Monday, 20 July 2009

Age-old cycle of the seasons

Found a rather interesting site just now, recommended by a friend of mine. Eat the Seasons reminds us of the benefits of eating when fruit, veg and fish are in season.
  • it reduces the energy (and associated CO2 emissions) needed to grow and transport the food we eat

  • we avoid paying a premium for food that is scarcer or has travelled a long way

  • it helps support the local economy

  • it helps reconnect with nature's cycles and the passing of time
They're rather important reasons for going seasonal, apart from the all important "it tastes better" too! Overall they have most of the fruit and veg seasons, right (apart from artichokes, better to leave them until January/February in my opinion).

It's funny how we've gone a complete circle again, returning to the ideas that originally appeared in Mrs. Beeton's Book of Household Management, published in 1861. According to Mrs. Beeton, currently in season we have:

FISH.—Carp, crayfish, dory, flounders, haddocks, herrings, lobsters, mackerel, mullet, pike, plaice, prawns, salmon, shrimps, soles, sturgeon, tench, thornback.
MEAT.—Beef, lamb, mutton, veal, buck venison.
POULTRY.—Chickens, ducklings, fowls, green geese, leverets, plovers, pullets, rabbits, turkey poults, wheatears, wild ducks (called flappers).
VEGETABLES.—Artichokes, asparagus, beans, cabbages, carrots, cauliflowers, celery, cresses, endive, lettuces, mushrooms, onions, pease, radishes, small salading, sea-kale, sprouts, turnips, vegetable marrow,—various herbs.
FRUIT.—Apricots, cherries, currants, figs, gooseberries, melons, nectarines, pears, pineapples, plums, raspberries, strawberries, walnuts in high season, and pickled.

Although here in Spain, we tend to think the best time to eat shellfish (marisco) is the months that contain an R - January, February, March, April, September, November, December; but I suppose the season may be much longer in colder waters/climates (i.e. for artichokes). Having been used to having everything that we want, when we want, I think it's kind of nice tasting the 'first of the season'. The wait for the mandarin oranges or sweet, juicy nectarines makes them all the nicer.

Saturday, 18 July 2009

Fishy wisdom

We Irish have a special relationship with salmon; it is probably the only fish that is full accepted in the Irish diet (despite being an island). There isn't a house in Ireland that doesn't whip out the smoked salmon and brown bread at Christmas, weddings, funerals and christenings! Maybe it's Fionn's blood in us all.

Here in Spain, there isn't as much furor for salmon, sadly being over looked for other more meaty fish like monkfish and cod. Having been here 6 years now, I'm beginning to understand their liking for cod. In Ireland, I tended to avoid it like the plague, as it was insipid and bland. The cod here is different, probably because it's
salted, which is good in some ways as it gives more flavour to an otherwise unappetising fish. The downside is if you don't soak it enough, you'll end up drinking water for the rest of the afternoon, so we've discovered on numerous occasions.. 48h hours is just not enough!

Shopping today I came across some lovely looking whole salmon, at only 5.95€ a kg - not bad. Despite being farmed, which usually means that it's rather fatty, it wasn't the case this time; it turned out a lovely fish. Rather than having the supermarket butcher it (and I mean mutilate it with a knife), I decided to take it home whole and wrestle with ourselves. E wasn't too enamored with the idea, as he says it's a great way of blunting knives, but then again, isn't that what they're for? Personally I always prefer to buy a full fish, having always seen mum and dad filleting fish at the kitchen sink, rather just asking for cuts to be cooked the same day - it's a fish that freezes well and is rather versatile.

The fish came in under 3 Kg, so there was plenty of fish to work with. In the end we took one full side and pan-fried it whole for a recipe I found in Arabesque (Barbecued Salmon and Aubergine Terrine). It starts off by lining a terrine with oven-roasted, ruby-red peppers, then sprinkling some crumbled, salty feta. On top of that, along one side, it layers poached leeks and on the other, some peeled, roasted aubergine. We placed half of the fillet (which had been panfried with a little garlic) in the centre and sprinkled it with some crushed coriander seeds. Then another layer of feta, more aubergine and leeks and the remaining salmon. Finally we topped it off with the rest of the peppers, and a layer of clingfilm. We've put some TetraBrics of stock on top to weight it. E was a bit skeptical about whether it would compact, but so far, the liquid seems to be dripping out. We'll have to wait until tomorrow to see the result.

The trimings along the backbone are going to be used for E's salmon tartare, a real treat where he mixes roughly diced fresh and smoked salmon with minced onion, gherkins, capers, hard-boiled egg and a dash of mustard and oil. A great temptié or a meal in itself (it's rather rich, so best to share - no worries here!).

I cut the other side into smallish darns and popped them in the freezer, to be salvaged another day when I'm homesick. Nothing like some panfried salmon and spuds to reminisce about moist lush Ireland!

Monday, 6 July 2009

Grocery shopping, the same all over the world, or is it?

Yeah, I know. A mind-disengagingly, boring task anywhere. Well for most people anyway.

E and I seem to get a kick out of it. It's a first stop-off, no matter where we go. I say that you can always tell how a country is by its supermarkets or lack-thereof.. and Spain is a food lovers paradise, so go figure that it would be instant gratification for us just doing the weekly shop.

Well, that was how it was until our busy lives caught up on us, forcing one or the other to do it alone. Not as much fun, alone.. I'm mean, somethings are meant to be done together. A long list of things comes to mind.. Yet, it ended up either being a) a strange guiri dashing through the aisles with her yellow-luminous post-its, hell bent on doing it as fast as possible (yep, my record was 34 mins for a full shop) or b) a tired-Spick whose face would light up with all the food that wasn't on the efficiently e-mailed shopping list or that already could be found in the laden shelves at home. Definitely not fun.

So where did the fun go? Most probably when the whole convenience food came..
When I arrived here, I would spend hours on end wandering around supermarkets mesmerized by the different food brands and lack thereof (I still can't stop giggling when I see Bimbo bread and reckon that Cif should still be Jif). I simply couldn't understand why their milk was on shelves and not in the fridge and why most supermarkets were rather empty of food and variety. For students in those days, it was hell. On earth.

Later, I discovered that supermarkets were not the places that the *real* people in Spain shopped. Heaven forbid if you even considered buying meat in the supermarket. For fresh stuff like that, you had to go to the market. The idea of convenience food was pizzas, chinese noodles and a millions of types of croquettes. Convenience it wasn't - rather *sin*venience - too much hassle and oil for a student.

So what happened? Globalisation, I guess. Or one rather smart market analyst who saw a gap market and a growing trend. I suppose it goes to figure, since the average working week is a minimum of 40 hours, and food customs (main meal in the middle of the day, and evening meal at 22h) meant that no one has enough time to go to the market (generally closed before 20h, unlike the supermarkets that open until 9 or 10 at night), let alone cook anymore. So it's a case of cartons of ready-made gaspazcho, cellophaned torillas, even callos a la abuela (tripe in a murky looking sauce that looks like anything but home-made by your granny - she'd turn in her grave, she would). The markets are fighting back, trying to employ celebrities to advertise the advantages of going local (better quality, fresher produce) but who can fight against price given the current aroma of the economic crisis?
It's one of the changes in Spain that I don't like at all. That's why going to Tortosa with its local market (with produce that has just hopped off the field) makes my mouth water for the fresh crunchy greens. Yet, there's other days (when I couldn't be bother to cook - yep, it happens to me too) that I'm glad I've got a tin of tuna in the house..

I guess it goes without saying that if a sign of a country is its supermarket (in my eyes), it won't be long before we all speak Spanglish.. :-/

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