Thursday, 29 September 2011

Piering into my Past

An impromptu trip to the pier at high tide last evening brought a flood of childhood memories. I used to spend so much time there; mucking about in boats at high tide and searching for oysters at low. I remember falling off the pier one low tide while trying to scramble up the side. I landed right next to a rusty but sturdy fisherman's knife. It cleaned up nicely and my mother still uses it today.

We ordered food at the bar then strolled down to the pier with G&Ts in hand. The tide was intoxicatingly high. A beautiful evening; a warm breeze set gentle waves lapping over the top of the pier. It was good to see creels on it again.

The bay where the pier is located faces north, so it's an ideal place for yachties to tie up in choppy weather. Our worst winds are usually south-westerly, so anchoring in a north-facing bay is a good thing. But last night's influx wasn't about choppy weather; just a lovely evening bringing idyllic notions of friendly pubs and cold beer, I think.

The food was excellent: rack of lamb with a rich red-wine sauce, followed by fruit crumble and icecream. A Wednesday trip to the local hostelry seems a great way to break up the week. But it's the kind of place that usually warrants more than just "a quick pint". We behaved ourselves last night and felt the better of it this morning.

The tide is peaking around 8.30 this evening. A wee dip before dark might be in order.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Here We 'R' Again

It may have not have escaped your attention that September has an 'r' in it. That's a (very) rough reminder of the fact that the sea temperature is now dropping again and it's safer to commence collection and consumption of tasty bivalves.

In a spirit of determined foraging enthusiasm my brother, my wife and I headed for the shore on Saturday afternoon; rake and bucket in hand. We had intended to collect surf clams but the tide wasn't really big enough to reveal the sandier areas where surf clams are more abundant. So we settled for a decent pile of juicy cockles which we found further up the shore in the gravelly areas.

As usual we ended up separating off into different parts of the bay, following our own personal cockle-finding trails. My wife was scanning the bottom of a small stream when she saw what she thought was a bubble. She prodded it gingerly, fully expecting it to have been produced by some sea creature still hidden in the adjacent seaweed. It turned out instead to be a clear marble.

My brother made a delicious chowder with the cockles (and few surf clams) we had collected. He used some squat lobster stock that I had in my freezer left over from my party a few months ago. He added smoked haddock, potato, onion and milk and, finally, some cream and the cockles and clams. An excellent start to the shellfish-foraging season and a reminder of the need for hearty comfort food and good company during the cold, dark months ahead.

My wife reckons I'm losing my marbles when I go swimming in the cold sea. After her peculiar find on Saturday I'm starting to wonder if that might be literally true.

Saturday, 17 September 2011

Foamin' in the Gloamin'

We had some spectacularly choppy weather whilst over northeast in August. The north wind really drives in there, raising huge breakers pushed up by great underwater outcrops of rocks. The rocky shores alternate with sandy bays to provide great variety for the abundant local surfers; both beginner and verging-on-insanity hardcore.

On one of the wet and windy afternoons we wandered down to the seafront to watch two particularly dedicated exponents of the art. They were surfing into a boulder-strewn cove with enormous lumps of rock just below the surface where they repeatedly tumbled off their boards and into the roaring sea, after weaving in on the foaming crest of some formidable wave.

Watching the surfers I could see where the ninth wave superstition (about the ninth or tenth wave being the big one) comes from. The big waves seemed to come at quite regular intervals and we found ourselves getting exasperated at the surfers for missing the biggest and best! It's just an illusion, though. The timings of the complicated wave pattern interactions of crest and trough are impossible to predict in an environment with so many lumpy variables.

Crazy, perhaps, but I did admire their skill: Two wiry guys pitting themselves against the mercy of the brutal ocean just for the brief thrill of riding on the crest of a wave. Humans are really odd.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

Blite About Now

We took a stroll across the salt flats a couple of day ago to collect more samphire. It's starting to turn a little red on top and the stems are becoming woody, which is a sign that the best of it is over. It's certainly plentiful just now but becoming a bit of a hassle to prep. From the stonier areas of the upper shoreline we also picked Sea Blite Suaeda maritima, which I have recently discovered is also edible. It's an attractive plant that looks a bit like an odd little conifer with fat blue-green 'needles'.

I've never bothered to look up any recipes for samphire. I just blanch it in boiling water then add in lots of butter and pepper. Trust me, you won't need to add any salt. You can cook the sea blite in the same way, so you're as well to just put it in the pot along with the samphire. I did use some of the sea blite in the creamy sauce I made to go with a couple of nice chunks of cod. I fried the cod quickly in a very hot griddle pan along with some paprika (the sweet kind this time but it's also great with the hot 'Pimentón Picante' variety), then added in some finely-chopped sea blite. Finally, I dolloped in a load of double cream and some of the 'stock' from the samphire and sea blite. You can put the cod back in the sauce to warm for a couple of minutes but make sure your sauce doesn't end up boiling away to nothing: This is quick cooking.

Sea blite has a texture similar to samphire but it tastes slightly different. My wife thought it had a mild asparagus flavour. I hardly ever eat potatoes but I can imagine that sea blite and/or samphire would be excellent sprinkled over some hot, floury and well-buttered spuds.

Sea blite is another halophile (i.e. salt-loving) plant. We may usually think of extremophile organisms as being the likes of bacteria living close to hot, deep-sea volcanic vents or thriving buried beneath the Arctic ice, but these hardy little annuals are also true extremophiles. What a tasty wee marvel of evolution.

It's breezy outside but dry for the moment. Some respite, at least, from recent deluges. With any luck the clouds will blow away by tonight to allow us a clear view of Ursa Major. We were out last night trying to spot the supernova in M101. Using the binoculars we did find a little smudgy patch of light that looked different from the surrounding stars, but nothing conclusive. Not much to look at from our perspective but I think an exploding star 21 million light years away is certainly worth trying to spot.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Swimming in the Rain

The light over our front-door waterworld has just changed. The sky is a uniform grey/white but there's just enough brightness getting through to lend the grass and abundant foliage a garish green hue.

This tide has just turned from its impressive height and I'm just back from swimming in it; core temperature still relaxingly low and ready for some strong black coffee. Crows dot the lichen-covered rocks protruding from the sea. Sluggish waves radiate out from the rocks, creating odd interference patterns with their neighbours.

The mountains of the mainland are completely obscured by the wall of grey/white smir. This created the odd impression, as I swam in the rain, of an ocean world fading into infinity. I'm getting stronger and the cold-shock hurts a little less but I don't think it will ever feel comfortable.

I wonder about our human disconnection from cold water. Up until relatively modern times people would have come in daily contact with cold water: bathing; washing clothes; walking miles in the rain to find food and shelter. But it's different for us today: we can remain warm and dry pretty much all the time. We don't have to develop a tolerance for cold conditions if we don't want to.

A sea-skimming heron has just scattered some of the crows from their perches. They settle back down and continue their silent vigil.

Time for that coffee now. Thomsons (a fine Scottish firm) Rocco with a dusting of cinnamon. Back to the land of warmth and comfort I go.