Sailing Takes Me Away

Hello again, my friends.  Are you all having a nice weekend?  I sure am.  Just when My Plaid Heart thought it couldn’t physically handle another weekend of Virginia temperatures in the mid-upper 90’s, Mother Nature has finally thrown us a bone.  It is GLORIOUS outside with early fall-like temps, lower humidity, and a nice, cool breeze.  It’s short-lived, though.  Pity that the dreadful temperatures are set to return next week.  Pity indeed.

In keeping with the aforementioned cool breeze, I’d like to invite you to come along with me today as we set sail on the brackish waters of the estuary that meets the North Sea – the Firth of Forth.

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It was a few months prior to one of our trips to Scotland that I decided to do something bold and adventurous.  I reached out to a sailing company that I found online – Edinburgh Boat Charters – to inquire about chartering a sailing tour of the Firth of Forth.  Sailing was an experience I had never personally had and I knew that Mr. C would absolutely love something like that.  I honestly don’t even remember what put the notion in my head, but I am so very glad it did…whatever it was.

fullsizeoutput_19bColin Henderson, the owner of Edinburgh Boat Charters, was pleasant from our very first communication and helped me plan our adventure. His company offers a number of “pre-scheduled” trips to choose from each month or you can book a “private” sailing tour which they will customize to your desires.  We chose to do a “private” (because Mr. C and I are just introverted like that) half-day tour of the Bridges and Islands.

The morning of our sail the weather was rather foggy, but it would lift as the morning went on. We eagerly arrived at the point of embarkation – Port Edgar Marina in South Queensferry (less than a half hour from Edinburgh).

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We got a little lost at the docks, but once we located the yacht, Colin greeted us and we climbed aboard for coffee, tea, and pastries.  Our handsome Scottish skipper oriented us to the boat and schooled us in the requisite safety information (which was especially appreciated by me because of my fear that my perpetual unsteadiness might at some point hurl me overboard – and it wasn’t for lack of trying, I assure you!).

Informed and securely fastened in our flotation devices, it was finally time for anchors away.  Slowly at first, we motored away from the docks, orienting ourselves toward the open waters, and assessing the wind which would eventually take us out to sea.  I remember my heart was aflutter and I’ll bet Mr. C’s was too!

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Then in a whirl, it was ropes, cranks, and the snap of the canvas as it married itself to the breeze.  We were off.

After we were settled in and on course, Colin generously gave the wheel over to Mr. C – who happens to know a thing or two about the mechanics of steering a boat – and he ended up sailing for a huge chunk of our half-day tour. Mr. C and I have been together for a quarter of a century and I don’t think I have ever seen him as happy as he was that day.

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Here are some of the interesting things we saw on our tour of the Forth:

The Bridges

The real stars of our sailing tour were the three massive bridges that connect Edinburgh with Fife.  They are a source of enormous pride for the people of Scotland and it’s easy to see why.

Forth Bridge:  The iconic Forth Bridge, which opened in 1890, is the freight and passenger railway bridge that links Edinburgh to Fife.  It spans just over a mile, stretching over the Firth of Forth.

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Forth Road Bridge:  Opened to the public in 1964, this massive bridge contains 39,000 tons of steel and spans 1.5 miles.

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Forth Road Bridge
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Forth Road Bridge

Queensferry Crossing:  This new, recently opened bridge is a replacement for the Forth Road Bridge.  It stands 164 feet higher than its counterpart!  I can’t wait to get pictures of the finished product on my next trip.

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Queensferry Crossing-early stages of construction.
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Latter stages of construction.

 

 

(Ignore unsightly gap – the horror. Darn editing.)

Anyway, I blogged about the bridges in more detail last September.  If you’d like to read more about these awesome structures, please click here.

Inchcolm Abbey

Located in the Firth of Forth on Inchcolm Island, Inchcolm Abbey is the most well-preserved group of monastic buildings in Scotland.  As it happens, I recently wrote a blog about this site as well.  To learn more, please click here.

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Oxcar Lighthouse

Oxcar Lighthouse was designed by David and Thomas Stevenson (cousin/father of author Robert Louis Stevenson) in 1886.

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Seals

A large seal colony has their residence in the Firth.  This was the first time I had ever seen seals in their natural habitat.  Extraordinary!

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And a few other images from that fun day…

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Gorse covered banks.

DSC_1006.JPGWhat a truly magnificent and memorable day.  Edinburgh Boat Charters has my highest recommendation.

I will end by leaving you with the link to one of my favorite old tunes from back in the day, “Sailing” by Christopher Cross.  Enjoy and have a wonderful week.

See you next time.

Cheers,

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*Featured image courtesy of Pixabay.

 

 

Oh Yes I Did!

I  bought a haggis!

My Plaid Heart is so happy right now.

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Before you say ‘eww’, what I bought isn’t actually authentic haggis.  You can’t get it in the U.S. because the FDA has strict rules about consuming lungs (gross you say?). What I purchased is made with lamb breast and beef liver. And of course, the traditional oatmeal, onion, and spices that make haggis such a distinctive Scottish food.  In days of old, haggis was encased in the lining of a sheep’s stomach (also a little gross – I admit), but that has also been modernized, with most haggis today presented in either an artificial casing or a casing similar to sausage.  Regardless, I’m pretty excited.  (And just for the record, if given the opportunitiy, yes…I would eat haggis made the traditional way.)

So where did I find this haggis, you ask.  Yesterday I had a fun little excursion thanks to an advertisement I found in my “Scottish Life” magazine.  Turns out, there is a wonderful Scottish food company called Scottish Gourmet USA that is based out of Greensboro, NC.  What??  That’s just a stone’s throw away.  I HAD to go!

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Founded in 2005 by Anne Robinson (who is married to a Scottish chef and hotelier from Inverness), Scottish Gourmet USA has grown into a very profitable mail order company specializing in fine Scottish foods.  In fact, they are now the biggest seller of haggis in the U.S.  And according to the reviews I read, it’s easy to see why.

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Because Scottish Gourmet USA is primarily catalogue based, you won’t find a fancy storefront.  In fact, the business is located off the road, out of sight, in a very nondescript brick office building.  One small sign (which I almost missed) points the way to the entrance.  If you visit, I’d recommend navigating your way there with your GPS.  They do have a small retail space so yesterday I decided to journey over.  Anne herself and her sweet dog Flora were there to welcome me and after I finished looking out front, Anne kindly offered to lead me back to the stock room to peruse the shelves and coolers which were teeming with additional Scottish delights.

Here is a peek at all of the yummies that found their way into my basket.

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I am very excited about my new ceramic thistle-imprinted shortbread pan.  Now I can bake in real style.

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I was also delighted to learn that they sell Scottish style bacon (trust me, you haven’t had bacon until you have eaten bacon made from the loin) as well as Finnan Haddie.  Which means I won’t have to go all the way to Florida every time I want to make Cullen skink – haha!

What a terrific find and a fun experience.  A taste of Scotland so close to home.  Who knew?

Till next time, friends.

Cheers,

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Recipe: Scottish Shortbread With Ginger

Hi everyone.  Glad you stopped by!

Anyone have a sweet tooth today?  Because if you do and are looking for something tasty to satisfy it, then you’re in the right place.

From Lorna Doone’s to the Girl Scout’s trefoils to the distinctive red, plaid boxes of Walker’s, there are many pre-packaged shortbread options from which to choose.  My personal favorite happens to be made by Shortbread House of Edinburgh – particularly the biscuits (cookies) with warming stem ginger.  Mmm mmm good.  Today I’m going to attempt to make my own version of their yummy treats.

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If you live in the U.S., these biscuits (cookies) can be purchased from Amazon and sometimes can be found in local shops.  Recently, I was thrilled to find a display of them for sale at World Market.

 

Once a luxury to the every day people of Scotland, shortbread began with medieval “biscuit bread” – that is, bread made with leftover biscuit dough.  Over time, the yeast in the bread was replaced by butter and eventually evolved into shortbread as we know it today.

Shortbread is traditionally made in three shapes:  a large circle divided into segments called shortbread petticoat tails, a rectangle cut into strips or bars called shortbread fingers, and round biscuits (cookies) called shortbread rounds.  I’m going to be making the rounds today.

Let’s begin!


Recipe:  Scottish Shortbread With Ginger 

*Recipe adapted from several that I found.

Set oven to 375°.

Please note:  A good kitchen scale is invaluable when it comes to British baking, as measurements are listed in grams.  My apologies to the American bakers who may have a little more difficulty in measuring the flour.

Ingredients:

•2 sticks (225g) butter  (Butter should be at room temperature.  Leave it out overnight.  Trust me on this.)

•4 oz (112.5g) caster (super fine) sugar  (Alternatively, you can use regular sugar and pulverize it with a mortar and pestle –  a less expensive and just as effective option.)

•1/2 lb (225g) sifted plain, all-purpose flour

•4 oz (112.5g) rice flour (Rice flour helps give your shortbread that perfect sandy texture.)

•3+ Tbsp. chopped crystallized ginger (This amount depends on how gingery you want your biscuits to be – Mr. C says more ginger is better!)

*I found the crystallized ginger at The Fresh Market here in the States.

•pinch of salt if desired – if using unsalted butter  (I forgot to add the pinch of salt and honestly didn’t even notice.)

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Recipe yields: 30 biscuits (cookies)

The Process:

1) Cover an un-greased baking sheet with non-stick, oven-proof parchment paper.

2) Sieve together the all-purpose flour, rice flour, and salt.  Sieving 2-3 times is best.  Don’t worry, it doesn’t take as long as it sounds.

3) In a separate bowl, cream butter and sugar together.  Your arm will become very tired, but hey…biceps!

4) Stir crystallized ginger into the butter/sugar mixture.

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5) Using cold hands, combine the sifted flours with the butter/sugar mixture until you      have a soft dough.  You WILL think you screwed something up because at first it’s all a crumbly mess.  But keep working the dough and eventually everything will combine nicely.  Be very careful NOT to overwork the dough, though, because your end result will not be as good.  The faster you can do this and the lighter your touch, the better the texture of your biscuits.

6)  Using your hands, press the dough flat.  Take a small cookie cutter or glass roughly  1.5″ in diameter and cut out circles.  Place circles on lined baking sheet.  In my case, I didn’t have a small cookie cutter, so I just grabbed the shot glass.  Hey, also came in handy for pouring myself a wee dram.

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7)  Bake at 375° for 10 minutes.  Reduce heat to 360° and continue baking for an additional 5 minutes.  You may have to experiment with this, depending on your oven and your elevation.  This is what seemed to work best for me.  

Your biscuits are done when they lightly golden – not brown.  Be careful not to burn your bottoms!

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You could pinch around the edges if you wanted to make them look prettier.  Mine aren’t very fancy but they sure tasted good.

8)  Cool completely on a wire rack and enjoy.

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A cup of tea is a nice complement, but may I suggest pairing your biscuits with a dram of your favorite single malt?  A Scotch from the Speyside region goes especially well!

All in all, Mr. C and I were very pleased with how these turned out.  Next time I would definitely add another tablespoon or two of ginger and I might experiment with pinching the edges to make them look pretty, but other than that, there isn’t anything I would change.  Well, except to make even more!

Let me know if you decide to give these a try and tell me what you think.  Anything you would change or do differently?

Have a great week, friends.

Cheers,

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