Lads & Lassies, Pipers & Poets

English: Robert Burns Source: Image:Robert bur...

January 25th marked the birth of Robert Burns. The Ploughman Poet. The Bard of Ayrshire. Scotland’s favorite son. Sadly, most people only admit knowledge of the catchy tune he penned that they drunkenly mumble along to come New Year’s Eve at midnight: Auld Lang Syne.

He wrote poems and lyrics, collected and improved folk songs and fathered as many children with as many women who would have him. No wonder so many people claim him as their ancestor. The guy was a rogue—and a quick one too. He died at the age of thirty seven, making a remarkable attempt to populate half of Scotland.

Regardless, numerous individuals, whether of Scottish decent, whisky aficionados, or enthusiasts of poetry, annually plan to commemorate this man’s existence and accomplishments (both bardic and bedroom) with an evening of debauchery and boredom.

Scotish dirk

The whisky I love, but somewhere during the third hour of monotonic homemade poetry, I’m looking for anything I can surreptitiously light on fire so we can all leave the building. Consequently, I appreciate the whisky with more enthusiasm than I probably should. Of course, this is what everyone else is doing and why they believe they’re channeling Laurence Olivier.

A typical Burns Night, or Burns Supper, as it is both commonly known, used to be (and I’m sure remains in some stuffy circles) a “boys only” getup held on the anniversary of Rabbie’s birth (or in many cases the Saturday night closest to it, as no one is getting up for work when the sun rises next). Gathering that Burns himself likely preferred the company of women and wouldn’t have missed the chance to gaze upon the legs of a lovely lassie, a few welcome mats have been placed at the feet of the fairer sex. It seems to have spiced up the evening for many a current soirée and is gaining popularity, as more women begin to view whisky as something more pleasurable than a root canal.

The supper components make or break any Burns celebration. Sadly, I have attended too many events where I’ve found countless guests sleeping with their eyes open at the table, making frequent lavatory trips, or curled up in a fetal position in the cloak room, arms cradling a depleted Lagavulin bottle.

Assembling your own Burns supper should not be undertaken lightly; get it wrong and you will find attendees plotting your grisly death and funeral. One must consider the key factors needed: the proper guests, the right food, the liquor, and the entertainment.

The guest list is key to success. Have a gathering of bashful introverts or pontifical windbags and your evening feels like watching the “next up for service” numbers at the DMV slowly tick by would be a treat. Be sure to invite a thespian or two and maybe throw in a fire eater or sword swallower in case the evening plummets.

If you find the menu is reminiscent of something even Fido would shake his head at, do not blame it on the Scots. Just because folklore wishes us to believe all Highlanders were once scrap cloth clad savages does not mean they couldn’t wield a torch with just enough finesse in order to perfectly caramelize the tops of their Crème Brule.

homemade haggis, scotland food stock photo

The main course, haggis, (aka sheep pluck), is a dish whose preparation and success requires deft skill in the kitchen. Try to find a large animal vet who moonlights as a Michelin rated chef to construct yours. Avoid the kind sold in a tin can.

The liquor is straightforward. Buy booze people will drink. Scotch is the typical liquid in hand, but feel free to branch out with any of the globe’s magnificent whiskies.

When it comes to entertainment, people are coming for the piper. Don’t believe all the old bagpiper slights like If you took all the bagpipers in the world and laid them end to end…it would be a good idea, as all you need do is watch the faces of people as they stand wholly stunned by the power and potency of a piper bellowing out a tune. But also look behind them because this is typically when warring Scots of past would sneak up behind their enemies and practice a few solid broadsword techniques.

The Scottish Piper - Victorian print vector art illustration

I have attended other peoples’ Burns Supper and I have thrown a couple of my own. Let me be honest. It is much easier to have a “babysitting emergency” in the midst of someone else’s grand Gaelic failure than in your own living room, among fifty hungry guests, who can clearly see your children alive and well, and currently working as unpaid wait staff.

My suggestions for you? Start small.

Gather your children, your parents, your partner or spouse—anyone you trust not to post damning TikToks about you the next day, and ask them to come to dinner prepared to recite a short poem, quote, or best yet, a bawdy limerick.

Check out a couple of the easier recipes offered by the BBC (click here).

Then head on over to the nearest (and reputable) liquor store and purchase yourself a good bottle of uisge bathea. Do not skimp and buy something that can double as mouthwash or battlefield disinfectant. If you’re new to whisky, look for a spirit that isn’t heavy with peat or smoke.

Finally, toast with abandonment. The more frequently you do, the quicker everyone becomes pithy, handsome, and hungry enough to eat sheep pluck.

Slàinte!

~Shelley

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Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all gossiped about down in the pub. Or check out last month’s post and catch up.

Tireless teenage boys; the starter kit to lunacy and delirium.

I cannot count how many times I have had a gaggle of girls at my house for a weekend and the leftover results has been the usual scattered sleeping bags, towels and the heady, pervasive smell of nail polish after they’ve all gone home.

This last weekend, I have had a barrage of boys file through the house, and although I’m fairly sure there were only five or six teenagers in total, the result of their visit has been the depletion of all of my towels, all of my dishes, the food, bed linens, blankets, pillows, ice cubes, Q-tips (don’t ask), Band-Aids, cough drops, room spray, batteries, matches, gasoline, chlorine, anything chemically created that is often labeled with a skull and crossbones, all of the electricity our family was allotted to use for the month, and acetaminophen. The last entry was entirely depleted by me in trying to manage the depletion of everything else.

After they vacated, the house was also left with a heady, pervasive smell … of dirty socks.

It’s been a wholly different experience.

I rarely had to worry about the girls doing anything stupid or dangerous. I just had to make sure they would all leave as friends.

EVERYTHING the guys do is stupid and dangerous, and I just had to make sure they would all leave.

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Leaving alive was also a primary concern.

Girls spend a lot of time in bathrooms and bedrooms prettying themselves up, and helping one another do it, all in the name of self-confidence boosting.

Guys spend a lot of time—no matter what room of my house they’re in—tearing one another to shreds, all in the name of self-confidence bashing.

At least the girls have the snarky decency to bash one another behind their backs after they’ve all left.

Okay, that last statement might not be entirely true, because girls can whirl a barbed compliment and land it expertly in between the shoulder blades of any of their friends. And they can do it with the precision of a skilled marksman better than most hired guns trained in the fine art of assassination. It’s perspective.

Ultimately, I might as well forget about getting any work done.

With the girls, it was usually Come up and see how we’ve henna-ed one another with these flowery designs and geometric shapes. Except your daughter, who chose only to ink herself with math equations.

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That would usually lead to a lot of girl talk and then baking of cookies.

With the fellas the distractions were more like:

Where do you keep the superglue?

Can we have more towels? And maybe a few shovels?

How fast can an ambulance make it here?

No one ever asked me to come up and see ANYTHING.

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It’s better for all of us that way.

But it remains true that work is a luxury and realized in an odd grouping of ten seconds snatched here or there.

Apart from the face to face interruptions, which are plentiful, there is the cacophony of noises that draw my attention away from my words. Laughter is fine, giggling is good, thumping is nerve-wracking, but silence …

That is the scariest sound of all.

There are moments when I think the ceiling above me is barely holding the wannabe frat party from collapsing. I’m fairly certain that the vibration from the bass notes alone coming from the film score to the “Animal House Lite” reenactment upstairs can do some serious structural damage. If nothing else, the paint is peeling from the walls, but then again, there’s no need to dust the ceiling light fixtures this month. Again, perspective.

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But when there is no sound, when there is the absence of sound—especially right after a very large and earth shattering one—I hold my breath and count to ten. I mentally go through the list of first aid treatments I can capably do and calculate the distance to the nearest emergency room.

Then I think about drafting an apology letter to the parents of each boy and wonder what is the most tactful way of saying, “I did my best and realize now I should have hired an onsite paramedic and triage station for the living room. Whoops. My bad.”

In the end—at least for this particular episode—everyone made it out with injuries that are, according to the surgeon, non-life threatening, and supposedly will heal in such a way that will allow them to pursue the eventual dream of finding a wife and having a child.

That’s all one could ask for, right?

So I’m off to the shops to replenish my supplies—and then stopping off at the printer’s to whip up a little something for the next shindig to spontaneously combust at my house …

A waiver.

~Shelley

 

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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The etiquette of working a room.

I have never been a big party person. I find being in a roomful of jubilant people about as fun as having a toenail removed with a putty knife by three-year old. Yep. A laugh a minute.

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This is ironic because long ago I worked as a social hostess for a beautiful resort, where six nights a week I hosted a cocktail party for at least one hundred people. But that was work. And I got paid handsomely for it. Plus I had nothing to do with the prep, set up, operations, or the washing of thousands of glasses smeared with freshly applied lipstick. All I had to do was glide and gush—and discourage the odd wayward hand.

The ‘speaking to folks I didn’t know’ part wasn’t so difficult because my job was simply to make my way from one end of the room to the other, butt in on conversations, ask a few questions—all totally rehearsed with practiced ad libs as answers—and make empty promises. I was instructed to be agreeable. Say you’d love to sit with them at Chef’s six course dinner (never happened), promise to have a drink with them later after the resort’s evening show (I was nineteen—couldn’t happen), consent to many a game of tennis on the clay courts the next morning (nope), and pledge to meet guests up on the championship golf course after lunch (sorry, Charlie). No one was ever fussed, because that kind of talk was as meaningful as a basketful of air kisses. Just cocktail chatter. And I got the hang of it in two shakes of a lamb’s tail.

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Well, that was then and this is now. Right now is graduation season where everyone and their uncle are celebrating the commencement of someone special.

My kid just graduated high school! Potluck at our place!

Come help us applaud Harold for his achievement at finishing first grade! Formal reception at the Four Seasons.

Your father just passed a three-year old kidney stone! We’re breaking out the good booze and getting ready to play lawn darts.

Whatever the occasion, it’s Graduation Party Season. Having a high school senior, and admiring their success at convincing the requisite number of teachers that they deserve a diploma, has morphed into recognizing the tiniest of achievements leading up to graduation day. All of them honored with a party.

– This month is the last month of school for our seniors. We’re starting it off by giving them a skip day, but come back for the BBQ in their honor.

– Let’s celebrate our seniors with one last senior appreciation day lunch in the cafeteria.

– Parent potluck with our seniors. Let’s bring in their favorite food. (I truly was expecting a table full of Ben & Jerry’s pints.)

– Senior’s, parent’s and teacher’s brunch. Let’s rehash all those stellar grades.

– Graduation rehearsal and picnic to follow.

– Breakfast before Graduation.

– Reception to follow ceremony.

– Lunch to follow reception.

– Diploma party.

– Diploma framing party.

– Slide show party of all the parties.

Ugh.

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I understand how important these life events are, and the necessity of celebrating the terrific efforts of our loved ones, but parties nearly kill me with the amount of energy I apply trying to fit in like a normal person. It probably wouldn’t be so bad if there weren’t other people at these parties. Or if there had to be other people, then the rule was you could only acknowledge them with a wave. No talking allowed.

As a writer, I work with a lot of words. Hundreds of thousands of them flow out my body in any given year. But they flow out of my DIGITS and not my MOUTH. I get little practice chatting with folks currently apart from dialoguing with my hound all day long. Except he and I have our own language. We’re like Hans Solo and Chewbacca. Or Kristoff and Sven. No one but us understands us.

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And I’m pretty sure that wonky part howl, part growl parlance is the first thing to slip out as soon as somebody sidles up, gives me a hug and asks how I’m doing.

It’s guttural, it’s primordial, it’s dysfunctional and makes people take a large step back.

But one cannot dodge these mandatory events without some sort of judgment and backlash, therefore, I plaster on a face and pull on a dress. I make my way from one end of the room to the other. I remind folks to try the chef’s newest award-winning dish of elk and sea urchin pie. I hype up the ballroom’s upcoming show and encourage people to get a seat early. I point outside the cafeteria window toward the outdoor basketball court and suggest we volley a few balls over the net in the morning. I promise a handful of fathers I’ll have a drink with them before the evening is out.

I turn back to register a sea of parental faces staring at me quizzically and note several women dragging their innocent husbands to the door. I stand in horror over my massive faux pas.

I garble something that sounds like it came from the mouth of a German Sheppard.

I fumble for my car keys and dash to the parking lot.

I am not a party person.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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Saturnalia; good ole fashioned, naked fun.

Forest on a foggy winter day

Forest on a foggy winter day (Photo credit: follc)

Earth’s darkest days. It’s such a foreboding phrase, don’t you think?

And yet, on the upper half of the planet, it is a time of great merriment, benevolence and outright fuddled intoxication.

Long ago, that joy was attributed to the fact that the sun—a symbol of divinity—had decided not to abandon us. We’d been found worthy enough by the bright god for his return northward to heap another six months of favor upon us. And when one’s gods show munificence, one quickly dashes out invitations to local friends and neighbors to kick up their heels and enjoy a good shindig.

Of course, these long past party animals had to be Roman. When someone mentioned the word bash, it was either in reference to the use of one’s weapons or upcoming rampant Roman revelry. These guys lived life to its fullest—none of this ‘one day only’ deal. When it came to the close of December, a week’s worth of fun was considered cutting it short.

Paris - Musée d'Orsay: Thomas Couture's Romain...

Paris – Musée d’Orsay: Thomas Couture’s Romains de la décadence (Photo credit: wallyg)

And when sizing up all of the year’s fancy feasts and festivals, the blue ribbon winner had to be Saturnalia.

In the earliest of Roman ages, the age of Saturn, a festival was thrown in honor of Saturnus—the god of seed and sowing. The gala at first was held on December 17th, but because of a few folks fooling around with time tracking, things got muddled. Somewhere between then and Caesar’s changes to the calendar, the exact date grew hazy. Therefore, the Romans covered their bases and stretched the length of celebration to a few days before and after the new calendar’s official date. There were the usual gripes about no mail delivery and closed government offices, but seeing as most folks spent the week in a fog of alcoholic fumes, flaring tempers were easily dampened with an extra swig of grog.

The point of the festival was to recall that Golden Age, when innocence reigned and abundance was the norm. Once Saturn was ousted from his celestial throne by Jupiter, and time marched forward to the darker and despondent periods of the Silver and Iron ages, Romans did their level best to bring back snippets of that shiny era. Determined to experience a taste of the delicious decadence their ancestors once embraced as everyday ordinary, these normally gladiatorial warriors left their weapons at the door and started whipping up big batches of eggnog.

But showing a bit more gusto than their predecessors, these rowdy Romans took the lily-white past and ratcheted the level of excitement to new heights.

Designated Driver

Designated Driver (Photo credit: storyvillegirl)

You know how today we exercise caution with alcohol and warn folks not to drink to excess? No Roman would invite you back to their place if you were going to poo poo their fun and order a taxi for everyone come 10:30.

And think about how much time we usually spend picking out jubilant outfits for the many seasonal soirées. The sparkle and glitter, the festive colors of red and green, the merry messages spread across our chests to invite mirth and frivolity? Waste of time for these guys. Saturnalia was a function without formalities in that department. In fact, the dress code called for total nakedness. No black tie, just flesh-toned birthday suits.

Role reversal was a big hit in the party game department. Servants switched hats with their masters and led the feasting, while the lord and lady of the house spent their time serving food and washing feet. Ultimately, it really didn’t matter. They all ended up in bed together. That was pretty much the point. Ah, those rascally Romans.

Presents

Presents (Photo credit: Alice Harold)

Unchanged from past to present are the presents. Although those guys partied hard, Rome’s inhabitants were good about saying thank you in the form of sending one another small gifts. I’m guessing some of it had to do with replacing valuables broken the night before.

Thankfully, most of us have abandoned the crowning of a less-than-enviable position—the Lord of Misrule—for the whole bawdy affair. Yes, one can understand the ancient desire to appease the god of the week and make a solid sacrifice of love and loyalty by offering up some unlucky schmuck, but it can really put a strain on the rest of the partygoers. Anyone who’s placed next to the soon-to-be dead guy at the banquet table quickly realizes their efforts at holiday chitchat and cheerful musings are wasted efforts. Hence, we see the justification for the origins of seating charts.

Wenceslas Hollar - The Greek gods. Saturn

Wenceslas Hollar – The Greek gods. Saturn (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So, eyes open this week. Think about how things have changed. Make a toast to the dusty bones of a long dead Roman with a measured cup of mulled wine. Pull out that reindeer sweater and for once be grateful the weather necessitates head to toe clothing. Show some ancient gratitude for the folks who bag your groceries, bus your table or tutor your offspring. Put a cookie in the mailbox. Hand a stick of gum to the poor chump who has to stand for hours holding the Stop/Slow sign for roadwork. Thank your lucky stars we no longer choose the weakest link as the scapegoat for the culminating event of all December dos.

It may be dark outside, but the future looks bright from right here.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

The Party; prodigious promise, dismal delivery.

Car Fire

Car Fire (Photo credit: jasonbolonski)

I knew what I was going for last week when I started preparing my mother’s birthday dinner. Something warm, something autumnal, something that screamed, “Thanks for everything and I’m really sorry about setting the family car on fire that one Christmas when I was sixteen.” You know … a complete package message.

I go for the same theme each year, and each year I fall spectacularly short.

It usually starts with the number of attendees. When throwing a birthday dinner, it’s proven to be most readily appreciated if the individual whose birth you are celebrating is present (unless it’s something like Presidents’ Day or Christmas, in which one finds it unreasonable to expect the dead to appear).

This year, the number of invitees dwindled. It was only going to be my mom, my kids and myself: small, intimate, deflating.

I was going to have to cancel the big band swing orchestra and the caterer. I drew the line at calling off the inflatable moon bounce, because that has proven to be the highlight of the evening for my mom the last five years running.

Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, from the openi...

Cab Calloway and His Orchestra, from the opening credits of Max Fleischer’s Minnie the Moocher, which included a recording of the titular Calloway song. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I spent the entire previous day making this beautiful Gingery Spiced Cake with Sour Cherries and a Sour Cherry Glaze. And by the entire day, I mean the whole time between 3:30 and 4:45, but I shoved twenty-four hours worth of love into that labor.

The following day, I worked feverishly at creating a Smoked Turkey and Black Lentil Stew, filled with smoked turkey and black lentils.

There were a billion other things in there too, and it was supposed to be recorded and preserved for everyone to see under the Scullery section, but I forgot to take pictures until everything was already in the crockpot. It proved near impossible to separate the teeny tiny black lentils from the onions, Kuri squash and thyme leaves in order to set up individual photo shots of each ingredient–and I did try for a while–but there was a lot left to be done, so I gave up.

Champagne Fountain

Champagne Fountain (Photo credit: whatadqr)

I needed time to set up the champagne fountain and direct the newly arrived Grand Marshall as to the best route for the military parade later that day.

Once I finally unloaded the three vans full of white orchids, set up the fireworks and laser show outside, and emptied a room large enough to fit the shark tank in, I woke to the sound of the ringing telephone. (It turns out all those bits in between making the stew and filling up Shamu’s new digs were part of a lavish afternoon kip on the couch, but it didn’t make it any less real to me.)

The phone call was Chloe, announcing she and her brother were on their way home from his brutal soccer practice and her mind-numbing after-school job. They were hungry. Make food.

By the time they got home everything was ready: the stew, the cake, the set table , the small string quartet I’d settled for (okay, the CD player providing us with a little mood music). The problem was … we had no guest of honor.

I told the kids to have a light snack, which to them usually involves a bagel, a smoothie, a bowl of popcorn, some soup and an entire pantry shelf full of cookies. They were set for the next thirty minutes.

BomB   clip art by G.P. du Berger

BomB clip art by G.P. du Berger (Photo credit: HTML’S MAGIC)

After an hour and a half, I phoned my mother, who always answers her iPhone the same way: like it’s a small explosive device that could detonate at any moment, and therefore, she must handle it like plutonium.

“Hello?” came the tentative, faraway voice on the other end of the line. She usually holds it at arm’s length.

“Mom? What time are you coming for dinner?”

“My last student is late. I’m waiting for him.”

Note: my mother is a violin teacher who would rather be drawn and quartered, watching her intestines being roasted on an open flame in front of her, than miss instructing a small child of three or four how to properly take a bow.

“How late?”

“About an hour and a half, but he hasn’t phoned to cancel, so I’m assuming he’s still coming.”

“Mom. His lesson is a total of fifteen minutes. He’s missed it six times over. He’s not coming. Dinner is ready.”

“You go ahead and start without me. I’m just finishing up.”

I put the phone down and cradled my head. I am again in the situation where I must celebrate a birthday without the birthed celebrant.

“DINNER!” I called.

Stop eating animals

Stop eating animals (Photo credit: xornalcerto)

The dog and cat came running.

Ladling out the stew, the first question I get when handing it to my daughter is, “Is there meat in it?”

I answer yes, but remind her that the turkey was a vegetarian, so it should be okay in the end.

The next question is, “Are there guts in it?”

This is a question everyone asks if they know we’ll be dining with either one or both of my Polish parents.

“Not today, sweets. It’s guts-free gruel.”

We finish dinner, clean up and the kids leave to do homework. My mom’s car pulls up the driveway. She comes in looking exhausted. I place a bowl of stew in front of her, but then have to return half of it to the crockpot, because she insists it’s too much. I convince her to have a glass of wine from a very special bottle, pushing it into her hands. I sit across from her, watching as she nudges my stew around on the plate.

Finally, I call the kids down and we light the cake and bring it in. It looks beautiful. My daughter snaps photos, we pass out the pieces. My son takes a bite and announces in Spanish to his sibling that my chocolate cake tastes like mierda. I retort to my surprised fourteen-year old that firstly, it does not taste like poo and secondly, it is not chocolate and thirdly, I worked for hours on making that cake (75 minutes), and that I do not appreciate either his language or his lack of appreciation.

I turn to my mother. “What do you think? Do you like it?”

She shrugs her shoulders, “Truthfully, I can’t taste a thing. I’ve got a cold. I’m heading to bed.”

Moon bouncing!

Moon bouncing! (Photo credit: Zombies and Dinner)

I look at the dog and cat.

“You guys wanna go for a moon bounce?”

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!