Other poets are available …

P1020867.JPGGreetings on Burns night! We’re not having haggis at home tonight because we’re going to a Burns Supper on Friday; however I was inspired to shell out £9.99  for this bottle of wine which, apparently, ‘gangs wi haggis’, and will report back on whether it does what it says on the label. The wine is made, from local brambles and oak leaves, by Cairn O’Mhor, that great Scottish winery on the north banks of the Tay, maybe 20 minutes’ drive from here. I wrote previously about our visit there; it was hugely enjoyable and I’m looking forward to our next foray.

Meantime, in remembrance of the Bard’s birth, I just want to say:

  1. Yes I like Burns’ poems and songs, or at least most of them  No poet or songwriter gets it right all the time, and undoubtedly some of his work can fairly be consigned to the doggerel-and-drivel bucket. But then he penned such stirring stuff as ‘A man’s a man for a’ that’, and poked such fun at the powers that be (‘O Thou who in the heavens dost dwell…’) and regaled us with great stories (‘… and shouted, Weel done, Cutty Sark!/ and in an instant, all was dark …’) and gave us lots of tender wee odes to fieldmice and mountain daisies and headlice. It’s a great thing for Scotland to have a bard who has travelled the world in terms of popularity and raises our flag in all sorts of good ways. However
  2. You’d think Robert Burns was the only poet we ever produced. What about Edwin Morgan? Liz Lochhead? Norman McCaig? Kathleen Jamie? and so on and so on. Next week the troubadour and I are going to a Celtic Connections event to see the Hazey Janes, a Dundee band, perform alongside Liz Lochhead reading some of her poems, and it promises to be a great night. And finally ….
  3. Haggis is not the only foodstuff to have inspired a poem. I’m sure you all know that. tomato-breakfastRecently I read a brilliant blogpost, which I’ve linked to here, which addressed a juicy poem about tomatoes, by Pablo Neruda. Here’s a tiny extract: ‘It sheds its own light, benign majesty. Unfortunately, we must murder it: the knife sinks into living flesh, red …’

So there you go. Let’s celebrate poets tonight, living and dead; and here’s a prayer in Burns’ own words:

Then let us pray that come it may,
As come it will for a’ that,
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth
Shall bear the gree an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that,
That Man to Man the warld o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that.

Amen.

 

Nourishing the Nation

Went to a meeting in the Scottish Parliament last night – Cross Party Group on Food. This is one of over a hundred specific interest groups which cross party lineExterior of the Holyrood Buildings; they are open to the general public as well as people with a specific interest. This was my first visit to the Food group. It was a good session – 90 minutes of informed, enthusiastic information and debate, well chaired by Mark Ruskell MSP (Scottish Greens, quite appropriate given the  plea from Nourish Scotland on eating more veg).

The theme for the evening was learning and development for food industry practioners. We had presentations from the Food and Drink Federation Scotland; the College Development Network for the food industry; and Skills Development Scotland. Then there was a lively discussion around the table, with contributions from leaders from the meat, fish and vegetable industries, as well as from other learning providers. E.g. Abertay University informed us of their forthcoming lab provision, enabling hands-on training for students with an interest in creating something new in the food world.

2016-12-01 13.41.30.jpgIt seems that in Scotland we have a fabulous pantry of produce, and some great learning and development initiatives; but that there is a serious problem in funding. Not just the question of insufficient investment, but of sustainability of funding to allow for development and growth.

Food is a key part of Scotland’s economy, and so on an economic agenda alone it ought to be supported. However food is also a global issue and a basic human right; and ironically, the Cross Party Group’s last meeting focused on the problem of malnutrition, alive and well in Scotland. I know this picture is replicated worldwide; surely it’s time to do something about it?

I’m fortunate to live in a country that respects and fosters debate and democratic involvement; and that has such lush food provision in its hills and valleys and shorelines I’d like to find a way of spreading it round a bit. Suggestions welcome.

 

Recovery Mode

Woohoo! I’m in recovery! Raise the flags! I’m back!

Don’t worry, I’m exaggerating; I certainly haven’t been at death’s door and I didn’t even lose my appetite. But I’ve had about ten days of heavy, heavy cold, sore throat like swallowing razor blades, and with chest infection and OUCH!!! a UTI for good measure.

Yesterday, though, I put my toe in the social water, had a great afternoon and then a lovely long phone conversation at night and am feeling much restored. Still blowing my nose for Scotland (think massed bagpipes and ‘The Muckin o’ Geordie’s Byre’), but approaching normal routines. 2016-07-16 07.46.56.jpgThis is an old photo chosen for its cheeriness. I haven’t had the camera out in the last week.

I read a lot, and watched LOADS of telly. Will report back on my reading material in due course, but just want to briefly record my new-found appreciation of the Dinner Ladies series 1 and 2, written by Victoria Wood in 1998-2000 and with a stellar cast including her good self plus Julie Walter, June Reid, Irma Barlow, Maxine Peake, Celia Imrie and others. Great to see them all nearly 30 years ago and to know that many of them are still going strong. Not Victoria Wood, sadly. She was one of many great artists who died in 2016, and received nothing like enough tribute because so many others were following suit.

Dinner Ladies is a situation comedy, set in a factory canteen, and follows the daily events and the relationships and adventures that ensue. You couldn’t call it high literature, but it has such a faithful ring of authenticity and a lot of good, straightforward belly laughs. Also some poignant moments, like when Andy gets cancer treatment; and when Bren’s neglectful, fantasist mother played outrageously by Julie Walters manages to trick her daughter yet again out of her holiday money.

Now that I’m better I’ve just heard a great interview by Andrew Marr on the radio and have pre-purchased a Kindle book due out later this week by Martin Sixsmith. Remember his ‘Philomena’? An investigative journalist approach to an Irish orphan scandal. He’s written in the same style this time about honour killings in Pakistan, and I can’t wait to read it.

Not much to say about food and drink in this post; it’s been soup, bread and cheese all the way. And lots of lemons. Wishing you good health wherever you are.

 

Mellow at Hogmanay

Greetings to you all. My damson gin is all finished, in the happy pursuit of sampling and gifting. It was delicious. Must make a bigger batch next year.2016-12-31 18.24.42.jpg

Also, as I have been nursing a heavy cold, I am well fortified with Benylin, Lemsip, Strepsils, and hot toddies. So I’m coasting gently towards the Bells, and depending on whether or not it rains tonight, I might foray out and take part in the Oddfellows’ Parade – a surreal and well-named event that happens here each year. I think it has masonic connections, so it wouldn’t normally attract my attention. The Oddfellows, dating from four or five centuries ago, I think (pardon the mellow approach to historical accuracy), were the unskilled labourers who weren’t eligible  to join the craft guilds. Their march involves someone riding backwards on a Clydesdale horse, up the high street, with a band following; and revellers dressed up in pretty scary costumes dashing around terrifying the populace and collecting money for charitable causes. Follow the link to get a 5 year old account of the event by another Newburgh blogger, with good photos. This photo isn’t the Oddfellows! it’s from Bourdain’s book.

2016-12-31 18.22.11.jpgQuickly before the parade sets off, I’m going to talk about two good food books I’ve read recently. The first was a gift from a fellow blogger – thank you so much, FoodinBooks! This is ‘Appetites’ by Anthony Bourdain. I’d read his ‘Kitchen Confidential’ and ‘Cooks’ Tour’, both of which had me laughing and gasping with horror/delight – all about his coke-fuelled path to chef stardom. This latest book is about so-called family cooking – with his appreciative comments about the unconventionality of his own family. The book, like his others, is completely irreverent yet dedicated to good eating. Very meaty, with graphic photos not much enjoyed by the Troubadour. Great fun though. Inspired by some of his recipes, and the donor of the book who, I discover, hails from New Mexico, I cooked up a bit of a Mexican storm a few weeks ago – huevas rancheros and patatas bravas, quesadillas, and stuffed peppers, sweetcorn fritters and so on. I suppose it wasn’t anything like authentic Mexican cooking so I apologise for what is probably a highly clichéd menu. As if haggis, neeps and tatties were the only thing Scots eat. But it was hugely enjoyed. An old song came to mind, plucked out for me by the Troubadour – El Paso by Marty Robbins. Again, probably clichéd (Donald, whaur’s yer troosers?) but I love it.

(A slight digression – here’s a video of the Troubadour using the tune of this song for a wee ode to Scottish artist and sculptor Tony Morrow. This is a picture of his pie and bridie, cast in bronze).2016-12-31 20.50.37.jpg

Bourdain has a French parent; and the author of my second book has been living in Paris. 2016-12-31 18.25.01.jpgAnd both are chefs. That’s the similarities dealt with. David Lebowitz’ ‘The Sweet Life in Paris’ is a book I’d  been aware of because I follow his blog – in his blogsphere I am the flea that sits on the hide of the elephant – he has thousands of followers. Anyway his book is very entertaining – I saw it in the library in Perth when I was studying for my recent exam (yes thank you I passed) and have loved reading his full-length work. He describes how the Parisians hate Americans, and his efforts to kind of blend in. Like, eating with your hands, in the streets? Very no-no to Parisians apparently. He describes how a Parisian eats a banana – with knife and fork and napkin … Hilarious, even though I suppose it’s exaggerated and maybe Parisians don’t recognise this view of themselves. His eventual acceptance was very much aided by his prowess as a patissier and chocolatier.

Incidentally, do you like the background surface under the books? Still in New Mexico mode. Happy new year to all my friends around the globe, I will be drinking to your health this evening; here’s to a brilliant 2017.

Happy Cheesemas

2016-12-25 08.22.00.jpgSo there we were, having a nice coffee with our eggy-cheesy-bread on Christmas morning; and I had the great idea of adding a little Kahlua. And then a blob of cream. Very festive and got us off to a most enjoyable day. I hope you all had a good time too.

A few days before Christmas we were visiting Glasgow so I took the opportunity to call in 2016-12-15 18.50.18.jpgat Ian Mellis’s cheese emporium. Although there’s a lot of great artisanal cheese made in Scotland, there aren’t many specialist cheese shops; Mellis’s is one of the best, and best-known. I was interested to know how cheesemongers are feeling about the recent ban on Errington’s cheeses being sold. There was a recent outbreak of E.coli 0157, and one of Errington’s cheeses was implicated. The evidence seems to be in dispute, as Errington has had his own lab tests taken, with no traces of E.coli found. Food Standards Scotland is now paying Errington’s legal costs, in an acknowledgement that their actions could easily drive him out of business.

2016-12-15 20.42.40.jpgThe cheese in question is made from raw (unpasteurised) milk. In Scotland, raw milk cannot be sold for drinking purposes, but it’s okay to produce cheese. There are many raw milk cheeses for sale at Mellis’s, and the manager told me that nearly all producers are going forth optimistically, determined to stick with their sublime products. This is reason for rejoicing, I must say, and I applaud their courage in an industry that is being seen as highly risky.

Coincidentally there was a great episode of the Food Programme on Radio 4, compered by Dan Saladino. Entitled ‘The Future of Cheese’, it explored the mysterious bacterial actions that work to give individual cheeses their individual characters. Apparently cheesy traces have been found in Egyptian crocks, 7,500 years old! It’s an amazing story, I urge you to listen to it. I never studied much science back in the day, and am easily befuddled by all the techy lingo. However it seems the scientists haven’t figured it out either! Fabulous, individual, packs-a-punch cheese seems to be a gift from God. Or Geraldine, as I’ve taken to calling Her.

Rest in Peace, Lionel Blue

Have had a couple of frustrating days with Internet connections. Crossing fingers this connection lasts long enough for post to go out … anyway I have two things to say to you all:

  1. Happy Solstice! There’s a walk in the woods this afternoon in North Annsmuir Forest near Ladybank, and we all have to take something edible-by-wildlife to hang on a tree. It’s being led by a bone fide Person of the Cloth – Churc2015-05-01 13.08.17.jpgh of Scotland no less – and if that isn’t cause for celebration and hope for the year to come, I don’t know what is. In case I’m being obscure, I’m talking about formal religion embracing the numinous …
  2. And as with the title of this post, rest in peace Lionel Blue. I’ve loved him for decades. It’s the way he expresses (sorry, expressed) his desire to do the right thing, and over and over again his disappointment and self-forgiveness at not quite managing it. Especially on the food front! So the night he died I thought about making a pot of lentil soup, and ended up making Rocky Road instead … 20,000 calories in every mouthful (depending on the size of your mouth of course). In the lovely obituaries that have appeared in the last couple of days I have learned that Rabbi Blue used to address God as ‘Fred’ – and would sit with Him on the sofa, having a cuddle and a laugh. I’ve decided to call Her ‘Geraldine’, and let her rummage round the kitchen cupboards while I footer about with the flour and eggs and sugar. The link I’ve given for Lionel Blue is an interview in the Guardian, written a couple of years ago, and it’s brilliant, so do have a read if you want to be cheered up.

For further cheer-enhancement, try:

250g dark chocolate, melted with 150g milk chocolate, 175g butter and a couple of tablespoons of golden syrup; add half a big bag of mini-marshmallows, 100g crushed tea biscuits, 50g glace cherries and 50g chopped nuts (hazelnuts are excellent, but use what you have). Stir it all together and pour into a lined tin about 12″ by 9″. Let it chill. Slices like a dream, makes about 24 portions but again, that depends on the size of your portion/mouth … This is based on a Nigella Lawson recipe so you will know that it breaks all bounds of restraint. And a good thing too, at this time of year. From now on, the days are getting longer!

Feed the neighbours

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I did my stint with the Neighbourhood Food Collection the other day, co-ordinated by the Trussell Trust and FareShare. The venue was Tesco at Dalgety Bay. It was quite profitable, I’d say – in my two and a half hours I estimated I took in about £200 worth of food plus a £20 donation. People were very generous. Some people had questions or comments, like:

  1. ‘It makes me so angry that this kind of thing is necessary’.
  2. ‘It makes me feel really guilty when charities keep asking for things.’
  3. ‘Is this stuff really for local people? You mean in Dalgety Bay? You’re not telling me people in Dalgety Bay need help of this kind?’

No good answer for No 1 – it makes me angry too but that’s the way it is. For No 2 I’d say you need to live without guilt – either by hardening your heart or getting in touch with your generous inner angel (the lady in question obviously did the latter as she deposited a couple of bags of lentils into the trolley). For No 3 – well, who knows? I don’t live in Dalgety Bay, which is, as far as I can tell, a prosperous commuter town facing Edinburgh across the Forth. But I bet they do have people who struggle, for all the usual reasons – age, infirmity, job loss and so on.

Most of the donations (tins, teabags, coffee, UHT milk, pasta, rice) will, I guess, go to the Food Bank for distribution. I’m glad it happens, but it doesn’t gladden my heart to think of living on processed food. Especially in a world where so much food is wasted. There was an inspirational series of programmes on BBC1 last week about a charity in Oxford which collects surplus fresh food from supermarkets and distributes it to local charities where fresh and wholesome meals are cooked and served to people in various kinds of need. This of course meets social as well as physical hunger, along with a good dose of vitamins and minerals. The project was rolling out to London and thence, it was hoped, ‘all over the country’ – not sure if they meant Scotland or not. However this is my task for the week – to find out what’s happening up here, and who’s doing it, and whether/how I can get involved. Anybody with any leads or contacts, will be delighted to hear from you.

 

Something wicked this way comes

I have been watching the old UK version of House of Cards recently – all three series – and was struck by the likeness of the PM’s wife to Lady Macbeth. House of Cards reveals a terrifying aspect to politics, wherein power corrupts; and in Macbeth also, we have Shakespeare’s take on a mediaeval story, much fictionalised, with a riveting overlay of the fear of witches and their powers. The witches tell Macbeth that he will become king when Birnam Woods march to Dunsinane. Ha! Impossible, you might think. But of course they did. Birnam isn’t all that far from here – maybe a half-hour drive – lush and peaceful woodland nowadays. You can only imagine Macbeth’s terror when he looks out of the castle window and sees the trees advancing towards him … and of course it was all his wife’s fault! Not so with House of Cards. The protagonist, Francis Urquhart (F.U. for short! hilarious) is perfectly capable of evil-doing on his own behalf – having a cut-throat-ambitious wife merely smooths the way for him. Hubble bubble, toil and trouble …

These are great stories, full of lust and revenge and superstition. But as a keen cook, I am left wondering what went into that cauldron, apart from the eye of newt etc. Now this may be the longest-winded introduction to a recipe I’ve ever been guilty of, but last time I made beetroot soup, I did think it could be mistaken for a particularly viscous vat of blood. Don’t let that put you off!

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BEETROOT SOUP WITH HORSERADISH CREAM

Careful handling in this recipe keeps the maximum amount of colour and flavour in the beets, resulting in a deep ruby bowlful of earthy sweetness. The horseradish cream spikes it with a refreshing jolt of acidity.

1kg beetroot

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

2 carrots

2 sticks celery

2 red onions

4-5 cloves garlic

 

1 tsp cumin seeds

A few sprigs of thyme

Salt and pepper to taste

3 tbsp crème fraiche

1.5 tbsp creamed horseradish

Sourdough croutons to serve

 

 

1.       Heat oven to 180 deg C. Carefully wash the beets, being careful not to pierce the skins, and lay in an ashet. Cover with tinfoil and bake for about 90 mins, depending on the size of your beets – if small, an hour may be enough.

2.       Dice the veg, grind the cumin. Warm the oil in a large pot and add the veg, the peeled and sliced garlic, thyme, cumin and pepper. Stir, fry a few minutes, then put the lid on and leave the mixture to sweat in its own juices for about 30 mins.

3.       When the beets are baked, allow them to cool a little for ease of handling, then carefully slice off the knobbly/hairy tops and bottoms. Peel the skin off – hopefully it will just rub off in paper-thin shreds, but if not, peel as thinly as possible. Chop and add the beets to the veg mix in the pot. Add boiling water to cover, bring back to the boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 30 mins. Taste and season. Blend, using a stick blender if you have one, till it’s smooth. You might need to add more water. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.

4.       Mix the horseradish with the crème fraiche – you want it quite sharp to offset the smooth warm homeliness of the soup.

5.       Serve the soup piping hot, with a generous blob of horseradish cream on top, and a scatter of croutons.

 

Transitioning

I’ve been somewhat off air recently because of being busier than usual – in a great way. In the last eleven days I have retired from full-time employment; moved along with Suzi my cat to live with the Troubadour; and sat an important exam. Lots of changes, and I’m very chilled and happy. Almost as chilled as Suzi. 2016-11-29 16.40.08.jpg

One of the transitions is that I’m now living with a vegetarian; so that will have an impact on my normal cooking routines (tonight it’s ratatouille).

Another is that I’m now living in a small town with a strong tradition of fruit-growing, preserving ancient varieties of apples and plums that were originally planted by 12th Century monks, at Lindores Abbey. So I’ll be getting involved with the orchard group.

Another potential transition is that I hope to get involved with a food waste/poverty charity – more of that in the days and weeks to come.

And I haven’t even mentioned the shoe-horning of me, Suzi and our stuff into the Troub’s little flat. But hey, all will be well. Here’s the new shelf, completed 5 minutes ago, awaiting the cookbooks. 2016-11-29 16.34.29.jpg

However – the big plan is to rev up the  blog. I’ve been enjoying reading other people’s blogs from round the world and sharing comments. It’s great to feel connected with others. I might trade up to a website instead of just a blogsite, if I can figure out the technicalities. Meantime I just want to say thank you to everyone who reads this and especially to those who comment; and to put my more-frequent-posting resolution on the public record!

Ratatouille, incidentally, isn’t what you would think of as Scottish staple fare. But aubergines and peppers are cheap just now and it’s easy and tasty. Here’s the recipe in one sentence:

Chop 2 onions, 3-4 cloves garlic, an aubergine and a pepper or two, and simmer with a tin of tomatoes and some seasoning for half an hour. Voila!

Thinking about Hospitality

I’ve been wanting to say something about the US election results, but am aware that many readers are American and this is their experience, and glib comments from a mere foreigner might not be helpful. However one of the bloggers I follow, ‘Recipe in a Bottle’, has said it all and I asked her permission to reblog. Here it is:

Recipe in a Bottle

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In the wake of the Presidential election, I’m even more thoughtful about community building and neighborliness than before. It’s easy to assume the country is close and united when we have two moderate candidates in the running, but throughout this election cycle, I’ve been stunned by the differences in mindsets among the candidates, and by the closeness of the races: the country is divided.

I know that there are some disagreements that getting to know each other cannot solve. I know that being political is not a good way to run a food blog or host a dinner party or any of the things I claim. But I do think that talking to each other, knowing people whose experiences are different from our own, seems to be one of the only chances for getting out of this mess. Half of America is a stranger to the other half; they need…

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