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Platform 9 3/4

Sticky toffee pudding is a cake sweetened with dates and served in a pool of caramel with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.  It’s. . . sticky.  I probably shouldn’t have slurped spoonfuls of it over our Scotland guidebook.

But I did, and it glued pages 245-247 together for eternity.

No worries, I thought.  What were the chances we would make it up to Fort William (p. 246) anyway?

A couple hundred miles later, at a pub in Fort William, Scott asked me if I had read anything about the town before I caramelized the guidebook.

“I think it mentioned a scenic steam train up the coast,” I said.

And that’s how we wound up on the Hogwarts Express.

I kid you not.  Turns out this “scenic steam train” was used as the Hogwarts Express in the Harry Potter movies.  It’s now a major attraction for the Harry Potter set.  And by the “Harry Potter set,” I mean kids who are so on fire for Harry Potter that they just peed in their Griffindor-themed underpants.

I didn’t take pictures of the kids because I didn’t want to freak out the parents.  It was already a little creepy that Scott and I were childless yet vacationing at, um, Hogwarts.

But I’ll tell you about my favorite kid that day.  His name was Collum.  He had come all the way from Belfast to ride the Harry Potter train for his birthday.

He wore a Harry Potter shirt and carried a portable DVD player (loaded with Harry Potter movies) and a case containing his wand.  He asked if he could put a spell on me, and I said yes.

“EVANESCO!” he shouted.  His wand wobbled in front of my face.  It was broken in the middle and had been stuck back together with a wad of scotch tape.

“What is evanesco?” I whispered to his mother.

“The vanishing spell,” she said.


And that’s when Scott pushed me under the table, shoved a backpack into my face and told the kid that I was gone.

Lovely, I thought.  Just lovely down here in the scenic train.

But it kind of was.  The kids were just so freaking happy to be there.  When I was conjured back with another spell, Collum gave me a sticker and invited me to come live with him in Belfast, and then we all got out and walked around a seaside town called Mallaig.

Collum had waited his whole life for this train ride but he fell asleep on the way back to Fort William.  Scott and I headed back to Edinburgh, where I closed out the evening with another sticky toffee pudding.

You’d think this recipe would be for sticky toffee pudding, right?

I’m working on it.  In the meantime, how about some spicy meatballs with a hard cider glaze?

I tasted some nice, dry ciders in Scotland, but I used a sweet one (Woodchuck) to glaze these meatballs.   You can use apple juice if you’d prefer these alcohol-free.  The meatballs are spiced up with some garlic and pepper, but they’re covered in the sweet tang of apple, soy and ginger.  Mmm.  Great as an appetizer or just for dinner over mashed potatoes or other pureed vegetable.

Spicy Meatballs with Hard Cider Glaze {Download & Print Recipe}

{Adapted from a recipe in the May, 2012 volume of Better Homes & Gardens}


For the meatballs (makes about 48 of them):

1 egg

1/4 c. milk

2 slices bread, torn

1 lb. lean ground beef  (I used 7% fat beef)

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp. pepper

1/4 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tbsp. vegetable oil

For the glaze:

1 1/4 c. hard cider (such as Strongbow, Woodchuck, etc.) or apple juice

3 tbsp. packed brown sugar

1-2 tsp. reduced sodium soy sauce

1 1/2 tsp. cornstarch

1 tsp. ground ginger

1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 green onion, chopped into rings (optional)


For the meatballs:

Whisk egg and milk together in a large bowl.  Add the bread, toss, and let sit 5 minutes, just until the bread is softened.  Add the ground beef, garlic, black pepper, salt and cayenne.  Mix well with your hands or a large spoon.

Shape the mixture into 1″ balls.

In a large skillet (I used a 12″ skillet), heat the oil over medium heat.  Cook the meatballs in two batches, turning occasionally, until they’re browned and a little crusty on the outside and no longer pink on the inside–6 or more minutes per batch.  Transfer the meatballs to a dish.  Drain the fat from the skillet, if there is any.

For the glaze:

In a bowl, combine the cider (or juice), 1 tsp. of the soy sauce, the brown sugar, cornstarch, ginger and cayenne.  In the same skillet over medium heat, bring the sauce to a boil.  Cook it, stirring, until it’s thickened and bubbly (this will only take a few minutes.)  Taste it and see if it’s salty enough for your taste.  If you like, add another tsp. of soy sauce and bring it back to a glaze.  (We used 2 tsp. regular sodium soy sauce and it was too much for my taste.)

Return the meatballs to the skillet, coating them with the glaze, until they’re heated through. Transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the green onions.  Serve as an appetizer, with toothpicks or forks or over mashed potatoes, for example.


What has eight feet and is messier than sticky toffee pudding?

These guys.

Maybe evanesco works for mud?

36 Comments Post a comment
  1. Hahah good one. Those pictures are great!
    Now I want spicy meatballs…

    June 12, 2012
    • Bryan, have you had cullen skink? It’s a smoked haddock soup. It’s got a touch of cream and milk in it.

      I had it several times in Scotland and I LOVED it. I love smoked fish (smoked bluefish in particular) so when I made it last week, at home, with smoked whitefish (couldn’t find haddock) I thought it was delicious. I was so proud of myself because I thought I approximated the flavoring pretty well. My parents weren’t huge fans, though. They aren’t big into smoked fish to begin with. What do you think? Have you ever made a smoked fish chowder? Have any good recipes? I figure you’re the guy to ask since you smoke your own stuff.

      June 12, 2012
      • Woah never had cullen skink but it sounds delish.
        I do sometimes put smoked fish in a chowder but mix it with non-smoked fish. I’ll try to come up with a recipe…!

        June 20, 2012
  2. Loving your post and you got to ride on the Hogwarts Express – that is so neat! I am not sure if sticky pudding or two muddy dogs is anything I would want to deal with – ha! Happy Tuesday:)

    June 12, 2012
    • It was, in fact, really neat. The inside wasn’t as posh as it probably was made up to be for the movies (I forget those scenes) but I thought I remembered it going over that viaduct in the film. The whole thing made me want to go on the Orient Express, or just other steam trains that have beautiful views. Something about it was very festive. The steam was beautiful, billowing out of the first car.

      Happy Tuesday to you too!

      June 12, 2012
  3. So… when are you moving to Belfast? I’m unclear…

    June 12, 2012
    • When you get your Irish passport. So we can live near each other. Can you move freely between Ireland/Northern Ireland without a passport? I’ll ask Collum but he’s 5 so he might not know or he might just shout “macaroni and cheeeeeese!” or something unhelpful. Let’s just assume you can’t, and that we’ll have to build your bakery right on the border so that I can work in it too.

      June 12, 2012
  4. Bonnie #

    So…right about this time daily, I wish a “vanishing” spell was cast on me as I am wrestling the clock to get everything done and fighting off the multitude of unsolicited phone calls that despite being on the “do not call” list, keep coming.

    That being said, this gorgeous and always entertaining post was a welcomed break. Katherine, no matter what locale you are posting about, you have the gift of transporting us right there with you and you have done it again. Not sure I had Hogwarts on my bucket list but grateful that I can scratch it off now!

    Love, love, love the photos of the pups. Seriously, does your family only have awesome dogs with huge personality?


    June 12, 2012
    • Bonnie, this was so generous of you to say, and it gave me a big, big smile.

      The other spell Collum liked was “stupify!” I think it makes people dumb. Or forget what just happened to them. It sounded kind of useful. 🙂

      The dogs are a riot, it’s true. My mom found both of them—Thunder is all because of her! My mom has a huge personality, and I guess she knows how to pick a dog with the same! Maggie is about 2, and she is VERY patient with Thunder, who barks at her when she wants Maggie to play (every five minutes). I worry that it’s as annoying to Maggie as your telemarketers are to you! (Your telemarketers probably win that contest, though,)

      June 12, 2012
  5. Scott should be a magician. He’s obviously very good at vanishing spells.

    June 12, 2012
    • I’m hoping he turns to magic AFTER he invents us an iphone app and we can all retire in style. But maybe I have that backwards. If he used magic for good (i.e. inventing an iphone app) that would also be okay. 🙂

      June 12, 2012
      • Maybe he could focus on an iphone app that’s impervious to sticky pudding?

        June 12, 2012
  6. What a fantastic trip! I think we all need friends who can disappear us and give us stickers. Is that just me? OK. Maybe we all need friends who will roll around in the yard with us and get all dirty. Just me again? Maybe we all need friends who give us nice Scottish ciders…

    June 12, 2012
  7. This is why we need to start an international conglomerate. I feel like if we had an international conglomerate of some kind, we could make this happen. The important thing is that our first priority is stickers, obviously.

    June 12, 2012
  8. Bonnie #

    Uh… Katherine, I think I’ve been hit by the “Stupify” spell. It happened when I turned 40 and there is no reversing it, I’ve embraced it.

    Clearly, the dogs are drawn to your Mom as she must have good dog karma. A very good trait to have.

    Did you happen to get Collum’s contact info, I would like that vanishing spell for the telemarketers. Not sure the Stupify spell would be effective, I’ve already tried that by dropping names such as FCC, etc., crickets.

    Looking forward to the next post!

    June 12, 2012
  9. Jen #

    OMG That picture of Thunder in her pool with just her eyes and ears sticking up almost made me pee my pants!! She is soo funny!!! 🙂 Welcome back by the way!! 🙂
    Did you happen to try a fermented cider drink called Green Mamba when you were over there???

    June 12, 2012
    • I love that picture, too. It cracks me up.

      I didn’t see green mamba, but I probably just missed it. Where did you have it and what did it taste like? It was good? I googled it and love the fact that it’s named after a snake, I guess.

      “The Eastern green mamba (Dendroaspis angusticeps) is a medium to large arboreal highly venomous snake of the family Elapidae.”


      June 21, 2012
  10. a #

    That sounds like a highlight of the trip! I’m now inspired to start reading Harry Potter to my 5 year old…except it would probably be about the same as trying to read it to Thunder. Sigh. She’s not very patient, my daughter.

    These meatballs sound delicious. Maybe I’ll make them for Father’s Day!

    As usual, Thunder is hilarious – especially when he’s conned a friend to be in on his antics.

    June 12, 2012
  11. Spicy meatballs sound divine. Will have to try.

    Very glad that you did your best to vanish. Collum will remember it forever. ; )

    I love, love, love sticky toffee pudding. O Magazine had a recipe I still use for it several years ago. Yum.

    June 12, 2012
    • Anne, does this look like the recipe you have from O Magazine?

      If so, it’s adapted from Five Points restaurant in Manhattan which is one of my favorite places to go to brunch. They have churros there that you dip into hot chocolate. The place is insane.

      June 21, 2012
      • That’s the recipe, yup. And oh boy, is it good.

        And seriously. Churros? Chocolate? Yum!!!!!

        June 22, 2012
  12. chuckle chuckle chuckle smile smile chuckle

    June 12, 2012
    • smile smile chuckle back at you, m’lady.

      June 21, 2012
  13. musingmar #

    Love how you have fun wherever you go and then share it with us! Not to mention those tempting spicy meatballs!

    June 12, 2012
  14. Your posts continue to be the best way to start the day. There’s so much goodie here. Sticky wizards and meatball dogs…
    The seaside pictures are breathtaking—so much color, and those jumbled ropes are pure art.
    Sigh. Thank you for always sharing Thunder. She’s pure de-light.

    June 13, 2012
  15. I have some Woodchuck in the fridge so I think I’ll give these a try. Your photographs are gorgeous!

    June 13, 2012
  16. Always a delight to read your posts – humor, good writing, good food and cute pups. What’s not to like?

    June 13, 2012
  17. I’m jealous – sounds like you enjoyed the food! Not so long ago Scottish fare was criticized for being plain and boring. But now they are leaders of all things fresh, local, and organic by method if not in name. Some of the best restaurant meals I have ever had have been in Scotland, from high end establishments to roadside pubs. On your way to or from Mallaig di you drive by the Real Food Cafe in Tyndrum? And another place not so far from where you were is the Glenelg Inn – worth the bucket list!.

    June 13, 2012
  18. Isn’t Scotland just the BEST place?????? Ah me. Sticky toffee pudding or not.

    Did you see any Scotties? Probably not. Unless they were dressed up in a sheep’s clothing.

    June 13, 2012
  19. Now I want to go on the Hogwarts train! And I’ve always wanted to eat sticky toffee pudding, so keep working…

    June 13, 2012
  20. Mmmmmmmm caramel. I completely understand overlooking being over your guidebook when eating such a desser!

    I love the shadow framed(?) images. I dunno, they make them look as though we’re getting a peep into a window (NOT that I go ’round peepin’ in windows…more like ooooooo, let’s look at what the baker has on display or the wedding dress shop…that kind of peepin’)

    June 16, 2012
  21. OK, those meatballs sound divine. Now, until I can make this for you in person, here is a link to the sticky toffee pudding recipe I always use. It’s by Richard E Grant. Yes, that Richard E Grant. You know it’s going to be good:

    PS Try ‘tergeo’ to get the mud off Thunder. You never know… Wait, why is everyone giving me a Look? Is it my Gryffindor underpants?

    June 17, 2012
  22. Oh, how I’ve missed you. Your trip pix are gorgeous… And I got such a chuckle out of seeing Thunder’s tiny face peering over the side of the kiddy pool. Precious.

    June 19, 2012
  23. You should see the kinds of kids at the Warner Bros. Studios Harry Potter official tour thing in Leavesden. Freaking out over seeing Dumbledore’s official movie robes. Of course I was freaking out, too, but they looked stupider.

    June 25, 2012
  24. This is a really easy sticky toffee pudding recipe from nigella. It makes its own sauce which is handy! It will make you fat, however.

    June 29, 2012

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