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Showing posts from December, 2010

Comfort: Salmon and Spinach Risotto

Tony’s mother died unexpectedly in April 1998. She shouldn’t have. She was fit and healthy. She told us she didn’t want to ‘bother anyone’ when she started having breathing difficulties after she somehow ruptured her oesophagus. Within two weeks the infection in her lung developed into toxaemia and she died.
Two years earlier she had a hip replacement and stayed with us for a month to recuperate. During that time she went from sleeping upright in an armchair the week she came out of hospital to riding a bike for the first time in 60 years a few days before she went home.
Tony used to set her fitness goals, hiding lottery scratch cards in the hedge a little further along the lane each day. I tried to increase the appetite she’d lost through so much pain prior to the operation, making the small and soft food I knew she liked: crust-less sandwiches, cod in parsley sauce. She used to say ‘thank you’ to me a dozen times a day.
Lilian Lavinia Crosse was born in 1920 and married in 1938. She…

Writing Alone, Eating Alone: Magret de Canard & Scary Spice Tomatoes

It takes time for me to adapt to being alone to write.
The first few days are full of the novelty of only answering to myself, eating what, when and where I like, writing until the early hours of the morning if I want to, or staying in bed to read until midday. I like the kernel of stillness I feel growing inside me, not really talking to anyone, except in passing if I need to get some shopping, and noticing how my mind leafs through its ideas at a much slower pace.
It’s around the sixth day that the novelty starts to fade. The house or cottage feels too big or too empty. There are strange and unfriendly noises in the floors and heating pipes. I tend to be neurotically chatty with strangers, the post-man or the woman on the supermarket checkout, desperate to get away from the silence I’ve imposed upon myself. The stillness I previously welcomed feels hollow, like hunger. I’m agitated by the long days and nights. Aloneness becomes loneliness.
I’ve done a number of solitary writing retre…

Food & Friends Part 1: Jersey Exotic

‘Do you fancy a coffee?’ I say to the new girl with the big brown eyes when she opens the door of the bed-sit opposite mine. I’ve seen her a couple of times at work and there’s something both intimidating and inviting about her: the way she looks at you and holds your gaze without blinking, the same way some babies do. This morning we said ‘hi’ when we met outside the laundry room on the ground floor of Langham House. I think she could be my friend.
She looks straight at me. ‘I’m pregnant,’ she says. The rims of her eyes are about to overflow with tears. No-one has ever been so suddenly and bluntly open with me before, and about something so personal too. And it feels like a gift, something precious I've been given.  I don’t even remember thinking about what I will say next. ‘Do you need to borrow some money?’ ‘Yes,’ she says, ‘and I’ll pay you back at the end of the month, I promise.’ And she does.
After an introduction like that perhaps it’s not surprising that Alison always seemed …

Home to Home: Green Beans and Pancakes

The last thing my Dad says to me before I leave for the station is, ‘The house comes alive when you’re home.’ And then I’m in the car, driving away in the rain, watching my parents waving from the porch window.
I cannot think of my dad without thinking of his garden which he has brought to life every year for nearly 50 years with potatoes, beans, carrots, beetroot, onions, cabbage. I see him digging, planting, thinning out, and later bending over a row of plump onions, twisting down their tops to allow the bulbs to dry. The coalbunker in the garden was demolished over 40 years ago but when I picture it I smell onions, strung into plaits and hung in the cool dark amongst his forks, and hoes and spades.
As a child I pushed between the long rows of beans with a colander and instructions: leave the small and don’t miss the big. The coarse underside of the leaves grazed my bare shoulders; sun dribbled through the overlaps. I could smell hot, uncooked bean. Later, in the kitchen, he topped …