Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A Sad Fish Pie

A friend sent me this in an email today - a quote from Henry David Thoreau.

What lies before us and what lies beyond us are small matters compared to what lies within us.

I want to think that what lies within me is access to a Self that is full of love and compassion and beyond the pettiness and meanness of my small self.
 But tonight I notice that what lies within me is a huge disappointment that the fish pie I cooked today for my husband's family was dry, the sauce all split and gone and overwhelmed with more mashed potato than fishy contents. 
They were all sweet and polite and said it tasted good but the point of a pie is its creamy texture as well as flavour.
And then I wonder why instead of remembering the lovely evening in their rare company, and the delight of their little daughter, I choose to feel bad about my fish pie....and in the context of what's really important why am I making that my focus....

 Maybe it's better to focus on a sad fish pie than the other sadness in my life.....or just to love what arises...... and trust it's another house guest sent as a guide from beyond. 

Signing off now for a while....wishing you love and peace this Christmas time.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Faith Is The Bird That Sings....

A friend sent us this poem by Tagore on the front of a Christmas card....I've been thinking about it all day.....tidying up my house.....getting ready for Christmas....making a chocolate chestnut roulade.... warming up sesame cheese biscuits for friends coming to tea....reading a  Christmas letter to my husband - translating/simplifying it.....listening to a report on the news about American veterans wounded in Afghanistan....22 veterans commit suicide every day......

is the
to the
it is


Friday, 19 December 2014

Lost Heart

I lost heart today.....couldn't steamroller myself into my to-do list.....forgot how to be brave and cheerful ......didn't want to communicate.....awash with tears and weariness.....even  a clean  blue sky and the sun warm on my back walking home from the onslaught of Christmas shoppers in town didn't penetrate the  heaviness of my heart..... I kept thinking about some friends whose daughter is in crisis, in a horrible place, feeling their sadness.....don't know what usually keeps me going but it flew away today....sure it'll be back tomorrow though.....I'll fill the house with the smell of mincemeat shortbread and wrap some gifts for the little people in my life who I love so much......and try and bear it that my husband can't remember their names.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

How To Peel A Chestnut

These are the vegetables I cut up before roasting them for our Solstice/Deeksha celebration tonight, including golden beetroots, yellow carrots, orange sweet potatoes and butternut squash -all the colours of summer.  I start peeling the fresh chestnuts I brought back from Portugal  to make the veggies more seasonal. Delia says slit them, boil for 10 mins and then remove hard outer skin and soft inner skin - both snugly attached to wrinkled folds of the creamy kernel.

After several interruptions - the men come back to inspect the conservatory roof-( another leak last night), a call from the garage - the starter motor on my husband's car is falling apart - should they replace it at the same time as the leaking oil pipe at a total cost of £500? and the post arrives with an overdue tax demand, and Christmas cards - I need to explain to my husband who they are all from....and I need to ring a friend for car advice and our accountant for tax advice. 

By the time I return to peeling the chestnuts they have gone cold and are even more unwilling to give up their firm sweet flesh. I persist for awhile then rapidly lose the will to live so I open a tin of already perfectly peeled ones and add them to my small bowl of crumbled chunks. I douse them in heavenly lemon olive oil, a deliciously fragrant Fig and Date balsamic vinegar and stir them into the roasted veggies with some crushed toasted cumin and a handful of chopped coriander. Then I whizz up the red pepper, tomato, chilli and smoked paprika sauce that I cooked this morning and we drive over to our friends' house to celebrate the ending of our year.

Looking back my year has felt a bit like trying to peel a chestnut - hard and resistant and curled in on itself.....and yet I also feel a softening, something helping me to crack through my outer shell to find the sweet kernel inside. And that something is love. Both the giving and the receiving of it - which of course is the same thing. It was so radiant and powerful in the room tonight - even though we are deep  in the darkest time of the year -  I felt as warm as summer and lighter than I've felt for ages.

Thank you to all of you for reading me and accompanying me in the peeling open of my life  - you make more difference to me than you may know.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Gingerbread Marathon

A Gingerbread marathon

It was going to be easy - just make a big batch of gingerbread mixture, cook it in 12 nonstick cardboard cases - and then 'hey presto' - 12 festive little Christmas presents. But as often is the case when I'm not exactly sure what I'm doing - winging it a bit - my hey presto turns into a late night marathon. Starting at lunch time and ending up with my helpful husband working round me, trying to make us eggs on toast for supper and put away the washing up, while I fiddle about in a strop with how to wrap the final results which are the best of my four batches.

First I research recipes.....settle on Nigel Slater's Light Gingerbread....like the chopped stem ginger in it...but I fill the cases too full ( never used them before) - and the gooey mixture herniates out over the edges and burns on the baking tray.

I decide it doesn't look dark and sticky enough to be Christmas gingerbread......go out to Morrison's, buy tins of black treacle....and make a batch of Katie Stewart's Old Fashioned.....which cooks much quicker than Nigel's and although the stars end up looking like my idea of gingerbread, I know they will be dry and dull.

So I cut up one of the first herniated stars, taste it, decide it's a good flavour and texture ......make another batch of Nigel's recipe ....only half fill the cases....but the tops still split open and ooze......so make a syrup with fresh grated ginger and spoon it over while they are still warm.

Still not enough stars I'm happy with so I make another batch but this time the flour is different and they don't rise very much.....but I've run out of ginger and stamina .....and my perfectionist tiara is slipping over my nose.....  decoration/presentation is not my forte. So I decide to call it Ginger Drizzle Cake and trust my friends will taste the baked-in love - whatever it looks or tastes like.

As I write this I remember I have a really good recipe for Gingerbread that I wrote and perfected  myself a few years ago....I often made it for my father's birthday in November as he was a great ginger fan. I keep thinking about him and his last Christmas....missing him.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

You Just Have To Live

Understanding Death

A  friend sent me this today.

I don't think I am afraid of dying ....rather I'm afraid of the ones I love dying....almost an unbearable thought....so better to get on with the living. Maybe my search for the HOW to live well could be a distraction for getting on with it.....enjoying the moments......like the ones I had today sharing a Christmas coffee and warm cheese scones with friends in a cafe....like receiving lovely Christmas messages, cards, emails...like splashing fragrant rose water, instead of brandy, into my bowl of sticky glistening mincemeat...relishing the prospect of another alcohol-free year ahead.....honouring my husband's big hearted commitment to me....

And I'm so grateful I don't live in Pakistan, this time round, and that I'm not feeling the anguish of the mother whose son died at school today..... or the pain of the man who shot him.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Roasting Cabbage/ Exploding Squash

Sprout tops tossed in coconut and olive oil, salt and pepper,

Romanesque cauliflower tossed in olive oil,  toasted cumin seeds, salt and pepper....carrot batons coated in coarse grain mustard, olive oil and pomegranate molasses ( instead of honey)  - a gift from my niece in Beirut,

and then all roasted. They don't look so pretty but taste wonderful.

The little gem squash

that exploded in the pan of boiling water.

I'm inspired to do something different with veggies after reading Henry Dimbleby in the Cook section of the weekend Guardian. He says his co-writer of the column, Jane Baxter is 'arguably the country's greatest vegetable cook'. She used to run the Riverford Farm kitchen in Devon where I have eaten many times and have had many memorable veggie dishes there.

She says her secret is to never boil or steam a vegetable ( apart from peas, green beans and new potatoes) and roasts them instead - including cabbage.

So tonight I tested her theory and have to say it worked wonderfully on flavour and texture - although I did miss the bright emerald greenness of just cooked leaves. And more calories of course with all that oil.

I ignored her advice about cooking the little gem squash (which coincidentally I bought in Riverford Farm shop on Saturday) and did what we always did in Africa when I was growing up, and boiled it whole like a little football. Unfortunately I forgot to pierce the hard outer skin and it exploded with a pop in the pan - like an egg in the microwave - leaving stringy strands of innards in the water. Luckily it split roughly in two so I rescued it and steamed it instead.

And I wouldn't eat it any other way - discard the seeds , scoop out the spaghetti-like sweet flesh and mash up with lashings of butter, black pepper and salt. You can't really mess with the taste memories of childhood....

You can read Henry Dimbleby and Jane Baxter here -here

Friday, 12 December 2014

A Beauty and a Blessing

All your past except its beauty is gone, and nothing is left but a blessing.

A Course in Miracles.

If I try and understand this with my head I get in a muddle - lots of ugliness in my past - but I can get a glimpse of its blessing if I come at it obliquely - with the softness my heart.

I had  the gift of a wonderful massage this morning.....hot volcanic stones - black, smooth, oily scented -  drawing out the toxins in the tight as fists muscles in my back. Now I'm wondering how to stay relaxed in my too much Christmas drama.

 Luckily making mincemeat is on my list for tomorrow.....messing about in the kitchen with lovely ingredients is the best bit for me..... such a blessing.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

A Magic Potion To Dispel All Inner Darkness

I wish I could bottle this shining Portuguese light .....and sip it every day.... a magic potion to  dispel all inner darkness.

This morning, in a steamed up cafe, I cried a bit into my hot chocolate while my sister listened to me, helped me unravel the mysteries and dramas of my harsh inner critic. Sharing half an almond chocolate brownie, half a lime polenta cake, both sweet and light, helped a lot too.

   I woke up just now with the knobbly imprint of my husband's thick knitted jumper on my cheek - didn't realise I'd dozed off, curled against his chest while he frowned at the mysteries and dramas of the TV news......so I know it's time to turn in. And follow the advice of a friend who has a note to herself stuck on her wall - 


Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Defrosted and Dispirited

 Last week - bright close-ups in Portugal  - even the unripe green lemons and oranges are shining - I can smell the perfumed zest in their skin.

All day I've had to defrost my blue fingers in hot water before I can zip up my boots, before I can type, before I can chop spring onions. The north wind, loud as the hurricane of my husband's sneezes, is howling into the house, rattling the sash windows - blowing white and red dust off the sills onto carpets, onto floor tiles.

My husband says he doesn't understand any of the words in my Christmas letter......I'm wondering if it's worth sending.

 Feeling weary and dispirited tonight...... knowing how to feel better  - by loving what arises - and not doing it feels like another failure.....I'm loving the theory but rubbish at practising it. Scrambling to get out of my pit ....slipping deeper in....so going to bed.....trusting in a fresh heart, a fresh spirit tomorrow.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Quick Sharp Ouch and Over

Last week's sunset......last week's moon, Praia de Rocha in Portugal.

Sunrise this morning in Exeter.....from  my husband's room on the top floor of our house. The roof of these flats opposite us used to be the home of a family of  four seagulls...till someone shot the male with a pellet gun.. which is illegal. Now there's just a nest of barbed wire over the chimney and no birds.

We aren't sending Christmas cards this year so I'm thinking about how to write a letter instead....looking back over the year.....looking for the changes....looking at the griefs......looking into the silver linings... wondering how to say it.

At the beginning of this journey - four years ago -  after my husband's diagnosis of Semantic Dementia -  every new loss felt like a deep to-the-bone wound which would never heal. Now each one  feels more like a paper cut in my thumb - quick, sharp, ouch, and over.

Today's paper cut moment....we are driving back from visiting an art exhibition....listening to Classic FM on the radio.....a carol - The Holly and the Ivy - is playing.

Me - Do you recognise it?

 Him - No, I've never heard it before.

Ouch - I see a picture in my mind, some other Christmas, some other time,  some other life  - we are standing in a pew in a church, singing carols - (at least he's singing and I'm whispering the verses).   He smiles at me, his lovely voice carrying the tune of The Holly and the Ivy - up to the rafters and back - not even reading the words which he knows by heart.

Quick, sharp, ouch and over. I take a breath, look out at the skeleton trees, flashing past the window and ask him,

What would you like for supper? 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Dust and Sand and a Never Ending Wave

Last Monday in the Algarve with my sisters.

Today the house is powdered inside and out with fine red dust.....and fine white dust  - the men still on the roof, re-pointing the crumbling cement between the bricks on the wall above the conservatory. A thick layer on the back doorstep, all over the re-cycling bins, in the soap dishes in the bathroom, on the windowsills, the loo seat - drifting in through the sash window cracks.

 The point of all of it is to stop the rain leaking into the kitchen....it's only dust. But coming home tonight from town in the icy cold dusk with a few bits of Christmas shopping, a new haircut and a bad mood ( a misunderstanding with my husband about where to meet me) the dust everywhere feels heavy as wet sand only adding to my already gritty frustration.

I'm probably missing the company of my sisters and the easiness....the peacefulness....... the meditating....the warmth...the loveliness of the light......the music of the waves....the no responsibilities...the no decisions ( except which cafe on the beach to walk to for lunch)....where someone makes your bed every morning and changes your bath towel..... and every night there are 3 bowls of crisps on the table and a new DVD to watch - a story to escape into. 

Wanting my respite to go on forever - like a swelling wave that never breaks.