Creamy Walnut & Parsley Pesto

Walnut & Parsley Pesto
Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

Earlier this week a bolshy, fourth year pupil, L, marched up to my desk and demanded to know if the rumours were true. Was I moving school? Was that true? If it was true there was no way that L was going to speak to me ever, ever, ever again. Luckily, the rumours were not true and L and I remain on speaking terms.

I’m not moving school but I am moving classroom. My colleague, Mrs D, is emigrating to Egypt (exciting stuff – though she’s rather regretting calling her son Cairo now) and before the replacement teacher arrives I am going to claim Mrs D’s room. Very excited about this as for the last three years I have been teaching in a room which acts as a corridor to another classroom: a highly annoying situation. Plus, Mrs D’s room is bigger and is not located next to the noisy 4th year common area. Hooray!

So though school breaks up at the end of the month I intend on spending the firsts week of July at work organising my new domain. Might even paint a mural on the wall. Of what I’m not sure. Any ideas will be gratefully received.

Moving on.

Whenever my Mum is in town we go out for a girly lunch together. Our favourite haunt is Contrast, the swanky Glenmoriston’s more affordable brasserie. Located on the banks of the River Ness, beautifully decorated and offering a set two-course lunch for only £5.95 it’s a lovely place for a leisurely meal. The food is very good though perhaps more suited to smaller appetites. I’d never take my partner D there for fear he’d loudly exclaim: “is this it?!”

It was in Contrast that I was absolutely wowed by a pasta dish: tagliatelli in parsley sauce. The dish was incredibly simple and all the better for it. The colour was a vibrant green and it tasted fresh and creamy at the same time. Yum.

Since that day I have been trying and failing and trying and failing to recreate the sauce. My only consolation is that the following recipe was born from one of my failures. In its own right it’s very good too.

The ragged pasta in the photo was an idea I got from “Totally Addicted to Taste”. Simply break dried lasagne sheets into large, irregular pieces and cook as normal.

Creamy Walnut and Parsley Pesto

Small handful of walnuts, bashed
Large handful of parsley
Glug of olive oil
Pinch of salt
Very small clove of garlic, chopped
2 tblspn crème fraiche
Squeeze of Lemon

  • Briefly whiz the walnuts, parsley, oil, salt and garlic in a food processor.
  • Add the crème fraiche and whiz again briefly. Pesto should be lumpy textured (light green with flecks of parsley and nuts) rather than a completely smooth consistency.
  • Add a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir and taste.
  • Happy? Add to freshly cooked pasta and sprinkle with a little chopped parsley and walnuts.

Highland Games & Apple Green Tea

Food 051

Oh, I’m so lazy.  I have done absolutely nothing since arriving home from school.  Worst thing is that it’s a lovely day outside.  


 Hee hee.  Writing that last paragraph made me feel so idle I took my bike out of the garage and went for a short cycle.  Extremely glad I did so.  Not only has my mood gone from slightly grumpy to rather jaunty, but I also discovered a little wooded glen with a  stream running through it.  It’s only a five minute ride away from my house.  Wonderful!  Will take Rosie (brother’s dog) there this summer. 

Perhaps my earlier lethargy was brought on by the lack of pressure at work just now.  I’m just not used to it!  It’s an odd time of year in school.  Though we have more than two weeks left of this term, there are so many activities taking place during class time that I rarely have a full class.   

Keeping track of who has missed what is virtually impossible and I have all but given up doing so.  Instead I’m leaving the responsibility of catching up with the pupils.  This statement caused some guffaws in the staffroom as, though this method tends to work well with the more able classes, it doesn’t tend to work at all with the poorer classes.  These latter classes, one could argue, are the pupils who most need to keep up to date with their work.  What to do? 

One of the major events the school is preparing for is the Alness Highland Games.  On the evening of Wednesday, 20th June the field beside the school is going to be transformed into a huge events arena with pipe bands, Highland dancing, Gaelic singing, sporting events and stalls.  We’re expecting approximately 6,000 people to turn up on the night.   

I should take this opportunity to clear up a little misunderstanding – for Genna in particular.  During the staff meeting informing us of exactly what events were scheduled for the night I must admit to being somewhat tired and confused.  For the record: there WILL be a Scottish Infantry parachute jump taking place on the night; and there WILL be a display from the Nothern Constabulary’s Police Dogs.  However, despite what I excitedly told Genna and a huge amount of other people, there WILL NOT be dogs parachuting into the event! 

That’d be really cool though… 

A drinks suggestion today.  Green tea is apparently very, very good for us.  Unfortunately, I can’t stand the stuff.  Have tried to like it – you can’t help but try when you’ve lived in Japan for a year – but to no avail.  This concoction is delicious though.  I can almost feel those anti-oxidants working… 

Apple Green Tea 

700ml boiling water

2 green tea bags

300ml unsweetened apple juice (I like the cloudy stuff)

Juice of one lemon

Ice cubes and slices of apple to serve 

  • Steep the tea bag in the water for 10 minutes.  Remove.

  • Add the apple juice and lemon.

  • Chill.

  • Serve with apple slices and ice cubes.

 This keeps well in the fridge for several days. 

Aromatic Crispy Duck

Crispt duck

Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

It’s Sunday evening and around this time I usually start to think about the school week ahead. Tonight is no exception. First thing tomorrow I’ll be teaching my seniors. Really looking forward to it as we are reading a favourite of mine, MacBeth.

Thankfully the class are enjoying it so far. I was worried they wouldn’t as their previous experience of Shakespeare was not terribly positive. Despite their former teacher’s best efforts the class absolutely despised Romeo and Juliet. Not even Luhrmann’s dazzling adaption managed to win them over – weirdos.

The Scottish play is a winner though. The graphic battle descriptions (Till he unseam’d him from the nave to the chaps/ And fix’d his head upon our battlements) and hirsute witches (you should be women,/ And yet your beards forbid me to interpret/ That you are so) seem to have caught their imaginations. And when, with a little rearrangement of the original text, they figured out that “Aroint thee thy rump fed runion” basically meant “bugger off big bum” it swiftly became the insult of choice in the fifth year common area.

Tomorrow they are going to meet Lady MacBeth for the first time. Expecting her to raise a few eyebrows!

This evening we are having an Asian feast! My mum loves aromatic crispy duck and requests it whenever she visits. Have also made vegetable spring rolls, Thai basil rice, steamed greens and a pineapple granita to finish with. A mish mash of our favourites rather than an elegant array of dishes. 🙂

Aromatic Crispy Duck

A big duck (excess fat from around cavities cut away)
1 tblspn salt
1 ½ tblspn Chinese five spice
½ tsp black pepper
½ tsp ground ginger
Thumb of fresh ginger (cut into chunks and smashed with a mallet)
3 spring onions (chopped into large pieces)

To serve:
Cucumber (finely sliced)
Spring onion (finely sliced)
Plum sauce (don’t bother making your own unless plums are in season, which they obviously aren’t just now)
Chinese pancakes (from Chinese supermarket – I have to go to Aberdeen for them. And I do!)

  • Blot the duck with kitchen roll until dry.
  • Combine salt, spice, pepper and ground ginger. Rub ALL over the duck and on the inside.
  • Stuff duck with fresh ginger and spring onions.
  • Roast in a deep roasting tin at 170oC for 2.5 hours. The duck will render a huge amount of fat. Pour this off every 30 mins or so.
  • Turn up heat to 225oC and roast for another 20-30 mins (until very crispy).
  • Leave duck to cool before using two forks to shred the meat and skin off the carcass.
  • Serve the steamed pancakes, spring onion, cucumber, plum sauce and duck in separate dishes so that the diners can assemble their own wee duck rolls.

PS  Disturbingly, as I was taking the above photo a large drake was sitting atop my neighbour’s house and quacking loudly. At me?

Travel Writing, Tcheuchters & Chicken with Tomatoes

Chicken Originally uploaded by wjharrison77.

My seniors were doing some peer assessment of their travel writing today. They just started to write yesterday after a week of reading articles by, among others, Paul Theroux (my favourite) and Bill Bryson (far from a favourite). The class loved Bryson and hated Theroux. Boooo, I said. Booooooo!
After reviewing the conventions of travel writing (for example, the mixture of personal experience plus facts) the pupils began writing their opening paragraphs. The following period the class read each other’s work and pointed out what was working well and what required improvement. I had a peek at the paragraphs too and I must say that, despite their shoddy choice of role model, their efforts were superb, especially considering these were the class’s first drafts. A few extracts that made me smile:

Some people say the town is a fading glory. Many go as far as to call it tacky. But to me it’s simply brilliant. From the pleasure beach to the tower, the sandy beach to the hoards of tourists; I love Blackpool!

• (On Edinburgh)
The one o’clock cannon goes off and 3,000 people have a near heart attack. The odd couple worriedly wonder where the cannonball goes.

Being a tcheuchter, I obviously cannot comment on the modern ways of the lowlander. With their new fangled televisions and four-wheeled cars us Highlanders don’t have a hope in hell of understanding how they live. Or so they’d have us believe!

A “tcheuchter”, for you non-Scots, is a person who lives in the countryside. Who you call a tcheuchter (or tchuech) depends on where you live. Coming from a village, I would be a tchuech to a city dweller. But farm folk are tcheuchs to me. And the farmers I know have a tcheuch hierarchy too! It’s all relative.  🙂

Dinner last night was very low maintenance and very good.

Chicken with Tomatoes and Peppers
(serves 2)

4 x chicken thighs (bone in)
300 g cherry tomatoes
1 orange, red or yellow pepper, sliced thickly
1 chilli pepper, sliced
100 ml stock (or water)
Handful of basil leaves
Olive oil
Salt and pepper

• Heat the oven to 180oC
• Season the chicken well.
• Put the first 6 ingredients into a tight fitting oven proof dish and drizzle with the olive oil.
• Cover with tin foil and put in the oven for an hour.
• Remove tinfoil and cook at 200oC for another 20-30 mins, until browned.

We ate this with some super healthy steamed green beans and some highly unhealthy garlic bread.

A Sari, Some Flowers and an Omelette

Im so handsome!

Originally uploaded by genna.rhodes.

Feeling ridiculously happy this evening. Had two surprises today. Firstly, an ex-pupil popped in to school to say hello. In a small community, as Alness is, this shouldn’t be a huge deal but Ramseena moved back to Kerala in India last year. She turned up today in my last class in a stunningly beautiful blue and gold sari rendering my boisterous (but lovely) third years speechless. Oh, I wish, I wish, I wish I’d had a camera. To have captured Ramseena in what turned out to be her honeymoon sari would have been wonderful. It was a truly bizarre sight to see such a sparkling vision in a dusty, grey computing room.

   Secondly, one of my pupils from last term gave me a bunch of flowers to say thank you for teaching her. Now, my aunt and cousin are primary (elementary) school teachers and are inundated with gifts at several points in the year. This doesn’t happen as a secondary school teacher! Was so chuffed I shed a wee tear – much to the horror of the pupil, I should add. And, if all this wasn’t enough I have a cracking weekend coming up. Off to Aberdeenshire to see my parents, go to a food festival (Taste of Grampian – will report back) and visit my best friend and her new puppy, Rufus. Isn’t he a cutie? Enough gushing. Dinner this evening was very simple but exceptionally successful. More of a suggestion than a recipe, I think.

Artichoke Heart & Parsley Omelette

20g butter
4 artichoke hearts, tinned or marinated
Palmful of fresh parsley
3 Eggs
Salt and Pepper

  • Melt half the butter in a frying pan.
  • Saute the hearts gently for a minute (just to heat through).
  • Meanwhile, beat the eggs, parsley and seasoning gently.
  • Cut the remaining butter into little cubes and add to egg mixture.
  • Pour egg mixture into hot pan and stir a few times.
  • When the omelette just begins to set fold in half.

My omelettes always look terrible. This one tasted fab though!

Tomato and Aubergine Salad

Met my new Higher class today.  They are a lively bunch and seem very keen to do well.  This is their fourth year together as a class so they have a very strong group identity.  So much so, in fact, that this morning I had to fight the feeling that I was a guest in my own classroom.  It always takes a wee while to get to know a group and work out the class dynamic.  Wondering if this will be a lengthier process since the group already have a dynamic.  We’ll see. 

Starting the term with a travel writing project.  Reading/examining writing by Paul Theroux, Bruce Chatwin, Bill Bryson and some extracts from a Lonely Planet travel writing anthology.  The pupils will use what they learn to write their own travel piece.

Talking of travel, a friend of mine was in Sicily last year and fell in love with a spiced aubergine salad.  She told me all about it and I began looking for recipes.  There were plenty to be found!  I’ve tried out several different versions of the dish and all have been lovely.  In Roast Chicken and Other Stories (one of my favourite cookbooks, though I’m not at all keen on the sniffy sequel, Second Helpings) Simon Hopkinson tell us the salad was a favourite of Elizabeth David.  What more do you need to know?  Hopkinson’s version uses allspice instead of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg.  I prefer the latter combination as it provides more of a kick to liven up out-of-season tomatoes.  When tomatoes are at their best/tastiest the allspice version might be better.

This is my entry for Joanna’s HotM vegetable round-up.

Aubergine Salad

(serves 2)

1 aubergine (eggplant), diced


Olive oil

4 big, juicy tomatoes, roughly chopped

1/2 tspn cumin

2 cloves

Pinch of nutmeg

1/2 tsp cinnamon

Pinch of cayenne pepper

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 tbspn raisins

1 tbspn fresh mint, chopped

1 tbspn fresh coriander, chopped

Extra virgin olive oil

  • Put the diced aubergine into a colander and sprinkle a generous amount of salt over it.  Leave for an hour.  (Salting aubergines was originally to draw out any bitter juices.  Apparently the majority of aubergines available these days don’t need this treatment.  I tried salting and not salting.  The former version was tastier and the salt seemed to help the aubergine brown when fried.)
  • Fry the spices and garlic in a generous lug of olive oil for one minute.  Add the sliced onion and fry until golden.
  • Add the tomatoes to the spiced onion and cook gently for 20 mins.  Add the raisins and remove from the heat.
  • In a seperate pan, heat another generous lug of olive oil and fry the aubergine in batches until golden. This can take some time.
  • Combine tomato mixture with aubergines and herbs.  Taste for seasoning.
  • Serve at room temperature drizzled with extra virgin olive oil.

This is great as a bruschetta topping or simply eaten with a spoon.

Subject Co-ordinator

Had a very productive ASG meeting today.  The booklets, including all of our case studies, are being put together and distributed in schools next month, including a DVD with pupil/teacher interviews.  Going to ask my seniors if they are interested in being interviewed.  Imagine they’ll jump at the opportunity.  I’ll be very interested to hear how they reflect on their learning and my teaching in hindsight.

Something else that came up in conversation was the lack of an English subject co-ordinator for the Highland region.  It seems bizarre that schools across the region do not have a forum to share materials.  What this means is that teachers are spending vast amounts of time creating materials that have already been created in another school seven miles up the road.  A phenomenal amount of time is being wasted!  The position of co-ordinator is available at the moment but the time allowance is only one day per week.  A teacher would have to be crazy to take on the position on top of their normal teaching load.

So, myself and a teacher from Millburn Academy have decided to try and create some kind of website or wiki or blog (not sure what would be best and how they differ exactly) where Highland English teachers can submit materials and ask colleagues for professional help.  It wouldn’t solve the problem, but it might prevent us from continually reinventing the wheel.