Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Rabbie Burns, Ye Sly Auld Bas

Nathan and I lived in Scotland for a year right after college. There we learned many things: how to decipher Scots language, use words like "wee," "dram," and "rubbish" without feeling like "fannies," and all about the Robert Burns Supper. We've been meaning to throw one here since we returned, but the 25th sneaks up so quickly after Christmas that it has always been forgotten until too late.

This year, however, I thought of it the first week of January, just in time to order some oatcakes, find the lone store in all of Chicago that sells haggis imported from Scotland, and have Nathan's mom send his kilt. Oh yes, you read that correctly, his kilt.

Robert Burns Night is celebrated on or around January 25th, which is Robert Burns' birthday. He is a much-beloved Scottish poet, long dead. He wrote hundreds of poems, most famously "Auld Lang Syne." He also wrote an "Ode to a Haggis." His celebratory evening is quite the event, and we "did it up."

We had 12 people to a six course meal. People arrived in plaid and even one homemade kilt. We began with a welcome speech, toasted the memory of auld Rabbie, and piped in the haggis. Nathan did a lovely rendering of the poem above. We plan to work on our intonations for next year so we'll sound more authentic (like this guy) for next year.

We planned the menu to include all the Scottish dishes you would normally find a Robert Burns Night. We started with traditional Cock-a-Leekie soup (chicken and leeks and, strangely, prunes). Next, on to the salad course, complete with Drambuie Vinaigrette.

One of our guests recited a poem he had written in Scots (starts at 3:30). Next we had a cheese course served with oatcakes, then on to the haggis, roasted neeps and tatties (turnips and potatoes), green beans, and roasted chicken.

Another guest and his wife gave the Toast to the Lassies and the Toast to the Laddies (starts at 4:22), which were that perfect balance of funny and touching. Finally, we finished with Chocolate Scotch Cake and Edinburgh Fog (basically whipped cream with Drambuie).

It was a "stoatin nicht" in Burns honor. Many, many toasts (and quite a few toasted guests as a result), lots of laughs, and a great meal. Cheers!

Monday, January 24, 2011

Friday, January 21, 2011

Another Foreign Futbol Game (Turkey)

As we leave the apartment, Sean finishes wrapping his black and white scarf around his neck and turns to us. "Everyone wearing team colors?"

I look down at my black shirt with a start. Uh, I guess. I didn't know it mattered that much. Apparently, it does because Sean and his Turkish friend from work later convince a friend visiting from Eugene that he needs to change his shirt. Though he's wearing navy blue with yellow, which are the colors of a rival team that's not even playing in the game tonight, Sean and the girl are convinced that this bearded American guy in the Che hat is going to be beaten down by an unruly soccer mob if he's seen in a navy shirt. It takes a lot of convincing because this harmless guy cannot fathom this happening.

Nathan and I, on the other hand, lived across from a soccer stadium in Scotland and regularly saw the fan riots, and are not difficult to convince. We meet in a courtyard not far from the stadium which is filled with men happily drinking, cheering, and singing the various Besiktas fight songs. The din gradually increases as a large group surges past in a parade toward the stadium. Apparently it's the club fans following the van of players who have just been driven by the courtyard.

An old woman is steadily selling beer from a wheelbarrow filled with ice next to me. The din grows as someone begins playing a pan-pipe. A drunken guy begins to bob and weave. It seems to be a dance. His equally drunk girlfriend pulls her team scarf from her neck and holds it above her head. He grabs an end. They spin and kick, bobbing their heads and snapping their fingers in time (mostly) to the music, each holding an end of her scarf. Someone sets off flares. A man stands holding a flare in each hand. He begins singing and everyone joins in. It is, of course, a bunch of undecipherable words. But they are said with great feeling.

Later, at the game, seated in the top row of the huge stadium with a giant cloud of cigarette smoke hovering just above our heads, the continuous chanting ebbs and flows around us. It takes nothing more than a referee whistle toot to rile the crowd into a frenzy. At one point, the stadium seats seem to fill with white balloons as whole sections blow them up and hold them, popping them simultaneously upon receiving some unseen signal. The game itself is relatively boring, both teams well-matched.

Nathan grimaces as a man lights up a Turkish cigarette and moves to a seat just in front of him.  Sean is sitting in front of us, talking anarchy with the glassblower from Oregon. He is impervious to the smoke, the dull roar, and the soccer game. Meanwhile, Nathan has taken to roaming the back wall, trying unsuccessfully to escape the chain smoking fans surrounding us.

A call from the ref preventing the Besiktas goal from being counted elicits catcalls and cursing from the crowd. The last two minutes are exciting as the score is tied and there is now a fire lit under the fans and in their team. The cheering reaches a fevered pitch as Besiktas takes two or three more shots on goal, but to little success. The game ends in a tie.

Still, they haven't lost, and everyone seems in satisfied spirits. No euphoria, but no anger either. As the rival team and their throng file off the field they are surrounded by policemen in full riot gear forming a screen of plastic shields overhead, and someone half-halfheartedly throws a bottle. It falls far short of the target. We join the river of fans streaming through the gates out into the streets.

We wander through a darkened park, heading toward the lighted patio of a hookah bar in the distance.

Friday, January 14, 2011

I Wish It Were Spring

1. Lovely print to remind me to greet the returning birds, $18
2. Bright and sunny shoes to air out my toes, $29.99
3. Cheerful vase for those first spring flowers, sold out
4. A swingy dress for basking in the sun, $228
5. Live succulent wreath for the front door, $145
6. Cork board map with pins to track my spring road-trips, $24
7. The perfect chic camera bag and purse combo, $89

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Triple Chocolate Happy Birthday with Ganache on Top

This hardly looks like a spur of the moment birthday gift does it?

Except for cooking time, of course, the whole thing took me less than an hour. I am a HUGE fan of using chocolate ganache as icing. It is really really easy to make from scratch and it tastes oh so much better than buttercream, plus you can easily vary the amount since it is a 2:1 ratio of dark chocolate chips to heavy cream (example: 1 1/2 c. chocolate chips to  3/4 c. heavy cream, which is what it took for this cake).

Monday, January 10, 2011

Wednesday, January 5, 2011


You know, it's rare that I find my correctly spelled name used in media or even on those keychains at rest stops, so when I do finally see it, I get rather excited. The unfortunate thing with an uncommon name, however, is that every use for a character name sticks pretty solidly in your memory.

The children's book where the kids had a pet goose named Hanna, I still remember clearly. Hanna dies, by the way. She always does. Nothing seems to doom a character so surely as naming her Hanna without an "h" at the end.

So I had mixed feelings when I encountered this upcoming movie today. While I do like the tag line, "Adapt or Die, " (so much so, actually, that I am considering tag lining my signature with it from now on. Although I would hope people would read it as they should adapt to me or die, not that I am willing to do the adapting.), I feel a little unsettled with this character sporting my rather uncommon first name.


Though this actually looks like a good movie, I don't know if I will be able to bring myself to watch it. After all, with that surname, she's bound to die at the end.