Taste & See: Miyoko’s & Coracao Confections

Skyway Drive 308

In our continuing efforts to explore the world of artisan vegan cheese with T’s mother, we threw another “wine” and “cheese” (for every time you read that word, substitute “cultured nut product” or something) party to sample some of Miyoko’s autumn offerings – but this time added the raw cacao offerings of Coracao Confections to the mix. The Wee Elf let us know that he was disappointed that we hadn’t simply invited him over to have more Sharp Farmhouse cheese, and his little brother continued to not really taste much, but no matter – this time the Littles were along to make snarky remarks (can you really call the 15-26 group Littles anymore? Yes? Forever? Right-oh, then) and The Aunt came to take teensy, tiny tastes of this or that — and then enjoy more than expected.

That’s the fun of these little tastings – we are all surprised – usually pleasantly – by our responses. Nobody (except maybe T’s Mom) goes into these tastings expecting to love the food – we have chips and salsa on standby, at all times – yet we don’t need them, which is nice. This time our taster’s responses ranged from the pleasantly surprised, to the “Hm, that might be okay in a dish” to the, “Oh, dear Lord, no,” end of the spectrum. What one person views as a hardline NO, another person views as an opportunity to take all of the plate home with them – which wasn’t a surprise. In addition to the chips was homemade pico de gallo, kimchi and pickled veggies and as always, a lot of laughter and rude commentary.

Skyway Drive 309

We started with the scariest cheese in the bunch – the one covered in charcoally-powdered-ash, because why not go all the way out there? The Mt. Vesuvius was slightly firm, with a dense smoothness that clung to the knife. The …smeary black ash was finely powdered and stuck fast, not coming off on anything but fingers and knives. It was quickly ascertained to be tasteless, but still made for some very worried, unhappy faces as it was passed around the table. The Elf demurred quietly. The Aunt reminded everyone that charcoal was a time-honored remedy for a sick stomach, so with tentative expressions, tasters went for the first bite… and said, “Huh.”

Second comment: “Oh, hey, that’s really good!” Third comment, tied with action, “Pass it back, would you?” And then the tasters tried to bogart that whole plate for themselves, even before Elf could finally have a taste and put in his bid for trying to keep the plate. Typical, really.

Skyway Drive 310

Our second cheese was one we knew would be rich and unique. Truffles are kind of a big deal amongst foodies, and though not everyone in the tasting group were fungus-fiends, we figured that we needed to at least try the stuff and thereby hold up the standard for dedicated California foodies, or they’d come and take our license or something. We opened up the French Style Winter Truffle wheel with expectation of a complicated and sophisticated flavor. I mean, we had no choice. The description uses the word “umami.” As in, An elegant, woodsy, and earthy wheel marbled with truffle-scented mushrooms. Explodes with deep umami flavors in a luxurious creamy base. We were going to come away from this cheese having had An Experience.

… Of course, being us, the experience was, “Huh. That tastes like dirt.” “No, it doesn’t, it tastes like earth – it’s earthy.” “Well, that’s what mushrooms taste like.” “Dirt?” “No, I said EARTH.”

And the Laurel and Hardy convention rolled along from there.

This isn’t a bad cheese. It’s creamy, spreads well, is studded with little mushroom-y pieces — but the prerequisite here is that you must really like mushrooms to feel like this is your cheese. Our group is… slightly indifferent to mushrooms, unless they’re on pizza (the Philistines). Conclusion: Melted into a bowl of buttery pasta (dairy-free butter, of course), this cheese would be amazing… just not so much for us on seedy or rye crackers, fruit, cucumbers, or any of the other things we had to pair it with. Maybe an especially sour sourdough could redeem it? It has a real richness and creaminess that needs… something more. We just don’t know, not having elegant enough palettes for that umami! Not disappointed, though. Onward!


You’ll notice that the Country-Style Herbes de Provence picture comes from the Miyoko’s Kitchen website… as unfortunately, our photographer got busy with the pickled cauliflower and some ashy cheese and crackers and forgot to take a picture… *sigh* It is so hard to get good help these days. Anyway. The herby name is evocative, as the cheese wheel is indeed smothered in gray-green herbes de Provence – which include thyme, lavender, and rosemary, but sadly, no purple flowers on ours. The herbs give off their scent as soon as the knife cuts through the product. The cheese is quite firm – enough so that you really can slice it instead of spread it – but we found we liked it better a little softer. This was a taster positive, though not the favorite the Mt. Vesuvius was – it confused some of the less sophisticated palettes of the younger set, and for others, the lavender taste was interfered with by its sweetish smell, making the cheese sweet, but others appreciated the texture and flavors. Softened, the herb-y schmear on crackers was mild and nutty.

Skyway Drive 311

We next moved on to the Double Cream Sundried Tomato Garlic. We knew this one would be well-received, because the creamy, mild and buttery flavor the cultured cashews had in the Double Cream chives are so like Boursin, and could only be improved by pairing with other flavors. The Sundried Tomato Garlic didn’t disappoint. Creamy and tangy, the garlic just a hint and the tomato not too acidic, it reminded us of a familiar and well-loved dish… smeared across a piping hot baguette, this would be a lovely dairy-free pizza type of thing. So, so zesty, creamy, and tasty! For fun, we tested an additional cheese at the same time – but it was a Fresh Buffalo-Style Mozzarella. The cheese, unlike the other wheels, wrapped in waxed paper, came in a cup, where it was packed in brine to keep it fresh. It’s not a particularly pretty cheese, looking much like dairy buffalo mozzarella, except more of a beige-y ball, not stark white.

To taste the cultured nut “mozza,” T. made simple open-faced pizza breads with a plain tomato sauce and medallions of this cheese, which managed to both melt and brown, though not stretch. Surprisingly, the smallest Wee liked the mozzarella best … or, perhaps we should say, he simply chomped happily on all the pizza breads he could reach and asked for more, apparently not noticing any difference between dairy mozzarella and Miyoko’s Buffalo-Style. The six year old palette… is surprisingly robust at times. Or indifferent. Anyway. Our conclusion on the mozzarella is that it is a workable substitute for pizza, and we’ll have to make an additional tasting to see if its mild, nutty flavor holds up to basil, balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and pear tomatoes – which is how one also eats buffalo mozzarella.

We veered from our cheese tasting to try Coracao Confections. These chocolates are coconut sugar sweetened, easily found in the Bay Area and ordered simply from the company – big pluses for our non-California readers – and contain 81% cocoa, so they’ve got that deep, dark, good stuff that’s healthy. All of the organic, raw, dairy free, gluten free, soy free, low-glycemic, heart-healthy stuff aside, at the end of the day, truffles are made wth sugar. Of course they’d go over well with the tasters, right? …Kind of. We sampled Raspberry Fudge which got a thumbs up. Rose Truffle which got a confused, “Okay, that tastes like flowers” thumbs up – and it did, the light and lovely rose came through clearly – this was followed by an enthusiastic two thumbs up for Tangerine Bee Pollen, though tasters were again confused and dubious about including pollen in anything they ate, and wondered if the local pollen was supposed to help them combat Bay Area allergies (probably, but one would have to eat a lot more truffles than just one or two to … oh, wait, that’s not a bad idea). Surprised by the Berkley Bar, tasters found this one a good second place, and agreed that it indeed was very much like a Snickers, with raw almonds instead of peanuts. We finished with Peppermint Patties, which contained fresh mint and chlorophyll for a bright and impressive green filling – and…the coconut “bacon” truffle.

Skyway Drive 312

(We can see our friend M. now, giving us a distressed and disbelieving look, with horrified head-shaking, mourning, “Vegan bacon!? Now, that is just wrong. Wrong.” Yeah, well, we live in a world that puts together chocolate and KALE “granola” – of course called “kalenola” – you have to learn to roll with the punches with the California vegan foodies, all right?) In this limited edition truffle, they took flaked coconut and coconut sugar, and then add Hickory Smoke, and Applewood Smoked Salt and added it to the top in a crunchy, slightly salty topping… The smoky, crunchy, and a little sweet adds… something very distressing to some people. Surprisingly, this one got the “Dear Lord, NO!” from the lifetime veggies and vegans in the crowd – our omnivores thought it was actually okay to pretty tasty. So, does it really taste like bacon? No one in this house can say for sure, but coconut “bacon” has been a staple at Coracao for months, and has appeared in various guises – and it sells out, over and over, so people are eating it. …Just not these people, apparently. (FINE, Mark, you win.)

Especially those of us who took that one nibble too many, hit a wall, and made a lot of sad faces while everyone else ate. Poor Elf. It’s very hard to be eight.

We had so much fun doing this that we’re going to do it again. Next time, we’re hoping to grab some other cultured nut products we’re seeing get good reviews – Kite Hill’s artisinal almond milk fresh cheeses are showing up at Nob Hill, Vtopia is a brand coming to our area, and CHAO slices by Field Roast (the tomato cayenne is supposed to be amazing) are already in groceries like Safeway. We expect to encounter both the revolting and the revealing – and it’s all in the name of sharing something meaningful to some of our family (Hi, Mom!) and enjoying an entertaining meal. Cheers!

Posted in Experimental, Food | 2 Comments

Camera Roll

Dundee 245 Glasgow Botanic Gardens D 25
Glasgow Botanic Gardens D 54 Reche Canyon 94
Cranberry Apple Flower Tarte 1 Portland 134
Vacaville 105 Vacaville 148

As the heat wave continues, we find indoor things to play with… and we’ve started messing with this new feature Flickr has called Camera Roll. It basically shows you an organized view of your pictures, based upon some machine-vision thing they’ve got going on, that shows every shot with People in it, or Arches, or Trees, or Flowers, or any number of other odd ways they have of lumping things together. It’s quite fun, and if you’ve got a Flickr account, you can play along, but if not, it’s not publicly available for you to just go through anybody’s photostream and see what’s what, thus we’ve included a few of our grouped shots here. These to the left are a bunch of pictures that were lumped together under Style / Bright, I think. It really does provide a different way to look at your photos, and probably means you’ll look at more of them, and more frequently.

That’s actually one of the questions that we get frequently in the Hobbiton: “Do you guys actually look at all those pictures after you take them?” Short answer: yes. Longer answer, we have them on a slideshow on a screen playing in our living room whenever we have guests over, so if you’re lucky enough to be invited, you could look at them, too! We really do look at them a great deal, simply because they keep us connected to our travels and to our adventures, and reminds us that being home, plugging along through work and whatever other mundane thing is just what one does between trips…

For those of you who do the twitter thing, we’ve finally given in and joined — T, under deepest protest, because the entire thing makes her break out in hives. We’re at @david_t_macknet and @tanita_s_davis if you’re at all interested. Still not quite sure what the point of it is, and still find the limitation on length to be somewhat of an annoyance, but hey, when your agent throws you under the bus says it would be good marketing, you listen, and your spouse joins in sympathy for the pain you will suffer from being on social media again. True love, that.


Posted in Photography | 3 Comments

Heat, Chemistry & CO2

Vacaville 159

Does it make a difference that it’s a dry heat? Yeah, but not much.

“You’ll have missed the best of summer by the time you go home,” a Highlands shopkeeper said mournfully, as we ducked into her shop to get out of the rain. Och, not a chance, missus.

Skillet Cornbread 3

Welcome to August in California in a drought year, where there’s plenty of summer to go around, in these parts (and it’s usually 10-12 degrees warmer in Vacaville, where D. works and where this picture was taken). We’ve now been thoroughly acclimated back to summer in Cali, and have been home for two tiny heat… spikes – can’t exactly call them waves when they only last two days – where the temps hover near 100°F. Today is the second time we’ve had to turn on the air conditioning and have contemplated setting up our camping cots in the basement office to catch some cool while we sleep. It’s rare that the bay breeze doesn’t catch us — but when that preternatural stillness hits, we know it’s going to be a rotten, hot day. Fortunately, we really don’t get those too often, as close to the water as we are, but we do have a few hard-and-fast hot weather rules:

#1 – make small, quick salad-based meals and stock up on juice bars; no one really feels like eating,

#2 – Turn on the AC before it gets hot (T. has the most trouble with this) and,

#3 – Don’t even so much as boil water indoors (except in the electric kettle) when the temps hit 93°.

Skyway Drive 299

Outdoor gear comes in handy at home this time of year. From the camping cots to the camp stove, in really hot weather, we use it all. A two-ring gas burner with a propane tank attached is great for grilling and baking — we blackened tomatoes – from our own garden! – and peppers to make a piquant and spicy pico de gallo, which is really tasty. We also made cast iron skillet cornbread with our lidded Lodge iron skillet. The lid helped it bake evenly and stay moist, as did the frozen corn we added. Using less than three tablespoons of almond flour in this corntastic dish created an amazing flavor – we’ll definitely do this quick-and-dirty dinner again. (Throw hot dogs and chunks of cheese, onions and a bit of fresh or frozen corn into your batter, and it’s a meal-in-a-pan. It’s a cross between corn dogs and casserole. Just add sliced tomatoes and cukes.)

Around Glasgow 655

The one fly in the ointment is the curious trio of raccoon who have dug up the strawberry bed entirely (!!) and are quite interested in the camp stove and all of our outdoor doings – but fortunately opposable thumbs in this case don’t mean that they can cook.

Because cooking and eating aren’t that interesting just now, we’ve gone into new experiments. We had the MOST amazing ginger beer in Scotland, put out by a company called Luscombe in Devon, England. It’s made in a village called Buckfastleigh.

Aside: Yes, let’s do take a moment and consider that name. Buckfastleigh. Ah, yes – this particular village in Devon also is home to BUCKFAST ABBEY, notorious makers of the hideously destructive delinquent Glaswegian crazy-fuel, BUCKFAST TONIC WINE, aka “Wreck the Hoose Juice.” Aye right, keep it classy, Glasgow. (Actually, that’s one of those names that was always in the paper – we never heard Actual People call it that.

Yeah, so it’s THAT Buckfastleigh. Just blows the mind that two such notable drinks come from the same region…)


Notable to foodies seeking an aggressively comparable non-alcoholic drink in pubs, Luscombe’s Hot Ginger Beer burns all the way down, yet soothes the stomach. Not too sweet, with a crisp bite of lemon to sharpen the gingery glow, it is a perfectly lovely thing to drink to warm you up – or cool you down. They make a Cool Ginger Beer as well, but we hadn’t the patience for that nonsense. Ginger is supposed to bite. Sadly, not at all willing to pay $65 to ship a twelve-bottle case to our house (!), we decided to put our intellect into finding out what’s in the stuff, and recreating it ourselves. Because, why not? Ginger beer is straight forward. It’s only ginger root, sugar, and water, right?

Actual ingredients include spring water, organic raw cane sugar, organic root ginger 3%, organic Sicilian lemon juice 3%, brewers yeast and CO2. Those are the simple ingredients, and we’re pretty sure the CO2 also occurs naturally when the juice is bottled, as it is a byproduct of fermentation anyway. Ginger beer is a relatively old recipe from the times when water wasn’t always the best option to drink, and people drank small beer or ales. Ginger beer is actually very slightly alcoholic — you can’t really make it without naturally occurring alcohols cropping up. That’s an immutable fact of making a fermented beverage – and yes, the good ginger beer and root beer, too, is fermented and filled with those good-for-you lacto-bacteria, just like kimchee or soy sauce. The trick is to allow for naturally occurring alcohols, but not intoxicating alcohols, so it has to be watched and smelled and stirred daily.

Ginger Beer 1.2

We began by processing fresh ginger root. In this weather, any fresh fruit or veg goes round pretty easily, so we found that chopping it up – skin and all – and freezing it assured that we’d have it as needed, and it thaws quickly and easily with no change in body.

Ginger Beer 1.1

Next, we worked on creating a “ginger bug,” which is a starter brew for fizzy fermented soda. It’s simply ginger, sugar, and water and three days in a crock to grow the necessary bacteria. Ginger beer from American brands like “Q,” readily available British brands like “Fever Tree” and gingery sodas from the Virgin Islands are based on a brew like this. Some people worry about adding sugar to this — they don’t want sugary sodas like they get at the store – but the sugar is for the yeast and bacteria, not you! It will be mostly eaten by those little critters, leaving you with just enough, if you do it right. (Of course, we didn’t entirely follow any *cough* recipe – we’re still fiddling, but this is a guideline.)

Rootbeer 1.1

Originally, root beer was made out of …um, roots and molasses. We compromised on a variety of recipes and chose one we liked. In these containers are sarsaparilla root, ginger root, licorice root, a cinnamon stick, and juniper berries; wild cherry bark, hops flowers, a 1/2 c. of “ginger bug;” wintergreen leaf, birch bark, and dandelion root. This is the basics from an 1840 recipe for root beer. Hops are bitter, and they’re what’s in beer to make it bitter, so T. was fairly skeptical about their inclusion… and since we had no brewer’s yeast, we used fresh yeast from the bakery. This… may have been a mistake. Next time we plan to include sassafras root (we accidentally ordered sassafras leaves, which are great for including in gumbo, but not so much in here) and molasses, and a kefir starter, which hopefully doesn’t smell quite so …raw.

The fermented soda experiment is ongoing, but a few things have been learned. First, OPEN ALL BOTTLES GENTLY and IN THE SINK. We had a root beer tsunami the other day, and it wasn’t pretty. The amount of CO2 collecting under the the lid of a bottle can have fatal force – open away from you, just like you would shaken soda, or champagne. Second, lemon juice is brewed soda’s friend – it adds a lot to the blurry medicinal flavors of roots in the root beer, and helps to sort of …cut the raw, yeasty smell. Thirdly, there is a hair-thin line between healthy fermentation and hooch — on hot days, things may go TERRIBLY wrong, very quickly (this hasn’t happened to us yet, but we’ve been warned all over the place about exploding bottles and out-of-control fermentation. We are not making booze! Promise, Mom.) Finally, we’ve learned that though we are willing and eager, making homemade root beer is going to be harder than we thought – the flavor we’re chasing is elusive, and the smell is off-putting to everyone, even veteran booze-drinkers (D took some to work for his coworkers to taste. Once they got past the smell, they all said it was good; T and Niecelet Flea said a definite thumbs down). We’ve concluded that Americans don’t really drink “root beer” so much as they drink sarsaparilla – the flavor of ours was nothing like root beer, except the one time we got root beer from a health-food store and were horrified. We’ll be aiming more for sarsaparilla next time.

The ginger beer is definitely easier for first-timers. We rather like the ginger beer – though T says it’s nowhere near as strong and lemon-y as it should be, and since she drank various brands everywhere everyone else had a diet Coke, she ought to know. T suggests dried ginger root will be added in copious amounts next time, along with fresh, to the ginger bug, and and lots more lemon juice in continuing incarnations. Stay tuned!

Hope you’re finding ways to keep busy and creative in the hot weather – or the wet weather – or wherever you find yourself. Savor every day of summertime – too hot, or not. Life doesn’t resume when it cools down or heats up, or is some ephemeral right temperature – it’s right now, so enjoy.

Posted in Experimental | 5 Comments

All That We Forgot

Kelvingrove Museum D 579

Back home, and resettling into the routine swing of things, we find we’ve kind of lost track of most of August, and are feeling shocked that the Wees and the Littles are going to be back in school in just a few weeks (the Wees in a new school, no less), and that the tomatoes (still largely green – what’s up with that?) are heavy in the wild tangle known as our garden, and even the eggplant has two fat golf ball sized fruit, and getting bigger every day. We’d forgotten how dry the air here is, how frequent the fires — and spent the first week back sneezing and using the humidifier. After the luxury of damp Scottish air and delicious Scottish water, getting back to pitcher filters and that sort of thing is a drag — but, it is what it is. We’re home, and missing friends, but glad to be here.

Iona 19

It was a little funny to remember how much we’d forgotten having been away from Scotland for another year. Both of us laughed at hearing the lyrical descriptive swing of the “Glesga patter” fairly leap from our mouths again — not to mention the unique pronunciations of the brogue. We say to-may-toe, they say toe-mah-toe, and when in Rome, or rather Glasgow, that’s one of the words we normally leave alone, but T. actually heard herself slip into the British pronunciation, much to her amusement.

Aye, Scotland. It’s catching, mate.

Stirling 380

We haven’t lost much of our “ear” – people ask us all the time if we go back to Glasgow, and are unable to understand people, but no – that hasn’t happened yet. Even away from Glasgow, we understood cab drivers and the odd guy in the pub, but there are always people one doesn’t understand — and that’s fine. We’re pretty sure that a few people in Maine or Louisiana would be also equally incomprehensible. (Or someone from the five boroughs – T’s agent is from Brooklyn, and sometimes…) We fondly seized on being called “love,” in a casual way, and took in stride the affection chivying, “oh, go on, go on,” to encourage us to eat another chocolate, or do something we wanted to, but were holding out against for manners’ sake. We smiled to hear the casual insertion of the word “ginger” in conversation, and the speaker not mean a spice. Or, speaking of gingers, our friend L mentioned the word “oxters,” in passing, and it took us a minute to remember that she means “underarms.”

2015 Benicia 7 (T’s favorite of these body-parts words is bahookie – and yes, everyone has one; it sounds exactly like what it is.) We heard the word “clipe” (or clype – spelling is purely at-will in Ulster-Scots dialect) and remembered it as a particularly clipped-sounding word for “tattletale.” We rediscovered – and still did not partake of – the food “cranachan” and still are more than a bit dubious about a dessert in which whiskey soaked oats, raspberries, cream and honey play a part. We delighted in the boon of a Scottish summer — berreis, berries, berries — and extended California’s berry season by two months instead of the paltry one we usually have, with tons of raspberries, strawberries, and brambles/blackberries. We even found some cherries, just as we were leaving, that were amazingly sweet. We had mince — and mushy peas — which were frighteningly good – and even neeps and tatties – though the neeps were an accident; T. goes out of her way to avoid the “neeps” or turnips/swedes in any dish, at all costs. But, even so, it was so good to reacquaint ourselves.

Back home, we’ve remembered what we love about August – bare feet on hardwood floors (only slightly dusty), misty mornings when the fog rolls in, the Perseids, on a clear night away from town, the presence of raccoon — three now, dear God help us — under the kitchen deck, and resuming our attempt at amateur Audubon-ing- around the feeder, two crows have become regulars, as well as a very confused mourning dove (who may soon be eaten by the Cooper’s hawk), three pushy Jays, and a stripey-headed thing we cannot for the life of us identify — but it flits, and is tiny and almost as fast as the hummers. (We should probably just break down and get a bird book, as the Cornell Ornithology website can only do so much.) We are also in melon season — the the most amazing, fragrant charentais can be had from Riverdog’s stand at the farmer’s market — and we caught the last of the cherry glut, and are moving on to the last of the peaches and plums. We feel rich in produce, in scents, in the feel of the sun on our backs.

We’re drunk on the light and the soft air and the long days — but everyone keeps telling us we’re going to have a heckuva winter here in Cali. A large part of us – that part which spent a month of summer ducking into doorways for shelter from plowtery weather – are thinking, “bring it on!” We now have rubber welly boots, mackintoshes, and more umbrellas than you can shake a stick at, and when it’s blowin’ a hoolie, we’ll be ready. Once again, Scotland to the rescue.

Until then… enjoy the summer, and photos of a green and pleasant land.

Scone Palace 8 HDR

Scone Palace 6

Glenfinnan 34

Kelvinbridge 18

Posted in California, Life | Leave a comment

Signs of the Times

Oban to Glasgow 3Oban to Glasgow 4

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.)

Oban to Glasgow 9 Appin 21

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.

Oban 83

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

Posted in Traveling | 1 Comment

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.

Oban 109
Oban 80
Oban 79
Oban 78

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

Posted in Traveling | Leave a comment

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.

Iona 86

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.

Staffa 13
Staffa 15

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.

Staffa 74

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

Posted in Traveling | Leave a comment

We attend a hootenanny…

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

Perth 44

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.

Perth 43

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.

Posted in Traveling | 2 Comments

The Further Adventures

Scone Palace 8 HDR
Scone Palace 53
Scone Palace 51
Scone Palace 98

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.

Pitlochry 11

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.

Pitlochry 7

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!

Posted in Traveling | 2 Comments

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).

Stirling 348

Stirling 392

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).

Stirling 393

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.

Perth 31

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

Posted in Traveling | 1 Comment