Languishing in post-production pt. 3 Scotland; Edinburgh

 

It was starting to drizzle a little as the train pulled out of Pitlochry. Not a hard rain, just damp enough to wet the salmon fisherman trying their best in the river as the train passed by.  A couple hours later we were in Edinburgh for one last stop in Scotland.

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Edinburgh Castle looms large

Not just the setting for “Trainspotting,” Edinburgh is also known for being the capital of Scotland and has been since the 15th century. It is a medieval wonderland in which the Edinburgh Castle looms large on the skyline. There are winding roads, narrow alleyways and cobbles galore all coated in a thick layer of history. All this, of course, makes it a massive tourist draw. There were English tourists, American tourists, European tourists, and quite a lot of Chinese tourists. All of whom seem to be clamoring to get a view of the castle and buy as much tweed as possible.

It was just slightly odd listening to the Russian or Chinese salespeople selling Scottish woolen goods to their compatriots in their native language. Wasn’t  quite the Scottish experience I had elsewhere. One wonders how Brexit will reshape the face of tourist retail.

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Another inviting Scottish pub

Edinburgh is beautiful even with all the tourists and with so much to see and do one could go mad trying to fit in as much as possible. We on the other hand just kind of tried to absorb the atmosphere and see where our little adventure would take us. So in the two days we had there we mostly just walked around and looked at a lot of old stuff, old buildings, old parks, old bits of history.

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National Museum of Scotland

The second day we found our way into the National Museum of Scotland. With one face it looks totally contemporary and the other face is totally Victorian. It is huge and it took up a great deal of well spent time.

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Diego Ramero!

Museums always make me hungry, but after a week of hearty Scottish fare, which I thoroughly enjoy mind you, I was in the mood for something a little different. Luckily the Museum shares a neighborhood with the University of Edinburgh. Being an ancient and internationally ranked university it was bound to have something different around it.

So we walked around a bit and looked at menus and tried to decide on a place. There were a few very interesting looking places, but this little Chinese place around the corner from the Musuem caught my attention. It had all the hallmarks of a good Chinese restaurant that just happened to be jammed into the most Scottish looking of buildings.

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Lian Pu, 14 Marshall St, Edinburgh

It was a quiet little place with the specials handwritten in Chinese on pieces of paper unceremoniously taped to the front of the counter. Perfect, a place where the use of Chinese didn’t seem quite so out of place. It was the kind of place where Chinese college students come to find comfort food. In fact pretty much all the other patrons were Chinese students, except for the one white guy who happened to be chatting up a Chinese student…

The menu had a fair number of items that were squarely aimed at a more Western palate. We avoided those in favor of more traditional fare. We settled on three dishes; 乾煸四季豆 (dry fried green beans), 香辣肚絲 (spicy shredded tripe), and 涼拌白菜 (“spicy shredded cabbage”).

All were good, but the last I especially enjoyed. I had never had the 涼拌白菜 before, it is a cold salad of shredded napa cabbage quick pickled in a spicy vinegar oil mix, similar to 涼拌黃瓜 (cold cucumber salad). I immediately set to finding a recipe upon returning home, it was that good.

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乾煸四季豆,香辣肚絲,涼拌白菜 and 我

Lunch completed we continued our rambling around Edinburgh’s shops and sites. Until threatening rain forced us into a pub for a drink and some sticky toffee pudding. After which we quietly retired for the evening to get packed for the next days departure.

The next day with our holiday nearly concluded there was just enough time to pop into the local supermarket to grab a large jar of Marmite and a Soreen Malt loaf before hopping the plane back across the pond.

In conclusion, go to Scotland if not for the fine Indian and Chinese food at least for the Scotch and hillwalking. I know our short trip left us wanting more, hopefully we return soon.

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Sticky toffee pudding and scotch

 

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Languishing in post-production pt.2B Scotland; Blair Atholl, Moulin, and Pitlochry

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Blair Atholl

Another day, anther walk (after another full breakfast of course). Just this time I thought perhaps something a wee bit flatter. So we hopped the local bus to head over to Blair Atholl to take a nice stroll up Glen Tilt on the Atholl Estates. It is a short bus ride and it stops past Blair Castle. So we got the 50 cent tour of the castle grounds. The beginnings of the castle date to the 13th century and it is featured in season 2, episode 7 of “Victoria” if anyone is interested. We, however disembarked at the what I suspect is the village green.

We found the trail map at the local info station and got our bearings. It appears that the hiking trail started just next to a very hairy, long horned, highland cow.

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Black highland “coo”

 

The trail preceded to follow the millrace (more on the mill later, I promise) until it met up with the River Tilt.

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Millrace

Then along the river and under a canopy of spectacular beech trees.

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Along the River Tilt

After a short while one reaches a strange moss covered stone structure that overlooks a rather pretty section of the River Tilt. This little enclosure that reminded me of a CCC structure is actually an 18th century Gothic viewpoint that was a favorite place of Queen Victoria. From which she would watch the salmon come up the river.

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River Tilt Grotto

Once the trail leaves the river, or rather the river becomes little more than a dull roar at the bottom of a very steep canyon, you pop out on a bucolic country lane. Where one can see even more shaggy highland cows.

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Brown hairy “coos”

There are also some beautiful vistas to behold in between the forested sections, where if you are lucky you just might get a glimpse of some of the highland deer. Though perhaps not be so lucky as to get a photo of said deer. The forests themselves so much reminded me of the forests back in Washington State. Lush, mossy and evergreen.

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Maell Dail Min

Before we got to cross the river and make our way back down the other side of the river we had to pass by the shooting range. A very noisy place filled with expensive Land Rovers and expensive European rifles. The demographics of hunters and shooting sport enthusiast is much different here I thought to myself.

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Once across the river and away from all the noise the trail parallels the river through the glen in the shadow of Maell Dail Min. It is a pastoral setting, just us and the sheep, and with the sun properly starting to shine it was a most pleasant walk.

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Looking back up the glen

After some time in the pasture you finally pop out on a little country lane overlooking Blair Castle.

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Blair Castle, the little white bit to the left

The lane is sparsely populated, with only a few farmhouses and a little hamlet that dot the sides of the lane. I don’t think we saw one vehicle the whole way back to Blair Atholl.

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The hamlet of Fenderbridge

Back in Blair Atholl and famished. We found our way to the other end of the millrace to the Blair Atholl Watermill. One of the few remaining working watermills in Scotland. There has been a mill on this site since the 17th century. However, the present mill only dates back to 1830 or so. Only.

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At the mill they grind their own flour and bake up a mighty good loaf of bread, and serve it all up for tea. Which was pretty much a perfect ending for a pleasant walk in the country. I felt like something out of writings of James Herriot.

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Tea with sandwiches, scones, and the like.

Satiated we caught the next bus back to Pitlochry to rest a little before dinner, or is that supper. I forget.

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Moulin Hotel

Having rather enjoyed the beverage I had at the Moulin Hotel just the day before we thought we should try out their dinner menu as well as their draught. And a different pint this time.

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Ale of Atholl and a “Scotchman’s Bunnet” sort of a batter pudding with beef stew atop.

The next morning the rain had returned, but no matter. We were scheduled to depart Pitlochry anyhow. So after breakfast it was one last stroll around town before we were to catch the train to Edinburgh.

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That stroll is where I came across the most exciting place I had seen since the distillery.

That’s right the butcher shop. The windows were full of haggis, puddings and pies. Inside the cases were practically overflowed with pies, bridies, sausage rolls! Scotch pies and venison pies! There may have been a little overindulgence that followed. But you just can not get good meat pies back home.

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Black Pudding, White Pudding, and Haggis!

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PIES!!!! (and bridies, and sausage rolls, and!!!)

After getting a little carried away in the butcher shop I slowly plodded down to the train station to catch the southbound train.

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Pitlochry’s adorable Victorian train station.

And off to Edinburgh.

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Languishing in post-production pt. 2A Scotland; Pitlochry and Moulin

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Our quaint little B&B in Pitlochry

The bus from Inverness to Pitlochry takes one through the picturesque Cairngorms National Park. There were mountains, valleys, and distilleries, the former two, all lush and green, the latter, all bright, gleaming white.

We chose Pitlochry as a destination because we heard it was a nice place to take a walk. Specifically it is well known for “hillwalking” which is a rough equivalent to hiking in American. Pitlochry is a Victorian town, a 150 year old tourist destination which gained its fame from Queen Victoria’s fondness for the area. Oh and there is whisky. So yeah pretty much the ideal “vacation” stop.

We hopped off the bus on a gloriously sunny afternoon, found our way to the B&B and deposited our bags. Eager to embrace our inner Hobbit we quickly got ready for our first walk. On the edge of town there is a short 3 or so mile trek through the local woodlands.

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An old “holloway” in the Black Spout woods

It meanders past old holloways and provides a nice little glimpse of the Black Spout falls.

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The Black Spout waterfall

Best of all the destination of this little walk is the Edradour Distillery. This is a feature that I think would improve even some of the best Cascade trails I’ve hiked.

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We got to the distillery just in time for the last tour of the day and its complementary samples.

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Edradour is a wee distillery, the (second) smallest in all of Scotland. And decidedly a little old fashioned.

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Where the magic happens

Regardless of its size ranking it is a charming little distillery that puts out a fine dram. If one has only time to visit a couple distilleries in Scotland Edradour should be one of them.

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Possibly heaven

After our little tour and a stop by the distillery store we looped back to town on a meandering path through the local farmland.

Back in the village we found our way to the local chippy and got some take away. After which we headed over to the river to eat our dinner al fresco and perhaps catch a glimpse of a salmon heading up the fish ladder.

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The local chippy

The Next day the weather had returned to normal, it was grey and damp, and full of Scottish charm.

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Another full breakfast

Not to be deterred we went down for a little breakfast, sausages, bacon, black pudding, white, pudding, egg, beans, fried tomatoes, tattie scones, toast, and tea. Just enough for a short hike.

After which we donned our rain jackets, grabbed a pack and headed over to the local supermarket to get some sandwiches for lunch.

Ok that is possibly something I should have taken a picture of. Every supermarket and the like had the most amazing wall of sandwiches in every imaginable flavor from egg and cress to cheese and onion. It is quite impressive.

After procuring provisions we headed up the hill to the much, much older village of Moulin and the trailhead to Ben Vrackie. The trailhead lies just beyond the prehistoric standing stone referred to as the Dane’s Stone. It is an ancient megalithic site disguised as a tall slender stone standing alone in a field.

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Up through he woods

The trail itself starts out meandering through some lovely beeches before popping out onto the moors.

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Up to the moorland

Sort of vast and treeless, perhaps one has had to read a lot of Sherlock Holmes to appreciate it. I for one did. After rounding the bend and passing a small manmade loch the trail pitches steeply up towards the summit of Ben Vrackie.

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And up

So steeply in fact there is a long granite staircase of sorts. Perhaps breakfast was tad on the heavy side.

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The leeward side of Ben Vrackie

Upon the summit one is rewarded with what seemed like gail force winds and what I am told is an amazing view on a clear day. Actually, quite windy though it was, the view was quite lovely even with the fog and threatening rain. On the leeward side we found a nice place to picnic amongst the heather while we watched the sheep graze.

We made our way back off mountain and back to the village of Moulin where exists a very rare thing in Scotland. A craft brewery.

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Much like the Edradaour distillery the Moulin Brewery is a very small affair. It supplies just a couple of local places with kegs.

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Luckily one of those places is right across the lane at the Moulin Hotel. Not surprising since they are both under the same ownership.

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Pulling the beer engine

A little damp and a little weary we found a quiet spot by the bar, settled in and quaffed a couple pints of Old Remedial to warm up.

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A nice quiet table

Fully restored we headed back to Pitlochry, but not before swinging by to see the Black Castle of Moulin (Caisteal Dubh Maohlinn). Or rather the ruins of such. Built in 1320 on once was a crannog (island) in a since drained loch. Torched in 1512 during an outbreak of the plague it now surrounded by sheep instead of water.

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Black Castle of Moulin (Caisteal Dubh Maohlinn)

Back in Pitlochry it was another trip to the chippy, a stop by the supermarket for some cheap cider, and a quiet evening in with the telly. Whilst we decided where to walk to the next day and to wonder does the sun ever set in Scotland in the summer.

 

 

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Languishing in post-production pt.1 Scotland; Glasgow to Inverness

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Lawn bowls next to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

So there is this thing that middle class people do called a “vacation.” It is where you travel for no reason other than to look around. And since ours lives are looking a little more middle class of late it was decided that we should partake in this tradition and take a vacation. To Scotland because, well we like scotch and tweed and rain, lots and lots of rain.

I’ve done a lot of traveling, but it always had some purpose, I’ve always tried to make the most of it and and get the most out of every destination, but I’ve never really been on holiday before. So I was at a total loss as to how to prepare for one. We did what we would normally do, we watched TV shows from where we were going. We binge watched “Still Game” to try to get a grasp of the local language and exotic customs.

After a couple months of that time was getting near to our departure so a few days before we left we found a Great Britain guide book in the bargain bin of the college bookstore and booked a place to stay for a couple nights just to be on the safe side.

We landed in Glasgow to a nice light rain, took the bus into the city and walked to our hotel, by which point it was a rather hard rain. After a short rest and after the rain had stopped we headed out to find something to eat. For our first meal in the UK we decided on the national dish; Curry.

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Curry

We found an Ashöka Indian Restaurant location nearby and popped in for some of the best Indian food I think I may have ever had. Upon finishing the meal we conveyed our delight to the waitress and she proudly explained that all the best curry in the UK comes out of Glasgow. I for one am tempted to believe her.

The rest of the evening was spent wandering around absorbing the atmosphere and admiring how accurate all those contemporary British dramas are when it comes to the gaggles of locals stumbling in and out of the bars and clubs as they enjoy Glasgow’s lively music scene.

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Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum

The next day was lovely and sunny if not bit crisp first thing in the morning. So after a full breakfast we headed over to the Kelvingrove Art Gallery and Museum to get some culture. It is tempting to call it a giant Victorian curiosity cabinet, in the most loving manner of course. But honestly it has a stunning collection and thoughtful curation as well as a bit of the quirkiness you invariably get with very old museums.

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Provand’s Lordship, from the back garden

After the Museum we headed over to look at lovey old buildings. Such as the oldest house in Glasgow, Provand’s Lordship built in 1471. Built for the fabulously wealthy, but not for the overly tall if the diminutive doorways are any indication.

Across the way is the High Kirk of Glasgow, commonly referred to as the Glasgow Cathedral. A lovely old building consecrated in 1197, built on the sight of Glasgow’s first stone cathedral built in 1136. It is a stunning piece of gothic architecture. Awe inspiring both inside and out.

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Glasgow Cathedral 

By the time we finished with the Cathedral and a quick tour of St. Mungo Museum of Religious Life and Art it was well past lunchtime and we were feeling a might bit peckish. Luckily there was a decent looking pub nearby with quite a good lunch special on. So two pints, fish and chips, and bangers and mash it was.

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Fish and Chips & Bangers and Mash

Full up we wandered back over behind the Cathedral to take a stroll through the Necropolis. Glasgow’s massive burial hill built to resemble Paris’ Père Lachaise cemetery.  I enjoy a good stroll through cemeteries and I know I am not alone in that, because there was a fair number of other people wandering about as well.

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It is said that it is “bigger on the inside”

The rest of evening was spent meandering back to the hotel where we supped on some cheap cider and sandwiches from Sainsburys or was it a Tesco, I forget. While the meal may not be exciting I love to go into grocery stores in foreign lands. I walk up and down every aisle. Brilliant fun to see what they have on offer.

The next day after another full breakfast, and a side of jugged kippers for good measure we wanted to head north to Inverness. We decided to take a less direct route to make the most of it. So we grabbed a bus to Fort William. That way the first leg of the route would take us past Loch Lomond, through Trossachs National Park, and Glencoe and such. It was a fantastically beautiful route. And it gave us just enough of a layover in Fort William to watch the Jacobite Steam Train depart, look through the local historical museum and grab a pie and chips for lunch.

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Off to Hogwarts I assume

 

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Pie and chips on a park bench.

After which we grabbed the next bus to Inverness. Which of course travels all along Loch Ness on the way there. Sort of poor mans tour past all of the sights on the north side of the Loch. No monsters to be seen.

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Shop inside of Inverness’ Victorian Market

Stepping off the bus in Inverness the weather was fairly pleasant. So we grabbed out bags and made our way to the Atholdene House B&B which we chose entirely on their description of their breakfast with their “homemade tattie scones.”

Inverness is a small city and a pleasant environment for a quiet evening stroll down by the river.

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Full Breakfast

The next morning the full breakfast was all that was expected. However the weather was quite rubbish. So instead of heading out of town, bracing the rain, and checking out the nearby sights we decided to explore the heart of this highland city.

There were such things as the Inverness Museum and Art Gallery which was nice and all, but truly my favorite find had to be Leakey’s Bookshop. Housed in what was formerly the Old Gaelic Church it is the largest second hand book store in Scotland. It is an absolutely fantastic place to while away the hours on a rainy (or even not so rainy) day.

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Leakey’s Bookshop

We came away from the bookshop with a couple of old prints and distinctive feeling that we should find some lunch. After a bit of a walk around and past a good many places we decided on a place that had caught my eye the evening before, Hootenanny. It was a bit past the lunch rush so it made for a quiet atmosphere to enjoy a pint and some haggis neeps and tatties.

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Haggis neeps and tatties 

By which time the rain had subsided to the point where it was more of a damp mist. Very familiar to someone who has spent much of their life in Washington State. What was left of the afternoon was spent strolling around, looking at the castle, that sort of thing. We even popped into a sporting goods shop to take a gander at their tackle, tweeds, and waxed cotton. And it seems to listen to a man selling a Barbour jacket talk about how America’s new President was going to sort health care, immigration, and the economy to a couple of skeptical German tourists (and a couple of even less convinced American eavesdroppers).

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Inverness Castle

The next morning we had another wonderful full breakfast and a nice chinwag with the proprietor about the state of the world, Brexit, Scottish independence, the state of American politics (which from the relative safety of his distance seemed rather more amusing to him than me). It was a nice stay and I should like to go back sometime and maybe catch some better weather.

Next up, heading south.

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狗年

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狗年 looks pretty much identical to 雞年…

Seems that the year of the Chicken is languishing in post production. Now that we have reached the year of the Dog I realize that I’ve managed to not write a single thing in nearly a year. Only part of that is dealing with slow internet access that plagues rural America, seriously sometimes I can make dinner in the time it takes to upload a photo. The other part is working on (and at times just barely keeping up with) this pre-Civil War house we now live in.

However, the last year was  a busy one, with several trips. First off, after many years I/we made return trip to Montreal. My better half had a conference there in the spring and we drove up to spend a few days in the city.

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Having been years since I regularly interacted with the French language I quickly sought a place of refuge.

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Yep, Chinatown.

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Loose definition of the term “crepe”

Montreal’s Chinatown is not overly large, but it has a good assortment of shops and food. Including a good number of tiny hole in the wall places. Such as a Taiwanese style snack shop, the owners are from Taichung and since the shop is closed in the winter they head back there for the harsher months. Can’t say that I blame them.

Looking for lunch one day I found a Xi’an restaurant. Having never had Xi’an food I thought I would give it a try. What little I know of the region is that it is rather centrally located and lies north of the Yangtze River. Therefor, like all of northern China, wheat not rice, is the staple grain and has been for about four thousand years.

I found their signature dish to be 羊肉泡饃 (yángròu pàomó), which is a hearty soup of mutton, the 羊肉 (yángròu), and chopped  up bits of Xi’an style bread, the () served with chili sauce and pickled garlic. I found it to be quite good and very filling. Whether this an exceptional version of the dish (probably not very likely) or just a passable version (much more likely) I couldn’t say without further endeavors into the cuisine of central Northern China.

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羊肉泡饃 (yángròu pàomó)

There of course were also dinners with crepes and cider and others with mounds of poutine served with beer. It was Montreal after all. And I really love poutine.

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雞年

Dear Reader(s),

好久不見 I’ve been silent for a long while now, it was nothing personal, just I had a lot going on. After moving to central New York we decided to buy a house and well looking for a house took most of the latter half of last year. Then buying, then I started in on refinishing floors, painting walls, etc., etc. You get the idea.

Then there was those weeks of raking leaves. Then the snow fell, and fell, and, fell. All that has given me little time to adjust to slow pace of rural life and even slower internet speed.

Pre Thanksgiving Snow

A little Thanksgiving snowfall.

I was beginning to think that the snow would never end and the daily shoveling was starting to be a bit of a bore. But, alas some unusually warm weather arrived and the snow disappeared.

At which point I decided to tap a few of the maple trees that dot our property. Making maple syrup is not something I’ve done since I was about five years old. And I am sure at that point I was more of a hinderance than a help. Not that it is terribly complicated, mostly just a lot of boiling.

However, being that we moved in rather later into the fall than I had hoped to I was not able to amass any firewood for doing even a makeshift outside evaporator. So I’ve been doing it on the stovetop. Which is not ideal, but it did help with the wallpaper removal I was planning on doing.

So while at the moment I am a slave to the flow of sap in the trees in the near future I do hope to return to a more regular posting schedule.

Maple Tap

The slow beginnings of maple syrup.

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肉燥飯 Stewed Pork Rice

I stayed up late to watch Taiwan’s Presidential Inauguration a couple weeks back and I was admittedly swept up in emotion of the event. So I thought I should pay tribute to Taiwan by sharing a simple recipe for one of the most Taiwanese dishes I can think of. 肉燥飯 (ròu zào fàn or in Taiwanese: bah-sò-pn̄g) also know as 滷肉飯 (lǔ ròu fàn or in Taiwanese: ló͘-bah-pn̄g).

Simple roadside stall food that has provided cheap and quick meals to Taiwanese for generations. The fragrance that fills the house when it is simmering brings me back to Taiwan, at least in my mind. True comfort food.

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At some roadside stand in 知本

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Recipe:

  • 1&1/2 lb. of pork belly with the skin, diced*
  • crispy fried shallots (or 6-7 fresh shallots, sliced)
  • 3 T. chopped garlic, ~5 cloves
  • 1/2 c. soy sauce
  • 1/2 c. rice wine
  • 3 T. sugar (demerara sugar is best)
  • 1/2 t. five spice powder
  • 1/2 t. white pepper powder
  • 4 c. of stock or water
  • optional, cilantro to garnish
  • optional, hard boiled eggs

Method: 

  1. Dice the pork belly and set aside.
  2. Heat a wok and add 3 T. of oil.
  3. To the hot wok add the chopped garlic and crispy fried (or sliced) shallots, stir fry until fragrant.
  4. Add the sugar, five spice powder, and white pepper, stir fry for a few seconds.
  5. Add the diced pork belly (or ground pork) to wok and stir fry until it starts to change color.
  6. Add the soy sauce, rice wine, and stock and bring to a boil.
  7. Lower the heat and simmer for an hour.
  8. If you would like add some peeled hard boiled eggs and braise for about 20 minutes.
  9. Serve over rice, garnish with cilantro.

*feel free to use ground pork here instead, this is simple food after all

台灣加油!

 

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