Tag Archives: scotland

Haggis & Highland Games

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Smoked haggis! And no, i do not know what the sauce is, they called it “Scottish sauce” and I think it might have been vaguely related to HP sauce.

For as long as it’s been since I visited Scotland (too, too long!), I didn’t expect that the next time I watched Highland games it would be in Western New York. And yet, the weekend before last, I stuffed myself full of haggis and watched grown men send tree trunks flying through the air.

I heard about the Buffalo Niagara Scottish Festival from my mom, who had read about it in the Amherst Bee. A couple moments of hyperventilation and many frantic Facebook messages later, I was on my way to Buffalo with plans to meet up with a friend and her family for an afternoon of fun and a mild dose of Celtic spirit.

wpid-0815151419a.jpgThe festival was held at the Buffalo Niagara Heritage Village, which is a pretty cool place way out in the swampy wilderness of Amherst. I haven’t visited the village aside from this trip, but what the museum has done is take old houses from around Western New York and preserved them on a plot of land where they can be toured and enjoyed. It was a fantastic backdrop to the afternoon, and at some point I want to try and go back to check it out on its own.

wpid-0815151320.jpgAfter filling up on haggis and a pint of Belhaven, my friends and I wandered over to the caber toss – the aforementioned throwing of giant, tree-trunk sized pieces of woods, each weighing (if I recall the announcer’s description correctly) just under a hundred pounds. As each beam was flung through the air, the crowd held its breaths, waiting to watch it go end over end. Once we’d watched both the caber toss and the hammer throw (done by professional exhibition athletes, not just guys who walked in off the street) for a while, we wandered through the vendors and checked out what they had for sale. Wares ranged from cookbooks and kilts to the skulls of mythological creatures. I managed to hold myself back from making a purchase; my friend picked up a Nessie soup ladle and a cookbook with a recipe for haggis that sounded a lot more appetizing than the one in my miniature Scottish cookbook wpid-0815151342.jpgfrom my grandmother’s house. (Hint: mine calls for bits of the sheep that are not included in my friend’s recipe. I’m hoping to get a copy of hers, authenticity be damned.) While I’d planned to get my hands on a scotch egg as a snack, by the time I was ready to eat again (that haggis was pretty filling) it was hot enough out that I went for a gelato, instead. By that point, the stage had filled up, and a band of kilted musicians was in full swing. There was an area for ceilidh dancing, but alas – my back was getting a bit sore by this point, so I decided not to risk incurring its wrath.

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Okay, fine, not ALL of them are wearing kilts.

Instead, I wandered around a bit more with my friends, people-watching and trying to stay out of direct sunlight, as I could feel my fittingly pale skin starting to warm up. (For those who don’t remember, I learned my lesson about staying in the sun too long a few years ago in St. Martin.) Finally, it was time for me to go. We said our goodbyes and I headed back to my car, thankful for the paved walkways that kept my feet above the waterline from the previous night’s storm.

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The view from the paved walkway – it’s easy to forget that the area is basically built on a swamp! Added nicely to the atmosphere, though.

I had a terrific afternoon, a great time visiting friends, some delicious food, and I left feeling more connected to Scotland than I have in a while. Next year, I’m hoping to get myself organized enough to go to the kickoff ceilidh – hopefully, I’ll see some of you there!

Millionaire’s Shortbread (Chocolate Caramel Shortbread)

20141012_192116I learned about this treat when I lived in Scotland: a layer of fresh shortbread, a layer of homemade caramel, and a layer of chocolate, cut into a square. I didn’t get the recipe until I moved back to the States, but it’s been one of my favorite dessert recipes for a long time. Living in NYC, the ingredients were always just expensive enough that I’d find a reason not to make it, but now that I’m living the country life I decided it was time to treat my office-mates.

Because each layer needs to cool, this can be a time-consuming recipe, but I’ve gone so far as to wait overnight with the trays in the fridge between layers. You don’t have to attend to it constantly, so you can take it easy and make it over the course of the day.

What you’ll need:

20141012_123248Shortbread:
2 cups flour
1 1/2 sticks of butter
1/2 cup “caster” sugar (in quotes because I’ve always just used regular granulated sugar, and never had a problem)

Caramel Filling:
1 can evaporated milk
1/2 stick butter
3-4 cups brown sugar (my recipe calls for much less, but I’ve always had to add up to this amount to get the caramel to thicken properly)

Chocolate topping:
Chocolate chips (at least 1 bag, more if you want a thicker chocolate layer.

Method: 

  • 20141012_140751Rub the margarine and flour together in a bowl until you have a mix which is similar to breadcrumbs.
  • Stir in the sugar.
  • Spread the mixture evenly into a 9″ (23cm) square tin which has been lined with baking parchment. (I just rub Crisco vegetable shortening over the pan.) 
  • 20141012_144814Bake in a pre-heated oven at 170C/340F (160C/320F if fan assisted) for approximately 35 minutes until it is golden brown.
  • Allow the base to cool.
  • 20141012_16494520141012_171717IMG_20141012_17224620141012_173748Heat the filling ingredients together in a pot, making sure that you stir it constantly (otherwise it will stick!) until it begins to simmer.
  • Continue stirring until it thickens (which it should do in a few minutes).
  • Spread the filling evenly over the base and again allow to cool. (At this point, there is usually leftover caramel – put it in a jar and use on ice cream, in your coffee, or to eat with a spoon.)
  • 20141012_19125620141012_192123Melt the chocolate so that you can spread it over the filling. (I use a double boiler)

 

 

  • When it has cooled and you are ready to eat it, cut up into squares or rectangles with a sharp knife

Millionaire's Shortbread

Bon appetite!

Which car.

DSC03603Years and years ago, my first time in Edinburgh, I was visiting an older friend of the family and we were discussing the time she and her late husband had spent in England during the time when IRA bombings were regular occurrences.

We were at a restaurant or a museum. We’d already discussed 9/11 – that had taken place just the year before – and we were walking by a parking lot as she elaborated.

“The thing you have to remember,” she said, telling me about the situations she and her husband had encountered, “is that if you were looking at a car park” – and she gestured to the one nearby aspect of the scenery I remember, the car-filled parking lot – “it  wasn’t a question of whether there was a bomb under one of the cars. It was a question of which car the bomb was under.

“Because you knew – you knew – that one of the cars had a bomb under it.”

The only question was which car.

When Did I Stop Dreaming?

Years ago, I was in a class at Queen Margaret University College (now simply Queen Margaret University, and with a drama department that’s been gutted, compared to the years I spent at the now-closed Gateway Theater campus) called “Experimental Writing.” It was aimed more at those on our course who were focusing on theatrical disciplines that weren’t writing, so those of us who were on the writing track were asked to try and find something new to experiment with.

I chose illustrations. I’m not an artist, but every so often I find myself drawing strange little pen drawings, and in this case I wrote a short piece about dreaming then used Photoshop to put together a set of illustrated pages.

The story is called “When Did I Stop Dreaming,” and the images show off how much I am not an illustrator. But the class was about going out of your creative comfort zone. This was pretty far out of my comfort zone.

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I read enough about science and the brain to know that we dream every night, multiple times a night, and that the question is less whether we’ve stopped dreaming than whether we remember what we’ve dreamt.

When I remember them, my dreams are incredible. They boil down the complications in my life to their most basic questions, then pose those questions in ways that illuminate choices that lead to improved mental health, improved environmental satisfaction, and seeing options I may have been clouding for myself, before. And yet, for at least four or five years, memories of dreams have been few and far between.

What I have far more regularly than dreams is trouble sleeping. Transitioning from the hectic pace of the city to the subdued peace of unconsciousness is difficult, and often takes me hours. It’s also a process that’s easily disrupted – by emotions, by interruptions, by thoughts.

Falling asleep takes discipline.

A couple months ago, a run of insomnia and a fluke neuron firing had me searching YouTube for sleep hypnosis videos.

I stumbled across a channel run by a woman named Jody Whitley, and decided to give one of her videos a shot – I don’t remember which one it was. Sleep hypnosis for pain. Sleep hypnosis for depression. For weight loss. For lucid dreaming. Something.

Lucid dreaming sounded really f*cking cool, and the other topics didn’t sound too bad, either.

Now, I’m not going to get into the efficacy of hypnosis because frankly I don’t know anything at all about it. And I don’t really care, because the videos I’ve listened to from the channel have put me to sleep every time.

More importantly, I’ve started remembering my dreams again.

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Getting paid to write.

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In today’s blog, and in light of the issues I’ve read about online and e-published authors have had in getting paid, I wanted to say a few things about writing and getting paid for it.

I hope you’ll excuse me if I meander around a bit. Money for the fruit of my soul is an emotional subject.

I got paid on Thursday for a job I did last fall.

Due to a miscommunication, I never realized they’d requested an invoice.

Within days of raising a question about payment (uh…Monday?)…the money hit my account.

I’ve been wondering what was going on since at least October; I remember having a conversation with a friend who was part of the same project around then. And now I’m kicking myself – why didn’t I just ask the producer at the time, why did I step back and not bring up this question of payment earlier?

I didn’t want to seem pushy or petty. But asking “Hey, what’s up?” at a point sooner than four months after the fact would have saved a lot of time, and that would have been nice. As evidenced by how quickly we figured out what was up once I opened my mouth.

Anyway, I’m meandering.

What I wanted to say was this: it felt SO GOOD to get paid for something I’d written because I *felt* it. The piece I was paid for landed in my lap like a flash of inspiration, and having it produced (even abroad, even when I couldn’t go to see it) gave me the most wonderful, settled feeling in the world.

Getting paid for it today, seeing the money land in my account – that gave me a whole different kind of good feeling.

In our society, money is a potent type of validation. I remember the first time I got paid for writing something. A friend bought a short story I’d written. Later, I felt this kind of validation again when I earned money on my Fringe shows (most notably, “Stuck Up A Tree,” which is now *ahemavailableonKindle*). At the same time, we’re told not to ask about it – to the point where I put off a polite inquiry for four months! How crazy is that?

As a freelancer, a self-owned business, you – much like reporters – are advised to follow (up) the money. Nobody is going to think less of you for asking a question.

And trust me. Getting paid for a passion project? The best feeling ever.

2012 was a weighted year. When I got my 1099s for my self-published work in the mail the other day, the amounts added up to a very small sum. Even smaller, once I sit down, do the math, and send money to the writers, illustrators, designers, co-editors and charities owed for the last quarter or two. Having made a somewhat significant sum a few years ago thanks to commercial freelancing, I appreciate the difference between getting paid to write, and getting paid to write what you love.

But what’s left will still be more more than I made on my creative writing in 2011. Which isn’t a bad trend to be following.

Addendum: I asked for some advice re: photography for this entry, because I stress about things like that, and here’s the best response I got.

Burnz Night

A glass of 10 year old Laphroig Scotch whisky

What Would Ron Swanson Do? (On Burns Night)

I have no right to feel this awesome this morning. (Yes, I’m posting this at 1:38pm+, but I started it at ten minutes to noon.)

Back to how awesome I feel this morning.

Seriously.

I woke up, looked at my makeup-smeared face in the mirror, and thought, “Why the $*!^ don’t I feel like pukking my guts out right now?”

Last night was Burns Night. If you’re not familiar, it’s the celebration of the birthday of Scotland’s favorite (favourite?) poetic son, Robert “Rabbie” Burns. Traditional celebrations include a haggis, recitation of poetry, imbibing of Scotch (known as “whisky,” and yes, that distinction has fucked up my ability to read “whiskey” menus in America without disappointment) and general merriment.

We don’t do it quite like that in Manhattan. I mean, the general merriment, yes, and the strong drinks, of course, but as all celebrants of festivals far from their land of origin must, we had to make certain accommodations.

For starters, getting a haggis would involve either cooking one from scratch or having a Scottish friend mail one over, and for enders, the FemiNest (as @EmmyNash has christened our rather humble abode) will fit about four people comfortably, six in a pinch. Not the place for entertaining, nor for cooking complicated dishes.

Hello, Mustachioed Truck

Hello, Mustachioed Truck

Instead, our Manhattan Burnz Night involved incredible chocolates from Burdick’s

Did you know Robert Burns worked in Jamacia? So Red Stripe? Totally appropriate. Also: CHOCOLATE. REALLY FANCY WHISKY CHOCOLATE. It's in the box under the book of poetry. Which didn't include "Ode to a Haggis." WTF? Thankful for google and data plans.

Did you know Robert Burns worked in Jamacia? So Red Stripe? Totally appropriate. Also: CHOCOLATE. REALLY FANCY WHISKY CHOCOLATE. It’s in the box under the book of poetry. Which didn’t include “Ode to a Haggis.” WTF? Thankful for google and data plans.

(more on that when I get around to blogging my trip to Boston, though most of that will be about ROBOTS), Walker’s Scottish Shortbread, Red Stripe beer (as I was reliably informed by Ms. Nash that Mr. Burns worked on a plantation in Jamacia, I’ve decided both Red Stripe and Rum can be added to the list of Approved Burnz Night Beverages)…and then a train ride, through snow, to The Whiskey Brooklyn.

The place is basically magic. I won’t get into specifics, as that could be a blog unto itself, but the staff was friendly and understanding, our waitress took awesome care of us as our party grew and changed over the evening, and the food was exactly what was needed, for exactly the right price.

2013-01-25 17.53.00The company was great. A few friends I hadn’t seen in a while, some of @EmmyNash’s pals, and friends-of-friends mixed together to create the perfect party atmosphere, and everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

The evening ended at a late-but-reasonable hour, my cab got me home safely and quickly, and I woke up this morning feeling far awesomer than I had any right to (as noted above).

 

Definitely making this into a yearly tradition.

 

 

YUM. GREEN JUICE.

YUM. GREEN JUICE.

 

 

 

Sunday and Monday: Kindle Select Promo Days!

Cover art for PLAYING IT COOL

This Sunday and Monday (September 16th and 17th, 2012) you can download my first Edinburgh Fringe play, Playing it Cool for free on Amazon. (Apologies to those who’ve been patient since Friday night – a glitch in scheduling meant the promo didn’t go live as planned on Saturday).

Playing it Cool (a snappy romantic comedy) was written in 2003, and was my first produced play since 1999’s POST (a surreal tale about gun violence).

If you don’t own a Kindle and want to check out the play,  you can download apps for almost any platform on Amazon’s home page.

And as I said last time:

Playing it Cool is a one-act play about two friends, subtext and communication. It’s a two-hander that takes place in an apartment and a cafe, so might be of interest for those looking for audition scenes to read with a partner.

No big monologues here, I’m afraid, although both my later Fringe plays, Stuck Up A Tree and Mousewings (particularly Mousewings) will deliver on that front.

I’m listing Playing it Cool with Kindle Select for at least 90 days, so if you’re a member of Amazon Prime, make sure to put it on your list for a free read.”

Reviews of Playing It Cool:

Playing it Cool may not be the most ambitious play, addressing only a single issue. However, it contains much humour and is very well written. It will be very interesting to see a longer and more intricate play from the very promising Rachel Lynn Brody, at some time soon.”

– Philip Fisher, The British Theatre Guide, regarding the play’s premiere.

If you want to find out about awesome stuff like this ahead of time, subscribe to my Mailchimp mailing list. I won’t send stuff often, and won’t sell your email info, but I can promise at least a few promos ahead of the curve. And who knows what else.

But first, download Playing It Cool.