Moffat Toffee and the Devil’s Beef Tub

Standing by the Devil's Beef Tub

Moffat, Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland – August 21st, 2010

Not nearly as well known as historic Edinburgh or the Highlands in which so many romances are set, south-western Dumfries and Galloway is one of the least visited parts of Scotland. That’s too bad, because during the few days I spent there, I felt rewarded again and again for going a bit out of the way.

The town of Moffat was especially worth a visit. It’s surrounded by dramatic hills, and approaching from the north a visitor encounters the Devil’s Beef Tub, a deep hollow. It takes its name from the stolen cattle that would be driven down into the hollow by Clan Moffat after being seized in raids. The Beef Tub appears prominently in other stories as well. A fleeing highlander once tumbled down the steep sides, pursued by gunfire, and escaped. The covenanter John Hunter was less lucky – he was shot dead attempting to run up out of the Beef Tub.

The hills around Moffat

The town of Moffat itself is home to the world’s most narrow hotel, the Star Hotel, as well as the Moffat Toffee Shop, where you can buy a bag of (surprise!) Moffat Toffee. It’s not actually toffee, but a sort of hard candy that is sweet, salty, and sour all at once. It has a unique flavour and is made only in Moffat, according to a family recipe.

/From the Lowlands to the Highlands

The Witch Caves of Navarre

Zugarramurdi, in the Valley of Baztan

Zugarramurdi, Navarra, Spain – December 7th, 2010

In the extreme north of Navarre (a state in Northern Spain) is a little town called Zugarramurdi, home to 218 people and, four hundred years ago, one of the biggest and bloodiest witch hunts of the Spanish Inquisition. Ultimately, forty suspected witches were found guilty and sent south for further trial, where many ended up being burned at the stake.

In my second to last week in Pamplona, some friends and I took a rental car up to Zugarramurdi from Pamplona (about 1 1/2 hour drive). We were in a bit of a hurry, so we only took the quickest peek at the new Witch Museum, but we were eager to see the Sorgin Leze, or Witch Caves, where the devil himself was said to give services to congregations of witches on the banks of the Hell Stream (Infernuko Erreka in Basque).

The Hell Stream

The first thing we came across while walking the loop path was the infernal stream itself, reddish brown and strangely opaque. It looked as thick as paint, but it was moving too fast and without staining the stones around it. Although we were certain that the colour must come from the soil – clay or something similar – it was easy to see why earlier generations had found it so unsettling.

Following the stream, we soon found ourselves in the cavern itself, with its high ceiling and the little chambers above us to the left, where the covens were said to hold more private meetings. Open on two sides to the air, it was more like a natural bridge than a cave, but spectacular either way.

The enormous cave opening...

Whatever you believe about the historical ‘witches’, it’s easy to imagine some fantastic bonfires taking place here!

/A Semester in the Basque Country of Spain

The Castle of Olite

Where: Olite, Spain

When: November 2010

Camera: Canon EOS Rebel T1i

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One morning at dawn, I climbed all the way up to the highest tower of the Castle of Olite for this view of the palace, the sleepy village below, and the wide agricultural fields that are just becoming visible on the horizon. According to the history books, the castle was once home to Navarre’s royal family, exotic pets like giraffes and lions, and hanging gardens modeled after those of Babylon. Today, the castle stands empty save for a modest number of tourists and a thick layer of rich, red ivy that spreads like a red carpet for kings long gone.

/A Semester in the Basque Country of Spain

El Mercado de Heredia

Heredia, Costa Rica – June 6th, 2008

Heredia was much like San Jose. Exteriors were dirty concrete and rusted metal, with the junctures between the two often neglected. To say there was no insulation would be an understatement – a Missouri rainstorm would whip in through every crack.

We were assigned a scavenger hunt in the Mercado. They divided us into groups to look for items from a list, which we were forbidden to show anyone – we were meant to ask people where we could buy things and how they were used. All of our things (with one exception) turned out to be herbs and spices, so we found ourselves bothering the same people again and again.

A group of exhausted high schoolers need some sort of authority figure to maintain organization, so when it came time to eat lunch, in particular, there were arguments. For about half an hour we bickered over where to eat, as half the group wanted cheap, authentic food – the kind most prevalent in the Mercado itself, while the other half couldn’t be persuaded to go anywhere near the street vendors.

The group finally split and I stayed with the Mercado group. The little bar we ate at probably left us more exposed to thieves and pickpockets than any other place we went on our trip, but I wasn’t at all worried about the food. They prepared it right in front of us, and meat and cheese and cilantro smells wafted over the dirty glass that separated the kitchen from the counter. My first full and real Costa Rican meal – Pollo con Gallo Pinto – was delicious. I even ordered a cheese tortilla to finish it off.

Japanese Shave Ice

Melon Kakigori with Milk Ice Cream - Kanazawa, Japan.

Snow Cones can be refreshing on a hot day, but I’m usually disappointed by hard, course ice that lets all the syrup slide straight to the bottom of the paper cone. In Japan, I found Kakigōri (かき氷), or shave ice – a fabulous dessert which made me reconsider the potential of the snow cone.

Served not only at carnivals and roadside stands but also in nice restaurants alongside ice cream and cakes, most of the shaved ice in Japan is similar in texture to American snow cones, if a bit softer and more like, well, fresh snow. But at least once, in Nikko, I found shave ice that seemed to literally have been shaved from a block – it was as smooth as ice cream, and had a delightful crispness.

Unbelievable Shave Ice in Nikko, Japan!

The syrup that tops Kakigōri is not unlike that used on American snow cones, with familiar flavours like strawberry, lemon, and grape alongside melon, sweet plum and green tea. It is also common to pour condensed milk onto the ice, adding additional sweetness and richness. Many Japanese also like to add mild sweet bean paste, mochi rice cakes, or even ice cream to their shave ice.

Laura and I found some incredible Kakigōri in Nikko. The texture was totally different than that of an American snowcone, or even the other Kakigōri we had tasted – something like a cross between Italian shaved ice and cotton candy, very smooth and delicate. Served with strawberries in thick syrup and condensed milk, this was the most delicious dessert of our trip!

Late Night Okonomiyaki (Miyajima, Japan)

Mmm... Okonomiyaki. ^^

Miyajima shuts down quickly after the bulk of the tourists leave around 4 pm. The majority of those who spend the night on the island eat dinner in their Ryokans or hotels, so when 6 o’clock rolled around, Laura and I found that nearly all the town’s restaurants had already shuttered for the night. Luckily, the owner of our Ryokan told us that a small Okonomiyaki restaurant a few doors down was open until 8.

I ordered yakiudon with shrimp and Laura ordered yakisoba with pork. As usual with okonomiyaki they put just about a whole head of cabbage in each of ours. It boiled down a lot, but there was still more food on our plates than we could possibly eat. It was good, too – the amount and flavor of the sauce was just right. This wasn’t the best food we ate in Japan, but it was definitely a solid choice for a ‘late night’ meal.

Since the tiny okonomiyaki restaurant we ate at isn’t shown on the map, the best thing to do would probably be to follow directions to Ryoso Kawaguchi, and follow the road it’s located on a few storefronts north. If you’re going there at night, it should be one of the only places open, so pretty much impossible to miss.

<p>— Read more about <a title=”Japan 2009″ href=”https://vandrelysten.wordpress.com/2010/05/01/japan-2009/&#8221; target=”_blank”>Japan 2009</a>.</p>

— Read more about Japan 2009.

Photo: Toxic Environment Cow (Costa Rica)

Where: Costa Rica

When: June 2008

Camera: Canon Powershot A550

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When I visited San Jose, the city was holding a CowParade public art exhibit. Dozens of artists had decorated cows, placed throughout the city, in ways that were sometimes beautiful, sometimes hilarious, and sometimes expressed a poignant social or political message. I made it my mission to look for these cows wherever we went. This cow, with it’s gas mask, green hooves, and carbon emissions statistics printed in green, warned passers-by about pollution and the toxic environment humans are creating for themselves.

Naantalin Aurinkoinen (Turku, Finland)

Naantalin Aurinkoinen is a small chain of cafes in Southwestern Finland, mainly Turku and it’s suburb of Kaarina. The name means “like the Sun of Naantali” -Aurinko means sun, and Naantali is a nearby town known for it’s lovely sunshine, even spawning the local idiom “to smile like the sun of Naantali”.

The cafe and bakery has a wide variety of goods, from fresh bread and the Finnish favourite ‘new potatoes’, to pizza, pasta, salad, hotwings, and panini sandwiches. The pastries looked the most tempting to me, though, and I picked the Mansikkajuhlawiener (strawberry pastry) because if you go to Finland in the summer you should eat strawberries at every opportunity.

Liisa's photo of my Mansikkajuhlawiener. It was five times more delicious than it looks!

The storefront of the Kaarina branch I visited.

Their website is only in Finnish, but your mouth will water just looking at it.

No Google Map this time, because there are multiple locations. This page on the website shows all the addresses.

/A Taste of Scandinavia

Buddhapada in Kamakura

Where: Kamakura, Japan

When: July 2009

Camera: Canon Powershot A550

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I found this decorated stone in Kamakura’s Hase-Kannon Temple. It is a stylized depiction of the footprints of Buddha. In early Buddhist art, it was considered taboo to directly depict a being as sacred as the Buddha, so they alluded to his presence by showing his footprints, called Buddhapada in Sanskrit. These Buddhapada are covered with a variety of symbols. Look at the most prominent one, which looks like a sun or wheel. If it looks familiar to you, you may be thinking of the Flag of India, which has a similar design in the center. The wheel shown on both these footprints and the Indian flag is a dharmacakra, or a “wheel of law”, and symbolizes the Buddha’s path to enlightenment. Japan’s many sacred places are filled with items and objects that are often laden with symbolism. Knowing even a little bit about the many cultural traditions that make up Japan can add a lot to a trip through the country.

/Three Weeks of Japan Mania

Cereal with Milk and Iced Tea

Two for one!

Iced tea with lemon... always delicious over your honey oats! ^^

The first time I saw cereal prepackaged with milk in Costa Rica, I thought I was going a bit crazy.

But, once I remembered that most of the milk sold in Latin America is super-pasteurized and doesn’t need refrigeration until it’s opened, I got used to it fairly quickly. And then I saw cereal packaged with tea…