A Sari, Some Flowers and an Omelette

Im so handsome!

Originally uploaded by genna.rhodes.

Feeling ridiculously happy this evening. Had two surprises today. Firstly, an ex-pupil popped in to school to say hello. In a small community, as Alness is, this shouldn’t be a huge deal but Ramseena moved back to Kerala in India last year. She turned up today in my last class in a stunningly beautiful blue and gold sari rendering my boisterous (but lovely) third years speechless. Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I’d had a camera. To have captured Ramseena in what turned out to be her honeymoon sari would have been wonderful. It was a truly bizarre sight to see such a sparkling vision in a dusty, grey computing room.

   Secondly, one of my pupils from last term gave me a bunch of flowers to say thank you for teaching her. Now, my aunt and cousin are primary (elementary) school teachers and are inundated with gifts at several points in the year. This doesn’t happen as a secondary school teacher! Was so chuffed I shed a wee tear – much to the horror of the pupil, I should add. And, if all this wasn’t enough I have a cracking weekend coming up. Off to Aberdeenshire to see my parents, go to a food festival (Taste of Grampian – will report back) and visit my best friend and her new puppy, Rufus. Isn’t he a cutie? Enough gushing. Dinner this evening was very simple but exceptionally successful. More of a suggestion than a recipe, I think.

Artichoke Heart & Parsley Omelette

20g butter
4 artichoke hearts, tinned or marinated
Palmful of fresh parsley
3 Eggs
Salt and Pepper

  • Melt half the butter in a frying pan.
  • Saute the hearts gently for a minute (just to heat through).
  • Meanwhile, beat the eggs, parsley and seasoning gently.
  • Cut the remaining butter into little cubes and add to egg mixture.
  • Pour egg mixture into hot pan and stir a few times.
  • When the omelette just begins to set fold in half.

My omelettes always look terrible. This one tasted fab though!


Alladale Trip and Crab Cakes

food 126

Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

My partner, D, works at the same school as I do. This week he and a group of children are taking part in an outdoor activity and conservation week in the Alladale Estate in Sutherland. When the school asked him to accompany the pupils I was green with envy. Being a biology teacher and extremely outdoorsy, D was an obvious choice for the trip but I was having none of it! In vain, I hung around outside the head-teacher’s office talking loudly about kayaks and green, slimey things hoping he would see the light and ask me (the book-ish English teacher who won’t leave the house without her mascara on) rather than the seasoned hill-walker, mountain biker, snow-boarder and slug handler that is D.

But now I am sitting in my cosy living room with a steaming cup of tea looking out at the bucketing rain that has been falling relentlessly for the last 24 hours, and I’m feeling rather lucky! Were I in a soggy tent right now I’d be a seriously unhappy camper. Poor D. Hope he’s ok. The kids too. This trip was a reward for the hardest working and best behaved pupils. Wonder if any of them are wondering if the trip is actually a cruel and unusual form of punishment..

Then again, not everyone’s as soft as me. Hopefully the whole lot of them are garbed in waterproofs and dancing gleefully in puddles. After all, a week without parents or school: who cares about torrential rain?!

From camping to crab cakes. Last weekend I was lucky enough to be given a freshly caught crab by my diving neighbour. I cooked it immediately and spent the best part of an hour scouring the shell for white meat. Ended up with approximately 200g of white meat. The perfect amount for crab cakes for 2 (except they were so good I ate them all!).

Crab Cakes

200g Crabmeat (white stuff only)
Small handful of parsley, chopped
Clove of garlic, finely chopped
Zest of lemon
Big pinch of cayenne pepper
½ an egg (sorry, not very convenient)
400g floury potatoes – peeled, boiled and mashed
Salt and pepper to taste
Olive oil

  • Simply combine all the ingredients (except for the flour and oil) with your hands.
  • Chill mixture in the fridge for an hour.
  • Use hands to form little golf balls of mixture and squash gently to create a thick disc.
  • Dust cakes with plain flour.
  • Fry over medium heat until golden on both sides.

I served (if gobbling them all up myself can be called served) my crabcakes with a lemony mayonnaise and a spinach and rocket salad with a lemony dressing.

Tomato and Aubergine Salad

Met my new Higher class today.  They are a lively bunch and seem very keen to do well.  This is their fourth year together as a class so they have a very strong group identity.  So much so, in fact, that this morning I had to fight the feeling that I was a guest in my own classroom.  It always takes a wee while to get to know a group and work out the class dynamic.  Wondering if this will be a lengthier process since the group already have a dynamic.  We’ll see. 

Starting the term with a travel writing project.  Reading/examining writing by Paul Theroux, Bruce Chatwin, Bill Bryson and some extracts from a Lonely Planet travel writing anthology.  The pupils will use what they learn to write their own travel piece.

Talking of travel, a friend of mine was in Sicily last year and fell in love with a spiced aubergine salad.  She told me all about it and I began looking for recipes.  There were plenty to be found!  I’ve tried out several different versions of the dish and all have been lovely.  In Roast Chicken and Other Stories (one of my favourite cookbooks, though I’m not at all keen on the sniffy sequel, Second Helpings) Simon Hopkinson tell us the salad was a favourite of Elizabeth David.  What more do you need to know?  Hopkinson’s version uses allspice instead of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.  I prefer the latter combination as it provides more of a kick to liven up out-of-season tomatoes.  When tomatoes are at their best/tastiest the allspice version might be better.

This is my entry for Joanna’s HotM vegetable round-up.

Aubergine Salad

(serves 2)

1 aubergine (eggplant), diced


Olive oil

4 big, juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 tspn cumin

2 cloves

Pinch of nutmeg

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbspn raisins

1 tbspn fresh mint, chopped

1 tbspn fresh coriander, chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

  • Put the diced aubergine into a colander and sprinkle a generous amount of salt over it.  Leave for an hour.  (Salting aubergines was originally to draw out any bitter juices.  Apparently the majority of aubergines available these days don’t need this treatment.  I tried salting and not salting.  The former version was tastier and the salt seemed to help the aubergine brown when fried.)
  • Fry the spices and garlic in a generous lug of olive oil for one minute.  Add the sliced onion and fry until golden.
  • Add the tomatoes to the spiced onion and cook gently for 20 mins.  Add the raisins and remove from the heat.
  • In a seperate pan, heat another generous lug of olive oil and fry the aubergine in batches until golden. This can take some time.
  • Combine tomato mixture with aubergines and herbs.  Taste for seasoning.
  • Serve at room temperature drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

This is great as a bruschetta topping or simply eaten with a spoon.

Almond Biscotti

food 164

Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

My kitchen has been well used this weekend. Perhaps even over-worked. Spent hours on Friday night making dishes to take to a hen day lunch -that’s a batchelorette party to non-Brits. Made a lentil salad, spiced couscous and an aubergine dish. That was the evening of the crab too. And today I dealt with my post-hen night, fuzzy head by cooking up a storm: crab cakes for dinner; roasted tomato and onion soup for this week’s lunches; gyoza for the freezer and almond biscotti for reading the newspaper.

I’ll share the biscotti recipe first. I assumed “biscotti” meant biscuit in Italian. Found out today that it actually means twice baked.

Almond Biscotti

250g plain flour
200g caster sugar
50g ground almonds
2 medium eggs
1 egg seperated – yolk for dough, white for glazing
1/2 tspn baking powder
1/2 tspn vanilla essence
Pinch of salt
100g whole almonds, toasted

  • Sieve flour, sugar, ground almonds and baking powder.
  • Add salt, eggs (including extra yolk) and vanilla essence. Mix until mixture turns into a sticky ball of dough. You may need to use a tiny bit of water if the mixture if too dry.
  • On a floury suface with floury hands knead the whole almonds into the dough.
  • Split the dough mixture in two and roll into logs, approximately 5cm wide.
  • Place logs on seperate baking trays lined with baking paper, brush with egg white and place in a 180oC pre-heated oven. Bake for 30 minutes until golden brown and firm.
  • Remove trays from the oven and lower temperature of oven to 140oC. Once the biscotti have cooled slightly cut the logs into 5cm wide slices.
  • Bake the slices in the oven cut-side up for 30 mins.
  • Leave to cool and serve.

I like my biscotti dunked in coffee. Sicilians apparently prefer them with Moscato (sweet) wine. Dunking biscuits in wine? Can’t quite imagine..

Books Tag

Faraway Tree

I often read Mrs O’Neil’s education blog: inspiration galore for English teachers.  She has recently been tagged and left an open tag invitation to her readers.   I accepted. 

Three questions:

1. How many books do you own?
Probably about 200 in all (including 40-ish cookbooks).  Used to have many more but in the last year I bought my first house.  This led my parents to announce they were no longer prepared to devote half of their attic to my dusty books (fair dos) and so one weekend they joyfully dumped 6 box loads on my doorstep.  These boxes, plus the books I’d been collecting since, simply wouldn’t fit in my new wee house so I had to be ruthless.  Donated the cast-offs to local charity Blythswood.

2. What was the last book you read?

Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through a Country’s Hidden Past by Giles Tremlett

Hugely informative and highly entertaining.

3.Five Books that mean a lot to me:

A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth

I read this when I lived in Finland.  It was the middle of a bitter winter and the days were short.  Going out was not appealing so I spent a lot of time alone during those few months.  Started reading this novel one icy, dark afternoon and was suddenly transported to a bright, bustling India.  Fell in love with the characters and cried when the book ended because I felt like I had lost some friends.  On the cover of my edition is a quotation from The Times’ book review.  It says, “Read this book: it’ll keep you company for the rest of your life.” It’s true.

 The Magic Faraway Tree Trilogy – Enid Blyton

Loved these books when I was a kid; love these books now.  I can see why some of Ms Blyton’s books could be conceived as less than PC, but I challenge anyone to read this trilogy and not wish they could just once try the biscuits that pop in your mouth, or stroke Silky’s hair or whizz down the tree’s slide on a pink satin cushion.

Pride & Prejudice – Jane Austen

If I am feeling down Pride & Prejudice is what I turn to.  I love the sparring between Elizabeth and Darcy.  And Mr Bennet cracks me up –

“An unhappy alternative is before you, Elizabeth.  From this day
you must be a stranger to one of your parents.  Your mother will
never see you again if you do not marry Mr. Collins, and I will
never see you again if you do.”

In The Shadow of the Sun – Ryszard Kapuscinski

Essays from a Polish journalist who spent many years living and working in Africa.  Couldn’t even begin to tell you what the essays cover.  A very diverse collection.  All I can say is that after reading this I realised that my prior perceptions of Africa had been entirely based on stereotypes.  A real eye opener of a book.

Real Fast Food – Nigel Slater

I picked this out of my many cookbooks as it was the first cookbook I bought.  After using it for a couple of weeks I was totally hooked on cooking.  It’s still a firm favourite and I would recommend it to all.

 Going to follow Mrs O’Neil and make this an open tag.  If you fancy answering the three questions, consider yourself tagged,

Mr Crab

Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

I’m such a woose (sp?). My neighbour was diving on the west coast this afternoon and he caught a crab. As previously promised, this crab was mine! Now, I’m eternally grateful because a) I love crab, and b) Scottish crab is supposedly the best you can get. But I am rather scared of them. Everytime I went near my gift he snapped his pincers at me. Obviously knew what was in store…

After spending an inordinate amount of time looking at the boiling water roll rythmically in the pan I managed to plop Mr Crab into his doom. Shed a little tear. This is the first time I have ever purposely killed something – I’ve never even squished a spider. But being a meat-eater it was a worthwhile experience.

Off to a hen day tomorrow (lunch, horse riding and dinner – I’m pushing for karaoke but it’s not a popular option) so the cooked meat will have to wait until Sunday to be made into cakes and potted crab. Will let you know how it goes. 🙂

Annalisa’s Pasta Sauce

Annalisa & JussiOriginally uploaded by wjharrison77.

Cracking day at school today. One of those days that had me bouncing like Tigger as I left the building. Can’t quite explain why it was so good either. It was a pretty average day, and that makes the fact that it was so good even better! 🙂

This next recipe is an odd one. It was introduced to me by an Italian-Austrian friend called Annalisa, and to say I was sceptical about its success would be a gross understatement.

I vividly remember the rainy March day I sat in her kitchen watching her prepare it. As she chopped the ingredients she was telling me about a life-changing decision she had recently made and though I tried hard to listen all I could think was: what on earth is she putting in this pasta sauce?!

I saw bacon (fairly standard); I saw cream (not unusual); I saw a huge leek (ok), and then I saw some carrots. Carrots? Carrots? The carrots confused me greatly. To make it worse, she grated the carrots. This couldn’t work, surely.

But, despite my extreme misgivings – misgivings that had me wondering if Annalisa actually was two thirds Italian as she had claimed and whether I should be in the apartment with her on my own – the sauce was fantastico!

I tried to take a photo of the sauce but, much like me, it does not photograph well.  Instead, I posted a photo of Annalisa herself and her fiance.

Annalisa’s Pasta Sauce (serves 2)

1 tblspn olive oil
4 big rashers of unsmoked bacon (more if you live outside of the UK – our bacon is huge in comparison to what I’ve seen in European and North American shops), chopped thickly
1 medium leek, sliced thinly
2 large carrots, grated thickly
250g creme fraiche
200g pasta of your choice (I like wholewheat fusilli)

  • Fry the bacon gently in the olive oil until it leaves some of its fat.
  • Add the leek and saute until leek is soft and sweet.
  • Add the carrot and saute for 2 mins.
  • Add the creme fraice and a little water – enough to loosen the sauce.
  • Season with pepper. You probably won’t need any salt due to the saltiness of the bacon.
  • Simmer gently whilst you cook the pasta.
  • Combine sauce with pasta.

I’m entering this one in the Presto Pasta round up.

Ginger and Dhal

Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

Just received a text message from my parents who are currently on a Mediterreanian cruise. My mother, concerned about seasickness, wasn’t too keen on the whole two-weeks-on-a-ship idea and for weeks, nay, months my father seemed to be fighting a losing battle trying to persuade her to go. But crystalised gingers saved the day. Mum is convinced they cure all ills.
“Headache, Wendy? Have a ginger.”
“Upset stomach? A ginger will sort that out.”
“Decapitated? Ginger.”
So long as Mum had her gingers she was willing to give the cruise a go. Yesterday, the ship docked in Gibraltar and my Mum was mugged by a large barbary monkey. The malicious creature knew what it was looking for.  It left her with her wallet, glasses and camera but vanished down the cliff face clutching her precious gingers.  Poor Mum!
Good luck Dad!

Dinner this evening was dhal and nann. Have tried many variations of this dish. They all seem to work! This was the concoction tonight.


1 tblspn olive oil
1 onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tspn minced ginger
1 chilli (as hot as you fancy), finely chopped
1 tspn cumin
1/2 tsp tumeric
100g red lentils
Fresh coriander to serve

  • Fry the onion, garlic, ginger, chilli and spices in the oil until the onion has softened.
  •  Add the lentils. Fry for 1 more minute.
  • Add 300ml of boiling water and stir.
  • Simmer until lentils have absorbed the water and are soft. More water may be required.
  • Serve sprinkled with fresh coriander (more than the picture!).

Subject Co-ordinator

Had a very productive ASG meeting today.  The booklets, including all of our case studies, are being put together and distributed in schools next month, including a DVD with pupil/teacher interviews.  Going to ask my seniors if they are interested in being interviewed.  Imagine they’ll jump at the opportunity.  I’ll be very interested to hear how they reflect on their learning and my teaching in hindsight.

Something else that came up in conversation was the lack of an English subject co-ordinator for the Highland region.  It seems bizarre that schools across the region do not have a forum to share materials.  What this means is that teachers are spending vast amounts of time creating materials that have already been created in another school seven miles up the road.  A phenomenal amount of time is being wasted!  The position of co-ordinator is available at the moment but the time allowance is only one day per week.  A teacher would have to be crazy to take on the position on top of their normal teaching load.

So, myself and a teacher from Millburn Academy have decided to try and create some kind of website or wiki or blog (not sure what would be best and how they differ exactly) where Highland English teachers can submit materials and ask colleagues for professional help.  It wouldn’t solve the problem, but it might prevent us from continually reinventing the wheel.

Cherry Tomato, Rocket & Basil Spaghetti

tomato pasta
Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

Tomorrow I’m off to Charleston Academy to meet with the other members of the Highland AiFL Associated Schools Group. Six (?) English teachers from across the region are meeting up to discuss our individual AiFL projects. I’ve written a case study based on the self-assessment/modelling technique I blogged about earlier this year. I’m a little worried about my lack of evidence. The kids all kept their essays for revision and I wasn’t organised enough to copy them first… Have managed to scraped together something. Don’t feel it exemplifies the results very well though.

After a great Saturday night with some visiting Swedish friends I spent today in the garden working off a wee hangover. Amongst other things I have now attached the greenhouse to the garage. If it blows away again the garage is going with it! When lunch time came I was famished and wanted something fast.

Not even sure this qualifies as a recipe.

Cherry Tomato, Rocket & Basil Spaghetti
(for 1)

A handful of cherry tomatoes, seeds squeezed out and roughly chopped
A handful of rocket
6 or so basil leaves, torn up
1 small garlic clove, crushed
Extra virgin olive oil
Salt and Pepper
100g wholewheat spaghetti

  • Combine the tomatoes, rocket, basil, garlic, and oil. Season to taste and leave to marinate.
  • Cook the spaghetti in plenty of boiling salted water.
  • Drain spaghetti and add to tomato mixture. Mix gently.