A Tribute to “The Bard” – Robert Burns

Yesterday marked the 256th anniversary of the birth of “The Bard” of Scotland, Robert Burns. He is beloved in Scotland and his birthday is still marked there and in Scottish circles around the world with Robert Burns Dinners on his birthday.

I’ve started trying to mark various writers’ birthdays by preparing their favorite foods; however, I did not attempt to make haggis yesterday! I understand Burns’ favorite food were haggis, neeps, and tatties. I’ve eaten haggis in Scotland (“when in Rome…) and it wasn’t too bad as long as I blocked out of my mind what some of the ingredients were. There’s no way I’m going to make it. For starters, where does one purchase a sheep’s stomach?

Last night we dined on mince, neeps, and tatties and remembered Robert Burns. After supper I got out my dulcimer and attempted to play “Call the Yowes to the Knowes.” It’s one of the many Burns poems that has been set to music. I thought I had the dulcimer music for “Auld Lang Syne,” but I couldn’t find it.

Oh – mince is ground beef crumbled and cooked with chopped onions and a small amount of rolled oats. Neeps are turnips. Tatties are potatoes.

Haggis… well, you don’t want to know what that is. A Scottish friend was proud of me for eating haggis when I was over there. He said one must lower his or her voice a couple of octaves when saying, “I’m a haggis eater!” It got to be quite a joke between us. Scots have a great wit about them when you get to know them.

An excuse to eat mince & tatties

No excuse is too small for me to eat one of my favorite Scottish dishes: mince & tatties with green peas. Yesterday was Diana Gabaldon’s birthday. She, of course, wrote the Outlander series which is set in Scotland and North Carolina. Sounds like a good enough reason to have mince and tatties for supper!

When Marie and I ate mince and tatties with green peas in 1993 for our first pub lunch on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. It was love at first bite. Aside from salmon, it became our favorite Scottish dish. Haggis came in a distant third, and black pudding didn’t even make the list. I can eat haggis as long as I don’t think about the ingredients. Black pudding wasn’t appealing at all — and that was before I found out its ingredients.

Scotland is not known for its cuisine, which is unfortunate. Perhaps that is why the Scots have a quaint way of naming foods — an art we lost over the generations here in America. Mince and tatties, cock-a-leekie soup, baps, and inky pinky are just a few examples. Mince is ground beef. Tatties are potatoes. It is a very basic everyday comfort food, but it is delicious and always takes us back to Scotland when we have it for dinner.

Like mince & tatties, reading a Diana Gabaldon book transports me to Scotland, the land of most of my ancestors. Happy belated birthday, Ms. Gabaldon, and thank you for giving me hours of reading pleasure through your Outlander series of books.

Remembering Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

Tomorrow would have been Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s 96th birthday. I was exposed to his writing while majoring in political science at Appalachian State University in the early 1970s. It was a different time. We were in the midst of “the Cold War.” I was intrigued by Mr. Solzhenitsyn’s courage to write about the horrors of Russian labor camps and his time in prison for daring to criticize Joseph Stalin’s running of the Soviet Union’s World War II effort.

Mr. Solzhenitsyn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970, but did not receive the award until 1974 due to political circumstances. The KGB is said to have made an attempt on his life in 1971. He died in Moscow in 2008 at the age of 89.

I will prepare a Russian dish, beef stroganoff, for dinner tonight in honor of the bravery of Aleksandr Solzenitsyn and the richness of his writings, including The Gulag Archipelago, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, August 1914, and Cancer Ward.