Guest Blogger: Neet Neilson

This month the Bearsden Writers task was to write a short blog of between 300- 500 words on anything that is of interest and can include an image or photo.

Neet Neilson will start it off with a poem about something she is passionate about… Tiramisu

Like my mamma used to make…

A quest, for the best, like my mamma used to make,

was my challenge for the family recipe tiramisu cake.

Turning vegan, the dairy ridden delicacy was now forbidden,

so finding replacements and still get it to taste the same was a given.

Well, with no eggs in the sponge, and none in the cream cheese,

left me with disasters, and did nothing to appease

my sense of failure at a task I was desperate to achieve.

The marscapone alternatives, some would make you skeeve,

but to get that creamy lightness and that subtle taste

was proving impossible, and causing so much waste.

The sponge took many tries to get light, fluffy layers

instead of something more useful to bricklayers.

If it wasn’t dense enough to cause a black hole,

it was more suited as rubber you could use for a sole.

Mixtures of apple cider vinegar and soy milk to curdle

worked on texture, but left a taste to make you hurl to.

With more experimentation required than a PhD,

it took three years to produce something that filled me with glee.

With a careful balance of ingredients, and swearing aloud,

I’d come up with a sponge that would make my mamma proud.

So, now how to get a cheese that wasn’t dairy, but would cream

to a whip and taste eggy, light, and hold form like a dream?

Most used the coconut milk to get the light fluffy texture,

but the taste of coconut made resemblance just conjecture.

I went nuts with nuts in all their creamy forms and concoctions,

and with every failing was running out of options.

I still couldn’t get a cream to hold its shape and form

like the original; absolutely no attempts would conform.

Then one day, came the long-awaited manufactured cream

that whips like dairy, tastes like dairy, but is made from a bean!

With the right secret additions, to replicate to perfection,

I now had all the components to recreate this confection.

I fed it to the non-vegans and they hadn’t a clue

that this was anything but an original tiramisu.

At last, I’d succeeded where many had miserably failed

with variations and commiserations that seriously paled

into insignificance alongside the original and unique.

Now, I can shout it from the highest peak –

I did it! I made it! I’ve replicated the tiramisu cake

with a cruelty-free version much better than my mamma did make!

© Neet Neilson, 2020

To write or not in the time of Covid-19

I had applied to join a Blaze Creative Writing online course with Strathclyde University last November, so I knew that I would be writing in the ten weeks beginning 20 April. There are thirteen of us and our tutor, David Pettigrew, estimated our total word count for the course would be 9000. Therefore, I will have at least written that number of polished, not draft, words of my novel in progress. I am now at the final assignment, and the problem is I must write the ending. The deadline is next Monday. Without an end date, I would dither endlessly. Still, I am consoled by the thought that thinking is a vital part of the process of writing. I do a lot of it.

As for ‘not writing’ I don’t include reading in that. Reading helps our writing except that is doesn’t get the words on to the paper (or the screen). This course talks a lot about our reading, and we have all added to our reading lists.

First of all, we posted, discussed and wrote our novel first page, which was very interesting, as, within the group, we have a wide range of settings, historical and modern.

Then, we posted our favourite first pages. Our tutor’s choice was Enduring Love by Ian McEwan. Find it here: http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/m/mcewan-love.html

Other good novel beginnings and titles (important) which we mentioned are below.

The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

The Lies of Lock Lamora by Scott Lynch

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Clare North

Two classic books on our craft are Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg and On Writing by Stephen King. I have read these early on in my writing life. Perhaps I should revisit them but do I have the time? I used to be very busy, out and about, talking to people. Now, I spend much time online responding to other people’s writing. Note to self – I must make progress with my novel.

What did I do when I was not writing? I started by tidying everything. The house first, but that didn’t take long because I don’t accumulate stuff. Then, my clothes. I took all the elastic out, sewed new waistbands for cords. My trousers are more comfortable now. I found lots of wool and unfinished projects and completed a crocheted stool cover and two bags. I knitted one sock, one glove and a pink balaclava (to show that I could).

I left Facebook because it seemed that there was a lot more there now that I found annoying. On a Zoom (I know what that is now) meeting with friends, I admitted that in the first two weeks I hadn’t gone out at all. They insisted that it was lovely around where I live, and I should be out walking. My husband agreed as he was walking regularly in the field tracks behind the house.

I put on the shoes I have in my car for wearing at the gym, took sweets and a bottle of water and followed Bob along the road (very noisy, cars are moving faster in the lockdown). We turned right on to the farm track and up the hill. At the top, we turned right again and made our way to the end where we climbed over a fence into Balmore golf course. And that’s where the birds are happy and in full song. Amazing. Birds call from one tree to another, and we hear them because there are no other people. The sky is blue, the air is clear, and the Branziet Burn trickles through the empty course and the fields towards our house. In this part of the walk we don’t talk, we let nature make all the noise it wants. We listen. We make a circle around Baldernock Primary School and climb the hill back to Branziet.

This daily walk has me in its grasp now. It’s over an hour long. I become more energetic and leave the sweets and the drink and concentrate on the walk rather than the stopping.

Time moves on, Nicola Sturgeon’s daily death count report shows a decrease and an end looks nearer.

However, I now like being in the lockdown. I don’t rush to my mother’s house, hoping she is well. I do not have to make her lunch. She is a stoic 93-year-old and does not want anyone to visit her in this pandemic. My brother lives closest and does her shopping, and that’s all she needs.

My granddaughter is not at school and doesn’t need me to take her home to her house. It was great to see her every weekday, but life is so much simpler when it’s my husband and me. This changes when the golf courses open. He is out every day, but I am still happy not to go out unless for essential purposes. I shop fortnightly because Bob now takes a turn at the weekly shop. I realise I have been doing this by myself for too many years. He has also started to clear up after our evening meal. That’s fine too.

I look ahead and re-open my Amazon seller account. I sell two books in four days. I go to Milngavie Post Office where they charge more than Amazon would have for postage. I am now always going to buy postage from Amazon, which is a bad idea because it is a not-enough-tax and employee paying conglomerate, but during this lockdown one thing I’ve learned is to look after myself.

India Blog 3: Jalandhar 27 June 2019

We took a taxi to Alawalpur via Phagwara. The driver waited while we joined a family celebration of granddaughter Nimitta’s 9th birthday. Once settled in my house in Alawalpur we set off for the Haveli and the museum and restaurant called Rangla (colourful) Punjab.
Photo 1: Nini in front of a tableau of women cooking roti in a tandoori oven.
Photo 2: A butter churn. My grandmother (and I) used one in the 1960’s so this is not that old an item.
Photo 3: A quern. Same comment as above.

India Blog 2: Goraya, Punjab 26/27 June 2019

On our way north-west there was much catching up with sleep; two breaks spaced out : long haul flights seem to be much busier, possibly due to having a TV screen at every seat. I made arrangements to have our internet connections set up as soon as we reached home. We have five mobile wifi hotspots between us which have been bought by members of the family on previous trips. Everyone needs the internet! Next, we cleaned the floors and removed dust covers from the furniture. During the night the electricity went off and, as there was a breeze, Nini and I moved out into the courtyard. Next day we visited the local temple where, in the 19th century, a member of my family was a holy man and is still revered.

Travelling in India: 26 June 2019

Seven Travellers
Coming out of Delhi Airport, the first thing was to locate our driver and vehicle which took longer than I had expected. I am going to copy my friend Mairi’s family nomination system. Grandson15 loved the spaciousness of the Tempo Traveller people carrier. He sat in the middle behind the driver and had a good front view of DelhI streets. In previous years I have loved driving through Delhi on arrival (in a non-airconditioned vehicle in those days) but the air is now very polluted; the streets are clogged with cars, the buildings covered in dust as are the people who, I feel, struggle to keep life running. We make slow progress (two hours of the six that Google maps tells me it should take to reach Goraya in the Punjab). Delhi seems to stretch closer every year towards the next town on the Grand Trunk Road but we are happy to be heading north-west and home in India!