The Scottish Saltire

The Scottish Saltire

Friday, November 27, 2009

My First Thanksgiving In Scotland

It was a hit!

My first Thanksgiving in Inverness went really well. Some of it was a bit of a challenge, like trying to find shortening to make the pie crusts. Turns out it's called vegetable fat here. There were a couple of other things that took me two or three trips to the store to find because they are just packaged differently than the way I'm used to (like whipping cream). Other things were simply not to be found so Shauna sent me a care package from Seattle. Everything here is packaged in metric units, too, so when I bought things like sour cream I just had to eyeball it and make a guess as to how much to buy. Another challenge was that all of my recipes are in Fahrenheit and my oven dial is in Celsius so I kept having to convert all my cooking temperatures. 

Normally I get up early on the morning of Thanksgiving to get started so I can have dinner on the table by about 3pm. This year, though, I planned dinner for 6pm because yesterday was obviously a regular work day here. It was also a school day for me. I would have just skipped out on school but I was scheduled to give an in-class presentation so there was no way I could not be there (BTW, I got an "A"!) I knew I wasn't going to get home before 1pm but the turkey really needed to start cooking at noon so I got it all prepared and covered with foil before I left for school. I put it in the oven and left a note for the boys to turn the oven on at noon. When I rolled in (after one last stop at the store on the way home!) they were all busy vacuuming and tidying and cleaning the bathroom for me so I could get started with the dinner. My friend, Marie, showed up around 3pm to help with the preparations and Stuart brought over chairs about 5pm. So we were set when people started arriving an hour later.

Everyone was game to try new foods so I started them out with a yummy salmon ball and crackers, a 'to die for' starter that came from Karen Murphy a few years ago and a veggie tray that included raw cauliflower and broccoli. They are both eaten cooked over here but not raw so I wasn't sure how they would go over but evidently they were received well because there wasn't any left by the end of the evening. And I told everyone that since we were celebrating an American holiday then we were having 'chips' and dip, not crisps and dip! I tried a new recipe with dinner this year...sweet potatoes with peaches and cashews. I should have boiled them longer before baking them because they weren't quite tender all the way to the center when I pulled them out of the oven but nobody seemed to mind. There wasn't much left over. I make a dish that is not traditional to anyone's Thanksgiving table except mine. It's called Watergate Salad and it's made with pistachio pudding mix, milk, whipped topping, crushed pineapple, shredded coconut and colored miniature marshmallows. I've always said my children would mutiny if there was no Watergate Salad on the table at Thanksgiving! It's a lovely pastel green in color from the pudding powder and the colored marshmallows add splashes of yellow and pink. Of course, everyone's first reaction to it was "Oh wow, what IS that?" It's pretty sweet so it's not always to everyone's liking but it went over really well yesterday, especially with Kenny (LOL!). And, of course, everyone was very curious about the pumpkin pie. About half the folks liked it and the other half...not so much. But at least now they can all say they've tried it.

The biggest challenge of the evening was where to seat 13 people for dinner. Not only do we not have a dining room, we don't even have a table! This was originally just a 3 bedroom house, the bedrooms and bathroom upstairs and the kitchen and a combination living room and dining room downstairs. When Kenny bought the house he put up a wall to divide the living room/dining room in half so he could add another bedroom. That means that the downstairs now consists of my bedroom, the kitchen and a small sitting room that measures about 10x11. When I first came up with the idea of making Thanksgiving dinner for some of my friends Kenny wanted to know where I was going to put everyone. I said, "I don't know. I haven't figured that out yet!" So I just warned those who hadn't been here before that the house is small and we have no table so that meant that dinner was going to be really informal! I figured I could get 3 people on the couch and one in the rocking chair. We added Stuart's extra chairs to the sitting room and we also have 4 bar stools in the kitchen that sit at an open counter. It worked out fine and everyone just kind of flowed between the two rooms with food and drink. It got a little crazy just before dinner with me maneuvering around a dozen people in my madwoman dash to get things out of the oven and get the gravy made at the last minute but that just added to the festivities!

When dinner was ready I introduced them to another Thanksgiving tradition. Everyone gathered in the kitchen (ready for food!) and I asked each person to tell something in their life that they were thankful for. That was an easy one for me. I said I was thankful for all of them; that when I arrived here they all just gathered me into their little fold and made me feel so welcome. And that I was also thankful that they had all allowed me to share with them a little bit of my own culture.

Then it was time to eat!  It did my heart good to see so many of my new friends enjoying their first Thanksgiving dinner. If I had had more room I would have invited twice the number of people who were here, but I simply didn't have room for everyone! Laura and Hazel volunteered for kitchen duty and took care of all the dirty dishes before and after dinner so that I wasn't looking at total chaos when the evening was through. About 9 o'clock we called Thanksgiving dinner a success and went to the Gellions for a pint. Well, actually, Laura and Craig (newly engaged!), Sandra, Marie, Dougie, Jane and Hazel went home. Iain, Tobi, Chris, Kenny, Stuart and I went to the Gellions!

I talked to all 3 of my kids on the phone yesterday. Nikki, of course, was in Germany and Michael and Shauna were in Colorado on their way to Ruth's house with Steve and Ron. It could have been a sad day for not be with my chickens on Thanksgiving...but because of these amazing people who I am so lucky to call my friends, it was still a day to be thankful for!

Monday, November 23, 2009

My Monthly Ramblings

        I started my blog so that anyone who was interested could keep up with my adventures once I got to Scotland. During my time in PA and then in Germany I was pretty consistent about posting. But since I arrived in Inverness I've been so busy that it's been difficult to find the time for my blog! But if you check in here very often and I haven't posted for a while, it's certainly not because I've lost interest. It's only cause I struggle to find the time. I suppose I should just post shorter entries but more often. In the future I'll try that. In the meantime..............

        My last post was about a month ago and I was getting ready to attend the "Scotland's Global Impact" conference. It was wonderful! three days of listening to some of the most eminent historians in Scotland, not to mention speakers from Australia, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Canada and the good ole' U.S. of A.! Some one called it an intellectual ceilidh and I think that's just about right. For those of you who don't know what a ceilidh (pronouced kaylee)  is, it's an Irish or Scottish social gathering with traditional music, dancing, and storytelling.
The highlight of the conference for me though was the day after it ended. Dr. Tony Pollard (who spoke at the conference) is from Glasgow University and he is one of Scotland's preeminent experts in battlefield archaeology. If you've followed my blog much you'll know that I post about the Battle of Culloden every year on April 16th (the day of the battle in 1746). It was a pivotal battle in the history of Scotland and the battlefield is just a few miles from Inverness. I've been there several times but the day after the conference Tony took about 16 of us on a little field trip to Culloden. I felt like I was being handed a walk the battlefield with someone who knows just about everything there is know about what happened that day according to the archaeological evidence. He explained about what has been found and what the artifacts tell us about the battle...information that you don't get by just doing the tourist thing in the visitor's center. We walked all over Culloden Moor and at one point he took us to a far corner where tourists wouldn't think to go and then said, "Now, turn around. What do you see?" "Not much." I said. "Exactly!' said Tony, and then launched into why this was a crucial positioning point in the battle. It was drizzly that day and we all got a bit wet but WOW! It was great!

        School is keeping me very busy. So far my grades are pretty good but I sure spend an awful lot of time, outside of class, working on papers and doing all the required reading for my classes. I have an in-class presentation to give on Thursday this week on the relationship between Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I of England. It's a subject that has always interested me so the presentation wasn't too hard to prepare for and I just finished a paper on 'brochs' (pronounced sort of like brocks), dry stone tower dwellings that were unique to Scotland and built around the turn of the first millennium. It was fun to write about the Broch village of Gurness because Nikki, Shauna and I visited the site when we were in Orkney a couple of years ago. I wish I knew then what I know now. I'm definitely going back!

        My social life is as fun as ever. Inverness may be small but it's a very lively town. Besides getting to listening to Kenny and the boys play several times a week, there are a couple of other local musicians who I've gotten to know and whose music I really enjoy. One of my favorites is Kevin Fraser. Kevin drives up from Glasgow a few times a month to play gigs in and around Inverness. He always stops by the house for a cup of coffee when he's in town and I always try to make it out to hear him play. He plays just good old rock n' roll. He has a really heavy Glaswegian accent and last week he told me that I'm getting better at understanding, that I don't say "huh?" or "what?" or "say that again." nearly as much anymore. It's my goal to be able to understand everyone no matter what part of Scotland they come from. For such a small country it's amazing how many different accents there are here. People who live as little as 10 miles apart can sound completely different. I have 4 or 5 guy friends who are a real challenge for me to understand. But I'm getting better!

        My American accent has turned out to be a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it's a great conversation starter. All I have to do is open my mouth and anyone can hear that I'm American. Occasionally someone will guess Canadian and even once Australian! but usually they assume American. Everyone here is so friendly that they immediately want to know if I'm on 'holiday' and if so where in the States I'm from. When I tell them that I'm not on holiday, that I live here, then they want to know the whole story of why I chose to move to Scotland and why Inverness in particular and do I plan to stay and how do I like it and do I have Scottish ancestry and why Scottish History and and and....
That's all very nice but sometimes I want to just be able to talk without drawing attention to myself! I'm getting a wee bit tired of telling my story over and over and over. I sometimes think I'd like to have a recording of it so I could just hit the play button, walk away, and come back after they've finished listening to it. Then we could just get on with talking about something else! That sounds very uncharitable doesn't it? It's just people's way of being friendly and getting to know someone new. But I still wish it wasn't the automatic first conversation I have with everyone.
In contrast to that, is how comfortable it is to talk around my friends (who already know the whole story!). I get a bit of teasing now and then but my accent isn't the central theme of conversation. I can just talk freely in a group and even though I sound different they're all used to it now. They obviously still hear the accent but it's like their attitude is "Oh yeah, that's Connie. She may sound different but she's still just one of us."

        I've also been taking ceilidh dance classes. They are great fun. There are usually between 15-20 people each week. Obviously I'm the only American and I thought I'd be at a real disadvantage but most of the Scots are just as clueless as I am, and we just crack ourselves up sometimes trying to get these traditional dances right. It's a real workout, too.

        A couple of weeks ago was bonfire night. Early in the 17th century there was a plot to blow up parliament with gunpowder. The culprits were caught and the tradition of burning an effigy of one of the guys, Guy Fawkes, has evolved into an annual event all over the UK on Nov 5th each year.  So that evening Iain, Tobi, Chris and I converged on the local community park, along with scores of other Invernessians to watch the hugest bonfire I have ever seen! It was enormous and once it got going it lit the whole park up, not to mention making us all nice and toasty! After the fire then there was a fireworks display. I'm like a little kid when it comes to getting to experience the local traditions.

        Speaking of local traditions! I've been invited to attend a Burns Supper in January! Robert Burns is Scotland's most famous poet. He is known as Scotland's Bard. Burns was born on Jan. 25th, 1759 and all over Scotland his birthday is celebrated each year with a 'Supper'. Actually there are Burns Suppers all over the world each year....even in the States. I did a blog entry about Robert Burns last January. This coming January, though, I get to participate in remembering his birthday, not just write about it!

        On the same topic of traditions....this Thursday is Thanksgiving! I think I mentioned that I'm having a houseful for dinner. I was in Germany last year and Nikki and I didn't get to do Thanksgiving. Thursday was a normal workday for both of us so we just went to a wine festival that weekend to celebrate! The year before that I was in Pittsburgh and had dinner with Sherry's family, so it's been a couple of years since I've actually gotten to make dinner myself for a crowd of people, as is my usual tradition. I'm looking forward to showing my friends a little bit of my own culture. They have, of course, all heard of Thanksgiving but none of them have ever participated in our most yummy of holidays. I plan to make 4 pumpkin pies as well as 2 apple pies. Everyone is really curious about the pumpkin pies so I want to be sure there is plenty for second helpings and then some left over for later.
I finished my shopping list this morning and it occurred to me that the grocery store won't be the madhouse that we're all used to this time of year. It's probably a safe bet to say that I will be the only American shopping for Thanksgiving dinner in Tesco's this afternoon!

        Here's a funny observation.... The turkey is native to North America. Benjamin Franklin even lobbied for the turkey as our national bird. Glad that didn't work out. It wouldn't be very seemly to make a such a tradition out of consuming ones national bird each year! Anyway, you can't always find fresh or frozen turkeys in American grocery stores, with the exception of from now til after Christmas so I was concerned about whether I could get one here. No problem. They are available all year round! Obviously what I couldn't get was canned pumpkin for the pies. And don't start on me about using a fresh pumpkin! I have enough to do at Thanksgiving without carving pumpkins, too! Good canned pumpkin is just pure pumpkin that has already been cooked and pureed. Anyway, thanks to Shauna and international mail service, I have in my possession two large cans of the heavenly goop! Not to mention a few packages of Hidden Valley Ranch mix to make dip. Nobody here has even heard of ranch dip. So the first American goody they will try on Thursday is a veggie tray with ranch. Not to mention chips and dip. Chips are called crisps here and french fries are called chips. I try to remember to use the local terminology but this Thursday we are celebrating that most American of holidays so our little potato wafers will be called chips! I'm going to make them all say it, too! hee hee!