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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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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Nowruz!

Nowruz!

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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