Punchnep and a little poetry

On this day in 1759, Scotland’s most famed National Bard, Robert Burns, was born. In honor of his 252nd birthday, I decided to make some neeps and tatties. (I’ll admit, I didn’t know it was auld Robbie’s b-day until I checked in on MOP this morning, but I’ll take any chance I can get to eat “neeps” and “tatties.”) I found a recipe in my new Celtic cookbook for Punchnep, which is one of the few vegetarian-friendly Scottish dishes, and it is super easy to make…

Dice, boil, and mash 1 pound of potatoes (a.k.a. “tatties”)

Dice, boil, and mash 1 pound turnips (a.k.a. “neeps”)

Mix them together and add butter and milk (and a boiled and mashed apple, if you are adventurous), then season to taste with salt and pepper.  I also cooked up the turnip greens.

And you’ve just made Punchnep!! (Please ignore the non-Scottish grilled cheese…I was hungry.)

I don’t read much poetry; I typically get my poetic fix via music. I thought tonight would be a fitting time to share with you the lyrics of a song that always make me think of Jamie and Claire.

“The Greatest Sum” by the Avett Brothers

This and who I used to be
Don’t matter much at all to me.
To pin you down, to plant your feet’s
A far cry from my destiny.

Not even the clouds,
Not even the past,
Not even the hands of God
could hold me back from you.

Dark and lonely is the ride,
the devil always by my side.
Though no match for what lies between
the thought of you,
your trust for me.

Not even the sun,
A bullet from a gun,
No, nothing that this world could bring or
Anything someone could do
Could hold me back from you.

No count of gold placed in my hand,
The largest find,
The greatest sum.
Though some would say
It’d ease our pain,
We know that it can’t be done.

Not even the sun,
Not even the clouds.
Not even the past,
No, nothing that this world can bring or anything someone can do,
Could hold me back from you. 

Spreading the love of Outlander

I have a couple of stories that I need to share here, because only my fellow Outlander fanatics will truly appreciate them. The first story is from my husband. Last week, he went to the doctor and while returning his paperwork and clipboard to the front desk, he noticed that the receptionist was reading a book by Diana Gabaldon.

Husband: Oh, I see you’re reading one of the Outlander books?

Receptionist: Yeah! Have you read them?

Husband: No, but my wife is obsessed with them, so I kinda feel like I’ve read them.

Receptionist: They are so great.

Husband: My wife carved a pumpkin that was a big hit with all the Outlander fans she talks to online – she has a blog- actually, her blog and pumpkin recently made it onto Diana Gabaldon’s website. You should check it out.

*At this point, he is called back to see the doctor. After his check-up, he speaks with a different lady behind the front desk and is making his way out of the office, when he hears this…*

Receptionist: Oh! Sir! SIR! WAIT!

Husband: *walks back to the front desk*

Receptionist: OH. MY. GOD.

*In my husband’s words, she was “attempting to suppress a high-pitched squeal, while slightly flailing her arms and trying to maintain a professional decorum.”*

Receptionist:  I saw the pumpkin! Please tell your wife I said thank you, thank you for that pumpkin! Oooohhhh! That just made my day!

Husband: *smiling* Sure thing.

Aww, my hubs is going around promoting the Outlander series! As a side note, I asked him which book she was reading and he said “I don’t know, it was this ugly neon green color.” HA!

Next story:

My mom was at the beauty shop, getting her hair done, when the topic of conversation switched to vampires and then Outlander. (Just to set the stage: picture a Southern beauty salon with a hairdresser named Diane, who calls everyone “Honey,” “Sweetie,” “Baby,” or the like, and doesn’t get in a hurry for anything. Diane’s son was working as a graphic designer on the 4th and 5th Twilight movies that were being filmed in Louisiana.)

Mom: My daughter loved Twilight, but she likes the Sookie Stackhouse series better.

Diane: I haven’t heard of that one. What’s it about?

Mom: Vampires. The show True Blood is based on those books, so I’m assuming they are a bit darker and more adult than the Twilight books.

*Let me just say that I forced my mom to read Twilight during the height of my obsession and when prodded for her opinion on it, she said “Well, honestly I wish they would just go ahead and get it on with each other! This back and forth is driving me crazy!”*

Mom: Now she’s in love with a new series though, it’s called Outlander. She bought it…

*At this point, an older lady looks up from a book and interrupts my mom…*

Older lady: Oooooohhhhhhhhhh! I’ve read the Outlander books! They. Are. Amazing!

Mom: Ha! You sound just like my daughter! Have you read them all?

Older lady: (who has now relocated to fully join the conversation) Oh yeah. They are the best books I’ve ever read. I am DYING waiting for book 8 to come out! It’s coming out in March though, so I’m just biding my time until then.

My mom called me later that night to relay the story and to tell me that book 8 is coming out in March. I informed her that it hasn’t even been written yet and it will be years before book 8 comes out. Then she says to me “Well, that lady seemed to be a pretty big fan…I’d bet she knows what she’s talking about.” I had to act very offended that my mom was questioning my level of fandom and my knowledge of when the next book is coming out.

And finally, I was at Barnes and Noble this past weekend, just browsing, when I overheard a woman at the information desk asking about Outlander. Of course, my ears perked up instantly and I walked to the end of the aisle to get a glimpse. The clerk checked in her computer and informed her that it was in the fiction section, and they began walking in that direction. I actually really wanted to go over to this girl and gush about how amazing the book is and tell her about Jamie Fraser and how she will never be the same, etc, etc, but when I rounded the corner and saw her pick up the book…the way that she was tenderly cupping it (clearly already coveting it), with a big, goofy grin on her face, I realized that she already had insider info on this series. It made me smile.

I’ve seen Diana G. describe her books as “word-of-mouth books” since they are so hard to describe or categorize and these stories reminded me of that notion. I actually found the series all by myself, I was reading the USA Today Top 150 best sellers list and saw one tiny little line that said An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon and described it as “a Scottish husband and his time-travelling wife in the 1700’s, latest in a series” (or something along those lines) and for whatever reason, that little sentence spoke to me! I went to the used book store and found books 2,3, and 4 and bought Outlander new (albeit on sale). And the rest, as they say, is history!

Do you have any funny Outlander word-of-mouth stories? I’d love to hear about them!

Diana Gabaldon’s new website!

Diana Gabaldon’s new website is now up and it is absolutely beautiful! I practically had a heart attack when I saw it…because my Pumpkin Homage (and my blog!) is mentioned on the “Fan Art” page!! I literally screamed at the top of my lungs, then proceeded to call my Dad, and then text everyone I know. I am so incredibly humbled and happy :) Go check it out!

I was just as excited as the day I actually got to meet Diana! (But of course, I had to suppress my fangirl screams while at the panel!)

An Echo in the Bone by Diana Gabaldon

I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas holiday! I will be posting pics from my beautiful trip to East Tennessee very soon, but for now, here is my review of Echo (copied and pasted from Word, since I was forced to suffer the anguish of no internet or blog access during the height of my post-book delirium).

I just finished An Echo in the Bone and I’m here in the mountains without internet. *fists waving in the air* Oh, Diana Gabaldon! Diana, Diana, Diana. My mind has sufficiently been blown, yet again. I shall try verra hard to harness my bottled excitement and control my trembling fingertips enough to write a coherent review of my thoughts.

Remember my review of A Breath of Snow and Ashes in which I said that upon finishing any Outlander book, the only adjective that seems to come to mind is “amazing?” Well, expect a lot of that. And there will be spoilers, because I simply don’t see how I can talk about this book without them.

The book starts out as a slow read. Not slow as in there is no action or slow as in boring, but slow as in there is a lot of information being disseminated and lots of groundwork being laid. The first half of the book felt like I was reading a Lord John novel. Not only because several threads are told from Lord John’s perspective, but also because there is a lot of military talk and battle discussion that wasn’t prominent in the prior books. In the beginning, we are mainly getting to know William, who is headstrong and eager to fight, but who also has a softer side and quickly realizes that he has a lot to learn about the art of war. I was somewhat indifferent towards him in the beginning. I very much enjoyed his storyline, but wasn’t fully invested in him as a character. It didn’t take long, however, for it to dawn on me that William could very well be a looking glass into Jamie’s young adulthood. Since they are so similar in personality, temperament, and of course, physical appearance, is this what Jamie was like when he was coming of age and finding his footing as a natural leader? I like to think there is a lot of similitude there. I began to worry about his eagerness to fight and naiveté regarding who to trust in such tumultuous times; but, for all intents and purposes, he is Lord John Grey’s son, and he has Jamie Fraser’s genes, so he’s going to be a good man. How could he not? At that point I sort of stopping worrying about him and was ready to get to the meat of the story, a.k.a., Jamie and Claire.

There wasn’t nearly enough Jamie for me. The only solace I found was that what little bit we got, was really, really good. I think Diana G realized that she was depriving us in the Jamie department and thus resolved to give us quality over quantity. Is it just me, or was every single scene with Jamie nothing short of amazing? We got back to the introspective, sweet, heart-breakingly poetic Jamie of yore, and for that reason alone I can forgive Diana for giving us so little. After Saratoga when Claire has just rescued him from the battlefield, given him laudanum and is preparing to do surgery on his hand? That was perhaps one of my favorite scenes in the book because Jamie is so incredibly open and vulnerable. He is dazedly explaining his rationale for risking his life to save those of complete strangers and all walls are down and we see his complete trust in Claire to pick him up, fix him and see him through it. The scene was just overflowing with love and emotion and trust and sincerity and while I was grieving for him and the loss of his finger, I was drinking it all in.

Another favorite scene -a happy one this time- was when Jamie and Claire are stopped in Edinburgh en route to return Simon Fraser’s body for burial in Scotland. Finally we get to see Jamie and Claire relaxing and actually enjoying life without freezing, starving, or running for their lives. They have money and time to leisurely dine at expensive restaurants, shop for new clothes, and pick out spectacles. I envisioned them walking down the stone streets arm in arm, strutting confidently,( bespectacled) with the sun on their shoulders, enjoying the brief respite from worry or fear. It had been a long time coming and they totally deserved it.

One aspect of the book that took me by surprise was Ian. I felt like I was really seeing a different side of him than I’d ever seen. I finally saw the fierceness that had been mentioned so often before, but never really illustrated (to me) until this book. In addition to that, he opens up and we’re given so much more insight into the way his mind works and how he manages the balance between his Scottish roots and his newly acquired Mohawk beliefs. Poor Ian was truly raked through the coals in this one: his anguish over the accidental death of Mrs. Bug (and the subsequent terror of being pursued by Arch Bug), tying up loose ends and finding closure with regards to Emily and his lost child, his separation from Rollo (who had just been shot), the reunion with his parents after (how many?) years, the death of his father, and falling in love with a Quaker girl who found it hard to reconcile his warrior nature with her non-violent beliefs. I’ve always loved Ian, thinking of him mostly as an easy-going little brother, but he has now officially grown up in my eyes. I had so much respect for his unwillingness to be something he is not and for not faltering in his beliefs. He was clearly anxious and reticent about his return to Lallybroch, but confronted it head on, donning Mohawk finery and holding his head high as if to say “This is who I am now. I can’t go back and you must accept me for what I am, or not have me at all.” Such a dramatic change from the boy who sacrificed himself for Roger back in Drums of Autumn because he was groping for his calling in life and had no idea what he was supposed to be. Am I happy that Rachel Hunter accepted him in the end? I’m not sure yet…I admire her loyalty and her dedication, but I’m not completely convinced that she is an adequate partner, not yet at least.

Another aspect of the book that pretty much knocked my socks off was the marriage of Lord John and Claire. I already knew that they had sex under the pretense that Jamie was dead (as a result of listening to Diana G read an excerpt from book 8 during a Dragon Con panel ), and yet it still came as a huge surprise to me. It’s still scandalous to think about, but here’s the kicker: I liked Lord John and Claire together. Is that wrong? I ABSOLUTELY LOVED the scene with them lying in bed talking after their drunken rendezvous the night before. John’s openness and honesty was lovely and I felt like he had genuine respect and admiration for Claire. And his story about the white deer, oh my god, my heart melted when he stopped her in the doorway and told her to “…think of the deer. My dear.” In that moment, in my eyes, they were perfect for each other! (By the way, did anyone else catch the possible symbolism there? Claire is called the white woman/witch; John’s associating her with the mysterious white deer? Is it just me?) I have long wanted Lord John to find someone with whom he could have a meaningful relationship that consisted of more than just sex, and I felt like he found that with Claire, however untraditional and fleeting. It all happened rather quickly and I wasn’t sure if Ian, Fergus, Marsali, or anyone else really knew the extent of what was happening (if at all), but quite frankly, I loved every minute of their marriage. When Jamie finally did return to America and unexpectedly walked in on Lord John and Claire, casually dressing and getting ready for the day in John’s bedroom, he was clearly not of the proper mindset to grasp the significance of the scene.  I believe that he would have immediately realized the casual intimacy between them, behaving like a settled old married couple, had he not been fleeing from the British army and seeking refuge. And once he does realize?? The intensity of this cliffhanger reinforces my prior fear of my inability to cope with the 2 year void until book 8 is released.

And speaking of cliffhangers, what about Jem?! And more importantly, Roger?!? At least we know that Jem is still in the tunnel (for now), but Roger has just travelled through the stones! If he is concentrating on Jem (in the theory that it will help direct him through time), where will he end up?! And what about Percy and Fergus?! My nerves are shot, people.

I love this book so incredibly much. It’s absolutely amazing. How fitting it is that I bought Outlander in an after-Christmas sale in 2009 and now I have finished the series almost exactly a year later? I shall forever think of 2010 as the year of Outlander :) Without any new books to turn to in the coming year, I suppose I will have to resort to some meaningless one night stands with sexy vampires and civil war soldiers to tide me over until my reunion with Jamie and the gang, but I most definitely see some re-reads in my future…

The Garden Scene

I’m reading An Echo in the Bone right now. I know, you’re probably thinking “What?! You have a blog practically dedicated to your love for Jamie Fraser and you haven’t even read book 7???”  I put it off and put it off because the thought of being finished, with no new books for the next 2 years, terrified me. I still don’t know how I will cope with the withdrawal, but I couldn’t wait any longer. I will have an appropriately detailed review of this mind-blowing novel when I’m finished, but for now…I just had to tell someone…I read the Garden Scene. *Sigh* For those of you who have read it, you KNOW what I mean. I think I need to step outside, where it’s freezing, and just cool off for a bit…

Lord John Grey Tea!?

Well, hello! I’m back! Not really…briefly…just long enough to say that Diana G. posted this on her website and that I had to share. The Old Wilmington Tea Company now has a Lord John Grey tea (click here)! I think I must have this, especially since Lord John and I are now good friends. No, seriously, what an awesome gift!? Husband, are you reading? *wink, wink*

Alexander Skarsgard in a kilt!

So Carol from Australia sent me her photoshopped pic of Alexander Skarsgard in a kilt (with her idea of Brianna), and I wanted to share since this is the only pic of him in a kilt that I’ve ever seen. (She has others on YouTube – just search for  “Outlander through the stones.”) Thanks Carol!

I think we need a shirtless version next time ;) Yay for Skarsgard as Jamie Fraser!

I have discovered the delight of a wee dram

A few months ago, I bought a bottle of Glenmorangie Scotch. I generally shy away from anything stronger than beer, but I had to experience this fabled drink that has such a prominent role in the lives of my most beloved characters. In the Outlander series, it seems that everyone is always drinking Scottish whisky, good times or bad. Jamie is an expert at making the stuff and Roger was in awe of Claire’s ability to knock it back.  Basically, I wanted to know if I could hang with Jamie and Claire.

I started out by pouring it over ice and mixing it with some water. I was surprised at how quickly it grew on me. My husband told his co-workers at lunch one day that he couldn’t get used to the sight of me sitting around sipping on a glass of scotch. They all apparently got a huge laugh out of the idea and joked about me wearing a smoking jacket, sitting by a fire with the hounds at my feet and a shotgun propped against the wall, sipping on my whisky. I’m glad I could be such a source of amusement for the boys at work, but that’s definitely not an accurate depiction. Anyhoo, one of the guys loaned me his copy of The Bartender’s Bible (by Gary Regan) to give me some ideas for mixed drinks.

I flipped immediately to the chapter about Scotch and found myself in an Outlander fangirl’s dream! Names like Whiskey Mac, Black Jack (Randall?), Highland Fling, Macbeth, Ma Bonnie Wee Hen, To Hell with Swords and Garters, and Tartan Swizzle (I could go on, my friends) just scream Jamie Fraser! And when I branched out to include other liquors, I found drinks such as Big Red, Dragonfly (in Amber?), Dunbonnet Fizz, and Gale at Sea (Voyager anyone?). I was so excited to try them out, so I decided to have “Scottish Night” at my place.

I wanted to make an authentic Scottish meal to go with our alcoholic explorations, so I settled on “Rumblethumps” (I got the recipe from Scotland for the Senses– you should check it out, it’s a beautiful site all about Scotland) and bannocks (a.k.a. oatcakes). The Rumblethumps – which is basically just a mixture of cabbage, potatoes, and onions – were DELICIOUS! So cheap, so easy, and so good. My husband even asked if we could have it again sometime this week.

Cheesy comfort food. Mmmmm...

The bannocks, however, didn’t turn out so well. The recipe called for bacon fat, but since everyone at my house was a vegetarian, I opted for butter instead and I think that may have been the problem.

Epic fail.

We pooled our resources and worked with what we had without spending a lot of money. We tried a Black Jack (Randall), Mithering Bastard, and Piper at the Gates of Dawn; all of which were actually really good. The Mithering Bastard was the unanimous favorite.

We kicked off the night with a Black Jack (Randall)

I’ll list a few recipes here to get you started…

Highland Fling (We’d all like to have one of these, eh? *wink, wink*)

  • 2 ounces Scotch
  • 1/2 ounce sweet vermouth
  • 2 dashes orange bitters
  • 1 maraschino cherry

Combine first three ingredients in a mixing glass half-filled with ice cubes, strain into glass and garnish with cherry.

Scotch Mist

  • 2 1/2 ounces Scotch
  • Crushed ice
  • lemon twist

Pour into a shaker half-filled with ice, shake well, garnish with lemon twist.

Whisky Mac

  • 1 1/2 ounces Scotch
  • 1 ounce green ginger wine

Pour both ingredients into a wine goblet with no ice.

Black Jack (Randall– I can’t not say Randall…)

  • 1 1/2 ounces Scotch
  • 1 ounce Kahlua
  • 1/2 ounce Triple Sec or Cointreau
  • 1/2 ounce lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a shaker half-filled with ice cubes, shake well, pour into cocktail glass.

I had so much fun with this! Party season is approaching, so why not throw a Scottish party?! I’ve already decided that my next spirits endeavor will be with Jameson’s Irish Whiskey, when I will make a toast to Stephen Bonnett. Plus, Jameson’s has my favorite commercial of all time :)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WOydQFJdx1k

Happy imbibing, fellow fangirls!!

The Month of the Pumpkin Challenge: Week 3

The mighty pumpkin was truly the star of the show this week (with a little help from Jamie, of course *wink, wink*)! I am genuinely overwhelmed by all of the wonderful feedback I got from my pumpkin homage! I had no idea it would make such a splash, but I am absolutely thrilled to have made so many of you giggle with mirth at the absurdity of a naked man carved onto a pumpkin :) All of your kind words and compliments made my day, thanks so much!!

Foodwise, week three was a mixed bag. We made Pumpkin Chili, which was a big disappointment since it didn’t taste like pumpkin at all, but we also made Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting, which are officially my new favorite fall dessert. Oh. my. gosh. If you like the flavor of maple, please take my word for it and GO MAKE THESE CUPCAKES RIGHT NOW!! Absolutely amazing. Trust me, they will be a new holiday staple.

Week three dessert: Pumpkin Cupcakes with Maple Frosting (recipe by Ina Garten)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ½ teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 2 extra-large eggs, at room temp
  • 1 cup canned pumpkin
  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup light brown sugar, packed
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 coarsely chopped Heath bars (sprinkled on top of cupcakes)

Maple Frosting:

  • 6 oz. cream cheese, at room temp
  • 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temp
  • ¼ teaspoon Natural Maple Extract/Flavor
  • ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 cups confectioner’s sugar

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 10 muffin tins with paper liners. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. In a larger bowl, whisk together the eggs, pumpkin puree, granulated sugar, brown sugar, and vegetable oil. Add the flour mixture and stir until combined. Divide the batter among tins and bake 20 – 25 minutes, until a toothpick comes out clean. Allow to cool completely.

To make frosting: Cream the cream cheese and butter on low speed until smooth. Stir in the maple flavoring and vanilla extract. With mixer on low, slowly add confectioners’ sugar and mix until smooth.

Did I mention how SCRUMPTIOUS these cupcakes are?  :)

Week three entrée: Pumpkin Chili

Ummm, yeah, I’m not going to post the recipe since it wasn’t even good as a regular chili :(

Week three fall seasonal beer (s): 

  • Starr Hill “Festie” Oktoberfest
  • Dundee Oktoberfest
  • Saranac Pumpkin Ale