The garland of plastic icicles
has yellowed to the colour
of old bones.
Less frozen water
and more the evidence of age
of lives lived
as if all our days
have compressed around the marrow
of joy and loss, fear and gain.
We are tough and brittle.
We walk and we fall and even
without wings we fly.
With warm wishes for Christmas 2017 and the New Year
There’s a lesson here, perhaps,
that even the beautiful can be discarded.
Or another lesson, that there’s a time
for everything, or that change is inevitable,
and other dog-eared philosophical scraps
we try and make sense of the world with.
So let’s get back to the here and now:
the poly-tunnels empty, a shoulder-high
slump of bags and plants and then
the unexpected scent as I run past
like the sweet ghost of summer
lingering in the autumn sun.
You can read every single one of the original hungry writer blogposts, joyfully written between the Autumn of 2010 and Spring 2017, by clicking on the archive links in the right hand column.
A beautiful simmered reduction of the blog's first five years was published in October 2015 by indie Kent publisher, Cultured Llama. The Hungry Writer, in book form, will transport you from France to Wales and to rural Kent. It will tempt you with lovely colour photographs and personal recipes, and encourage both apprentice and practising 'hungry writers' to maintain or begin a daily writing habit and explore your lives, memories and imaginations with 365 writing prompts. You'll also find workshop guidelines at the back of the book for writers who choose to work with the writing prompts in a more structured environment.
Enjoy. Eat well. Live well.
|Available from Cultured Llama HERE|
My childhood biscuits were mainly plain but had lovely names: Marie, Nice, Rich Tea. Quiet biscuits. The kind of biscuits that would never interrupt a conversation. Polite, not pushy. At the other end of the spectrum, and only irregularly present, probably a result of practical economics, were cheeky Jammy Dodgers, irritable Garibaldis, and self-contented and reliable Bourbons. And even more irregularly, the flashy inhabitants of a Christmas Box of Biscuits: Pink Wafers. I ate them at the same time as not liking them very much, a bit like Miss World Contestants in sparkly dresses, too much eye make-up and a saccharine idea of world peace.
I'm in the mood to think, and personify, 'biscuits' because the lovely team at Oreo sent me some samples of their new Oreo Thins. I hadn't heard of Oreos until the early 1990s when a friend asked if I would bring him back a packet from a Florida holiday. I forgot and pretended I couldn't find them. 'But they're everywhere in America,' he said, both astonished and suspicious. Which of course they were. Because the Oreo is a 'mythic biscuit', or at least that's the impression I have from reading their Wiki entry and talking to my American friend, poet and writer, Patricia Debney.
'Yes, Oreos definitely have an iconic place in US food culture. To the point where I'm thinking 'thins'? Oreo THINS?' she said when I asked her about them. Because the whole point of Oreos is, apparently, the filling. And millions upon millions of American children, across a century, have gently eased off the top layer of biscuit, ate it, then scraped off the sugary white filling with their teeth, until not a smear of said filling remained, and then ate the second biscuit disc. Patricia, who's now in her fifties, told me, 'I'm not sure I have EVER eaten an Oreo whole.'
Nabisco, the manufacturers of Oreos, capitalised on the filling's attraction in 1974 and marketed the 'Double Stuff Oreo' with twice the amount of cream filling which, if you were careful, you could pop away from both biscuit sides and eat on its own.
And then there were THINS.
I haven't shared a THIN with Patricia: I do not want to be the person to shatter the Oreo passion of her childhood and youth. And as I haven't ever before eaten a standard or super-size Oreo I can, perhaps, be more objective about their 'lighter' siblings. The Oreo Team describe them as the 'playfully, sophisticated addition' to the Oreo range, 'thinner, crispier and guaranteed to tantalise your taste buds and awaken your imagination!' That's a lot to ask of a biscuit but then Marcel Proust, in Swann's Way, the first volume of his seven volume novel, Remembrance of Things Past, showed the world how a madeleine, a simple sweet cake, was capable of conjuring involuntary memories:
And as soon as I had recognised the taste of the piece of madeleine ... immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents ...; and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine.
But back to the THINS. And tradition. Following Patricia's instructions, I gently flipped off the top layer of biscuit and ate it. Then I scraped off the creamy filling, but a little too enthusiastically. The bottom disc snapped like a crisp. But the 5th biscuit held up ... And maybe that's the appeal (or one of them) of THINS - you can eat so many more of them!
And how do they compare with my own childhood biscuit memories? I'd classify them as cousins to the lovely Bourbon. Sophisticated city cousins. The ones that turn up in the countryside in silk gloves and high-heeled shoes but we still love them for their brightness; they're so much fun to be around. We serve them sherry (now there's an idea...) and listen, wide-eyed, to the stories they have to tell.
I am running through the wondrous silence of history
past standing stones, invisible tombs, the route Chaucer's pilgrims took across the North Downs, the stone cold dead in churchyards, listening to the sound my feet make on lanes, on mud and stone, sharing my breath, the thump of my heartbeats, with sheep, the sky, the fields. Sometimes I wonder how I got here, what propelled me forward to this moment when the snags of fleece along a wire fence shine with glory, when another the bend in the road ahead is an inspiration not a defeat. And I think of the words, 'yes', and, 'you can', and the centuries of women before me who said them out loud, or quietly to themselves, believing that something could change and making it happen for themselves, their families, communities and for the world. And here I am, each step, each clear thought changing almost nothing, which is still something, and feeling better for it.
An online recipe for apple liqueur, back in October, asked for four pounds of apples to be soaked in sugar (halve the quantity of sugar if your apples are very sweet) and a bottle of brandy for two weeks. After straining and bottling the liquid - which doubles in quantity, by the way, so make sure you have two bottles handy - this is what remained: sweet, brandy softened apple slices that were far too delicious to throw away. So I froze them. Or, at least, I put them in the freezer, overlooking the scientific fact that alcohol doesn't freeze. But yesterday, two months later, despite having failed the total cryogenic test, they tasted fine to me so I let them sit overnight in the kitchen to relinquish their semi-frozen state, and created the following dessert. Although, given its simplicity, assembled would be a more accurate term.
Top that custardy layer with apple slices - tee-totalling slices would be fine, I'm sure, in the absence of drunken ones - and fold the edges of the pastry up and over. That's it.
It takes about 30 to 40 mins to cook at around 190C.
As usual, in my excitement to serve dessert I only remembered to take a photo of the golden Drunken Puff after four of us had demolished over half of it. I'd also been planning to dust some icing sugar over the top too for prettiness. Oh well, next time ...
Drunken Puff seemed a suitable name for it - those apples pack a significant brandied punch. But I couldn't help but think it was an equally appropriate description for the presidential inauguration in the US last Friday, for a man puffed up and drunk with his own self-importance.
'Give him a chance,' people have said to me on social media. And I'd really like to, if there was anything I could base that trust on, if there was anything he'd said throughout the whole of his campaign, right up to Friday's inauguration, that I admired or felt hopeful about. Perhaps his often ridiculous contradictions and lies will stop now that he's in office. Perhaps he won't feel the need to defend himself against the slightest of criticisms and will review his language to avoid being misogynistic, racist and bigoted. Perhaps he will temper his bouts of self-aggrandising although his first meeting, as president, with the CIA would suggest that experience is already trumping hope: read this report in The New Yorker.
I will not dedicate this dessert to him, not even in jest. But every time I make it I will think of #WomensMarch: the millions of women worldwide who marched in protest last weekend against the new president's flagrant disregard for truth and his incitement to hate, against his comments and policy positions over immigration, Muslims, the disabled and the environment, to name a few.
My friend, Rachel Scherrer, was one of the women who marched through Washington DC. 'RESIST' her banner says. Something we should all feel obliged to do when we confront inequality, the mocking or dismissal of the vulnerable, the abuse of power. Everyone of us is capable of standing up for what's good in the world, for fairness, responsibility and kindness. Small acts. Big acts. They all count. One thing leads to another. Rachel and millions of women cannot be wrong.
|Rachel Scherrer at Women's March 2017, Washington DC|
Photo © Jim Scherrer, reproduced with permission