Frightening cooks – Haggis

Haggis from scratch

The thing about cooking haggis is that it’s scary. Scary cooking is exciting and to be recommended. For something to be frightening it needs to present the possibility of failure. It needs to be able to take you to your emotional limit and perhaps beyond. If it doesn’t threaten you, why do it? Some people walk across Antarctica to be threatened to their limit, some people row the Atlantic, but you don’t need to go out of the house and do such dramatic stuff to test yourself; you can just cook something impossibly frightening. Only you know your limit; it might be Artic Roll  or soufflé or cheese omelette. Your limit depends on your competence and mind set. It depends where you have been and what you have done. Some people find cycling to the shops daunting whilst others pedal across continents. Your limit is yours to know and no one else’s. It’s good to know and good to test it from time time. This is why I decided to cook Haggis.
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Filling stomach before sewing shut

There are only a few blogs about how to cook Haggis from scratch and I suggest
The Guardian newspaper: “How to make your own haggis” and for those in the USA (haggis from scratch )
But what interests me is why I wanted to scream and throw the whole thing out the window half way through.
It may have been the look of bewilderment in the eyes of my local butcher which rattled my self-belief. There’s the doubt of something new: “am I being healthy and sensible”? This man slaughters animals for a living, and I could see he feared for my senses when I asked to buy sheep’s pluck. The pluck is heart, lungs and kidney of the animal, and perhaps is connected to the saying “pluck up courage”. Courage is what you need. What is wrong with us, surely the people of wild 17th Century Scotland would have been disgusted at our modern day timidity to eat some of the finest lean cuts an animal can provide? But in those days, if you didn’t eat, you died
Boiling and dicing the lungs, liver and hearts of two  healthy lambs seemed daunting, but it was the stomach which really tested my mettle. Some bloggers have given up and switched to Ox bung. These sensible people took the wise and cowardly way out, I tried to give up on the stomach, when stitching it together seemed impossible, but I couldn’t, because like so many ingredients I couldn’t buy an Ox bung. My local butcher (Ullesthorpe, Leicestershire) slaughters animal, but had no cows in as they don’t come by very often, and no-one buys their guts anyway. General things you can’t buy, but are needed to make haggis are: sheep’s lungs, sheep stomach and coarse oats – oats sold in supermarkets are squashed insipid things called rolled oats and hopeless for haggis. Then you have to visit a good haberdashery and buy industrial needle and thread suitable for stomach sewing.
Scalding, scraping and soaking the stomach took 24 hours, before stitching its apertures together to form a food tight bag suitable for boiling haggis in. If 17th century Scotland had been given modern utensils they would have clamped the diced haggis meal inside a reusable tupperware box and microwaved the whole thing at low power for one hour. But no, you have to make your own boil-in-a-bag bag from animal matter: sheep guts.
After two days of endless boiling, chopping, stitching and simmering I’m done, finished; I don’t want to see or eat haggis again. I’ve put mine in the freezer, until the wind changes direction. Until then, I’ve been scarred and battered by this intensely intimate experience  with vital organs, and while the house smell dissipates, I am on a strict diet of cheese sandwiches and no meat ever again.
It’s good to know your limit, and if you believe you are bold and brave, I challenge you to cook haggis from scratch. But whilst you might fancy a march across the Antarctic I don’t believe you’ll cook haggis, because you are too much of a coward. Very sensible.

Some comedy at Asda. 

I like Asda. I like it for it’s honesty, the honest, unpretentious people who shop there and the honest lunches it serves in it’s cafes. So, having test driven my next middle class purchase, an electric car, I cycled my middle class fold-up-bike to the new Asda north of Leicester city centre, stopped and folded it up.

It’s an elegant folding-up process which can attract attention from people who have not seen it before, and a stout lady sat down by the wall inside the Asda lobby was nodding to her stout standing-up friend. These were clearly the honest Asda shoppers you can expect to see in Asda, but you don’t see in Waitrose. Be honest, this is how Britain is. 

You can roll the bike when half folded up


I skipped by, in a jolly, well cycled mood, grinned at the sitting-down one and called out ” yeah, you should get one”. I like to chat, I like to engage and I like to encourage people to cycle. 

The standing up friend swivelled her eyes away from me, and up towards the ceiling while the sitting-down one pressed the forward button on her disability scooter and shot off.

The steak pie was nice. 

Punk, I’ve changed my mind; we need to Brexit

Sometimes in life you get a wake up call, like emerging from a dream or being hard slapped. This is one of them; it’s right, it’s overdue. 

When the news broke, myself, my friends on Facebook and the ones I get alone with on Twitter were fairly unanimous in our fury at the #Brexit result. Well why, and why didn’t we see it coming, we are supposed to be the educated ones. Why did these other voters want out? I spoke with a solicitor before the vote; he was Brexit, people at the golf club, Brexit. If only we could have gotten rid of these people we could have avoided getting the wrong answer. If. 

These people didn’t just believe in Brexit, they were strongly Brexit, and they are not stupid. The ones I spoke to are generally sensible people. What is it that drove them to risk our nation’s economy, what a stupid thing to risk. 

But eventually I came to the question which demands an answer. Why didn’t Brussels ask us if wanted to open our doors to the people of Eastern Europe. Why not? It’s a massive choice, it could change the face of the country for ever. There are other questions like this that we were never asked, but this is the one that hits me. 

Fifteen years ago, I worked in Rolls-Royce, when our man in Brussels came back from there one day, and explained to me, in bewilderment, that Brussels was intending to open Britain’s borders to several European populations. There was going to be a lull before it happened, but it was going to happen. We both rolled our eyes in horror, not because we don’t like Europeans, but because we both felt it wouldn’t wash, and could be a disaster. Given enough head we could become inundated with Eastern Europeans: it was bloody obvious. But they didn’t ask us. If they had, Britain would have said NO. 
The reason they didn’t ask us is that our wishes are an inconvenience to the EU. They didn’t want the obvious answer.

A further question warrants an answer: why did all the educated classes get so cross once the Brexit vote came through. You can point to the economic risk, we might be poorer. But isn’t it that we were quite comfortable with having the good side: the access for our children to work in Europe, our access to possible villas in France, access to cheap Romanian car washers, a boiler fixed. 

How middle class is that? How overly indulged. We were happy to let slip democracy for our own self gratification. Really?

Brussels was never going to stop ignoring us; they could continue throwing us gratifying morsels which they decided were for our own good and we would stay happily silent. However, the great British electorate were not wholly getting or seeing these indulgences and now they have had their say and they have voted for democracy. The big Fuck Off vote of the century. The Punk Rock moment of voting. We deserve what we have got and Brussels deserves what it has lead itself into. They were right, I was wrong, let’s #Brexit for democracy.

I furiously voted Remain but Brexit will be fine, if not irrelevant. 

I’ve had more time think about this than you and have decided Brexit is going to be fine, in fact it’s going to be irrelevant. I actuality, I’m writing this 8 hours ahead of you, from Perth, Western Australia. As the voting results came in, I sat through your night horrified that my country was about to ruin itself by leaving the EU, but I was wrong, it’s not, it will be fine. 

As the result became clear, I could hardly contain myself and wrote angry things on screens and uploaded them. But, let us consider what bothers me, and it’s not the lying, both sides lied and we need to forget that and consider what matters to the country’s future now we Brexit.

There are two things which concern me: economy and immigration. I want the economy to carry on without a great Thatcherite obliteration of fine British people like I experienced 20 years ago trying to bring up a family and pay a mortgage at 14.5% interest rate. Remain voters and Brexit voters both want this. Secondly I want us to have many more immigrants than we have now and to treat them with the utmost dignity, they are after all helping our country with its economic and employment requirements. Both of these things are almost certainly going to happen, and it’s what Remain voters voted for. The fact that many votets thought they would magically dissolve immigrants and we would go back to jolly white old Britain was naive and stupid of them. I think you will find Boris said “control our borders”. He didn’t say shut them to immigrants, what’s your problem, it’s what Remain wanted too. 

We need to be sensitive on the immigration issue as people get confused with what it means. Is it people seeking asylum from persecution, or economic migrants looking for employment or about allowing our own British people to be rude and racist to others of foreign habits? My wife trains French, German and Spanish students to be teachers of modern languages in British schools. I am a professional engineer and know that few British youngsters read engineering at university, and for our engineering industry to continue we need to regularly hire students from Europe and outside Europe. If we stop immigrating young people to do these jobs the jobs will not get done, children will not learn and our industries will falter, our friends from other countries will not have jobs. 

All Remain and many Brexit voters want this, the only issue is that some Brexit voters think they are going to get fewer immigrants. They don’t understand that Britain is an old age pensioner lop sided population. It has too few indigenous young people coming through to fuel the economy which pays for the NHS bills of the very same pensioners who voted for Brexit. We need to sell the idea of allowing immigrants to the voters who think they are going to get fewer, it’s what Remain voters want. The way to sell it to them is to say “yes we are having immigrants, but these ones will be controlled under a new British regulatory system”. You may even suggest that we retain the right to throw out immigrants under these to-be-defined regulations, but need to consider if that deal will attract the sort of immigrants the country wants. In other words immigration will be the same as before the referendum, but immigrants will fill in a new UK form. Remain voters will get what they wanted. 

The second concern is the economy: will there be an economic meltdown with thousands of job losses as a result of business withdrawn. It seems, and it’s early days, that the stock market thinks not. Yes it wobbled but it recovered. This means the detail profit models which are run and scrutinised for each business on the stock mark have concluded that withdrawal from the largest business market in the world is not going to materially change British business prospects. Or in other words being in or out of the EU makes no difference to business. This is surprising, but not completely surprising, business did not suddenly boom when we joined the EU and it’s not going to falter when we leave: we will still sell stuff in or out. If anything you were mistaken into thinking EU membership was any more than emporers clothes. 

So the two main issues carry on as before. What else is there? My friends in Europe being let down and hurt, I’m embarrassed? Simple: good friends don’t ask for money and your pride will heal. 

Like I say, business as usual, nothing significant has happened other you realising it isn’t materially going to change anything. 


Indian Ocean waves at dusk. 

Malaysian food is complexly better than French

Responding to her single glance at my plate, as I sat down beside her, she tutted through Chinese teeth: “Western food, hotel food”. She didn’t mind, it’s what she expected of me, but what troubled me was that I knew better. Asian food is better. Lunch of Western lettuce, tomato, cucumber, however well put together, are no match in Asia and most specifically the advanced and complex flavours of Malaysian food. I learned this last time in KL; when I tweeted:

“The French think they have the best food, because they have never tried Malaysian”.

It’s true, but no one in the West will believe you; they read Western stories.

Wanting to repair credibility in front of my Asian class, I quickly went for my next choice from the buffet: sushi with chopsticks. I am quite proud of my chopstick skills, as I had unusual parents who took me and my siblings to Chinese restaurants in 1970s Edinburgh whilst other Scottish families were resolutely sticking to neeps and tatties. Their quest, to broaden my education beyond the brewery swilling norm, paid off. The Indonesian across the table was impressed; “skilful” he acknowledged. I had saved face and the credibility of all Westerners. Be grateful; I can chopstick with Sushi.

A few days later, I was explaining, on Facebook, that French food is no match for the best Asian food; where it has subtle grace, Malaysian food has advanced sophistication. Malaysian history helps its food: it has an immense coast line positioned between India in the West and Japan in the East. The travelers and immigrants have left their influence on the cuisine, but Malaysians have improved them: curries are better, peanuts have been included, fish is frequent.

My new Facebook friend, Madame Marianne, is shocked. She is, by and large French, and brought up with the knowledge that French is best and I dedicate this blog to her. This breakfast is for you Marianne.

What another bloody blog about a breakfast? Food blogs overflow, but this debate has wider implications. Persuade the French that their food is not at the top and they will be stopped in their tracks; European influence will falter.

I shall not attempt to describe ingredients or flavours, but simply present the story in pictures. French breakfasts are based around flour and look a bit like this:

IMG_2982

IMG_2983

Frenchy cheeses

Frenchy cheeses

Jams

Jams (Malaysian style)

Malaysian meals are typically a succession of small portions of different foods taken from the buffet. I chose six little courses starting gently building to the spicy crescendo, then descending back into a fruit calm, as below:

Usual with Guava & Dragon fruit, (yogurt with strawberry puree on side)

Usual with Guava & Dragon fruit, (yogurt with strawberry puree on side)

Roti_Chani

Roti Chani

Stir fried mixed vegetables with Mee Mamak

Stir fried mixed vegetables with Mee Mamak

Melon and fruit cocktail drink

Melon and fruit cocktail drink

I ask you simply: which looks like it has more depth, variety, excitement, subtlety and flavour. The answer is complexly obvious: Malaysian Asian.

There’s language in the air

Everything is bountiful in South East Asia; food, beauty, language. They are all bewitching, but its the language which entwines them: English. The wonderful thing is, there are no English here, they packed their bags and left long ago. It’s just that, somehow, their language slipped out of their handbag on final embarkation. Like a lost boy, it’s still here, floating, drifting looking for its master, but it has none. An orphan whose lost it’s parent, but knowing that, it’s decided to survive, change, thrive, adapt, forge, live, It links the Malay, Chinese, Indonesians, Thai, Indians, Philippinoes, and in the resorts, Russians, Arabs, Australians, and, OK, me a lone Brit.

I wonder if it gives us hope. This week in Malaysia, I’ve again felt the tension between the races. There’s the Malay, the Chinese Malaysians, the Indians, the indigenous people (I had thought this was the Malay, but Wikipedia separates the Malaysian Indigenous people differently). They combine to make a country, but they rival and mistrust each other, to a degree.

I could tell you some of there differences and gripes, but I would paint a pastiche of the depths and complexity of their relationships. Like all inter tribal rivalries, it is based on historical stories, and these stories are adapted to suit the side of the story teller.

A while ago I was in Southern Ireland, and I heard the same thing sung in the bars of Kerry. Stories with emphasis on persecution, deprivation and extortion at the hands of an adjacent tribe. We could keep living that past, it has a safety to it, or we could look to the future and muddle a way through where we don’t trash each other, or this place we live. To do that we need common understanding, common language and that language, at least for now, is English. Let’s hope so.

You are free to adapt any words here to suit your needs, and the needs of your listeners.

Tropical vine tree

Jungly tropical vine tree