Category Archives: small town USA

The Pies Have It!

Jack scrapes through – – –

People often ask me if I miss anything about Scotland. Well, of course. But when I go back every year the thing I really go straight for is the food.

Full Scottish breakfasts with bacon, eggs, black pudding, haggis and baked beans – great Indian curries – steak bridies (think calzone, but Scottish) – fish and chips – and Scotch pies.

I do my best over here to get close to all these. Recently I learned how to replicate Indian restaurant base curry sauce and make a big batch to freeze regularly. I can manage an occasional full Scottish breakfast. Fish and chips requires the secret batter and lard, but I can do that when the planets align.

A steak bridie would be the ultimate challenge though – imagine a savory turn-over with small chunks of steak in a delicious brown sauce, a bit of savory onion in the mix….mmmmm. The only folk I know who make them are Stephens of Dunfermline and they are rightly famous for their recipe. My next big challenge will be to try and replicate it.

What about the pies, I hear you ask?

Over here pies are usually sweet – in Scotland these would be called tarts. Over there a pie would have meat of some kind, and a ‘Scotch pie’ would have minced beef (ground beef) along with onion and a variety of (secret) herbs and spices.

Just recently my friend Trevor finished a year at St Andrews University and came home with the recipe. He made a batch while I was bunking at his place, and I was instantly back there. Of course I had to give it a try, and with some guidance from him I managed to do no’ bad.

It’s messy and time consuming, and there’s no guarantee of success, but I’ve made two lots now and they’re worth the effort.

The pastry is flour, frozen butter, ice water and egg. Freezing the butter is key. The filling is a secret. We will be having them along with haggis and other delicacies at the Burns Supper on January 25th at Oracle Books here in Wytheville.

pies

 

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Filed under between books, bookstore management, crafting, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Thyme brings a’ things tae an End

Jack gets over the line with time (thyme) to spare – – –

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I’m in the throes of organizing my final group tour of Scotland right now and it’s at the point where everything starts getting complicated – which is why it’s the last one. By the time it’s over I’ll be seventy-eight years old and ready to stop!

I use a really good agent in Scotland to book hotels, ferries and tickets for ‘attractions’, but inevitably there are always timings that don’t work or hotels we’ve used before that didn’t appeal. So negotiations – –

This time, because it’s the last, I have more folk going including many past customers, so for the first and last time – two minivans instead of one – so negotiations – –

Like every year there are folk who sign up, pay their deposits and then, for perfectly good reasons, have to cancel. Other folk come along looking to join – so negotiations – –

When I first started doing this twelve years ago I was very naïve and never thought that anything could go wrong or that I could be held accountable for anything. That’s another reason to stop!  I’ve had two customers with emergency dental appointments, an oxygen cylinder chasing us unsuccessfully from hotel to hotel and an overnight hospital visit by a customer in Perth.

Despite all I’ve thoroughly enjoyed every minute, because of the joy of sharing my country of origin and discovering corners I’d never visited.

What I think made my tours unique are down to three things –

1) Persuading great musical friends to entertain along the way

2) Having my old friend Colin both drive the bus and add fascinating insights

3) The sheer luck of having groups including close friends and complete strangers that all got on well

It’s been a whirlwind and I won’t be sorry to stop, but it’s also been a great series of journeys.

The final tour will not only have lots of old friends, but will also be one of the few ones that Wendy will also be on – and she is the shopping expert!

 

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

Behind the Microphone – –

Jack’s guest post is another sad one –

I started recording and broadcasting my radio show Celtic Clanjamphry some twelve years ago at the studios of WETS fm in Johnson City, Tennessee. From the beginning it was normal for Jim Blalock to be in the next-door studio preparing his classical music shows.

jim b

When I finished recording my programs Jim would always chat with me and often commented on something he’d heard on ClanJam as he had been driving somewhere. I discovered that he had wide musical interests that extended far beyond his specialization.

At this time WETS was broadcasting solely as an fm station but changes were afoot. Coming over the horizon was HD radio, and our station was preparing to pioneer this format in the area. It wasn’t clear what the implications would be for existing shows and rumors abounded. Some months before the start of three HD channels the fm schedule was changed and all Jim’s classical shows were dropped. Although I was relieved that ClanJam was retained and even moved to a much better time, I felt bad for him.

However Jim was switched to continuity and news links and did local interest interviews. I was very impressed with the dignified way he handled what must have been a difficult time for him. Eventually, when the HD channels began, one of them was largely dedicated to classical music, so Jim was back with even more air-time than before!

Jim was back next-door and we began planning a special program that would examine how classical composers had been influenced by traditional music. He gathered some CDs with examples from the classical music perspective, while I lent him some showing the crossover from the other direction. We continued to discuss this for months but sadly could never find a mutually convenient time to record it.

Then Dirk Wiley came along with an excellent home studio much closer to me and a willingness to support WETS, so my connection to Jim became more fragmented and distant. Finally he moved to Knoxville and I discovered he was fighting cancer. But still he broadcast for a station down there right to the end.

He and I had a similar approach to the making of our programs, with minimal notes and no script – just calling on our knowledge and memories as we went along. He frequently spoke to me about this and how authentic and refreshing it was. In other words he was a mentor, an example, a supporter and a very valued friend!

RIP Jim Blalock

 

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Filed under between books, Big Stone Gap, Life reflections, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: THEIR HOUSES by Meredith Sue Willis

their housesI got sent this book as I was leaving the Book Editor position for the Journal of Appalachian Studies. It was a wild ride (the book, although so was being editor).

Wells sets up a bizarre but plausible set of circumstances, and rides the wild waves from there: an old guy who struck it rich as a conspiracy theory revolutionary wants to reconnect to sisters he knew in childhood. All of them had weird childhoods, in the Jeanette Walls sense. The girls used to build little matchbox houses for their toys and called them “safe houses,” and kept them in a trunk–the same trunk where the younger sister hid drug money she stole from her older sister when she started running them….

That’s partly how the old rich guy got rich, and partly why he has a panic room. And partly why he loves the sisters, particularly the older one, so much. She turns in later years to religion and marries a preacher with a shady past that reaches into the present every now and again, with no complaints from him. (Every character in this novel is complicated, but not deep, is the best way to put it?)

Each chapter in the novel features one of the six main characters, and you will find this featured in the book group questions at its end: how do these different perspectives give the reader any sense of what’s going on inside all this chaos?

Good question. This book is chock full of things that don’t make sense, except, well, contextually they do. If you like Vonnegut, you’ll like Wells. Anything goes. Including the rather satisfying ending.

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Filed under between books, book reviews, humor, Life reflections, publishing, reading, small town USA, Uncategorized, Wendy Welch, what's on your bedside table, writing

Another Tale of Tails – – –

Jack makes it over the line – woohoo – – –

I never had a dog or a cat when I was a kid. There was my Grandad’s budgie but that hardly counts!

Fast forward and my marriage to Wendy. Before we even wed, she required a cat and a visit to the Leith cat and dog home resulted in Valkyttie who was with us for seventeen years. Shortly after tiny Valkittie arrived we had another visit to Leith and Rabbie, our border terrier joined the family.

They were with us in Scotland, England and the US and when Rabbie mysteriously disappeared along came Zora the black lab and Bert – mini Rabbie look-alike!

Zora and Bert reached their allotted span and left us a year apart not long before we moved house here to Wytheville. As usual when pets depart there’s a period of mourning and time needed before the time is right to adopt again.

But the time was right a couple of months ago – –

Enter Bruce!

Bruce2

It was time and Wendy found him at a local rescue. Described as a four-year-old bulldog/pitbull mix we fairly quickly found he was mainly pitbull and definitely older. There’s a good reason for that, though and we completely understand. Pitbulls have a bad rap and dogs over five are harder to find homes for. We were told he was being treated for heart-worm and were happy to take that on-board.

Bruce was afraid of everything when he arrived. When his water in jug gurgled, he ran away. When a cat approached, he ran away. He once ran from his own tail when he caught its movement from the corner of his eye.

We quickly surmised that he had had a chequered and probably unhappy past, being so nervous of people, vehicles and unfamiliar noises. But he equally quickly settled down with us and proved to be very relaxed and happy to spend most of his time hanging close by.

We recently noticed he was limping and an x-ray revealed a torn ligament -which explained some of his past; he was obviously a linebacker in high school – so that will be the next priority. While he was being checked for that and getting the last heart-worm shots our vet (the sainted Beth) estimated his age at closer to seven years, which seems about right.

So we are looking forward to giving him a better life in retirement than he seems to have had up to now. His golden years will be golden.

Why Bruce? Well all our male dogs have been some version of Robert; we had a Rabbie and a Bert, so Robert the Bruce seemed right. Besides his previous name, apparently, was Brutus and Bruce with a Scottish accent sounds much the same. He seems to like it!

And we like him just fine. So that’s all right then.

 

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, humor, Life reflections, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch

The Monday Book: WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens

I’d heard good things about this book for some time, and looked forward to reading it.

The short version is, I love the way Owens writes, but didn’t much believe in this novel’scrawdads plot.

The book is about Kya, a girl who raises herself when her mother leaves an abusive husband and one by one the other kids head out from the swampland to make their own lives. Kya doesn’t starve and sorta makes peace with her dad, until he dies, by which time she can more or less cook and make a few dimes here and there with assorted activities.

The local boys know there’s a marsh girl so there’s a few hide and seek scenes, but the nicest and smartest of the boys befriends her, falls in love with her, teaches her to read, and then abandons her in college because he thinks she won’t fit in. But the star athlete at the high school decides to take her on, and she gets taken in.

Kya starts writing books and illustrating them, she gets a little respect, some money, fixes her house, etc. Star athlete winds up dead, Kya gets blamed, she finally gets found innocent. She marries the nice guy who realizes how much he’s misjudged her.

And then years later he learns the truth about whether or not she killed the usurious high school athlete. Not gonna spoil that for you.

The writing is beautiful. The plot is rather Hallmarkian? A 14-year-old boy teaches a wild child to read, and she becomes a published author who goes from selling shells to drawing them and the toast of the academic world of marshes. Okay. Feel-good plot, fine. But I like character-driven books and this one turns on types and tropes.

This book was made to be a movie, so just wait for it. It might even be better as a film, being a very cinematographic plot.

That said (“I didn’t much care for this book”) I will say I’m going to hunt down some of Owens’ other works. She writes so well, maybe some of the other plots are less hokey.

A mixed thumb up/thumb down, in essence, for this bestseller. Lots of people loved it, and it’s really just that I like books where character drives plot. This isn’t one.

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Another Day – Another – – –

Wendy is tied up preparing for her big annual medical conference, so Jack gets an extra turn –

I thought a description of a typical day in the Beck/Welch house might amuse y’all –

Wendy feeds the cats and the dog, including one cat recovering from surgery and another that intimidates all the rest. We have a discussion about how to handle the intimidatory one and decide she has to live outside and in our log cabin jail out back (the cat – not Wendy). That meant checking on possible heating and cat flap arrangements.

Then it was bringing all our instruments in from the car after our gig at the local bookstore last night.

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On with the first of three loads of washing in between cracking walnuts. (We don’t use a dryer so sunny days are prime time for laundry.) Five mature black walnut trees came with this house and while Wendy does the collecting and hulling, I do the cracking and meat extraction.

Wendy leaves for work – –

Our friend Randy who runs the aforementioned bookstore comes over to look at three of our walnut trees which will shortly be felled and agrees to take some of the wood.

I crack more walnuts, put on the second wash and start the dishwasher.

Time for my customary soft boiled egg for lunch and then a break for a smoke in the front porch (aka ‘the catio’). As I’m relaxing I hear an explosive BANG!  At the crossing just down from our house I see a white pick-up careening over the cross street on its side with smoke pouring out while a black SUV shudders to a halt behind it. The truck rights itself and stops off the street. Silence – then raised voices while the SUV driver starts picking up various pieces of his vehicle. After ten minutes the fire engine, ambulance and various police cars arrive. I wander down and see the ambulance folk walking two women from the truck into the ambulance. Another ten minutes and everything’s cleared and gone. Small town America – – –

I crack more walnuts.

Wendy gets home, empties the dishwasher and worries that the recovering cat may have leaked cat pee on a blanket. (I have no sense of smell). We do one unexpected load of laundry for the cats, because recovering kitty needs her blankie tonight.

I crack more walnuts.

The mailman arrives and we exchange pleasantries – he has brought a forwarded bank statement for the Big Stone Celtic festival. So I know what I’ll be doing this evening after we go out for supper.

More walnuts – – – –

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Filed under animal rescue, between books, Big Stone Gap, home improvements, humor, Life reflections, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA, Wendy Welch