How grand are the mountains of bonnie auld Scotland,
Her torrents' wild waters, sun-jewel'd and gloaming;
How rosy the breath of each moorland and heath,
How lovely her lakes, and her valleys how blooming.
No foreign strand, no classic land,
Earth's fairest scenes together,
Can win our praise like yonder braes,
And fragrant hills of purple Heather.
I am currently working on my "Besurt Hat", a pattern inspired by the rowan tree, perhaps my favorite tree, with its red berries and lighted foliage. This tree holds a starring role in the happy memories of my childhood. Under its branches, always visited by a multitude of birds -robins, blackbirds, thrushes, and even goshawks- eager to feast on its berries, my grandmother told me stories, taught me to knit and, while her bones allowed it, helped me to swing on the swing that hung from one of the branches. In the winter we used to pick the berries and she would make Rowanberry Marmalade. Here I leave you her recipe, in case you feel like making it sometime.
Apple and rowanberry marmalade, a recipe by my granny.
First of all, bear in mind that the taste varies wildly from tree to tree, with some being palatable and some being pretty acrid (you still want them to taste edible to your palate to start with). My grandmother used to say that for the rowanberries to lose their bitterness it is better to pick them in winter, after the first frost. In any case, I would suggest tasting a berry from the tree you intend to gather from to check whether the berries are just hars or very bitter. The very bitter ones are not good for making marmelade.
250 gr cleaned berries, I don't mind the seeds, they're quite small, but could be run through a mill after cooking .
250 gr Apple, cut in pieces
Enough water to cover berries and get cooking started
250 gr sugar
How to do it
We make a syrup. Put the sugar with water in a pan and put it on the fire. We let it boil and let it reduce a little bit. We remove from the fire.
We add the rowanberries and the apple cut into small pieces to the syrup. Let it macerate for about 3 hours.
Put the saucepan back on the medium-low heat and let it boil slowly, until it reduces to the desired consistency... this can take some time, be careful that it does not burn and stick!
Ladle marmalade into sterilized jars, cap and process in a water canner for 10 minutes.
It is kept in the refrigerator. It is better not to keep it for more than 1 month.
IN A STRESSFUL TIME...
Are you keen on trying new international flavours and products from different countries and regions? Do you agree with me when I say that tasting the local cuisine is almost the best part of a journey? And, more importantly, you have a sweet tooth? If the answers are yes, let me introduce you to the “Panellets”. Believe me, you won't regret it. This traditional Catalan "Panellets" recipe is easy to make with just 6 ingredients and fun to customize with different toppings.
Nothing says fall in Barcelona like "La Castanyada" (that we can freely translate as 'the chestnut feast'), a traditional festival that is deeply rooted in Catalonia and celebrated on 1st November, All Saint's Day, although in recent years more usually on the evening of October 31st so it now has to compete with the increasingly popular Halloween.
The Catalan ‘Castanyada’ revolves around the concept of family and friends. In this get-together as the weather gets colder, people eat roasted chestnuts –castanyes in Catalan–, roasted sweet potatoes and small balls of marzipan called ‘panellets’ (pronounced pah-neh-yets) traditionally coated in pine nuts, served with sweet dessert wine.
Their origin is unclear, but it seems they are the descendants of ancient funerary rites which involved taking small bread rolls to the church, or tombs of the departed, as an offering during this festival. Also, the fact that they are long-lasting foodstuff links to the concept of eternity and remembrance of the dead.
Although the most traditional ones are those made of pine nuts, currently there are at least a dozen different flavors of panellets, each of which has its own traditional shape to match its flavor. And all are delicious. My favorites are the (round) pine nut panellets and the (oval-shaped) almond panellets, which happen to be two of the most popular flavors. It makes me very happy to share with all of you, sweet-toothed knitters, my favourite traditional Catalan panellets recipe. It is REALLY easy to make and easy to customize with a variety of different toppings.
Yield: 45 panellets
The traditional ingredients used to make pine nut and/or almond panellets include:
18 ounces (500 grams) ALMOND FLOUR (almond meal). This will be the base of our marzipan dough.
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) POTATO, cooked, peeled and mashed with a fork. The original recipe is made with almond, sugar, egg and pine nuts only… or what it is the same, just traditional marzipan. The addition of either sweet potato or even regular potatoes is a much more recent contribution and it is likely to be an attempt to cut down on the cost of ingredients, specially considering the elevated price of almonds. Whatever the reason for this, I actually prefer the panellets that contain some sweet potato or regular potato. Why? Because in my humble opinion, the result is a smoother texture and a much more moisturized marzipan
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) SUGAR. White granulated sugar is traditional.
3 EGGS, which we will use (1) in the dough itself (2) to help bind the dough to the toppings and (3) brushed on as an egg wash before baking.
LEMON ZEST, which we will add to the dough.
TOPPINGS: 12 ounces (350 grams) raw pine nuts or finely-chopped almonds (or a 50/50 mix of both)
Make the marzipan. In a large mixing bowl, stir together one egg, lemon zest and brown sugar until combined. Add in the mashed (cooked) potato and stir until combined. Gradually add in the almond flour and stir (or you may need to use your hands) the dough until it is completely combined, taking care not to overwork the dough. Shape the dough it into a disk, cover it with plastic wrap, and and leave it to rest in the fridge for at least 24 hours.
Roll the panellets. Roll the marzipan dough into 1-inch balls (for the pine nut version) or 1-inch little logs (for the almond version), about 20 grams each. Whisk one egg in a small bowl, and place the pine nuts or almonds in a second bowl. Dip a dough ball into the egg mixture until it is completely coated. Then transfer the dough ball to the bowl of nuts, and use your hands to gently press the nuts so that the entire ball is covered. (This takes some patience and will require you to get your hands dirty, so plan for this step to take some time).
Prepare the oven. Heat the oven to 425°F.
Brush the panellets. Place the rolled panellets onto a large parchment-covered baking sheet. Whisk the final egg plus 1 tablespoon of water together in a small bowl. Then brush each of the panellets with the egg wash.
Bake. Bake for 10 minutes, or until the tops of the panellets are lightly golden. (Be sure to keep a close eye on them so that the nuts do not burn.)
Serve. Enjoy the panellets while they are nice and warm. Or you can store them in a sealed container at room temperature for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 3 months.
Food processor option: Instead of mixing the marzipan by hand, you can pulse everything together (using the same order of ingredients) in a food processor. But remember: do not overwork the marzipan with the mixer, as it could extract the oil from the almonds.
Refrigerating the dough: It is always advisable to let the marzipan rest 24 hours before preparing the Panellets, in the fridge and covered so that it does not dry out.
To work on the table it is essential to have very clean hands and avoid marzipan sticking to us, as well as having a container with powdered sugar to dust the working areas.
The great enemy of marzipan is air, so whenever it is placed on the table or stored in the fridge, it should be covered with plastic or in a sealed container to prevent it from drying out.
THE KNITTER'S LUCK
Dear Knitters, how about a powerful and positive message? According to the experts, our needles are an unbeatable defense against almost any challenge. And by that I don't just mean that they can be really sharp if need be ;) but something a little deeper. Let me explain....
Recently, while I was knitting the Cherry Peaks hat and enjoying some hot chocolate tea, I was listening in the background to a podcast in which a group of psychologists and pediatricians discussed a very interesting phenomenon they called "learned helplessness". In case this is also a new concept for you, let me give you a glimpse.
Long story short, we talk about "learned helplessness" when a person or animal resigns themselves to a difficult situation because, in the past, they made great efforts to get out of it, but were unable to do so. Thus, the person or animal gives up on acting even when conditions have changed and they now have the resources to come out ahead.
The speakers in the podcast gave a couple of very illustrative examples:
The first one is the short tale "The Chained Elephant", by the Argentinean writer and psychotherapist Jorge Bucay. From a young age, the protagonist of the story wonders why the circus elephant, so strong and powerful, does not free himself from the small stake to which he is tied after the show. One day, a wise friend offers him the answer: "The circus elephant does not escape because it has been tied up since it was very, very small. At the time, he tried to free himself with all his strength without succeeding. Since then he thinks it is impossible".
The other example is from the book "Burnout" by Emily and Amelia Nagoski. It seems that studies have been carried out with mice where they develop learned helplessness in the animals by giving them impossible tasks. Eventually the animals stop trying, even when the task stops being impossible. I.e.: put a mouse in a maze with food it can't get to until it develops learned helplessness, then put the food somewhere it can get to it and it won't even try.
The very good news is that as soon as you show the mouse that it CAN get to the food, the learned helplessness just vanishes.
In the opinion of those experts, there is very powerful yet straightforward tool to overcome that learned helplessness that sometimes grips us along with the feelings of frustration or futility that comes with: simply DO SOMETHING. Make a call to a long time no see friend, cook a cake, make a cool album with the photos of the latest getaway weekend... It doesn't have to be something big, just do something.
And then I looked at my hands and there it was. A half-knitted hat, a pattern that was taking shape between my fingers, which would soon be finished and warming my head.
We knitters are lucky enough to be creators, and simply by creating, we push away moments of emotional unrest, of being overwhelmed by circumstances and helpless and numb. By knitting we create the physical evidence that we can make a beautiful impact on our world, and this simple gesture does us great good.
Heather, in all its varieties, shapes and colors, is one of my favorite plants and one of the many reasons why I look forward to visiting the Highlands of Scotland, where its little hardy flower has made it's mark on the wind swept landscape, rocky hills and moors until it has become a symbol of the region and its people.
And it's not just for her beauty, or her fragrance... if we're talking about usefulness, Heather is a firm candidate for first prize. In times gone by it was used to sweep the home, taking away the dust leaving behind a sweet aroma... very metaphorical, right? In the Highlands the medicinal properties of an infusion of heather tops were used to treat coughs, and to soothe the nerves, and heather tea and ointments were used to treat arthritis and rheumatism. ‘Moorland tea’ made from heather flowers, was reputed to be a favourite of the poet Robert Burns.
Heather has its fair share of legends attached to it. As the story of heather goes, when God created the world he looked at the bare hillsides of Scotland and decided that a plant was needed to make the slopes more beautiful. He asked the Oak, the Honeysuckle and the Rose but none were able to live in the harsh conditions. By chance he came upon a small, low-lying shrub with tiny white and purple flowers. It was Heather and He asked “Will you grow on the hillsides to make them more beautiful?”. Heather was not sure if she could do the job but said she would try her best. God was so pleased that he bestowed three gifts upon her; the strength of the Oak, the fragrance of the Honeysuckle and the sweetness of the Rose.
And last but not least, if you have a sweet tooth like me, you'll probably want to know that some of the world's award winning honey comes from Heather Hills Farm, in the stunning landscapes of rural Perthshire. The bees thrive on heather in the moorlands and create a fragrant heather honey that is not only delicious, it is also said to have health benefits too!.
Anyway, when I stumbled upon a wool whose colors matched Heather's so well, I couldn't help but use it to design not one, but two patterns, ( Heather's Charm top, and Heather's Charm cardigan) adding some white motifs, just in case the legend that says that white Heather brings good luck is true...