gallery, cafe & apartment

Archive for the tag “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…


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…

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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