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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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Willow Pattern extravaganza!

This lovely collection of projects all used our fantastic Willow Pattern dies. They are a collection that can be used individually or together to create some really special projects.

I have had willow pattern everyday plates for many years. I think it’s a classic design that fits well with my cottage style kitchen and the ones I have don’t cost the earth – if you happen to break one! There are many objects around that use the willow pattern story. There are several ‘legends’ about the meaning of the Willow Pattern and what it depicts – all fabricated it would seem. It was first published as “The Story of the Common Willow Pattern Plate” in the magazine The Family Friend in 1849… and there was me thinking it had oriental roots.

I looked it up on Wikipedia the other day and this is the legend mentioned there:

The Romantic Fable: Once there was a wealthy Mandarin, who had a beautiful daughter (Koong-se). She had fallen in love with her father’s humble accounting assistant (Chang), angering her father. (It was inappropriate for them to marry due to their difference in social class.) He dismissed the young man and built a high fence around his house to keep the lovers apart. The Mandarin was planning for his daughter to marry a powerful Duke. The Duke arrived by boat to claim his bride, bearing a box of jewels as a gift. The wedding was to take place on the day the blossom fell from the willow tree.

On the eve of the daughter’s wedding to the Duke, the young accountant, disguised as a servant, slipped into the palace unnoticed. As the lovers escaped with the jewels, the alarm was raised. They ran over a bridge, chased by the Mandarin, whip in hand. They eventually escaped on the Duke’s ship to the safety of a secluded island, where they lived happily for years. But one day, the Duke learned of their refuge. Hungry for revenge, he sent soldiers, who captured the lovers and put them to death. The gods, moved by their plight, transformed the lovers into a pair of doves (possibly a later addition to the tale, since the birds do not appear on the earliest willow pattern plates).

If any of you are interested in making the tea set pictured here, made by the lovely Sylvie Ashton then drop me an email on joanna@joannasheen.com and I will pass on the instructions and templates she sent me not long ago.

Generally speaking the cards are all really easy to make as once you have your blue and white theme sorted out (ie white on blue or blue on white) the diecuts make the card by themselves really! Have fun, smiles Joanna.

 

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Jane Shasky vibrant nasturtium card

I am rather fond of nasturtiums. Partly because they grow so easily and fight on regardless of how crummy the soil is… but also because their bright colouring attracts my little granddaughter and she keeps them regularly watered for me!

This image is from one of our Jane Shasky pads called Garden Herbs and the backing paper comes from Jane’s CD – From the Heart of the Garden. I know I say it often, but it is one of those really useful CDs you will use over and over again for many different projects. The papers are fab and so are the images.

The Garden Herbs card making pad has the same really useful selection of pictures on it. I find Jane’s work so easy to use and turn to it frequently. The die is from our Signature die range, Crocus SD470. It has been cut out on green card a couple of times and then a third time with white card and the flowers coloured and snipped off to paper piece the finished embellishment.

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Hand made soap – good clean fun!

Hand making anything is always very rewarding – and making your own soap is no exception. Not only can you create your own perfect scent combo, but you get to make a mess and play with lovely gooey stuff before turning out some beautiful end products! Not just a great treat for you, but also ideal gifts for friends and family – what’s not to love?

When she’s not looking after the company’s bookkeeping, caring for her young children or baking cakes… my bookkeeper Jo Bridgeman likes to turn her hand to different crafts. Recently, she’s been experimenting with making her own soaps and, in true Jo B style, has turned out some super results! She kindly brought in some of her fragrant bath bombs and soaps and let me have the details so you could all have a try. It is really quite a straightforward process and, once you’ve made an initial investment in some soap moulds, the world’s your lather! 

Cedar Wood & Honey soap

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb Goat’s Milk Melt and Pour Soap Base
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 3/4 cup oats
  • Cedar wood essential oil

Method:

  1. Cut Melt and Pour Soap Base into cubes and add to a microwaveable bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds. Then microwave at 10 second increments, stirring in between, until melted.
  2. Mix in oats. Pour into a silicone soap mould.
  3. Drizzle honey into each soap mould and swirl it around with the end of a spoon – make sure you mix it in well or you’ll get a sticky mess! Let the mixture set for 40 minutes to 1 hour.
  4. Remove from soap mould by turning the mould upside down and gently pushing on the back of each soap.

Rose Bathbomb

Making your own bath bombs is simple and uses safe ingredients, so it is a fun thing to work on with young children. Just remember that citric acid will sting if it gets into cuts or scratches and will also be very irritating to the eyes.

Ingredients:

  • 300g bicarbonate of soda
  • 100g citric acid
  • 10ml Rose essential oil
  • Dried rose petals
  • Water

Method:

  1. Measure out the bicarbonate of soda and the citric acid into a mixing bowl, sieving if necessary and thoroughly mix together. Stir in a few rose petals.
  2. Add the essential oil to the mixture, mix in quickly and thoroughly.
  3. Now, working the mixture all the time, spray a little water on with a hand sprayer. Mix continuously to avoid it fizzing-up in the bowl and only add enough water for the mixture to hold together when lightly squeezed in your hand. It should JUST hold together and not be too damp.
  4. Once this point is reached you need to work quickly to compress the mixture into your moulds. Jo has used a rose-shaped mould to compliment the rose scent.
  5. As a finishing touch, sprinkle dried rose petals over the bath bombs.

You could use all kinds of moulds including something simple like ice-cube trays or small yoghurt pots, silicone baking moulds, cup cakes etc. Have fun!

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New Year resolutions!

Just the one glass!

I always have a positive start to January with happy optimistic New Year resolutions and ‘things are going to change this year’ themed hopes and dreams. Then often they come crashing down when I mess up whatever my new intentions were.

Well why would that be I wonder? I suspect it’s because I set ridiculous targets. Unreachable changes are never going to happen in an instant. Habits like overeating, smoking or drinking are unlikely to magically change after the stroke of midnight on the 31st December.

I’m lucky in that I only have my ‘eating too much’ demons to conquer – smoking went out of the window nearly 40 years ago and I managed to slowly cut any alcohol I drink to a teensy minimum a year or two back. So I have hopes for 2018. The main thing for me is to eat healthy food and ‘behave’ 80% of the time and then hopefully the remaining 20% will be tolerable!

Learning Japanese… er, no.

One new year’s resolution many moons ago was to learn Japanese, I did try… however, I am not expanding my languages this year or any other year for now. I am also not planning to climb more than a local hill, so the climbing Everest and swimming the channel thoughts have been binned too!

There are other things that matter to me as resolutions though. Whether it’s an age related thing and my ambitions have mainly been met – my only thoughts and resolve right now are to help my family as much as I possibly can. To see if I can help shepherd granddaughter Grace though childhood and support my girls.

Mount Everest? I think not.

So I think this year my resolution is to pick up the phone, get in the car and generally stop relying on emails and Facebook for communicating with family – you only get one 2018 – so make the best of it and I want to feel happy next December that I did everything I could towards having a happier, well rounded life.

Happy New Year everyone, I wish us all health, contentment and laughter.

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