Signs of the Times

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Continuing to be separated by a common language… One of the things we like to photograph when abroad are road signs, street signs, and signs in general (the sumo-baby signs indicating places to change the diapers of gigantic babies are a particular favorite). Digital warnings like ‘Soft Tyres Waste Fuel’ (Better get that pressure checked, pal) and ‘Tiredness Kills’ are amusing all on their own, but today’s sign pictures are of printed signs – fortunately encountered when we were NOT driving. Possible Queuing Traffic Ahead? OK, sure, you can figure that one out, but it’s certainly not the most straightforward way to explain things, at least not to our minds. Lots of road work on the roads between Oban and Glasgow, and lots of places where they’ve put in temporary signal lights, which causes traffic to back up until the light changes. Thus, possible queuing, as it happens. Meanwhile, ‘Oncoming Vehicles in Middle of Road’ is a sign we saw frequently, driving around the Oban area. If there’s a narrow bridge, or underpass, and the traffic is constricted down to one lane, then you’ll see these… and oncoming vehicles in the middle of the road, which, back in the hinterlands of the highlands, happens frequently anyway, especially with the dreaded White Van Man. (Apparently, people driving white vans don’t own them, are working for someone else, and drive hell-bent for leather. Or, so we are told.)

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These two (hidden dip and blind summit) were sort of perplexing to us. The blind summit sort of makes sense – there’s a hill ahead of you and you don’t know what’s on the other side of it (which … duh?). Hidden dip, though? Is that telling us that there’s going to be another vehicle in the dip, or what, exactly? In neither case where we saw these signs was there anything terribly unusual about the conditions. We’re also wondering if Captain Obvious might make up a sign telling the drivers that they can’t see what’s around bends in the road, too. Come to think of it, though, haven’t there been “Blind Corner” signs? Hmm….

And last but not least: the Yes on Independence sign. Lots of strong sentiment about independence, still, and I don’t see that changing any time soon. If anything, it’s gotten stronger since the vote.

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Our Scottish Adventure is ending – we arrive back in California on Thursday afternoon. We’re looking forward to 1) washing all of our clothes, and 2) wearing some other clothes for maybe the next several months. Yes, you can get by on a week’s worth of clothing if you’ve got access to a washer in the flat … but you’ll come to hate those same clothes after wearing and rewearing them for a month!

-D & T

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At Home In Your Church

Thing 1’s parents live in a converted church, and his father A., an industrial designer and artist, was most happy to give us all the details on the building, the grounds, the loch and the history thereof. The building itself was built in 1844, and was a major renovation of an existing church. With a bit of ingenuity, Thing 1’s dad A came up with a plan to convert the disused church into a home.

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To the left are the models A. built, to show how he wanted the house. The builders constructed his house from these models, basically just putting their signature on the drawings A. had also made up and calling it well enough planned to build from. After all, this wasn’t construction, really – the church outside wasn’t really changed, with the exception of adding windows and doors – it was, though, a major undertaking, constructing a living space inside the shell of stone.

To their pride, A&F’s belfry is home to one of the largest colonies in the UK of long-eared bats. They have both long-eared and common Pipistrelle bats (one roosts in the belfry, the other in the attic), as well as swallows (who happily share space with the bats in the belfry).

We were truly impressed with the house, and want one of our own! Now, we just need to find a stone church constructed 150 years ago….

-D & T

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Antlers and Dolphins and Puffins, Oh My!

Last week was quite a busy week! We spent the week “glamping” in a lovely caravan-camper in the village of Appin while jetting about with Thing 1 and J. The upper highlands are one place where one REALLY needs a car, as the villages are tiny and separated by miles of windy road, so we were especially chuffed to have a friend on hand, who was happy to drive us to all of his favorite places, and to some he’d never visited before. We headed – in one remarkably long day – out to visit Iona Abbey and Staffa Island. In order to do this, we first had to take the ferry from Oban to the town of Craigmure on the island of Mull, which takes about 45 minutes. We then took a bus via single-track roads (yes – one lane, with places to pull out and let opposing traffic pass – it’s not a joyful thing at all) all the way across the island, which takes about an hour. We then took another ferry over to the island of Iona. You can check out all of the pictures here.

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From Iona, we then took a wee tour boat out to Staffa island – to see puffins! Along the way, we got to visit with a friendly pod of dolphins, who were quite happy to play along in the boat wake. We were quite sorry to see them fall behind, as our boat accelerated, but they were joyful to see in person, in the wild, playing in the water.

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Staffa Island is interesting, from a geologic perspective, with columnar basalt formations, caverns, etc. It is also quite steep, full of peat bogs which want to suck off your shoes, big rocks in the middle of the trail, and steep cliffs. For us, though (well – for D), Staffa was mostly a convenient place to visit with the puffins. These little birds – and they are quite surprisingly smaller than you’d think – have pretty much no fear of people. They’ll happily waddle around a few feet away, looking quizzically at you if you’re where they want to be. It’s a bit of a slog through marshy ground to get there (UNDERSTATEMENT! – t), but well worth the hike. Check out all of the Staffa pictures here.

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When we say it was a busy week, we mean it. We are well exhausted, from long drives and lots of walking/hikes, but we had such a good time, and T. looks back at high hills and cliffs with a sense of satisfaction from having climbed them (though her thigh muscles are still faintly protesting). We walked out to visit Glenfinnnan (of Harry Potter train-bridge fame), pottered about a bit in Glencoe, and took a gondola ride up to the top of Aonach Mor. Not to mention getting to visit with Thing 1’s parents and oler sister, eating loads of good vegetarian food, playing rowdy games of Cranium and Articulate (we will be purchasing that one – it’s awesome fun), and visiting the “Hollow Mountain,” aka Cruachan Power Station – the first “reversible” hydro-power station in the world (when the need electricity, they let the water run out of their reservoir; when they can buy electricity during off-peak usage times, they reverse the turbines and pump the water back into the reservoir). A good time was had, but we’re most grateful to be back in the land of fewer “midgies,” as they call the voracious mosquito, and more internet connectivity!

-D & T

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We attend a hootenanny…

Not really. Actually, we went to see Calamity Jane at the Perth Concert Hall for its last night.

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We love the Perth theater, not least because we sang a perfect concert there, ages ago – the Rossini in 2011 was FLAWLESS, and it’s just not often that you can say that about a concert – but it’s a bright and well attended space, and there is a lot of variety there. We thought we’d enjoy a bit of town polish whilst on vacation, so we got ourselves to the theater… and noticed a big, big group of screeching, giggling women taking selfies on the stairs to the balcony. Of course they were seated right next to us. OF COURSE THEY WERE. They were having a hen party, complete with pink, sparkly, plastic, cowboy hats. They were very …enthusiastic, as was most of the rest of the audience, really: clapping, “yee-haw-ing”, whistling, stomping their feet. It was like …theater as we’ve never experienced it. Ever. It was an event. Having never seen the performance before – D. had never even really gotten the gist of the plot – we were a bit … left out. What with the lack of sparkly cowboy hats and all.

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Despite our bemusement, it was quite a well done performance – even the accents could have been from… well, Australia-by-way-of-Canada, if not the U.S.. The players had an amazing amount of musical talent – there was a cellist, a bass, two flautists, three violinists – fiddlers – and a couple of really wonderful trumpeters, a sax player, and some great pianists – as well as the ubiquitous guitarists, harmonica and banjo players – all moving and dancing and managing to never miss an entrance or a pitch. And then there was the stompy, enthusiastic hootenany-ceilidh dancing, aka square dancing… which reminded us an awful lot of the square-dancing at our friend Axel’s wedding, actually… while we may never (please, T. says) go see a Western musical again, it was a lot of fun to do something so drastically different, on holiday.

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The Further Adventures

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The weather continues to cycle wildly, like a fractious, teething infant. Squalls and torrential cloudbursts followed by misty blue skies and bursts of sunshine. Though we lost our travel partners for the day – Dundee was hit with FAR more of the storm cell – we thought that we were okay to take off yesterday and go out to the Crannog Centre on Loch Tay, because the Beeb reported that the worst of the torrents was long gone, and all was well.

Well, obviously, next time we’ll check a different weather report for a second opinion.

All was fine – getting out to the A9 was fine – and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves for managing a dual carriageway when only days before, managing surface streets in a car that felt backwards and weird was A Bit Much. We listened to the SatNav, which is what people call the GPS here, and found our exit, turned off the freeway, and…

…into about two feet of standing water. Well, one can’t stop on a freeway, so we kept going, even as T. quietly screamed in the passenger seat. Fortunately, we went directly uphill… into gravel. The road was in the process of washing out, so there was gravel and big rocks all over. With his passenger still quietly screaming, D. carried on, with the idea that the uphill of the road meant that we would clear all problems eventually. All it meant to T. was that we’d eventually have to go …downhill.

And did we mention that this was such a narrow road that it seemed to be a single track? And that people were coming down from it at great rate, but no one was going up?

(And speaking of “at a great rate,” good grief do Perthshire drivers just whiz along. Apparently a little hydroplaning on a stormy day never hurt anyone.)

Scottish roads are good for having lay-bys, or turnouts, as we call them in the States, but we whipped past the first couple without noticing them, because they were tiny. Small streams and rivers flowed merrily over the road as we finally found a driveway and began the laborious process of the twenty-point turn. We were rattled and dismayed (again, what is this WE?), but once we returned to the main road, we decided to press on to Pitlochry, which is basically a tiny town with a distillery and a fish ladder and so many shops that it feels like a brightly colorful outdoor mall with pots of flowers strewn about. Pitlochry is an exercise in not buying things, as there are so many little bits of tat here and there that you could buy something from every store. We resisted — because we were there on a mission. Or, rather D. was.

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In 2008, D. bought a wallet from a shop. He needed a Scottish wallet, because they have change purses and pound coins just don’t fit properly into an American wallet – nor do Scottish bills, because they are wider. The new wallet was something like his second or third in Scotland – he’d been unhappy with all the others – but this one was handmade, and he was thrilled with it. Fast forward to our return to the States, when he decided not to swap wallets back to his old American one… fast forward to today, when it is literally falling apart. “I’m going to find that shop,” he said, and set off in the rain, through the streets of Pitlochry. “I think it was… right in the middle of town, by that one hardware store.” And with that vague idea, followed by a dubious spouse, the adventure continued.

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And, because Scotland rarely changes what works, and Pitlochry is nearly the same as it was years ago, the shop is still there. The proprietress is still there. And, the style of wallet? Astoundingly, still there. D. opted for a wallet that is a little longer than his original, so that it accommodates both kinds of bills, and while it doesn’t have a separate zippered compartment for his Icelandic money (which he carries everywhere, as one does), it literally fits the bill.

It’s been an unusual week, having a car in Scotland, and next week we’re back to the kindness of friends fetching us from train stations and towing us around, and a great deal more walking to and from as well as around and through. While this will likely mean fewer breathless moments with roundabouts (!!!!), it will definitely mean lower blood pressure all around!

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And, hello Perth

Should you visit this fair (well, sometimes; mostly it’s drippy just now) country, you should know that every trip to Scotland must involve a trip to Stirling Castle. This is just the way of things, because it’s a fabulous castle (Historic Scotland maintains their offices there, saying it’s the best example of a Scottish castle).

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You’d think we’d be over visiting Stirling, since when we lived in Hayford Mills we were literally ten minutes away from the castle, but no. This time, we visited because they’ve been renovating the residential section of the castle the last 10 times we visited (OK, maybe it wasn’t 10 times – but the whole 5 years we lived in this country, it was closed). Anyway, they’d been renovating, and had had weavers in making tapestries using traditional methods (by hand, for years and years).

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The tapestries are now installed in the residential section, which is completely redone to historically accurate specifications – including the somewhat garish colorings of the plaster walls and the ceiling. (We read awhile back in the Smithsonian Magazine about all the Italian statuary and castles which were probably bright and full color — when all that plain white marble is restored, it’s amazingly bright and whimsical looking). Together with the ceilings, the tapestries are quite magnificent, seen as a whole, rather than just randomly hung upon the walls in other sections of the castle. They represent thousands of hours of labor, with multiple people sitting down and weaving in pieces by hand, one thread at a time. They really stand out now, and add quite a lot to the castle as a whole.

We ended our time in Glasgow with the best of all things, and the worst of all things — Sunday, we had brunch with some of our dearest Scottish friends, and met some new and brilliant friends at a supper given for us — those were wonderful. The less-than-amusing Glasgow incident – typical for us, it seems – meant another noisy neighbor, and another all-night party Saturday night we couldn’t interrupt for love nor money. Though he apologized – upon being forced to – we’re happily done with the city, and now on to gorgeous, green Perth.

We’ll always remember this time in Perth – for a number of reasons, but because here we braved driving for the first time in the UK (What is this we, T???) — fine, D chanced driving, whilst T. gripped the dash board and prayed — ! It’s a challenge, because the car seems ridiculously wide and having the wheel on the side closest to the lane where other drivers are seems… odd. D. tends to drive wide of the center line, but with a little more practice, he should be fine. Even so, we’re staying off of major roads, and only got the car so that we could get to some of the more far-flung locations out in the country. (Because such great swaths of land are privately held in this country, the trains just don’t go East to West, because it’s private land and ostensibly the Lairds said no when the railroad came knocking.) At least it’s an automatic, so D. isn’t shifting with his left hand on top of everything else!

We are now staying at a newly renovated guest house as its second guests. We are quite happy for the modern conveniences, though there’s no gorgeous Georgian ceiling and crown moldings… it doesn’t leak, and it has all modern conveniences and it still smells faintly of fresh paint, it’s so new. It’s central to another group of friends, and some lovely historical places further in the country, and we’re looking forward to wringing all we can out of this pleasant location.

This week, we should make our way to the Crannog Centre, the gorgeous little town of Pitlochry, Dunblane, and to Scone Palace (rhymes with “spoon” – not the biscuity thing you eat with jam and cream). We’ll visit with L and the Weasels, and generally be tourists.

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And now, it’s time to settle in with a pillow or two and a book. Half of our holiday has gone, and we must make the most of this leisure time.

-D & T

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Many Happy Returns

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Wood, wood, wood. Everywhere.

No – in fact we weren’t celebrating the 239th birthday of independence in the U.S. – although that’s nothing to sniff over. We were referring to the happy return to the city where toilets flush like Niagra, cab drivers tell you their life stories and ask probing personal questions, and where a few of our really dear friends still live – we’ve returned to Glasgow.

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Home of antiquities in architecture, and glass door knobs

You may ask, as we often ask ourselves, why we’re back here. We asked ourselves laughingly, as we arrived in a hissing downpour, during the after work commute traffic on Thursday, drove through slightly dodgy neighborhoods enroute to our flat, and listened to our cab driver whinge to us about his mother in law. (Okay, kidding about that last. But it has happened before.)

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The view from the front room.

We finally decided it’s more about us than about Glasgow; more about who we are when we’re here than the place itself. It’s kind of representative of our shared college experiences – only we were much older in this charmed time and place than we were as undergraduates, thus less apt to take for granted finding our tribe. We enjoyed the academic atmosphere, the variety of lectures open to the public, and that no one – on the West End of the city, anyway – thinks anything of people who read in public and ignore everyone around them. There are places to be a hermit, and places to emerge from “hermitude” and eat supper while watching ping pong tournaments. It felt oddly like non-adult life, and it’s fun to return to that, albeit briefly.

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And Glasgow welcomed us back with style! Well, in Glasgow-style, anyway. We were sitting in the front room, having a quiet read/doze in the overcast afternoon, with the sky pewter gray and the breeze whipping through the trees outside… and then we hear the sound of dripping. From inside.

…Oh, no. OH NO!

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Oh, yes. Water ran down this chain and splattered.

The exchange of disbelieving looks! The scrambling for mop buckets! The dash to hail the neighbor upstairs! It was all so familiar! We truly felt we were back, at that moment. And then we spent the next hour in intermittent snickers. Good old Georgian-era houses and ridiculous plumbing. (Apparently the neighbor upstairs was using the kitchen tap… somehow, the pipes objected. He now promises not to use the tap until Monday when someone can come in and look at the thing… We don’t dare turn on the overhead light in the front room, we’re sure we’ll short out the whole house. Good times, people. Good times.

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The bedroom light fixture.

Happy Fourth. May your fireworks be safe, and here’s hoping that the boiler doesn’t blow up.

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Taste & See: Miyoko’s Creamery

Did you get the memo?

The words “artisan” and “vegan” go together. Well, they’re being seen together a lot more lately, anyway. Honestly, it was only a matter of time before vegans figured out the cheese thing, since it’s the excuse most of us use to stay not-vegan. We love our cheese. For those who desire to switch to a solely plant-based diet, the siren-call of cheese can be really, seriously, awfully HARD to resist, so vegans have for a long time been motivated. Of course, there have been, and there remain, myriad vile concoctions as a result of that motivation, horrific things which masquerade as cheese. Probably everyone has their story of struggling through plastic-y sandwich additions, crunchily textured things made out of rice milk (WHY?) and bright orange “chezie” sauce on pasta (sometimes this can be really good – T’s baby sister makes an amazing mac-and-cheez. But, not everyone has the knack.), but this isn’t a story about someone’s putting out a substandard product. This is a story of a product cheeses which was welcomed by vegans, vegetarians and omnivores alike. It was kind of shocking.

Miyoko Schinner is a longtime Bay Area vegan who wrote several cookbooks, including one in 2012, detailing her at-home success in making cultured vegan nut products. But, though many people bought the book, they were too timid to try cooking with unusual ingredients such as carrageenan powder, xanthan gum, tapioca flour, and agar powder. Not only that, but people had to come to grips with stuff like rejuvelac (what?) and the idea that culturing anything – dairy or non-dairy – is a process that is open to the vagaries of chance, as well as time-consuming. Laziness won out again, and after a lot of whining from friends and family, Miyoko opened Miyoko’s Creamery… which now ships to all fifty states, has a contract with the Whole Foods Markets and is still expanding as we speak.

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We sat down for our family “Wine & Cheese” Tasting last week with a chilled bottle of Draper Valley Riesling grape juice – from an absolutely fabulous company which produces only unsulphured bottled grape juices, which means everyone can partake – and four of Miyoko’s Creamery cheeses (and, we’re just going to say “cheeses,” because “cultured nut products” makes us want to belt someone, and we refuse to type that umpteen million times). The cheeses are plastic-wrapped and then boxed for freshness, and before tasting, T. set them out for about forty-five minutes, to make sure we lost none of the flavors due to cold. (We don’t advise more than ten minutes in the summertime, however! The Double Cream got very soft.) There are ten “root” varieties of cheese, and then there are seasonal variations. We chose the Aged English Farmhouse cheese, the High Sierra Rustic Alpine, the Fresh Loire Valley in a Fig Leaf, and the Classic Double-Cream Chive. In the interest of taking good first impressions and comparing and contrasting, we ate the cheese on thin crispy, crackers containing no spices, passing the plate along the table and comparing flavor and texture, smell and noting anything else which caught our attention.

We began with the High Sierra Rustic Alpine cheese, which had a thick, creamy texture that was almost not spreadable – a paté consistency. It could be described as “semi-hard.” In color, it is a light tan all the way through. Its ingredients list Organic Cashews, Filtered Water, Organic Coconut Oil, Organic Chickpea Miso (Organic Chickpeas, Organic Rice Koji, Sea Salt, Water, Koji Spores), Sea Salt, Nutritional Yeast, and Cultures. We notice that nowhere on the list is listed liquid smoke, but… there’s… something slightly – very slightly – smoky about this cheese. This comes, perhaps, from the combination of nutritional yeast and miso? Anyway, the smooth and mild spread left a nicely savory finish on the tongue, and was …tasty. It wasn’t T’s favorite, but T’s mother thought it was wonderful and went back to it again and again. (Of course, this became her pattern with ALL of the cheeses throughout the night. But, more on that later.)

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Interestingly, the ingredient list for the second cheese we tried is identical to the first, and yet, could two cheeses be any more diverse? The Classic Double Cream Chive was very nearly T’s favorite, with its creamy, mild, buttery flavor and the lovely hint of chive. In color, it is a creamy white, with bits of green which are the chives. This was enthusiastically received, and T. imagined it on baked potatoes, immediately. And then on toast. And then on peppered water crackers… Despite the miso and nutritional yeast still present in this cheese, the overwhelming flavor is mildly herb-y and buttery — like a nice Gournay cheese like Boursin. T’s mother returned to this cheese as well, as it’s very creamy and moreish, as our Scots friends would say. Another plus? It a cheese that is definitely easy to get kids to eat. Our youngest taster, Elf, is eight, and informed us that it is indeed a very good cheese, and he’s quite the omnivore and picky as all heck. An excellent result!

Not surprisingly, because T. loved it so much, D. just… shrugged. “It’s fine, it’s tasty enough,” is no ringing endorsement, so we will just ignore him, and move on. AHEM.

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The next cheese T. wasn’t too sure about at all – because she’s not that fond of fruit in cheese, and not always at all fond of certain varietals of figs. Fortunately, she needn’t have worried; the ingredient list remained the same with this cheese, which meant the fig leaf – wine-cured – was only on the outside, and had nothing to do with the product INSIDE. The manufacturer has made a note that the shelf-life of this particular cheese is sixty days. As none of our other cheeses had this note, we figured it was there because of the leaves, which introduces another biological element into something cultured and aged.

While T. wasn’t sure she’d be wild about this cheese, this one D. managed to hoard and keep right in front of him on the table. Its sharpness and decidedly tangy, savory flavor may have been the reason for this. In color, this product is creamy white and the leaf only discolors the surface a very little bit. The manufacturer advises that this cheese grows more sharp as it ages. Of all the cheeses we tried T. liked this one least, and D. liked this one best. Elf was indifferent and T’s mother tried it once or twice, and remained enthused.

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(The photographer must apologize for not unwrapping a couple of the cheeses; social occasions with a lot of giggling and genial insults and cheese-snatching across the table are not the best times to remember to properly photograph the food on one’s plate. Look! You can just admire the wonderfully sweet tea roses or the quirky cross-stitch pattern on the plates! There. All better.)

The final cheese was a second choice; we’d intended to sample the Smoked English Sharp Farmhouse, but it is apparently wildly popular and goes quickly out of stock from week to week. We settled instead for the Aged English Sharp Farmhouse, and were nonetheless thrilled. It is a firm, light tan cheese with a tangy flavor reminiscent of cheddar, and would have paired nicely with a Draper Valley verjus, the tangy, tart vintner’s brew made of unripened grapes. We all immediately imagined this melted – and it does melt – into a pasta sauce. This was Elf’s hands-down …tied favorite. Flea’s hands-down main favorite, T’s mother’s favorite, just because they all were, D’s second favorite, and T’s favorite. While we tried to remind ourselves that we were just TASTING, this cheese barely made it to be wrapped up and sent out the door to T’s parent’s house. Given time, it would have been completely snarfed down. The ingredients for this farmhouse were the same as with all of the other cheeses, yet this astonishingly tasted nothing like them. At all.

…which is really not so surprising. ALL cheeses in the dairy section are, at their root, made of … milk, salt, and enzymes, added with time. What gives cheese its flavor differentiation? The culturing process. The time. Owing to that simplicity, you might having a niggling interest in buying that cookbook and seeing how hard it would be to produce your own cultured nut products (!) at home. Or, if you’re not as time-rich as that, you could pop over to the website and see what else you’ve missed. The Country Style Herbes de Provence? The Double Cream Sundried Tomato & Garlic? The French Winter Truffle, or the Mt. Vesuvius Black Ash?

We bought these cheeses to share a social experience with vegans who don’t often get to have wine & cheese parties (okay, not gonna lie; people who don’t drink also don’t have wine and cheese parties, but we’ll ignore that), and came away sort of gobsmacked and perfectly willing to buy and consume these products our own non-vegan selves. There are still plenty of vegan “pitfalls” out there in terms of faux cheese products — but this carefully handcrafted, artisan “cultured nut product?” Is not one of them.

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{feats of fermentation*}

If you could change your life by what you ate… you would, wouldn’t you?”

“You Are What You Eat!” was dinned into our wee brains throughout childhood (right along with “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything,” but you see how well that went), and we all figured it was true, as far as that went, though most of us imagined our classmates as gigantic chickens or something. (Or, maybe that was only T. Whatever.) But recently the National Institute of Health put out a really surprising report on how what we eat can literally change our mental state. The piece is titled, “Fermented foods, neuroticism, and social anxiety: An interaction model,” and the tl;DR quote you need is:

“A recent study in humans has shown that consumption of a fermented milk product containing a combination of probiotics (Bifidobacterium animalis, Streptococcus thermophiles, Lactobacillus bulgaricus, and Lactococcus lactis) can modulate brain activity (Tillisch et al., 2013). After four weeks of consuming the fermented milk product, there was a reduction in brain activity in a network of areas, including sensory, prefrontal, and limbic regions, while processing negative emotional faces. Importantly, a control group that ingested a non-fermented milk product showed no such changes in brain activity, suggesting that the probiotics in the fermented milk were responsible for the modulation in brain activity. This study demonstrates that fermented foods containing probiotics can alter how the human brain processes negative social stimuli.”

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If you’re vegan, you may be shrugging and thinking, “Well, that’s all very nice for the sanity of the omnivores, but…” Nope, think again: probiotics exist in fermented foods of all kinds, even those which have no milk products. An easy one to enjoy? Kimchi. By fermenting vegetables in a salty broth to suppress the whole decay factor of vegetables sitting in water for weeks at a time, lactic acid bacteria takes over the process, creating the magical healthy probiotics that we need.

T’s family had many Korean friends, and growing up, T. ate some really amazing kimchi. T. has a vague memory of her mother attempting to make her own kimchi in a Mason jar… and the Mason jar exploding… so when D. wanted to make kimchi, T. was… not really on board. So, she stalled. This worked for a few weeks until D. found a fermentation crock, and then the whole kimchi thing was on like Donkey Kong, and there was nothing she could do about it. She wasn’t sure what to put in it – some traditional recipes call for shrimp – ugh, imagine that decomposed – and there’s the traditional red pepper powder called gochugaru — kimchi aficionados say it can’t be replaced with just plain cayenne pepper. Nevertheless D. had a new toy, and in went the Baechu (napa) cabbage, red peppers, onions, scallions, garlic, chopped carrots, and crushed roasted seaweed, to add a bit of meaty umami flavoring – the “rocks” to hold down the veg, the water and the salt.

Fermented Cabbage 2

Adding salt to our fermented cabbage this time was …tricky. The first recipe we used added it by weight, and we made the mistake of looking for a “vegetarian-friendly” recipe instead of looking for a KOREAN recipe. Rookie mistake, we are covered in shame. There’s a method to making this properly, and the first is to brine the cabbage – and then rinse it. This is necessary to kill off nasties, but rinsing also helps keep the level of salt down. We had to back up and do this step after we had a delicious but ultimately waaaay tooo salty dish. The second trick is to mix your seasonings into a paste and add it to the cabbage only after it’s all together. That way you can get delicious ginger and garlic and peppery goodness in every bite.

We admit to impatience, and only fermented our cabbgae for three days. It was tasty, but it wasn’t “right,” and we’re going back to the drawing board. Next time we’re looking forward to adding radishes — maybe from our own wee garden! — to the mix, doing the soaking properly, and experimenting with a freer hand with the gochugaru. There are many kinds of kimchi and we have many tasty days ahead of us. Meanwhile, if you’re a fan of sauerkraut, this is a fermented cabbage that kicks it up a notch. (And if you’re not a fan of sauerkraut, rejoice; this is nothing like it, really.)

But, we can sense that some of you remain unconvinced. It’s not enough that the probiotics in fermented foods can increase your mental well-being. You’ve seen real kimchi. It’s red and weird and pungent and even snuggled up next to perfectly steamed rice, you can’t imagine putting such foreignness into your mouth. Uh-huh. Well, consider this:

Fermented Cabbage 3

The 2003 outbreak of SARS in Asia virtually left Korea untouched – possibly because kimchi has been shown to boost immunity. Korean chickens infected with the H5N1 (avian flu) virus recovered after eating food containing the same probiotics found in kimchi. The Journal of Nutrition in 2001 reported that kimchi produces beneficial short chain fatty acids which are reported to inhibit the development of invasive colon cancers. Research reported in 2008 revealed kimchi probiotics fighting ulcer-causing Helicobacter pylori bacteria. The Journal of Medicinal Foods abstract adds, “Health functionality of kimchi, based upon our research and that of other, includes anticancer, antiobesity, anticonstipation, colorectal health promotion, probiotic properties, cholesterol reduction, fibrolytic effect, antioxidative and antiaging properties, brain health promotion, immune promotion, and skin health.”

From various studies, kimchi aids in digestion, lowers total cholesterol, is an antioxident, reduces inflamation in skin breakouts, lowers BMI, beefs up the immune system, reduces oxidative stress in blood cells, inhibits the growth of cancer cells, increases glucose tolerance, especially when eaten with a low fat food; inhibits gastric ulcers, combats nutrient depletion, builds stamina and helps prevent yeast infections. Are we at least a little more on-board with this? Hope so. Tune in ’til the next Feat of Fermentation.

*Yes, yes, we know we’re bizarre. Normal people are talking about their home microbrewing when they discuss fermentation. Haven’t you figured out by now that we’re never Those People? Get with the program, folks; even when we’re swanning around in the sky we don’t do “normal” here.

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Avid Baker’s Challenge: Crackle Cookies

Crackle Cookies 2

This month’s Avid Baker’s Challenge was to make Crackle Cookies. I think that this is definitely a good recipe, although it’s quite a small recipe – I doubled it and still only ended up with a couple dozen cookies, which won’t make my coworkers very happy with me (or, at least, it won’t make very many of them very happy).

Crackle Cookies 3

I’m a bit reluctant to fiddle with it beyond doubling, as there’s a risk that something will get slightly out of the right balance – industrial recipes are by weight for this reason. So, I suppose a small batch will have to be made more frequently, if I’m to share this. I think, though, that the Fudgy Brownies are something I’m more likely to make again, as those were so much easier than these!


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