Natural history adventures sailing the culinary seas...

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Merry March Madnesses

Every day now brings growth and colour and change to the valleys and hills that surround me. In the weeks that have passed since Lesser Celandine brightened a February morning, a few jaunts have been undertaken and much food has been consumed. So here are a few of each...

Mist and snow descended upon a gathering of knitwear swaddled eco-geeks on a February foray to the frozen North. Amongst wintery walks, snowballs and snow angels, aggressive birds tamed by DN the goose-whisperer, kitchen lounging and tea, duck lessons, board games and jigsaws, endless euphemisms involving back passages; there was time for some high quality badger impressions. Perched at the top of steep beech woodland behind my house we investigated the impressive ramparts, fresh spoil and snuffle holes of my local badger sett. It would seem however that some of these chaps are more like miners...

Did they have pickaxes?!
We couldn't find the doorbell.

Lucky badger-hair for Isla.
Peering through the semi-opaque atmosphere we just about managed to spy Great-spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest and Fieldfare. Low cloud became a theme of the weekend, and the obligatory pudding course was duly christened 'Yorkshire Fog Crumble', concocted of apple, home-grown blackcurrants and redcurrants, with an oat and walnut topping. The Wilmots provided some of their fungi harvest and Kirst stirred up the biggest pot of mushroom and parsnip risotto this side of Italy. Experiments with leftovers resulted in melty risotto cakes. We shaped them into patties, with a centre of strong cheddar, dipped them in eggs and breadcrumbs and fried lightly. They are definitely a good way of consuming your carbohydrate!

Mmm, oozy.
A fleeting Yorkshire jaunt by Ms Tinker gave us the chance to bid a tearful farewell to Pete, on his way to start his Indian adventure and Kenyan life. It also provided the opportunity for baking. I made pide, a Turkish pizza-like bread that evokes my very early years there and subsequent visits. There are many possible toppings including a kind of spicy diced lamb, melting cheese or white cheese (the only two kinds of cheese you really find in Turkey), egg, or just olive oil and seeds. My favourite is peynirli (cheese) pide, made with white cheese.

It's pronounced 'pee-day'. Yes, really.
You will need:
285g strong plain flour
1 heaped tbsp dried instant yeast
1/2 tsp salt
125ml warm water (may require more)
200g feta or other white cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp flat-leaved parsley, chopped
olive oil to drizzle

Preheat the oven as hot as it will go!
- In a food processor or large bowl knead the flour, yeast, salt and water until a soft, smooth dough. Leave in bowl until 10 mins before it is required.
- Divide into four, roll out thinly to a long flat strip, approx 8cm/3" wide.
- Place on baking tray and cover the middle of strip with cheese and sprinkle with parsley. Fold edges up and over to give a 1cm border all around (see picture).
- Bake until puffed and browned, drizzle with oil and serve immediately, whole or cut into diagonal pieces.
- If you fancy making it as a plain bread, brush with olive oil and sprinkle with sesame and cumin or nigella seeds before baking.

March busied itself with shaking off winter, spring budding and bursting out all over, unfurling its foliage on sunny days. My first flying bat wheeled by my window on the 12th March, woodlands echoed with Woodpecker drumming and Hardcastle Crags' millponds quivered with fresh frogspawn by the 19th March. Walking by the river that day I watched two pairs of Dippers display, zipping up and down calling shrilly, before landing, bobbing and flexing their tails for a few seconds before taking off again. All this and the opportunity to make these sweet potato pancakes on a certain Tuesday.

There was so much I couldn't count the clumps.
Eaten with honey and toasted walnuts.
New eco-adventures beckoned when I discovered the hiding place of Calderdale's lepidoptera lovers, which happens to be here. So dusk one evening I hesitantly joined the self declared 'Mad March Moffers' back at Hardcastle Crags. I think they accepted me once I established some reliable species scribing skills while they gleefully leapt and dived with their nets, capturing those moths brave enough to venture into the ring of light. Since then my nights have often included dazzled eyes  following fluttering common quakers, chestnuts, twin-spotted quakers, pine beauties, oak beauties, hebrew characters, water carpets, red sword grasses, march moths, engrailed, pugs and baffling micros.

Amazingly, one of this exemplary bunch has leant me an actinic moth trap, so trapping has now commenced by the rockery in the garden - hooray! Some of the usual suspects have appeared, but I've also had Bombus terrestris and a huge, mite-laden Sexton beetle (Nicrophorus humator) waiting to be released in the morning.

Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)

Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)

 Flying beasties have been abundant since they awoke, my first Northern butterfly spied at a distance on the 22nd March. The first identifiable winged one was a smallish Comma on the 26th March, on the edge of a shingle beach on a Southern soujourn to Gosport. Ms Tinker and I skipped after it with giddy enthusiasm, startling a nearby dog-walker with our excitable shrieks. The baking days have brought plenty since, Peacocks, Commas, Orange-tips and Speckled Wood being particularly prevalent in my garden. Brushing up on butterflies has become quite important, as for six weeks this June/July I'll be moving to Somerset to be Volunteer Ranger for the Large Blue Butterfly at Collard Hill.

That South Coast Sunday brought another shoreline beauty, the vivid purple leaves of Sea-kale (Crambe maritima) poking through shingle while slightly bleary-eyed geeks oohed and aaahed over its prettiness. Thus March adventures ended, and finally so can this post; with a promise of April amphibians and the first foraging frolics.