It isn’t usual that I drag myself out of bed on a grey February morning and drive through the gloom to the front of an old lurking shape of a church, to meet a gathering collection of shapeless strangers, as the birds – in jubilant hope – start to sing. But we were here for what Simon, our priest calls “a hedgerow communion” involving a walk and a very simple take-it-or-leave-it communion service in the open air. The only instruction was to bring a red ribbon. We stopped at the top of a hill to watch a glorious sunrise, silent in awe among the Candlemas Bells that grew in profusion around our ankles.
Then we continued walking, listening to the dawn chorus and the scrunch of our feet on crispy leaves. No need to talk. Even releasing a frantic sheep caught in the thorns required very few words.
At last we arrived at an open space. “This used to be an ancient medieval settlement recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086,” said Simon, as we stood quietly – the curious sheep standing a safe distance away from these hairless human beings. He told us about St Brigid – a feisty Abbess from Ireland, whose inclusivity embraced the Celtic religion, too, and helped to keep their thousand-year-old fire burning. On the grass in front of him, Simon had placed a simple cup and a small loaf of bread on a board. He broke the bread and handed it with the wine around the silent circle. Some people partook; others quietly passed them by. All were included in our Brigid-inspired circle of community.
“And now,” he said, “take your red ribbon and gather the dew. Then hang it on a window at home. Our ancestors believed that it will have healing properties all the year through. These days, we know better, don’t we, and this seems unlikely. But perhaps our ancestors have more to teach us than we are ready to admit.” With amused smugness, I walked in the dew-soaked grass dragging my red ribbon, just pleased to be imitating the same thing that was done by our ancestors long ago. Not expecting anything else.
Later in the week, I noticed that my face started tingling and burning – probably a reaction to something I’d eaten for supper. I took down the red ribbon, held it against my cheek a moment, then put it back. Within minutes, the burning sensation was gone, and my skin was smooth again.
Do you ever suddenly think of a recipe you haven’t done for years, and don’t know why you’ve stopped? For me, dishes like Shoo Fly Pie, Floating Island, and Devon Chicken come to mind. It happened with Spanish Rice, too. I think I might have stopped preparing it when the girls were small because they claimed not to like peppers. This was indelibly set in my mind, until they both returned from university claiming it wasn’t true. I tweaked up Fanny Farmer’s recipe, (The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, 1979) and thought, “this isn’t half bad” which is British for “yummy”. So, it was ready to be tried on my visiting sister Vicki, who helped with the pictures. With very little adjustment, this could be a VEGAN dish.
Oven at moderate to hot (190 C, 375F). Lightly oil a two-quart casserole. Heat 4 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet and add 1 onion, chopped, 1 small green pepper, chopped, 2 cloves minced garlic, 1 rib celery, sliced, and 1 cup sliced mushrooms. Cook over medium-high heat, until onions are soft. Add 1 teaspoon dried basil, 1 teaspoon powdered rosemary, and a half-cup of sliced green olives. Transfer to a casserole dish with a tightly fitting lid. Add 1 tin (can) of chopped tomatoes, ½ teaspoon salt, pepper to taste, and 1 cup long grained uncooked rice. Stir. Then add 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock.
Cover. Bake 30 minutes. Stir. Bake another 30 minutes. If the rice is cooked but still wet, put layers of kitchen roll (paper towel) between the lid and the casserole dish, and pop in the microwave for 5 minutes, a couple of times. Fluff with a fork after each five minutes. Serve with grated cheese of choice.
Alternative additions. Bacon, when frying the vegetables. Drying out any rice dish in the microwave is something I nearly always do, to make it fluffier.