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Showing posts from 2015

Old Stones and Light

This week I ran, with Meopham & Malling Ladies Joggers, from Trosley Country Park to the Coldrum Stones and back to the Park's Bluebell Café for hot chocolate and a Bacon, Brie & Cranberry Sandwich. The bread was so fresh and pillowy it reminded me of clouds - the kind of surface you'd like to fall asleep on... if it wasn't filled with bacon and cheese. 
Coldrum is a 3,000 year old burial chamber, or Long Barrow, and its name is derived from the old Cornish word, 'Galdrum', which means 'place of enchantments'. And appropriately for an enchanted place there's a wishing or prayer tree here that visitors tie strips of cloth, or 'clooties', to. We can guess at the intentions - prayers for healing and forgiveness, personal and universal wishes, or simply to honour those buried on the site. 

At the beginning of December a colleague's mother died. A week ago a friend's father died. I tied my ribbon and thought of peace: the type you want …

Popcorn: the guilt-free confession

I blame the salmon. Okay, my freezer door does advise that fish should only be stored for a maximum of six months, and the use-by date on the pack of salmon fillets was 29th December 2014, but that doesn't necessarily mean food stored beyond a best-by date is dangerous to eat. And it looked okay: well wrapped and not doing any iceberg impressions. So, perhaps it wouldn't be at its best ... but how bad could it be? Let's ask the judges. Dry, chewy. A culinary disahster, daahling. Six months over the six months is obviously a few months too many.

And that's how we ended up eating this:



No, I mean that's how we ended up eating ALL of this:



All 350 grams, 14 servings, 1274 calories of it. Although we were watching a movie so I guess there was a certain air of synchronicity.

And there was one other mitigating circumstance: lettuce, which didn't live up to its bright pre-cooked promise. 



Did I use the wrong type? Nigella used Cos or Romaine on 'Simply' the other n…

Apples everywhere

I've been running through them: on Friday morning's off-road run around local orchards with Meopham and Malling Ladies Joggers on a day that forgot it was November, at least for the first couple of hours.
While at home I'm living, breathing, chopping and slicing them. Apple sauce, apple puree, chunky apple pie filling, apple crisps (in the dehydrator), and enough grown-up varieties of apple jelly to get you singing: Golden Whapple (Golden Delicious with whisky), Rumley (yep, Bramleys and rum), Bourpple (you're with me now) and Chapple (with chilli). The Bourpple was more the result of discovering half a bottle of Jim Beam wearing a thick and sticky blanket of dust in the back of a cupboard than any deliberate planning. The Whapple and Chapple are repeats from last year. Rumley is this year's innovation and, as well as Bramleys, also contains the last
of the Russets from the single tree (out of ten thousand) in our orchard. But Russrumley was too long to write nicel…

Remember Remember the 6th of November

After the heat of the bonfire, after the newspaper stuffed guy, with his paper bag head and your dad's old trousers and worn plaid shirt, turned to black flakes. After your dad pinned Catherine Wheels to a post and warned you to keep away from the rockets ready to launch from milk bottles. After the Jumping Jacks and Roman Candles. And after you wrote your name with the brilliant fizz and crackle of sparklers against the night sky and rescued the potatoes wrapped in foil from the fire's warm heart. After the sausages. Even after you tipped towards sleep, the whizzes and bangs a memory and a glitter of lights fading behind your eyes, after you woke-up ...  

Then you began your search for them: in your garden, along the nearby streets, the spent ones still smelling of cordite, the charred cases, the bent sparklers, collecting them like treasure, the proof of everything you had, and didn't have, that had once burned so bright.
Hungry Writing Prompt Write about a light in the dar…

Jelly for Grown Ups

You can still see them: the waxed paper dishes at parties when you were a kid, their fluted pink rims around a pool of glistening red jelly, sometimes, depending on the skill of whoever's mother was in charge, crowned with a nozzled star of cream. Nestlé. Tinned. You remember, still, the sound jelly makes scooped up on a plastic spoon, a rubbery squelch, and how easily the spoon's handle could shatter in your fingers. And now, the toy cat your friend, Maxine, bought you when you were 9 or 10: admired by all your friends for its extravagance, its own stiff card box with a lid, its jet black beaded eyes, the silkiness of its fur.

The old and the new

On 20th October 2014 I posted the following on Facebook:

The ferns are the first to go, followed by a single Golden Delicious tree, autumn's first hostage in a row of Cox's Orange Pippins. Two wood-pigeons lift their barrelled-bodies into the air, such effort in the whir of their wings, as if the weight of summer is still with them. And it is, in the long grass, the scatter of daisies, the oak trees, the sun-busting blue sky, these stray apples I gather, missed by the pickers almost two months ago. 
Indian summer  the impatient rustle  of something in the woods

And here I am, precisely a year later, standing in the orchard on a day that seems like an exact replica of that one: the light, the burnished leaves, the same point of slip towards autumn. 
Hungry Writing Prompt Write about what you were doing one year ago.
And if that wasn't enough the vet who stamped my cat's inoculation booster card this morning noticed that he'd given her last year's on 20th October too. 
Th…

Full English Running

I started running a year ago. Last October I hit the treadmill for 30 mins each day, walking and jogging intermittently, until after 30 days I could run 3 miles without stopping even if I did look like a grimacing Halloween pumpkin at the end of it. Running is hard. 
A year later running is still hard, not as hard as it was because I am fitter and stronger, but it still requires effort. Effort to get up and go out and run first thing. Effort to ignore the voice whining inside my head: Why are you bothering? You've proved you can run 5k and 10k. What's the point in carrying on? Whinge, whinge whinge. But, as my running coach, Kerry Hayward from Meopham & Malling Ladies Joggers, says, If it was easy everyone would be doing it!
I try not to pay attention to the whining voice while I'm running. I open a cupboard in the corner of my skull, push her in and slam the door for the duration. But, why am I bothering? 
Because I want to get older as healthily as I can.  Because I no l…

How the medicine goes down: rosehip syrup

Not like the pucker and shiver engendered by Cod Liver Oil. Oh no, not at all. And much better than the Syrup of Figs which I liked the taste of so much it was almost worth being afflicted by constipation! No, this was a spoonful of sugar that was also the medicine: Rosehip Syrup. Our daily dose of Vitamin C courtesy of the National Health Service in the early 1960s. Sweet, fruity, silky. 
In 1943, The Ministry for Food published a wartime leaflet, Hedgerow Harvest, full of recipes for wild fruits, fungi and nuts. Encouraging people to forage might be fashionable now but during World War II, a time of rationing and limited imports (in 1939 we were importing around 80% of our fruit), it was considered a necessity. Sloes, crab apples, elderberries, cobnuts, mushrooms, rowan berries and rosehips could provide those essential vitamins missing from the nation's diet. The nutritional gift that rosehips offered evidently endured for quite a number of years after the end of the war in 1945…

Resisting Apples (or not)

This time last year the apples had all been picked, crated and lorried away for juicing. This year's much improved harvest is still on the trees, still plumping from the alternate attention of rain showers and sunshine. But not for long. The Cox's Orange Pippins are mostly ripe already: the proof lies in the few windfalls.
The Golden Delicious look a little small although that's not really a problem for apples grown for juice, but they'll probably benefit from another week. 

I tend to judge the Bramleys by a creep of peachy pink across their green skin. This one's begging to be transformed into pie.

But the majority of its companions are still shy of their full potential.

The BBC's gardening website says:
To determine if the fruit is ready to be picked, place a cupped hand under the fruit, lift and gently twist. If the apple doesn't come away easily in your hand, then it's not ready to harvest.
Hungry Writing Prompt Write about something irresistible.
And becau…

Les petites choses: how little things are so often the big things

It's the little things: a child standing on her head on the town beach, the creak a fresh baguette makes when you press it gently, the morning light squeezing through shutters. Holidays might be planned around the big things - bank accounts and airports - but the little things make them memorable. Here are more: a sip of chilled rosé, children laughing along the seashore, the taste of salt water on your lips, the scent of crepes as you pass a café.
I've been back to Antibes for the first time since we left in October 2011, not to our old house but to a delightful little apartment so lovingly cared for by Una Hennigan and her partner, Pascal. And what could be more appropriate for a writer than (what I'm sure is) a quill carved into the stone plaque above its doorway in Rue du Dr Rostan? 
I did walk past our old house one evening, when it was far too late to think about ringing the bell to say hello to the people who bought it from us and are still living there. There were li…

Chips. Buddha. And the rocky road.

'Do you fancy some chips?' Tony said. 'But we're supposed to be having a week of eating lightly ... losing some weight, remember?' He must have thought it was a rhetorical question. 'You've bought potatoes, haven't you?' 'Yes.' 'Okay.' I know. The willpower of a dandelion seed. But chips. Real chips. Deep fried in sunflower oil.  And if there are chips there has to be home-made curry sauce.


There's nothing complex about my curry sauce (for two): soften a chopped red onion in oil, then stir in 3 tsp of the curry powder of your choice and 1 tsp of Garam Masala and let the mixture cook for a few minutes more before adding a handful of sultanas, half a pint of vegetable stock, a big squirt of tomato paste and half a can of coconut milk. If you like it you can also add a tablespoon of mango chutney. I like the sauce to be thick so I let it simmer and reduce until it's glossy and the colour of cinnamon bark. 
Tony is the 'hands of chips…

Just a sandwich

It comes back to me as I'm spilling rocket onto a wholemeal wrap, slicing cucumber and spring onions: my sister, Shân, asking me if I'd like a salad sandwich.
It was hot that week during the summer of 1984. I was still living in Jersey and had come home to Wales for a visit. My nephew, Gareth, is a baby. My niece, Sarah, is seven. My brother-in-law, Stephen, has driven the four of us here, 65 miles from Port Talbot, in their racing green mini: the M4, the A48 to Carmarthen, then west along the A477 past the farms of great-grandmothers we are yet to learn about, towards Pembrokeshire and Freshwater East, to the first floor flat with a tiny balcony overlooking the bay. After dropping us off he has headed home again to pack the rest of the week's necessities into the little car. 
Hungry Writing Prompt Write about packing the car for a road trip
This is the only photo I can find: me and the kids outside the flat's front door just before sunset one evening. But there are more, I…

Appetite: Mara Bergman's New York poems

On the flyleaf of the Everyman anthology, Eat, Drink, and Be Merry, poems about food and drink, it says:
Eating and drinking and the rituals that go with them are at least as important as loving in most people’s lives, yet for every hundred anthologies of poems about love, hardly one is devoted to the pleasures of the table.
And yet without food and drink there would be no love. Literally, on the fundamental levels of survival and the biological impulse to procreate, but food is also bound to our emotional, psychological and intellectual experiences, to our memories, to the people in our lives. The sound-bite 'we are what we eat' transcends our physical compositions: we are what we have been fed, what we have shared with others, what we have offered as sustenance. 
I like reading about food in people's stories, novels and poems. Feel bereft, and irritated, when characters meet in restaurants and the writer overlooks the menu completely! Food gives us a sense of who a person i…

Grow

I am learning it all over again: the delight of picking and eating something you have grown. But perhaps it's not 'all over again', maybe it is for the first time. Dad has kept a vegetable garden since the late 1950s, ever since they moved into the house he and Mam still live in, so as a child I was used to a home-grown harvest of runner beans, broad beans, carrots, cabbage, potatoes, and onions with their tops bent over to help them dry a little while still in the earth before being plaited into strings and wintered in the dark of the redundant coal bunker. But 'delight'? No - I took it for granted. These were the years when most people grew something in their gardens; there was nothing unusual about it. It was part of life, part of feeding yourself.
The year after I moved in with Tony he ploughed up half an acre in a field at the front of his house and planted enough vegetables to feed a small village, if they'd all been famished on exactly the same day. The i…