Sunday, July 02, 2006
Sunday, July 02, 2006
While my husband is busy at the office watching the World Cup, somebody has to attend to the business of dinner, a noble position to which I have duly and formally appointed myself….so, on Thursday, against the advise of everyone who maneuvers quite comfortably in the 21st Century by automobile, I set out on foot to the harbor with the simple, unmistakable purpose of buying the freshest fish I could find – the Thursday morning catch. The docks are not on any tourist map. The steep climb up Market Street, the long stretch of pavement to the River Dee and then over the bridge where you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore, is the neighborhood of Torry where you can find Hosie’s just beyond the yellow bin that stores grit for the snowy roads of winter. It took me a mere forty minutes to get my greedy little hands on this succulent North Sea Salmon that I’m sure claims still the flavor to inspire great poetry. “That’ll be five pounds forty,” boomed the voice from across the counter to chance being heard above the noise of the ice block deliveries, the warehouse workers sweeping boat refuse and other bones opposite its one lone customer and, in general, the din of dialectical patois that vibrate the morning air. This is one of the heartlands of Scotland, where the fish monger likely speaks a mixture of English and Gaelic to the untrained ear of the American, who labors to catch a word edgewise.
With a fresh supply of salmon and the morning not yet near behind me, I turn happily away from Hosie’s to traverse my trip home again, back to Rosemount Place for a visit to I. J. Mellis. (Having met the cheese monger and now the fish monger, the idea of returning to a commercial market quite literally sends me into a state of absolute tantrum). But first, I must find a good local baker. I actually stopped at a bakery just up the street from Mellis’s place (on Tuesday) and found myself in a bit of a bind, because there were no freshly baked breads, just sweet rolls and packaged white bread, but the girl behind the counter was such a dear that I bought a roll so as not to appear the ungrateful guest. To spare you every detail of my walk back from the harbor and every bakery I popped my head into, sufficient to say that there are no bakeries in Aberdeen that offer good savory loaves of bread made from organic grain and flour. (Although on Saturday at the Farmer’s Market, we did meet the owner of Crannach Hand Baked Breads, but he’s just now (in the next few weeks) opening a bakery here in Aberdeen City).
Now it just so happened that I saw a rack of freshly baked bread, baked right there on the premise at I.J. Mellis on my first trip into the store, but I was too busy yielding to the romantic idea of buying my cheese in one store, my bread in another, my wine in yet another and so on that I was convinced that Mellis’s could only offer me cheese, but how terribly incorrect I was.
On my list that day was more olive oil, cheese and bread though unfortunately I did have to make a dreaded stop at the grocery store for herbs and tomatoes, but like bad tasting medicine, I ducked in and out quickly.
Please indulge this lengthy prelude to my second visit to I.J. Mellis which was nothing short of mythological.
So I needed bread and cheese and olive oil and as I approached the door, there was Hailey with her bright smile and welcoming gestures to try new cheeses and chutneys and in general inquired about what exactly I needed today and when I told her a nice parmesan for our pasta, she expertly suggested something Irish, a hard cheese that would be perfect for pasta, and, of course, it was. I grabbed a loaf of unwrapped 9 grain bread from the rack and then went to inspect the olive oil. Here is what I found:
On the bottle of Affiorato – Extra Virgin Olive Oil – it read: “It is strange that so few people have heard about the 'lacrima di affioramento' (rising drops); and yet, producers of extra-virgin olive oil, ground in stone mills with all the attention to and respect for tradition, know what it is because it is the oil they keep for themselves. It is the oil which is skimmed from the surface with special zinc containers. This has been done for centuries because the oil which rises naturally to the surface is the mildest, the lightest and the most perfumed that an olive can give. This oil has not been touched by machines or filters. This is what the 'lacrima di affioramento' is: the best an olive can offer. For the first time in the history of my business, I've decided to make it available to you." Gianni Calogiuri
The reason I’m so enchanted is because the owner probably knows personally Gianni Calogiuri, and has probably shared a good laugh with him over a glass of Chianti, a bit of bread and cheese and olive oil, in the same way he knows the woman in Orkney with 14 cows and Wendy, the one in Wales who makes the best vinegars.
I’m enchanted because this unassuming storefront on this very modern street of Rosemount Place in Aberdeen City can take you on a journey in time where you can know the tree from which the oil comes, can know the cow that yields the cheese and can know the baker from whose soul the dough was kneaded fresh that morning.
The flavors of our dinner on Thursday night mingled like old friends. (Menu follows) The conversation was superior as we talked about our plans for writing, our new house and, in general, our immense pleasure at having finally arrived in Aberdeenshire to stay.
We are not tourists anymore.
Finally, we did go to the Farmer’s Market on Saturday and we did buy some strawberries and some bread, but it was a little too much on the “crafty” side for me and as I made my way past the individual booths of necklaces and picture frames, I secretly wished to be back at I. J. Mellis to bask in the fragrance of the plentiful cheeses, to buy a freshly baked loaf of bread, to taste a new chutney, but in particular to indulge in the delight of hearing a new story, one that turns back the clock to a time when we knew the origin of our food and the journey one took from the garden to the table was as short as the ease of spinning hopes and dreams with your best friend.
Menu: Fresh North Sea Salmon placed in a ceramic casserole with sprigs of fresh thyme in white wine put into a cold oven and heated up slowly for about 30 minutes.
Pasta with fresh tomatoes, garlic, basil and olive oil, grated Irish cheese.
Freshly baked bread and Spanish Wine.
A bowl of Olives (yet to be bought from the source).
Conversation: Paul and Amber with a wee visit from the gods.