You shouldn’t read this if you are hungry
Disclaimer: I’m going to give a disclaimer here, right away. You probably shouldn’t read this if you are hungry. As I wrote, I was hungry. Writing about food did not make it any better. As I reread my writing, I have become hungry once again. Just a friendly warning.
I’m adjusted with the food here, but I still miss the food from home. I’ve been craving a good bowl of pho or a plate of tofu and rice. For those who don’t know, I am a major foodie and I can talk about food for hours. I watch almost every Food Network show, I enjoy reading recipes in my free-time, and I’m a fan of experimenting in the kitchen.
While I’ve been in Scotland, to my disappointment, I don’t have a kitchen to cook meals. I find cooking very relaxing and cathartic, especially the chopping of veggies. With my accommodations on campus, I have a catered dinners in the student centre. But I don’t want to complain about this- I recognize that it is such a privilege to be on a meal plan. There is one vegetarian main-dish option every night and a stocked salad bar to choose from. It is quite good, considering my choices are limited.
When I’m not eating on-campus, I have made an effort to eat a variety of foods to try out many of the local delicacies. I’m a vegetarian, so the options are limited, but I still broke my vegetarian streak to try a bite of haggis1.
I’ve learned that breakfast food is incredible here. A full Scottish breakfast is a must- and it probably the meal I will miss the most when I return back to the states. It isn’t too complicated, but it is one of the most delicious (and unhealthy) things ever.
Let’s break down a typical breakfast.
1) Eggs. They are usually fried or poached, but scrambled is cool too.
2) Baked beans in a tomato sauce. It has to be Heinz beans in the blue can. It a delicious addition to the meal, or even better, put on top of toast.
3) Toast. You can put the beans on it, or butter it up.
4) Hashbrowns. Every breakfast I’ve gotten, it was the hashbrowns shaped like a triangle. But probably any hashbrowns would do.
5) Haggis/Haggis substitute. This is a traditional item in very breakfast. Without it, could you even call it a Scottish breakfast?
6) Sausage/Sausage substitute. It just adds to the greatness of the plate.
7) Baked tomato. This gives the plate a punch of acidic flavour and cuts through the other heavy elements on the plate.
Sometimes the breakfast will have these other components:
1) Potato scones. Contrary to the name, it doesn’t really taste like a scone because of its savoury buttery quality. It does taste similar to potato pancakes and it has the texture similar to a very thick tortilla.
2) Ham/ham substitute. This ham is like a very thick cut bacon, or very thin cut of ham. I’ve heard it is a nice salty addition to the meal.
3) Mushrooms. They add a complementary flavour to the dish, adding a little bit of smokiness.
Is your mouth watering yet? Mine is.
And you are probably wondering- where are all of the pictures? I am not including pictures for a couple of reasons. First, if you really want to see this breakfast, you can google it. I know, I sound lazy here as a blogger. But to be honest, I am always disappointed when I try to recreate meals and it never looks as pretty as a cooking blog’s pictures. And this meal is not the most photogenic, especially with my amateur photography skills. Second, I tend to dig right into meal when it is served without caring to take a photo. I feel that taking a photo sometimes ruins the excitement of receiving a fresh hot meal. In effect, I don’t have many photos of this breakfast… you will have to imagine (or google) it yourself.
Anyways, there are some other common meals in Scotland. Roasted potatoes with some sort of meat is typical, but I haven’t ate too much of it. The meals aren’t vastly different than a homecooked meal in the US. One of the main differences would be the type of vegetables. Root vegetables way more common than leafy greens.
(Almost) everything that isn’t savoury tends to have lots of sugar. I find that sweets are very popular, especially Cadbury and Hasbro. There is a really popular soda called Irn Bru that tastes like an orange cream nightmare. Or it could be a daydream if you like that sugar and caffeine rush. In the supermarkets, there are large selections of desserts including but not limited to: shortbread, teacakes, savory and sweet pies, pudding. Despite the great assortment of desserts, I have found it incredibly hard to find dark chocolate2. Scotland loves their sugary deserts.
I’ve learned that adding heavy cream on top of a cakey desert is one of most incredible things. For example, add heavy cream on the classic British sticky toffee pudding. It is my favourite dessert here. It’s very sweet, but also salty. The heavy cream adds a depth of hominess and warmth to the cake, unlike ice cream or whipped cream. You will never regret adding the cream.
I should probably stop here. I could explain foods from Scotland for days. I could probably even write a book on it. The best way is try it yourself and cook that Scottish breakfast. Or just invite yourself over for breakfast sometime, I will definitely be eating beans on toast long after I leave Scotland.
1If you want a review of haggis, you probably shouldn’t ask me. I only had a bite and it was my first time in having meat in more than four years. But, as the food critic I like to be, here is my review:
Haggis is a delicacy made primarily from sheep’s liver, heart, and lungs. There is some beef, onion, and oatmeal added to the sheep’s meat, along with traditional seasonings. The texture resembles a fine ground beef, but the tender meat melts in your mouth. Haggis has a rich buttery taste. If there was too much on a plate, it could easily overwhelm the other flavours. Luckily, it is often paired with the traditional Scottish breakfast or mashed potatoes and vegetables.
2But don’t worry about my lack of chocolate intake. I went to a chocolate festival in Perth last weekend and I bought enough chocolate to get me through finals week.
About the feeling: “I can’t believe that I am in Scotland”
Yesterday evening, I walked back to the University of Aberdeen after a long day of travels with one of my good friends. With a dazed look in her eye, she asked me if I still get that feeling- the feeling that I can’t believe that I am in Scotland.
I didn’t know how to respond. In the moment, I tried to recall a moment where I felt an intense sense of disbelief that I am in Scotland, but I didn’t know if I ever felt it before.
Life has been a little different in Aberdeen, but it feels the same as any living somewhere new. I don’t know all the stores around me and I don’t know many of the people. I don’t know any bus routes within the city. I don’t know how cold it will get and I don’t know how many layers I need to wear.
I responded to my friend’s question with one of those roundabout answers, those non-answer answers that avoids answering the question.
My breakfast crew in Scotland can attest that I like to wonder. Many mornings, I bring up ideas that I have been thinking about. I’ve had ample discussions, recounting my late-night musings about how I could personally minimize my carbon footprint, my possible future aspirations after graduation, and my deep thoughts about food’s influence in building community. My breakfast crew can attest that I will say everything that comes to my mind. They can also attest that I can sustain an hour-long conversation about types of cheese and jam.
But, they don’t know that at the end of my breakfast conversations, I file away all of my unanswered questions. I compartmentalize and re-focus on today’s tasks. Maybe, my questions would get answered later that evening or a next breakfast conversation when I decide to re-open those cans of worms.
I could think about things all day. In fact, I spent many of my elementary school recesses pondering on the wet wooden bench near the playground. I would blankly stare at the loud kids running down the steep slides and trying to stay uncaught by the recess teachers. Once I sat on my bench, my mind easily wandered from imagining my future career to thinking about the characteristics of the great books I’ve read. Only two things would disrupt my thoughts: the tedious recess bell and the bored kids who would clap in front of my distant eyes, knowing I would blink.
Nowadays, I don’t let myself wander in thought like I used to. I would love to spend hours daydreaming and writing down my thoughts, but I don’t allow let myself think like that often. I am worried that I will get distracted by my discoveries and push away my responsibilities.
I’ve noticed that when I have unanswered questions and I don’t have time to process, I feel uneasy. I can get hyper-focused on finding answers.
Inevitably, in conversations, I have an important reference of a name, article, or popular icon that sits on the tip of my tongue. For me, figuring out the missing information feels compulsorily to move forward. But, when I pause to think, conversations keep going and it is easy to fall behind. I will spend minutes intensely thinking, racking my brain for the missing file. I list every letter in the alphabet until I have some inclination of the phrase. I try to come up with synonyms and other connections to the missing piece of information. Finally, I either figure it out, or I shamefacedly resort to googling phrases to find the missing link.
It is an exhausting process. It is a distracting process. It is a process that makes me worried about letting my mind wander too much with existential questions.
I realize that am almost halfway across the world in Aberdeen, Scotland. An eight hour time difference from Seattle, an eight hour time difference from home.
Still, it seems like only a number to me. I have not conceptualized the space, the distance between Scotland and home. I try not to think too deeply about it because I know I might get lost for a bit, trapped in that momentary limbo of processing where I am in life.
I reserve time to think on my walks. I try to go on a walk almost every day. My walks are when I collect myself, process my feelings, and start to break down my assumptions. I often get lost in thought and sometimes I drown in a heavy daze of ideas. When I get to an intersection, I re-focus on my surroundings and realize the distance I’ve covered, the distance that wasn’t part of my conscious.
Every now and then, I get so distracted and I slowly begin to realize that I am a little too lost, and I need to pay more attention. I look up for landmarks and around for signs to find my way back on the path. I always get back on the path. With every step, my shoes from home embrace the Aberdeen ground, and I keep walking.
Inspiring social change
Here are some of the pieces of art that I mentioned throughout the video:
Morten Laurdisen has been my idol in high school. Below, I included a video of him describing “Sure on This Shining Night”- very similar to how he described it during the performance. Then, I included a version of the piece where he plays piano for the Minnesota Choral Artists. And finally, a picture with Morten after the choir ceilidh.
I watched this video from the Syncopated Ladies on the day after the 2016 US presidential election.
First, is a picture of proof that I attended Rent. Then, I included one of the moving scenes from Rent- I couldn’t find the scene I described in the video, but this one is just as good. You might need tissues to watch it.
Did I really expect that?
I’ve been to a lot of places since I landed in Scotland. It is definitely a privilege to be able to explore without the responsibilities of jobs or heavy schoolwork. For the past eleven weekends, I’ve been traveling somewhere or attending events in downtown Aberdeen. As fun and thought-provoking as it has been, I’ve been craving some downtime to slow-down my adventures. I haven’t felt rushed per se, but rather worried that I’ll forget something along the way. I’m worried that I will not appreciate my time if I am always going somewhere new.
With all of the current news, this past week has been stressful—I’m not going to lie—and pretty exhausting. I know that next weekend will be my first of minimal traveling and I’m ready to take a breather. Still, I’m not willing to forget my time traveling.
I’ve decided to jot down many of the places I’ve been in a chronological order (well, all of the places since Travels), and write my very first expectation of the trip next to the reality of my trip. Did I really expect that to happen?
You’ll read about these trips in a field-notes style. Enjoy.
Expectation: See Nessie. Maybe go on a kitschy museum about how Nessie is a myth.
Reality: Long bus ride, but worth it. Explored the gorgeous Urquhart Castle. Toured Culloden Battlefield- a museum about the Jacobite rising. Shopped around Brody Countryfare. So much less kitschy than I expected, but it was good, sophisticated.
Cruden Bay and Slain’s Castle
Expectation: Small town, ruined castle.
Reality: Very very small town. Only one bus stop. Only one store. Only one primary school. And only one golf course. Past the recycling point was a tree-lined path to castle. There were very few people on the trail. Castle and sea- the mix of relaxation and a great place to eat lunch. Dracula’s Castle was based on Slain’s Castle ruins, very dangerous, very exhilarating.
Expectation: The place where people go when they visit Scotland. The capital city. The 2nd largest city. The city with lots of history.
Reality: The first thing I did when I got off the train was to climb to Arthur’s Seat for the view. Then, I walked the Royal Mile- which was touristy at the top near the castle and less so near the base. Did not go in the castle, but saw a view of it from all angles. Very good food along the mile. I toured a childhood museum- it felt like home. Walked the Botanical Gardens, many plants were native to the PNW. The city definitely had a lot of history.
Expectation: Big city, a little dark and dingy, but homey.
Reality: It was a big city, a little dark and dingy, but homey- as well as interesting. The architecture was different- very much like a modern city built around old buildings like the Glasgow Cathedral. I was able to find time to tour the Scotland Street School Museum, and geek out for a while.
Isle of Sky
Expectation: Long bus ride. Then ???.
Reality: Long bus ride. Then, hiking, views, and rocks. Too beautiful to describe. The long bus ride was completely worth it.
Expecation: Hiking around, being able to see the beautiful view.
Reality: A mist overtook the whole hike and I could not see more than twenty feet ahead. It rained. Appreciating the small things- the animals, the plants, the rocks.
Expectation: Climbing to the top of Mither’s Tap. Some rain.
Reality: Got off the wrong bus stop- too far away from Bennachie. It started to hail. After an hour of walking on the side of the road, I found the Rowantree forest paths. I walked and admired the trees. So many shapes and sizes. Almost crashed a Scottish wedding. Climbed some trees instead. Flagged down a bus to come back home, my shoes soaked through.
the combination that makes the shadowed beautiful
On October 19th, I had one of those moments that I will remember, those moments that are permanently tattooed into my conscious. I went to the Enchanted Forest and I felt enchantment.
Still, I know enchantment is not quite the right word. Now, as I write, I am trying to find a way to describe that feeling on that night, but I know words cannot adequately describe how I felt in the moment. As a writer, I come across those memories from time to time that are seemly impossible to find words to place on the page. Going to the Enchanted Forest was one of those times. Alas, I will try my best to describe my experience in the Enchanted Forest, in hopes that someone who reads this can feel the enchantment that I felt in the moment.
For starters, the Enchanted Forest is an annual outdoor light and sound show in the woods outside the quaint town of Pitlochry, Scotland. It is about a two hour drive east from Aberdeen with no direct public transit. I would never have even considered going if Aberdeen’s International Centre didn’t offer a greyhound bus ride there.
Still, I was hesitant to sign up for the trip. I was afraid it was going to be another commercialized event, and I wouldn’t enjoy it. I am one of those people who sees fireworks and does not see joy, but rather sadness as a by-product of the environmental pollution. I was starting to feel that way with Christmas lights as well.
About eight years ago, my mom, brothers, and I started a tradition to seek out the best holiday lights around the nearby neighborhoods. We eagerly buckled our seatbelts to begin our adventure, comforted by the warmth of the car. As we drove around, I remember passing a house with a large snowman, then one with the glowing nativity, then finally two houses that seemed like they were competing for the number of inflatables in the front yard. For each house, my brothers and I reviewed and rated the lights along the way, pretending we were exterior decorators. I thought the monochromatic silver twinkling bulbs were the classiest.
Surprisingly, I’ve still held the same design opinions for the next eight years as we embarked on our Christmas light drives. I’ve still loved silver lights. However, my attitude towards these excursions slowly changed. I started to get carsick on those rides. I’ve had more homework to do. More stress. Our drives became longer every year and we would drive for hours to find the best light shows. Most of all, I started to feel visceral pain for energy wasted on our drives, for the energy wasted powering the energy-saving LED lights.
For me, the holiday light traditions became more burdensome than enjoyable. I didn’t want my negative energy to infiltrate through the compacted car. I begged to stay home, and some years my wish was granted. I didn’t feel like the best sister or daughter, but at least I wasn’t a spoilsport.
As I reflect on those moments, I realize that my memories about Christmas light drives has shifted in a large part due to learning more about the environment. I’ve had the privilege to attend the Environmental and Adventure Middle School, take AP Environmental Science in high school, and learn in two college classes about environmental degradation. As I currently study away in Scotland, I feel very conscious of my energy expenditure. One of my daily mental struggles has been balancing travel and carbon impact. As much as I want to blissfully enjoy all of the sights in Scotland, I can’t help but feel a little guilty of all of the transportation and energy I consume. I was hesitant to travel two hours to Pitlochry only to see the Enchanted Forest for an hour before returning to Aberdeen. After weighing personal enjoyment to energy waste, it seemed like a net-negative impact.
Despite my doubts of not enjoying it, I succumbed to the enthusiasm of my friends who were going. It was one of those times that I really have to thank peer pressure for allowing me to share a new experience with others.
On October 19th, I apprehensively got on the greyhound bus to the Enchanted Forest. It was a two hour drive of uncertainty. The street outside was decorated with garlands and gold twinkling lights. It was the epitome of the small town during the holidays in a Hallmark movie.
Pitlochry was cute, but this was not the anticipated destination. After waiting in a short line with our Enchanted Forest tickets, my friends and I hopped onto the short ten minute bus ride to the Enchanted Forest.
We sat down, the lights went out, and we heard a windchime on the bus’s sound system. With an enthusiastic “welcome”, Sally Sparkle, our recorded tour guide, gave a couple of disclaimers and wished us a fabulous time at the Enchanted Forest. Normally, this type of thing would make me cringe a little inside. Instead, I was entranced by the magic of the voice and became so excited to enter this forest.
It was unlike what I felt on Christmas light drives with my family. This was new and novel again.
When I got off the bus, I was a kid. I was transported into a forest that looked like Candyland at night. Every single crevice was filled with color and music. And I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wanted to run around, yelling to look at these lights and to those lights. I also wanted to just sit down on the damp earth in front of me and stare at the majestic trees.
But, I did neither of those things. I slowly walked towards the forest path with an uncontrollable smile. Inside my head, the statement, “this cannot be real”, was on repeat.
This is the emotion that is almost impossible to describe. I can say it was enchantment, but that doesn’t do it justice. Maybe childhood wonder. Just see a photo of my expression to see for yourself.
I was stricken by this feeling and I couldn’t let it go. I could have sat and played with lights forever. Or even simply watched the lights.
But it would be a misconception to think this magical feeling was solely attributed to the lights. It was a combination of my friends’ enthusiasm, the spirit of the community, and the colorful scenery. And the trees.
The trees. I barely start to talk about the trees. The light bounced off the branches, revealing the ridges on the bark. The trees were glowing in a humble way. In the Enchanted Forest, there were no inflatables, no candy canes, and no decorations. It was just the lights and the trees, the combination that makes the shadowed beautiful.
I’ve been to Disneyland, but I’ve never felt magic like this before. It was a connection, and empathy for nature. I appreciated the trees in a way that I’ve haven’t felt before. I felt the trees provide the fresh oxygen for every breath, for every step to continue me on my way.
For about thirty minutes, I was in this state of curiosity and awe. Then, I felt a wave of ideas start to form and I knew I had to pull out my journal. I opened my journal and words began to spill on the page. I wrote while I walked. I wrote while I watched. I wrote while I thought.
It is incredibly hard to read what I wrote in my journal. I am currently in the process of transcribing it to make it readable. I’ve captured some fabulous ideas, theories, and reflections. As much as I want to share all of my ideas with y’all, it would be a disservice to my ideas. Like a good cheddar cheese, sometimes my writing just needs time to age before I can get my best writing. I will say that much of my journaling has lots of dissonance between consumerism and nature, and includes several social theories to promote personal attachment to the environment.
I’ve been thinking about this experience for days now, and writing down ideas almost every day. I am looking forward to learning what connections I will continue to make as I reflect.
Not really. But I am my own comedian.