Sunday roast

Sunday roast is a pretty big thing here in the UK. So much so that even Paul—a 30+ year vegetarian—insisted that we enjoyed a big Sunday roast (sans dead animal for him!) most weeks. Mostly, we’d just have roasted veg, mashed potatoes, and Yorkshire puddings; sometimes even a bit of boiled cabbage.

I think my favourite part about Sunday roasts was that it was one of the few meals Paul and I prepared together. We’d return home from Church and start prepping the meal. Then, as it was nearing completion, I’d be kicked out of the kitchen so that I wasn’t in the way when Paul made his Yorkshire puddings and mashed the potatoes. You see, he didn’t like the way I cooked potatoes, so would always just take over that task. Which was fine by me since it saved me getting mad at him for telling me what I was doing wrong. (I was always called back in at the end, however, because it was my job to dish up.)

Anyhow, I’ve not done Sunday roast since he died. I just couldn’t do it. Even just thinking about it made me start to panic. Really. Thanksgiving was the closest I got, and then I had a mini panic attack when someone joking questioned some of my cooking methods. (The blocks that your mind creates through grief can be silly sometimes, I know!) But I digress…

The point of today’s post is to share with you the lovely Sunday roast I’ve made—my first since my last with Paul on Easter Sunday 2009.

I hadn’t really planned on making the meal, but when I went to the farmers’ market yesterday, I couldn’t resist the lovely topside roast they were selling at the Puddledub Buffalo stall. And since I knew I had Scottish grown carrots, parsnips, and potatoes at home, I figured it was a good excuse to make a Sunday roast for the Dark Days Challenge.

In addition to the meat and veg mentioned above, I also used Scottish onions and English garlic. My oil choice was Summer Harvest’s Cold Pressesd Rapeseed Oil and I used Maldon Sea Salt.

And let’s not forget dessert: A lovely piece of carrot cake from Milis Cakes. I’ll be honest and admit that I don’t know if they source their ingredients locally, but I’m going to let it slide since they’re a local, independent cake maker.

Yep, I have a happy belly now!

Lovely latkes

I love latkes. They’re amazingly delicious and super duper easy to make; inexpensive, too. And the best thing about them (today) is that they fit the bill for my Dark Days Challenge. (I realise it’s been more than a month since I last posted a DDC meal, but it’s not because I’ve not been eating local, rather it’s because I haven’t been blogging about it.)

Latkes, or potato pancakes, are part of the traditional cuisines of several Eastern European counties (often under different names). I learned how to make them when I was in high school and soon developed my own recipe. You know, because I like to do things my way!

So, what makes this a DDC meal? Well, for starters, I’ve used Scottish-grown potatoes and onions, and Scottish eggs. I used butter from Graham’s Family Dairy, just outside of Stirling, and locally milled flour. I also used a pinch of Maldon Sea Salt and British made crème fraiche. Oh! And the sautéed mushrooms were Scottish, too, with a pinch of English garlic. The wine, whilst not local in origin, fits the organic bill.

Here’s the recipe:

Lovely Latkes

  • 2 cups shredded potatoes
  • ½ small onion (diced)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2-4 tablespoons flour (depending on how doughy you want them)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Butter for frying

Mix the potatoes, onion, egg, flour, and salt together in a bowl and let sit for 15-30 minutes. Heat frying pan (I prefer a cast iron skillet when available) and place a pat of butter in to melt. Once melted, drop the potato mixture in by the spoonful. About a 1/4 cup or so of batter should do it.

Fry for three minutes, then flip over and fry for another three minutes. Serve with sour cream and/or apple sauce.

And I’ve had a couple of people mention they’d like to see more videos, so I’ve even prepared a cooking demo for you. Yay!

Steak and potatoes

OK boys and girls, today is my first meal prepared for the Dark Days Challenge. Not that I haven’t been eating some local foods all along, but tonight’s dinner is special because it’s all about the local stuff!

Now, I like to pride myself in purchasing locally grown produce whenever possible, but I must admit that much of the other groceries I buy come from all over. I mean, it’s a little difficult to find local olive oil when you live in Scotland! But, I did some research and managed to find a few local (Scotland or elsewhere in the UK) staples to keep on hand—many of which will make appearances not only in my local-only meals, but in my every day meals as well. Those things include a Scottish cooking oil, UK-sourced sea salt, and Scottish-milled flour—to name a few. I won’t go into all of them today, but will try to tell you a bit about them as I use them. Or, at the very least, I will link to them so that you can read more if you want.

And with that, here’s what I had for dinner:

My main course was pan-fried minute steak from Puddledub Buffalo Farms. I had wanted a fillet steak, but they only had large packs available by the time I arrived at their stall on the market, so I ended up with a less-than-ideal cut. But, cooked with a bit of Maldon sea salt, it was pretty tasty! I also made a small potato-shallot-and-cheese concoction using Scottish-grown potatoes and shallots, layered with a strong Scottish cheddar. I baked it in a small dish that was coated with Summer Harvest rapeseed oil (made in Scotland) and a light sprinkling of sea salt. Oh! And some lightly boiled Scottish-grown carrots for my veg.

Oh! And I can’t forget about the wine now, can I? I don’t generally buy (or drink) fruit wines, but Cairn o’ Mohr always has a booth at the Stirling Farmers’ Market and curiosity (and the need for local!) got the better of me. So, I bought a bottle of their Bramble Wine. And it was very nice. Maybe next time, I’ll try one of their whites!

Anyhow, I’ve learned a lot this week about the foods that are available locally. This has also been a great excuse to experiment with food—which is what the potato thing was—and a great reminder about what a good cook I actually am. (But I wish I made a bigger pot of the potato stuff. That was way-yummy!!)

Of course, I seem to have forgotten to get myself something for pudding. Darn! Maybe next week…

The dark days

The dark days of winter are upon us. Oh yes, they really are. Even more so here in Scotland compared to my (only slightly) lower-latitude homeland. But those nine degrees don’t make a difference when you’re in the deep dark of winter.

But this post isn’t about the darkness—it’s about food!

You see, my friend The Improbable Farmer has taken up a challenge. And since I enjoy a bit of a challenge—especially one that fits my views—I decided I’d give it a shot, too. (Yeah, I’m such a copy-cat!)

And so, I will be taking part in the 5th Annual Dark Days Challenge.

So, you may not know this about me, but I’ve long been a bit of a hippy-granola-freak. In fact, Paul and I were avid supporters of our local Co-Op and worked hard to source foods (and other goods) locally. We even grew our own food and made our own cleaning supplies. Oh! And we had a compost heap and everything! (He made me promise not to knit underwear for the kids we were adopting though. And I begrudgingly agreed—with my fingers crossed behind my back.)

But, yes, I am a wanna-be-hippy. And maybe I’ll take some time to talk about my views on sustainable living and the whole reduce-reuse-recycle thing from time-to-time. Oh—Wait!—I’m kinda getting ready to do that right now!

[Sorry, I seem to have digressed, so let me get back on topic …]

The challenge sounds rather simple—but I expect it will be a bit difficult, or it wouldn’t be called a challenge. The idea is that I will cook one meal a week that is made from SOLE foods (sustainable, organic, local, ethical). Local is often described as being within 100 miles, though the challenge allows for 150 miles because of the winter growing seasons. That said, I live on a small (by American standards) island and I don’t really know the geography well enough to know how many miles away something is. So, I will aim for UK-sourced goods, giving priority to Scotland and the regions closest to Stirling.

I hope that this challenge helps me learn more about the foods produced here in the Central Belt, but also that it helps to remind me of the importance of eating local. Not just for the environmental impacts, but for the economical ones, too. Oh! And maybe it will help to wake up my culinary creativity which seems to have taken a bit of a long nap.

I’m jumping on the bandwagon nearly three weeks late, but since it’s really about reminding myself about the importance of eating local, the dates are arbitrary. I’m sure it will be interesting, especially since I don’t really know all of the local farms and brands and shops, but there’s no better way to learn than a challenge!

So I guess that tomorrow I’ll stop by the Stirling Farmers’ Market and the local deli to see what they have on hand to help me succeed. Wish me luck! (And join along if you want!)

[Speaking of ethical, the photo with this story was taken from my sister’s blog without her permission, but with assumed consent.]

Papier-mâché pumpkins; Part 1

Yay! We’ve been busy making papier-mâché pumpkins for two days now. I’m using a new technique (no balloons for this gal!) and it seems to be working out pretty well. I had to buy some orange paint, but other than that everything is either recycled materials or general household junk (staples, duct tape, flour, etc) which is pretty cool!

The kid is running the camera for this project (mostly) and has decided that we should share the videos of our pumpkins in progress right away, instead of waiting for the whole thing to be done.

So, here are some fun little videos for you. Check back next week for step-by-step photos of the whole project so that you can make your very own Papier-mâché pumpkin! [[UPDATE: See the photo gallery here!]]

Making the goop:

Pumpkin building:

The kid’s turn:

Solar-powered clothes dryer

Carrying on with the hippy-granola-freak of a homeowner theme, I’m pleased to announce that I got to use one of my favorite house-hold appliances today for the first time of the year. Yes, I’m talking about my way-awesome solar-powered clothes dryer!

I used it a couple of times last summer, but wasn’t too enthusiastic about anything last year so didn’t feel the same sense of pride and joy that I felt using it today. It’s one of those strange things: I hate doing laundry most of the year, but the moment I can hang clothes on the line to dry, all of the sudden I’m Dot Branning! In fact, Paul did the laundry in our home all year long – with the exception of nice weekends in the spring and summer because that’s when I would volunteer for the job. (He didn’t like to hang clothes out to dry, so if I wanted line-dried stuff, I had to do it.)

So, today I washed all of the bedding and towels from when I had company last weekend. Tomorrow I will wash clothes. One of the great things with this environmentally-friendly device is it means that I washed the bedding within a week – where I would normally wait until the day before new guests were to arrive; which in this case might not be until mid-July (not counting un-planned visits by the folks, which happily happens every few weeks or so).

Oh! But did I tell you the best thing about line-drying sheets? No wrinkles! When I use a tumble dryer it seems that they always come out a bit wrinkly, even when I remove them the moment the buzzer goes off. With the solar-powered device, I am meticulous about how I hang them (partially folded) so that when I remove them from the line they are crisp and wrinkle-free. Yay!! (And they smell lovely, too!)

Modern mowing

I’m not a patient person. When I know what I want, I want it now. So, after breaking out the vintage mower yesterday and deciding it was time for an upgrade, I couldn’t think of much more throughout the day. I wanted my new toy. I wanted it today. And I wanted it cheap.

So after work I took a trip to Moscow to pick up my new mower. It was about $10 more than what I’d found online, but once you add shipping costs, it was cheaper. Plus, I got it instantly and didn’t have to stalk the UPS man.

My awesome new Scott’s Classic push reel took about 15 minutes to set up and has several height settings (1-3″). I took her out for a spin once she was done and it was great! She’s lighter and quieter than the old one and because the blades are new she cuts the grass a lot easier.

I’m very excited about my new toy – partly because push reels are so much better for the lawn (and environment) but partly because it’s going to be a great workout for my entire body and I might have my athletic tone back by the end of summer if I keep the lawn trimmed.

Retro mowing

When Paul and I bought our house two years ago, we decided that we wanted to continue our “hippy-granola-freak” lifestyle in our yard care efforts. So, I picked up the old (and I mean old!) lawn mower from my folks’ house the weekend we moved. The next weekend we spent the whole day out in the yard – and met pretty much every neighbor because people kept stopping by to offer use of their gas-powered mowers. Some offered to have their kids come by on the riding mowers, too. It was difficult for people to believe that we really wanted to use the relic mower!

Paul would tell people: “I asked my wife for a multi-gym and this is what I got!”

Last year the old mower never got used. Instead, in the days after Paul died the neighbors all started to care for the lawn. Every week or so, someone would come around on their riding mower and just take care of it for me.

I decided that I really need (and sort of want) to take care of it on my own this year. Between being sick and the bad weather, however, it was difficult to get out and mow. Luckily, someone has come by three times in the past several weeks to mow for me.

The weather was nice today, however, so I took out my trusty mower and mowed a good-sized section of the front yard. And – wow! – it was hard work! I think that I’ll have to mow a little bit each evening to keep up on it – or buy a new mower that’s easier to use.

We’d spoke about purchasing a new push reel mower last spring, and I think that I certainly need to do it this year. So… I think I’m going to check out Tri-State (Idaho’s Most Interesting Store) this weekend and see about buying a new-fangled old fashion mower. It will still be environmentally friendly, but it will be a lot lighter and a lot easier to use.

Here’s a link to the sorts of things I’m looking at. I am, of course, happy to listen to recommendations for which push reel is best!

(And yes, I know I’m crazy. But then, so does everyone else!)