So the core purpose of this Scottish food blog is to catalogue my attempts to produce flavoursome food based around quality Hebridean local produce – foraged, reared and grown – the fat of the land – and to live as sustainably as possible.
There are a few realities about the Hebridean rural idyll. This is not Somerset or Kent (an obvious enough statement). There are no leafy country lanes rich with hedgerows burgeoning with wild food options, no abundance of orchards with gluts of windfall apples. Growing fruit and veg here is challenging. In essence, the North Uist land is lean and any purist attempt to live off it would likely result in a dietary deficiency/imbalance, or gastronomic restriction and dissatisfaction, at least.
The reality is that I want to produce the best plates of food that I can. I use the fine local shellfish: langoustines, scallops, crab, lobster, cockles, mussels et al. I fish. I do my best to acquire prime local game and meat. I grow as wide a range of fruit and veg as my circumstances allow. However, any ambitious cook, living on an island far from the array of choices UK major cities offer does need to, quite literally, go the extra mile. Sadly, despite my foraging and growing efforts, this still also includes food miles. One must learn to compromise and should not associate guilt with that compromise. To do so would risk the joy of the experience of the food created. I cannot, however, compromise on flavour, diversity or creative ambition. As Bill Hicks said: ‘You do what you can. You try.’
I have a schizoid approach to cooking. I love simple food that can be made fast, is unfussy and lets fresh, quality ingredients shout out their obvious presence. This type of cooking is great value for money and time. For me, it is also necessary for practical reasons – such as the irritating limit of the number of hours in the day. It is my default approach. I delight in indulging in the recipes and writings of Nigel Slater. Ottolenghi offers a different dimension with Israeli influence. A handful of fresh ingredients combined with a well stocked store cupboard can amaze the taste buds. The practical offerings of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and his associated River Cottage enterprises provide memorable everyday dishes.
I also enjoy the antithesis, Complex cooking – often French, traditional and technical. This needs strategic planning and dedication, technical equipment and usually involves every bowl and utensil in the kitchen. I have discovered patisserie and as a relative newcomer to the world of multiple types of meringue, pastry and creams, is the only area of cooking where I adhere to recipes without question (well, the first time at least). I am reverentially at the mercy of Roux Brothers recipes, notably for patisserie and desserts. David Leibovitz inspires for ice cream and chocolate. Julia Child guides me through traditional French cooking (set aside at least 3 days for her cassoulet). The contemporary delights of recipes by Tom Kitchin and David Everitt-Matthias are thrilling. I will never have the finesse that comes with the professionalism of these fine chefs, but I do have fun trying. Finally, it is worth mentioning that despite my scientific background, I have no interest in the vogue for molecular gastronomy and prefer to view cooking more as alchemy.