Saturday, January 25, 2014

Fear the haggis

January 25th is Burn's Nicht, the Scottish celebration of their national poet.

(It's also my father-in-law's birthday -- happy birthday, Dick!)

Burn's Nicht involves several rituals, beginning with the cooking of a haggis. Mine came all the way from Glasgow, or Glasgae as it's more properly pronounced, so it was a proper Scottish haggis. In past years I've made my own with our own lamb offal, but the smell of offal is awful, so I was glad to get my hands on a real haggis for once.

Once you've cooked your haggis, as well as bashed potatoes and turnips, otherwise known as haggis, neeps and tatties, the full Burn's Dinner, you might pour a dram of the good stuff to celebrate. I happened to have just such a dram saved up, from a bottle of Bowmore I bought years and years ago. I'm not a big whisky drinker (unlike my father, who loved the stuff).

Reciting the Address to a Haggis wouldn't go amiss, but I only have the first few stanzas memorized. I settled for reciting what I could remember, and then digging in.

I didn't ceremonially "pipe in" the haggis, either. My bagpipes are wonky and I can't play them well in any case.

Where was Aimee while all this was going on? Upstairs, working out on her exercise machine. She's not a fan of haggis, or Robert Burns.

Shame! Who wouldn't love a poet as down-to-earth, or as funny? Of course, it helps if you can understand some of the auld Scots dialect (below).

Haggis is also an ecologically valuable food. It probably evolved in the very distant British past, along with black pudding, haslet, and other classic savory "puddings,"as a way to use up, and dress up, the otherwise unwanted or less appetizing bits of a livestock animal. Once markets became more available, the muscle meat could be sold on for cash or barter, while the farmer or farmer's wife could keep the offal and make haggis.

The American parallel is scrapple. The common denominator is a grain filler to stretch the meat and soak up the meat juices. Where haggis uses sheep offal and oats, scrapple uses pig offal and corn, but otherwise, it's the same recipe.

People ate lots of this kind of stuff in Sheffield where I grew up. Yorkshire is famous for black pudding. Our family didn't eat black pudding -- mum and dad didn't like it -- but I learned to like it later, when I was in the service. You could get it for breakfast with eggs and bacon at the twenty-four hour lorry driver's cafe (truck stop) in Leeming Bar, a favorite haunt after the local pubs had closed at night. I did eat haslet as a kid, usually as a lunch meat. Later, when I lived in Scotland I'd often get haggis and chips at the fish and chip shop.

Very thrifty, and tasty too.

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o' a grace
As lang's my arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o need,
While thro your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An cut you up wi ready slight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like onie ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an strive:
Deil tak the hindmost, on they drive,
Till a' their weel-swall'd kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
The auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
'Bethankit' hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout,
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad mak her spew
Wi perfect scunner,
Looks down wi sneering, scornfu view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckless as a wither'd rash,
His spindle shank a guid whip-lash,
His nieve a nit;
Thro bloody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread,
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He'll make it whissle;
An legs an arms, an heads will sned,
Like taps o thrissle.

Ye Pow'rs, wha mak mankind your care,
And dish them out their bill o fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies:
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Skinny young me

I was looking for some printer ink cartridges in my office desk drawer the other day and found about thirty old photographs from my days in RAF Mountain Rescue. Knowing that other ex-troops might like to see them, I scanned them and loaded them to my FaceBook page (here and here).

Once posted I got a gratifying flurry of comments from other ex-RAF Mountain Rescue troops. One thing led to another and by the end of the day I got in return two old photographs of myself, both of which I liked because a) in the first one I'm thin -- really skinny, and b) in the second I'm actually in uniform. 

The first photo is from the RAFMRS Winter Course in February 1985. I'm an instructor and was assigned to do an overnight winter survival exercise with a pupil, Steve Evans. Instead of staying low on the Cairngorm plateau and building a snowhole, which is what most of the instructor-pupil pairs did, we went higher and built an igloo, which took longer, but we were able to get more climbing in. I think we stayed in this igloo for two nights.

The second photo is the RAF Leuchars Mountain Rescue Team dressed for what looks like an formal inspection. I have very few photographs of myself in uniform. I'm second from the left, back row. I think the dog is Heavy's Tealach, not a rescue dog, just a pet and friendly mascot who went everywhere with us.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Polar express?

You can see the polar vortex, the circular air flow north and west of the Great Lakes. This is supposed to bring very cold air to the football game in Green Bay today. But they're not unused to that kind of thing there. A long time ago I experienced something like this, and wrote about it on this blog post here. This wouldn't be that cold if it made it all the way to Maine. But it is an interesting weather phenomenon.

Animation of Jet Stream AnalysesGo to the Little Rock, AR Doppler radar

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Slight reprieve -- get ready for another!

The thermometer -- we had to buy a new one because all the others had quit -- didn't lift much above zero the last few days, dropping down to -10 or -15 F overnight, and life was a little harder than it needed to be, mostly because the crawl spaces got too cold and so the pipes were threatened, but also because of vehicular and equipment difficulties.

After I discovered a spot at the bottom of the bathroom wall, right next to the toilet, that was frozen solid at 22 degrees F -- inside the house! -- I got busy yesterday with banking plastic and lath, chiseling away the ice from the foundation, putting up new plastic, and then shoveling the snow back for weight and insulation.

It took the rest of the day to drive out the cold from the inside of the house, but by bedtime the cold spot was above freezing and climbing. Today I did the same to another spot that was making one of our food cupboards cold. Aimee was upset that she couldn't pour her honey, poor puss.

The problem was the new building, where I hadn't yet detailed the join to the old. I'd put up insulation board but not plastic like I usually do, and the cold air was still coming in behind the board. Should have known, but I was in a hurry when I did it -- late one night at the end of term. All fixed now, but not without some worry over the pipes.

Another problem was the Land Rover's starter. The bendix drive had quit working, probably because of some ice. The Land Rover is our all-weather human-and-animal emergency vehicle. It has to start. Not starting is not an option.

So I suited up in my best cold weather gear, lay on me poor old back under the truck, and dropped the starter. It took around thirty minutes, for a two-bolt-and-a-wire job that would have taken ten in summer. Then I thawed the grumpy old starter out under the kitchen wood stove, a process that took a long time. There was still hoar frost on it after an hour, even though it's over 120 degrees under the stove. Once thawed, I lubricated it with a little brake fluid, which is still a light oil at temperatures well below zero, refitted it, and got a start.

One down, one to go. But the tractor wouldn't start at all, not even running on kerosene instead of diesel, not even being jumped by the Land Rover's sturdy one-wire genny, so I had Aimee pick up an engine heater on her shopping trip today, the kind that goes in the bottom radiator hose. I'll fit it tomorrow. It's supposed to get sunny and above freezing for the first time in a long time, so it shouldn't be such a difficult job to do.

The chickadees, Maine's state bird, are very busy at the feeder, their lifeline. They've eaten two quarts of sunflower seeds since Monday. They come to the windowsill to "drink" snow to wash the sunflower seeds down, then go back for more, all day long, never mind if it's negative 15 or 50 above.

Here's the chickadee feeder. We fill this thing up every few days, but it all gets eaten very quickly.

The chickies also like to hang in the lilac tree, lots of them fluttering in and out, even though it's still frozen up with ice. Look closely to see one! There were about ten in there when I took the picture, but there's no way to take a shot of ten tiny birds in a very big tree and hope to see anything.

At the other end of the front lawn wild turkeys are gathering to eat apples from our neighbor's tree and to eat grit and sand off the road. They don't seem to mind the cold much either, but they're a lot easier to see, even in the tree. (There are four in this picture.)

Saturday dawned a little warmer. It's 15 F out there right now this afternoon, positively tropical. With another storm forecast for Sunday into Monday, this time supposed to be snow to mix to rain, I wanted to get the house ready. Ice from the big ice storm is still all over all the roofs, now in the form of ice dams, and it's held the snow back. Normally a lot of it would shed. I got busy with the roof rake, pulling as much of the weight of the snow down as I could. It was a good workout. I also opened the attic door and cranked the oil furnace, to help break the ice off of there.


Here's the back of the house, with all the equipment storage. You can see that it's all pretty well smothered. I pulled the snow off the garage and the new roof too, not nearly as bad in terms of ice dams, but enough weight that it needed to be moved.

Here's the worst spot, a big ice dam that has taken away the guttering, and a big mess of ice that has come down the main roof gully to the porch roof. This mess probably weights 300 pounds, which the roof can handle now the rest of the weight is gone. But, like the ice dams, it's frozen fast to the roof. I'm hoping the either the sun tomorrow or the rain is warm enough that we can get rid of this, perhaps with some salt to help out. I may have to put the roof edge heater wires back up there, to stop this from happening. I still have a box full of them that used to be on the porch roof, before it was covered with metal roofing.

Could be worse. No great damage or losses so far, touch-wood!