Monthly Archives: May 2017

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.




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


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.

Ten real-life cooking challenges

Well done Saliha Mahmood-Ahmed on winning Masterchef 2017! Your cooking really inspired me, and I love the light, fresh, vibrant flavours you have brought to the table.

The winner of MasterChef 2017 has been announced

It must be daunting, as an untrained home cook, to be set loose in the professional kitchens of award-winning restaurants, and to produce exquisite platefuls for panels of exalted judges. Quite often, their accolade for a great plate of food was ‘I would be happy to pay for this in a top restaurant.’ This must be scary for other home cooks – it certainly is for me. The measure of your cooking likes in its suitability for fancy restaurants? Terrifying! And yet most home cooks rise to greater culinary challenges on a daily basis.

Which leads me to wonder – why doesn’t the BBC create a different kind of cookery competition? One in which home cooks are judged for extensive skills in all their normal tricky kitchen manoeuvres? In this kind of competition, we could have rounds on (disturbingly) real-life situations. Here are my ten top suggestions:

  1. A week’s worth of packed lunches for a family of five – creating and delivering the lunches, and responding to customer feedback
  2. Providing healthy post-match snacks for your son’s or daughter’s football team
  3. Laying on a celebration buffet for 20 people including your mother-in-law, three children, a vegan, and someone who is gluten-intolerant
  4. Three items for a fundraiser at the local school
  5. Menu for a street party
  6. Consolation supper for a failed driving test
  7. New resolution weekday suppers following a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes
  8. Birthday picnic for 12
  9. A meal which has to be prepared in advance and served within 30 minutes of arrival home, following a special event such as your stepdaughter’s first stage appearance
  10. Team challenge: a wedding breakfast for 50 people at a budget of £4 per head

2016-06-20 11.05.32.jpgWhy would this kind of approach make good viewing? Firstly, because everyone should have the enjoyment of good food as a regular part of life, and most of us can’t afford to pay for it outside the home. Secondly, because lots of people don’t know how to cook nowadays, and we need a bit of relevant inspiration. And thirdly, because it’s important to be in control of what we put into our bodies.

Finally though – because it’s a joy to get your sleeves up and lay on a bit of a spread, be it ever so modest; and it’s great to develop your skills and have them recognised.

Saliha, good luck with your ambition to combine your medical experience and training with the redesign of the British diet. It would be absolutely fantastic to breathe new vigour – drama, even – into the drive to reduce childhood (and other) obesity.

Ringing the Changes

The Cross Party Group on Food at the Scottish Parliament the other week was as usual very informative and particularly topical for me. The theme was ‘The Future of Reformulation’, with speakers from the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen. Dr Alan Rowe kicked off with a roundup of what’s been going on to date, and why we need to reach further. Everybody, he says, has been trying to reduce the fat, sugar and salt in their products (not sure I agree with that – there are extravagant claims for sugar reduction in the breakfast cereal sector which don’t bear much examination). However there are lots of challenges facing Scotland which need further reformulation efforts.He cited climate change, Brexit, ‘westernisation’ of diets in India and China which in turn have led to hugely increased incidences of diabetes and CVD in those countries; and ongoing famine in large tropical stretches of the world.

Dr Rowe’s colleague, Professor Baukje de Roos, continued with a range of possible developments, and gave brief accounts of three case studies for further discussion:

  • Farmed salmon have much less Omega 3 than theirImage result for images farmed salmon wild cousins. This is because they derive their Omega 3 from their own diet, which, in farms, has been largely based on rapeseed oil. There are other concerns about farmed salmon too; their Vitamin D content is lower; and they suffer from sea lice which are eaten by other fish. The Sunday Times last week ran a feature on the near-extinction of sea wrasse, which are being captured and put to work on the farmed salmon. According to a study at Stirling University’s Institute of Aquaculture, Omega 3 levels in farmed salmon have halved in five years; and as we all know, Omega 3 provides huge health benefits to humans. If something isn’t done, we might as well get our Omega 3 out of a bottle; and what a loss that would be.
  • Mussel farming has been described as the most sustainable form ofImage result for images mussel farming in Scotland meat production in the world – with no environmental impact at all, according to some sources. Mussels are extremely rich in Vitamin D, with a special metabolite that makes them as rich as Vitamin D supplements; and again, Vitamin D is a vital part of our diet in helping us absorb calcium. People who live in sunnier climes can get a lot of the Vitamin D requirement from sunshine; alas this is not the case in Scotland. Hence the desirability of increasing mussel production and consumption. However mussels are also very high in salt, which is a concern.
  • Plant-based protein sources, such as fava beans, hemp, buckwheat, lupin, and peas, are all grown in Scotland. They are high in protein, low in fat, high in fibre, rich in micronutrients and phytochemicals; anti-inflammatory; and high in satiety, giving you a great ‘fuller for longer’ result. Top 6 Plant Based ProteinsBut none of these foods enjoy much (if any) popularity, or have been developed by the food industry. And meantime Scotland has one of the worst records for obesity, diabetes and CVD in Europe. Could we develop a more popular food that increases protein and the above listed other benefits? Maybe a food that is currently perceived as unhealthy, such as a pie? Because of its satiating qualities, such a pie would be lower in calories and cheap to produce (just like the original Scotch pie!) I’m onto it! A good veggie pie? What’s not to like?

I mentioned that the theme for the meeting was very timely for me. That’s because, along with four colleagues on my Food Innovation Masters course, I was working up a presentation for examination via Dragon’s Den, based on our challenge to develop a reduced-sugar product for children (along with the recommendations of the Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition). Our group worked on a reduced-sugar granola which I may say was delicious and used completely natural ingredients, and achieved a 40% reduction in sugar over the industry standard. There were lots of very technical bits to the project which I may say were more the forte of the rest of the group. My best contribution came in the marketing recommendations … I don’t suppose Scott’s Porridge Oats will be knocking on our door anytime soon but here’s our product image, for your information/entertainment:

MUNGO’S MIGHTY GRANOLA is a reduced-sugar Scottish premium breakfast cereal, made with fantastic Scottish ingredients, including oats from Angus and raspberries from the Carse of Gowrie. Mungo’s granny was the one immortalised in Rabbie Burns’ famous poem ‘To a Mouse’ – there will be a free toy mouse in every package … well I don’t know if this is ever going to hit the supermarket Image result for images running miceshelves but let me tell you this – you can make it at home (I did, on Wednesday night) and it’s brilliant. The one thing that I know for certain went well at the Dragons’ Den presentation is that when we handed the bag round the Dragons for tasting, the whole lot was scoffed in minutes!