Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Pheasant pie, my dear and Dartmouth

Friday, September 15th, 2006
Another beautiful morning. Got up and was eating breakfast when Nick strolled into the living room in his blue hat, white lab coat, dark green apron, and green wellies. He's got to check an order sitting by the fax machine. "Oh, good morning. I brought you a pheasant. Did you see it in the fridge?" I hadn't been looking for a pheasant when I grabbed the milk for my cereal. I missed it somehow. "I hope its dead by now. I'd hate to have to be the one to dispatch it and pluck it." I said. "Oh it's quite dead. It was in my freezer. You can have it. We need the room." He then goes on to give me an elaborate recipe for stuffed pheasant with pâté and wild mushrooms in a short crust pastry (it is a modified version of a recipe he made at The Carved Angel in Dartmouth.) I just look at him. "Do you see this fridge? Have you seen the lack of spices in that cabinet? I'll see what I can do." "Oh, well, it is quite easy, really. The short crust pastry is 50/50 fat to flour, etc…" I'm trying to eat everything I bought. I don't want to buy much more. I'll see how I feel at suppertime. I must admit, no one has ever given me a pheasant before. I was touched and thanked Nick profusely. He's watching out for me. Now if I could have him procure a nice lobster, that would really make my day.

I feel the need to take advantage of the fine weather on my final Friday in England. Drove down to Steamer's Quay and caught the Riverlink boat on the River Dart. It is a pleasure boat, giving a guided ride from Totnes to Dartmouth or vice versa. Due to the fact the river is heavily silted up, boats can only sail during high tide. I had grabbed a schedule the other day, so I caught the 10:30 sailing to Dartmouth. It's a 45 minute ride on the river. We sailed alongside dense oak woodland and nature preserves. I saw Ticklemore up on the hill as we headed downriver. I got a good look at the Sharpham Estate and vineyard. There were lots of cormorants, egrets and herons perched along the bank, watching us sail by. When we were near Dittisham (pronounced Dish'm) the guide pointed out a fisherman working on his oyster beds. I look over and see this shock of wild, windswept blonde hair scattered about the head of this burly, unkempt man working on board a medium size fishing boat. I recognized him instantly. "I know that guy!" I told my seat mates. It was George Congdon, Robin's son. Small world.

We drifted past Dittisham, a large village clinging to the side of a hill above the river. Farther down, on the other side of the river we passed Greenway, the house that Agatha Christy lived in. It is now owned by the National Trust and is in the process of being restored. It should be open to the public in a couple of years. It was a very pleasant boat ride. I also saw the estate of Sir Walter Raleigh. His descendants still live there! Huge wooded place along the river, just outside of Dartmouth. We arrived in Dartmouth and pulled up to a pontoon next to the Station Café. Dartmouth never had a rail line through it, but the Victorian Era developer had hoped to bring the Great Western Railway into town. The idea was shot down after he built the station.

I spent a sunny afternoon exploring the town more thoroughly. It is very hilly, so the higher up you walk, the better the view. Dartmouth has some amazing views. Friday is market day in Dartmouth, so I walked up to the market square and looked at tables full of tools, socks, and veggies. I continued wandering through town, going in and out of shops, looking for small, light and unique things to bring home. It was lunch time, so I also had my eyes open for a promising looking place for a meal. In one shop, the salesclerk suggested Alf Resco, near the lower ferry terminal. I find the ferry terminal and then spy the café. It looks like a great place for breakfast, but it doesn't offer much for lunch. I move on. I see an old stairway leading up the hill between some old buildings. Hanging over the stairwell is a promising looking pub sign for The Cherub. It's an old pub in a Tudor building. Lots of dark wood beams and white plaster. The walls are bowed, a sure sign this is an old place. It sounds like it's busy. Another good sign. I walk in. The bar is full of people, having a liquid lunch and waiting for food. The room holds 30 people and it is packed at the bar. There's seating upstairs if you're eating lunch, but drinks must be ordered at the bar. The bartender is a large fellow in his 50's, with salt and pepper hair and a full beard. He knows most of the clientele. I order a half pint of Addlestone cider. It's a cloudy one, drawn by a hand pump tap. Another good sign. I take a sip. Nice. A hint of sweetness, but not cloying so. Not too many bubbles, but still refreshing. I like this one. Good name. If I had a full pint, I would be addled.

The dining room upstairs is a dark room with carved wooden windows. None of the walls are square. The floor is tilting in several directions and the ceiling is low in several places. The tall waitress must duck every time she leaves or enters the kitchen. A good way to keep the staff sober, I think. The menu says this is one of the oldest buildings in Dartmouth. It dates from the 1300's. It was restored in the late 70's. Replaced many of the timbers with wood off of old ships. I had the seafood bouche, a mixture of fish like smoked haddock, cod, and shrimp cooked in a cream sauce and served in puff pastry. Quite tasty. I left very happy. When I told Nick about my experience he said it's a good pub. The bartender is "quite a good bloke."

I wandered back to the river embankment and had about half an hour to kill before my bus back to Totnes. For £3.00, I took a ride to the mouth of the river and looked at Dartmouth Castle and Kingswear Castle. Two fortifications protecting the river from invaders. The castles were rigged with a chain that they could draw up and keep invading ships from sailing up the river. Next time I might go and explore. There are some nice trails around the castle that lead to pretty coves and nice beaches.

Caught the 3:30m bus to Totnes. I could see over the hedges! It was great. I should have figured this out ages ago.

Pheasant Pie for supper, bird courtesy of Nick. I skinned the bird and cut the meat off of the legs and breast. I diced the meat and sautéed it in my little skillet. After the bird was browned, I cut up some bacon and cooked that off. I sautéed some onions, garlic, potatoes, and carrots in butter and olive oil in a Dutch oven. When the veggies were soft, I added my diced pheasant meat and bacon. Salt and pepper, of course. I added some red wine to the mixture. While this was cooking down, I boiling some diced potatoes in another pot. When they were soft, I mashed them with some milk and butter. I then added the mashed potatoes to the top of the pheasant and veggies, grated a bit of parmigiano reggiano over everything and into the oven at gas mark 4. (375F?) When the cheese melted and the juices were bubbling up, I pulled it out and ate it. It was heavenly! I like pheasant. I only got one small piece of buckshot in the bird. I found it before I bit into it. Yum. I have no qualms about eating in introduced species. They might be pretty, but they displace the local bird population. Eat and be merry.

In London on Monday, a performance I missed: Patty Smith and Kevin Shields (from My Bloody Valentine) performed together at the Royal Festival Hall. There is a Robert Mapplethorpe exhibit opening. Patty and Robert were lovers. I'd love to be there. I'm a big fan of Kevin Sheilds and to see him play with Patty Smith would be phenomenal. Hope someone archived it.

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