Monday, August 30, 2010

July 13: Finally - Bernie Day!

And so it was Tuesday, the day Queen Elizabeth would be arriving to her Edinburgh palace.  We went to Glasgow instead to see some new friends.

Statue of Robert Burns
But before dinner at Bernie's house, we had a day to fill, so we made our way to his once home-town to do some looking around.  It only makes sense that we began the morning on a quest to locate something called a bacon roll.  We'd had sausage rolls along the trip so far, a delicious sausage lovingly surrounded by a doughy embrace most bakeries carried, but bacon?  We hadn't seen it.  And since this elusive bacon roll had apparently changed Jo's life (in Edinburgh), it only seemed right we should seek it out.  I'm not sure if what we had was what she had, but it was decent.  The way people in Glasgow looked at us when we described what we thought it was, it's either an Edinburgh thing, or we were way off.

We walked George Square and moseyed about the Modern Art Museum for a while.  We walked Argyle Street (the pedestrian shopping street) and High Street that ran through the center of things.  We found St. Mungo Cathedral, named for Glasgow's patron saint, though it sounded more like a college nickname to me.  And whether it was because we had come to the end of our trip and were growing exhausted, or had just surpassed or capacity to be overly impressed, we felt satisfied and moved on.

Having some time to kill and just a half hour drive to Bernie and Sarah's suburban town, we found a grocery store and packed the trunk with cases of Bulmers and Magners cider, an assortment of shortbread cookies, brown sauce, and potato chips.  Gluttons, you might say, but none of these things are findable in the rest of Europe, aside from a pint in a pub.  Bulmers is a British cider and Magners an Irish one, that we have searched for high and low.  Nowhere but in the UK have we found these fantastic hard ciders available at a regular grocer.  And Chris loves shortbread, so why not try a few fancy kinds they've got in the homeland?  Brown sauce is as common in the UK as barbecue sauce in the US; also yummy but impossible to find elsewhere.  And the chips...that one's mine.  I love chips.  I can't often allow myself to buy chips because they last such a minuscule amount of time in my presence, it's hardly worth the ungodly number of calories they carry.  But when you're staring at such an odd selection of flavors found only on the shelves of a foreign grocery store, it's difficult not to justify a few bags.  You know, to try.  So yes, we hit that grocery store and we hit it good.

And then it was time to see Bernie and meet Sarah.  I think I was a little surprised that it was actually happening, as it seems these kinds of plans are often meant at the time, but easily fall through.  But here we were on our way, with Belgian beer, flowers, and baby gift in hand, as Sarah was about seven months pregnant.  When we rang the bell of their pretty house I felt nervous, but Sarah's friendly smile put both of us at ease pretty quickly.  We said our hellos and I handed Sarah the flowers, thanking her for her hospitality, then quickly handed her the baby gift we'd brought them.  She was clearly surprised, and she thanked us and set it aside to open once Bernie was home from work.  Sarah showed us around their house a bit, explaining changes they'd made and how parts of the house had been somewhat falling apart when they moved in.  It was a tall home, four levels, I believe, with a few rooms per floor, beautifully arranged with a sophisticated touch.  As we stepped through the kitchen to get to the garden, it smelled amazing and I suddenly couldn't wait for dinner.  Out in their gorgeous garden, Sarah walked us around, pointing out the green house and the pond, the flowers and vines growing here and there.  It had come with the house, of course, but you could see they put a lot of love into it.  Sarah told us how the small pond had been frozen over when they moved in, so they hadn't known until the thaw that there were two fish inside - still alive!  They fed them and marveled over how they'd managed to survive all that time under the ice.  Then one day a bird swooped down, and that was it for the fish.

Bernie got home soon after and there were more handshakes and hugs all around and within a few minutes we were seated at the dining table talking over some nice Rose' wine.  Now we had already been told that Sarah was a great cook, but we still weren't prepared for the spread that was about to hit the table, one course at a time.  Half-way through this trip I'd wished I would have had the mind to photograph the food, just to add a visual to my raving reviews.  This was the night I did.

Course #1: Blood pudding with dark green salad with homemade croûtons and apples, and balsamic drizzle.

When she sat our plates down she said right off that she wouldn't be offended if we didn't like it.  She and Bernie just really wanted to give us a real traditional Scottish feast.  Now the blood pudding, we'd had, but not like this.  Nothing at all like this.  This was thick and rich in flavor with hints of nutmeg.  Sarah explained they got their meat from a local butcher who handmade things like blood pudding and haggis on-site.  It was all local and lovingly made, none of that mass-produced stuff many Bed&Breakfasts served with breakfast.  No one left a morsel on their plate.

Course #2: Smoked salmon with cream and crackers; rare venison sliced over skirlie; and a haggis, neeps, and tattie tower.

I ate my smoked salmon without noticing the cream and crackers, it was so delicious.  The venison was heavenly and tender, over what is apparently an old Scottish favorite Sarah's dad suggested she pair with it, made of onion, oatmeal, butter, salt and pepper.  Yum!  And then the haggis...oh, the haggis.  Now we already liked haggis, but had yet to have it like this.  The haggis we'd had up till this point had been served on a platter in a more ground up state between blobs of mashed potatoes and mashed turnips.  When made into a tower, the haggis or cooked in a way that keeps it together a bit more, also making it possible to get a taste of all three elements with a single stab of the fork.  Insanely delicious!  We had no idea Sarah was a gourmet!

Course #3: Tea with sugar cookies, fresh raspberries, and a cheese plate.

With smooth green tea all around, we indulged further in this amazing spread Bernie and Sarah made possible.  It had been an incredibly enjoyable evening between the wonderful company and ridiculously great food, and I was so happy this came together.

I think what took me by surprise the most was how comfortable the whole night was.  We talked and laughed easily, and Bernie and Sarah seemed just as excited as we were to get together.  Bernie had even told some people at work about the Americans he had coming over for dinner, which made me laugh - I'm not used to being considered so exotic.  It seems he also relayed to them the whole rescue story from Prague, the strange coincidences there and the plan to meet back up here.  They thanked us again for saving Bernie from the dark and scary woods of the Czech Republic, swearing that a European wouldn't have done him the same kindness.  We said we'd just been happy to help out a nice person in need, and by the way, thanks for the feast!

Bernie and Sarah talked about old TV shows from the States they'd watched growing up, and Chris and I asked them about slang terms Americans associate with people from the UK.  Like did you know a Scottish person will likely have no inkling as to what you mean if you call him 'limey'?  As the wine flowed and the evening wore on our small attempts to mimic an English or Scottish accent were met with much laughter, and even a compliment or two.  We learned that the term 'Brit' refers to anyone living inside the UK, including people from Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, not just those from England.  We learned that 'bloody' is pretty universally used, but 'ginger' is rather derogatory.

They opened the baby gift we'd brought and we were endlessly pleased they seemed to like it so much - a baby duck bath set and a onesie with an electric guitar on it for daddy.  We did meet Bernie at a metal music festival, after all.  Apparently because the pregnancy came so quickly after the wedding this was the first baby gift they'd really received, and we were excited to have contributed to the new addition.

When we left it felt like we were hugging goodbye old friends, promising to keep in touch and swap pictures.  It was the perfect way to end our Scottish vacation, in the comfort of someone's home over the best meal we'd had all trip, by far, and fantastic company.  Thanks again, Bernie and Sarah, for a fabulous evening!

1 comment:

  1. There are just too many cool things to say about this one. I'm so happy you had such a great time!