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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Natural winter tonics

What a winter it has been for coughs and colds! I think almost everyone I know has suffered from some sort of nasty lurgy. I’ve seen people on Facebook sharing all sorts of remedies, both traditional and slightly more eccentric – I think my favourite was rubbing Vic’s Vapour Rub into the soles of your feet before bedtime! Um, can’t say I tried that one myself! My partner in crime writing, Julia, cannot take any cold remedies as she has an allergic reaction to something in their ingredients so, apart from taking paracetamol, she just has to grin and bear it! This year, she had a stinker of a cold and ended up trying a couple of natural winter tonics to see if they helped. Here, she shares them with you. I hope you manage to escape cold-free, but if not, you might want try some of these.

“Whenever I had a cold as a child, I always remember my mother making me sit hunched over a bowl of very hot water with a towel draped over my head forming a lovely warm tent of steam. I think she used to put Friar’s Balsam into the water and it was a great way of clearing a blocked nose. I tried this again a few weeks ago, minus the balsam, and the effect of the steam and the generally lovely warm cocoon did make me feel a bit better. I also got a free facial, which was quite soothing!

My foraging friend from Wales who knows a huge amount about natural remedies, sent me a recipe for Ginger & Garlic Soup. This certainly woke up my senses, big time! This recipe is referred to as ‘medicine in a cup’. The mix of ginger and garlic should help protect you from cold, flu, sinus infections and many other diseases that can be easily caught during the cold winter months. I will be a little more cautious with the chilli next time!

Garlic & Ginger Soup

Ingredients:

  • Two cloves of garlic, peeled and finely diced
  • Four spring onions, also finely sliced
  • Seven cups of chicken stock or vegetable stock
  • 50g of grated root ginger, finely sliced too
  • And last but not least… one finely diced hot or medium-hot chilli
  • Chopped or whole mushrooms (optional)

Method:

  1. Put the Garlic, onions, mushrooms (if you are using them) and the ginger in a big pan and put it on low heat for a few minutes, and sauté them.
  2. Add the stock and bring to a boil.
  3. Turn to a simmer and stir gently, until all of the ingredients become soft.
  4. Last add the chopped chilli, and stir for another 5 minutes. Then you can serve the soup while it is warm. Combine it with lemon water and crusty bread. This will provide more anti-bacterial effects and improve your digestion too.

Winter Tea

The final remedy I tried was a Winter Tea. Herbal teas are good for all sorts of things and boost our physical and mental health. Fresh herbs are full of antioxidants, which help reduce inflammation. Keeping yourself hydrated when you have a cold is important, I loved this and found it very soothing.

Ingredients:

  • 300ml water
  • ½ a lime
  • ½ a lemon
  • 3cm piece of ginger root, sliced
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper
  • I sprig each of fresh mint, thyme and rosemary
  • ½ a cinnamon stick
  • Honey to taste

Method:

  1. Boil the water in a saucepan.
  2. Squeeze the lemon and lime into the pan, then lob the whole pieces of fruit in as well.
  3. Add everything else – except the honey. Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.
  4. Add honey to taste before straining to serve.

 

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Happy Summer memories!

I do hope you’ve had a lovely Christmas. Now, as we race towards the end of this year I thought I’d take a moment to think back to the Summer. Just now, the sun seems a long way away for us Europeans – but you can always cheer yourself up by playing with sunny images.

I had a particularly lovely holiday in 2017 – possibly one of my best ever and so I have memories galore to enjoy from that. We have just had our favourite holiday picture printed out onto canvas for my writing room wall. So I can look up and see sunny weather and a gorgeous shot of us sailing away from Venice, cheers me up every time I see it!

We saw lots of Greek islands too later in the cruise and more olive trees than you can imagine. I have a stock of perfect olive oil, loads of super smelling olive oil based soaps and Greek honey still in the cupboards to remind me of a happy time.

So this image from the Lisa Audit Pad 2 cardmaking collection is super appropriate. Because it’s part of a pad, it’s really simple to incorporate into a pretty card. It is paired with the Signature die SD567 – the Fishing Net Corner which adds the perfect embellishment.

It may be cold and wintery outside but in my craft room it’s still summer!

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Those were the days

I am a huge fan of Kevin Walsh’s work. If you haven’t had a look through the cardmaking pad Kevin Walsh’s Village Scenes, then do take a moment and click through. He has perfectly captured the olden days(!) that aren’t that old if you are my age but can seem positively historic to youngsters! He also includes some amazing cars. He did a particularly lovely scene with inspector Morse’s Jaguar in it – and we are lucky enough to have a signed print hanging in our hallway! I am a huge Morse fan and a Jaguar fan so it wins on both counts!

The nice thing about nostalgic art is that it can be suitable for men’s card or women’s cards, the memories aren’t limited to just one sex! It was a pad I used a lot to make cards for my Mum and Dad as it pictures scenes that had happy memories for them and little details like the old-fashioned petrol pumps and types of cars made them smile in recognition too.

The backing papers used here have all come from the Thomas Kinkade triple CD. There are many really handy backing papers on there that, although they work well for Kinkade cards, also look great for many other designs.

While this isn’t the biggest of cards at only 170mm x 170mm (that’s about 6 ½” square in ‘old money’!), the details will make sure it is received with pleasure.

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Poppies, butterflies and lace

Poppies, butterflies and lace, such a pretty combination! This is a relatively quick and easy card and I love the finished effect. I have a pack of white lace edged hankies that my Mum thought would be useful for smarter occasions (she was never happy with the small packet of tissues solution). I am afraid I never really used them and they just sat in my cupboard, so I transferred them to my craft room in case I got inspiration.

You never know I might have fancied embroidering my initials or screen printing…. ok, stop being silly, you ended up cutting them up for card making – much more realistic!

So, to make this pretty background, I folded the square hanky into four and then across that quarter to make a pointed shape as you would with an icing bag. I cut across the plain cotton in the centre to remove the bulk and was left with a handkerchief with a massive hole in the middle.

Using red liner tape as it is that much stronger than double sided, I added at least two strips to each edge. Then gently press and shape the handkerchief around, the red liner tape will let you reposition a bit and make it fit the square card. Add more pleats if it’s a bit big.

The main image comes from the Jane Shasky poppies pad. I layered the topper up on blue and green card to make it nice and study and then using tons of glue gel placed it over the fabric. Press gently and then leave to dry overnight.

Finishing touches were extra butterflies provided on the sheet.

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