Bellingham by the Bay
By Bruce Bellingham
It’s been years since I’ve been to a real Burns Night Supper, the traditional Scottish rite of having haggis, “a wee dram,” hearing the bagpiper in full regalia, and hanging onto the words of Robert Burns, the Scottish national poet, as his To A Haggis is recited with mock solemnity. Most of us Yanks know Burns from his “Auld Lang Syne.” Burns Night is a big deal in Scotland, as it is around San Francisco where Scottish traditions are upheld hither and yon. All the warm, cozy elements were intact on Burn’s birthday, Jan. 25 – a rainy, chilly Monday night – at the Hidden Vine Wine Bar, 620 Post Street, in the lower level of the charming Fitzgerald Hotel. The gathering of 40 people or so was all the doing of the lovely hostess, Alison McQuade, who owns the getting-more-famous-all-the-time McQuade’s Celtic Chutney. Through Alison I have learned that chutney is not merely a condiment, it’s a way of life. From the Ferry Building food boutiques to the cooler retail outlets around town, many seem to agree.
Alison got some of her myriad friends to help her out with the party, including piper David Winter, reciter Frank Gallagher, and chef Moaya Scheiman, former co-owner of Tamal in SOMA. Moaya prepared the haggis. Oh, yes, haggis. I thought you’d never ask. There’s an old saying about politics: it’s like sausage; you don’t want to see how it’s made. Well, with haggis, you really don’t want to even hear how it’s made. I will tell you this much: it’s a sheep’s stomach that’s stuffed with sheepy innards and oatmeal and inflated to the size of a small dirigible in a double boiler. Over the years it’s been relegated to a higher status by being served with lofty ceremony on a platter with wee drams of Scotch whisky and a bagpiper tearing into a good old Scots tune. The “great chieftain of the puddin’ race,” as Burns described haggis, is hacked into with a dagger – or perhaps a kitchen knife – whatever might be available on a rainy, chilly Monday night. Chef Moaya attended to the sanctified slaughtering. My late mother, Jemima, who also hailed from Alison’s hometown of Glasgow, once told me that she wouldn’t touch haggis with a 10-foot pole. That’s a variation of “lips that have touched haggis shall never touch mine!” Haggis has a rich, sausage-like consistency, but my favorite part is the “neeps,” that is, the mashed turnips that are always served with it. It was the second Burns Supper that Spig, owner of the great Costume Party shop on Hyde Street on Nob Hill, had attended this year. He confessed that he had donated an inflatable sheep for the festivities at Edinburgh Castle over the weekend. Strictly symbolic, I’m sure. Nothing racy. When I was a kid, I heard Walter Cronkite read a disclaimer on the CBS Evening News: “There are details here that are too racy for this broadcast.” Speaking of matters unprintable, I asked chef Scheiman where he managed to obtain the sheep’s stomachs. After all, they cannot be lawfully sold, they’re not USDA approved. Lowering his voice, Moaya said, “The roads were flooded up in Sonoma County, I couldn’t get the sheep’s stomach. I had to use a substitute.” Substitute? I have to say that you don’t want to know. No, no, you really don’t. There are details here that are too racy for this broadcast. ...
Mike Pulsipher loved that Cronkite story. We used to joke – and that was over 25 years ago – there weren’t enough racy things to get on the air. Mike died on Jan. 8, apparently from a heart attack at his home in San Francisco. He was 61. I used to think being 60 was pretty old. I don’t think that anymore. Mike was an anchor at KCBS for over 20 years. We worked together when I was a writer there. Mike always had a kid’s enthusiasm when he was parked at his favorite place – behind the microphone. I recall when he read an obit that I wrote about Richard Manuel of The Band: “Manuel, chronically depressed, hanged himself.” Mike read the piece with a sad soulfulness. Very moving. It still sticks with me. Mike was polished. He was a pro. He had all the instincts of a great radio announcer, and he was. He leaves two grown kids, Melissa and Jeff. …
When a waitress in an East L.A. diner served Sharon Anderson an omelet the other day, Sharon couldn’t help but notice the tattoo on the server’s forearm depicting Anton Newcombe. You know, the lead singer of the Brain Jonestown Massacre: “Hey, that’s Anton!” exclaimed Sharon. “It’s the album cover to Strung Out in Heaven!” A warm moment of nineties alternative rock was exchanged with the waitress, in her twenties, saying finally, “Ah, the nineties. When music was good!”…
Let Bruce Bellingham know about reality or anything else that comes to mind. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org