Friday, 30 April 2010

Ground Effect

It's flat-calm April weather. Drizzly one moment, blazing sunshine the next.

The birds are enjoying it. Swallows swooping perilously close to the water, catching ever-more-abundant flies; loose flocks of Meadow Pipits beetling round the lawn and the damp soil; a robber-masked Wheatear bouncing between the rocks.

And of course there's the Grey Heron. When the sea is as calm as this it skims in low over the water and makes lazy, elegant use of the "ground effect". Gliding low like this alters the airflow around its huge wings, reducing drag. Curiously, "ground effect" isn't much use over land as there are usually too many obstacles to get low enough.

Humans, particularly Russian humans, have made interesting use of the "ground effect" in "ground effect vehicles" such as the Ekranoplan, nicknamed "The Caspian Sea Monster".

I wonder if it would fit in the bay? Might startle the Heron.

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

All Work and No Bay....

Have been bogged down with work the last few days, with precious few opportunities to go out and inhale great gouts of salty sea air. However, despite the miserable weather, I decided to venture out onto the shore this lunchtime.

It's full moon time and we've had some monstrously high tides. Last night I spent a bit of time staring out at the foul weather and agitated sea. From a certain angle it looked like the deck dropped away straight into the water, with no intervening land.

The tide had started to turn by the time I made it down to the shore today, so no Razor Fish opportunities. I did find an array of (semi) edible seaweeds that I'd never really noticed before. I tried them all raw, with varying degrees of disgust. I think I identified and tasted: Gutweed (salty, green and surprisingly tender), Green Laver (salty, green and surprisingly tough) and Sugar Kelp (salty, brown, frondly and surprisingly OK). I'll get round to cooking some of them but it satisfied my inner Neanderthal to try them in their raw form first.

So, great gouts of salty sea air; great gouts of salty seaweed; now back to plain gouts of unsalted paperwork.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

The Mussels with Brussels

Went to the local with my wife and two of my brothers last night. After a few Spanish lagers the seafood punnery blossomed once again.

My brothers are all fine cooks. I suggested to one of them that he come up with some unusual seafood-pun-incorporating recipes that I could list here. One that's dying to be concocted is, I think, "The Mussels with Brussels". I don't know if it will ever see the grim light of day but it really has potential. The humble sprout combined with the not-so-humble Mussel. I like Brussels Sprouts. But I like to chop them up finely and stir-fry with bacon. Replace bacon with Mussel and the possibilities are, well, obvious and somewhat limited.

Feeling a little bloated today. Spanish lager on top of Spanish garlic chicken (our dinner last night) equals not the least flatulent combination.

Spanish garlic chicken is delicious, though. Chicken thighs cooked on the hob with salt, olive oil, dry sherry and about six cloves of finely chopped garlic, with another six to eight whole cloves (unpeeled) thrown in for good measure. That's "six to eight", not "sixty-eight" as one of my brothers heard it last night. No wonder I'm feeling bloated.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Dabbling in Twitching

Miserable weather yesterday evening and our intended walk got cancelled due to lack of locomotion.

Plenty to see from the house with binoculars, though. A pair of Shelducks were making slow but steady progress up from the water line, rooting for small crabs and other tasty morsels as they went. Their pure white plumage with black and brown markings is so distinct, even at a distance, that it looks like the contrast has been turned up to eleven.

At the other end of the contrast scale were a pair of Sandpipers. I must have been staring right at them for fully five minutes before I actually picked them out from the sand and seaweed backdrop. They are slight and delicate looking, with spindly legs and a needle-like bill.

I've never been much of a twitcher. At least not in the birdwatching sense. But I have to admit that watching seabirds is quite interesting; maybe because I get to wonder about what they are eating and what it tastes like.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Waxing Gibbous

I note from the small widget on my blog that the moon is waxing gibbous. Well that's exciting. Big Spring tides to look forward to. The low tides should reveal more edible seaweeds. It's maybe just the thrawn side of my personality but I find the prospect of eating seaweed more exciting than just about all the other foraged-food possibilities the Gastrobeach has to offer.

"Waxing Gibbous" is a wonderful term. I wonder if it could be applied to people who are putting on a bit of weight, or even to pregnant mothers.

The wind has just dropped and it's very still and quiet on the shore. The grass outside is damp from some torrential showers earlier on. This is the kind of weather that the midges will love in a few months time. "Al fresco" dining opportunities will be over, except for the midges of course.

A Grey Heron is standing on one leg, surveying its territory. My wife has just told me that they can be quite communal birds and that they group together in trees, particularly at breeding times. The breeding/nesting area is known as a "heronry" or "heron rookery". We only ever see the loners on the shore.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Kelp, I need some body

Sunday was bright but with a biting wind. We wrapped up and went off scrambling over the rocks at the northern side of the bay. Slippery terrain: I joked to my wife that I was the kind of guy that could turn a girl's ankle. She fared better than me though; she in trainers and I in clumsy walking boots.

I found some kelp in a tidal rockpool. A frondy, slightly slimy specimen. I've eaten dulse straight off the shore before, but not kelp. It was, of course, very salty and also a bit chewy but not unpleasantly so. I can't say it would make for a terribly satisfying meal but I suppose that's not the point. It could be made palatable by getting rid of some of the salt and drying it out, perhaps to crumble into soup. I've been eating miso soup for my lunch lately, and I can imagine that it might add a bit of body to that. Works for the Japanese.

Out of the wind it was warm and we basked in the sun a while, listening to that especially-relaxing sound the sea makes as it gently laps into a small inlet between rocks.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

The Clam before the Storm?

Just out of bed, still in pyjamas. There's a dusting of new snow on the mountains today. Strong sunshine again but the Cumulus clouds in the distance look like they're threatening to change into something more rain-bearing.

Went for a walk on the shore with my wife yesterday, as the tide was turning. Noticed a lot of larger shells around, of what could be Surf Clams. I never find any live ones of these of any decent size, just tiny ones. I haven't yet been able to work out the different types of small clams. Apparently they are difficult to tell apart. I've always called the small ones Carpet Shells but it looks like they may actually be Abra Alba which never grow very large.

I've also read in some places that small clams like Abra Alba are too small to bother eating. Well, they're on the beach and I eat them. They are tiny but tasty and are excellent mixed in with some pasta, still in their shells. They infuse the pasta with a subtle and sweet seafood flavour, which would be worth having even if there was no actual protein content from them.

Think I will need to dig down into the sand, rather than just raking, to see if there are any bigger clams. I'll probably find Clappy Doos (a sort of large black mussel/clam) but I don't remember them as being very good to eat. Must give them another try.

Friday, 16 April 2010

These Spoots are made for Wok-ing

I shouldn't really call them "spoots". My mum hates that. We always called them razor fish but they are now (pretentiously trendily) often called "razor clams". I've also heard "spout fish" and "razor shell". In Gaelic my dad always called them "muirsgian" which I suppose translates as "sea knife". Anyway, it was a new moon yesterday and the tide was low, down below the sand bar, at just the right time for my lunch break. How kind of the moon to oblige. I hastily pulled on my wellies and "wellied it" down to the beach; salt and bucket in hand.

It worked! Saw water-spout; immediately chucked on pile of salt; razor fish became restless in its hidey-hole and duly rose up to the surface, thrashing salty "foot" in aggravated manner. I just pulled it out of the sand and tossed it into my bucket. Easy. If only I'd known that trick during my childhood I'd have saved myself a lot of split and bleeding fingernails from failed razor fish-grabbing attempts. Would probably have got a row from dad for wasting salt, though. He loves to do things the hard way.

The trick is to get the salt down as soon as you see the water-spout. Any delay and the razor fish gets too deep to be affected.

I got two big ones in the fifteen minutes or so before the tide came in over the sand bar. Straight up to the house: slit them open (they didn't like this much), disentangled the tasty bits from the slightly questionable bits, chopped them up and chucked them into a very hot frying pan (I didn't actually use the wok) for about thirty seconds. Salt, pepper and some sweet chilli sauce. Delicious.

Fast food and an altogether different kind of lunch break.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Murk my words

Strange murky day today. Shafts of "god ray" type light are sometimes managing to make it through the gloom and lance obliquely down to the sea. Wondering if it has anything to do with the cloud of volcanic ash drifting over from Iceland. Probably not.

The dabbling Mallards are scooting about on the glassy sea. There's a guy living in a house behind ours that likes to feed them. We see them often, trooping comically up his drive. Not so comical when they fly down over our house en-masse in the morning, to get to the sea, depositing high-velocity splatters as they go.

New moon. Must get in tune with the tides and lock onto my internal ebb and flow. All say "Ommmmm". Maybe not. Getting enough ebb and flow from all the nice coffee I'm drinking.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Tide is low and we're having sun

Working, so restraining myself from going and plootering about on the shore, although the tide is enticingly low. Glorious weather and sparkling sea again - what's going on? From my window I can see a heron strutting its stuff down near low water. But now having to lower the blinds as the sun is so blazingly hot, and warm office makes for cranky worker.

My wife pointed out the Eider ducks to me this morning. Through the binoculars we could see the male breakfasting on a green shore crab. They must have amazing power in their jaws and strong beaks - I read that they can even crack mussels. They dive deep compared to some of the other ducks in the bay, presumably to get down to the tasty crustaceans on the sea bed. The scruffy-looking Mergansers, by contrast, seem to "trawl" closer to the surface, perhaps to catch small fish. Will need to look more closely at the Mergansers, they look more like the Red-Breasted variety but I can't be sure.

Back to work now. Phone call from cranky city-based colleague. The sun must be blazing in on him too.

Monday, 12 April 2010

The Eider Sanction

This is the first day of working from home. It's a beautiful day and Spring is springing all around. Must keep with the required steely discipline of this new setup and stay at my desk, though. Maybe take a stroll in the sun at lunchtime.

Woken this morning by the sound of Eider ducks in the bay. They make an odd noise which sounds a little like a bunch of old ladies saying "Oooooh" in an exaggerated, upward-inflected way.

Teriyaki-marinated salmon with potato wedges and salad for dinner last night. Farmed salmon, but I'm not bothered about that - it tastes good. Please pull me up if I ever say "It eats well" or come out with any other such verb(al) abuse.

Sunday, 11 April 2010

Seaweed and leave it

Found my friend out on the deck this morning, drinking a cup of coffee in the blazing sunshine. Still in pyjamas. He's leaving today and is making the most of the unexpected super-clement weather bonanza.

We went for a stroll on the shore yesterday and I picked up various bits of unappetising-looking sea vegetation. Bright green gutweed is slimy and cold on the shore but I was imagining drying it out and sprinkling with sugar to make a crunchy wee snack. Too many sewage outlets around though, so much better to collect closer to the low tide mark another day. The outlets from the newer houses should be much cleaner - SEPA now insists that the "grey water" goes through secondary filtration before discharge onto the shore. But there are still many older outflows which are basically leaky septic tanks.

Later we ate barbecued food. This was cooked on my "unique" contraption composed of an old submarine pressure hatch (or maybe a ship's porthole cover) sitting atop part of the base of an ancient stove. Various tasty fake-meat products (I love a bit of mycoprotein); and griddled/fried vegetables in olive oil, herbs and garlic. Shove that lot into a crusty brown roll with some salad and, voila, a very sore jaw. Actually quite tasty but I did feel a bit like a snake learning to dislocate its jaw in order to accommodate a whole goat.

After the meal we went out and stoked up the barbecue with wood. Instant fire pit. A clear, starry night; we identified a few constellations and saw the dot of a satellite flare up as reflected light briefly caught its mirrored surfaces.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Sparkling water, please

Amazing Spring day today. The sea is sparkling in dazzling sunshine. There's a cool breeze blowing. I really should get off my backside and go outside, but the view from the sofa is so panoramic anyway that I don't feel that I have to trouble myself with actual locomotion.

The tide is half way out and I think it's coming in. Moon is waning crescent at the moment and the tide is not getting spectacularly high or low. Would like to get some razor fish using the easy-sounding salt method that my brother has told me about but the tide is not getting low enough to go out beyond the sand bar where the razor fish can be found.

Will maybe dine outside on the deck this evening if the breeze dies down. Our friends are heading back home tomorrow, so will need to think of something a bit special to cook.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Snack My Beach Up

This is a new blog about the beach in front of my house and the good (and sometimes rank) things I can find there to eat. I intend to positively "snack up" my beach to the point of seafood transcendence. I will become a gastropod gastronaut; hopefully avoiding gastro-enteritis along the way.

The idea came about as a result of a recent visit by some good friends. I took them out on a mollusc-scavenging trip; welly boots on and rake in hand - instantly transformed into my dad. One of my friends, a London music journalist, reckoned that his city pals would positively (metaphorically) lap this stuff up. I just slugged back my whisky and called him a "metropolitan c**t". He took it in good heart and we all continued, drunkenly, to assemble a sequence of some of the worst sea/seafood-related puns you've never heard. I intend to make use of those in my blog. Further suggestions welcome. Music references preferred.

We then talked about loss, death, grief. The sort of stuff that naturally follows on from seafood puns.

I've lived close to this particular beach for most of my life. During my upbringing I seemed to spend an inordinate amount of time being dragged around the shore while my mother picked wilks (winkles), which she then sold to scrape together a few quid towards the mortgage. My younger brother was fascinated with the entire ecosystem of the beach and even said that he wanted to become a marine biologist when he grew up. I thought it was cold, wet and boring. Later in life I ended up back there picking wilks towards my own mortgage. The beach was still there, hard and cold, not offering up its bounty willingly.

Now that life is a little easier for me, and I have discovered the joys of seafood (especially free seafood), I have found that spending time on the beach, scavenging, is a pleasure.

What did we eat the night of the puns? Most of the contingent at the table were full on veggies and wouldn't touch the vaguely-gynaecological-looking contents of the molluscs with a bargepole. For those who did choose to dig in there was rich garlic, tomato and basil linguine with mussels, surf-clams and cockles. There was also a large pot of the same shellfish but unshelled and flavoured with cajun chilli sauce. We scoffed the lot and threw the shells back on the shore.