Wednesday, 27 December 2017

Glasgow: where to go, what to do

I'm part Scottish, just like many others in England. My Irish great grandfather married Isobel Anderson from Glasgow. My grandfather, John Harris Rodgers, born in Glasgow, was known as 'Jock' Rodgers. Jock came down to London at the age of 16 with his parents. They lived in Islington, in poor flats, near to my grandmothers' Italian family, who were Italian. Catholics marry Catholics. 

My grandfather married Carmela. He was mostly unemployed, for this was during the Great Depression. Regular employment came in the form of War World Two, when he was called up to the Royal Air Force. Being short, his role was as a tail gunner in bomber planes. This position was hazardous, the most vulnerable target, on the small cramped turret at the back of a plane. Tail gunners generally had a short lifespan.

Carmela caught tuberculosis. She had two children, Marianne and my father John. She was in hospital again, ill and pregnant with her third child Sandra, when my grandfather asked for leave to visit. It was turned down. Jock was killed on the 30th operation of his tour, the last flight. He never saw Sandra the baby. Carmela died seven years later of grief and a brain tumour. My father was left an orphan.

My dad thinks that if Jock Rodgers were an officer he would have been given leave to see his sick pregnant wife and baby. Therein begins the innate hatred of my family towards the establishment. This feeling has been passed down: we are all dyed-in-the-wool outsiders and rebels.

I wanted to visit Mary Street in Glasgow, to see the tenement building where my Glaswegian family lived. But a stonking great motorway, the M8 divided the city in the 70s, knocking down the streets where my forebears lived, where my dad and aunt went to escape the London bombing. 

Who were the morons that okayed this? Why are such poor planning decisions made in our great British cities?  (While we are on the subject: who were the idiots that knocked down The Cavern in Liverpool, The Hacienda in Manchester?) Those tenement buildings, modernised, would have been more attractive than what replaced them. It's cheaper to demolish, though, than refurbish. 

Glasgow architecture is haphazard. There is the odd Zaha Hadid architectural gimmick, bits and bobs from Charles Rennie Mackintosh, but also cheap and nasty modern blocks not befitting a great merchant city. Glasgow has grand buildings but it is poor. Amongst the hipster restaurants there are pawn shops and Poundstretchers. There is also a McDonalds Bakers with a suspiciously similar typeface to the more famous McDonalds. I guess they couldn't be sued. The MacDonalds clan come from Scotland after all.

Despite the best efforts of town planners to deter you, I recommend a visit to Glasgow. 

Here are some ideas:

1) Charles Rennie Mackintosh buildings

the lighthouse, Glasgow
I ascended The Lighthouse, an art gallery and building featuring the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, to the top, where the visitor can survey, under dark weighted skies, a panoramic of Glasgow. You can also visit the Willow tea rooms, the Glasgow School of Art, and the building that houses the Stereo cafe/bar mentioned in my piece on vegan Glasgow, amongst others.

2) Buchanan Street

Down Buchanan street, the Oxford street of Glasgow, every shop had hopeful sales. In TKMaxx off Buchanan street, they sell mostly anoraks - it's too cold to wear anything else.

3) Glasgow Necropolis

I climbed the Necropolis, a multi-denominational graveyard, on Sunday morning for the view. Glasgow was almost unrecognisable in the sunshine. The sun glinted off the cathedral while chimneys burped smoke in the Gorbals. There are free walking tours available.

4) Glasgow Cathedral/St Mungos

The cathedral and the surrounding area are interesting to visit. You will see the lampposts featuring a tree, bell, bird and a fish with a ring in its mouth, which also form the arms of Glasgow.  These are the symbols of St Kentigern, who is known as St Mungo. Top picture features a street mural of St Mungo.

5) People's Palace

I enjoyed this museum, which documents the lives of the poor, in particular the tenements, some of which housed 20 people in one room. The population of Glasgow grew rapidly in the early part of the 20th century and housing was overcrowded. In the People's Palace, you see the kinds of food they ate, their clothes, games and reproduction of a typical tenement kitchen. They also have a gorgeous cafe area in a large greenhouse.

6) Kelvingrove art gallery and museum

Kelvingrove museum is in a gorgeous Victorian building on the outskirts of Glasgow and is well worth a visit. My favourite galleries displayed vintage jackets in tartan, a heart-breaking painting of the highlander clearances, Charles Rennie Mackintosh furniture and china (blue willow). There are also dinosaurs, a spitfire plane, strange hanging heads, so look up as well as around.

7) Tennents Distillery

Tennents is Scotland's oldest beer distillery, probably the most popular drink after whisky, buckfast and Irn Bru. You can do a tour around the distillery. As part of our press trip (comprised of European travel bloggers) we got to hear very talented local musicians, part of Celtic Connections, a winter music festival in Glasgow, playing in the Tennents on-site pub.

8) Police boxes

Fans of Doctor Who and of old British street furniture will be delighted that four of these Police Boxes can be spotted around Glasgow. They were originally used as mini police stations. The above can be seen in Cathedral gardens.

9) Pubs and drinking holes

Drinking alcohol is a Scottish national pastime and part of their skillset. Glaswegians make very congenial drinking pals.

The Old College Bar, Glasgow's oldest pub, was built circa 1515 and incredibly, it's being threatened with demolition. (PLEASE Glasgow STOP KNOCKING DOWN THE PRETTY PARTS OF YOUR TOWN).

For some reason our (Scandinavian) tour guide (in fact most of Visit Scotland seem to be French, the auld alliance in action) said this was Glasgow's most dangerous pub, full of criminals. That just made me want to visit more but I didn't have time.

If you are a whisky fan, visit The Pot Still, which has more than 600 whiskies (as recommended by Rachel McCormack author of 'Chasing the Dram') and Dram in the West End.

10) Billy Connolly murals

Glasgow's most famous son, comedian, actor and musician Billy Connolly had a series of mural portraits painted to mark his 75th birthday. This one didn't look very much like him. 

11) Buy a kilt

Think of a kilt as a woolly sari. A kilt outfit can cost upwards of £600; the most traditional will contain 8 yards of wool tartan, socks with 'flashes' or garters, a sporran (basically a handbag as kilts don't have pockets), a kilt pin. Those shown in the pictures are weekend or walking kilts because they are already pleated and probably not wool. I think all men should wear kilts not trousers. It's just so much sexier. 

Try Slanj Kilts or MacGregor MacDuff for Outlander swoon-worthy macho dressing.
Remember, your clan and tartan are descended from your mother's side, so in our families case, it'll be Clan Anderson, which is a 'sept' (or sub clan) of Clan Mackintosh. 

12) The oldest house in Glasgow

Built in 1471, the Provand's Lordship is one of only 4 medieval buildings they haven't yet managed to demolish in Glasgow. I only saw the outside but there is a museum and garden to visit.

13) Walk along the river

The river Clyde runs through Glasgow and it is a pleasant walk. Now shipbuilding is no longer a big industry, Glasgow is developing the river banks, rather like the Thames in London.

I travelled to Glasgow via the Caledonian Sleeper, courtesy of ScotRail. In 2018 this train will be upgraded to include double beds and wifi.

In Glasgow I stayed at the Abode hotel, which features a 1930s 'cage' lift. The staff were very helpful, especially when I flooded my bedroom. Sorry.

This visit was courtesy of Visit Scotland.

Monday, 18 December 2017

Vegetarian Christmas Wreath Recipe

Sunday lunch is one of the few occasions when we feel obliged to entertain and eat as a family. Christmas day dinner is the daddy of all Sunday lunches, enough to stress out even the most competant cook. Added to this, entertaining today is even more complicated with every guest having, seemingly, a different food requirement.
In particular, what to do about the vegetarians and vegans? A traditional Christmas dinner is actually more veggie friendly than you might think. It's one of the meals where we serve the most vegetables: roast potatoes, parsnips, peas, brussel sprouts and carrots, to name a few.
But as a host/ess you want to give vegetarian and vegan guests the same spectacular, luxurious, over-the-top banquetting food that everyone else will be getting. Christmas dinner is the ultimate winter feast and you want to serve a meat-free centrepiece to be proud of.
Vegans and vegetarians are normal people really. (Although I once had a Christmas day guest who claimed she was allergic to the modern world. I had to turn off all phones and the wifi for the day. Her flat is lined with silver foil.) Here are a few tips and tricks to survive a meat-free Christmas:
  • Be aware of what cooking medium you use for the vegetables. Roast potatoes in duck fat will not be welcome. Strict vegans won't eat brussel sprouts coated with butter nor carrots doused with honey. So always reserve a portion of the vegetables to be cooked in vegetable oil, coconut butter or nut oils.
  • Gravy must be vegetarian/vegan. 
  • Keep emergency supplies, such as halloumi and firm tofu, for surprise vegetarians. Wrapped in puff or filo pastry, you can always cobble together something appealing.
  • Use fresh herbs to garnish your dishes. They add vitality and zing, and we need our greens in winter.
  • Some wines contain egg whites and fish scales for 'fining'. Consult sites such as WineTrust for lists of vegan and vegetarian wines.

Vegetarian Christmas wreath

This can be prepped in advance and popped in the oven in time for serving. You'll need a bundt tin, a pastry brush and 2 clean damp tea towels for covering the filo dough while you work.

1 large butternut squash, skinned, deseeded, cubed
3 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp sea salt
6 to 8 sheets of filo pastry
100g of butter (or coconut oil if vegan)
1 tbsp of cinnamon, ground
100g of walnuts
200g blue cheese, cubed (replace with either vegan cheese or smoked tofu if vegan)
3 tbsp sweet and savoury cranberries (below)

Preheat the oven to 180ºC
Prepare the butternut squash and lay in an oiled baking tin, seasoning with the salt. Roast for 25 minutes or until tender. Then remove and cool.
Mix the butter or coconut oil with the ground cinnamon.
Brush the bundt tin with the butter/cinnamon or coconut oil/cinnamon mixture.
Working carefully with the filo pastry, keep it covered with the damp cloth, removing sheets one by one.
Drape the sheets in the bundt tin, covering the inside and leaving the extra to flop over the sides (this will be folded in later). Brush all the filo with the butter/oil/cinnamon mixture as you go. As you complete the lining of the tin with the filo, cover the exposed parts with the other damp cloth so that the pastry doesn't dry out.
Do at least 3 layers of filo brushing with the butter/oil/cinnamon.
Put the butternut squash in the bundt tin, spreading it around evenly.
Then add the walnuts and cubes of blue cheese.
Finally drizzle the sweet and savoury cranberries around the inside of the tin.
Once you fill the bundt tin with the stuffing, you will remove the cloth and cover the top of the tin with flaps of filo surrounding the tin.
If not cooking immediately, cover with cling film and place in the fridge.
Remove from the fridge, let it warm to room temperature.
Bake at 180ºC for 25 minutes.
Serve with extra sweet and savoury cranberries in the centre.

Sweet and savoury cranberries

This can be used in the recipe above, also as a chutney to go with cheeses or packed in pretty jars to give as a gift.

350ml apple cider vinegar
350g white sugar
1 heaped tsp or 15 all spice berries
1 heaped tsp or 15 peppercorns
1 heaped tsp or 15 juniper berries
5 cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
2 star anise
300g frozen or fresh cranberries

To a medium sized saucepan add all the ingredients, bring to a boil then turn the heat down and simmer for 20 minutes.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Vegan Glasgow

bbq jackfruit taco

Last time I visited Glasgow was during the 1980s. I was working as a photographer for Cosmopolitan, covering the city. Somehow, after a night snapping pictures in a bar, I ended up with a Glaswegian stranger in a tenement flat in the Gorbals. The bedroom I found myself in, for I was very drunk, had an artex interior, walls and ceiling. Big swirly white polyfilla dips and crests. It was the thickest plastering I'd ever seen. Woozy with booze, I felt like a fly trapped in the interior of an artic roll, or a climber toiling up the North face wall of Everest.

I saw this lad again, returning for a weekend visit to see if I still liked him when sober. I didn't. I couldn't understand anything he said, spending much of the weekend saying 'Pardon?' He called people 'folk'. He read Balzac not Brett Easton Ellis. His fridge was empty save a paper bag of mince meat bleeding onto a white plate.
'Aw me ma left that fe us,' he exclaimed fondly. 
This sassenach was a vegetarian even back then. The horror. Outlander it was not. It didn't help that I was a bit of an '80s fashion snob.

Glasgow is infamous for the lowest life expectancy in Europe. But one of the reasons vegan food works so well in Glasgow is precisely because they combine the local urge to deep-fry everything in batter with the vegan regime. In Scotland, vegan food is not a joyless, brown, full-fibre sober health cure but delicious comfort food.

I visited two of Glasgow's vegan restaurants: Stereo and Mono, both, along with The 78 and a couple of others run by vegan restaurant supremo Craig Tannock. True to Tannock's musical background, music plays a big part in the restaurant names and ethos. Mono has an in-house vinyl store and hosts live bands.
Stereo Cafe/Bar is hidden down a rainy alleyway; dim Northern light leaking onto the front tables. Outside there was snow, not too much, but enough to add drama to the monochrome of Glasgow architecture. Service is courtesy of a fragile waiter with a gentle manner and Harry Potter glasses. He recommends the pine needle soda, which reminds me of Canadian Spruce beer. I eat a broccoli burger with chips and a warming golden syrup pudding with vegan ice cream.

The next day I went to Mono for lunch. The building itself is beautiful, with a domed skylight over a large sunlit room. Imposing steel brewing tanks line the side of the room where artisanal sodas such as ginger beer are brewed.
I apologise for being late, explaining, 'I've just flooded my hotel room'.
I get a tolerant grin and a 'nae problem' from front of house.

I order 'tof-ish and chips', golden billowy crunchy battered firm tofu with seaweed, a side order of pulled jackfruit, the vegan cheesecake and the home brewed ginger beer. It's all fantastic.
A record shop is attached. I bought Dusty in Memphis and Astral Weeks on vinyl. On another table in the restaurant is a young woman in a fur coat. A strange choice of garment for a vegan restaurant.
'Is that a fur coat I'm seeing over there?' I ask the waitress.
'Maybe it's fake?' replied the waitress.
'It looks real to me.'
'I don't know, I've never seen one.'
It's unlikely that you have seen or touched a real fur coat if you are under 40. I asked the young woman if it was real fur.
'Aye, but it's vintage,' she murmurs a bit defensively.
Scots vegans are much more tolerant than London ones is all I can say.

Inspired by my visit to Vegan Glasgow, I've made a 'Scottish' BBQ jackfruit taco. Jackfruit, an enormous khaki green carbuncle, the size of a watermelon, which looks similar and is related to the breadfruit, is grown in the tropics. Like the durian which it also resembles, it can, when ripe, emit a strong but infinitely more pleasant aroma.

In Kilburn, North West London, where I live, you can buy it fresh. Failing that, look for tinned green jackfruit in water not syrup. The fruit itself has three elements to it, a central core that you discard, a 'pleated' outer ring, known as 'arils', that you can rip in the manner of pulled pork and seed-like structures which can also be eaten.

Jackfruit is popular on vegan menus, providing a meaty texture and fibre. It's sometimes known as 'tree-mutton'.

Whisky 'BBQ' Jackfruit Taco Recipe with pink pickled onions

bbq jackfruit taco

I happened to have the pink pickled onions in my fridge (I've always got a jar on the go, they are pretty and sour) and the whisky roasted sugar in my store cupboard.
You can use any 'slaw, salsa or citrussy salad to jazz up this taco however.

Pink Pickled Onions
1 red onion, skinned, sliced thinly
300ml White wine vinegar
3tbsp Sugar
1tbsp Salt

Whisky-roasted Brown Sugar
150g Soft brown sugar
1 dram of whisky

For the Jackfruit
1 tin of young green jackfruit in water, core discarded.
1 tsp dried smoked garlic or 2 cloves, crushed, of black garlic
1/2tsp cumin, ground
1tsp sweet paprika, ground
1/2tsp white pepper, ground
3tbsp whisky roasted brown sugar (recipe below) or plain brown sugar
1tbsp smoked salt
A few drops of liquid smoke
2 chipotle en adobo and some of the sauce, either buy or do recipe in link, it's another good store cupboard essential.
2tbsp olive oil

4 to 6 Corn tacos
Lime juice

For the pink pickled onions, put the sliced onions in a jar.
In a pan on a low heat, add the sugar and salt to the vinegar, stir until dissolved. Leave to cool.
Then add to the onions.
Leave for at least an hour or overnight until the onions turn pink.
This can be left in the fridge for 3 weeks.

For the whisky roasted sugar, preheat the oven to 170ºC.
Spread the sugar on some parchment paper (or a Silpat) on a roasting tray.
Sprinkle with the whisky.
Roast for 15 minutes or so.
The sugar will go hard if left (it lasts forever) but I break it up in a pestle and mortar.

For the jackfruit:
Prepare the jackfruit, then add all the list of ingredients including the chipotle en adobo and mix together.
In a pan on a medium heat, add the olive oil, then the jackfruit mixture. Fry gently for five minutes.

To combine:

Take a corn taco, add some of the jackfruit, a scoop of pink pickled onions, a squeeze of fresh lime. Season with salt to taste and eat!


I travelled to Glasgow via the Caledonian Sleeper, courtesy of ScotRail. Next year this train will be upgraded to include double beds and wifi. I adore sleepers, so romantic.

I stayed at the Abode hotel which features a 1930s 'cage' lift. The staff were very helpful, especially when I flooded my bedroom. Sorry.