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My green-fingered cousin sent me some rhubarb in the mail. When I saw her last week in Edinburgh, she offered to pop some of her bumper crop in the post for me but I didn’t quite believe she would do it. Next thing I knew, a large brown paper envelope was plopping through the door, filled with healthy stalks of rhubarb. I’m a big fan of this maligned fruit, in large measure because of the spectacular rhubarb pies my grandmother used to make. My nana was a great baker and her pastry was short, buttery, but not sweet. It was a great match for rhubarb, which she sweetened with mildly horrifying handfuls of sugar. The resulting pie set me up for a lifetime of rhubarb love but it’s not an everyday dish.

I’ve done a rhubarb compote before on the blog, but this is a neat technique that Lemur friend K shared, which he got (in some fashion lost in the midst of time) from iconic cookbook editor and writer Judith Jones. Here, the rhubarb pieces don’t break down but keep their shape and colour, while their liquid turns into a delicious ruby syrup. It’s very simple, but I had never done it this way before and it really is a cut above your regular compote.

Rhubarb compote

Start the day before you want to eat your compote. Slice the rhubarb into inch long chunks, put in a large bowl and sprinkle on as much sugar as you usually like (hint, more than seems initially reasonable, less than a Scottish grandmother would add).

Leave to sit overnight. The next morning, you’ll find the rhubarb has released a bunch of liquid.

Pour the whole lot into a pan and heat over a medium-high heat till boiling. Turn the heat down to medium and cook the rhubarb for about five minutes. If you are relatively gentle you’ll find the rhubarb keeps its shape and doesn’t break down as in a normal compote. It will also cook very quickly.

Remove the rhubarb carefully with a spider and reduce the remaining liquid to a thick pink-red syrup.

Pour the syrup over the rhubarb and enjoy with yoghurt and granola for breakfast, or with cake or on ice cream.

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Mama Lemur had a significant birthday recently and, in a surprise celebration, we went to Tom Kitchin’s highly-regarded Edinburgh restaurant The Kitchin. It was a lovely evening with great food in glamorous surroundings, and Tom even came out to talk to my mum and wish her a happy birthday. It was also incredibly good value for such high-end cooking, further proof of my not-very-original thesis that eating out is at its best at either the very low or very high price points, with the mid-range restaurants often giving the worst value for money. Here, the emphasis on Scottish seafood and meat made for some top quality plates, though there was nothing vegetarian on the entire menu as far as I could see, which is really not on in this day and age. In this case, though, I was planning on ordering a seafood-heavy meal to take full advantage of being in Scotland. Read the rest of this entry »

I was part of a fascinating conversation on Facebook recently, in which an American Jewish friend made a disparaging comment about gefilte fish. Lots of other Americans piled on with the disgust toward these unappetising jarred fish balls floating in gloopy liquid. One person even revealed a childhood with canned gefilte fish, even more questionable than the giant jars. But something funny happened in this thread – both of the British Jews who responded had very different memories of gefilte fish; positive memories of a tasty dish, much looked forward to on special occasions. I have always loved these light fish balls, and during the period that I lived abroad, it went without saying that when I came home for a visit, my mum would cook me gefilte fish as a welcome home treat. I don’t know if there is a transatlantic difference here (obviously it was a pretty small sample and I’ve already encountered one American friend who actually likes the stuff in the jar) but the discussion prompted me to look out our family gefilte fish recipe for Passover. Read the rest of this entry »

My year of travelling continues, this time closer to home with a long weekend in Glasgow. I was there both for work and to see family and old friends, so I didn’t have a huge amount of time for culinary planning. (Please feel free to translate this as ‘I didn’t do anything in my spare time except drink terrifying quantities of gin’.) Luckily, I know the city well and even on autopilot can steer myself toward deliciousness. Glasgow is a pretty good food city, especially in the West End where I was based. There’s a strong emphasis on new Scottish cuisine, in which traditional dishes are reimagined and local ingredients blended with the flavours of the city’s South and East Asian immigrant cuisines. You can have amazing local seafood, game, and vegetables here but we never forget the importance of a good curry. As my friend D says, the nan bread up here is giant and pillowy. I did have a proper old-school Glasgow curry but, unsurprisingly, I was far too drunk to photograph it, so you’ll have to take my word on that one. After the jump, a walk through some of the highlights both Scottish and cosmopolitan.

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Haggis Dumplings (photo Lydia Nagai)

I came across this article about Burns night crossed with Chinese New Year in Vancouver and couldn’t resist. Apparently, Chinese-Canadian Todd Wong founded Gung Haggis Fat Choy to bring together  the two major ethnic groups who emigrated to British Columbia: the Scots and the Chinese:

Wong, or “Toddish McWong” as he is known in the Scottish community, invented a new holiday by combining the Chinese New Year with Robbie Burns Day, the holiday that celebrates the birthday of Scotland’s most famous poet. The two holidays fall close together in the calendar year, making it convenient to combine the celebrations, notes Wong, a fifth generation Chinese-Canadian. On Jan. 31, Vancouver’s Chinatown will host the 12th annual Gung Haggis Fat Choy festival where deep-fried haggis won ton will be served alongside single malt whiskey.

Scottish people and Chinese people…eating innards together. Could there be a more splendid version of multiculturalism in action?

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