Friday 29 October 2010

Talks a lot of Wind

I'm feeling a little bleary this morning. It's "can't sleep because of the noise of the storm" season, which usually kicks in around November. But it's early this year. Our house is gable-on to the fierce south-westerlies but roof-space bedrooms and large skylight windows mean that all storm noise gets amplified. At 3am everything is amplified.

It's pitch dark when I get up in the morning and even now, at 9am, you couldn't really call it daylight.

I'm currently sitting at my kitchen table, looking south-east. The tide is high and, from this elevation, it looks like the ferocious deep-turquoise sea starts right at the end of my lawn. That's pretty much the case, actually.

The sky has brightened since I started typing and I can now see huge white waves breaking over the point to the right of the bay. The mountains are now visible: bleak but still autumn-yellow. In the foreground a lone seagull hangs in the air, maybe just struggling to make headway.

Welcome to autumn/winter in the north-west Highlands. Time to hunker down. And I'm rather looking forward to it.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Gone native

Back to Gastrobeach after a break in beautiful, autumnal Perthshire. We stayed in a log cabin in a forest by a river. Our American friend who joined us there for a day said it was like a "mini Adirondacks".

It's a crackling frosty morning here. When I opened the blinds the windows were covered with ornate frosted patterns. I looked closely to see if I could spot fractals, reminded of the passing of Mr Mandlebrot this week. The patterns melted quickly to reveal bright sunshine and blue skies. The sun is so dazzling that it's hard for me to look out towards the bay.

As I haven't had a chance to forage since I returned I will just have a rant. The native Oysters Ostrea edulis around the coast of Scotland apparently belong to the queen. What is that all about? It seems wherever you turn in Scotland and however you try to live you come up against some ancient feudal, monarchical ownership rubbish. The law states that Scottish native Oysters are the property of the Crown. How ridiculous.

That being the case I will tell about how I didn't find five juicy native Oysters around the time I was picking Cockles. I did not shuck them (with great difficulty or otherwise). I did not cook them under a hot grill. I did not season them with tabasco and lemon juice. And I absolutely did not eat them and find them absolutely delicious.

I'm quite satisfied that the queen didn't get them either. Case closed.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Skin Deep

It's been blowing a hoolie the past few days. There have been some spectacular sunny breakthroughs, with the murk parting to reveal the deep-blue-grey, white-capped and glinting expanse of the sea. At the weekend we watched a grey heron battling to reach the shore against the fierce southerly wind. At one point it gave up and landed, exhausted, in the middle of the road. The indignity.

It feels like hibernation mode is beginning to kick in. On these wet and windy autumn evenings TV programmes like 'Masterchef: The Professionals' are enjoyable, 'cosy' viewing for borderline-foodies like me. It's just one of those things that sneaks up on you: quite ridiculous and formulaic TV but compulsive viewing nevertheless.

Last evening Michel Roux Jr had set the challenge to the squad of eager young pretenders of preparing a particular salmon dish, served with a vegetable stew and a cream and sorrel sauce. It looked quite delicious and refreshingly simple apart from the treatment of the salmon skin. This was removed after initial searing in a hot pan, then crisped up in a hot oven. So far so good. However, he then proceeded to serve up the dish with the piece of skin stuck upright in the perfect piece of salmon like some gruesome sail. I commented to my wife that it was a grim way to end up: skewered by a crispy piece of your own flayed skin.

I am glad to see recipes emerging where the skin of the fish is cooked in a way that makes people more inclined to eat it. I usually eat my fish skin but I note that a lot of people never do. Maybe that's just because I was always taught not to waste food. And the skin is a nutritious bit of food.

So, if Mr Roux Jr wants to turn his salmon into a little sail boat adrift on a sea of cream and sorrel, wending its ragged way towards a perfectly-prepared-turnip and artichoke archipelago, perhaps we should just let him have his fun. He does have two Michelin stars you know.