Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Border Tart

Among the things I did over the last couple months which I meant to blog about, but never got around to, was the celebration I had for White Rose Day. I bought white roses for my table, broke my fast on tea and scones, with clotted cream. (The clotted cream was a huge treat. I had only ever eaten it in Scotland, because I could not find it here. But it turned up on the shelves of the local Grocery Outlet, and I pounced on it with glee and jubilation.) For dinner, I cooked up a bit of haggis, neeps, tatties, and a wee bit of steak in case the company I invited (in this case, my brother and several sisters.) did not enjoy the great chieftain o' the puddin' race. Fortunately, most of them like it quite well, and those who were not crazy about it, did not dislike it, and so it was eaten entirely. We finished with the customary toast to the King Over the Water - a neat little ceremony. One simply raises one's glass, says, "To the King!" and passes the glass over a cup of water before taking a sip from it. It was a lovely day.

For dessert, there was a border tart. I got the recipe out of a really beautiful cookbook which I received a couple years back, for Christmas. Scottish Heritage Food and Cooking it is called, a beautiful book, full of pictures. Some of the recipes are a bit hoity-toity (and one calls for avocado which is most emphatically not Scottish.) Still, there are a sufficient number of quite manageable dishes, so I have enjoyed trying my hand at the occasional recipe. It is this book right here:


The Auld Alliance crust is probably the best and easiest pie crust recipe I have ever come across: Cream together 10 tbsp butter and 1/4 cup sugar. Add 2 cups flour and 1 egg. Mix until just combined - do not over-work the dough. Be lazy with it! Chill dough until ready to use. It is light, flaky, and very tasty. I shall never use another pie crust recipe again. 

I did make a few changes to the filling. I could not find currents anywhere. Perhaps I am looking in all the wrong places. Perhaps there just is not a great demand for currants in my neck of the woods. I used raisin instead, and it tasted just dandy. Even the sister who does not like raisin agreed that they are good in this recipe. And, for some reason, I had an excess of almonds when I set out a-baking, so there were almonds as well as walnuts in the tart. 

Here I am, setting the tart out to cool. Yes, I really am wearing an apron that looks like a kilt with a sporran and Prince Charlie Jacket. It was the gift of a cousin who knows me well. The sporran is actually a pocket.

And here we have the finished tart, in all its glory. It tasted as good as it looks, and it is so very easy to make:

As a side note: this is also a very versatile recipe. You may use just about any sort of nut and dried fruit mixture that strikes your fancy, and it still turns out quite nicely. I know. I've been experimenting. It is wonderful when it is still warm from the oven, and it is also very nice the next day, taken cold. It is the ideal dish to take to a dinner or a pot luck, because it looks like farm more work than it is :-)

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Hermit Emerges From Her Cave

We hermetical sorts need to have a place to which we retire for a reprieve from the world - much as Batman has is Cave, and Tony Stark has his workshop, and Steve Rogers his gym with its never ending supply of punching bags. A period of retirement to the Hermitage does wonders for one's outlook. And now that I have emerged I have discovered.... that there seems to be an unconscionable number of many-legged, exoskeletal creatures bugging about the domicile these days. The entomological portion of the invasion are largely inoffensive, and their chief aim in life appears to be the finding of a sheltered spot in which to die. Take the Mosquito Eaters (aka: Crane Flies) who appear, one or two a night, and who spend several hours dancing in the airs that circulate in the corners of the ceiling until they drop down dead from all the excitement. At least, I am guessing it must be something like that, for I keep finding their corpses each time I sweep the floor. (And I am something of an obsessive floor-sweeper.) Then there are the curious little brown beetles, who mostly slip in, each one by its lonesome, to whir about my ears just before I fall asleep and then go off to die in the corner, beside the Mosquito Eaters. However, there was one evening, a couple weeks back, during a nasty hot spell, when I opened  my front door in the vain hope of letting in a refreshing breeze. Apparently a whole family of brown beetles had been laying in wait for just such a move on my part, and by means of a curiously varied serious of locomotions - part crawling, part short-distance, low altitude flight, part leap-frogging over one another - they all proceeded to tumble about my floor. One wee brown beetle does not disturb me greatly, but that miniature swarm was most upsetting. I spent a rather hysterical 30 seconds telling them, "Out! Out!" as though I were shooing away a dog, and encouraging their departure with the vigourous application of a broom.

Still, by and large, the bugs and I are tolerant of each other. It is the arachnid portion of the exoskeletal invasion that is causing me the most distress. I have a deep-seated horror of spiders. Yes, yes, I have heard all the pep talks about spiders being mostly harmless to Man, and indeed, beneficial in controlling the population of other, more undesirable pests. "Spiders," I remember a grade-school science book informing me cheerfully, "are our friends." But they are so dreadful, with their compound eyes, and their eight creepy legs, their mandibles, their webs of death, their disturbing mating practices, not to mention the way they suck the fluids out of their prey. I do appreciate them doing their bit to keep down the population of mosquitoes and house-flies, but I look at the little horrors and I do not see a friend. I see the enemy of my enemy, who is unnatural in his habits, and likely as not to turn and employ his unnaturalness upon me.

Unfortunately, my house seems to attract spiders - and very industrious ones too. I left a pair of shoes out one night, and by morning, one of them had a thick mass of web spun inside, with a predatory brown creature gazing balefully up at me from his hidey-whole in the corner. Weeks will go by, and only a small arachnid, or possibly two, will make brief appearances, and then, some silent message goes out, and I find spiders of all sizes and colours crawling about and putting webs up at an incredible rate. Then I engage in a full-fledged war of extermination. I hunt them down, and kill them - mostly by means of trapping them beneath coffee mugs until they roll on their backs with their legs curled up... I cannot abide the sound or the sensation of squishing the things. Then I destroy their nasty, nasty sticky webs, both inside and outside. I go from being a tidy person to being a raging clean-freak, leaving no corner unswept, no surface undusted. And then... they leave again, the horrible things, and life is good. But for right now, the spiders and I are at war with each other, and thing came to a rather dramatic head last night. I had the front door open, as I often do on summer evening (leap-frogging beetles notwithstanding) and the outside light was on so that the insect life would be drawn to it and not to my living room. (Yes, that sounds silly, but it mostly works) It was a beautiful cool night, and I stood for just a minute upon the sill, to breath deeply of the air, and.... God help us! There was the most enormous spider's web that I had ever clapped eyes upon.

Now, for this story to make sense, you must all keep it firmly in mind that my house is shaped like an 'L'. There is a bit of a patio area that runs along the front, and the roof comes down in an over-hang supported by a series of wooden beams. The door is in the corner of the 'L' and as you look out it, the bedroom wall is on the left with a window in it, and to the right you see one of the wooden beams. The whole front entry-way is no more than about three feet square, and right there running from support beam, to bedroom window, and from over-hang roof, nearly to the ground, was an enormous web - a huge, perfect spiral web, the sort everyone thinks of when they think of spiderwebs, but much, much bigger. And there in the center of it, in the midst of creation, was the spider herself. The outside light was shining behind her, and she stood out, brown and gigantic, every detail of her sharply illuminated. She was, running about the webbing, spinning silk, and fiddling about with all eight of her legs. Everything about the scene, from the web to the spider, was nightmarishly large, and all of it, a scant 3 free from where I stood, bare-footed and pajama-ed.

I stared at the thing, making sounds of horror and distress, until my sister came to see what ailed me. She liked the view no better than I did, and we wasted a few moments in staring and shuddering and discussing what exactly one does in such a situation. We elected to do what seemed to be the only logical thing. I picked up the yellow, plastic watering can that stood there by the door, and tossed it at the web. Well, it flew through straight through, leaving a mess of tattered silk behind, and the spider fell right down, landing in one of the patio flag stones, its eight legs out, all tense and ready to spring... and then some Creature of the Night - I know not if was a bird of prey, flapping down off a tree, or the neighborhood raccoon on the prowl - made a great sound of movement from somewhere off in the darkness to the right, and we two courageous ladies came tumbling back into the house. The sister slammed the door closed, and locked it, and dead-bolted it, so that we would be safe from any direct attack from either Spider or Creature of the Night.

We cowered behind the solid slab of wood that stood between us and the Terrors of the Night, but no sound of movement could we hear, no bird call, nor the shuffle-snuffle of a hunting raccoon. Gradually the fear of the unseen Creature of the Night went away, and we were left with the dilemma of what to do with the enormous arachnid. It was too warm a night for the sealing up of doors and windows, and the thing was definitely alive. Spiders have a nasty habit of rebuilding webs, which in the case meant that there was a very real danger of the beastie coming in through the bedroom window, which was too horrible to contemplate. And even if the domicile itself was not invaded, it would likely re-construct the Web To End All Webs, and neither of us was keen to be confronted with that on the way to work in the morning. So we unbolted the deadbolt, unlocked the door, opened it a wee crack and peered out together.

The beastie was still there, looking as monstrous as ever. We wanted it dead. Neither of us was any good at stomping on spiders. Neither of us wanted to get close enough to place the coffee mug of death over it. For some reason, killing it with a practice sword seemed like the best option. Do not ask why. It was late. We were both rather jittery from the shock of the web, the spider and the Creature of the Night. We were both horrified by the notion of that enormous spider living in our house. I keep my swords, for convenience (and against the highly unlikely event of an attack by a raging sociopath) beside the door, so the decision was not quite so random as it seems. The sister attempted it first, making little rushes at it through the door, only to leap back with a squeak of alarm each time she felt the thing through the capped-off point of the practice foil. I eventually dispatched it myself, while the sister encouraged me loudly to "Stab it with the sword!" (Here's hoping none of the neighbors heard that.) And lest it should still have life within it (by this time, it had taken on the aspect of a veritable Shelob in our minds) we covered it with a cup so that there was no chance whatsoever of it moving in with us, and withdrew to the safety of our undefiled abode.... where neither of us had a very restful night, being both of us afflicted with the feeling that many-legged things were crawling on us, followed by spidery nightmares.