I've been celebrating by spending the summer doing a lot of the kind of essential, soul-satisfying cookery that I didn't have time for during the academic year. I've put up plum and peach preserves, thanks to the bounty of my neighbors' gardens; I've been baking bread and cakes, making pesto and hummus, stuffing grape leaves and zucchini (more about the latter in another post); I've revisited old favorite dishes and tried new recipes for the first time in many months. In short, I am rediscovering the pleasures of the kitchen after a year of dully repetitive subsistence cooking, those endless parades of kale-and-quinoa salads and turkey sandwiches and quick pastas, Sunday soups made to stretch through a week's meals, tasty and nourishing but wholly unimaginative.
Another great summer joy is the theater festival where I've had the privilege of working as a dramaturg for the past four seasons. The stage is outdoors in a stunning natural setting, a glen of redwood trees, and there is nothing better than settling into the "groundlings" seats with a picnic and a bottle of wine and the best view in the house, and enjoying some good theater. Last night was the opening of The Scottish Play, or -- as those of us call it who don't believe in curses -- Shakespeare's Macbeth. Since I was putting together together a picnic dinner for myself and a few friends, I decided to take the setting of the play as a cue for a Scotland-inspired menu.
I went to Scotland two years ago. A dear college friend lives in Edinburgh, and she and her family were kind enough to host me for a few days when I was coming to the UK on a research trip. I had no other connection to the place, no Scottish ancestry or relations, but I have rarely fallen in love with a new country as hard and fast as I fell for Scotland. The night I arrived, in a blustery September storm, S. met me at the station and took me straight to a weekly dance and folk music gathering at her friends' flat. There, with a sweeping view of the city from a spacious wood-paneled room lined with antique instruments and lit only by candles, a woman played the harp and sang in Gaelic, and I was transported.
The next day we did some tourism around the city and stumbled into a farmers' market under the looming shadow of Edinburgh Castle.
|Wee venison pies!|
|Beautiful cheeses and luscious golden-yellow Jersey butter.|
|Screamingly fresh seafood, and gorgeous chanterelles at the far left. Next time I go to Scotland I'll make sure I have a kitchen to cook in so I can take full advantage of all this goodness.|
There was no end of beautiful fresh produce and locally made artisanal goods (cured, pickled, smoked, etc). And the cheeses! And the late-summer berries and damson plums. And stunning breads and baked goods. Having made no other plans for lunch, we gathered up some goodies for a picnic.
|From left to right: raspberries; red currants; strawberries; a hard cheese (cheddar?); venison sausage; cold-smoked venison; meat pies; fresh cheeses (caboc and crowdie); oatcakes; pickles; cherry tomatoes; bread and butter.|
The food was straightforward and delicious. The berries were perfect, and the red currants in particular were a nostalgic treat; I used to love to eat them as a kid during summers spent with family in France, but they aren't widely available in the US. The bread was the platonic ideal of a rustic oat-studded loaf, the butter splendid, the venison good and gamey. The real revelation, though, was the cheese. Oh, the cheese. I still dream about that caboc, which is a preposterously rich fresh double-cream cheese rolled in steel-cut oats. I don't think it can be found outside of Scotland, and apparently the recipe is proprietary to the company that makes it, so I haven't been able to find a recipe for it online (you can, however, find lots of recipes for crowdie, which is a simple fromage blanc style curd).
In fact, I thought about making my own crowdie for the Macbeth picnic yesterday, but didn't have the time. Plus I was going more for the spirit of the Edinburgh picnic than an exact reproduction, and so happily took advantage of my own bountiful farmers' markets to put together a similar spread. There's a local dairy that makes a splendid fresh sheep's-milk cheese, and that, along with some good cultured butter and a hunk of creamy havarti, made up our little cheese plate. I was lucky enough to get my hands on some actual made-in-Scotland oatcakes, and rounded out our feast of snacks with smoked salmon, shelling peas, radishes, and hardboiled eggs. The only things I actually made from scratch were salad and bread.
|Kale salad with apples and hazelnuts.|
The bread was an experiment, and I'm pleased with its success. I used my go-to bread recipe, which is absolutely foolproof and consistently produces beautiful results. But instead of using all white flour, I blended 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour with 1 cup whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup Scottish oatmeal (which I think is ground slightly finer than most steel-cut oats in the US). I added a little more water than usual for the oats to absorb, and let it rise for about 20 hours, then baked as usual. The result was a flavorful loaf with a crackling crust and a fine open crumb. It went into the picnic basket still warm, the ultimate comfort food for a cool and breezy evening.
|Homemade wheat-oat bread with butter.|