Burns’ Night cometh… the mystery of the haggis!

While wandering down an aisle in the supermarket last week, my mind on other things, I came to a sudden halt and I found myself staring at some alien looking things in the meat department. After the initial shock, I realised I had come across a pile of haggis, all ready for Burns’ Night on 25th January.

In my younger days, the prospect of a Burns’ Night Supper was quite fun as it usually involved plenty of energetic Scottish dancing and a jolly evening perfect for livening up a cold and grey January. But haggis? It has never been high on my list of likes. Oh, be honest Joanna, it’s high on your list of dislikes! But the whole Burns’ Night Supper always sounds so wonderfully wild and Scottish that it appeals to the romantic in me. Served alongside the haggis you have the marvellously named ‘rumblethumps’ (potato, cabbage and onion) or ‘neeps and tatties’ (swede and potatoes), followed by the magical sounding ‘Clootie dumpling’ (a suet and fruit pudding). If all that wasn’t enough to fill you up and keep you warm through a freezing Scottish night, you can always add a few drams of whisky!

As decreed in Burns’ great poem, the haggis is slit with a dagger!

So what is haggis? It is a savoury pudding containing sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver, and lungs); minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices, and salt, mixed with stock, traditionally encased in the animal’s stomach although nowadays, an artificial casing is often used. A cheap dish designed to waste nothing and use up scraps and offal; it isn’t something many people would choose today as they try to eat less meat. But if you want to enjoy the whole Burns’ Night atmosphere there are lots of vegetarian haggis (haggi?) on sale and plenty of recipes online if you want to make your own.

Haggis is Scotland’s national dish, thanks to Scots poet Robert Burns’ poem ‘Address to a Haggis’ of 1787, a Scottish dish through and through, you would think. But wait! The name ‘hagws’ or ‘hagese’ was first recorded in England in 1430! And it gets worse…

There’s evidence to suggest that the ancient Romans were the first known to have made products of the haggis type. Even earlier, a kind of primitive haggis is referred to in Homer’s Odyssey. The well-known chef, the late Clarissa Dickson Wright, said that haggis “came to Scotland in a longship” (from Scandinavia) even before Scotland was a single nation. So that’s another ‘tradition’ shattered!

We looked for the reclusive wild haggis but couldn’t find any photos, so here’s a gorgeous Highland cow instead!

Even though there may be evidence that the Scots didn’t invent haggis after all… they have come up with an alternative history that I think sounds perfectly reasonable. The wild haggis is a small Scottish animal, a smaller hairier version of a sheep. According to some sources, the wild haggis’s left and right legs are of different lengths, allowing it to run quickly around the steep mountains and hillsides that make up its natural habitat but only in one direction. It is further claimed that there are two varieties of haggis, one with longer left legs and the other with longer right legs. The former variety can run clockwise around a mountain (as seen from above) while the latter can run anticlockwise. The two varieties live happily alongside each other but are unable to interbreed in the wild because, in order for the male of one variety to mate with a female of the other, he must turn to face in the same direction as his intended mate, causing him to lose his balance and fall over!

PS. According to one poll, 33% of American visitors to Scotland believed haggis to be an animal

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We all love an Advent calendar!

As today is 1st December, I thought it would be fun to look at that Christmas favourite – the Advent calendar!

As a child, I can remember being SO excited about opening the little numbered windows in the run up to Christmas Day. Back then, there was nothing more than a picture behind each door or, if I was very lucky, a chocolate and I found it thrilling! Today, you can buy Advent calendars stuffed with 24 ‘surprises’ ranging from chocolate to gin and everything in between, with just as many aimed at adults as children. Each to their own of course, but I can’t help feel it’s another nice little innocent tradition that has been thoroughly hijacked by commercialism! But hey ho… I thought I’d do a bit of delving and look back into the origins of the Advent calendar.

An Advent calendar is used to count the days of Advent in anticipation of Christmas. Technically, the date of the first Sunday of Advent can fall anywhere between between November 27 and December 3, but today, pretty much all Advent calendars begin on December 1. It’s widely accepted that the Advent calendar was first used by German Lutherans in the 19th and 20th centuries but is now common across most Christian denominations.

Traditionally, Advent calendars featured the manger scene, Father Christmas or idyllic snowy landscapes and featured paper flaps, windows or doors, covering each date. The little windows opened to reveal an image, a poem, a portion of a story (such as the story of the Nativity), or a sweet treat. Often, each window had a Bible verse and Christian prayer printed on it and Christians would incorporate this into their daily Advent devotions.

Today, as well as covering a mind-boggling array of indulgent treats, the calendars can take the form of fabric pockets, painted wooden boxes with cubby holes for small items or, as I spotted online, a train set with 24 mini waggons, each loaded with a present… and so on and so on. So much for any religious significance!

In the snowy northern climes of Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden there is a tradition of having a so-called ‘Julekalender’ ­– the local word for a Yule, or Christmas – calendar (even though it actually is an Advent calendar) in the form of a television or radio show, starting on December 1 and ending on Christmas Eve. I’m amazed this hasn’t caught on over here! Surely we could have a series of 24 gardening, cooking and dancing shows to trot us up to Christmas in a very merry frame of mind! But then, that wouldn’t seem all that different to our usual TV scheduling, would it?

Oh, but that’s enough of my cheek. My granddaughter Grace will have a lovely traditional Advent calendar (with perhaps just some small sweetie treats!) and I know her little face will light up with joy as she opens each window and begins to feel the magic of Christmas. Smiles, Joanna.

 

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A window of opportunity

The other day (over yet more book signing – yippee!!) I was discussing houses and décor with my partner in crime writing, Julia. She has recently moved house and is blessed with wonderful views of Dartmoor. Not wanting to obscure the views behind blinds or net curtains, she was telling me about the ‘window art’ she has discovered… hmm, interesting I thought, tell me more!

After living in a very old and dark farmhouse for the past 20 years, Julia wants to ensure she gets lots of light (and the gorgeous views) in her new house. She has opted for clear glass in her front and back doors, as well as patio doors and even her bathroom window! But to ensure privacy and to deter people, dogs and birds from colliding with the glass she has bought several designs of decorative window stickers.

I guess we’ve all seen the bird silhouettes you can stick on your patio doors to try and stop bird strikes, but if you look online there are a huge range of really lovely designs that transform glass to look as if it is etched.

All these images are from Metal Monkey, they have a huge range!

You can either buy frosted and decorative window film where there is a pattern or image cut out of the frosting (offers the most privacy), or you can go for the reverse, where you add a frosted design onto plain glass. While rummaging around on the internet, Julia came across some wonderful designs from Metal Monkey, the most expensive about £18 while the majority were under £10. It’s a very reasonable way to add a lovely design touch to what used to be a rather ‘utilitarian’ look and often involved buying whole new panes of glass and the expense of having them fitted.

Photo: Brume.

Julia has opted for modern designs to reflect the style of her house, but also kept them very ‘natural’ to compliment her lovely countryside surroundings. She has bees and birds for her patio doors, mostly to stop her dog Moss from squashing her nose on the glass when she forgets they are closed, and some lovely allium-inspired designs for her main doors. Oh, and some lovely Japanese leaping carp for her bathroom window! Can’t wait to see the finished results!

Jewel-like stained glass film from Brume. Photo: Brume.

One of the suppliers Julia came across is called Brume, and they are actually based just down the road from me here in Devon! They have some lovely contemporary designs as well as more traditional ones. As well as the frosted stickies, they also make the most gorgeous stained glass colours. Their coloured transparent window film can give you the sophisticated look of traditional stained glass without the costs and installation problems. And of course, if you decide to have a re-design, you can easily remove your stained glass window sticker and replace it with a different colour that reflects your home’s new look.

I must say I do fancy having a bit of a play with the stained glass idea… Have any of you already tried something Like this, I’d be interested to hear how you got on!

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Have a Holly Pond Hill Christmas!

I wanted to share a couple of Holly Pond Hill Christmas cards with you today – hmm not that many weeks to Christmas, have you made all your cards yet?

Of course the first thing you are going to do is say “Have you?” and of course the answer you knew was coming is… nope nothing like all of them yet!

One year I promise I will be a super organised Christmas person, I will plan in advance not only what we are eating, who is coming and when, but also make my cards months in advance. I’m not succeeding very well on that list this year. Currently I have no clue if my girls are with me on Christmas Day or whether as we have done in the past we postpone the big day to December 26th.

It’s so much harder when children are grown up, they acquire other families (their in-laws) that have just as much right to Christmas Day as you do and, shock horror, they even occasionally want to go away for Christmas! I do wonder what the reaction would be if Richard and I went away for Christmas, not sure they would think that was right! No stockings, no-one to cook and clear away on Christmas Day – noooo!

But back to the cards – Christmas in Holly Pond Hill is a fabulous CD. If you haven’t got it already, then it’s definitely on my top 5 list for making Christmas cards and I can recommend it. I love the little characters and there are also some amazing images without furry bits too!

Both the cards use the matching backing papers that come with the toppers on the CD (easy to find!) and the little parcel on the right uses the (SD553) Small Box Envelope die and again a paper from the CD.

Maybe aim to have half your Christmas cards done by the middle of November Joanna? Hmm … maybe!

 

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Patchwork Fish!

This is a fun shaker card that has bubbles or snow inside the fishbowl! Shaker cards are simple to make once you have made your first one (I always found them really intimidating) and the swish of the ‘bubbles’ adds another dimension to the card.

The background patchwork paper is from the Joanna Sheen Paper Collections Pad (Volume 3) – there’s a blue version of this pink patchwork too – so pretty. The size of the card is 8” x 8”  – yes I use this card size a lot and love our own brand cards that size as they really are 8” x 8”, whereas most manufactured cards measure the envelope or have slight tolerances with size etc..

The shaker part is created like this:

  1. Take a piece of white card about 4” square and put to one side for now. Cut a piece slightly larger say 4 ¼” square. Stamp or die cut a fish bowl (Sue Wilson does one on the website CED21001) on the larger piece and attach to the centre of the card. Now cut away the centre of the fish bowl. Cover the back of the fish bowl with some acetate.
  2. Die cut some tropical fish (Signature dies Tropical Fish) in white card and colour as you please. Glue these onto the smaller piece of card, checking that you are happy with their placement by hovering the fishbowl over the top.
  3. Place a strip of foam tape all the way around the smaller piece of card – and I mean all the way around. Cracks between the corners can spell disaster. One way to combat this is to place a strip all round and then cover that strip with yet another but staggering where the cracks are.
  4. Now you need to cover the fish and sticky layers with your fishbowl square – do this carefully and leave a small gap once you have most of it covered – pour in your glitter or snow effect crystals or seed beads, whatever you want to use. Don’t add too much or you will just obscure the fish. Now seal down the last bit of tape.
  5. This can then be added to the card and should shake very satisfactorily!
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