New Orleans Adventure-Food and meeting the Green Fairy

We recently took a trip to New Orleans.  I had never been there, and it was on my list of places to go.  I had heard many wonderful things about the city, and finally made time visit. So glad we did.

What struck me  almost immediately was the vibe of this city.  It has a very weathered, grimy feel. There is a feeling of old memories and a veneer of wisdom.  In the French Quarter, the buildings are old and open, with high ceilings, peeling paint and cracks in the stucco.  It is romantic and alluring.  History oozes out of every crack and chip.  It is seductive.

And the food.

I went off of my vegan regimen (see previous post on that story…) and took in all that the city offers. First, to get the beignet.  We went to Cafe’ Beignet, as it was near our hotel.  Ordered our coffee and beignets, and had a seat in the courtyard. It’s around 9:30 AM and there is live music playing. An awesome jazz/blues group at breakfast.  The beignets were good; I confess, I’m not a big sweets person, but you have to try them, right?

 

On to oysters. Damn. They were perfect.  Raw oysters tell the tale of the ocean like no other shellfish.  Briny, but sweet and tender, they  bring alive all of your taste buds.  The gentleman shucking the dozen shown here has shucked over 3 million oysters, give or take.  For real.

New Orleans oysters

 

On to the best meal of the trip. We went to GW Fins, in the French Quarter. Known for its seafood, I had one of the best meals I have had in years.  No joke.  A delightful salmon carpaccio as an appetizer had the perfect blend of acid with the fish sliced paper-thin.  My main course is a specialty known as “Scalibut”.  It is a combination of scallops and halibut with lobster risotto, snow peas and pea shoot butter.  This was outstanding, cooked to perfection.  The pea shoot butter added an earthy softness that  pulled all of the flavors and textures together. Divine.

 

The service here was also the best I have seen in a long time. Nick knew the menu inside and out, and recommended the perfect wine pairings. He is spot on.  This place is a do not miss; make sure to try it. (Dare I say, went we to Emeril’s and I think GW Fins is better..)

But on to my favorite ritual.

Absinthe, aka “The Green Fairy”.

Absinthe is a spirit that has its roots in Switzerland and was made in the early 17th century.  The mystique of absinthe was that it had hallucinogenic properties, which caused it to be banned for sale in many countries in the 1920s. Favored by artists, poets and writers, it was the signature drink amongst the Bohemian set.  Toulouse-Lautrec, Degas, and Ernest Hemingway all imbibed.  Oscar Wilde stated about absinthe:

“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”

Absinthe does contain thujone, a chemical in the plant wormwood, the main floral in absinthe.  But you would have to consume enormous quantities for it to have any effect.  The more likely cause of  seeing pink elephants is the high alcohol content, up to 138 proof. It has a licorice taste from anise, along with other botanicals. I’m not a huge licorice fan, so I drink the “Mata Hari” brand, less licorice, more florals.

But one of the best things about absinthe is how you drink it.  There is a ritual around how the spirit is prepared.  The ritual conjures up images of bistros in France, with artists romancing show girls.  Decadence, bawdiness, and passion. The ritual itself is as intoxicating as the spirit.

First, you need an absinthe spoon. (These are really cool, and I want an antique one!)

New Orleans absinthe spoons

Place the absinthe spoon over the glass and place a sugar cube on the spoon.

New Orleans absinthe1

 

Pour the absinthe over the sugar cube into the glass. Take a moment to appreciate the beautiful green color.

New Orleans abinsthe2

Light the sugar cube so that it melts into the glass.

New Orleans absinthe3

Add cold water to create the “louche”, the cloudy appearance the absinthe takes on when the water is added.

 

 

 

 

New Orleans absinthe5

 

Sip and experience “The Green Fairy”.

My absinthe experience was in the “Jean Lafitte’s Old Absinthe House“, a bar that is over 200 years old. The bar is like a stage set, with peeling paint and old carved woodwork.  If you are going to try absinthe, this is the bar to try it in. With over 20 types to choose from, you will find one that suits your palate.

I was captivated by New Orleans. It is a magical, mysterious place.  And you need to walk through it, to experience all of the sounds, the fragrances and to feel the pulse of the city.

And get to know the Green Fairy.  Quite the lady.

new orleans green fairy

 

 

 

 

 

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Well. Didn’t see that coming.

the scream

 

I have always been an active person.  I still ride my horse, I get out and about, and I can still throw a 50 pound bag of chicken feed over my shoulder.  I do have a job where I tend to sit, but I do get up and move around. Could I run a 5k? Probably not. ( I hate running and I wouldn’t do that even if I could.)  But overall, I consider myself to be in darn good shape for my age.

So I go to my annual medical visit.  Weight, height, pee in the cup, blah blah blah. And blood pressure.

This is where it gets ugly.  140 over 90.

Say what?

Now, I have ALWAYS ALWAYS had low blood pressure.  If I was ever 120 over 80, that was high for me.  I bragged about my low blood pressure.  I wore it like a badge of honor.  Gloated, even.

So I am in disbelief when my doctor tells me this. He asked me “did your parents have hypertension?”

” Yes, both did.”

“Well”, he says “There you go.”  For crying out loud.  My parents ate poorly, drank like it was an episode from Mad Men, and didn’t exercise at all.  No effing way.

My doctor says that I can control this with diet.  And he wants me to follow a specific regimen for 6 weeks.

Full on vegan.

Ok, kill me now.  The no-meat thing I can manage, but NO CHEESE?  Seriously? If I could marry cheese and live with it forever, I would. That is how much I love cheese.  I think my blood pressure will go up because I am so pissed at not being able to have some goat cheese.

So, having gone through:

Denial-“Your blood pressure gadget isn’t working. Take it again.  No, it’s still not working”

Anger-“I do everything right! I don’t over-salt! This sucks!”

Bargaining-“Can I have butter? No? Can I have skim mozzarella?”  Jeez.

Depression-“I won’t be able to go out. I will have to bring my food with me. I will be pathetic.  People will think I’m a real vegan and not a medically induced one…”

And finally:

Acceptance–“Fine. It’s only 6 weeks.  I like vegetables.  I don’t like medications.”

Thus begins my foray into the world of veganism. The first night I had some dark red kidney beans, some diced tomatoes and chilies, add some Penzey’s Taco spice and put it in a tortilla.  And you know what?  It was really good.  And filling!

And my husband is on the vegan bandwagon as well, bless his heart.  He is joining me in the effort, and is looking for recipes we can make.  We both love to cook together, so we will explore this as a team.  My son’s fiancée has been eating vegan and she is going to send me recipes and we are going to do this together.  She is my VB. Vegan Buddy.

I am only 5 days into this, but it really is not as bad as I thought.  I don’t feel as deprived as I thought I would.  And I did blow the vegan diet off for brunch today, because it was my son’s birthday.  I had gazpacho-that met the vegan standard- then had Moule Frites.  I love this French dish of mussels with skinny French fries.  And they were perfect.  I think I actually enjoyed them more, because they were a treat, not the norm.  Ok, I can deal with that.

One up side.My doctor told me one glass of wine a day does help lower blood pressure.  Thank God. One small victory.

While this really felt like a curve ball, I am thankful that I am so healthy.  This is a part of life. My life. And I am really very, very fortunate.

So I will keep you all posted on my progress.  What I would really, really love if you would share some vegan recipes if you have any.  Your support would be a real boost.

I’m in it to win it.  And I will.  I’m coming for ya, blood pressure.  Your days are numbered! You’re going down….

The First Without

 

first without

My Mom died peacefully this past November 1, All Saints Day. She was 94, and suffered from dementia, so it was a combination of grief over losing her, and relief that her suffering had ended.

With her passing, I am officially an orphan.  My Dad passed away in 2003 and my only sister in 2004.  I am flying solo now.

This past year many of my friends have lost parents or siblings.  It is bound to happen, as we are of “that age”.  Family members pass, and with them go many of the family traditions that bound you all together.

The first Christmas without.

The first birthday, yours or theirs, without.

The first wedding anniversary without.

These times were times of family sharing, or they could be times of great stress. My Mom put so much importance on being together for Christmas that it was not enjoyable.  The meal was tense, the pressure to be the perfect family was enormous. It was like she was trying to recreate that Norman Rockwell painting of the family at Thanksgiving.  And yet, I do miss it. For all of her stress and perfectionism, the bottom line was she treasured our small family. She just had a weird way of showing it. To learn more about my Mom, check out my post “Betty and the Banana Cake”.

My Dad and I were very close.  I used to show horses competitively, and he was my biggest supporter and champion. We would get up at the crack of dawn, hitch up the horse trailer and head out. I couldn’t eat anything until I was done competing, just my own nervous food ritual. When I was old enough, Dad and I began our post-show ritual.  We would both sit down and crack open a Genesee Cream Ale. (Beer fans, do not judge me…). Whether I won or lost, this was how we ended a day of competing. It was one of my favorite times with him. To learn more about my Dad, check out my post “Old Ritual= New Ritual”.

My sister loved good meals.  And she adored anything French.  But she could not keep a stocked pantry or refrigerator to save her life.  My son, who was about 9 at the time, and I went to visit my sister in Florida.  I needed to make my son some lunch and opened her refrigerator. No bread. No fruit. No mayonnaise.  But there was a half used jar of capers and a head of frisee. Check the cupboards. No peanut butter. No tuna. No cereal. No kid food, period.  But there were canned snails and dried porcini mushrooms…

We had to go out to the local deli and buy my son a sandwich.

I can’t fault her. She shopped like a European.  And I love snails…

When my Dad passed, I could share the grief with my sister and my Mom.  When my sister passed, I had to support my Mom. No one wants to outlive their children.  When my Mom passed, I had the support of my husband, son, his fiancée and my friends.

I’m not alone, and yet I am.

This year for me is the First Without-without ALL Of Them. And it feels sad.

I have the ashes of all three of them.  And I have been trying to decide what to do.  We aren’t funeral people, there was not a service for any of them. But what I am thinking of doing is having a dinner party for my friends and family who knew them.  And I will cook my Mom’s pot roast (it was always fabulous), make escargot in honor of my sister, and drink a Genny in honor of my Dad.  I’m going to take all of those elements of our meal traditions and share it in remembrance of them.

I’m taking my First Without and having it WITH those who knew and loved them. And I won’t feel alone.

family

Let’s Do Lunch Instead

dilbert lunch

I am currently consulting for a really nice company. The people are very nice, and the place is not overly corporate.  We just finished a large project and the executive wanted to thank the team for a job well done by taking everyone out to dinner.  We went to a wonderful restaurant, the food was great, and we had a room to ourselves.  The whole evening was right on point.

Here’s the thing.

I just don’t like corporate dinners.

I know, I sound ungrateful.  But I find them awkward and uncomfortable, even with the best of company relationships. For me, it is still work.  And at night, after working all day, I just want to go home.  I commute in, so I had to take a train ride that got me home late, and then I had to get up the next morning and go back to work.

I see the evening after work as my time. When I was younger, I enjoyed these events more.  But now I feel like it is an infringement on my time. I want to be home with my husband, or to go see my kids, or to walk my dogs. I spend enough time at work, well, working.

So here is my solution.

The long lunch.

Instead of asking people to give up an evening, take your team out for a long lunch.  A two-hour lunch isn’t going to make or break the business day.  And since people are already there working, they aren’t giving up any of their personal time.

A smaller segment of our team did go out to a lunch. And it was perfect. A fixed price menu with several selections was prepared in advance, and the meal was delightful.  We all had a good time, relaxed and enjoyed each other’s company.  And then we went back to the office. No muss, no fuss. I didn’t have to give up any of what I consider my personal time.

I used to work at another company, and our department would do a holiday dinner.  I was a single parent, and that meant I had to leave work, get my son home, get a sitter, and then meet them at the restaurant.  Not only did I have to run around, but it also cost me money to hire a sitter.  Another person in the department was a single parent as well,  so we approached our boss and asked if we could make the celebration be a lunch instead.  It had never occurred to them about us needing child care, and they gladly changed the party to a lunch.  So much better. We still had a nice time, and I didn’t have to run around and be out-of-pocket for childcare.

So if you are the one organizing a corporate team celebration, consider the long lunch.  It’s still a generous event, and  you aren’t asking your team to give up any of their personal time.  Your team will be grateful, not just for the thank you, but for not infringing on their personal life.

Lunch, let’s do it.

 

 

 

 

Art of the Pie-Interview with author Kate McDermott

If you have been following my blog and Facebook page, you will know that I am a huge fan of pie.  Just love it. So when my library offered “Art of the Pie-A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings and Life” by Kate McDermott as the Big Library Read, I checked it out.  I was totally into a cookbook dedicated to pie.

Art of the Pie.png
photo courtesy of Andrew Scrivani

What I discovered was much more than a recipe book. It was Kate’s stories about her life and her philosophies. It is pie, with musings and insights. And with such beautiful photographs, by noted New York Times photographer, Andrew Scrivani.  I fell in love with this book.

So I emailed her, and asked her for an interview. And Kate being the generous soul that she is, agreed.

When I called her for the interview, I was struck immediately by her warm demeanor. She radiated kindness and friendship. I could tell right away how much she loves what she does, and how pie has been such an important part of her life. She is completely down to earth.

We started off by talking about her book being selected for the Big Library Read.  This is a global ebook club run through public libraries.  The books are selected by librarians, and “Art of the Pie” was the first ever cookbook to be selected.  Quite an honor.

We then reviewed Kate’s Three Rules, which are in the introduction of her book:

Rule# 1: Keep everything chilled, especially yourself- Keeping your ingredients chilled makes them easier to work with. And keeping yourself chilled makes your life easier.  She says “chilling out” means that you can only control what you have control of.  And that fretting and worrying about things beyond your control are simply non-productive. Instead, be kind, be generous and do meaningful work.

Rule# 2: Keep Your Boundaries- in pie making, this means watch your pie crust edges, so that they don’t burn. Finish your crust edges with a final crimp. In life, it means setting your boundaries for yourself and with others.  You cannot, and shouldn’t try  to be all things to all people. Kate said “Life is short, don’t take things so seriously. It is entirely ok to say no. You need to learn to stand your ground”.

Rule #3: Vent-  I love this one! In order for your pie to not to erupt, you cut some vents in the crust to allow steam to escape. If you don’t, the pie will find a weak point and just blow. And so can we.  There are times we need to off-load our feelings, and “vent” our frustrations. This keeps us from blowing up at the wrong thing or person. And if we don’t our bodies can react with illness and malaise.  So, vent away!

Pie making gives you the ability to practice these three rules.  Kate said “the rules are a constant work in progress. You have to practice on a regular basis, you have to own it”.

Our talk then turned to the meditative quality of simple tasks. A humbling task, like pie making, laundry or sweeping the floor, is grounding.  Simple tasks have a rhythm, which allows you to wander in your mind. It is both physical and mental. Kate noted that all of her meditative tasks involve her doing something with her hands.  It may be making pie, digging in the garden, or playing an instrument. Kate is also an accomplished musician. “I have lived an artist’s life” says Kate. “I am so fortunate”.

Kate teaches “Pie Camp”, where you get to spend a day or a weekend learning and making pies.  I asked her about people’s anxiety about making the perfect pie.  “Oh yes”, she says. “People  are all caught up with their pie being perfect. Or they want to recreate their Grandma’s pie. I tell them, how about we create your own pie?”

“There is nothing wrong with things being perfectly imperfect”.  Perfection is never achievable. Kate says that if something isn’t working, like a crust or combination of ingredients, then just walk away and start again. No harm, no foul, no judgement.  Just do it over.  “All is right and none is wrong”. Kate strives to instill this message to her Pie Campers.

Kate noted that people who come to her pie camps think that making pie is hard.”You have to be a lifetime learner. Know how to find out. Learn how to learn.”  She shows them it is not about the end result of the pie, but the process of making it that counts. It’s about using your senses. The feel of the pie dough when it is not too stiff, not too sticky. The taste of  just enough cinnamon for the apples. Maybe you need a bit more? The smell of the fruit as it bakes, yes, it smells like it’s done. Does the crust look brown enough? Time to come out of the oven.  It’s learning to trust your senses, to get the gut feeling of just knowing.  Pie can teach you that it IS about the journey, not the destination.

We then discovered we share a  pet peeve.

The Trophy Kitchen.

You know, that fancy, super expensive kitchen with the high-end appliances and the granite countertops with the imported hand-made tiles from some obscure mountain town in Italy.

The ones no one cooks in.  Except maybe for the caterer.

Kate does NOT have a trophy kitchen. In fact, Kate just recently splurged on a dishwasher.  “All you need in a kitchen is water, heat to cook with, cold to refrigerate or freeze and a flat space to work”.  The notion that you need  all of the state of the art appliances and gadgets is just that. A notion. The Trophy Kitchen is the symbol of the quantity vs. quality mentality. It sets up a lifestyle of impossible competition.  From “not enough” to “never enough”. Who needs it? No one, really.

In addition to being  a book about life lessons, Art of the Pie is also practical guide to pie baking. There are many tips and techniques, plus many recipes. There are all kinds of examples of crusts.  PS-pie crust is not the enemy.  It isn’t hard to make…

Kate’s book has been nominated for the prestigious 2017 James Beard Foundation Award in the media category. She has numerous other awards, and has been featured in Bon Appetit, Oprah Magazine and Food & Wine Magazine, plus many others. I asked her how it felt to be the Rock Star of Pie.  “Oh pinch me. I feel like Cinderella every day. ” When asked about what helped create her success she said “I never had a plan. I followed my gut.” She loves to teach, and she took that love and brought it to pie making.  But she doesn’t stand in the spotlight. “It is pie that is the star” she says humbly.

Kate’s goal is to turn this country back into people who know how to cook.  She wants them in the kitchen, using their senses. She wants children to learn to cook from their parents. The experience of the process, the discovery of a passion, is what Kate  wants to bring out in people.

The best example of Kate’s generosity is that she has NEVER sold a pie. Not once. Ever. Each and every pie she has made has been given away, freely and with love.

So, you would love to follow your passion, but how to get started?  Follow Kate’s guiding principles:

  1. Follow the voice in your gut. You know the one. Listen to it.
  2. You must be passionate. Be prepared to work harder and longer than you ever have before.
  3. Make sure that you give something away. If your plan isn’t quite coming together, give more away.  It will come back to you.
Kate McDermott
photo courtesy of Andrew Scrivani

So, go find your passion. Make some pie, some art, some music.

You can do it.  It’s as easy as pie.

 

To learn more about Kate, and to find information about Pie Camp and her workshops, go to her website at artofthepie.com.  You can find her on Facebook Twitter Pinterest and Instagram. You can purchase her book from her local Indie book store and she will sign your copy! Also available on Amazon.

Thank you, Kate for taking time to talk with me.  I am so inspired.  Now off to make pie!

 

 

Fueling The Cause-Protests & Food

dc protest

I attended the Women’s March in Washington DC on January 21, and it was an exhilarating experience.  There was an atmosphere of love, support, tolerance and a much justified dose of outrage.  My two friends and I drove down from the Philadelphia area. We waved to others on the road showing their signs from their cars and wearing their pink hats. The mood was uplifting; from the train ride in, though the march to the train ride back out.  I was so glad to be a part of this historic march.

This march has kickstarted many other marches on various days worldwide. With so much to protest about, I thought I would look into how food has played a part in the history of protests, and also touch on what to eat and drink when you are protesting.

The History of Protest and Food

Food and protests have gone hand in hand throughout history.  But why food?  Well, first of all, it was accessible.Tomatoes, eggs, easy to get and they make a great splat. NOTE: I don’t condone throwing ANYTHING.  No one should get injured in a protest.   While throwing food may be considered non-violent, I wouldn’t risk getting arrested for throwing an egg.

The first recorded protest with food was in 63 AD in present day Tunisia. Roman Emperor Vespasian was pelted with turnips by people who were angered by food shortages under his reign. That had to hurt…

turnip
ouch

Eggs historically were very popular at protests. In the Middle Ages people were put in stocks and pelted with eggs.  Abolitionist George Whittier was hit with eggs at an anti-slavery talk in 1834. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger was hit with an egg in 2003 on a campaign trip for governor of California.   In 2011 Afghan protesters threw eggs at the Iranian consulate to protest a fuel blockade that caused fuel prices to soar. But the biggest egg protest took place in 2013, when French farmers broke 100,000 eggs a day to protest the low price of eggs set by the European Union.

french egg protest
Sometimes you gotta break some eggs…

On to tomatoes. While typically seen as a response to a poor theatrical performance, tomatoes have been used in protests.  In fact, one tomato protest has turned into an annual festival. La Tomatina occurs in  Bunol, in the Valencia region of Spain on a Wednesday every August. The legend is that the townspeople were upset with their town council and threw tomatoes at them. That one event  became the present day festival.  The festival begins with a ham being placed on a greased pole, and participants climb the pole to retrieve the ham.  Once the ham has been obtained, the tomato throwing begins. A cannon sounds, and the tons of tomatoes are thrown. Its chaotic, and messy.  The throwing continues for two hours, then the cannon fires and the throwing stops.

Not sure what happens after that.  Many, many showers, I guess..

la tomatina
La Tomatina Festival

The cream pie in the face has had its place in protest history. Ok, most of the time, you see this in the Three Stooges or I Love Lucy… but both Ralph Nader and Rupert Murdoch have been “pied”. Anita Bryant got a pie in the face in 1977 during a press conference when  she was trying to justify the fact that she hated gay people.  Again, I don’t condone this, as it could cause injury, and you may get arrested for assault (but Anita had that one coming..)

Lack of food has had a significant place in protest history. The hunger strike has been used  in many circumstances as a form of protest. The first hunger strike is purported to have happened in ancient India.  Indian scriptures tell the tale of when King Rama’s brother fasted to urge the King to return from exile. Gandhi  was on a hunger strike for six days to protest the British government’s decision to place a strict separation between India’s lowest and highest social castes. Gandhi’s actions caused this decision to be reversed.

gandhi
Gandhi

In the United States, suffragettes went on hunger strikes in jail. This method usually got them released prior to completion of their sentence.  But Alice Paul, famous woman activist and organizer of the Woman Suffrage Procession (and a Jersey girl from Mount Laurel!), was force-fed in a London prison. This damaged her gastrointestinal system permanently.  Alice Paul returned to the USA, attended the University of Pennsylvania and continued her work in the Suffrage movement.  Read more about Alice Paul here: http://nationalwomansparty.org/learn/who-is-alice-paul/

Alice Paul
Thank you, Alice!

I found this really terrific blog called “Food and Resistance“.  It is a collection of food related protest signs from various protests.  Go check out the images. They are powerful and also humorous.

My favorite? “Muslims Invented Coffee”.

Staying Fueled While Protesting

So you are getting out and standing up for what you believe in. Good for you! Here are a few tips for staying fueled during your protest experience.

  • Cut back on the coffee. I know, this is a tough one.  But  comfort stations can be few and far between, and lines can be long.  And peeing on the White House lawn is illegal…also a good idea to BYOTP.  (Toilet Paper)
  • Fuel up in the morning.  I recommend more protein than carbs.  Eggs will keep you fuller longer than a bowl of cereal. Perhaps a little fruit as well, to get some sugars for energy.
  • Bring snacks. Granola bars, more fruit.  You can also bring a wrap. Refried beans and rice with cheese in a tortilla are easy to carry, and have a great mix of carbs and protein. Make a few, and wrap them in plastic.  Yes, you will have to eat them cold, but you can deal this one time.
  • Bring water, but watch your intake. You will need to stay hydrated, but drink just what you need. Again, the peeing issue. Warmer weather will cause you to need more liquids. Look at bringing some green tea with honey. This provides good energy and will soothe your throat from all of your yelling and cheering. Throat lozenges are also a good idea.
  • Bring some chewing gum. This helps keep you from getting dry mouth, and you won’t drink as much water.

If you are one of the organizers of a march, try to engage restaurants and food stores who may be sympathetic to your cause to provide some eats and drinks along the march route.  They may choose to donate or sell. If they donate, make sure you provide a  money jar for  donations to cover their costs.

When you are done with your march, patronize the local restaurants. You are supporting the local economy, and you will assuredly meet others who were in the march as well.  Share a table with some strangers.

These are challenging times.  But I am so optimistic.  People are becoming engaged, getting involved and running for office.

So get up, get out, make some noise.  Fuel your cause.

 

 

 

 

Pass the Haggis-A Brief History of the Burns Supper

robert-burns

Robert Burns, the bard poet of Scotland , was born on January 25, 1759.  He became the voice of Scotland with his poetry and song. In 1801, on the fifth anniversary of his death, nine men who knew him well gathered to have a memorial dinner in Robbie’s honor. There was ritual and remembrances, and a toast at the end.

Oh, and haggis. More on that later.

Thus began the tradition of the Burns Supper.  Around January 25, people and organizations hold the traditional Burns Supper to remember Robert Burn’s legacy.  And  it is quite a party.

First, everyone gathers and chats, and checks out the whiskey selection.  Many varieties are offered, from light Scotches to my favorite, the dark, peaty, malty ones.

Next is the call to the table by the host and the Selkirk Grace is recited:

 Selkirk Grace

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.

The soup course is then served.  The Cullen-Skirk soup is traditionally served. It is a creamy fish and leek soup. Click here for the recipe.

The next part is my favorite–The Parade of the Haggis. A bagpiper leads the procession and “pipes in the haggis” to the guests. The chef follows the piper, and presents the haggis to each of the guests.  The haggis is then placed on the table in front of the host, and a reciter will  read the “Address to a Haggis”:

piping-haggis
Piping in the Haggis

Address to a Haggis

Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the pudding-race!
Aboon them a’ yet tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o’a grace
As lang’s me arm.

The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o’need,
While thro’ your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead.

His knife see rustic Labour dight,
An’ cut you up wi’ ready sleight,
Trenching your gushing entrails bright,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sight,
Warm-reekin’, rich!

Then, horn for horn, they stretch an’ strive:
Deil tak the hindmost! on they drive,
Till a’ their weel-swall’d kytes belyve
Are bent like drums;
Then auld Guidman, maist like to rive,
Bethankit! hums.

Is there that owre his French ragout
Or olio that wad staw a sow,
Or fricassee wad make her spew
Wi’ perfect sconner,
Looks down wi’ sneering, scornfu’ view
On sic a dinner?

Poor devil! see him owre his trash,
As feckles as wither’d rash,
His spindle shank, a guid whip-lash;
His nieve a nit;
Thro’ blody flood or field to dash,
O how unfit!

But mark the Rustic, haggis-fed,
The trembling earth resounds his tread.
Clap in his walie nieve a blade,
He’ll mak it whissle;
An’ legs an’ arms, an’ heads will sned,
Like taps o’ trissle.

Ye Pow’rs, wha mak mankind yer care,
And dish them out their bill o’ fare,
Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu’ prayer
Gie her a haggis!

To see what this means in English, you can find the translation here.

Whiskey is offered to the chef, the reciter and the piper, and the host ceremoniously slices open the haggis with a dirk-a small dagger- but any sharp knife will do.

About haggis.  This is a dish that was made in the fields by shepherds watching over their flocks. It was one of those  meals  that was born out of necessity.  Haggis consists of  sheep heart, liver and lungs, ground up, with oatmeal, onion or leek, spices, salt and some stock. It was encased into the sheep’s stomach and boiled or steamed.  Before you get turned off by this, try it.  It is quite delicious.  I love it. Haggis is served with “neeps and tatties”-turnips and potatoes. You can find a contemporary haggis recipe here.

haggis-2
Haggis, Dirk and Whiskey

After the meal, it is time for songs and poems. And more whiskey.  The host will  deliver the Immortal Memory Address, which  is a biographical telling  about Robert Burns, and ends with a toast to the Bard.

Guests are invited to read from Burns’ poems and to perform songs, and this is great fun! Some folks have the Scottish brogue down, others, not so much.  Again, more whiskey…

Next up is the Toast to the Lassies– a  light-hearted lampoon of the shortcomings of women.  But fear not, ladies, because next is the Reply From the Lassies– an opportunity to note the shortcomings of men.  This is all done in fun and with great wit.  You can read both the Address and Reply here.

And now for the reading of one of Burns’ most epic poems, “Tam O’Shanter”.  It is a tale of drunkenness, debauchery, witches and ghosts. And the hero of the story is Tam’s horse, Maggie.  You can read both the Scottish and English version here.

tam-oshanter
Tam O’Shanter-Maggie lose her tail!

The evening progresses with more songs, poems and dancing.  The host will then do some closing remarks, thanking the chef and the piper and all who attended and raising a toast or two or three.

The finale of the evening is for everyone to sing “Auld Lang Syne”.  Nope, it’s not really a New Year’s Eve song. This is a song about friendship and the gladness of celebrating together.  You can see the Scottish and English translation here.

Once Auld Lang Syne is sung, the evening is officially over.

If you would like to go to a Burns Supper, look for a Scottish Society in your area that may be hosting one.  Or hold one yourself.  It’s  a bonnie auld tradition, full of fun and friends, with literature and drama.

Oh and whiskey…