Spring weekend

It’s been a while since my last post so I thought I would put up a brief update on my nice weekend.


We had the first properly warm weather of the year.


It was warm enough to light the garden fire pit and have a martini outside before dinner.


It’s so nice to get outside again. I took this picture because I thought the lower part of the log resembled sliced shime saba


We also got the chance to go to Calgary beach.


Canadians take note – this was where many islanders took the boat west to settle on your shores during the Highland Clearances.

These images are actually taken from the ruins of one of the abandoned settlements.

Evidently those who once lived here and moved to the New World named one of the more successful Canadian settlements after the bay.


Calgary in Alberta has since grown to a much larger size than the original!


On returning home I prepared some izakaya-style skewers for the barbecue. The above is lamb liver with spring onion, dipped in a sweet soy glaze with garlic and vermouth. Grilled for about 4-5 minutes on each side they went well with a drink, although I need to practise my barbecue skills.


I also wrapped asparagus with prosciutto and grilled for about 2 minutes on each side.


Easy and tasty.


After that it was time for drinks.


And our first sunset of the year enjoyed from the garden.

Our Second Pop Up Martini Bar


Thank you to everyone who came to our martini pop up bar at the end of October.


We held it in ‘the Gallery’ on the Main Street of Tobermory, Isle of Mull.


At the end of the tourist season I hoped that it was a chance for locals to relax and try something different. It was also a bit of a send off for us and our staff, including our manageress Catriona who celebrated her 21st birthday on the night.


Unlike our pop up bar in July, the night was dark and it was too cold to be outside, so we went inside and set up the tables, switched on the heaters and lit all the candles, then hoped it would all work out.


We were only open for a short while: 17:00 to 20:00 with last orders at 19:30 to allow everyone to finish their last martini at a leisurely pace.


The week before we also held a Facebook competition. Whoever liked and shared the pop up bar announcement would enter a prize draw for a free martini and a martini-related gift.


We put together a large martini glass filled with champagne truffles from the Tobermory Chocolate Factory (you can order online here and they deliver anywhere in the world) and awarded it to one lucky winner who happened to be my former teacher.


I wasn’t as nervous as before the last pop up bar we did because I knew the concept worked in principle. I also had all my equipment lined up in order. However, it was darker and colder than during our summer event so I was worried that it wouldn’t be as comfortable or warm enough in our giant old church.


I also thought that because the tourist season was over, no-one would turn up.


However, in the end, the atmosphere was nice, it was warm enough, and the venue was full. I made dozens of martinis and was happy to see people enjoying themselves, especially after a long summer.


Our excellent chef also cooked up some amazing blini, which we served on platters with smoked salmon, sour cream, fish roe and miniature croque-monsieurs. Absolutely delicious and the perfect accompaniment to a cold martini.


So, all-in-all, a fun night. And now we’re ready for winter. Thank you to everyone who came, and thank you to all our amazing colleagues who made it happen.

Chilled scallop canapés with smoked paprika, seaweed-butter and lime

These sound fancy but they were quite easy to put together and can be made in advance, so they’re easy to serve if you’re having a party.


Get about one scallop per guest (or two if you want to make it a more substantial dish than just a canapé).


I love scallops. My dad was a scallop diver so they’ve never been far away from my consciousness.


Shell and lightly clean them.

Separate the coral. You can cook them at the same time as the white flesh and eat them when you like but don’t include them in the canapé itself.

Put the white flesh into the freezer for about 40 minutes. This will allow it to firm up.


Remove then slice horizontally, so that each scallop produces two or more thin discs of tender flesh.

Dry each piece with a paper towel.


Season both sides with a little salt and some paprika (smoked paprika if you can get it).

Heat some olive oil in a pan on relatively high heat.

Add the scallops and coral (in batches if you have a large amount).


Cook for about 40-50 seconds on one side (or at least until that side starts to brown – as in the above image) then turn over. Cook for about 30-40 seconds on the other side, or again until it starts to brown.

Remove the scallops from the pan and allow to cool to room temperature. Put them in the fridge.


Add a dash of soy sauce, a dash of mirin and half a teaspoon of honey to the pan. Stir and bring to the boil, then take off the heat and pour the sauce into a small dipping bowl.


When the time comes spread some seaweed butter onto a ritz cracker, or better still some miniature blini. Top with a slice of scallop and if you’re serving immediately pour a little of the dipping sauce over the scallop and garnish with a tiny sliver of lime peel. TINY. 


If you’re not serving the canapés immediately save the dipping sauce until right before you serve, cover the canapés and keep them in the fridge.

You can just eat the cooked coral on its own (I did; and I felt no guilt) or you can serve them separately with toothpicks and the dipping sauce.

The fresher the scallops, the better.


And naturally this goes very well with a martini. It’s an exquisite snack for even the most esteemed of guests.

Some more martinis

Just another selection of recent martinis…

A dirty one.


A clean one.


Both dirty and clean – photograph courtesy of Dr. Kirsty.


Watching the sun set.


Seeing the moon rise.


Feeling the summer fade.


Watching seasons come and go in general.


I guess one thing about a martini is taking the time to pause and enjoy things.


They are the most ‘zen’ of drinks and I love them. 

More martini snacks and canapes

I’m just going to leave this here…

  

What could be easier than olives and cheese-stuffed peppers that you picked up at the shops on the way home? I particularly like the colour contrast of these two. Oh and the taste.

You can’t go wrong with the lemony-buttery taste of Nocellara olive flesh, while the soft creamy cheese paired very indulgently with the sweet piccante crunch of the pepper.

  
This one was also a little bit last minute. I threw together some Bombay mix, prosciutto and olives when a friend popped round unexpectedly. The Bombay mix didn’t really go with the other two, but it’s definitely very nice on its own.

  

Here are some nuts, arranged mindlessly while I stared into space sipping my first drink of the night. Salted pistachio nuts are my favourite, although some nice big fat macadamia nuts would go well with a martini too.

  
Simple, easy, light, savoury, Twiglets are an underrated canapé snack. They are the flavour and texture opposite of the martini. Where a martini is cold, smooth, heady, citrusy and ever so slightly sweet, these are light, crunchy, salty and savoury. They don’t look particularly elegant but the flavour contrast really works. They’re a guaranteed winner for marmite fans.

  
This one is a bit more fancy. Asparagus skewers, blini with taramasalata, maki rolls, sigeumchi-namul, crisps, a martini and candles…

  
A simple but slightly more edgy snack, here are some wasabi peas with a simple classic.

  
Extremely simple, but very tasty, here is some lightly pickled baby beetroot. I’m sure we could create some kind of pink-coloured beetroot Gibson Martini, perhaps similar to the Beet Up Vesper Martini at the Mayor of Scaredy Cat Town bar in central London. 


Sea Aster is a seasonal coastal plant that flowers in the summer but is edible in the spring. Wash and eat raw or lightly boil for a minute or two. I got mine at a fish monger’s in Borough Market.


Mum bought these langoustines from Tobermory Main Street while I picked up the samphire on Oban pier on a trip back from London.


There’s a whole world of tapas-style ingredients and food types you could use. Above you can see chorizo, cold roast pork slices, feta cheese, olives, bread, houmous, oil  and duqqah.


You can turn the nibbles into your whole meal and really take your time with the martini. Above you can see crab open sandwiches, nuts, wood ear mushrooms, Korean-style spinach, roasted vegetables, seaweed, manchego cheese, Bombay mix, olives, bread, oil and houmous all to be slowly munched while you sip your cold gin.


Houmous is a relaxed martini accompaniment to have at home with informal company over a drink.


Here it is served with sliced pitta bread and a variety of mostly Mediterranean snacks.


My kind neighbour made me some lovely Middle Eastern sweets which I included in the meal.

The Arabic element of the food was especially good at soaking up some of the alcohol!


Dim sum was a surprisingly good – if slightly unconventional accompaniment.


Oysters are my favourite.


I also love creamy manchego cheese.


Finally though, the most classical martini snack will always remain the pitted green olive. If it’s all you have, you’ll be fine. And you won’t spoil your appetite for dinner.

The Popup Martini Bar


Several months ago, my auntie suggested that we hold a popup martini bar in our family restaurant. The venue is the Gallery, on the Main Street of Tobermory on the Isle of Mull (a beautiful and friendly Hebridean Island in Argyll, western Scotland).


We thought about the idea for a while but it remained firmly in the land of fantasy for quite some time. Then, last month, my Mum decided that we should just go ahead and do it. If it doesn’t work, we will learn some lessons, and if it does work, well, it will be a fantasy fulfilled – for me at least, and we might be able to organise some more.


Given that martinis aren’t exactly common tipples at the drinking establishments on the island, we thought it would be fun to do something new and different, particularly for the locals, although it was peak tourist season so we thought there would be several visitors around as well. Ultimately though, I think I just wanted to try my hand at finally being a martini barman.


So, we bought plenty of martini glasses, a shed load of gin, commandeered a freezer to get it all in, planned the processes and the structure of the evening, and put out some adverts and social media posts about it. With some extremely useful guidance from the restaurant staff and the creative talents of my mother, we came up with a plan, who would serve what, which food items we would include on the menu, the types of martini we would serve and even a playlist.


The Gallery is very conducive to a martini atmosphere. The building is a beautiful old church, the tallest structure on the island, lovingly restored (a work still in progress) by members of the family (such as my gravity-defying brother in the above image) and some skilled friends on the island.


It has great acoustics and a good sound system. In addition, because it is already a restaurant we have an alcohol license in place, tables, chairs, equipment and staff members, which made it a lot easier for us to prepare.


On the day of the event, we were exceptionally lucky with the weather. The sun was out and it was positively hot.


Given that our restaurant has an outdoor courtyard, sociably adjacent to Tobermory Main Street (it’s good for people watching and catching up with passers-by) it’s the perfect setting for sitting out and enjoying a coffee or drink whilst overlooking the harbour.


Word of advice: if you’re going to do this sort of thing, try to practise the entire process in advance. That includes testing all your equipment! I stupidly didn’t check our sound system entirely and at the last minute discovered that my phone (with my pre-made playlist) wasn’t compatible with the sound system. Thank god for local saint Wiksey who turned up and fixed it all in the space of about 5 minutes. Thank you, you technical genius!


Otherwise the freezers were good and the gin and glasses were suitably chilled. I also took my own special martini knife, peeler and chopping board. I’m really fussy about my martini kit which can come across as *slightly* obsessive but if something is out of place it will annoy me no-end and distract me from my goal of getting everyone tipsy.

We were almost ready.


On the day of the event I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. What if we ran out of glasses? What if it didn’t work? What if there was an alcohol related crime? What if we ran out of gin (itself an alcohol related crime…)?

It didn’t help that while I was walking along the Main Street in the afternoon, nearly everyone I spoke to mentioned the event. I was starting to worry that we would be overwhelmed.

I put together a menu, outlining the martinis we would offer:

  • The simple classic martini (please specify if you would like it sweet, dry or made with vodka) with a twist of lemon (or olive if preferred)
  • A dirty martini (with an olive and 3-6 tsp brine according to preference)
  • A hot martini (with 2-5 drops of Tabasco sauce according to preference)
  • A hot ‘n’ dirty martini (combining the above two)
  • A Gibson martini (with a pickled onion)
  • A Paisley martini (with 2 tsp whisky)

We also served a selection of additional drinks like beer, wine, pimms and prosecco.


Mum and I went over the best layout for the drinks. We would serve the martinis at the bar on a plate with a small dish of olives and some miniature pretzels on the side. Additional food was also available on the menu. 


The lovely Turnbull family supplied us with some fat, juicy oysters (my favourite food and an amazing martini accompaniment) while the beautiful Sally Swinbanks of the Tobermory Fish Company supplied us with additional seafood bites which again go fantastically with a martini.


Minutes to go, the music was playing and we stood in expectation. I was very tempted to pour then down a martini to relax but I resisted and my colleague Catriona kindly made me an espresso instead which worked. Then, the doors opened at 5 o’clock and we were ready to go.


My first order came in almost immediately for four martinis and I got to work, assembling them as fast as I could. No sooner had I served them had two more orders come in. I continued at the same pace. I didn’t stop or slow down again until 8 o’clock when we closed. At one or two points a queue had formed. What a rush. I was worried that we might end up making over 100 martinis, and would then run out of things. In the end we only ran out of the miniature pretzels and I served 250 martinis. A personal record! I was over the moon. I was also absolutely thrilled with my colleagues who seemed to effortlessly keep a lid on the proceedings, serving, cleaning and arranging everything with good humour.


Unfortunately because I was so busy I had barely lifted my gaze up from the bar for the whole time so I hadn’t had a chance to see how everything was progressing, but I was told that people were having a good time. Some of the guests kindly shared their photographs with me and allowed me to use them on the blog.


As it went so well I look forward to doing it again in the future. I would also be interested to see how it works out if the weather isn’t as good. If everyone is inside the view wouldn’t be as romantic but the atmosphere could be brilliant.


At some point in the future I would like to co-operate with my talented cousin Cat Loud and do a joint martini-cabaret evening. You can see her perform this month at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I also want to hold a martini night on a Friday so that more people are able to join us (our first one was on a Tuesday). I’d also like to do it in the winter when locals have more time on their hands for a good party.

Watch this space and thank you everyone who helped and those who came on the night!

A Martini with Homemade Roasted Seaweed


I’ve previously mentioned my liking for seaweed so I thought I would make my own to go with a martini.


After a fairly long walk on the Isle of Mull, I was looking around the beach for something edible to forage.


The tide was fairly high but there were several rockpools containing thick gutweed, as above.


This dark-green, grass-like seaweed lives in upper tidal areas, sometimes in pools, sometimes where streams meet the sea.


I harvested a small amount by hand, being careful not to take too much from the same pool. I squeezed them of liquid then put them in a plastic bag and walked home with them. I then rinsed them thoroughly in clean water.


I patted it dry, then added about a tablespoon of oil and around a teaspoon of sea salt and mixed it in thoroughly.


I roasted it on a high heat for about 30 minutes, stirring it once to prevent it from burning on the top level.


I then served it as a messy but tasty and savoury nibble to accompany the evening’s martinis. It tasted like the deep fried seaweed you often get in Chinese restaurants, except that it was actually made from seaweed and was roasted rather than fried.


It also makes a good salty-umami condiment for things like mashed potato or other seafood dishes.


Once cooked it also keeps for a few days but you might want to dry it out thoroughly to make sure it doesn’t become soggy. 

I will definitely be making this again but remember to forage responsibly. Don’t take so much that you harm the ecosystem. Try to stick to clean coastal waters as well and be sure to rinse the seaweed thoroughly before cooking.

A Martini with Nori Seaweed

  

Our family is probably not alone in this matter: we adore crisps but recognise that they are evil.

  
To my American readers – I’m referring to what you call ‘chips’ or ‘potato chips’.  I could make some cliche comment about how you have abused our language but your people did invent the martini so I have to pay at least some deference to your culture. Nonetheless, I will continue to refer to these things as crisps in my blog and you cannot stop me.

  
Crunchy, tasty, yet body-bendingly unhealthy, these snacks pose a real threat to your life. They are so convenient to pick up at the shops. They can sit in a cupboard, just waiting for their moment to strike. An impromptu visit from a friend, a much-needed drink at the end of a long day, you find them welcomingly waiting to be tipped into a bowl and devoured. And with all their salt, flavouring and fat, they can taste amazing.

  
But they are so unhealthy. It’s almost always a case of “a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.” They’re not exactly the sort of thing you would chuck in a smoothie.

So I’ve been looking for things to replace crisps as a martini accompaniment. Martinis themselves aren’t exactly an elixir of healthy living either but at least by cutting out the crisps you can minimise the comprehensive damage you could otherwise be doing to your body.

  
My brother, who is a body-builder and very good at nutrition (most of the time), brought back these snacks from the mainland.

Actually made in South Korea, they are originally a Japanese style of snack made from Nori seaweed.

  
Nori is specifically a type of algae, harvested, shredded, flattened and dried in a preparation technique reminiscent of papyrus but more closely based on Japanese paper production.

It is familiar to most people who have eaten sushi as it is used to wrap maki rolls among other things. It is also similar to a well-known (and highly tasty) dish in Wales – laver.

  
Indeed while seaweed today is usually regarded as a health food from Asia, it actually formed a very traditional part of coastal British diets for centuries. The Welsh have defended its value as a tasty source of nutrition over the years. I am writing this at home in the Hebrides where seaweed was once seen as a staple, especially during times of hardship and poor harvest on the land. As a crop, it is available all year round – so long as you are able to withstand the temperature of the sea.

Luckily it is making a bit of a comeback. Hebrideans are once again turning to our rich, clean waters for sustenance. It still isn’t common but it’s not unknown. 

Please excuse me while I shed a tear of pure joy.

Returning specifically to the history of Nori, I was struck by a fascinating story, involving a remarkable and surprising northern English lady who defied sexism in science and cross-cultural barriers to change the Japanese seaweed industry and our understanding of the food today.

  

Seaweed yields were falling in post-war Japan when Lancashire scientist Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker stepped in to provide her research on the lifecycle of algae. Armed with this knowledge, Japanese harvesters optimised their techniques to maximise the production process and the industry flourished. 

Every year on the 14th of April a ceremony is dedicated to Dr. Drew-Baker in Osaka. She is referred to as The Mother of the Sea in recognition of her work for the seaweed industry.

So back to martinis…

  
I served some of the nori sheets as a simple snack.

They were slightly large so I lay the slices on top of each other and used scissors to cut them into four pieces so they would fit into my mouth easily.

  
They also make an interesting, if slightly flamboyant garnish.

With salt and sesame oil they were very more-ish and made a nice accompaniment snack. Their slight fishy taste might not appeal to everyone but I am a committed fan of seafood and think it compliments a martini very well.

However, these nori sheets in particular have quite a high fat content so they might not be a million miles better than crisps after all. It might be worth using ordinary sushi nori sheets instead. Cut one or two into bite sized pieces before serving.

Nonetheless, I like these little bites and will be nibbling on them again.

Hazelnut snacks

  
Hazelnuts have been consumed by humans for thousands of years.

I am currently on the Island of Mull in the Hebrides. On the nearby island of Colonsay evidence suggests that local residents were consuming large amounts of the nut in 7000BC.

The Hebrides can often feel very far from civilisation so the fact that people living here enjoyed this tasty snack several millennia before the Babylonian Empire existed blows my mind just a little bit.

Anyway, while we Hebrideans might have harvested the nut from our trees back then, the undisputed champion of hazelnut production today is Turkey, which produced 660,000 tonnes of the nut in 2012.

  
That weight equates to this massive vessel if it were fully loaded. The Seawise Giant is the largest man-made mobile object ever built by the way. That’s a lot of hazelnuts.

  
Anyway, enough of that. I’m craving a martini.

  
If you have some hazelnuts to spare and you fancy a tasty treat, put some in a heatproof dish.

  
Drizzle them in a little oil, sprinkle over some salt and maybe some pepper and/or herbs, then roast them in a pre-heated oven for about 10-15 minutes, depending on the heat. Essentially you want to toast them, not burn them. If they seem slightly soft when you remove them from the oven they will probably harden to a nice crunchy texture as they cool.

  
You could serve them like that as a snack. Once they’re cooler they make a luxurious, warm, salty, crunchy and slightly fatty accompaniment to an ice cold martini.

  

Alternatively, you could go one step further and make something from across the Mediterranean from Turkey: Egyptian Duqqah.

  
Grind it down, season it.

  
Then serve it with bread, good quality oil and maybe some balsamic vinegar.

Dip the bread in the oil then coat it in the duqqah with one hand while you sip your martini with the other.

This is simple and delicious. You can also mix the duqqah with other ingredients such as pepper, ground chickpeas and other ground nuts if you like.

Omnomnom!

Asparagus skewers to accompany a martini

  
This is dead easy.

  
Asparagus is tasty and a bit of a luxury so it naturally pairs well with a martini. I love its distinctive flavour, visual appeal and most of all, its satisfying fresh and crunchy texture.

  
My brother and I were having a martini before dinner, but after we had drunk the first one we really just wanted to have another one and postpone the food. Not to miss out on our nutrition (you can’t live on gin and olives…) I decided to take the vegetables we were going to eat and martini-fy them.

  

Inspired by this Izakaya-style spring onion recipe I cut each asparagus spear into three pieces and threaded them onto some bamboo skewers.

   
I added them to boiling water and cooked them for 4.5 minutes.

Meanwhile, melt a knob of butter in a frying pan with about half a tablespoon of soy sauce, half a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar and a pinch of pepper. You could also add a splash of mirin or sweet vermouth. 

  
I then removed the skewers from the water and shook them to discard any excess. I added them to the frying pan with the sauce and simmered them for about 30 seconds, tossing the skewers to coat them in the sauce.

  
Serve and pour over the excess sauce.

  
Reward yourself with another martini, which you can make while the asparagus is boiling and the butter is melting.

The French call the asparagus tips “points d’amour”. Apparently Madame de Pompadour was a fan.

 

She’s also at the top of my list of people I’d like to have a martini with so I hope she would approve of the recipe.
  
Humans have been consuming asparagus for thousands of years. 

Harvesting the plant has been depicted in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

The Romans even had a phrase “quicker than you can prepare asparagus” which serves as a reminder of how rapidly you can create this dish.

  
It’s also been described as an aphrodisiac in the past.

I’m not sure about the science behind that one so I’d recommend sticking to oysters.

  
But let’s be honest, if you’re sharing a martini with your amour you might not need an aphrodisiac at all.