Seventeen years ago to the day, I fell in love with Scotland the moment I set foot upon her soil. It was cold, blustery, the sun in ten days never mustered the courage to beat back the rains, culminating in the worst snow storm in history. I was intoxicated by the beauty and then the gods gave me snow!!!
My travel companion thought otherwise. The food was bland, the weather miserable, the locals' speech incomprehensible... by the last days, I kept expecting he'd commit suicide while I was out running in the mornings.
Only years later, through genealogical research did I come to realize I'd been staying in the villages of my father's forefathers. No wonder everything felt just right, the people like old cousins and the food, ahhh, the food was soul satisfying.
Every day (yeah, I'm OCD), every day I ate a local haggis. Traveler #2 couldn't stomach the idea of eating 'lights', lamb lungs, and offal all wrapped up with onions in intestines. Totally, totally his loss and a missed opportunity to taste Scotland's national dish. Unless you butcher your own lamb, you can't find lungs for sale in the US. FDA severely frowns on them. Finding intestines too can be like treasure hunting this side of The Pond. But I started weeks in advance to justly honor Robert Burns.
On January 25th, I'd be ready to honor the greatest Scottish poet with a traditional feast.
The plan was to sit down with a heaping plate of haggis and my cherished book from 1866 revelling in his work all evening long.
Was the plan.
This is what happened...
Jan 24, I start my day off early, haggis making isn't for the faint of heart.
The beef tongue and pork hearts aren't traditional ingredients, but when those of lamb weren't available, I made substitutions. I did procure lamb meat and livers though, everything from an organic farm in Central Georgia!
One must play with one's food.
The meats are boiled for two hours.
The steel cut oats are toasted for 30 minutes.
Then I proceed to prep the beef bungs (intestines) for stuffing. As they are packed in salt in upstate NY for shipping, I have to rinse and soak them to leach out the salt.
Still playing with my food.
Giving me time to stray into two other recipes. Venison osso buco ties me up for the next six hours while I work on the haggis in between steps.
Worth 6 hours? Definitely. I've been on a quest to disconnect from social media and distractions for the past 7 months. I went cold turkey quitting Facebook. I've begun to set aside fixed times to return texts and emails. I've become a crusader against multitasking. I love to focus on projects and believe that constant interruptions severely limit my efficiency and productivity. It's a balancing act, but not having my phone beeping at me all the time is tonic! To throw everything I have into work nurtures my spirit.
By the time my homemade pizzas are finished, it's 10 PM Wednesday night. I'm (overly) sated and I have all my next week's meals divvied up and in freezer containers.
Sadly, the haggis is still stuck halfway through its creation.
I pick up where I left off on Thursday when I get home from work at 8 PM.
Mincing meats until midnight. Because using a modern food processor/grinder or making a small haggis is out of the question.
Go big or go home. Stuffing 9 lbs of meat, oats and onions into a sausage takes time.
Tied off. My jumbo grubs.
Ready for cooking Friday morning.
Three hours of boiling casings starts at 5 AM.
Friday, after work, I make the neeps and tatties, or rutabagas and mashed potatoes, also called clapshot.
Last and certainly not least is the cream sauce. Imagine cream thickened with whole seed mustard, infused with whisky and rounded off with fresh lemon juice.
The sauce is beyond delicious, borderline bacchanalian to be honest.
This is my first attempt at making haggis and clapshot and I'm transported back to my Winter in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire.
Rabbie Burns Day celebrated one day late, fashionably late.
Seeing as I'm the only guest I invited, there was no bother changing out of my barn clothes. Appropriate, as Burns was also called the Ploughman Poet because of his pride in his humble country origins.
He even penned an ode to haggis, that's a man to be honored.
From the fat Zen Master's kitchen, oidhche mhath, good night in Scottish Gaelic.