Tie Yourself Up in Scots

Author: Kirsten K., Books, Entertainment, History, Literature, Pop Culture, Television, Travel

Outlander 1As I mentioned in our Holiday G.I.F.T. Guide (that thing keeps coming up again and again and again), I went to Scotland in 1997 with Diana Gabaldon, author of the Outlander series, which has been developed into a popular television show on Starz that will begin its second season this Saturday, April 9th.

At the time of my Highland fling, I worked for an audiobook company that did business with Romantic Times magazine (now RT Book Reviews). I was already a huge fan of the Outlander books—a genre-bending series that defies categorization—when the magazine announced that it was organizing a trip to Scotland led by Diana Gabaldon in which the author would take readers to the places she’d written about in her books. So, 19 years ago today, I hopped on a plane to spend a week in the land of kilts and bagpipes with one of my favorite authors.*

Outlander 2

Flushed from too much Scotch whiskey with Diana at the Stakis Grosvenor Hotel in Edinburgh.

Looking back, I’m not sure why Diana agreed to do it. If I was an author, being trapped in a foreign country with a bunch of fangirls would be my worst nightmare, but she was gracious and accommodating, making herself available to sign our books and answer our endless questions about the series. Her fourth novel, Drums of Autumn, had just been released, so the trip doubled as a book tour of sorts. Walking into one store, we were amused to see Diana’s novels displayed with other “Books by Scottish Authors,” since she is an American who had never set foot in Scotland prior to writing the first book in the series.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with Outlander, the novel is told from the perspective of Claire Randall, a British World War II combat nurse who, while vacationing in the Highlands of Scotland with her husband after the war, is transported through a circle of standing stones to 1743. There, she encounters her husband’s ancestor—a sadistic Redcoat—and a band of Scottish clansmen that includes Jamie Fraser, a man who will force her to choose between two different lives and two distant centuries. The series is enthralling, with its combination of historical realism, eloquent prose, pulse-pounding adventure, and passionate romance.

Outlander 3

With Diana at Clava Cairns near Inverness, April 14, 1997

***BOOK/SEASON TWO SPOILER AHEAD***

Back in 1997, Diana accompanied us to Clava Cairns, a prehistoric burial site near Inverness surrounded by stone circles that inspired Craigh na Dun, the fictional circle through which Claire travels back in time. We also visited Culloden field, site of the definitive battle between Scottish clans and British troops that, within the space of an hour, brought an end to the clan system and changed the course of Scotland’s history. There was a tangible sense of grief pervading the area, making us aware that the characters Diana wrote about in her books had flesh-and-blood counterparts who shed that blood on the very field beneath our feet.

***BOOK ONE SPOILER AHEAD***

Outlander 4During the trip, a few of us formed a group of friends, one of whom let us in on a little secret. Back in the states, she had done research on contemporary silversmiths in Scotland, trying to locate someone who could recreate the wedding ring that Jamie gives to Claire in Outlander, described as “a wide silver band, decorated in the Highland interlace style, a small and delicate Jacobean thistle bloom carved in the center of each link.” She found a woman in Stirling who employed 18th-century techniques to fashion silver jewelry with Scottish motifs. On one of our free days, we met with this woman to discuss the ring and place our orders. Her final design was more rustic and had larger elements than the ring described in the book, but I still treasure it as a memento of the trip and an authentic piece of Scottish artistry.

***END OF SPOILER***

Outlander 5Twenty-three years after its publication, I was thrilled to see that Outlander was being made into a series for television. Like most fans, I worried about casting and changes to the story, but everyone involved in the production did a fantastic job of bringing Diana’s first novel to life. Season One is out on DVD (in Volumes One and Two) and available for streaming, so there’s still time to tie yourself up in Scots by setting your DVR to record the new season as you catch up on the previous one.

With the series currently standing at eight full-length novels (a ninth is in progress), two novellas, one short story, a graphic novel, and a spin-off series (more of a “sub-series”), the producers should have plenty of material to keep the show going for years. And with some of the highest viewership in the history of Starz, that’s not an outlandish assumption.

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Outlander – Books
Outlander – Television

 

*Technically, I hopped on a plane to New York City on April 7th in order to meet up with part of the RT group on the 8th. We flew to Iceland for a two-day pre-tour in Reykjavík before flying to Scotland on the 11th to join the rest of the group.

 

***SEASON ONE SPOILER BELOW***

In the Starz adaptation, Jamie gives Claire a wedding ring made from the iron key to the front door of his home, Lallybroch. It may have been a sentimental choice, but it is not a particularly attractive one.

 

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If Once You Have Slept on an Island

Author: Kirsti Kay, Dinner, Food, Food & Drink, Inspiration, Recipes, Savories, Travel

If once you have slept on an island
You’ll never be quite the same;
You may look as you looked the day before
And go by the same old name,
You may bustle about in street and shop
You may sit at home and sew,
But you’ll see blue water and wheeling gulls
Wherever your feet may go.
You may chat with the neighbors of this and that
And close to your fire keep,
But you’ll hear ship whistle and lighthouse bell
And tides beat through your sleep.
Oh! you won’t know why and you can’t say how
Such a change upon you came,
But once you have slept on an island,
You’ll never be quite the same.
— Rachel Lyman Field

Eagle Island 1

The first time I stepped foot on Eagle Island, it was so foggy I could only see a few steps in front of me. My boyfriend (now husband) Aaron had been telling me about this island since we met—his most special place, his Disneyland, his Paris. We had traveled by plane, car and boat to get there. I couldn’t see more than a few feet in front of me, but the moment I stepped foot onto the shore, I understood that I was in a rare and magical place.

Eagle Island 2Eagle Island is only about a mile-and-a-half long by half-a-mile wide, but there are so many self-contained universes. There is a farmhouse in the middle of a big meadow, which is the hub of the island; a forest that has mysterious fairy bowers hidden throughout the trees, which no one lays claim to; an old schoolhouse from the 1800s that has not been touched inside for more than half a century; a small, but beautiful, cemetery; a lighthouse; a tiny post office; and a handful of gasp-inducing beaches so cinematic that they make you want to spontaneously burst into a rousing sea shanty.

Eagle Island 3The quiet splendor of this island rivals any great city I’ve ever been to, but what makes Eagle Island so special is that you feel like it belongs to you. You have to try hard to come in contact with other people here, so you can have the rare experience of not battling crowds, not angling for a better view or a perfect spot on the beach. You can just be still. You can listen to the sounds of insects buzzing. You can smell the ocean and feel the breeze on your skin. It’s not often we can be truly alone in beauty, and the island is restorative in ways other places can never be. The island belongs to you and you belong to it, and it’s a relationship you don’t take lightly. You want to nestle into her and whisper, “Your song is heard. Your people are dear to me, too. I will keep your secrets.”

Eagle Island 4Only a handful of people own cottages on the island, but there are many cottages of all different sizes that are available for rent. There is the Doll House, which is adorably tiny, all the way up to the Hill House, which has six bedrooms. The cottages have a cozy, vintage vibe that you usually only see in magazines meticulously curated by a dozen city people who may never have even been to an island. Treena and Krista are your island hostesses, and their bohemian loveliness is sprinkled over everything.

Eagle Island 5Aaron and I were able to spend a week on Eagle in August and we had, as always, the most wonderful time. The first several days were foggy, but warm, and the mist gave the island a dreamy New England feel. Then the weather changed and everything was sun-dappled and beautiful with seagulls singing in the sky and sailboats gliding through the sea. It’s hard to believe, but on an island with so few people, we had a very active social calendar. We had friends over for dinner, ate fresh lobster caught that day, and ended the evening with a sing-along. On another night, we went to Krista’s cabin for dinner and watched one of the best sunsets I have ever seen. Another night was a surprise cocktail party for Aaron’s moms’ anniversary. We were also invited to a lovely brunch, took long walks followed by long naps, had an impromptu lunch at the farmhouse where Krista whipped up the most delicious pasta with kale picked from the garden, read, and even made a short horror movie. We did everything and nothing and every second was grand.

Eagle Island 6

Several years ago, after visiting the island for more than 25 years, Aaron’s moms built a cottage on the island. Actually, they call it a cabbage—part cabin, part cottage. It’s warm and inviting and filled with laughter and music and has the most glorious view of the ocean. I love to sit out on the deck with the family, talking, drinking wine and watching the sunset. Even as we chat about this or that, we are each in the moment, recognizing the specialness of where we are, knowing how lucky we are to be able to sleep on an island—Eagle Island—and aware that none of us will ever be the same.

Eagle Island 7
KRISTA’S EAGLE ISLAND KALE PASTA

INGREDIENTS
I lb. penne pasta
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil (plus more for drizzling)
2 bunches kale, cut from the ribs and roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half
¼ cup salty, pitted green olives
2 Tbsp. capers, drained
¼ tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
4 Tbsp. (or to taste) Bragg’s Liquid Aminos (you can substitute soy sauce)
2 Tbsp. fresh basil, torn
salt and pepper, to taste
grated Parmesan

INSTRUCTIONS
Heat olive oil in large saucepan over medium low heat. Add kale and garlic and sauté until kale is soft, making sure not to brown garlic, about 7-10 minutes. Turn heat up to medium, add cherry tomatoes, olives, capers, red pepper flakes (if using) and Bragg’s Aminos and sauté 5 more minutes, until tomatoes are soft and heated through. Stir in basil and remove from heat.

Meanwhile, cook penne in lots of boiling, salted water until al dente. Drain pasta and return to pot. Add kale mixture and stir to combine. Add salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with the grated Parmesan and serve. Makes 6 servings.

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Eagle Island

 

If you’d like to rent a cabin on beautiful Eagle Island, please contact Treena and Krista at Eagle Island Rentals.

 

BAGGU – The Essential Travel Bag

Author: Kirsti Kay, Fashion, Travel

Traveling on an airplane has slowly gone from an event you dressed up for—heels and pearls and an in-flight martini served by a sassy stewardess in a mini dress—to an inhuman herding of beleaguered masses just trying to power through. Every time I have a flight coming up, I start dreading and worrying about it a month in advance:Baggu 1 with Caption

How early should I leave to fight L.A. traffic?
Where should I park?
Will the security line be long?
What if my flight is delayed?
Is the pilot a good “driver”?
Will there be turbulence?
What if I sit next to someone who smells?
The list goes on…

In order to combat all these stressful variables, I have developed certain processes to deal:

Rule #1 – Leave SUPER early for the airport to avoid any potential delays in traffic, parking, check-in or security. There is nothing worse that sweating in a panic because there was an accident on the 405 and you are cutting it too close.

Rule #2 – Bring tasty snacks. I usually stop at Whole Foods on the way to the airport and get a few yummy things from the deli case. And chocolate. There must always be chocolate.

Rule #3 – Bring every kind of entertainment so you can be assured you have something to do to pass the time. I bring a few magazines, a book, my iPad and several podcasts on my phone. And don’t forget my secret weapon, Ambien!

Rule #4 – Dress comfortably while trying to avoid looking like a jerk in pajamas. And make sure you have a sweater or blanket. I try my best to approximate pajamas while still passing for a normal. Also, earplugs and a sleep mask are a must.

Rule #5 – Do NOT forget to bring the Baggu!

Baggu 2I first stumbled across the Baggu on a travel blog. A Baggu is simply a nylon shoulder bag that folds into a tiny pouch, but holds everything you need in-flight so you can put your bulky bag in the overhead and still have all your treasures at your fingertips. And, at $9, everyone should have a few on hand.

I throw my cute little pouch into my big, oversized tote and, right before boarding, I take out the Baggu and fill it with all the things I want access to during the flight—mags, book, iPad, snacks, eye mask, ear plugs, lip balm and, of course, the chocolate. A Baggu is super sturdy, and the wide shoulder strap makes it easy to carry. When I get to my seat, I take it out of my tote, store it under my seat, and put the tote in the overhead bin where some a-hole will try to smoosh it to fit his (or her) oversized carry-on.Baggu 3

The Baggu is also perfect for the grocery store, the beach, or anytime you might use a plastic grocery bag, but want to be chic. There are over 20 colors and patterns to choose from and they are all machine washable. There are also Big Baggus and Baby Baggus, as well as a nice selection of other bags, including very lovely canvas and leather designs.

It’s amazing how much happiness a $9 nylon bag can bring to a girl. Well, that, some ear plugs and an Ambien. Safe travels y’all.

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BAGGU®

 

In addition to the company’s website, BAGGU® totes, bags, and accessories can be purchased from Amazon and a variety of online retailers.

Violet Liqueur – The Bitter Truth Is Sweet

Author: Kirsti Kay, Cocktails, Drinks, Entertaining, Food & Drink, Nostalgia, Recipes, Spirits, Travel
Violet Liqueur 1

Swooning over the ice cream in Provence.

When Kirsten and I were in the South of France several years ago, we both had the same defining food moment. We were in Les Baux and ordered violet ice cream from a perfect shop on a perfect cobblestone street. We had tasted rose ice cream before, and on the previous day in Aix-en-Provence we had tried lavender ice cream for the first time. But the moment the first glorious spoonful of violet ice cream hit our lips, we truly and completely swooned. It was like the episode of The Brady Bunch when Bobby defends Millicent at school (awesomely played by Melissa Sue Anderson). She kisses him in thanks and fireworks go off in his head and he is happily dazed by the experience. France is, of course, one of the best places on earth…the food, the wine, the country…but my greatest memory of that trip was the singular, purple-hued cup of violet ice cream. Both Kirsten and I agreed that it was the greatest thing we had ever tasted. Loving food the way we do, that is saying something. Our violet obsession had begun.

When we got back to the States, we spent years trying to find a violet extract that would allow us to relive that violet-infused moment, but, despite spending a lot of time on the Internet and a lot of money on violet flavorings, we haven’t been able to replicate that firework-inducing moment of bliss, particularly when it comes to cocktails.Violet Liqueur 2

I always love using floral flavors in cocktails. When St. Germain, the celebrated elderflower liqueur came out, I was over the moon with delight. When Shakers released rose-flavored vodka, I was making vodka tonics several times a week (it is sadly not available anymore). I have purchased about four different violet liqueurs, but none really had that true violet scent and flavor (although some of the bottles are super dreamy). And then I stumbled on The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur. The moment I read about it, I felt panic that I might not be able to find it, but Hi-Time Wine Cellars shipped it to me within three days of my order.

The first thing I noticed about it was the deeply purple color. My other violet liqueurs are varying shades of purple, but none has the color the website describes as “reminiscent of a full moon reflected on a river in the twilight.” That is some damn poetry! I opened the bottle and the scent brought me right back to that cobblestone street in Les Baux. I needed to mix this with some stuff and pour it into a fancy coup, stat!

Violet Liqueur 3My friend Melissa was coming over that weekend and I decided to make the classic Aviation cocktail. The first thing I noticed was the incredible color—it was like a goth dream. The second thing I noticed was that it smelled just like violets! Some floral flavorings can be so sickeningly sweet and overpowering, but this was just right. And then the taste…all I can say is—fireworks. Melissa doesn’t drink very often, but I think she enjoyed her fancy cocktail. I ended up having two drinks (it would have been a crime to let that boozy goodness go to waste) and floated in a delicious violet haze for the rest of the afternoon.

I guess we’ll never know if Bobby Brady would have seen fireworks if he tried The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur. I’m sure Alice or maybe cousin Oliver would have saved him from the degenerate horror of underage drinking. But I bet that Greg would have dug it, surreptitiously sipping from Mrs. Brady’s martini glass in his fringed vest up in his groovy attic room, maybe even with a few of those cigarettes he was so fond of. Queue the laugh track while I pour myself another…Violet Liqueur 4

AVIATION COCKTAIL (courtesy of The Bitter Truth)

2 oz dry gin
¾ oz The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur
⅓ oz maraschino liqueur
¾ oz fresh lemon or lime juice

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a cocktail glass. Makes 1 drink.

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The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur

 

The Bitter Truth Violet Liqueur can be purchased from Hi-Time Wine Cellars. Maraschino liqueur and dry gin are available at BevMo and most liquor stores.