Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Price is High

I am currently reading Anna Del Conte’s memoir Risotto with Nettles and was struck by a very poignant quote for me. She states,

I have become a hybrid, fitting properly neither here nor there, being neither English nor any longer Italian, always missing something when I am here or something else when I am there. Even now that I am old, I have the dilemma of where I should be buried: here in the lovely churchyard of this picturesque village in Dorset, where I now live, or in my family’s tomb in the grand Monumentale cemetery in Milan. Even dead I will not settle . . .One might have a less dull life, more interesting experiences, broader education, but the price is high.”

Del Conte, who is a popular Italian food writer here in the UK, writes about her move from Italy to England, and the challenges she faces—both in the differences in food, but also in lifestyle. Now, I am not saying that the cultural differences between a Canadian moving to Northern Scotland are the same as an Italian moving England in a post-war Europe—obviously with the times and the language barriers there are always other issues to face.
However, moving to a different continent, or indeed, a different country at all, gets you starting to think about which one you want to settle in—if you want to settle at all. I know that there are those who live nomadically, shifting from country to country depending on the season and their mood. Although I have been a bit of a nomad in my life—England to Ontario Canada, to Alberta Canada, back to Ontario Canada, and then to Scotland—I really don’t know why I keep uprooting my life, and I wouldn’t necessarily class myself as nomadic. I do want to settle in one place eventually. Moving is pretty upsetting. Most of my friends are in the Toronto area, my family and high school friends in Calgary, and now I have just created new ties here.
No matter where I am I always feel like I am missing something. And, as Del Conte writes, ‘even dead I will not settle’. I have made this choice now and there is really no going back from it. I don’t regret any of the nomadic lifestyle I have lived, it has made me who I am, and I am very pleased with that person, I have to say. But it is extremely challenging. It hits you harder than you think, and in different ways than you think. I suddenly find myself having a deep, abiding longing for Lipton chicken noodle soup, tofu, drip coffee, or just sitting down for drinks with a few friends after work downtown. I don’t have that here, or I don’t have it the same way. Tofu: if I scavenge for something with Linda McCartney on it I’ll be sort of fine, Lipton: they have some weird Chinese version of chicken noodle soup here that just seems to have a lot of soy sauce dumped into it, Timmy Ho’s: I don’t really drink coffee but you can ask around for it, and friends: well, there is not the same downtown atmosphere, not the same people, nor accessibility, and everyone seems to be on vastly different schedules here. Not to mention everything seems to close down past 5 except for the pubs. But there are still lovely people, and lovely places, they just takes a while to find. You have to find new things to miss and new favourite haunts. It takes a while to believe that this is where you live right now, that this is where you have momentarily settled. But when does that moment become forever? And I know that sounds like a terrible lyric from a Backstreet Boys song, but really??

Del Conte decided to stay in England because she met someone, fell in love and got married. I am not saying if I plan to get married or not, but when you do start dating someone in a different country, that does get you thinking about settling in that place permanently and starting a life. When it is not just you, it becomes that much more complicated. Del Conte further states,

It demands a lot of goodwill to bridge the gap that separates two people who have grown up in different countries. You certainly learn to share most things, but the baggage of anecdotes, proverbs, everyday allusions remain incomprehensible to the other person. In many cases the partners can make the most of this situation, but it can also create an abyss that tends to widen.”

This is on a completely different vein than the previous paragraphs but I will say that I very much agree with Del Conte on this, in relationships yes, but also in everyday life. You become about to say something to someone at work but then realise they will have no idea what the hell you are talking about. (I tried singing the Goldfishes theme song at lunch ‘I love the fishes ‘cause their so delicious! Gone, Goldfishin’!’ It was not a success). You reference something to your boyfriend in an attempt to make a joke and then you have to explain the punch line. It does put a certain stint on things. However, I think you can avoid that ‘abyss’ by embracing as much as you grumble about things. I know, I am one to talk, all this ranting about weird British shit. But honestly, embracing and sharing are the best ways to go—otherwise you will never feel a part of your environment and your environment will never be a part of you.

That’s my two pence. I hope it works out for me.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Aberdonian Delicacies

A heart surgeon has stated that he wants to ban butter over here in order to save thousands of lives. This got me thinking to the types of Scottish fare that I had been introduced to so far in the past 3 months living in this country. Now, the Scottish relationship with alcohol is a different matter (there is going to be a rise in alcohol tax in Scotland in an effort to get Scots to drink less than they do) and I will probably write a different post about that. For now, we are going to talk about the Scots and food. And I am not even going to mention Haggis.

The following is a list of some of the supreme buttery, lardy gems I have been exposed to in Aberdeen so far:


Some sort of random dish that is basically a bunch of leftovers with more fat cooked together. It is generally tatties, (pronounced ta’ies—don’t make the mistake of pronouncing the t’s like you are saying ‘tatty’. It doesn’t go down well), something called ‘drippings’ (fat, leftover from a pot roast or something), meat, probably extra lard and a dash of butter with lots of gravy.


The ladies that I work with (who claim true Aberdonian identity) say that they are not called butteries, they should be called Rowies. However, I think a lot of people know them as butteries so I will put that name in. It is also very apt because of the amount of butter and lard (yes, lard) contained in them, as well as salt. They are kind of like a chewier, saltier, harder croissant, and people here really go to town with them and put on more butter, and sometimes jam. I’ve tried one once and they are okay. But I would never really have a craving for a salty croissant.

Beef Olives

Are steak wrapped balls of oatmeal cooking in drippings and fat. Then you cook all that together with some extra gravy. Served with mash. I’m ashamed to say that I love these.

Mince and Tatties

I had never seen mince like this before until I arrived in Scotland. Though we usually say ‘ground beef’ in Canada, I do know what mince means. However, I was unprepared for the brown gelatinous substance that was the Scottish version of mince. I cannot bring myself to try this dish. It just puts me off too much.

I saw a man on the news when we had the giant snowstorm in Aberdeen. He wasn’t able to leave his house because he was quite old and couldn’t get out and about as easily (probably because NO ONE SHOVELS THEIR WALK). Anyway, they were asking him how he got on, without being able to go to the grocery store and get food etc. He said “Och, it isnae been bad. But I dinna ken that I would have been able to gae on much longer. My neighbours have been to git me some tatties and that. But I dinnae ken what I was becoming—I was having tae eat things like pasta, and rice”. Okay, firstly, I apologise for my terrible typed Scottish accent. Secondly, what would eating rice and pasta turn you into? It doesn’t make you not Scottish to eat other things besides mince and tatties!

Although there are many things in Scotland that I do enjoy eating. Cullen Skink for example is one of my favourite new soups (I have become OBSESSED with the variety of soups here by the way! They really know how to do them well). Cullen Skink is really just a sort of fish stew or chowder made with haddock. Cullen is not too far from where I am, so I feel like I am eating like a local (yes, I am such a tourist!).

Also, I know Marks & Spencers is incredibly overpriced but I need to write a love letter to them. Their food is deliciously amazing, their ready-meals (basically already prepared dinners) sometimes tastier than the real thing, and often if I am looking for something super random that I could find in Toronto, they would have it at Markies.

And one more thing before I peace out of this post—the chocolate here is luxurious. Now, you can find the good chocolate here, with a lot of cocoa, just like you can in Toronto. What I am talking about is the cheap stuff. The milky buttons, the Time Out’s, the milky bars, caramac’s, etc. Even the chocolate bars we get in Canada as well taste different here. Seriously, the Brits do good junk food.
Now, back to this banning butter thing...I'm not sure it's possible in Scotland.

Friday, January 29, 2010


I know, I know, I hate resolutions. I am one of those people who goes “NO ONE should make resolutions because no one ever keeps them!” and then I go ahead and make them. However, if I word them to be more like general goals that I am setting that just happen to be at the start of a new year, then maybe I will actually stick to them. Maybe that’s why I waited for the month of January to be almost over before making this post.

It has come to my attention that I have lived in Scotland for 2 and 1/2 months and haven’t really done any exploring. Yes, I was looking for a job, and then an apartment, and then it was the holidays and I went down to Sheffield. Excuses, excuses. So, I have decided that I am definitely going to explore a little bit more. This involves planning and actually knowing where to go on the east coast of Scotland. There really are probably loads of places to go I just don’t really know any of them. Anyway, so next week I am dragging the boy with the car (aka my boyfriend) to Dundee and St. Andrews. For some reason for years before I even came to Scotland I had some strange obsession with St. Andrews and wanted to go to university there. And it didn’t even have anything to do with Prince William. So now that I am finally going it seems so odd that I live so close and haven’t been yet. You forget to be a tourist sometimes when you live in a place. When I went to Ireland last may (with Maureen, Jen and Nikita—shout out!) we packed in so much in two weeks my head was spinning—and it was amazing. But here I was so focused (and rightly so) on finding a job that I forgot I came here because it was Scotland. Some of the things I have been doing here on a routine basis are things that I could do in Toronto, only less convenient. I kind of forgot in my flurry of activity that I came to see the country, explore the traditions and appreciate life here. Now, my resolution is that I am determined to remember that I do live in Scotland and I need to value that. In the end it is not so much a resolution that I will struggle to keep as it is a way of life I should remember. Not too hard that.
Next year I’ll try giving up alcohol. Ha.

Whatever the Weather

I am finally blogging about the rain and snow and ice now. I was too pissed off to actually write about it when it was a giant life-stopping snow storm (read: a mild Canadian winter) and the whole world was shutting down around me. As soon as it started snowing, I was at work and I let out a cheer at the same time that everyone let out a loud groan. I just assumed that these groans were from negative winter-haters who are general curmudgeons about snow in general. Actually, they were all very sane people who already knew what I had not discovered yet about winter in Scotland: no one knows what the fuck they are doing the minute it starts to snow. Seriously, the airport in Aberdeen shut down; THEY SHUT DOWN A WHOLE AIRPORT BECAUSE THERE WAS TWO INCHES OF SNOW. Now, as I stated before, I love the winter. And if you are from Alberta and love the winter that is saying a lot. But I have never, ever in my life experienced airports shutting down, half of an office not coming into work, and an extreme amount of car crashes (it’s called ice tires people!). To continue slightly with my snarkiness I am just going to say this: the absolute worst for me about this whole thing is that no one shovels their walkways. The sidewalks are completely covered in snow and ice and more snow and even more ice, so even if I don’t drive it is a death-defying journey to work because everyone expects the council to come out and shovel their sidewalk. Why? I am pretty sure in Calgary that you will be fined and everyone on the streets will hate you if you don’t shovel your sidewalk. Because you WILL be the only one to not shovel on the entire street. Kids would probably egg your house for being impolite.

Sorry, I’m so sorry, I know this is another rant. But really people! I avoided talking about it over Christmas break went things went crazy. And now it’s back, and for the first time in my life I don’t want it to snow. This makes me sad.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A Festivities Debrief

I really should be going to bed right now because I am so unbelievably exhausted, but I thought I should at least maintain the facade of keeping up with the new years resolutions. That being, writing in the blog more. So that is what I am doing. I apologise if I begin to digress, talk nonsense or just become plain boring. It's the tiredness I tell you.

Back to work after a two week absence (Christmas, then New Year's which is apparently a big to do in the land of the Scots) even though I had barely worked there before the holidays began. I actually feel good about going back to work and doing my thang. Yeah, I just said 'thang'. I told you I had an excuse for being a tool...
Anyway I think it's just the need I have for a routine, the comfort of having people you see every day, the security of knowing you have some sort of purpose, whatever it may be. I had that in Toronto and now I have it in Scotland. It's magic, that. such a simple thing like a job affords you so much security--and not just in the money sense. When I first moved here I was definitely drifting--and my main priority was to find a job because then I knew things would begin to fall into place. And you know what? They totally have. Yup, it was all a part of my master plan.

The holidays here were interesting--hard and strange and definitely very British, but also interesting. In a good way. I haven't been home for Christmas in 2 years so I think it is slowly starting to weigh on me. Missing my customary traditions of my mother drinking sherry and falling asleep on the couch on christmas eve while I struggle to wrap the presents for my brothers while they sleep upstairs and crying to the same scene in 'It's a Wonderful Life' every single year (the part where George thinks it's all over for him, then all the townsfolk come in with pots of money to help him--get's me every time! Not the angel getting it's wings with the bell ringing nonsense...). What a beautiful christmas. At least now I know why my mother insisted that Santa didn't want milk, he wanted a giant glass of sherry instead.

So anyway, this year I went to visit the family in Sheffield and had a brilliant time. And ate the best christmas dinner of all time (sorry mom, but your experimental meat concoctions and sushi stuffed with bits of cabbage just don't cut it...). Actually. My cousin Pat and her husband put on this delicious spread that made me think I was eating at a Nigella kitchen or something--but without all the oddly seductive talk that makes you feel as if you are not watching a cooking show at all... It's so strange that it's been awhile since I have seen them and they welcomed me like I was a regular who came every year. I didn't feel awkward or out of place--it was just family. And it was nice. My aunty Joss (that I stayed with) always made sure I had a cup of tea in hand as soon as I entered the house (and in Yorkshire tea tastes sooo much better than in Scotland for some reason...and I've no idea why!) and I definitely felt loved. Though I must digress slightly (I did warn you, but you've made it this far...) and discuss the horrid journey that was getting to and from Sheffield. Let me just say first of all that I slept in for my first bus to Sheffield (I know, I am a jackass for sleeping in AND taking the bus...) so I charged the train ticket to my credit card. Do you know how much a last minute train ticket costs on christmaseve? DO YOU!?!? I felt like vomiting. Luckily though, I made it down without incident--apart from an irritating guy across from me who kept trying to talk to me even when I vaguely gestured to the earphones in my ears playing loud Canadian music to drown out the Britishness. Don't you hate that? I am listening to music for a reason!!!

It was the journey back that was actually the trip from hell. Never, and I repeat, EVER try taking megabus across the UK and expect to get anywhere on time, or indeed have anyone know what the fuck is going on. Because I sure didn't. And neither did the driver. Isn't that disconcerting? Let me see, how many times did I get stranded in an unknown hamlet in the middle of nowhere in Scotland? twice. How many times did I have to switch buses, on a journey that should have just taken me one? 4. I feel like I should say something about something being priceless here but nothing really was. The entire trip was like trying to nail jello to a tree. Why!?

After all the festive family fun, and the harrowing journey of death trying to get back I celebrated New Year's Eve (or Hogmanay, as the locals call it) in Aberdeen in style. It was actually quite fantastic. I mean the club we ended up dancing at at the end of the night was a bit skeezy (loads of really wasted, sketchy men leering at you and trying to get your number while you shove hastily past them and head for the hills. My favorite part of the night was when one of Cat's friend's Julie gestured to her friend Andy to come over to us on the dance floor. This skeezy man thought she was gesturing to him and I have never seen someone run so fast or look so relieved in his life. Unfortunately, she had to break it to him...) but I liked the bar we went to in town (for some reason they call downtown Aberdeen 'town' and even if you life like 5 minutes down the street you would say 'oh, I'm going to a place in town' it's all very strange), I don't remember doing the tequila that someone put in front of me, I'm almost positive I threw up before midnight, then kept drinking (I'm so sorry mother, I promise I am being responsible here...) we definitely got in at about 6 am and then I passed out. Hogmanay here is huge--huger than christmas so it seems, and that was definitely a good night out.

So yes, you can see why I would look forward to getting back to a routine, start to establish a life here and just chiiiilll.

And what have I learned about blogging when I am tired? That for some reason I just take the piss out of my mother. Loves you mumsy!!