Monday 27 September 2010

I'm Beaching

And what a remarkably splendid day for beaching it was. There was a hint of autumn chill in the air (appropriate I suppose, it now being autumn) as we straggled down to the shore. But the strong sun blazed in our faces, bringing a pleasant illusion of the height of summer. It was a bit of a family outing: my mum and wee nephew came along with my wife and me.

My mother wanted some cockles for dinner, so I took a rake with me and got to work on the banked-up mud mud/shingle areas that usually harbour a reasonable quantity of them. Cockles can also be found just peeking up through the sand, orientated on their sides. But they were being unusually reclusive yesterday, so the rake did the trick. The buried ones develop bands of grey staining from the deeper, dark-coloured mud/sand but this must quickly bleach out when they spend time near the surface (on holiday or whatever - maybe their reverse equivalent of a nice tan).

Meanwhile my nephew exclaimed victory as he uncovered a cockle with the aid of his tiny trowel. He rinsed it off in one of the muddy little pools he had christened "pudholes", before adding it proudly to the bucket.

Later we paddled out into the sea as the tide crept in over the warm sand.

When we got back to the house my mother decided that she couldn't be bothered dealing with the cockles. I think she remembers the industrial quantities she used to collect in the Western Isles and so thought that this small bucket-full was more hassle than it was worth. I gladly accepted her inverted charity, remembering how filling and satisfying even a small quantity can be.

I brought the cockles just to the boil before cooling and shelling them. I then chopped some chorizo and fried it in butter until the tasty red paprika-oil was leaching out of it. The cockle meats, some garlic salt and some crushed chillies went into the ferociously-hot pan for a minute or so. If you cook the cockle meats for too long the little cossack-boot-shaped morsels begin to take on just that texture (it was tough back in the Steppe, or is that instep?). Anyway, a delicious and substantial starter - more like a main Tapas dish.

While I busied myself preparing the next course my wife took the pan of empty cockle shells down to the shore to add to our burgeoning mock-neolithic midden. A word of advice - if you are going to launch a pan of shells onto the shore at high velocity, make sure your pan has a well-attached handle. She nearly sconed a cormorant.

Now, where's my superglue?

Monday 20 September 2010

Just Spindrift

The "Indian Summer" I mentioned in my first post of this month has turned schizophrenic. The temperature has rarely dropped below 15 degrees during the day, but the constant drizzle then downpour combined with that produces a cloying weed-smelling murk of an atmosphere outside. The midges love it. The seabirds also seem partial to it - maybe it provides good cover for feeding.

Another example of the flighty weather conditions is my recent encounter with a sort of mini-tornado. It was a sunny but brisk morning. By brisk I mean that it wasn't flat calm - there was a breeze but nothing out of the ordinary. I was working in my office when suddenly a "lump" of wind hit the house. It rattled the the place for no more than 20 seconds, then stopped as quickly as it had started. Upon looking out the window I saw a small vortex of whipped-up spray move across the bay before breaking up into a ragged cloud of spindrift.

I have memories of being at a barbecue, empty glass and ailing paper plate in hand, while a structural engineer explained something of fluid mechanics to me at (too) great length. I do recall him saying that wind behaved like a fluid and was treated in that way in engineering calculations. I can now see the parallels between having a giant bucket of water thrown at your house and being hit by a huge gust of wind. I'm used to storms but this was literally "out of the blue".

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Voodoo Chillies

We've been growing chilli plants in the house. They've been thriving at the big south-east facing window, gobbling up the late-summer sun.

My wife insists that the seeds all came out of the same packet but the variety of different "peppers" they have produced is amazing. There are four plants in total: Two seem intent on spawning long green peppers in the shape of the red Romano type you can now readily get in the supermarket; one had produced a decent sized red Romano type along with several green ones; and one has produced lots of JalapeƱo type green chillies and a couple of ferociously hot orange ones.

I pickled a batch of the green JalapeƱos. I first chopped them and soaked them in brine (just water and cooking salt) overnight. I then put the slices in a sterilised jar and poured over a half-and-half boiled water and white vinegar (with a little sugar) pickling solution. After a week or so they looked just like the expensive supermarket variety, but tasted a lot better.

I put one of the orange chillies in a beef stir-fry. I should have used rubber gloves while chopping it because the little capsaicin-laden demon wanted to get everywhere. It mellowed out considerably in the stir-fry, at least I think it did but my mouth was so numb by that point that I'm not really sure.

The "Voodoo Chillies" title is fairly obvious but it reminds me of my wife reading the inlay of a Jimi Hendrix CD for the first time, shortly after we met. She pronounced the song title "Voodoo Chile" as "Voodoo Chilli". My friends and I laughed until we stopped. I guess she was just so well brung up.

Sunday 5 September 2010

September is a trusted friend

Call it an Indian Summer, call it serendipity, call it just bloody marvelous: it's September and summer has properly arrived on Gastrobeach.

I celebrated with a swim in the bay. The slack tide was on its way out, so not ideal, but after a long day in front of a computer in a warm office, the time felt right. It took me a while to wade out to any decent swimming depth. Having to push through a field of bladderwrack is not fun, but there was a sandy-bottomed area on the other side. The water was cold, but not East-coast cold, and I soon acclimatised. I swam for ten minutes or so as the sun disappeared behind the hills at the back of the house. The sea was flat calm and silent.

Another important thing about September, for me at least, is that it should mean that the sea is cooling again with the result that Gastrobeach will be ripe for bivalve foraging. I've met a few people while on the shore who worry about the sewage outflows. But I don't think there can be many raw outflows left, and it's a sizable bay. I've never been made ill by anything I've collected. I know that's not scientific, and there could always be a first time, so I'll try to take sensible precautions.

My wife dug her potatoes yesterday. I say 'her' potatoes as I don't usually eat spuds, although I will probably make an exception for these. She got a good-sized crop from the fifteen or so plants she grew but, unfortunately, many of them were wormy. I can't remember what variety they are but they are quite pink and quite large and probably taste quite potatoey.

My American friend says the Scots are obsessed with potatoes and their varieties. He contends that in the U.S. they just call them potatoes and don't give a thought to what breed they might be. Philistines.... or is that a potato variety too?