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Archive for August, 2010

The world is our oyster

After two weeks and a half in France, this is going to be another food and sea related post, no surprise there, as we are mainly travelling by the coast and when not at the beach, we are mostly shopping for food or sharing delicious dinners with friends. La vie est cruelle en France, ah oui!

So to recap a bit, in Normandy, we had the wonderful squid that Marie Astrid fished and then cooked for us and that was quite a special start. Then, inland, we had more meats and charcuterie, nearly overdosing on l’andouillette – a deliciously fragant and tender sausage that you grill on the barbecue.

Things became fishy, though, when we spent several days in Brittany. Ed had been surfing in Morgat in April this year and had found a great spot on the beach where he found a whole bunch of mussels. So when we went back there, his first job was to check on his tasty little friends and he filled a whole bag of them. I had foraged the odd fruit for jams or mushroom before, but seafood was definitely a new frontier, mainly, I have to admit, for fear of food poisoning.

We went back to le camping des Pins in the evening and Ed prepared his booty with what he found in the camper van, the result was quite amazing and the recipe will follow. No food poisoning the day after, so now a new world of foraging started.

We didn’t have to wait too long for a new raid on shellfish. We arrived on Sunday evening in the South West of France, in Les Landes, where Sylvaine, one of my oldest childhood friends lives, in a beautiful restored old farm, in the midst of the pine tree forest. I asked incidentally if there were good fishing spots around and she said we should go for oysters in the Arcachon Basin. Fun prospect, even if I never eat oysters.

So, here we go, on Tuesday morning, ready to be covered in stinky sea mud, as low tide of course is the imperative for this type of seafood collecting. We got there and the first steps in the mud were epic and frankly quite ‘degueulasse’. Mud up to the knee, we went on, not really knowing where to search for or what to look for, there were definitely loads of empty shells around, and finally Sylvaine spotted the first bigorneau – winkle – and soon after the first cockle. Collecting winkles is quite time-consuming, they tend to hide in between long algae herbs and isolated from each other. The French say “cueillir les bigorneaux”, picking, like for flowers or fruits, and it does make a lot of sense.

The guys, meanwhile, went on an oyster mission because we had to divide the party into two for efficiency and also because Sylvaine’s 6-year-old daughter yelled and cried a lot because of the mud and the baby crabs crawling around, and frankly, I can’t blame her, when you still wear tiny pink flip-flops, you are probably not cut-out for this kind of adventures yet.

After an hour or so of bending down and picking, we found ourselves with a couple of kilos de fruit de mer for team bigorneau and as the tide was rising, we decided to go back to meet the boys where the cars were parked. They came back with a big bag of 50 oysters all looking rugged in shape and smelling of fresh seawater. Not an appetizing sight for me, but I was glad the other foodies would make a feast of them.

Dinner time came and Sylvaine prepared the cockles in a wine and onion sauce, winkles in her special bouillon, and cooked the oysters in garlic and parsley butter. Absolutely divine and I finally enjoyed oysters for the first time.

We are staying in Les Landes a few more days, heading to the Basque country next week, and then the south coast of Spain, and then Portugal. It’s too early for mushrooms in the Basque country but I’m starting to wonder what natural delight will be up for grabs when we go.

Sylvaine really enjoyed the experience too and she has decided to make it a monthly routine with her husband and daughter. Holidays, as the mind is in that particular ‘everything is possible mode’, seem to be the starting point of many new habits, hobbies or sometimes careers. For now, it just tells me yet again that the world is our oyster, and to parody Pierre de Ronsard a French poet, who, in a sonnet to his lover, asked her to enjoy the roses of her beauty: cueillez dès aujourd’hui les bigorneaux de votre vie –  pick today the winkles of your life.

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