Jamie closed his eyes for an instant, then opened them, looking toward Brianna, who stood with Lizzie and Marsali, Jemmy in her arms. The rawness and strength of his features stood out by contrast with the round-faced innocence of the children, the gentleness of the young mothers — though even in their delicacy, I thought, the firelight showed the seams of Scottish granite in their bones.
“We pay tribute to our women,” he said, lifting the cup in turn to Brianna, to Marsali, and then turning to me. A brief smile touched his lips. “For they are our strength. And our revenge upon our enemies will be at the last the revenge of the cradle. Slàinte!”
(Diana Gabaldon, The Fiery Cross (Chapter 15 – The Flames of Declaration)A few in our online-Outlander book club can claim Scottish roots, but it’s not mandatory for membership. Spread across the globe, from Arkansas to Australia, Brooklyn to Barcelona, Finland and beyond, we got together after our fearless leader (holding a treasured copy of Outlander above), opened up a Facebook group inviting like-minded fans to join her for book talk.
One year later, we’re still talking. Our now-closed group is on a re-read (on Chapter 17 & 18 of The Fiery Cross at the time of writing), but for most of the 70+ members, there’s almost no topic we won’t touch. Our husbands tend to stay clear of the kilted men, recipes and family videos that we plaster our page with everyday, but I think most of them are pleased, if not a little surprised, at just how close we have become and at the supportive atmosphere we have created.
My Englishman, who lived in Africa for many years, likens us to a village of women gathered around the waterhole.
In a good way.
Our first Gathering came together organically. One of our number was traveling to Niagara Falls, Ontario to visit for the first time since childhood. She asked the lasses who live locally (on either side of the border) if they wanted to meet up. Excitement spread from there, and all of a sudden I found myself on a travel site looking for cheap fares.
Thirteen members in all made the journey.
At the same time as the North American gathering, three of the group’s Australian members went into the Outback for their own fun. Kalgoorlie is in Western Australia, about 600 km east of Perth. They did their best to get the locals into an Outlander state-of-mind.
My journey from Pender to Niagara included a pit stop in Toronto for a night. I embraced my inner DG and visited a museum to get myself some learning before moving on to the main event at the Falls.
As I only had a couple of hours, I passed over the world-renowned Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) and instead went across the street to The Gardiner Museum of ceramics.
Wandering among three floors of clay through-the-ages was a wonderful way to spend a morning. Here I am doing one of my many obligatory self portraits in front of a 17th Century Italian plate depicting an orgy.
I’ve been fortunate to do quite a bit of traveling in my time, and if there’s one lunch tip that is almost universal (at least across North America, Europe and much of Asia), it’s that museums and art galleries often have lovely little cafeteria-style restaurants where you can stop to re-fuel with everything from coffee/tea and pastries to house-made quiches, salads, sandwiches or rice bowls for about the same cost as a Big Mac meal.
The freshly made Salad Niçoise with smoked salmon that I enjoyed on the top floor of The Gardiner was no exception. To top it off, I had a lovely view of the sunny ROM gardens from my table by the window.
After lunch and another selfie, I boarded the bus and headed to my final destination, where the adventure really began.
Meeting a group of online friends sounds a little scary, doesn’t it? Will the on-screen, in jokes be as funny in real life? How will we handle awkward pauses in conversation? What if they’re all just way weird and not at all who they appeared to be in our virtual hangout?
I packed a flask of Lagavulin just in case.
But as my double-decker bus pulled into the bus station, any small worries I had melted at the sight of my welcoming party: L from New York, L from Louisiana and J from Arkansas. Three women bouncing with the same excitement vibrating through my own bones. Delighted female squeals and hugs of joys had the bus driver leaning away with a slight grimace as he handed me my bag, but after a brief explanation, he was all smiles, as was everyone else we told our story to in the tourist mecca that is Niagara.
For two days, we basked in each other and in Outlander. We played tourist and took a trip aboard the Maid of the Mist, but most of the time, we were content to talk — in the hotel lobby, in the parking lot, in our rooms until 4am. I’ll be honest. We were loud. We drove neighbouring tables away at more than one breakfast and lunch. Whether it was the volume of our voices, or our liberal use of “dinna fash” that had them leaving in haste, we’ll never know.
One meal where we didn’t have to worry about our volume was the big dinner on Saturday night. I have to give a shout out here to our hosts, The Syndicate Restaurant & Brewery. They really know how to throw a party. Multiple, simultaneous parties, in fact. As we were shown to our table on the second floor, we passed a table of 20+ celebrating a bachelor party, as well as another 2 tables seating at least a dozen each. And let me tell you, we were no match for the volume of that big group of men. It was nice not to be the loudest group for one meal. Too bad none of them were wearing kilts.
The food was delicious, hot and unbelievably reasonable. The highlight had to be the 2 orders of Duck Confit Poutine that we shared so everyone could have a taste of this French-Canadian classic. Fries, gravy and cheese curds are hard to resist on their own, but add tender morsels of duck and it adds up to a life-changing experience.
As if one real-life meet-up wasn’t enough for this Outlander fan, I wasn’t even home for a whole week when I headed out again! This time, I took a wee trip to the Surrey International Writers’ Conference just outside Vancouver.
I met up with Outlander/OK fans Lara and CC, and the three of us spent the afternoon chatting while we waited to meet Diana at the book signing on Saturday evening.
I don’t know what it is about Outlander fans, but I have yet to meet one in person that I haven’t liked. Fabulous doesn’t even begin to describe.
Fabulous can also be used to describe DG. I mean, just look at her nail colour!
It was an honour to meet my favourite author and muse for the recipes I create here on Outlander Kitchen.
After a brief chat, Diana graciously signed the 456 items I brought along. (That’s only a slight exaggeration. Herself was verra patient with me.)
In return, I brought her a few of Stephen Bonnet’s Salted Chocolate Pretzel Balls to try.
To find out what she thought of them, and to hear a little bit about what may be coming up for OK and DG, watch the video of her most recent book launch (Trail of Fire) from The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Phoenix.
Near the end of the video (53:00) DG takes a moment to talk about our meeting, Bonnet’s Balls and a possible upcoming project we’ve been talking about for awhile.
And now, it’s time to announce the winner of OK’s big 1st Blogiversary Giveaway! Excited? Up for grabs is an Outlander Kitchen apron signed by Herself (1st prize) as well as a DG-signed spurtle (2nd prize).
The winners were chosen from the comments, tweets and blog subscriptions that came in. over the past 2 weeks. The random number generator at Random.org kept everything fair.
Congratulations to Mary B. the winner of the OK apron signed by DG! And the singed spurtle goes to…Gayle M! I have contacted both women via email, and I will send their prize out in the mail just as soon as I have their mailing address.
Thank you to everyone who entered — we had over 175 entries, so it was OK’s biggest giveaway yet! Your thoughtful comments have really lifted me over the past 2 weeks. I love Outlander Kitchen, and I’m chuffed that so many of you love it too.