For breakfast that morning we, along with a small ensemble of neighbours, assembled outside of the local magistrates court to await the news on a retired gentleman farmer who lives less than a mile from our property on the west coast of Scotland. At the back of eleven he emerged on the steps of the courthouse to be welcomed by a loud cheer and rapturous applause. He nodded briefly, grunted, then disappeared in the direction of our local bar.

Of course, we followed.

In December of last year, two days short of Hogmanay, our retired gentleman farmer friend was awoken by the sound of splintering wood coming from the area of his storage barn. He dressed, fetched his trusty side-by-side and went to investigate the noise that had awoken him from his slumber. Throwing open his barn door he was confronted by two Lithuanian travellers. One was happily defecating amongst our friends animal feeds, while the other was busy filling sacks of sugar beets and turnips as fast as his grubby little hands could muster. To ensure that he had their full attention, our gentleman friend fired one barrel into the night sky and made ready to let go the other in the general direction of his visitors. He shouted to his wife, who then rang his son. By the time his son had arrived, somewhat worst for wear after an evenings entertainment, his father had managed to corral Mr Turnip and Mr Shite into a milking pen. Mr Shite was minus his trews, while Mr Turnip was rather unhappily holding his stomach as he squatted on the ground surrounded by the remains of rotting veg.

Our retired gentleman farmer is nearly eighty years of age. He served his country well and was once a recognised face in Glasgow. He doesn't believe in involving the polis, neither does he welcome people of a certain ilk on his property. He is old school. He merely put into play (single handed) a wee bit of Glasgow justice to those who think they can ride roughshod over innocents who choose to live quiet and respectful lives within our community. He left Mr Shite to freeze his Lithuanian knackers off, while Mr Turnip was made to eat the rotting veg that is used to feed livestock. Fortunately, our gentleman friend's wife also called the polis as well as her son. After more than an hour, not to mention a lot of laughter on their part, a fair amount of consumed rotten veg and a small, shrivelled pair of jingle balls. The polis took away the trespassing Lithuanian duo, a sample of manky veg, two fecal stained grain sacks and our retired friend. The shotgun, mysteriously, had conveniently been misplaced in the ensuing stramash prior to the polis arrival. Our man was later summoned to appear before the honorary magistrates on the charges of false imprisonment, intimidation, possible cruelty and failing to register a shotgun (never found) on his property.

Strangely enough, the case against a member of our community was thrown out of court due to the non appearance of two key witnesses. The verdict was 'not proven'. No witnesses for the prosecution, no case against the accused, case dismissed. Joking aside, it could easily have been a tragic case had Mr Turnip and Mr Shite chosen the option to overpower our retired friend. Luckily, for them, they were thoroughly humiliated instead and given a sample of Scottish justice, Glaswegian style. I had to smile when he informed me that the drinks that he had just purchased for his supporters, were funded by the sale of the body and engine parts he had dismantled from their rather shiny getaway car that had been hidden behind his barn.

We are getting kind of fond of the oul fella, although his scowl would indicate otherwise.

Lowland Turnip Broth

3 green onion bulbs, minced
3 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons olive oil
Crushed sea salt
1/2 cup white wine
6 cups vegetable stock
1/2 cup long-grain white basmati rice
Black pepper
3-4 medium turnips, cut into small bite-size cubes
3 small branches fresh rosemary – 2 whole and 1 chopped
Grated parmesan cheese

Add the olive oil to a heavy stockpot and warm over medium heat. Sauté the onion and garlic until slightly brown, about 5 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Pour in the wine and stock, and bring to a simmer.
Add the rice, and simmer for 10 minutes over medium-low. Add the turnips and two whole rosemary branches. Cook about 15 more minutes, stirring occasionally.
Season with more salt, if necessary. Discard the rosemary branches, and serve the soup into bowls. Top with grated parmesan, fresh-ground black pepper, and chopped rosemary. Lock the doors of your outbuildings, sit and enjoy.


Coming Out

For breakfast this morning we once again awoke to find our currently lingering house guest snoring loudly on the bathroom floor. Like the staccato bark of gunfire, as it followed the traitorous black and tans as they ran away from the Fianna guns, he chirruped his hoarse nocturnal cough of an alcoholic evening into my tastefully tiled Porcelanosa floor. Floating in a languid pool of what can only be described as a potent mixture of both Indian madras and his own warm tepid pish, he reminded me of an earlier time. Be that as may, my loyalty to him still resisted all attempts to waver. He was there when I decided to pop my cherry and finally come out... I like to cook, there, now the world knows my worst kept secret. Sadly, I received not a single comment (at this point in the current post I reserve the right to manipulate the truth on this subject, because I can!) from the last post suggesting a mode of transport for the wee man himself. Personally I take this as a direct sign from his Ghod that the little singing fella was born to walk. Who am I to intervene with the divine? Instead, we gave him a small gift to provide him with something even closer to his heart. Aye, shoe lifts and a dozen bottles of something warm and gold. Some leopards very rarely change their spots. At least he remembered to keep the receipt for the tax man.

At some point over the next few weeks before we finally say cheerio to the auld ways, I plan to sit down with the Map fella to pen a more intimate post about many unanswered questions. No time like the present for a wee snifter though, eh? I was toying with a few brief lines and a simple farewell to redemption, but then I havered on the edge and transcribed a rough manuscript that would choke a small donkey. No connection to any short singers in Limerick intended. In the end I shall keep my latest thoughts in the image of masel and my pal. Relatively easy going, if not a tad simple. For this first flinty wee increment I have changed no names, dates or places to benefit those who wish not to appear in person. No, I have merely chosen not to include any relevant information in the first place. There may be a wee smidgen of dust about on my kitchen counters that has gathered in the last few weeks, but the knives in the drawer are still nicely honed and sharp.

Complicity is a mask that eventually distorts your face. I've turned left a few times when I should have turned right, but I've never been a man that took anything from anyone that didn't deserve to lose it. As a misguided youth, I believed in taking only from the criminally rich, who had extorted it, usually through violence, from the innocent hard working man, and then repatriating it back to those who deserved a leg up back in the day. Yes, I do mean me. There are many men who once purchased anything that they wanted with their wealth, but sadly, could never afford the high cost of looking a working class man full in the face. They paid my wages until I discovered the love of a good woman. Many healing experts, divination magicians, shaman, catholic human spirit restorers, not to mention religious sorcerers, do-gooders and other devout black crows straight out of the seminary in Rome have attempted to relieve me of my blackened soul by beating the divil from within me. The truth is, I need to keep the pain of my deeds inside of me to remind me why the smell of freshly shovelled earth, honestly toiled, always smells better than the cloying stench of piles of 'acquired' bank notes. They say there are no atheists in foxholes, but that is pure shite, I have shovelled my share of earth on more than just a few.

The old adage is true, behind every successful man is a strong woman. I found mine at the age of eight when herself ridiculed me as I reached out my hand for her brothers lunch money. Hell hath no fury like a belle fae Belfast! I have never loved another woman like it since. The lady herself educated me to the fact that there is no greater taste than that savoured on a Friday night after a hard week amongst those who earned it honestly. The joy of books and culture followed and was soon to be my secret passion, just behind a rather nice peaty forty year old single malt.With that said, the weight of guilt is sometimes far out-weighed by the feel of a large, heavy sports bag full of illicit cash nicely tucked away from a certain adventure in the 1980's. Eventually I found that breaking hearts and hard reputations exceeded the daily grind of breaking bones. Over the last 35 years I have unfortunately suffered the pain of both gunshot and blade. The blood on my own hands often made it increasingly difficult to clean up my past. No greater pain ever befell me more than seeing the hurt lines etched on my good lady's face as I occasionally meandered from my own genuine path of redemption during the final years of my youth. I was never one to heed advice from those riding in Mercedes, when in realty they were more suited to riding the all night bus.

Between us we have raised our children to be both moral and correct. Bad seeds do not always grow to be bad crops. They have escaped the curse of a net, snare, or any other thing that entrapped and entangled simply by being shown the values of not disappointing their father who himself set such poor standards. No infernos or fiery lakes will consume them, nor will they turn to pillars of salt or have their eyes plucked out by Ghod's ravenous ravens sent from the kingdom of heaven. Thankfully they will never have to tap keys to signal the end of a redemption period, nor will they have to bear the burden of bursting into flames when they pass a nun in the street. Hallelujah, eh? It's not always been easy to inculcate into them that what is for them will not go by them, especially as life in your twenties is easier to enjoy with a few notes tucked into your pocket. Life is never going to be a bowl of cherries, that much we can all be sure. It is only when you look back on a life half lived that you realise that redemption, like guilt, is merely a quicksand to the feet for those who spent a happy childhood without shoes.

Chefs Cherry Pie & Cream

For the Cream:
250ml single cream
1 tablespoon caster sugar
The noyau from the centre of two dozen or so cherry stones (see below)

For the pastry:
340g plain flour or "00" type flour from Italy is nice
A pinch of salt
A smidgen of caster sugar
170g very cold unsalted butter cut into 1cm cubes
100ml ice water
egg, lightly whisked with a splash of milk for brushing

For the filling:
500g stoned sour cherries (stones reserved)
150g caster sugar
2 Tbsp corn or potato flour
A pinch of sea salt
1 tsp kirsch (optional)
The noyau from the centre of a dozen cherry stones

For the Chef:
At least a good bottle of malt, poured naked into the glass, absolutely no ice or additives, unless you are born outside of wedlock or outside of Glasgow.

Butter a 9" pie plate and set aside.
Begin by getting your beautiful sour cherries from a friend or supplier you have found on the west coast of Scotland, taking them home, and quickly pitting or stoning them as they have a very short shelf life. The little hand-held contraptions I prefer, are the German-made cast aluminium ones with a coating that keeps the metal from reacting. They are sturdy and easy to use. Once you have stoned all of the cherries, you can freeze the fruit or use it right away. If you are lucky enough to have a glut of them, use what you need to make a pie, and freeze the rest.

Lay the cherry stones on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place them in a 180°C oven for a few minutes to just dry them out. The main purpose of this is so that your hammer or mallet doesn't slip while you are pounding them open. Place the dried stones in a neat row three inches from the edge of a tea towel. Fold the 3" length down over the stones and use a hammer or mallet to give each stone a swift blow. If you have ever mastered the art of swinging a lead pipe in a dark alley, then you will find your skill will finally come in handy once again. Find a rhythm and get cracking. When you have finished, lift the cloth back and carefully select the noyau from the crushed shells. Set about 12 aside for the pie. Take about 24 of them and place in a bowl. Add a tablespoon of fine sugar and crush them up a bit with the back of a spoon. Pour the single cream over this and cover and chill for at least 6 hours. Take the time to enjoy yet another half bottle of the gold.

Now, after your wee nap, make your pastry. Place the flour, salt, sugar and butter cubes into a mixing bowl with the paddle attachment and knock it around for a few minutes to break up the butter. A pie pastry should be shorter than the pastry for a galette, so the butter can be mixed in until it resembles a coarse meal. While the mixer is on, drizzle in the cold water and immediately turn it off when the pastry starts to come together into a ball. You must move quickly at this point, as though the polis are urgently chapping your door. Gather the dough together and then divide it into two. Wrap each ball in cling film and them chill for at least 30 minutes. Meanwhile you can make your cherry filling. Combine all of your ingredients except the noyau and let this sit for a couple of minutes to leech out all the juice from the cherries. Finely chop the noyau.

Preheat your oven to 200° C. The pastry should be ready to roll, so lightly flour a surface and roll to about two - two-and-a-half millimetres thick. Line the pie pan, sprinkle with your chopped noyau, and pour in the filling. Set this in the fridge to chill while you roll out the top half of the pastry. Roll out as above, but using a paring knife, cut one-and-a-half centimetre wide strips. Pull the pie out of the fridge, and arrange in a lattice. Brush with the egg wash, and place in the oven. Bake for about an hour, or until the pastry is golden and the filling is thickly bubbling up through the lattice.
To serve, strain the cream into a jug and pour over hot slices of pie. I always serve mine with a bottle of something fruity and red and most definitely with good friends.


The Little Singing Fella

For breakfast this morning I had the little singing fella firmly on my mind. "An unusual choice of topic around food, Jimmy" you might well be thinking. Aye, you would be right. Thinking back, I suppose it was akin to watching a bucket of pigs being liquidised in glorious Technicolor while sitting down to lunch with the family priest. The piggy's being slightly easier to stomach than the wee man and his gravy moustache, I assure you.

I digress...

As you may or may not be aware, our wee pal had to cut short his midweek tryst to Galway City with his good lady, due to a vehicular meltdown 60 kms away fae the camp site of which he frequents often. Now wee Mháirtín is a kindly oul sowl, a hard working man from good breeding stock, the six fingers on each hand merely emphasis just what a friendly family he is originally fae. He deserves a break away fae all his woes on occasion. He was crestfallen the other night in O'Malleys, so much so he accidentally forgot to slip off his stool and head for the toilet when it was his round. To cheer up the little fella I have decided to put my hand in my pocket and treat him to a new mode of transport. The only dilemma I have is although he is closer to me than some of my brothers, I haven't a wee scoobie as to what sort of transportation I am to buy him.

Ideas please, tell me, what in your opinion would suit him best, keeping in mind his many, many annoying faults and drunken wee ways. The winner will get to meet him in person and hand over the keys. On second thoughts, a better prize would probably be the bucket of liquidised piggy's!

No fancy recipes this time around, for some reason I haven't felt right since breakfast. Instead, a working mans lunch for the ladies to supply to their men this very day.

Worky Mans Grub

Pickled onion
Boiled egg
Pork Pie
Slab of cheddar
Huge dod of bread

Throw the lot in greaseproof paper, sling it in a brown paper bag, leave it on the kitchen table before you go to your beds at night. Job done, on with the daytime soaps that all the ladies enjoy so much.

To be continued on my return......