Monthly Archives: November 2014

Biking in the Buff

We’ve been doing a bit of it lately, possibly because of, rather than despite, the cold.  Bare with me, so to speak.

I am deeply aware that we are at a time of year when, certainly in recent times, there can be precious little Saturday afternoon football to watch, at least for those of us who do it in the raw, without under pitch heating, floodlights or any technology whatsoever.  Last year it was flooded pitches, before that snow, ice, deep-frozen for months.  Doing it in the raw, he’s at it again, I hear you say.

But this year the weather has been kind, so far.  Not only is the football not at risk, yet, but the old Grasshopper is doing the rounds quite regularly.  And that means, by definition, that there are days when the wind or the rain, preferably both, are merely threatening.

Today was no exception; though as I returned under skies turning quickly to sealskin as the cairns and the blades that top the hills began to hide behind lowering clouds, I did begin to wonder.  Whilst the roads are on the manky side, especially where the tractor wheels have been spinning debris from the fields, the air has been crisp.  Indeed grateful we are that the roads are yet to be coated in grit and salt to corrode the lowest slung bum – mind you precious few of the roads on the usual circuits are troubled by the gritter these days, but I digress.

In The Buff, that was the topic.  Ah yes, the crisp air, the asthmatic chest.  Just as I need to protect myself from humidity and other people’s central heating, so too must I ensure that the winter air is warmed before ingested.  At the footie a scarf is needed, especially at Boy Urchin’s Friday night training which goes on for ages; goes on till they can be too tired for a match kick off just 12 hours later.  Anyway, it’s the breathing.

So just as I need to breathe through a scarf when the days are cold, so The Buff does the trick on the bike.  It’s one of those multi-purpose, often multi-coloured, tubes of cloth that can be worn on the head, piratical if you like, round the neck, or as an ear warmer.  But for the asthmatic cyclist the answer is to cover the mouth, the nose too at times, and have warmed up air hitting the lungs.

And of course on the hills in these parts, when the legs burn on the rise, or the lorry is met on the bend at the fastest part of the descent, deep inhalations through the cloth come regularly.  But the outcome, and one to note for cyclists with asthma, is that the recovery is quicker, the need for medication negated, and the enjoyment of the buzzard circling above, or the finches in the hedges, can be all you need to worry about.  Them and the tractors coming round the bend.

So the cycling’s good even yet, whilst the weather holds.

And you thought I was going to talk about Fiona Fullarton in Why Not Bangkok.  Honestly some minds.  If I remember correctly Ms Fullarton’s bike had no saddle.  Another reason to enjoy the Grasshopper.  Go on, do it in the buff.

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Filed under On the Bike Trail

Mixed views for this one

But I liked it; even better on the second day, when the flavours really took hold.  It’s another one from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem, his Open Kibbeh.


Yotam describes this as a very untraditional variety of kibbeh, more of a layered cake incorporating all of the essential ingredients, to be served warm or at room temperature alongside a sharp salad.  Let’s start with what goes into it:

125g fine bulgar wheat; 90ml olive oil; 2 garlic cloves, crushed; 2 medium onions, finely chopped; 1 green chilli, finely chopped; 350g minced lamb; 1tsp of each of allspice, cinnamon, coriander; 2 tbsp rough chopped coriander; 60g pine nuts; 3 tbsp rough chopped flat leaf parsley; 2 tbsp SR flour; 50g light tahini paste; 2 tsp lemon juice; 1 tsp sumac; salt & black pepper.

Preheat oven to 200C.  Line a 20cm spring-form baking tin with greaseproof paper.

Place bulgar in a bowl and cover with 200ml water.  Leave 30 mins.

Heat 4 tbsp. olive oil in a large frying pan.  Saute garlic, onion and chilli on med-high heat until completely soft.  Remove everything from pan, then return empty pan to high heat.  Add lamb and cook for 5 mins, stirring continuously until brown.

Return onion mixture to the pan and add the spices, coriander and half tsp salt, generous grind of black pepper and most of the pine nuts and parsley, setting rest aside.  Cook for a couple of minutes, remove from heat, taste and season.

Check the bulgar to see if all water absorbed.  Strain, add the flour, 1 tbsp olive oil, quarter tsp salt and pinch of black pepper.  Use hands to work it into a pliable mixture, just holding together.  Add a extra flour if very sticky.  Push firmly into base of tim so that it is compact and level.  Spread the lamb mixture evenly over the surface and press down a little.  Bake in oven for about 20 mins, until meat is quite a dark brown and very hot.

While waiting whisk up tahini paste with the lemon juice, 50 ml water and a pinch of salt.  You are after a very thick but pourable sauce.  If needed add a tiny amount more water.

Remove the kibbeh cake from oven, spread tahini sauce evenly on top, sprinkle with reserved pine nuts and chopped parsley and return immediately to oven.  Bake for 10-12 mins until tahini is just setting and has taken on a little bit of colour, and the pine nuts are golden.

Remove from oven and leave to cool down until warm or at room temperature.  Before serving sprinkle with the sumac and a drizzle of olive oil.  Carefully remove sides from tin and cut into slices.  Lift them gently so they don’t break.

Boy Urchin was fulsome in his praise for the chef – which probably means he’s after something – whilst trying his best to pick out the onion.  But he left the table full, which is all I ask.  Girl Urchin though, after pushing it around her plate, went for the cheese sandwich option that hadn’t been available.


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On a wet Saturday

It wasn’t just any wet Saturday, for it was round 3 of the Scottish Junior Cup.  Meadow were at home to Talbot, and much more importantly Pollok were taking the road and the miles to Dundee, hosted by the local Violet.  Nervous days, cup days.  But we weren’t going, and those days are even more nervous when you’re not there, don’t know what’s happening.  Instead I had the hottest ticket in town.

The Hydro in Glasgow has had some big events since opening earlier in the year.  There have been Commonwealth Games medals, and a few singers.  But Saturday was different, and the tickets went quicker than Kylie’s, or Beyonce’s.  For this was Nicola’s day, at the end of Nicola’s week, and the start of our next chapter.

On the way out a wag was heard commenting that the only way Cameron could draw a crowd like that was if he was being hanged.  On a Glasgow Saturday afternoon 12,000 people gathered to listen to speeches, to engage in politics.  12,000 people; politics.  Have you ever heard the like before?


Eddi Reader and Lou Hickey set the mood – I love No voters, said Eddi, I’d love to give them a country.  The it was ramped up big style.  A ten-man ensemble took to the stage, unusual beat combo.  Lead and base guitars, keyboards and drums, then the brass section, trumpet, ‘bone and sax.  But centre stage, the big noise, was reserved for….  three pipers.  These were the Red Hot Chilli Pipers, and live, in the Hydro, with 12,000 gathered, they are pretty immense.

They sent the warm-up on next, a chap called Salmond, you may have heard of him; you will again.  Standing ovation, just for being there.  Then he spoke, roused the rabble.  It was a real privilege to witness the address of a colossus.  The new Deputy Leader, Stewart Hosie, proved to me I was right to give him my first preference.

Then The Boss arrived.  To ensure we sat down again she had to threaten to sing.  Engaging politics, in Glasgow, on a wet Saturday, that crowd.  Our country has changed.  Even as we gathered, trending no. 2 on twitter, worldwide, the party membership surged again – more than 2,000 new members since the bunfight started.  Over 92,000 now.  The previous week, the party conference weekend, it was a mere 85,000.  The movement continues. You don’t have to vote labour to save Scotland from the tories, she said, we’ll do that for you. Besides the voting labour route has been tried and failed time and time again. Never again.

And Scotland looks forward, like never before, to a Westminster election in a few short months.  The SNP will back non-member candidates.  The Leader is talking of alliances beyond, with Plaid Cymru and England’s Greens, all incidentally, led by girlies and all opposed to Trident. All too excluded from TV debates, at the moment.  There is a real likelihood of a hung parliament, as UKIP takes votes from The Establishment; and Scotland says goodbye, and good riddance, to Labour, forgetting not their alliance with their Tory comrades.  I fancy a minority government, having to fight for votes on an issue by issue basis from the minor parties, can only be good for the four nations, all of them.

Even the BBC gave mention of the gathering.  One of the most important short addresses of the day came from the floor, from Richard Walker, editor of the Sunday Herald.  From Monday his team will bring us a daily paper, The National, with the same pro-independence slant.  But, and there is a very big but, he has consent only for a five day pilot.  Five Days.  At 50p per day, and 30p download subscription, [text aye and email address to 80360] we need to make sure his 50,000 print run sells out.  We know from experience the value of the press, and the damage of the propaganda.  Then there’s pur broadcasters, but one step at a time.

So having been in the Hydro, part of the crowd; having listened to those speeches, I’m utterly convinced that our nation has changed for the better, with no going back.  Westminster next May will change too.

And we had Dougie MacLean with his Caledonia, bringing the house down as the whole cast gathered, and as the audience sang.  An impromptu Flower of Scotland sent all homewards, hearts lifted, eyes misted, full of hope; no fear.


And over in Dundee it was a 5-0 away win.  Round 4 beckons, the winning run and the shut-outs continue.  Boy Urchin’s team had won in the morning, before he saw the Scottish rugby team win too, at his first international thanks to Favourite Uncle.  So a good day was had by all.  And a nation goes forward.  Don’t forget your copy of The National every day this week.

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The subtitle says it all

Lives, Landscape and Literature – happy to read all three of them, and to find them covered in one volume, to find the threads that pull them all together, is an opportunity not to pass up.

It’s the work of William Atkins, and The Moor is the result of extensive research and travels across the country, from Dartmoor to Otterburn, and all wild places in between.


Atkins gives us what he finds underfoot, and in his gaze.  And he takes us back in time, to those who lived and worked those lands centuries before.  There is shooting amongst the peat hags, of grouse and of tanks, beating and loading.  Books have been written.

I was delighted to find myself back in the Plume of Feathers, in the shadow of the prison, at Princetown in the midst of Dartmoor.  My memories of Sunday lunch are hazy, for it was a long time ago, and there was Merrydown and Barleywine.  We had been entertained – Porrij were the resident band, replacing a small beat combo – you may remember The Wurzels.  It was that sort of a place, back then.

The sort of place where drinks had to be passed over heads on the route from bar to wherever you stood, immobile, in the throngs, the change dumped in the last pint.  Girls needing a comfort break faced a similar journey, above the heads, hand by hand.

But that was then.  Atkins tells us different tales.  There are murders and missings, marker stones and memorials.  On each moor he visits he takes us to the world of tales written before.  Some may be familiar.  Tarka’s Henry Williamson was a man of the moors; Jamaica Inn and Lorna Doone; and the land now known as Bronte Country, barely scratch the surface of Moorish writings.  Oh and there were Baskervilles, and hounds.

At one stage, South Yorkshire, Atkins gazes east, and realises he will not find land again, at a matching height, until the Urals.  That is a staggering thought, the great flat plains of mainland Europe.  And I think immediately of these hilly lands in which I sit, and cast my eye north to the peaks and ridges that are so familiar and that we take for granted.  Scotland is a special place indeed, as if we did not know.

I have visited too few of those moors that Atkins describes, but there is time yet, I hope.  And The Moor has a worthy place on the shelf, to be referred to again.  I enjoyed the read, and have added it to The Bookshelf for this year.

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Filed under On the Bedside Table

One way to bag Dad

We’ve been ploutering in the kitchen again, dipping back into Anna Badkhen’s Peace Meals from her various travels around the Levant and beyond.  I’d had an eye on this one for a while, looking to vary the periodic roast chicken.

One to enjoy, Shatha’s Special Chicken, from Baghdad.  It’s a dish that is more widely known as tbeet, unique to Mesopotamian Jews, who once lived side by side with the Muslims of Iraq.  By 2003 only a handful remained, but, though much of the culture is lost, the culinary tradition remains.

You will need:

1 large chicken; 2 cups long-grain rice (pref basmati); 1 tsp each of ground cardamom,  cloves and allspice; 1 tbsp. of both ground cinnamon and cumin; salt & pepper for rubbing the chicken; and olive oil.

Preheat oven to 400F.

Slip your hand between the skin of the chicken and its meat, snipping carefully the thin connectors where attached down back and thighs.

Combine the rice, spices and 1 tbsp. salt and carefully, with your hands, push the rice between the skin and the body of the chicken.  Stuff around the thighs too.  Fill the skin loosely as the rice will expand significantly during cooking.

You can sew the openings closes or leave open as the rice, being naturally sticky, will mostly not spill out.  Rub the outside of the chicken with with salt, pepper and olive oil.

Place chicken in a lightly oiled heavy-bottomed pan and put in oven for 15 mins.  Be careful not to make skin too crispy else it will burst.  After the skin is browned, reduce heat to 325F.  Cook until chicken is done and juices run clear, around two and a half hours, basting occasionally with juices from the pan.

When cooked carefully move it to a very large platter: when you cut the skin open the rice will spill out.  Cut the chicken in front of guests into large chunks and serve chicken, rice and skin on same platter, dribbling and salivating.  Tell urchins there’s no onion.  Enjoy.


And the feedback on the feed?  Well, the chicken was stripped bare, not a morsel left for any prowling kitten.  The meat was infused with the full flavours of the spices in the rice, and delicious with it.  But, oh yes there’s a but.

I’d be inclined to part boil the rice beforehand.  it may be something to do with our packaged, farmed chickens, but there was really not enough moisture for the rice to do what rice is supposed to do.  Perhaps a bird plucked from a market stall, flapping and squawking as the knife slices the throat, produces a better result.  So, much of the rice remained too hard, and currently fills the bird table to see if the sparras and the finches can make a better job of it.  And I’d probably ease back a bit on the salt.

But of flavoursome meat, and satisfied bellies, there are no complaints at all, and a request to do it again.


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Filed under On the Kitchen Table

Watch and listen

No, I’m not going to give you my tribute to the outgoing party leader, or a fine welcome to the new one, for there are plenty of those elsewhere, and the links on the sidebar are a good place to start.  Instead let’s look further afield.

First up we have Common Weal’s utterly brilliant and inspirational Robin McAlpine, speaking at a fringe meeting at the SNP conference:

Looking forward to that daily news service coming to my screen.

And have you seen the SNP’s latest Party Political Broadcast?  Yeah I know that’s when we all head for the kitchen and put the kettle on, but watch this one:

At another fringe meeting at the weekend, here we have Craig Murray, who always has something to say, sometimes controversial.  Stirring stuff as usual.  I hear he’s after a nomination for the Westminster election, having just moved to Edinburgh.

On Craig’s left there I see young Mhairi Black, who addressed the George Square gathering a few weeks back.  She spoke to the full conference in one of the debates on Friday.  Remember her name and face, for you’ll be hearing more of this young lass, I’m sure.

One interesting announcement at the weekend was the possibility of non-party members standing at elections.  The Yes Alliance is becoming a real possibility.  Interesting times ahead, more so as we hear of Labour in Scotland lurching from crisis to shambles, and back to crisis again, on a daily basis.  Of which more another day, including the moveable feast that seems to be utterances on Trident.  Should’ve voted Yes, shouldn’t you?

And to finish, some audio – Derek Bateman in discussion with Paul Holleran of the NUJ at the BBC; and then Ivan McKee of Business for Scotland.  Ivan is another who has recently joined the SNP and is considering the best route to continue his massive input of the last couple of years – it could be a Parliamentary route, either 2015 or 2016.  Such are the changes many are now facing.


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Mood Swings

It was with the very best of intentions I started putting some thoughts together.  For several days I’d been keeping an eye on one of the garden residents; and the weather was changing too.  But then..,

As she did last autumn our mistle thrush spends a fair bit of the shrinking daylight hours guarding the rowan tree.  Those little red berries are hers; and hers alone.  She sings to me too, whistling sweeter than any brickie on a scaffold, then calls out a warning, rasping away if any  blackie dare cast a beady eye on her berries.

In mid afternoon the sun begins to go to ground, and late rays filter through the branches of that tree, catching my eye through the office window.  She’s still there, with the sun behind her, pecking now and again at a berry or two.  With the rate the tree is being shred of this year’s harvest it would seem the birds aren’t too concerned about conserving stocks for whatever winter may have in store.

Some days are good, on the mood front, improving with the prospect of a break in the weather, wheels possibly turning.  But others…

I was out and about early the other day, a few tasks to get out the way, then across the garden to feed the hens, just as there was enough light to guide me, and probably before they were thinking of venturing out.  The grass was coated with frost, crisp underfoot.  Could be nice later, thought I, for the football, morning and afternoon.  Light, warming – that’s the mood, not the weather.

Then I saw them, three hulking brutes.  Two of them lying down, asleep; the third standing, watching.  Big blue eyes, black and white coat dripping, breath in clouds.

They didn’t make a song about Three Coos In The Garden, but I’d throw every coin I owned, both of them even, into the fountain, just for a chance of a wish.  They were well settled, on the football pitch, the goal area in fact.  And I wandered further, rage rising.

It was clear these beasts had been enjoying the garden throughout the night.  For there was a not a square yard remaining as I’d left it.  There was evidence everywhere; under the laburnum, where the bird feeders hang; across the drying green; and on every other bit of grass that could be found.  Hoof holes – these are not prints, for they settle up to six inches down in the soft, wet, turf.  The other evidence I could cope with but the hoof holes, They Get To Me, Big Time.

For I’ve been here before, repairing, in the aftermath of a visit.  All those hours.  Wheelbarrows of soil, trowels of fresh mole diggings in every hole, after first raising the ground with a fork.  Then seeding; and finally hour upon hours, sweating and rasping, as the heavy roller does the rounds, across the slopes and back again, and again, and again.

But no more.  For so long as there are landowners prepared to accept coin for summer grazing without securing fences; so long as there are farmers with sheep and cattle, content to let them wander the roads for days on end after the latest escape; for so long as said beasts trash my fences on their escape from me, THERE SEEMS LITTLE POINT IN EVEN TRYING TO KEEP A TIDY GARDEN.  I’VE HAD ENOUGH!

So, a wildlife garden it will be.  No more will the man go to mow the meadow.  No more will the pockmarked policies that could be the surface of a comet be repaired.  It means no footie, for it’s unsafe, ankles may break, but…

Let it grow; scatter some wildflower mix to the wind.  Let’s leave the gates open, put a sign up, welcome, come and graze, spend the night, damage whatever takes your fancy.

And right now they’re out in my field, across my trashed fence, and if they destroy my chicken run, then I’ll be calling the burger joint.

For I am raging, you might have noticed, like never before, well, not often maybe.  And the owners of said grazings, the keepers of said wandering beasts – well neither sight nor sound, and I’m too damn angry to make a call right now.

Suddenly semi-detached suburbia seems attractive, a flat even.  Surely not?  Side of beef anyone?  Free to a good freezer.


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