Blog posts

Life (and Food) On Board the Caledonian Canal

Life (and Food) On Board the Caledonian Canal

Pender Island Life

Considering that my last post about our Scottish vacation was over 3000 words, I think it’s time I embraced the whole a picture is worth a thousand words thing.

It may be time to staunch the flow, but that doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy.  As you may, or may not, know, I tend to go a little over-board when it comes to talking about food.

That, and I can never resist a pun.  Terrible.

invergarry-mooring

As part of a trip to the UK to visit family and friends, we hired a boat from Caley Cruisers out of Inverness, Scotland.  We had our Highland Monarch for 7 nights, and made the most of our time (and the glorious weather!) by cruising the entire length of the Caledonian Canal from Inverness to Fort William, including Loch Ness, and back again.

This post is about the food we had on board.  We ate a lot more, mostly in pubs and hotels along the way, but that’s another post for another day.  Here, we’re going to talk about what me and my travelling spice/knife kits got up to in the ship’s kitchen.  Whoops, I mean galley.

view-from-the-galley

I took this shot, from 1 step above said galley, on our first morning just as we were leaving the shelter of the canal and entering the much more open waters of Loch Ness.  I started the morning with a cup of coffee on deck with Capt. Howard but, as the wind picked up and the clouds closed in, I went below to start breakfast just in case the water got too rough for me to deal with boiling water and splattering bacon fat.

It ended up drizzling for a total of 30 minutes — just enough time for Howard to pack up everything from outside and join me for breakfast while steering from the inside wheel — scrambled eggs with dill and Scottish cheddar on toast, served with some stellar organic bacon, if you’re interested.

Also of interest is that it didn’t rain again for our entire stay in Scotland — in April — amazing.

organic scottish cheese, meat and eggs hashbrowns on loch ness

Most of the groceries I used on board were delivered by locally owned Macleod Organics.  That includes the fantastic selection of (award-winning) organic Scottish cheeses pictured above, as well as milk, eggs, bacon, and a box of locally grown veggies —  the variety of which (for April in Scotland) — was surprising and inspiring.  Along with the carrots, onions, potatoes and turnips that were to be expected, we received some leeks, big bags of salad greens and spinach, stalks of fresh rhubarb and even some purple broccoli.

Macleods also delivered a number of organic pantry staples, including flour, barley, lentils, nuts & seeds, chutney and chocolate — all of which we sampled (in the name of research).

lighthouse-

We owe many thanks  to everyone at Caley Cruisers for helping us put together such an amazing holiday.  Caley is a family owned company that started with 1 boat for hire in 70s, and although their fleet has grown, Audrey Hogan and her team still manage to provide excellent service with a personal touch.  It was her suggestion to order from Macleod Organics, and she helped me to complete my shopping by driving me down to a local cooperative grocery store where I picked up the rest of everything on my list (ie the booze) just minutes before we were due to cast off.

When you’ve got the food & drinks taken care of, the rest of a holiday on the water is a breeze!

poached-eggs

On deck for our 2nd breakfast were some oven fries, poached eggs and more of that amazing organic bacon.  Howard doesn’t like them — but I always say when in Rome — and there isn’t a  much more quintessentially British breakfast item than the grilled tomato.  I enjoyed the one I made for myself (stuffed with Scottish smoked cheddar) while Howard grumbled something about not knowing there was cheese involved.  I just smiled sweetly and enjoyed the last bite.

He really should learn to trust me, don’t you think?

waiting-at-the-lock

Celebrating the end of the longest lunch break in the world!  We went through this lock on Day 2, and stopped here for about 2 hours while the lock keeper had his lunch.  Now I’m not one to begrudge anyone a break, and certainly not a good meal, but this was a loooong break.

However, as we had no schedule and really nowhere specific to be, even my Type-A personality had to admit that the lost time wasn’t really a big deal.

chain-So I took a walk up the tow path and got artsy while we were waiting…

howard-caledonian-canal

Howard, who is a much more patient soul than I, was happy to enjoy the view, and the sun, while kicking back with a few snacks on board.  Did I mention that we got tans…in the Scottish Highlands…in April?


scottish-alesAfter a long hard day on the Caledonian Canal, it’s important have a few beers along — just to take off the edge.  Here’s a small selection of the local brews we sampled on our cruise up and down the canal.

theresa-in-the-galley

This was a vacation, so I don’t want you to think that I spent the whole time in the galley.  Although, even if I had, I could hardly complain, could I?  The smaller eye-level windows above the stove meant I always had a view, and the windows all above me meant I was never short of light…aah…heavenly kitchen.  Whoops, I mean galley.

risotto-on-the-hob candied-turnip

Remember that list of food that came with our organic delivery?  In addition to our heavenly breakfasts and some well-stacked sandwiches for lunch, we also enjoyed a very tasty all-veggie barley risotto for dinner one night — all made from that box of Scottish groceries.

To start the dish, I first candied my pre-blanched turnip in a simple-syrup that I boiled to hard-ball stage.  Then I made a veggie stock, using some of the carrots and leeks we had delivered as well as some kombu, fennel seeds, peppercorns, bay leaves and chili peppers from my travelling spice kit.

scottish-risotto

Instead of parmesan, I finished the risotto with Crowdie — a traditional soft cheese that dates back to the Viking occupation of Scotland — it provided the perfect slightly sour note to finish off a purely Scottish Risotto, served on Purple Broccoli and garnished with candied turnip.

I made the leftovers into arancini for a post-cruising snack the next day, which we enjoyed with a glass of white on deck before we walked to a local hotel for dinner.

fam-cruisin

The next day, we picked up some family at the halfway point near Ft. William.  Howard’s mom, Yvonne, and his step-dad, Mike, along with my mom, Rita, joined us at Banavie Locks for the return journey to Inverness.  They had an early start, with a sunrise flight from Manchester to Inverness, then a 90 minute cab ride back down to the boat.

Hungry travellers need a good lunch, so after we pushed off from the dock (and had the obligatory welcome cup of tea/coffee) I served up a lunch of red lentil soup, sesame flatbread, cheese and chutney that we enjoyed under the glowing orb of the sun!

sesame-flatbread

With full bellies, we all found our own places on the boat.  Howard and Mike taking turns at the wheel, our moms settling comfortably onto the inside couches, surrounded by windows, happy to watch the pastoral views drift by, and me, up on deck, dreaming of our next meal as I watched it graze on the emerald-green fields before me.

I could get got very used to this.

canalside-view