Monday 12 December 2011

Baws for Thought

hurricane bawbag, gourock
Bawbag-battered Beachfront, Gourock
It could only happen in Scotland: we get a great big storm; some Glasgow wit christens it #HurricaneBawbag; it goes viral on Twitter; some US news networks think it's an official name and report it as such.

If you don't get the joke then I suggest you look it up. The storm itself wasn't really much of a joke, with some major structural damage across Scotland and widespread loss of electricity. We get a lot of storms here but they are usually from a southwesterly direction, while 'Bawbag was a northwesterly belter.

We lost our own electricity for a couple of days but made the best of it, putting the little-used Morso stove into action as a focus for concerted huddling. It was also perfect for keeping a pot of cinnamon-infused coffee piping hot. We whipped up an omelette on a wee gas stove for sustenance.

There is something special about those few nights every few years when there is no electricity. Families sit together, primarily for warmth, but end up in conversation in the absence of any other distraction. Anecdotes and stories are, just for a while, passed from generation to generation in a way that was once routine. The primal glow of the fire (and perhaps the odd dram or two) fuel the warmth of the openness and humour.

Gastrobeach was scarily spectacular in the storm. Great white sheets of spindrift whipped across the bay, obliterating the view across to the mainland. Our front windows are now covered in a film of salt spray. Only the seagulls seemed to be willing to tough out the storm on the wing; no gale seems violent enough to curtail their enjoyment of riding the gusts.

There will be many more storms this winter and they will all change the complexion of the beach in interesting ways, presenting (I hope) renewed foraging opportunities. I'm running short on dried sea lettuce Ulva lactuca, which has become an essential seasoning ingredient for use in my fish recipes and instant soya cup soups. I'm sure there will be plenty available, strewn like bright green rags all over the lower shore.

The wind's picking up again as night falls. But it's the familiar soggy southwesterly. I know its modus operandi and I shall not fear its wrath. Well, at least I hope we're not talking 'Baws again.

Monday 5 December 2011

Simple Soupy Twist

The first snow of winter is here. A quick freeze/thaw/freeze cycle has formed a sheet of frozen sleet just perfect for sustaining a layer of delicate snow. I'm aware of that wonderful soft silence that comes with the sound-insulating quality of new snow. The mainland mountains are entirely greyed out behind a foreground curtain of drifting snowflakes.

Ducks dabble in the bay as the feeble dawn approaches. The heron doesn't hang around long after presumably finding the pickings a bit thin and somewhat frozen.

It's thick soup weather. And we came up with a gem of delicious soupy-twistery yesterday. We had boiled up a chicken carcass for stock with the intention of just adding barley to make a simple and tasty chicken broth. Upon visiting the fridge to collect up the bowl of wee bits of meat stripped from the carcass prior to boiling, we found some other interesting leftovers.

Those little clingfilm-covered bowls of leftover bits and bobs have a tendency to build up. And there's a certain joy in being able to offload the lot into one coherent recipe. The bits in question were: a bit of homemade Thai curry paste left over from making a fish curry a few nights before; a bowl of coconut milk left over from same; some cooked green cabbage from the night before. I put the whole lot in with the chicken stock, chicken bits and barley, then boiled it up for an hour. This made for a pretty special soup: warming chickeny goodness with soft barley and the soothing aromas of coconut and lemongrass.

I hate throwing food away and I get a little annoyed with myself when I have to do it. It gives me a vague feeling that I've made a miscalculation somewhere that has meant that I haven't used the food efficiently and timeously. A hard-working cook for a mother and an extended family full of Scottish Presbyterians will do that to you.

Try experimenting this Christmas: Offload your leftovers by creating imaginative and colourful flavour combinations that haven't come out of any recipe book. You might just discover something wonderful and in using up all your leftovers you will be, at least in this regard, free of sin for a while.