Tuesday 26 April 2011


A glorious Spring day with the full works: bees buzzing, birds twittering, a cuckoo (which woke me around 4am), brilliant sunshine, morning coffee on the deck in a T-shirt, hazy mountains, bright red tulips in bloom. There's nowhere quite like this place on a sunny day, but I daresay you think that about your place too. At least I hope you do.

Just back from a mini tour of Scotland, from west to east, taking in Fort William, Glasgow and Auchmithie. We've had astonishingly good weather throughout and a wonderful time meeting up with friends, doing some culture (including 'Drawing on Riverside' at the Kelvingrove), playing music and having excellent meals.

Our hotel in Glasgow was located down by the Clyde with panoramic views along the river in both directions. We skipped the hotel breakfast most mornings (sleep was more important), opting instead for late brunches in town. The giant Salade Ni├žoise platter at Patisserie Francoise in Byres Road was particularly memorable: salty anchovies, tuna, hard boiled eggs etc. That's my kind of breakfast.

Good dinners were not hard to come by either. The delicious, crunchy, deep-fried whitebait starter followed by enormous portion of chicken kebab at The Greek Golden Kebab could have fed at least two. Somehow I managed. Cail Bruich was an accidental but fortuitous find. They were doing a sort of 'pre-theatre' Spring menu which was very reasonably priced. I finally got to try Steak Tartare there, and now I think I'm hooked. Can't quite suss the Gaelic, though. Will need to ask my dad. It's become trendy to use Gaelic for 'Scottish Contemporary' style restaurant names but it needs to be correct, otherwise it just looks silly.

Over east in Auchmithie, the genuine birthplace of the 'Arbroath' Smokie, we dined out at The But 'n' Ben restaurant. I went for the simple and mouthwatering buttered Smokie for starter, followed by venison for main. The But 'n' Ben is a great little place and I love the fact that it hasn't changed since the first time we went there several years ago.

The image I've posted, and also this blog entry title, are down to the poignant reminder from our visit that the fishing is now truly over for Auchmithie. Last time we visited there a few rotting, but still floating, boats were tied up in the crumbling harbour. Those same boats are now on dry land with hulls rotted through.

'Rosebud' was once some east-coast fisherman's pride and joy.

Tuesday 12 April 2011

Kale Surprise Reprise

As a follow up to my article Kale Surprise from a few days ago, I thought I would return briefly to the subject to mention the joys of the kale top sprouts.

One of my brothers (I have several) mentioned to me that they're very good to eat - just like sprouting broccoli. So we gave it a go. I should point out that, if you're going to use them, pick them before any of the yellow flowers begin to show, otherwise they'll be bitter. I was able to break them off quite far down because the stems were quite succulent and I knew that they would soften up nicely during cooking. If they seem at all fibrous at the point where you snap them then consider cutting off a bit of the stem until you are just left with the head and a shorter but juicier and less stringy piece of stem.

Simply steam the kale 'florets' until they turn a verdant green then add butter and season with a good dose of salt and pepper. I'd imagine they would be excellent in other recipes where you might usually use broccoli, such as one of my favourites - chicken and broccoli pie. This isn't a proper pie, really, but rather a mixture of leftover chicken and steamed broccoli (or kale tops) mixed with white or cheesy Bechamel sauce. Top the mixture with breadcrumbs and grated Parmesan then whack in the oven for twenty minutes or so. Make sure you put plenty of mustard, I think Dijon is best, into your sauce, to give it a bit of 'bite'.

There is an altruistic benefit to leaving the tops to flower, rather than scoffing them. When they open up into buttery-yellow flower the bees go mad for them. My mum keeps bees and she's horrified by the prospect of people removing any potential nectar source that they might use. I left mine to flower last year but, I have to admit, that was only because I didn't realise then that they were so good to eat! But at least I can say that I'm doing rotation: one year the bees get them; the next we get them.

Actually, I think the bees are out of luck. We'll plant some more flowers for them but anything potentially edible is for me!

Thursday 7 April 2011

You say Eider, I say Eider

These Eider ducks really are amazing. We sat, eating our breakfast, watching them eating theirs: The male with his sharply-contrasting black and white plumage and distinctive green band at the back of his neck; the female with muted brown/black plumage but, looking more closely, she seems to have narrow bands of white on her wings. Every couple of minutes or so one or both dived beneath the surface and emerged with a shore crab in its beak. They grabbed their respective crabs by each leg in turn and shook until the leg came off. Once all the offending limbs were removed they swallowed the bodies, complete with shell, whole in one gulp. Well, I say "in one gulp" but there was an obvious lump in the Eider's throat for some time after that almighty gulp.

It was difficult to tear ourselves away from the breakfast table this morning. I'm still not much of a twitcher but there is something very relaxing about sitting in a comfortable place watching ducks on a calm and sun-dappled sea, through binoculars. Even when those ducks are busy at the business of tearing innocent crustaceans limb from limb and eating them alive.

It is lovely to see some sunshine today. The weather for the past week has been, frankly, hellish: Nimbostratus cloud incessantly dumping its unwelcome bounty with callous abandon. We did, however, make it down onto Gastrobeach at the weekend. My wife managed to get this nice shot of the male Eider with two females, although he seems to have managed to lose one of them over the last few days.

P.S. Saturday (9th April) will mark one year since I started this blog. I'm glad I did. It has made me pay more attention to my surroundings.