“It’s a dreich day,” said Emma, my Scottish flatmate, as she wrinkled her nose at the gray sky as we walked to class together one morning last week. “You know,” she said, noticing my puzzled stare, “Not that terrible, but not great. Drizzly.”
Earlier this year, “dreich” topped a You Gov poll of favorite Scots words in common use today. The Scots language is full of words that distinguish between increments of chilly, wet weather. So far during my semester abroad at St. Andrews, a typical day has featured a few hours of mild sunshine, a chilly breeze, a sprinkle of rain, and a prematurely dark evening as gray clouds crowd out the sun. In this new and often gray environment, I’ve gathered tips and tricks for embracing the UK version of my favorite season while staying extra cozy. Here are my favorites:[divider] [/divider]
A cozy day starts with breakfast. Porridge is a staple in the U.K., and you can stop yourself from sliding into a boring routine by mixing up what you mix into your morning porridge.
- Autumn is the season for picking all those juicy apples before they fall off the trees, so I’ve been dicing an apple and adding a handful of sultanas (big raisins), a sprinkle of cinnamon, and brown sugar to my morning porridge. It’s a classic combination that’s sure to warm you up on a cold morning.
- I’ve noticed that the blackberries at Tesco (a U.K. supermarket) are bigger, juicier, and less expensive than blackberries back home in the States. Microwaving instant oats, a drizzle of honey, and a handful of blackberries together will give you a porridge that’s almost cobbler-like. (The same goes for summer strawberries and blueberries.)
- Don’t forget to add a pinch of salt! Doing so will amp up the flavors and balance out sweetness.
In Scotland, those handy individual packets of Quaker oats are nowhere to be found, and who wants to deal with measuring cups in the morning? Although different types of instant oats will offer different cooking instructions, I’ve found that if you add enough water to submerge the oats and then microwave on high heat for one minute and thirty seconds, they’ll turn out perfectly every time. I generally add a splash milk after cooking to add some creaminess. Using water to cook the oats can help stretch a carton of milk to last the week—a good habit if you’re on a student budget like me.[divider] [/divider]
If you ask for a grilled cheese in the U.K., all you’ll get is a blank look. Most hot sandwiches here are referred to as “toasties,” and cold sandwiches just can’t compete with how warm and satisfying they are on a nippy afternoon. I’ve been using our toastie maker (a.k.a. George Foreman grill) nonstop to make some of my favorites:
- Portobello Pesto Toastie: Slice a ciabatta roll in half and spread pesto on each side. Add a few slices of Gouda. In a separate pan, sauté a sliced Portobello mushroom in olive oil, salt, and pepper until the mushroom loses its rigidity (about 3 min). Pile the mushroom slices onto the ciabatta and finish on the grill.
- Spicy Ham and Cheese: Layer sliced cheddar and smoked ham on a tortilla. Add thinly sliced red onion and a drizzle of chili mayo. Fold in half and grill until the tortilla is crisp.
- “CranBrie” Toastie: This one is my roommate Susan’s favorite sandwich. Slice a mini baguette in half and spread cranberry sauce on each side. Add as much or as little sliced brie as you prefer—we usually opt for lots. After warming your toastie on the grill until the brie is gooey, add a handful of rocket (what the Brits call arugula).
- Sweet and Salty Toastie: Caramelize sweet onions in a separate pan and pile on a ciabatta roll with a robust, salty blue cheese like Gorgonzola or Stilton.
If you’re on the go, most of these could be made in the morning and zapped in your library or office microwave. Opt for a thinly sliced bread if you’re planning to reheat; thick-cut breads require longer reheating time and can quickly become chewy or soggy.[divider] [/divider]
Savory beet pizza
This autumn, I’ve been experimenting with pizza, trying to adapt a college staple to fit the season. Beets happen to be one of my favorite foods, and their earthy flavor is perfect for fall. Cleaned, cooked, and only 80 pence per pack, British beetroot is readily available in any Scottish grocery store’s refrigerated vegetable case. If you’re in the States, you’ll probably find beets jarred or canned by the other canned vegetables.
- I’ve been making my own dough lately with varying levels of success. Most recipes call for a cup of warm water, a tablespoon of sugar, a packet of yeast, two cups of self-rising flour, a teaspoon of salt, and two tablespoons of olive oil. If you’re making your own, mix the yeast and sugar together, add warm water, and wait until the mixture is cloudy before gradually stirring in the rest of the dry ingredients. Once all of your ingredients are combined, knead the dough and roll it out on a baking sheet. If playing with new recipes isn’t your hobby, you could definitely use a store-bought dough as well and it would be just as good. For this pizza, I prefer a crust that’s closer to focaccia.
- A pizza is only as good as its toppings. Once you’ve made the dough, just brush it lightly with olive oil and top with diced beets, crumbled goat cheese, sliced red onion, and crushed garlic. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
- While your pizza is baking, reduce some balsamic vinegar on the stove.
- Once the dough is golden brown, the beets are tender, and the cheese is toasted, remove it from the oven and top your pizza with a few handfuls of rocket. I have yet to figure out the Celsius temperature scale on our oven, so I just opt for a medium-high temperature and keep an eye on the pizza, adjusting as necessary. Finish it with a drizzle of the balsamic reduction.
You could also eat the toppings together as a salad, which is how I first encountered them and the inspiration behind this pizza. I opted for a warm pizza because salad just doesn’t feel as cozy to me. This pizza is full of savory vegetables that your immune system will thank you for, especially during cold season.
My first revelation upon moving to Scotland for the semester was that people in the U.K. drink tea partially because a hot mug will keep your hands warm. Tea and hot chocolate are staples in our flat, and we’ve found a few ways to keep them refreshed and interesting:
- Julia’s Special Hot Chocolate: Cadbury and Galaxy both make very chocolatey powdered mixes, and my flatmate, Julia, has recently been making what she refers to as her ‘special hot chocolate’ by adding a swirl of honey and a dash of cinnamon for an extra punch of flavor.
- Homemade mocha: I’ve found a use for the powdered Nescafe coffee that people in the UK drink instead of filtered coffee while satisfying my sugar cravings. Mix three-fourths of a tablespoon of Nescafe with just enough hot water to dissolve it, then fill the rest of your mug with milk. Add two tablespoons of hot cocoa powder and zap it in the microwave according to the hot chocolate package’s instructions. It’s a homemade mocha at a fraction of the cost.
- Digestive biscuits: These are much more delicious than they sound. Thin cookies often topped with a layer of dark chocolate, digestives are perfect for dipping in hot tea. My favorite evening treat lately has been a few digestives dunked in hot peppermint tea.
Although these recipes have been inspired by my time in Scotland, they’d be tasty no matter where you live and can warm up any dreich day.
Michelle is a twenty-something writer and student double majoring in English and American Studies. When she was six years old, her parents were too busy to read Harry Potter to her all day, so she started reading them herself and never looked back. Film, television, and literature all compete for her love and attention, but the truth is that any form of storytelling captivates her completely. She finds something to enjoy about almost everything, but Joyce’s “Ulysses,” “The X Files,” “The Brothers Bloom,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” are her current favorites. Once, she listened to Elliott Smith’s “Either/Or” on repeat approximately two hundred times before picking another album to listen to while driving. Currently, she is planning the perfect murder: her own, by way of thesis projects. She believes that simple, thoughtful cooking makes the most beautiful food and that you don’t need a lot of money to have fun. No matter how busy life gets, she always finds a way to pay attention to the things that deserve it most. Her blog can be found at www.scotlandfiles.wordpress.com, so stop by and say howdy! Or whatever greeting you prefer.[divider] [/divider]