Saturday, 28 April 2012

8.00am Saturday 28 April 2012

The sea is flat this morning with a couple of little wavelets close to the beach. There is a force 2 northerly cross shore breeze. A fine day for a long paddle maybe.

Low 04.53 1.3m
High 11.18 3.0m
Low 17.07 1.5m
High 23.30 3.0m
Tide information sponsored by Finnegans Shop Rossnowlagh

Now for a walk to the Creek, with a look at nature's bounty along the way and a couple of culinary tips to go with the bounty.

Below, scurvy grass, rich in vitamin C, is growing plentifully on the cliffs right now. Its glaucous leaves, with their slightly spicy flavour, are a crunchy addition to salads. Sailors, in the days of sailing ships, were fed on dried rations at sea for months at a time (eg 6 months to Australia) and suffered from a vitamin C deficiency called scurvy - bleeding gums and teeth falling out. Scurvy grass, as the name suggests, cured the condition.

More of nature's bounty below - the heaps of nitrogen rich seaweed that the tide has conveniently deposited at the cliff end of the beach is just the thing for spring gardens and is a free activator for your compost heap if you're into organic growing. An extra bonus - its saltiness discourages slugs and snails.

Yes, that cat enjoys a walk by the seashore.

Check below for a cure for aches and pains after a chilly surf. You can have a comforting seaweed bath right in your own bathroom by simply gathering some of this iodine rich fucus type weed from the rocks. All of these brown 'bubble wrack' seaweeds are suitable. A small plastic grocery bag is enough and you can rinse it in a rock pool before bringing it home if you are fussy about sharing your bath with an occasional sandhopper. It is a miracle cure for baby's nappy rash. For slimmers, the iodine in seaweed boosts the metabolism, even when absorbed through the skin.

Below, mussels grow plentifully here on the surface and sides of the rocks. You may occasionally see mussel farmers from across the bay riding about these rocks on quads as they harvest seed mussels here and at Carrickfad at the other end of the beach. They don't take them all. Plenty of mussels grow on to become delicious adult mussels - not as large as the mussels served in Smugglers and the Gaslight but a treat,  nevertheless. Gather your own and try this recipe:

Purify: (for 1 litre of musssels) Steep the mussels a couple of hours or overnight in clean tap water to which you have added a heaped teaspoon of flour or oatmeal. This removes any traces of sand etc.

Prepare: Clean the mussels, scraping off barnacles and removing the beard (the beard is the matt of tangled threads that attach it to the rock). Discard any mussels that are not tightly closed.

Cooking: Sweat a few cloves of chopped garlic in unsalted butter or oil. Add black pepper and thyme. Then add a glass of wine. Finally add the mussels, turn up heat and cook till the shells open. Serve in shallow bowls with the liquor poured over. Voila, Coolmore Moules Mariniere!

Limpets pickled in salt are a delicacy in Hawaii, so much so that stocks have to be conserved to stop them being wiped out. Here they are plentiful, a marker for pure water quality. Cook them in a saucepan in their own liquor for about 3 minutes. Remove the dark squishy bits and eat the the light brown muscle part. Scrumptious!

Below - the dilsk/dulce that grows in the Creek is "crannach" type dulce, growing mainly on seed mussel beds and is considered the sweetest dulce in Donegal Bay. Up till the 1970s people came from as far away as St John's point to gather it here. Dilsk is nature's richest source of iron and was traditionally eaten by women during pregnancy - a good example of traditional lore anticipating what doctors prescribe today. It also has a huge number of trace elements and high iodine content. One of nature's healthiest foods. It is growing in short strands right now and will be at its best by July and August when it is ready for harvesting and drying.

Below, sloke was traditional lenten fare and was boiled slowly to make a black sticky mess that was served as a substitute for meat on fast days. In Scotland sloke is made into cakes rolled in oatmeal and the Welsh make something similar which they call laver bread and serve with the full Welsh breakfast in place of the potato bread on an Irish breakfast.

Sloke varies in colour from brown through to yellow and green, depending on the season. It is a high protein sea vegetable which doesn't really need the traditional slow boil - my mother got her recipe from local farmer and keen angler, Barney Timoney who told her to fry it in butter and serve it as a vegetable alongside bacon and spud.

Another delicacy, common winkles abound in the Creek. In Paris fishmarkets I have seen them labelled, Escargot de mer  selling at 23 euros a kilo but we can have them for the trouble of picking them up. The edible winkle is the plain brown unprepossessing winkle. Disregard the more colourful winkles and the white the white/blue dogwhelk.

If you are into slow food and mindful eating, winkles are just the thing. Boil them in fresh water for about 5 minutes, then drain. Make a  sauce with melted butter, garlic and a pinch of nutmeg.  Now comes the slow bit. With a pin, pick each winkle out of its shell and remove the soft intenstine that is the last bit out of the shell unless you prefer to eat that too - the Parisians do. If you were in a Breton fish restaurant they would give you a small customised skewer for picking out your winkles but a pin does the same job, if less elegantly. You and your guests can pick out and eat the winkles mindfully, dipping them in the sauce one at a time. Or you can pick out all the winkles in advance, pour the butter sauce over them and serve them on quarters of toast. Either way, they are very good.

The Creek path provides fresh spring greens that are just right now for harvesting. Nettles, below, make and excellent soup or vegetable side dish. Wear rubber gloves and use scissors to pick them tender and young. Do not use nettles that show a flower head. They can be cooked like cabbage or spinach and taste a bit like spinach with added earthiness. Remember to steep the nettles in salted water for an hour or 2 to remove insect life.

To make soup, loosely fill a medium plastic shopping bag with nettles tops (take only the top 3 inches). Steep for 1-2 hours in salted water. Rinse and chop.
Sweat a large chopped onion in oil. Add the chopped nettles and also sweat in the oil. Add water or stock to cover the nettles and simmer till cooked. Add 2 table spoons of oatmeal and simmer for another 2-3 minutes till the oatmeal has cooked. Add more stock/water if necessary, if the soup is too thick. Season and blend in a food processor or with a blender. Serve with a dollop of plain yoghurt or fresh cream. Good!

 Below, tender young dandelion leaves are perfect for salads right now. Later in the year they will be too tough and bitter to eat. Meanwhile they are an incredible tonic for your personal plumbing system which is why their alternative name in English is the same is its regular name in French, pis en lit.

And finally, wild sorrel. This plant is young and tender now and adds a sharp piquant taste to salads. It grows fresh and free in fields and should be used now while it is young. Later it will be too tough and bitter for salad use. For now, it is cheaper and better than the chemically washed 'mixed leaves' on offer in shops.

End of culinary tips for now. I haven't forgotten Carrageen - there just isn't any on the rocks right now but I'll look out for the 2012 carrageen crop and then share my mother's sherry carrageen blancmange recipe with the world.

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