Tuesday 28 September 2021

Thirteen Years On

Yesterday marked thirteen years since my bus pulled into Edinburgh's St Andrew's Square Station, and I was met by my host, a bearded fellow in a loud houndstooth tweed jacket. When Benedict Ambrose asked if I needed anything, I indicated that I would like a meat pie and beer, and so he led me from the station to Rose Street, where we just avoided a street fight, and into a pub. 

Last night we went back to this pub, but it was so quiet, the upstairs room where we had our first meal together was shut. Thus, we sat downstairs and admired the traditional wooden bar in the middle of the room and ordered meat pies and beer. At the quiet bar the transsexual barkeep commiserated with a transsexual patron, which was a change from my first visit--although who knows? I was so tired and the downstairs of the pub was so crowded when I arrived that September evening so long ago, the entire cast of La Cage aux Folles could have been there and I wouldn't have noticed. 

One thing I had noticed, that morning in London, was that the signs forbidding smoking and other anti-social behaviour in the bus station were bilingual. The second language, full of the letter Z, was a complete mystery to me. And on the bus, a family that seemed to take photos the full length of the journey, kept up a very long foreign language full of shushes and buzzing noises. Thus, I was introduced to Polish even before I met modern Edinburgh.  

I do not remember what I thought of my pie thirteen years ago, but I was not terribly impressed with my pie last night. I do not think this pub falls under the category of Gastropub, and Benedict Ambrose (as was his nom-de-blog, in case you've ever wondered) and I usually eat much better when we go out. However, that is where we first ate, and so the pub is special to us. And there was even a nostalgic whiff of street violence in the air as a Scottish couple in the pub directed their banter at an English couple who did not know that Scotland still has an indoor mask mandate. 

Naturally what I wanted to do next was get in a taxicab and go back to the Historical House, reliving the dark drive through the gates, past the rhododendrons (Rebecca! Manderley!), and the first sight of the amazing villa that I did not know would become my home for almost a decade. But the past thirteen years have not been uniformly kind, so back to the Historical House we did not go. 

I asked Benedict Ambrose what (besides cancer) had defined our marriage, and he said "Ravelston," meaning the part of Edinburgh in which we have gone to Mass together since Michaelmas, 2008. And I must admit that although the cancer changed our lives--and us--it didn't define our marriage as much as it  confirmed and strengthened it. The real defining factor is the Edinburgh Traditional Latin Mass community--and thus, of course, the faith that that community shares. 

Update: That's me, 13 years ago. I don't publish photos of B.A. for reasons that should be obvious in this 21st century valley of tears. 

Saturday 25 September 2021

The Timid Guerrilla

This morning I attempted to plant bulbs in the unkempt, state-owned, grassy strip beside our building. I was not successful, for my dibbler hit stones and concrete within a centimetre or so. It also occurred to me that anything could be within that shallow-rooted tangle of green: syringes, broken glass, refuse from an Orange parade. So I scurried away back to our own garden, where I planted bulbs outside the shed, in front of the composter, beside the apple tree, and in a corner of the lawn. 

I snuck out there at 7:15 AM, but to my amusement, as soon as I returned to our own garden and began to scrape away at ornamental pebbles, the neighbours began to emerge from their doors. One told me he had been troubled by wasps in the night. Another yelled from above at her bidie-in about the cat. 

All in all, it's already been a lively morning.

Although the concept of guerrilla gardening--and buying bulbs--is not particularly thrifty, I know the sight of early spring flowers can dispel work-induced gloom. Also, there are news reports predicting a long, cold expensive winter of high fuel bills and empty shelves at the grocery store. Apparently there is a shortage of computer chips, for one thing, and it seems to me that the Daily Mail is trying to spark a new conflagration of loo roll (toilet paper) hysteria. If they succeed, this will not effect us, for I now buy six months' worth at a time. That said, I may invest £10 in tins of Italian tomatoes today this week. I do not much care if Dutch imports of meat dry up, but tomatoes are life in a tin. 

Meanwhile, I am very glad I left B.A. in charge of the fuel bills, for if I had had my way, we would have switched to one of the smaller, cheaper gas & electric suppliers, which have all gone bust. All hail the mighty Scottish and Southern Energy, aka SSE. Thank heavens we are A) on a fixed rate, and B) getting a "smart meter" in November. We are not turning on the heat until November, by the way, as I shall use the national potential emergency to become as tough and resilient about the damp Scottish cold as Benedict Ambrose. 

It now seems very strange, but as long as I lived in Canada, I took indoor heating for granted. I think it must have always been included in rent, and my parents never told us--or me, anyway--how much the bills were. Buildings in downtown Toronto are joined by heated underground cities of shops and food courts. You can walk for 30 kilometres underground as warm as toast even as blizzards howl above. 

Boston was different. In Boston I lived in an old and draughty house owned by an ancient landlord who violated various laws by dropping in uninvited to count how many people were living there. I don't remember the fuel bills, exactly, but my chief housemate assured me they were astronomical and we were so cold, I spent as much time as possible in Toronto. Ugh, ugh. I don't want to think about Boston.  Good Will Hunting is basically a documentary, and The Departed is an allegory about the theology department.

Happily, I am in Scotland now instead, and even if most of us are poor, we don't discuss our neighbours' gynaecological problems out loud on the bus (Boston) or stare murderously at fellow passengers because we are homesick for the Old Country (Toronto).* We will get through the winter by wrapping ourselves in blankets and drinking endless cups of tea. If there aren't enough lorry drivers to bring us tea, perhaps our kind relations in Canada will send it to us.

Incidentally, I cannot be the only person in the United Kingdom irritated by the media referring to the Winter of Discontent. When Shakespeare invented the phrase, he meant that the discontent was about to end, not that anchovies had disappeared from Tesco and People's Energy had gone bust.  

*I note that my experience of the world is largely mediated by the bus. This is what happens if you never learn to drive.   

Friday 24 September 2021


Yesterday I made the mistake of perusing Twitter and finding a gobsmackingly ignorant and mischievous attack on a good Catholic husband and father who has done more than anyone to shore up the traditional Catholic community in England than anyone else I know. The word--laughably--"extremist" was used, and my thoughts travelled to the very real, flesh-and-blood man, the soul of a living and cheerful conservationism. 

My thoughts also dwelt on the two lovely middle-aged ladies, both relatively recent newcomers to  Britain, who asked me after Mass a couple of weeks ago when After Mass Coffee and Tea would begin again, as it is getting cold, and it would be nice for everyone to be able to chat indoors. One also asked me what I thought about getting everyone to sign a letter to the Archbishop voicing our worry about Traditionis Custodes, and I said that although this might be a good idea in some places, it would not suit our own Scottish contexts. They seemed convinced by this nuanced thought. Not very extremist of them, I must say. 

And my thoughts moved further down the carpark I know so well to the green hill behind the church and hall. There a dozen, perhaps more than a dozen, small children enjoy running around. (The larger children seem to congregate on the green in front of the church, where there is a tree.) One of the most recent mothers to join our community has now told me twice that although she liked her parish church, there were no other small children there, and it was nice for her children to be with other children. Her parish--I know the church: BEAUTIFUL building--is mostly elderly people. A mother's wish for her children to meet other children at Mass did not seem very extremist to me.  

I note that she didn't mention that, as a Catholic mother of children, it is also nice to meet other Catholic mothers of children, and for her convert husband to meet other Catholic fathers of children. However, I imagine that this is true, and I don't believe that there is anything extreme in this either.

My thoughts are now ranging around pretty wildly over the entire morning congregation (there is now a late afternoon congregation, too), and one of the problems with being moved out of what might be (it's complicated) a "parish" church into another is wheelchair access. An important member of our congregation, measuring importance by prayerfulness and constancy, is a still-young man who has used a wheelchair for the past 13 years at very least. Then there is an elderly pillar of the parish who, while  walking back to her car after Mass one evening, was hit by a bus. She survived but is now also confined to a wheelchair.  I don't know the young man very well, but I can confirm that the elderly lady is extreme in nothing but patience and forbearance. 

Now thinking about the afternoon congregation, my thoughts alight on the altar servers, one of whom knows the responses very well, and one of whom doesn't. Neither is particularly extreme in any way, except that the second has a violent resistance to having his photo taken. They have many brothers and sisters, but their parents don't seem particularly extreme, except in their love for children and excellent bread-making skills. The father smokes cigarettes and has an educational background that would make the mischievous attacker to whom I alluded in Paragraph One shuffle his feet. 

What must always be remembered when talking about the Traditional Latin Mass communities, or the people who love the Traditional Latin Mass, is that we are not talking about some amorphous miasma or loathsome parade of ants, but about living, breathing, loving Catholics. We are motivated by our love for God and, very often, our spouses and children, whose spiritual good we long for. We love the saints (all of whom were also living, breathing, loving Catholics), and we love beauty, harmony, simplicity (which we do not confuse with IKEA), as they mediate to us the beauty, harmony, simplicity of God. 

Thus, when Pope Francis and those who do not brook resistance to Pope Francis's pronouncements, says unkind things about Tradition, the Traditional Latin Mass, and people who love the Traditional Latin Mass, real people--real parents, real children, real people in wheelchairs, for example, or other real people with heavy crosses--are hurt. Our feelings are hurt, and even our physical place in the Church is threatened. (Where do traditional contemplative monks and nuns go when their orders are suppressed? Where will the traditional Latin Mass community in Guadalajara worship next week? Where will my congregation be next Easter?) This morning I can resist wondering why, when something is new and ugly and popular it is "a sign of the times" and why, when something is old and beautiful and popular it is "a fad" that "will kill us all." 

The pontiff seems to believe that Catholics who love the Traditional Latin Mass--or the Traditional Latin Catholicism--want to restore the past. This is, of course, nonsense. We cannot restore the past; we can only go forward. But we want to go forward with the faith, the faith we were actually confirmed in, not one made up on the hoof. One would think the pontiff would be sympathetic to this, but there we are are, and there he is. 

Tuesday 21 September 2021

Travel Bug

I was messaging with a colleague about the Closing Mass for the Synod on the Amazon, and I was suddenly overwhelmed with a great desire to spend another month-long working holiday in Rome. 

Goodness knows when Benedict Ambrose and I will be able to do that. My guess is as good as yours, but I'm putting my metaphorical money on an October, maybe a November lockdown, to last until April. At some point in 2022, I'm hoping, there will be ticker tape Victory Over COVID parades, and then I can book a flat. 

I'm thinking a triumphal progress around the western world. First Canada, to see every member of our Canadian family and all our Canadian friends. Then Poland to see my Godling and her beautiful parents and their family and friends. 

Rustic Polish dwelling

Then--who knows when and how many vacation days I'll have left--we'll land in Ciampino and get our usual bus to Roma Termini and (ASAP) to our temporary Italian home.  

View from temporary Italian home

Then we're going back to Poland--this will come as a surprise to B.A.--so we can be in a Polish-language environment for a few weeks and generally bask in the western Slavic weirdness of it all. Warsaw, maybe, although too many people tell me Warsaw isn't "Real Poland." If it's winter, maybe Krakow, as it's less tourist-haunted in winter, and the parks are so beautiful. But there's no way I'm going to Poland for weeks without B.A. because I did that once and NEVER AGAIN.   

In Warsaw without B.A. 

Yes, international travel, like contact lenses, does have its drawbacks. I need to remind myself of this so I don't go a bit crazy thinking about what I can't do and who I can't visit. Meanwhile, I had an energetic Italian conversation at lunchtime today, and tomorrow morning I will have a spritely Polish conversation on the beach, so even if I can't go to Italy and Poland, I can speak their languages.  

Monday 20 September 2021

Royal Botanics and Exile

Yesterday after Mass Benedict Ambrose and I went to the Royal Botanical Gardens. B.A. thought we were going somewhere for a nice walk, but I just wanted to see how the vegetable gardens were getting on. Having been bitten by the gardening bug late in life, I got it bad. But, happily, B.A. himself remarked that the Botanics were lovelier and more interesting than he remembered and wondered why we don't go there more often. 

The fruit and vegetable gardens were very social, for there was an apple fancier behind a makeshift counter with different examples of apples before him, and a woman standing guard over the (literarily) prize-winning community garden vegetable displays. The apple fancier was quite interested in our cider project and suggested that next year B.A. give a demonstration. This B.A. was reluctant to do.  And, indeed without a car, it would be difficult to transport 14 or more kilos of apple bits to the Royal Botanical Gardens. ("Fortunately, we have here apples chopped up beforehand...") 

The layout of the fruit and vegetable gardens had very much changed since I was there earlier this summer, and the fruit was where I expected the vegetables to be. However, that was fine because I have been thinking about how to grow fruit trees and bushes along fences (espaliered) and wires (double cordoned) and there were several examples of these techniques. There were several kinds of apples, some pears, at least one plum, and a morello cherry. Inside large fruit cages (aluminium frames with plastic mesh) there were several carefully pruned bushes, including red currants, blackberries and tayberries. 

The "new" vegetable gardens, when I found them, were well worth seeing for their beautiful rows of different varieties of kale, squashes, courgettes, and beets, flanked by bug-repelling marigold. The "old vegetable gardens" still had the labels for various kinds of now-bolted lettuce and disappeared beans and peas and they were all planted over with bright autumn flowers--an excellent idea. 

There were happy pollinators--a new word for bees--all over the flowers, and I mistook part of the weather station  (founded in the 18th century) for a beehive. It turns out that when Edinburgh weather is measured and predicted, it is from the Botanics. Another interesting sight is, of course, the glass houses, begun in 1834. The enormous Temperate Palm House, built in 1858, exudes the confidence of Victorian Britain. It is really amazing. 

I had brought my phone, and the afternoon was punctuated with brief but important-to-me family communications from and to Canada. It's a good thing the day was so lovely, for otherwise I would have felt rather sad to be cut off from so much "back home." As it was, I was feeling very out of it by bedtime, and this morning I looked up flights and then the regulations. The regulations are still onerous for those in our situation, so we continue to wait. It's nice to see that Air Transat did not go under, though.  

Saturday 18 September 2021

Apple Cider Day

It's the Fourth Annual Cider Squish here at St Benedict over the Apple Tree. This morning I picked a number of apples (and scraped my shin on a branch while clambering about), went to the beach for language exchange, and returned to pick more apples. This year I used a metal stick with a loop on one end, loaned by one of our neighbours. 

"I call it a fruit loop," he said. 

It was a lovely sunny day, so a good sprinkling of neighbours were outside gardening, tending their pigeons, and generally commenting on the apples and enjoying the sun. 

Despite the stick--which for the first time ever enabled me to get apples near the top (but not at the top) of the tree--I gathered only 14 kilograms of apples, which is to say about 130 apples. They produced 7 litres of juice, so now I know how much juice to expect per kilo. We may try for another 2 litres next weekend, collecting the remaining apples as they fall. On the other hand, we may not, as Benedict Ambrose looked very tired at the thought.

As usual, B.A. wore the green boiler suit he got from the Head Gardener at the Historical House some years ago. The green boiler suit is a sign that B.A. means to get right down to work, possibly in solidarity with the Workers. I feel that if General KoĹ›ciuszko were alive in Scotland today, he would put aside the lovely white coat of the peasant and don the green boiler suit. At any rate, when I got home from the beach, B.A. was in his boiler suit and had already sterilised the fermentation bin and screwed the apple press to a wooden pallet beside the veggie trug. 

B.A. cut up a bowl of apples while I was out getting more, but I managed to weigh them all anyway. We had a lot of trouble with our big food processor, which I mention because we checked this very blog to see if and how we fixed the problem last year. Sadly, I didn't go into that much detail. For the sake of next year, we have all the pieces, and we saw it had a 13 A fuse, and we simply don't know why it doesn't work. (Could it have been the fuse? We didn't try replacing that.) B.A. even took the food processor  downstairs to ask the neighbour, which shows how humble and sensible he is--actually asking another man for directions, as it were--but the neighbour was no longer in. So in the end we used the small food processor. I chopped, and B.A. ground. We filled a wash tub and two bowls with apple bits:

When we put the bits in the apple press, the juice came out eagerly, red-brown and fragrant. I hoped this was a sign we'd get more juice from fewer apples this year, but we did not. I expect that in the end we will have 14 half-litre bottles--unless of course I make 2 more litres of cider on the sly. 

What is more likely is that we will collect the fallen apples and make more crumble, pie, turnovers, strudel  and pancakes. The principal reason we have less juice this year is because we have been harvesting apples for a month. Last Sunday alone I picked 3 Kg for the strudel. This is what happens, I see, when cider-making gets delayed. However, we do not regret it, for we have enjoyed all the puddings. Learning how to make strudel was, as I probably mentioned, the fulfilment of a childhood dream. 

By the way, we did have one bottle left over from last year's harvest, and we drank it with friends after we finished pressing the apples from this year's. It was very appley, not too dry, quite satisfactory. 

 Notes to self:  1. We took a reading of 1.040. 2. I added 1.5 Campden tablets to the juice in the evening and mixed it in before putting the fermenting bin back in the bathroom cupboard. 3. Getting supper from the local Chinese takeaway is, according to B.A., one of our Cider Day traditions. 

Wednesday 15 September 2021

Garden Dreaming

In its heyday, a very important pond.

I have been pencilling scale drawings of our garden on the graph paper at the back of my budget planner. The logic is that I will keep my budget planner for years, enabling me to settle a dispute in 2027 when we argue how much we spent on cider-making supplies in 2021.

It was amusing and instructive to go outside with a metal tape and measure all the necessary distances. For  one thing, the area of the garden--which was thrown in with the price of the flat--is much bigger than the area of the flat. For another, our downstairs neighbour opened her door to ask what I was doing and had to be satisfied with my boring and obvious answer. I could have said I was figuring out how much fence we need, but I only thought of that later. 

I now have two scale drawings: the garden as it is ("Garden 2021") and the garden as it could be ("Garden 2031"). Occasionally I get up from my desk, go to the door and look over the expanse of grass, tree and concrete and imagine Garden 2031. Then I adjust my vision, and Garden 2021 reappears, bringing with it the possibility of leaving it alone and thereby saving thousands of pounds. 

However, since we do have a garden (and so many people don't) and working in a garden is good for both one's physical and metal health, I think developing it would be better than not developing it. Besides, if I put a greenhouse, 3 raised vegetable beds and a raised pond on the lawn, there will be less grass for Benedict Ambrose to mow. Also, if we pull up the concrete tiles covering the last three-eighths towards the apple tree, we could hammer in a fox-proof fence and raise hens. 

There is also the environment to consider. The local fauna might not care so much about the vegetable beds (I hope), but I'm thinking of planting flowers that will attract butterflies, bees and (especially) ladybugs. I could pull up parts of the concrete slab paths and plant more berry bushes. Naturally my wildest dream is to plant a permaculture food forest--our prehistoric ancestors ate a lot of hazelnuts--but I don't have the heart to destroy the lawn to that extent. 

The first thing to do, of course, is fulfil our promise to our next-door-downstairs neighbour and put a proper fence between his rather Zen (complete with Buddha) garden and our riotous rosa rugosa. To do this, we will have to cut them right down to the ground again. If I could, I would grow espaliered fruit trees against this south-facing fence-to-be, but I don't think the roses would allow it, even if we did keep brutally cutting them back. (I know how to poison them, but I don't believe in poisoning plants.)

One thing of which I am relatively sure: the expanded vegetable gardens are not going to pay for themselves, and we're not sure the garden office (which we will enjoy designing) will either, should we decide to sell the flat. Naturally, we aren't going to do anything crazy until B.A. has found a full-time job in Edinburgh. If we suddenly had to move to Durham or Belfast, it would be inconvenient to have just built a garden room de luxe. However, we still have some time before B.A. has his professional diploma in his new field, so it is worth putting in the fence and buying the greenhouse and trying to grow tomatoes that remind us of Italy. 

Sunday 12 September 2021

A Gathering of the Clans

Yesterday Benedict Ambrose and I got on the train for Carfin, as Una Voce Scotland had arranged a 11:30 AM outdoor Traditional Latin Mass at Carfin Grotto in the Diocese of Motherwell. I packed some freshly baked apple turnovers, in part to use up the all-butter puff pastry from Waitrose in the fridge. I also brought a Polish exercises workbook, in case of a delay somewhere, and I was very glad, as it made an excellent kneeler. 

I wore my new burgundy brogue-boots and my hair in seven braids as well as my latest Denim Maxi-skirt of Indestructable Traddery, and I will get around to explaining why I mentioned this. 

At Haymarket Station, we noticed other members of the "Edinburgh Crew" getting on the train. One of our bosom pals got onto our carriage, and another one, and some of the university youngsters, got on another carriage where they encountered beer-drinking Ranger fans. 

Apparently the Ranger fans were affable and, as they do, pressed beer upon one of boys, but they also sang their songs and chanted their sectarian chants, or at least one that involved imaginary abuse of the Roman pontiff. I didn't ask in detail, but presumably they want  to hang him from the chapel door or whatnot. Golly, something to think about when he turns up for the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow next month. 

Ah, dear Lord. Trads may wail and seethe and fuss over Pope Francis' oeuvre, but at least we don't sing "It's the real thing: Pope on a string" like Rangers fans.   

We alighted at Carfin and discovered that the National Shrine (with the grotto) is directly across the street from the railway station. B.A. and I had never been to the National Shrine, which includes an enormous park with a 1980s-looking church, a huge, freestanding parish hall, a pilgrim's centre, a glass chapel where  a choir can sing through microphones and fill the park with song, dozens of memorial benches, dozens of pious statues in white, and flags. Very strangely, there is the Tricolour of the French Republic right beside the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, and I have an inkling of what French Trads would have to say about that, e.g. Oh la la, la Vendee.

The National Shrine park is quite amazing, and I have literally never seen anything like it before. I see from the internet that the earliest part is the actual 1922 Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, and that is where our Mass was. There was an altar set up on a platform to the side of the full-scale depiction of the Lourdes apparition, and hundreds of folding chairs on at least two levels in front of the platform. 

Besides the enjoyment of taking a turn in a big park which is quite obviously the green heart of the Catholic Church in Scotland, there was the joy of meeting old friends and acquaintances from the TLM communities across the country. There were at least 10 people (not including the tiny children) from the Edinburgh community, and I chatted with people who go to the TLM in Glasgow, Motherwell, and Dundee. All told there were somewhere between 150 and 200 people, which is not a huge number, I admit, but there were some large families I know noticeably absent. Next time I will do more to publicise the event myself. 

The skies threatened rain and even spat at us a bit, but for the most part we were spared and could participate in the rosary and then the beautiful Mass unfolding before us without getting wet. And I do mean participate: I am utterly dumbfounded at the idea that Catholics who go to the TLM are passive spectators. The quality of concentration among TLM congregations is something almost unique in my experience, and of course there are the ritual actions of standing, bowing, kneeling, breast-beating, sitting, standing, and kneeling and breast-beating some more. TLM congregations also risk blowing off the roof when we sing whichever anthem during the Last Gospel. Yesterday, when we had no roof but the heavens,  we sang Salve Regina. Really lovely.

The reading and Gospel were redundantly, but presumably obediently, read in English before the homily, just so you know. Nice for those among us who couldn't read the English side of the Mass sheet UV handed out, I suppose, although I can't imagine who that might have been. The under-7 set, perhaps? 

Having madly socialised before Mass, and not done any socialising during Mass, we returned to mad socialising afterwards while the Edinburgh crew sans auto waited for our train. To my great joy, I met a long-time reader, a Cape Breton Canadian who teaches Gaelic to Scots, something I have long enjoyed thinking about. She was also wearing a Denim Maxiskirt (or Midi Skirt, to be precise) of Indestructable Traddery and handsome burgundy brogues, as well as a smart jacket and scarf. I also met an Italian Scot, her family from actual Rome, and we had an enjoyable conversation. I introduced my new Scottish colleague to various people I know and he didn't, and it was all marvellous. 

When the Edinburgh base community (in the Liberation Theology sense) got on the return train to Edinburgh, we formed late-lunch plans, and six of us walked to an excellent pizza parlour where there was  "laughter and good red wine." My cup ran over, for it was like pre-COVID--in fact, even like pre-cancer-- days.

Oh! And I have forgotten the cherry on top, which is total vanity, but listen, I'm over 40 here and this is why I mentioned the braids. As the two lovely young women, an undergrad and a young wife, and I (a thorn between two roses) walked ahead of the gentlemen along Dalry Rd., a bespectacled young man walked past us, turned, and told me that he really liked my hair. 

"Thank you very much!" I said with a sunny smile, and when he turned around and strode off to his regular life, I punched my fists in the air. 

"I'm [age]," I mouthed.

"I'm [age]," I told the other girls. "This isn't supposed to happen anymore."

"I'm [AAAAAGE]!!!"  

The braids are staying. 

Update: The apple harvest begins in earnest. This morning I picked 3 kg to be made into apple strudel. At long last, today I am going to learn how to make pastry so thin, my husband can read his newspaper through it--as my mother's old cookbook says. 

In other apple news, left over apple turnover filling works beautifully with pancakes/crepes on a Sunday morning, especially if Sundays are exempt from the egg, soup, and super diet. 

Finally, I tided up all around the apple tree yesterday, so that disease does not befall it. A few apples have sickened on the tree, which worries me a bit. I think from now on, I will weigh our crop as I pick it, and total it up so we have a record of yield over the years. 

Thursday 9 September 2021

Eggs and soup

Two changes. 

1. I'm now working from 9 to 5, so my weekday mornings dedicated to exercise, languages and the outdoors are no more. So far I have been too tired after my 5 PM walk to do much. However, this may because of #2.

2. It's the eggs, soup and supper diet! I'm back on ye olde Blood Sugar diet for, lo, my heavy tweed skirt is a bit snug, and in time-honoured fashion (i.e. my mother does this) I have decided to slim down a bit to make it fit. 

I think it's making me a tad light-headed. On the way to Tesco this evening, I was suddenly gripped by a yen for little stickers, and found some for £1 in the Children's Stationary section. The stickers are for my daily companion, the accounts book. They say such things as "Wow!" and "Good work!" and "Good girl!" which I find very cheering.  

They were Made in Taiwan, which is good politically if not environmentally. But there were plastic (boo) baskets Made in Britain (yay!) on offer, and I got one to hold my exercise kit. (Long boring story.) 

This morning I did squeeze in an online Polish-English language exchange before work, but right now I am feeling much too tired and lazy to read my Intermediate Polish Tutor book.

And those are my thoughts for the day--apart from a cursory observation that Meditations on the Tarot is a perpetual source of controversy amongst Catholics I know. 

Wednesday 8 September 2021

Return from Mini-break

Somehow my yen to eat in the New Town more often turned into a longing for the Highlands. Benedict Ambrose is not one for long journeys, however, so he found a very elegant, yet cozy,  AirBnB in the Scottish Borders. So to the Borders we went on Saturday
to fritter our mornings away with books in the sunroom and spend our afternoons hiking for miles. 

On Sunday afternoon we hiked about 4 miles past fields and cows to Little Sparta, a locally famous garden-kingdom created by the poet/artist Ian Hamilton Findlay.  I'm not allowed to publish my photos, alas! We wandered through the amazing gardens, reading the inscriptions, translating the Latin,  and being surprised by this pyramid or that joke. Then we hiked 4 miles back to our elegant holiday home (the restored and refurbished annex of an old manse). Our one regret was that there was no pub along our route. 

This is was not a problem on Monday when we hiked 5 miles along a Roman road towards the Allan Ramsay Hotel in Carlops. However, our plans hit a minor snag when we discovered, thanks to my phone, that the pub was shut until Thursday noon. This was easily solved, though, by turning around and walking a mile back towards The Gordon Arms in West Linton. We drank refreshing pints of ale, and then we caught the bus. 

The walk to West Linton (off the Roman road and onto a tree-lined country loan [lane]) had interesting and desirable houses at which to gawk.  I've posted one (above). It inspired me to throw money to the winds and buy a lottery ticket, which we still have not checked.

P.S. I fritted away one of my mornings--and frittered away some of an evening--by reading a chic-lit novel called Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman. The middle-aged woman, having suffered a heartbreak, is summoned to Paris by her Parisian pal and made to undergo a day of beauty treatments and shopping. The heartbroken woman has lost weight from her heartbreak (which I would not do: chocolate and peanut butter all the way) and looked like a million euros after buying expensive, properly fitted lingerie, being poured into a chic French suit, and undergoing waxing, massaging, and various kinds of polishing. It's a classic scene in such films as Pretty Woman and other lying trash, as well as "Cinderella" (which might tell lies but is not trash).

My question is, is this self-renovation stuff actually true? Does expensive lingerie and clothing and treatments really make a serious difference to the way you look, or just a little difference? After 40, I mean. We all know (from films) that a sloppy teenager can look like a princess with just an eyebrow tweeze and a pretty dress. But what about her Gen X auntie, eh? 


Saturday 4 September 2021

Things cannoli get better

I have stolen my headline from punster Benedict Ambrose: in actual fact, life is sweet when the Canadian/American long weekend stretches before us, and we still have 10 or so homemade cannoli shells waiting to be filled with sweetened ricotta. 

Why did no one tell me that the most delicious thing on earth is a freshly made cannolo? Yesterday when I bit into the first one, I thought at first there was some mistake. I was actually confused by the deliciousness. It was like the first time I swam in the Mediterranean and thought my mouth was bleeding because I tasted salt

B.A. remarked that these had taken a lot of work, but this was mostly because I had never made them before and because I had fussed about in the kitchen the night before making candied orange peel. In fact, I got up yesterday at 6:45 AM, made the dough, put it in the fridge to rest for two hours, set the ricotta to drain beside it, and swanned off to the physiotherapist.  

Okay, so then it took me from 10:30 AM to 12 to get them done, so really this should have been a weekend project, but never mind. The dough rolled out beautifully, and the oil was sufficiently hot when I put the cannoli, wrapped in their metal tubes, into the pot. They took longer to cook than I thought, but I didn't panic. I fetched them out with tongs and set them to drain on the paper-covered cooling rack. When they were cooler, I eased them off the tubes, and when they were all free, I dipped one of their ends in melted dark chocolate. 

While they were cooling, I mixed 500 grams of ricotta with 200 grams of icing sugar and added a few drops of orange extract. The rule is not to fill cannoli until just before you serve them, so at first I filled only the above four (see photo). I added some smashed pistachios for decoration.

Making cannoli is less difficult than making pierogi, but making pierogi is good training for making cannoli. There's the same worry about how long to knead the dough, the rolling out, the cutting out, and  the stretching of the little circles into big-enough, thin-enough circles. You glue the flaps of the circles together with egg, which means they don't come unstuck while cooking the way (alas) pierogi too often do. 

Now here is my recipe, cobbled from Cucchaio Argento and BBC Good Foods. I stress that it is more authentic to use vinegar, but I haven't any in the house. Sorry about the metric.

McLean Cannoli


150g plain flour

big pinch baking soda

20g sugar

20g lard 

egg, separated

50 mL marsala wine

zest of one orange

sunflower/vegetable oil (for frying)


500g (2 Tesco tubs) ricotta

200g icing sugar

a few drops of orange extract


chocolate, chopped pistachios, chocolate chips, candied fruit, etc.

1. Mix dry ingredients and rub in lard. 

2. Add egg yolk, marsala and orange zest. 

3. Mix well and then knead for 7 minutes or so on a floured surface to create a smooth, elastic dough. It will probably be a bit sticky.

4. Wrap dough and put it in the fridge for at least 2 hours.  

5. Set the ricotta in a sieve over a bowl in the fridge to drain the whey. 

6. Roll out the dough as thin as you can (between pieces of baking paper, if you're me) and cut out 11 cm circles with a cookie cutter. If your cookie cutter is (like mine) too small, take the too-small circles and roll them out individually before wrapping them around the cannoli tubes. Secure the top flap with egg white. Keep cannoli under a damp cloth while working so they don't dry out. 

7. Heat sunflower oil in pot to 170 C or so. Drop in cannoli and take them out with tongs when they are golden-brown. Leave them to cool on a rack covered with kitchen paper. 

8. Mix the ricotta in a bowl with icing sugar and orange extract. Keep in fridge when not using. 

9. Gently slide the cannoli from the cannoli tubes. When they are cool, dip one end or both in melted chocolate.  

10. When they are completely cool, store on paper towel in an air-tight container to keep them crispy. 

11. Fill them with ricotta cream and decorate just before serving. Depending on the size of the tubes, you might not need a pastry/frosting bag and can just fill them with a small spoon. 

12. Never mind coffee: these go very nicely with a glass of marsala. 

The lovely table cloth, by the way, came from an Italian hardware store. I cannot remember if it came from Rome or Florence although I am inclined to think the latter. Italy is filled from top to bottom with tourist junk and luxury trinkets, so if you want something "real," something an Italian nonna (or bisnonna, let's face it) would use, go into the dark, unassuming little shop with the sign reading Ferramenta

UPDATE: Forgot to mention that my excuse for making cannoli was the Feast of St. Pius X according to the old calendar. Further evidence of radicalisation by Traditionis Custodes!

Thursday 2 September 2021

Made in Britain: Boots


Boots at last.

One of the great things about minimalism is that you get to have a few splendid things instead of a lot of rubbish things. Thus, I bought the above boots in good conscience, and when Benedict Ambrose said, "You deserve them," I believed him.

Who knows what changes these excellent Made-in-Northamptonshire boots may inspire? Freed from my velcro-strapped granny shoes, I may swath myself in black wool and red silk and sally forth in Gothic glory. 

But it is much more likely that I will just wear them to Mass. I am strictly forbidden from wearing them on country walks. They are officially my Best Shoes. 

Tomorrow I will make cannoli, so stay tuned. 

Wednesday 1 September 2021

Home Economics: August report

Apple tree,  September 1st

Happy September--season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, as Keats said of autumn. I'm sad that summer is drawing to a close, but at least there are apples. 

Yesterday we finished the szarlotka, and on Friday there will be cannoli. Maybe tonight we will have tarte tartin--although I am not sure we should have pudding every night. We are becoming what we eat. 

Also yesterday I finished the August accounts, and I budgeted for September. It was great fun, but in the end I ran mad and ordered a pair of boots Made in England. As it happens, I do need a pair of boots for the autumn, and I cannot wear my navy blue granny shoes day in and day out.  

The expense of this purchase is sweetened by the knowledge that we came in under budget in August, including for food. On August 1, I thought the Restaurant, Cafe, Bar and Takeaway bill would be about £250 as we were spending five days in England, but in the end it was not.

August 2021: Groceries--£288.35; RCBT--£153.22 

This comes to a grand total of £441.57, which may sound like a lot for one couple, but 1. this is Britain,  2. we like fresh food, 3. it includes wine and beer,  4. I will pay up to £5.75 for a bag of coffee. (I will switch to supermarket stuff for Advent and Lent, weep weep.)

Meanwhile, we spent £30 less on food than we did in July:

July 2021: Groceries--£321.52; RCBT--£150.80

Adding in the list below, I see that we have spent an average of £347 a month on groceries (not including the coffee subscription), and an average of £121 a month on RCBT. That is an average £468 per month on  food costs, but that's not so bad given that I took a laissez faire attitude ("It's Christmas!") in January and that we had a blowout during a trip south to see friends in May. Lent evened things out.

January 2021: Groceries--£455.47; RCBT--£112.65; Coffee subscription: £12.95 

February 2021: Groceries--£299.70; RCBT--£45.15; Coffee sub.: £12.95

March 2021: Groceries--£308.75; RCBT--£25.30; Coffee sub.: £12.95

April 2021: Groceries--£361.71; RCBT--£69.03; Coffee sub. £12.95

May 2021: Groceries--£350.34; RCBT--£344.45; Coffee sub. £12.95

June 2021: Groceries--£389.75; RCBT--£67.60; Coffee sub.--CANCELLED

Projected food expenses for September are £300 for groceries and £151 for RCBT.  Let's see how we get on.