The Chinese are a very superstitious race. All sorts of omens or acts are believed to have good or bad effects on one’s life. When I was pregnant with Nico, I was told by my colleagues that I couldn’t eat bananas because the baby would slip out. Men delivering a locker for the ladies’ bathroom on a Wednesday (horse-racing day in Hong Kong) initially didn’t want to put it in situ because it meant that they would lose on the races later that day. Bad fung shui! Fung shui (geomancy) is a belief that your geographical situation has an effect on your luck, and covers everything from searching for a property on a hill facing water because of its good fung shui to the ubiquitous fish tanks full of goldfish (symbolising gold and wealth) in homes, shops and offices. The Chinese believe very strongly in numerology too, and when I was still working I had to make sure that the home telephone number of one of our directors was a propitious one. 4 and 7 are linked with death simply because the words sound like the word for death, but precede them with 5, which sounds like the word for not and all is well. The most lucky number is 8 which sounds like the word for wealth. The car registration number 8 in Hong Kong is still, I think, the most expensive registration plate in the world. The Chinese are also pragmatic and hedge their bets. Despite being very proud of their 6,000 year old civilisation, a fact which was repeated many times during the millennium celebrations, the Chinese were thrilled by the date 8th August, 1988 (8/8/88) – a date which related to the supposed birth date of Jesus Christ, and had nothing to do with Chinese history. Anyway, not only did it have four 8s, but it occurred in the Year of the Dragon, the luckiest of the years to be born. In Hong Kong, women became pregnant and booked their caesarians not only for 8th August, but for times that included 8 – 8.08, 8.18. You get my drift.
So what has all this got to do with today other than the fact that it’s 8th August? Well, 25 years ago, my niece, Jen, was born in Johannesburg. We Moyes-es were thrilled because 8th August had also been the birthday of Agnes, my maternal grandmother, and her twin, Angus (still possibly the daftest names for twins ever. And yes I know that she was named after her mother and he was named after his grandfather – it was still daft.) How lovely to have this continued connection to the date. Our friends and colleagues in Hong Kong, however, knew better. I cannot tell you the kudos I got in the office because my niece was born on That Date. Wah! What happiness! She will be beautiful, she will be rich! She will keep us all in our old age! Well they got the beauty part right! And if you define richness by talent then that was certainly right too. It is coming up for three years since Jen moved to London – three years of turning her life around. Three years of working, making friends, and exploring that frequently cold and often unfamiliar country. In the past year, there seems to me, watching from New York, that there have been even bigger changes with a new full-time job, together with lessons in photography, developing a photography website and assisting on photo shoots in her free time. Jen, I wish you all the best in the changes that will doubtless come and, shaking my locked hands at you, I wish you double happiness for the future.
So today’s recipe? Jen loves haggis, good half-Scot that she is, and I promised to tell how I cook haggis. Traditionally haggis is simmered very gently in water, but I remember Grandma steaming it. I’ve googled and I’m told that the timing is 35 mins per pound. The thing to remember is that haggis is very fatty, and you need to get rid of some of this fat in the cooking. I prefer to roast it in the oven. I use a hot oven (200 C) and put the haggis on a grill pan, stab it with a fork gently so that the skin won’t burst, and cook for about 40 mins. Be careful because there is a lot of fat and you may well need to drain the fat from the pan during the cooking. When the haggis is cooked, I put it on a plate and split it in half, before I sprinkle whisky on both sides – I probably use a teaspoon of whisky. Serve with tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and mashed swede).
Haggis is more than this though and on a couple of occasions I have made Haggis Lasagne. I thought this was a great recipe, being easy and tasty. The boys, however, preferred either haggis or lasagne as they are traditionally served! Anyway, here is the recipe for Haggis Lasagne, created by Sue Lawrence, a Scottish chef who won Masterchef some years ago, and whose cookery books I cannot recommend highly enough. This is her recipe and comes from the book A Cook’s Tour of Scotland, a beautiful book with fantastic recipes.
Haggis Lasagne – Ingredients
1 large (approx 900 g) haggis
250 g lasagne sheets
3 – 4 large, ripe tomatoes, sliced
40 g butter
40 g plain flour
500 ml milk
3 tbsp freshly grated parmesan cheese
Cut open the haggis and crumble with your fingers. Scatter some over the base of a buttered lasagne dish. Top with a third of the lasagne sheets then top with more haggis. Top with the tomatoes, season well, top with lasagne and the remaining haggis, then remaining lasagne.
For the sauce, melt the butter, add the flour , stirring to form a roux then gradually add the milk, stirring or whisking to form a sauce. Stir for 4 – 5 minutes then season to taste. Pour this over the remaining lasagne, top with the cheese and a drizzle of oil.
Bake, uncovered, at 180 C / 350 F / Gas 4 for 50 – 55 minutes, or until golden and the lasagne soft (check with the tip of a knife). Rest for 10 mins or so before cutting.
Happy birthday, Jen, and enjoy!