Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Burns Baby Burns...Scottish Inferno!

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Robert Burns, Scotland's most famous poet

"Would you like to come to a Burns supper?" our pastor's wife asked. After a split second of English-to-American decoding, I decided that term must mean a bonfire and agreed.

"Great," she answered. "Feel free to wear your Scottish gear!"


Aw, now I get it. A Burns supper!

I can't help it. Americans love to poke fun at formality!
If you have no idea what said supper is, don't feel bad -- I didn't know either. Here's the skinny: Robert Burns was an 18th-century Scottish poet. His home country is quite proud of him still. So they party hardy every January (his birth month) in his honor, complete with bagpipes, Scottish dress and decor and a Scottish menu.

And what a menu it was. Save for the haggis (thank you, Disney Merida), I didn't recognize a single item. I had to learn in a hurry, however, as I was tasked with bringing the cock-a-leekie.

Pastor Andy brings in the haggis
Cock a Leekie
Cullen Skink

Main course
Vegetarian Haggis (yes, such a thing exists!)

Scottish trifle

Irn-Bru and Scottish Highland water

Google what haggis is made of. I dare you!
 While sipping some Irn-Bru (which tastes suspiciously like the nasty pregnancy glucose test, by the way), Pastor Andy announced that the skank was served.

Out came the Irn-Bru. "Does the term skank mean something different over here?" I whispered to the Canadian next to me. She shrugged. We both felt much better when Andy corrected himself, "No wait, I meant skink!"

As per Scottish tradition, the bagpipes wailed as the haggis made its grand entrance. And then some Scottish guy online read a "Robbie Buuuuurns" poem in an accent so thick I wasn't entirely sure he was speaking English.

Since Nick and I aren't exactly hip with Scottish fashion, we were dressed as -- what else? -- Americans at a Scottish party. Though I did manage to find an authentic Scottish ribbon that had once been around a package of Scottish shortbread. So around my American neck it went, matching my red American Eagle sweater.

Hey, I gave it my best shot. AND, thanks to my Scottish friend Debra, I even had a Scottie dog tea towel to wrap around my cock-a-leekie. (Can you tell I'm having fun with that phrase?).

Haggis, sliced and up close
As I handed my slow cooker over to Pastor Andy, he cleared space off the counter. "Here, let me plug that in to keep it warm," he said. Fishing for the plug, he realized it wouldn't work in his European house. Everything about us identifies us as aliens here -- even our cookery!

Well, at least no one will accidentally take my crock pot home.

P.S. The cock-a-leekie, and everything else, turned out deliciously. Scots must eat and drink well, minus the Irn-Bru.

The haggis makes it grand entrance
Several men were wearing kilts, including the host, Pastor Andy. Janet, his wife, wore slacks. At one point, I teased him about it.

"Hey Pastor," I joked. "So how does it feel knowing that your wife wears the pants in the family while you don't?"

He gave me a very funny look. "Actually," he stated, quite emphatically, "I AM wearing pants."

I figured he meant metaphorically and just laughed.

A Canadian parading as a Scot
Only later did someone pull me aside and asked me if I knew what I had just said to him. "You see," they explained, "in the UK, we call pants what you would call underwear. And what you would call pants, we call trousers."

So, in other words, I just questioned whether and how my pastor and his wife were wearing underwear. To his face!

Ah, well. At least my own face matched the tartans for the rest of the evening.

There were glasses of Scottish whiskey raised (I had no idea that whiskey smelled exactly like nail polish remover. Can someone please explain the appeal?) and speeches made in Burns' honor.

The gist: "No one could woo a woman, drink a shot and write a poem like Robbie could!" But, when coupled with lilting British and Irish accents, sounding much classier.

Being the adventurous eater that I am, I had a slice of haggis. It wasn't so bad -- just very salty and chewy. I preferred the vegetarian version, actually; the city of Eugene would be so proud.

A sing-along of Auld Lang Syne (did you know Burns wrote that?) and a quiz on the history and culture of Scotland capped the night off. The contest ended in a tie between two teams of Brits, Canadians, Americans, Sri Lankans and Brazilians. Go figure.

Amanda and I show off our winning medals
Before the Burns Supper, I didn't even realize that Scotland had their own flag (sorry, Debbie and Matt). I did know that reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray is Scottish, however, so that counts for something.

Lesson learned from the night: if Robert Burns' love for his country is like a red, red rose, then mine is like a red, red face...and a happy heart.