Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Philosphy of the Ooligan

Nasty little teeth, where are you?

My query only lasted a moment as I greedily started eating a rare coastal treat--ooligans.

Far in the distant past, during teaching school, I had the opportunity to string these plump, greasy little fish on long strips of cedar bark. The weather was grey and bitter cold, my fingers were numb from the cold wind. Perhaps that was a blessing because I recall, as I poked thin little withies through their fearsome little jaws, that their teeth 'bit' me constantly. After a day of hard work, stringing lots of the little buggers for wind-drying, weaving poles through gills for the smokehouse and cutting sealion into strips for smoking, we all sat down to a good feast of bbq'd ooligans and fried bread. I remember from the first moment they touched my lips how their slick, toothy rawness didn't give any suggestion to its future as a unctuous, meaty fish that could be eaten whole--bones, teeth and all--with nary a tastebud offended by the thought of brains, eyes or innards.

Fast forward to a couple weeks ago. I rarely see ooligans. They are a prized possession amongst the coastal peoples native to the west of British Columbia. Often these little smelts are rendered slowly into a fermented oil condiment, "grease" as it is known around here. Both grease and ooligans whole were once enjoyed in quantity in the past. The runs of fish get smaller and smaller each year, the cost of the grease goes up and up. So, when I tell you that a notice up at the local grocery shop offering ooligans for sale was like someone announcing that they were selling gold nuggets from their back door, you'll perhaps understand my own excitement and shock. I tracked down the house, payed a pretty penny for them (and rightly so since it's a delicacy these days) and nearly caused turmoil in the office when I share my tale of luck.

Because they are so flavourful and oily, they need little seasoning. I was told by an elder, whom I asked for cooking options, to just treat it simply--coat them in seasoned flour and fry, I was told. He suggested rice with dried seaweed as a side dish. Luckily I still had a bag of dried local kelp from a friend around. It was a good side to fried fish as its relatively plain taste carried and aided the richness of the fish meat. A bit of lemon to help along the oiliness and all was set.

With the very first bite, I was back, sitting on that stump by the backyard fire, munching on ooligans wrapped in fried bread. It was a good day and it's funny how a simple taste can bring it all rushing back. I was getting stressed with several busy days and boisterous children so it was good to recall a day when a job was completed and I was righteously tired, content with the world and its bounty. And, I thought, philosophically, as I ate myself nearly sick on them, even if life throws sharp little teeth your way, you can always cook them up and render them benign and maybe even quite tasty.


If you want to learn a bit more about ooligans, check out this site
Or you can wiki it, too, here
You can even read my horridly written post about it from nearly the beginning of my blogginess.

*sorry there are no pictures yet. I'll get them up ASAP

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Wok the Broc'

The Frog hates feta. I mean REALLY hates feta. This animosity towards that lovely, creamy, salty, pungent cheese puts a kibosh on some of the recipes I'd like to make. I wouldn't say he's terrified of its presence but it's pretty close. I have to make a really great dish for him to pretend not to notice the aroma and sight of my beloved feta.

I know I'll never win him over with my Greek pilaf dish (uber-loads of feta in there) but I manage to get him to look the other way when I pile feta on one of my favourite discoveries during my vegetarian years: Linguine with Wok-Fried Broccoli. This is a fun and fairly quick dish from one of Molly Katzen's great books. Obviously I don't mix in the feta as recommended at the end. I have to wait until it's on my plate.

I find this is a great winter dish because the broccoli and cherry tomatoes (which are the only fresh thing in winter that is called tomato and actually tastes like it) are readily available. It's also a very fresh and light dish so entirely appropriate for spring. I had the great fun of having multi-coloured tomato pints in the store and had to take full advantage of them in such a showcasing dish. Produce variety is not something we have much of up here in the boondocks of B.C.

Be very very careful with the broccoli while you cook... you might end up eating the fried broccoli all on its own before you can mix it with any of the other ingredients, especially if you let the florets brown and crisp up a bit. You think I'm kidding.

Monday, May 04, 2009



Arradon. It is a lost Arthurian kingdom. It is a whisper in a lover's ear. It is the sound of the waves hissing over the shore. It is a reverant prayer in a rock-ringed grove.

I know few places either large or small that carries such an ethereal quality in its name. Arradon is a small town on the south coast of Brittany. That sound so mundane, doesn't it? The place has many nostalgic pulls on my heart and I could never in a million years believe there is anything mundane about this town or any of the region (The Gulf of Morbihan) around it. I know that family and familiarity play a large part in my nostalgia for the region but there is something more that could draw anyone back again and again. There is something to the fierce pride in the unique culture of the region, the legends that envelop the place and the fey quality that haunts the countryside-- it pulls you back again and again.

I was so pleased that my Frogger in Law found a website that brought all the feelings for the boat-riddled ocean, the wisteria, blue shutters and thorny bushes back with a rush. I'd love for you to go there and see where my heart lies when I think of France.

* the photo is my own, not from the website