The True Planet Savers


The Ping that started it all.

Do you ever hear an incidental passing comment that suddenly goes ping!  in your brain but you don’t know why?  And you have to pursue it even if it leads nowhere?  This happened to me when someone casually mentioned “Widemarsh Ventures.  “They collect all sorts,” he said, “and turn them into saleable goods.”

Peter Maybury

Ping! Went my brain, and I had to find out more.  A rootle through the internet brought up an address and telephone number.  That’s how I got to meet Peter Maybury.  On the telephone, stumbling over my half-formed idea for a blog, he welcomed me to come and see.

The Workshop

It was NOT a prepossessing site.   A trading estate.  A workshop called “unit 2”.  But standing sentry outside its double doors were plentiful exhibits of items waiting to go into someone’s home, themselves a form of welcome .


Hallowe’en lights

The workshop is a glorious jubilation of donated wood and other materials, part-done hedgehog houses, bird houses, cork/white boards, Hallowe’en lights, bug hotels, boxes, chests, and tables, slatted doors that could easily morph into blanket storage, all on their way to becoming something magic.  Materials used are eco-friendly, harmless to people, soil, plants, water and gardens. Diluted food colouring is a background for painted signs.



Commissioned work included a costermonger’s cart and wishing well created for Queen Elizabeth’s visit, now rented out for weddings.  And – up on a local country walk somewhere — a series of kissing gates, each with the name of a World War One soldier who had lost his life abroad.

The workshop is also a vibrant re-cycling centre for goods processed elsewhere. Ten-foot mounds of bags full of crushed cans, bottle tops, ring pulls, and foil stood near the entrance, awaiting distribution to other firms who will also turn them into something new. “We try not to throw anything away,”

Peter explained,  indicating the nets of kindling ready for distribution, the heavy sacks used to store the vast amount of sawdust they produce to send to farmers, the wooden pallets waiting to be made into tables and children’s outdoor toys.








After much negotiation and courage to carry the dream forward, Peter established  Widemarsh Ventures, which supports Choices Foundation C.I.C.  It’s an opportunity for people whom others do not employ in mainstream business, to gain skills, a strong community, and confidence while taking part in a self-sufficient business.

The Shop

The shop in Hereford


On another day I visited their shop: “Handmade in Hereford” nestled in the atrium of a large department store in the city’s centre.  Both places had the same sense of calm, of welcome that made it difficult to leave.  One shop volunteer said, “I love coming here!” There’s a restful quality in both places.  Maybe it’s the warming scent of wood.  “That scent is inborn in the human being,” said Peter.  “It brings us back to our ancestors and their dependence on wood for survival.  Our need for trees is still with us today,”


So what’s it all about?

So, what caused me to search out Widemarsh Ventures in the first place?  Maybe it’s because I cringe with guilt every time I acquire yet another plastic bag, which might find its way into landfill, or the sea (now ten times more polluted than first estimated). Perhaps it’s my awe as I look at the two households in our community who are completely self-sufficient in energy.  Perhaps it’s my total ignorance on how to get There from Here.  This business gives me hope.

Peter’s venture welcomes Society’s throw-away goods and makes them into something reusable and practical, done by people whom Society won’t hire.  It’s these same “unemployable” people who are holding our planet together, pushing back climate breakdown just that little bit longer.  They are true Planet savers.  Find the Peters in your area, support them, celebrate them, and let the world know that you are doing so.

Recycled Food

Call it leftovers, call it planned-overs, call it many happy returns – there’s nothing wrong with cooking for more than one meal at a time, now that you’ve got out your favourite pans.  But there’s no reason why the happy return has to appear in the same form as its parent serving.

These are triangular food parcels (I dare not call them “samosas”) filled with cooked food, and can be made in large batches or just used with that last dollop of food that no one can bring themselves to eat.

thick paste

Make a flour-water thick paste, stir it awhile so that it starts to glutenise.





Now cut tortillas in half.  Hold each in a skewed cone so that one edge is higher than the rest (this will flap down once filled).  Now lavishly paste the side to prevent the cone from opening.

halving the tortilla




pasting the side











pinch shut


Fill  with cooked cooled food. 

I used a  Vegan samosa recipe for these as they were going on a picnic.)  Then seal the top flap over with more of the paste.   Let the paste dry a bit.  When ready to bake, brush with oil, bake awhile, the turn over and brush with oil again.  Bake until they look right.

Serve with:  If the contents are very spicy – like curry, or chilli – serve a bland sauce with them – mayonnaise mixed with yogurt and a bit of powdered mustard,  or tahini mixed with water and a squeeze of lemon.  If the contents are bland – like tuna,  beans, or leftover meatloaf – bring out the hot sauces and chutneys.

Oh, and by the way, figure out a way to identify the contents of your parcels, perhaps with a mark or food colouring.  I didn’t.  I now have a freezer box of mystery parcels, all made at different times.

mystery parcels!

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Sandwich Stories

The Earl of Sandwich.  John Montagu’s cribbage addiction has given, what the Wall Street Journal states, is “Britain’s biggest contribution to gastronomy”, which is a bit harsh, but probably true.  The Earl of Sandwich (in Kent, by the River Stour ) didn’t want to eat meat with his bare hands because it messed up his game, so it arrived between two slices of bread.  Mind you, people all over the world had been eating meat with bread long before previous Earls of Sandwich begat John’s ancestors, but his place-name stuck.

Hopes dashed.  I wanted this blog to be the result of a sandwich party, where I would lay out all sorts of breads and fillings and condiments, and let the guests’ inspiration create their own sandwiches.  But that was not to be, this year.



School friends to the rescue.  Instead,  I called upon my zoom classmates from Northern India for help. Long, LONG ago, we graduated from Woodstock School, an international establishment 7000 feet high in the foothills of the Himalayas,  at a time when everything (including the grand piano) had to be carried up by human power.  All of us were children of parents who travelled the world, and we did, too.  Here are some sandwich experiences both from Woodstock, and in the wider world we were sent to afterwards.

Memories of school sandwiches were usually bad:

 Maudie:  A warning! Do not make cucumber sandwiches before 7 am and do not serve them for tea at 4Pm.    IF you do, be prepared to drink them.  

Joanne: for me the worst part of the cuke sandwiches was the white margarine they used.  I so hated that white grease!

All of us. Woodstock was famous for the worst cucumber sandwiches in India.

Judy (me):  If we had spaghetti and meat sauce one day, we’d get both spaghetti and meat ground up in sandwiches the next.

Although we had rich experiences, some common foods were totally new to us because our families didn’t do their own cooking.  We hired cooks.

Gail – when a teen, was given toasted cheese sandwiches for the first time at a teacher’s house.

Gilbert – learned how to make them when visiting Dick (another classmate), went home, and taught his mother how to make them.  To the end of her life she insisted that she had learned from her son.

Philip: My father would ask people – did you know that the Bible mentions sandwiches ?  Go to Hebrews 11 verse 12 (New American Standard Bible) and it mentions “and innumerable as the sand which is by the seashore.”

Willie’s jam sandwiches: Jam two pieces of bread together.

Then we scattered into the wider world:

Chris:  Very popular in India are ‘chutney’ sandwiches. This is comprised of mint leaves, coriander leaves, bit of garlic, butter and some chillies , all nicely ground up and then liberally smeared between two slices of bread. Delicious!   You can also add sugar/salt to taste

Dale: My husband said in Liverpool (England) they used to eat bread and dripping sandwiches.  Cold roast beef, the next day, produced thick fat with a jelly underneath.  This spread on bread was termed “delicious”.   Judy adds: my grandmother-in-law ate it on Energen diet rolls.

[Dale continues].  In Edinburgh, on the one day a week my son was allowed to buy a school lunch, his usual choice was a chip buttie with brown sauce. Chips (for the Americans) meaning French fries, a buttie is a white roll, and brown sauce is a bit like a steak sauce but a kind very particular to Edinburgh, usually liberally sprinkled over fish and chips.

Norman:  I sometimes have flight connections in Seoul, Korea, and I am able to use the Asiana Airlines lounge there during my wait. One regular feature in the lounge is mashed potato sandwiches. If you like mashed potatoes as much as I do, it is actually a good sandwich.

JoanneThe town of Bobo-Dialasso in Western Burkina Faso has a famous sandwich.  We’d see them every time we visited, but never bought one.  A dear friend of ours moved back there after the death of her husband.  We had been with her when two of her kids died of sickle-cell.  Her husband also died of it.  We went to visit and she had bought us a special treat—what we called ‘Bobo sandwiches.’  A hunk of French baguette filled with meat in a spicy tomato sauce.  That was the only time during my years in India and Africa that I was unable to eat what was offered to me.  The meat in those sandwiches were caterpillars, and they were piled high in the bread.  They are about the size of my little finger, and are cooked in their fur coats!  It just gets sticky with the tomato sauce!

Judy me again).  When I was evacuated from Egypt during the Six Day War (see blog of June, 2019) we were shipped by German freighter from Alexandria to Crete– Germans, Americans and one Englishman all thrown together.  We were on a boat that had deep chasms for freight now holding people way down at the bottom of them – accessible by ladders up the sides.  I felt sorry for the cook who suddenly had many passengers and no opportunity for extra provisions.  We were fed for three days with thick, healthy sandwiches made from dark German bread with seeds and all sorts of good stuff in it.  I am still looking for a recipe that could replicate that bread – wonderful!

Thank you, Woodstock family, for your stories!


Devilled Ham

It’s surprising how growing up in India  still affects my life. Surprising, too, are the bits that I missed NOT growing up in America.  Like the grilled cheese stories above, I was intrigued to come across “devilled ham”, frequently mentioned in old American recipe books – a kind of sandwich spread or dip.  So, looking on the internet I discovered Chef John from who was happy to oblige.  His ingredients seemed so preposterous that I toned them down a lot.  I’ve left in his measurements, and put mine in brackets.

In a food processor place 12 ozs (350 grams 1 ½ cups) smoked ham, cut in small cubes.  Add ½ diced onion, 1 stick of celery shaved with a potato peeler to get rid of the strings, then chopped, 2 ozs (55 grams ¼ cup) hot pepper cheese (I used cheddar and 4 – 5 slices pickled jalepeno peppers), up to 1 tablespoon hot sauce (I used a few vigorous shakes of tabasco), 2 Tablespoons Dijon mustard, up to ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used a hearty pinch), and 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce.  Pulse these ingredients, stopping frequently to push the mixture into the blades.   Empty into a bowl, and add enough mayonnaise (around 5 tablespoons) to make it of sandwich spreading consistency.  If you are using it as a dip, add more mayo.  This is only half the recipe but yielded almost 4 cups of devilled ham.  I let this sit overnight in the fridge and by next day the flavours had all held hands together (as the Persians say) and, for us, it was the right level of spiciness.  It’s good, even on morning toast.

How hot?  Chef John frequently tasted his mixture during the process, adding more spicy ingredients than he originally called for.  His warning: when tasting hot things during preparation (like curry, or Chris’ sandwich recipe above) one gets immunised to the spiciness, and it’s good to lasso in a passing taster to get another’s opinion.

That’s it for this month, folks.  Special thanks again to the Woodstock gang for stories and for technical support.



Congratulations to the Sandwich Cellar in Hay-on-Wye, Wales, for being awarded the Central Area’s Sandwich Shop of the Year, by the Welsh Takeaway Awards, 2019.

Would LOVE to hear your special sandwich combinations. And experiences.  Write them below for all to share .

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Panic.  “Oh no, here I go again!” I said  as the heart pounded, fear gnawed my insides, hands perspired, and brain locked rigidly into Danger mode.  Logic and clear thinking would now be suffocated by the black cloud of confusion and self-hatred.  This is a lifelong experience.  It always happens when I have to find a new place.  My heart is racing right now,  reminded of all the times – since I was very young – that I have lost my way.   Even today I only take linear walks – there and back – because I am, as they say, geographically challenged.  My family is used to this.  “Couldn’t find her way out of a paper bag.”   “Needs a map to exit a telephone booth.”

Looking for Mary.  This time it was only an innocent trip to the next village to meet Mary. She advertised in the local newsletter, as someone who made and fixed jewellery.  I had a locket that needed transferring to a new chain.  When you move into a new area and don’t know anyone to ask, the local advertisers are the safest.  The village newsletter had brought us a wealth of local suppliers, and we happily got our new house painted, repaired, un-glitched, settled, and all-in-all, us-ready by using tradespeople who advertised in it.  Mary was no exception.

Acclamatising.  My handicap is especially virulent in this new environment here.  People have lived here so long they cannot remember ever NOT knowing where someone lived. And now I was trying to find Mary.  On the phone she sounded confused.  Giving directions was difficult.  She was unsure how to describe where she lived.  She got her Lefts and Rights mixed up.  Said that the sign on her house was very small.  None of the houses in this area had numbers, only names.  She lived in Chapel House but it was not a chapel.  I wondered if she had ever been required to give directions before.

The fear starts to build.  As I drove back and forth on a road of unnumbered houses, without a soul to ask for directions, my brain was taunting,  “Inadequacy- inadequacy- inadequacy” to the hum of the engine.  The many times I had recently been lost piled mercilessly into self-recrimination: the 4 hours it took to take a 20 minute drive to the doctors in another village,  because road signs were skewed; a woman I hardly knew was bewildered that I didn’t know where she lived. “Mine is the white house,” she said.  When I eventually found the place, it turned out to be a red brick house. The only “white” parts were the window frames.  Apparently, everyone knew where everyone else lived, because they had always lived there, hadn’t they, so why didn’t I know?

At last!  These and other instances too humiliating to mention pumped up the anxiety as I drove, reversed, and zigzagged back and forth on a road called “Chapel Lane” with no chapel –according to my instructions – in sight.  The only way I at last found Mary was because she said she’d be sweeping her driveway.  By the time I saw a woman by the road with a broom, I was totally self-shredded.  She directed me to park my Skoda on a four-by-four foot piece of gravel with a large tree at one end and a brick wall at the other.  Hmmm: not only was she unused to giving directions to her house.  She had probably never driven a car, either.  I easily parked further up the road and went to meet her. Bliss!  My heart slowed down, and the hard part of the journey was over.  I never mind meeting people, it’s finding them that is the problem.

Mary herself.  I could then take a look at Mary.  Grey hair. .  A long navy cardigan flapping open, drooping to the knees, its sleeves rolled up above the elbows,.  Bare legs flashed between ankle socks and the hem of a long, faded dress.

“Let’s go to the shed,” she said.  I followed her through a garden rampant in exuberantly coloured blooms.(“It has taken over.  I can’t keep up with it,” she mentioned over her shoulder.)

The treasure shed.  Mary opened a door to a double-length shed, and I gasped.  Suddenly I was in an amazingly different world, a grotto of crafts and works of art and materials lined all the walls floor to ceiling.  There were twenty or more beautifully decorated dollhouses all individually created out of cardboard boxes, each mini room intricately furnished. I stood stunned at the colour and the craft that beckoned to be examined and wowed over.   But there was little time for awe.  Mary had already sat down to a small table with tins crammed with upright paint brushes.  “Let me see the chain,” she said.

Expert at work. I handed it to her and she suddenly became a different person. As if a light had turned on, the confused woman glowed into a brilliantly experienced craftsperson, her fingers deftly working the silver chain, her voice one of authority as the correct tools materialised from nowhere, and in twenty seconds she had transferred my pendant from the old to the new chain.

Who was she really?  Our transaction was over. I’d paid the mere £2 she asked for.  It was time to say goodby, but I just couldn’t leave.  Maybe it was the tough journey getting here, maybe I only wanted more time to treasure someone so lovely and easy to be with.  “I’ve lived here all my married life,” she said, “met my husband because we were both cyclists.  He died 17 years ago.  We were in cycling competitions – two different clubs.  We don’t like flat. We like hills. After he won the hill race, I started talking to him, then got to know him.  Eventually we married and moved here.  One time we even cycled to Scotland – had a two-week holiday, packed camping equipment on the back of our tandem and off we went.  We had just bought this house.  When you have no money at all, and you want to see a place, you just do it.  We were good cyclists.  We were fit.  And we were young.  You do that sort of thing when you are young.  I’ve been doing jewellery since my daughter was small.  ”  And the dollhouses?  “Oh, those are just for me – not for sale,” she laughed.

Time to go.  Now I knew I was wasting her time.  I didn’t know what more I could ask, so reluctantly said goodby.  As I walked back to my car, I noticed again the 4 foot square “parking space”.   Yes, that would fit a couple of bikes easily, and probably had done for years.  Then I looked up.  There, right beside her house, was a chapel converted into a home.  Mary never thought of it as a landmark.  Probably because it had always been there.

Quick Bread

I want to try an experiment.  We are short of yeast in our area.  Although our local shop is redolent in bread flour (unlike the supermarkets) there’s no yeast.  Now, I thought,  is a great time to get acquainted with quick breads – made in loaves with baking powder and/or bicarbonate of soda (baking soda) as raising agents.  Here’s the most basic of Fanny Farmer’s* quick bread loaves, ingredients adjusted to make it more palatable to a Brit.

Grease a 2 lb bread loaf pan.  In a largish bowl put in 2 cups (280 grams, 10 ozs) plain flour.  I had to use strong bread flour because that’s all there was to buy.  Add 2 tablespoons brown sugar, 2 teaspoons baking powder, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup (60 grams, 2 ozs) finely chopped nuts  (optional). Mix well.  In another bowl beat 1 egg thoroughly.  Add 1 cup (200 ml. 8 ozs) milk, and 3 tablespoons (85 grams, 3 ozs) melted butter.  Beat well, and stir into the dry ingredients.  Mix thoroughly and spoon into the buttered loaf pan.  Bake at 190 degrees C (375 F) for 45 minutes, or until a cocktail stick (toothpick) inserted in the middle of the loaf comes out clean.  Put the bread on a rack to cool.  Wrap well when cold, and wait a day for it to firm up.

OK. Here’s the experiment: Can we use quick bread in the same way we use yeast bread?

for breakfast toast?

for French toast?

as a sandwich?

or a grilled cheese snack?

for canapes — creamed cheese and chopped olive?







or even stuffing balls?






Welllll, you can. But nothing beats the scent of baking yeast bread for making a house into a home.

*The Fanny Farmer Cookbook,  12th Edition, Alfred A Knopf, Revised 1979.p 484  Additions and alterations can include dried fruit and nuts: apricots, cranberries, currants, almonds.  Or to make it a “proper” tea bread, double the amount of sugar.

With thanks to daughter Joy and her oven, because at this moment I’m oven-less.


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Busted Cover


found this blooming in spring

Shame, they say, hates being shared.

Once shared it can’t survive. Shame loves secrecy.  A few years ago I, a closet non-gardener, stupidly infiltrated a herb garden workshop hoping for cooking ideas. The situation turned itchily uncomfortable early on. The place was huge, and when I heard participants comparing this to “Charles and Camilla’s garden” I knew I was out of my depth. The lemon balm tea and lavender-bud-shortbread soothed momentarily until, oh-oh. We actually had to tell the assembled group why we had come. ALL had gardens. ALL could actually make things grow. ALL, of course, except me. When I “came out” and murmured apologetically that I “didn’t like gardening” there were mutterings of “shame, shame” from some of the members.

Gardeners are baffling!

hope for blackberries

After that experience I kept my non knowledge to myself. Until now. I live in a village where everyone gardens as a “matter of course” . I look at them with amazement as they plunge their hands into last year’s garbage-turned compost,  gleefully pick caterpillars off their tenderly-planted seedlings, and delight in having to go out to water the garden over and over again. This they call “healing”!


And so am I, to them.

Amazement is two-way, you know. People are astounded that I am phenomenally garden-ignorant. Long ago when there used to be hairdressers (last February 14th), Hazel, a farmer’s daughter was astounded. “What” she exclaimed  snip snip “you didn’t even know that you don’t dig potatoes until they flower????” snip snip. “Nope,” says I sheepishly. I swear it took her 37 snips to absorb this incomprehensible answer.

Wisteria arches a love seat in the back garden

Experience from another life

these irises actually live in our pond!

I am reminded of the excruciation my adult literacy students went through, going to colossal lengths to cover up their inability at reading and writing in a world where everyone expected them to be literate. It took a gargantuan effort to admit it, finally, to someone (us), far far harder than mere garden ignorance. One caller said, “I had to drink half a bottle of vodka to get the courage to phone”. And our answer was always the same: “you’ve already done the hardest part by calling. Congratulations. Now let’s get to the easy part and find out what you want to learn”.

Why I never learned to garden.

hope for cherries

In my defence, I have to say that my previous life was far from the grow-anything-from-a -cutting mentality of the people here. I lived as a missionary in houses with vast grounds tended by full time gardeners. I went to boarding school in the foothills of the Himalayas where there were only two directions: Up and Down. As the hillsides flowered with fern-fists, rhododendrons, and reindeer orchids under the sog-soaked monsoon rains, we were learning to shake our shoes out to rid them of scorpions, and to avoid the side-plate-sized spiders with white sacs, because if we squashed them, literally thousands of baby spiders would pour out all over us.  Our walk to school took us on leech-lustered paths. By the time we arrived at the classroom with its hard-scarred flip top desks, Wordsworth and his daffodils were from a completely different planet.

Until now.

my bee garden, so far

But now I’m on that planet…gentle and lovely,  with enough daffodils to satisfy a hundred Wordsworths. Totally different, and one I am privileged to call home. We inherited a sumptuously landscaped garden.  All these photos are from it.  And now it’s time to fight my self-limiting assumptions and LEARN how to care for it.

I’ve done the hardest part – sharing the shame. As with my former students, help is at hand!  An hour of youtube videos produces : a tomato grower who instructs me to spray my tomatoes with aspirin dissolved in water, for greater growth. A knitted-capped guy from Berkeley USA suggests that I throw in a dead animal while building my compost heap. Huw from Wales explains the difference between green waste (nitrogen-rich lawn cuttings and ?coffee grounds) and brown waste (carbon-rich dead leaves and ?shredded white paper).

One day this week I opened my front door to see  several pots of vegetable plants, left there by a friend who always plants a whole packet of seeds and nourishes them to healthy greenery, happy to pass them on (“Thrilled” she said). I looked at them with pity – did they know they are in the hands of an ignorant plantaphobe?

Vegetable patch

I have much to learn. Maybe I, too, will one day find it “healing”.



Baked Green Rice

Can be baked in a ring and filled with creamed peas or spinach, also can be used for stuffing or just served on its own.

Oven moderate — around 350 degrees.  Saute 1 chopped onion and 1 chopped clove  garlic in 2 Tablespoons butter.  In a largish bowl beat 1 egg.  Add the onion and garlic and 1/2 teaspoon salt, 3/4 cup milk, 1 cup mixed parsley and coriander leaves chopped, 2 cups cooked rice, 1 cup grated cheddar cheese, 1/2 teaspoon curry powder, a fresh grating of ginger, and some chopped jalepeno peppers (to taste) to give it zing. Empty into a baking dish in which has previously been poured 2 tablepoons of oil.  Bake 30 minutes, until top is brownish.

And while the oven is on, why not throw a couple of peeled sliced carrots into a roasting bag with 2 tsps. oil and a pinch of fennel seeds.  They will be ready when the rice is cooked.

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Our Dog the Drama Queen

Did you ever have a dog that feigned disability? We did. When growing up in India we had a cocker spaniel named Tuffy (because, my sister said, he was all black except for a white “tuff” at his throat.)

Distemper shot. When a puppy, my doctor-Dad ordered distemper vaccine from the USA and administered it to him. Something was wrong with the potion, causing Tuffy’s front legs to collapse in spasms, into his food, on the floor, attempting stairs, everywhere.

Trip to the Vet. We took him to a vet who said he’d like to keep him. The dog stayed a week, and was returned, reeking of cod liver oil, emaciated, but so so happy to see us. (Mother had paid for him to be fed, but the vet denied any knowledge of this payment). It was time, the vet said, to put him down. This was at the beginning of our summer break, and Mother decided we’d do so, if Tuffy hadn’t improved by the time we went back to school. Then Mother got to work. Every day she bathed him in warm water, and massaged his front leg muscles. Every day he got stronger. But the spasms persisted.

Learning to walk.  Meanwhile Tuffy was learning to co-ordinate his walking with the jerks, even, sometimes seeming to dance to music. That summer we took him on long walks (one a journey of 18 miles). Though tired, he was still happy, getting stronger every day.

Performance Time.  That’s when the drama began. He loved an audience, and when the room was full of guests, no matter how serious the meeting was, he’d go into his routine. The strength of the spasms would “escalate”, making him collapse to the floor at each jerk. He would seek out the most gullible person (usually a her). “How can you allow him to go on living?” she’d remonstrate. “Can’t you see what a state he’s in???” To these noises he’d completely “lose it”, crash at her feet, and roll sorrowing eyes in her direction. Whimpering mournfully he would accept stroking and talking to, while the human would shoot angry arrow-darts at my mother or one of us kids. None of our protestations could change anyone’s attitude; we were heartless cruel beasts who didn’t deserve a pet. As the guests were leaving, he’d “struggle and collapse” a few times more for dramatic effect. After they’d gone, he’d be back to his usual bouncy self, innocent as ever.

Cow Chasing.  As far as building community, Tuffy’s main job was to chase the cows from the garden. India, being a predominantly Hindu nation, believed that cows were sacred, and they were allowed to roam wherever they wished. Our (Hindu) gardener would whump them with a log to get them to leave whenever he saw them, but this was usually after Tuffy had alerted the nation with his “cow alert” bark, and the said Moo would gallup down the road. Our gardener explained that it was all right to beat them, just not kill them.

Now before you start feeling sorry for the bovine beauty, let me explain that they are indiscriminate eaters. They eat all the flowers in your garden, except marigolds.  A cow also had a good go at my mother’s night gown that was drying on the bushes, the only one she had for our six year stay in India. A friend offered her another which she kept until furlough.

India vs  Britain.  Caring for a dog in India – walks without leashes, free-roaming over the whole compound, and sometimes visiting our cook’s house – was a totally different existence to Doggy Britain. Dogs here have a much more important role in building community. They go out on walks, and wait patiently, patiently, as owners talk and talk and talk to those they meet, sometimes sighing meaningfully as they slump into lying- down position as conversation continues. But their role is important. Timid passersby who are people- shy, are free to talk to the dog. Those who are pet-less build up a relationship with others’ dogs, thus fulfilling the need of all human beings to connect with the animal world.

April is Pet Month, and I just want to honour the love and affection, between humans and their dogs. Four or five friends have recently lost their pets, and are still in grief. Others easily recall warm memories of past pets and their close bonding, friendship. Our neighbours lost their old dog – one who actually belonged to the whole street, because he was so gentle and loving that everyone felt he was theirs and always stopped to greet him. We drank a toast to Bryn that night to say farewell to a true member of our community.

Tuffy loved cookies.


Lemon Squares

or bars, or triangles or..

Combine 1 cup (125 gms, 4 ½ ounces) plain flour, ½ cup (115 grms, 4 ozs) butter or margarine, ¼ cup (30 gms, 1 oz) icing sugar until mixed thoroughly. Press the mixture evenly, with wet hands, into an 8” x 8” square pan, or anything around 64 square inches (420 square cms). Bake in a moderate oven for 20 minutes.



Meanwhile, beat 1 cup (180 gms, 6 ozs) granulated sugar, 2 eggs, ½ teaspoon baking powder, ¼ teaspoon salt, and the zest and the juice of 1 lemon. Pour over the baked crust and bake 20 – 25 minutes more. (I think mine was a bit overdone.)

Cool completely before cutting into desired sizes. I turned them over, and cut from the crust, with a pizza cutter.



 Mine looked like this.         But the book looked like this.  The taste is delicious

Cookies that Travel

In these days of lockdown when someone is far away but close to our heart, praise be for Her Majesty’s Postal system, working brilliantly as usual.

Bar cookies, drop cookies, and fruit cookies travel well. Brownies, of course are solid and immovable. Wrap paired cookies back-to-back in cling wrap. Fillers — shredded clean paper, Cheerios or unbuttered unsalted pop corn — should be placed at bottom of a lined box, and between layers and on top. The box should be so full that nothing jiggles when you close the lid and shake it gently. Write PERISHABLE AND FRAGILE on the outside of the package. Address according to the rules of your country’s postal service. .

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The Amazing Zoroastrians

Oh dear. We missed it –Persian New Year. Why, you ask, is that important to our culture here whose immediate worry is how to find hand gel, toilet paper, and tinned tomatoes in empty-shelved grocery shops, where every bit of community comfort is denied to us because we can’t hug?

WELL, centuries ago, the great astronomers, the Zoroastrians, decided that the Vernal Equinox would be the first day of the new year. Their expertise had no trouble calculating the exact day that Spring arrived. (After all, they later found their way to a Baby in Bethlehem 1028.22 miles away.) New world, new year, and new light. How logical is that — to celebrate when the world is new, rather than cold, dark drizzly January 1st when we are still glutted with pudding, and struggling to find meaning in all of Christmas’ 12 days?

What happens in Nowruz?

Now Ruz (New Day) in Iran is an ancient tradition kept by everyone, irrespective of any, or no belief. This is the time to celebrate Earth’s new light. And what a performance Earth puts on! Brilliant blue sky, soaring acrobatic pigeons showing off in aerial flight, clapping their wings as they do so; the soft beige hills around Tehran rich with wild tulips and grape hyacinths. Glorious!

Iran in the 70s

As the years pass, I am overwhelmed with gratitude that John and I had the privilege of being in Iran in the early 70s, and for four years to meet the Persian community. We got to see how the people themselves celebrated – thirteen days of holiday time. New clothes. Delicious food. Walks in the cool spring air, greeting each other. Picnics. Family get-togethers. Feasting and dancing. Leaping over bonfires. The traditional New Year table decorated with seven items beginning with the Farsi letter S, each with a significance for health, positivity, spirituality, or wealth. The air scented with roasting pistachios and almonds. Rumbly wooden carts trundling through streets selling corn on the cob, steamed beetroot and much more. Wonderful!

Tradition has it, they said, that a giant bull holds up the Earth on the tip of one horn. At the exact moment of the New Year, it shifts Earth to the other horn. We had a friend – a Ph.D in Physics – whose grandmother believed that she could feel the moment of that shift. (Who could say she didn’t?)

How lucky we were to have been there and witnessed it all! How rich our lives still, with the memories, and the deep friendships that endure today!

Nowruz now

This year, we’re not the only ones who missed New Year celebrations. Many in Iran did, too:

  • The hundreds who died at the funeral of a murdered trusted leader.
  • Those who died in the demonstrations against the present regime.
  • Those who are dying daily of COVID-19 (2900 at time of writing), and their grieving loved ones.
  • Those who live in a regime that suppresses their Zoroastrian DNA for singing and dancing and celebration because it smacks of Western imperialism (WHAAAAAH???).

So why should we celebrate Persian New Year, a day of new light and new beginnings? Why not? 300 million people around the world celebrate it too. Next year let’s join them. On behalf of those who can’t.

Happy Nowruz everyone.

Havij Pollo (Carrots and Rice)

Here’s a surprisingly delicious rice dish from Persia, dear friends. Ingredients are easy to find – I hope.  Unlike Persian stews, this does NOT improve with ageing. It’s best to consume it on the day of preparation. Can be adjusted for Vegans.

Cook 1½ teacups long grain rice according to instructions until al dente. Set aside. Coarsely grate 1 lb (500 gms, 3 ½ cups) of peeled carrots. If you find this boring, use the time to phone another self-sequestered soul and have a chat with the phone in your neck.

Peel and chop one onion. Heat 1 ½ tablespoons butter or oil or coconut oil in a heavy bottomed pan with lid, and fry the onion gently without browning. Add grated carrots and fry them – also gently and covered – for 10 – 12 minutes until soft. Stir once or twice during cooking. If sticking is threatened, add a bit more butter or oil. Remove lid, add 2 tablespoons sugar, ½ teaspoon cinnamon, and 1 tablespoon tomato paste (see note). Stir occasionally to remove some of the moisture.



Now, (and this is almost sacrilegious in Persian cooking) in a microwaveable casserole dish with lid, alternate layers of rice and carrots to the top.



Put sheets of paper towels on the casserole, then the lid. Microwave for 5 – 7 minutes until steaming hot. Serve quickly. [If you are Persian you would melt loads of butter in a pan before layering, add layers as above, put on a low heat for about an hour, then stand the pan on a tea towel soaked with cold water. After about 5 minutes turn the whole thing upside down and out will come a beautiful rice cake with a tasty crusty top. So they say. To date, mine don’t work.]

SERVE. With the protein of your choice. Persians would either make meatballs with ground lamb, or serve it with a roast joint of lamb. We had some cooked chicken and steamed it within the layers of rice and carrots.

Note: In all my Persian cookbooks, I have never seen the addition of tomato paste, but a Persian friend who was visiting us once insisted on it. I’ve done it ever since, and really enjoy the flavour.


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An Age-free Community

A strange meeting 

Although there was no one in sight in this vast empty 360- degree landscape, the footsteps were spookily audible. The air was clear, scented with wild herbs, a breath-taking change from Tehran’s pollution below. And silent! Blissfully so. Up to now. I continued my puff up this exquisite 4000 metre mountain. At last the footsteps attached themselves to a person, a tribal girl all alone, beautiful, big eyed, graceful, healthy. She caught up, said nothing, but slowed her easy pace to match mine, walking beside me in companionable silence, on this, her familiar territory.    She was easy with the silence. I was less so. Trying to get into conversation, I asked how old she was (I was still struggling with this new-to-me Farsi language.) “Mother, I do not know,” she answered. I stopped, dumfounded.   I’d never been called “mother” before, having not had children yet, and that was a shock. But even more astounding was the concept that a whole people could live, run, and manage life without knowing their ages.

What, no age limits?

Imagine that, if you can! No over 50s lunches, no school years by age, no forced retirement age, no one saying your child should walk at 18 months, no one complaining that there isn’t anyone “my age” to talk to, no one saying how “marvellous” you are because you’re taking a university degree at 80, no one announcing loudly that they’re too old to learn computers, no one to force boys to take exams at the same time as girls even though decades of psychologists say that teen boys and girls are emotionally two years apart (see? I can’t help it – I just used an ageist model!)

Age restrictions 

I’ve been trying to figure out why ageism is so jarring, so irritating to me. I think it’s because it makes us look at people through a frame called Date of Birth, with expectations  of what that DOB implies as to how someone thinks, believes, cares, and is interested in.   This added assumption distorts identity, doesn’t allow us to meet the real person, and in some cases, dismisses them entirely as a non person. I even heard of a ghastly situation where a committee, shortlisting candidates, started with the year they were born!

Age dominates

That lovely girl on the mountain makes me realise how age dominates everything we do, strait-jacketing our identity, who we think we are, how we look at ourselves, and how others see us.  Is it so embedded that we are evermore manacled to anno domini?

A way out!


Slithering in and out of our age-restrained society, tough as grass growing through cement, is a beautiful, colourful, thread woven into our lives. If we look for it and follow its pattern there are emancipating, joy-giving age-free experiences, where the number of years has  no significance at all.

It can sneak silently almost unrecognized, into life in tiny  ways: individuals who share recipes, gardening tips, knitting patterns, household hints, computer help, tidbits that lighten living.

Or it can burst forth jubilantly when groups gather together despite age: aero-modellers, steam train enthusiasts, Extinction Rebellion, amateur jazz musicians, local drama clubs, ramblers: people with a common goal, with a focus on sharing their experiences, facing success and failure together. And just this week I’ve heard of a glorious ukulele group aged 7 to 70+ who strum, blunder, and succeed with hilarity and friendship. How wonderful!

The Secret!

So, what is the secret of this disappearing age lock? What’s the motivation that draws folk who hardly know each other into one? Answer: they are doing what the soul needs most, what the human being is hard-wired for: they are learning. And they’re doing it together.



Sheila’s Rice Crispy Crunchies

I made this for one of the most age-free groups I’ve encountered: Messy Church. It started as a “proper” church service for families – exuberantly messy with paints and paper and whoop-di-doo based on the scripture for the week. It ends with a meal. I say that it started as a family service, but everyone has such a wildly good time that all ages come along anyway, sit at the art tables and try their hand at illustrating the passage of the day, usually laughing at the results.

These crunchies are amazingly simple, because you’re not making anything, just building on others’ hard work.

Melt 4 ozs (110 gms, ½ cup) butter, 4 ozs (110 gms) good quality toffee, and 4 ozs (110 gms) marshmallows together until deliciously gooey. Then add as many cups of crispy rice cereal, as it would take to ensure all are covered with caramel sauce.



Spread in a heavily buttered roasting pan, or one with parchment paper, until evenly distributed.  A smaller pan will make thicker pieces (duh!). Cool until set. Slice into desired-size squares. Children like these, and adults remember again that they like them.


[Our friend Sheila made these when she and her husband took part in rehearsing and performing the York Mystery Plays. Now, there was an age-free group!].

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All of our operators are busy

All of our operators are busy right now….

(A telephone conversation I wish I could have.)

Hello automated voice? I….yes I KNOW I’m 20th in line, you told me that 12 seconds ago.

And I’ve heard about your website address. You told me that too, but you see, I am on the phone right now. If I am on the phone, there must be a reason why I don’t want to use your website, isn’t there?   It’s obvious that you secretly want me to hang up, that you think of me as a nuisance call, but let me explain. I….

Oh? 19th in line so soon? And I’m cheered to hear that you’re sorry to keep me waiting. One time is enough, not five times a minute.

As I was saying, I don’t want to use the website. I want to talk to a person. We human beings are hard-wired for connection, and these days we are constantly becoming more dis-connected. More disconnection means more addiction, more unhappi…..

I’m 16th in line already? Probably numbers 17 and 18 hung up in  frustration. We – to you – are nuisance calls, aren’t we? Otherwise why do you constantly tell me to go to the website?

I’ll tell you why I don’t.   Because a website is unhuman. And we are losing the interpersonal element in all our people- connections . Our interactions are being obliterated by technology. We need each other in order to be healthy……

Oh? 15th in the queue? There’s hope for me yet.

We’re losing our links with each other.   We are less able to read body language. It’s all right to lie. It’s all right to be unreliable –promising to show up for work or an event, and not appearing. We’ve lost the art of communication.   It used to be called politeness, but that’s just the outward evidence of a shared, deep-seated cultural understanding.

12th now, am I? And you’ve already told me about your call-back system – yet another way to get me off the phone, isn’t it? And you’ll phone me back by 7 pm today? Wonderful. It’s 11.05 am now. So what do you think we callers do…sit around eating bonbons and buffing our nails while waiting 8 hours for your return call?

Communicating is part of being human, why we talk about the weather when we meet. It has nothing to do with temperature or precipitation. It is how stranger opens up to stranger, on safe, non-threatening ground.

9th in queue? Yay – down to single figures!

Frequently asked questions? Oooh yes, I know, because you tell me so often. It’s another directive for me to hang up. I know those FAQs.   I’ve spent hours scanning through them in the past. They must be invented by your marketing department. I mean, really, how many throngs of people want to know how they can donate? No, I’ve never found the answer to my question on any FAQ. And I’m not that unusual. I  just want to speak with a human, that’s all. Make contact.

[ 37 minutes and 8 seconds later — yes really]

A human voice: “Hello, how can I help?

Me, cheerily: “Hello I’d like to change my address please.”

HV: “Sorry, we do not accept address changes over the phone. You need to go to double-you double-you double-you dot…..

Me: “Yes I know your website address. Thank you. Goodby.”

So much for human interaction.

Nutty Cereal Mixings

At last I found a recipe that you can eat with one hand, if you too find yourself waiting on the phone. It’s weird, and many Brits are uncertain whether to pitch in and try it, but I love it. Just making if for you will add pounds to my hips. It is wildly adapted from the sexist Betty Crocker’s Hostess Cookbook, a book so old that I’ve lost the title page so can’t tell you when it was published. I know I’ve been married for 50+ years, and it’s older than that.

Mix together: 1 cup plain Shreddies (little cereal squares, see picture), 1 cup Cheerios, 2 cups small cheese crackers, 2 cups sesame sticks or (if you can find them) small pretzel sticks, ½ lb (500 gms ish) mixed nuts or roasted unsalted peanuts, or the combination of your choice. Spread in roasting pans.

Then, melt 4 tablespoons butter or oil with 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce, ½ tsp garlic salt, ½ tsp celery salt, and 2 teaspoons cumin seed. Pour over the crunchies as evenly as possible. Give them a stir.

Place in a very low oven for 30 minutes, stirring halfway through.   Cool in the pans. Store in air-tight container [I found that round tins are better than plastic].

Alternative addition: chilli powder to taste.



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Greeting Cards


“Faithful friends that are dear to us, gather near to us once more…” goes the cheesy Christmas song we crooned last night at the winter sing-along.  I love receiving cards and letters and news and emails, and telephone calls. I love getting them all.  I put cards up all over the house, sorted by colour, or theme, or some other random criterion that brings together my friends from all over the world into one wonderful, crazily crashing togetherness – people who have no connection with each other are suddenly cheek-to-cheek on a kitchen wall and that makes me smile with pleasure every time I pass them. It’s part of my Christmas delight.



I am still — on the seventh day of Christmas — writing cards.  My “lateness”  is not late at all. I live by the maxim that Christmas preparation can’t start until after Thanksgiving, and every day from December 24th evening until January 5th evening should be celebrated. Yes, it’s exhausting, but someone has to do it. There’s a difference between Advent (the time of preparation) and Christmas time itself.


I love writing cards by hand, feeling, just for that moment, that there is no one else in the universe but him/her and me. A special kind of community that transcends miles.    This year I’ve been especially inspired by  friend Justine who reminded me how important is the hand written message. It’s personal, directed just to one friend, cannot be hacked, can be written on lovely paper with thought and care and soon it becomes a special gift.


She’s right, you know. Her comments made me even more appreciative of our 35000-steps-a-day post person and friend, who manages to deliver mail even when our village is marooned with flooding, who respects our contact details and doesn’t accidentally broadcast personal data to the world electronically (it happened recently ),  who naturally knows where to leave post if we’re away, and is linked to thousands of other post people, all of them real human beings, who can transport my letters from here, a local shop with five feet of counter space that acts as a post office, or

here, a brick wall on a lonely road,

and even here – a box embedded in the wall of a Victorian  pub – all the way to my sister-in-law in Mississippi, or my friend in Dorrigo Australia. Now that’s pretty wonderful.  Are YOU a letter writer, too?

Let’s keep the postal systems alive.

Postbox photos gratefully taken by Ru Holden.  Thanks, Ru!  


Mixed Vegetable Thoran

If you’re still eating your way through humdrum leftovers, here’s a bit of Vegan crunch to perk up a menu, shamelessly adapted from The Hairy Bikers’ Great Curries (a book I value more and more). My photo doesn’t do justice to the dish. It’s really a soft golden colour. The taste reminds me of happy days learning and teaching in India, but I think it’s worth a go, even if you don’t have an India connection. Spicy? Well, that depends how much dried chilli flake you put in.

Put 3 tablespoons of dessicated (dried) coconut in a small boil. Resuscitate with 2 tablespoons water, and leave to soak. Chop ½ a savoy cabbage (curly) and a handful of kale. Grate 2 peeled carrots, slice one peeled onion finely. Heat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a large frying pan. Add 1 tsp mustard seeds (black ones if you have them) ½ teaspoon cumin seeds, and 8 dried curry leaves (optional). Stir fry until the seeds begin to pop, then add the vegetables, dried chilli flakes (a pinch to ½ tsp) ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon turmeric. Stir fry until vegetables are tender, but maintain some crunch. Serve hot.

Note: I think I would have added a bit more turmeric.

Great News from October’s blog,  “The Kindness of Strangers”. A reader had just returned from an exhibition of art work inspired by kindness stories recounted to the artists. More exhibitions are planned for 2020. Check out   And thanks to all of you who share news of the blog with others, or with me. Hooray!

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Welcome to our new house.

When we bought our house I had no idea that its existing inhabitants would be so much trouble and cost so much.

“And here is the pond,” said Steve, the then owner. “We thought at first that we would get rid of the fish and fill it in. But then, sitting here on a summer’s evening with our gin and tonics, listening to the waterfall and watching them slide around the pond was wonderfully soothing.”

The truth dawns!

It sounded idyllic. We bought the house with the pond and followed their feeding advice for a few months. Then came the Truth. Pond water became greener and murkier until we saw no fish at all. Internet research revealed a nearby water garden willing to clean ponds. So, Dave breezed in, declared the plants too big, the water too dirty and made unkind remarks about the “scent” in the filter. He sent us an eye-watering estimate (ker-CHING!) and after deep thought we decided to go ahead.

Biting the bullet

A deposit was necessary — (ker-CHING! again) – and a date was made for them to visit when my Indiana sister Vicki and husband Jim were here, so that it could be part of the entertainment of their stay. We know how to give our visitors a good time!

The day itself

Along came Martin, Pond Man, and Kirsty, Helper and Electrician in a normal sized van. Like Mary Poppins’ satchel, he pulled out more from that van than it could possible have held, but did. First came the holding tank he filled it with our dirty pond water. More equipment followed, then he and Kirsty pulled on boots that went up to their armpits.

HOW MANY ?????

Then – and here we saw his talent for dealing with fish – he netted and gently laid each one into the tank. I stood beside, counting the numbers as fast as I could. 47 in all.

Mirror carp with leaves

When Martin brought out a fifteen-inch mirror carp, much distressed, he held it until it calmed down as he said, “steady boy, steady”, and the fish, soothed, settled down at once. “ I don’t know how to tell males from females so I call them all ‘boy’” he said. “Fish can live two hours out of water as long as they are kept wet. “

Fish Sludge (don’t try to say that quickly)

THEN came the sludge at the pond bottom. Kirsty carried multitudinous buckets of it, pouring it underneath the trees and bushes of our garden. “The plants love it” she said.

Non-human audience

Among the people watchers we were privileged to have a little robin who would not be intimidated by human beings klunking about, and looked for bugs as the water was drained.


We also discovered a frog. It didn’t matter how far into the garden Kirsty deposited it, it found its way back immediately. I bet if you blindfolded it, turned it around three times, it would still be at the pond edge in seconds.

I think we’ll call him Kaiser Bill

A job well done — no fish died.

Soon all was clean and new, the water treated with something from a bottle (ker-CHING!) Kirsty then took over, fitting a new filter and UV light (ker-CHING!)  ker-CHING!) the holes in the pond liner patched by Martin (another ker-CHING!) and all was well.

Uh-oh now what?

Now we could see our beautiful fish very clearly. The only thing is, so could a heron, known to clear a pond of fish in one visit. Me: “I’ll buy a plastic heron to scare them away,” Martin: “Oh no, don’t do that. Another heron will see it, come down to mate with it, and eat the fish. ”

Will it ever end?

I smugly announced that I already had enough fish food to get them through to next year, but I was wrong. When we later brought the water sample to the shop, Dave said, “Winter food – you give them wheat germ and garlic” (yes really) “and we just happened to have a supply for only £11.80” (ker-CHING!). “Oh”, he added, “and here’s the bill for the remaining payment for pond cleaning.” (ker-CHING!)

We turned to leave quickly, but Dave called after us: “And soon you must buy some plants for cover (ker-CHING! yet again).

Expensive G&T

Sigh. Well, at least a waterlily will make the frog happy. But that summertime gin and tonic is rapidly fading into the distance.

Photographs kindly supplied by Indiana sister Vicki Harris and gratefully received!

 My Fidget Pie

Imagine that you’re in an airplane flying above the clouds. All is fluffy and indistinguishable. Suddenly the clouds break and you see beloved Terra Firma below. That’s what this pie is all about.  The break in this ridiculouly fluffy pastry reveals vegetables, ham and apples in a cider sauce.  Sometimes called Huntingdon Fidget, sometimes Shropshire Fidget, but my adaptations will make it unrecognizable by citizens of either county. It was one of the menus – along with Turkish meatballs – I was going to make for my sister, but she didn’t stay long enough to eat everything I wanted her to.

Amounts differ depending on the pie dish you are using. Be sure it has a substantial rim.

Peel and chop one onion, one carrot, one stalk of celery (use potato peeler to shave off the annoying strings along the back before chopping). Saute gently in butter with a dash of oil. Add two small potatoes peeled and diced once these vegetables are tender. Cook until the potatoes are almost tender. Add 2 cups cubed fully cooked good quality ham. Slowly mix ½ cup dry cider with 2 tablespoons flour in a cup, ensuring there are no lumps, then add it to the ingredients in the frying pan. Stir until thickened. Set aside.

Place 3 peeled cored and diced apples in the bottom of the pie pan. Add the contents of the frying pan and mix well.

Roll out one packet puff pastry until it will generously cover the top of your pie. Then take strips of pie dough and place it in a continuous circle pressed to the rim. Wet the rim with water. Now carefully lay the pie crust on top, and gently press the top into the wet strips around the pan. Cut a big X in the middle of the pie, and fold back the triangles this makes. Brush throroughly with a beaten egg..

Bake in a moderate oven (around 375 degrees) for 55 minutes until gloriously brown and bubbly. To serve: cut a wedge through the crust, and remove. Then spoon out the contents underneath and place the crust on top.

Vegetarian option: Omit ham and add soaked sliced  and sauteed dried porcini mushrooms,




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