Learning to Read

Six years old….

Canton, China.    My six-year-old heart was burbling with excitement.  Today I would be given my very own book with real words in it!  Today I was going to learn to read.  I rushed to our classroom – an unused room in the servants’ wing of the house, overlooking the canal (windows closed in summer because of the smell) and couldn’t wait for Mother to arrive to start the school day after a child-free second cup of coffee with Dad at breakfast.  We stood in front of the American flag the size of a bed sheet, with its 48 stars representing 48 states and pledged allegiance to an America I barely remembered.  Then — at last, at last ! — I held the book in my hand, still smelling of printer’s ink.  I opened the first page – a picture of a boy, and Mother said, “who’s that?”  “Dick,” I replied.  “You just read that word,” she said.  Oh, the joy!  I could read!  I went on to “Jane, Spot, and Puff” and pages of “oh-oh-oh” and was happy.  But when I got to “the” I was launched!  In church services I would kneel on the concrete floor with the open hymn book on the pew, poring through pages, looking for all the “the” words I could find.  What power!  The door was open into a huge widening world.

Much much later…..

Luton, England

One of the most beautiful experiences in my life was the privilege of teaching adults to learn to read.  We never used text books.  We never started with the alphabet.  We started with a learner’s own words.  I remember one Pakistani grandmother, fluent in spoken English, who had never learned to read.  I knew that she would already have a paper with her name, address, and other details secreted in the voluminous veil-like fabric that enveloped her person, so there was no necessity to start there.  One day, for some blissful reason, she and I were alone together in the classroom.  I asked her about her week.  She explained the vast preparations needed to celebrate the upcoming Eid.  Eid marks the end of Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast.   She described in detail what is expected of getting the house ready – cleaning, new bed linen and clothes, cooking and ensuring that everything is in order.  (Hmmm, maybe there was a lesson for me in preparing for Easter, I thought.)  In all her chatter she said, “For Eid we cook and clean and wash.”

A Learner’s first reading exercise….

I wrote the sentence down.

for Eid we cook and clean and wash.

I wrote her exact words.  Had they been multi-syllabic, or in past pluperfect tense, I would have written them anyway.  This was not a spelling test – spelling would come much later, and would be the words of her choice.

I pointed to the words and read the sentence out loud, several times, until she was ready to try.  She did so, saying the words, thinking quietly each time she arrived at the end of the sentence.  Then I asked her, “where is ‘clean’?”.    She started at the beginning and stopped at the desired word. We always started from the left and went to the right – the way English is written.   We worked with that sentence awhile until she could identify the specific word without starting at the beginning of the sentence.

More challenging now…

Then I cut up the sentence into words and said, “now arrange the sentence in order”.  She thought hard, then did so.  Then, “can you make the words say ‘we cook and wash for Eid’?”  The lesson continued – making different sentences using the same words, and finally letting her scramble the order, just for the fun of how ridiculous they sounded.  Later at home she would look for these words in printed material around the house.

What did this mean?

It was fascinating to watch the miracle of reading start to grow within her.  Near the end of the session, when we had exhausted all that a new brain could take in, she sat in silence looking at the cut-up words.  I respected that silence, letting the enormity of what she had just done sink in.  Here was a woman, confined to the home, expected to raise children and allow them to be educated in a foreign land.  This she had done successfully.   Some of her children had double degrees, but never thought that maybe their mother should learn to read, too.  And now, in this sacred silence, she was actually reading her own words!  The joy of the six-year-old washed over me again as I sat beside her, honoured to be here in this astonishing,  mouth-gaping moment.

Eventually, she turned, looked at me, and said, “shall we do a high 5?”

Pan Haggerty

This recipe is so simple it’s almost embarrassing. It’s more common in the north of England, has many variations, but this, the simplest of all is very, very satisfying on cold winter nights.  The word “haggerty” has the same root as “haggis”, which comes from the French haché which means “chopped”.  This won’t do much to enlighten your day, but might be good for a pub quiz sometime, if we’re ever allowed in.

Oil and/or butter, Potatoes, onion, cheese, salt and pepper.

In a heavy pan with a sealable lid * melt oil, butter, coconut oil, or a combination to coat the bottom of the pan.  Thinly slice peeled onion and line the bottom.  Season with salt and pepper.  Sliced peeled potatoes on the onions.  Season.  Grated cheese on the potatoes.  Continue with layers of  onions, potatoes, cheese until you get to the top of the pan.  End with cheese. Put the lid on.  On a very low burner, cook for 30 minutes or until a knife plunged into the middle assures you that the everything is cooked inside.  Be sure that the onions are so cooked that they melt away into the potatoes and cheese.   Or, do as I did, shove the whole thing in a moderate oven (190 C  or 375 F) until done, about 30 minutes – to an hour, depending on the size of your pan and how thinly you have sliced onions and potatoes.  15 minutes before you want to serve it, heat your grill, pop the whole pan under the grill to crisp up the cheese.  Serve directly from the pan.

*I have done this in a cast iron frying pan, and in a ceramic casserole dish, both with lids,  three times in the oven.  They are fine.  Just be sure that the ceramic can take the grill at the end of cooking.

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TEA!

Shame and stupidity

TEA, three little letters, that, when interspersed with others, can bring comfort, solace, and healing, but left together on their own they detonate into an explosion of grief, shame, humiliation, regret, and stupidity.

I have lived, grown up, worked, or visited in 22 different countries of the world.  For all of them, including my own USA, tea is a fluid, hot or cold, served in cups, mugs, or glasses that are lifted to the mouth (sometimes with a sugar cube between the teeth) and swallowed.

So what is the definition?

Not in England.  When you ask a Brit, “what is tea?” there is silence as the eyes roll to the upper right, and the answer is invariably, “Ahhh.”  Tea is a beverage, yes, but I found out when living with my Yorkshire parents-in-law, that tea is also the heartiest meal of the day, around six in the evening.  It is followed by dessert, which, for some reason they called pudding, even when it isn’t.  Dessert could be fresh fruit compote, or ice cream, or apple pie, but it was still called “pudding”.  The term “supper” applied to the fish and chips or Chinese take-away that is consumed between 10pm and midnight.

The move to Bedfordshire

I thought that Bedfordshire might be different, when we moved there.  But how different could a culture be in a country the size of Alabama?   By then we had a toddler and a newborn baby, little money, and hardly any furniture. There was much to keep me focused indoors rather than out in the community.   We had few local friends then, so when the local Bible Society put on a Bunyan car trip around the county one Saturday, we were delighted to join.

Tinker and preacher

John Bunyan, you may recall, was a Puritan preacher in constant trouble with the authorities of the state religion of Charles I.   Tinker by trade, and enthusiastic evangelist by conviction, he was thrown into Bedford Prison for his unlawful preaching, which he freely did both in and out of jail.   A well-known book he wrote while incarcerated was The Pilgrim’s Progress.  It’s the story of Pilgrim and his journeys to the Celestial City (Heaven).  We were going to visit some possible sites that may have inspired it.

Strange, curious, but ready to join in.

“And bring a picnic tea,” they said.  I was startled by this request, a bit crazy not to have a major meal at home, but I was getting used to crazy.  Just as strange, in my mind as “pudding”.  I complied.

Well, it started out all right.

It was a fascinating trip, looking at this strange county in a new way, imagining Bunyan becoming inspired by his surroundings, and as he walked, writing in his head the story that would appear on paper.  Fascinating, yes, until…..

The ghastly episode

…we got to The Hill Difficulty.  It is Bedfordshire’s highest hill, which might have been difficult for a tinker with a pile of tinkery equipment, but easy for us who drove up.  This was where we were going to have tea,  and where the ghastly episode took place.    I can hardly write about it now, decades later, without re-living the shame again, and how lost and alone I felt.  My palms are perspiring on the keyboard already.

Them and us — two cultures apart.

We sat on the grass, our family a bit apart from the others, but I was watching them closely.  They took out their flasks.  We took out our flasks.  They took out their packet of biscuits.  We took out our home-made cookies (couldn’t afford packaged biscuits)….

…and our cold chicken, and our rolls, and our juice, and our coleslaw, and our carrot sticks, and our potato salad, and our cucumbers and our fruit yogurt for “pudding”.

Embarrassed politeness and humiliation.

They looked at us, smiled politely as they finished a biscuit.  We ate.  They waited.  And waited. And watched, making inane supportive comments the way Brits do when you know it’s driving them crazy and the time is wasting and there is much to see before sundown, but their British politeness demanded that they say nothing. I kept suggesting that we could eat later, but they refused to let this happen, thinking that they were being supportive, but just making the situation more excruciating. The time stretched longer, longer, longer-to-never-ending.

I honestly can’t remember any more of that day, even though the beginning had been so inspiring.  My brain had turned black until we were back in the security of our own home.

Another definition

That night I lay in bed, staring at the darkness in bitter self-criticism.  Stupid, stupid stupid! Why didn’t I remember that the Brits have a third definition for “tea”–  just a biscuit or two beside a cup of hot brew!


Curried Lentil Soup

(Vegan if you want it to be)

This soup took a lot of research.  I was looking for the taste of a dhall soup we had as children in India, comforting and not too spicy – soul food, actually. We ate it with makki ki roti, a corn bread loved by Punjabis (and me).    I looked through a scrappy paperback without a front cover and finally found something I could ponce up to get the taste I wanted.  This soup is wonderful because of its versatility.  Without too many chillies, a pan of it could be left on the doorstep of a family in need.  Or you could save it for the next day and throw in any leftovers you have. Yesterday’s stir-fries and steamed potatoes are great.  Also meat.

Bring to boil ½ lb (8 ozs, 2 cups, 235 gms) of red lentils, a finely chopped small onion, 1 teaspoon of mild curry powder, and about 1 ½ pints (24 ozs, 800ml) of water in a pan.  You want enough water to make a soup, not a dish of dhall.  Cook gently until everything is very soft.  Add 1 tablespoon creamed coconut, or some coconut milk.  Whizz all in a food processor, ensuring it is the right consistency you want for your soup.

While the lentils cook, heat oil or coconut oil in a frying pan, add one large onion finely chopped, a clove of garlic, chopped, 4 thin slices of fresh ginger root, chopped, and (here it’s up to you) 1 or 2 chillies deseeded and chopped or – as I did — a pinch of crushed red chillies.  When onions are softened, put in the food processor with the soup.  Whizz.  Season with salt.  Reheat.  Serve with a thick luxurious blob of yogurt plopped in the middle.  Probably tastier the next day.

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I wish we still had the stocks

 

You could tell she was miserable.  Her sullen angry face stared straight ahead from the audience’s front row, her lips clenched tightly together. You’d think we were torturing her – we probably were.  This concert took place in a bygone era when folk were allowed to come together. It was a simple audience participation song where we in the choir (facing her) asked everyone to join in on the chorus.  They did, with stumbling cheerfulness.  So, who cared what she sounded like?  She had the whole choir to drown her out.  Whatever had happened to make this supposed-to-be-enjoyable experience so excruciating? How many more people are there in our world like her?

Singing is part of being human.  If you listen carefully you will hear babies as small as two weeks old starting to coo and sing.  As they develop you can hear them singing as they play.   If encouraged, singing will be just one way of communicating for the rest of their lives.

Much has been written about singing’s benefits:

  • it exercises major muscle groups in upper body.
  • aids in the development of motor control
  • generates endorphins, the feel-good chemicals
  • ameliorates chronic pain
  • reduces stress — monks in monasteries used to sing to each other
  • boosts the immune system
  • raises energy
  • generates a mood of confidence.
  • a widely accepted health tool: improves cardiovascular symptoms against colds and flu, an aid against depression, used for recovering from heart attacks, possibly lengthens  remission times in  cancer patients; relieves asthma, and definitely brings back memories to those with dementia.

So then, why have I encountered so many many people who make fun of their own singing voices?

  • “Oh you wouldn’t want to hear me sing”.   Why not?  The world hears you speaking.  What’s different?
  • Or “We don’t sing in our family. Singing is bad.”  Now where did that come from?
  • Or “I couldn’t bear to hear myself singing alone.” What, not even in the shower???”

This aversion to one’s own singing voice baffled me for a long time.  I grew up as a missionary child in countries far away from my homeland.  We used to gather around the piano and sing songs familiar to home.  Later, I went to a boarding school with a whole booklet of school songs, praising singing and the school itself, as a way of drawing everyone together into a loyalty that still extends far into our adult life.  University activities involved composing songs to sing to other year levels – some of them wryly insulting, but always in good humour. Student dishwashers sang their way through the grim task of clearing up after a meal.   As an adult there were folk singing groups, and friends who could break into song halfway through a sentence, to illustrate a point – all of this a natural part of life.   So what happened, on life’s journey from birth to adulthood, to create a wall of self-chastisement in others?

I started asking people about their stories and they could all identify a specific instance in their lives.    The poison always came from another person, someone in their life whom they trusted, respected, looked up to.  This person  told them they couldn’t sing, and they believed it.  It might have been a one-off passing remark, or something said in jest.  But it struck home, embedded, and became an Undeniable, Unredeemable Truth in the recipient’s soul, a remark that cemented and blocked away that whole chunk of humanity within them.  Sometimes forever.

“When I was 8 I was so excited that I was joining the choir, I rushed home to tell my father.  He laughed gently as he said, ‘Do they really want a foghorn in the choir?”  She was an adult when I met her, and she still believed it, and she still doesn’t sing.

Another victim: “The teacher listened individually as we sang in a group, pointed to me and said ‘out!’

Still another:  “YOU! YOU! YOU over there! STOP THAT NOISE IMMEDIATELY!” Said to a young boy in an auditorium of classmates . So he did.  Forever.

And of course there’s the stupid music teacher who tells a child,  “only mouth the words; don’t sing and you’ll be fine.”  I meet these “children” 6 decades later and they still believe they can’t sing.

There are  lots of stories of half-lived lives, not benefitting from what is justly and rightly and naturally part of their humanity.  Their destroyers are the people I would love to jump on from a great height.  Their saving grace is that they probably didn’t realise how destructive they had been.  They are NOT funny.  They are life-destroyers who should be publicly castigated.  I wish we still had the stocks.

Some damaged people are willing to let their own voices die within them forever.  “I guarantee you will never get me to sing anything,” bragged one man.  What a waste!

Others, with sticking-point courage refused to accept this as normal.  “My father told me I couldn’t sing and it was only when I turned 60 that I stopped believing him,” said a woman at a party.  Day by day people are sloughing off the shackles that have gripped them.    The Gareth Malones of the world are encouraging people to sing.  There are choirs up and down the nation, zoom choirs still operating, and singers of all abilities longing to come together again. There are Natural Voice Choirs (check out the websites) who welcome and value whatever sound comes out of your mouth.  There are friendships being made, a sense of belonging, a sharing of making music together.

“My husband says to thank you for bringing back my smile,” said a woman suffering from depression, who started attending sing-along sessions.

A man, a recluse all his life without any social skills at all, joined a choir, made friends, and happily worked his identity into society at last.

Two women made the singing group their “girls’ night out together”.

A recently widowed woman, with a crushed saddened heart, made herself go to choir, and slowly found friendship in a new relationship, but also helped others in the group.

I keep hoping that that haunting, haunted, hollow face in the front row will be a face of the past.  I hope that, even with Looming COVID, more people are secretly humming behind masks, freely singing in the shower, making up tunes as they walk in the open air.  Who cares what anyone sounds like!  A personal, unique voice is a thing to love and cherish as part of the mystery of the human being.  “The only thing better than singing”, says Ella Fitzgerald, “is more singing”.  Wherever, and whenever it’s possible, let’s make 2021 a year of song!

What’s your story?

Carrot and Cashew Curry

Some people like to have a curry for Twelfth Night.  Here’s a mild Vegan curry that is warming and substantial.  It is liberally tweaked from Indian Cooking for Pleasure by Premila Lal (Hamlyn 1972).  Chop two onions and two cloves  garlic and let them cook gently in 2 tablespoons coconut (or other) oil. Once they are soft and translucent, stir in 1 teaspoon turmeric, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, and ½ teaspoon ground fenugreek (optional) and cook until the spices don’t smell raw.  Then add 1 teaspoon flour (optional) and cook a minute.   Add half a tin of chopped tomatoes.  Cook for a further two minutes.  Stir in 12 oz (360 grams) peeled and diced carrots – (about 5 or 6)  and 9 ozs (240 gms),  2 cups cashew nut pieces,  a finely minced chilli (deseeded or not), and ½ teaspoon garam masala.  Add about half a cup of coconut milk or creamed coconut diluted with hot waterStir until thickened, cover and let it chuckle gently until carrots are cooked (mine took 45 minutes), stirring now and then.  Serve with chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves.  Season with salt – much needed!

Notes:  The recipe called for 12 ozs cashews (360 gms) , but I only had 9 ozs, (240 gms, 2 cups) and the curry was plenty nutty with the nine.

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Mince Pie Madness

 

The Brits are crazy.  As an American I was absolutely sure of it.  Especially at Christmas time.

When I first arrived in England, an American bride married to my Yorkshire husband, I was baffled by the fact that at Christmas, the busiest, most stressful, most here-and-there-and-everywhere time of year, they spend this most food-clogged season making tiny little ditsy fiddling mince pies.  WHY? is all my foreign brain could plead plaintively.

There was a lot to learn.  First:  what is a PIE?  In America, a pie is a good sized, serves-six-easily work of pastry.  Here, I think, a pie is what we would call a TART, small and dainty that you can hold in one hand, until the rich pastry crumbles down your chest.

And what, for heavens sake, is mincemeat?  In England, people will tell you with a perfectly straight face, “Mince is meat, mincemeat is not.”  There’s usually a pocket of silence, a void, as the foreign brain does a couple of back flips to assimilate this new information.   “Riiiiiight” is the only appropriate answer.

I once shared my perplexity at a writers’ workshop of mixed genres.  “Ahh,” said Historical Fiction, her tea cup paused between saucer and lip, “that’s because in the past the fruit was added to the meat to cover up any tell-tale evidence of the meat being a bit ‘off’”.  Women’s Biographies murmured agreement as she reached for another pie/tart.  And Debut Novelist smiled reassuringly.  So why was I the only one who didn’t comprehend this?  It’s interesting but still doesn’t really explain the wacky nomenclature.

In America we make mince(meat) pies all year round — big decent plate-sized ones, pies with attitude, with character, with gravitas.  The only fuss is an occasional lattice top crust, which enhances their dignity even more.    But here in England, cooks roll out a perfectly decent sheet of pastry and then cut it into tiny frilly shapes to line shallow dents in a metal sheet, then carefully spoon a miniscule whisper of mincemeat into the dent, and cover it with another frilly bit! As if they had all the time in the world!

Some self-inflicting cooks are known to make hundreds of these little mouthfuls every Yuletide.  What a weird country!

It stayed weird for many years.  At last, there was a reason.   I heard it from Sue, another American married to a Brit. It might even be true. Fact or fable, it certainly demonstrates that cooking can be an act of love woven into frenetic holiday activity.  It’s such a tenderly beautiful story that it took my breath away.  Long ago, she explained, the mince pie shapes were oval.  They represented the bed for the Baby Jesus.  The pastry on top was His blanket – or swaddling clothes, (depending on how the story was handed down.)  That’s why the fuss. That’s why they appear at Christmas.

Now, the Puritans, who eventually moved to the America to escape religious persecution (before they actually started doing the persecuting themselves) banned these tiny pies as idolatry — graven images.  However, after a while they longed for their mince pies.  What could they do?  Well, big round pies had nothing to do with the shape of a baby, a bed, or manger, or Christmas.  But everything to do with the taste they longed for.  They still had the old English “receipts” for mincemeat, and indeed, you can find some American recipes that include meat today.  I made up a batch once, still serving the pie as a dessert.   It’s surprisingly, gloriously, richly, delicious and the meat is hardly noticeable.  It’s all in what you are expecting.

But my expectations needed new focus.  These days the stressed are prone to retreat to Mr Kipling for the mince pie gap, but then, where is the tradition, the Christmas Memory, and why fill one’s mouth with second rate food?   Amid the fol-de-rol of Christmas, the exhaustion poured into one day only (why, when there are twelve of them?)  the tinsel, the missing relatives, the debt, the knee-deep wrapping paper, amid all the fuss, these little pastry mouthfuls slither in quietly to remind us of a Christmas Truth-made-tangible.

So now I am proud to join the throng of crazy Brits: up to my elbows in fuss and mess,  lovingly upholding the tradition.   Bring out those diddly-dented pie pans, bring on the rolling pins, the flour, the butter, the aromatic mincemeat, the steamy spice-scented kitchen! I’m all for it!  Hurrah — it’s Christmas!

And, here’s a Yuletide greeting for you:  may the crumbs that fall on your chest this season bless you and your celebration, however curtailed it is, and bring gladness in the coming year.

Cranberry Sauce – Two types

No way, am I going to tell you how to make your own mince pies.  Each cook has specific customs – whether it’s brandy in the mincemeat or a smudge of cream cheese under the top pastry, or even using dried cherries or cranberries.

Instead, here are two versions of cranberry sauce.

Cranberry relish.  A family familiar. Into a food processor fling in a thin-skinned whole orange, sliced, with seeds removed, 2 cups fresh cranberries, 1 cup sugar, and two walnut-sized lumps of stem ginger, sliced.   Whizz until chopped and well-mixed.  That’s it.  Make it 2 days before you want to use it, so that the flavours hold hands.  Good with any roast meat, in brie sandwiches, or in your next batch of muffins.

Cranberry Sauce.  Even easier:. Empty 2 cups of fresh cranberries into a saucepan, or better yet, a slow cooker.  Add 1 ¾ cups of sugar and a slosh of boiling water (2 – 3 tablespoons).   Slowly cook while you do other things.  Once the cranberries start popping it’s done.  Cranberries are high in pectin and once cooled the sauce will thicken by itself.  Nigella * suggests adding two tablespoons of cherry brandy once it’s cooked. Loveleeeee!

(*Nigella Christmas, Chatto and Windus, 2008.)


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The Magnificent Clash of Cultures

“Miss Judy, will you come on Thursday to share our bread and salt, as we say?”

“Oh, thank you for the invitation.  I would love to come.  But bread and salt are all I will share, because in the evening we Americans have our Thanksgiving celebration, with a big feast.”

“Good.  We normally do not have much to eat. Come to our house at 12.”

I was in Egypt, teaching and living at a girls’ boarding school in Assiut (halfway between Cairo and Luxor) and was eager to make friends.  Surprisingly I found the place with no difficulty and was warmly welcomed, shoe-less, into the house.  There, I was offered the obligatory drink from the living room fridge — a status symbol, yes, but very handy for serving drinks in a land where temperatures could easily soar to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (49 Celsius).  No matter how short a visit, I found that it was customary always to accept something to eat or drink.  I think this must have started long ago when the guest had to show her trust in the host not to poison her. 

Looking back now at my 25-year-old Self, I am surprised that with the existing knowledge of Asian and Middle Eastern hospitality in my background, I had absolutely no suspicion whatever of what “bread and salt” could have meant. Youth? Naivete? Stupidity?

But as I sat there, Reality set in. Scents wafting from the kitchen prophesied far more than bread and salt. Aromas betrayed roasted pigeon, succulent aubergines stuffed with rice, minced lamb and pine nuts; grape leaf mahshi —leafy bundles bursting with surprise fillings, skewered lamb pieces, thick warm flatbreads in their whole-wheatey goodness, pasta dishes, my favourite ta’amaya (Egyptian  falafel),  cinnamon spiced beef stews, and who knows what else!

I was right.  Mounds of food, — fresh vegetables and salads as well – emerged, all waiting to be eaten.  In Egypt I never served myself.  This was dangerous, and that day it was most dangerous.  Every time my plate was emptied and I was offered more, I would say “no thank you”, the server would smile and ladle on another portion.  This went on through to the desserts of rice puddings, baklava, kunafeh pastry, and glasses of tea.  I couldn’t keep up.  I had been taught that clearing one’s plate was a good thing.  A polite thing to do, especially with someone else’s cooking. Children were often praised for their empty plates.  “Kiss the cook!” my Dad would proclaim joyously when we’d cleared all the dishes. It meant that the food was so good, we couldn’t allow a scrap of it to remain.   But here it was an impossibility, and my “No thank yous”, often expanded into paragraph-long protests, were only met with a smile….and more food. 

I staggered back along the streets, ready for the next onslaught – a long buffet table spread out in the garden* with all the traditional, wonderful soul food to celebrate that first Pilgrim Thanksgiving in America, food that made this day so special.  I couldn’t not eat, could I? At least here served myself. But there were so many dishes, that even taking the tiniest, squitchiest,  teensiest, weensiest spoonful of each temptation created another mounded plateful. 

[*Garden parties were no problem at all.  In Egypt, with an average rainfall of half an inch per five years, we never worried about rain. School assemblies took place on the playground, the Head on a balcony above with sound enhancement. Moonlit picnics (oh! the desert in full moon! So gaspingly beautiful!) were planned months in advance. It did, however, rain once while I was there. Great muddy globules fell apologetically for twenty seconds, then excused themselves and left.  “Now see what you’ve done!” the students had accused. Apparently it was the foreigners’ fault.]

Back to the dorm, heaving a huge bloated painful body up the three flights of stairs to our rooms, I collapsed face downward on the floor in front of my friend Carolyn, whose Egyptian experience surpassed mine by 18 months.  “Stand on my back,” I urged from her feet.  “It might make me feel better.” 

It was only then that she gave me the clue: “Never mind our upbringing,” she said. “The way to deal with this is to leave a portion on your plate.  This tells the host that you have had enough to eat.”

Simple, wasn’t it?  Why didn’t I think of it myself? Youth?  Naivete?  Stupidity?  Probably.  

 

Apple Butter

Herefordshire, happy with its apples, is producing them abundantly this year.  Each path, each road, has small stands of boxes and bags of them, begging to be taken away and used.  Here’s a recipe for long-term storage.  Like peanut butter, it contains no butter.  (But they taste good together.)  Like other jams it can be mixed with yogurt for dessert, used in tarts, spreads, cake centres and lovely on buttered toast.  Unlike other jams it can be used instead of fat in muffins, quick breads, and cakes (but cut down on the sugar).  Wonderful with fruited cakes.  This recipe comes from my food-stained The Fanny Farmer Cookbook (Boston School of Cooking).

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Take 4 lbs of tart apples, wash, de-stem, cut them into pieces, with cores, seeds, skins and all.  Put them in a heavy-bottomed pot. 

Cover with 16 ozs, ½ litre ish, cider, cider vinegar OR water.  Cook until soft.  Put through a sieve, colander, or food mill.  (Cook down to remove excess water if necessary.)  Measure.  For every cup of pulp, add ½ cup of sugar.   I used preserving sugar, just because I had some.   

To the whole mixture add, 2 teaspoons cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cloves, ½ teaspoon allspice, and the grated rind and juice of 1 lemon.  

Cook covered, gently, until all sugar is dissolved.  Uncover, bring up the heat and stir constantly until it is smooth and thick when spooned onto a cold plate.  (During this time, I read a book holding it with one hand as I stirred with the other.)  This batch took about 40 minutes of cooking time.  Pour into hot sterilized jars and seal. 

 

 

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GRRRRRR!

Whatever is this world coming to?  I looked again at the document.  “I can’t sign this,” I said.  No punctuation marks.  A relative clause so far from its parent verb that it wasn’t even a distant cousin.  A spellcheck-reliant secretary who didn’t know the difference between “apologies” and “apologises”.  What kind of trust could I give to a lawyer with a document like this when it is my WILL she is creating, for heavens sake!  I have to sign this paper in her presence – she whom I have yet to meet (because of lockdown) who has photocopies of my identity, but I don’t hers?

I’ve spent a teeth-gritting life over poor spelling and grammar, and did my best to bring up both children in the sure and certain knowledge of correct written English.  One daughter calls me the Apostrophe Police.  The other is irritated that she now sees the difference between “less” and “fewer”, noticing its incorrect usage everywhere.  Don’t get me wrong.  I gleefully I misspell my shopping list, and regularly get missives with mistakes.  Fine.   Friends love each other’s messages no matter how they are spelled.  Children’s notes are especially cherished.

But this is a WILL.  It’s hard enough to come to terms with one’s own death without being appalled at the condition of the papers that go with it.

I don’t know why we have waited so long to get these wills written.  It might have something to do with what Daughter calls my manic defense against death, and what I call a rich and fulfilling life without time for thoughts of not living.

In order to recognize “our” lawyer, I looked her up on the website.  I had a choice from three different blond actors, a black-suited woman, and a gravestone (yes really).  I took the black-suited woman as the possibility.

The day of the signing arrived.  I drove the twelve miles to Hereford, pulled up and yanked on the hand brake in almost the same spot where I was stung for £25 previously, by misreading their Font 2 printed parking regulations.

We waited outside the solicitors’ building, so as not to sully their reception area with our breath.  Then, masks on, we were admitted into the heavily sanitised environment.  Eyes searched the walls for a portrait gallery of those who worked here.  Nothing.   I’d have to rely on website identification.  We were sat at tables crammed together to provide enough distance between Us and Them to need a megaphone to communicate.  Then waited.

And in came Black Suit, cordial and professional.  Her luminous lavender nails hinted at a Life Beyond Legal Documents, which pleased me.   Surprisingly, we had a jolly time, full of laughter and bonhomie.  Then it dawned:  this wasn’t about Death at all, but rather about ensuring a way for the scrapings of our remaining wealth to be given to those we loved.  The punctuation-free documents were passed off with a, “I know, isn’t it awful.  But that’s the way wills are written these days”.

I wondered how my parents’ generation would have viewed them.  I thought of Aunt Dorothy, and my mother – not related, but both sticklers for grammar and punctuation.  One of Mom’s stories came to mind:

A teacher was in the middle of a lesson on punctuation when an inspector bumbled in, and stood glowering, arms folded and breathing heavily.  Finally, he could bear it no longer and blustered, “Boys and girls, punctuation is a thing of the past!  You don’t need to learn this stuff any longer!” The tirade continued as the teacher quietly wrote on the board:

The inspector says the teacher is a fool.

He noticed it and mumbled, “well er, yes, I agree”.  Then the teacher added punctuation:

“The inspector,” says the teacher, “is a fool”.

 

Pasta with Four Cheeses

 

When we finally have wisdom to know the difference between the things we can, and cannot change, and admitted to the latter, the only way out is to grab some calorie comfort.  I have made this casserole for many bring-and-share meals, because it goes well with anything, especially lifting disappointed hopes.  Some of you, I know, have been waiting for this recipe.

 

Put 450g of pasta of your choice in lots of boiling salted water.  Be sure that there’s enough salt to taste in the water, before throwing in your pasta.  Actually, this wasn’t my choice of pasta (I wanted elbow macaroni).  But we’re in a Pandemic World War, so we take what we can get.  That’s what we do when there’s a war on.

 

Meanwhile, make the sauce.  Melt 4 tablespoons (4 ozs. 120 grams) butter in a saucepan over low heat.  Add 4 Tablespoons flour (2 ozs, 50 grams), 1 teaspoon mustard powder, ½ teaspoon paprika, and ½ teaspoon salt.  [Optional extras at this point are onion powder and/or garlic powder – about ½ teaspoon each.]

Continue to cook over low heat, stirring constantly, until the sauce doesn’t smell raw.  Remove from heat.  Slowly add 2 cups whole milk (16 ozs, ¾ pint 450 ml).  Return to a medium heat and stir constantly until the sauce thickens and just starts to boil.  Remove from heat again and add a small tub of original cream cheese (180 g.)

Over low heat stir until smooth.  Slowly stir in 240 grams (8 ozs ) grated mature cheddar cheese, or a  good strong hard cheese.    Taste the sauce.  If it isn’t “cheesy” enough, add finely grated parmesan cheese until it does so.

Fold in the well-drained cooked pasta.  Butter an appropriately sized casserole dish, and place half the pasta-and-cheese mixture in one even layer.  Now finely dice one mozzarella ball of cheese into small pieces.  Warning: mozzarella cheese is STRINGY!  Keep the pieces well apart from each other!  Otherwise you and your fellow diners can have competitions on who can make the stretchiest string.

 

 

 

Now add the rest of the pasta-and-cheese mixture.  Top with buttered bread crumbs mixed with 2 tablespoons finely grated parmesan cheese. 

 

 

 

 

Bake in a moderate oven (around 375F, or 190C) for about an hour, until gurgly, or bubbly, depending on how saucy the sauce is.

         

 

 

 

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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

 

 

 

 

filling

 

 

 

 

 

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 foodwishes.com 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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Mary

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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