A Fiddler in the North – Aqus Community’s Scottish Knees Up for Robbie Burns Night

(Jan 2010)

Scotland’s poet, lyricist, scoundrel, thorn in the side of the Calvinists (yes, that included the Puritans) and to top it all, a some-time tax collector, Robert Burns is better known world-wide today as the Ploughman’s Poet, the Bard of Ayrshire and undoubtedly, Scotland’s son.

Having pioneered the romantic movement in his preservation and revamping of liberal, socialistic folk songs in both his native Scottish language and dialectal English, Burns penned all-time international favorites such as Auld Lang Syne, Tam O’Shanter and A Red, Red Rose.

Must have been a passionate life well lived from the handsome poet’s perspective, despite the fact that he died prematurely at age 37. For the Bard of Ayrshire fathered over a dozen children (though not all of them survived infancy) with numerous paramours over his years of renown, which led to nothing less than cult following in the two centuries proceeding his passing in 1796.

A stirring evening of tartan, red roses, pipes, fiddles, song and story telling took place down at Petaluma’s Aqus Cafe this Burns Night, a rainy Monday in which the glow of a warm, cozy gathering would have cheered the poet on.

Co-owner John Crowley (coyly modeling the red, red rose, above, alongside Aqus Cafe’s fellow-Irish host, Michael) offered a traditional Selkirk Grace to the welcoming toast, parading the Haggis (second from top) before an accompanying bagpiper. Big scene for a small space, in which sixty or more proud-as-punch Scottish Americans and interested on-lookers (more than a handful of neighborly English, including co-owner and hostess with the mostest for the evening, Lesley) enjoyed a slap-up, winter’s dinner of Crowley’s gourmet cock-a-leekie soup (a rich concoction of chicken, leeks, stock and prunes), huge portions of Shepherd’s Pie and Veggie Mash, shortbread with whipped (highland-style) cream and berries.

Memorialized as the national dish of Scotland in Burns’ poem “Address to Hagis” – 1787 – it’s perhaps best to think of the sheep’s ‘pluck’ (heart, liver and lungs) minced with oatmeal, spices, suet and onion and simmered in the sheep’s stomach for a few, long hours as more of a sausage than an outrage. Having said that, I had somehow successfully eluded a taste of a Scottish haggis until then. Not one to be a prude when it comes to strange and unusual foods, I found myself in line (not a stampede, mind you, but a pleasant, well-mannered line – “You go first, no you…. be my guest”!) for a wee taster of the wondrous looking plateful, which actually resembled something that would fit right in out here in Southern SoCo and the wilds of West Marin.

And you know what? It wasn’t all that weird at all. Rather like a little tapenade, only without the olive oil. Wouldn’t want to make an entire meal of it, mind you.

Thoroughly enjoyed the (keep it clean) sight of men in kilts, daggers a ready in their long, woolen socks, sporrans, tartan sashes and heathered brooches on the older ladies, a tiny bit of the highlands here in rain-soaked Sonoma County. What better way to spend a wet and windy Monday night?

Original post and additional photos at: Southern Sonoma Country Life – Frances Rivetti