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

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

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.

The Din of December

There is something magical about the word December.

And I think it’s more than the tingles I get from simply saying the word—a word that envelops me with a warmth containing decades of memories, all twinkling and glittered. I think it’s the hearing of all things December related.

December has a sound all its own.

For me, and where I live on this patch of earth, it is the sound of swirling snowflakes, cotton soft and cushioning. It’s a muffling of the natural world, a bright white quilt under a blue-white moon.

It’s the sound of wind chimes chinkling, nudged by invisible fingers of a frost-laden wind.

It’s the whistle of winter’s breath as it races down the chimney shafts and rushes through the empty halls, a purring, fluid melody, so measured and hypnotic. Suddenly, it inhales and pulls all open doorways shut with slaps of sound that startle, breaking soothing silence.

I hear the somber trees, brooding and contemplative. Rhythmic and slow, their drinking of the earth and drawing in the air allow them time for mindful reflection, and their meticulous planning of a spring that slowly creeps closer day by day.

And I listen for the pop of seasoned wood, ensconced in flames and smoke. The tiny hiss from flickering tongues is the language of heat, a faint articulation of a promise against the bleak and bitter chill.

I warm at the thrum of mellifluous song, the trilling of carols, the honeyed blend of bright, buoyant voices. Whether it be the refrains of jubilant noise thrust toward the heavens of a brilliant starry night, or one single, hallowed melody, hummed quietly and kept in check, music seeps out into the air, whimsical, innocent and heady.

This month is filled with the sounds of gratitude: the contented sighs slipping from souls who witness December’s darkness replaced with tiny, twinkling lights, the bright-eyed, gleeful shrieks from innocent mouths who point at storied characters come to implausible and colorful life, and the cheerful hail of reception that fills front halls, front porches, and the faces of those behind front desks.

It is abundant with the thanks for a warm cup of tea, a filling cup of soup, a coat, some shoes, a toy, a bed.

It is filled with a million wishes on the same bright stars, overflowing with countless dreams whispered deep beneath the covers, scratched in a letter to Santa, chanted in prayer over candlelight.

I hear the sound of sharp blades on ice, waxed sleds on snow, snowballs on parkas.

There is the noise of muffled feet on carpeted risers, the hum of a pitch pipe, a sharp intake of breath, and the strains of melody and harmony and dissonance braided throughout the next many minutes that make the hair across your arms quiver above goose flesh even though you are in an overheated room, squished into an undersized chair.

Throughout the month there is the crunch of dry leaves, the cracking of gunshots and the grunt of effort when dragging home that which will fill the freezer. I hear the soothsaying of snow, the delightful patter of euphoric feet, and the collective groan from a city full of scraping shovels.

The sounds of December are those of rustling coats and the stomping of boots, the rubbing of hands against the numbing, wintery sting. They are the hushed prayers of voices in holy vigil, the retelling of sacred stories to fresh ears and hungry souls.

The sounds I hear are those of glasses, clinking all in toasts. They are the wishes of warmth and the hope of fellowship, the thirst for triumph and the promise of change.

But most of all, I hear the plaintive yearning of my heart, voicing the wish that December won’t end, that January won’t come, and that time will stand still.

December is a month of sounds that sounds so good to me.

~Shelley

Lastly, I leave you with a small gift from me to you. I sing Norah Jones’ song ‘December.’ A tune I feel is my holiday hug to the world.

(And a huge hug of thanks to my wonderfully gifted son for mixing and production.)

The Impossible Job of Thanking Your Barista

I’m sure you’re up to your earballs in leftover turkey right about now. That is, if you overestimated how much turkey only you and one other person plus your dog could wolf down in two days’ time. Or maybe you were like me and decided that come hell or high water, you were going to make five gallons of bone broth with that carcass, and needed all 14 pounds of the turkey you ordered last year—pre-Covid—when you found that super-duper farm that said they would raise the bird to your specifications.

For Pete’s sake, that farmer read Harry Potter to your poultry from the the end of June onward. And he played it Vivaldi before bedtime. And he regularly fed it a posh protein diet of sautéed shredded lizard sprinkled with dried grasshopper powder, delicately placed atop a bed of tender shaved young bulbs. On special occasions, old Tom got a soup pureed with snails, slugs, and worms, swirled with a small dusting of sand and gravel for grit to aid with his proper digestion.

Yeah, you really can’t go back on someone’s efforts like that.

So, a lot may have changed from last year’s big food festival, and this year’s attendance level might have been reduced to only those you regularly sneeze on and don’t apologize to. But the one thing that has remained a steady and dependable guest at all of our tables is the necessary presence of gratitude.

We are reminded of it everywhere. We may be feeling rather down in the dumps about not scarfing down half of Aunt Marge’s Rum Chiffon Pie this year, but all we need do is read the headlines to remind ourselves about how many Aunt Marge’s are no longer around to make such a treat.

It’s an effortless endeavor to see that we are not alone in our suffering or sadness, and there are countless others who may be experiencing greater loss than we are.

It reminds me a little bit of growing up in Wisconsin. One was not allowed to indulge in the wholly justifiable complaining about how cold one was. Because it was not a personal experience. Everyone was cold. Chin up. Shut up. Get up. And get on with it.

But back to the gratitude.

Typically, I am the type of person who nearly falls on my knees in appreciation for anyone who’s kind enough to even hold open a door for me, let alone ease some significant burden. And I’m annoyingly delighted to see every sunrise or sunset, every flower bloom, or bird in flight. I get an absolute thrill even hearing my dog belch as I’m confidently assured he loved the meal I prepared for him so much that he snarfed it down too quickly and ate a bucket of indigestible air.

Yeah, uber grateful person.

So, it came as a bit of a head-scratcher when I recently heard an interview with A.J. Jacobs, an author I adore, as he spoke about his latest book, Thanks a Thousand.

Knowing how seriously he plunged into his research when writing something new—like The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, where he took it upon himself to obey the divine suggestions to “Love thy neighbor,” “Be fruitful and multiply,” and of course, “Stone adulterers,” I had no doubt his newest book would be as intricately studied.

Mr. Jacobs takes the elemental concept of exploring how gratitude can enrich our lives and produce countless experiences where we are more thoughtful and grounded by using his morning cup of coffee as the chosen object of his determined efforts to thank everyone who was a part of making it materialize before him.

Seems rather effortless really, but in truth … it is impossible.

From the clerk who rang up your bag of beans, one can move to the roaster, the trucker, the airline, the packagers, the bean harvester, the farmer, the mechanic who fixed the tractor the farmer needed to use to plant the beans. The manufacturer of the tractor, the countless companies that created the parts for that manufacturer, the construction workers who built those plants, the people who made lunch for those construction workers. I think you get my point. The list is exhaustive.

Jacobs speaks to and visits miners and biologists, goatherds and smugglers, and that travel required trucks and airplanes, boats and motorcycles. He realizes the myriad materials that went into the making of that sip—the rubber, wood, steel, and bat guano. His assessment is that it required thousands of human beings collaborating across dozens of countries.

To make one cup of coffee.

In an era when we feel so disconnected from one another, A.J. Jacobs illuminates the miracle of human cooperation. Togetherness. Relationships. Synergy. Support.

It is not unlike the super-human efforts that have gone into the research and development of one of many vaccines our planet is desperately and impatiently waiting upon. We have discovered that it takes the whole world to help the whole world.

And as the world and all its many inhabitants do what they can to heal our planet and our people, let’s take a moment to realize just how connected we really, truly are and need to be.

This year we may be apart. But it is so that next year and for countless years following we can be together, closer than we’ve ever been before, because gratitude became the cream in our coffee.

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

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.

Bones: Taking Stock of Life

It’s the end of the year. Time to take stock. And time to make stock, as my freezer is chock a block full of the bones of birds who’ve been spatchcocked and roasted to perfection, and of deer who have unfortunately wandered to close to a tree stand.

I’m grateful. Amazed. And exhausted.

Grateful in that twelve months have passed and not one of them has slipped by unnoticed as it spreads itself out on a buffet table full of things that taste sweet or bitter or rancid or divine. I believe in a well-balanced life just as much as a diversified diet. Nothing can quite put one’s perspective into sharp focus as much as having the two ends of life’s emotional spectrum—joy and sorrow—battle each other daily like the climax of a Marvel superhero film.

I’d never wish for a life that was as supine as a flatlining monitor, but this year, both my brain waves and heartbeat have tested the vertical space allotted them. I wouldn’t mind tweaking the master switch just a tad so that the next 365 days might not have quite so much ear-splitting, heart-wrenching feedback.

Amazed because one can go through a year of peaks and valleys (or as I like to refer to it in whisky terminology—glens and bens) and still come through the other side not only thankful for another day to draw breath, but indebted to life with a capital L for an additional chapter in the rulebook of survival and longevity.

Shock therapy—not in the literal sense, but rather a sharp realization after the fact—can be crisply defined and utilized by simply asking the question: So how much did this really matter?

My answers have spanned the gamut of So much more than you thought it would to Meh, it’s only money.

The point is, without truly delving into that question, you carry a lot of weight around that serves no purpose other than to stress your aching joints and increase the profits of pharmaceutical companies. I’m learning that instead of my usual daily mantra of Never, never, never give up, I might be better served by trying a few How quickly can I kick this one to the curb?

Of course, millions of women around the world are now having to change their calming daily incantations to Wake up, kick sexual harassment’s ass, repeat.

And lastly, exhausted from all of the above. But let me be clear; it is not burnout.

Life is full of failure, and I get that. I get to taste from that big soup spoon frequently and sometimes unceasingly—especially since I’ve taken on Eleanor Roosevelt’s advice to do something every day that scares me.

In fact, that prescription has forced me into the prickly awareness that I’m growing comfortable with being uncomfortable.

And discomfort can be taxing. It can plaster you to a prostrate position by the end of the day–sometimes from the work that requires effortful patience and tenacity but sometimes like the flick of a switch with the speed and tonnage of a freight train.

Samey samey. You’re either deflated or razed. But in the wee small hours of the morning you’re pretty much a puddle.

I’m a very omni-directional sort of person. When coming to the end of the year, I like to look back. I like to see where I’ve been, how I’ve changed, and how many bodies are littering the ground behind me.

I like to look forward. To see how far I’ve yet to go, how much grit I’ll have to muster up, and whether the tread on my shoes are up to the task in front of them.

And I like to look outward. Outward because—and this is a little meta so hear me through—it helps me see inward. I think you can’t really answer that question above—So how much did this really matter?—unless you can pull back the lens and get a bird’s eye view. 30,000 feet gives you broad objectivity. From this frame of reference, the roots of the Tree of Life you tripped on grow blurry with the landscape.

What sticks out are the things you built.

The work you thought important. The relationships you believed were relevant. The foundation you’ve chosen to stand upon.

Your attitude of interpretation.

I hate to be preachy. It makes me my own teeth itch. But the end of the year always finds me channeling my inner Glinda the Good Witch with her saccharine life coaching. Obviously, she’s been dying to come out periodically but just like the Elf on the Shelf, she’s usually boxed up until the month of December when my whole house becomes the set for a Hallmark Christmas romance movie.

Plus, with so many family feasts and holiday gatherings, liquor is in abundance. And with the first sip of spirit comes the unleashing of all those pent up, stuffed down wistful musings I try to keep a lid on because I actually like my teeth and don’t want anyone to remove them when their fist accidentally bumps into my face because they just can’t stomach me anymore.

So I go back to making stock. Bone broth is simply life in liquid form. It’s nourishing. It’s healing. It’s soul sustaining.

Make enough of it to buoy you through the next twelve months. There’s magic in that elixir. It is full of life from the past … and for your future.

Happy New Year everyone,

~Shelley

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

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.

 

 

Oh Come All Ye Frugal

Sup, Peakers! The prodigal daughter (me) has returned from Beantown for a brief, tryptophan-filled respite from rocket science and dropped r’s. And I’m here today to allow my mother a break from entertaining you all. So I’m going to tell you a story. A story about what my grandmother, my mother and I all do on Black Friday. But it’s an ancient tradition, shrouded in secrecy, so you can’t tell anyone.

We maintain that we go shopping, just like the rest of America, elbowing people in the ribs in the name of Christmas. But we really don’t. None of us really enjoy shopping for an extended period of time, as demonstrated by the fact that at least two of us can be found on December 23rd, frantically scanning the internet for something to pass as a gift. (Bic pens! Everyone needs pens! Thoughtful and handy.) Instead, the day revolves around eating a truckfull of food (to cleanse ourselves of the truckfull of Thanksgiving food), and driving around bumping Michael Buble at questionable volumes. Below is the day’s itinerary:

8:30 am: Meet Mom in the kitchen, ready to go. Caffeinate heavily. Inquire as to Gma’s whereabouts.

9:00 am: Decide a cat nap on the couch is a better use of time than waiting for Gma in the kitchen.

9:02 am: Rudely awoken by blaring car horn as Mom and Gma await in car.

9:03 am: Receive scolding for “consistently being the last one out of the house.”

9:30 am: Arrive at the first stop of the day: a hole-in-the-wall Victorian era farmhouse that converts itself into a quaint antique shop for the holidays. At this time of year and day, the home is frequented by little old Tara-esque ladies who sit around the fire and talk shop about wreath-making. Gma meanders through the maze of lights, furniture and art, repeatedly asking me if I can “find this any cheaper on the Google?” My mother and I play a little game called Who Can Steal the Most Gingerbread wherein we see who can steal the most gingerbread baked by the homeowners and provided to the customers.

12:00 pm: Arrive at Starbucks for further caffeination. I order like a pro/sleep-deprived, sugar-starved college student. But for Mom, this stop is a much bigger deal, as she allows herself a single allotment of Starbucks sugary goodness per year. Therefore, there’s a lot riding on whether or not she springs for the eggnog latte or the crème brulee hot chocolate. So much so that one year, she had me try all of the winter lineup – and take tasting notes for her – before coming home for Thanksgiving. I am not joking.

12:30 pm: Pit stop for burgers and fries. Wait in line for a table for 30+ minutes while bickering about the need to go to the same, somewhat-stomachable place every year, just for the sake of tradition, despite the insane holiday crowds. Get seated, address hanger, rinse and repeat.

2:00 pm: The “shopping” begins. This misappropriation of the term basically consists of popping into various kitchenware and home retail stores to see if they have one ridiculously particular item. This year, the objective was a box of Mint Chocolate Meltaways, apparently sold by Crate&Barrel in 2003 and only purchased by my family. Another go to stop is a pop-up calendar store where Mom and Gma buy 2018 calendars for literally every single person they might encounter over the holidays, still adorably unaware that there are now apps for that. I am Not Allowed to enter this store with them (so that I don’t see my own calendar), and as a result, normally nap on a bench outside until awoken by someone dropping change in my lap.

6:00 pm: Cold, hungry, and overladen with purchases that were funny in the moment, we wander up and down the mall, burning time staring at twinkling window decorations and watching the children’s train ride up and down the mall until a dinner reservation. Gma moves slowly, and Mom and I keep pace. The train conductor seems to have it in for us, as she keeps driving up directly behind us and laying on the whistle. It’s only funny the first few times.

7:00 pm: Dinner at an established Italian joint (the day’s sole beacon of classiness) finally rolls around. We recharge with an embarrassing amount of pasta and resuscitate the kleptomania by playing a little game called Who Can Steal the Most Restaurant Mints. (I have a great strategy – repeated trips to the bathroom, past the mint bucket.)

9:00 pm – Pile up the car with our odd haul of stolen gingerbread and mints, creepy antique dolls, kitchen trinkets, painfully topical calendars, and leftover pasta. Crank up the Buble and jingle all the way home.

~Chloe

For the time being, the blog is closed to comments, but if you enjoyed it, maybe pass it on to someone else. Email it, Facebook it, or print it out and make new wallpaper for the bathroom. If it moves you, show it some love and share. Cheers!

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.