The Table of My Ancestors: Week 2 (Scotland)

To read the post that started it all, click here!

I decided to be a bit more ambitious this week and prepare both a meal and a dessert. For dinner, I made a batch of Scotch sausage rolls, which were easy to prepare (thanks to packaged puffed pastry) and turned out crispier and more indulgent than I could have hoped for! My only regret is that we didn’t have any HP brown sauce for dipping, as it’s a customary condiment for these delicious rolls. I did serve them with oven-roasted carrots and other root veggies.

The tricky bit this week was making the Scottish all-butter shortbread. My mother, born in Edinburgh, was going for her first chemotherapy appointment on Thursday, so I decided make shortbread as a sort of nod to her on the same day. Everything started out well enough. The recipe only calls for five ingredients (butter, sugar, salt, corn starch, and flour), and the dough came together nicely while the oven was preheating.

And then I tried to roll the dough out, and that’s when it all turned to rubbish, as we’d say. It was a humid day, and my kitchen was hot, and even though the granite countertops typically remain cool, the dough heated up quickly and promptly fell apart as soon as it came into contact with the rolling pin.

And yes, I cried.

As I stood there, attempting to reform and reshape the crumbles, I realized what I really was crying about was my mother. The cancer. The prognosis. Being a different country away. The guilt. The wasted years. Our family’s losses. The grief. The trauma. It all came flooding back on a sunny afternoon when she was receiving chemo for her incurable cancer and I was desperately trying to connect with her, connect with my Nana and Papa and Gramma and Da, all those who I’ve loved and lost, through what I thought would be a simple recipe from their homeland.

This is the deep soul-work that accompanies embodied living, embodied cooking, embodied rediscovery of one’s heritage. The body truly does keep the score. It remembers, and it bears witness to all of our strivings, our disappointments, our griefs. And in my kitchen, it was reminding me of a simple truth I’ve been forgetting for a while now: things fall apart sometimes. People, too. And that’s okay.

That first batch of shortbread turned out to be lumpy blobs that surprisingly held together well while baking and crumble nicely when eating. My second batch was much better, in the traditional sense, after some troubleshooting and advice from a few friends. But that first batch, the one that fell apart, is precious to me. A reminder of both the beauty and the tragedy that we all encounter in this thing called life. A physical, tangible representation of the truth that we humans are a sum of a great many things — some altogether lovely, some messy and hard — and that the healing comes when we stop trying to hide away those undone pieces of ourselves.