Sunday, 31 October 2010

Summer's End

Sunday 31st October

Day 193

They say that tonight, All Hallows Eve, is when the veil between this world and the other world is at it’s most fragile. Easy for the spirits - both good and bad - to pass through.

They say that tonight, Samhain, which means Summer’s End in old Irish, marks the beginning of the dark half of the year.

Still, my husband comes home in the fading dusk - when yesterday it would still be the afternoon - bringing a bunch of sweet peas from the allotment. Their petals are bruised with rain drops.They carry a faint perfume and a memory of all the colours of July - lavender, rose and fuschia.

I draw the curtains against the night and put potatoes to roast in the oven, and on the shelf below a plum and apple crumble crunchy with hazelnuts.

And I think about my father who has been in bed all day with a dizzy head, who can’t get to the loo or the phone. So I wish I was one of those spirits who could slip through the shadowy border and visit him with a cup of hot chocolate - and still be home for supper.


Saturday 30th October

Day 192

This morning I leave one dear sister in the company of our father and drive with my other dear sister through twisting country lanes drenched in the edible colours of autumn - russet apples and pears, loquats and plums, pumpkins and butternuts. I can’t help remembering Vermont’s cherry red sugar maples. I loved them - but these towering beech trees with their web of wet black branches, sprinkled with old gold and resting in a deep sea of fallen copper leaves feel familiar, ancient and majestic.

Later, standing in the living room of the house my nephew and his wife are planning to buy, she introduces me to her friend -

‘This is my aunty-in-law.’

I like it - a new way to describe the roles in our expanding family. It makes me feel as warm as a beech tree, rustling my leaves in the sunshine.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Not Dancing in the wind

Friday 29th October

Day 191

After our breakfast treat at the Avocet Cafe we walk by the estuary. The tide is high, the waves all churned up with mud, sloshing against the harbour wall. The tethered fishing boats and rubber dinghies bob about on the water. Wires clack against masts. Yellow leaves swirl around our feet then are hoisted in the wind in an airborne waltz, joined by new ones snatched from the swaying trees.

The bitter sweet tang of dark Seville marmalade lingers in my mouth as we shout to each other above the noise of the blustering sky.

I think about my cousin who is younger than me, so frail now with his illness, that if he stood here this wind would uproot him like a badly planted sapling. As for dancing - not even the Shuffle for him.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Kitchen Smells

Thursday 28th October

Day 190

These are some smells that have scented my kitchen today -

Sharp, fresh and green - a pineapple and spinach smoothie - before we drove to the hospital for my husband’s MRI scan.

Fishy - pussy cat tuna.

Faint sweet jasmine - sprays of white solarnum crispum, still flowering all over the fence - arched in my mother’s rosebud vase.

Dark, rich roast coffee - the aroma of Sunday mornings and holidays - today a treat shared with a dear friend at the table, a circle of speckled grape vine leaves round the burning lemongrass candle.

Earthy, salty, savoury, nutty - parsnip and broccoli soup and hot-toasted pumpkin seeds.

And this afternoon the scent of the empty kitchen when I’m not there. What is the perfume of waiting to come home? Waiting for good news. A hungry smell.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

The Colours of my Day

Wednesday 27th October

Day 189

I text my husband sorry for being grumpy and curt this morning at breakfast. I say it’s because I’m anxious about my father’s doctor’s appointment and because I saw the black cat by the back door and I’m afraid he’ll start scaring our pussy cat and the whole spraying thing will happen again. ( I did throw an empty plastic water bottle in his general direction - it was too early to shout in the garden - but he took his time to saunter off and leap over the fence.)

My husband sends me back love in a text. I let my worries sit beside me in the car and every now and again they change colour and fade from black to pearly grey.

In the surgery waiting room my father tells me he’s preoccupied with the difference between chance and design. I say I don’t think things are ever a coincidence.... the people you meet. He calls me a fatalist but I can’t explain how I think everything is connected. We laugh a lot too. The doctor writes him a prescription. I feel lime green with relief.

It’s a shining bright New England afternoon and on the way to the park I walk through the quiet half term streets, bending to pick up samples of the dry bronzed leaves scattered on the pavements. I want to identify them in the tree book when I get home.They are like the colours of the new carpet I’ve chosen for my study - crushed autumn leaves flecked with the red earth of Africa. To remind me to keep my feet on the ground and my judgements light.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Tartless Tatin

Tuesday 26th October

Day 188

Today my contribution to our bring-food-to-share lunch with dear women friends was salad and a pudding. I had Tart Tatin - upside down apple pie - in mind, but being still this jet lagged my morning dribbled away and I ran out of time. So I just made the apple part - you let sliced eating apples bubble away in butter and sugar till they start to caramelise. Mine weren’t quite translucent by the time the sugar was turning into a golden amber so I added the zest and juice of two oranges ( and a squirt of lemon to cut the sweetness) and that bought them a few more minutes to soften.

We ate them in their sticky orange puddle with a swirl of natural yogurt and a sprinkling of toasted flaked almonds. I don’t think anyone missed the tart part.

PS. I just looked up the origin of Tart Tatin - The story goes that it was invented by mistake by Stephanie Tatin who, with her sister, Caroline, owned the Inn Tatin in France. They made wonderful apple pies by first sauteing the filling in butter and brown sugar. One day in 1898 Stephaine was so tired she forgot the apples and they caramelised and burned. To rescue her mistake she covered them with pastry and put the whole pan in the oven. And then served it upside down. Customers loved it. It became a classic when it appeared on the menu at Maxime’s in Paris.

So you never know what you can create even if you are knackered.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Speed Dieting

Monday 25th October

Day 187

Tonight I’m speed blogging. Like speed dating where you have a few minutes to get your life details across to a stranger, I only have a little time - to get to the point.

So...... in America I ate too many blueberry muffins and maple walnut ice creams. Now my jeans are tight. My husband says he wants to lose weight too. We plan a week of juicing with green vegetable soups for supper because it’s cold.

Breakfast - I cram the super duper juicer with our shed stored apples and allotment spinach, shop bought pineapple and celery. It makes two huge glasses of wake up liquid amber zinging with ginger, lime and goodness.

I make another gallon for lunch - velvet smooth with avocado - green as the Limpopo River.

By 2 pm I’m thinking about grilled salmon and mashed potatoes. And butter.

At 4 pm I eat two apples and two oat cakes and a handful of cashew nuts.

7 pm - I tip yesterday’s left over veggie dishes into a pan with water, the kitchen fills with savoury comfort smells. We eat our hot soup supper and smile.

At 10 pm my husband says ‘ A cup of tea?’

‘Yes, please.’

‘Have we got any chocolate?’


‘Shall we have some?’


Luckily we have plenty of time to make another plan for tomorrow.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Vegetable Conversation

Sunday 24th October

Day 186

I don’t know what I’m going to cook yet. I trust something will happen if I start chopping. Spread out on the kitchen counter is a bright kaleidoscope of produce - most culled from the allotment yesterday - for which I’m deeply grateful - especially to my lovely husband.

I start with a leek and slowly our supper separates out into three different recipes - the nature of the vegetables guiding me, talking to me. The roots want to stick together so carrots, tiny potatoes and a knobbly jerusalem artichoke end up simmering with the leek in one pan.The shiny purple aubergine nudges me towards the last two courgettes and long crisp green peppers ..... of course - ratatouille! And into the pan goes a red onion, soft ripe tomatoes - the bad bits cut off - lots of garlic and chopped parsley. At the last minute I open a tin of butter beans and shoot them in with some fresh chilli. So my ratatouille becomes a spicy vegetable stew.

The third pan is packed with greens - chopped broccoli, cabbage, beans and pak choi ready to be steamed and butter tossed. Now my vegetable conversation is over. I wonder what tomorrow’s topic will be.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Mud and Thanks

Saturday 23rd October

Day 185

A row of bulging, mud splattered carrier bags lounging on the kitchen floor. Wet green leaves spilling out of their tops.

A dripping, mud caked husband standing at the sink scrubbing horseradish roots, jerusalem artichokes and hairy carrots.

A blustery sun and rain washed day at the allotment.

I wish I was more grateful for this glistening harvest, straight out of the earth. Straight into my kitchen. Tomorrow I will remember to give thanks. Now I need to start mopping up.

Friday, 22 October 2010


Friday 22nd October

Day 184

An autumn vegetable stew is simmering on the stove - satisfying my craving for all things green and fresh - the spikey lime green turrets of a minaret cauliflower, the tight crinkles of dark forest neroli cabbage that I bought in the farmers’ market yesterday. I’ve missed choosing and chopping our meals.

Editing the too many photos on my computer, I crop and straighten misty New York skyscrapers, vermillion sugar maple leaves in Vermont, the white spires of clapperboard churches against brilliant blue in Maine, the curving beaches of Cape Cod and smiling faces above huge plates of food in dimly lit restaurants - everywhere.

This evening my legs take me automatically to the university parks where most of the leaves are still green except for some oak and sycamore turning rusty gold. And standing out in the gloom a couple of bright burning bushes - maples on fire. I know these trees - their seasons are part of my life now.

They call it leaf peeping, in America - gazing at the forests and valleys clothed in glorious autumn colour. We viewed this shining beauty from the car, stopped to take photos at the side of the road. I wish now we’d had more time - to linger in the woods, to kick through dry carpets of leaves, to hike up mountain trails and feel this crimson foliage fall on our faces.

I think peeping is like marvelling at the giant pumpkins and twenty varieties of apples in the street markets of Boston and not being able to taste them.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

The Dimension of Jet Lag

Thursday 21st October

Day 183 ( 17 lost blog days)

What’s the difference between jet lag and tiredness?” asks our friend.

We are at Heathrow coach station waiting to start the last leg of our journey home. It’s a cold and grey 7 am. My body thinks it’s 2 am and would like to be asleep in a queen-sized bed in Boston. I think jet lag sounds more serious and exotic than just being tired - as if you left something behind in another dimension.

Since we got back yesterday, my feet are on the ground, tracing the familiar paths of our home but the rest of me is rolling in a glass bubble. I’m bumping into my old life but it feels unreachable - as if my finger tips are numb.

The pussy cat clings to me - close as a petticoat. He pads behind me or sits and watches me, unwavering eyes, as I chop broccoli in the kitchen, or fill the washing machine with our clothes that smell of air-conditioned hotels, or stand, confused, in front of the new room thermostat in the hall, trying to understand how to programme the heating.

I lost myself in the bright picture post card of New Engaland these last few weeks. I haven’t found my way home yet. I expect it’s just jet lag.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Last Entry

Sunday 3rd October

Day 165

I’ve been putting it off - writing my last entry for a while. I’ve bought myself a pretty notebook to write at least one line a day - a la Beethoven - when we are in America. I’ve noticed how it has changed me - blogging every day for 165 days. I’ve put myself on the map. A map that wasn’t there before. I’ve noticed how it’s easier now to type straight onto the computer, how my handwriting is almost illegible now. How I will miss it.

My empty echoey study will smell of fresh new paint - Dulux Apricot White - when we come back and we’ll have a new boiler humming on the wall in the kitchen. Tonight I’m tethered in limbo - not packed but already in another continent.

Now my husband is calling me to supper. He makes excellent poached eggs on toast.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

Brief Summer Encounter

Saturday 2nd October

Day 164

I pick the snails off the back of the patio chairs and brush away the red maple-shaped leaves of the Russian vine sticking to the seats. My husband had stacked them away in the shelter of the fence, thinking summer was over.

We eat our scrappy salad lunch at the wooden table, our faces turned to the unexpected gift of warm sunshine. A trickle of dirty brown water from the leaking boiler runs between the pots of pink begonias and red geraniums - still blooming as if it was July. I realise the remnants of yesterday’s headache have floated away like feather fluff on the wind.

And now there is all that holiday ironing to do before I collect my sweet elder sister from the station. Maybe I’ll ask her to help me as she is a master ironer.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Coffee Tears

Friday 1st October

Day 163

I had a little cry outside The Body Shop this morning. My husband took me to a Cafe Nero and bought me a cappuccino. I cried into that too. Not sure why the tears came so easily - suddenly felt too tired to go on.

Earlier we heard a terrible yelping, followed by shouting and several men running towards a long legged black dog in the middle of the road, limping in circles, in the rain, disorientated. Maybe it was hit by a car. I was glad those men knew what to do. A natural instinct to run and help.

I like the saying that ‘you are never upset for the reason you think.’ Maybe the hurting dog reminded me there is always help close at hand. I just have to ask.