Sunday, December 31, 2006

Let down by a Hogmanay Haggis

It wasn’t just the immediate descent into disharmony that took place due to children being tired and adults feeling misunderstood just as we all sat down for the last meal of the year. Nor even the prospect that this sacred evening in the alky calendar was going to be spent Stoned Cold for the first time in some two decades. No, it was the vegetarian haggis that really brought about the demise of my Highland new-year’s eve meal.

I hadn’t given the event much thought and had left it too late to get hold of an appropriately sized meat variant. “Oh there’s not that much difference between them really,” said a friendly but unconvincing man from behind the shiny new till as he realised that I wasn’t going to be able to find a use for any of the six to eight-man haggi he had in his freezer. Thinking that the amount of salt and pepper likely packed into these fuckers would indeed mask and major taste differentials, I was inclined to believe him. So even though it didn’t’ feel like I really had a meal in the house at all, I went about preparing the neeps and tatties as if I had, plus a whisky sauce just for the craic to prod my stubborn resilience.

We started with hot bowls of thick and yellow ham and lentil soup from yesterday’s birthday vat. All seemed well, with minimal volumes being tentatively placed into small mouths and the Dashing White Sergeant fiddling away in the background. But somewhere in between mopping up the cool, salty sides of mine with soft brown bread and delivering plates of easy-to-eat haggis, neeps and tatties to the seated, the familial dynamic had been stretched beyond breaking point thanks to yet more relentless screaming from infant overtiredness, aches from restraining writhing 10kg torsos, and the mental exhaustion of being locked up together for over a week.

So I stood there beating up my whisky sauce with a milk frother, feeling like a right prat in the middle of a room full of so many unhappy and departing faces and, even more despicably, like I was not being properly appreciated. Couldn’t they see that it was for them that I have been standing every day in the kitchen for the last 10 days? That it brought me no personal pleasure whatsoever to pour a good splash of Morangie into a small pan of beef stock and whisk it all up with some cream to make a light but rich foam to cascade around the domes of white, orange and brown of this traditional Highland feast?

It didn’t really work-out that foamy. But it didn’t really matter because the haggis didn’t deserve it. Nut-brown and orange in appearance, dry in texture, under-seasoned in taste, and lukewarm in temperature owing to its low thermal capacity, this was nothing like the conventional beast at all. It was like eating a cross between a nut-cutlet and some undercooked cous-cous – a dream come true for your run-of-the-mill vegan no doubt, but hardly a match for the fatty spicy pluck of a pig softened up with meaty grains of gravy-soaked barley or much in the way of celebration to mark the last day of the year. You just know you’re off to a bad start when you try to vegetarianise a recipe that begins with a sheep’s stomach and a sewing needle.

It was all the more fitting that I dined on this flatulence buster alone at the new-year’s eve table, Ceilidh Classics on the stereo and, most hilariously of all, not a drop of alcohol in sight which to blame for the cacophony surrounding me. Somehow, the tragedy of Highland culture is never far from your door on this most unpredictable of winter nights.

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