Of late we have turned our backs on La Rectoria and have for some of that time been home.  By home I mean the land of my birth, my spiritual home, Scotland. ……’you can take the man out of Scotland but you can’t take Scotland out of the man’ kind of thing.  Nationalism, that feeling of home, identity, is a funny quirk of humanity.

Holidays, time off are for recharging batteries, stepping back, chilling out.   Thus far we have accomplished all three.  What with work – teaching English – and the reconstruction of La Rectoria, our regular routine is pretty full on and incessant – house, work and vice-versa. On and on.  If it was solely building a house that would be simple enough, but as is self evident the end result of all of this is the establishment of a business, a casa rural.

Thus, during our time in Scotland, having left our son with my sister in Aberdeen, Goretti and I drove to Crieff.  Destination Yann’s, the creation of Yannick Grospellier my old head chef and friend and his wife Shari.  This guest house, come restaurant has become something of a destination since opening two and a half years ago.  Having eventually taken the plunge to open his own business Yannick has created something of a Mecca to the rustic fare of La Savoie –  La pierrade,  La raclette –  and other bistro classics that utilize the best of Scottish ingredients, beef, lamb, scallops, langoustines and more.  Apart from visiting old friends the raison d’être of our visit was yes to possibly crib ideas, but also to identify potential problems, clarify ideas and explain our plans in the hope of eliciting constructive criticism.  Bedroom design, restaurant layout and kitchen equipment were poured over and the daily work was observed.  For me it was good to blow off the dust of what is involved in the working day of a chef.  It did not seem like four years since I last dawned chefs whites although I realized that I’ll have to get back into shape vis a vis cooking, but more than that remembering to work cleverly as well as with skill.  I helped with little bits of mise en place but did little during service itself except keeping out of the way.  I think some sort of stage somewhere might be in order before we open next year.  Over the piece our two days with Yannick and Shari were very useful and a big thank you must be extended to them and we look forward to receiving them and the girls here in Catalunya before  too long.

The wealth of Scottish culinary ingredients was exemplified during our time in Scotland.  A visit to the Loch Fyne Oyster bar and shop provided us and Uncle Eric with a superb picnic – smoked salmon and mackerel, duck pate, succulently perfumed strawberries, oatcakes all washed down with a bottle of ‘Fyne Ale’ a hoppy locally brewed beer.  And whilst parked in Eric’s motor home on the banks of the loch a bounteous supply of wild raspberries provided the basis of the dessert that night ‘cranachan’ – that Scottish dessert of whipped cream, toasted oat flakes, whisky, honey and raspberries.  A ‘Pick Your Own’ farm offered up a rapidly picked selection of blackcurrants, brambles, tayberries and rasps which in turn were used to make that most underrated of British puddings ‘summer pudding’.   Mussels for moules à la marinière,  sautéed scallops, haddock and chips.  Try good british food before you knock it!

Meanwhile back at La Rectoria it was a joy for us to show my sister what we have been up to over the last few years.  Besides the house and its surroundings it was good to demonstrate again the wide variety things to see and do in central and northern catalunya – Montserrat, old Girona, Santa Pau and much more. 

So enjoy your summer holidays wherever you are and when the time comes we will be more than ready to welcome you.

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And so it was last Saturday night we sat down to celebrate ‘Burns Night’.  A first in a number of ways.  The first I had ever prepared in total and hosted.  The first in Carretera de Canoves, Cardedeu, and certainly the first that our Catalan friends and neighbours had attended.

A grand party was highly appropriate and timely as two days later work commenced on the ‘rebuilding’, ‘restoration’ and more importantly the raison d’être of our being here in Catalunya.  The commencement of what will hopefully be the fulfilment of over 5 years dreaming, scheming, mulling over and sweating about.  The transformation of ‘La Rectoria de Sant Miquel de Pineda’ to a Casa Rural, or guest house.  Pere our builder started knocking the s*** out of walls and getting rid of several decades of dirt, dust and debris and some stones going back possibly many centuries.  Now the clock has started ticking.  For in 18 months or so we will be uprooting ourselves to our new home and business.  A guest house in the foothills of the Pyrenees, 100 km or so north of Barcelona.

Meanwhile back to the Haggis antics.  The main course had been procured by dear friends of ours ‘The Macs’ in the Beatrix Potteresque named village of Lilliesleaf near Melrose stuffed in a suitcase and then lain dormant in our freezer until last week.   The menu comprised ‘Cock a leekie’, a wholesome soup of chicken, leeks and prunes too which we had added barley to give it more body.  The Haggis followed, served with Tatties (pomme puree amply bestowed with cream and butter) and Neeps….given the very different nature of the Catalan turnip (nap), pumpkin was roasted and pureed to give a worthy substitute.  We finished with ‘Clootie Dumplin’  (a steamed pudding of raisins, suet – dehydrated rendered beef fat…lip smacking – spices, syrup and a few other bits and pieces), served with butterscotch sauce and almond praline.  The above was washed down with liberal quantities of Glenmorangie in the main, and we finished with homemade shortbread, fudge and coffee.

The poetry wasn’t too bad either.  For Burns purists et al we did not stick rigorously to the formal protocol of the evening….we blew out on Tam O’Shanter and the speeches.  On the other hand our hosts Quico and Pepa did manage to rustle up a Catalan Piper playing the ‘Sac de gemecs’ (or sack of groans or whines – if only we Scots were so honest!) to pipe in the haggis.  And I hope I didn’t murder ‘Auld Lang Syne’ too much, deciding to sing it solo to the mildly whisky embued throng.  John (fae Clydebank) did a sterling job with a couple of poems and in short I think we’re booked for next year and beyond.  A big thanks to Pepa and Quico for giving us the space and their time.

In signing off, I just hope that the Spanish economy does not go right down the tubes, if for the sole reason that for now quality supplies of ‘aqua vitae’ can be found at refreshingly low prices.