Wednesday 30 March 2011

Kale Surprise

It was a celebration weekend and I enjoyed cooking up a few treats: another prawn curry but this time with finely-diced courgette added; duck breast with homemade hoi-sin sauce; cherry muffin pie (not homemade) with baked figs and ice-cream; button mushrooms in with garlic butter and parsley. Cava, of course: Codorniu, which is probably our favourite. Come Monday morning we were feeling a bit mentally deflated and physically inflated. But it was worth it.

One of the staples we have as a regular curry-meal accompaniment is 'kale paneer'. Yes, just like sag paneer but with kale used in place of spinach. I think the 'sag' bit can actually be any kind of greens, so kale works just fine. Paneer/panir is a kind of simple young cheese, which my sister says is quite easy to make. We tend to use whatever cheese comes to hand - the stringier the better - then add some cream.

Kale gets a bad rap and some people consider it only good for animal feed. Well, I'm an animal and I like it just fine. If your kale plants survived the winter (and deer attacks) you may still get some lovely tender leaves before it starts to bolt. At this time of year 15 minutes of boiling (as opposed to about 45 minutes pre-frost) will render it down into tasty and nutritious yellow-green mulch ready for the addition of cheese, chorizo, bacon or whatever else you think might work.

There were two curlews and a heron on Gastrobeach this morning but they've fled as the rain moves in. Curious how seabirds seem to dislike the rain so much.

It's dreich outside but the place is really starting to green-up and that looks bright even in this dim light. Obsessed with greens today, I am. I wonder how it would be with cheese?

Monday 21 March 2011

Perigee Winkle

The Eider ducks Somateria mollissima are back in the bay and displaying their remarkable crab-chomping virtuosity. A pair: the male with its striking black and white plumage and the mottled brown/black female. Both have very powerful wedge-shaped beaks terminating in a small hooked 'overbite' perfect for cracking stubborn shells.

The weekend saw a big tide with the effect of the Supermoon - a full moon at perigee - when the moon is at its closest to Earth on its elliptical orbit. It seldom happens that perigee coincides with a full moon and the combined effect means that the full moon appears some 14 percent larger than usual. The ordinary full moon, technically known as syzygy affects the tide because of gravitational forces of the sun and moon combining to act on the oceans. So the correct term for a full moon at its closest to Earth is really perigee-syzygy. But that doesn't exactly roll off the tongue.

The full moon was somewhat shrouded by fast-scudding clouds but that only served to enhance the dramatic effect whenever it broke through. It really was dazzling and, when it hung over the high-tide waterworld of Saturday night, quite enchanting. I whipped up a Thai-style prawn curry and, afterwards, we enjoyed a lazy evening of moon-watching and movies.

Sunday's weather was a bit dreich, but the uncovered kelp beds beckoned on Gastrobeach. The low-tide sandbar was dotted with people out to bag a few razorfish.

Scrambling over a rocky kelp bed in loose wellies is not the lowest ankle-break-risk activity you can undertake. You have to keep your arms out for balance and, even then, there is always a fair bit of whooping and stumbling. We didn't find anything hugely interesting apart from some large, pink and featureless jelly-like things stuck to rocks under the kelp. No dinner-potential there. We saw a few sea urchin shells, recently and expertly broken open by seabirds. I couldn't help noticing a good number of large wilks (common periwinkle Littorina littorea) feeding on the kelp, and decided to take some home for a pre-dinner snack. I ate them, with a little help from my wee nephew, with the aid of a pin and flavoured with a dash of balsamic vinegar.

The Eider ducks have gone for now but I'm sure we'll see them again on the high tide tomorrow morning. For me, it's time for strong black coffee to shake the weekend stupor - I've discovered that I like it with cinnamon sprinkled on top. The coffee that is, not the weekend stupor.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

Sea Glass Sun

There appears to be a growing interest in 'sea glass' or 'beach glass'. You know, the old bits of broken bottle and crockery, tumbled by the surf until frosted matt-smooth, made pleasing to the eye and hand. Certainly more pleasing to the hand than when newly-broken anyway.

Whilst not being particularly interested in bits of old glass, I do find the subject interesting. What you have here are smashed bits of human-made detritus, turned into 'jewels' by the natural processes of tide, surf, sand and sun. But you also have that all-too-human interest in objects/resources that are in limited supply: It takes a relatively long time to render a jagged piece of glass down into something beautiful, and that gives it a perceived 'commodity' value. It brings out the inner magpie.

I'm sure that craftspeople and jewellery-makers have long been interested in sea glass. And the current interest seems to stem mostly from hobbyists looking to find the largest, most rounded and most colourful (bright blues and reds) pieces. For many I'm sure it conjures up thoughts of peaceful walks along sun-drenched beaches, taking in the salty air, lazily searching the tideline for these bright and tactile prizes. It probably does not conjure images of members of Victorian-era households dumping their rubbish on the shore to be claimed by the sea.

The snow is low on the hills today and the sky is pale grey and ominous. I see a smudge of brightness among the clouds, so faint that I can look at it directly: The sun glowing like an old piece of white/amber sea glass.

Monday 7 March 2011

Clamorous Glue

I can see from my newly-acquired Gaelic 2011 Moon Calendar that we are currently on a skinny but waxing crescent. 'The Moon' is 'A' Ghealach' (roughly pronounced 'Uh-Yalach') in Scottish Gaelic. March is, rather boringly, 'Am Màrt' ('Am Marsht'). The result of this moon, Gaelic or otherwise, is that the tide is still low, though not low enough for razorfishing.

I'm quite content for now to view Gastrobeach from the comfort of my (also newly acquired) 'constant contact' office chair as there is a biting wind blowing and snow is, once again, settling on the tops. A few hardy (or foolhardy) daffodils are now poking through the bank at the back of the house. It had been feeling quite Spring-like. It's only when the flowers begin to show some colour that you realise quite how dark and grey the landscape has looked. Those tiny dots of colour really stand out against this backdrop. And I am glad to see them.

'Constant contact' (as per my chair) reminds me of the book I'm reading at the moment. 'Texture: Human Expression in the Age of Communications Overload', examines, among other musings on modern communicative practices, why people undertake activities like blogging. No firm conclusions yet, and I don't expect there to be any. Some days that vague, scatter-gun, one-way conversation that constitutes a blog post just feels like the right thing to be doing. 'Communications Overload' is a strange concept to me anyway. I'm a filter feeder, somewhat like a clam, when it comes to communications. That's it, I'm a communications clam.

Quick recipe tip to throw in as part of this particular scatter-gun post: Celery and cashew nut soup. Sounds an unlikely combination, I know. But somehow the cashew nuts blended in with the celery take away that wishy-washy, gloopy 'celeryness' and provide a really rich and satisfying flavour. It's an odd but lovely marriage of the virtually non-calorific (the celery) and the ultra-calorific (the cashew nuts). I'm not going to explain the rest of the recipe because that's about all there is to it. Just chuck it all together, cook it and whizz it. It'll be fine.

So, I'll just leave you there with those images of nutty soup and filter-feeding bloggers (have I got that the right way round?). Enjoy your dinner, some good company if you're lucky and, perhaps, ignore the phone if it rings. Just make like a clam.