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Agatha Christie’s Detective Poirot famously said, ‘The English do not have a cuisine; they have food. Overcooked meat, boiled vegetables, inedible cheese. And the day they invent English wine, I am retreating to the Continent.’ *

I should emphasize I’ve only been to Scotland, sadly missing England, Ireland, and Wales, not that it’s forever. I’m going. But despite one meal in Scotland, strictly average fajitas eaten at the sole restaurant at the edge of Rannoch Moor, everything we ate was incredible.** The trick, always and forever, is to eat where the locals eat, and to eat what’s locally sourced. In the space of one week we put 800 miles on our little rental car, driving across the central part of the country. Coast to coast, from Oban to St. Andrews, we feasted.

From a remote farm we bought bags of wonderful homemade granola with bright orange marigold petals in it. At the Gateway to the Isles at the western coast we ate tiny succulent mussels, harvested at a nearby island, and no bigger than the tip of your finger. At the opposite coast in Anstruther (pronounced ‘Enster’), at the recommendation of a portly policeman, we had crisp, tender fish and chips with malt vinegar. All week we ate a proper English breakfast with eggs, rashers, and bangers prepared by the house manager, a small, wiry English expat (our host called him Wee Jim). And of course we tried haggis, although made unconventionally: tater tot-sized, fried, and served with a creamy garlic dipping sauce. Conventional or not, it was rich and satisfying. And everywhere there were local brews of beer and whisky.

But travel aside, I’ve loved the British dishes I’ve prepared at home, and there have been quite a few. This year I’m going to tackle more of them. The poor reputation is getting pushed aside. I want to try out classic dishes; I want to learn about this region’s great tradition of simple, comforting foods; and I want to talk about it.

My Cooking of the British Isles (Time-Life, 1969) will be my chief guide. I’ve already made Scotch Woodcock, Traditional English Christmas Cake, and Irish Christmas Cake. I tried Spiced Beef in Christmas 2014 and failed because the recipe didn’t emphasize that I needed to season every inch of the meat. But that’s on the editors of the book, not on the whole of the British Empire. I’ll try it again sometime.

For now, I started with Eve’s Pudding, a recipe from James Dunlinson, an Englishman who was the design director for Martha Stewart Living. Yesterday I was cooped up inside for most of the day while the outside was blizzarding. Today I put butter in a bowl to soften, shoveled out my car for an hour and a half, then came back inside and made this lovely thing.

It’s basically a cobbler, full of cinnamon and apples (would Eve have it any other way?). Warm out of the oven, with my extremities still red from cold, it was was a profoundly comforting experience. The British know from cold and raw; they built up a tradition of cooking to counter it. And it’s worked for a few years.

Poirot can stay a little smug; I always giggle at his statement. But not too smug.

*For best effect, say ‘food’ with a nasal French accent, the way he did. And it’s worth noting that Christie herself was an Englishwoman. Whether the statement was a sly personal editorial on the food of her homeland or her best guess of a Belgian’s opinion of it, we don’t know.

**Who in the name of all that is holy eats fajitas in the West Highlands? Well…I hadn’t had a vegetable in a week. It’s hard to find them in pubs in Scotland. When you see ‘salad’ on the menu chalkboard, they mean tuna salad or ham salad. Nothing green. As we were eating, an elderly Englishman approached our table gingerly about what he called ‘the fajitas,’ pronouncing the ‘j’. ‘Are they nice?’ he asked. If you need vegetables, and you probably do, then yeah.

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When I was a high school student away at boarding school, I ate a lot of something called Sun Country granola. My mom mailed me happy orange boxes of it, dozens, that I would consequently plow through. One Halloween I even dressed as a flower child and carried a bag of it with me as I trick or treated.  Sun Country has since disappeared from the planet (granted, it’s totally plausible that I ate it all). And I haven’t found anything that comes close to its flavor and richness.

But I do make granola, and have come up with a recipe that’s so delicious and so versatile that it helped to dry my tears. Actually, I’m not even sure you can call it a recipe. It’s just rolled oats (the Quaker oats-in-a-canister type), a sweetener of some sort, a pinch of salt and a bunch of other stuff you happen to like, in whatever quantities you like.

In the granola in these photos I used oats, honey, Turkish apricots that I snipped into bits with kitchen scissors (an admirable Nigella Lawson trick), walnuts that I toasted in a skillet first, and, because my will is so weak, dark chocolate chips. I currently have a huge crush on ground cardamom, a spice that smells like it was poured out of the flowers growing in Eve’s window box in Eden, so I added a few teaspoons of that. A pinch of salt, and that’s it.

Set your oven to 350. Take out a cookie sheet and cover it with parchment. (Don’t use a black cookie sheet or you risk charbroiling your granola.)

Next, get out a big bowl and a wooden spoon or rubber spatula. Dump your oats, a few cups’ worth, into the bowl. Stir in your sweetener, then your spice and your salt, and spread the mixture onto your cookie sheet.

Chop up your dried fruit and toast up your nuts, if you’re using them.

Pop your cookie sheet into the oven and bake for about half an hour. You want to dry it out. Stir the mixture halfway through. When it’s done, let it completely cool on a rack, and then add the rest of your stuff.

Ideas for fun taste sensations:

-Real maple syrup, pecans, cinnamon and dried apples

-Brown sugar, Karo syrup and dried figs (this’ll make it crunchy, just so you know)

-Honey, macadamia nuts, dried pineapple and toasted coconut (hel-lo)

Add a few pats of pure melted butter to your mixture, and tell me how good it was.

To get more ideas, take a road trip to a specialty store that’s famous for their fantastic supply of dried fruits and nuts. I love Delicious Orchards in Colts Neck, NJ; Whole Foods is a bang, too.

Personally, I avoid using fresh fruit in my granola because I’d have to keep it in the fridge, which would dry it out too much and make it too crunchy (I have TMJ disorder. If you have to google it, consider yourself lucky). But the stuff’s yours. Do what you want.*

I snack on this right out of the big Tupperware I keep on top of my fridge. But tonight I ate the specimen pictured below, with milk, in my favorite bowl that I bought in a whack little store in Cambridge, MA. The best cereal ever!

*Keep in mind, always and forever, that a recipe—even the ones from fancy-schmancy chefs or publications—represents only a very small consensus on what tastes good to a few particular people. Their preferences are no more important than yours. Doesn’t matter if it’s cooking, teaching a class on Aztec culture, or carving walrus figurines out of soap—design of any kind is your gig. You really can say, “Do I like this? Good, great, it’s going in.” If you like it, it works. That’s the only rule there is.

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