Andrea Broomfield

Andrea Broomfield

The joy of first experiences – cooking with my girls

August 23rd, 2017 22:22 by Andrea Broomfield

Piping cookie cream

Hi Everyone,

I would like to share a post from my favourite blog, A Scot's Larder. Graeme is one of the foremost authorities out there on Scottish cuisine, ancient and modern, and I have learned a lot from him as we exchange ideas and recipes. In this post, Graeme talks about the thrill and the privilege of introducing his young daughters to the importance of food, beyond the nourishment central to us all. Thanks for sharing your blog with us, Graeme!

The joy of first experiences – cooking with my girls, guest post by Graeme, A Scot's Larder (http://scotslarder.co.uk/the-joy-of-first-experiences-cooking-with-my-girls/)

As an adult, how often do we truly get to experience something new, for the first time? So many new experiences are simply a variation on the old. As I contemplate this fact I realise that my recently rekindled passion for cooking and creating flavour has largely been down to seeing these experiences through eyes to which they are truly new. Those of my daughters. The rise of a sourdough proving, the roll of pasta through the machine, the wobble of pannacotta, the sometimes pea sometimes coconut aroma of gorse; these have all been new experiences in recent months.

Now more than ever it’s so important to engage children with food. It’s well known that in the past two generations there’s been an increasing disconnect from what we eat, ever reducing numbers of butchers, and greengrocers, even bakeries are as often as not chains. Our children are ‘educated’ on the food chain by supermarkets. This year we’ve been lucky enough to visit Harris Farm Meats many times and had the good fortune of seeing the beautiful Kune Kune pigs all the way from feeding piglets to eating bacon, a very quick lesson on the harsh reality of meat. I hope it’s an understanding that a happy life is the least the animal deserves before the ultimate sacrifice.

Following on from a festival where Paola from Two Mamas Bake introduced the girls to slap and fold, baking bread has become a weekly endeavour. Taking the little pot of starter that Paola donated, refreshing, and watching it grow into loaf upon loaf has been a ritual that didn’t even stop for the holiday. Another highlight was baking a lasagne from scratch was a worthwhile labour of love, an ever ready willingness to pour the wine, brown the meat, and turn the handle adding to enjoyment of everything (even if the tomato based sauce was a step too far for some).

However the biggest revelation came with the advent of MasterChef, suddenly the ingredients which terrified their ears tantalised their eyes and piqued their tastebuds. Saffron, duck, goat, paprika, herring, sorrel, chive flowers, wild garlic, venison chorizo, and smoked halibut, have all been tried as senses were awakened by their new television favourites. I had apparently pushed it a little too far when I came home with sweetbreads. We’ve smoked, braised, and baked. We’ve lit fires and cooked over wood, coal, and stones. We’ve barbecued trout, seasoned steaks, and toasted marshmallows. I’ve introduced them to provenance and flavour, and they’ve opened my eyes through theirs. The journey I’ve travelled this year with my two favourite people has hopefully given them an understanding that will last them a lifetime, the joy it has given me has only just begun.

The Devonshire Cure

August 22nd, 2017 11:50 by Andrea Broomfield

Treacle cured devonshire bacon

As I transcribe notes and scan through photos related to my explorations this summer through the Celtic UK, I thought I would share some discoveries and insights that relate to cuisine.

Both Devonshire and Cornwall share a love of dairy, apples, and pigs that connects them to other Celtic nations, particularly Brittany and Wales.

I spent an afternoon touring Dart Farm Village,Topsham, Exeter, back in May, entranced with the huge food hall that champions foods from the West Country. The gorgeous cuts of meat on display in the butcher case gave me pause, especially the black treacle bacon.

In researching Devon foods, authors Laura Mason and Catherine Brown (Traditional Foods of Britain: An Inventory), write that a Devonshire cure for ham (and I would imagine also bacon) involved a two-day dry-salting followed by a salt and sugar brining or "pickling." Before saltpetre was available in a reliable form, treacle acted as both the preservative and flavouring in the brining process, and clearly that ancient tradition lives on in Dart Farm’s Devonshire bacon.

Ten Tips for Those Planning Extended UK Travel

August 1st, 2017 23:12 by Andrea Broomfield

Plymouth library

I arrived back home this weekend, happy to see my family and to enjoy the comforts of home. I thought it might be helpful to offer up ten tips to assist those planning an extended trip to the UK.

These tips do not address the more obvious issues such as money exchange rates, and they do not focus on London. That needs its own post. My tips are for those who have likely travelled abroad before, who will not be on a package tour, are relying on public transportation and their own feet, and are in the UK for more than a short visit.

Tip #1: Make the local public library your top priority when you arrive at a new destination. Every library I visited graciously offered me free Internet, showed me the (usually large) display of local history books and travel guides for the region, and made me welcome. In libraries, I did for free a number of things to ensure that my stay would be meaningful: I consulted books for the best footpaths and bike paths. I read up on the history of the place I was staying and the region. I became knowledgeable of the sites that would help my research needs, got restaurant and pub tips, cooled off or warmed up (depending on the weather), found comfortable chairs and desks, and most importantly, maximised my time in each place I visited.

Tip #2: Recognise that a lot of towns have few, if any, public loos, and you will need to have a plan of action when nature calls. Surprisingly, you cannot even count on the public library to have a loo either. What to do? First, Google public loos for the town you will be staying, and make a note of where they are, if any. When you are in a store, restaurant, or building that has facilities, never pass up the opportunity to use them. The best places I found with facilities were large movie cinemas, large museums, most train stations, some libraries, buildings on university or college campuses, and very large grocery stores. In these instances, I could use the facilities for free (many large museums do not charge admission). The best facilities (as in clean and well-appointed) were almost always in Costa coffee shops. Of course, you will need to pay for a beverage or food item to have access, but sometimes, that’s a smart use of your money.

Tip #3: Plan how you will carry drinking water. Finding access to free water can be as difficult as finding a loo--more so. Yes, of course you should carry a bottle of water. However, if you are out for all day and want to refill it, almost no sink will be big enough for you to refill even a small bottle, and most loo sinks will not offer you cold water in a steady stream. It feels like the UK loves its citizens and visitors to have to buy plastic water bottles so they can contribute to the growing crisis of plastic waste. I saw only one hydration station (where you can refill a water bottle) in the entire 2.5 months of travel. I had to pack large water bottles that were heavy to carry but that could last me until I got back to my lodgings, or I was compelled to buy plastic water bottles. Be prepared for this. Drinking fountains? I never saw one.

Tip #4: Most restaurants will not add in service charges, and if you pay with a credit card, there is seldom a line for you to add in a tip. The easiest way to tip if with credit card is to tell your server how much you would like to tip, and she or he will punch in the amount along with your bill. Otherwise, have in cash the 10% you will want to leave for a tip, even if you pay the bill with a credit card. 10% is standard, according to every Brit I asked, although oftentimes I tipped 15% because the service was excellent.

Tip #5: Recognise that pedestrians are second- if not third-class citizens. Motor vehicles are the kings, bikers are the princes, and you, dear walker, must be ready to save your own life, because no one else is going to care. Be extremely cautious about walking on any road that has no shoulder or pavement, and once on a town’s outskirts, there will be many roads that fit this description. The library is essential to help you find the footpaths throughout the countrysides and towns where no cars will be allowed. Google Maps is useless in this instance. Be wary of tourist maps that suggest various historic or nature walks outside of town. Narrow roads with twenty-foot-high hedges cause cars and lorries extreme difficulties, and walkers who are not watching out for their own needs could easily end up injured or dead.

Tip #6: BritRail passes likely will waste your money. Nowadays, it’s so easy to simply choose where you wish to go, use the internet to look for the cheapest tickets, and just purchase them electronically for the day you are going to travel. Never buy a ticket on the train on the day of travel, as it will cost you dearly. BritRail passes seem to promise ease and economy, but they are a pricey item unless you plan to gallivant literally all over the UK, staying nowhere longer than a couple of hours.

Tip #7: First-class rail can sometimes be a pleasure, but typically it is also a waste of your cash. We are trained to think that a first-class ticket helps guarantee a train seat during busy tourist months, and I fell for this at first; however, that’s only partly true. Many UK trains are often regional lines, and some have wonderful first-class accommodations, but many have none, and some have first-class accommodations in name only. The one regional line where first-class tickets are a good splurge is Great Western, the railway for the Southwest (ex: Paddington Station, London to Penzance, Cornwall). Scot-Rail, on the other hand, has first-class, but it’s a tiny portion of one train carriage with seating and a reservation system that seem more “in name only” than in reality.

Tip #8: Plan your meals carefully if good food matters to you. Otherwise, you will be subjected to a lot of mediocre to lousy food, an abundance of franchises, and takeaways that are designed for people too drunk or stoned to care what they are eating. Furthermore, TripAdvisor is hit-and-miss. The best way to ensure high-quality, expertly prepared meals is to invest cash in the Good Food Guide and the Good Pub Guide. These are not only for high-end restaurants (although they are well represented); they are for places that serve excellent food with integrity; give attention to the best British produce, meat, dairy, and seafood; and promote independent pubs that offer real, cask-conditioned ales.

Tip #9: Because farmers markets are not as common or as frequent in many UK towns as one might expect, planning a trip around when they are in operation is not a bad idea. If you want the best produce, artisan cheeses and breads, regional cakes and such, farmers markets are vital. Often, even in the summer, they only meet twice a month, and it would be a shame to miss this opportunity to stock up for picnics and alfresco dining.

Tip #10: Know the cons and the pros of Airbnb. I loved it, but I also learned of its drawbacks. In large cities such as Edinburgh, it can be better to book with standard hotels, hostels, and bed and breakfasts in order to keep large cities more enjoyable and sustainable. That's because cities used to have a finite number of rooms; too many visitors can overwhelm services and make everyone miserable because of huge crowds. Airbnb has created problems in well-known cities where everyone would be happier if there were still only a finite number of visitors who could be accommodated. However, in off-the-beaten track locations where standard accommodation is harder to come by and/or sub-par because there’s no competition, then Airbnb makes sense. Simply put: if you already know the place is a popular destination (Edinburgh), avoid Airbnb. If you are looking at locations that few have heard of (Liskeard), the chances are that Airbnb might be ideal. Airbnb is also best when you are using it to interact with people who live in the lodging you are using and are eager to meet their guests and trade cultural insights and stories.

Obviously, this is a subjective list of tips, but in each case, I learned the hard way, especially when it came to trying to stroll on the roads around and in towns and cities. I can’t praise the libraries and librarians enough for having saved me a lot of cash on books and maps, and for always making me feel welcome in their communities. So, have a great trip, everyone, and be safe!

People Make Glasgow

July 28th, 2017 13:33 by Andrea Broomfield

Beetroot humus at ox and finch

Six months ago when planning my Celtic summer, I had a hunch that I would need a full week in Scotland’s largest city, and when I arrived in Glasgow, I knew I had made a wise decision. As I walked along Sauchiehall Street towards my lodging, I could not believe the number of non-franchised restaurants shouting for my attention. The diversity on offer was also impressive, with everything from Italian takeaways to Mexican cantinas, and even an upscale American steakhouse thrown in for good measure.

After a week of eating my way around the city, I arrived at two observations: Glasgow is testimony to the fantastic things that happen when people from all over the world resettle in a place and use both their culinary traditions and imaginations to create wonderful food. A willing audience of diners looks forward to the results, egging on the chefs, rather than fearing the results. Second, Glasgow was the one city where I could dine out on a lark, without needing to do any research, and still have a fabulous meal.

“People Make Glasgow.” The city slogan resonates culinarily speaking, given the contributions that centuries’ worth of immigrants have made or now make to their new home. The Merchant City thrives off of the resulting innovation and dynamism, architecturally, spiritually, artistically, and most certainly culinarily.

Take Ox and Finch (920 Sauchiehall Street). This Good Food Guide recommendation and Michelin Bib Gourmand winner typifies Glasgow’s culinary esprit de corps. While waiting for my meal, I took out my pen and circled on the paper menu all the raw ingredients that constitute Scotland’s Larder and that form the chefs' building blocks: Clyde Valley tomatoes, heirloom apples, beetroot, berries, smoked mackerel, smoked salmon, sea trout, skate, scallops, crab, haddock, chicken livers, ham hocks, deer roe, and assorted Scottish cheeses. With this abundance, the chefs create tapas-style dishes with strong North African and Mediterranean accents. A blindingly magenta beetroot hummus smeared against snow-white-whipped feta, topped with EVOO infused with the flavor and crunch of toasted dill and cumin seeds then liberally garnished with fresh dill fronds. How could I not love that first course? Then, out comes a grilled--or blistered, burnished--mackerel fillet topped with the bracing sour-bitter-saltiness of ground preserved lemon. I sat back and let the flavours wash over me the way I allow Carl Orff's Carmina Burana to do the same in a concert hall. I did not want to leave Ox and Finch any more than I want to leave the concert hall. Nonetheless, days later I can still taste, smell, and see those extraordinary Ox and Finch creations, and I witnessed this sort of playfulness and loveliness of food everywhere I visited in Glasgow, from food trucks to fine-dining restaurants, to eclectic, funky cafes like Singl-end.

In fact, Singl-end at 265 Renfrew Street gets to my second observation. I did not have to plan out every meal in order to avoid wasting money on mediocre or downright bad food. I realise that bad food is everywhere, and surely Glasgow has its pitfalls. However, this was one city where, when I ended up at a restaurant without having done advanced planning, I still had terrific food. That’s an indication of a city building a world-class culinary reputation.

It was late Saturday morning when I woke after a busy night out with Iain Burr, whose fantastic car and know-how made it possible for me to explore Glasgow’s culinary depths (thanks, Iain!). Brunch made sense, but I was too lazy to do any research. When I exited my lodging on Renfrew, turned right and saw Singl-end Cafe, I was happy to descend its steps to the entrance. Located close to the Glasgow School of Art, it made sense that Singl-end would have a hip, eclectic vibe. Artfully arranged breads and cakes greet customers when they enter, along with that sharp, welcome, aroma of freshly ground coffee. The menu was short and to the point--and all options looked terrific, but again, it’s about taking Scotland’s larder and using it to create inspired cuisine. I chose toasted homemade bread laden with fresh avocado and topped with grilled cherry tomatoes, halloumi, and streaky bacon. I relished the salty, briny halloumi up against that creamy, chili-spiked avocado, against the crustiness of the toasted bread and that decadent crowning of Scottish bacon. Perfect, and I did no research. I just walked out my door and walked into this cafe heaven.

I’ll conclude with my final meal in Glasgow, one that I did plan because I speculated that it would encapsulate what Glasgow is all about, food- and culture-wise: Mr. Singh’s India (149 Elderslie St). This restaurant playfully blends into its decor, menu, concept--even the waitstaff’s uniforms--, its proud Scottish-Indian heritage. Co-owner Mark Singh was kind enough to tell me all about the family’s legacy. Back in the 1950s restaurant founder, Jit Singh Mastana Swali, was celebrating Hogmanay where family members all contributed to the feast, from curries and mashed neeps to pakoras and haggis, shortbread and black bun. The patriarch ended up, accidentally or deliberately, mixing up his helping of haggis with a helping of curry, and inspiration hit. With someone’s lipstick, a family member jumped up, and on a large mirror, they brainstormed a menu of Scottish-Indian fusion food; a restaurant dynasty was born. Three generations of the Singh family treat patrons to a cuisine that exemplifies the spirit of Glasgow, its blending of culinary traditions and techniques with the Scottish zeitgeist.

For those planning a trip to Glasgow, below is a list of the other places I ate and that I recommend for experiencing how the Merchant City has come on the scene as a culinary destination.

Fratelli Sarti (121 Bath Street and other locations in Glasgow): In its 25th year, this Italian restaurant offered up one of the best pizzas I had during my travels: Pizza Tirolese, thinly sliced wild smoked boar atop Fior di Latte Mozzarella on a crisp pizza crust. Fusion at its best.

Gandolfi Cafe (84-86 Albion St): A classic restaurant with some of the most highly regarded fish dishes in Scotland. My Arbroath Smokies were prepared en casserole with tomatoes, cream, and Parmesan cheese. Bubbling hot, mouthwateringly delicious. My dining companion, Iain, was treated to a haggis that was the best I tasted on this summer adventure.

Lesley’s Street Cafe (hard to describe location-wise, where Renfrew and Sauchiehall Street almost come together, near a leaning clock tower, close to St. George’s Road): A food cart in operation for the last fourteen years that serves up the classics of Victorian-Industrial Glasgow, from morning rolls (or softies) stuffed with square sausage and egg, to jacket potatoes topped with cheddar cheese, to pie and beans. It’s delicious, but it has no social media presence or official address that I have discovered.

Saramago Cafe (Centre for Contemporary Art, 350 Sauchiehall St): An airy, spacious cafe that celebrates the Scottish larder in the most healthful of ways, with a stunning selection of vegetarian dishes. I loved my beet-green and rocket salad with olive tapenade-topped focaccia.

Sichuan House (345-349 Sauchiehall Street): The hot and sour soup came out promptly, steaming hot, and just as it should also be: sour and spicy, with a generous number of shrimps floating in among the bamboo shoots, julienne pork, mushrooms, and scallions. The kung pao chicken was done in classic Sichuan style, glistening with red chillies and lots of those addictive Sichuan peppercorns that when bitten into produce a simultaneous numbness and fire on your tongue.

Six Purchases that Can Make Your Extended Travel in the UK a Pleasure

July 25th, 2017 15:24 by Andrea Broomfield

Travel gear

I am half-way through the fieldwork for my part of The Atlantic Celts: A Gastronomic Memoir from Ireland to Iberia. Next summer, I will return to Ireland, Northern Ireland, Isle of Man and Brittany to complete my research, and six essential items will again be along to make my life easier and comforting. In the spirit of helping others who are planning an extended trip to the UK or a similar clime, here are my insights. I started researching gear and clothing about four months before boarding a plane, and so the purchases I made were deliberate and assured. Maybe my work can save you some time and fretting.

If you are visiting the UK for an extended time between May and August, pack for winter and summer both. To not invest in the essential clothes and footwear to keep you warm and dry is to invite misery and likely a bad cold. Furthermore, it’s not style that you should be worried about; it’s durability and ease of movement. Towards that end, here’s where my money was best spent. In some cases, I bought men’s versions because they were not only cheaper than women’s, but better made. I would simply call some of the purchases unisex, starting with shoes.

  1. Dr. Martens 1461 Virginia Oxfords. I could not afford to pack different shoes for different occasions, so I went with these fantastic oxfords that saw me over everything from rocky coastal paths to slick, steep asphalt pavements, to the thick piled carpet of Michelin star restaurants. The soles on Dr. Martens are fantastic, and the comfort, even after walking ten miles a day, was outstanding. While not waterproof if you literally step into a bog and walk around in it, these oxfords never allowed moisture to touch my feet on days where I had to endure stepping through puddles. I wore them every day for three-and-a-half months, and they still look great, although I did buy some shoe polish to keep them spiffed up (especially for the occasional fancy restaurant).

  2. Darn Tough Aztec Hike Light Cushion Micro Crew Sock. Like Dr. Martens, these socks are not cheap, but I promise that there are no socks quite like them. The comfort and fit are outstanding, and even after wearing the three pairs I brought with me day after day, there are still no rips or tears in the toe or heel area. That’s not the case with my Timberland crew socks, all of which I am tossing before going home. Darn Tough are made in Vermont, USA and are from this point on the only socks I plan to buy. Buymeonce.com promises that you only need to buy them once, so I don’t plan to need to purchase many more pairs.

  3. Patagonia Synchilla Snap-T Pullover. Many days I resented having to haul this fleece around with me because it is indeed bulky. But then I had a whole week in Liskeard, Cornwall, in June, and then two weeks in Scotland in July, when I was grateful to be able to pull on this super-cosy fleece to ward off the damp and chill that the UK is famous for. I repeat: June and July. That’s the UK for you, travellers; to be without warm, water-repellent clothes invites misery.

  4. Marmot PreCip NanoPro Waterproof Jacket. This Marmot was my most important wardrobe essential. I wore it almost every day without fail. It weighs mere ounces and can be crushed down to the size of a softball, which means that there’s never a reason not to have it handy. The material is fabulously wind- and moisture-resistant, with excellent venting if you need it, fantastic zipped pockets, and a hood that saved my life during a couple of particularly violent storms. Used along with the Synchilla fleece, you could likely get away without even needing a coat in most of Europe during winter months. I first bought my Marmot for a March trip to Florence, Italy, in 2015, and it has held up beautifully on this trip with no sign of wear and tear.

5 & 6. Duluth Pack Laptop Scoutmaster Pack and Eagle Creek Load Warrior 32" Wheeled Duffel. If you are going to live out of a suitcase and backpack for a month or more, and if you are going to be relying solely on your own feet and public transportation to get you around, then these two items are indispensable. I will start with the Duluth Pack, made in Duluth, Minnesota, USA, with expert craftsmanship and materials. The leather straps and buckles will never break in your lifetime if you treat the backpack with respect. The laptop slip is padded on both sides, allowing me to keep my precious technology and accessories protected. It also has two roomy portions that can hold my load of books, notebook, marmot jacket (in a ball), umbrella, pens, pencils, and whatnot. I loved the two side pockets, one that held my BritRail pass and phone, and the other my water bottle. The thick canvass never let in rain, even when at times I was hiking around for more than two hours during moderate-to-heavy rain.

The Eagle Creek Load Warrior is the toughest and largest of the line, and it kept me going for the entire trip. The wheels are fantastically durable, getting me up and down sandy, rocky, and slick terrains with minimum effort. The many hand grips also were essential for railway stations and lodgings where I had to carry the duffel by hand up and down stairs. The Load Warrior does not weigh much empty, which is a huge asset when you check your luggage at the airport. Its many pockets, compartments, places for stashing a bike helmet, and dirty and clean clothes made me realise that almost everything I need in life can be stored in this duffel, so when I get home, why not clean out the closets to make a library and just live out of my duffel (just kidding)?

So there you have it: My essential gear that will serve me next summer and many summers in the future. It’s wise to invest in the goods to make travel as painless as possible. I’ll post my top ten travel tips for the UK shortly, so stay tuned!

Just the Basic Necessities

July 20th, 2017 17:40 by Andrea Broomfield

Co op front glasgow

A mild but debilitating case of food poisoning set me back research- and writing-wise this week, but it led me to think more about what I depend on every time I arrive in a new city or town, and that is the Co-op Food Store, located on almost every high street (or near it) of every place I have visited, from Glasgow to Lampeter to Saltash.

When I realised Sunday morning that I did not feel right after having eaten an Indian take-away the night before, I still had no choice but to pack and leave my lovely Aberdeen flat and catch a train to Inverness where I had grand plans to visit a cheese-maker, a butcher, and a baker.

At this time of the year, trains are crowded and uncomfortable, with a welcome (to the Scots) heatwave adding to my misery. When the train finally arrived to the Inverness station and I exited, my luggage seemed heavier than usual, the station more full of fumes than usual, and the crowds more rushed than usual. I desperately wanted to go home to Kansas, but I don’t own any red slippers. . . . I was tired, my stomach ached, I felt feverish, and what did I need to do? What I always do: get out my map and find my way to my next lodging. So I did, in amidst what seemed like thousands of people all on their way to or off tour busses to Loch Ness. It hit me then, “Oh. . . duh. Inverness, Loch Ness. Nessie. . . And here I am in the midst of it.”

I trudged along my route listening to blaring bagpipers on virtually every corner, and what do I see roughly half-way from station to my b and b? The Co-op, like an old friend. I smiled wanly and made a note for when I felt better as I continued my way up the (of course) hill.

Unlike a lot of mega supermarket chains, Co-ops are typically smaller and centrally located, making them valuable to people like me. But there’s many more things about them to like.

Victorianists know that in the 1840s, labourers in northern England had reached a breaking point with mill owners charging them super-inflated prices for inferior, adulterated goods at the company stores where the majority were forced to buy their staples. They decided to fight back. They combined their meagre resources in order to purchase in bulk flour, sugar, and butter, and they invited other workers to join their cooperative so that any profits could be redistributed among them. The concept spread quickly to other heavily industrialised parts of the North and then throughout the UK, and the principle of buying a membership (£1.00 a year for the Co-op Food Stores) and cutting costs and sharing in profits remains robust today.

I love the Co-op Food Stores because what they sell is good quality and more often than not, they source from British food producers and to a varying degree, from regional British food producers. When I was in Truro, Cornwall, for example, I was able to buy at a great price what has to be my favourite supermarket cheese: Davidstow Extra Mature Cornish Crackler, a cheddar so robust and aged that there are tiny bits that crackle when you bite into a wedge. Meat is supplied by British farmers and ranchers, much of the produce is British as well, and when I needed to try various regional ciders and ales, I could find those, too, at affordable prices. The Co-op Fairtrade wine selection is likewise impressive.

While in Inverness, I spent one day in bed not able to eat anything, and the next day, when I felt better and was able to at least walk River Ness (but not able to imagine talking to anyone about meat, cheese, or even, sadly, my favourite Aberdeenshire butterie), I stopped into the Co-op to buy Jacob’s Cream Crackers, along with a litre bottle of plain soda water, and some peppermint tea bags. It all sounded comforting and lovely to me, nothing special, nothing regional, nothing Celtic, but just the basic necessities of life for someone trying to get over a stomach ailment.

By the train ride to Glasgow, I was on my way to recovering, with my Jacob’s Cream Crackers close at hand if I felt peckish. Arriving at the station, I was relieved to notice a brisk, cool breeze, and the crowds seemed more manageable, and the main streets I needed to walk to get to my accommodation blessedly pedestrian-only. And sure enough, what do I spy a mere three blocks from Queen Street Rail Station? The Co-op, doing a brisk business at 7:00 PM, and there to help me today restock my supplies, although this time, I’m back to the usual: lemons (one lemon squeezed in water every morning makes me feel great), a new supply of tooth floss, some washing powder, some more Jacob’s Cream Crackers, and now that I am better, a wee bit of Scottish cheddar to go on top of the crackers, as well as some Scottish raspberries. Life is again good.

Fancy an Ice Cream?

July 16th, 2017 09:43 by Andrea Broomfield

Galateria rosemount aberdden

Having grown up in Kansas City, Missouri, I was lucky to have excellent Italian food all around me, thanks to the immigrants who settled there in the early 20th century. Having escaped the gruelling deprivations that defined their life in Southern Italy, these immigrants had little to offer skill-wise in the very urban enclave where they were settled, Kansas City’s North End. Nonetheless, their familiarity with agriculture, understanding of food’s importance to culture, and their expertise in turning raw products into extraordinary cuisine meant that many immigrants often became Kansas City’s most successful greengrocers, bakers, butchers, restaurateurs, and ice cream makers.

While it’s taken for granted that most cities, from New York to Paris, have their “Little Italys” or “Latin Quarters,” many are unaware that Scotland as a whole--cities, villages, and towns--also benefited from Italian immigrants who settled here in the first half of the twentieth century. The mark that they have made culturally and gastronomically cannot be overlooked.

While staying this week in Aberdeen, I sought out many Italian food establishments in order to participate in that ongoing gastronomic legacy. Thanks to some leads from friends, I made Casa di Gelato at 194-196 King Street one of my destinations.

Establishments like Casa di Gelato are not really about Italian food. Don’t think lasagna and risotto, tortellini and garlic bread, in other words. Rather, think full Scottish breakfasts, egg salad sandwiches, toasted cheese, or as journalist Maggie Mallon puts it, the kind of place where you “sit in a leather booth with a bacon roll, milky coffee and a Knickerbocker Glory--and your newspaper, of course.” In other words, these cafes are amalgamations of British food culture and Italian expertise. To adapt and fit into their new homes, many Italian immigrants took the cheapest, most bountiful foods, be it fish, potatoes, pork, or milk, and they turned them into familiar local favourites: fish and chips, bacon rolls, toasted cheese sandwiches, and all-day full breakfasts. However, these Italian entrepreneurs also produced a food and a beverage that would inevitably delight their customers: gelato and Italian coffee, particularly cappuccino (which I will add, seems to be the most popular coffee people order all along the Atlantic Celtic Coast).

While Casa di Gelato did not have leather booths, it did have vinyl red-checkered tablecloths, a clean lino floor, and a laminated menu with the standbys: bacon or sausage rolls, Scottish full breakfasts complete with black pudding, paninis, and toasted sandwiches. It also of course had on offer classic old-time ice-cream specialities, including sundaes such as lemon meringue or mint fudge; banana splits; and the classic 1920s-era Knickerbocker Glory: layers of multi-flavoured ice creams layered with various syrups, topped with loads of whipped cream and a cherry. Indeed, the first sight to greet customers as they enter Casa di Gelato is the kaleidoscopic ice cream counter, where house-made sorbet and gelato all cry out for your attention. The orange sorbet, I learned later, was voted the best in the UK in 2016 in the National Ice Cream Competition.

On the Thursday I visited, around noon, restaurant regulars were seated in their usual corner, gossiping, drinking milky coffee, and eating breakfast. I had a cheese panini, and as I ate, I enjoyed watching the staff mingle with their patrons, from shoppers who had just finished up at the Morrisons across the street, to mums with children begging for an ice cream. This was no-frills dining at its finest, and after I finished my panini, I approached the counter to place my gelato order. “What do you most recommend?” I asked the waitress. She told me that while her favourite is vanilla, I should try the most popular flavour, and predictably, it was cappuccino. “One scoop please,” I requested, “in a cup.” Even for such a modest order, that scoop was served in a sundae dish complete with a wafer as garnish, and it was indeed excellent, redolent of a cappuccino, albeit an icy one.

I smile to think that in the north of Scotland, a place that this week has been chilly, and often cloudy and rainy, people fancy an ice cream, or a talley, as it is colloquially called in these parts. A stroll up Union Terrace and onto the Rosemount Viaduct last night confirmed this. After a day of rain and mizzle and a cloudy evening with the temperature around 13 Celsius, cafes were doing brisk business, as much as the pubs, and with an assortment of ages all peacefully mingling and eating gelato. In fact, the scene was nothing more or less than I what I see on Kansas City summer nights at various ice cream stands around town, albeit with temperatures in July nothing lower than 30 Celsius, even after the sun has gone down.

The world owes a lot to Italians who left their homeland and settled elsewhere. In a nation awash in dairy, as is Scotland, the inevitable thing to do was churn it into gelato, a food of enduring popularity across all races, classes, and ages.

"Weird German Stuff from Jars"

July 13th, 2017 10:33 by Andrea Broomfield

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When trying to understand a country’s cuisine, it helps to be in that country eating and cooking the food, but it also helps to read fiction set in that country. Food does not need to be the focal point as long as it’s referenced in some fashion. Cookbooks only go so far in offering insight because who’s to say anyone really cooks from them? If I buy a cookbook, it’s used; the more stained and marked up the better because it suggests someone used the cookbook.

But back to fiction. I just finished Catrin Dafydd's novel, Random Deaths and Custard, set in Pontypridd, the county town of Rhondda Cynon Taf, in Wales. I loved it enough to write this blog post exploring some of its themes.

The novel focuses on what Dafydd rightly describes as the “complex cultural experience” that defines Wales, a country where both English and Welsh are the lingua franca; however, this “complex cultural experience” also typifies Welsh food and British food in general. In short, how can a land with so many rich culinary traditions and extraordinary natural resources, from the sea to the pasture to fields, have so much bad food? Obviously I am not the first to ask such a question!

Before I go on any further, here’s the plot of Random Deaths. 18-year-old Samantha has graduated from her Welsh-speaking school and is employed by the local custard factory (think Bird’s Custard Powder). Sam’s ability to speak some Welsh lands her the task of translating English ads for the company into Welsh, although her mistakes end up plastered all over the company lorries.

In a narrative style that reminds me of Holden Caulfield from Catcher in the Rye, Sam tells of her crush on a catalogue salesman who saves her from choking to death on a fish finger. She was gulping it down when a knock came at the door, and when she answers and then starts to shut the door in man's face, she chokes. I won’t give away the plot, but I recommend this clever, at turns darkly funny and sad novel of a girl finding her way into an adult world.

Now, as this synopsis suggests, the novel has something to do with food, but Dafydd is not that focused on the meaning of the food beyond the stark realism of the family's life, the comic devices, and the plot twists. So, enter me, the food historian, and that age-old question posed above.

I count 60 food and drink references in Random Deaths, but only four are about something other than processed food, homogenisation of food, or the happenstance way that food is consumed (as in “Get Nanna some chips from Hoi Wan too, will ew?” Sam’s mam shouts). While the novel is about Welsh culture, there are the only four Welsh culinary references:

One: Samantha’s mam feeds the skin from Nanna’s morning porridge to the birds. Wales has strong tradition and love of oat porridge, as does Scotland.

Two: In imagining her own funeral, Sam supposes that her nanna would arrange “a proper Welsh” one with “bara brith and Welsh cakes and everyone wearin’ daffodils on their suits.” (Shortly thereafter, bara brith is indeed served at a funeral, but I won’t give away whose).

Three: Sad about her shattered family life, Sam reflects: “I used to feel a ‘Sunday lunch and gravy’ feelin’ to Sunday, but ever since Gareth went to Iraq and Dad got locked up, we haven’t done anythin’ like that in our ‘ouse really. And now Sunday’s just like any other day.”

And finally: Sam’s Anti Peg serves her bara brith and butter when Sam goes to see her.

Some other food allusions in the novel are British (custard, Fray Bentos, beans on toast for example), but a shocking number are about American-imported junk food and franchises. For example, Sam and her friend are excited to eat KFC at the retail park where “all the people sittin’ on the tables were gobblin’ their food down.” Also invading the culinary landscape is Lidl, the German grocer that like Aldi is set to take over the UK and the USA with its cheap prices and its introduction into the UK diet of, as Sam puts it, “weird German stuff from jars,” or as Sam’s mam puts it, German food that’s “bloody good for you. Good for ewer bowels.”

So, what to make of this? The struggle that Catrin Dafydd channels through Sam has a lot to do with conflicting allegiances to friends and family and country. Class is obviously also at play here, with food prices, low incomes, time crunches, and education. Sam, unlike her friends, has retained some Welsh from her education and through the positive influences of her nanna, Anti Peg, and her nanna’s ex-lover. Indeed, she wants increasingly to practice Welsh and use it. She also recognises that those who speak Welsh fluently are often the “posh people”--the “Welshies,” or those with education and money who simultaneously attract, fascinate, intimidate, and repel Sam. At one point, these Welshies invite her to their supper of vegetarian bean burgers and jacket potatoes. “I’d rather eat shit than eat that type of food,” Sam confides to her readers.

I wonder, though. Could Sam’s increasing respect for Welsh and her heritage lead her to think more about Welsh food and traditional culinary practices, like that Sunday roast and gravy she remembers from a more stable point in her family life? When her brother returns from Iraq and decides that he might become a chef, that possibility is even further hinted.

I have learned that all up and down the Atlantic Celtic Coast people are considering their heritage and history, and many attach not only meaning to their language, but also to their cuisine, and they are salvaging, protecting, and championing it. The influence of the Slow Food Movement has not been lost here in the UK. I take tremendous heart in the steps made all around me to educate people about the cost of what is being lost culinary-wise, and what there is to gain if distinctive regional foods can be saved. Everything from Cornish pasties to Welsh cockles to Aberdeen rowies are worth promoting, not only for commercial consumption, but for home preparation. I hope that in our own small way, Beebe and I with Atlantic Celts: A Gastronomic Memoir from Ireland to Iberia might contribute to this snowballing movement.

In the meantime, Catrin Dafydd wrote a sequel to Random Deaths and Custard. Is it possible that Sam might have begun to draw connections with Welsh, Wales, and a food heritage? I can’t wait to read it to find out.

A Full Breakfast

July 10th, 2017 08:35 by Andrea Broomfield

Lesley's scottish breakfast

We can thank the Victorians for the Full English/Scottish/Welsh/Irish Breakfast (or the Ulster Fry-Up). The contention was that in order to fuel the body for a full day of industry and efficiency, it was essential to do more than sip chocolate and eat a croissant, the habit that we now might call Continental, but that was common for many well-off British people up through the late 1700s. No, Victorians contended. Tea was in order, as well as a hot breakfast of eggs, bangers, rashers, beans, grilled tomatoes, mushrooms, toast, even fried bread to sop up all that nutritious, energy-giving grease that remained in the pan after frying all the meats.

The key ingredients seldom vary: eggs, often fried; bacon rashers (to Americans it resembles ham); bangers (sausage links); beans, grilled tomato and/or mushrooms; toast; tea or coffee. Regional specialities are then added to this core. In Scotland, the breakfast might also include all or some of the following: porridge (oatmeal), black pudding (blood sausage), haggis (traditional or vegetarian), tattie scones (difficult to describe, but like a mix between a grilled thick flour tortilla and a potato pancake), Lorne sausage (a square sausage of minced pork, beef, spices), and as one travels farther north, butteries (a Scottish version of a croissant), and if really lucky a proper Arbroath Smokie (a type of smoked haddock). I’m not yet far enough north in Scotland for these latter two treats to be appearing on menus, but that will change later this week.

At any rate, the Full Breakfast is today the stuff of holidays, and for families at home, it’s probably a meal relegated to Sunday morning or perhaps a teatime treat, if served at all. It’s the most filling of meals, and I rarely indulge in it, opting to skip breakfast except for a couple of oatcakes to absorb the caffeine I imbibe to get going. However, if I’m travelling and do not want the hassle of worrying about food, this breakfast makes more sense.

Yesterday was both Sunday and a travel day for me, and my North Berwick Airbnb host, Lesley, wanted me to try her version of the full Scottish breakfast. I’m glad I did, both for the custom and the extraordinary wealth of flavours set in front of me.

Lesley sources much of her food locally. The bangers, haggis, rashers, tattie scones, and one of the two black puddings on her menu came from a respected North Berwick butcher, Anderson’s. I noticed this business on my first day in North Berwick because of the queue out the door. When Lesley brought in the meats to accompany my eggs yesterday morning--thankfully reassuring me that I did not need to eat it all--I could see these Anderson's delicacies, as well as slices of the famous Stornoway black pudding I discussed in a previous post. “Tell me which you prefer,” Lesley requested, explaining how three golf caddies who had lodged with her preferred Anderson’s black pudding to the Stornoway. And, I agreed with the caddies: Anderson’s black pudding was so lovely with its crumbly texture and its distinctive spiciness.

Thank goodness one is invited to pick and choose when presented with a Full Scottish Breakfast. There’s way too much food on offer. If I’m going to eat a Tattie scone, I don’t want toast (you can see a wedge of the tattie scone in the photograph). I always ask for beans to be left off. I limit the intake of so much meat, in this case eating some of each black pudding, ignoring the haggis, and having a bit of the bangers. I love mushrooms and grilled tomatoes, however, and ate those most willingly. Even then, the meal is rich, and it begs one to swallow cups of hot, strong Scottish Breakfast tea.

I left North Berwick, and it was not until around half past six, ten hours later, that I thought about dinner. I highly recommend this fry up meal for travelling students! The breakfast is worth just as much as a bed if you go the bed and breakfast route, as it will ensure you don’t spend precious money on meals for the rest of the day.

In closing, the photo is of what was left of my meat selection at Lesley's after I had eaten my fill. Sadly, I had not thought to bring my camera down to breakfast when I started the meal! For those wanting a terrific seaside town very close to Edinburgh, I highly recommend Lesley's Airbnb: Welcoming Seaside B&B, Double Room & Breakfast, North Berwick, Scotland https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/16011316

Two Kitchens in Two Days: Welcome to Scotland!

July 6th, 2017 10:01 by Andrea Broomfield

Jo's cranachan

Back in 2010, I wrote the Scotland chapter for Ken Albala’s Food Cultures of the World because I understand something better if I write about it. My Food and Cooking in Victorian England had recently been published, but I was fascinated by non-English culinary histories as a result, and so this Scotland chapter was a starting place. It took six months of research, but truth be told, I could only do so much. I struggled to understand how a langoustine differed from a shrimp, I was mystified by the shape of the Aberdeen rowie even though I have made them many times, I was perplexed by all different oatmeal grades, and I wanted to taste a PGI-protected Stornoway black pudding to get at what made it special. Long before I was thinking about Celtic foodways, I was entranced by Scotland, and now, here I am.

What were my first two experiences? A three-course lunch at The Kitchin in Edinburgh where Michelin Chef Tom Kitchin and his team transform Scotland’s larder into the exquisite foods; and the privilege of staging at Jo’s Kitchen, Haddington’s #1 rated restaurant on TripAdvisor. Like Tom Kitchin, Jo Lawrence uses the best Scottish goods to create magnificent plates of food.

I began my day in Jo’s Kitchen working with the Stornoway black pudding I mention above. Produced in Scotland’s Western Isles, it is considered by connoisseurs to be one of the world’s best sausages. Jo had taken the pudding and creamed it with shredded Scottish apples to create a paste that I rolled into tiny balls. These were breaded with panko crumbs and deep-fried to create a moor-ish fritter. We tested one to make sure it tasted great. As tiny as it was, all that I needed was a nibble, and it was gorgeous. The apples added a hint of tart-sweetness that accentuated the richness of the pudding itself. “Texture is so important,” Jo told me, and absolutely: the panko crumbs coating the fritter added essential crunch to the velvety smoothness underneath.

Next on Jo’s list was cranachan. I have made it before, as have some of my culinary students, but with Class 1 Scottish raspberries at the pitch of their season? Never. And here I was, also working with thick Scottish double cream unavailable in my parts, with Scottish honey, and with Glenkinchie Edinburgh single malt Scotch. I toasted the pinhead oatmeal also essential to cranachan, and I folded some of the raspberries into the cream and the oats. Again, we all tasted to ensure that the ratio of cream, berries, honey, and whiskey was spot on. More than a taste would have diminished this experience for me, but that taste caused me to tear up, although thankfully no one saw such a spectacle in that hectic kitchen!

While prepping more familiar foods like pea pods and potatoes, Jo outlined her food philosophy, giving me insight into the brilliant way her mind works when it comes to combining seasoning, textures, and ingredients. Because rapeseed grows prolifically in East Lothian, Jo often shuns imported olive oil to use rapeseed oil, whose sunny colour is almost as extraordinary as a field of the plant when in bloom. We turned to samphire that had been delivered. I had first tried this succulent (sometimes known as sea asparagus) in Wales, but to be in a kitchen working with it? Actually, that’s the wrong way to describe the process. Just wash it and right before service, saute it briefly. In terms of colour (emerald green) and texture (crunchy) and flavor (salty like the sea), it works as the essential bed on which to lay a just-steamed salmon steak.

Later a delivery of langoustine tails arrived at the door. As I had worked on my Scotland food chapter this was the one food that I most wished to see up close, and here was a box of them, on ice. I prepped thirty-seven for later service and thus became more familiar with their anatomy and structure, something I had struggled with when reading about them in cookery books. Now, there’s no struggle.

The highlight taste and Celtic connection was Jo’s take on ham butter, what she described as a very old, Celtic recipe, and one that I have asked her for, for inclusion in the Atlantic Celts. The pig is near-sacred in Celtic cuisine, and this delectable dish is made by boiling ham hocks to tender shreds that are pulverised with herbs and butter to create a spread. She handed me a smear on sourdough whole grain bread to sample, and this was one case where if I had had time, I would have swiped spoonfuls of it. Luckily, there was no time! Let’s just say that it puts ham on a whole new level.

Food like this not only takes labour to create. It takes knowledge and respect for ingredients and microclimates. It also takes pride and love of one’s home, and finally, it takes talent and skill to transform a larder into a menu of foods that come out on immaculate plates which catch the rays of the sun or the fire, depending on season. While I was the guest at Tom’s Kitchin and could sit back and simply experience that amazing food, at Jo’s Kitchen I was in the back helping in my own small way to make that experience for guests happen. As a result, I also have a better understanding of the intimate interconnection between chef and diner, and with this knowledge, I am ready explore Scotland’s east coast.