Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Gathering Storm

A wild week in many respects. I've just experienced a large and zero-ended birthday with much accompanying merriment. My wife, my family and my friends went out of their way to make sure that it was a birthday I will never forget. All quite wonderful and a bit overwhelming.

Knowing me as they all do, they made sure that food would be a central part of the event. I was treated to a bar meal out a local hotel on my birthday where I consumed a large bowl of mussels. The day before the party there was a fortuitously low tide and I went foraging on Gastrobeach with some family and friends. I realise that we're into May now, and I wouldn't normally be collecting much shellfish (particularly bivalves) at this time of year, but it has been so cold that I thought it unlikely that we'd have any problems. We raked up a lot of small surf clams, picked large wilks off the kelp and fat mussels from the rocks. I also took a bit of bright-green sea lettuce for seasoning. I showed my brother-in-law the fine art of catching razorfish the old-fashioned way, and managed to break the shell of it in the process.

Back at the house we cleaned and sorted our various finds. I fried up some onions, garlic and herbs in a large pot, then tossed in the surf clams (plus a few cockles). I let them cook for a few minutes then added a wee pot of ready made Cullen Skink, milk, double cream and seasoning. Meanwhile, my sister prepared the mussels by checking them and removing the 'beards'. There's no point in trying to scrape the barnacles off these wild mussels because they are absolutely encrusted with them, and it's not as if they would do you any harm. We simply steamed the mussels with some white wine and added cream just before serving. I boiled the wilks (winkles) and plonked the pot on the table for easy access by the snail-eating contingent.

What a feast. We served up the surf clam chowder in bowls on top of plates and put some decent crusty dunking bread on the table. I sprinkled chives and dried sea lettuce (I burned the first batch) over the chowder. This kind of food if very messy and a lot of fun. It's also the kind of food you pay a fortune for in fancy restaurants. My sister commented that the mussels were much bigger and tastier than any vacuum-packed supermarket variety she had ever tried. Even the humble wilks were sweet and delicious.

I forgot to take any photographs of all this.

And this was just the build-up to the party! I think I'll have to put the rest in another blog post or I'll be typing all day. I recommend letting everybody know what kind of food and drink you like so that you get lots of it whenever you have a high-numbered, zero-ended birthday.

The other part of the wildness has been the weather. We've never seen anything like this in May. It's often changeable but is not usually veering crazily between sunshine (with rainbows) and hailstorms with 90mph gusts of wind. I guess I'll just have to hunker down with the remains of the party food and my several newly-acquired bottles of malt whisky.

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