Wednesday, December 4, 2013


As the days are turning colder, the leaves barely clinging to the trees and the palms all being wrapped up for winter, I know bad weather is ahead. However, as the sun is still shining and temperatures this week are still in mid teens during the day, although much colder at night, I find it hard to think that winter has arrived.

This is the time of year that reminds me most of being at home. I know it rains a lot in Scotland but I do have memories of chilly days and the ground littered with leaves. Autumn has always been one of my favourite seasons.

One of the things I remember most was my Gran's homemade broth. My Mum also made it but there was always something about my Gran's soup. It was always warming on a cold day. I could smell it as I walked through the door. It has many fond memories for me. Many times I was with her in her kitchen as she chopped and grated her way to a pot of soup.

Over the years I too cooked the family soup. I'm sure every family has these recipes, probably not written down, but forever remembered. There probably never was an actual recipe, and the soup would be made with whatever you had. One important ingredient in our soup was broth mixture. Now, this is something I have yet to see outside Scotland, but basically it is a mixture of dried pulses. The dried peas being a favourite.

With leeks, carrots, potatoes and usually turnip, or swede as the English call it, you have the makings of a pot of soup. I use beef shin to make the stock. But I just throw everything in together and leave to cook for several hours. Towards the end of cooking I throw in a couple of grated carrots which gives it a nice colour. In Shanghai you cannot buy turnip so I substituted kohl rabi, which tastes pretty similar I think. I also had some cabbage in the fridge so this was an extra edition. My first bowl of broth this winter.

Oh it tasted so good, even better on day two, and by day three it was so delicious. All the flavours had melded together, and it gets thicker and thicker. One thing is you cannot make a small pot of this soup. Now I remember why I love this soup, not only the flavour but all the memories that come flooding back as I tuck into it.

It is so important that these traditions are passed down, I know my daughters make "the soup" and hopefully there will be memories in their's too.

So as winter approaches, I know this will be made pretty often over the next few months. As I head home to spend Christmas in Scotland I am making a note to prepare a pot of soup with each of my girls, just to make sure the tradition carries on. With my little granddaughter, Daisy, now three, I think it's time she was in on the secrets. I'm sure she will grate a mean carrot.

Thursday, October 31, 2013


Sometimes it's the simplest of days which makes life here in Shanghai a great life.

Yesterday, the last day of October, the sun was shining, it was a comfortable 22c, and the buildings were twinkling in the sun.

I set of to the wet market to pick up my weekend collection of fruit and veg. I swear there was a spring in my step! As I reached the entrance to the our building, there was a man sitting sharpening knives on a wheel with a stone. There was quite a queue, so I reckoned he must be good. On my return from the market I packed up 3 of my favourite knives, all in need of sharpening, and headed back to join the queue, which luckily was now down to one!

He was only too happy to have his photograph taken, and smiled the whole time he was working. Obviously this was a man who enjoyed his work. I did encounter one problem, he spoke Shanghainese, and not Mandarin, which makes any small communication we may have been able to make, now impossible. Even the numbers are different. But a smile goes a long way and I did end up with 3 beautifully sharp knives. Even the little nicks evened out. I couldn't wait to try them out, to get chopping my newly bought vegetables.

Oh boy, they were sharp. I know they say you only ever cut yourself on a blunt knife, but I am discarding this thought, and being very careful. What a difference. Hope I see him again soon and can get all my knives sharpened.

As I said, a lovely, but very simple day. A day that made me happy to be here in Shanghai.

Monday, October 14, 2013


As the long hot summer days draw to an end, and we wave goodbye to the last of our visitors of 2013, we are left with a lot of happy "Shanghai" memories. Of days spent in the pool with Daisy and Archie, of drinking cocktails across the city with our more mature visitors, of wandering through markets, making our way up high buildings but most of all connecting with friends and family.

In this photo my friend of 20 years, Kath, enjoys a shot in the Ice Bar of one of our favourite restaurants. 

Here we are enjoying happy hour at Isola, for me the best happy hour in Shanghia. Free flow Prossecco and lots of canapes, all for 88rmb, or just under £9.00 and lasting for 2 hours, with one on the most amazing views you can't beat it. 

My brother and sister in law concentrating very hard on a menu, or possibly a drinks list! As they had only 4 days with us it was a whirlwind tour of the Shanghai sights. At the end all four of us were exhausted, but happy.

Graeme and Carole who were the last of our summer visitors, and our oldest friends. Not in years, but in the length of time we have known them. My husband and Graeme have been friends for almost 50 years, and as couple we have been friends for 36 years, not bad! We had a wonderful time with them As you can imagine a lot of catching up and reminiscing, well it's what you do when you are getting older. Happy to report the years haven't changed them one bit.

It is always good to be able to share our lives with others. It may seem to them that life here is one big round of eating, drinking and generally having fun, I can say, that although that is a part of Shanghai living, there is also the mundane everyday things that go on wherever you are, but also there are the difficulties with language, which can at times make the simplest things difficult, and of course the very fact we are so far from family and friends. I am not complaining, but feel the need to point out there are drawbacks as well as pluses.

It was great seeing friends but the highlight of the year would be the arrival of my daughter, her husband and my two little grandchildren. We worried about the long journey they were undertaking, needlessly as it happens, they ran into our arms with huge smiles on their faces.

Mum and Dad on the other hand, although smiling, probably had the harder journey. But they were here and for the next two weeks we had a lot of fun.

Only issue was that they arrived during the hottest summer Shanghai had experienced for 130 years. With temperatures soaring into the mid 40's we were never so happy as to have A/C in the apartment. It worked overtime this summer.

But time in the pool, and visits to buildings with A/C, and taking even short journeys in the air conditioned car helped a bit. Archie was delighted to be able to swim when it was dark!

It was so much fun watching Miss Daisy look completely at home, and so grown up having afternoon tea in the Waldorf Astoria, and to see her lingering around the designer shops. Watching Archie enjoying his first real Chinese meal, and to see the concentration as he wrestled with his noodles was great to watch. 

The one thing that fascinated all our visitors is the building which is evolving before our eyes. It is The Shanghai Tower, and we have had the most perfect view as it has climbed into the sky. On its completion, next year, it will stand 608 metres, almost twice the height of the London Shard. It will be the 2nd highest building in the world, and it is a 10 minute walk from our door. I cannot wait to see it finished, and when people leave they want updates and photos of its progression. When we finally leave Shanghai we will be happy to have witnessed the growth of this amazing structure.

So today as I sit blogging, the skies have turned black, the wind has started to blow and I think the rain is not far away. There has been a 10c drop in temperature since yesterday and the forecast is for the cooling down to continue. Soon I will be packing away the summer dresses and sandals and having to think about wearing tights and cardis. 

But I will be able to look back at all the happy memories of our summer, and also I am happy to be looking forward to a trip home in a few weeks to help Daisy celebrate her 3rd birthday. A mere three weeks after arriving back in Shanghai I will once again be jumping on a plane to be home in time for Christmas.

LIFE IS GOOD..............................................

Saturday, September 21, 2013


Over the years of living in different countries, enjoying different cultures, one thing that never fails to surprise me is how easily you can forget what's outside the window and feel as if you are at home.

This happened last night. What do Scots like to eat on a Saturday night? Amongst other things a curry is always popular. So an afternoon of toasting and grinding spices, all brought back from Calcutta by my husband earlier in the week, of peeling prawns, chopping onions, making pastes and sauces and included in all this, my husband was my student in the art of curry making. Not that I'm an expert, but the ability to read and follow a recipe seems to make me the best teacher he can find.

Surprisingly enough it all went very smoothly. I was patient, well pretty much, he took instruction, well pretty much, and we ended the afternoon still on speaking terms. He did however find it all very exhausting and I was thinking he might end up asleep before we had the chance to sample our efforts.

Okay, curry cooked, now into the mixture friends to share the dishes prepared. Good friends, who know I can cook, so if it was all to go wrong I knew they would come back. Lol.  Have to add, friends are Scottish, so also enjoy a good curry night. Let's hope this would turn out to be a "good curry night".

On offer was a prawn, a lamb and chicken dish. Rice of course, and a curry wouldn't be a curry without naan bread, samosas and poppadoms. Have to confess a trip to a local Curry restaurant put the naan and poppadoms on the table. My friend arrived with her homemade mango chutney, onion relish and tomato relish. A dish of dahl to go with it all and we were ready to go, but not before we relaxed over a nice cold G&T, as is fitting of an Indian evening!

My main concern was that the spices had seemed a bit more powerful my existing ones, but I needn't have worried. Yes, it was hot, but not unbearably. It was, thankfully very tasty, although I think a mushroom dish, which had contained 15 different ingredients was probably a bit labour intensive for the result. It tasted good, but not sure it was worth the huge effort my husband put into it. I think I can safely say we all enjoyed it  A nice bottle or three of Gewurtztraminer was the perfect accompaniment , always a favourite with spicy foods, works really well.

We finished off with some Indian sweets, and a plate of fresh fruit.

Recipe for a good night, very simple, good friends, good food and some good wine, never fails and thankfully on this occasion it didn't let me down.

Exhausted but happy we fell into bed, happy in the knowledge that however far away we are from family and friends, there is always someone who comes into your life and it's as if you have known them forever. Scotland was alive and well around our dining table last night, and it will be again I'm sure.

Monday, August 19, 2013


On a trip to M&S in Shanghai this morning I was excited to see a packet of mini jaffa cakes with a claim on the packet of only 125 calories.   " Guilt free snacking," it claimed.
When you are away from home a visit to somewhere familiar from time to time is good. A tempting offer like this on one of my favourite sweet snacks was going to make this a great day. Price? Immaterial I now had a deep need to enjoy a jaffa treat.

As soon as I arrived home I switched on the coffee machine before even unpacking. I put the shopping away and reached for the bag of jaffas which were going to make today a real treat. Then I saw it, on the top of what was a small bag, a saying which made my heart drop. "Contains 5 packets"!! WHAT......
How small was this treat going to be?
I ripped it open and out fell 5 smaller bags, I ripped one open and out fell 5 very small, I hesitate to call the jaffa cakes, onto the worktop. Not only were they small they were not in the best condition. the chocolate had "bloomed" and had a white tinge to it and the sponge was crumbling in places.

So what had started off as a tempting treat was looking more and more disappointing by the second. When I first saw the small packets I was debating with myself whether, for one time only, I was prepared to blow 525 calories eating the whole packet! On seeing the contents of the packet I soon decided they didn't look worth it.
So last step, the taste test. 
This only affirmed that one packet was more than enough. No nice jammy centre, instead a thin watery layer of orang flavour. No nice soft cakey bottom, instead a crumbly concoction, and the chocolate, well I'm not even going there. 
Saddened by my disappointment, and having eaten one packet, I put the rest away in the cupboard. Maybe one day I will reach for them, but not while the disappointment is still strong in my memory.

One of the nasty "treats" sitting beside a coffee spoon. So now you can see why I was not a happy bunny. lol.
Seriously though, maybe my expectations were too high, I mean how good can 125 calories taste in biscuit form? Maybe I was just too desperate for a taste of home. I should have known. Next time I'll stick to the full calorie McVitie Jaffa Cake which I know and love. Sorry M&S this time you lose out.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013


Have been so lucky to have an amazing trip to Yunnan to visit, amongst other things, a Tea garden. After 2 flights, one 3 hour and the other a one hour flight, we were picked up in jeeps and started a 5 hour journey to Cangyuan which is a Wa autonomous area, the Wa being an ancient Chinese tribe. It is situated next to the Myanmar border. We were extremely lucky to be able to go to the border and walk across the no man's land between China and Myanmar. We were lucky to have been introduced to a lady who worked as a border official and she escorted us there.

 The journey was challenging especially once it turned dark. But we did arrive safely to a very warm welcome. Hotel was very nice, new, huge and basically empty of people. We were also to discover hot water was not always on tap as we have become used to, and that the Chinese favour very hard beds!

Next morning we started our journey, again not an easy journey to reach the tea garden. At one point very close to the final destination we were told we had to walk the next bit. So off we went up a fairly steep and very muddy hill only to find jeeps waiting at the top. The reason for the hike? Well apparently the people of this area believe people should connect with the land to have a real experience. I love these traditions, or beliefs as they are in this part of the world. 

The scenery was amazing. Tea plants growing all over the terraced hillsides, but there was also tobacco plants, sugar cane and along the roadsides pomegranate trees and pumpkin plants. Not a spare piece of land, every piece was cultivated.

On arriving at the gardens we were of course welcomed with cups of tea. Not the cups we are used to but tiny cups all prepared by 2 young Wa girls resplendent in their traditional costumes. 
A walk around the gardens and even an opportunity to pick some leaves made us very happy. It was such an honour to be able to do this. The hard conditions made me realise that I should never complain about the price of my cuppa!

Conditions here for the workers are very good. Twinings in conjunction with Save the Children have been investing in a school and a centre for the people. It includes recreational areas and also a medical centre with a birthing facility. It was really very impressive, and the people are very happy with this facility. It is now being used as a model for the area. 

We were then treated to a delicious lunch. Simple honest food, fresh and very local. I swear I heard the chickens squeal prior to our lunch! This was foraging at it's best, and it tasted oh so good as we squatted down on low stools to enjoy what was put before us.

I was even lucky enough to get a behind the scenes look at the kitchens. All food was cooked in a home kitchen, these were not restaurants as we know them. Conditions were challenging, not great, unlike the food that came out of them.

This was a trip I will remember for a long time.

My morning cuppa has a greater meaning now. A dunk of a tea bag into a mug a thing of the past, for now at least. I will savour the leaves, allow them to brew and drink it throughout the day. 

Maybe, well no I definitely have way too many gadgets in my kitchen, and I produce food no better than I ate on this trip. Perhaps it's time to say goodbye to a few of them. 

This was an amazing trip and I feel very privileged to have been able to visit and eat and drink with these people. I look forward to a return visit from them when hopefully I can repay their kindness and hospitality. Truly a trip I will never forget.