Day 5 out of 88 | Shepard’s Pie on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh Scotland
I can’t say enough about Scotland. Sitting here re-reading my journal makes my heart happy thinking about it. Not only are the Scottish accents sexy and smooth, the town of Edinburgh is mysterious and dark while also being bright and modern at the same time. When I look back at the whole of my trip, I am happy to say that the first 10 days were some of my favorite, and Scotland was a huge part of that.
Reading my journal entry for Aug 30, 2017, day 5 of 88, it starts with me in London walking through Kings Cross Station. “I saw platform 9 ¾ but the line was too long for my tired feet so I selfied it instead and headed to the platform for my first train of the trip!” I remember being on the train, a ball of excitement, my back sore from getting use to my pack, my smile beaming for all to see. I met two people on the train. The first woman I sat next to for the first hour or so. We chatted about my trip, Scotland, and her family. When she got up to leave, she turned around with a huge smile and said, “Have a Brilliant Holiday Love”.
Her words made my heart happy for the rest of the day. The second person I met was sitting across the isle from me. She said I was on the wrong side of the train (even though I was in my assigned seat) and then proceeded to tell me that the right side of the train has the best view of the cliffs along the ocean that we would be passing by. I moved, and she gave me a thumb up, “SO many sheep and cows covering all of the country side. The cliffs along the water were a sight to see, 5 whole hours past and I looked out the window blissfully unaware the WHOLE time.”
When I reached Edinburgh, I didn’t know what to expect. What I found was way more than I could have imagined! My hostel was on the other side of town so I set off walking. To my right was a busy street with shops, a target, and a grocery store lining the main road through the new part of town. To my left was a castle. Not just any castle but a massive castle on the hill. It sat atop volcanic rocks and was clearly the highest point in town. Parallel to my path was the Royal Mile, a mile-long street (that use to house the whole city back in the 10th century) that starts up at the castle and travels down to the queen’s palace at the bottom of the hill. This was the first of many times I would just be in awe along my journeys, but this specific AWE moment was goosebumps worthy. The pictures can’t even begin to show you the grandeur of the old town. “This place is magical, and I have a feeling 2 days will not be enough”.
After a comforting dinner of beef stew, mashed potatoes, and a Guinness which the bartender gave me light hearted grief about “you can’t get an Irish beer in Scotland he said as he winked at me”, I settled into my hostel and chatted with some girls from Germany that were there studying. The next morning, I was up early and got on a tour bus that took me around the city and looped out to the city of Leeds. Leeds is a small fishing town about 20 min outside of Edinburgh. I was in search of the HM Britannia, her majesties private yacht and went aboard.
The teak decks to the china were specifically made for her use only. Family photos for her eyes only and cabins full of personal touches were so neat to see as this ship was meant to host the most important people when she was still in service. “The sky line in the background was full of mountains across a wide body of water and the sun was shining warming the chilly air.” Very neat experience!
Back in town, I stopped into the “last drop” pub as it started to rain. This pub is in the grass market, a place famous for being where executions where held. The Grass market sits on the side of the hill where the Castle is so when you look up, you are looking directly up the hill at the side of the castle. The Last Drop pub is where the prisoners would go for their last beer before they were hung, hence the name ;).
Fun Fact: The origin of the phrase “Hangover”. The days when hangings took place were a sort of public holiday. Everyone came out and drank as they watched that day’s entertainment… the hangings. The day after those days, people would wake up sick because of the heavy drinking thus the day after became known as the “hangover” day… get it, because of the hangings!
Inside the pub, I met a girl about my age from California. Erin was on the tail end of a 2-month trip around Scotland and the Highlands. We spent the rest of the day together and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversations. She explained to me that in astrology, around the 29-31 year old age range, Saturn does something to bring about a change in your life. I was explaining the path I took to get me to that pub in Edinburgh and she said ““yup, that’s your big change”. I embrace this change and look forward to a new start”.
The next morning, I started my day slow with a coffee and some planning for Ireland at a café called “Café milk” (love the name) and took a walking tour where I learned some more Fun Facts:
- Shit faced: When chamber pots were emptied at night, the folks coming out of the bars (that closed around the same time as the community wide pot dump) would hear the warning cry and look up. Because they were drunk, and their motions were slow, you can assume what happened next.
- Working the graveyard shift: Edinburgh had a growing medical school that was in constant need of fresh bodies to study. Grave robbers would take this opportunity to make some extra cash and dig up bodies that were recently buried. If you couldn’t afford a grave gate (a literal cage that was placed over your grave and locked) it was your family’s responsibility to watch over you for the first week or so. They would work in shifts at night and the night shift thus became known as the “grave yard shift”
Let’s talk Harry Potter for a second. Many of you know J.K. Rowling wrote harry potter. What you may not know is that most of her inspiration came from Edinburgh. This was where she lived when she wrote the stories, and still lives today. Just by looking around you can see the world of Potter everywhere! I went to the graveyard where she found many of the character names (Greyfriars cemetery) and wrote a lot of the story line. It was conveniently located next to a private school that had 4 towers and kids could be heard running around as she would sit writing during the days. I saw McGonagall’s grave as well as Moody and Tom Riddle and the spot near the school where she would write.
The Elephant Café is another local spot where J.K. Rowling would write. The walls of the bathroom are famously covered in graffiti of people leaving their comments to harry and the gang, Rowling herself, or quotes from the books. I walked along Victoria Street, the inspiration for Diagon Ally, and wondered through many of the alleyways (called close’s) all while the castle loomed in the background sitting atop a perch of rock just like Hogwarts. “This town hasn’t changed in hundreds if not thousands of years. The coal stained sand stone buildings are still darkened, and the cobble stone streets are still a reminder of the thousand years that have passed since this beginning of this medieval town.”
The day ended with a whisky tasting at the Scottish Whisky Experience, a tour of the castle with a new friend Kasper, and dinner and drinks with Erin. We parted ways with hugs and well wishes for each others travels and I went to bed with a warm heart. I am still amazed at how spending a couple hours with a person in that type of environment can create a stronger bond that you wouldn’t have thought possible. Traveling is amazing like that. “I wish I had more time here to learn about the vast history of Scotland and visit the Highlands. But alas, onto Dublin tomorrow. I am tired and dehydrated, and keep dropping things, but in very good spirits.” End day 8 of 8
Be sure to check out all the posts about Europe here!
Shepard’s Pie with a Guinness Twist
Now to the good part, the food! When I was in Scotland, I had mostly comfort foods. In place of green veggies and salad, there is a plethora of comforting choices such as beef stew and mash potatoes, neeps and tatties (aka turnips and potatoes) served along side haggis with gravy, and other heavy dishes that were welcomed as the cold weather set in. For dinner one night I had beef shank served with creamy mashed potatoes and a thick gravy that I washed down with a Guinness beer. Of all the food I ate, that had to be my favorite meal
It is thought that Scotland’s national dish, haggis, originated as a small amount of low-quality meat, carried in the most inexpensive bag available, a sheep or pig’s stomach. It has also been suggested that this dish was introduced by Norse invaders who were attempting to preserve their food during the long journey from Scandinavia. Haggis is usually served with a whisky cream sauce and mashed tattie and neeps. I tried this one afternoon not knowing what the dish actually was and it was quite delicious. Like most peasant food, there is tons of flavor added to mask the quality of the meat.
When I came home and started thinking about a dish I could make to pair with Scotland I combined all the foods I ate, and beers I drank. This Shepard’s pie made with Lamb, a Guinness gravy, and mashed potatoes. This meal can be made ahead and stored in your refrigerator until ready to be served. To do this you would make the recipe as directed until the final baking in the oven. When you would like it to be served, toss it in the oven at 350 for 30-45 minutes to warm and brown in the oven! You can also throw it under the broiler at the end to give it some good color!
Shepard’s Pie with a Guinness Twist
A take on the classic dish Shepard’s Pie. Fluffy mashed potatoes sit atop a bead of lamb, vegetables, and a Guinness base that is then baked until golden brown. A perfect comforting weeknight meal for anytime of the year.
For the potatoes
- 1 1/2 pounds russet potatoes (about 2 large potatoes)
- 1/4 cup half-and-half
- 5 Tbsp unsalted butter
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
For the filling
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 2 carrots, peeled and diced small
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 1/2 pounds chopped and trimmed lamb shoulder (substitute ground lamb)
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons tomato paste
- 1 12oz. bottle of Guinness (can substitute 1 cup of chicken stock)
- 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoons freshly chopped rosemary leaves
- 1 teaspoon freshly chopped thyme leaves
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen corn kernels
- 1/2 cup fresh or frozen English peas
- a hand full of chopped parsley
- Peel the potatoes and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Place in a medium saucepan and cover with cold water. Set over high heat, cover and bring to a boil. Once boiling, uncover, decrease the heat to maintain a simmer and cook until tender and easily crushed with tongs, approximately 10 to 15 minutes. Drain the potatoes in a colander and then return to the saucepan. Mash the potatoes and then add the half and half, butter, salt and pepper and continue to mash until smooth.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
- While the potatoes are cooking, prepare the filling. Place the canola oil into a 12-inch sauté pan and set over medium high heat. Once the oil shimmers, add the lamb, salt and pepper and cook until browned and cooked through, approximately 3 minutes. Take out of pan and set aside. In the same pan add the onion and carrots and sauté just until they begin to take on color, approximately 3 to 4 minutes. Add the garlic and stir to combine. Add back in the lamb and sprinkle the meat with the flour and toss to coat, continuing to cook for another minute.
- Add the tomato paste, Guinness or chicken broth, Worcestershire, rosemary, thyme, and stir to combine. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer slowly 10 to 12 minutes or until the sauce is thickened slightly.
- Add the corn, peas, and parsley to the lamb mixture and spread evenly into a large cast iron skillet or a large baking dish. Top with the mashed potatoes, starting around the edges to create a seal to prevent the mixture from bubbling up and smooth with a rubber spatula.
- Place on a parchment lined half sheet pan on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 25 minutes or just until the potatoes begin to brown. Remove to a cooling rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.
Sprinkle some extra rosemary and parsley on top for some color and serve along side a salad or alone for a scrumptious dinner.
Leaving this Shepard’s Pie on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh Scotland behind and we are off onto Dublin and a road trip around Southern Ireland!