Sunday, October 26, 2008

Edinburgh: Changed Priorities Ahead

So I have gathered unto myself
All the loose ends of Scotland,
And by naming them and accepting them,
Loving them and identifying myself with them,
Attempt to express the whole.
Hugh MacDiarmid, "Scotland" Selected Poems (1992)

Patty and I walked our feet down to stubs the last two days in Edinburgh. Good thing we were conditioned from our walk across England.

We toured the inside of Edinburgh Castle, built on that rock that has been inhabited by some people or another for the last 8000 years. The Abbey ruins and palace at Holyrood. The Museum of Scotland where we checked out the history of the Jacobite rebellion and learned Scotland had once been close to the South Pole. The National Gallery of Art. We went back to Clarinda's, our favorite tea spot.

We took a gazillion pictures of the castle inside,

and out.

Another gazillion of the abbey ruins at Holyrood, inside...

and out.

In the evening we took in another view from our hotel window, this time from a little inn, Melvin House, off the beaten path.

On the last morning before catching our flight back home, I took a walk by myself to say goodbye to the bit of the city that had given us much to think about. It was one of those overcast, off and on drizzly Edinburgh days we had known and grown to love. I walked again through Princes Garden and took one last photo of the castle.

Along Princes Street to take in the skyline of the Old Town.

Walking back in the direction of Melvin House, I was a wee bit lost. Well, I was verra lost until I came across a street sign we had puzzled over the day before.

Looking around, there is no clear meaning of the sign, no construction, no clear traffic changes. Hm-m-m. Might it have some philosophical implications?

Back home, I mulled over the changed priorities thing. I needed to make some change, and finally Patty gave me an idea. Now, every night at 7:00 I put down whatever I'm doing and go to my cozy chair and read. Not just that 10-15 minutes before one falls asleep or those few hours on a flight. I'm on the fifth volume of the Outlander series, and working my way down that stack of books waiting to be finished.

This is the last of our Hadrian's Wall Walk and Edinburgh stories. I finish with the same sadness with which I left Edinburgh. To those who have read these stories, I would say,

Travel, even if just to a nearby burgh.
Look for adventure, even going to the Farmer's Market.
Meet new peoples.
Get out of the car or tour bus and onto your feet.
Learn the history of what you see.
Change a priority.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Looking for a new opportunity to give to others less fortunate than you? At Kiva, you can make a $25 microloan to a struggling entrepreneur in a third world country. When the entrepreneur pays the loan back - which usually happens! - you can decide to take your money back or loan it to another entrepreneur. The Kiva website lets you pick your entrepreneur and pay your $25 online with credit card or PayPal.

I mean really, how cool is that? 3435 peeps signed up to be lenders this week; a total of $979,900 was loaned - just this week! We signed up to loan money to Feride Agayeva, a 48-year old lady in Azerbaijan who runs her own home products store. Her total loan request was $1,000 to be used to buy more products for her store.

I bet you can also find someone on their site to lend $25 to. Come on, it'll do your heart good.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Chocolate chip scone recipe

In her last post, Kathie had a link for scones. Ooh, I love scones with a nice cup of tea, although those rock buns at Clarinda's were really yummy too.

Anyway, a couple of years ago, I got a wild hair and hunted up the following recipe for chocolate chip scones. Even I can't ruin these, and believe me - that's saying something. I baked up a batch for the weekend nurses on PCU and they loved 'em (or else they were just being nice to an old lady, which I wouldn't put past them!).

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F and line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

2 cups all purpose flour
1/3 cup sugar
2 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 cup chilled unsalted butter
1/3 cup mini chocolate chips (I like the dark chocolate chips)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1 large egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon heavy cream (this last is for brushing on the scones before baking)

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt. Cut the butter into small pieces and blend it into the dry mixture with a pastry blender or 2 knives. The mixture should look like coarse crumbles. Add the chocolate chips and stir in.

In a small measuring cup, combine the whipping cream, beaten egg, and vanilla. Add to the dry mixture. Stir until just combined - do not overmix!

Knead the whole thing gently on a lightly floured surface. Pat the dough into a 7" circle about 1-1/2" thick. Cut the circle into 8 triangles or into rounds with a cookie cutter. Place the scones on the paper-lined cookie sheet and brush their tops with the egg/cream mixture. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until they're lightly browned.

I suppose if you want to be healthy about it, you can try substituting 1/3 cup dried red tart cherries, 2 tsp grated lemon peel with 1 tablespoon poppy seeds, or 1/2 cup raisins and 1/2 tsp cinnamon for the chocolate chips. Reduce the cooking time to 15 minutes though. And I can't vouch for these substitutions because I don't believe in being I haven't tried making them.

The next time I make scones I'm going to try this recipe that I stole from some website for fake Devonshire (clotted) cream...

3 oz. cream cheese at room temperature
1 tbsp sugar
1/8 tsp salt
1 cup whipping cream

Combine the first three ingredients in a large bowl. Stir in the whipping cream. With a mixer, beat the mixture until it's stiff.

Looks pretty easy to me. Now that cooler weather is here, I might have to fire up that oven. After all, it is about time for the annual lighting of the stove...

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Late in the afternoon of trekking up and down Edinburgh's Royal Mile, Joan, Patty and I stopped into Clarinda's, a tearoom close by the Canongate Kirk, for "cream tea". Clarinda's is a cozy, wee place with lace tablecloths, antiquey pictures on the wall, and the sort of ladies serving our tea that one could imagine in the back kitchen baking up scones and brewing tea. I supposed Clarinda owned the place, maybe even she was serving us.

I like Joan's picture better. She has a way of getting the whole story in one picture.

Cream tea is not the milk in your tea British drink, but rather tea with scones spread with clotted cream - not butter mind you, and strawberry - not raspberry - jam. By the time we sat down they were out of scones and I settled for a rock bun which was verra tasty.

Back home reading some Edinburgh history, I came across the real Clarinda. She was Agnes MacLehose, a genteel young married woman from Glasgow and daughter of a physician, whose violent husband went off to Jamaica and abandoned her, or perhaps she decided she didn't want to hang with the guy anymore. She went to live in Edinburgh where she met young Robert Burns, an up and coming poet by this time, and they fell in love. Well, let's say they had an amorous affair. He was a handsome guy who strolled beneath her window in his buckskins and riding whip, hoping she would look out and see him. Shortly, though, he was laid up in Edinburgh for six weeks after his coach overturned. (This story would make a good movie.) While recuperating from his leg injury he and Clarinda began to write passionate letters to each other. To disguise their letters, he took the name of Sylvander and she became Clarinda. Cad that he was, Robert returned to his farm and married his girlfriend who, coincidentally, had borne his twins two years earlier; her maid had also had a child by Robert!

Let me not digress from the Robert and Clarinda tale however...over the next four years, both married (he likely still womanizing), they continued letter writing, and she was the Clarinda in his poetry.

"Clarinda, mistres of my soul,
The measur'd time is run!
The wretch beneath the dreary pole
So marks his latest sun.

To what dark cave of frozen night
Shall poor Sylvander hie;
Depriv'd of thee, his life and light,
The sun of all his joy?

We part-but by these precious drops,
That fill thy lovely eyes,
No other light shall guide my steps,
Till thy bright beams arise!

She, the fair sun of all her sex,
Has blest my glorious day;
And shall a glimmering planet fix
My worship to its ray?"

Sigh! No wonder Bob Dylan names Burns as his biggest inspiration.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Edinburgh: Knockin' on Heaven's Door

Toward the end of our first day trekking the Royal Mile, we came across the Canongate Kirk (church) and cemetery with a stunning view, old headstones, and this door on the church's east side. Of course, I had to take a picture of the red door. Check this site for a picture of the front of the wee kirk and the beautiful interior which, unfortunately, we didn't get to see.

If cemeteries could talk, this one would have a lot to say. When I came home, I checked out who is buried there. A cemetery around since 1688 has plenty time to collect some notable bodies. The list reads like a Who's Who of Edinburgh - painters, musicians, writers, scholars, mayors, and lords. Naturally some spicy scandals accompany the notables. Here are just a few of the interred...

George Drummond
, Lord Provost of Edinburgh, laid the foundation of the North Bridge, fought at the battle of Prestonpans. The guy was born in 1687 and would have been 58 at the time of this battle. He was on the side of Johnny Cope, fighting those pesky Highlanders. :)

Adam Smith, that famous economist and free market Reaganite who wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776. Was he perhaps a plagiarist? His statue was unveiled in front of St. Giles Kirk just days before we came to Edinburgh.

George Chalmers, originally a plumber, founded Chalmers Hospital. Maybe there's hope for our Joe the Plumber.

John Frederick Lampe, one of my favorite guys here, was Handel's bassoon player in opera houses in the early 1700's.

Young Robert Fergusson, poet. Often sickly, he died at the age of 24 years in a public insane asylum. Likely he had manic depressive disorder complicated by spending too much time in those Scottish pubs. He fell down stairs in a drunken state and died a few weeks later. Robert Burns visited his grave site a year later and on reaching the grave uncovered his head, knelt down and embraced the earth. He put up a monument to the young Fergusson, inscribed as follows:

"No sculptur'd Marble here, nor pompous lay,
No storied Urn nor animated Bust;
This simple stone directs pale Scotia's way
To pour her sorrows o'er the Poet's dust."

Joan caught a picture of the poet's statue outside the kirk, a wee short lad he must have been.

David Rizzo, Mary, Queen of Scots' personal secretary. He was murdered by Mary's husband, Lord Darnley, and a bunch of noble thugs in front of pregnant Mary, stabbed 56 times. (We saw the spot in Holyrood where this happened.) Within a few hours he was buried in the back yard of the Holyrood Palace just down the street from the kirk. His body was moved at least a couple times before finally ending up in the Canongate Kirk.

And, lastly (for this story, that is), dear Clarinda, sweetheart of Robert Burns is buried here. But hers is a story for another day...

Wouldn't you like to be here in the Canongate cemetery on All Hallow's Eve? Maybe chat a bit, swap some stories?

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Room with a View

"But Edinburgh is a mad god’s dream
Fitful and dark
Unseizable in Leith
And wildered by the Forth.
But irresistibly at last
Cleaving to sombre heights
of passionate imagining
Til stonily,
From soaring battlements
Earth eyes Eternity."
(Hugh MacDiarmid, The Complete Poems, 1978)

Back to Edinburgh now that Patty has finished her account of our foot travels across England...actually this story came from our first day in Edinburgh before we started on our trek.

Joan, Patty, and I flew all night from Charleston to New York to Edinburgh, arriving early morning, and naturally our room was not ready. We elected to stay at a hotel on the Royal Mile to be able to walk out the door into the footsteps of all those illustrious Scots -- Robert Burns, Adam Smith, Bonnie Prince Charlie -- well, his illustriousness is questionable -- Mary, Queen of Scots and, aye, Jamie Fraser.

"We'd like a room with a view", I told the desk clerk.

Reassured we could have a room later in the afternoon, we left our bags in Hisako and Tetsu's room and set out on foot down to Holyrood, up to the Castle, looking for Grassmarket, back up to look for Greyfriar's Kirk, stopping for afternoon tea at Clarinda's (more on Clarinda later), and finally dragging ourselves back to the hotel about 4:00.

Our room was ready. Determined, I asked the clerk again, "Does it have a view?"

And what a view... looking south to the heights of Arthur's Seat,

To the north, looking over the Mary Poppins roofs to Calton Hill with Nelson's Monument and the unfinished National Monument -- the money ran out in 1829 -- meant to honor Scottish soldiers killed in the Napoleonic Wars.

And our view of Patty's backside, hanging out the window. She couldn't get enough of that Edinburgh view.

Rear view photo by Joan

Sunday, October 05, 2008

They Would Be Giants

I have a few more stories of Edinburgh to catch up on, but a story came out of this weekend's visit to Missoula, Montana, to see my wee bairns.

Saturday was a cool, fresh day, with a touch of rain, reminding me of the wonderful walking weather in England. My daughter, Jennifer, lassie Isabella and I made our usual trip to the Missoula Farmer's Market, truly a "feast" for the eyes as well as later for the bellies.

Beautiful red onions...

White onions...

Cauliflowers and cabbages the size of basketballs...

And a "now thar's a beet" beet...

I had noted a large number of Hmong (pronounced Mong) farmers on the last trip to the market in June -- they had delicious truffles picked from the forest. This time I asked Jennie on the way back to the car about the Hmong in Missoula -- seemed to be an unusual place to relocate.

"It must have been because of the weather", Jennie said.

"I don't think so", I responded. Missoula has two seasons -- winter and July -- and people from tropical jungle wouldn't be particularly drawn to the weather. Must be something else, I said to myself.

Soon after arriving home today, I sat down at the Internet to check out my suspicions, and found the connection to, what else, Missoula's famous Smoke Jumpers, those guys who jump out of airplanes into a forest fire. Now, if I were going to locate a place in the country where you could find guys willing to do this kind of thing, it would be Montana.

About 200 Hmong live in Missoula, most making a living by farming as they did in Laos. The guy responsible was Jerry Daniels, a Missoula smokejumper who went on to spend nearly ten years in combat with the Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese and the CIA's connection to the leader of the Hmong tribal army in Laos. A larger than life kind of guy.

An amazing story behind giant beets, cabbages and cauliflowers.