Wednesday, 12 January 2011
God's creatures great and small . . .
It wasn't that many years ago that whales were feared and hunted for their oil and meat, but these days, there is a great appreciation for these amazing creatures and their incredible abilities. They are a perfect reminder to us that not everything is always as it seems to be.
Did you know, for instance, that the humpbacked whale "sings songs" which constantly change and evolve? These songs travel for miles and miles under water. They have a range which covers some eight octaves, with a series of high notes and some notes pitched so low that the human ear cannot hear them.
Each song is a complex structure, almost like classical music and can last for up to thirty minutes. It can be repeated for hours and amazingly . . . on any given day, all the male whales in the area can be found to be singing exactly the same song.
They are the only mammals, other than the manatee, that live their entire lives in water and the only mammals that have adapted to living in the open oceans.
Streamlined and with almost no hair as adults, they are great acrobats as well, sometimes breaching (jumping) high out of the water and even twirling about before they slap the water and come back down. They have been seen to poke just their heads out of water, turning it around as if to scope out the area. Sometimes you can see them lobtailing, that is . . . to stick their tail out of the water into the air, swing it around, and then slap it on the water's surface. It is thought, perhaps, that this is a form of warning, but then again it could just be play . . .
I find them to be such fascinating creatures and I could listen to whale song for hours. I find it very relaxing and somewhat haunting, mysterious . . . I wonder what they sing about . . . if only we could understand.
Back home in Nova Scotia, you can go out whale watching from several spots, one of the most popular being Briar Island. I've always wanted to go whale watching, but I get so sea sick that I've never been brave enough to attempt it. The idea of bobbing about on a small boat on the water and feeling deathly ill, and not being able to come back in to shore until everyone has gotten their money's worth is quite off putting to me . . . not to mention it is a very expensive excursion. I do love to watch them on the telly though and there have been a few times in crossing the Bay of Fundy over to New Brunswick I have seen them out on the waters.
Beautiful, complex and not quite as fearsome as one would suppose . . . isn't nature grande!
With these cold winter days we eat more comfort food in our house, things like heavy soups and stews. This is a posh kind of stew, but it is a stew nonetheless. Quite, quite delicious in fact! The kind of stew you could quite proudly serve to company.
A fancy beef stew which hails from the south of France. Plan ahead as you need to make it the day before you want to eat it.
1 3/4 pounds of braising beef or steak
3 TBS olive oil
1/2 cup cubed pancetta
3 onions, peeled and finely chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and minced
1 1/2 TBS plain flour
1 3/4 cups of full bodied red wine, plus an extra splash if need be
(I normally use a Shiraz)
a bouquet garni (A few springs of thyme, a bay leaf and a few parsley stalks
2 TBS butter
1/2 pound of chestnut mushrooms, cleaned and halved
2 TBS finely chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pat the meat dry. Trim well, discarding any sinew or excess fat. Cut into large chunks. Heat 1 TBS of oil in a dutch oven and brown the pancetta lightly. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl and set aside. Brown the meat in two batches in the fat that remains in the pan. Once browned scoop out and add to the pancetta, once again setting it aside. Add the remaining oil and fry the onion in it very slowly, covering the pan, until very soft and caramelized, about 25 minutes in time, stirring occasionally and adding the garlic to the mixture halfway through the cooking time. Stir the flour into the onions and cook for about a minute, then add the wine and bring to the boil, stirring. Add the meat and pancetta, along with the bouquet garni and bring back to the boil, then reduce the heat to a slow simmer and cook, covered, over very low heat until the meat is tender, about 2 to 2 1/2 hours.
Turn off the heat and leave the casserole overnight. Next day bring the dish back to the boil, then turn the heat down and simmer. Melt the butter in a skillet. Add the mushrooms and fry until lightly browned. Tip them into the stew and allow to cook for another 15 minutes or so. Season the stew with some salt and black pepper to taste and, if you think it needs it, another splash of wine. Sprinkle with the parsley to serve.
Serve hot with some mashed potatoes on the side. Delicious.
In The English Kitchen today, a delicious Lemon Chocolate Chip Cake!