gallery, cafe & apartment

Archive for the category “food”

Soup, and other institutions

Well, there hasn’t been a post on the blog for a while.  I’ve been working on some format changes to make the entry page more of a web portal for the business, leading off to the blog and the gallery, but these aren’t quite ready.  There’s also been the daily posts on our Facebook page, and we also now have a Twitter feed, under Claire’s control, so there’s plenty to keep you up to date!

The other morning I was making cock a leekie soup over in the gallery kitchen.  For the uninitiated it’s a quintessentially Scottish soup made with chicken and leeks.  Traditionally it would have been an old fowl put in the pot and boiled, and then the meat removed and served as a separate dish to make it go further – not so much ‘canny Scots’ as subsistence farmers making the most of what little they had.  Many recipes include rice: I used pearl barley as it seemed more authentic, but it got me thinking as to why you would have rice in a Scottish soup.


Quintessential Scotland: it only needs a tartan-clad piper and some shortbread and all the stereotype boxes will be ticked.  And I’ll be run out of town…

Rice is the most important grain grown as a human food source. [More maize is grown, but more of this is used as animal feed, so calorific value is lost.  Look up trophic levels to see why it’s really a bad idea to eat animals even if they taste nice…] It was probably cultivated somewhere around 10,000 years ago in southern China and was known in Europe in the classical world.  Large amounts of rice have been found in Roman camps in Germany dating from the first century AD, but the exact spread throughout Europe seems unclear, and it probably happened more than once, and from different directions.  The Moorish expansion seems to have brought rice-growing to the Iberian peninsula in the 10th century.  It’s production was encouraged in 15th century Italy, from which it is a short step to southern France.  Given the nature of the Auld Alliance [1295 – 1560] it’s not too fanciful to envisage direct trade in rice from France to Scotland, especially given that at least one source claims that cock a leekie soup itself originates in France from chicken and onion soup, crossings over around the 16th century…

So, our quintessentially Scottish soup may be distinctly European, a material memory of historic links and broad-based identities.  No prizes for guessing where this is going.  The major event of the week north of the border [the only  border with the definitive article] has been the publication of the White Paper on Scottish Independence – you may have noticed it elsewhere, wherever you live.  We have the curious situation of having on the one hand a devolved government formed by a party with a clear majority and mandate that clearly stands for, indeed it’s reason for existing is, an independent Scotland, and on the other a population that on present polling rejects that vision, yet would still probably return the same government regardless as its other policies seem to better fit the national belief and self-image.  This in a system that was designed to prevent a clear majority and force coalition governments.

From here the ‘yes’ camp’s best recruiting sergeant seems to be every utterance of the Westminster Government on the issue which are based on negativity and apparent bullying, ‘you couldn’t do this, you can’t do that, we’ll take our ball away and go home’, ignoring both that  this reinforces the stereotypes that play to nationalism, and there is every chance that those issuing such proclamations wouldn’t be in power at the time if Scotland became independent.  There are still more that enough ‘don’t knows’ for arguments and referendums to be won and lost and the national conversation up here in the next year will be interesting to follow, especially if wavy Davy continues to pull U turns every day to desperately try to please a party with more wings than a Chernobyl chicken.

So, this St Andrew’s* day who knows, in five years time those in the ‘home counties’ wanting a weekend in Europe may be going for a jaunt across Hadrian’s wall to seek [Scottish] enlightenment…

Currently listening to: Vagrant stanzas – Martin Simpson.

*He’s Patron Saint of rather a lot of places, including Russia…


Let them eat cake[s]

So, a wee while back I promised a few foodie photos of things from the OldByreSkye gallery cafe, and here they are.  All sweet things at the moment – I’m working on how to make a bowl of soup look special in a photograph…


Bakewell tart and price tag in the refrigerated cabinet. Cheap at the price…


Cranachan cheesecake, the house speciality. Looking very yellow from the very free-range eggs, and very pink from the luscious raspberries!

chocolate fudgesml

Bitter chocolate fudge cake, with flake on top as a little light relief. [And no, the cake isn’t available with WiFi…]

coffee cakesml

Finally, a rather glossy looking coffee and walnut cake just oozing with coffee glace icing. And lots of walnuts.

If it’s making you feel hungry, you know where we are, so come on down.  But wait until 14:00 tomorrow, as we only do half day on Saturday.  Turn-over day and all that.  Now, an apple turn-over – there’s an idea…

Currently listening to: When the Circus comes to Town – Bert Jansch.

Went the day well?

So it happened.  After all the waiting we are open.  We went with a quiet opening – we are new to the cafe business, so are feeling our way into it but it was good to see friends and neighbours dropping in not least because we want to be there for the community as well as tourists, and we did get drive-by custom as well.

Here’s how we looked before opening – still room for a few more pictures maybe, but not too cluttered for the cafe atmosphere.


The OldByreSkye on the wall was a freebie from the VitalSigns who made the roadside signs.  Apparently they printed out the wording the wrong size (too large), so when we collected the signs they owned up and gave us the extra lettering for free. They were able to reuse the blue and green underscores, but even so it looks rather smart.  Nice one guys!  [It basically works like giant Letraset: and I’m old enough to have used plenty of that…]


Tomorrow I’ll try to get some foodie shots: but if you’re in the area why not drop in and see for yourself?  Same menu as today.  Wednesday is our day off and then a new menu for Thursday and Friday.

Currently listening to: Pour Down Like Silver – Richard and Linda Thompson.  And yes, we do have PRS and PPL licences for the gallery/cafe [and the hole in our bank balance to prove it…], so you can legitimately listen to anything we play.  Or say “What’s that racket” and put your fingers in your ears…

T minus 12 hours and counting. Do you copy Houston?

A very quick post to confirm that we open the OldByreSkye gallery and cafe tomorrow, 23 September at 11:00.

Here’s what will be available.  There’s slow-cooked pork belly in BBQ sauce in a honey and mustard roll; smoked salmon with dill mayo and home-baked bread; a Scottish cheese board and white bean and sweet potato soup. Plus a selection of sweet things, including our cranachan cheesecake, and a range of coffees and teas. And, of course, lots of photographs to look at [and buy!].

There will be photos of it all tomorrow!

Currently listening to: my brain in overdrive…

Opening soon – honest!

This time it’s for real.  We’re opening on 23 September.  Yes, I know the season will have more-or-less finished, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles [and our cookies are nice and crumbly – very good with a mug of coffee!].

As those of you who follow us on Facebook will know, the Building Inspector visited on Tuesday and signed off the gallery/cafe as meeting requirements and in accordance with the plans.  Subsequently, the issues we had with non-functional water heaters have been resolved – a blown thermal protection fuse in one [apparently common in new units for some reason] and a replacement heater in the other].  So the way ahead is clear, at last!


Round the clock with the gallery…

The composite image above gives a brief summary of the journey from from garage to gallery.  We start, clockwise [10 o’clock – which is also about the time it was taken…], with a typical Skye single-skin block built garage with a corrugated asbestos roof [these don’t have loose fibres and are safe if you don’t cut them, but not desirable, and you couldn’t build them now], in the final stages of being cleared.  Already gone is the lightweight storage over the [non-structural] beams, that have also We move onto the hollowed out structure just after the roof was fitted (but just the sarking and waterproof membrane), and with the doors for the toilet and store cut out of the back wall, and the side window cut away to give the kitchen doorway.  The kitchen extension has been built and the rear is being formed. In the third image the plasterboard has just been put up, so the building work is not far off finished, with the insulation in the floor and walls, the metal roofing on, the doors and velux windows fitted, and electrical cables sticking out of holes in the walls.  Finally, a picture taken this afternoon.You can see the floor covering is down, the lights hanging from the beams, doors in place, walls painted, tables and chairs and the first pictures on the walls.


Oh, look – it’s a gallery, with pictures and everything!

Looking the other way you can see that pictures are starting to appear on the walls [lots more to come!] even though there is still some rubbish to be cleared – and no , not the pictures!

So the 23rd it is then – be there, or be a rhombic dodecahedron, as I always say…  [And lets see the WordPress spellchecker get it’s decidedly limited dictionary around that one!]

Currently listening to: Ommadawn – Mike Oldfield.  Re-living my teens with a job-lot of Mr O’s earlier works.  Not entirely sure about the re-mastering though.  He’s done something very odd to the brass band on part one…

All you can eat [almost]

Let’s talk food.  Any why not, considering that we are about to open a cafe? [And I haven’t talked about much else this month as the gallery/cafe inches towards opening].

We’ve been quite consistent as to our culinary vision, even before we moved to Skye.   A meat, a seafood, and a vegetarian option, plus soup, cakes, and a choice of teas and coffees.  Whether this will be sustainable in our small cafe only time will tell, but at least it should be a menu we can cope with.  Beyond this, the meat option is broadly ‘hot meat rolls’, although in practice this will mean hot meat with something bread based, so it could be a lamb dosa, hot salt beef on rye, or slow roast pork belly in BBQ sauce on a roll.  Likewise with the seafood and veggie options, there is likely to be a baked component.

Cranachan cheesecake

Cranachan cheesecake with raspberry whisky sauce – heart attack on a plate, plus one of your five-a-day, and extra fibre!

This week I’ve experimented with cranachan cheesecake©.  For those not familiar with cranachan, it’s a traditional Scottish desert made with whipped cream, toasted oatmeal, raspberries, honey and whisky.  As such it seems perfect to adapt to a baked cheesecake.  And so it has proved, especially with crowdie , the traditional highland soft cheese made with skimmed milk, substituting for some of the cream cheese, helping to add tartness to work against the honey [and slightly reduce the fat content!].  It baked really well, although it needed a more strongly flavoured whisky as it’s not very obvious despite the amount that was put in!  I used the left-over raspberries  to make a tart raspberry whisky sauce to accompany the cheesecake – you can definitely taste the whisky in that!  Definitely a premium product.  I need to find a cheaper source of cream cheese  than Portree Co-Op though, where Philadelphia costs as much as  the organic crowdie at Connage dairy…

The other cheesy experiment was shortbread.  It was going to be Parmesan Shortbread, but a visit to the cheese-box yielded Pecorino Romano instead.  If I’m honest, I prefer pecorino, the salty, ewe’s milk cheese that, according to Elizabeth David, was the preference of the rural peasantry in Italy [probably because they kept sheep rather than water buffalo…].  Mind you, she was writing in 1954,  so anything could have happened by now, not least not describing people as peasants, although I’m more than happy to have my tastes so described.  [As an aside, my copy of Elizabeth David’s classic Italian Food, which was a gift some years ago, is illustrated with medieval paintings which have little relevance to the recipes but certainly add to the beauty, and cost, of the book…].  Another success according to feedback, and one that will definitely translate to the cafe menu.  Given the saltiness of the pecorino the flaked sea salt sprinkled on top to decorate was probably unnecessary – maybe cracked black pepper next time.

All of which is making me hungry…

Currently listening to: Stormcock – Roy Harper.  [A stormcock is a Mistle Thrush.  Roy Harper may, or may not, be the loony on the bus…]

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