Tag Archives: St Andrews

Cherries, champagne & comedy. Mostly comedy

Hello!  I’m alive!  And back home from my trip to Edinburgh.  I’ve spent the past month busily working my way through a slightly mammoth To Do list, trying to make the most of the Fringe and overall having a thoroughly marvellous time, and consequently, as predicted in my last post, blogging took a bit of a hit.

Hey! Hi! Hello!

How splendid are these “HELLO” flags that are fluttering all over Edinburgh by the way?  I’ve never seen them before, so I presume they’re new for this year’s Fringe/Festival.  I thought I’d just recap a few of the highlights of my slightly whirlwind trip:

  • Summer fruit – I scarfed an awful lot of summer berries whilst I was taking a break from the NZ winter.  And cherries – I love cherries!

Cherries!

  • Only having to use a raincoat four times – this might not sound like much to those of you who have proper summers, but in Scotland, this is a major achievement (although lack of rain doesn’t necessarily mean sunshine).  The last few Augusts that I spent in Edinburgh, it rained. Every. Single. Day.  (I wish I was kidding.)
  • St Andrews – Kat and I went up one afternoon.  Some things have changed (why is there a Nando’s?) and some things haven’t (those 500 year-old cathedral ruins aren’t going anywhere any time soon).  My love for that wee town remains unchanged.

St Andrews Cathedral, looking suitably dramatic and moody

  • The St Andrews Wine Company – My friend Pete opened a bottleshop in St Andrews at the beginning of the year and I’ve been dying to see it.  So we obviously stopped by whilst we were in St Andrews.  And it’s amazing.  I wish it had been open when I was there.  Oh and there’s always a bottle open for tasting (maybe it’s not such a bad thing that I don’t live there anymore…).  We also happened to coincidentally visit on a day when there was also a champagne tasting…

Champagne tasting at the St Andrews Wine Company

  • Reunions – Kat, Craig and I were all in the same place for the first time in 18 months.  There was gin, food, wine, some James Bond and much laughter; all the best things in life.

As I mentioned, I tried to make the most of the Edinburgh Fringe as well.  The Fringe is always a mixed bag (which is half the fun), but here are a few Fringe-specific highlights.  If you’re in Edinburgh, you still have a week to try and fit these in:

  • Jollyboat – Their set started off with a medley of pirate-themed songs.  And then it got better.  That was a terrible description, but trust me and just go see it (although probably not ideal for anybody who is easily offended).  Oh and it’s free.
  • Shit-faced Shakespeare – Literally what it says on the tin.  One Shakespeare play (Much Ado About Nothing), one shit-faced actor, and all the other actors trying to keep the play together. I can’t remember the last time I laughed so much.
  • Omid Djalili – Slightly pricey, but worth it in my opinion.  Smart comedy which makes you laugh but also makes a point.  He’s also brilliant at accents and works them in marvellously.  My mum and I were in fits.
  • Inspector Norse – It’s described as a “self-assembly Swedish crime thriller […] featuring a knitted set” and I can’t think of a more apt description for this wonderfully middle class comedic thriller.  And the set is actually knitted and self-assembled.  It’s amazing.
  • The Jeremiah Weed Cow Shed – This isn’t actually a show, but it’s Fringe-related.  We stumbled upon this  formerly empty space on the Cowgate which been transformed into a Kentucky-themed cowshed bar for the duration of the Fringe.  It sells Jeremiah Weed cider (it probably sells other stuff, too, but we went for the yummy cider) and there’s live music.  There are hay bales, plastic cows and wheelbarrow seats.  It’s so hipster it hurts, but it’s also rather brilliant.

So there we have it, a not-so-brief recap of highlights over the past month.  Blogging will resume properly soon, once I’ve settled back in, but in the meantime, here’s some proof of the Edinburgh sunshine:

Sunny Edinburgh (yes, really!)

Enjoy the rest of your day, wherever you are in the world!  And if you’ve been enjoying the Fringe, feel free to leave some show recommendations.

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Zoosday Tuesday: Pufferfish cake pops

Considering my general enthusiasm for Christmas in my last post, it would be reasonable to expect today’s Zoosday Tuesday post to feature some Christmas-related animal, like reindeer or something.  But no, today’s post features…  Pufferfish!  Ya, I know, a bit of a curve ball, right?  Or a puffed-up, spiky ball might be more accurate.  Many times over the course of last (academic) year, Kat was my partner in crime when it came to baking and trying out new recipes.  But we haven’t baked together since Graduation at the end of June (being in two different towns makes that a little difficult…) and I’ve really missed it.  So when I went up to St Andrews a few weeks ago to visit her, we decided to rectify that and bake together again.

Obviously, we didn’t pick something straightforward to make.  Oh no.  I’d had the idea of pufferfish cake pops a few weeks previously, so that’s what we decided to attempt…  We had great fun mucking around and creating a general mess (well ok, so I created most of the mess and Kat cleaned up after me.  This is why we make such an awesome baking team – though I clearly get the better deal).  Neither of us had made cake pops before, so we more or less made it up as we went along (with lots of taste-testing along the way, obviously…), but that’s how we’ve always baked together, so nothing new there!

We faffed around quite a lot whilst making the cake pops and then got distracted by James Bond (helloooo Daniel Craig) and a fair amount of wine, so it took us two days to make them but I think they turned out rather cute.  Before anybody comes out all smart-arse and points out that pufferfish aren’t that colour, I’ll just say that there are at least 130 known species of pufferfish.  These are blatantly the very rare orange-spiked pufferfish (which is clearly not a species that I’ve just made up, ahem).  So anyway pufferfish cake pops, definitely a success!  And unlike most pufferfish, these aren’t poisonous, which is always a bonus…  They also happen to taste delicious.  Hurrah!

Pufferfish double chocolate cake pops

Makes ~24 cake pops (we ate quite a few before they reached cake pop stage)
Cake recipe adapted from SquirrelsLarder

Making cake pops does take a while since there are several stages that involve waiting for things to cool, chill or set, but you can leave them to cool/chill/set for quite a while as you go about your business and fit the cake pop making process around it.  We chose to make the cake because home-made cake is always better, but you can just use shop-bought cake and crumble that up if you want to save some time.  Although I’m giving directions using an electric whisk, you can make these entirely by hand as well.  I know, because that’s what we did.  Since making these, I have read that adding some Crisco (or other vegetable fat product) helps to smoothen the chocolate coating.  We didn’t use any so I can’t tell you for sure whether this works, but if you do try it, let me know!  We found that this video gives a useful overview of how to make cake pops, so if you’ve never tried them before, watching it might help to visualise some of the stages.

Ingredients

For the cake:
175g unsalted butter
175g brown sugar
3 large eggs
150g all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
25g cocoa powder (at least 70%)
1 tbsp water (optional)

For the cake pops:
200g unsalted butter
400g icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
300g white chocolate
Caramel food colouring gel
Black food colouring gel

Directions

For the cake:
1.  Butter two 20cm sandwich cake tins (or one larger tin if you don’t have two – it doesn’t matter too much since the cake is going to be crumbled once it has been made).  Pre-heat the oven to 180°C.

2.  Using an electric whisk, beat the sugar and butter together in a large bowl until well mixed.  Lightly beat the eggs in a small bowl with a fork then mix into the butter and sugar mixture a little at a time (if the mixture curdles, add about 1 tbsp of the flour and continue mixing until smooth again).

3.  Sift the flour, baking powder and cocoa powder into the mixing bowl and fold into the butter and sugar mixture.  If the batter seems too thick, add some of the water, but this depends on the batter (we didn’t need to add any).

4.  Split the batter between the two sandwich tins (or pour it all into the larger tin), smoothing the tops with a spatula.  Bake both on the middle shelf of the oven for 20-25 mins, until a toothpick comes out clean.

5.  Cool completely on a wire rack.

For the cake pops:
6.  As the cakes are cooling, making the buttercream icing.  Whisk the softened butter and icing sugar together in a medium bowl using an electric whisk (be prepared for a minor icing sugar explosion).  Add the vanilla extract and continue beating until smooth and fluffy.  Set aside about 4 heaped tbsp of icing in a small air-tight box, ziplock bag or small bowl with a cling-film cover and refrigerate.

7.  Once the cakes have cooled completely, crumble the cake into a large mixing bowl.  A good way of doing this is by rubbing the two halves of each cake together (watch this video for a demonstration).  Add about half of the buttercream icing to the crumbled cake and mix together (the easiest way is to just use your hands).  Once mixed, add some more of the icing and continue mixing.  Continue adding buttercream icing until the mixture binds together enough to roll into balls.  Add any remaining buttercream icing to that which has already been set aside.

8.  Roll the cake mixture into small balls (ours were a little smaller than golf balls – we were making these in St Andrews, you can’t seriously be surprised at our choice of comparison) and place on a baking tray.  Put the baking tray in the fridge for a few hours until the balls have hardened a little (we left them overnight).

9.  Once the balls are set, melt the white chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water.  Add a drop of chestnut food colouring gel and mix well.  Remove the  cake balls from the fridge.  Dip the pointy end of a bamboo skewer into the melted chocolate and insert into one of the cake balls (don’t poke it all the way through to the other side – ⅔ of the way in is good).  Dip the cake ball into the melted chocolate and gently roll until coated.  Allow the excess to drip off before sticking the skewer in a piece of styrofoam or in a tall glass (or cupcake stand – the important thing is that the cake pop isn’t in contact with anything).  Repeat for each cake ball.  Allow all the cake pops to fully set (this may take a few hours).

10.  Dip a toothpick into some black food colouring gel and gently dab it around the top of the cake pops to make little black spots (look at the photos to get an idea).

11.  Remove the buttercream icing from the fridge and remove about 1 heaped tbsp into a small bowl.  Add a drop of black food colouring gel and mix until the colour has been fully incorporated.  Add a tiny bit more if necessary to get the colour that you want.  Transfer the dark grey/black icing to a piping bag prepared with a thin round tip.  Pipe the eyes and mouth (use the photos as a guide).

12.  Transfer the remaining buttercream icing to a different small bowl.  Add a drop of the chestnut food colouring gel and mix well.  Add more if you’re not happy with the colour (but remember to only add a tiny amount at a time).  Transfer to a piping bag with a slightly thinner round tip than used for the eyes and mouth.  Pipe tiny spikes over the top and sides of the cake pops (again, refer to the photos as guides).  Then pipe the fins as little triangles built outwards over each other.  Try and make sure that both fins are at the same level on the cake pop (this can be quite difficult – having somebody to hold the cake pop steady for you is a great help.  Thanks Kat!!).

Enjoy!

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Toothy’s Travels – St Andrews: St Rule’s Tower

I briefly mentioned in my last post that I spent Friday and Saturday in St Andrews, which was my first trip back since the start of the academic year (the trip involving Kat’s killer whale birthday cake was still during the summer holidays).  It was great being back and I had a wonderful time (the puffer fish cake pops that Kat and I made will be making an appearance next Zoosday Tuesday – I hope you’re excited), but at the same time, it felt a bit strange not belonging there anymore.  I really miss St Andrews, and it makes me sad that it’s no longer my home.  I don’t really know anybody in Edinburgh and don’t really feel at home here, which probably makes me miss St Andrews even more.  As a result, my original post for today ended up being a little on the depressing side – I’m not sure what the blog post equivalent of sobbing is, but I think this one was pretty close.  You’ll be glad to know that I’m sparing you from reading that emotional mess and have decided to do a Toothy’s Travels post instead, since I haven’t done one in a while.  I’m keeping with the St Andrews theme though, and using some of the photos that I’ve amassed over the course of four years in St Andrews…

Until the Reformation, St Andrews was the religious centre of Scotland.  St Andrews Cathedral was Scotland’s largest medieval church, and was the seat of Scotland’s most prominent bishops and archbishops.  The site on which it was built had been a place of worship since the relics of Scotland’s patron saint, St Andrew, are said to have been brought there in the 8th century AD.  The Cathedral was sacked by the followers of John Knox in 1559 and is now in ruins, with only a few parts still standing, resulting in an instantly recognisable skyline consisting of the east gable (in the centre of the photo above) and St Rule’s Tower (the square tower on the right).

I’ll talk more about the Cathedral in a future post, but today I’m going to focus just on St Rule’s Tower, which was part of St Rule’s Church, the first church in an Augustinian priory.  It was probably built in around 1130, which means that it pre-dates the Cathedral.  The tower is one of the few parts within the Cathedral complex that is still standing, and I’m not sure why it wasn’t completely sacked and hasn’t fallen into ruin.  Perhaps the reformers decided that it would make a useful watchtower or something.  Whatever the reason, it is still standing today, and you can climb it (you can buy the token required to get into the tower from the Cathedral visitor centre).

The tower is 33m high, so there is an uninterrupted panoramic view of St Andrews and its surroundings from the top.  I think it’s definitely worth a climb to see how the town is laid out.  It gives a completely different view of St Andrews and I think it’s fascinating.  There’s a selection of views from the top in the slideshow below.  Seeing the three main streets in the centre of town all lead to the Cathedral really shows how important the Cathedral once was.  West Sands stretches so much further than you expect it to, as do the various golf courses.  If you’re a first-time visitor to St Andrews, the view gives you a good feel for the lay-out of the town.  If you live in St Andrews or know the town well, it’s so interesting to see it from a different perspective and pick out all your usual haunts and favourite places.  I climbed St Rule’s Tower twice during my four years in St Andrews, and both times I was surprised at how funny it is to see the buildings that I was in and out of all the time as suddenly tiny.  I’m clearly easily fascinated…

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Whilst I would definitely recommend climbing St Rule’s Tower, I should mention that it does involve a fairly narrow spiral staircase used by people going both up and down (although I’ve never actually had to pass anybody on the staircase).  So if you’re claustrophobic or not able to climb up 33m worth of stairs without really having space to stop, giving the tower a miss might be a better idea…  Luckily, there’s plenty to explore within the Cathedral complex if you’re with people who do want to climb the tower.  If you’re there during Graduation Week at the end of June you can people-watch as loads of Graduates get their photo taken amongst the ruins (gosh, who would ever do such a thing as that…?).

Enjoy the rest of your day!

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The many uses of a chopstick and other important things that I learnt at University

I haven’t really unpacked all my stuff yet, partially because I have no idea where to put it all, partially because I’m a bit lazy and disorganised, and mostly because once it’s all unpacked, I really have to admit that the St Andrews chapter of my life is closed and that I genuinely have no idea where my life goes from here.  So anyway, the point is that today’s post is not about food (and is also incredibly long – you’ve been warned).  Instead, since University is supposed to be all about learning, I’m going to share the random things that I learnt at University, but outwith lectures and labs.  A few are serious, but most of them are fun little tidbits:

  1. Being a TCK (Third Culture Kid) in a non-TCK environment is hard work – As a result of having lived my entire life (until University) as an expat, I am a TCK, brought up in a mix of cultures.  Although I am half British, and it is therefore one of my “home” cultures, when I first moved here for Uni, I often felt like a total outsider, particularly in first year, simply because there were loads of cultural references that I just didn’t understand.  So culturally, I was (and still am) a bit of a foreigner, but I’m British and I have a very British accent, and a lot of the people that I met found this difficult to comprehend.  Basically, I didn’t fit into a box, so people didn’t really know how to react to me, and I found this quite tough and a little lonely at times.  I realise this all sounds a bit miserable, but don’t worry, although it took a while, I found friends who accept me just as I am, or put up with me because I feed them.
  2. Being able to cook and bake is a great way to make friends – Most people enjoy being fed yummy food, and if they don’t, they probably aren’t worth making friends with anyway.  I’ve always found that, in general, people are particularly enthusiastic about baked goods – unless they contain nuts and you feed them to somebody who is allergic to them.  That might not work out so well. 
  3. Everybody loves madeleines – It might be rather big-headed of me, but I like to think that I bake pretty delicious madeleines.  I have yet to meet somebody who hasn’t enjoyed them and gone for a second, third, fourth helping/finished off the plate.
  4. The effort that goes into baking a cake sometimes goes completely unappreciated – This is a bit of an awkward point, since I am still a bit upset over this particular incident.  I went to a lot of effort to make a birthday cheesecake for somebody once.  They took a miniscule slice of it, told me they loved it (I had baked a trial run and everybody who tried that one agreed that it was lovely), and put it in the fridge “for later,” which was totally fine since we were going out for tea.  So far, so good.  The issue arises in that ten days later, when they left for a two-week break, the cheesecake remained, completely untouched.  Needless to say, it was rather past its prime.  Nobody should ever have to throw out a birthday cake that they made as a gift to somebody.  I don’t wish to name and shame this person, but if they are reading this, I hope they are aware of how insulting it is to have to do that.  Rant over and lesson learnt to only make cakes for people who appreciate it.
  5. Leather handbags are really good for ripening bananas – I accidentally found this out whilst dissertating when I bought a rather under-ripe banana on my way to the Bute one morning and then forgot about it until evening by which time it had totally ripened.  Not that I would really recommend carrying bananas around in your handbag since they might get a bit squished, but it’s good to know.  In case you need to ripen any bananas quickly…  Uhm, ya.  I’ll just stop there.
  6. Muffins can form the base of a pivotal moment in a friendship – Kat and I got to know each other over the course of third year after bonding over cookies and field-working in a knee-deep river (in wellies), but I think we really became close friends when she unexpectedly ended up living with me last summer (long story).  We spent a lot of time faffing in the kitchen, but I think one of the most pivotal moments in cementing our friendship was when we decided to make a US flag for the 4th of July… out of iced mini-muffins.  Ya, we’re that cool. 
  7. Amazon sells food – Ingredients-wise, I’ve almost always been able to find what I needed in St Andrews.  The only exception to this is corn syrup, which I have never seen stocked anywhere.  However, I found out completely by accident that you can order it off Amazon.  Amazing!  Incidentally, Amazon also sells champagne, which I find kind of random.
  8. Allowing others to use your non-stick pans may not be a good idea – All my pans and most of my bakeware are non-stick, and good quality at that (there’s a Tefal factory outlet near where I’m from in France), and since most of what came with the flat was pretty disgusting, we ended up using all of my kitchenware for cooking.  As I’m sure you’re aware, metal should NEVER be used anywhere near anything non-stick.  Apparently not everybody is aware of this (even after being specifically told), and whilst my pans luckily did not sustain any major scratch-mark damage, there were a few near misses.  Moral of the story: never let other people use your pans (further enforced by the next point).
  9. Although somebody may wax lyrical about being God’s gift to the culinary arts, this may not actually be the case – If you’ve read my crêpe post, you may remember my little rant about somebody using my crêpe pan as a frying pan, and searing burning tuna steaks in it.  In my humble opinion, that is not exactly the mark of a culinary God.  Enough said.
  10. People give you strange looks when you whip out an oven glove and take photos of it in tourist spots – This is much less bizarre than it sounds, since my oven gloves are shark-shaped and therefore completely awesome.  You can read about the adventures of Toothamanga around St Andrews here
  11. Some people “have no nose for wine” (from the genius of ‘Allo ‘Allo) – I know somebody who was given a very nice, and fairly expensive bottle of wine for their 21st birthday.  When they eventually opened the bottle with other friends also lacking a nose for wine, they left about a glass-worth in the bottom of the bottle, popped it in their fridge and only removed it (untouched) when they moved out 8 months later.  Now, I’m no wine expert, but really?!  Poor, completely unappreciated wine.  And my poor friend that gave the bottle in the first place – a bit of a smack in the face to see it every time he opened their fridge.
  12. Tesco Market Value wine can de-block a bathroom sink – Tesco Market Value wine comes in little cartons, very similar to individual drinks cartons.  Craig and I bought one once for a laugh, just to see how utterly disgusting it was.  The only reason neither of us spat the stuff out after taking the smallest sips possible is that we’re too polite to do so.  I’m pretty sure labelling it as “wine” counts as false advertising and it should really be sold as “vinegar” or “sink de-blocker.”  If you think I’m exaggerating, the bathroom sink was a little clogged so we poured the carton down the sink to see if it would de-block it.  It did.  Enough said.
  13. Pieropan: Soave Pieropan wine can be relied upon to result in some seriously awkward comments – The first time we tried this wine, I managed to accidentally come out with a spectacularly awkward comment.  Every time we’ve had this wine (which, due to it being good both with food and on its own and also very drinkable, happens fairly regularly), somebody has managed to go off on a roll of unintentional and awkward comments, with truly hilarious results.  Consequently, we’ve affectionately nicknamed it “The Awkward Italian.”
  14. Always keep a spare bottle of gin or three – For some reason, the gin always seems to be running low or gone (why is the gin always gone?).  Don’t underestimate the value of having spare gin.  And tonic, obviously.  Oh, and also make sure that you always have limes/cucumber in the fridge as well.  The freezer is a great place to store spare gin, by the way.
  15. It is possible to get tipsy (possibly even drunk) off my muffins – After much practice, I now have the baking of muffins with rum (or any other alcohol) as the principle ingredient down to a fine art. 
  16. At a party, when in doubt, grab the Cointreau and hang out by the freezer – This is a particularly great tactic if you don’t really know anybody or don’t really want to speak to people who are in the drawing room.  Why the freezer?  Because that’s where the ice cubes live.  People will realise that you’ve hit on a genius plan and also hang out with you by the freezer, or you might already find a collection of fellow alcoholics already there to make friends with.  Sharing the Cointreau is optional, obviously, though highly recommended if it belongs to somebody other than yourself.
  17. BUT when you run out of orange juice/Passoã/both to make punch, Cointreau is not a suitable alternative – This might sound like a genius idea, and it tastes fabulous at the time, but it leaves you feeling a little bit on the rough side the next day.  And also leaves you with a bit of a blank memory.  I speak from (hazy) experience.  Let’s just leave it there.
  18. An illuminated punchbowl fountain is a brilliant investment – A totally awesome addition to any party.  The end. 
  19. You can get chatted up through eBay – The eBay seller from whom I bought my James Bond DVD boxset attempted to chat me up via eBay message.  I’m sure you can imagine my surprise and amusement.  The guy’s profile name thing was something along the lines of “Hotrod69” though, so I probably should have seen that coming (please refer to the following point if you chuckled at that).
  20. Maturity is overrated – I could give plenty of examples of my immaturity, but I’m just going to stick with one.  There is a lane in St Andrews which I’ve walked past almost every day for four years, yet I still chuckle a bit to myself whenever I do, because it’s called Butts Wynd.  I’d like to think that one day I might grow up a little, but I somehow doubt that will be happening any time soon (I kind of secretly hope it never happens.  Being totally immature is really quite fun).
  21. Making friends with local shop-keepers can only ever end in win – This one is pretty self-explanatory really…  If you get to know the shop-keepers (and they like you – baked goods help with that) of shops that you frequent often then they get to know what you like.  And they might set aside that last slice of your favourite cheese for you, or give you a reduced price on that lovely bottle of wine that they know you’ll love.  How is that not a win?
  22. Over-enthusiasm for dinosaurs at the age of 22 is totally acceptable…  If you’re a biologist – I know I said that this was a list of what I’ve learnt outwith academics, but I’ll make an exception for this particular point.  When I was younger, I never went through a dinosaur phase.  I think it was in second year that we learnt about how amazing dinosaurs are and I’ve been enthusiastic ever since (totally nothing to do with the fact that our professor dressed up as a swamp monster for the lecture).  I even own dinosaur cookie cutters.  Whilst my fellow biologists totally share my enthusiasm, most of my other friends think I’m crazy.  They are clearly missing out. 
  23. There is only one way to get away with dressing up as oneself for Halloween – Dressing up as oneself for Halloween is a complete cop-out, and I have serious issues with it.  To the point where at our last Halloween party, I threatened anybody who dared turn up as themselves with multiple shots of tequila (nobody dared).  However, if one happens to have been caught on Google Maps Streetview and there is a funny (though blog-innapropriate) story behind it, dressing up as oneself as seen on Google Maps is totally acceptable.  And highly amusing, for those who are aware of the back-story.
  24. Watching rugby in the library is incredibly stressful and difficult – Due to a heavy workload during the Autumn Tests and the Six Nations, I managed to end up having to watch most of the matches whilst working in the library.  Have you ever tried to keep quiet whilst watching a rugby match?  It’s remarkably difficult and really quite stressful.  Needless to say, not a whole lot of work ended up getting done.  Woops.
  25. There are approximately 562 different uses for chopsticks – The flat that I lived in for the last three years came with several sets of chopsticks.  I think I might have used them as eating implements a grand total of once.  However, I discovered that chopsticks are, in fact, incredibly useful.  Stirring jugs of Pimm’s, loosening out curls if the hairdresser was a little too enthusiastic with the hairspray, fishing teabags out of the bottom of a Thermos flask, making mojitos, stirring paint, poking holes in the tops of muffins to fill them with rum and pushing fairy lights into empty champagne bottles are but a few alternate uses (ok, so 562 may be a slight exaggeration). 

So there we have it – 25 of the crucial life lessons that I’ve learnt at University.

Wherever in the world you are, enjoy the rest of your day!

PS – As a reward for getting to the end of this mammoth post, here’s a special bonus life lesson: If you are staying in a B&B or hotel, always close the curtains – There were B&Bs across the street from our flat.  Apparently people didn’t realise that if they could see into our flat, we could also see into their room.  A surprising number of people didn’t shut the curtains, you can imagine the rest yourself.

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Goodbye St Andrews… But I’ll be back!

As the first Tuesday of the month, yesterday was Zoosday Tuesday, so I should have posted an animal-related recipe.  However, yesterday was also the day that I finally moved out of my flat in St Andrews, my home for the past three years (I was actually supposed to be moving out on Monday, but I had waaaaaay too much stuff to fit in the car.  So we had to do an additional trip yesterday.  Woops.).  This means that all my baking stuff is currently packed up in boxes and not exactly accessible, so there was blatantly never going to be any recipe-sharing yesterday.  I’m sure you’ll forgive me.

St Andrews has been my home for the last four years, but now that I’ve graduated (I will post properly about that soon) it’s time to move on to new adventures.  I’ve spent my entire life moving from country to country with my parents, but that doesn’t make it any easier to close the door one final time on a flat that has been my home for the last three years but has now been emptied of all my stuff and cleaned and scrubbed from floor to ceiling, ready for the next tenants.  In fact, I’d argue that it makes it harder, because I know how heart-wrenching it can be to spend four years making a home in a new place, loving it, and then having to leave it devoid of all traces of yourself.  That said, the fun in discovering a new country and culture, embarking on new escapades, eating new foods and meeting new people makes it completely worth it, and I wouldn’t swap it for the world.

Of course, some places are harder to leave than others.  No matter where in the world I end up, or how many other countries I end up living in over the course of my life, I know that my time in St Andrews will always remain very close to my heart.  I’ve met so many amazing people, made such incredible friends, had so much fun, shared so much laughter (not to mention the pure collective delirium whilst dissertating), and have so many happy memories to take away with me.  Consequently, St Andrews has proven to be one of the most difficult places to leave so far.  Though as my mum pointed out to me, contrary to Lagos (we lived in Nigeria when I was younger), at least I can go back and visit St Andrews fairly easily, because even if I end up living on the other side of the world, I’ll still be back in Edinburgh to visit my family.  That’s slightly comforting, though it makes me sad that St Andrews will never really be “mine” again.  From now on, I will always be a visitor, and that means that it will never quite be the same.  But that’s life.  And at least I have about 56 bajillion photos to remind me of the beauty of the town, stunning surroundings and most importantly, the fantastic memories that I have with my wonderful friends.

St Andrews, I will always love you, and I will definitely be back…

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A June adventure at the St Andrews Farmers’ Market

As I mentioned in my post yesterday, I’ve neglected my blog somewhat over the past couple of weeks, mostly on account of Graduation and my laptop’s general unhelpfulness.  However, I intend to get my blogging back on track and post more regularly once again.  Before I launch into today’s post though, I have some related and exciting news to share.  I was asked a while ago by Visit St Andrews to write a guest post about the St Andrews Farmers’ Market, and after some serious disorganisation on my part and a distinct lack of cooperation on the part of my laptop, I finally sorted that out and it was published on Friday!  Do forgive me for being slightly over-enthusiastic about this, but it’s my first ever guest post!!

When I was at the Farmers’ Market a few weeks ago, one of the stalls had some wonderful-looking duck breasts.  Now, I love duck, so I was seriously tempted, though I had no special occasion coming up that would justify buying duck and I was going down to Edinburgh for a couple of days anyway, so there wasn’t much point in buying lots of meat.  And then I realised that I could freeze them until an occasion presented itself.  I’m awfully good at justifying purchases if I really want them.  It’s a bit of an issue in my life.  Anyway, Craig crashed my sofa for a few days at the start of Grad Week, and that seemed as good a reason as any to defrost the duck (well, that and the fact that I have to clear out my freezer since I’m moving out in less than a week).  Once they’d defrosted, I realised that I’ve never actually cooked duck before.  Oh dear.

After a quick trawl through all my recipe books and an online search, we decided on a basic cherry and port sauce to go with the duck, with some green beans on the side.  Simple but delicious.  In theory.  Just before dinner time, we ended up stopping off in the Russell Hotel bar on the corner of my street because it happens to be halfway between home and wherever we’d just been and it was pouring with rain (I told you I was good at justifying things).  We stole the idea of adding kirsch from their Graduation menu, and decided that a gratin dauphinois would be a wonderful addition to the meal.  Which it was, but it also takes forever to cook, so I think we didn’t end up eating until around 20h30 or something silly like that.  Woops.  The duck also turned out to have been plucked slightly oddly so that the ends of some of the quills were still stuck in the skin and we couldn’t get them out, so we had to cut the skin off before eating (hardly the end of the world, but frustrating nonetheless).  We also got so distracted by the port and the duck that we may or may not have completely forgotten about the green beans.  Woops.  I also accidentally over-cooked the duck so it was a bit on the dry side (sorry Craig!!).  Major woops.  The sauce however, was delicious, and in my opinion, well worth the wait.  So even though I ruined the duck a bit, it wasn’t all bad, thankfully!

Seared duck breasts with a cherry & port sauce

Serves 2
Adapted from The Times Online

I’ve slightly reduced the cooking times for the duck since mine turned out slightly dry, but this also depends on your preferences for how you like your meat cooked.  I’d suggest using these as guidelines more than times set in stone.  The sauce can be prepared beforehand, except for the final stage of adding the butter.  I served this with a gratin dauphinois, which was utterly delicious.

Ingredients

2 x 225g duck breasts
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

For the sauce:
300ml port
50ml kirsch
Large sprig of rosemary
150g fresh cherries
10g cold butter, cubed

Directions

1.  Place the port, kirsch and rosemary sprig in a medium saucepan, and bring to the boil.  Allow to bubble for 10-15 mins (depending on how much you’d like to reduce your sauce).  Meanwhile, stone and halve all the cherries.  Set aside.

2.  Whilst the sauce is starting to cook, score the skin of the duck breasts with a sharp knife and rub well with seasoning.  Heat a frying pan over low heat (do not add any butter or oil) and once hot, add the duck breasts skin-side down.  Leave for 8-10 mins until the skin is golden brown and crisp and the fat has nearly all been extracted.  Increase the heat slightly and turn the duck breasts over and cook for a further 2-3 mins (apparently the meat should feel springy when pressed if you want it cooked to medium).  Remove to a warm plate and allow to rest for 5 mins.

3.  Once the sauce has been bubbling for 10-15 mins, remove the sprig of rosemary and add the halve cherries, allowing to simmer for a further 5-10 mins (stop here if preparing the sauce in advance, then when required, gently re-heat before adding the butter).  Turn the heat down and whisk in the butter a cube at a time until the sauce is smooth and glossy.  Season to taste.

4.  Slice the duck breasts, fan out onto a serving plate (or individual plates), pour the cherry and port sauce over the top and serve.

Enjoy!

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Strawberry & Pimm’s jam

Last week was Graduation Week here in St Andrews (I graduated on Wednesday, which means that, for now at least, I’m suddenly no longer a student – my gosh, how did this happen?!), so things over the last two weeks have been rather on the hectic side.  There’s been a lot of running around, various half-hearted attempts at packing, meeting up with people for one last coffee/game of pool/drink/lunch, etc., a lot of celebrating and many goodbyes.  On top of all of that, my laptop is very rapidly nearing the end of its lifespan, resulting in a lot of frustration whenever I try and write anything up (if you’re familiar with the Blue Screen of Death or the Black Screen of Incomprehensible Scrolling Text, then you’ll know what I mean).  So my rather rambly point is that I’m afraid I’ve neglected my poor blog somewhat, resulting in a slight back-log of recipes, including this lovely jam that I made just over two weeks ago.

Now, I love home-made jam (who doesn’t?!) and it always reminds me of making jam during summer holidays at my French grand-parents house when I was younger using the fruit from their garden.  My French grandma had an ancient (to me) pair of kitchen scales that you had to balance out using weights and so on, and I thought that they were great fun to play with.  So actually, what really happened was that I played with the scales and generally got in the way and probably ate a fair proportion of the fruit, my mum did all the hard work of actually making the jam (stirring, pressing, etc.), my grandma sat at the table and probably told me off for getting in the way and mucking around and occasionally helping my mum, and my grandpa went off gallivanting in the garden.  The end product was jam though, and gosh was it good jam!  Unfortunately, we haven’t made jam since I was about 15 or 16, because my French grandparent’s house has been sold now, and we don’t have a garden in Edinburgh, nor do I have one in St Andrews.  Sad times.

My mum suggested that we make strawberry jam last summer, but I’m not really a huge fan of strawberry jam – I often find it a little too sweet and I’m not too keen on the big lumpy bits that you often get (picky?  Me?), so that didn’t end up happening.  However, we’ve had a lot of really tasty strawberries this year, and when I saw a recipe for strawberry & Pimm’s jam in BBC Good Food, I absolutely had to try it.  Now, I don’t know about you, but in my world (and most of St Andrews) it’s pretty much always Pimm’s o’clock.  Never mind that the recipe was still for strawberry jam, strawberry and Pimm’s is a fabulous combination, and it sounded delicious.  I’m also submitting this recipe to this month’s Simple and in Season blog event, even though I already used strawberries for the same event last month.  But they’re so delicious and still seasonal, so I’m not too bothered!

I won’t lie to you, I was a little bit nervous about making jam by myself – I’ve only ever been involved in making jam when there have been other people around who actually know what they’re doing.  But the recipe looked straightforward and detailed enough, there was no straining fruit through muslin or anything, and I even have a sugar/jam thermometer, so I took advantage of Tesco’s apparent failure to estimate the quantities of strawberries they would sell and snapped up a lot of very tasty strawberries at super-reduced prices.  Win!  The jam turned out to be really quite easy.  Yes, you do have to watch the temperature a bit, and I did think the jam was going to bubble over the top of the pot at one point (it didn’t), but there was nothing especially difficult to do.  Jam-making is as much fun and smells as wonderful as I remember!  And the jam turned out to be rather delicious – the Pimm’s comes as more of a subtle after-taste and also means that the jam isn’t too sweet at all, and I made sure to mash it up a bit at the end to avoid the lumpy bits that I don’t like.  If you’re not keen on having alcohol at breakfast time, this jam would go wonderfully on scones for afternoon tea.  Or served with Pimm’s.  Yummy…

Strawberry & Pimm’s jam

Makes just under 6 x 350g jars
Adapted from BBC Good Food (June 2011)

This is a soft-set jam, presumably mostly as a result of the added Pimm’s and gin.  It is wonderful for breakfast, but would also be delicious on scones with afternoon tea or served with a pitcher of Pimm’s.  To sterilise the jars, wash the jars and lids in hot, soapy water before placing on a baking tray and placing in an oven on low heat until fully dried (about 10 mins or so).  Apparently choosing just-ripe strawberries will help the jam set, though the ones I used were quite ripe and the jam worked absolutely fine.

Ingredients

1.5 kg strawberries
1 kg jam sugar
2 lemons
1 orange
4 tbsp Pimm’s No. 1 cup
1 tbsp gin

Directions

1.  Place a few saucers in the freezer to be used later (I ended up using 4 or 5).

2.  Hull and halve or quarter the strawberries, depending on how large they are.  Place them in a preserving pan or large pot (the jam will increase in volume when bubbling away, so make sure the strawberries only come half-way up the side of the pot or so).  Using a potato masher, give the strawberries a good mashing until quite juicy (if you like lumpy jam then don’t mash too much).  Stir in the sugar and place the pan over a low flame, stirring occasionally, and taking care that the jam does not boil.

3.  Once all the sugar has dissolved, stir in the juice from the lemons and orange and turn up the heat.  Once a fast boil – 105°C on a preserving thermometer – has been reached, time the jam for 10 mins.  After 10 mins, place 1 tsp of jam onto one of the frozen saucers and place in the fridge (allow the jam to continue on fast boil).  After 1 min in the fridge, push your finger through the jam on the saucer.  If the jam wrinkles (this may sound strange, but you’ll be able to tell exactly what I mean when it happens), then it is ready.  If not, allow the jam to continue on fast boil for a further 2 mins before testing again.  As soon as the jam is ready, remove the pan from the heat.

4.  Allow to cool for 30 mins, then skim away any scum from the top of the jam.  Mash the jam slightly more if necessary (this depends on your taste), before stirring in the Pimm’s and gin.  Ladle the jam into sterilised jars (a jam funnel helps considerably).

Enjoy!

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May I present… My oven gloves!

Would you believe it, this is actually my 50th post!  Yes, 50th!!  For some reason, I feel that this is some sort of milestone and that I should post about something special.  So I thought I’d introduce you to my amazing oven gloves, the inspiration behind my blog name: Sharky Oven Gloves.  (Yes, I’m writing about my oven gloves, and no, despite the past few weeks of intense dissertating, I haven’t completely lost the plot, I promise!)

I’m sure I’ve previously mentioned my love of sharks, but in case you’re not up to speed on it, basically, I’m fascinated by them.  Ultimately, I’d like to go into academia and study sharks.  My friends have realised that anything shark-themed makes me totally happy, which makes buying presents for me fairly straightforward (aside from the minor detail of actually finding shark-themed gifts).  About three years ago, my flatmate gave me a shark-shaped oven glove for my birthday – a truly amazing present!

Through a series of totally unexpected circumstances, Kat ended up living with me last summer (2010) and Craig, who was also in St Andrews over the summer, spent quite a lot time with us.  Our summer involved baking a lot, eating a lot and drinking a lot totally responsibly.  Craig and I introduced Kat to the old James Bond films (we worked our way through the entire set).  We also discovered that a shark-shaped oven glove has a lot of potential for hilarious photos.

By the time we watched The Man with the Golden Gun, shark oven glove photos were a fairly permanent feature of our evenings (not as sad as it sounds…), and we’d decided that we wanted to name the oven glove something Bond-related.  Christopher Lee plays Scaramanga (the “bad guy” with the golden gun), and he’s just a fantastic actor and we also happen to be Lord of the Rings fans, so we decided to name the oven glove Toothamanga, or Toothy for short.

I don’t know how familiar you are with the James Bond films, but they contain a lot of dreadful innuendo, which is, of course, incredibly hilarious (did I mention that we’re all really mature, ahem). We paired a few of the photos up with various Bond quotes (hover over the photo for the quote), and just in case you weren’t sure about our (im)maturity level, here is one of my favourites:

In case you think your eyes might be deceiving you, yes, there is an actual street in St Andrews called Butts Wynd.

Here’s another, rather more mature photo-quote pairing:

Kat and Craig took Toothy on a proper tour of St Andrews one day, made him a facebook profile and put all the photos up whilst I was in the lab – I didn’t know about it until I got a friendship request from my own oven glove.  It must have taken me about 10 minutes to stop laughing (thank goodness my professor wasn’t in the lab at the time).  Here are some of my favourites (it was difficult to choose!):

Now, it’s all very well having a shark-shaped oven glove, but sometimes you need two oven gloves.  Most times, actually.  Since we spent a lot of time baking, I complained about this a lot over the summer.  So Kat, being the amazing friend that she is, gave me a second shark-shaped oven glove for my birthday (it’s in September, so at the end of the summer).  We named it Toothy-Two, or Twothy (see what we did there?)  Being working oven gloves, they have of course accumulated various stains, and that’s how we tell them apart (though Twothy also seems to be made of slightly thinner material – possibly on account of the recession?).  So there you have it – the rather long-winded story behind Sharky Oven Gloves!

Here’s a final selection of photos, all golf-related – after all, I hear that St Andrews is famous for it…!

Hmmmm…  Perhaps I have lost the plot!

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Dear Dissertation, So long, and thanks for all the fish

If you follow my blog, you may have noticed that things have been pretty quiet lately.  The last few weeks have been pretty stressful, and pretty much entirely taken up with dissertating (definitely a word…), so I’m afraid I had to put the blog on hold for a little while.  Though I made an exception for the chocolate & marzipan biscuits for Easter and the Pimm’s cupcakes for the Royal Wedding.

The last three weeks or so have consisted of around 18 hours a day spent in the Biology computer lab, stressing out over statistical analyses, attempting to make sense of the outputs and results and then trying to coherently write it all up.  Fun times.  There was a core group of us, all 4th year Biologists, all dissertating away, slowly losing our sanity and swinging in and out of hysterical delirium, but all supporting each other through the whole process and somehow managing to all calm each other down when things were verging on becoming too stressful.  I think I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for them, I’m not sure I’d have made it through the last few weeks without having a nervous breakdown (so thanks guys – you know who you are!).

It’s all done now though – I handed my dissertation in this morning!  I would love to say that that’s it, it’s out of my life, I never have to think about it again, but I have to do a presentation about it next week and then I have a viva during which I have to defend my dissertation to two professors.  So it’s not quite out of my life just yet, but the most work-intensive part is over.  Hurrah!  I’m actually excited about being able to sleep for more than 4-5 hours tonight.

By the way, in case you’re wondering how my post title is relevant to anything, my dissertation was about elasmobranchs (sharks and rays) caught by the UK fishing fleet and was basically a comparison between the official landings statistics and a dataset collected through an observer scheme.  So I’ve spent a lot of time looking at a lot of data about a lot of fish.  And I’m glad it’s over!

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The Guid Cheese Shop, St Andrews

Before I launch into this, I feel I should add a disclaimer that I’m not a professional reviewer of any description, and these are just my rambling thoughts.

If you’re familiar with St Andrews, you are probably aware of the I.J. Mellis cheesemonger on South Street (they also have shops in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Glasgow).  The cheeses that they stock are all of very good quality, but I find that the choice isn’t nearly as extensive as it could be, and having been here for nearly four years, I’ve thoroughly exhausted their selection.  Many times over.  As well as the limited and rarely-changing selection, there are very few exciting or unusual cheeses on offer.  There is the exception of Mont d’Or, which Mellis HQ appears to think is a Christmas cheese (whilst it is seasonal, it is available from September to April), and the brief appearance of Morbier back in third year, also labelled as a Christmas cheese (which it most certainly is not, as it is produced year-round), which are both two of my favourite cheeses.  But aside from those, the selection is rather… dull?  Now, of course, small shops can’t stock every single cheese under the sun, but that doesn’t stop them from stocking new cheeses from time to time.  The staff are all friendly, and from talking to them, I feel that this is more of an issue that stems from Mellis HQ rather than the St Andrews branch itself, but it’s an issue all the same, and I’ve been feeling a bit dissatisfied for a while.  I must admit, I also miss the Manager/Assistant Manager combination of Finn and Zak, who were always up for a good chat (though it did mean that buying a slice of cheese took about half an hour) but have both left.

As a massive fan of cheese, I used to drop in at least once a week, usually for myself, but regularly on French Society business, too, and I was definitely a loyal customer, though customer loyalty was a bit of a default with only one cheesemonger in town…  You may have noticed the switch to past tense – Mellis is definitely still up and running, but I’m no longer a loyal customer.  So what happened?  Well, Mellis is no longer the only cheesemonger in St Andrews – a new cheese shop has opened!  I’m ashamed to admit that it took me about two months to venture into The Guid Cheese Shop, but when I (eventually) did, wow, what a wonderful surprise!

I think the first thing that I said (after “hello,” obviously) to Svetlana, the super-friendly proprietor, upon entering the shop was “oh my gosh, you sell Morbier!!”  In the moment that I saw that beautiful piece of cheese with its trademark black charcoal line running through it, a good part of my customer loyalty to Mellis evaporated.  Most of the rest of it was dispelled by the wide selection of French cheeses sourced from small producers, which I may have gotten slightly over-enthusiastic about.  I’m pretty sure Svetlana thought I was bordering crazy when I got so excited about all the different varieties.  Since then, almost every time I’ve dropped by (which is fairly often, as we’re using The Guid Cheese Shop to supply the cheese at the next French Society Wine & Cheese evening), Svetlana has a new cheese to try, or that she’s thinking of ordering in.  You can tell straight away that she is passionate about cheese (who isn’t?!), and has put a lot of work into sourcing interesting varieties, and different cheeses to the relatively well-known ones stocked by Mellis.  Of course, she also stocks very good Roquefort, Brie and Comté, but it’s the artisanal cheeses that have me completely sold.  I should say that I’m mostly basing my opinion on the French cheeses on offer, as I’m most familiar with them, and feel comfortable sharing my thoughts about them.

I’ve already mentioned that Svetlana is clearly passionate about cheese, and I think the best illustration of that is that she’s been putting on Cheese tastings and courses in the shop, as a way of introducing people to different varieties of cheese.  Now, as a cheese enthusiast, if there’s any event involving cheese, I’m so there.  An event involving cheese and wine, well, you’ll have difficulties keeping me away.  Although, not only am I a cheese fiend, but I’m also a snob, so it has to be good cheese and good wine.  Due to previous commitments and so on, I was unable to go to the first few cheese evenings, but Craig and I went along to the Cheese & Wine course on Saturday evening, which was also a launch for the range of wines that are now also sold (sadly Kat couldn’t make it).  We may have dropped the average age by about 20 years, but it was a great evening (and inspired me to write this post about the shop).  Svetlana’s knowledge and enthusiasm was evident, but I think what really shone through was her obvious wish to simply introduce people to the wide variety of cheeses that are available.  She was actually telling me earlier today that she has written a book in Russian to explain various cheese-making techniques and types and introduce some of the more artisanal and lesser-known cheeses to Russia, where during and after the Soviet Era, the only cheeses available were industrially-produced.  That is amazing dedication to the cause of good cheese!

Whilst the staff at Mellis are also clearly passionate about what they do, I feel they are somewhat limited by Mellis HQ, which deals with all the orders and stocking of the various shops – I get the impression that they are not a fan of change, or if they are, apparently this is not filtered down into the St Andrews shop.  Perhaps if Mellis were more innovative in their cheese varieties, they would be able to compete with the Guid Cheese Shop, but as it stands, I really don’t think that they can.  A cheesemonger should have the standard favourites, but also always have new varieties for customers to discover, so that they don’t get bored.  And that’s exactly where Mellis falls down – I’m thoroughly bored with their stock.  I can only hope that Svetlana at the Guid Cheese Shop continues to source out small producers and lesser-known cheeses.  If so, then combined with her passion and enthusiasm for educating people about cheese, I definitely think she’s onto a winner!

Since I will (in theory) be graduating and sadly leaving St Andrews this summer, I will only be able to follow the progression of the Guid Cheese Shop from afar, though I do hope that the discount that she has given French Society members (15% off cheeses – one of the many reasons to join French Society!  Shameless advertising over…) will contribute positively.  So if you are in St Andrews, do take the time to drop in!

The Guid Cheese Shop
Burghers Close
141 South Street
St Andrews KY16 9UN

That turned into a mini essay.  Woops.  I blame the dissertation (I currently can’t write anything in less than 1000 words and just end up repeating myself several times over).

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