought for the children employed in a lot of the heavy, boring, repetitive and dangerous work of the mill. Phew, phew, so lucky to have been born a century later! IMG_1175 (2)

I found the milling story fascinating in the context of my wider familiarity with barley-milling. At my place of work we use a modern mill which deals with half a ton at a time, yet you could only call it dinky in comparison to the massive millstones used at New Abbey for oatmeal. Also, from the sourdough workshop I was well convinced of the benefits of stoneground flour for breadmaking, and aware that there are very few stone-grinding mills left in Scotland. Now I can see why. The picture below shows a millstone imported from France in the height of the French Revolution – apparently it cost the equivalent of £15,000 at the time, and was shipped in segments; so that the miller had to reassemble it in situ. Otherwise it would have been impossible to shift. It seems that Napoleon put trade embargoes on hold in order to clinch this deal! (Please feel free to insert your own Brexit analogies here, I can’t bear to!)

And so my commitment to stoneground flour is renewed – thank you, Historic Scotland – and today’s tasks include cleaning out the fridge and feeding my little sourdough starters. And sorting out the rest of my Dumfries and Galloway photos; and maybe having a wee nip of Man O’Swords!

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Embrace Stickiness

‘Stop doing that with your hands, Helen!’ Jeff, the instructor was calling at me across the other eight apprentices, from the far end of the table. I paused, Lady Macbeth-like, in the endless rubbing of my sticky mitts. ‘Will these poor hands ne’er be clean?’ I nearly said; but Jeff was speaking again: ‘Look at my hands.’ Jeff has lovely hands – big and strong and gentle. I’m not really digressing, honestly. They were covered in a thin pale crustiness. His hands are perfectly suited to the job. ‘These are seasoned hands,’ he told me. ‘Enjoy getting sticky.’

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So, yesterday I spent at a sourdough bread-making workshop at Breadshare in Portobello, Edinburgh, run by Deborah and Jeff, a pair of cheery Australians who haveIMG_1107 (2).JPG brought back meaning to the ancient guild title of ‘Baxter’ – the baker. I’d read about them in the Press as they have really cooked up a storm. Grace Dent, no less, visited them in her recent tour of all things foodie in Edinburgh, and raved about their bagels. (I would like to be Grace Dent when I grow up – well-informed, great sense of humour, cheeky, has a great job. And, oh well, thin.)

There are many things I have learned by reading books (e.g. childrearing – ask the Wunderkind). Results may vary but still, you do your best. Instinct and common sense obviously play their part, but I’m not all that well endowed with the latter. Anyway, yesterday was a great wake-up call to the fact that some skills are better learned hands-on. Sticky.

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I tried just letting the goo adhere, and do you know, it actually worked? Once I rid myself of my unthinking prejudice towards clean hands, I was fine. It was liberating. And more: says Jeff, ‘the table is your friend.’ You don’t need to peel your dough off cleanly each time you shove it around – the table is holding it in place for you so that you can stretch it more easily. And you should have seen the way Jeff coaxed his little pile of raggy dough into a smooth Botticelli-round pillow – it nearly brought tears to my eyes. But, he showed us, if you keep the edges of your hands on the table, and lightly-quickly whizz it around, we could do it too! Nearly. Sometimes. With practice.

In the picture above you can see our pizza doughs resting under clear plastic bowls. We IMG_1111.JPGlet them rise a bit, slapped them down and around, loaded them up with goodies, and baked them for lunch. There’s a tricky point where you have to get them off the tray via a long paddle, or peel, and into the oven. I’m sorry to say mine didn’t survive that process too well, and the toppings sort of fell through the dough onto the oven floor – you could hear the sizzle. It tasted okay but it was definitely at the bottom of the class, looks-wise.

Everything else though was a triumph. Here’s what I brought home at the end of the day:

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a Borodinsky Rye, with 40-year-old Russian sourdough (oh the delight of copious coriander seed!); a seeded sourdough cob; a lovely little square batch; a cob with walnuts and another with walnuts and big fat sticky dates. What a haul. Everything organic. Nothing added. Flour, water, yeast and a few well-chosen goodies. And a tub of rye sourdough and a slightly bigger one of wheat leaven starter, with all the info we need to repeat, at home. Breakfast will never be the same again.

Early Spring

ruta bagaI had an operation on my foot recently (a million thank yous to our brilliant NHS and to the staff of the Golden Jubilee National Hospital, Clydebank, in particular.) So I’m wearing a giant black foam and Velcro shoe-thing, and getting around on elbow crutches. The Troubadour will testify that I’m not the most patient patient in the world; but I have to say it’s been (mainly) lovely to lie back and relax. Doctor’s orders! Toes above nose is the advice, ie foot elevated at all times. I decided not to gross you out with a photo of my foot but instead offer you this delightful rutabaga, which bears a striking resemblance.

Anyway, by week three I was looking for some simple foodie distraction and, needs must, ordered a Tesco delivery which arrived on Saturday morning. I can hirple a little, and squat somewhat; and pivot between the sink, cooker and fridge for short periods. So my little Tesco stash has saved me from frustration meltdown.

Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s ‘Fruit’ book has been inspiring. There’s nothing seasonal in the fruit line at this time of year in Scotland; but of course there are certain staples which never grow here at all, so if I have to spend food miles, that’s the way to spenImage result for images mangoesd them. I’d always recognised this for citrus fruits and bananas; but of course mangos also count.

When I did my volunteer stint in Zanzibar we arrived in the fresh mango season. We were advised not to eat fresh fruit (you can imagine my dismay) because of the risk of malaria and various other tropical diseases. Soon enough I decided my natural immunities would have built up a bit, and gave them a try. Fabulous! That almost sherbetty, tart edge to the voluptuous sweetness! The street vendors sold them ready prepared, so you didn’t have to wrestle with the awkward stones; and they offered you an optional sprinkle of a reddish powder which I eventually managed to understand was a mix of chilli and salt. It was sublime.

HFW recommends the Mango Lassi – Indian in origin although the mango is optional. So I followed his instructions, apart from using ready-prepared mangoes instead of the fresh whole fruit. My justification is that at the best of times, those pesky stones drive me nuts – it’s so hard to separate them from the clinging fruit. Just now, with my crutches, the wisdom of wielding sharp knives on recalcitrant objects is obvious even to me, the original (and clumsy) Health and Safety Refusenik.

Ready-prepared mangoes are brilliant. Neat juicy cubes. But they do bring with them a regrettable amount of plastic. So when I’m up and running again I’ll have to find some nifty tool or whatever. Online I found a blog by Elise Bauer, which suggests canned mango pulp or frozen mango as alternatives. However she goes on to say the canned version is probably sweetened and I definitely want mine salty. I’ll look out for frozen mango, which no doubt also arrives robed in plastic, but probably less so. I find frozen fruit and veg very good in terms of avoiding food waste, so I can compromise with the plastic.

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Put a packet of mango cubes in a liquidiser goblet; add 3 large tablespoons of natural yoghurt, along with a little less iced water. Add a good pinch of salt, and the bashed seeds from 2-3 cardamom pods. Whizz. Job done. Pour into two glasses and enjoy with a friend if you haven’t got a Troubadour.

 

HFW gives specific amounts but it’s pretty obvious you just have to adjust to your liking. Also I discovered that a food processor doesn’t work; I’d assumed they do much the same thing – but you need a liquidiser to – er – make it liquid! Funny how that little gem of knowledge has eluded me all these years. Slainte, everyone! Now I’m away for a wee lie doon.

 

You say tomato. Me too.

Heilroom Tomatoes

This gorgeous collection of tomatoes comes from website ‘The Spruce’, with an excellent article on how to grow tomatoes from seed. I wish I could say they were the well-deserved fruits of my labour, but that would be to pre-empt all kinds of things. After all, this will be my first year of growing tomatoes and I don’t think beginners’ luck comes into it. Instead, I’m relying on the good advice and little gifts of plantlets from my many talented gardening friends. And the Troubadour’s gift of remembering to water and feed. Actually when I write it all down, it doesn’t seem like I personally have much to offer in the tomato-growing field. But hey, I’m keen and will shower them with love and affection, and take lots of nice photos of them as they develop. And serve them with pride.

So why am I planning to grow tomatoes this year; and why am I even thinking about it right now, in the depth of a Scottish so-called winter?

Two reasons: Firstly, let’s get it over with, eeek B****t. Who knows how our food supplies will be affected? It’s all a bit chaotic out there.

Secondly – you can hardly find a home-grown tomato in the shops these days.

There’s a full and fascinating account of the fall of the Scots tomato industry here, by Gordon Davidson in the List – 10 years ago! He finishes by saying ‘if there’s ever going to be a Scottish tomato revival, I doubt I’ll be here to see it.’ How bleak; and prescient.

Various attempts have been made since then and it’s not all doom and gloom. Scotty Brand have set up in Hawick in the Borders, with some success in a range of veggies, including tomatoes. I have actually tasted their tomatoes, weirdly perhaps, through a vodka experiment at the Borders Distillery, also in Hawick. Most laudably, this recently-opened distillery is trying out local produce in combination with their fine new-make spirit. The link above tells the Scotty Brand story in which the sadly recently departed Andrew Fairlie takes a leading role. Rest in peace, Andrew; your legacy lives on.

So for 2019 – I’m going toIMG_0557.JPG avoid Dutch and Spanish tomatoes if I can. Not just because they might stop sending them to us after 29th March! But because, frankly, there’s not much flavour to them. I’m hoping to do better. So I’m spending a lot of time doing this (left) just now – blethering, sorry researching, scribbling things on the back of envelopes and bemusing seasoned tomato growers with the most glaikit of questions. And I’ve bought a frame thingie for the back garden to keep my tomatoes sheltered against the wash-house wall. And I’ve been out there hoeing away the weeds in our freak early spring which we know won’t last. It’s been lovely but I gather it’s not really a good thing. I was charmed to find the ladybirds already out and about among my greenFruit and Vegetables for Scotland: What to Grow and How to Grow It (New Edition)ery, but then chilled to read that this will likely be their undoing, when the normal frosts return.

Finally as usual, I have been reading: I bought a great book which addresses itself to the growing of fruit and veg in our climate – it’s brilliantly detailed without going all techy and nerdy and I’m loving it. [I’ve also bought a much simpler, more basic book called ‘How to Grow Stuff‘ – this one urges everyone with space on a window ledge to get on with it and see how easy it is. I’m reserving judgement on this – being easily distracted, I’ve started many gardening projects in my life with enthusiasm and then forgotten about them so that everything shrivels up and dies for lack of love. It’ll be different this year because the Troubadour and others will help. That’s the plan.

And nothing at all to do with tomatoes, but I was at a postcard fair in Kinross a couple of weekends ago and found this lovely card – below. I believe it is thanking British air crew who dropped food parcels on the Netherlands at the end of the second world war, when thousands were starving during the last bitter months. This I know because I used to cook for a former airman of the bomber command, and he told me about his involvement in these food drops. He was visiting Amsterdam on holiday 40 years later when a woman in the street stopped him, with tears in her eyes, to thank him. And look at the performance of the Dutch veg industry now, notwithstanding my rejection of their tasteless tomatoes! I guess we all need each other.

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Grace and the Gobbler

Photo alert: these are randomly picked from the past as I can’t find a single photo of a turkey in my vast food-photo collection. Funny, that. So instead I’m just posting some seasonal favourites.

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As in every other year at this time, I have spent the last month dreaming up my Christmas dinner. Consulting cookery books for the perfect balance of gourmet delight and ease of delivery. Writing lists, sharing ideas with the Troubadour, crossing out and starting all over again. And now of course the shopping has begun, and the prep is under way – the practice runs and the experiments. I love it. It’s what Christmas really means to me – getting the people I love around the table and sharing nice food and drink and lots of laughs. It’s the stuff of life.

DSCN0184As I may have shared before, however, I have a bit of an antipathy to the turkey. This is despite the fact that it’s a nice low-fat meat, and my own mother used to pluck turkeys at a local farm every December, to bring in a bit of extra cash. I have fond memories of me aged 10 playing around the farmyard while a team of three strong women grabbed, drew necks, hung up the squalling gobblers, and pulled feathers like fury. You’d think I’d embrace the family tradition every year – not necessarily in killing and plucking, but in giving a turkey the loving touch for the festive table.

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Here’s the truth. I got so obsessed over the years with doing the whole turkey dinner absolutely from scratch that I sickened myself, and couldn’t face actually eating the damn thing with its two kinds of home-made stuffing, bread sauce, cranberry and orange compote etc etc. And that made me crabbit. Which is not a good way to come to the table. So I’ve been doing alternatives for many years now, and most of those have worked out really well. Including improved mood on my part.

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This year I will be cooking for eight meat-eaters and four vegetarians. My plan for the meat-eaters was ham. But something happened to me yesterday, as I walked through the door of our delightful local butchers, Cheyne’s; and I found myself interrogating them about the provenance of their turkeys. Yes, turkeys. Since free-range is the only option when I buy a hen, I asked first of all about their Kelly Bronzes. And obviously I’m a bit out of touch with meat prices since I don’t cook a lot of meat at home (again, the Troubadour’s influence). However I was shocked and horrified at the price and after a lot of humming and hawing I compromised all my principles and have ordered a normal, not free-range, fresh turkey (also pretty costly, but half the price of the Kelly Bronze). Eeeek, ouch, crivvens, help ma boab. Guilt re the welfare of the birds, fighting with my inbuilt thrift or maybe you could call it parsimony. I couldn’t in all conscience spend £70 on a turkey. My mother would turn in her grave.

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Today however my equilibrium has been restored because by timely coincidence I opened an email from FareShare asking for donations for people whose Christmas menus might otherwise be constrained to beans on toast. So I’ve given them a wee chunk of my Christmas budget and suddenly it makes perfect sense to scrimp on the free-range credentials. It’s a tough old world out there, and if yesterday, I thought I had a moral dilemma, I’ve suddenly had it put into perspective.FSCN0162

So I’m trusting that all my dear friends coming to me on Christmas day will help peel the sprouts, stir the gravy, ply me with gin, and generally prevent me from going into OCD orbit; and that comfort and joy and good cheer accompany all the little donations that help to spread the gladness. Here’s FareShare’s details if you’re looking for your own little Yuletide Balancer: FareShare Donate

Waxing lyrical

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Recently I mentioned that I wanted to cut down on my use of plastic, especially clingfilm, in the kitchen. I was nervous that it would be impossible because the alternatives might not be great. Well as is often the case, as soon as you dig around a bit you discover a well-trodden path which somehow has eluded you up till now.

It turned out that all I had to do was turn right from my own close and walk a hundred yards down the street – Minerva Blue Crafts was in the middle of setting up workshops to show people how to make beeswax wraps. So I signed up, paying the princely sum of £15. While waiting for the event I had a look around and found beeswax wraps for sale in Lakeland – at a staggering £19.99 for three! I love Lakeland, and if I’m looking to treat myself, that’s often where I go. But it has to be said, sometimes their goods are on the pricey side.

So, come the day of the workshop and I discovered I’d got the date wrong and was working – driving a minibus to Hawick (the new Borders Distillery) and back no less, more of that in my next post – and the next date (yesterday) was already fully booked, so popular are these workshops proving to be. So I’ve booked again, but meantime, to satisfy my curiosity, I dropped in with my camera; here are some shots of Newburgh Women Saving the Planet!

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I haven’t got the proper knowledge yet of how it’s done, but will report back in a future post on exactly how you create these handy wee cloots. They can be used to cover a bowl of leftovers in the fridge, or to wrap up a sandwich to take to work – or, no doubt, lots of other things. I overheard a conversation about wrapping one’s husband up in one; the main attraction being that it takes warm hands to make it fit properly … but maybe that’s an advanced class!

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More detail on all of this at a future date. Meantime, for those of you who follow my blog, let me just announce that I finished my 50,000 word NaNoWriMo challenge on Friday night and posted it in at 5 to midnight! So that’s me with the first draft of a novella in my eager little clutches, and after I’ve recovered from November’s bad posture cramps, eye strain and weight gain, will be trying to figure out what to do with it. Hurrah!

 

 

A lot to be thankful for

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Our corner of Fife, bordering onto the Tay, is very fruitful and there’s been a lot of pickling and potting going on. Above is a bowl of windfall pears I was gifted, and made into chutney. More on that later. Meantime, over the weekend, I’ve enjoyed a bunch of events which were set up as fundraisers so here, for the record, are some details:

At work (Lindores Abbey Distillery) we joined in ‘the world’s biggest coffee morning‘ and raised £250 for Macmillan Cancer Support. Lots of people brought in some home baking and our visitors put a wee donation in the box.

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In the TICC (Tayside Institute and Community Centre) there was the usual Saturday coffee morning which on this occasion was to raise funds to fight our cause to have our railway station reopened: and we raised £600. A couple of weekends ago a small group of us also put on a wee music-and-words event, with the support of the artist in residence, and raised £150 for the same cause. It would be brilliant to have the line open again. The picture below is of a hamper put together by small individual donations – just normal day-to-day stuff that makes all the difference.

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And last night the Troubadour and I attended a concert in Dysart, near Kirkcaldy, to support our singing friend Alan.  We were entertained by two great community choirs – Healthy Harmonies, an NHS staff choir; and Capital Voices, from Edinburgh. The minister made a few introductory comments about having attended ‘Food Crisis Summits’ over the last 20 years – her first was in Botswana in 1998; the most recent in Kirkcaldy. I honestly don’t know what to say about people going hungry in this day and age, either in Africa or in Scotland – or anywhere else for that matter. It’s not just about poverty, it’s about politics. We could all be doing far better in sharing out the bounty. Anyway for the record, those two choirs last night raised £1,200 for the Kirkcaldy Food Bank, and that was a brilliant result.

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Finally – here is a beautiful loaf, handformed and baked like a sheaf of wheat – complete with wee mousie having a nibble. It was made by Barry and his staff, of the Wee Bakery, and gifted to the church for Thanksgiving. I’ll use the words of Robert Burns to sign off and wish you always enough food to enjoy and share:

May the moose ne’er leave your girnal wi’ a tear-drap in its e’e’

Scotland’s other drink

Not Irn Bru; not Lindores Aqua Vitae; and not, of course, Scotch Whisky, single malt or otherwise. All of these are magnificent in their own way and at the right time, but for the moment I’m talking about gin.

There are over 50 gin distilleries in Scotland and some of them are good to visit.  I had the pleasure of a couple of days in St Andrews recently with good friends, and we partook of a little tasting to while away a quiet Monday afternoon. If you look up ‘gin St Andrews’ on social media you will probably find Eden Mill first – and I have to say, that is also a delightful set of gins with a good tour. However we were on foot and strolled into the St Andrews Gin Company‘s bar on South Street. We had booked in advance and our table was waiting for us.

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Our delightful and knowledgeable host Mike conducted us through a very pleasant tasting of their three gins – Pink Grapefruit, Lemongrass and Ginger, and Orange, Cardamom and Tonka Bean. Each was paired with a different Fevertree tonic water; wedges of citrus; and we also had little jars of sprinkles to add as we pleased. These included black peppercorns and cardamom pods. 

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I would never call myself a gin expert but it was really pleasant to take a relaxed and no-pressure hour or so to sample the gins, pay attention to what I was tasting, and try the different additions. I’m pretty sure that as soon as you start sipping, you lose 90% of your faculties to spot any differences – but it’s a very enjoyable way of losing! I liked the grapefruit version very well – it was light and refreshing and knocked back beautifully. Then when I tasted the lemongrass and ginger, I thought that was better – it had a little extra layer of spiciness which I really enjoyed; and the black peppercorns gave it a grand wee bite. By the time we came to the final gin, the Orange, Cardamom and Tonka Bean, my taste buds were confounded by (a) obviously, the fact that I already had two good measures inside me; and (b) Mike’s comment that this was his personal favourite and in the company’s view, the most sophisticated of the three. Now you’re not going to sit there in your middle-aged bliss and argue the toss with a fine young man dispelling good cheer, are you? Shallow, I know. A couple of weeks later I couldn’t say whether I preferred the lemongrass or the orange, though I think I liked them both a bit better than the grapefruit. They were all lovely and this is why I will never be a sensory expert!

After our tasting we had a first-class haddock and chips and mushy peas, chosen from a good fresh bar menu; and our whole afternoon – tasting and lunch – cost £19 which we felt was excellent value.

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We’d had a great walk on the beach before the tasting, with Rosa the cockapoo-wannabee-mermaid; and afterwards we hit the charity shops which are definitely a cut above – it comes of having the most affluent students in the land living there half the year and clearing their wardrobes out at the end of every term. So you see, it’s not all golf, Wills and Kate in St Andrews. Other flavours are available.

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