And Shall there be Ormers and Tripe for Lunch?

After Charlie’s visit Nick crossed to France and I spent a week at Winterborne K sorting and clearing.  I weeded out papers from the filing cabinets and folders.  I ditched lots of Conference and Meeting Abstracts, reports, correspondence and notes that I just don’t need and nor will anyone else.  I carefully sift out things that I will pass along to Simon Taylor who now holds the post in Conch Soc that I held for twenty years.  I manage to deal with shells awaiting labelling and curation and get a backlog of glass and plastic containers tucked into drawers.  I play some Bridge with my girls.

On Mothers’ Day I drive to Godalming where I am royally spoilt, having dropped boxes of JMBA with Malcolm and Christine Storey to await collection by Ian Smith.  Ryan and Ted are chefs for the day.  I get presents and CJ manages to read Girl on a Train in one sitting.

On Monday morning I commence my nannying duties.  They run a tight ship, them Perrymans, and there are things to remember each day.  Fortunately Demi, the nanny who is on holiday, has drawn up a big flow chart with clouds of information and five sides of exercise book of ancillary notes.

IMG_5832DemiChart IMG_5833DemiNotes

Demi’s crib sheets are extremely helpful and I would have been all at sea without Ted’s timetable and kit requirements day by day.  But I am amused that she reminds me that it is a good idea to make some preparations for Ted’s evening meal before I pick him up from school and then get the meal ready during his session on a computer game.  It is also useful advice to know that I must remember to clean the food off the sides of the dishwasher door and wipe all kitchen worktops with Multisurface cleaner!

During my week in Godge I have lunch with Vikky and with Charles and Lis, the first at the Thai Roof Garden Restaurant in Guildford and the second in the café at the Watts Gallery.  The latter is a good find, the food is delicious and well presented.  Meanwhile Nick is in St Vaast with Andrew, the two men having crossed the Channel for a few days in order to bring the timber for the pergola back to England.  Andrew experiences the best of French hospitality chez Taille.  NickAndrewOystersblog

My most enjoyable sociable occasion whilst in residence at 88 Pep is spent at Hambledon Farm amongst the best of friends.  Charles and Susie have arranged a small supper party with the Charlesworths and Upcotts and Susie’s good friend Cherrie.  We are all avid readers so it’s a kind of book group get-together but we cover lots of other topics, not least the forthcoming Referendum which already is threatening to divide the nation.

At the end of my week I drive back to The Old Workshop, take in a game of Bridge with the girls on Friday night, and drive myself to Poole on Saturday morning Cherbourg-bound.  Arriving in the afternoon I am then plunged into an extended weekend of feasting chez des amis.  Bri and Georgy invite us and the Poulets for supper on Saturday evening when our hostess served us Lapin a la Moutarde.  On Sunday, together with Lorraine and Stephen, we are guests of Miguel and Bibi for a Mexican lunch and what fun that was.  We ate tortilla chips and guacamole with our apero, and then enjoyed a chicken broth with rice and assorted ‘sambals’ to sprinkle over.  So healthy and so delicious.   The authentic guacamole would be lovely to eat up as a single course.  We have another lunch date on Monday when we are the guests of Dede and Francoise Burnouf, along with the Tailles, and both their neighbouring couples, who we already know from previous events at their house on the quay. IMG_3495 Dede cooks a lunch, starting with a tasty dish of ormer (‘fished by Dede from the wests Cotentin) and he follows this with Tripes Normands.  In anticipation of a dislike of tripe on the part of Nick and myself, and also Fefe, Dede barbecues some fine magrets de canard on his open hearth.  I do taste the tripe but it is a very poor second to pink-cooked duck breast fillets.

During the lunch conversation is very lively and good-humoured.  Even when the sub-mariner neighbour of F and F launches into a light critique of the English.  I always knew he is an Anglophobe, he has barely been cordial on occasions when we have met chez Taille.  He is probably a misogynist to boot.  Well, that is his loss 🙂  Shame because his wife is lovely and cooked the best tarte aux pommes I have ever eaten, for our dessert.  I even got a doggy bag to bring home.  Our hostess, Francoise, is also lovely and I hope to spend more time with her.



Winding down the Summer

The evening before we leave St Vaast our good neighbours welcome us for dinner.  We won’t be seeing them until mid-October so it is a good chance to set the seal on the summer of ’15 and tell them about our Parisian interlude.  A mixed bag of activities awaits us in Dorset; on Friday I play bridge, on Saturday evening the McGoverns take us out for a thank-you curry, on Sunday we drive to Godalming for Perryman time.  During the following week there is more bridge, there are mushrooms to be gathered with Rollo and I have a paper to finalise before submission to Mike Allen.  We enjoy a lovely lunch at Wrackleford with friends of one of Nick’s first cousins.  At the weekend we drive to Oxfordshire to scrump some apples from Barns’ orchard, help him round up logs and visit the Bunkfest at Wallingford, where Nick is fascinated to see his two eldest grandsons operating cameras for on-stage live music.    The clock is ticking and I must make a visit to Chestnuts on Monday to see a very special person, before heading off at 2 a.m. on Tuesday, Gatwick-bound.

Polyvalent at Polzeath

We’ve booked a holiday house at Polzeath and although the drive proves to be nightmaringly tortuous for some, because this is the first day of the school holidays, midnight finds us convened at a house which sleeps the full complement – 17.  There’s fish pie and French cheese which we eat in relay, at intervals as people arrive.  The 7 children roar around the ground floor, finally being shoved off to bed at 1a.m.  Some adults have already caved in!

On Saturday morning the kitchen is a hub.  Starting with croissants, pain au chocolat, local bread and lemon curd we each break our fast and during the course of a morning Daniel puts in a lengthy stint with the omelette pan.  Ems is in training for her half marathon, Joel starts to prepare for our Japanese feast.  The children organise a fashion show complete with make-up and then excursions are made to the beach to fly a kite, frolic in the water draining onto the beach 😦 and then repair to the house for hot showers, cookies, Madeleines, hot chocolate.  I look at the clock.  It is only 1p.m!

A pleasant interlude on my bed with my current Booker title is followed by a leisurely afternoon, the lull before the food preparation session which will be supervised by our chef for the evening, Joel.  During this lull CJ puts in the hours she needs to fulfil a working day.  Dan snoozes, Barns and Nick sort out potential activities for the week, the children visit the local shop with Ems to buy supplies for the midnight feast and then play hide and seek.

At this point my blogging schedule – if there is one – goes to pot.  On Sunday many of us walk the coast to Rock.  This is a very pleasant amble with small children and takes in cliff top, upper shore rock platform, sand flats at low water.  Arriving at Rock we find a bar for a drink and order portions of chips to dip.  Then it’s back to the house except I make a detour via the White Stuff shop to look for the dotty jumper which Anne P wants to buy but is no longer available online.  When I come out everyone has walked on so I hasten in their footsteps, as I think, but then realise that I have lost everyone.  I climb to high ground and Sam who has lingered spots me and tells me Nick came back to find me.  It takes some minutes to locate him then together we three make it back to the house.  In the event we are the first to arrive at the house as the others have stopped in The Oystercatcher to have a bevvy and play some pool.

During the week we aim to keep the children active and we also enjoy cooking for each other.  Lukie cooks a great beef and dumpling stew, CJ and Ry bbq some chicken and then she cooks us Persian lamb which is a triumph.   We loved the sushi and Teriyaki chicken Joel cooked with sous-chef help.  The treasure hunt which I have lovingly organised is well received and leads into a flash egg and rabbit hunt in the large garden.  The large garden really is a boon, the children rehearse over and over again a dance sequence that they perform just before we leave on Friday morning.

In order to relive some Cornish memories of yore we make a musselling foray to the shore one morning.  I select Constantine Bay as a likely locus for our gathering and sure enough we do find plentiful supplies on the rocks there.  Leaving the beach I notice that there is extensive algal cover of Porphyra.  I have made laverbread in the past but only with the raw material bought from a fishmongers.  But I gather some as it seems a shame not to take advantage of the opportunity and after consulting the internet I see it is not big chore to wash and simmer the weed for a good long time after which you sieve and liquidise the resulting gleep.  I make batches of laverbread patties with bacon pieces and we eat this for breakfast with black pudding and poached eggs garnished with spinach and a basil leaf,  prepared by Dan.  This is his gastronomic contribution.  Always goes for a bit of style.

It is Barns’ and Dan’s idea to make this an electronic device-free week.  The children are allowed no interaction with i-phones, i-pads, i-pods.  They play games and the adults play with them.  Ruby notices this because she tells her father he is awesome for playing with the kids and not going on his computer!  You couldn’t ask for better affirmation.

And so to Dorset

Crossing to Dorset we know we have a very busy few days ahead of us.  We need to drive over to Southborne for dental appointments and will eat supper with Maddy and Andrew that evening.  As it happens on the return journey we have found Parasol mushrooms in our usual place so I will cook garlic mushrooms for the Dukes, and the Palmers.  I had brought some field mushrooms back with us which we ate for lunch.  These have been growing on Georgy’s lawn at Reville but he has been uncertain whether they are edible species or not.  Evidently yes, they are certainly a good Agaricus species.

To say thank you to Celia for having watered the plants during our absence,  we take her and Eamonn into Dorchester for a curry at the Rajpoot ….. what has happened to our dietary resolve?!!  As we tuck into mouthwatering dishes there is comfort in the knowledge that the following day we must walk the route we plan for the Winterborne K walkers.   We need exercise badly; we are both battling with a bit of weight that needs to be shed.  It is not much but we know that if we cannot shift these 4 surplus kilos each that we are carrying soon they will become part of our corporeal scenery, something we do not want.

The route needs to be ‘specked’ out because I walked our chosen route with Maddy back in March with loads of time to re-walk it with Nick to showcase it to him and also to check out the descent back to the field centre at Lower Kingcombe, headquarters of Dorset Wildlife Trust.  Such has been the busyness of the year that we are in September with a month to spare before the real thing.

It is a circular route over Kingcombe Downs and Meadows.  We accomplish the walk, a good 5 miles, in 3 hours with stops.  We stop to admire the berries, grazing as we go, and the house martins as they assemble on the roof and associated wires of a lone house, the trout in the lee of a small stone bridge and such fungi as there are, and none of these are for the pot.  Getting back to the Centre, where I admire the carved wooden birds on display there, it seems that we can eat a lunch at the Centre after our walk which will be a bit different from usual but at least the ‘Baked Potato’ and ‘Ham, Egg and Chips’ Brigades will be well served.

On Friday evening I meet up with Celia, Chris and Sally in the Greyhound where we agree plans for the Bridge weekend we are going to have at the beginning of November.  The tutor is going to come to the village, stay at The Old Workshop and give us four 2-hour sessions.  For me this is a once and for all attempt to learn Bridge sufficiently well to play the game and learning with a group of friends who all live within spitting distance is ideal.  My biggest challenge will be to remember what I learn.  Otherwise it’s “Anyone for Snap?”


Of Portesham and Parasols

On Oct 12 it was our turn to lead the Winterborne Walkers on their monthly ramble, on the day of our 45th wedding anniversary.  We had chosen a roughly figure of 8 walk around Portesham and the Hardy Monument.  Despite torrential rain the day before, and a bit on the morning we accomplished this walk in the dry and it was deemed a success.  I think the excellent lunch we enjoyed in the Kings Arms helped.

Descending the final hill down to Portesham Nick spied some field mushrooms nestling in isolated clumps of slightly higher turf than the rest of the sward.  He gathered these, enough for a helping on toast.  Earlier in the week, on a return journey from Poole, he had spotted some parasols growing beneath trees along the verge which bounds Wareham Forest.  These mushrooms are particularly tasty and found their way into a risotto.

Katharine was staying with us this weekend.  She comes to Dorset to visit her grandmother and I also think she likes to escape from London.  On Saturday night we went round to the Greyhound for supper and a family lunch was scheduled at Katie’s for Sunday.  During her visit we tempted Kat to try the waterbed, this proving to be a great success.  Another guest has been won over.

During the ensuing week Nick and I fulfilled various appointments and on Saturday drove to the Natural History Museum in London for the annual all-day Council meeting of the Conchological Society.  This was my first council meeting for some months and it was good to meet up with fellow officers and get back into the swing of things.  I am very glad to re-involve myself with matters relating to marine shells, their identification and recording………… and very content to give all matters electronic a wide berth.   Afterwards we drove across to Hackney to visit Lola, Ruby, their parents and our beloved Rooney.  We spent a very happy evening with them, enjoyed a delicious roast chicken supper and drove home later, arriving at WK at 1.15 a.m. after such a satisfying day.

A Time for Friends and Family

On the Saturday after our return from Devon we joined the Winterborne Walkers for a round trip along the Dorset coast taking in Ringstead Bay, led by Mike Griffin.  The evening before Katharine had arrived from London to spend the weekend with us.   This was a repeat of a weekend earlier in the year when she had come to spend some time with my mother and to see some of the family.  This is a very happy arrangement, particularly as Kat likes to escape London and I was delighted to find another guest who would happily sign up to sleeping in the waterbed.

Later in the week Nick and I enjoyed a gastronomic highlight, another Lobster evening at Le Petit Canard, a delightful restaurant in Maiden Newton.  This was a welcome opportunity to spend some time with Maddy and Andrew before they set off for their holiday in Canada.  We dropped them at Poole on Monday morning then drove up to Surrey for an important rendez-vous.  A few minutes out of Godalming Nick suddenly braked and pulled the car onto the verge.  He had spotted some mushrooms, field mushrooms as it turned out and which he picked.

Andy who prodded us, then helped us create our splendid tiered garden at Peperharow Road was over from California and spending a couple of days in Godalming on a bit of consultancy work for Charterhouse School, his alma mater.  This was a wonderful opportunity for him to see the garden and us, his alternative family.  Barney drove across from Oxfordshire and together with Charlotte and Ryan we walked down to the Charterhouse pub for a curry.  We had just been seated and ordered our drinks when a tall figure hove into view.  To everyone’s delight Dan had made the trip down from London to join the ‘family’ gathering.  We had an amazing time with so much laughter over tales retold, and some tales Nick and I had not heard before.  It was a one-in-a-long while memorable occasion.

The following day my friend Diana and I visited the Compton Pottery having made an appointment the previous day.  It is owned by an extraordinary lady, Mary Wondrausch, who at 89 continues to pot and paint.  I was searching for gifts for Harriet and Briony, which I found, but I also fell in love with a series of paintings Mary has recently been working on which combine watercolour, gouache and patches of printed media incorporated on the surface.  These give a texture to the paintings which is very pleasing.  I bought two of her pictures, ‘Field Mushrooms’ and ‘A Glass of Riesling’ as a gift to Nick for the French house.  He likes them very much indeed which is fortunate as the last picture I bought for him, an artist’s sketch by Peter Thursley, fell flat.

Back in Dorset it was time to wind TOW down and depart for a week in France.  On Thursday morning we boarded the morning ferry and settled in for the four and a half hour cruise across the Channel.

Foraging at its Best

After we waved the Hunters off, Nick and I took a walk to blow cobwebs away.  We went down La Voie Vert, a wide foot/cycle path which has been routed along the old railway track.  It takes us past a small industrial complex, some established houses and some new residential settlements.  One house in particular grabbed our attention, about which more in a later post.  We arrived at the beach road and continued along the wall above the shore and round to the harbour.  The extent of the oyster beds exposed indicated a good low spring tide, with pecheurs a pied very much in evidence in the harbour.

It was bitterly cold but there were several scallop fishers in their chest wading gear scooping their nets around in the receding seawater.  A lone hang-glider attracted our attention as he swung back and forth across the oyster park and adjacent sand flats.

We walked on round and along the harbour wall to get a better view of the figures scalloping between the lighthouse and Ile Tatihou.  As we walked Nick glanced down and spotted a couple plodding around in the mud and drainage channels immediately below us and adjacent to the harbour inner wall.

As we watched we saw them bend to pick up……….. King Scallops – Pecten maximus.  There were some dense scatters of single shells but every now and then you could see them pick up the living article.  They worked their way back and forth along the wall margin, placing the scallops in their tucker bags or throwing them to the edge to gather up later.  Whilst we watched the woman must have found at least 100.

In the past Nick and I have waded around at the water’s edge and just below on those flats, finding stray specimens but we have never taken such a bountiful haul.  This is an expedition we will have to try for ourselves.

Seaweed Rolls and Winkle Butter – a Shore thing

So whilst I am on the subject of recipes, here’s something rather more rustic – or whatever the marine equivalent of rustic might be.  If we have some austere times ahead why not look to our ancestors, I mean let’s go back say 1,500 years and try some simple fare.  I first ate ‘pains aux algues’ (seaweed bread rolls) in a seaside restaurant in France whereas I found a recipe for winkle butter (‘beurre aux bigorneaux’ in French) in a cookery book – Prehistoric cooking by Jacqui Wood– to make the latter.

Seaweed rolls are not difficult to make.  You can make up your normal bread mixture whether by hand or by machine, leave the dough to prove and then shape into small balls allowing for a doubling in size during the rise.  Dried mixed seaweed can be bought from specialist shops. Just take a good handful or two of the seaweed flakes and mix them in with the other dry ingredients.  The health benefits of eating seaweed are well documented.  Cook the rolls at a high temperature for about 15 minutes.  The rolls are cooked when you knock the bottom of a roll and the sound is hollow.

Even amongst seasoned fans of seafood, winkles can be a final frontier when it comes to gathering molluscs for consumption.  They do not score highly on appearance, or yield in relation to effort expended in gathering, cooking and extraction from the shell!  The recipe below makes a tasty condiment which is not dissimilar in flavour to anchovy paste.

Collect a good bucket of edible winkles.  As always when gathering molluscs from the shore, take care to choose an unpolluted beach which receives regular flushing with clean seawater.  As the shellfish are cooked relatively lightly it is particularly important to be confident about the health of the shore.  Avoid collecting large individuals.  You will also need some butter and salt:as a guideline use 120g of butter for 300g of winkles in their shells.

The best way to cook the winkles is to ‘coddle’ them.  Scrub and rinse the shells.  Place them in a layer only one, or at most two, shells deep in a pan or bowl.  Pour on boiling, salted water about three times as deep as the shells (i.e. plenty of water in relation to the amount of shell, so that they heat up quickly.  Leave for 10-15 minutes.  Pour off the hot water, remove the meat from the shells with a bent pin and set aside.

If a blender is to hand, combine the winkle meat, softened butter and salt until you have a paste.  (You may want to adjust the amount of salt you use so add it bit by bit.)  Alternatively you can remove the muscle and use the brown coils from the inner shell and mash these by hand with the butter.  Either method yields a tasty spread on toast or warm bread rolls.  A great accompaniment to fish dishes.

Note: If you collect a relatively small number of winkles, then adjust the amount of butter you use accordingly.  If you do make a large quantity, the winkle butter can be shaped into pats, or pressed into moulds (I have an ice cube tray with scallop shapes), and frozen to be used as and when.

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We are Shellshucked!

………… so we spill out of our cars on Inishnee and haul our buckets onto the terrace outside the cottage’s kitchen.  First we enjoy sorting the catch into species.  We have 21 Pecten maximus, 67 Chlamys varia, 38 Ostrea edulis, 1 Crassostrea gigas, 31 assorted clams and about a gallon of Mytilus edulis. 

Preparing shellfish is time-consuming.  All the shells need to be scrubbed clean and the mussels and small scallops need particular attention as they are steamed in their shells.  We shuck the king scallops carefully because the shells will we used for collections and garden edging.  The assorted clams need to be halved carefully so the meat can be laid in half-shells to be grilled as ‘palourdes farcies‘.

Preparing the oysters is a veritable chore shared by Nick and Sonia.  Forcing one’s way into an oyster via the ligament region requires teeth-gritting determination.  It is a dangerous business.  Nick is using his folding knife and delivers a wound to his finger when the knife snaps shut.  (Note to self to include an oyster knife in my field trip kit-box).  Fortunately first aid kids belonging to seasoned field archaeologists are on hand and special materials are applied and the cut heals without a murmur.

So what we did is we laid out platters of opened oysters to start.  And we flash-grilled the small clams with a dressing of butter, parsley, garlic – this is ‘farci’ or stuffed clams.  We had prepared, in advance, a liquor to steam our mussels ‘marinieres’ .  We had also chased some bacon snippets round a pan ready to receive the steamed small scallops.  And we had chopped garlic and root ginger to saute the king scallops.

We ate the oysters and clams and they were good.  Then we steamed two large panfuls of mussels which we ate and they were good too.  And then we cooked both kinds of scallops and they were very good indeed.  We ate this delicious shellfish with Irish Soda bread, and we drank some wine.

This feast was real ‘degustation‘ .  A French word which seems to have no direct English translation and is an altogether more pleasant experience than it sounds to the English ear.  Degustation is a culinary term meaning a careful, appreciative tasting of various foods and focusing on the gustatory system, the senses, high culinary art and good company.   Exactly so!

I’d like to leave it there but I should add a cautionary note.  You cannot go to any shore and collect willy-nilly without a thought for the health of the shore and its waters.  You need a fully marine environment which receives regular flushing with clean seawater.  Collecting molluscs from the shore to eat, especially oysters and mussels which are filter feeders, has an element of risk.  You cannot tell by looking at the shellfish, although your nose will be a useful indicator if something is amiss.  Any bivalve that you collect should be able to ‘clam up’ if you try to pull the valves apart.  Any bivalves that do not demonstrate the muscle-power to remain firmly closed before they are cooked should be discarded.

Get yourself a useful handbook such as The Edible Shore by John Wright.  This is an invaluable guide to collecting a fabulous range of food from the seashore and there is plenty of helpful information to make sure you collect safely and responsibly.  Caveat comedor!

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A Rare Shore

During our Connemara week we surveyed some shores with evocative names: Mweenish, Lettermore, Gorteen Bay….  We found richness in numbers of invertebrates and rarity of species.  But we were knocked sideways by a shore in a very sheltered location which shall remain nameless to preserve its mystique and bounty.  It is axiomatic that the most beautiful beaches to walk may yield nothing in the way of shells and other rejectamenta, and rather mucky-looking gravelly muddy bits of coast may reveal a fantastic array of marine life when the tide recedes to uncover something of the seabed.

So it was when we drove north from Roundstone to record a shore which was reached by a tortuous route.  As the water ebbed we found mussels, clams, oysters in profusion and scallops aplenty.  It was thrilling, wading about in the shallows, stooping to collect the shellfish for our communal cooking pot.  The six of us staying in Island Cottage pooled our catch, and when we got back to base we took a deep breath and began to prepare the ingredients for a seafood fest…………..

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