Scottish Whisky, Sock Flags, And Haggis
The Saint Andrews Society
155th Annual Banquet & Ball
Ingredients For Haggis
1 sheep stomach
1 sheep liver
1 sheep heart
1 sheep tongue
1/2 pound suet, minced
3 medium onions, minced
1/2 pound dry oats, toasted
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried ground herbs
A View Of Us – Scottish Version
Viewed from outer space, Earth is a beautiful blue planet with swirling white clouds and vast oceans separated by large swaths of brown and green. There are no artificial borders. When you zoom in closer, you can see the etchings of humanity on earth’s surface, a web of infrastructure that illustrates borders and boundaries that have been crossed, wars have been waged over, and countless masses of people wronged. If you zoom in even closer, the borders disappear once more, and you see cities and towns, and even closer, you see clusters of people and families.
Clusters of people and families have gathered for hundreds of thousands of years. Our early ancestors were on the move, and if a collection of people traveled just one mile each year for generations, their descendants could have traveled completely around the planet in 10,000 years. Since we know that people have been people for at least 200,000 years, and we are certain that often they moved hundreds of miles in a year, we are certain that we will have been able to traverse our planet 20 or even 100 times over, reaching all corners and crevices of this amazing world. About 9,000 years ago, early settlers arrived in the area now known as Scotland. Over the next 7,000 years or so, as agriculture and technology evolved, people started to stay in one place, and like many other areas of the world, a rich culture emerged that was formed around the climate, geography, and visitors who made it to that part of the region that brought in new ideas, for example bags filled with air that whistled, and a game where you hit a small ball with a long stick…
There I sat, in a grand ballroom at the Marine’s Memorial Club in San Francisco, the same ballroom where my son had his Annaprashan (first rice eating ceremony). Rather than being surrounded by beautiful silk saris and pajamas, I was surrounded by kilted men, and women in long beautiful gowns.
Before arriving in the 11th floor ballroom, in the lobby of the hotel we encountered several young service men saluting each other before heading out into the city wearing a variety of Santa Claus Printed Suits and Christmas Tree ties, each gracefully accompanied by their lovely and I am sure, brilliant wives. I paused for a moment to contemplate the life of a military family, who sacrifices their love and loved ones for the good of our country (at least we hope). The stiff salutes and the holiday printed suits were a humorous and endearing combination. When we arrived on the 11th floor, we were greeted by Susan Goodier, who has been so wonderful to work with. She shoo-shooed me into the lounge, where a bartender was freely pouring champagne, whiskey, and (evidently the bartender’s favorite) pineapple something-somethings.
My favorite experiences are to be somewhere that everything is unfamiliar to me, while everyone else is experiencing something wholly familiar. This somehow reassuring. It creates a wonderful sense that no matter how different you are than the people around you, somewhere else there are people who are even more different. Having traditions and interests that are varied is really a part of being human.
I had been invited by David Campbell, the gregarious and kind outgoing President of the Saint Andrews Society of San Francisco, to attend their 155th annual Banquet And Ball. The incoming President is the fabulous Francesca McCrossan who later in the evening had to wrangle seating arrangements while the rest of us sat sipping wine feeling very grateful that we were doing so. David invited myself plus a guest because we manage the Saint Andrews website, and also support their member outreach for events and gatherings. It was wonderful to meet in person so many of the people that I had seen only in photos over so many years. I have never experienced a Scottish event, and only had experienced hearing bagpipes once in close proximity at my cousin’s funeral, which was devastatingly sad. I can’t imagine anything more grief-inducing than a man wearing a kilt playing bagpipes in the rain under a tree and darkened skies…
The Saint Andrews Society, like the British Benevolent Society, was formed in the 1800’s to provide financial support to those Scots who had arrived in the new world, and who had fallen upon bad luck and needed financial support. Widows were of particular concern. Today their emphasis is on providing financial support for education, and in providing a community for Scottish traditions…the consumption of whiskey being one of particular importance but of course, not the only. I wondered humorously how the elders would have reacted if I had brought in a bottle of the three-hour whiskey flavored by molecules extracted from yeast that I had tasted at the TedX Marin “Future Of Food” event.
I am fairly certain that it was not the whiskey or the wine, or the delicious food, but it was the generous and friendly guests who made my friend Maya and myself feel so relaxed. There was an ease of conversation with everyone, which made the evening so enjoyable. Rarely do I have so many conversations in one evening that feel so genuine.
Address to a Haggis: Robert Burns – Mid 1850’s
Dinner was accompanied by a colorful performance of dancers and drumming, bagpipes, and a very important tradition that involved a speech, flailing knives, a stabbing into a dish on a plate, and a proclamation of the love for haggis.
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o the puddin’-race!
Aboon them a’ ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye worthy o’ a grace
As lang’s my arm.
You can read the rest here.
Because I come from Viking heritage, I have an affection for rugged, hearty people who scoff at the cold, and think nothing of heaving rocks. The haggis was delicious, the salmon too, and the conversation was merry. Dinner was finished off with a mug of coffee, which I was grateful for given the generosity of wine that was flowing. After dinner, I had a few minutes to catch up with David Campbell, who introduced me to one special guest, a ram, who alas could only attend with his head, which had been used for decades to support a decorative canister of snuff. It was donated by a Scottish family that, like so many of ours, had left their homeland in difficult times to come here, work extremely hard, and create a new life. In earlier years it is said, after dinner, cigars and the ram’s head was passed around. I was satisfied with just a photo of his head rather than sniffing something that was inside of it, a mug of caffeine, and the many friendly encounters I had that evening.
But, if ye wish her gratefu prayer,
Gie her a Haggis