Rhubarb and Strawberry Margaritas

My rosehip-syrup experiment last autumn went down pretty well, so I thought I’d try a spring version. And this time, I decided to add tequila.

Ingredients – serves 4

Rhubarb Syrup (recipe follows)
2 cups white tequila
1/2 cup fresh lime juice
1/4 cup triple sec, such as Cointreau
1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh ripped mint leaves
Crushed ice, for the shaker
8 fresh strawberries, hulled and finely diced

Rhubarb Syrup:
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 large stalks of rhubarb, coarsely chopped

Directions for Rhubarb Syrup:

I was aiming for 8 cocktails, so doubled the ingredients. Then I, er, added an extra two rhubarb stalks by accident, but it all turned out fine in the end!

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Coarsely chop

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Combine 1 1/2 cups of water and the sugar in a medium saucepan over a high heat. Cook until the sugar is dissolved. Add the rhubarb and cook until slightly softened, for about 5 minutes.

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Remove the saucepan from the heat and steep for 1 hour. Drain the liquid into a small saucepan and cook over a high heat until slightly reduced and thickened, about 5 minutes.

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Transfer the syrup to a bowl (or a measuring jug and a cafetiere if you happen to have broken every bowl you own). The recipe then says to cover and chill in the refrigerator for about an hour, but I left it to cool down on the side for an hour or so first. This probably seems obvious, but I thought I’d mention it just in case. The left-over rhubarb pulp is delicious as well, so don’t throw it away!

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Directions for the Margaritas:

Combine the Rhubarb Syrup, tequila, lime juice, triple sec, orange juice, mint leaves and some crushed ice in a shaker,  in batches if necessary. Place the strawberries in the bottom of your  glasses, then strain the margaritas over them. I found it quite difficult to judge the batches, so would advise combining everything in a large bowl first, then portioning it out for shaking. Mine turned out more orangey than rhubarby at first (no large bowls to hand), but I’d had the foresight to store the Rhubarb Syrup in a glass bottle that we could top up with as the cocktails went down. 

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They were sugary and fruity, the lime, orange juice and bitters balancing the syrupy flavour of the rhubarb. The tequila still packed a punch, but even the boys appreciated it being a contributing flavour rather than the sole focus. Dr Jekyll seems to be after them already in the photo above.

Has anyone else got any spring cocktails planned? Not that you need an excuse!

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Shotguns and Scottish Mist

© Jade EveringhamThe final day of my stag weekend.

After the cocktails, fancy dress and formal dinner party, I thought we should take it easy on the last day. (Well, actually, I had wanted to go potholing, but even my climbing-partner Hannah had vetoed that idea. Sigh.) So I went for a more civilised option, and got hold of some shotguns.

We spent the morning clay pigeon shooting on the Hopetoun Estate. I’ve used air rifles and shotguns for target practise, but I’ve never aimed at a moving target before.  People are often fascinated by guns, even if that fascination verges on fear in countries like ours where the gun laws are prohibitive, or on fetishisation as in the States. Knowing that the object in your hands was designed to kill changes how it feels; how you hold it. The First World War poet Wilfred Owen wrote a poem titled Arms and the Boy, in which weapons and ammunition are anthropomorphised and made sentient. They “are thinly drawn with famishing for flesh” and “blind, blunt bullet-heads… long to muzzle in the hearts of lads”. Owen seems to blame the evils of war on the weapons themselves, rather than on God or man, but this seems like taking the easy way out to me. We certainly had fun, and the beautifully crafted shotguns we were using were tools to respect and admire, but not to fear.

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

The boys definitely came into their own on this challenge, though Hannah turned out to be the most natural shot (mind you, she did sneakily spend the previous weekend practising!) Our instructor Bobby and his team were lovely (they did laugh at us girls, but that was to be expected). An hour and a half’s shooting was just the thing to start the day, and afterwards we had lunch in Queensferry overlooking the Forth Road Bridge, huge concrete pillars rising into the mist like the legs of a giant army. We were intending to spend the afternoon walking across the Pentland Hills, but the mist had become a thick fog, shrouding all features of the landscape.

© Jade Everingham

 Hannah and I, trying and failing to be serious as usual.

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

I’m not sure what Hannah is doing here, but whatever it is I love it

© Jade Everingham

The boys. Trying to look menacing I think, but looking more like a crap 90s boyband.

© Jade Everingham

Having fun with a gate.

© Jade Everingham

Withnail and I

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

After messing about in the fog for a while we headed back to Rosslyn, explored the dungeons, then tried to find some caves in the woods. We didn’t find the promised caves, but the woodland was absolutely beautiful. Full of wild garlic, moss and ferns, with a twisting river running through it. We’ll definitely be returning to Scotland – hopefully the Highlands next!

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Riding in Scotland and a Dinner Party at Rosslyn Castle

© Jade Everingham

The second day of my stag weekend was a relaxed affair. Sort of. I had tasked Hannah with finding us a trekking centre, so we could go for a hack through the Scottish landscape. There’s something about Scotland. It seems wilder than the rest of the British Isles; one of those few remaining areas where magic is merely dormant, and not yet defeated by the modern world. Exploring on horseback is one of the best ways to see this, along paths that mortal feet cannot tread but hooves most definitely can! Hannah did some research, and one option in particular stood out from all the rest.

The Pentland Hills Trekking Centre had excellent reviews online, and offers three hour hacks as well as the usual shorter rides. All the girls I’d invited along can ride, but when the boys turned up the riding level went down a bit. We were very glad that they joined us (Steve in particular had to be cajoled and bullied into it, and tried to pull out a number of times) but it did mean we had to walk for three hours instead of the considerably faster pace we and horses had expected!

© Jade Everingham

Katy, Bekky and I, clearly enraptured by something. Probably a horse.

© Jade Everingham

Boys on board. Tom and Steve, looking… well, they’re on anyway.

© Jade Everingham

Seamus and I. I loved this horse. If he’s ever for sale, please get in touch. I would happily buy him instead of a house.

© Jade Everingham

A very happy Katy.

© Jade Everingham

Concentrating hard

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… and we’re off!

This is definitely the perfect trekking centre for experienced riders, as the ride we were taken on consisted of frequent stretches of path ideal for bombing (otherwise known as a fast canter that will likely break into a gallop). The horses were incredible as well. Not your typical concrete-mouthed ponies that ignore their riders completely, and take instruction only from the tail of the horse in front; these horses actually listened. Responsive and well behaved, they did exactly what they were told, despite being incredulous that we weren’t galloping across hill and dale for three hours. The horse I was allocated, Seamus, was not only gorgeous but read my mood perfectly, and spent three hours sneaking in little trots wherever he could get away with it. The slightest squeeze on the reins though and he would instantly do as instructed.

Tom and Steve had a bit of trouble when Tom’s horse bit Steve’s horse on the arse, so Steve’s horse kicked Tom’s horse in the face, and both horses had a minor tantrum. They weren’t thrown off, or run away with, as would have been perfectly normal in my experience, but both boys panicked a tiny bit. Largely I suspect as they don’t grasp just how badly things can go wrong on a horse, and how utterly impossible to control they can be if they decide to be, even for riders who know what they’re doing. Nevertheless, nervous and first-time riders who’d rather feel like they’re mounted on a slowly-moving armchair than a real horse, should be aware that Pentland’s has real horses.

We had lunch afterwards at a pub in Edinburgh, then sent the boys off for groceries whilst we de-horsed back at Rosslyn Castle (details on our castle retreat in my last post). The bath is absolutely huge, but beware: there is not enough hot water to fill it. I made this mistake, then spent an unpleasant twenty minutes trying to maintain a submerged position, my breath smoking into the freezing air above, hopefully trying the hot tap for more warmth every five minutes only for it to turn cold again and send me scurrying back beneath the water like a wary seal. Although a miserable bath I couldn’t help but see the funny side, and ended up giggling to myself. Yes, on my own, naked, in a lukewarm puddle of water in a castle. Footsteps paused outside the bathroom door just as I was mid-cackle, then hurried away to find a less-mad bathroom I presume.

Anyway, bathing time at an end, Hannah and I got stuck in preparing the evening’s meal. I started layering up enough potatoes dauphinoise to feed eight people, and Hannah made stuffed chicken breasts to accompany it and prawn cocktails to start. She had also laid the dining room table whilst I had been pootling around upstairs (“I wasn’t sure what you wanted Jade,  so I just laid it out how they have it in the House of Lords.” “Oh well, I’m sure that’ll do Hannah!”) so I lit a huge bowl-full of tea lights on the table and built us a fire.

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About 11pm, just as we’d dressed for dinner (boys looking very handsome in their suits, bless them, and the girls in dresses and heels), our guests arrived. Lancastrian brothers Joe and Adam appeared on our doorstep like sprites out of the darkness (they’d got the bus from Edinburgh, and come for dinner). Lamenting being under-dressed for the occasion, they soon spotted a couple of top hats lying  around from last night, and were not to be parted from them until they left at 5am. They nipped off after the meal to wash-up for us, which was very much appreciated, and cemented our impression of them as a couple of helpful hobgoblins.

Either I mistake your shape and making quite, 

Or else you are that shrewd and knavish sprite 

Call’d Robin Goodfellow: are not you he 

That frights the maidens of the villagery; 

Skim milk, and sometimes labor in the quern 

And bootless make the breathless huswife churn; 

And sometime make the drink to bear no barm; 

Mislead night-wanderers, laughing at their harm? 

Those that Hobgoblin call you and sweet Puck, 

You do their work, and they shall have good luck: 

Are not you he?

(Act 2, Scene 1: A Midsummer Night’s Dream)

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Where’s the most unusual place you’ve had a dinner party? Rosslyn is certainly mine!

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My Stag Weekend: Fancy Dress, Cocktails, and a Private Scottish Castle

© Jade Everingham

I’ve referred to my ‘hen do’ on occasion for clarity’s sake, but really it was always going to be a stag do. Plump, feathery, pecking, egging hens are not something I feel any affinity with, I’m afraid. Stags though, well; stags are cool aren’t they. Then a couple of my female friends had to pull out at the last minute so, not exactly reluctantly, I invited Tom and a load of boys along.

I know, I know, we were supposed to be trying the girl-gang thing, but it just didn’t work out!

And we had the BEST time.

I was careful not to try and fit too much in over the weekend, or we’d have ended up rushing everywhere and exhausted by the end of it. We still managed to do a lot though, so I’ll split the weekend into separate posts.

We got the train from Kings Cross to Edinburgh Friday morning, and arrived late Friday afternoon (Scotland is very far away). James was waiting outside Edinburgh Waverley for us with our Landrover, which was very, very exciting. I have a little bit of an obsession with Landrovers, and could think of no better excuse to hire one than a weekend in Scotland. James was very professional and friendly, and I’d recommend his company (link here) wholeheartedly. Poor Hannah was our designated driver, which she regretted rather when she caught sight of the bridge she’d have to manoeuvre across every day.

© Jade EveringhamFirst glimpse… looks fine to you?

© Jade EveringhamAaah, now you see! Hannah did the most amazing job driving over a frankly alarmingly high and narrow bridge in a vehicle built like a massive rhino, so the tiny wheel-guard scrape we incurred (which James was very nice about) can definitely be forgiven.

© Jade EveringhamSuch a bridge must be guarding something pretty special though, I bet you’re thinking, and you’d be right. Welcome to Rosslyn Castle! It was mainly built around 1450, and is located on a tree-covered spine of rock rising steeply from the River Esk, which surrounds it on three sides. Apart from the surrounding ruins the central building looks fairly ordinary from the outside, but is truly spectacular once you walk through the front door. It really was the most amazing place I’ve ever stayed – decorated not in the usual anodyne style, but like a real country house. Wood panelling, tapestries, open fires… heaven.

© Jade EveringhamThe entrance hall

© Jade EveringhamThe drawing room. It’s even more impressive than it appears in this photo, as it’s a large square space so difficult to do justice to. Very atmospheric, and very beautiful.

There’s also a stunning dining room,  private walled garden, a whole floor of bedrooms above (it sleeps seven, one double, two twins and a single room) and multiple levels of dungeons below! After running around squealing in delight for a bit we unpacked, had a nice cup of tea, then got out the stage make-up and prosthetics.

The plan for the evening was fancy dress, of course. I went for literary heroes as a theme, authors or characters, and my wonderful friends took to it with gusto. We had Virginia Woolf, Titania, a cross-dressing Poirot, Dr Jekyll, a confused-magician David Copperfield, Hunter. S Thompson and, er, Victor (who went as a famous Norweigan bard/duellist, from memory, but I can’t spell it). My cousin Bekky hadn’t got the email about fancy dress so we found her a Snow White outfit in Sainsburys for children, which she somehow managed to fit into.

© Jade Everingham

My Titania outfit was fairly simple, but I’d happily wear it every day if I was allowed to. The dress is from Leon Max, the feather collar was made for me by V V Rouleaux (a Christmas present from Tom), and I got the black contact lenses online. To complete the look I put a serious amount of super-strong hairspray in my hair, and blow-dried it upside down for that authentic dragged-through-a-hedge-fairy look. I was going to make a headdress using some antlers I bought online, but they didn’t arrive in time unfortunately.

© Jade Everingham

Still, I was pleased by the end result!

© Jade Everingham

The dress is on sale online, but isn’t available in Leon’s Notting Hill store (as Katya and I discovered when we popped in the other day). It’s very easy to wear – both flattering and comfortable. (I come up as a UK size 8 on the online size-guide, but having tried another dress on in-store decided to gamble and order a 6, which fitted perfectly.)

© Jade Everingham

I also asked everyone to come up with a cocktail each, though I think a few had to missed out in the end! I made strawberry and rhubarb margaritas, as I thought tequila would be a good addition to the evening, which seemed to go down pretty well (recipe to follow in another post). We played charades for the rest of the evening, boys versus girls of course, and the girls definitely won. Avatar nearly stumped us, but The Importance of Being Earnest nearly did for the boys, and had the rest of us in hysterics.

© Jade EveringhamDavid Copperfield added photographer to his many skills

© Mick PottsVirginia Woolf and her Strawberry Bellinis

© Mick PottsDr Jekyll and his Dirty Russians

© Jade EveringhamPoirot and his Whisky Macs

© Jade EveringhamMy gorgeous Australian cousin Bekky, who travelled all the way to Scotland even though she could only spare 24 hours before flying off to give an academic paper at a conference, and got glitter in places glitter is not meant to go.

© Jade EveringhamTitania and Dr Jekyll. A good match, non?!

© Jade Everingham

© Jade Everingham

Titania and the boys

© Jade Everingham… and, er, Titania falling over. Ahem.

Tales of horses, guns, dungeons and dinner parties to follow soon.

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