I’m kind of lousy at doing stuff. What I mean is, when an opportunity to do something new presents itself, my instant reaction is to go hide on the couch under a blanket. It’s just so much easier to stay at home. I like my home – it’s comfortable, quiet and peaceful. The outside world is scary, uncertain and requires driving. It just sounds so hard.
Enter the “ah-hah moment” of my summer: I was in Gascony, debating where to go next, and whether I should accept an invite to return to Manzac Ferme, where I’d met some cool people the week prior. Leave it to Kate Hill and Tim Clinch to deliver the Good Advice Bomb:
“If someone invites you into their home, take them up on it.”
I’m paraphrasing, but the point is this: if someone gives you an opportunity, take it (unless it’s totally weird or dangerous). Oddly I recalled advice that a big-wig executive gave me during my banking days: “always say yes” (I don’t normally listen to corporate big kahunas, but on this matter he had a point).
So when Sharon Al-Momani (aka Genie Cooks) invited me to visit her in Essex for a day of sailing and seaside foraging last August, I fought my gut reaction – “Drive all the way to Essex? Face the English seaside and the possibility of getting wet and cold? Lose a day of precious work?” – and heeded the words of Tim, Kate and banker man: “let’s do it!”
I instantly warmed to Sharon the moment I met her. This woman is hard-core awesome, the type of person who personifies what the whole “SmarterFitter” ideal is all about. She’s strong, capable, adventurous, fun and a damned good cook. I’ve never been much of a sea-going type (I’m more of a “forests and lakes kinda gal”) so I can’t help but admire these qualities that come largely from a lifetime of seafaring. Plus, what’s not to admire about a badass sailboat like this?
Here’s the down-low on the trip: it was me, Sharon and Jo, my buddy from The Food Travel Company. Our “coach”: Sharon’s boat, aptly called “Genie”. We met at Sharon’s dream-house style seaside abode at 8am, giving us time to set sail while the tides were in our favour. Sharon took us out to a “secret” island, where we anchored off shore and chilled out on the boat while waiting for the tides to go down (all this tide stuff – I have a newfound appreciation for the moon!).
When the time was right, Sharon piled us all into a tiny dhingy and rowed us to the island’s shore. At first glance the island was a little drab and forlorn, but as soon as Sharon pointed out the veritable ocean of samphire, I knew we’d struck gold.
Our island wander turned up samphire, orache (a spinach-like edible green, aka Atriplex), clams, cockles and oysters, plus some bonus blackberries I found while having a pee (odd, we never did eat those blackberries).
When we’d gathered our fill, we headed back to the boat. Sharon graciously let me do the rowing, after which Jo asserted that I “now know how Olympic athletes must feel”. I don’t know about that, but I will say I’ve been hitting the rowing machine a whole lot more ever since.
Back on board, Sharon broke out the cheese, wine and her homemade chutneys, thus proving that Sharon’s talents extend beyond the sea and into the pickle jar. Let’s face it: anyone who invents a pineapple and pecan chutney that actually tastes good is well worth knowing.
Confession time: by this point I was starting to see the appeal of “the seaside” and boat life. Snipping samphire and searching for clams is extraordinarily cathartic. Meanwhile, being on the boat, waiting for the tides, forces you to relax and just be. For all my worries about missing work, I realised this was exactly what I needed: a total escape. Plus, boats totally appeal to my camper’s mentality: here you’re in a small space with limited resources for preparing food, so you have to get creative. Plus, there are all the funny storage solutions and little chores that come with it.
Of course, the boat is a bit more pimp than my usual tent setup, and Sharon’s galley kitchen had everything she needed to cook us up a meal of spaghetti vongole with clams, cockles, samphire and orache. It was delicious, and so satisfying to eat a meal made with ingredients that we gathered ourselves just hours earlier.
Food and foraging aside, what I recall most is the fun. Sometimes all this foraging stuff gets a bit too serious, almost academic (has anyone else noticed this?). Such was not the case with the Genie. I laughed my cockles off.
As the sun set and we headed back to shore, I experienced a sense of mental overwhelmingness. What a mad crazy day – seaside foraging is something I’ve never before done in my life. I just marvelled at this – how the hell did I wind up in Essex wading in seaweed, eating cheese and chutney, making raunchy jokes about cockles and clams, and rowing a dinghy like an idiot but having a blast all the while?
Life is amazing. And it wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t seize the opportunity and take Sharon up on her offer. If I interpreted Tim’s and Kate’s advice correctly, then that was their whole point: most offers are genuine, and taking people up on them can lead to wonderful experiences and great friendships.
Thanks to Sharon for one of the best days of my whole summer.
Read Jo’s account of the day on her blog at The Food Travel Company.
Visit the Flickr photoset, or watch this nifty slideshow: