A Green Soup and Whispling Kettle Day

The Cholsey contingent have gone to the beach today.  They have taken our neat gas stove and the whispling kettle (of which Charlie is rather fond) for brews.  Nick had resurrected some small pink and blue inflatable watercraft which have gone too.  And he has now gone out to buy coffee because the last scoopful has gone to the beach.  Meanwhile until help is at hand I’m drinking in the quiet.  Later this morning I will drive to the beach with a vat of ‘green’ soup (essentially a roast dinner left-overs soup with all the off-cuts of leek, cauliflower and other greenesses bizzed in) to heat up.

Yesterday was a day of forage.  Anne and I went to the football field where, thanks to the interventions of a friend who has the power to open doors, the man who cuts the hedges had left the gate unlocked so we could gain access.  We rounded up a lovely harvest of field mushrooms and another Agaricus species – perhaps horse mushrooms.  Some of these were simply cooked in butter and lemon juice for adult lunch with dipping baguette.  A pound were used to make Mushroom and Nut Pate (see my blog post 9 November 2009 for the recipe).  Another pound remains.

A couple of hours later saw us trudging across the muddy sand flats at Morsalines to gather cockles.  This is almost as easy as collecting mushrooms: you can pick them up lying on the surface or you can rake the surface then feel around for the hard globular shells.  Eight of us aged between 4 and 64 managed to fill a bucket in an hour.  Once engaged children are remarkably observant and learn the cockle-spotting skill rapidly.

Back at the house for lunch then, whilst Nick took the cockles in onion sacks down to our boat Aroona to suspend them over the stern so they can purge themselves of sand in the marina water for a few hours.

Later on Anne popped over to see if I wanted to join her and her young nephew, Lucas, on an organised night-time walk around St Vaast with a commentary by a local leading light, Annick Perrot, who has published a number of local interest books, including one on the  wartime years of occupation 1940-1944.  St Vaast was, apparently, the first port to be liberated.  This ‘ballade’ took me along routes I know well, and others I haven’t ventured down (narrow cul-de-sacs, public court-yards and alleyways I thought were private, and the quarter where original fishing community houses still exist).

As darkness fell we were issued with ‘homemade’ torches to carry aloft as we completed the tour.  There were children, adults of all shape and size.  There were times when people came perilously close to a singeing amidst the forest of flame.  I’m trying to imagine the H&S implications of such an exercise in England.

The end of our two weeks with four of our grandchildren in residence is now drawing to a close.  They have had a good mix of beach-related activities and I hope a few seeds have been sown in the matter of fishing, foraging, and food for free!

Ted At Birdworld

The advent of a new job for Charlotte, and the need to flip over to Guernsey once a week to work with her team at the head office there, will sometimes necessitate some extra Ted management.  And so it was that he came to stay with me just before I crossed over to France with the Cholseys.  His mother stayed overnight then left early to get her flight from Southampton, leaving Ted and I with a day to share.  (Nick was busy elsewhere, fishing with a group of friends in northern Norway).

And so it was that we went to Birdworld.  An attraction as old as the hills as far as we can remember.  In our days as parents of very small children (now the eldest is knocking 40) we used to take our trio to Birdworld which was a smallish outfit accommodating penguins, parrots, raptors, flamingoes and large flightless birds.  The star attraction at that time was a talking Mynah Bird.

More than 30 years later Birdworld is still going strong but has expanded to include other showy bird species such as Toucans, Pheasants, Kookaburras, and Jenny Wren’s farm, a playground, an Aquarium, cafeterias and the inevitable shop.

Ted particularly enjoyed the playground area where he played happily with a boy called William in the sandpit.  At one point William looked round and asked Ted where his Mum was.  To which Ted replied “She’s at Guernsey.”  (Actually she was not, the ‘plane having been overbooked, but I was not going to disabuse Ted’s good memory!)

It is not difficult to fill a day at Birdworld, factoring in pony rides, bouncy stuff, ice cream, animal-handling, a ride on the small train.  Ted slept well that night.  The following day was Charlotte’s birthday, his parents had taken the day off work to meet some friends before they leave for a stint of military service overseas.  They arrived late morning for rendez-vous then promptly at 1.30 I was picked up by the Cholseys for our ferry crossing to St V.  All go…..

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Another Wild Harvest

Anne puts a phonecall through.  Did I know that there are mushrooms on the football pitch behind our house?  But they are on the wrong side of the fence.  Later that morning I take a walk and sure enough, unmistakable white discs nestling in the grass.  On the wrong side of the fence.

By various means too convoluted to explain, but resulting from something fortuitous that I witness whilst out on my walk, Anne and I are able to gain access to the right side of the fence early the next morning.  We gather field mushrooms; fungi are probably one of the easiest and most satisfying of wild foods to harvest.  My basket-full will do mushrooms on toast for lunch, a clam and mushroom risotto for supper, with loads left over to add to the game pie which is on the menu for the next day.  And more besides.  Perhaps Anne and I should leave it a couple of days before we sneak in to collect more…..

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What a Difference a Year Makes!

We are about 3 days into our summer holiday with some of our young.  The children have taken to swimming in our relatively cold waters, have mastered the art of snorkeling and have added clamming to their repertoire.

Yesterday we went to the shore at Le Dranguet to see if the clam bed I harvested last year is still secure.  It is.  There were more diggers around this time, it being August and the month of national holiday.  We meandered down the shore, picking our way between rock outcrop, trailing through shallow channels to reach patches of shell gravels with plenty of dead shells lying on the surface.  Copious dead shells are a good sign that living clams are sleeping in their beds!  Luckily with my first exploratory dig with the garden fork I turned up a razor clam and a couple of other bivalve species.

From that moment we were all on a mission.  The children very quickly learned to rake and spot the clams as the sediments were turned over.  Sam and Joel had a fine tally of clams to add to the big orange bucket.  Amelie too picked up several clams from spoil heaps, and Charlie decided that his favourite option was to wield the large garden fork, whilst I raked over his pool.  All in all it was a highly successful expedition and the adults were ready to return to the house before the children.

The clams were washed and sorted into species.  Then they were steamed open in white wine and garden herbs.  Joel was an enthusiastic clam shucker.  Pasta was cooked, to which was added diced vegetables and a home concoction tomato sauce.  The clams were stirred in at the last minute and all the children were served from the pot.  Sam and Joel ate their serving manfully – they requested seconds without clams but how brilliant that they tasted their catch.

The Cholsey quartet are now 4, 5, 7 and 9 and a half years old.  They are enterprising, play well together and although noise levels sometimes slide off the permitted decibel scale we can live with that.  It’s good to be on holiday 🙂

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Cycling back from la Boulangerie on my ancient bicycle with 4 baguettes sticking out of the basket and the sound of seagulls (I love their mewing) I know for certain that I am holiday.  The Cholsey gang are back at the house on the uphill climb to a state of preparedness for a day at the beach!  We had a great first full day yesterday with a late afternoon trip to a local beach where, on a rising tide, we went for a swim.  Sam, Joel and Amelie are now working their way up through swimming lessons and were all game for a dip.

For some reason, when we have had a good swim in our north Atlantic waters, we all say that it was lovely, the water was really warm.  Well, some of us bravehearts do 🙂  Actually the sea in the English Channel, and all round the British Isles is shockingly cold when you first immerse.  As I wade out I always think, this is going to be the one time when I never actually ‘warm up’ and enjoy the sea.  But in very few minutes, with one’s circulation working over-overtime, a great sense of therapeutic well-being overtakes and the wavelets work their magic.  The children bob up and down, test out their strokes, and Joel speaks for us all when he says “The Sea Rocks

So they’ve all gone to another beach today to chase the tide down and I’m enjoying another well-being moment which is roasting a large, free-range chicken from our neighbour.  Sam and Amelie came with me to order it and were introduced to her ‘peep’ of chickens.  (This is the official collective noun, apparently..)  And were allowed to hold a particularly docile young hen.

I’ve now got about 4 hours before the peep of Cholseys reappears so better get on…….