Wednesday 30 June 2010

Oh Fiddleheads!

We also did a bit of gastroforest foraging while our friend was here.

We visited a nearby forest park, where a "Local Food Fair" was being held. Unfortunately the food fair was a little disappointing in range, although we did get some delicious and rather unusual flavoured (mine was Cranachan) ice creams.

The weather was fine so we took off for a walk around the forest trail. Our friend is a tree/wood enthusiast, so we stopped frequently to get the full tactile bark experience and to find out the species from the conveniently-provided name tags.

Deeper into the woods the smell of Wild Garlic (pictured; also known as Ramsons) evoked strong (sic) memories for me of playing there as a child. We collected some of the succulent deep-green leaves which were growing abundantly in the most shaded and moist areas of ground.

Our friend also noted a lot of new and lush-looking ferns. He told us that the young, curled-over "fiddleheads" of the ferns are quite a delicacy in the States. We picked a few likely-looking candidates and headed home with our bounty.

We cooked the fiddleheads simply: boiled for five minutes then seasoned with salt and pepper, and a little butter. Some of the wild garlic was added to an immense and diverse bowl of salad; while the rest of it was finely chopped and added to a pan of prawns frying on our barbecue. The fiddleheads had a delicate texture and flavour - a little like asparagus. The wild garlic was sharp and fresh in the salad but subtle cooked with the prawns.

We thought we were being innovative in suggesting that "The Fiddleheads" would be a good name for a Folk band but, like many other good ideas, I see it's already been done. Contra dance, anyone?

Monday 28 June 2010

Wilking back to happiness

A small but successful foraging foray on the gastrobeach this weekend.

We had a friend staying who had never eaten wilks (winkles - same thing) so I considered it my duty to make sure he got to try some before he left. He had tried other tasty gastropods, so (fortunately) knew what to expect.

Wilks (know as Common Periwinkle in England) are relatively safe to eat at this time of year, despite the warmer sea temperature. The common kind are seaweed-eating grazers, unlike the larger Whelk species, which are carnivorous. Wilks don't filter-feed so they don't pass large quantities of sea water through their bodies in the way that bivalves (such as mussels) do and, therefore, they don't tend to accumulate the same nasty toxins.

We collected a small pot of wilks and also some sea lettuce and sugar kelp. Heading home the skies opened and we got thoroughly drenched.

We boiled the wilks for five minutes in salted water before draining them and adding olive oil and powdered garlic. My friend and I ate the lot; pulling out the coiled morsels with a pin and discarding the indigestible opercula. I got my wife to try one by getting her to close her eyes before eating it. Wilk innards are tasty but not attractive.

We had the somewhat-insubstantial dried-out sea lettuce and sugar kelp as an accompaniment.

There was a game of World Cup football on while we munched our micro-feast: England vs Germany. He's American and we're Scottish. Thoroughly enjoyable all round.

Thursday 24 June 2010

Thyme and Tide

Nearly fully shiny-waxed and gibboused moon, so there will be some decent low tides.

The weather has been a bit dreich and I haven't been down to the gastrobeach for a few days. But hopefully good tide-ings will entice me out this weekend.

I've recently acquired a hachoir. It does a fine job but I find it a bit of a pain to get it out, then clean it up and put it away afterwards, just to chop a few herbs. I'm quite practiced with a big knife for this job and I enjoy reducing a pile of herbs to a delicious and fragrant slurry with my rapid rolling/cutting motion.

On the other hand my wife has really taken to the hachoir. She used it the other night to great effect; rendering an enormous pile of garden-fresh marjoram, lemon thyme (pictured) and parsley down to nanoherb-scale bits. This she piled onto fresh salmon along with olive oil, seasoning and lemon juice. Baked in foil in the oven, then cooled and served with salad and houmous it made an excellent summertime meal.

I call the utensil a hachoir but it's also known as a mezzaluna (meaning "half-moon" in Italian). I always thought of the single-bladed one as being a mezzaluna and the double-bladed a hachoir but, apparently, both names are correct.

Need to get the grass hachoired soon. The clover is takin' over.

Monday 21 June 2010

Lettuce Be Clear

Sea Lettuce
Clarifications and corrections day. No, not mending my ways, just some stuff from previous Gastrobeach entries.

What I have been calling Green Laver is actually Sea Lettuce (Ulva Lactuca). I've since read of it being eaten raw in salads. Can't say I fancy that much, especially when it's doing its plastic bag trick. I find it tangled up in clumps of other seaweed such as Knotted Wrack which adds to the baggy detritus aspect.

Thanks to the blog commenter who identified the "Goat Bird" as a Snipe and not a Plover. You can hear its call on the RSPB website. A weird sounding creature and more than capable of scaring the bejesus out of small camping-inclined humans.

The weekend was sunny but with a ridiculously brisk north wind. It blew away the midges but also any notion of barbecues. I spent some time loafing and reading up on the use of shore crabs to make bisque. All the shore crabs in the book were an appetising orangey colour (while still alive) but ours are mostly green.

Oh no. Now I've got "Little Green Crab" stuck in my head. The punnery is taking its toll.

Wednesday 16 June 2010

Never Haddock so Good

I caught a fish-man yesterday and got me some haddock. No ill-will from the fish man - he'd just forgotten about me. Evidently not a man for keeping lists.

I try to buy haddock with the skin on. It's better for pan-frying that way, as it doesn't fall apart when you go to turn it. Excellent dusted with seasoned flour, perhaps with just a pinch of tarragon in it, before frying.

Damp and misty so far today but there are rumours of sunshine to come later. The tide is high but not yet fully in. I can tell this from the wee tide-table gadget I've put up on gastrobeach (see towards the bottom of the righthand bar). It's not accurate for here, as the closest I could get was Ullapool. Seems to be around half an hour behind ours.

I like to notice the tides and to think about what makes them happen. It's a fascinatingly clear way of seeing, every day, the effect of the pull of the moon on our planet. Next time you see a high tide try thinking about it as a gravitational/centrifugal water bulge. Odd.

Monday 14 June 2010

Little Green Bag

Have decided to give my blog a new look today: fresher, brighter, cleaner. Mmm, sounds a bit like toothpaste or mouthwash.

Plootered on the shore yesterday and found some more green laver. I dried it out in the oven as usual but it just didn't taste right. Maybe it was a bit old or maybe it was actually a piece of green plastic bag (it looks rather like that before it's dried out). Anyway, I didn't eat it this time.

The beach was covered in slimy brown weed/algae of some kind. It must have been brought on by the warming of the weather. Warmer water means it'll be less safe to eat seafood from the shore: no "r" in month, no "f" in way. On a brighter note: the samphire is starting to peep through the salt flats, and should make a tasty treat later in the summer.

Interesting weekend. We left the pub on Saturday night determined that we weren't going to have a party back at our house. On the way home we met a load of be-kilted blokes proffering a tray of wedding cake. We duly partook and got into conversation with them. Turned out that we knew the family of the groom. A bunch of the revellers ended up back at our house and we drank (Pimms & lemonade?!) and talked until the early hours.

Sunday was.....vague.

Wednesday 9 June 2010

Oh, Woah, Woah! Mr Fish Man

I don't know what I've done to upset the fish man.

He comes round in his white van on Tuesday afternoons and I managed to catch him about 4 weeks back, after he had stopped at a neighbour's house. He said that he would stop regularly from then on. But, no joy. Not a pause or a beep from him. Guess I'll just need to wait forlornly for him by the side of the road and put on my best "fish face".

The fish man comes all the way over from the east coast on his regular weekly run, and goes right out to the Western Isles. It seems odd that here, surrounded by sea, we have to wait for a bloke from Buckie to supply us.

Guess I'll just have to stop complaining and get a wee boat.

Sunday 6 June 2010

Acting the Goat

Barbecue weather! After a busy day in the sun riddling soil, planting raised beds and weeding we decided to fire up the submarine hatch. Dinner was salmon marinated in mojo then cooked on the barbecue with some red peppers.

After dinner my wife stoked up the fire with some logs and we sat drinking nicely-chilled white wine. I heard a strange bird call that I recognised from my childhood. A weird sound, almost like that of a lamb bleating. I got my wife to listen and she insisted she couldn't hear it. When she did eventually hear it she was convinced that it was a lamb bleating.

When she listened more closely she heard the difference. I described it as sounding like "a goat bleating through a kazoo", because it has extra tonal/harmonic sounds that you don't get with a bleat.

I first heard this call while away on a camping trip (about half a mile over the hill from my house) as a child. I was with two of my brothers and a friend and we heard this weird noise right outside the tent. It scared the hell out of us and we legged it home over the hill. The next day my dad said that we had been hearing the "Goat Bird" (translated from Gaelic), which he reckoned was a Plover. I haven't done the research to find out if the "Goat Bird" and the Plover are indeed the same thing. It sounded like something bigger (and scarier) than a Plover!

It didn't sound so scary last evening. Haunting but rather soothing, as we drank our wine and bathed in the midge-alleviating smoke from our impromptu fire-pit.

Friday 4 June 2010

Deer Imprudence

Last night my wife and I watched two beautiful, graceful (and probably right tasty) deer on the shore from upstairs via the skylight window. I think they were Red Deer - they certainly looked pretty red as the light from the sinking sun caught their coats.

The tide was high so the deer waded from the shore at right-angles to us, over to the rocky foreshore right in front of the house. We had ample time to get a load of photographs. I don't usually put photos in my blog but I'll make an exception here.

They seemed oblivious to us watching and to the cars going by on the road right beside them. Not very prudent!

Thursday 3 June 2010


I knew it couldn't last. The cold spell had knocked the midges back until a little later than they usually start but they're resilient little [insert expletive]s.

Last evening was very still so I went out to weedkill some monolithic dockens. They midges descended as soon as I set foot out the door; then proceeded to make a proper meal of me. It may sound strange but I get to a point when the irritation of all the bites seems to merge together into one giant histamine "glow" and then I don't seem to notice them so much anymore. It's only when I get back into the house and the inflammation properly sets in that the damage becomes clear.

I suppose they are a pretty amazing species: they're survivors; and an important part of the food-chain here. Maybe I should stop complaining and put them directly into my food-chain. They're tiny and black and could be easily incorporated. Caraway seed roll, anyone?

Wednesday 2 June 2010

A Brighter Shade of Kale

We did some work on the garden over the weekend. The couch grass was getting a bit out of control so we hauled a load of it out of the planting beds. The amount of waste plant matter generated by this exercise was quite staggering.

We planted some French beans with accompanying cane tepee structure. We pulled out the gone-to-seed kale plants which had grown into sturdy, buttery-yellow-flower-topped, bee-entreating trees. I planted some lemon verbena in my treasured herb bed, to replace the one that died during the long frosty spell. I haven't yet used lemon verbena for anything but it smells amazing when you rub the leaves between your fingers. Perhaps that's what it's for: a finger-scenting herb.

It's a warm but silvery-grey day today. The gorse bushes by the shore brighten the scene with their vibrant yellow flowers. Gorse has a wonderful coconut-like smell. Enticing in every way: until it shreds your hands.