Watersports, the golf course, wild mushrooms, and a superbly moody sky

Often when I walk on the beach in the summer, looking north to Tywyn there is a big blue sky with little fluffy white clouds and when I turn round to look back at Cerdigion it looks like the coming of Armageddon, with dark clouds gathering in an unbroken, uncompromising line.  It was just like that yesterday, and it made for some  dramatic colour and light contrasts.

I came down Gwelfor Road, emerging on the coast road by the Post Office, thereby bypassing what I always think of as the family section of the beach, the stretch leading away from the lifeboat station, handily close to all the facilities.  It tends to be fairly jam-packed at this time of year.  I usually like to wend my way through the melee to enjoy people having fun, but given the ongoing risks I thought I’d give it a miss.  I headed straight into the sand dunes, which were only being used by others as a thoroughfare to cross from the road to the beach.

There was a stiff and slightly chilly breeze that occasionally developed into a fairly strong wind.  Although most people were in shorts, as I was myself, most also wore jackets and fleeces, and on the beach there were a lot of colourful windbreaks erected.

A giant inflatable pink swim-ring making its way apparently under its own steam across the dunes, one of the more surreal things that have caught my eye this year.  Eventually the owner became visible as he and his swim-ring, still held aloft, proceeded down the beach towards the water’s edge.  I assume that a child was following on somewhere behind.

There wasn’t much in the way of wild flowers and I eventually walked down to the beach and along the water’s edge.  The sea was fairly turbulent for the time of the year, and the combination of a good wind and waves seemed to be ideal for some watersports.

Watching one sailborder wading with his kit into the sea, it seemed to me that one needed a fairly impressive amount of strength just to get it out beyond the shallows, never mind to climb on board, stay on board and direct the thing.  Very skillful, and so much more rewarding than thundering around on a jet ski.

 

When I reached the Second World War pillbox (about which I have previously written here), I crossed the dunes to take photos of the Trefeddian Hotel for yesterday’s post about the hotel’s  architectural changes.  It was looking quite dramatic in the full sunshine against the dark hillside.

There were a few people using the golf course, but not very many, so I wandered back along one of the water courses that wend their way through the course.  I know nothing about golf, but in spite of the blatant artifice I have always found the undulating landscape and the manicured greens of a golf course rather soothing.  Or at least, when not at risk of being hit in the head by a golf ball.  The water courses are thriving ecosystems in their own right, with incredibly clear water and a remarkable variety of plant life.  They appear from and disappear into underground conduits.  There must be a direction of flow, but no current was visible today.  Most of the plant life likes shallow, slow-moving water, like the great swathes of water cress, and full sunshine, like the patches of duck weed and blanket weed.  There were several  red damsel flies darting around, only occasionally settling.

One of a number of rich patches of watercress (above and below), just where the stream disappears again.  Not to be eaten without treatment due to the high risk of liver fluke.

Amphibious bistort, above and below (Persicaria amphibium).  Sorry about the fuzzy image of the flower above – it was seriously windy and it simply wouldn’t sit still for long enough for me to get a clear shot.  It did, however, show the leaves clearly.  Between that and the one below, which shows the flower a little more clearly, but not much of the leaves, I think you can get the idea.  It’s a perennial and flowers in slow-moving water from June to September.

Water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis) and blanketweed (Spyrogyra)

A beautiful orange weed, that probably does the stream no good at all.  It lies on the bed of the stream, but this was floating slightly clear of it.  I’ve tried to find out what it is to no avail.

A very poor photo of a damselfly, right at the limit of my lens’s reach

Nearby in a hedge, was a curtain of purple, which turned out to be tufted vetch (Vicia cracca).
Patches of Ccommon centaury (Centaruium erythraea) were on the edges of the sand dunes and the golf course.  Centaury is named for the centaur Chiron who used it to cure wounds inflicted by the multi-headed Greek Hydra, but it has been used as an improbable cure-all for all sorts of diverse conditions.

Walking back along the golf course, I was lucky enough to find both a puffball and, the absolute highlight of my nascent foraging activities, two enormous parasol toadstools!  They were both about 10 inches tall and around 6 inches across.  Absolute beauties.  The nearby fennel has now gone to seed, but I picked some of that too, as it makes a great base for a stock.

Parasol mushrooms, a puffball and wild fennel, with my iPhone in the background for scale

Wild fennel.  A few weeks ago it was covered with feathery green leaves, but now it has gone to seed.  The stems and seeds are still wonderful in stock, and the seeds can be dried out and ground into and over all sorts of things, imparting a delicious, slightly aniseed flavour.  Where I group up in Spain it was known locally simply as “anis.”

And here is one of the parasol tops sitting on a handy diffuser, ready for the frying pan.  The stalks are too tough to eat, but I put it in a bag in the freezer for making a stock for a beef dish on another day.

I had the puffball sliced and fried in a little butter with a sprinkling of parsley on a side dish as a starter.  I saved one of the parasol mushrooms for my father and served the other fried almost the same way in butter, parsley and a little garlic, with streaky bacon and a poached egg on top.  It looks a bit like very flat burger in the picture, but that’s just the colouring from the butter and bacon.  Dividing the two mushrooms into two dishes allowed each one to be appreciated for its own particular virtues. Wonderful.  God I was stuffed!

The changing appearance of the Trefeddian Hotel in postcards

The Trefeddian as it was built on the left, and my photograph of it today (28th July 2020) taken from roughly the same angle but from a lower level

You can click on any of the images to enlarge them to get a better look at the details of the building.

The Trefeddian Hotel is one of the major local landmarks, a palatial white immensity overlooking the golf course, sand dunes and beach, recipient of the AA Hotel of the Year Award for Wales 2018/19.  I don’t know anything about the history of the Trefeddian Hotel, but images of the hotel in postcards provide a fascinating record of architectural changes to the building’s exterior features.  It would be great to know the background to these changes and to find out if the interior evolved at a similar rate to the exterior.  All of the images can be clicked on to get a better view of the details.

I have to admit to being slightly in love with the original vision, above, left and below, with its wonderful square chateau-like towers and its mock-Tudor half-timbered exterior.  Or was it inspired by the Alsace as the decorative tiling on the roof may imply?  Whatever the inspiration, it is a bizarre mish-mash of ideas.  Although it breaks all the rules and is anything but elegant, I think that it is delightful, a truly riotous expression of enthusiasm for a very personal conceptualization.  Whoever designed it, it looks as though they were having a great time.  I do wish I could have seen it.  The only piece of history that I’ve picked up is that the hotel has been in the hands of the same family for a century, so it dates at least to the 1920s if not before.  Note the single-storey building to its right/the south, which remains today.

The postcards below show the extension that was added to the north (left, in these postcards).  The second of the two has a postmark of 1934, which indicates that the extension predated that year.  There was no attempt to integrate it stylistically with the original, and it looks very peculiar.  A single storey building to the north, on the far left of this postcard is retained today.

In the first of the two cards, the railway crossing on to the golf course is accompanied by a small building that looks rather like a toll house.  This was the crossing-keeper’s house, and was still standing at least in July 1965 when it was photographed by C.C. Green for his book The Coast Lines of the Cambrian Railways vol.2.  Today the crossing remains, but the house has vanished.  I’m surprised that the crossing ever needed a keeper, because the traffic crossing the railway must have been minimal, and mainly on foot.

In the two postcards below, the half-timbered effect seems to have been removed, and may have been in the image above as well.  It would make sense that it was taken away at the time that the new wing was added to lessen the contrast between the two.

The following photograph gives a good view of the elaborate porch into the old wing and shows the complex of single and two-storey buildings to the north of the new wing, at the left side of the postcard. The enclosed garden at the rear of the building appears to have a small greenhouse as well as other structures, and looks as though it is laid down, at least partly, to rows of vegetables.

The next architectural reinvention of the building retains the new wing and removes all the original external features including the towers, the original gable and any remaining half-timbering.  Was it a complete rebuild on more or less the same footprint, or just a change to the external features?  I am guessing from the angled corner at the south end where the south tower once stood, visible in the second of the two photographs, that it was a re-invention rather than a complete rebuild.  The aerial view in the second postcard shows the outbuildings and an intriguing view of the garden, all providing a good idea of the scale of the operation.  The first of the enclosed gardens at the rear of the hotel looks as though it was turned over to vegetables. I can’t work out what the other two enclosed gardens contained.

The postcards have postmarks dated 1972 and 1979 respectively, so the conversion was probably done in the 1960s and looks like it.  The northern extension to the left has been retained, but the towers and the mock half-timber have gone and the replacement facade has about as much personality as a cereal box.  The colour change from yellow to white by the end of the 70s was a good move.  The single storey building at the right that I menitoned at the start of the post is visible in the second photograph, now connected to the main building by a corridor with windows.

Today the Trefeddian has retained its gabled north wing, but its box-like southern section has again been reinvented, with a new gable, decorative metalwork and balconies.  Two extensions to north and south have been added, flanking the two main wings, and there are dormer windows in the roof.  The building is still asymmetrical, but it has a much more aesthetically appealing appearance than its previous incarnation.  All the ancillary annexes to north and south of the main hotel building have been retained.

Detail of the top of the southern extension

Compare with the third and fourth photographs from top, where the same railway crossing is shown with a small building, the crossing keeper’s house, to the right of the gates.  As mentioned above, it was still standing in 1965 and looked as though it was in fairly good condition.  It’s a shame that it vanished at some point after that date.

 

A sunny Monday walk, avoiding the village

I was quite mad to drive into Tywyn at 10 to 4 on Friday, just as the tourist season was belatedly kicking off, and paid the price in the form of a short queue to get into the Co-Op (the first time I’ve had to queue) and the joys of dodging some truly execrable driving and parking in Aberdovey itself.   So on Monday afternoon, although its great that the visitors have returned, it was something of a relief to take the footpath from the top of Church Street down into Penhelig, avoiding the vehicular chaos in Aberdovey itself.  We walked through the Memorial Park and part way along the estuary, which was as stunning as usual, with lovely views, and people fishing and kayaking.   There was a heron on a sandbank, the first I have seen in the estuary, although a few years ago I saw one in a similar situation in Port Meirion so I suppose that they are happy in brackish waters when there are sufficient fish to tempt them.

 

We went up the first flight of steps to the road, and it was then a matter of walking down the road as far as the footpath that runs up past the Outward Bound centre.  This is not for the faint-hearted.  With the bridge from Picnic Island still closed, and now firmly boarded up to prevent access, it’s a hair-raising walk along the road, facing into the traffic piling in from the direction of Machynlleth.  Absolutely not to be attempted with children or dogs in tow.   The bright new Aberdovey welcome signs are up, the first time I had noticed one, although I suppose there must be one on the way in to Aberdovey from the Tywyn direction too.

The rest of the walk is very rewarding once the road is left behind, walking first along a bubbling stream for a short way, and then up through a wood behind the Outward Bound centre before emerging into the sun on the side of the hill overlooking the estuary.  The hills above the estuary are far more lush than the exposed slopes along the coast, with longer grass, and a lot more shrubs and trees, and the views over the estuary are spectacular.  Afon Leri has always been a remarkable landmark crossing Cors Fochno to the east of Ynys Las, but I hadn’t noticed a smaller, parallel canalized section of stream further upriver, Afon Clettwr, with a small bridge carrying the railway. There weren’t a lot of wild flowers to comment on, but there was a thistle absolutely swarming with bright orange Rhagonycha fulva beetles, some lovely bright heather, and bright red berries on Mountain Ash.

We circled back over the hill to Aberdovey, emerging behind the highest reaches of the village, where there was a lovely patch of lavatera in bloom.

A colourful patch of Lavatera overlooking the estuary

A busy beach, but the hills are still empty as lockdown relaxes still further

Another lovely walk on Saturday, along the beach, paddling in the sea, turning up into the hills past the cemetery, and along lovely footpaths until we emerged just above Aberdovey.  I was particularly tired after a restless night, so it was super just to drift along enjoying the sights and sounds.  There was an intensity to the light that reflected off the water, the dominating colour silver rather than blue, and anything in front of it was silhouetted.  How the weather changed on Monday!

This is the first time I’ve seen the beach with more than a couple of people on it.  It was something of a visual shock, although it is great that people are able to enjoy themselves.  A lot of second home owners are back too.  The ice cream shops were a bit chaotic, with very little distance between people in the queues, but I expect that that will be sorted soon.  Further along the beach, several people were swimming, which was a bit brave as the water was frankly very chilly.

Not just a sand castle, but an entire neighbourhood of sand castles.

 

 

Normally the jellyfish that wash up on the beach are Barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma pulma) but today there were none.  Instead, there were several Compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoscella), common in the south and west during the summer, where they feed on small fish and crustaceans.  The name derives from the dark brown markings that radiate from the centre.  These jellyfish are venomous, with stinging cells all along their tentacles.

 

 

The beetle Rhagonycha fulva, common all over the UK from May to August.

Swallow (Hirundo rustica).  A terrible photograph, shooting into the sun.  I was convinced that this was a swift, because the forked tails didn’t look long enough, but the swift doesn’t have the big white breast. They are migrating birds, spending winter in southern Africa and returning to the north to breed.

Honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum) produces a beautiful perfume, particularly in the evenings to attract pollinating moths.  It climbs up and over hedges and shrubs and flowers from June to October, with petals that ivory coloured until pollinated by bees or moths, when they turn yellow.  The produce red berries following the flowering, during the autumn.

Another first for the year:  the beach at Ynyslas is covered in cars.

 

Tywyn History Trail leaflets 1 and 2

I was in the Tywyn Co-Op last week and spotted these two leaflets in the leaflet holder by the tills.  Do pick one up if you’re there.  Each of them consists of a fold-out map of Tywyn – Walk 1 is The Old Town and Walk 2 is The Seaside.  The map is numbered, and brief details are given about each of the numbers, so that you can do a self-guided tour.  Introductory paragraphs also give a short overview of the origins of Tywyn and its development.  In something this size (A3, printed on both sides) not a huge amount of detail can be included, but it’s a great starting point for getting to know Tywyn a bit better, and a good jumping off point for future research.  Devised and published by Tywyn and District History Society, their production was partially supported financially by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

The image below is a scan of part of Walk 1, to give a flavour of the leaflets

Early July dune flowers, more foraging

July already.  How on earth did that happen?  A sunny day today, and a welcome change from the recent wet weather.  The day before yesterday it wasn’t actually raining in the afternoon, although it had all morning, and the feeling of going stir-crazy after all the rain was immense, so it was a relief to go and see what else had come into flower in the sand dunes, which seem to be changing all the time.

 

The sea holly is just coming in to flower, one of my favourites (Eryngium marititinum).  There seems to be less of it in the dunes than in previous years, but that may just be an impression.  The leaves are a lovely silvery-blue colour and the flowers are a stunning powdery cornflower blue, forming little domes.  It loves full sun and dry coastal and rocky habitats.  Surprisingly, given its appearance, it is  a member of the carrot family.

Common/yellow toadflax (Linaria vulgaris) looks so exotic, like an orchid, but is relatively commonplace.  It is a perennial that flowers between July and October.  Narrow leaves grow spirally up the stems.  The flower is two-lipped and only large long-tongued bees can push the two closed lips apart to reach the nectar.  Colloquial names include squeeze-jaw and bunny-mouth.  It likes open fields and sandy soils.

 

Hound’s-tongue (Cynoglossum officinale) is new to me.  It has many small dark crimson flowers, each with five petals, on hairy stems.  After flowering, the fruit is a spiked nutlet that starts green and goes through deep purple to brown.  They hook on to the fur of a passing animal.  The ones in the dunes were courteous enough to have both flowers and nutlets on show.

Hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica) grows on the wasteland and the edge of cultivated land and footpaths, with a preference for semi shade.  The toothed leaves look rather like nettles.  They grow up to 1m tall.   It was renowned from the 16th Century for its healing properties, and it has proved to be mildly antiseptic.  White markings on the lower lip of the two-lip flower guides bees to nectar.

Rosebay willowherb (Chamerion angustifolium) is a spreading perennial up to 1.5m tall.  It colonized bomb sites during the Second World War and became known as “fireweed.”  It spreads both by rhizomes and by seed, so where it is found, it is usually widespread, and the the rhizomes mean that a whole patch may actually be a single plant.  Delicate Four-petalled pink flowers with white stamens that climb the stem go over first at the bast and continue to be in bud at the top, meaning that they may stay in flower from June to September.  Its leaves used to be used as in infusion to substitute for tea.

Before flowering, old man’s beard, or traveller’s joy (Clematis vitalba) looks just like clematis and is probably the next most widespread plant in the dunes after marram grass, hugging the lower lying areas.  It spreads over everything, and provides a natural protective home for the wild pyramidal orchid (Anacamptis pyramidalis) that grows in the dunes.  The name old man’s beard refers to the hairy, air-born seed heads that appear in autumn and extend into winter.  The flower begins as a tiny, spherical white bud and bursts into lovely, starry white flowers with four white sepals and a burst of stamens.

Common ragwort (Senecio jacobaea) is common in the area,  in the hills, fields, wasteland, and in the dunes.  It is poisonous to birds, horses and cattle, particularly when dry, but for some reason sheep seem to be immune.  It may be either biennial or perennial.  Although it can be mistaken for goldenrod (Solidago virgaurea) from the flower alone, the leaves are very different.  Where goldenrod has long, thin leaves, common ragwort’s leaves are untidy, dissected and multiple-lobed.  Senecio is almost the only specie that can be used for food by the day-flying red and black cinnabar moth’s (Tyria jacobaea) caterpillar, striped bright orange and black, absorbing the plant’s poison as a defense against birds.  In spite of the fact that they can be seen between May and August, there were none on view that day.

Broad-leaved everlasting pea (Lathyrus latifolius) is a French perennial that has colonized many other countries.  A vigorous scrambling plant that uses tendrils to colonize hedges and shurbs.  It was brought from France to Britain as a garden plant and has gone native.  The flowers are larger than most of the other pea family of flowers, up to 3cm across, with shades of dark pink and purple.

Marsh pennywort (Hydrocotyle vulgaris) is very similar to the more widespread wall pennywort (Umbilicus rupestris), but grows in marshy areas, whilst wall pennywort grows, as the names suggests, out of walls (and is widespread in Aberdovey).  This particular marsh pennywort was growing out of the side of one of the drainage streams on the golf course.  It is less waxy and succulent than wall pennywort, as it doesn’t need to store as much water.  Both are edible as leaves in salads and as garnishes with much the same flavour.  The flavour can be variable, so although it tastes a bit like cucumber, it can be bitter, and a leaf should be tasted before picking more.

White stonecrop (Sedum album) has now spread over huge areas of the lower parts of the sand dunes, particularly near the road where the sand is mixed with soil, its succulent leaves forming mats, and its white star-like flowers clustering at the top of the short, slender stems.  Drought tolerant, thanks to the succulent leaves that store water.  Like Sea rocket (Cakile maritima) it has apparently benefited from the lack of people around, colonizing areas that would otherwise be used for reaching the caravan park, the golf course and the beach.

The perennial sea beet (Beta vulgaris subsp. maritima) and the orache are side by side at the edge of the dunes, both huge clumps, both common at the edges of sand dunes. Sea beet has a tall, spiky clumps of flowers straggling across the top of the plant.  Sea beet is both drought and saline tolerant.  It is the wild version of a version that was cultivated in the Middle East for its roots and leaves.  Sea beet is easily confused with fat hen (Chenopodium album) and both are members of the Chenopodiaceae, but the leaves have very different edges.  Sea beet leaves have a smooth, untoothed margin, whereas fat hen leaves look more like orache, with a toothed margin.  Sea beet is a popular foraging ingredient, with smaller, younger leaves used in salads and bigger leaves spinach in a tiny amount of water for a few minutes, like spinach.  Squeeze out the water, return to the pan with some butter, and you have a much tangier version of spinach.  On my to-do list.

 

Artemisia absinthium or wormwood seems to come in a variety of forms, many with a lot more foliage than this, but there are a lot of photographs of it online looking just like this.  Small fdsfsfas of tiny yellow flowers tit on a network of silvery stems with silvery leaves.  I haven’t put it to the test, because I didn’t know what it was when I took the photograph, but it is the primary flavouring of absinthe, much beloved of Toulouse-Lautrec and his contemporaries.

The last triumph of the day was the discovery of some field mushrooms and some baby puffballs.  I had the puffballs tossed in butter and added at the last minute to a slow cooker stew with French smoked sausages, onion, garlic, dried ceps, savoy cabbage and peeled baby new potatoes.  The puffballs were mushroomy but delicate, a real treat.

Orache – locally foraged greens that seriously improved three meals

When I finished my Eating Well During Lockdown series, I said I would only post a cooking commentary if it was based on ingredients that were locally grown or produced, and you really cannot get more locally grown than the Aberdovey sand dunes!

A few weeks ago, attracted by a large area covered with lovely Viper’s Bugloss on the edge of the sand dunes, spectacularly on the turn between pink and blue, we spotted a substantial clump of a green plant with distinctively shaped leaves, no flowers.  The leaves were robust and very slightly rubbery to the touch, because they are slightly succulent, and they had a faint shine on the upper surface, dull on the underside.  My friend Caroline thought that it was probably orache (pronounced “orac” or “oratch”), Atriplex patula, and after leafing diligently through a few books, that’s duly what it turned out to be.

So what is orache?  I had no idea, so a little research was necessary.  The photo above right shows as it is on the edge of the dunes, not particularly prepossessing, but as the photograph of the leaf shows, it is fairly distinctive.  It is an annual member of the Atriplex genus in the Amaranthus family, and is also known as saltbush.  Its leaves are edible and commonly used by foragers.  Edible does not always equate to delicious, but orache turns out to be both.  The salad leaves are only viable when young, because they become too tough, but they become a useful substitute for spinach when they mature.  Because they are succulents, retaining water in their leaves, and they live in a salty habitat, the water within the leaves is also slightly salty.  It’s worth remembering that when seasoning anything that you cook with orache as a component.  The roots are mildly toxic so should be avoided.  Atriplex littoralis looks similar but although it is not poisonous it has an offensive smell and tastes awful, so the two are easily differentiated.

When Caroline produced a glorious bunch of orache, having gone on a foraging expedition, I had a lot of options.  Now fully mature it was a lot greener and a lot larger, but retained its slightly rubber texture.  I immediately put the verdant bunch into a jug of water, to keep it fresh, and started plotting.

Caroline has been treating it both as spinach, wilting it slightly to serve as a vegetable, and using it raw in salads, and I also liked the look of the suggested orache tortilla-pizza on the Wild Food Girl website.  In the end I decided to use half of it for soup, some of it to replace spinach in my frequent mushrooms, dice courgettes, pancetta and spinach on toast, and the last of it to liven up a chicken rendang curry.  So here are three meals that I made with some of the bunch, with many thanks to lovely Caroline both for providing the orache and for expanding my horizons.

Wednesday’s soup became an orache-and-asparagus-with-a-few-leftovers soup, because I had a pack of six small asparagus tips that were hiding at the back of the fridge and needed using up fairly imminently, but the orache was dominant.  Other odds and ends were an inch of courgette (how, I wonder, does anyone end up with a leftover single inch of courgette?); 2 small Maris Piper spuds, very finely sliced to help it break down quickly; the floppy outer leaves of a little gem lettuce; half a purple onion, roughly sliced; three spring onions, chopped; the edible parts of the tops of two leeks; and some mint.  The main ingredient, by far, was orache.  I put all of it in a saucepan and tossed it to heat through in some butter for between five and 10 minutes, added water to cover, added some chicken stock and simmered it for another 10 minutes.  Once the potato had broken down I lobbed it into the food processor for a few minutes, in two batches.  I then put it back in the pan, re-heated it slightly, stirred in a big dollop of crème fraîche, a big squeeze of lemon juice, heated it through again gently and poured some of it into a soup bowl to serve.  Heavenly!  The orache tastes a bit like something between curly kale and spinach, full of personality, with bags of flavour released by the cooking process.

On Thursday I made mushrooms, pancetta, courgettes and orache on toast, with a poached egg on top.  The mushrooms and courgettes are fried in butter until the begin to brown. The finely chopped garlic is added with some fresh thyme, and after these are stirred in, some flour is sprinkled over the top to take up the fat from the pancetta and thicken the liquid.  It is stirred into the mixture until it is invisible, and heated for a few minutes to make sure that the flour is incorporated and cooked through.  At this point, a little water goes in, accompanied by the orache, chopped parsley and a few turns of the pepper mill. I also like to add a slosh of sherry at this stage.  When the orache begins to wilt, some cème fraîche is added and reduced, and when the orache is fully wilted the mix is served on a piece of toast with a poached egg on top.  The basic formula is a favourite, and of course it can be varied endlessly.  In the photograph, the wilted orache can be seen either side of the egg, a very dark green.

Yesterday, Friday, I was cooking a sort of ersatz chicken rendang curry, but using yogurt instead of the usual coconut (which I detest).  Also added into the mix were aubergine chunks, fresh green chilies and mushrooms.  I left it in the fridge overnight to develop the flavours.  When I slowly reheated it tonight, Saturday, I added a good handful of the last of the orache 10 minutes before the end of the cooking time, when it was simmering very gently.  It was an excellent addition, giving real balance to the rich sauce, with more than enough flavour to stand up for itself against the heat of the chili, and providing some much needed greenery as a contrast to the orange-coloured sauce and the bland solids.  In the photograph, the bright green leaves are coriander, but underneath them, the dark green wilted leaves are orache.  To complete the happy extravaganza I had a piece of garlic and coriander naan bread (not home-made).

Orache is a great plant for cooking if you like curly kale, spinach and similar flavours and textures.  I changed the water in the jug ever day, and it remained super-fresh.  Finally, I chopped and simmered the stalks with some chicken stock, leek and onion to make a well-flavoured thick soupy base for a future soup or stew, and froze it down.  The aromas as it simmered in a covered pan were wonderful.

Wild flowers in the sand dunes, a week on

As occasionally happens, I wrote this and then forgot to hit the Publish button, mainly because I meant to do more work on trying to find what the hawkweed-like plant actually is.  These photos were take on on the 20th June, just one week on from a previous visit.  If it ever stops raining, which seems doubtful right now, I’ll go and see what’s there now that we’re into early July.  Hopefully the sea holly will be in flower soon.

Marram grass (Ammophila arenaria) is a perennial grass, reaching up to 120cm tall, each leaf touch and rolled, sharply pointed.  Ammos means sand, philos, loving in Greek; arena is latin for sand.  It is one of the most important sand-stabilizing species, forming large clumps with matted rhizome roots that help to prevent sand dune drift. They attract the Shore Wainscot moth (Mythimna litoralis), whose larvae feed exclusively on Marram, and the L-album Wainscot (Mythimna l-album) whose larvae feed mainly on Marram. The leaves were once valuable in local craft activities, woven into mats, used to make barn roofs, and to produce fishing nets.

Dune Brittlestem.  Psathyrella ammophila.  I often see these toadstools in the sand dunes, and these were two of a dispersed cluster of seven that I spotted, plus some very tiny ones. They have very dark brown gills. They grow at the base of marram grass, but in the absence of any other type of plant life.  Over time the cap begins to turn upwards, as shown here.  Apparently not poisonous, but has a very unpleasant flavour.

Sea bindweed (Clystegia soldanella) is a member of the convuvulus family.  The lovely pink and white striped flowers look like field bindweed, but are much bigger, and the kidney-shaped, slightly fleshy and waxy leaves quite different.   They spread from a rhizome that not only helps to fix them in the sand, but helps them to gather water, and helps to fix stabilize sand dune.  This was part of a fairly vast network very near the top of a very exposed sand dune, on the sheltered side.

Six-spot Burnet (Zygaena filipendulae).  Lovely blue-back wings and bright red spots make this very easy to see when it is moving around in a flower.  There are two types of Five-Spot Burnet as well (Zygaena trifoli and lonicerae).  The rear wings, hidden hear under the forewings, are red with a black fringe.  They particularly like bird’s foot trefoil but can be found between June to August in most grassy areas and sand dunes, although I don’t recall seeing one in the dunes before.

Sea spurge (Euphorbia paralias).  An upright perennial that inhabits sand dunes and rocks.  The tiny yellow flower is protected by large greenish bracts.  It has slightly succulent evergreen leaves that march up the stem and which, like all succulents, minimize water loss.  It’s poisonous.

Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum).  Well adapted to grassland, scrubland and sand dunes, it spread along the ground, its flowers sometimes slightly upright.  The leaves are distinctive, growing in whorls around the slender stems.  The flowers form in small branches of clusters.  Apparently it gets its name because it was used to stuff mattresses.  In Germany it is called Mary’s bedstraw because the Virgin Mary was supposed to have given birth on a mattress of bedstraw.  They have a slight aroma of honey, but when dry they small of hay.  It was used in cheese making in the past, as it contains an astringent that curdles milk.

The pyramidal orchids that were dotted around earlier in June, had spread widely through the lusher parts of foliage at the base of sand dunes, and were easily spotted.

Hawkbit, Hawkweed? They are all so similar that it’s impossible to tell, even with photographs of the underside as well.

Sea rocket (Cakile maritima).  An annual member of the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae Mustard) family, which is happy in very barren areas, and can grow in unprotected sand, colonizing large areas if left undisturbed.  They combine succulent leaves that retain water with long taproots which search for water deep beneath the surface.  Flowers can be lilac, pink or white.  It does not object to being buried in sand for extensive periods, and its seeds can float unharmed on the sea.  The leaves, stems and flowers are edible and are rich in vitamin C but have a very bitter taste, so if using the leaves in salad, they are best used young.

Biting stonecrop (Sedum acre).  An evergreen perennial that forms mats with strong stems and short, thick and waxy succulent leaves that retain water.  It is drought tolerant, and is perfectly happy in inhospitable sand dunes and rock cracks.  Not poisonous, but not edible.

I always like to walk up Balkan Hill on the way back home, because the verges are an excellent mix of escapee garden plants and true wild flowers.

Gardeners will be very familiar with Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum), which has a small, pretty flower and red-tinged leaves, but is ruthlessly invasive.  Fortunately it pulls out very easily with the root attached, but it spreads like crazy.  The leaves are slightly scented.  The name geranium derives from the Greek word Geranos, “crane,” referring to the long, beak-like carpels.

Dove’s Foot Crane’s-bill (Geranium molle).  An annual member of the geranium family, with explosive seed pods that spreads widely on wasteland, verges and sand dunes.

Great willowherb (Epilobium hirsutum).  A common garden weed, as it spreads both by seed and rhizomes, giving it a great advantage.  It likes the damp, and in this case sits  where water runs down the side of the road into a drain.  the “hirsutum” in its botanical name refers to the tiny hairs on the stems.

A typical mixture of feral garden flowers growing along the edge of the road on Balkan Hill, with hydrangeas in a hedge growing outwards over a patch of evergreen Brachyglottis/Senecio, an import from New Zealand, attractive to gardeners because of its lovely silvery green- grey leaves.

 

Exploring the origins of Tal y Llyn lake (Lake Mwyngil)

Tal y Llyn from the northeast. Source: Coflein, catalogue number C868164

Introduction

This post explores why the Tal y Llyn lake and valley look the way they do.  This involves investigating its pre-glacial, glacial and post-glacial history to understand how major geological and geomorphological events and subsequent alluvial processes have modified the landscape until it has arrived at what we see today.

When I started writing this, I was going to wrap up this account with details about the human historic heritage of the valley, but there was far too much information to amalgamate into a single post.  There turned out to be more to say about the geology and geomorphology than I initially realized.  Then, the history of the relatively few buildings surrounding the lake proved to be far more difficult to track than I had anticipated. Finally, the Tal y Llyn slate quarries, in the hills to the east of the lake, also deserve a post of their own.  I have therefore separated the story of Tal y Llyn into three parts, and the second and third parts will come at a later date, yet to be written.

The OL23 Ordnance Survey map, part of which is shown below, shows the lake’s name as “Ta-y-Llyn Lake / Llyn Mwyngil.”  Tal y Llyn means “end of the lake,” which is the name of the cluster of buildings at the southwestern end of the lake.  I expect that eventually naming the lake after the buildings was much the same as the situation with the village of Bala, where the lake is often referred to as Lake Bala, when its real name is actually Llyn Tegid.  I have no idea what Mwyngil means.  My excellent book of Welsh Place-names is silent on the subject, my Welsh-English dictionary is no help, and Google Translate translates it, somewhat bewilderingly, as “Morelil.”   I’ve gone with the name Tal y Llyn, just because it is how it is most commonly referred to today.

Tal y LLyn shown on the Ordnance Survey OS23 Explorer map (annotated). Click to enlarge and see more detail.

The current form of the valley in which the Tal y Llyn lake sits is primarily the outcome of two great  events, millions of years apart.  The first is the creation of a major geological fault.  The second is the geomorphological action of the last glaciation, the Devensian (c.90,000 – 10,000 years ago).  Between them they created the ideal conditions for a ribbon lake.  A third impact on the appearance of the valley is alluvial processes that occur when rivers and streams enter the valley, dropping sediment as they enter the lake.

The Bala Fault (Bala Lineament and Tal y Llyn fault)

Photograph showing the line of the Tal y Llyn fault. Source: Coflein, catalogue C867365

 

Map of main structural elements of Wales, showing the Bala Fault (no.7). Source: Howe and Thomas 1963, p.xiv

What is often referred to as the Bala Fault extends from Cardigan Bay into the Upper Dee lowland and into the Vale of Clwyd at the Cheshire borders, as the map on the right shows.

Musson says that the Bala Fault is better described as a lineament (a linear feature), consisting of three sub-parallel faults trending northeast to southwest, and consisting of the Bryn Eglwys, Bala and Tal y Llyn Faults, all probably tectonically active for much of Lower Palaeozoic era (the Cambrian, Ordovician and Silurian periods, c.541 – 419.2 million years ago).

These faults are tear or transform faults and occur when two pieces of the earth’s crust are moving horizontally relative to each other.  The resulting faults formed a lineament, a natural line for water to follow.  Over time, water courses carved out a series of valleys along the Bala lineament.

Tear/Transform Fault. Source: Howe and Thomas 1963, p.3

Howe and Thomas (1963, p.4) say that strata on the southern side of the fault have moved horizontally towards the east for a distance of about two miles.  This is particularly visible at Llanwychllyn, at the foot of Lake Bala.  The Bala lineament is easily traceable on an Ordnance Survey map.  The faults of the lineament separate the Snowdonia-Arennigs-Rhinog group of mountains from the Cadair Idris-Aran-Berwyn group.

The only coherent account I have managed to find of the fault, in spite of looking through various books and papers, is the following from Wikipedia.  There is, however, no indication as to where the author of the piece acquired the information, so although it sounds plausible, it is unverified at the moment.  I will update the post if I find more information:

The fault is thought to have initially formed during the opening of the Iapetus Ocean in late Precambrian times (>541 million years ago) when Laurentia (North America) and Baltica (Europe) separated. As the Iapetus Ocean began to open tension cracks opened in a NE-SW direction parallel to the continental margins. These eventually became the Bala Valley, the Menai Straits and the valley at Church Stretton along the line of the A49. Between the Menai fault and the Stretton fault the land sank, forming the Welsh Basin with the Bala fault possibly forming an underwater escarpment. . . . . The scale of geological movements in the deep past can be seen near Llanuwchllyn where the two sides of the fault would have to be slid back for a distance of two miles to get the geology on either side to line up.

Seismicity of North Wales. Source: Musson 2006, p.5.11

In January 1974 there was a report of a minor earthquake, magnitude 3.5, along the fault at Bala, followed by a more unusual phenomenon known as “earthquake lights.”  The earthquake was not particularly unusual.  A number of seismic events have been recorded in north Wales since the 1600s.  Although the Bala fault was originally suspected as the source of the earthquake, Musson (2006, p.5.15) concludes that “there are numerous north–south and east–west lineaments in and around the plausible epicentral area (as identified by the two instrumental locations and the macroseismic epicentre) and any of these could be the host feature for the Bala earthquake. . . . Consequently there is no evidence at present that the
Bala Lineament is active in any neotectonic sense, and it is unlikely that it would be in present stress conditions.”

The river valley along the Tal y Llyn Fault that preceded the last Ice Age supported a river, but not a lake. Before the last glaciation, the Tal y Llyn valley consisted of interlocking spurs, the river wending its way between them along the line of the fault.

The Glacial Valley

The valley’s appearance is very different today from its days as a pre-glacial river valley, and that’s thanks to the last major cold phase, the Loch Lomond Stadial or Readvance (c.11,000-10,000 years ago) during the last, Devensian glaciation (c.90,000 – 10,000 years ago).  Episodes of glaciation are characterized by warmer (interstadial) and colder (stadial) phases, with later episodes frequently wiping out most traces of earlier ones.

River valley before and after glaciation. Source: Howe and Thomas 1963 p.77

In the case of Tal y Llyn, the late Devensian glacier travelled down the line of the fault, the line of least resistance, and carved out a broadly u-shaped, or more accurately parabolic profile, smoothing valley sides where previously there were interlocking spurs.  At the same time it scoured the base of the valley.  The erosional impact of the ice on the profile of the valley is particularly stark on southeastern side of the lake, where Mynydd Rugug, Graig Goch and Mynydd Cedris drop steeply towards the lake, the slopes carved dauntingly into a single, flattened profile scarred with steeply dropping streams.  This is clearly visible in the photograph below, where the landslip is marked.  On the other side of the valley the erosion was less drastic, although still severe, and some truncated spurs are still just visible.  At the same time, the abrasive and scouring effect of the glacier, as it carved its way through the valley, lowered the level of the valley floor.  Throughout the Devensian, during the summer months water will have escaped the glacier in the form of meltwater, draining down the valley, finding its way across the earlier floodplain.

Photograph of Tal y Llyn, annotated to show the landslip scar and some of the debris that blocked the glacial trough, allowing the ribbon lake to form. Source: Coflein, catalogue number C868164

Unlike similar-looking ribbon lakes much like many of the Lake District lakes (e.g. Windemere) and Scottish lochs (e.g. Loch Lomond, which also sits on the line of a geological fault), Tal y Llyn does not sit in a conventional glacial trough in a rock basin, but was formed due to its southwest end being blocked.  A post-glacial land slippage deposited huge blocks of material from the southeastern hillside at the foot of the lake into the valley bottom.  There it formed a barrier where the lake now ends at the Pen y Bont hotel, described by Shakesby as “neither of bedrock nor of moraine, but of a huge mass of fractured and disarranged blocks” (1990, p.64).  This was discovered by Watson in the early 1960s, and described by him as follows:

In the part of the bar north-west of the river, the surface is moundy, but smoother and in clean pasture except for gorse patches on the mound summits. There is almost everywhere a complete turf cover but immediately underneath, on each mound top, are closely packed angular mudstone fragments similar to the debris found immediately overlying rock. That the smooth fields could lie on rock is proved by the road-side exposures north-west of the church. Occasional scars on tracks show rock or angular rock debris while three shallow pits dug to a depth of 18 inches showed the same rock debris on the slope bounding the bar to the south-west. On the slope behind Maes-y-pandy Farm, rock with varying cleavage direction is exposed.

As Shakesby’s comment above suggests, until Watson’s 1962 paper in the Transactions and Papers of the Institute of British Geographers, this blockage was incorrectly thought to have been either bedrock or a terminal moraine (debris pushed by the leading edge of the glacier, and dumped when the glacier stops moving forwards), or both.  The landslip left an enormous scar above the scree and rockfall, above the foot of the lake, which according to Shakesby was caused by the retreat of the glacier, “leaving the valley sides, over-steepened by glacial erosion, in an unsupported condition prone to collapse.”  The Tal y Llyn lake formed behind this landslip barrier.

There is extensive periglacial activity at the head of the lake, where extensive broken rocks rest on bedrock, accompanied by extensive scree.  Periglaciation is the process whereby areas under ice are subjected to successive phases of warming, thawing melting and re-freezing, which causes cracks in the rock.  Eventually the cracks cause rocks to break away and drop towards the valley bottom.

Hanging valleys, fast streams and alluvial build-up

Stream entering Tal y Llyn at Pentre Farm, crossing the alluvial fan. Source: Geograph, Des Blenkinsopp

Tal y Llyn is a form of ribbon lake 220 acres in surface area, with an average depth of 8ft (c2.5m) and maximum depth of 12ft (c.3.6m).  The head of the lake is fed by a number of smalls steams fed by the flanking slopes.  The main streams that feed the lake are Nant Yr Allt-ioen, which travels along the valley below the A487 where it runs through the Tal y Llyn pass; the Nant Cadair stream that runs out of Llyn Cau on Cadair Idris, dropping steeply to the valley floor; the stream and waterfall that flows down Cwm Amarch, above Pentre Farm on the northeast side of the lake; and Nant Cildydd, and another small stream from the east.  There are two stream emerging from a freshwater springs, almost opposite each other at the far northeast and northwest of the lake.

A stream plummeting down Cwm Amarch, above Pentre Farm, on the northeast side of the lake on a very rainy day in late June 2020

The main streams feeding into Tal y Llyn, showing a footpath that crosses all of the major streams. Source: GPS-routes.co.uk

Tal y Llyn northwest end of the lake, showing how the build up of sediment has been converted into fields, and showing a patch of brown where boggy marsh meets the lake.  Source:  Coflein, catalogue C650435

These streams pass through a large flat area of green fields used for grazing, that becomes brownish boggy marsh where it meets the lake, shown very clearly in the photograph to the right.  This flat zone is the result of a build-up of alluvium dropped by steep and hanging streams, and is still expanding into the lake.  The alluvial flats are created by the sudden slowing of the water as it hits the valley floor, a common feature with hanging valleys, where water drops sharply down a hillside.  As soon as water stops falling and hits the flat valley surface, it slows down and instead of carrying material downstream, it drops it.  The heaviest particles are dropped first, with lighter components dropped further downstream, and slowly these built up to form an alluvial plain.  Where streams drop particularly steeply towards a river or lake, this effect is exaggerated.

Alluvial delta in front of Pentre Farm. Source: Geograph by Bill Rowley.

In the case of Tal y Llyn, the valley was carved out by a glacier, lowering the level of the floor beneath the level of the tributary streams, leaving “hanging valleys,” steep, narrow v-shaped stream beds that drop sharply towards the the erosional valley floor.  The streams flow with great speed down these hanging valleys towards the floor below, and slow abruptly when they hit the flat base of the glacial valley, dropping much of their load.  This build-up of river sediment extends along the north-west side, under Cadair Idris, towards the middle of the lake where it develops into a broadly fan-shaped delta in front of Pentre Farm.  This build up of sediment has considerably constricted the width at the top half of the lake and has reduced its length.  It is easy to see, in the above photographs, that this process is ongoing and unstoppable.  Eventually the lake will fill completely with alluvial deposits.

Lithograph of the lake by Samuel Prout, 1783-1852. Source: Wikipedia

The foot of the lake opens out into the Afon/River Dysynni at the Pen y Bont hotel, through the landslip.  It is crossed by the B4405 between the Pen y Bont hotel and St Mary’s church.  The bridge is a very different affair from the one shown in this picture dating to the first half of the 19th Century.  The river wends its way through its floodplain, along the fault line, as far as Abergynolwyn, where it joined by the Nant Gwernol and turns away from the fault line,  instead heading to the northeast before again changing direction with a turn into the Dysynni valley (Dyffryn Dysynni), where it is joined by Afon Cadair before resuming its southwestern course parallel to the fault line.

Ordnance Survey Explorer Map OS23 showing the path of the river Dysynni as it changes course, having flowed out of Tal y Llyn to the northeast. I’ve loosely sketched the path of the course change in a deeper blue so that it can be seen more clearly.

Dramatic, informative and very beautiful aerial view towards Tal Y Llyn in the background at the northwest with Abergynolwyn clearly visible as a white strip of buildings to the south of the lake, with part of the village hidden behind the large tree-covered spur (Mynydd Rhiwerfa) that intrudes into the valley.  The river turns westwards before the spur at Abergynolwyn. The B4405 continues down the former river valley, following the line of the fault.  The tiny cluster of white buildings in the foreground is Dolgoch. Nant Dolgoch flows into the Afon Fathew, which in turn flows into the Dysinni near Bryncrug, not far from the river’s mouth. Source: Coflein, catalogue number C821258

The Dysynni is another, and far more complicated story and will be covered on a future post.

Sources:

Howe, G.M. and Thomas, P. 1963.  Welsh Landforms and Scenery.  Macmillan

Etienne, J.L., Hambrey, M.J., Gasser, N.F. and Jansson, K.N. 2005.  West Wales.  In Lewis, C.A and Richards, A.E. The glaciations of Wales and adjacent areas.  Logaston Press

Harris, C. Periglacial landforms.  In (ed.) Stephens, N. Natural Landscapes of Britain from the Air. Cambridge University Press

Musson R.M.W. 2006. The enigmatic Bala earthquake of 1974. Astronomy & Geophysics, Volume 47, Issue 5, October 2006, p.5.11–5.1
https://academic.oup.com/astrogeo/article/47/5/5.11/231627

Shakesby, R. 1990.  Landforms of glacial and fluvioglacial deposition.  In (ed.) Stephens, N. Natural Landscapes of Britain from the Air. Cambridge University Press

Watson, E. 1962.  The Glacial Morphology of the Tal-y-llyn Valley, Merionethshire. Transactions and Papers (Institute of British Geographers) No. 30 (1962), published by Wiley on behalf of The Royal Geographical Society (with the Institute of British Geographers), p. 15-31.

Websites:

Coflein website

 

Eating well from what’s to hand – final week, week 12

This is my final post about eating during lockdown.  I feel that 12 weeks worth of me bunnying on about cooking is probably about as much as anyone truly needs 🙂  Additionally, I defrosted the freezer mid-week and found that most of the contents consists of meals that I had batch-cooked to divide equally between the plate and the freezer.  By which I mean that I ate half and froze the other half.  It’s about time I started eating those other halves rather than creating more, or there will be no freezer space left!  There will be another post in a couple of weeks about my encounters with a locally sourced cuttlefish, but unless I can source some unusual local ingredients to talk about, I think that my culinary lockdown sharing has come to a natural end, an end to absolute lockdown, and a trailing off of my learning curve.

Lockdown kicked in on 23rd March.  I was originally supposed to be celebrating my birthday a few days after that date with a small lunch party, but a couple of weeks before lockdown was announced we decided to cancel it, because it was quite clear that the tide of the Covid-19 was rolling in very fast.  One of thousands of cancelled celebrations and gatherings, minor and major.  So I cooked for myself on my birthday, and seriously enjoyed a roasted rack of lamb from the freezer, only the second meal on my Week 1 post about eating well from what was to hand.  I had realized by then that I would have to change my ad hoc shopping and cooking regime, and organize myself so that I would only have to do one relatively large shop once a fortnight.  It had the charm of novelty at first, but  a few weeks in and I was longing to go back to a less regimented way of buying and eating.  12 weeks in, and I am now accustomed to it, if not overjoyed by it.

Oregano growing in a pot in my garden

Fortunately, it has not all been about local supermarkets and the freezer.  Dropping off bags of groceries to my self-isolating father has had its own reward, mainly for the pleasure of having a long-distance chat sitting well apart in comfy chairs in the garden for a couple of hours, with ample use of hand disinfectant, but also, with an eye to my pots and pans, in the form of delicious home-grown vegetables, lettuces and herbs.  Following the small relaxation of the lockdown rules I have taken advantage of the occasional foray into both the Aberdovey and Tywyn butchers, and have loved being able to buy fish from Dai’s Shed, when the weather has allowed Dai to take the boat out.

I have no intention of visiting a big supermarket for many weeks yet.  The government may have faith in people behaving responsibly, but after one recklessly optimistic foray into a medium-sized supermarket a couple of weeks ago I walked out in serious dismay at the risks being taken.  I cannot imagine that matters will be improving as the relaxation of rules continues.

Saturday

Prawns, avocado, mushrooms and baby spinach with parmesan, cream and a Panko topping.  In Week 7, I made my first attempt to reproduce a recipe using avocados that was served as a starter in a favourite London restaurant, which closed when the owners returned to Italy.  This is a modified version.

Sometimes the Coey sells single avocados, large ones, but when I was last there there were only small avocados in a packet of two, so I used one at the end of last week and had one left to use.  I also had some button mushrooms and pancetta left over from last week’s egg-topped mushrooms and pancetta on toast.  It was clearly an opportunity to repeat, with revisions, my reverse engineering of the Venezia dish using fridge orphans.  I am unable to buy raw prawns locally, even frozen, but the Coey had cooked frozen ones in a seafood mix, and I had some raw ones left in the freezer.  There weren’t enough prawns, so I threw in some squid rings as well, and that worked well.

I fried some button mushrooms, and added a fine-chopped clove of garlic and some pancetta cubes until well cooked.  I sprinkled over some flour, just enough to help it thicken.  As before, I added a glug of white wine and some water to form a base for the sauce, but to make it a bit healthier, instead of a lot of cream, I added chicken stock and only a small dollop of low fat crème fraîche, with some grated Paremsan cheese.  I then added the cooked prawns and squid, plus two handfuls of spinach to heat through.  I left this to reduce for a couple of minutes, gave it a good stir, seasoned it with some salt and black pepper, and then, just as the sauce was reducing to the right amount, put in the sliced half avocado to allow that to heat through.  If the avocado is very ripe, be careful not to move it around too much when you put it in, or it will break up.  The avocado needs to be no more than warmed through, so must remain on the heat for only a couple of minutes on a low heat before serving or, again, it will break up.

To serve, I turned it into a terracotta tapas dish, provided it with a good sprinkling of chilli flakes, sprinkled some Panko (Japanese) bread crumbs to give it crunchy gratin topping, shaved some fresh Gran Pardano cheese over the top and put it under the grill until it began to bubble and brown.  To serve, I added some more black pepper and scattered fresh oregano over the top. Without all the cream, it was less unctuous but a bit healthier, and with the Panko topping it had a lot more texture to balance the avocado.  The chili and oregano were good additions, balancing the relative mildness of the sauce. It would go well with a side salad, but I didn’t need one.

Sunday

Leftovers frittata. This is basically a quiche without the pastry, or a Spanish omelette without the potatoes.  I had some bits and pieces of courgette, cheese, onion, spinach, bacon and parsley left over, and some eggs that were hurtling towards their eat-by-date with indecent haste.

This is such an easy dish that there’s almost nothing to say about it.  I wilted the spinach, fried the courgette and bacon and put everything else into four whisked eggs.  I heated it through on the hob and then put it under the grill to finish it off.  A quick and simple meal, but full of flavour.

Monday

Smoked sausage and sauerkraut in mustard sauce.  This is a made-up meal, one I invented a long time ago.  I only discovered sauerkraut a few years ago, in a super and very unusual restaurant in London called Zedel, when my father ordered some, having been a fan for life, and I tried his.  I had tried it when younger and disliked it, but as I have aged by tastes have changed and I loved it.

I used to be able to buy Polish kielbasa smoked sausage in my local Tesco in London, which had a Polish aisle.  It’s one of the many things that have been more difficult to acquire since leaving London.  However, at long last my father has been able to place an Ocado order, and very kindly ordered me some French smoked sausage.  As I had a jar of sauerkraut in the cupboard, some German mustard, an enormous box of caraway seeds, some baby new potatoes (any spuds would do), a bit of sour cream, some fridge-orphan pancetta (bacon lardons would be more authentic), and plenty of onion, it was a no-brainer to go for a Polish-style one-pot.  Slices of apple go well too, but I didn’t have any.  A high-sided frying pan or skillet is best for this, as it can be a bit messy when you are stirring everything together.

First, the baby new potatoes are boiled until just cooked.  I peeled them, but it’s not actually necessary, just really very nice for a change as they absorb flavours much more efficiently than if you leave the skins on.  Then I spooned sauerkraut into a bowl of water and left it to allow the preserving liquid to disseminate into the water for at least 10 minutes before draining it through a sieve and squashing out the water with the back of a wooden spoon.

The smoked sausage is cut into chunks, heated through, set aside and kept warm.  In the same pan, to take advantage of the sausage flavours, a teaspoon of caraway seeds and several good turns of a pepper mill are added.  The onion and pancetta are heated until the pancetta is crispy and the onion golden, and are removed from pan.  The new potatoes are drained and added to the pan to brown.  Then it all goes back in to the pan, with the sauerkraut and mustard, and a dessert spoon of flour stirred in to thicken the sauce.  Some white wine, stock or water are then added.  It is heated gently with a lid on for 10 minutes, with wine/stock, and mustard added by the spoonful until the preferred balance of flavours and the right amount of liquid is achieved.  Then a dollop of cream is added (whatever you have to hand) and stirred in.  I like it with smoked paprika stirred in at the last moment, chopped spring onions added over the top (partly for the flavour, partly to diminish the somewhat off-puttingly anaemic appearance) and a big dollop of sour cream on the side.  It all looks chaotic on the plate, but it is delicious.  Mine had some additional heat, because I had added a fresh chilli to the onion and pancetta, which isn’t traditional but suited me perfectly.

If you prefer a tidier and more presentable meal, you can cook the sausage whole, and in a separate pan cook the sauerkraut, onion and pancetta to accompany it, and in another pan make the mustard sauce separately. If you do it this way, you will probably need to make a velouté (my preference) or béchamel to ensure that your mustard sauce has some body to it.  I would finely chop some chives into it too.

Tuesday

Adapted Nalli Gosht lamb shank and okra curry with basmati rice and minted labneh.  I used a recipe I found on the Internet (see Maunika Gowardhan) for this, as I don’t have any Indian cookbooks, and I am useless at inventing Indian dishes.  The lamb shank came from the freezer, via the Aberdovey butcher, who kindly picked out a small one for me that was perfect for this dish.  I decided to do it in the slow cooker, which departs from the recipe on the above link, but I made very few other changes:  I used skinned and chopped fresh tomatoes and a bit of tomato paste rather than all tomato paste, I had red rather than green chillis, used cassia bark instead of cinnamon, and I changed some of the proportions of the spices to suit my own tastes, adding a lot more ginger, but otherwise followed the recipe closely.  I accidentally used smoked paprika rather than mild paprika for the marinade, but fortunately I realized the moment it hit the bowl and used the mild paprika for the sauce itself, and the smoked paprika didn’t spoil it.  I added the last of the frozen okra, and made a minted labneh to go with it.

The process is simple, but see the above link for the unadulterated step-by-step version.  The lamb shank is marinated overnight in a blended mixture of garlic, ginger, mild paprika, and coriander powder (I had coriander seeds in a grinder).

When ready to cook, fry cinnamon stick (or in my case cassia bark), green cardamoms, cloves and peppercorns in butter and oil, allow to sizzle for a few seconds and then add the onions and chilli slices.  Cook til golden and then add the turmeric and coriander powder.  The recipe calls for the addition of the tomato paste followed by the lamb shank.  I was using peeled tomatoes, so I put the shank in first to brown, added the blended tomatoes next with a single spoon of tomato paste, and the yoghurt afterwards.  I then tipped the whole lot into the slow cooker, but the original recipe calls for it to be simmered for 20-25 minutes on the hob, with a lid slightly open. I carved the lamb shank to save faffing around with it on the plate, spooned the sauce over the top, and although it tasted great its appearance was less than beautiful.  I suggest you look at the source web page for presentation tips.

The recipe suggests serving with naan bread, but I had some plain basmati rice boiled in stock with fennel seeds, and some minted labneh on the side to balance the heat.

Labneh is simply drained yoghurt.  In a bid to eat a rather healthier diet I bought some low fat Greek yoghurt, and it was incredibly liquid so I decided to turn it into labneh.   The only equipment required is either muslin or kitchen roll, a sieve and a bowl or equivalent.  A couple of pinches of salt are mixed into the yoghurt, and it is poured into the lined sieve to drain, preferably overnight.  Once the liquid is removed, the yoghurt is malleable enough to form into balls.  I like to mix herbs or spices into the drained yoghurt before doing so, usually a Moroccan spice mix, but on this occasion I used mint.  It can be preserved in oil in a re-used jar as I have done here, flavoured with herbs and spices, in this case lemon, mint leaves and sliced chilli.  It is delicious served with curry, Middle Eastern stews, or simply on cheese crackers as a snack.

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Wednesday

Deep-fried whitebait with caper and gherkin mayonnaise and salad.  I’ve had a single remaining starter-sized portion of whitebait in the freezer for a very long time now.  I’ve been keeping them for when I really, really wanted them and absolutely nothing else would do, because I’m not going to be able to replace them until after the lockdown.  Lovely, lovely little fish, simply rolled in flour whilst still frozen, deep-fried on a high heat for a couple of moments and served with Tabasco, and a gherkin and caper mayonnaise.  I don’t actually have a deep fat fryer, so I poured Crisp and Dry into a baby wok, and heated it until one little fishy started to fizz in the oil.  Tipping the rest of them in lowers the temperature significantly, so I turned up the heat until the oil started to bubble again.  It’s a dicey business if you are heating oil in a pan rather than in a thermostat-controlled fryer, so make sure you have a couple of damp tea towels to hand in case it sets fire to itself.  It has never happened to me, but it did to a friend of mine.

I served my whitebait with a salad to make it into a main course.   I’ve never managed to make a tartar sauce that is both quick and delicious, but making a mayonnaise and then adding chopped gherkins and capers with a bit of parsley isn’t a bad substitute.  I have lovage, so added a couple of leaves of that too (lovage can be overpowering so it pays to add it just a little at a time, tasting before adding any more). 

Thursday

Griddled lamb chop, mashed carrot and swede, leek, cabbage and boiled and roast potatoes.  In pouring rain, I was craving comfort food, and this was a good match for my mood.  It was very much a case of using up leftovers (carrot and swede mash and lamb gravy from last week, taking up space in the freezer) and fridge orphans (a bit of cabbage and a piece of leek).  Although I love roast potatoes I wouldn’t heat an entire oven for them, but I was also cooking something else at the same time.  As I’ve done this a couple of times before, I won’t add more details, but I really enjoyed it.

Friday

Cold lamb chop, watermelon, feta, cucumber, red onion, mint, olives with a lemon, white wine vinegar and olive oil dressing, seasoned with sea salt and black pepper.  When I cooked my lamb chop with traditional roast-related veg yesterday, I cooked two chops, so that I had one left over for this salad.  The first time I had a lamb and watermelon salad was on Kefalonia, and the only barrier to repeating it has been the immense size of watermelons (called sandía where I grew up), which are so difficult to use up.  It was therefore a fairly ecstatic moment when I walked into the Tywyn Co-Op and found that they were selling baby ones.  So happy!   Watermelon is a match made with heaven with feta, red onion, cucumber and black olives, which was very handy as I had all of these that needed using up.   The oil and vinegar might sound a little odd with melon, but in fact both, together with the lemon juice, balance the flavours beautifully.

 Conclusions

Since the lockdown began and I started shopping once a fortnight, I have learned a lot not merely about planning ahead, but also planning around the leftovers and fridge orphans that I knew I would generate. Leftovers are the remains of cooked meals; fridge orphan is a term I’ve invented for the unused odds and ends left behind after the use of their companions in the meals for which they were planned.  A few mushrooms, some potatoes, small chunks of cheese and bits of courgette are typical examples. It’s a big change from doing things the other way round, looking at what ingredients I had left in the fridge and buying things to go with them.  They now have to be used up without shopping.  With this in mind, I started to leave gaps in the meal-planner so that I could bring together leftovers and fridge orphans with items in the freezer, such as last week’s chicken pie.  That is not to say that there is never any kitchen waste, but matters are considerably improved.

Over the last 12 weeks people have commented on how diverse my tastes are, but I am regarded by family and friends as a fussy eater, on good grounds.  I am mildly but genuinely allergic to capiscum (green/red peppers), I cannot stand coconut, I abhor tinned tuna, find tinned tomatoes dreadfully sweet, and think that cornflakes are an abomination.  I dislike pulses like beans and chickpeas, (although I love lentils and black beans), I’m really not keen on offal, I simply don’t understand adding raisins or bananas to savoury food, I eat nearly all green vegetables but find 80% of them exceedingly dull, and I have tried time and time again to learn to love blue cheeses, because I know I’m missing out, but I can’t.  On the other hand, baby watermelons rock!  The picture looks disconcertingly like Pac-Man 🙂

I think that the main thing I learned is that even with a relatively confined repertoire of ingredients, truly enjoyable things can be achieved, and by using herbs and spices the same ingredients can be given a completely different character.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to read my culinary experiments, and particularly to those who got in touch – email is a wonderful thing.  Please continue to practice social distancing and please stay safe!