Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Single Malt Whisky Cake

Before I give you a terrific recipe that's sure to please (even if you don't imbibe in the Scottish nectar), I want to give you a wee bit o' history on the amber elixir.

First off is why you see whisky spelled two ways; one with an "ey" and one with just a "y".

The one true way to be certain that you are spending your money on a Scottish malt is whisky is spelled without an "e". In my opinion, as frugal as the Scots tend to be, they may have used this spelling so they are assured of getting a Scottish malt and not an Irish or American blend. No sense in wasting cold, hard-earned cash on something that's not the real deal, right?

But, Canadians, New Zealanders and the Japanese (honest!) also spell it the same as the Scottish, so be sure to read where it was distilled.

A Scottish single malt is always made from malted barley, whereas "whiskey" can be made from unmalted corn and other grains. The barley malt for Scotch whisky is first dried over fires that have been stoked with dried peat (a form of compacted grass and heather compost that is harvested from the moors). The peat smoke adds the distinctive smoky tang to the taste of the malt whisky, as does what type of barrel it's aged in.

The smoky-tasting Scotches tend to be aged in an oak barrel that's been smoked inside. Others are aged in sherry casks, lending its flavor to the brew.

Scotch Whisky Regions

The Highlands consist of the portion of Scotland north of a line from Dundee on the North Sea coast in the east to Greenock on the Irish Sea in the west, including all of the islands off the mainland except for Islay. Highland malt whiskies cover a broad spectrum of styles. They are generally aromatic, smooth and medium bodied, with palates that range from lushly complex to floral delicacy. The subregions of the Highlands include Speyside; the North, East and West Highlands; the Orkney Isles; and the Western Islands (Arran, Jura, Mull, and Skye).

The Lowlands encompass the entire Scottish mainland south of the Highlands except the Kintyre Peninsula where Campbeltown is located. Lowland malt whiskies are light bodied, relatively sweet, and delicate.

Islay is an island off the west coast. Traditional Islay malt whiskies are intensely smoky and pungent in character with a distinctive iodine or medicinal tang that is said to come from sea salt permeating the local peat that is used to dry the barley malt.

Campbeltown is a port located on the tip of the Kintyre Peninsula on the southwest coast that has its own distinctive spicy and salt-tinged malt whiskies.

I brought the infamous cake to an Equinox party last week (no, it wasn't one of those Pagan rituals where everyone dances around a bonfire naked. Thankfully!), and a young girl all of ten thought it was gingerbread.

Until she tasted it.

She handed it directly to her father, and said, "Dad, I don't think I'm supposed to be eating this."

He seemed to enjoy the fact that it wasn't gingerbread very much, as he was on his third piece when he told me the story.

Anyway, the following recipe has been praised by many, including wine distributors at the Wine and Food Festival in Blue Hill. I'll be there again October 18th at the Arborvine restaurant from 11:00-3:00 if you're in the neighborhood. One might ask why I would be a part of such a festival, and my answer is that my books sell best when found in places where a book is least expected to be. Plus, I can cook, and enjoy seeing the looks on people's faces when I ask them to sample my Single Malt Whisky Cake.

Single Malt Whisky Cake

2/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup water
1 stick real butter (Don't substitute here, please. Forego the waist for a real treat!)
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp. nutmeg
1  1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 cup Single Malt Whisky (I've used Dalmore, Dalwhinnie, Glenfiddich and Glendronach with good results)
1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Cover raisins with the water in a small pan and simmer until only 2 tbsps. of water remain. Let cool a bit.

Cream butter and sugar; add egg.

Stir in dry ingredients.

Add rest of liquids (including water from raisins) and mix well.

Fold in raisins and pour into a buttered 8 inch pan.

Bake at 350º for 30-40 minutes.


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Hooligans' Weekend, AKA The Highland Games

Sunday morning dawned with crisp air, frost on the fields and a clear blue sky. We set out early for Sugar Hill, north of Franconia, bound for Polly's Pancake Parlor. A real treat, if you're ever up that way.

As we drove through Franconia Notch, the fog had settled thickly in the valleys overnight, making the mountains look as though they were islands floating on an inland sea. Some of the maples were beginning to turn red and orange creating a vivid distraction as the sun struck the swamps.

It was a perfect ending to a terrific weekend at the Highland Games at Loon Mountain.

We hopped the shuttle bus early Friday morning and arrived at the clan tent before nine. It was cloudy and cold, with predictions of periodic showers during the afternoon. It felt as though it could have spit snow, but luckily, it didn't.

The crowds were non-existent, so it gave us a chance to actually see the goings-ons, and of course, buy trinkets and eat without waiting in lines that can stretch for 50 or 60 feet. We searched for tea and coffee then set out to explore the festivities.

After awhile, I settled into the clan tent and got down to the business of selling my books, as well as the factual historicals about the clan,  talking to people about the Donnachaidh history, and generally heckling those looking for a bit of…well, heckling. You can always tell those folks. They'll walk over with a mischievous look in their eye, then ask if this is the tent where they can get a wee dram of Scottish elixir. This usually means they're already well into the drink by then and are out looking to see what kind of trouble they can get into. Mind you, they can be men or women up for this task! The men wear Laphroaig hats; the fine single malt Scotch they've enjoyed at the Scotch Tastings. The women wear the "Official Kilt Inspector" t-shirts in search of…I don't know, shortest kilt, perhaps?

But mostly, it's people who want to talk about where they come from. We give them as much information as we can, sell them a book or two, a decal, a bit of Robertson ribbon, etc., and send them on their way.

Then there are those with stories they want to share.

Two sisters came up to me asking about their heritage. "We've got some of this clan, some of that clan, and oh, yeah, and some Campbell blood."

"Sssh!" I said, making them flinch. "You never want to say that in this tent, or many of the other tents, for that matter!"

"We've heard the stories," they assured me in a whisper. "Our mum's a true Campbell. Stubborn and nasty to the bone."

I couldn't help but laugh at their candor and say, "The Campbells stick together because no one else'll have them. You should stop in at their tent and introduce yourselves."

They looked at each other and shook their heads. "No, we're a little scared of what might happen," they said, still whispering.

Meanwhile, my husband was busy in his "Kept Man" t-shirt, advertising for my books and getting a lot of laughs, and even some promises to visit the tent to see what my books were all about. I was with him on one such occasion when a woman said she'd stop in. He said thank you and I stood there smiling. Then it dawned on me that I should have been the one to thank her and said as much. She just laughed.

At about 4:00 pm, we buttoned up the tent and secured it as well as we could. The wind had really started to pick up, so we all knew what that meant for unwary booth attendants. Overnight would be interesting.

Saturday morning, the wind was still gusty and we wondered what we'd find when we got to the tent. We had done a fine job of anchoring it, as it was still in place, but the tent masters, Doug and Sue Newton, and Herb and Mary Ann Dobbins said there was tent carnage all over the place when they arrived, nearly an hour before us. Some tents were ripped from their stakes in the tar and strewn all over the fairground. Flags, tartans, pamphlets—including raffle tickets to the Caribbean—tartan dog collars, and other interesting items flew around the clan village. It's a hard way to learn about the wind.

Saturday is the day where all the clans—63 all totaled—were to parade onto the field holding their standards high and shouting out their war cry as they're called. I was asked to participate this year! A real honor, as I'm not even Scottish. So four of us marched around clan village then onto the field. It's a brilliant display of tartans and costumes. Very fun.

Our clan's war cry is Fierce When Roused. It's been misprinted to read Fierce when Aroused, much to the delight of many. I had convinced Herb, Doug and Diane to say it the Gàidhlig, which is Garg 'n uair dhuisgear! This is pronounced GARG-en OOR GHOOSH-kar. They had been saying Garden Weasel. Sad, very sad.

So when Clan Donnachaidh was called we shouted it out, well, Herb said it in English, but we all shouted it proudly.

When the Campbells were called, a small group in the audience whoohoo'd, and the Historic Highlanders, the roughest of the bunch—barefooted and long-haired and carrying targes and broadswords—turned, as though practiced, drew their swords and held up their targes against the rebel clan. Even after hundreds of years, some Scots hold a grudge against them! I couldn't help but grin wondering how many others had seen the display.

Then, we marched back to our tent and I proceeded to sell my little heart out.

People of all ages are in the pipe bands. Here's an example of a young man getting a "tuneup."

Drummers practicing.

And the Royal Scots Guard was there with their beautiful uniforms and wonderfully decorated drums.

The "Heavies", the Highland athletes, toss the sheaf which weighs about 20 pounds, over the bar being held up by the lift.

And, they carry the stones. If two or more competitors carry the stones the entire length of the field, heavier stones are then used. In 2004 at the New Hampshire Highland Games, the record carry is a pair of stones weighing 508 pounds carried just under 100 feet.

Here are some other links to YouTube to experience at least a little of what goes on at the Games, such as the traditional pipers of the Massed Bands, the very non-traditional pipers of the Red Hot Chilli Pipers doing their rendition of Coldplay's, Clocks, and of course, Albannach just doing what they do.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Agent News

I got a call from my agent, Grace Morgan, friday about my Despite Them manuscript. Without beating around the bush, she said she loved it! What a load off my mind. You never really know what someone else is going to think about your story until they actually read it. She told me she liked the way I handled my characters and asked if there were going to be other stories in the Macgregor series. I told her I had a plan for at least four.

"Good," she said, "because that bitch at the end has got to go!"

I love that my characters evoke such emotion! You can cry along with them, or you can be pleased that they got what they deserved, and you can rage at them (and me) when I decide to leave the story hanging with the bad guy (or gal) remaining on the loose, enticing you to want more...

She did want to see a few minor changes, things that didn't quite make sense to her, so I spent the day yesterday flushing them out, making revisions, then printing all 309 pages over again.

She told me she's going to pitch Despite Them to Avon Books and Pocket Books first, as they do many of the Scottish stories. If the violence is too much for them, she'll try a few of the men's book publishers. I asked her if she thought I should tone down the graphic nature of the story, and she said, "Oh, hell no. This will sell just fine."

See why I love her?

So now it's another waiting game to see who will pick me up.

Today, we went to the sea to chill out for the morning. Here are a few photos of the tranquility of the coast of Maine.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Irish Ale and Pirates

We heard about an Irish Pub that has live music after lunch. Let's go, we said. It didn't matter that it was in Lubec, the last town downeast before you reach Canada—about two hours from us. So we hopped in the car on a perfect late summer morning around 8:00 a.m. We decided to make a day of it and return to Schoodic to see how it faired after Hurricane Bill took a slap at it. It was less than an hour out of the way.

What we found when we got there was pretty amazing. Trees that had a tenuous hold on the rocks were uprooted and toppled to the ground. Their skeletons will bleach in the salt air, then be carried away by the next big storm to land who knows where. Boulders weighing several hundred pounds were strewn across the road, many feet from where they'd been settled as barriers, pushed off the pavement by heavy equipment and left as reminders of nature's fury. Perhaps, those who hadn't seen what it looked like before the storm wouldn't see the changes, but we did.

Click on the first link to view a video that gives you an idea of how serene Schoodic normally is. We tried to match the exact location and tide yesterday to the tide we took in the video during the hurricane (click on the second link).

After taking in the calm beauty of the sea at Schoodic, we ventured further downeast along Route 1, through small fishing villages, blueberry barrens, and old, open farmland, resting now, without plough or livestock to tend to it. Soon it will be reclaimed by trees and turn back into the woods it was a couple hundred years ago.

A little after noon, we arrived in Lubec. It's a small fishing town overlooking Canada. Home of West Quoddy Lighthouse and some pretty large tides that rise and fall at the rate of 5 feet an hour. You'd best know were high land is if you're on the beach or exploring and island at low tide so you have time to get to it before you're stranded.

We drove right to the end of the road, literally. At the juncture where you can choose to go to Canada or stay in the US, you take a left and follow the coast for a few hundred feet and then you see it. Cohill's Inn and Pub.

We searched for a place to park, as across the street is the ocean and a busy boat launch. We find a spot and walk in.

The place is filled with pirates!! Yup, Aaarrgh, matey! Eye patches, buxom women in wench-wear, men in ruffled shirts, breeks and long coats. And ale. Lots and lots of ale.

We walked up to the bar and the owner/bartender is wearing a kilt with a skull and cross bone t-shirt. I can't help it, but I love pirates! I looked at the owner with a broad grin and said excitedly, "I didn't know there'd be pirates here today!"

"We were invaded," he said happily, as though it occurred regularly.

So we took a seat with an incredible view of the water and ordered a Guiness and Harp. With our ales came a slightly inebriated older gentleman who took a seat at our table. He was a happy sort and told us he lived in the Virgin Islands, a place where there were no virgins.

"You saw to that, I suppose," I said to him.

He smiled and feigned shock, sadly said that he had nothing to do with it, then introduced himself as Mr. Moe. We chatted for a while until his wife was finished talking with a few of the pirates. I hope you're getting an idea of how crazy this was, and it was very fun. Music blasting, beer bottles clinking together, and pirates talking with themselves and anyone who wanted to join them at the tables, and walking around town. The funniest thing is that Mainers aren't fazed by much. They'd just drive by, take a look, raise an eyebrow and continue doing what they were doing. It's a bit like dream where everything—no matter how absurd—makes perfect sense. You gotta love it!

Soon, the pirates—and Mr. Moe, along with his lovely wife, Beverly—meandered out. The the landlubbers returned to their car and the pirates returned to their ship. Well, lobster boat. See, a Pirate Festival was happening in Eastport, just up through the Lubec Narrows, that's where they came from. Apparently, Lubec had more of an appeal for them. Maybe Eastport didn't have an open pub! Either way, we were happy to have been entertained by the jovial lot.

When our meal was served, we ate and watched the seals and seagulls across the street catch their own lunch in the swirling waters. The seals are the black heads popping up and down. They're black and gray speckled and look much like dogs.

We got home just before dusk, tired from the day, but happy with the excursion.