On the road again, this time to Scotland

Published 1:47 am Saturday, September 4, 2010

We left Oxford by train and spent about five hours traveling to Edinburgh. It was a pleasant train ride with lovely views of the English Lake District. We were to pick up our car at the Waverly Train Station in Edinburgh, but there was a long line and we waited for more than hours to get the car organized. There is a music festival in Edinburgh every August, and there was an enormous amount of extra people. Car secured; we made our way to Callender to spend the night.

Our next day was spent exploring the origins of the Stewarts who built our house in Mississippi. One ancestor, Robert, Duke of Albany, the son of King Robert II of Scotland, had built Doune Castle. The castle turned out to be a highlight of the trip, even in the rain. They have a great audio tour and interwove the story of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was filmed there.

Next we went to Balquhidder where the Stewarts had last lived before sailing to Wilmington, N.C., in 1739. We went to the church and the Sunday service was just starting. They made us welcome, and we had tea with them after the service. The present church building dates from the 1850s but the ruins of the old 17th century kirk are next door with a graveyard surrounding. We found a Duncan Stewart—but wrong century. We then followed a parishioner’s directions to Ledcreich, the last home of the Stewarts, about a mile along the single tract road (there are lots of these in Scotland – one lane roads where someone may have to back up for a while so the oncoming car can pass.) Ledcreich is now a Buddhist retreat. Some things change.

On to the Isle of Skye, we had booked a room at Kinloch, the home of Lord and Lady McDonald. It is really now a hotel and felt like one, albeit a nice one. Their chef has a Michelin Star. That is not, however, where we had our best food. We did have a great day driving all over Skye; there are no bad views on Skye.

Interestingly enough one of the best meals we had was in the Atlanta airport. We drove there from Gantt in the afternoon, planning a drink and dinner before we boarded our near midnight plane. In Terminal E, the international concourse was a place we had not seen before, One Flew South. It had tables and a wait staff as opposed to the McDonalds across the way. After settling in with a glass of wine, I had a duck sandwich, and my husband had a Benton’s bacon BLT. You can’t go wrong with Benton’s. (I must order some more.) The sandwich had a tasty mayonnaise and a heaping helping of greens. The fries had a spicy, hint of sweet flavoring – all in all – great. When we got back home and opened our copy of Garden and Gun, there was the article “Food on the Fly – airport fare ascends at Atlanta’s One Flew South.” The chef is Louisiana-born Duane Nutter, one of the few African Americans leading a high-concept restaurant in the South. I think this guy has more coming up. I’ll look for him.

But I digress.

After leaving Skye, we drove further north to the Black Isle near Inverness to the Dower House. This is what we had been looking for. Unpretentious and with no sign, we drove in and then out and down the road where we asked directions– yes, that is the place. We picked this place out of the same 20-year-old book where we found Kinloch. But this one did not disappoint. The book said it feels more like a home than a hotel. It does still. There is no check in. Mena showed us to our room, and we arranged a time for dinner. Robyn Aitchison does the kitchen duty. Mena serves. If someone else cleans and gardens, we didn’t see them.

We joined the other guests for drinks in the parlor before dinner. One couple had been coming yearly for the last 10-15 years. Dinner was in the large dining room. Napkins were tied with the Mackenzie tartan. The Dower House originally belonged to nearby Highfield House, the home of the Mackenzie family. It was designed to be the home of the dowager, the widow of the head of the family. There is a printed menu of the evening’s fare. Robyn cooks from the heart, not recipes. He uses what is at hand. There is a kitchen garden and chickens in the yard, plus a large flower and shrub garden. We chose our wine from their list. There is a set menu. The first night we had a beetroot risotto followed by haddock with fingerling potatoes. Great. The dessert tart was OK. But the cheese course was huge and delicious – a great way to end the meal. Some retired to the parlor for coffee. We hit the bed. The radiator was on! August!!

At breakfast, the old gentleman was dressed for fishing in his plus two’s – woolen Bermuda shorts you might call them – long socks and a sweater. Full English breakfast.

Touring started with Culloden, the battlefield where Butcher Cumberland defeated the forces of Bonnie Prince Charlie. This was the end of Scotland in 1745 when the wearing of the tartan was outlawed. There is a great visitor center. A first here, we had to pay two pounds for parking! The weather was windy and rainy, not unlike the April battle itself. We toured Cawdor Castle, the home of the Thanes of Cawdor for 600 years and featured in Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Then to Elgin where we made a miss-turn and discovered Johnston’s of Elgin, a great weaving center and showroom for woolens. Yes, I bought. Then to Dufftown to buy some whisky. There are distilleries all over Scotland, but this is the center. We went straight to Glenfiddich.

Back at Dower House for the second evening: drinks and meet new guests, cream of chicory soup, local filet of beef with anchovy-port sauce, and beans and fingerling potatoes. The dessert soufflé was so-so, but there was the great cheese course to follow.

Our last night was back in Edinburgh. But we did find a great little café, Chez Jules. It’s in the ubiquitous English basement – casual, loud and busy. We sat down and were brought a lettuce salad, olives, salami and bread, but we hadn’t ordered! It comes as a first course for all! Gratis. We ordered our carafe of wine. We weren’t that hungry, so we only had a starter, Coquille St. Jacque, but then we shared a sticky toffee pudding – don’t get that back home.

Robyn, the cook (not chef he pointed out) at Dower House gave me only the essence of the recipe…no set ingredients. So you have to guess as to what amounts you need according to how many people you are serving.

Dower House

Beetroot Risotto

Put 3 or 4 beets in a pan with a little olive oil, salt and pepper. Bake at 375 degrees for about an hour. While this is baking, make your risotto. Any recipe for risotto is fine and can be found on the back of the rice container or in any Italian cookbook. (I use Frank Stitt’s, which I have shared with you before.) After the beets have cooked, chop them fine and add them to the risotto with some red onion and some thyme. Add more Parmesan to the dish and add shaved Parmesan on top. The dish has a wonderful red color. Might be a colorful dish for the Christmas table?

Dower House Filets with Port and Anchovy Sauce

Cook steaks in butter very slowly over low heat. Remove the steaks once they have been cooked medium and let them rest. Add more butter and add a couple of anchovies. (If anchovies are in salt, rinse them well.) Mix all this together until the anchovy is dissolved. Add port and any juices left of the meat. Cook this down until half. Add some garlic, onion and beef broth. Cook this down also until half. Add some cream in the end. I did strain the sauce before serving.

I did both of these this past weekend, and all went well. I love anchovies, so put in three for my sauce for four steaks. Got a little taste of anchovies. It’s quite easy and will liven up your favorite steak. And I did the sticky toffee pudding for dessert. I think I will add it to my list of great desserts. It’s full of calories so the rest of the pudding will go to the potluck at church on Wednesday.