Friday, 25 April 2014

Tart Expectations

Last week I joined a group of people staring into the window of a new shop opened in town - Patisserie Valerie. Like them, I was mesmerised by the sumptuous display of elaborate cakes, glazed fruit tarts and chocolate and cream delicacies. The French pastries equivalent of Ladies Day at Ascot.

I wanted one to take home. I took ages to decide and finally chose this gorgeous looking raspberry tart. I felt guilty walking along with it in its own deep cardboard box in its own little carrier bag because I was debating eating it all on my own before my husband got home.

I put it on a pretty cake plate and made a cup of tea. And looked at it. Quite a big tart. Eat it all now or share it with my husband for dessert at lunchtime? Decide I can't wait and cut it in half. Eat my half now and leave his for lunch.

The raspberries are sharp, the custard beneath them is sweetish but meagre, the pastry .....well the pastry is hard and a bit thick. My disappointment sweeps away my guilt. I had a taste picture in my mind even before a crumb touched my lips - sweet fragrant berries, wobbly velvety vanilla custard and meltingly short crust pastry  - all making a fruity crumbly mouthful of heaven. My imagination is too bright for the tart in front of me. Maybe I wanted too much from it.

Next week I'm going to Cornwall on my own for five days.  I've been given this gift of time by my sister who is coming to stay and look after my husband while her husband is away. I'm feeling excited and apprehensive. I 'm planning to read and write and walk by the sea. And to sit by the wood burning stove in the little house I've rented and think.

 But my plan may turn out like the shop raspberry tart. I may be expecting and wanting too much from my mini-retreat. And when I'm truly alone I'll find myself comfort eating....... sleeping a lot.....and weeping to the far reaches of my grief.....

Thursday, 24 April 2014



Grated Roasted Roots and Wild Garlic and Parsley Chermoula

Supper tonight - how to use up the woody parsnip, wizened carrots and sprouting potatoes mouldering in the bottom of the fridge drawer.....
Grate them up finely, add a couple of red onions -  hand chopped ( otherwise they make too much liquid) and a few scrunches of sea salt. 
Grease a glass dish or baking tray liberally with olive oil, tip in the grated veggies  - (they look like savoury Shredded Wheat to me...) and bake for 30 - 40 mins at 200 degrees turning once in the middle to mix in the crispy bits on the top.

Serve with a fresh green dressing - this one was chopped-up parsley, wild garlic and garlic chives( which I found sharing a pot of primroses in a neglected corner at the bottom of the garden), capers, lemon zest and juice, roasted cumin and the end of a bottle of fruity olive oil. I didn't have any but a sprinkling of toasted walnuts would have added an extra crunch.....

 It looks like the peace talks between Israel and Palestine have broken down but I read this really inspiring poem this evening and it made me cry so I'm sharing it with you........ you can subscribe to the website for  free to have an inspiring story like this emailed to you every day.

Shared Words, Shared Worlds

--by Naomi Shihab Nye, May 03, 2013
After learning my flight was detained 4 hours,
I heard the announcement:
If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic,
Please come to the gate immediately.
Well—one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there.
An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress,
Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly.
Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her
Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she
Did this.
I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly.
Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick,
Sho bit se-wee?
The minute she heard any words she knew—however poorly used—
She stopped crying.
She thought our flight had been canceled entirely.
She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the
Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late,
Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him.
We called her son and I spoke with him in English.
I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and
Would ride next to her—Southwest.
She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it.
Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and
Found out of course they had ten shared friends.
Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian
Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours.
She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering
She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies—little powdered
Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts—out of her bag—
And was offering them to all the women at the gate.
To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a
Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California,
The lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same
Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies.
And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers—
Non-alcoholic—and the two little girls for our flight, one African
American, one Mexican American—ran around serving us all apple juice
And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too.
And I noticed my new best friend—by now we were holding hands—
Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing,
With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always
Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere.
And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought,
This is the world I want to live in. The shared world.
Not a single person in this gate—once the crying of confusion stopped
—has seemed apprehensive about any other person.
They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too.
This can still happen anywhere.
Not everything is lost.

Naomi Shihab Nye is a poet, songwriter, and novelist.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Blog Then Blog Now

In the garden this evening....

I started writing this blog 4 years ago.   In my archives I see that my first post was on Tuesday 20th April 2010. Inspired by my niece 
( who now lives in Beirut and is now a mother) I was only going to do it for 21 days - which is how long it takes to change a habit apparently. I wanted to get into the habit of writing every day. I wanted to become a better writer. I wanted to find a way to record the ordinary moments of my life without it being a diary or dumping ground for whingeing....

Not sure what happened to those ambitions......feel as if I've been through a few blogging incarnations father was alive and thriving then in April 2010, and our pussy cat....we were eating our own asparagus form the allotment for lunch.........and I didn't know my husband would be diagnosed with a brain disease 6 months later.... and that my world would splinter forever ......

But what I do know is that writing this has been the one constant way of connecting myself to myself......and I wouldn't have continued without the amazing support of all the people reading me. Even people I don't know. I saw on my stats the other day that I had 12 pageviews in Moldova....and there is someone in Russia.... and China..... and Indonesia. Astonishing.

Today, while my husband sketched and painted with a friend in her garden, with his permission, my sister and I  pulled open the filing cabinets in his office, scooped up armfuls of papers in plastic folders from his old working life and started the long process of reading, sorting and chucking out the archives of the past.

After our grilled asparagus and egg mayo sandwich lunch we made photo collages of New Zealand  and stuck them into frames as a late surprise birthday present for my husband. So now we have some recent memories, captured forever, on the walls in the kitchen - all that bright, shining turquoise blue happiness beaming down on us while we eat our supper every night.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

The Wet, The Picnic, The Person I've Become, and The Roof

Easter Sunday - wet wet wet on Dartmoor.

We have a bowl of sweet potato soup in the NT's Parke Estate Home Farm Cafe and walk under  huge dripping trees, following the sweet curves of the river......the rain holds off for a while then starts again.....we get drenched and cold and I never warm up again even at home. 

Our bounteous shared picnic after lovely walk and talk with friends in Ashcombe Woods on Monday.... with the sun on our faces and on the buttered Hot Cross Buns.

Back home while my husband sleeps, I cut the grass and take photos of the bluebells which have sprung  up at the base of the apple tree in a deep blue fairy ring.

This is the colour of the  sky beyond the apple blossom, staining the whole kitchen a glorious pinky  mauve while we sit at the table finishing our salmon supper.
 Before he gets up my husband says,

 I don't like this person I've become.
What kind of person?
One who has to go to bed at 8 o'clock and I've already been asleep for  more than 2 hours this afternoon.
It's not you. Your brain needs the rest. You are still you.

But I don't think he believes me.

Today is all about the roof....and the chimneys.....  and the flanges and the valleys....and the water coming in through the firewalls and leaving big damp stains on our walls inside....

The neighbours on both sides and the builder and the roofer are in and out of the house all day - discussing it and climbing ladders and taking photos. Then the neighbour and I look at the photos on my computer and we

debate the quote and decide to get another roofer to have a look.......and I just want it all to go away and someone else to decide what to do. But I have to be grown up now -  that's the person I've become - probably for the best....

Friday, 18 April 2014

NOW is the Place ....

My welcome home niece's Chocolate Polenta Cake that we had for lunch yesterday with raspberries and honeyed Greek yogurt......

and the Ultimate Indulgent Chocolate cake we had for tea in Plymouth - made by the mother of my  great-niece ( divinely moist and rich - from BBC Good Food) and the niece's gift of booties from cute..

East Hill outside Honiton this afternoon....the beginning of our  Good Friday walk

following the path down the hill...

and back up again through silver birches.

The allotment this morning after our new gardener got to work with his strimmer between the beds....

Taking a tea-and-flapjack break from weeding...

It's all quiet on our walk this afternoon through the woods, except for the birdsong high above us in a clean blue sky. And the smell of fertiliser coming off the fields is rank. We don't talk much. Then I feel a shift in my husband's mood and he looks at his watch.

What's making it hard to be here now? I ask.

I'm not sure.

What are you thinking about?

Death and the people we know who are going to die.

I take his hand and make him stop walking.

Look at me. What can you hear?

A bird....somewhere.

What can you see?

He looks up into the sky. 

The trees ....they're so high.

Look at this bark.  Look at the moss on it.

We both reach out and touch it. It's rough and dry not soft and moist as I expected.

OK, he says, I'm here now.

And we carry on walking. I feel the sharp stones in the path under the soles of my boots.

 Thank you, I say, you just helped me to be here now, too.

But I don't know how to stay in this place of NOW for more than seconds....I feel him slipping away again but don't try to bring him back..... I just look at the new beech leaves uncurling on the ends of their branches and concentrate on including the smell of pooh in the air..... 

Later I read Robert Holden's quote for the day,

NOW is the place in your mind where you are already happy - no matter what.

I love that thought.....if I'm already happy then there is nothing to do.....except find the way to feel it.....and people have written books and books about that....which I haven't read.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Asparagus, Rhubarb and Chocolate Polenta Cake

 This evening washing the first allotment rhubarb.....

When you pull the pink stem from its crown deep in the soil, a little protective leaf comes too..

when you cut it off it drips a clear sticky slime - like when you cut daffodils.....

And our first asparagus spears...

they remind me a bit of bluebells before they open ....

Some garlicky roasted peppers for tomorrow's  lunch...

and the uncooked  pastry case for the leek and asparagus tart - I'm experimenting with replacing some of  the flour with pinhead oatmeal to give it a bit of a crunch....

Lunch tomorrow is for my niece who has been away for a whole year travelling the world with her partner - volunteering in youth projects in Bolivia, India, Nepal.....and I thought  home grown asparagus and rhubarb would be a seasonal way to welcome her back to our English spring.

The Chocolate Orange Polenta Cake ( my own recipe) is just to celebrate her return.....

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Talking For Two

Magnolia/ Acers in glorious spring sunshine at Dartington Hall gardens this afternoon.

So much talking today...... talking with our young clinical psychologist who teaches us a new Mindfulness meditation......white light in/black smoke out...

 talking with a dear friend while we share Homity pies and lentil pasties under the apple trees at Riverford Farm shop, a cold wind whisking the lettuce leaves off our plates......

talking and walking by the grass banks of the River Dart under a Mediterranean blue sky.....

talking and eating Bakewell tart with dear friends in their temporary caravan home while they wait for their belongings to arrive from NZ.

Talking and listening....talking and translating....

People say when you are pregnant you are eating for two. With my husband I'm talking for ears always on the look out for what words will trip him up, what needs a little clarity, what will bring him into the conversation, include him in the see-saw of  exchange when I see the confusion below his smile - know he's lost in the jungle of words with no meaning.....and then I'm distracted too - losing my thread with our friends....

Then I remember that love doesn't need translating....I just need to breathe it in......boundless as the sky - more than enough for two.....

Monday, 14 April 2014

Ambulance Freedom

In Sidmouth this afternoon for EFT....

The  beach huts on the sea front at Sidmouth after the winter storms  when we were in NZ. I took this photo on 1st March.......

and how we found them today  - rescued, restored, re-painted, re-rooted.

The view from the cafe at the top of Jacob's Ladder where we sat in the sun and shared a mammoth slice of a gluten-free apple cake which was mostly a heap of harsh crumbs stuck together with a very  crunchy sugary icing....

I can now say with confidence that this is blackthorn - thank you, Belinda.

In the garden this evening the tulips are full blown already...

I'm always shocked by the short span of their waxy beauty...

In the session with our EFT ( Emotional Freedom Technique) teacher, my husband works on releasing his triggers around the sight and sound of ambulances - which bring back painful memories for him of people dying. He says his level of distress is a 10 even just imagining it. At the end of the tapping session he says it is zero. He looks and sounds more peaceful.

Later, wandering along the sea front, mingling with the Easter holiday crowds we walk past a parked green and white checked ambulance. My husband doesn't say anything, his face doesn't crumple, the moment passes and he looks out at the calm green of the sea and says how beautiful it is.

 Even if he didn't even see the ambulance, I feel he's rescued, restored and re-rooted in himself  - even if it's only for the span of now and not forever....

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Queen Of The Night

 May blossom .....Hawthorn.......  or Blackthorn?

Late evening, we leave behind us the streets of South London and drive west into the sun. I put on  a CD of  The Magic Flute. Later, on our left, we pass Stonehenge, icon of Salisbury Plain. I hear my husband's tears in his voice - he's remembering this journey from other times, up and down the A30 to his head office in Salisbury - for meetings with the other directors, with clients, wearing his suit, his brief case in the back seat full of documents - full of his identity, when he knew what kind of man he was in the world....... taking it all for granted - even the luxury of complaining.....imagining he could change his future any time.

I feel awash with his grief.....the car fills up with Mozart and memories and we drive on and on past  fields draped in mustard yellow duvets of flowering rape....... and lines of hawthorne trees fluffy with  blossom..... glowing snow white in the dusk......reminding me of the relentless march of another spring. 

And the voice of the Queen of the Night hitting those top notes....high enough to shatter glass .... sharp as the knife cutting up my marriage.....

Monday, 7 April 2014

Getting Ready

The first tulips coming out in the garden....

There's a white plastic baby's bath sitting at the bottom of our bath. There's a  big pink box of toys in the dining room and a little chair in the kitchen to fit onto a big chair so she can eat at the table. She's my  gorgeous 17 month old great-niece, and she and her mother and her grandma are coming to stay for a few days.  So I've been getting ready for them.

The way I get ready for visitors is to clean things like the front door and the lamp shades and to cook an unnecessarily large amount of food. Today I used a lot of coconut milk- in a Thai fish curry....... and an experiment with substituting coconut milk for cream in a creme brulee..... and whisking up the solid white stuff that separates out from the watery stuff in a tin of coconut milk with some vanilla  essence and maple syrup to make velvety light coconut cream to fill meringues.  Thank you Angela at Oh She Glows ( I can't seem to get the links to work on my blog however much I try...) so you'll have to look her up - very inspiring vegan food.

So they will be arriving soon after a long, tiring journey in the dark from Luton.....and I don't expect to be blogging again for a while.....

Friday, 4 April 2014

Overwhelm, Weeders and Greener Fingers

9.30 am...... My husband and I stand in the long wet grass at the allotment. I survey each weed-choked raised bed, each rotten wood panel, every collapsed fruit cage, every giant dock weed and slugged cabbage stalk, and I feel utterly overwhelmed and hopeless. We are expecting a new gardener this afternoon to come and help but I don't know where to start, what to ask him to do.

 In the green-house we pick snails off the glass panes and discover all the beans and peas my husband planted last week have been chewed up, spat out and are sitting in slime trails on the surface of the seed compost. I say throw them away and start again. He says they'll be alright. I feel his allotment love is being uprooted, flung on the compost heap along with his knowledge, his memory, his stamina, his zest for growing things....

I take sister advice and decide to concentrate on the weeding.

1.30pm...... We are three very different weeders. My husband lies alongside the vegetable bed, propped up on elbow, pulls at the weeds and over-arms them into the wheelbarrow. I'm more of an African squatter  weeder - digging down with my copper trowel, shaking soil off roots  and stuffing the weeds into an old plastic compost bag by my side. Our new gardener is more of a kneeler and reacher hoiking out his weeds strangling the strawberry plants, the asparagus crowns, and collecting them in a spread out tarpaulin square. His beds are by far the best when he's finished -  raked  smooth and not a tell tale upside down speck of green anywhere. I love him already.

5.30 pm..........My husband sleeps. I sit at the table in the kitchen with a cup of tea, my feet on a chair and the sun hot on my back through the glass. My fingers are sore and brown stained in the cracks round my nails - they look like gardener's hands.  I don't feel so daunted now - even though I know they'll come back, the weeds.
What I'd really like is for Monty Don to come and live on our allotment and tell me what to do - how far apart should you plant beans anyway?  But in his absence and in the absence of my husband's energy and memory I've decided our new gardener is the next best thing.

   Up till now I've missed out on the growing-veggies-gene rooted in my family - preferring to cook them. And up till now I've relied on my husband to bring home the leeks. Today I discovered that  I  may need to develop greener vegetable fingers sooner than I thought - or wanted.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The New Heartbeat Of Spring

Maori Sacred House, Te Papa Museum, Wellington, NZ.

 Just notes tonight .......  I've had a lovely day.....mostly in the company of dear friends in a warm kitchen......round a long table scattered with huge platters of fresh salads, roasted vegetables, quiches and coleslaw, nutty rice and wholemeal bread.......and much later, apple cinnamon crumble, chocolate beetroot cake, strawberries and banoffi pie. While the rain sploshes against the glass doors we weave in and out of conversations and exchange the moments and the stories......... and the nourishment of our lives and our loves.....

My husband is sleeping when I come home ( he took his first anti-depressant this morning).....I don't want to disturb him by hoovering so I make a batch of coconut flapjack instead......print off all his tax codes to send to the accountant.....have more nourishing conversation on the phone......and later when he wakes up we drive to our Deeksha Meditation group.....and for the first time sit with the curtains open......the sky still full of low light.....later marbled with pink and orange.

 And also for the first time I taste the new heartbeat of spring, the possibility of stepping into the river in the direction it's flowing......the taste of hope.....of purpose......buoyed up with this nourishing spiral of love...... blessing my life. 

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The Pure Joy Of Her

This is my three month old great-niece honouring me with her smile.......the pure joy of can only feel unbounded love in her presence as if nothing else exists in this moment....

I've been thinking about Chuck Spezzano's April Newsletter ( Psychology of Vision). He says...

Practise being happy this month. Want it with all your heart. Choose it. Manifest for it. Notice when you are having a hard time. When you even think you will have a hard time choose ease and happiness instead. Commit to see and feel happiness, fun and light instead.

My husband had a hard, sad day today. I wanted to make it better for him. I didn't know how to be happy in the aura of his distress. Instead I stopped myself worrying that he didn't go to his ceramics class, that he slept for hours that he didn't want to eat much, that he looked tired and miserable.

And while I sucked up the layers of dust on the raspberry pink carpet in the room where I do the ironing..... and talked to our decorator about repairing the damp stains on the ceiling..... and cut up leeks and chunks of butternut squash for supper .......I thought about him choosing his sadness..... and that he isn't stealing my happiness.....only I can do that. 

Or I can choose to remember my radiant great-niece and fill up with the joy of her instead...