Wednesday, November 17, 2010

mid-november. really?

Can anyone else really believe that we're half way through November yet? And that Thanksgiving is next week? Does it seem to anyone else that the older you get, the quicker time slips by without you noticing, and the next thing you know you're a year later and you're not sure how you got there? At this time last year I was just settling into the insanity that is the Christmas season at Biltmore--yes, it starts about a week into November. Our plans were still for Jeremy to be the one in school and perhaps maybe we would go to Scotland, but for now we'll just worry about the usual: money, jobs, and what the heck we're doing with our lives. And now, a year later, I am the one in school, and we really are in Scotland, in Edinburgh, and I'm getting a degree in Highland Studies and learning to play the fiddle. Really?
It does feel a bit more tangibly real now that we're in a long-term rental and can finally settle in and make a home. But still, sometime I have to stop, look around at the beautifully old Georgian architecture of the main square of my campus, or out my door, through the buildings to the craggy mount of Arthur's Seat sitting just yonder in Holyrood Park, a stone's throw away from my front door. (Okay, so I'd have to have a really good arm for it to be an actual stone's throw, but still, it's right there.) But it's all true, we really are here, I'm really doing this degree--though don't bother asking what my dissertation is on, because I still have no idea--Jeremy has a good job, and we're living here, in Edinburgh, where we wanted to be. I know I am incredibly blessed to be here, and I am so thankful that things worked out just so for it all to happen. But sometimes--sometimes I still wonder what I really am doing here. Yes, yes I'm going to school and Jeremy and I are on an adventure and what have you. But really, why am I here, what will the future bring us on this path that we're on? Regardless of what you may think, I know I am here for a reason, and that there's a purpose for all that we're encountering and experiencing here, but I can't help letting my so-human mind wander and question and honestly, sometimes just despair at not understanding a distinct purpose for my time and studies here. I know I should just sit back and enjoy it, and take it as it comes, but if any of you know me at all, you'll know that that's not how I do things. I have a hard time not having a framed plan complete with bullet points and a checklist. There's nothing I like more than revising a plan and checking things off a list and experiencing the satisfaction that comes from the accomplishment of a well-laid plan come to fruition. And nothing I hate more than uncertainty and stress from loose ends.
But you know what? Maybe that's why I'm here. Maybe I need to tone the control-freak in my brain down, and maybe kick her out all together. Because the truth is, as long as I am doing what I love and finding my real purpose in the only thing that matters, then what can truly go wrong? Lots of little things might snag here and there, but what are those but flavours that make life that much more brilliantly complex and beautiful?
I am here. I am learning Scottish Gaelic. I am learning to play the fiddle. I am getting a Master's Degree in Highland Studies. I am living in a city that is older and more full of history than anywhere I have ever lived. I will relish all of that in the here and now, and not fret about what will come of it in the future. For if I focus too much on what is to come, I'll miss out on all the loveliness and flavour that will make what comes that much better.

I hope my words can encourage you other control-freaks and future-worriers, and maybe we can all help keep each other accountable to really letting go. Yes?

Here's to the unknown.


Oh, and photos of the new flat coming soon. :)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

an old favourite: cider stew.

As Jeremy and I have 'smart' phones now (I put that in quotes because I'm not entirely convinced by the concept, especially now that I have one and it seems downright stupid A LOT), ahem, now that we have these seemingly intelligent cellular devices I have been able to take and easily post photos to my facebook, which means I have been taking many photos of food I have been making. The most recent of these is the Cider Stew I made the other day. (Sam, the Scottish Stew is coming, I just want to make it again so I can take some proper photos, never fear.) This recipe is one that I have loved for many, many years as my mother used to make it for us on crisp autumn days when the weather is just right for a sweater and thick socks and on icy winter nights when the frost on the windows creeps up the panes like it's dying to get in and share in the memories being made. Not to be confused with 'Spider Stew,' which is what a friend of my mum's thought she was being served when she first heard the name. Gross! My mum sent me this recipe a year or so again at my request when the weather began to cool and the leaves began their yearly performance, and it's been a cold weather staple with Jeremy and I since then. I made a few tweaks to her original recipe to make it my own and that is what I am giving you tonight.

Cider Stew
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
2 pounds pork loin steaks, cubed
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups apple cider
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
4 carrots, chopped
6-8 baby new potatoes, chopped
2 onions, sliced
1 package mushrooms, quartered
2 Granny Smith apples, chunked (do not peel)
1/2 cup cold water and
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
Salt and pepper

Note: I usually go more by feeling than by exact measurements, just do what feels right, and what your crock pot has room for.

Combine flour, salt, pepper, and thyme and toss with meat to coat. Brown in skillet with oil on medium-high until sides are brown, but not cooked through. Place chopped veggies in slow cooker, then add apples and meat (I usually add whatever juices have culminated in the skillet as well). Combine cider and vinegar; do not add water, and pour over meat and veggies. Cover and cook on low setting for 10 to 12 hours. After allotted time, turn cooker on high. Blend the half cup cold water with the fourth cup flour and stir into stew. Cover and cook until thickened, about fifteen to twenty minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Makes eight to ten servings.

Notes: If you're reading this from the UK, by cider I don't mean alcoholic cider, but really strong, yummy, cloudy apple 'juice'. I used Copella English apple juice this time and the flavour was really nice.

Also, if you're wondering what sort of mushrooms to use I've used two different types, normal button mushrooms which are always nice, and this time I used chestnut mushrooms which have a nuttier flavour which complements the cider.

My mother usually used just normal vinegar in her recipe where I used apple cider vinegar, I don't think it really makes that much of a difference so if you just have regular vinegar that should be fine. I'm just an apple maniac and used anything apple whenever I can.

Now go enjoy your delicious, slow-cooked, autumnal stew and if you make it, come back and let me know how it turned out. We enjoyed ours with a buttered slice of oatmeal bread and a glass of apple cider (yes, the real stuff, you British folk), but white wine would probably be nice as well. Slàinte mhath! 


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

the pup.

My Cael.
I wanted to write a post about this because it seems that I am at a loss at what to do next, and perhaps with the advice or ideas of my beloved readers I might come across a way to remedy the situation.
Our Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, Cael, is sadly not with us here in Edinburgh yet. And unfortunately I'm not sure when we'll be able to get him here. It was the original plan to have him shipped over after us in October sometime, but with our housing situation being unstable--in a temporary flat because there wasn't anything available when we got here in September--and with the expense of shipping him we wanted to be sure we would be here for a while before we invest in sending him, as well as the logistical nightmare of actually getting him here with paperwork in order and avoiding quarantine. On the bright side, the huge stress of what to do with him until we could ship him was graciously solved by my older brother, Drew, and his wife, Kelsey, who offered to take him for us until we could get him to us here in Scotland. They've been great in helping us out with that, but now that it looks like Cael's going to have to be staying Stateside for longer than expected they can no longer keep him. They're quite busy with their jobs and having a dog for a month or so is quite different from having him for three or four or more months. So unfortunately their jobs just aren't conducive to having an animal relying on them being home and around for attention or time for adequate walks and other such things as dogs require. So though they have been an absolute Godsend for keeping Cael until now, it is time for him to move on to someone who's life is a bit more suitable to keep a dog.
It looks like right now, since the long-term flat we just got doesn't allow pets, and I'll need some time to either convince the landlord to let me have Cael, or finagle a way to have him there without the landlord knowing, so it looks like January would be the earliest we could realistically get him here. It sucks. And I'd like to have already had him here now and avoided all this, but things don't always work out the way you plan, and we have to deal with things as they happen. So while this is not at all how I planned this going, this is what I have to deal with, so I am.
Here's the rundown. Cael is a spaniel, like I said, a small breed but he's bigger than most Cavaliers--maybe about twenty-eight or so pounds. He's almost three years old, so he's right about at the end of the puppy stage, though he can still get a little hyper. He's fixed, and that seemed to calm him down a bit and make him a lot less dominating, but it really wasn't a huge problem before we had it done. He's a sweet heart, and just wants to be around people and interact with them. Wherever you are, that's where he wants to be. He's a companion first and foremost, but he knows how to be on his own as well. Jeremy and I both worked nearly everyday, so he was used to being by himself for five, six, or seven hours at a time, and sometimes more.. He loves being outside and going on walks. He has a backyard right now at my brother's house and it seems like even though he can be out on his own, that he needs someone out with him to make sure he does his business and not just sniff around and chase leaves across the yard. Though he's fine just being put outside on occasion in the backyard to just be there instead of inside. I think that's where walks would come in the best, to take him out and tell him to go 'potty' helps him remember why he's out there amidst all the sights and smells that make him forget what he needs to do. He's also not a very vocal dog. In our experience, the only time he barked was when we left for work, and even then he'd only bark for maybe four or five minutes then go on to chewing a bone or playing with his toys. I think he'd be best with a family, and even with a family that already has a dog, because he's quite social and likes the company, and I think a family atmosphere would be good because there's always so much going on and people coming and going to keep him company.
Anyway, I won't go on and on, but he is a good dog, and as with all dogs, he needs the proper attention and work that comes with being a dependent animal. I can give anyone more information who wants it. If you guys have any ideas of someone who would be willing to keep him for us for a time, until we can get him over here with us, let me know. And those that will, please pray that this is resolved quickly and smoothly as it quite stressful for all involved--for me, trying to coordinate this an ocean away, and for my brother I'm sure as well, who wants to give Cael everything he needs, but just can't do it all right now because of his busy schedule. Thank you all for praying and thinking of us. Things here are going well, but I can't believe that this semester is almost over--I still have so much to do! I hope all who read this are quite well.