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Balerno 15: 29 August – 4 September

It’s the end of another Edinburgh Festival, and last night we went down to Princes Street to watch the fireworks – and very spectacular they were too. Apart from the general whizz-bang-kapop-pop-pop experience, they always have some unusual effects, such as the fireworks “waterfall” which cascades in a golden stream down the castle mound; and the fireworks are choreographed to go off in time to a 45-minute concert of popular classical music in the gardens (which was, in the words of some New Englanders standing behind us, “ossum”).

It was a still night, mild with hardly any wind, so when the rockets exploded into clusters of smaller flares, like a sunburst, their smoke trails hung high in the air for several seconds – and just for a moment it was like looking at a negative photograph of a snow-covered bush in midwinter, until they slowly faded, leaving just a drifting haze of smoke. I thought that was pretty ossum too.

The other bonus of the Festival is all the culture that clogs up the city for a month like a overgrown garden. Alas, being unemployed, I’ve had to ration myself to just a couple of concerts this year: the Mahler I mentioned last week, and a rare performance of Richard Strauss’s fairy-tale opera, Die Frau Ohne Schatten, conducted by the Valery Gergiev and performed by the Mariinsky Theatre orchestra. The plot of the opera is, quite frankly, barking, but the music is wonderful and the sets and costumes were stunning, and – for once – the effects were magical. I’m still on something of a high three days later. (See this YouTube clip to get an idea.)

We’re approaching the gansey end-game now, with about a third of the second sleeve completed. I’ve kept careful records of the first sleeve, so I can make sure that everything is exactly the same. (This works fine until, cough, you get your columns mixed up and spend half an hour panicking, counting and re-counting, only to realise that you’re looking in the wrong column… oh well.) It’s always great to reach this point – with only one arm it looks a bit like an amputee – now it starts to look like a gansey.

This week’s bread is a departure for me – Dan Leader’s Green Olive Sticks (or to give them their Italian name, Pane di oliva verde). It’s a standard dough made with a traditional “biga” starter, with 2 cups of chopped, pitted green olives mixed in. You shape them into little mini baguettes (baguettinis?) of about 70g each, so they’re sort of a cross between baguettes and breadsticks. (These were made for Margaret – I can’t bear the taste or smell of olives, and kneading their slimy, oily little husks into the dough was something of a trial – like trying to replace the intestine of a dead goat after it’d been removed by mistake during the autopsy – but even I have to concede they look good.)

Finally, we had the pleasure of meeting Kathryn Logan of the Moray Firth Partnership last week. (By the way, Kathryn mentioned that Frangipani – who are also going to be at the Gansey Project’s “Ganseyfest” in Inverness on 1-2 October – now supply a pretty good range of 2.25mm needles, too, which is always good to know.) She brought down a couple of the Gansey Project’s original ganseys for us to look at, and they simply blew us away – such fine knitting, and so soft – really makes you regret the fact that you just can’t get that wool any more. As for the ganseys themselves, well, what can I say? They were – forgive me – ossum.

15 comments to Balerno 15: 29 August – 4 September

  • songbird

    I’ve always pronounced that ossim-possom, myself.

    And, um, wow. How did I miss the news about the Moray Firth project? Kewl Beenz.

    I’m with Margaret on the bread, but I’d have used Kalamata or other strong briny black olives. I like green ones, but prefer the taste of the black ones in bread. C eats bleu cheese stuffed green olives in his lunch just about every day.

    I think I’ll get some bread started this week. I’ll try to remember to post about it!


  • Gordon

    Hi Song,

    Olives are what the Devil finds stuck in his teeth when flossing. As for blue cheese… let’s just say, I made it a rule early in life not to eat anything that closely resembles a three week-old dead baby.

    Good luck with any bread experiments!

  • Nigel

    Ossumm column Gordon. I saw John Hegley at the Fest. Here is a poem, it’s called Glasgow:

    as we walk across the bridge across the Clyde
    I talk of the tide
    and the spring
    and the spring in the suspension
    but do not mention our tension
    is there any hope of a bridge over that divide
    a rope even
    or must we remain as strangers
    like the Pope and Glasgow Rangers

  • Nigel

    Back to the Cups: I have just read this in the rather excellent Len Deighton’s Action Cook Book: “The greatest source of confusion in cookery measurements is the American cup. Most English measurements are in weight, but now and again we hear of the English cup. In each case a ‘cup’ is half a pint, but the English pint is 20oz and the American pint is 16oz.
    Here are five items showing what one English pound equals in American cups:
    Butter: 1lb = 2 cups
    Flour: 1lb = 4.5 cups
    Sugar: 1lb = 2+ cups (brown moist sugar 2.5 cups)
    Raw rice: 1lb = 2 cups
    Crumbs: 1lb = 4 cups.

    So, voila

  • Lynne

    Thanks for that post, Nigel, I’ve written that down as a reference. As an American living in Canada, I’m in a constant state of ‘conversion’ with metric and Celcius, not so much for myself anymore, but in conversation with my people across the border.

  • Gordon

    Yes, thanks for that Nigel – I’ve got several bread books, but none of them give pound, gram and cup measures – 2 out of 3, yes, but never all 3.

    Len Deighton was something of a foodie, I believe – I remember reading that when they made the film of The Ipcress File, he had to teach Michael Caine how to make an omelette, since the main character was supposed to be a good cook and poor old Mr Micklewhite hadn’t broken an egg in anger before!

    And thanks for the John Hegley poem – he and Wendy Cope used to be the only poets who made me laugh. (My God – that must have been the 1980s…)


  • Lynne and Gordon,

    The measurements Nigel’s given you are good, but please be careful about using the flour one straight. Flour is easy to compact, so that 4.5 cups/lb of flour is only for non-compacted stuff. It doesn’t have to be sifted and airy, but do stir it a bit before measuring. (I’ve had breads vary because I didn’t make sure the flour wasn’t packed in the cup.)

    And Gordon – I’ll eat your share of the universe’s blue cheese, then! YUM.


  • Lynne

    Song – share the blue cheese! love it!

  • Lynne – I’d be happy to share the blue cheese. Have you tried Cambozola? It’s the best parts of blue cheese and brie, all in one. Mmmm….. I love cheese.


  • Suzanne

    Wow! I step away from blog land for a few weeks and miss all the animated chat at Ganseys(dotcom! with apologies to Jeff Dunham). You guys have been having way too much fun without me.

    Gordon – the gansey is gorgeous! Blue cheese – like avocados and single malt – is an acquired taste. You may actually like it when you grow up 😀 Cannot promise the same for olives; that one is a definite love or hate. So nice of you to bake with them for Margaret – given the goat intestine analogy. (Where do you come up with this stuff???)

    Lynne – It may have been said: I could well have missed it in my quick catch-up perusal of the posts and comments, but the main reason to weigh flour rather than ‘scoop and scrape’ is its variable moisture content. Being inordinately lazy, I scoop and scrape – but I inevitably have to tweak the proportions to get the right dough consistency.

    Disclaimer: Any advice that I may give in the matter of bread making can be regarded with a fair amount of skepticism: most of my bread consumption is done among the fallen angels. Must remedy that…

    ‘Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day’ is a good resource for those wishing to take the large volume approach to bread baking. The dough is stored in the fridge and only what is wanted that day gets baked. The authors also claim that their high-moisture formula is a lot less finicky and temperamental than the average dough.

  • Lynne

    I will definitely weigh the flour when I try Gordon’s recipe – and then I will measure it with the “sprinkle-in-the-cup” technique to compare – but it will be a few weeks from now with some renos going on in the house, canning season, etc.
    Song- I did go out and buy 100gm of Cambozola yesterday (at $4 for 100 gm. I won’t be doing it often!) It IS delicious, almost sinful.

  • Gordon

    Hi Suzanne,

    Nice to hear from you! I’ve been working on the whisky, although – as a Scottish friend of mine says – you might as well drink gasoline, given the taste. But olives and blue cheese are not an option, alas. I’m too squeamish.

    I’m afraid I think in terms of metaphors and similes – “like a” is one of my stylistic tics; I try to curb it but it keeps breaking out, like pimples on a teenager. Plus I saw way too many Vincent Price horror movies as a kid (which brings us on to goats’ cheese, so I’d better stop there…)!


  • Leigh

    For all you state-side Mahler fans out there, Mahler’s No. 2 Symphony is going to be shown on PBS’ Great Performance this Sunday night as a tribute to 9/11. I think I will DVR it.

  • Gordon

    Hi Leigh,

    I’m sorry I’ll miss it! (I’m listening to Boston WGBH “All-Classical” on my computer) at the moment and they’ve just trailed it.

    You had to be a Catholic to be an opera director in Vienna as the end of the 19th century. Mahler was of course Jewish, but he converted to Catholicism before he could be appointed to the post of director of the Hofopera. No one is quite sure how sincere this was, but what is in no doubt is Mahler’s genuine belief in an afterlife and a metaphysical side to life, and the possibility of redemption. This is one reason why I find his music so powerful – the other being the music itself!

    His Second Symphony is often seen as establishing his Christian credentials – the first movement is a funeral march, so it starts with death, while the great last movement depicts the day of judgment (you even hear horns calling the dead from their graves and marching to be judged), the whole culminating in an overwhelming hymn to resurrection. It’s an amazing journey from darkness into light, and the end is quite overpowering. But I also love the middle movements which are just beautiful music – Mahler called them his “raisins to sweeten the cake”!

    (By the way, a useful short introduction to the symphony can be found here.)


  • Leigh

    From your description, Gordon, this piece certainly seems appropriate to the 9/11 tribute. Thanks so much for the music history lesson. It add much to the listening.