Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Elephant you know about it?

I must admit, I am not a big Harry Potter fan, but I wanted to post this for those of you who may be fans.  Friday night we went to dinner at the Elephant House in Edinburgh. 

Now if you were a real fan of Harry Potter, you would know that this coffee house is where J.K. Rowling wrote the first few Harry Potter books.  This for sure would be a good trivia question about Harry Potter.   (I have walked by this place a number of times but had no idea about its historical value until this week.)  It is just down the street from Greyfriars Bobby and the cemetery.  (But that is a different story...this picture was taken this last summer.  We are not yet seeing too many blue skies in February.  I think I have already posted a story about Greyfriars Bobby so I won't get sidetracked.)

One of the missionaries who is scheduled to go home this week is a big Harry Potter fan and wanted to go the Elephant House before she left.  As I indicated, I was unaware of the significance of this Coffee House.  We went there for dinner Friday evening and learned all about the history of the place.  I have attached a picture from their website that gives some of the history.

Their fame has caused them to be a bit lax in the upkeep of the can tell from the burned out light over the name in the first picture above.  Granted, it is intended to be a rustic type Coffee House, but it's appearance is a bit run down (I guess that  means that it is rustic) and the food leaves a lot to be desired.  We were sitting near the table used by J.K. Rowling and below is the view of what she saw for the inspiration for her story...looking out the window and seeing the Edinburgh Castle. 
If you go to the website for the Elephant House there is a interesting video interview about the beginning of the Harry Potter series.
From Wikipedia:  Rowling has led a "rags to riches" life story, in which she progressed from living on state benefits to multi-millionaire status within five years. She is the United Kingdom's best-selling author since records began, with sales in excess of £238m.[12] The 2008 Sunday Times Rich List estimated Rowling's fortune at £560 million ($798 million), ranking her as the twelfth richest woman in the United Kingdom.[13] Forbes ranked Rowling as the forty-eighth most powerful celebrity of 2007,[14] and TIME magazine named her as a runner-up for its 2007 Person of the Year, noting the social, moral, and political inspiration she has given her fans.[15] In October 2010, Rowling was named the "Most Influential Woman in Britain" by leading magazine editors.[16] She has become a notable philanthropist, supporting such charities as Comic Relief, One Parent Families, Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain and Lumos (formerly the Children's High Level Group).

Monday, February 17, 2014

Another history lesson

 On Saturday we were looking for something to do and stay dry…for the most part.  It is been quite rainy the last few weeks.  Saturday was to be “mostly sunny” so we went downtown to the Holyrood Palace.  It turned out to be another rainy day. This Palace more officially is called the Palace of Holyroodhouse, and is the official residence of the British monarch in Scotland.  The Palace is located at the bottom of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, at the opposite end to Edinburgh Castle.  

This is the Holyrood Palace.  On the left is the tower that James V built in the 16th century.  Our sky was not that blue on Saturday.  I found this picture on the internet.  The Abbey that was built in the 12th century is around the corner to the left.

This is the picture I took on a rainy day on Saturday.

This was taken last summer showing the "Royal Mile".  The Holyrood Palace is at the bottom and the Edinburgh Castle is on the upper end.

This is the main entrance to the Edinburgh Castle

We were not allowed to take any pictures inside the Holyrood Palace.  

This shows the court yard just inside the first entrance.  The architecture of the building is very interesting.  You can't really see it in this picture but the columns on each floor represent a different architectural  period.  We entered the Palace on the ground floor and went to the first floor for the tour.  The Queen's quarters are on the second floor.  

This is the main dining room.  (I found this picture on the internet)  The table can be expanded to seat up to 30 guests or reduced to seat only 4.

The Holyrood Palace has served as the principal residence of the Kings and Queens of Scots since the 16th century, and is still a “working palace” today and is used as a setting for state occasions and official entertaining.  When in town, the Royal Family lives on the second floor which is not open to the public.  When members of the Royal Family are not in town, the 16th century Historic Apartments of Mary, Queen of Scots and the State Apartments, are open to the public.  Mary (the daughter of James V) lived in the Palace from 1561 to 1567.  It was here, in the Queen’s private apartments, that the brutal murder of Mary’s secretary David Rizzio took place.

Queen Elizabeth spends one week in residence at Holyrood Palace at the beginning of each summer, where she carries out a range of official engagements and

ceremonies. Each year when she arrives in July there is a ceremony with the Provost of the City of Edinburgh presenting the keys to the City to the Queen and then she gives them back “for safe keeping”.   (Typical pomp and ceremony of the Royal Monarch)

 The only thing remaining of the abbey is the ruins.  I would have been a magnificient building.

Holyrood Abbey was founded by David I, King of Scots, in 1128, and the abbey's position close to Edinburgh Castle meant that it was often visited by Scotland's monarchs, who were lodged in the guest house situated to the west of the abbey cloister. James IV constructed a new palace adjacent to the abbey in the early 16th century, and James V made additions to the palace, including the present north-west tower.  Mary, Queen of Scots lived in this part of the Palace. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

What is traditional Scottish Food?


Where to eat in Scotland…actually, the question is where and what to eat!!  We have had some strange food during the last few weeks.  A fortnight ago we didn’t feel like cooking so we decided to go into town to eat.  We ended up at the “Wanna Berger” restaurant.  It is the Scottish version of an In-N-Out.  Not too bad, but it is no In-N-Out!!

This place is much the same as TGI Friday's
An interesting attempt at an American hamburger.
The next night we were in Ayr and were early for our meeting so we ate at Frankie and Benny’s.  It is a chain from New York and it is a lot like T.G.I. Friday’s.  I had the Bacon Cheese Berger and it was very good.  To be honest, Scottish food isn’t very exciting.  We have found a good Italian restaurant (Bella Italia) and a pretty good Mexican (Tex-Mex) restaurant (Chiquito)

For traditional Scottish food we went to the Burns Supper which I posted last week. 

 The haggis on the left is what I had ordered in a restaurant in Edinburgh and the haggis on the right is what was served at the Burns Supper.  Haggis is not my favorite Scottish meal.
Haggis is traditionally Scottish but I’ve been thinking about what other food I would consider to be Scottish.  I guess it would be Fish & Chips.  I know for sure the Irish don’t know how to fix good Fish & Chips.  We have never had a good Fish & Chip dinner in Ireland.  
A typical Fish & Chips dinner would include peas or often “mushy peas”  (which are really gross).  The peas are usually large tasteless old peas.  The mushy peas look like peas that have been mashed up or whipped…also very tasteless.  Fish & chips are best with Malt Vinegar and Salt.

This last week we had a fun experience with the Chinese missionaries and 5 Chinese students – three were Church members and two were investigating the Church.  There is a large Chinese student population here in Edinburgh and also in Glasgow.  They come to the Universities in Edinburgh usually for their Masters degree, but some for their PhD.  We were invited to go with them to a traditional Chinese “Hot Pot” dinner.
We took the bus and met them at the restaurant.  We arrived before the others and we thought we were at the wrong spot.  The restaurant looked like a take-out place and was a bit of a “hole-in-the-wall” but then we noticed a door to the “Hot Pot” portion.  We had a table with nine people so we had three hot plates set for us.  First they brought out the “Starters”.  (“Starters” are appetizers in Scotland)

 Based on what was on the plate of Starters indicated that we were in for a real treat for dinner.  On this plate were Chicken feet, chicken gizzards, some sort of beef and vegetables/noodles.  They were all cold...but cooked.  I tasted the Chicken feet, but that was enough...just a taste.  The beef was good and also the chicken gizzards.
This plate of Starters was dumplings...they were very good and very similar to what you would find in a Chinese restaurant in the states.

We then ordered items from the menu and they brought out all the food in large pans…all fresh, but uncooked.  They brought out large cooking pots to place on the hot plates.
This pan of food was all raw.  It included 2-3 types of tofu, fish, meat that looked like Spam, mussels, fish balls, beef balls, shrimp (heads on), vegetables, two types of seaweed, crab sticks, squid, another type of something in a shell, noodles, ox tripe, thinly sliced beef and pork, and probably more items that I have forgotten, or didn't know what it was.

The "Spam" type meet was not very good, the mussels were very good.  The round things with the brown strip were very good also.  The shrimp were good...once you got the head off so it wasn't looking at you.  The seaweed was good.  The brown tofu (next to the spam) was very good.
This was the large pot that sat on the hot plate...the "hot pot".  The left side was a broth with spices and chilies in it and the right side was just the broth.  The broth was heated to a boil and then the food was put in with the tongs to let it cook.

As the food cooked you could scoop it out with a large ladle or just reach in with your chop sticks.  I was told it was OK to retrieve with the chop sticks because the broth was so hot it would kill all the bacteria.  :)     That is the sliced beef to the side of the pot.
Once the food was cooked you placed it on these small plates.  The bowl to the right is a mixture of a peanut based sauce with spices, garlic, onions, coriander (cilantro), chilies (the hot red kind), sesame oil etc.
All in all, it was a fun night, and one that we will for sure do again!!


Saturday, February 1, 2014

Burns Supper and the Haggis...

It has been another busy week.  We traveled to Ayr to have a “Youth Night” with the Ayr and Irvine Wards.  We played a game called the “Bobilator” which makes the youth think about a career and what difference an education will make to their future.  There were thirteen youth there and about 6-7 leaders.  We had them do the Work Choice Profile which is a psychometric evaluation of their attitudes and interest in careers.  We are going back next Tuesday to give the results of the evaluation.

Last Saturday night we attended a “Burns Supper” at the Livingston Ward.  Robert Burns is a famous Scottish Poet and the Burns Supper is to celebrate his birthday.  The highlight of the evening is the Haggis.


This is Robbie Burns, widely regarded as Scotland's national Poet.  Born in Ayrshire on 25th of January, 1759 and died in Dumfries on the 21st of July, 1796 at age 37 probably due to a rheumatic heart condition.   
 He is known worldwide for his poetry written in the Scots language, although he also wrote in English. His most notable works include 'Auld Lang Syne', 'Ae Fond Kiss', 'Tam O'Shanter', 'A Man's A Man for A' That' and, of course, 'To A Haggis'.  Another of his poems is A Red, Red, Rose.  Burns was quite the lady's man...

Now for the main event...the Haggis!!
What is a Haggis you ask?  There are many stories about haggis but they really boil down to only two that are possibly accurate…a haggis is one of two things.  It is either a meal using the meat scraps of a lamb or a sheep, mixed with oats, barley, and spices, cooked in a sheep’s stomach, in other words a poor man’s meal that only a Scot would eat; or it is a wee animal that runs free in the Scottish Highlands.  J  I prefer the second version. 

We attended a “Burns for Beginners” event at the Edinburgh Castle on Saturday afternoon where they taught us about the “poor wee beastie” called a Haggis.

We are in the Castle and this fellow is explain how to catch a Haggis.
The Great Hall in the Edinburgh Castle

The wee thing has four legs, but the two on the left side are shorter than the two legs on the right side.  This makes it possible for the wee beastie to run counter clockwise around the highland hills.   To catch the haggis you place nets at the bottom of the hill and then chase the wee thing so it runs clockwise on the hill.  This makes it lose its balance and it topples over and rolls down the hill and you then just scoop it up in the net.  Sounds like a Snipe hunt to me.  J

Actually the first version is the true story.  It is a poor man’s meal using scraps of meet, oats, barley, and spices, cooked in a sheep’s stomach and is a meal only a Scot would eat.  J 

The true definition of a haggis is:  a Scottish dish made of the heart, liver and lungs of a sheep or lamb, combined with oats or barley, suet and other herbs and spices, and then cooked in a casing traditionally made of the animal's stomach. Thus, haggis is essentially a form of sausage…and is a poor man’s meal.  Commercially, It is no longer cooked in a stomach but rather a form of sausage tubing.  It is a favorite dish here and one can find it on most restaurant menus all year round.

It is not an appetizing looking dish, but it doesn't taste that fact, it is pretty good, but a little goes a long way.   Here is the plate that was served to Carolyn.  The dark brown is the Haggis, above the haggis is Cottage pie, then the yellow is the "neeps", and between the pie and the neeps is the "tatties".  The plate I was served was about twice as much food.  The haggis does have a lamb flavor and is basically a form of meat loaf.

 Burns night is celebrated each year in Scotland on or around January 25th (Robbie’s birthday).  A traditional burns supper centres around the grand entrance of the haggis on a large silver serving platter.  Generally the haggis is piped in with bag pipes playing and when the haggis is placed on the table, the "Address to the Haggis" (a Burn’s poem) will be read.  This is an ode that was written by Burns specifically to the haggis.  (At our supper they did nae have a piper but rather just played traditional Scottish music as the haggis was brought in)

This is the first verse of the poem.  It is quite long.  You can go online and read the entire poem.  When the reading is finished the haggis will be ceremonially sliced with a dirk (a Scotsman's knife) and served with neeps (mashed turnips) and tatties (mashed potatoes).

His poem, 'To a Haggis' was crafted in 1786 during his first visit to Edinburgh and was originally improvised as a tongue-in-cheek, mock-heroic moment during a meal at a friend's house. It is unlikely that Burns could have realized the far-reaching consequences of that occasion. Although by no means his finest poem, it nonetheless established haggis as Scotland's national dish and secured its place as the centrepiece of every Burns Supper.

This the Cultural Hall at the Church were the Burns Supper was held.  Many of the men wore their kilts and there was a lot of Scottish music, singing, and reading more of Burns' poems.  One thing about a Burns’ poems…even the Scots must have them interrupted.  He uses words that no longer are understood by most Scots.

This is Brother Olifant - the "head chef for the evening.  He prepared the haggis from his family recipe.
Another part of the tradition at a Burns Supper is saying grace before eating.  This is an old Scottish grace written by Burns that is said at the supper.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

Edinburgh Castle on a cold winter day.  It rained most of the day and there was a dusting of snow on the hills around the city.


A view of the City from the Castle.  This is looking north easterly across the Firth of Forth towards Kirkcaldy.  (pronounced Kir-caw-dy)