Thursday, March 31, 2022

Adventures in Muesli, and other food stories

As you can imagine, with N's Mum ill, we had some weeks of quietness, panic, worry and bad eating because he certainly wasn’t interested in food that required thought, preferring to opt for toast with things on, or takeaways. But you can't carry on that way forever, so I pulled my socks up and set to, aided by a trip to the farm shop. 

Farm shops are great for inspiration. Not so great on the old wallet, so I tend to limit my visits. They are a treat rather than how we usually shop, but what a treat they are. I even love the way they smell. In no order of preference, I came back with:

  • a Romanesco cauliflower, all spiralling turrets and vibrant green. Plus many other vegetables that were mainly normal and everyday, for e.g. carrots. You don't need me to describe the carrots
  • Mango chutney and caramelised onion chutney. Because, chutney goodness. I'll stop saying chutney now*
  • proper honey from a local bee keeper
  • a loaf of bread stating "takes 3 days to make". It was crustier than a crusty after a week protesting a bypass from a tree top
  • late plums and early rhubarb 
  • strawberries! So so early but not flown in from overseas, grown within 5 miles of the shop! They smell amazing
  • purple sprouting broccoli. 
  • A giant bag of red potatoes that roast beautifully
  • a crumbly, buttery-feel blue cheese that just slightly puckers the taste buds
  • Eggs with golden yolks from formerly free-range but still definitely organic hens
  • a made-on-site coleslaw that creamy and delicious
  • sausages made from pigs raised and butchered locally
I roasted the sausages in a trayful of the vegetables, including the cauliflower, stirred in some of the onion chutney, threw in some garlic and stems of thyme from the garden. 

The potatoes I turned into surprisingly successful gnocchi (the first batch I've ever made that didn't turn gluey and the water into wallpaper paste) and had those with the purple sprouting broccoli and some of the blue cheese when N was out on Wednesday (he does not like PSB). 

The plumbs and rhubarb became a compote for adventures with muesli. To cut the sharpness, I added the honey rather than reaching for the sugar. I mean, honey is sugar, but marginally less so and it meant the compote has a more satisfying flavour than if I'd just bunged caster sugar in. 

Did I mention I make my own muesli? Well I do *pauses to polish halo of smugness*. Oats, sultanas, dates, pumpkin and sesame seeds, ground hazelnuts and almonds. Spiced with ginger and cinnamon. Cheaper than standard muesli from the supermarket (but only because I buy in bulk). Trying to do that from a standard shop where every individual ingredient is tiny-ly portioned and wrapped in plastic for our "convenience"? Forget it. 

Tonight, when we come back from college, I'll make an omelette with spinach, mushrooms and the rest of that blue cheese. We'll have it with tiny roasties, made from those red potatoes, and the coleslaw. Just right for a day where the temperatures have dropped and we'll have been outside planting parsnip seeds. 

Which reminds me, I have a giant parsnip I need to turn into soup. Before I go, I need to tell you that comment moderation has been switched on after a veritable swathe of spam comments for casinos, dodgy Viagra and so on. Is it just me or does the internet just feel like a lot of work these days? Easier to make soup. 

*No I won't

Friday, March 25, 2022

Sprung Days

Caster sugar with rosemary flowers for which to make biscuits.
Not cookies, biscuits. 

This afternoon, I am going to write for pleasure. This is after having spent yesterday trying to write for cash and failing miserably, (and having written most of this post TWO DAYS ago). Sometimes, I do not feel able to dredge up yet another metaphor for "this is a really good project! People will like it! Come ooonnnnn!" and yesterday was one of those times. Better to knock it on the head at 4 and take myself off to the allotment. 

Where the rosemary is in full bloom, narcissi are springing up and there were ladybirds clustered around the new growth of the fennel. The skies were blue, the birds were singing, it was bliss. The woman who runs the nature reserve CIC on the site stopped for a chat, looking almost drunk on the swelling of spring. 

"I'm not on drugs!" she proclaimed loudly. "It's just, in there, it's..." she waved her arms back in the direction of the wood and trailed off. "Just wow." Safe to say, her serotonin levels were off-the-chart high. I have rashly agreed to help write some funding bids so I now have to find new, unpaid ways of saying "this is a really good project! People will like it! Come ooonnnn!" but it's for a good cause, so I don't mind that. 

After she'd gone, N and I dug and raked for a while before calling it a day. I was extremely pleased to find my arms still working after the weekend. For the new wardrobe had arrived last Friday and the long postponed redecorating of the Retreat got underway. 

There was a day of painting, a weekend of construction and a further day of finishing touches. And my arms, oh those poor arms: I wasn't able to do anything with them other than flail around like Father Ted and his fake arms for at least a day. 

It was exhausting, and not exactly the fun weekend the Kid had in mind when he came to stay and found himself deputised to holding important pieces of the new wardrobe while N cursed and drilled and banged, but it is done and I'm so pleased with the result. 

The walls glow like apricots in Mediterranean sunshine, the space where I work is screened off from the spare bed by a bookcase, meaning I no longer look like I've rolled out of bed and straight into a Zoom call. Well, I do, but that's more a matter of unwillingness to use a hairdryer than it is to do with the fact there is a bed in the background. I keep leaning to one side so people can clock the improving titles on the shelves behind me and be suitably impressed. 

Part of the finished (almost) room. That green
painting, bottom middle, was one the Kid painted when 
he was small. 

N's Mum is finally out of hospital. I didn't mention this before as, until we knew she was going to be okay and home again, it wasn't my place to. She was in for 8 days after a series of falls that no one was quite sure of the reason for. Was it her MS, or maybe mini strokes, or - oh no, there it is, dehydration. So easy to dehydrate when you're elderly, disabled and the idea of having to hoick yourself around is frankly exhausting, how much easier to refuse that cup of tea, ignore that glass of water. I know my Nan often did the same thing. 

Anyway, she is better now and back home with a full care package that has been much needed but not set in motion before because his parents are quiet people who do not want to make a fuss or be a nuisance. And the quiet, no-nuisance people always fly under the radar. It's been a worrying time. 

In the greenhouse, seedlings are unfurling ever skywards. Rocket, cabbage, cauliflower, lollo rosso, sweet peas and other flowers, spring onions. There are even 2 tentative tomato shoots. On the windowsill, a new batch of seeds are beginning to germinate, including radish, parsnip, dill, basil, courgette and, rather exotically, luffa. Oh yes! This year I am going to try my hand at luffa growing, then I shall have a ready supply of scrubby cloths. Will keep you posted on that progress. 

Tiny Wee Mabel is also infected with the joys of spring - we've barely seen her for the past few days. She comes in, shouts, eats, leaves. Eventually returning late at night to sleep. The fox sounds have died down now and there have been limited sightings of the evil tabby who used to persecute her, so she's making the most of it. 

Tiny Wee Mabel: slightly boss-eyed, 
extremely shouty

The Great Boo, on the other hand, has taken no more notice of spring than he did winter. Still sleeping in the radiator hammock, still sitting silently by his food bowl and attempting to look half starved, still regarding Outside with suspicion. The only change has been that he now sits on the lawn and occasionally we hear a small thud which is him smacking at tiny flies in the grass. 

The sky is bright again today. This morning, awake very early, I decided to take myself off for a walk. Unsurprisingly, my footsteps took me along the canal where the birdsong was a delight. Standing there for a few minutes, no one around but the woman failing to bring her spaniel puppy to heel, I could quite understand why you feel a little drunk after a day spent in the middle of it. 

Sadly, that wasn't to be. I've been back home and ploughing through my to do list since 8am. Feeling like a 4pm knock-off is in order. 

The Great Boo: off his tiny rocker on catnip

Oh, I've just read that Dagny Carlsson, the world's oldest blogger has died at 109 (you can, if you can read Swedish, read her blog here). I love that she was referred to as a 'blogger and influencer'. Better her than one of the Kardashian nitwits. I wonder if I'll still be blogging at 109? What a thought to start the weekend on!

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Writing Wednesday

Well hello there! I woke up this morning, at the reasonable hour of 6am and decided that today is a day I write. This is the most joyful thing about working for myself: I can make that decision. And, as I put in some hours at my desk on Sunday while the football was on, I can do that with a clear conscience. 

This morning I had time to do a quick Spanish lesson, followed by a Scottish Gaelic one. Five minutes of each, via Duolingo. I've been doing the Spanish, on and off, for about 2 years or so but the Gaelic is new and I'm doing it simply because I like the idea of it. So far my favourite word has to be 'snog'. Pronounced snok it actually means 'nice'. Which snogging is, so it all works out. 

My favourite word in Spanish? Esta aqui. Which means 'is here' and feels very grounding. I also like that the 2 can be smashed together: esta aqui snog. Here is nice. 

Which it is. 

Also nice? Narcissi purchased on a whim. 

I've also started doing some exercises I found on the Versus Arthritis website. These are stretches and there are ones for specific areas of the body but I tend to stick to the morning, day and evening sessions. 15-20 minutes, whatever time of day I chose, to keep things moving, muscles supple and joints lubricated (isn't lubricated a dreadful word?). Today, I did the morning ones and then headed for the kitchen feeling in the mood for muesli. 

This I make myself: oats, seeds from pumpkins, sunflowers and poppies, raisins, ginger (good for inflammation caused by arthritis), topped with grated apple and zapped in the microwave for 30 seconds because I don't like cold milk. Do I feel impossibly smug about my virtuous breakfast? Why yes. Yes I do. And should the rest of the day go to pot and I finish it by eating nothing but toast, no matter. I'm ahead of myself. 

Mornings and evenings also involve a dose of swamp juice as prescribed by the no-nonsense acupuncturist. Bless her, she describes it as a little bitter. A better description would be "the cocktail I'll be served when I'm in hell". I follow it with a peanut butter chaser to try and neutralise it. 

Nice too? The first hot cross bun of the year. 

Last night, we finally managed to catch up with the latest Stanley Tucci episode. Oh my. The urbane coolness, the suavity and understated sexiness of the man. And Italy, although Italy's sexiness is more one that flaunts itself with deep eyes, lowered husky voice and suggestive finger running up your forearm. Oof. 

They are a TREAT and I'm spinning out the series for as long as possible. One episode a week least I binge and wake one morning to find myself miraculously conceiving a small child with serious glasses, crisply pressed shirts and a knack with a negroni. 

If you haven't seen them yet, do. But have something delicious to eat at the ready because you will get hungry. 

Always late to a party, I finally got round to reading Normal People at the weekend, having avoided it for a long time on the grounds it was about Young People being young and sexy and I couldn't muster the energy for it, let alone feel like it had anything to offer me. 

Except that it did, of course. Rooney lingers with exquisite precision over the tiniest of details, the cup being placed back on its saucer, the strand of hair, the muted clap of a laptop shutting. Everything is understated but positioned Just So, each word placed carefully. But that's not to say it isn't compelling or that the pace is too slow. She moves it forward, keeps us moving and growing with Marianne and Connell and leaves them at just the right moment. Not perfect, but as near dammit as I've read this year.

Brace yourself for my hot take on a different bestseller from 6 years ago next time.  

And surprisingly nice? A 'virgin' pina colada at a fancy-pants night out for 
International Women's Day last week. It was like a pudding in a glass.  

The wedding invitations are finally complete and at the printers as I type. There has been the usual faff around timings and what to put on the insert and who, of the extensive guest list, we can actually fit into the registry office. I have come down hard against inviting random old friends of N's parents who he hasn't seen for over a decade just because they were at his brother's wedding. And he has come down hard against my nonsense about time and need to be everywhere FIVE minutes before the start. 

Mum is fighting against children being invited (I think she had a bad experience at her own wedding), but we have so many friends with kids, that it seems a shame to ban them and aren't weddings all about family anyway? Besides, parents I know with kids will be overjoyed to have a legitimate reason for a night off and will be unlikely to bring the little treasures along with them. Mum and I are taking a trip to Brum Rag Market in April to buy the fabric for the dress, which will be a relaxed experience in no way ending in a row. 

It will totally end in a row. 

N and I have both come down hard on the subject of presents. A plus of marrying at this advanced age is that we have enough of everything. We have no need for matching etched wine glasses, plates, bed linen or matching dressing gowns. We have enough cutlery, mugs and cushions to see us through to the next world. Anyone buying us a "Live Laugh Love" sign will be banished to the cold outer edges of our circle and then get it gifted back to them at Christmas. So we've opted for donations instead, splitting it between the MS Society and Medecins Sans Frontiere

As I type, the utterly, breathtakingly, wonderful news that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is at Tehran's airport, allowed to fly back to Britain, has come up on the news. After so many years, this is an incredible piece of good news and a true ray of light on a very dull and rainy day. 

Which is a good note to end this post on. May your Wednesdays have rays of light too. 

And a nice surprise at a client meeting. 

Monday, March 7, 2022

The Full Duck

As you may remember from some posts ago (helpfully signposted by this 'ere blue linky), I have had eczema for a number of years now. It's appearance was gradual and spasmodic for a long time, lulling me into a false sense of "this is manageable" and "if I just cut out cheese, that will cure it". 

Friends, it has been 7 years. There is only so much Stilton this woman can refuse in her lifetime. 

Over those years, I have run the full gamut of interesting remedies in an attempt to look less like I have some disfiguring, contagious disease. There was the black clove oil that was recommended as a drink or topical application. As a drink it made me boke; as a topical application, it sent me shrieking to the bathroom for the soap. There was the giving up cheese, then all dairy, then bread, then all wheat and gluten, then sugar. My poor family, never knowing what to serve me. I was the worst dinner party guest. 

N gave up cooking altogether because he was afraid of making it worse. And if you're wondering how hard it is to quit sugar, let me tell you: bloody hard. It's in everything. It's even in mayonnaise! And gluten-free gravy granules! By all things good and righteous, when has gravy ever needed sugar??

Then there was that month where I tried the SIBO diet (I'm not linking it because it's EVIL) and spent the final week of it eating crisps every night and weeping on the sofa because it's so sodding restrictive and joyless. The Cambridge diet is a barrel of laughs compared to that thing. 

I tried acupuncture, going to see a very nice woman who held my hand, listened to my woes, told me my adrenal gland was out of whack and then stuck some needles in me. It was very nice, like a therapy session only pointier, and I did enjoy the massage at the end, but it cured nothing. 

There's been over the counter remedies, under the counter remedies and remedies that look like they've been scrapped up from the floor behind the counter. Try this cream! Try these herbs! Try this meditation! When I finally braced the Guardians of the Diary, the Gatekeepers of the Knowledge, i.e. the bulldog-like receptionists at my local surgery, I had a telephone appointment with a doctor who sent me a steroid cream. 

Fine, fine, I'll take the damn steroids. And I dutifully applied it. 

Woke up the next morning and thought, "gosh, the world is very blurry", looked in the mirror and promptly screamed, scattering the cats and setting off car alarms all around the city. I'd woken up with eyes so puffy, I was viewing the world through 2mm slits between my eyelashes. I looked like the Stay Puft marshmallow man in Ghostbusters, but with breasts and towering peri-menopausal rage. 

A panicked call to the Guardians later, I was on the phone to another doctor who laughed, LAUGHED (did I mention the towering peri-menopausal rage?), told me a reaction to the cream was highly unlikely so it was probably hay fever, but he'd send along a prescription for the gentle 'baby' version of the cream. Are you surprised when I say I did not get that prescription filled?

Failed by modern medicine, I went back to the Quacks. I think it's safe to say that, by then (2021), I'd run a marathon of quackery and, because a lot of the this damn stuff was on my arms and face, considered having cards printed saying "this is eczema, not leprosy. You are safe to approach" that I could hand out to people in the street to prevent the screaming whenever the wind blew my fringe off my face. I cut a deeper, thicker fringe. Considered hats.  

Then there was the very nice nutritionist who talked a lot about gut health, made me have expensive blood tests and then got me to buy expensive supplements that made not the blindest bit of difference. 

I chickened out of booking a course of sun beds (another suggested cure, something to do with the UV light), I must confess. I meant to go but was completely intimidated by the people manning them. The mahogany glaze to them. The terrifying fingernails. The, oh my dears, over-emphasised eyebrows that seemed to waggle independently at me, signalling that I was out of my depth. The eyebrows don’t lie.

I have avoided totalling up how much this, this, nonsense has cost me. The endless creams, the dietary alternatives, the appointments with specialists, the supplements, and the end result has been a savings account that echoes and skin that still frightens the horses. 

This year, I said to N, I'm stopping this. I need to take a break from it all. This is more than one woman can manage, and this particular woman has had it up to here with other women in health food shops putting their heads on one side and saying "has madam tried this supplement? It's only £45 and your soul for 2 capsules? You need to take 4 capsules a day in water that's been collected under a full moon from half way up Mount Kilimanjaro - the water is not provided, you'll need to gather that yourself. We have an offer today: buy this and get a life time's worth of anxiety for free!"

Up with this QUACKERY I will no longer put. 

Oh, except for this place, this Chinese herbalists, which has had some great reviews, so I'm going to give it a try. This is my last quack of the duck, if you will. 

And that is how I ended up in a room filled with disturbingly detailed anatomical drawings, listening to some truly dreadful "relaxing" music (the CD gets stuck and judders at the same point every week, and I'm forced to listen to the sound of the recorder ddd-dddd-ddd-ing for 30 seconds until she gets up and thumps the CD player) while a woman sticks pins in me and then trains a heat lamp on particular spots. She asks me nothing about what I eat, is utterly unconcerned with any stresses I may have experienced and makes no attempt to jazz up what she's doing. She flicks the needles in with the casual skill of a professional darts player. 

It is practical and, I cannot tell you, a huge relief. Her whole attitude is one of "yep, seen this before, get up there and let's get on with it."

Then I flip over (I say flip, what I mean is that I roll over with the grace of a beached whale and try not to fall off the table) so she can practise the mysterious art of cupping. No, NOT that sort of cupping - get your minds out of the gutter - but the sort that people like Gwyneth Paltrow used to have done. Did I say I was done with quacks and quackery? It seems I have actually decided to go the Full Duck. 

At the end, she pummels me for 10 seconds in a brief, non-relaxing, massage, charges me an extraordinary amount of money, and sends me away with parcels of tea that look and taste like rotting undergrowth. I swear it is the same smell you notice along the canal in the depths of a damp winter. 

And what's my verdict after 4 weeks of going the Full Duck? 

The eczema on my face and scalp has gone. Completely vanished as if it had never been there in the first place. The stuff on my arms, back and knees is still lingering, reluctant to leave a party no one invited them to, but the areas are reduced, not quite so red and angry. I no longer have to hold my hair in place, like a man with a comb-over in a high wind. People no longer recoil in the street. Small children no longer cry when I look at them. Dogs no longer howl and flee. Birds sing and my life feels less like one angry ball of itch. 

Still angry, but without the itch. Bring out the Stilton. 

Friday, March 4, 2022

I think it's hard

to know what to write in these days. The news is bleak and it is easy to feel small and lost and guilty for continuing to live your life. And the worry-worry-worry of what might happen next keeps building. 

You already know this, but it is okay to feel all of those things and still get up to make the dinner, go to work, complain about towels left on the floor, feed the pets, tend the garden, buy the groceries, change the bed sheets. 

You already know this, but it is okay not to have a hot take on what's happening, or to be absolutely up to the minute on the evolution of dictators, or to have single-handedly arranged a donations drive and hired the van and driven it across borders. It is okay to not know how to respond to yet another news story, it is okay to feel overwhelmed. 

You already know this, but it is okay to make plans to meet with friends next week or for holidays next month or only for the next day because that's as far ahead as you can see right now, beyond that seems too black and menacing for plans. 

You can feel compassion and anger and fear about what is happening, whilst at the same time be consumed by the minutiae of your life, the thousands of ways your days play out. The threads that run through your life like a mycorrhizal network, connecting you to the ones you love. This network that you have created, carefully tended and that nourishes your life. 

There is space inside you for all of that. That is what makes this giant experiment called humanity what it is. 

Things I will do while I can still do them:

  • cook, eat, repeat
  • read, sleep, repeat
  • support N and the Kid
  • meet up with friends
  • make bunting for the wedding
  • plan a trip to see more friends
  • choose my news sources wisely
  • tend the allotment
  • decorate the Retreat
  • write, work, repeat
  • fret, worry, feel guilty, repeat
  • donate, donate, donate
"I am washing my face before bed
while a country is on fire. 

It feels dumb to wash my face and 
dumb not to. 

Someone has always clinked a
cocktail glass in one hemisphere as
someone loses a home in another, 
while someone falls in love in the 
same apartment building where
someone grieves. The fact that 
suffering, mundanity and beauty
coincide is unbearable and 
Mari Andrew

Weather Advisory Service

On the way home from the train the other day, I took a shortcut through the dripping allotment grounds, the grass and earth squelching under...