- Conrad of www.levintel.com
- A Creative Writer in Progress
- Change of Heart Stress Solutions
- gaelikaa's Diary
- I truly am dumber than Einstein
- Magpie 11
- Ramana's Musings
- The Silver Fox Whispers
My old professor, a wisened old Scot with the gift for the gab, never short of a pun or two, had a habit of throwing up controversial topics right out of the blue, many of which led to near death experiences for those involved...."Rangers are a bit rubbish, aren't they?", "It was all much better when Margaret Thatcher was around, don't you think?", "Marxism; never existed, did it?"to outcries, arguments and the occasional punch in the head. His favourite topic? The weather. One out of every three discussions involved the weather in some way and believe me, it could get dangerous.
I still bump into him from time to time and whether inside or out, he will look up at the non-existent stars, put his hand out, palm raised upwards as if feeling for rain and exclaim "not a bad day, Helen...what are the chances of rain?". Every. single. time. And then we discuss; "So, what are the chances of rain Helen?".
If you were to walk into a restaurant or a shop in Scotland, you'll be given one of many rhetorical questions regarding the weather:
"Bucketing down oot there, eh?"
"It's raining wee men in overcoats, isn't it?"
"Time tae build an ark, hen, don't you think?"
It's part of the interwoven fabric of our rain-fuelled, dreich filled society and it holds the entire country together in small talk and chat alongside it's pals "a wee cup of tea" and "a wee dram".
Emotions are easily ruled by the weather, particularly in this country; getting up on a grey, windy morning would sometimes fill my heart with sighs and I'd feel as if the weather was inside me. Given the choice, I'd choose to curl up in a foetus like position under the blankets and stay there til spring. This was the standard winter blues, felt by many, loathed by all.
For all my moments of affectation, I recovered quickly, unlike others; friends, colleagues and family would show such a disaffected malais during particular months that I worried for their mental health. I instinctively knew it was weather related and we all sat with gritted teeth, waiting for that ray of sunshine, knowing the mood would instantly lift. It was during one of those grey spells that the world began to talk about Seasonally Affective Disorder or SAD and it all made so much sense. SAD was viewed as a severe form of the winter blues and was a depression that lasted through the winter although it normally lifted by the spring. I remember not being in the least surprised to learn that 1 in 8 people suffered from the winter blues with 1 in at least 50 in the UK suffering from the more severe SAD.
Around this time, I watched a programme called 'Northern Exposure' which was based in Alaska, a state with little sunshine and lots of darkness at particular times of the year. People were coming to the local clinic with symptoms of SAD and the doctor discovered 'light therapy' as a cure. This was the first time I'd seen a lightbox to counter the effects of this illness.
I called my friends who suffered the most and with a little hope and excitement, they sent off money to purchase this potentially magical cure. Much to my surprise and that of many, it worked. It didn't work for everyone and it took commitment as you had to use it regularly but positive results were shown. People began to smile again. It was a lovely sight to behold.
I no longer get the winter blues. I realised many years ago that if you live in a climate such as ours, you need to take advantage of the good days and work during the bad. We also seem to have many more cold, sunshine filled days than I remember, the kind of days that make you want to don a woolly bunnet and head for the hills; quite often, I do. Having children has helped; they have a positive impact on grey, winter days as you keep busy trying to make it cosy for them with cakes in the oven, warm lamplight everywhere and gentle music playing. Now, I take advantage of those days too.
dreich-dismal and wet; the worst
Roasted Pumpkin Soup with melting cheese and croutons
We had our roasted pumpkin soup and used the cold, dead carcass to make a jack o lantern. The kids drew on a face and I assisted the cutting; it's a bit dodgy looking but it does the job. The soup was really tasty and there was enough for lunch today with half frozen for a future date.
This recipe is taken from Delia Smith's Winter collection; she sais: "The lovely thing about pumpkin is that it has a really velvety texture in soup, and if it's oven-roasted before you add it to the soup, it gives an unusual nuttiness to the flavour. Just before serving, add little cubes of quick melting cheese like Gruyere or, if you're lucky enough to get it, Fontina. Then finding little bits of half-melted cheese in the soup that stretch up on the spoon is an absolute delight."
For the soup:
1 pumpkin, weighing 3-31/2 lb (1.35-1.6 kg)
1 tablespoon groundnut oil
1 large onion, peeled and finely chopped
11/2 pints (850 ml) stock, vegetable or chicken
15 fl oz (425 ml) whole milk
1 oz (25 g) butter
freshly grated nutmeg
salt and freshly milled black pepper
4 oz (110 g) Gruyere or Fontina, cut into 1/4 inch (5 mm) diced
2 oz (50 g) Gruyere or Fontina, coarsely grated
6 teaspoons creme fraiche
4 oz (110 g) croutons
Pre-heat the oven to gas mark 9, 475 F (240 C).
Begin by cutting the pumpkin in half through the stalk,then cut each half into 4 again and scoop out the seeds using a large spoon. Then brush the surface of each section with the oil and place them on the baking sheet. Season with salt and pepper, then pop them on a high shelf of the oven to roast for 25-30 minutes or until tender when tested with a skewer. Since I was using the skin for a Halloween decoration, I scooped the flesh out in this instance and roasted it that way instead.
Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a high heat, add the onion, stir it round and when it begins to colour round the edges, after about 5 minutes, turn the heat down. Let it cook very gently without a lid, giving it a stir from time to time, for about 20 minutes. Then remove the pumpkin from the oven and leave it aside to cool. Now add the stock and the milk to the onions, and leave them with the heat turned low to slowly come up to simmering point. Next scoop out the flesh of the pumpkin with a sharp knife and add it to the stock together with a seasoning of salt, pepper and nutmeg. Then let it all simmer very gently for about 15-20 minutes.
Next the soup should be processed to a puree. Because there's a large volume of soup, it's best to do this in two halves. What you need to do is whiz it until it's smoothly blended, but as an extra precaution it's best to pass it through a sieve as well in case there are any unblended fibrous bits. Taste and season well, then when you're ready to serve the soup, re-heat it gently just up to simmering point, being careful not to let it boil.
Finally, stir in the diced cheese, then ladle the soup into warm soup bowls. Garnish each bowl with a teaspoonful of creme fraiche and scatter with the grated cheese, a few croutons as well, if you like them, and a sprinkling of parsley.