Remember way back when, we went to Thailand. We had a week in Ko Lanta, a perfect little island and a week in Bangkok. It was the first beach vacation Ben and I had ever taken together and it was perfect. Slow paced, with a lot of reading, swimming in the Andaman Sea, tasting a wide-variety of the fabulous Thai cuisine at our eco-resort, Hotel Narima and enjoying refreshing coconut water and tropical cocktails in the beach-side bar. We managed to rally for a day-long adventure of kayaking, seeing a cute little white-sandy beach Bu Bu Island and feeding some very greedy monkeys. We went for a couple of runs along the coastal road and then ate our weight in fresh pineapple and papaya. Ben practiced his Thai with the young, extremely efficient staff of the Narima. We spent our evenings in our beach view bungalow reading aloud- The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. We were so relaxed by the time we headed to Bangkok, it took a few days to get up to speed. In retrospect, if it had been possible, we would have started in Bangkok and ended on the beach. Next time!
Tomorrow- some photos from Bangkok- man it was HOT and HUMID!
Hello from Mexico City. Then sun is shining and I am heading to meetings. I get a kick out of the VW Beetle taxis that are crawling the streets. Maybe I will be able to hitch a ride in one- although I have been warned about the taxis. Beep-beep.
Walking into Pinnies and Poppy Seeds the merry, recently-opened shop on St. Mary’s street, just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh, is like falling face first into a butter pillow-topped mattress, welcoming, warm and so delicious. Jennifer Hunter flung open her white-wooden doors on August 1st after converting a dismal Danish cafe into her perfect spot to showcase her artinsanal, pure-butter shortbread and array of home-made pinnies (aprons for all you non-U.K.-based bakers). The pure-butter is not only evident in the smell of the shop, but the seven packs of gold-foil wrapped Scottish butter softening on the windowsill.
I was introduced to Jennifer by her, ‘biggest advocate and most remarkable customer’ and a mutual friend, Toni. Jennifer invited me to join her for a morning of baking to see her skills in action. I arrived coffees in hand and was greeted by an always smiling Jennifer sporting her white-logoed button-up and green pinnie with matching logo. She already had two batches of shortbread in the oven and several more varieties were well under way. Jennifer had accomplished all this in 30 minutes since early morning start. Her motivation is a trait she gets from her mother. I wondered: would I be able to keep up with her?
We went straight to work- Pinnies and Poppy Seeds is open everyday except Sunday, I arrived at eight o’clock giving us two hours to prepare the first round of daily baked goods. First up-white chocolate and dark chocolate billionaire shortbread truffles (better than a millionaire- Jennifer aims big!). This recipe developed by Jennifer makes use of the smaller cookies, combining home made caramel and medium-sized crumbs of her original shortbread biscuits. This mixture is rolled into bite-sized balls and then coated in melted chocolate and finally tossed in toasted coconut.
Jennifer found her inspiration while working at an Edinburgh institution, The Fudge House, while there, she began to notice a stream of tourists coming into the store, asking where they could find shortbread, which is considered our national biscuit. Seeing a gap in the market (Jennifer holds a undergraduate degree in psychology and a masters in management) and coupled with her love of baking she spent a year developing and perfecting her recipe. When she was ready she started selling on weekends at local farmer’s markets. Her impressions, ‘There was enough interest and I thought it might work, but at first I did not think I would end up here with this empire!’
Jennifer spoke enthusiastically about her mother and grandmother and the time she spent baking with them where she grew up in southern California. In fact her preferred treat and one of her best-sellers, Ballantyne toffee is a recipe passed along to her from her grandmother and angel investor. This top-secret recipe involves a candy thermometer and once cooled is coated on both sides with chocolate and crushed almonds. Jennifer’s family has Scottish roots and according to census records claims a baker from the Scottish borders in her family tree- this was meant to be. The décor of the shop is largely inspired by her mother, green, white and black with gunny-sack curtains. I can just picture Jennifer in her similarly-decorated family home enjoying what she says would be her last meal, ‘her dad’s tri-tip steak from the grill, her mom’s perfectly balanced potato salad and a glass of Californian wine’. Would there be shortbreads for afters? Jennifer did all the refurbishment herself, she takes her role of small-business owner very seriously and is an excellent manager- I enjoyed my three hours under her supervision. She was tough but fair!
We moved straight into the classic biscuits and Jennifer shared a secret, baking the batches at a lower temperature for about an hour, prevents an over-baked sweet. She also swears by an oven thermometer- never trust your oven! There are about five flavors on any given day at Pinnies and Poppy Seeds, during our session we worked on classic, almond, lemon, poppy seed and cardamon white chocolate. It was a challenge to resist a dough grab and taste- but I did!
My favourite and the cutest-looking treats are the ‘shorties’, chubby little shortbreads sandwiched with a ganache of varying flavours, the day we baked, the filling was a white chocolate variety with a swirl of local triple berry jam which is piped expertly onto a very small surface. I had a go and was not as adept as Jennifer who could probably do her piping blind folded. Other flavours she makes in the shortie style are chocolate and a chocolate orange, a new variety she is thinking of creating is Victoria sponge- with butter-cream and a touch of jam. I think Her Majesty might swing by the next time she is in town. How delicious does that sound?
The recipe process led to my curiosity about flavour development. Her biggest flavour invention is her cardamom white chocolate biscuit and while she admits to not being the first baker to have invented this combination, Jennifer says, ‘more than any of the other tastes, this is the one which I get the most intrigued reactions, and besides the all-butter, is the one which sells the best.’ While she cannot recall the exact origins of this shortbread, she knew she wanted to differentiate it from the other unfrosted varieties and the addition of white chocolate with a pinch of the fresh-ground spice was the perfect finishing touch. While confessing to some flavour-fails, ‘the market was great for that, I would do them [different flavours] and if people did not like them, they would just tell you then and there.’ Several lovely pairings which did not make the cut, ‘ there were some I was surprised that failed- like pistachio and rose, I think it is such a great combination, but nobody bought it, so sadly I do not make it any more. The lavender and honey which I usually do in the shortie did not really sell either.’ Which flavours would you like to see next?
Swing by and share the shortbread experience with Jennifer, she still has the same enthusiasm for her craft and her customers as she did when she sold her first piece of shortbread, ‘the first person to buy my shortbread was a lovely little old granny. She had a cup of tea with it and I watched her as she took her first bite – she smiled, it was amazing!’
Find Pinnies and Poppy Seeds on twitter:
Even with bruises on my hips from slamming into the board, bruises on my shin from falling more than is recommended, sore arms and legs we had the most fun. We cannot believe it has taken this long to try this activity. The best part was spending the weekend with the team from Coast 2 Coast Surf School, Tim, Rory and Josh (serious surf handsomeness)- oh wait, no BEN! He was the one with whom I enjoyed spending my weekend. Learning something from the beginning was a challenge (especially at my age, can I say this yet?). I spent most of my time with my face in the water- I would become over-excited I was actually upright and focus my attention on my feet instead of the on the horizon as instructed and then BAM! Salt water up the nose.
Ben cottoned on to this whole surfing thing quite quickly. I would say it is was because he was given a stand-up paddle board to start- something to do with his height. This board was much more stable than the other boards in the group. Once I had a go on this board I improved and was able to get more confident which helped when I moved back to my smaller ride. Ben would say his natural talent is because he is so much more flexible than I am and has formed two to three new muscles during a few trips to the gym.
On the second day, the wind had blown away the surfing waves and left the sea choppy and chilly, so we spent the morning Coasteering. An outdoor adventure which involves climbing, cliff jumping and wild swimming. We warded off the cold with our 5mm wetsuits- they were surprisingly toasty. Getting the on and off was a mini-workout itself. Sunday afternoon we learned stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). It sounds easy, but involves a bit more skill than I had planned- again- loads of tumbling into the choppy water. I am even more impressed by mom who has done yoga on a SUP on a lake in Minneapolis.
I think we are going to go another morning (dry wetsuits) before I leave on my fall travels, it was that fun!
LISTEN UP… The tunes coming to you this week are my interpretation of the mix we heard during our recent experience at the Roller Derby. The star is worn on the helmet of the jammer, the skater who scores. Edinburgh has several teams and we saw the Auld Reekie Roller Girls. It was such a fabulous atmosphere. I took pictures which I will be posting soon- promise.
What are your plans for the weekend? We have friends coming tomorrow, Sarah and Tom, friends from Ben’s MBA year. I am a plus one for a wedding- my friend Toni is taking me. England has a Bank Holiday, we do not have the day off here in Scotland.
Wishing all my American friends and family a Happy Memorial Day!
Enjoy the long weekend!
Listen to the mix here if you have spotifiy.
LISTEN UP… This weekend I, along with my pal Reia, will be running the Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Edinburgh. This is our second halfie together, you might recall the time we ran the one in Paris last year. I will only make two pre-excuses- Reia has tendonitis and I have not been running as much I should have been since I proudly ran my 80 miles during my trip.
Our goal- best my mother-in-law’s last half marathon time of 2:18. Can we do it? I am hoping so, but Sue is a serious athlete and a very regular runner with her club, Bushfield Joggers.
Enjoy this weekend’s mix! If you are on Spotify, listen here, if not, what is stopping you, it is easy- even I can do it.
While I was in India, I was talking to my mom and she mentioned I was going to lose my two most loyal readers if I did not get my act together and start to post regularly again and Instagram photos were not the posts she had in mind- does she have Google Analytics tracking my readership?
She was of course referring to herself and our Aunt Mickey. My mom’s best chum from her crazy college days. They went to St. Kate’s (I went there too) together and after graduation they lived in St. Paul and from what I have heard, had some of the best times together.
Aunt Mickey is my brother John’s godmother and is the best gifter (we rarely entertain without our monogrammed placemats) and has been included in all our family celebrations! She is great fun, has an excellent sense of humour and would do anything for any of us Gorrilla/Smyth kids! Plus she reads my blog! Thanks Aunt Mickey.
I am keeping you guessing this week with posts of both home and away. Today we have another home post, which could also be categorised as away as it comes from a visit, my first, to Glasgow.
Have you ever high-fived a celebrity? I am guessing my brother Charlie probably has, also my brother John, he waited in long lines for the autographs of Greg LeMond and Brad Pitt (the latter comes with a story which has gone into the sister-vault where it will remain), these were probably not the traditional up-top versions, more of a respectable handshake. My friend Chloe met Mick Jagger- did they high-five (not a euphemism), she has a photo to prove it, but I cannot find the link to her blog?
I have not, but I got pretty close at the Gallery of Modern Art- Glasgow or GoMA on a pre-travel visit. Captured below are two people who Ben and I would have down lowed, too slowed, had we had the opportunity. A Swiss artist with an Italian name, Alberto Giacometti and author of everyone’s favourite and true French classique Le Petit Prince and the name of the airport in his native Lyon,Antoine Saint-Exupéry.
More to come from GoMA later this week! Hint- more of our museum visit which is linked to our former life in France. Is it a sign?
BETTER LATE THEN NEVER… In absence of a cute V-day card from my mom, I wanted to post this video last week from Lumineux to celebrate the day of love. This is pretty cute and as lovey-dovey as I want to get.
Also, loyal reader Chloe wanted to know where my Valentine’s Day post was! Here it is.
After almost a week in the U.S., I arrived in Boston last Monday, I was going to be joined by my mom, but my amazing grandmother passed away and my mom quickly had other priorities. I still had the pleasure of spending a week in Boston and then some more time.
I popped out to enjoy the scenery of the city. It was a sunny day and Boston Common was sun-dappled and very chilly. Can’t you just see the cold?
I enjoyed a birthday meal at Atlantic Fish Co. where I enjoyed the Maine Lobster Roll, it was delicious, so good in fact, I went back to Atlantic Fish Co. for some lump crab, where they put it into a sandwich with brie cheese and pistachio pesto. How could I make this at home- how do they perfectly grill the brioche?