Thursday 26 January 2012

Guvec Kind of Love

We took a short break away in Inverness at the weekend, just to dissect the bleak and incessant-feeling month of January into manageable chunks. The sales, it seems, are still in full swing (not that we're much interested in them) with desperate, flagging chain stores hawking their miserable generic wares.

Eating out was the high point for us. It's a treat to be able to go out to a reasonably-priced, quality restaurant that isn't aimed at formal-dining well-heeled toffs and landed gentry, as some rural 'country house hotel' restaurants are wont to be.

We chose Aspendos Turkish restaurant for our Saturday night out. Turkish, and Middle-Eastern cuisine in general, is really growing on me. The flavour combinations are really quite different to what you generally find in Western cooking and there's a wholesome 'big-heartedness' to the style that is unfussy and refreshing. Tastes such as the bitter/sharp tang of sumac take a bit of getting used to but they are grown-up, exotic flavours that my palate is ready and eager to learn.

I ordered Kalamar Tava (deep fried squid rings) and my wife chose Gumus Tava (deep fried whitebait) for starters. They were really fresh and substantial starters but she found the whitebait a little salty and so we swapped. I didn't find them too salty but then I probably wouldn't have noticed, being something of a budding halophile myself.

My main, Balik Guvec (mixed fish cooked with onion, peppers, garlic, tomatoes and artichoke), was a splendid, bubbling cauldron of fish stew. It was hard to identify the type of fish under its delicious and blistering tomatoey blanket, but I think it might have been chunks of hake and salmon. My wife had Visneli Jumbo Karides (king prawns, roasted almonds, spring onion, cherry, coriander, onion and peppers). This, also, was superb, and the unusual combination of the prawns and cherry chutney really highlighted a different approach to appreciation of seafood flavours.

Our final course, though we were now fast approaching bursting point, was Baklava for my wife and Kezkul (a sort of milk pudding, not unlike panacotta in consistency, with rosewater, sugar, coconut, pistachio and cornflour) for me. Both portions were so enormous that we couldn't quite finish them, and we just had space to squeeze in some hot and viscous Turkish coffee to round off the meal.

I love fish stews, soups, chowders and gumbos, and will need to make a point of experimenting with them further. I hear you can make a passable bouillabaisse out of any scrappy wee rockfish and shellfish, and there are plenty of those kicking (well, wriggling and wallowing) about on Gastrobeach.

Monday 16 January 2012

La Mer du Mercure

The sea looks like quicksilver this morning: slow, smooth waves of liquid metal illuminated by the flat peach-coloured light of the still-hidden sun. It's a cold beauty.

Struggling out of the warm nest of bed in the morning seems harder in January than during the pre-Christmas buzz of December, despite the fact that the days are lengthening again. It's that realisation that winter festivities are over but spring is still some way off. So I find myself coming up with strategies to alleviate the dark-day effects: getting outside for a while each day; staring at the patches of blue sky when they appear (to absorb the precious blue wavelengths); taking vitamin D; using one of those wake-up lights as a poor substitute sunrise.

The vast store of Christmas luxury food has now dwindled. The last mince pies were consumed at the weekend; a delicious but hard-to-digest reminder of festive scents and flavours. A few treats still remain: some excellent smoked salmon; a small piece of wine-infused pickled pork; a sliver of Manchego cheese. We've accrued enough bottles of booze to last until next Christmas.

Walks on Gastrobeach in bracing weather have helped to blow away the cobwebs. Our stroll along the shore the day after a storm revealed a plethora of beached sea-life: many starfish; a lone feisty squat lobster; a small fish stranded in a pool; several sea-urchins. I found an oyster of the Crassostrea virginica variety yesterday and later consumed it as a flash-grilled snack doused with chilli sauce.

Looking back over this post it seems a little melancholy. I suppose that's just the way it came out, but it wasn't really my intention. I have had a wonderful festive season and enjoyed every minute of contact with family and friends. We celebrated like we meant it.

I don't make resolutions but I think I need, for my own balance of mind, to have upcoming treats to look forward to throughout the winter. It shouldn't be one great blast of enjoyment then three months of hunkering down til springtime. So we'll line up some treats and breaks away; we'll keep the sparkly-lights shining and we'll keep in touch with family and friends.

It's not a resolution, just a practical solution, for partial diminution of the winter blues.