Worth a Thousand Words

2017-07-13 13.13.45.jpgToday I attended a Food Photography class run by Caroline Trotter, at Upper Largo. There were four of us – all more accomplished than me but it was great to hear their stories. (For instance, could you have guessed that being a chef on a cruise ship is as regimented as being in the Army? That was Vas’s experience.) Caroline showed us some things which were mysteries to me and rather more familiar to the others – one button for focus/blur, one for speed, and one for letting light into the camera. There are of course technical terms for each of these but that’s what I might manage to learn in homework!2017-07-13 11.05.25

Abi brought cupcakes, Vas brought mozzarella sticks, Andrew brought his keen eye for a fabulous shot, and I brought my general hamfisted but enthusiastic curiosity. Caroline gave us a great day of trying different shots using the basic three buttons mentioned above, setting up beautiful foodie arrangements in her studio and garden. And her husband, chef Christopher Trotter, made us a lovely lunch (which we first had to shoot… another similarity with the Army?)

2017-07-13 11.41.37.jpgCaroline is a past finalist of the prestigious Pink Lady Food photography competition and it was a real joy to leaf through some of her great work. I especially liked a book she put together with Christopher, on fishermen from the East Neuk of Fife, along with their recipes. The black and white portraits of the fishermen were wonderful – craggy with character and luminous with life experience. I wish I’d bought a copy but I got distracted with so many other things to look at. No doubt there will be another opportunity. 2017-07-13 13.36.52

Here are some of my efforts from the day. The others will have better results! But hey, I’m on a journey. And I definitely think my own photos of today are better than the ones I took yesterday. So that’s a result!

2017-07-13 13.09.00.jpg2017-07-13 13.49.26.jpg

How to eat a cricket

Yesterday I attended a focus group at Abertay on insect protein. The theme for the discussion was customer acceptability – as in, would we as consumers be able to get over any squeamishness about eating insects? If so, how?

We were asked if we’d ever eaten insects before and I was busily denying the charge when, halfway through the discussion, I remembered I’d eaten snails in France, more than once. They were good, or at least the garlic butter made them seem delicious. Another member of the group had eaten crickets in China, as street food. He said the only bit that he didn’t like was the legs – especially the little short ones. They got stuck in his mouth, a bit like getting a hair in your soup. That reminded me of trying to create recipes for dagaa, when I was in Zanzibar. Dagaa are tiny little needle-like fish which are caught and dried and sold in huge loose piles in the market. You had to soak them for ever to reconstitute them, and I remember that I couldn’t get used to the pointy needle-ends, which completely resisted softening in the soaking.

This whole discussion about insect protein is of interest to me because (a) I’ll be doing my own Masters research study before long, and it might be on the same theme. Abertay has an active presence in the worldwide debate on insects as a human food source, and it would be good to get immersed in it. Also (b) how on earth are we going to feed the world’s population if all we’ll eat is cows, pigs, sheep and chickens?

Here are two photos of what I ate yesterday: both contained insect protein.2017-07-11 13.29.05.jpg2017-07-11 13.12.24

 

 

 

 

 

Ha! Got you there! No they don’t – I lied! The photo on the left contains ‘cricket flour’ -three types of chocolate biscuit flavoured with nothing else; with mint; and with orange. I liked them all, probably the orange one the most. You couldn’t (in my opinion – others differed) have told they were made of crickets if you hadn’t been told. There was no apparent difference in flavour when mixed with chocolate etc, but the texture was a little coarser than wheat flour. Maybe more like cornmeal or oatmeal. The other biscuits around the edge of the photo were provided in case anyone couldn’t face the crickets!

The photo on the right is my delicious sandwich with coronation chicken at the McManus Gallery. I decided to treat myself after the focus group; all the moreso since we were interrupted by a fire alarm and had to hurriedly abandon ship. If you’re ever in Dundee, do visit the McManus. The social history exhibits are my favourite, they really bring an insight into the culture and history of Dundee. And if you’re ever visiting Abertay University, do call in and ask about the cricket biscuits; I’m sure there will be someone glad to talk.

 

 

Cheese and … Jelly ???

gooseberries clamshell 1.jpgI know this sounds odd, at least to a local audience. But bear with me. Brie and Cranberry has become a standard sandwich offering on Scottish menus, hasn’t it? I don’t actually like it very much – too sweet. And there are all those fruit ‘cheeses’ you can make instead of jelly or chutney – like the famous Spanish membrillo. Last year I made something called Apple Butter, and it was good, but very rich and I didn’t know how to use it up.

P1030244.JPGSo this year I’ve made normal gooseberry jelly, sharply sweet and quite delicious. And it so happens that I’ve got a Connage Clava Highland Brie in the fridge, opened yesterday and won’t last beyond today because it’s so GOOD. Bries outside France are a bit of a mixed bunch in my experience – but this one is light and freshly acidic with a creamy texture.

I put the cheese and jelly together in my sandwich last night – and it was completely delicious. That’s all I’m saying. No strings of adjectives. Try it; use whatever sharpish, not-too-sweet jelly you have. Or make your own gooseberry, it’s very easy (boil the fruit in a little water; strain it out; measure and allow 1lb sugar for every pint of juice; boil together for about 20 mins, till setting point reached (115 degrees); pot into sterilised jars and seal). It’s great to see Scottish cheesemakers persevering despite a harsh regulatory climate, and producing such gems. Power to your elbows, all of you.

P1030243

Bon Voyage Cake

I made this cake at the weekend, by way of saying fare thee well to the Wunderkind as he goes off on his next adventure. There was no flour in the recipe; but dP1030229.JPGon’t be fooled into thinking it was in any way healthy …

250g each of butter, chocolate and walnuts, six large free range eggs … you get the picture. And a smidgeon of home-made strawberry jam, to make it stick; and a pile of crème fraiche and two punnets of beautifully firm yet juicy local raspberries, purchased from a butcher’s shop in St Andrews. I like cakes where nuts replace flour – you end up with a lovely squidgy texture. The sort you could fall into face-first.

It was an indulgent weekend in more ways than one. You know how it is when someone’s going away, and you have to cram in all those things you might miss too much? So we also had fish suppers in Anstruther, sitting on the harbourside on a sunny-but-not-exactly-balmy Saturday afternoon, with the seagulls squawking around hopefully. And then a few beers later on. As the Dundonians among us would say, ‘It’s rerr to be alive, izzit?’

Bon Voyage, son, looking forward to your safe return. Proud of you always.

Wagons Roll!

P1030225.JPGI met an ex-oilrig worker yesterday, clad not in greasy overalls, hard hat and life vest, but in leather apron with giant fork. Ross Lamb told me that he celebrated his 34th birthday recently by taking delivery of a very special piece of kit which haunted his dreams during the last three years of his offshore life. I asked him what was special about his kit and he gave me a pile of techy info which means absolutely nothing to me. However I know some of you love this sort of thing, so here it is.

P1030222.JPGRoss’s pride and joy is a Reverse Flow Offset Smoker, made by Barbecue Mates. It is mounted on its own wheels, as a commercial barbecue trailer, and Ross believes his big investment is the only one of its kind in Scotland at present. To tow it, he bought a massive truck, otherwise known as a Landrover Overland Prep Defender, which will soon be kitted out as a drinks bar. He plans to develop his business as an informal catering operation. Er, isn’t it a bit seasonal? I asked. Yes, it is – but that poses no problems, as Ross will be out in the Highlands, a-chasing the wild deer and following the roe … join in if you know the words.

This big beastie – a combined smoker and oven – was demonstrating its prowess yesterday at a Fathers’ Day Barbecue being held at the newly-opened Lindores Abbey Distillery. I’d taken the Troubadour along (I’m learning to be a roadie but I still fold the music stands up all wrong …) to croon to the crowds. Not often you get great BBQ, brilliant music, lovely surroundings AND Scottish sunshine all in the same place, at the same time – but yesterday it happened. And it isn’t even midsummer yet, so there’s hope for lots more.

Move Over, Nigella!

20170613_191351I was privileged to be present last night at the inaugural ten-course tasting dinner in Newburgh’s latest (and most exclusive) eatery, Le Petit Chapeau. Located in a bijou conservatory/lean-to just off the High Street, this is the brainchild of talented Stella Colleluori of Mad Hatters. Naturally my view of the event – from the kitchen – was the most exclusive of all! Except perhaps that of the Troubadour, who graced the launch of the proceedings with a rendition of ‘The Glory of Love’ (you’ve got to give a little, take a little…’ )

Stella served the following menu to her appreciative diners:

Amuse-bouches:20170613_203020

Smoked Mozzarella and Sundried Tomato Curls, and Caramelized Pear and Stilton Cups

Pea, Lemongrass and Ginger Soup

Scallops with Perthshire Black Pudding and a Whisky Sauce

Hot-smoked Trout Kedgeree with Quails Eggs

Slow-cooked Fife Venison with Pommes Dauphinoises

A trio of Desserts:

Peanut Hazelnut and Meringue Cheesecake

Cranachan

Triple Chocolate Brownie with a Salted Chocolate Fudge Sauce

Coffee

~~o~~

Now I can reveal that as well as peeling spuds and washing up, I was appointed photographer for the evening. On my brand-new phone. Sadly, such extended multi-tasking was a bit of a challenge and my photos don’t reflect the true voluptuosity of the offering! Don’t let that put you off. Stella’s guests’ comments started at ‘Wow!’ and moved through ‘I had no idea she was so talented’, to ‘She is an artiste!’ and finally – surely the ultimate accolade – ‘Stella, you are a Goddess!’

20170613_20091820170613_210726

 

Food for our Times

The other day, my friend Cath posted an old recipe she’d found for ‘Election Cake’ – a vast concoction designed to sustain an electoral campaign through days and weeks of canvassing.

Yesterday morning we awoke at 5.40am to the unnerving news of our own elections, punctuated by two terrorist atrocities; and spent yesterday listening to the speculations as to how it’s all to pan out. Muted calls for resignations, visits to the Queen, unexpected alliances, and a dodgy-sounding deal with a minority UK party with homophobic and anti-abortion policies. Plus the personal stories of the winners and losers in the governmental race. In our own constituency, there were four recounts because the margin was so slim – only two votes between the potential winners – and frankly, I wouldn’t be in their shoes for all the gravy on the Edinburgh-to-London Express.

So today, it’s a time for grounding ourselves again in the little certainties which sustain us. And a significant memory: fifty years ago today, the Troubadour went to the phone box down the road to find out whether his wife had given birth yet. ‘Yes,’ he was told, ‘visiting time is at 3pm. You can see them then.’ He went to work and at lunchtime the mechanics took him to wet the baby’s head. Eventually, still in his overalls, he got to see his first and only, that afternoon. Happy birthday, Jan.

This morning, before the birthday trip, I am going to set up my first ever batch of sourdough. It feels like it’s important to celebrate the thrifty skills which keep us all going; to put something away for tomorrow and the day after; to create something for sharing. Various traditional favourites recommend themselves but I want to find a bit of solidarity with our non-UK national neighbours, those who prop up our economy with their skills and knowledge and can-do-will-do attitude; and are still waiting to see whether they are welcome to stay, post-Brexit. Sourdough bread fits the bill.

Between paragraphs 3 and 4 above, I decided to get on with it instead of just talking about it – so here it is; 100g each of strong flour and tepid water, and a few sultanas. I have to leave it for 24 hours at room temperature, feed it and leave it again … by the time I can actually make some bread, the rawness of the election season will have soothed a bit and we’ll be plodding ever onwards. Those who have the stomach for it will engage directly with the political process; apart from casting my vote, that doesn’t include me. I’ll just mind the sourdough.2017-06-10 07.50.09.jpg

Honest, sonsy faces

2017-05-14 11.09.32Recently I was asked to join the judging panel for the Scottish Haggis and Pork Sausage Championships 2017; it was my first exposure to judging and I was keen to see how it was done. Would it be all scientific and serious? Or all foodie and nerdy? So when I entered Dewar’s Rinks in Perth on 14th May I was delighted by the buzz of activity and that lovely, fresh, light, sweetish scent that comes from being in close proximity to large quantities of top quality meat. The place was buzzing with butchers and meat industry suppliers demonstrating their wares and gearing up for a range of competitions.

2017-05-14 12.18.58.jpgI made my way to a large area cordoned off for the haggis and pork sausage judging. There was a circle of chairs with a package on each, containing an apron and baseball cap. Depending on which colour of apron you’d chosen, you were allocated to either pork sausages or haggis – mine was black and that was the haggis camp. We paired up to work in twos, and were shown to long tables with lines of haggises (haggi?) laid out in rows. Five pairs had a table each (and the sausage judges had the same at the far end of the space) – as it transpired, each table represented a specific region of Scotland. However I was unaware of that at the time, and have no idea which region of Scotland our particular haggises came from. There was complete anonymity; each haggis was placed on a paper plate with a raffle ticket to identify it. My friends have been asking me if I was taking bribes! But actually it would have been impossible to do so, even if I wanted to.

Our table had 24 haggises and we had to work through each, grading them with points from 1 to 10 on five different characteristics – appearance raw, appearance cooked, smell, flavour, and ‘mouth feel’. Microwave ovens were supplied, and we had to cut off a slice and zap it in the microwave. Nobody told us what the ideal haggis criteria might be – it was entirely up to judges’ own taste and experience. Water was available as a ‘palate cleanser’ between each tasting. The outer appearance of the whole haggis was not part of the scoring – the judging was all about what the eating experience would be like on your plate at home (or even at your Burns supper). In some ways this was a pity, as there were some real beauties; the type that would inspire a poet to wax lyrical about sonsie faces. However it wasn’t a beauty competition!2017-05-14 12.19.08

After all the pairs had worked their way through this process and totted up the scores, the top three haggises for each table were identified. Then the judging pairs all changed places, and using the same system, chose the best of the three. These would end up as the regional winners (although we didn’t know that at the time). And finally, the top five haggises were placed on a table with all ten judges tasting and choosing the best of the best.

You can imagine by this time that taste-bud inertia might have set in. I think certainly we were very focused, and consensus about the final winner was reached without much disagreement. But it was interesting how important the various criteria became. Obviously, the choosing of a ‘best’ haggis has a lot of subjectivity to it; how could my choice be the same as yours? Haggis making is as much art as science. But as it turned out, most judges were looking for a relatively open texture, both in the raw and cooked state; this usually translated to an appetising ‘mouth feel’; whereas the closer-textured ones could seem a bit gluey in the chewing. Smell wasn’t as easy to differentiate as flavour, which surprised me. And for flavour, the differences were marked mainly by a general meaty savouriness, and how liberally the salt and pepper had been shaken in. One had an obvious rosemary flavour, and this divided the judges’ opinion. A sprig of assertive rosemary is great with lamb, so you can see why a creative butcher would think of this as a way of adding individuality to a traditional haggis recipe. But for me it was a bit too off-beam; haggis is such a traditional meal, served in the most traditional of ways with little variation in the accompaniments, and it just didn’t seem right to bring in something quite so different. Top marks for innovation but no banana. What I personally was looking for was something that would have a different texture to the mashed tatties and neeps that it would inevitably share a plate with. When I used to cook for older people, they enjoyed a haggis, but weren’t so keen on the ones that were highly peppered. So – I’m sure it’s quite a challenge for a butcher, to produce a top quality product in a world where there isn’t much room for individuality, and I doff my baseball cap to all the entrants.

That was that; and the following day the organisers emailed the judges to thank them, and reveal the winners (listed below). It was a really interesting experience and I hope I get to repeat it. What would be really interesting now, would be to watch a craft butcher at work, to see the provenance of his/her ingredients, and see how the recipe is put together. Well done to all the competitors.

 

2017 SCOTTISH HAGGIS CHAMPIONSHIP sponsored by Grampian Oat Products Champion: JB Houston, Dumfries Reserve Champion: Findlays of Portobello Third Place: Mearns T McCaskie, Wemyss Bay North of Scotland Champion: Davidsons Specialist Butchers, Elgin  East of Scotland Champion: Minick of St Andrews  West of Scotland Champion: Mearns T McCaskie, Wemyss Bay South East Scotland Champion: Findlays of Portobello South West Scotland Champion: JB Houston, Dumfries

 

THE 2017 SCOTTISH PORK SAUSAGE CHAMPIONSHIP Competition sponsored by Lucas Ingredients Champion: The Buffalo Farm Reserve Champion: Hendersons of Hamilton  Third Place: Ewan Morrice, Stuartfield North of Scotland Champion: Ewan Morrice, Stuartfield South East of Scotland Champion: JC Douglas, St Boswell East of Scotland Champion: The Buffalo Farm, Kirkcaldy West of Scotland Champion: Hendersons of Hamilton South West Scotland Champion: Hendries of Girvan

 

More results for Meat Skills Scotland and the Craft Butcher Awards are at:-

www.craftbutchers.co.uk

 

 

First, catch your lobster …

Shirley Spear wrote a great piece in yesterday’s Sunday Herald about Scotland’s National2014-12-26 14.55.41.jpg Dish – the mighty fish supper. Spear makes a great case for the provenance and general superiority of this most popular of cairry-oots, despite its frequent greasy tastelessness. Her alternative is a bit posh for most of us but sounds delicious – and I applaud her for giving explicit instructions on how to cook, i.e. kill, the beast. Not for the faint-hearted.

Meantime my friend Marian and I have been down to North Berwick to visit Scotland’s first and only lobster hatchery. It seems that most lobster fisheries are all but fished-out, with newly-hatched lobsters having a 1 in 20,000 chance of surviving to adulthood. In their microscopic state, they are simply hoovered up as fish food; and as they grow, they are aggressively cannibalistic, and eat each other. So Jane McMinn and her fishing colleagues developed the idea of a nursery where lobster eggs (or ‘berries’) would be hatched out and kept in relatively safe conditions, protected from predators including 2017-05-16 14.12.59.jpgeach other, till they were big enough to be re-released into the sea – usually at about 12 weeks old. The signs are positive that this will make a huge impact on the sustainability of the lobster population in the Firth of Forth; although it will be many years before this can be fully established. Meantime the hatchery is largely dependent on charity to stay in business.

Local fishermen are committed to the programme, and are paid a fair price for bringing in a ‘berried hen’. This one on the left was brought in while we were listening to the process from a local volunteer. Obviously this is in their interest, with lobsters currently costing about £30 per kilo, or £21.95 for a whole cooked lobster (the Highland version). Lobsters have never achieved great popularity with the Scottish public, and over 90% of the catch is generally exported to France, Spain and Portugal.

I wonder how far a lobster can swim? Back at Cupar Farmer’s Market last weekend I came across this beastie on a stall run by another Firt2017-05-20 10.08.26.jpgh of Forth crustacean-catcher, but this time on the opposite (northern) coast of the Forth. Clement Boucherit is based near Pittenweem and has been running his business here for the last three years. I bought some langoustines and they were packed freshly into a box of crushed ice, very convenient.

Any project that enhances sustainability is a great thing; but I’m wondering at the likelihood of funding continuing for something which benefits so few people. Unless of course we can all be persuaded to extend our culinary comfort zones next time we feel like cooking something very special (and expensive) for supper. This Friday (2nd June) has been designated National Fish and Chip Day – no lobster for me, but I’ll certainly make a point of celebrating in an appropriate manner. With mushy peas of course.

 

 

EAT YOUR WORDS

Brilliant outing yesterday to the newly -extended Carnegie Library and Galleries, Description: Hard Drive:Users:marthabryce:Desktop:Screen Shot 2017-05-17 at 10.15.03.pngDunfermline. Award-winning architecture, opening up huge new vistas over the Abbey and Abbot’s House to the west, and the Forth bridges to the south. And a hugely engaging collection of artefacts representing many of the trades and townspeople of past and present. The actual library section is mercifully preserved pretty much as was. When Captain Wunderkind was a baby I used to push the pram up St Margaret’s Street and get lost in the aisles of books, shoogling the pram with one hand and balancing the books with the other, trying to devour a whole chapter before the WK woke up and wailed.

2017-05-23 11.36.10.jpgIn those days there was no tea or coffee to be had in the library – the very idea! Now however there’s a spanking new café with an outside terrace and leafy views through the treetops. The café contract was awarded to a (relatively) local food business, ‘Heaven Scent’ of Milnathort – a nice change from the corporate Costas that seem to take over. Not that I have anything against Costa – except for the global creep which makes it so hard for the local food story to survive. We arrived at lunchtime and I had a creamy, soothing pitcher of lentil soup with a nice crunchy salad with roasted vegetables, and a pair of seeded mini-rolls. The menu was a notch above predictable, with lots of familiar lunch-type options, livened up with little quirks. Pity that, at 12.30 in the day, they’d already run out of  cream of mushroom – but since they only opened last Thursday, I guess it takes a while to bed in. The queue never went down throughout our visit so clearly it’s going down well.

I’ve always been a big library fan, and fortunate always to have access to some good ones. Right now, I’m in the AK Bell library in Perth – on the spacious and silent upper floor, tapping away. Great study space, good book collection in my field (food and drink, mainly), friendly and helpful staff, and a nice, but slightly pricy, café.

My first library was in what had once been someone’s front room at the top end of the Main Street in Ochiltree – a few doors beyond the House with the Green Shutters. I finished the single shelf of children’s books in a matter of months, so my mother and the librarian conspired to find things from the adult shelves that they considered ‘suitable’. Of course they occasionally got it wrong! And thank goodness for that, as my sex education was badly in need of augmentation.

I won’t go on at length about all my libraries but have decided to do a scoresheet, with points out of 5 on the above features, for all you other booknerds out there:

Name and location of library, and the dates I used it Book collection

score 0-5

Study space

score 0-5

Staff helpfulness

score 0-5

Refreshments

score 0-5

Ochiltree, 1964-68 2 0 2 0
Carnegie library, Ayr, 1974 3.5 3 3 0
Glasgow University Library, 1974-77 5 (but all so BORING!) 3 1 0
Langside Library, Glasgow, 1977-86 3.5 1 2 0
Public library, Stonetown, Zanzibar, 2010 3 – but eccentric! 3 2 0
Carnegie Library, Dunfermline – opened 1883, closed for renovations 2015 4 4 4 0
Duloch Community Library, Dunfermline 4 2 4 2
Laing Library, Newburgh, Fife 4 but specialist – local and family history 1 4 0
AK Bell Library, Perth 4 4 4 3
 Carnegie Library and Galleries, Dunfermline – reopened 18th May 2017 4 4 4 4

So the top scorer is …. drum roll … Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries! Go as soon as you can, it’s a brilliant visit and does the townspeople proud.