Moments in a Bottle

May 2017

I’m sitting on my deck with a cup of strong, sweet coffee (just how I like it), gently caressed by the warmth of the early morning sunshine cutting through the fresh spring air, listening to the tuneful sound of the oyster catchers and lapwings nesting on the moor, the machine-gun croak of the grouse on the hill, the haunting beat of the snipe’s wings, and the melodious trills of countless birds in the trees. It is 6.30 am, the countryside around me is alive with music, and it is truly delicious!

If only I could bottle these solitary moments of pure relaxation and appreciation. When the pawpaw is hitting the fan – as South Africans say – these solitary moments are invigorating and life-saving. Just like the height and physical exertion of a good walk in the hills with the dogs, these moments help to put things into perspective. Again, I wish I could bottle them and have a whiff or slug when the feeling of being on a sinking ship overwhelms me.

Instead, I am busy bottling my fruit gins, made from wild rowans and my garden black currants and gooseberries, and two vodkas – one flavoured with saffron and cinnamon, the other with apricot and rose – all for clients and guests and the odd glass for me and my friends! I may not be capturing that feeling of comfort and freedom in a bottle but the gin and vodka are pretty damned good!

There is no getting away from the fact that my home is special – partly because of the location and partly because it so warm and welcoming – and over chats with my children recently we have all agreed it is a place that sits firmly in our hearts and will always be part of us so I must continue to try and save it and everything that I have created here. All the long winter nights of working on old and new ideas and getting to grips with social media are beginning to kick in and, thankfully, there is light on the horizon but it will be a long time before I can breathe a huge sigh of relief and feel that I am finally back on my feet.

I am now co-presenting the Curry Club once a month on Radio Scotland’s Kitchen Café, as well as bits and pieces on the rest of the programme; I have started involving myself with the local whisky industry by creating a venue and dishes for ‘spirit and spice’ which seems to be going well – so far – and I am about to start my new catering business, Mezze on the Move, which involves taking a selection of mezze to people in their fishing huts, shooting lodges, picnics on the hill, or a party in their home and I have added a little offshoot called Mezze chez Moi  so that people can book an evening of mezze in my house – just got to get the Council to tick all the boxes and then I’m good to go!  Other than that, I am desperately trying to complete enough words of a book I have been writing for several years to give to my literary agent – it is not a food book, although it has food in it. When it comes to new cookery books, I have discovered that I am only needed to help celebrities write theirs as the new marketing consensus is that I don’t have enough social media ‘friends’ and ‘followers’ to write my own – 40 books to my name and a lifetime of travel and culinary experience don’t seem to count!  I was born in the wrong era – when first-hand travel and researched knowledge actually mattered!  Ouch!!!

In between the things I’m trying to get off the ground, I still visit my mother once or twice a week and, after a roller-coaster of a winter when there were moments I really thought she was dying, she seems to have perked up and is on good form. She recently celebrated her 91st birthday and thoroughly enjoyed her wee party with my children and her old neighbours and remembers exactly what she was given as presents as she wears the shirts and jewelry almost every day.  I wrote an article about my mother’s dementia and how it has impacted on my little family, emotionally and financially because of having to give up everything to care for her, but I have been surprised to find that, even though editors and charities have been moved by it, nothing has happened with it. This is such a shame as I am sure there would be others who might be able to relate to it, or even seek comfort from it as dementia is a very difficult illness to deal with, particularly for the family, and it needs to be talked about!

I have decided I will probably never understand the way things work nowadays and that I will always be on the periphery because I’m not good at self-promotion and I’m not driven by money but, like we all should do, I must constantly remind myself that what I have is unique. I have had an interesting journey so far in life, lots of amazing stories and people and, of course, struggles galore. I have dealt with things my way, made absolutely no money, but have given every ounce of energy and love that I have to my children and, latterly, to my mother. That makes me happy. As does the company of good friends and, most recently, I have my dear friend and birthday twin, Alice, to thank for flying all the way up to see me to help sort out my social media! I think that is worth celebrating, so I’m off to pour a glass of red wine for myself while I leave you with a family favourite from Turkey where it is served with meatballs in the Ottoman tradition but we bake it in the oven at home and have it on it’s own.

Baked smoked aubergine in a cheese sauce

Serves 2-4 (depends on appetite!)

3 large aubergines
40g butter
roughly 2  tablespoons plain flour
800ml (you may need a little more)
300g cheddar cheese
120g Parmezan cheese
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Parmesan for grating on top
Preheat the oven to 200F/mark 6/200C

Place the aubergines directly on the gas flame of your cooker, or over a charcoal grill. Smoke the aubergines for about 10 minutes, turning them from time to time, until soft and the skin is charred (over a charcoal grill, the skin will just toughen instead of charring). Place the cooked aubergines into a plastic bag to sweat for a few minutes.

One at a time, place them under a running cold tap, and gently peel off the burnt skin, taking care to keep the aubergine in tact. Hold the peeled aubergine by its stalk and squeeze out the excess water. Put aside and skin the other one. Place the peeled aubergines on a wooden board, chop off the stalks and chop the flesh to a pulp. Put aside.

In a heavy based pan, melt the butter. Stir in the flour off the heat to make a thick roux. Add the milk and return to the heat, stirring all the time, until smooth and thick. Beat in the cheddar cheese, a little at a time. Beat in the aubergine pulp, followed by the Parmezan, and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Tip the mixture into a baking dish and sprinkle a generous layer of grated Parmesan over the top. Place the dish in the oven for about 25 minutes, until the top is nicely browned. Serve immediately with fresh bread and a fresh, green salad.  That’s all you need!