Tuesday 16 August 2011

Wolffish Grin

I'm still smiling after a fantastic holiday week in the northeast of Scotland. It's not the most popular holiday destination in Scotland but we love it. The weather is better than over here in the west, although you often get a cold breeze from the north along with the bright sunshine. We lived on seafood and coconut icecream, walked along the windswept and seafoam-spattered coast and swam (well, I did) in the perishingly-cold North Sea.

The foodie experiences were numerous, so I won't try to shoehorn them all into this blog post, but one was particularly interesting and new to us. I was determined to try seafood that I hadn't come across before, so when I saw 'Rock Turbot' in the local factory fish-shop I was intrigued and had to buy some. The 'Rock ____' euphemism is often used where the actual name of the fish doesn't sound too appealing, so I knew it was nothing to do with Turbot which, in any case, would cost around four times the price.

I pan-fried the firm-fleshed fillets with some garlic and seasoning then took them out of the pan. I added some dry cider and reduced it right down to a tasty sauce before putting the fish back into it for a couple of minutes. It was the best mystery fish we had ever tasted.

On returning home I did some research and found out that 'Rock Turbot' is another name for the Northern Wolffish. This was a coincidence as we had seen Wolffish in the marine aquarium in Macduff a couple of days after eating our 'Rock Turbot'.

I went sea-swimming shortly after getting back home. It was a great way, for me at least, to ease into a post-holiday mindset. Yes, of course it was cold, but not as cold as those North Sea waves crashing over my head. Hardly surprising, I suppose, that the other forty-odd people in the sea had been wearing full wetsuits.

Wednesday 3 August 2011

Pure Morning

Something is happening to me. I feel driven to go swimming in the sea, even when I know it's going to be painfully cold. I went in this morning, around 8 o'clock. It's a beautiful day but the sea is always going to be bitter at that time in the morning. The tides are still very high from the recent new moon and that seemed like such an invitation - I knew that I could walk in over the submerged grass of the salt-flats and quickly get to swimming depth.

The world looks different from absolute sea level: bigger and wetter. This morning was flat calm except for a few rippled patches which sparkled with dazzling brilliance. Majestic silence and salty ozone tang. A lone Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo), perched on a quickly-vanishing rock, spread its coal-black wings to dry off in the hazy sunshine.

The afterglow must be the habit-forming element of sea swimming. I really feel the drop in my core temperature not only while in the sea but for up to an hour afterwards. That literal coolness seems to bring on a coolness and calmness of mind.

I had slept well after a lovely evening which had involved some tasty seafood treats. I bought a handful of juicy prawn (you may call them langoustine but that's because you're pretentious) tails from the fish van. I cooked them, shell on, in a very hot frying pan along with some home-grown garlic, butter, pepper and olive oil. We also had pan-fried haddock with new kale from the garden, to which we had added some flash-fried chorizo. I cooked the haddock in the oil from the chorizo. A crisp Sauvignon Blanc proved the ideal wine-flavoured accompaniment.

I'm not actually on holiday at the moment but it certainly feels like it. Maybe 'holiday' is a state of mind. Why have I never thought of that before? Why hadn't I thought of sea-swimming before, when it's almost on my doorstep? Why am I typing rhetorical questions when I could be brewing a nice pot of coffee. This 'holiday state of mind' is catching.