When our nieces come over for a visit and some times a sleepover Jamie who is 9 and May who is 7. They are as fairly behaved and mannered as any other kids there age and we try and spoil them as best we can when they come over. Sometimes their mother and father have to apply some stern words, but only sometimes. There are times when the innocence of youth kicks in even for the ‘grown ups’ when a sentence or word is used innocently but needs to be addressed, but before doing so, ones back has to be turned so the kids don’t see the laughter as the telling of becomes irrelevant, not as easy with the others in the room lending no help but just above silent sniggers which the girls latch onto, so telling off made void.
On one of the sleepovers, I prepared their favourite dinner- which their granny in Stornoway makes, so I set about making it, with a splash of this, touch of garlic and a rasp of nutmeg and as we sat down for tea I will never forget the look on their little faces and Kirsty’s face as if to say what have you done, well, it wasn’t really as if, it was said. I was ambushed by the three of them and ordered to march over to the toaster to prepare banana on toast, a firm favourite for everyone. I am still reminded to this day about that macaroni and granny still holds best macaroni title to this day. One one Sunday morning myself and Kirsty were set to task by baking cupcakes for the girls. I learnt an important maths lesson that morning, this is the equation, 2 nieces + 2 adults + 3 packets of ready mix cupcake mix = 1 long morning to the power of 2 nieces that wanted to carry on which equates to hundreds and thousands over 1 messy kitchen + plenty of patience + a lot of hilarity = 36 cup cakes of sorts, minus 1 packet = the perfect quantity and time for baking.
There have been a few bloopers when we have had everyone round like the time Sunday lunch was served with orange carrots, now that would be carrots flavoured with orange…..disaster. Now this is rich coming from me but at the table we have some funny eating habits. The likes of, clean pasta, clean chicken, things not touching and the “there will be no pudding unless you eat such and such”, that old chestnut, but the thing is I have been there when I didn’t want to eat something in particular which made me upset at a young age and I’m sure there are some if not many reading this that can relate. But where do these eating habits come from? We have all heard the stories of old from our parents or grandparents about the option that they had growing up and it wasn’t just take it or leave it, but, take it or starve. There was no chicken dippers, potato smilies, micro chips, cheesy pasta or even a finger of fish. More Salted fish, meat and potatoes . Salting the food was a way of life, survival, the Gugga (gannet) was sought after to feed the family now it’s becoming more of a a tradition like most delicacies like Iceland in and there fermented shark, Hakarl.
Even when we were growing up we were out on the Lot, helping planting the potatoes, the vegetables that were planted were of a size worthy of show casing, of which, carrots, beetroot, swede, and the potatoes were all in abundance. All of us working, or getting in the way of working the croft, working on the hay was one of the finest times of the year. If you take the smell of fresh cut grass which is up there with people’s favourite smell and if we move on a few weeks, comes a special time of year, all be it if the weather was on our side and at times even if it wasn’t. Raking the hay to form the stack,the smell of almost, hard to describe more than captured sunshine, the grass, Lewis breeze dried and baked by the sun, which lends not much more than the rustling of the straw being bundled other than as much free exercise and activity for all involved. A time when neighbours and friends would help get involved with planting the potatoes and then return the gesture. How privileged we all were to be part of these traditions, keeping us all as healthy, motivated, happy, enthusiastic and as orientated as families. From going from that standard of living to the now, grabbing a trolley, loading it up with almost already weighed , wrapped in plastic, vegetables and a potato smiley that’s far from it.
As part of my quest to get a better understanding of these eating habits, earlier this year I was given the privilege to go down to Back primary school to help the kids on one of their projects, and what better way to start this understanding. There were over twenty pupils, they all walked into the classroom with there aprons on and chefs hats that they had made, it almost brought a tear to my eye. I’m glad now I went out and bought a bandanna that day, I looked like an idiot but I didn’t care as it was for the kids. I wanted to do something a bit different with them so decided on fish tacos where we would crumb the fish into bite size pieces. Everyone got involved in preparing the flour, egg and crumb. The sauce that we made was marie rose, just keeping it simple as I wanted them to get there little minds thinking that perhaps I was some kind of mad scientist mixing tomato sauce and mayonnaise together to make up another sauce. After preparing the iceberg lettuce we prepared a little salad or salsa if you like with some tomato, cucumber and finished with coriander, which was passed around along with some very unsure faces at this new ‘grass’ and served it all in soft tortilla wraps. With a little on kitchen hygiene and safety, some simple questions to the point where all arms were pushed to the sky keen on answering and there little faces when they didn’t get to answer that particular question. Now bearing in mind that this was all in Gaelic, I am shamed in saying that there Gaelic was leaps and bounds compared with mine, but on the way over I was practising in the car to Kirsty, I sounded patronising she told told me, but speaking loudly, clearly and slowly I persevered, take no chances as even at there young age at times can catch you out on the spot, unwittingly.
Slow and steady is the key, lots of patience, can’t be to serious, make it fun, be stern at times if needs be. This is what I learned the first time working with primary pupils over in Shawbost. Still, I am learning at the same time these primary kids are. When it comes to thinking up, practical recipes that are one bowl, hands in, mix, and top it off with the use of a rolling pin is actually madness in multiples off. But it’s fun learning at the end of the day and I gave everyone a chance to either ask or answer a question or participate some how or other because I wanted everyone involved, I wanted everyone to be happy while cooking along with me, I am given a rough time frame to play with but secretly I’m in no real rush. If I can capture people’s imaginations through food, young or old then I am happy, though more exhausting than a dinner service, yes. This is Mr Macritchie I was addressed by Mrs Graham, no this is Allan one of them pipes up with and yes I think, I would honestly be addressed as Allan, yes Allan not yes chef. Regarding the tacos everyone tried the fish in one way or another. In the taco without the taco, with the sauce, without the sauce , lettuce, ummm, yes, salsa, dubiously, coriander, hmm, not sure. But they all at least tried the fish, I was knackered at the end of it, so fair play to all teachers across the island, oh and I got word back that one of the kids had gone home to tell their parents that Jamie Oliver was at there school, but apart from that, a good afternoon had by all.