Today marks the birthday of one Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, whose short but prolific life back in the late 18th-century is celebrated on this day every year by any Scot worth his or her haggis — or anyone else looking for a good time eating traditional Scottish dishes washed down with more than a wee dram of whiskey. This is drunken revelry at its best.
The traditional Burns Supper centers around a haggis, which consists of sheep's 'pluck' (heart, lungs and liver) minced with onion, oatmeal, suet, spices and salt all encased in the animal's stomach and simmered for several hours. Haggis is not for the faint-hearted and when you break it down there's not a lot to like: it's basically a glorified stuffed sheep's stomach with lots of bells and whistles to distract from what you are eating.
At such short notice you are going to be hard pressed to find haggis at the supermarket, butcher or local shop but improvise with a few sausages, some root vegetables and the more appealing aspects of the dinner — not least being a lot of whiskey.
The new Grindhaus Sausage Shop in Hollywood doesn't make haggis but they make up for this lack of seasonal Scottish fair with a great selection of gourmet sausages including lamb merguez, wild boar bratwurst, duck and spicy Italian. All would serve as appetizing haggis body doubles.
Haggis is served with “Chapit tatties and bashed neeps” – mashed potatoes and rutabagas – smooth, rich and stick to your ribs hearty with lots of cream, butter and pepper. At Grindhaus they make vegan sausages from non-other than root vegetables, think neeps rolled into sausages with no casing which you simply pan fry.
Scottish ancestors everywhere will be turning in their tartan graves at this redux of their Burns Supper dish, haggis, tatties and neaps, to good old British bangers and mash with a vegan alternative. Only in L.A. However, before William Wallace wakes from his eternal sleep to come and knock some Scottish sense into all of us let's embrace the traditional Scottish formalities to the festivities.
The evening unfolds with several toasts, Burns poetry recitals and bordy speeches. Dinner starts with the Selkirk Grace:
Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, and we can eat,
Sae let the Lord be thankit.
The haggis is piped into the dining room carried on high by the chef. Highland pipers may not be on hand but a couple of bagpipe tunes downloaded to the iPod will suffice and whilst you are at it download the official Robert Burns App. It's a great way of getting all of Burns' poetry in one place.
The guests stand and the “Chairman” delivers the “Address to the Haggis” including an Oscar worthy performance of stabbing the encased offal with the words
“An cut you up wi' ready slight;
Trenching your gushing entrails bright.”
Granted this may be a little difficult with a meagre sausage or two. but use your imagination — this is Hollywood after all, home of special effects — a tiny Barbie knife perhaps? The more over the top and in the moment you can be the better the entertainment. Read the poetry with a thick Scottish accent — it actually helps with the delivery and understanding — no 'tim-rous beasties' here but Highland warriors ready to do battle with Burns' Scottish stanzas.
As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I,
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a' the seas gang dry.
From O, My Luve's Like a Red, Red Rose
Still thou art blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I cannot see,
I guess an' fear!
From To a Mouse
The main speeches are an appreciation of “The Immortal Memory of Robbie Burns”, a toast to the Lassies and then a “Response from the Lassies.” Persuading someone to sing a soft gentle Burns love song after copious amounts of Scotch shouldn't be hard.