Thursday, 19 February 2015

My Cookathon

Just before I sliced into this chestnut mushroom I noticed how beautiful it was - its little while collar like the petals of a flower,  a ruff round its neck - the  lapping pattern of it repeated all round the warm brown skin covering the soft bulb of its body.

I've been cooking all afternoon, the rain thundering on the plastic roof, and well into the night. I say cooking but that's only a very small part of all the hours I spend in the's the clearing up and the dealing with the unexpected things that go awry that takes the time too. Like when the butter that I'd smeared around the inside of the two loose bottomed cake tins containing the Polenta Almond Shortbread, dripped onto the bottom of the oven and created acrid smoke and that awful burned fat aroma seeping into everything. It's not as if I didn't know that would happen....just forgot somehow.

And I didn't even have to wash up as my wonderful husband is doing it now.....the whole  jumbled mountain  of it.

My cookathon is for tomorrow  - making lunch to take to my husband's family in Surrey ( the mushrooms for pizza toppings).....staying overnight with friends..... we are going away next week too ....up to Sheffield for my Uncle's funeral, so this will be the last blog for a while.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

The Furnace And The Phoenix

A young Phoenix

Lost for words just three blessings from my day.....

So grateful for ....

all the love round the birthday lunch table.....deep in the scrumptious soup, buried in the garlicky hummus, in the freshness of the salads, in the sweetness of the mango and in the softness of the Indian Barfi our care for each other.

So grateful for.....

the gentle fingers of the osteopath friend who massages away the tension and pain in the ropey  muscles of my pelvis, my back, my me relief, release.

So grateful for....

the gift of a coaching session from a wise and gentle friend who shines a light into the old fossils of my beliefs of  - 

nothing I do makes any difference 
go away, leave me alone, I don't need you.

And gives me a candle to hold instead - the light of my own goodness...
something to shine into the relationship with my husband......allow him to contribute to me - to be the furnace where my phoenix will be fashioned....

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Hot Bread Heaven

We haven't been to the allotment for months.This morning in bright sunshine we make a little tour of it. I feel dismayed, overwhelmed by the brokenness of it. My husband looks broken by the loss of his capacity to do anything about it. My sister says it's not nearly as bad as we think and lots of it is rescuable - especially the gold mine of the asparagus beds.  We leave my  husband there clearing out the dead sticks of the tomato plants in the green house and pulling up the tall poles of the Jerusalem artichokes....

This is my version of Yotam Ottolenghi's Red cabbage and Beetroot Slaw that I make for our lunch to share. I replace his apricots with apples and golden sultanas, his poppy seeds with sesame, and leave out the dill and cinnamon all together but add grated fresh turmeric along with the grated fresh ginger. My Pomegrante Molasses and grassy green Palestinian olive oil give it that bright Middle Eastern kick.It's the sort of recipe that'll be different every time depending what you have in the fridge....

Before lunch at our friend's house, she gives us a bread making lesson....I love standing round her kitchen table - three women with our hands in bowls of flour stirring, and mixing then kneading .....drinking tea and talking while our dough balls balloon up under their cling film wrap on the radiator.....and later, after the second kneading and proving, we tuck in to deep bowls of  barley vegetable soup and crunchy salads serenaded by the aroma of six loaves of hot baking bread in the oven.

I hold out as long as possible when I get home with my two floury wholemeal loaves studded with pumpkin and sunflower seeds but the tantalising smell of warm fresh bread is too much to resist and I give in to chewy, buttery Marmite heaven....

......watching the sun go down over the hills beyond our city garden....

thinking I may not need any supper now.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Valentine's Spikes

 Spikes everywhere on Valentine's Day - we spend it at Tyntesfield House - a Victorian National Trust property outside Bristol.  When I read the history of the house to my husband he thinks it's very amusing that the family who owned it made their money selling South American guano  - or bird poo to him.

 The spikes of a monkey Puzzle tree in the grounds.....

the same colour as this lime in the glass orangerie.

 The barn door was open on these forks and spades in a row in

 the walled vegetable garden...these espaliered fruit trees like painted ghostly skeletons on the warm bricks.

Gold cock weather vane..... more spikes....

has the best view above the jumble of roof tops of the house and the chapel.

My first snowdrop photos this year....

 fresh white clumps, adorning the steep banks in the garden at Tyntesfield.

Our Valentine's supper -  we were going to make it together but my husband was too knackered after long drive back down the M5 on the first day of half term. He was triggered -  in an emotional turmoil all the way -  by ambulances and accidents and incidents and road works and the music on the radio. I was triggered by his responses - exhausting myself with irritation - imagining he could be some other way - letting the spikes of it all get under my skin - forgetting he's at the effect of his puzzling disease - forgetting to be kind to myself.

 Back home I made two pizzas - so easy with a scone base - this is the veggie version for me ....the same as my husband's but without the Chorizo sausage. While he slept I sat on a high stool at the cooker, reading the Saturday Guardian and stirring a pot of rice pudding like a sweet creamy risotto - soothing away all the sharp, raw edges of the day......

 remembering Valentine's night last year at Lake Tekapo, NZ........when I wanted to stay outside after our restaurant supper and watch the moon rising but my husband wanted to leave.

Friday, 13 February 2015

A Gift of Coleslaw

A friend comes to visit with this gift of Beetroot, Red Cabbage and Carrot Slaw made by her young neighbour from a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe which he cut out from a Sunday newspaper. 

It's packed with sweet sour pungent flavour, crisp and soft and a glorious deep claret colour. We have it for supper along with a seriously Cheddar cheesy and spring onion omelette,  crunchy roast potatoes, carrots and parsnips, velvet sweet slow cooked leeks and my current favourite greens - Purple  Sprouting Broccoli  - jazzed up with ginger, garlic ( beautifully finely chopped by my husband who is great sous chef) and crushed pecan nuts ( American, in this case) fried in coconut oil and stirred into the greens.

 As my friend is a fantastic cook and expert in Asian cuisine she buys us these Mini Egg Tarts from the Chinese supermarket by the car park on our way home from our Lebanese cafe lunch in town. She recommends the best Thai coconut milk and prawn crackers to buy and now I've found a supply of fresh turmeric and I'll be going back there. Going back for more little tarts as well as I might just have found a new melt in the mouth addiction ( my current one is the Portuguese custard tart - Pastel de Nata) so thank goodness they are tiny....

This is the recipe for the Beetroot and Red Cabbage Slaw luckily I bought a small red cabbage and six beetroots in the market on Thursday so I'll be making my own version - thinking I'll use the Lebanese Pomegranate Molasses from Beirut that my niece gave me instead of sherry vinegar and maple syrup for that sweet sour touch.

My husband doesn't know what Valentine's Day is but I've said we'll make pizza together tomorrow night - just another way to be friendly.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Muddle in my Mind

Brave words yesterday about loving and living alongside my back pain...worse than ever this morning - I make time for gentle stretching but not for much listening or consenting....but do make appointment to see lovely body worker with magic hands next week.....notice my habit of wanting instant results.....

The kitchen table is covered with stacks of files and papers and my toppling In-tray and Pending Tray, and Money Tray and Urgent Action Tray and my wonderful sister is sorting and filing and throwing away - one piece of paper at a time - helping me bring order to my neglected muddled systems.

  But really she's helping me to separate out the muddle in my mind -  all the things that are bothering me - like having a Carers's Assessment for me and my husband's needs which includes a financial review - and working out the things I can do something about now, and all the things that aren't in my control and can't do anything about yet. So no need to spend so much time worrying about them. Another habit to  start giving my consent to. I think I read somewhere that lower back pain can be associated with loss of financial support or fear of it anyway.....mmmmmm.

Tonight I decorate the orange glazed Lemon Polenta Cake with little white chocolate stars and the sweet open buds of Narcissi and take it to the big warm circle of our Deeksha mediation group. We are celebrating the birthday of one dear friend and celebrating the life of another dear friend who passed away yesterday. I think he might have had a snooze during the mediation but he would have enjoyed the cake and the flowers.... and all of us remembering him with love.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Giving My Consent

Mount Cook, New Zealand

I was very shocked to hear that a friend died this morning, quite suddenly - a dear, sweet man who was an integral part of our Deeksha meditation community and was always unfailingly kind to me and my husband.  He's the one who sent us a Christmas card with the beautiful words of Tagore on the front - 

Faith is the bird that sings to the dawn while it is still dark.

Words that will always be associated now in my mind with him.

This morning I took my nourishment collage to my lovely Family Constellations therapist - she had suggested I  make it - and unravelled some of the images. She asked me what was missing there too - I identified relaxation, Mindfulness, being present, loving touch.

 I thought that Saying No to things would somehow give me more time  - time to nourish myself. But I discovered there is a stage before that - in the inward journey -  when you encounter pain or loss - Saying Yes to what is already so - accepting it -  is the first step to healing it.

Bert Hellinger ( the  founder author of Family Constellation work) uses a brilliant word instead of accepting - which I think has connotations of doing something I don't really want to - he talks about giving your consent, agreeing to the pain instead of trying to get rid of it, finding out what it's trying to tell you.
I've had lower back pain all my life - sometimes it's worse than others and stops me gardening or hoovering or bending down at all. Mostly I ignore it and put up with it, wait for it to improve.

So today for the first time I had a guided conversation with my back pain which was actually really angry about being ignored and not given any attention, any love or support. And I realised the enormous cost of not listening to my body at all. A good place to start nourishing myself -  loving my back pain - however odd that sounds.

 I felt lighter after the session, my back pain is still there but it feels different somehow - giving it my consent instead of feeling invaded by alongside it instead of against it.....wanting to have more conversations with it - giving it what everyone one wants  - love and attention.

And now it's saying GO TO BED - so I'm listening at last....

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

If My Day Was A Shape.....

Struggling to keep the flame of my life burning today.

If my day was a shape it would be long and flat and the tidal river we walked beside this morning stretching endlessly into a white sky.

If my day was a texture it would be slippery as egg white - plans slipping away through my fingers....marmalde not made...emails unanswered....stairs unhoovered.

If my day was a sound it would be Stravinsky discordant - the men on the plastic kitchen roof digging out the mortar behind the flashing...landing in chunks like solid thunder....and later a slow headache creeping up behind my eyes becoming a military marching band in my skull tonight.

If my day was a taste it would be faint and the left over boiled brown rice and greens I had for supper with pumpkin seeds....all the while smelling the aroma of my husband's grilled bacon and garlic mushrooms.

If my day was the weather it would be deep in my bones cold - the heating full on but the only way to stay warm was to sit in my snuggle chair immersed in two soft blankets holding a hot water bottle.

If my day was a smell it would be the the smoke of Patchouli incense and hot candle wax.

If my day was a feeling it would be tight and clenched -  stiff as my neck after my Yoga class yesterday.....tense and on edge like this morning in the Consultant Neurologist's office willing my husband to not say anything inappropriate to the attractive young woman trainee sitting in on our session.

If my day was a colour it would be a wall of slate grey, some of the bricks would be turquoise and teal, guava pink or rusty bronze  - like the colours of the collage I made tonight - pictures and words torn out of magazines and stuck on a big white card....answering in images the question

What nourishes me?  

And not really finding it but noticing I choose a dancing Indian woman, a child on a bed, a tropical fruit salad, feet on rose petals, a grassy path, cherry blossom, books and bowls, trees overhanging a river and a kingfisher and a pussy cat, people round a table, and a sleeping leopard. And the words
Coming Home, 
 Peace Perfect Peace.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Flying A New Murmuration

The light was wonderful on Sunday - the sun actually warm on my face. The serious bird watchers were out in force with giant binoculars and ferocious long lensed cameras. We stood amongst them in the newly built bird hide on the Exe estuary at Topsham and watched the comings and goings of the flocks of birds in the distance. As we didn't have any binoculars,

I snapped these gorgeous auburn headed ducks in the still waters

of the nearest tributary.

One minute they were snoozing and the next heading out en masse

to the wide open river waters, 

 followed by an amazing murmuration overhead. I wonder if they know they're cutting out the pattern of a huge bird in flight in the blue cloth of the sky.

The sun didn't reach this shallow stream, running alongside the field- halted in its tracks, frozen solid.

From the viewing platform looking out to Haldon Belvedere,

the mud flats like ribbons of grey silk,

home to the Avocets,

 now safe and breeding again thanks to the marvellous work of the RSPB.

Such busyness in the sky on Sunday.......

On Saturday we were setting off to Okehampton in search of its castle when my husband's Renault wouldn't start. The RAC man diagnosed a dying battery and suggested a new one. For months one thing after another has been going wrong with his car and instead of spending any more money on it we have decided to change it for a smaller one for me and my husband will take over my current Toyota  - as I will probably be driving longer than he will. At least my husband has reluctantly agreed to this plan.

For weeks, even though I've had a lot of advice and help, I  have been feeling anxious and overwhelmed, panicky and incompetent and under pressure to find the right second hand car. It all came to head on Saturday with the failing battery in the Renault and the prospect of spending yet more money on a dying car and me in a wobbly heap on the kitchen floor.

After a while it came to me that instead of digging myself deeper into my I'm hopeless and pathetic pit I could pick up the phone and talk to a friend - even though it was late on a Saturday afternoon and I'd have to smash through my tall picket fence of intruding into someone's space, taking up time, being a nuisance, being needy - asking for help - yet again.

So in the end I did pick up the phone and my friend said yes, of course and his wife said come to tea as well.

So that's how it happened that my husband now has a new battery in his Renault and I'm in the clear and grateful space of looking out for a Honda Jazz to test drive. And I'm re-writing my old script of I have to do it all on my own.... flying a new murmuration in the blue sky of my life.

Friday, 6 February 2015

In The Bitter Sweet Steam

 I love making marmalade so I'm not sure why it takes me most of the day to make a batch of  ten jars. Maybe because -

I have to keep stopping to defrost my fingers in hot water...
my arm runs out of strength to push the gloopy innards of the Seville oranges, pith and pips and all, through the fine mesh sieve....
my wrist aches from slicing up the soft empty shells of the oranges into long shards
I stop to drape the wet washing over the rails and the radiators.....
 I stop to make Date Flapjacks and Almond Macaroon Biscuits with  my husband....
I stop to chop up a selection of salads and make a smoked mackerel pate and toast some flatbreads in a dry frying pan for our self assembly wraps for lunch....
I stop to sit with my husband at the computer to make a money transfer to pay our accountant's invoice for last year's tax return
because I can't decide if the marmalade has reached setting point and I hover over the steaming cauldron dipping in a teaspoon and dropping the boiling amber liquid onto a cold saucer - waiting for the tell tale crinkle surface.... which finally comes much later than usual.

Or maybe it's because all the while I'm immersed in the whole marmalade process I'm also distracted ....pulled back into other winters - remembering all those members of my family who passed away during my marmalade making days, often with snow on the mother's sister, her husband and their father.....last month my 101 year old aunty..... and yesterday my dear uncle.

Holding them in my heart, honouring them..... in the bitter sweet steam scenting my kitchen.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Last Night

This Foxglove is for my Uncle who died last night - he once told me it was his favourite flower. He was my father's younger brother. We grew up with his family in Zambia and he's always held a special uncle place in my heart and always will.

 I spent most of yesterday in Plymouth with my brother-in law looking after his sweet granddaughter who wasn't very well and was still brave and resilient and willing to play peek-a-boo round and round the coffee table and to empty out the kitchen cupboards and scatter their contents onto the floor.... Weetabix, rice cakes, onions, tinfoil - a wonderful game.

I spent most of last night with my husband in the A&E at the Royal Devon & Exeter hospital. He came to meet me at the Park and Ride at 7pm.... told me he had the broken-off tip of a cotton bud stuck down his ear.  We sat for four hours in the waiting room, getting colder and hungrier as the minutes ticked by, me reading the same Woman and Home magazine.....

It's one of the worst things you can ask my husband to do -  to wait with no idea of when something is going to happen, or how long it'll be or if they'll be able to sort out the problem and with nothing to distract him, nothing to eat or drink, nothing he can read and I ran out of conversation a long time ago. But he was more patient and good humoured than I was. The waiting room gradually filled up with people  - on crutches, in a wheel chair, with a fractured hand, a broken ankle and a man with blood on his face and on his coat who walked around talking to anyone, reading the notice boards and drumming rhythms on the chairs. 

During that time we saw a pretty triage nurse, a stern but lovely doctor in a green uniform who couldn't dig it out, a pregnant trainee doctor in a blue uniform who went off with a bunch of keys to look for a special piece of kit to dig it out with, and finally a delicious young ENT consultant in an orange uniform who finally hoiked out the offending cotton bud with a torch and the lethal looking piece of kit.

My husband was so grateful to be able to hear properly again and although I felt like screaming with frustration and tiredness I'm still deeply grateful for the NHS - stretched to breaking point - and for all the wonderful nurses doctors working through the night for us  - kind, cheerful, skilled and exhausted.

I think my husband has finally got the message about not sticking anything in your ear smaller than your elbow - all cotton buds confiscated now.

We got home about 11.30pm - hot marmite toast never tasted so good.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Not Hungry But Still Eating

I have four orchids in the kitchen -  masses of tangled roots, a few leaves, old and neglected. This one produced a single flower last week. I'm amazed it keeps coming back - exquisite beauty - surviving but not thriving - on very little attention.

Tonight, in-between the sun sinking into its bed of fire,

and the perfect whole moon rising into black velvet, I find I'm not hungry but still eating.

After a sumptuous tempured cod and chips lunch in a restaurant I don't want supper but end up asking my husband to make us something on toast.....egg for me ( I should be tired of it by now but I'm not). I spread a second piece of toast - granary sourdough -  with a Christmas present of thick and dreamy Armenian honey and then a third piece  - hot with melting butter.

 A bit later, deep in an old episode of Judge John Deed on TV I finish off a crumbly, dark, vine-fruited wedge of my sister's Christmas pudding from Saturday's supper with our big sister ( luckily no Seriously Creamy Custard left) and half a bar of Green and Black's 70% dark chocolate that I asked my husband to buy at Tesco Express on his nightly walk into town.

Not hungry but still eating.....full up but not listening....stuffing it all down. I used to feel so bad and guilty..... and sick.....but tonight I'm not going to rummage into the why did I do it.... to berate and belittle myself. It feels much better to just love the big round drum of my give it my full and kind a orchid bud in need of light and warmth and nourishment.

Monday, 2 February 2015

Whales, Turmeric and Seville Oranges

Kaikoura, in New Zealand where we were on this day last year,

 spotting Hump Back Whales, from a boat with a brilliant Maori crew,

 who knew where to find them, unusually close to land, this one spouting from its blow hole.

They recognised them by their markings, they all had names,

and told us when to get our cameras ready to capture the few precious seconds of

 the famous tail dive.  We were really lucky to see seven different whales -  I loved being so close to these wild giant creatures - it was a huge highlight of our trip.

The highlight ingredient of supper tonight was this knob of fresh turmeric,

which I chopped up and added to the onions, garlic, chilli and ginger for the coconut lentil Dahl I was making.  I have used it before - a long time ago in my Sharwood days - but I was delighted by its gorgeous almost perfumed fragrance and bright carroty orange colour - so unlike its usual dried powdered version.

We ate the Dahl with some very good vegetable samosas and onion bhajis that I found in the chiller cabinets at Waitrose this afternoon. I went in to buy Seville oranges to make marmalade but couldn't resist a little browse in the aisles as I had the luxury of shopping on my own while my husband was in the TLC of a friend for a few hours. 

I'm really trying to avoid shopping in supermarkets this year - wanting to shop locally, eat locally grown food and not clock up all those food miles. But not ready to give up making marmalade yet...and fresh turmeric is too good to ignore especially if I can walk to the local Indian shop down the road to buy it.