1 October 2014

Fancy pants


a name lost to you over millennia 
with more flash and glitz than 'gourd' 
but you three are making up 
for that with how you dress. 


No matter that you sound 
like a growl in people's throats 
when you are the vessels of history 
and myth: water-carriers, birdhouses, 

drums and nose-flutes, the carriage 
for a princess. Bright, hard-skinned, 
your own determined selves.
If the end of autumn 

is leaf-mulch and wood-smoke 
then you are the unbridled 
beginning, the flag-waving, 
fancy-pants of its arrival.

We want more of you. We want to
fill the kitchen with your rowdiness 
as the days slowly shrivel,
as we light the fire earlier

each night. You're the echo 
of summer, the sun packed 
tight within you like memories, 
the ones we cannot let go. 


Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about hard-skin.

24 September 2014

Travelling bites

Is there a difference between travelling and taking a holiday? The former makes me think of gap-year students roaming around Asia and the Far East or older adventuring types who will happily drink warm yak's milk or sleep under a Landrover in the Sahara. Compared to that shuttles from the airport and room
The wonderful kitchen at Le Rughe apartment
in Montepulciano, owned and run by the lovely
Nico and Elena of Sant Antonio Country Resort
service seem rather tame although both of those things are guaranteed to make me happy. There does seem to be a bit of snobbery around what you call yourself and what you do during the weeks, or months, away from your home 
turf: travelling is challenge, holidays are fun. But the older I get then convenience, comfort and safety are towards the top of the list of any holiday requirements. Fun and laughter are right at the top. 

Tony and I are staying in Montepulciano for a week checking out its possibility as a base for a longer 'learn Italian in school' trip next year. Sometimes I feel as if I'm on holiday, that 'freshly risen dough' feeling when all is bright and airy around me. I'm curious, light-hearted, relaxed. Occasionally, I feel as if I'm doing things to fill time: walk these streets, visit another town, check out that museum. Because that's what you do on holiday, isn't it? Have new experiences, take photos, collect memories, tick things off lists. That makes it sound as if I'm not enjoying myself, and I am, but I'm also distinctly aware of myself as a 'visitor' peering at the locals, the souvenirs, the architecture. A kind
Montepulciano street.
of inverted 'culture' zoo experience.

And maybe that's what travellers, or people who call themselves travellers, don't feel, or don't want to feel. They merge with their new environments, work there, get involved, set up homes rather than briefly stop over and observe. Or are they just under the illusion that's what they're doing and they're actually equal to us ordinary holiday makers bumbling around the world, sometimes fitting in, other times wanting to go home?

Hungry writing prompt
Write about not fitting in to the world around you.

Fortunately, any slight and temporary feelings of disorientation, discomfort or disconnection - wherever I am in the world, home or away - can generally be resolved by food. Is that shallow? I don't think so. To eat the food produced and made local to you connects you to its landscape and its people, however subtle that connection might be. 

In Tuscany the pici pasta is a hand-made fat spaghetti usually served, in this area, with one of three sauces. I've tried two so far: aglione (tomato and garlic) and cacio e pepe (pecorino cheese and black pepper). The third one (briciole) involves day old bread, toasted and breadcrumbed, mixed with oil, garlic, pepper and salt. I'm not sure of the 'carb-on-carb' combo but I bet it'd taste delicious all the same. 

The name pici probably stems from the verb appicciare - to stick. And my pici at Pienza yesterday was sticky, especially after the cheese started to cool slightly on the terrace of the wonderful La Terrazza del Chiostro, but that was no reason for complaint. Every mouthful was a heart-lifting, stomach-patting, deep-mind-and-body-connecting delight. 

And, of course, there is one aspect of travelling, or being on holiday, that makes all the difference, no matter where you are in the world: the people. And all the people we have met in this small area of Tuscany are rich with kindness and humour. There has not been a single restaurant, cafe or shop in Montepulciano where we have not been greeted with a smile and good-natured assistance with our stumbling Italian. Come si dice en Italiano... we begin and they open their arms, their hearts and welcome us in.

17 September 2014

Bread love


bread-head
Bread is on my mind. Literally, as you can see. A local garage on the A20 just outside of West Malling, has upgraded its grocery section into a full blown 'buy-everything-you-could-possibly-want-while-filling-up-the-car-or-even-not-filling-up-the-car' Spar. Spar with bells and whistles: delicatessen, butchery counter selling local meats, flavoured olive oils you can buy in exquisite long necked glass bottles. And oven baked bread. And they are the best French baguettes we've tasted since we left France nearly three years ago.

There is no photo of the baguette Tony bought yesterday. There isn't even a photo of the crumbs. They are that good.

Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about crumbs, what's left when what you once had, is gone.

One I bought earlier
Some of you may know the Billy Collins' poem called 'Litany' that springboards off lines written by Belgian poet, Jacques Crickillon...

You are the bread and the knife,
The crystal goblet and the wine...

...then dives into a list of things the poet and his companion are and aren't. It is vibrant and funny and, with the last phrase, full of love. At least that's how I interpret it.

You can listen to Billy Collins reading 'Litany' on YouTube. And then, of course, spend the rest of your afternoon linking to other Billy Collins videos. He's addictive.

In between your Billy Collins fixes check out this three year old poetry fan's recitation of 'Litany' too. Yes, he's three. I couldn't even recite the alphabet when I was three!

11 September 2014

There was no cake...

Or flowers. No cars or bridesmaids or best man. No mother, or father, of the bride or groom. No guests. No invitations to guests. There was no veil, no shimmering dress train. Nothing borrowed or blue. Neither of us wore a hat. Or socks. There was no music, no witnesses, no confetti. 

There was an office where we bought a license for $95, a woman, who looked like Whoopi Goldberg, wearing a ribboned sash printed with 'Jesus Loves Me' who said, 'You guys!!' when we told her we didn't have a camera in a paving slabbed garden where she asked us if we'd be each other's best friends. And we said yes. 

Villa les Marronniers
Antibes
Later there was a swim in the Atlantic Ocean on Florida's east coast, a glass of champagne with mango juice. And pancakes with maple syrup. 

There was 22 years of togetherness behind us and the bureaucratic procedure of buying a house in France ahead of us that favoured married couples. There was the surprise and disappointment and some annoyance from the people we loved when we phoned and told them. There was us. The only people who really mattered in this decision. 

Seven years later. The house in France was bought, made beautiful and enjoyed, then sold. We came home to the Applehouse. Today there is cake. Made with Bramley apples from our farm. Ahead of us is tomorrow. And the next day. How much further can any of us know. 


more years behind us
than ahead of us
unrolling fresh turf

Hungry Writing Prompt
Write about a wedding. 

3 September 2014

Singing the blackberry sorbet song

blackberry sorbet
I have made something extra-ordinary and I am singing about it because I want you to make it too and listen to you sing. Extra-ordinary because it does not taste as I imagined it would. Blackberries and sugar syrup combine to make so much more than themselves. Nothing at all like blackberry jam or jelly. It is floral. It is rich. It is like the happy endings of fairy tales. It is almost beyond words but I'll keep searching: it is the taste of deep summer, it is church bells at a wedding, it is the silence after a firework show. It is the song you hum before you fall asleep under a starry sky. It is the perfumed bramble of sweetness. 

You have to help me out here:

Boil 240 ml of water in a saucepan, remove from the heat and stir in 250 gr of white granulated sugar until it's completely dissolved. Leave to cool then chill.

Pop about a pound of washed blackberries (sorry about the shift from Metric to Imperial: I'm a child of the 60s, what can I say?) into a blender and purée then mix with the chilled sugar syrup and a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice.

Sieve the mixture into a bowl to get rid of the seeds - I push as much as I can through a metal sieve rather than let it drip delicately in its own time. Then, if you have an ice-cream maker follow that path. If, like me, you don't, you'll need to cover the bowl with cling-film, put it in the freezer and whisk the mixture every 90 minutes or so, or when an icy crust starts to form at the edges. I recommend at least 3 whisking sessions to break up the ice. Then you can tip it into an airtight container and let it freeze overnight.

It will be very hard but just leave it out for 15 or 20 minutes before you scoop. There's no dairy in the mixture so there's not a problem with re-freezing. 

And now sing your own blackberry sorbet song.

Hungry writing prompt
Write about singing. Or write about a song.