Well, because it was a ridiculously, harebrainedly impossible plan, we did it with enthusiasm. What better way to spend a summer holiday? Our California daughter Lizzie and her two children wanted to see Standing Stones in England. We managed 11. Stone Henge, Avebury, the Rollrights in Oxfordshire led us tantalizingly up through Derbyshire, and the Lake District all the way to the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides – 2,348 miles of beauty. Wow! And at each visit, these mysterious stone circles told us of others we couldn’t possibly include. There are hundreds of them!!!! What a rich heritage right on our doorstep!
Despite all that I’d read of witches and enchanters, I did NOT find the stones spooky or oogah-boogah weird. Just fantastic, amazing feats of engineering and astronomy that were functional for a by-gone culture. How, we still don’t know, although my heart warms to one family’s idea that they were used for Hide-and-Seek. Their 4 year old proceeded to demonstrate.
The photos above are taken in Callanish (Calinais) on Lewis, the outer-most point of our travel. They invite you to stand and imagine the people who built them, their close connection with their environment, so close that they could plan a summer solstice sunrise to shine on one particular spot, or to rise just there through that bit of carved-out rock. You also find yourself wondering how much of the stone is underground, for it to hold upright for so many centuries.
That night on Lewis we drank a toast of thanks to our ancestors of 5000 years ago, who managed to build circles using rock older than Life itself, and still keep the secret of how – and why — they did it.
Gregor Macleod’s Chickpea and Spinach Soup
Far from mysterious, however, is Gregor Macleod, a chef at the Calanais Visitor Centre, Lewis, whose community includes the thousands of tourists who come to see these Stones each year. This soup was so good we actually paid for two helpings. The finishing touch was the fresh spinach grown right there at the Centre. Here’s my version of what he told me. Carnivores, Vegetarians, and Vegans alike can enjoy it.
Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large saucepan. Add 2 onions, chopped, and 2 fat gloves of garlic, ditto. Cook s-l-o-w-l-y for about 10 minutes until soft but not brown. Add 2 tablespoons Madras curry powder and 2 teaspoons coriander powder and fry gently until it doesn’t smell raw. Add 3 large diced carrots and cook, stirring for 5-6 minutes. Add 2 ½ cups diced butternut squash and 2 cups or so of cooked chick peas (1 can would do). Cook 5 – 6 minutes more to allow the aromatic spicy oil to soak into the vegetables. Add 4 – 5 cups hot vegetable stock (40 fluid ozs). Simmer on low heat until the vegetables are cooked through (this will take around 10 – 12 minutes, depending on how fastidious you have been in your vegetable -dicing skills.) Season to taste. If you are making this ahead, stop here, and store the soup in the fridge. Giving it some time enables the spices to bloom.
NOW…..just before serving, heat the soup again and whack in handfuls of washed spinach. Stir until wilted and serve.
- If you regularly steam your vegetables, make the stock from the water in the steamer.
- Butternut squash is very amenable to a potato peeler.
- Try coconut oil instead of olive oil?
- Try a few cardamom pods? Add when frying the spices.