For the Sake of Auld Lang Syne

Today is Auld Year’s Night or Hogmanay or New Year’s Eve and I am in Lake Louise with Dad, Tom and George.  We first came here in December 1997 and every year in between until April 2002.  I was initially thrilled when Dad suggested that we come back here, but then I felt slightly worried that it couldn’t live up to my memories.  Canada in general has always been one of my favourite places to visit.  The countryside is stunning; the people are lovely – some would say universally nice; and the food is great.  I have sometimes thought that it is probably the best country in the world to live in with great education, healthcare, and quality of life.  It isn’t too remote and again there is that spectacular countryside.  Lake Louise itself is stunning but one day I would like to come here when the lake isn’t frozen and see the greenery that I know is hiding underneath this fluffy white stuff that brought us here in the first place.  Anyway, you’ll be glad to know that nothing so far has spoilt our memories of this wonderful place.  The hotel is still lovely – fresher in decor but just as welcoming.  This is the view from our bedroom window

ImageYou can almost see the Victoria Glacier at the end of the lake.  You can definitely see the people skating in the fore front, on the lake.

The recipe for French Onion Soup has been changed – it is now described as Stout Beer Onion Soup and is much darker and richer than their previous recipe.  Just as delicious though.  We couldn’t find bear claws on the menu, but were told that it is still on the children’s menu, which of course Tom and George no longer qualify for.

Yesterday I went for a guided snowshoe walk.  We climbed part of the way up Mount Fairview (to the left of the photograph) and then played in some powder.  I had been concerned about falling down and whether I would hurt my hips.  I shouldn’t have worried.  I fell down in the powder, slid along on my bum for a few yards before I got enough grip to stand up and really rather enjoyed myself.  So much so that I didn’t concentrate as much as before and fell down a second and a third time, after which I remembered that I really don’t like snow going up my back and remembered to concentrate.

ImageSuch elegance!

ImageThe view from the powder.  The silence was palpable.

Inevitably on the last day of the year, my thoughts have turned to the year that’s about to end and its high and low points.  This year, because of the return to Lake Louise, I’ve also been thinking about our previous visits here.  As I was snowshoeing yesterday, I was thinking about my only previous attempt, with Helen, alongside the lake.  Naively we had thought that we’d walk to the glacier, but we then found out that it was further away than it seemed.  We were then slightly concerned that we might bump into a bear, abruptly awoken from hibernation and so decided to make as much noise as we could and scare away any putative bear attacks.  And then because Helen and Mum died within six weeks of each other, I’ve also been thinking about Grandma, and of course Papa.

Hogmanay in Northallerton was always celebrated thoroughly and I have really happy memories of going to the Wellington Heifer pub in Ainderby Steeple, and then going back to No. 11 to see in the New Year and for my brother to first foot.  First footing is a Scottish tradition and belief that the first person to cross your threshold in the New Year determines the kind of luck the household will have in the new year.  Alastair would have to leave the house before the stroke of midnight and then be the first to enter in the new year.   As a tall, dark man, he was much in demand for first-footing since blonds and women are considered unlucky!  Traditionally the first-foot brought gifts of coal or wood so that there would always be a fire burning (Lang may yer lum reek), and something to eat so that your pantry would never be empty.  This food was generally shortbread, that wonderful, often adulterated, Scottish delicacy and today’s recipe.  But before I give you the recipe, I would just give you some more memories that have been bouncing around in my head – Grandma doing the sword dance with crossed carving knives in the early hours of one 1st January; Alastair and my cousin Alan having a snowball fight in their shirt sleeves in Mowbray Road in the early hours of one 1st January; playing Mouse Trap in the early hours of January 1st; being the last car to drive down Sutton Bank before it was closed because of snow; and Scotch broth at no. 11 to sober you up and warm you up in the early hours of lots of 1st January/s.  So Happy New Year to you all – I hope that 2014 brings you health and contentment, that some of your wishes come true, and those of you who are related to me know how much I love and miss you all.  I will raise a toast to you at midnight and wish you

Slàinte mhath!

I asked Auntie Aileen a couple of weeks ago for her recipe for shortbread which is the same recipe that Nana used.  I have read that some people disagree with the use of rice flour since rice was never grown in Scotland.  I have checked the bible of Scottish recipes, F Marian McNeill’s, The Scots Kitchen, and her recipes also use rice flour (though in different proportions to those given to me by Auntie Aileen) and she regards it as essential for good shortbread.

Shortbread – Ingredients

  • 8 oz / 250 g rice flour
  • 8 oz / 250 g flour
  • 8 oz/ 250 g butter
  • 4 oz / 125 g castor sugar

Method

Heat oven to 325 F / 170 C / gas mark 3.

Mix butter and sugar together.  Sift the two flours together and add gradually to the butter and sugar.  Make sure that you don’t overwork or that it becomes oily.  The less kneading the better.  Shape the mixture into two rounds of about 8″ diameter, and press into a thickness of about 3/4″.  Bake for 45-60 mins until golden.  The shortbread will still be soft when taken out of the oven – leave to cool and it’ll crisp up.  When cold, wrap in greaseproof paper and put in an airtight tin.

Enjoy!

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