Louise has left the Islands
A friend’s adventure brings on a trip down Memory Lane
Louise leaving the Islands (it’s just for a week) might not pull at your heart strings as much as Elvis having left the Building did, but it has sent me thumbing through old notebooks and looking up where I had the best pizza, and the addresses of Zabar’s and Dean & DeLuca. Louise has gone to New York to watch her daughter and son-in-law run in the City Marathon this weekend. It has brought back a lot of good memories for me, and they are definitely Not about running.
An Orkney bere bannock. Photo Orkney.com
Louise was one of the first people that I met when we moved to Orkney five years ago. She was working at the incredible Orkney Library (you really, really, really need to be following them on Twitter, for as long as we all keep using the platform) and we met when I had to step in to do a cookery dem during Book Week Scotland, just six weeks after we moved here. My colleague Liz Ashworth was due to present some recipes from her then newly published The Book of Bere but was ill and asked me to take over. That was fine, but she wanted me to cook a bere bannock which I had scarcely heard of yet alone cooked. It’s a griddle-baked quick bread made with Orkney’s ancient grain bere, a strain of barley thought to date back to the Neolithic. One lady said to me after the dem that the minute I started it was obvious that I had done cookery dems before - she kindly didn’t add that they probably all knew much more about bere than I did! Anyway, Louise and I became close friends immediately and her husband Eddie is one of my whisky drinking pals.
Sitting at my desk now, feeling so content as I look out over a stormy autumn sea with the waves rolling onto the beach, it’s hard for me to imagine just how excited I was to be heading to New York in 2000. I had started in Toronto on a tour to promote both my High Fibre and Onions cookbooks which had recently been published in North America by Firefly. Looking back through my notes the NY promotional activity was mainly on two or three of the many cable TV networks. I stayed just back from Central Park, as Louise is going to do, and quite close to Carnegie Hall. Andrew Carnegie, the Dunfermline-born Scots-American steel industrialist and philanthropist, not only endowed the arts with concert halls but he was also a leading advocate of books for all, funding local libraries in many countries. The beautiful Old Library building in Laing Street, Kirkwall was made possible by him. Now you can start to see a link developing: libraries, New York and Orkney, Andrew Carnegie…
The Carnegie-funded Old Library in Laing Street, Kirkwall
Apart from promoting my books, visiting delis (Zabar’s bagels were the only ones that I have ever enjoyed), eating pizza (and more) and, of course, the obligatory trip to Williams Sonoma the kitchen shop, I had two wonderful Occasions
. Firstly, the sublime experience of Turandot at The Met: a stalls seat, champagne in the interval, new outfit, the works. I’ll never forget it. Secondly, the rare privilege of visiting Gourmet magazine in the Conde Nast building, as it was then known, at 4 Times Square. Through a friend I had met a Senior Manager at Gourmet and arranged to meet her in New York at the offices of the magazine, to see their Test Kitchens and get a peek at their restaurant which had caused quite a stir in the press for its lavishness. It was a great visit, ending with a cuppa in her office. Not being the brightest business cookie I was utterly unprepared for when she looked at me and said “Now, what would you like to do for us?”. I think I said “Nothing - I just wanted to see around!”. Talk about a missed opportunity! I was busy enough, but writing for Gourmet would have been brilliant.
Now, back to the pizza. Of course I had to go to Little Italy and I chose to eat at Lombardi’s, proclaimed as America’s first pizzeria. I loved it but my notes say you need to go with a friend as I simply couldn’t eat all my pizza by myself. I noted down coal-fired ovens - would they be wood-fired now? Maybe Louise will find out.
I’m excited for my friend and her weekend adventure. I was in New York when the Twin Towers still dominated the skyline and before my photography had gone digital. From there I went on to Boston and Nick joined me for a long weekend which included visiting Ocean Spray to see the cranberry bogs, their Test Kitchens and team. But now, well, I’ll just sit in Orkney, look at the sea and wait for Louise’s What’sApp messages telling me of her adventures - and asking about Strictly Come Dancing. I shall be perfectly happy on these wind-swept islands, looking forward to my friend coming home to talk NY, book shops like Barnes & Noble, food and more.