Frittering time

Someone once told me time should never be killed so I’m wondering whether instead it’s fine to fritter? So long as apples are involved I’m told.

Either way, I believe cooking this quick and easy recipe for apple fritters is time well spent.

Sugar, fruit, dough and syrup after an energetic, if tiring, day spearfishing is a reward much anticipated.

Ingredients

– 1 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/4 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 2 tablespoons sugar
– 1/4 teaspoon salt
– 1 large egg
– 1 1/4 cups buttermilk
– 4 apples
Vegetable oil, for frying
– Canadian maple syrup + icing sugar

Instructions

– whisk flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cinnamon, sugar + salt
– in a separate bowl, whisk the egg + buttermilk
– whisk together the two mixtures
– slice apples into 1/4-inch-thick rounds, discard centre core (keep slices in water to prevent discoloration)
– add 3 inches of oil over medium heat
– prepare a surface with paper towels
– when the oil reaches heat, dipping each apple slice in batter, carefully lower rings into the oil
– flip the apple slices occasionally to brown on all sides
– transfer fritters onto the paper towel
 

To serve

Serve immediately with Canadian maple syrup + a dusting of icing sugar. Alternatively the fritters can be coated in cinnamon and sugar.

Notes

Ensure the temperature of the oil is between 325 and 360. However, if no thermometer is available check the oil is ready for frying by inserting a dry wooden spoon into the oil — if it is up to temperature bubbles will form around it. Otherwise place one drop of batter to the pan, if it sizzles the oil is up to temperature.

It’s important to shake off as much excess batter as possible to ensure the apple rings fry quickly. Maintain the oil temperature to avoid soggy fritters, do not overcrowd as this will lower the temperature. Do not let oil smoke.

Baiting lobster

This is not a top ten ways to infuriate an armoured crustacean but more a useful post describing how to prepare tempting morsels for a lobster pot.

Whilst three day hung game might be many people’s gastro delight, a three week aged mackerel is sure to turn the heads of many a lurking lobster.

Giddy for gurnard

Just as humans like aged steak, lobsters go giddy for rotten old fish many people turn their nose up to.

Fishy familiarity

However, not all have wives happy to get to know gurnard quite so well. So, a sure way to age fish without it rotting is to place it in six inches of sea salt for two to three weeks.

Stop the rot

Ensure the fish is completely submersed and all sides of the fish are covered. The salt will draw the moisture from the flesh and stop it from rotting all the while. The fish will be dried, crispy, rigid and, most importantly, irresistible to homarus gammarus.

Twice as nice

It’s best to salt a few fish. Twice the pots, twice the chance. Also, with a number of lobster pots in a line, all dispersing the smell of aged mackerel into the current, the scent drift area will be wider.

Whiff

Lobsters ‘smell’ their food by using four small antennae on the front of their heads and tiny sensing hairs covering their bodies.

News travels

A lobster’s sense of smell is finely tuned and can sniff out a single amino acid that tags its favourite food from hundreds of metres.

Lobsters are typically local dwellers and keep to within a mile or so wide area – expect every lobster in the area to get news of your fish.

Big George

The Massachusetts Lobstermen’s Association claimed a record when they caught ‘Big George‘ in 1974 off Cape Cod. The lobster weighed 37.4 pounds with a total length of 2.1 feet.

… we’re gonna need a bigger pot

How George fitted in the pot remains a mystery.

The search for Staffa sea bass

Keen to prove resurgence in Hebridean sea bass is no myth we set off with folding kayaks. 

Our destination is a sandy bed off a small beach on Staffa’s east coast close to a nearby skerry.

It is extremely remote, impossible for commercial fishermen to access, unlikely to have been fished regularly and probably not at all this year. Only a kayak can pass between the narrow gap between the skerry and Staffa.

Virgin water

Sea kayaks give access to waters that might otherwise be difficult with a larger boat and they are also more fun to fight a fish from.

It’s extremely peaceful travelling without the urgent sound of outboard motors and individual kayaks give paddlers in a gtoup the chance to choose which waters they might prefer to fish.

Fishing restrictions

The Minimum Landing Size (a measurement regularly set for all fish types to ensure none are taken that have not yet spawned) was set at 36cm for sea bass 10 years ago.

Brussels blunder

Unfortunately the clipboard toting beaurocrats at HQ EU got it horribly wrong as many sea bass that size have yet to spawn.

Bass numbers crashed partly due to this oversight and partly due to a recent increase in popularity of the fish in restaurants.

There is talk of increasing the Minimum Landing Size to 42cm and, in March 2015, the EU limited recreational fishers to catching three sea bass per day around most of the UK. This is controversial as commercial drift netters continue to take industrial catches measured in tones.

No shrimp

The ban does not extend to western Scotland for a good reason – sea bass do not often venture this far north.

However, Scottish waters are warming and there have recently been reports of sea bass catches within the Hebrides at Wigtown, Luce Bay.

St Kilda tuna

Indeed, in September 2013 the boat Orca III caught Scotland’s first recorded tuna – it had been spotted in a shoal chasing mackerel off St Kilda and, weighing in at 515 lb. and measuring over seven foot long, the fish was no shrimp.

Before we head out for Staffa I notice a westerly breeze. Our destination will be in the lee of Staffa but nevertheless, I am reminded of my checks: there is a 15 knott westerly wind, the sea is choppy. The outlook for 48 hrs is calm. I call Tobermory RNLI, informing them of our route, departure time, ETA, craft type and name, passenger numbers, passenger names and edtimated return time.

Wrong clothes

Our journey into wind and through cresting waves is uneventful if a little choppy but, if a kayaker waited for millpond-sea in the Hebrides, he’d be a patient man or a disappointed one.

I subscribe to an attitude commonly misattributed to the fell walker Alfred Wainwright – there is no such thing as bad weather, only the wrong clothes. It rhymes in both Swedish and Norwegian so it is likely to originate in Scandinavia but they can fight amongst themselves for credit for the author is lost to posterity.

Wilderness island

We arrive to an island deserted of people – just us, diving gannets, comical puffins and inquisitive grey seals.

I already know where my sea bass is lurking: the sand eels are on the sandy bed, the pouting and mackerel are over the eels and my bass is in the kelp patiently eying up all three.

Fussy eater

I congratulate myself for my succinct understanding of the intricate dynamics of the food chain below me. And then I remember how bass also like shore crabs, hermit crabs, green peeler crabs, baby brown crabs, squid, prawn, ragworm, lugworm, sand eel, sprat, baby flatfish, baby lobster, mussels, clam, scallop, pouting, mackerel and whelk.

Indeed bass like to eat anything that can’t eat them. He could be anywhere.

The water is clear so I am fishing the mid depths with a sparkling spinner in pursuit of a set of pristine white mackerel feathered hooks. If he’s lurking in the kelp either side of the sandy channel, he’ll go for my offering – the shiniest of glittering mouthfuls in and around Staffa. The spinner chases my feathers and, he’ll soon chase the spinner.

Caught

I stick at it in expectation of an orgy of leaping silver fish but there is no bite from the bass and the mackerel I slowly accumulate have answered the call for supper.

I string the accumulating number of mackerel through the gills and keep them fresh in the cool seawater strung to the kayak’s side. My bass remains ever elusive.

Deftly dangle

I decide to fish the deeper water and drop a mackerel and lugworm cocktail baited hook to a within a few feet from the seabed, irresistible to any self-respecting bass. The hook is raised off the bed to stop crabs and other unwanted crawling critters from stealing my bait.

Deeper

I enjoy fishing the lower depths as it leaves plenty of time to do almost anything else. I think of a story told by, Rosemary Nicholson, the housekeeper at nearby Ulva House:

”My father was ploughing at the time, it was a sunny day, when these two Lancasters came over very low, and the horses went haywire, jumping and bucking all over the place, so he had to unhitch them from the plough, and by the time we got them in the stable you could cream the foam off their backs in great scoops, they were so scared. Anyway, we heard a double thudding, and very quickly, the Lancasters came back. You see, they had found a submarine on the surface off Staffa. The [Royal Navy] fleet was in Loch Na Keal. It’s deep all the way up. And someone told me this, I don’t know if it’s true: that at Fingal’s Cave shortly after, there, carved at the very back, were the initials of submariners, dated that very day. You see they had surfaced to see Fingal’s Cave, and carved their names, and been drowned. Where’s the wreck? No one knows. They may have got a little way before they sunk”.

Soon

Fishing the lower depths leaves plenty of time for wandering minds. At this rate I’ll have time to break the German submarine’s Enigma code so, reluctantly, and despite fishing with the patience of a monk from neighbouring Iona, I accept there may well be no bass north of Jura. Yet.

Hebridean seas are warming and the bass will come.

Campfire cooking – blueberry pancakes

Pancakes with maple syrup and blueberries, on a wilderness beach with a hot cup of fresh coffee first thing.

A breakfast hard to beat.

Ingredients

– 3 cups whole-wheat flour
– 2 tsp baking powder
– ¾ tsp cinnamon
– 6 tsp vegetable oil
– 3 fresh eggs (or 3 tbsp egg powder)
– 3 cups milk, made from powder
– handful of blueberries

Method

  1. Before setting out, combine the flour, baking powder, cinnamon and egg powder and store in a plastic bag.
  2. When ready to make pancakes, combine the mix with the oil
  3. Add milk and stir until mixture is a thick soup like consistency
  4. Heat a griddle with oil, test heat with a drop of water
  5. Spoon circles of the mix onto the griddle, fry on one side until bubbles form
  6. Flip pancakes and cook for about half the time on the second side
  7. Add berries to the mix as an optional extra and top with maple syrup

To serve

Sieve icing sugar over pancakes

The sterheid rammy

An argument on the stairwell. As told by a Glaswegian…

“To understand the dynamics of the sterheid rammy, I must take you back some 50 years before Glasgow Corporation raised the auld tenements tae the grun, there was a peculiarly democratic code that existed in the mair or less dingy closes of the tenements.

lavvy

What you need to understand is that a close would comprise maybe three levels, each called a storey, and each, except the ground floor having a half-landing, which would house a stinking latrine called a lavvy.

loaby

Each level may have a mixture of say three, sometimes four, flats containing families of up te half-a-dozen or more individuals. There was invariably a ‘singalend’, or more elusively called ‘butt-and-ben’, a ‘through-and-through’, and a ‘twin’ flat where the kitchenette lay side by side with the room, adjoined by a ‘loabby’. The loabby was where bikes were kept – accessed using a pulley, and a stout wooden bunker was sited against the wall to house the domestic coal reserves.

loacked lavvy

It is worth saying here, in case you were wondering, that the lavvy had to serve about 25 people. Naturally, people (of other families, so I’m told), thought nothing of pissing in the sink if the lavvy was loacked. However I digress.

Picturing then, this three dimensional geography, the scene is set for the playing-oot of the sterheid rammy. Only one further ingredient was necessary. Flagrant contravention of ‘the code’ of the ‘tinnamint close’.

One day, I remember it well, I was sitting in the half-landing lavvy, reading a sheet of the newspaper that was subsequently tae be used tae wipe ma erse, when I heard Mrs McIlwraith mouthing off, tae ma horror, some really unutterable oaths, quietly but gettin louder.

ya dirty bastard

From behind the door, which I was holding shut, on account of the lock being broken for fifty years or so, I could hear her shuffling up and down the stair with a low swearing. All of a sudden, she erupted, “Ca yersell a hoosewife ya dirty bastard Henderson“, and then she disappeared intae the hoose and shut the door wi a slam.

Next, I could hear auld Mrs Henderson‘s door open. It had its ain peculiar kind of creak. Sitting, as I was, mair and mair puzzled, I could hear auld Lizzie scuffling aboot on the half-landing.
 “A’ll housewife ye, ya jumped up wee tart. Away an bugger yersel“. And once again all fell silent, as I heard Lizzie’s door creak shut.

aloon on the sterheid

Noo, I was only about seven or eight, and this was a first. Unbeknowns tae me, there were clouds forgetherin, the like ae which I had never seen before. Suddenly Mary McIlwraith‘s door
 opened and a tireade of abuse about Lizzies lazy domestic talents was unleashed. It was clear, however that Mary was all aloon on the sterheid. “Ye huvnae done they effin stairs fur three effin weeks” The effins went on for a minute or so and she shut the door again, with a slam.

I was shitting myself, oh aye.

ya wee shite

Next, it was Lizzie’s creaking door, and then she was all alone on the landing. “A’ll effin stairs ye, ya wee shite. It was your turn onywey.” Then her door shut again… with a slam. It was a ritual.

I managed to get out of the lavvy during this lapse in the hostilities and sat doon at the front of the close tae play wi some tar that was always aboot. Though it was only minutes later that 
Mary started to bang on Lizzie’s door in a highly threatening way. I could hear it all the way up the close.

Even I knew. This was it…

oot o’ a Coal Heaver’s mooth

Lizzie, a tall skinny woman came fleein oot her door an landed a
cracker right on Mary’s ‘coupon’. There were real screams. This was a full-fledged sterheid rammy, no holds barred. There were raised female voices, and mair Effin an’ Blindin than ever came oot o’ a Coal Heaver’s mooth.

motherogoad

It went on for a long time and doors were banged, reopened, banged shut and plates were being broken. Shouts of ‘holymarymotherogoad‘ coud be heard as well as ‘orangebastard’, whatever that was.

Jist at that, Alec Harrison who lived on the tap fler, made his way up, acknowledged the wimmin, and just walked up tae his hoose through the battle. This was another wee ritual. Now this was part of the code. Naebody else got involved.

The rammy just went on-and-on-and-on, until such time as it was time tae make the dinner for the menfolk, who were hiding inside.

Well, you are no doubt wondering how such a standoff could be put right. This is where the menfolk came in, using their time honoured social skills.

wimmin

When Jimmy McIlwraith contrived to meet Rab Henderson on the stair, an hour later, there was yet another code. “Aye, Rab, that’s they wimmin fightin again, so it is“.

Ach, a know, Lizzie’s goat an awful temper when she gets sterted. A’m glad its goat nuthin tae dae wi us” says Jimmy.

Yer right there Rab, see ye at McNivens pub, eight o’cloack. By-the way Rab, d’ye see Big Tommy’s goat a new greyhound. It wid eat yer haun oaff

–––––––

Written by Glenallen

Footnote: A peculiarly Scottish code is to exchange embarrassed pleasantries whilst pretending something closely related to yourself doesn’t really exist. Whether folk were brought up in tenements or fisherman’s hooses or cottar hooses the effect was the same. People lived so closely together and were so interdependent that when any one of a hundred minor calamities occurred they had to get on.

Fattoush, a paddlers’ bedou banquet

I first ate fattoush with bedou tribes in desert sands besides warm Arabian waters and, as I sit on Mull looking seaward, I realize the two landscapes are similar (aside from the cool breeze, regular and intense rainfall, lush green grass, rich biodiversity, cold nutrient rich water, staggeringly high cliffs, abundant wildlife, driving winter snow and merciless winds) – both are utterly deserted by man.

Why choose desert bedou fattoush to tackle the cold Atlantic swell you might ask. Arabs controlled the spice trail through the Middle East and, if anyone can pimp a salad an arab can. Besides, despite lobster, scallop, salmon and muscles all busy idling below our kayaks, one shouldn’t eat such luxuries too regularly lest they become the everyday we seek to surpass.

Salad pimping

This version is therefore a pimps salad, pimped. The added feta and hard boiled eggs, both add slow release energy to the recipe – much needed for tackling the swell.

Extra calories

Qataris refer to Fattoush as gulf salad but this may have been simply a palatable phrase for tourists for it is known regionally as fattoush (fattush, fattoosh or fattouche). The bedouin version included finely sliced hard-boiled eggs and, being far superior for a calorie hungry sea kayaker, this is the version I am describing. I can however find no reference to eggs in other fattoush recipes. My second addition is feta cheese, diced to cubes. Whilst, in Qatar, the cheese may not have been a feta, it was doubtless a goat or sheep white cheese, so feta will do.

Ingredients (Serves 4)

Dressing

– 4 Tsp. ground sumac, soaked in 4 teaspoons warm water for 15 minutes
– 3 Tbsp. (or more) fresh lemon juice
– 2 Tbsp. (or more) pomegranate molasses
– 2 small garlic cloves, minced
– 2 Tsp. (or more) white wine vinegar
– ½ Tsp. dried mint
– ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt flakes

Salad

– 2 x 8-inch-diameter pita breads, toasted until golden brown, diced
– 6 x hard boiled eggs, peeled and diced smaller than quarters
– 100g feta, diced to cubes
– ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil 
– 4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
– one x 1-pound cucumber, quartered lengthwise, thinly sliced crosswise
– one whole red pepper, finely diced
– 6 x spring onions, thinly sliced
– 2 x little gem / baby romaine lettuces cut crosswise into ¾-inch strips
– 2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
– 1-cup fresh mint leaves 
– Ground sumac (optional)
Sea salt flakes

Preparation

Dressing

  1. Combine sumac mix, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, garlic, vinegar and dried mint in a bowl
  2. Gradually add oil, whisking constantly, until well blended
  3. Season with salt; add more lemon juice, molasses or vinegar to taste

Salad

  1. Mix tomatoes, cucumber, spring onion, lettuce, parsley, red pepper and mint in a bowl
  2. Add ¾ of dressing, toss to coat, adding more dressing by tablespoonfuls as needed
  3. Add pita, toss once
  4. Carefully place diced eggs
  5. Place pita pieces over salad
  6. Sprinkle extra sumac over, if desired
  7. Season with sea salt flakes to taste

 

Iona, Scotland’s sacred isle

This tranquil isle has attracted saints, raiders, kings and pilgrims all with an eye to creating, viewing or stealing the art within.

Columba (Callum), an Irish missionary, traveled to Scotland to convert the Picts to Christianity and inhabited the island of Iona starting his mission from a cave.

He arrived in 563 AD with twelve dedicated companions and built a monastery, which stands to this day with pilgrims by the thousand visiting from every corner of the world each year.

Monking slouch

Monks were technical masters in agriculture, irrigation and building and monastic communities became trailblazers in trade, agriculture and learning, securing themselves a pivotal, authoritative and long lasting position in society. Monks of the time were no slouches.

The island gained a history of global importance and, as a result, Iona receives over half a million visitors annually. Not bad for a windswept island with no cars, barely one mile square.

Human sacrifice

When Columba was building the first chapel on Iona, and in line with other British legends of foundation sacrifice, a voice is said to have told Columba that the walls of the chapel would not stand until a living man was buried below its foundations.

Unfortunate Odan

The legend is that Odan, another missionary who had preceded Columba’s arrival at Iona, asked to be buried alive beneath the chapel and, in accordance with his wishes, was consigned to the earth believing his soul would be saved. Hence the name Odan’s Chapel (Reilig Odhrain)

Generous burial

According to different versions of the same tale, either Columba wanted to see Odan again or Odan attempted to climb out of his grave, and in both versions Columba quickly covered the pit with earth to save Odan’s soul from the world of sin.

Odan was the first of many to be buried there – it became a burial place for the Lords of the Isles and Scottish, Viking and Irish kings alike are all buried here.

Iona Abbey

Columba went on to build Iona’s great abbey. The abbey stands to this day and has become one of the most iconic centres of Christianity the world has known.

From a network of churches, starting at Iona and stretching all over Scotland, Christianity eventually spread. Much credit is due to later missionaries, but they all drew their inspiration from Calum Cille, ‘the island of Columba’s church’.

Murderous pillage

When Vikings landed at Iona in 795 AD, fuelled by the taste for previous sackings of ecclesiastical outposts such as Lindisfarne, they killed some 100 monks in a single day on what is now known as Martyr’s Bay.

The massacre made distinct from other bloody events on Britain’s coastlines only by the sheer numbers involved. The Vikings also laid waste to the abbey.

Cows and women

Columba is known for his abstinence and he banned cows and women from the island. He is believed to have said ‘where there is a cow there is a woman, and where there are women there is mischief’.

Cowboy builders

However, in 1203 AD a chieftain called Macdonald Reginald rebuilt the abbey and, doing away with traditional ways of Iona, added a nunnery.

Clearly Columba had the last word for it lies derelict today with the roof caved in and some walls falling in – perhaps the builders had omitted the burial of a living man below its foundations.

Iona today

Today visitors come in the hundreds daily. Iona is at the end of long pilgrim route, similar to Santiago de Compostela only much, much older – indeed its history precedes Columba with St Oran arriving even earlier.

Beautiful Benedictine cloisters are preserved, ancient Celtic crosses and artifacts, works of art and stained glass windows – the abbey is a most tranquil and refined place in the wildest of locations.

Mochalattéd masses

For those who can’t bear the madding crowd, visitor centres and those convinced a hiking stick is necessary for walking between coffee shops, there are some hidden gems on Iona.

The absence of cars on the island means many don’t, won’t or can’t venture beyond the ferry terminal, the coffee shop and the abbey so it’s easy to find deserted white sand beaches, wilderness coves, aqua marine waters and abandoned bothies.

I recommend the disused quarry and quarrymen’s croft, well worth a visit.