Scooking with Skirret and Scorzonera


We owed friends a lunch and since we had only a [magical though it was] twelve hour window of bewitchingly beautiful snow last weekend and it is almost (please?) Imbolc, I decided on a white theme. White lends itself well to Imbolc because of seasonal dairy produce and snowdrops. We always seem to save the Jerusalem artichokes until this time of year now too and they are best in creamy soups or dauphinoise. This year I also decided to lift some scorzonera and try the skirret, two perennial root vegetables. Skirret is frequently described in seed catalogues as a 'Tudor root' which just makes me think salaciously of Thomas Cromwell dripping in butter (Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell that is...for preference Mark Rylance's Hilary Mantel's Thomas Cromwell) but I'll make do with chunks of roasted starch, I suppose.

whole poussin with bread sauce
 parsnip purée, roast potatoes, scorzonera and skirret

Why does there always have to be a theme, you ask, especially if you are my husband? Hush, I say. Let me play with words. Away to your chopping board. 

Which brings me to a reader*'s question:
'Why don't you cook? And if you do, why don't you blog about it?'

In days of yore, before I had either kids or gainful employment**, I was a vegan and spent many hours making wonderful nut loaves from scratch and dairy-free versions of every dessert imaginable. I would have had a blog about it, like everyone else, but the internet hadn't been invented back then. You sort of have to do a lot of cooking if you're a vegan in Scotland and want to be healthy and eat delicious food, and it's partly why I'm not anymore. That and the fact I refuse to ever be an anything ever again. If its got a name, I'm not being it: not vegan, not freegan, not paleo, not macrobio, not sugar-free and, above all else, never ever clean. If I should even once describe the joyful, delightful miracle of transforming the life's toil of sunshine and soil into exuberant, grateful human energy as 'clean eating', please take away all my words. 

scorzonera (bottom one scrubbed of its black skin)

So anyway, I swapped vegan for garden and got really into growing food more than cooking it. I did once post about my bone broth and sauerkraut here but didn't feel they added anything to the thousands of similar posts already online and since I had neither grown the cabbages nor raised the cattle they didn't even really feel like mine, so I took them down. The only cooking I ever wanted to blog about here involved ingredients I had either lovingly tended in my garden or painstakingly foraged from the wild. They are, obviously, only a tiny fraction of the food we use but they are very valuable to me. The skirret, for example, took years to source before I could even begin to grow it. I am a competent cook but my husband is an acknowledged genius in the kitchen. Experimentation and enthusiastic failure are the way to learn most skills in life, that's how I've learnt to garden, but I'm not willing to risk culinary hit and misses on my hard won horticultural successes. I trust only him with my precious produce. And making mead for the first time from his sole honey crop of the year? That is not something with which to mess. It requires a willingness to follow instructions and use precise measurements rather than repeatedly resorting to the quantifiers 'some' and 'enough', of which I am a big fan. (Note how there is not a single actual recipe in my entire blog: I think the name of a dish constitutes all the instruction one should need...sorry if Google has had you searching here, in vain!) My posts on cooking with dandelions prove my point: I am happy to cook amateurishly with low value ingredients only. 

If I had to prepare my favourite things to eat, which are all costly, the menu would be like this:

half a dozen, sustainable, raw Loch Harport oysters - NO LEMON

wild Scottish venison carpaccio, from a sensitively managed Highland estate where nobody actually enjoyed shooting them

a bowl of local cherries, still sun warmed

It would take me weeks to source them, hours to carry them home, a few minutes to prepare them. I don't think any cooking or flavouring could improve on nature. Even on a more quotidian basis, left to fend for myself I will always eat like a cave woman, and by that, I do not mean making fake cakes out of dates but rather pointing some meat or fish at fire until it's only semi-raw and adding some salad or stir fried veg. I love all sorts of elaborate dishes but not in proportion to the increase in work and washing up that they require. Not when they are readily available at the hands of my husband anyway. I always need to know how to cook everything, to have done it once, and then I am happy for partners or professionals to do it on the daily. Over the years, I have made butter and cheese and all sorts of pastry, grown wheat and ground it, pickled a variety of things, cooked most parts of most animals - including hatching, raising and culling my own, tempered chocolate and fermented fruit into wine. None of those are things I feel the need to do again, whereas making yoghurt, stock, bread and kimchi is well worth my regular effort. Food preparation time is limited and I choose to spend most of it growing and sourcing ingredients, so I can be outside and saving money. Then, when the sun has gone down, I pass my muddy wand to my partner in alchemy and retire to read Sir Michael of Pollan's Cooked in a hot lavender bath while he fires up the cauldron...

Short answer: I do cook but mostly very simple things from shop-bought ingredients that don't belong in the domain of this blog. And for everything else, mainly I have the ideas, do the planning, then grow, source*** and prepare the raw materials for the chef to work his magic on. Speaking of which:

pre- lavish amounts of gravy

The scorzonera (centre bottom, looking like scallops), despite being three years old and very thick (much thicker than the one year old roots pictured harvested), was tender and delicious. There wasn't much as I put the spade through it at the point where it must have hit a stone in my rubbly garden and taken a sharp right. The skirret (bottom left) was a delight, creamy with a slightly stronger flavour, but - despite its much slimmer, delicate roots - randomly woody in parts, which was odd. Both were only washed and fried in butter.

This plate of food has broken two rules with which I grew up:
1. (Home Economics teacher) Never serve a dish that's all the same colour.
2. (My mum) Never serve a dinner without green vegetables.
I don't think I've done either before so that was liberating. Who knew white could be so dirty?

** This was a brief period you may have missed.
*** Sourcing gluten-free breadcrumbs for our gluten-free guest's bread sauce, for example, involved contacting a good friend, asking her to make a trip to the good baker in Linlithgow in search of the good gluten-free bread, then going into town to meet her - which may also have involved good coffee and good conversation - and taking delivery of it. It is ENDLESS WORK... (Thanks, Rose!)

Beekeeper's Mead

At the risk of everything going a bit alcoholic, what with the gin and the quince cava, I need to complete the hat trick of Christmas drinks with our mead. Apparently everyone is making their own mead now, but are they making it with honey from their own hive? Probably not. I am proud of most things my husband does but making mead from his beekeeping was particularly impressive.

This time last year the honey fermented. It does that when there's too much water in the cells or some such apiary. It is sad. But when life gives you fermented honey you only have one option, don't you? And it's a good one. Making mead was a landmark for me because my dad was famous in the south London/north Surrey area for his home-made foraged-fruit wines. He made a lot. We drank the last bottle this summer and he died thirteen years ago. Apart from one batch of blackberry, made under supervision with the equipment he got me as a wonderful teenage Christmas present, I have yet to go into the family business. Ditto my grandfather's annual, insanely strong, pickled onions. It is time.

Apart from suggesting it and fervently supporting the process, I didn't actually do anything to make the mead, except visit the brewing shop for Campden tablets (or Camden tablets, as I mistakenly requested...which I think are something altogether different) because it just would not stop fermenting. So far only one bottle has exploded (we had already given several away to be laid down by then, so had to phone around with warnings) and we opened and drank the first one at a friend's party. I consider it so valuable that I have to give a brief Father of the Bride type speech before both presenting and pouring it. This is how it should always be with alcohol, I think, and honey. And love.

Quince Cava Cocktail

It has been the year of the quince here.

Sometimes I feel like all the fruit I grow only has two purposes: as a condiment to meat and a flavouring for cocktails. But really, what higher purposes are there? I want us to open a food truck that sells only wild venison and gin-based dishes. We will call it 'Juniper'. You can pretend you thought of this - like the culinary appropriation of my mojito cheesecake by everyone and his Havanese (ok, let's just call it simultaneous invention) - but I will always know you stole it off my blog on Boxing Day 2015, ok?

You can have this though:

quince cava.

Or champagne of course, but I am very much not providing the orange segments at half-time for team prosecco. Italy gets all the love already.

Slow Clothes

We all know that slow food is a good thing, but this year I've been branching out into slow clothes too.

Unfortunately, unlike almost every other woman I know, my interest in knitting is non-existent. I love sheep and I love woollen clothes but the in-between stages are just some sort of witchcraft which I am happy to remain a mystery.

Luckily, Kate Sharp at the Edinburgh Farmers' Market took care of all that. In the summer we went down to her farm with my part-time shepherdess sister (photo credits to her) to visit Kate's small flock of lovely, and loved, Shetland sheep. My favourite was a beautiful blue-grey ram called Mr Moley. He was my A/W15 palette inspiration.

Since I turned forty, my devotion to all-black has given way to the embrace of grey. (I won't mention how many shades because zzzzz.) My new Christmas jumper feels like being carried home on a starlit night to a dung-fueled fire in a whitewashed bothy by a silver fox shepherd. For stew. Possibly other stuff too. I understand that isn't everyone's idea of comfort and joy but it works for me.

I don't actually have arms like an orangutan but I especially asked for enough length to not only come down over my hands but also be able to draw a cuff up inside, like a mitten, so I can dispense with gloves. Of course, this year, at nearly winter solstice, and 55°N, it is an unseasonal 16°C/60°F so I don't need a jumper, nevermind gloves. But I'll be prepared for the cold snap, come July. Thank you, Kate and sheep (and my mum who bought it for me!)

Oyster Midden

Swallowing an oyster is an act of trust. And when I say swallowing, I don't mean that savage act of knocking one back like medicine. The single most delicious thing I have ever eaten was a Loch Harport oyster at The Three Chimneys on Skye. I don't think one should have favourites but if forced to choose between oysters, wild, Scottish venison carpaccio and ripe, red cherries, picked straight from the tree and still warm, I would probably take the oysters every time. (And sod the pearls.)

There is an intimacy in the act of oyster-eating which is not, as is usually assumed, between you and your dining partner, but rather with whomever has been responsible for the food hygiene involved from sea to seat. You have to trust them. Oysters can be filthy beasts.

I have lately taken to eating them singly at markets - Borough and Edinburgh Farmers' - and this week, the Scottish Market at St. Andrew's Square where I spent my default raclette and Grand Marnier hot chocolate budget on half a dozen. Something about eating oysters in the rain on a cold Monday morning in an empty Christmas market just felt very much in keeping with my personal brand.

I lacked only a Virgin Mary chaser, which I am retitling a Bruised Mary for 2016 as my husband is now making them purple in the style of The Gardener's Cottage, with fresh beetroot juice.

Mother's Ruin

I really did think the birthday celebrations were over, but just before Advent* kicks off there was a surprise late entry: gin tasting with the bestie at 56 North, home of the Fringe's Secret Gin Garden. 

*Yes, I know you can get gin tasting Advent calendars but it's bad enough starting each morning with chocolate, never mind hard liquor. (Also, £125 is my food budget for six people and they would be WELL hacked off if I spent it on two dozen miniature gins.)

The weather was horrendous en route, with those dancing bands of windblown rain sheets that look stunning if you aren't outside trying to breathe and remain upright through them. (People: it's time to update your glamour criteria - arriving at a bar with soaking wet hair and stripping off your side-zip waterproof trousers, is the new chic, ok? Think: Breakfast at Wuthering Heights.) Then the sun came out and everywhere was crystal raindrops and glasses.

We all know that I don't drink, but I do like a gin. I did a quick calculation and all these tiny glasses only added up to one of my husband's g&t's so I was still within my one drink limit, although I will admit it didn't feel that way, which I put down to trying them all neat first.

I learnt lots of very interesting gin facts with which I will bore you rigid if I see you in the next week. After that I will have forgotten them all due to a lot of enthusiastic gin drinking in my youth. Mainly I learnt that I am very dull and pedestrian in my gin tastes because I much preferred Tanqueray (and the plain Feverfew tonic) to any of the exciting new ones I tried. Away with your elderberries and almonds! (And can you see the yellow one? HEATHER AND ROSE. In its defense, I will say that it does turn pink with tonic...) No, it turns out I am all about the lime. I do have my sights on the Tanq No.Ten (I swear this is better perfume than Chanel No. 5) and Rangpur now though, if Santa is reading. 

Afternoon tea was also served though there wasn't really time to fit it in, so I made an equally classy exit, stuffing finger sandwiches down my throat, as I'd only had a Virgin Mary (extra lime) all day. Your plus one for places you don't want to go back to. I will certainly be going back to the gin garden though (I'm better outdoors).

Many thanks to Smeegs and Suz (although not for the unflattering Facebook photo) and commiserations to Mikael...

Barnacles and Bones

I've heard good things about Barnacles and Bones, in the old police box at the Tram Stop Market. The tag line 'Bringing British shellfish and obscure cuts of meat to the plate' is a winner for me.

So on the first properly frigid day of the year, we decided our self-imposed ban on Saturday lunches out in November didn't include those eaten standing up.

I immediately regretted ordering the crab because: cold, but it was creamy and crabby and went so well on a bed of hot tarragon fries. I don't know what was in the slaw but it was something super-tasty too.

The husband and I were sharing the crab and a short rib beef, only I hate sharing with him because he is always forlorn and hungry afterwards and then I feel like I have halved unfairly. This may have something to do with him being 6'7" and built like a barn door and me being 5'8" and not. Also, I am an only child....

Anyway, the beef and salsa verde were lovely, and we bickered over the pickings. Barnacles and Bones will be at the new Pitt Street Market over Christmas too. And you get a free dog bone with every purchase, which you can give to your ferret...

The Edible Forest Garden Matures

Six years since we started planting it, the garden is finally starting to resemble an edible forest, with the problem areas falling into line. Or rather, not falling into line.

This area was too shady and then - following the removal of leylandii - too sunny for the shade-lovers I'd put in. It's settling down now and the blueberries, blaeberries and lingonberries are deciding who can tough it out for the long-haul and who can't. The ramsons haven't done as well as I'd hoped but the ferns have, and the bloody sorrel likes it far too much. This year I used the annual cuttings from the one existing leylandii as mulch around the berry bushes to save money on ericaceous compost, but I should check the ph next year and see if it actually has any effect.

The bed in front, which held Jerusalem artichokes last year but cast too much shade, has thrived and provided kale, tons of chard, perpetual spinach, nasturtiums and even some violas.

My aim for next year is to add as many flowers as possible (keeping to my colour palette) and I have sown foxgloves all over. They're poisonous rather than edible but long-tongued bumblebees love them.

The transplanted crab apple has survived and shown no sign of scab.

The side garden was long-neglected and still has a look of the allotment about it, but luckily I like allotments. The Jerusalem artichokes are now covering the ugly back wall (left) and there is so much rhubarb that we are planning some cottage industry for next spring. I have completely ignored the pond - and the disappearance of its plants - but I want to put a water lily in it next year so I am going to have to do some reading and address its murky greenness.

The strawberry monoculture has been broken but it is also apparent that the formal training of fruit trees (or anything - from dogs to students - frankly) is not my forte. Again, more reading and some remedial work is necessary.

But overall: not bad progress.

A Hug from a Badger

November is all fire and remembering.

Summer holidays seem as long ago as postcards and even the zombie wedding dress has been packed away for another year, the guisers' fun-size (sorry, Death) Snickers binged upon.

The deep-fried Nutella fest that is the German Christmas Market has yet to transform every errand run into a sugared-tinsel frenzy and it is still wholly unacceptable to drink alcohol in the am.

There is no money and it is cold.

We have cut subscription television services and turned down the thermostat.

Channel 4 and chill.

Good thing then, that G and I had paid upfront - in those heady, solvent summer months - for dinner at the crowd-funded Edinburgh Food Studio. (I don't know if I've mentioned it at any point but I had a landmark birthday earlier this year, as did G.) BRING ON THE FEASTING!

I should apologise for a) the unseemly relapse into taking [terrible] photos of my food which was triggered by b) knowing I would fail to recollect exactly what I was eating because I was talking to G instead of my husband. The different being that, over dinner, my husband and I talk almost exclusively about the food whereas when I am with G, whom I see less often, we first have to catch up on other important issues like our advance attack plan (stage 1: budgeting) for next year's Book Festival. So last night I briefly became like the couples in good restaurants that make me gasp and mouth to my husband, 'Why aren't they talking about the food??'. (My husband is possibly asking himself why I too am not gazing into his eyes adoringly and counting the ways I love him rather than the offal. To be fair, many of the ways I love him are based on his osso bucco so he's only got himself to blame.) Anyway, it was opening night, G and I had a long table to ourselves and it was a singularly lovely thing to be able to hear each other talk and not knock over anyone else's wine glass. And there was, of course, discussion of the food, just not to the usual anatomical, anthropological and etymological degree that cements every ingredient in my memory.

This was easy though: carrots, three ways. A big, purple, slow-roasted, pig fatty one, yellow pickled ones and crispy bits. All delicious and made me think of what I (my husband) might be able to do with the skirret in the garden.

Then there was a nice piece of plaice which has escaped having its picture taken because I clearly decided to eat it immediately from which I can only conclude that it was very good.

Next: a bowl of wintery roots and hedgehog mushrooms, under charred leek. (If I don't have to google at least one ingredient, I haven't come to the right restaurant.) This was like a big, warm hug from Badger in The Wind in the Willows when he is being sympathetic to Mole and less gruff than usual.

Then 'something-something-something-something SMOKED OVER COBNUT HUSKS something-something*'. I am obsessed with cobnuts. Legend has it because I was suckled on their milk**. Roasting and smoking things over edible prunings and trimmings from the garden is something I want (my husband) to do in 2016. It tasted of sexy Buddhist anarchists overthrowing a stately home on Bonfire Night. Which is delicious.

*partridge, girolle?, blackberries (devil's-piss-free), puree of turmericcy(that's in Essex)-cauliflower?
**sadly this is a legend I started myself, last year.

Pudding was really cool: a golden raspberry and herb ice-cream sandwich in a sesame tuile.

To finish, a lovely little macaroon - one of my favourite confections - which, I was to learn, is traditionally made with my most loathed food on the planet: mashed potato. This is the second time Ben Reade has made me love mashed potato.

Restaurants like this have me wishing I had a more lucrative career than that of amateur lady poetess, so I could eat there all the time and ensure they remain open. Money is often wasted on those who don't even need bone marrow. (I feel like Don missed this out of his book of aphorisms.) Ben and Sashana have plans for lots of fantastic events in addition to dinners and I hope they are enormously successful.

This was, officially, my last celebration of a birthday I have drawn out for nine months, thanks to the generosity of my aforementioned, long-suffering, husband. And the Christmas Market opens tomorrow!

G. has complained that I didn't mention the exceptionally good bread - straight from the oven. This is because I am in carb-dodger denial about the fact I ate at least five slices of it and my jeans won't button up this morning. Likewise, I was trying to pretend I didn't have the locally-made Kitsch cucumber and fennel soda*** due to the blanket ban on sugary drinks in our house (that and eating crows...) so thanks for outing me to my kids. Lastly: apparently there was pumpkin and elderberry capers with the plaice BECAUSE G. WAS CONCENTRATING. But not hard enough to remember the 65° EGG YOLKS which just came back to me, eh? EH?

***Economising aside, we would have drunk champagne, pour la France, but G. was cycling...

Quince in Scotland II

The quince is my favourite tree in the garden. It's the tallest, having been gifted from the start - unlike my other favourite, the crab apple - as much sunlight as Scotland can offer, sufficient space and just enough sea breeze to produce by far the thickest trunk of the dozen fruit trees we've planted here. I still never expected it to fruit. I am Eeyore in a Tigger suit - I bounce around the garden prophesying the death of everything in it. The second year - the year Scotland had its first summer in living memory - we got three and a half quince and I was amazed at this once in a lifetime event. The year after we got eight. This year we got sixty-four. Vranja for the win.

Of course, as is traditional chez nous, the harvest took place in the dark at 6am on the morning of the first gales in October, with me in my underwear, frantically trying to gather the fruit before it was flung into the Firth of Forth by the winds.

Most were ripe, some still quite furry.

Like last year, at least half - and all the largest fruit - were split.

Nigel Slater has said this often and I am in complete agreement: it is worth growing, or even just buying, quince for their perfume alone. I keep a couple on the table just to scent the room, and the garage - home of paint tins and cat litter - smells like the most decadent boudoir.

The unsplit fruit have been roasted with meat, to which they give a delicious Middle Eastern sweetness,

or poached in syrup to be served hot with vanilla ice-cream

(Kids! Do you dream of being forty and still eating off chipped Ikea365 plates under Ikea rice paper lampshades? Then study hard for your honours degree in creative writing!)

and cold with [full-fat] Greek yoghurt the next day.

The split ones were made into quince cheese (membrillo) and jelly to eat with cheese and ham. 

The membrillo had to go into jars for lack of anything else suitable to contain it, but it should be sliced, not spooned.

One of the mysteries of quince - to me, at least - is how the pale yellow fruit turns ruby when cooked. One of the mysteries of our garden is why the Blenheim Orange produces just one apple a year. It is, admittedly, quite a large one (wildcat for scale). I'm hoping hanging out with the quince might inspire a sense of competition in it.

Back to the Gardener's Cottage

There is something very civilised about a candelit breakfast, especially somewhere as dark as autumnal Edinburgh.

In yet another joint celebration of fortiethness, an old friend and I had a wonderful day of long riverside walks between breakfast at The Gardener's Cottage, afternoon tea at Patisserie Madeleine in Stockbridge and dinner at Ting Thai Caravan (the latter being too cool to have a website or take bookings/cards etc...)

This was my second visit to The Gardener's Cottage and just as lovely as the first a couple of years ago. A cooked breakfast featuring black pudding, greens, hazelnuts, brioche and eggs Hollandaise can't really fail, can it? The Virgin Mary with beetroot juice was godly too. My friend had a huge Arbroath smokie, poached egg and greens: a veritable health spa on a plate.

And I learnt that you can make elderberry capers!

Unfortunately I am nearing the end of the food fest that was my fortieth year, but I will be bringing my husband here - and for dinner this time - when he hits fifty, which is sooner than he would like...

Le Chat Noir

I feel it is my duty to report that I have been to a cat cafe.

Before Christmas there was crowd-funding for a cat cafe featuring rescue cats from Edinburgh Cat and Dog Home that needed adopting. I promised my younger son a visit as a Christmas present because, despite the fact we have two cats and our neighbourhood is home to another 7 million or so, he can't get enough of felines (hence highlights of our holidays in Crete and Rome were feeding our gyros leftovers to litters of kittens and visiting the cat shelter in the ruins of 

However, by October it still didn't seem to have opened and several people we knew had been to another. I was skeptical because the cats therein were both non-rescues and pedigrees and I don't usually support either, but I paid up the hourly fee and tried to be open-minded.

The cats were beautiful. Like us, all our friends have moggies in various states of decay so I've never actually met Norwegian Forest cats, Bengals, Maine Coons and Ragdolls before (and can I just say: let's not ever name any living thing after a child's toy, eh?). They were really, really pretty. I was especially enamoured of the huge Maine Coons with their feathered paws like silkie chickens. I can see why people want them. But I'm not a fan of buying animals from breeders while there are hundreds of thousands of unwanted ones in rescue.

Maybe the cat cafe offers an alternative fix. For me it didn't really work because I prefer being in close proximity to strange cats than strange people and there were just too many people there. I grew up with dogs but soon learnt from cat lovers that you never go to a cat, you let a cat come to you. At the cafe, nearly all of the cats were sleeping and soon surrounded by visitors. Luckily, my son was very happy with a gorgeous Norwegian Forest kitten who jumped onto his lap, because every other feline stayed as far away as possible. And that, actually, was the best thing about the cafe for me: the whole place is full of high walkways and tunnels where cats can both escape and perform a wide range of natural movement. Even the human furniture is hollow, for hiding in, or scratchable. It made me realise how little we cater to cats' needs in our homes, particularly those which house multiple cats, dogs or small children, from whom it is so important to have inaccessible feline escape routes and beds. But usually we just expect cats to cope with human-scale interior design.

We've been having some problems with my rescue black cat, Billy No Mates, who has been living up to his name in a long term impasse outside the neighbour cats' back door, which is stressing out all concerned. I've always been torn when it comes to cats: I can't imagine one being kept inside permanently any more than I can imagine a dog never being allowed to go outside. Sunshine! Grass! Trees! But with cats there is also: Killing Birds! Neighbour Conflict! Getting Hit By a Car! etc. Billy No Mates is eleven now and has never been a hunter, just a stealer of other cats' food. His favourite thing in the world other than food is playing fetch with his daddy's Xtra Strong Mint wrappers. So, inspired by the cat cafe fittings, I've been trying to make the house more cat-friendly and keeping him inside more. I'm awaiting delivery of a cat tree although every other toy I've bought so far has been disdainfully ignored (then stolen by the ferret), except for the lovely 'rare breed wool' ones which are immediately and enthusiastically shredded. But he's eating half of his food from a Kong instead of a bowl and I've taught him to do one trick for treats so far. Mainly he has become my little black shadow again, like when he was a kitten.

A couple of days after the visit to the cafe, I was in the area again having a pumpkin spice ice-cream and hot chocolate float with a visiting friend at the lovely Mary's Milk Bar (great ice-cream, unusual chocolates, castle views),

and took her past the cat cafe windows to show her. My god. If I had thought it somewhat odd to be inside, then from the outside it looks like ABSOLUTE MADNESS. Gangs of grown adults were crawling around on their hands and knees in pursuit of fleeing cats who, when finally cornered, were ritually poked with 'toys'. It was like some bizarre art installation commenting on the cult of celebrity. But maybe I am just lucky to never have known what the throes of cat deprivation can drive a person to?

UPDATE: Cats are disdainful of cat tree.

UPDATE: Cats now OBSESSED with cats tree and seldom off it.