Great concert last night: Gallagher and Lyle at ‘The Byre in the Botanics’, in St Andrews – ie the Byre Theatre organising an open-air event. Wet and cold. Extra clothing precautions of vest, long-sleeved tee shirt, jumper, raincoat, socks, long trousers, proper shoes and woolly scarf all proved woefully inadequate. We were in the front row of the polytunnel/marquee and the wind hit us but the rain didn’t. At one point, Gallagher interrupted Lyle’s introductory comments to ‘Fifteen Summers’ to point out a particularly fine rainbow. ‘Just like a hippy festival, intit?’ said Lyle. Anyway it was still a great concert.
Less impressive was our £25 picnic basket – the veggie option – too much bread and cheese and not much imagination otherwise. Also, for the scone, a small jar of Tiptree jam was provided. Tiptree jam is very nice but hey- St Andrews is right in the heart of Scottish berry country! No attempt in our fancy wicker basket to reflect the great culinary offerings in our own neighbourhood. So that was a bit of a shame. I could have taken them some of my own jammy offerings of the last week: blackcurrant jelly and Tayberry-Strawberry conserve. Impressed? Me too!
Recently I was gifted half a dozen quails’ eggs, by my friend Anne who is on bartering terms with the quailkeeper. They’re such pretty wee things and remind me of The Borrowers. About 25 years ago, my friend Marian and I took our collective Wunderkinder to the Cottiers Theatre in Glasgow to see a staged production of this lovely 1952 children’s story by Mary Norton. It features a family of tiny people who live in the rafters and crannies of an ordinary house, and ‘borrow’ things for their daily use. Anyway, as you can see from my photos (that’s a cherry tomato in the second one, to give a sense of perspective), quails eggs are dinky but just one would probably feed a whole Borrowers family handsomely. I’m slightly embarrassed to admit I ate all six myself at one go, the Troubadour having declined. They taste just like hen eggs.
I had a look online to see how quails are produced. It seems they are quite nervous, flighty birds and according to the Farmers Weekly, there is only one intensive quail farm in the UK. Those quails selected for egg-laying are kept on a ‘free to fly’ basis which I guess means free range. Lots of quails and their eggs are imported so I don’t know what the animal welfare concerns might be there. As usual, I would look for UK or even Scottish birds and eggs, if I were in a shop.
However I have the joy of knowing that mine were produced by a cheerful wee flock pecking around among the backwoods of Newburgh. Thank you ladies, I enjoyed your eggs very much, and also the Borrowers memory they invoked. And thank you Anne, happy bartering!
Today 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!
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?)
Caroline 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.
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!
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.
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.
I 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.
So 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.