Four favourite places in… Edinburgh

I’d like to establish a new series today: “Four favourite places in…” My starting city is where my love for Scotland has its roots, Edinburgh. The correct pronunciation in the local leid is kind of “Embra” btw. I found a quite dead-on vid on YouTube, let’s start with that one:

So, now, that you know how to ask if you’re in the right town :), I’ll tell you where I’d recommend to go if you have just restricted time and wish to visit really special places. The order of appearance doesn’t say anything at all about my preferences:

  1. Angel ©Maria Pakura

    Angel ©Maria Pakura

    Thistle Chapel in Saint Giles Cathedral, flush against the Castle-close third of the Royal Mile. You will usually meet quite some people there, many tourists amongst them. But most see the beauty of the wood-covered room without knowing what they ought to look for. There’s a beautiful little secret hidden in the carvings, and I’ll tell you how to find it: When you’re stepping through the entrance door of the room, stop and turn, so that you face the door. Climp up the carvings directly at the right side of the door with your glance, and you will find a tiny wooden angel. With a bagpipe. Why is that extraordinary? Because classic angel figures play flutes, trumpets, harps, violins, but no bagpipes, as the bagpipe was an instrument closely connected to military acts and fights of Highlanders, so it became temporarily banned due to the Act of Proscription 1746. If you want to know more about the history, check out this Wikipedia-article or visit a very special museum in Glasgow. But without any doubt, giving a bagpipe to an angel was a creative act of rebelliousness, especially in a church, and this alone makes this one carving in the Thistle Chapel unforgettable.

  2. Gilmerton Cove ©Maria Pakura

    Gilmerton Cove ©Maria Pakura

    Gilmerton Cove, 16 Drum Street. I have visited many caves in different countries over the years, and there’s much to see beneath the ground in Edinburgh’s city core, but Gilmerton Cove is worth to drive some miles out of the centre. If you don’t know, where to look for it, you wouldn’t believe that this wee house is a kind of portal to the underground and the past all the same. A very friendly guide will welcome you to your tour and show you the different rooms and alleys in the dark cove. It’s not particularly huge or spectacular, but it will raise many questions, and no one can really answer them, what makes the Cove a place of mystery and secrets. You will find rock-cut chairs and tables, signs carved to the stone, some with obviously roots to Templars and/or Free Masons, others not. You will learn more about the texture of the stone there and how ridiculously hard it is to cut it. I won’t dictate your questions, you will ask them anyway as soon as you get to this stunning place.

  3. Grand Gallery ©Maria Pakura

    Grand Gallery ©Maria Pakura

    National Museum of Scotland, Chambers Street, close to Candlemaker Row and Greyfriar’s Cemetery. Especially when you get into this splendid exhibition complex on a rainy autumn or winter day for the first time, the effect will be overwhelming. If you just want to breathe the atmosphere of the long tradition of the museum and its ancient beautiful architecture, go to the white Grand Gallery and take it in. Don’t miss the Millennium Clock Tower (just right now temporarily removed until November 2015 btw), a gorgeous work of modern surrealism, in action every full hour. If you are looking for something more special and more local, you have to stroll through the new buildings. It’s not easy to find the Arthur’s Seat Coffins, you might need assistance: level 4, within the display “Daith comes in”. You will find a couple of tiny coffins, each not much bigger than a hand, with horrific dolls inside, which obviously were no children’s toy but seem to symbolise something. Experts believe that they were buried in the rocky soil of Arthur’s Seat which begins to spring up at the foot of the Royal Mile in a kind of rite with a relation to the murders of the infamous bodysnatchers Burke and Hare in the 1820s. But who knows, eh..?

  4. An authentic Wild West replica street, off Springvalley Gardens behind the Morningside Library (184 Morningside Road). You’re a Wild West fan and loved “A fistful of dollars” and the like? You don’t need to travel thousands of miles overseas then, just go to the rather calm, if not even boring quarter Morningside. I would never have thought that there’s a kind of enclave hidden behind the  venerable library: a small, but complete street with a Saloon, a Trading Station, a Cantina, mostly shabby-wooden in a Tex-Mex style. It’s not a film set but likewisely not as old as it appears. It was built in the 1990s for a furniture advertising campaign, and it’s a big question mark how long it will exist as the area is said to be for offer and might be turned into a housing area soon. So hurry and up and visit the Wild West side of Edinburgh as long as it’s possible. Since I don’t have own pics of it, I recommend this recent article on it, containing some impressions.

Hope you feel inspired to explore Edinburgh afresh or at all. I will take you to other places soon, but I’m always open to your views. Maybe you want to tell my readers about your home town’s fav four? Write me, I’m looking forward to it!

©Maria Pakura

Halloween Special: What I will do

A direful salute to you, dear reader. It’s Halloween, most obviously. People decorate their front gardens with Jack O’Lanterns and spooky ghosts. Kids have a perfect excuse to get perky and graze loads of sweets and candy. Admittedly I’m not so very much into the common celebrations, although I’m definitely the trick-or-treat-type; I prefer more demanding little games but, and I just play them with selected persons who have the mental ability to sustain my crazy ideas. *nowimagineanevilgrin* Anyway. In contrast to past year, I’m im Germany, not in Scotland. But horrible masks and ghostly guises in the streets are what we (have to) bear these days, no matter where we are.

It’s peculiar how it changed during the past years. In Germany anyway. I can remember sitting in an Americanesk milk bar in the 1990s, being a teen. My teenage friend Anne, half French, was with me, and we were the only persons in shroud, everyone was talking about us. Afterwards, we went to a cemetary in complete darkness – that was an adventure when you’re a teen in the 90s – and enjoyed the creeps that our imagination gave us, seeing weird figures behind every corner. Today, there are plenty of Halloween articles and even parties, most of them an excuse for adults to get perky and graze, well, loads of beers and cocktails and stuff. But it’s more or less a copy of what Americans do for generations. Halloween is an All-American feast, and Germany loves the commercialized form of spook.

Scotland has a different and much older tradition when it comes to Halloween. The celtic forerunner as it were is called Samhain, and many people – the Edinburgh Beltane Fire Society, for example – celebrate it even in modern times. It’s very mystic and has a completely different mood. The attention is directed to the nature and natural changes, that’s why natural religions such as Wicca usually feel a close link to the celebrations. Oversimplified it is about the battle between summer and winter, and winter wins every year – before summer wins on Beltane (30. April). In Edinburgh, for example, there are parades and stage combats. You can see the strangest figures then, and some of them are scary, but they are no vampires, zombies, monsters but symbols for storm, earthquakes, autumn, harvest, picts, spirits of ancient ancestors. I love the mood, it’s very essential, cabalistic, occult in an innocent and still strongly sensual way.

People who are interested in learning more about history of Samhain versus Halloween will find a lot of information online. That’s why I decided not to explain it all again. But what I will do is telling you two stories during the day. The first one will be an American one. Not American of heritage (it’s my crazed imagination rather), but having its source in the American idea of gothic romantic and ghosts. That’s the link to the classical Halloween. The second one will be a Celtic one with a different mood and a seductive natural spirit instead of ghosts and ghouls. Both will be illustrated with pics that were made of me this night and the coming morning, symbolizing a sinister lady first and a glowing spirit then. It was much work, so I hope you will enjoy that idea and leave some comments to let me know what the night before All Saints means to you. And now turn around, there is something waiting behind you, muahahahahahaaaa….

©Maria Pakura

Recipe: Sweet Almond Muffins (gluten free)

Me with some iced almond muffins ©Pakura

Me with some iced almond muffins ©Pakura

Some time ago I ate a heavenly fluffy muffin in a café in Edinburgh. Which is surprising if you know that I avoid gluten due to a hypersensitivity. It really is much easier to avoid gluten when you live (or are) in Great Britain in general and in Scotland in particular. It is so easy to walk into a pub or a pizzeria or indeed a café when you know you are not cursed to keep at your tea and get sceptical side glances when you refuse to take a cookie. In Scotland, most culinary establishments have icons on their menues indicating what’s gluten free, lactose free, vegan, contains other allergenes and so on. That’s just for what it’s worth. Anyway, I ate that muffin and was hooked. I love outstanding sumptous sensations, said exactly that to the nice lady who runs the shop, but although she felt flattered and happy, she deprived me of the recipe. Sob, sob, sob… But when I really want something, I go for it, so I ate another one and started experimenting as soon as I was home. Based on my sense of taste I developed a recipe which probably is not the original Edinburgh one. But it’s originally Maria, and I think it’s nice. But I have to warn you, you might need to adjust the measurements a little, I never cook or bake with weighed amounts, I’m a creative mess in that respect, so it’s rule of thumb estimate. And you can vary the icing as well, of course. Enjoy.

Ingredients (16 muffins):

250 g/8,8 oz ground almonds
40 g/1,4 oz maize starch
80 g/2,8 oz brown unrefined sugar
15 g/0,3 oz cream of tartar
30 ml rose water
60 ml sunflower oil
4 eggs (but please, please, please avoid eggs from unhappy animals kept in mass stocks!)
For the proposed icing (X-rated, haha): some sugar powder, rose liquor (high proof), food colourings red and blue

That's what they should look like ©Pakura

That’s what they should look like ©Pakura

Preparation: 

Preheat the oven (190°C/374°F), prepare the muffin cases (I always use paper ones). Separate the eggs (yolks from whites). Stir the whites until stiff. Stir the yolks with the sugar until creamy. Add almonds, starch, cream of tartar, rose water and oil into the yolk-sugar-cream and stir it with care until it’s a plain dough. Fold the stiff whites in and stir (with a wooden spoon and much care!). It should be quite fluid, the spoon must not get stuck. The consistence is alright when it reminds you of pancake dough. If it’s not fluid enough, add some more oil and a hint of milk. Apportion it to 16 muffin cases and bake for approx. 20 minutes. You will see when they are ready, They elevate and get a nice golden crust eventually, that’s the right time to take them out. Don’t wait until they get brown, they get too dry then.
For the icing just stir the ingredients and decorate the chilled muffins. They also go well with a decadent topping of  stirred cream, curd, sugar and whatever you want to add.

©Maria Pakura