Tuesday, 19 March 2013

March 17th - Injured birds and frugal housekeeping

Dear Nigel,

My family has a habit of taking in Injured birds. Over the years all sorts of people have come into our lives, and out again sometimes. Take Mel.

Mel arrived when my daughter Hannah was in the Lower 6th studying A levels. She arrived home one day with a friend. 'This is Mel,' she said, 'and she's coming to live in my room.' And with that they disappeared upstairs. I was in no position to argue since I had two small babies to look after, neither of whom were walking, three step children and three of my older children still living at home. Luckily it was a big house.

So Mel came and lived with us for three months. She lived in Hannah's room. Meals were taken up there by the two of them; I don't remember ever doing Mel's washing (I think Hannah took care of that). And then one day she left, moving on to the next stage of her life, and I haven't seen her since. We had bridged the gap for her between a turbulent home life and moving in with her boyfriend - a hole where she could have so easily fallen.

And then there were the two little boys who lived on the road behind us once, who were sent out to play most weekends to keep them out of harm's way. It took me a while to realise what was going on - to put two and two together - seeing their mum on a Monday with a thick dose of make-up on that didn't really hide the newly blackened eye. We changed our routine so we would 'be around' more, and, without ever speaking, she realised she could just send the boys over to us when necessary.

We all like to think it doesn't go on. We live in our own imperfect bubbles thinking that everyone else's life is a little more perfect, a little more sorted. We miss the signs.

One of my sons has a friend with a more chaotic life than most. Over the last few years this young boy, only sixteen, has come and stayed with us whenever the need arose. He sees us as his adopted family and looks relaxed and happy when he is with us. I took my 'fledgling son' with us when we went to the beach house in the Autumn half term because I thought he needed a holiday. He spent most of his time with me and the little ones, since my lazy son had trouble getting out of bed.

We rockpooled and built castles, and I watched as he chased Sophie and Molly around the ruined castle on the headland, like the ten year old child he should once  have been: A child grown old far before his time. Last week his mum committed suicide. I say we are going to the beach house again in two weeks time and would he like to come. He thinks so. And maybe he will say nothing but let the tide wash over his feet and throw stones at the seagulls. I look, almost guiltily, at the photo of my children all together on Mothers' Day, and I think about my fledgling son who lost his mum. On Mothers Day.

Back in the kitchen you are involved in a bit of frugal housekeeping, of the type that I try - at times - to emulate. (If I were a more organised cook I'm sure this would happen a little more frequently). The 'housekeeping' involves a roasted pork shoulder which is reincarnated as a 'broth enriched with the treasure from the roasting tin and trimmings of meat from the joint' on day one, and a substantial sandwich on day two. My mother would be proud of you.

The 'Pork shoulder with ginger and anise' ( page 121) is almost pot-roasted, without the crackling (which is saved for later - no waste).It is given a different orientation by the 'seasoning of anise, ginger and black peppercorns (which) set the tone for the soup and sandwiches that follow.' The broth on day two is made into 'something light, fresh and vital with masses of Chinese greens...while the addition of green peppercorns (gives) it a deep, marrrow-warming heat.' Szechuan pepper will give a hearty kick to the back of the throat, along with the 6-8 small hot chillies. This is a main course soup to drive out the mad March winds. I don't think I have ever added pork to a soup before but I can see how this would work with its Chinese influence - pak choy rather than spinach, I think. 'Pork broth with pepper and green leaves' is on page 122.

We all know it well 'that sublime moment, usually late at night when you are a little bit pissed, when you come across something delicious hiding in the fridge.' In this case it is the pork for your pork sandwiches, but, great foodie as you are, you have been dreaming about these all day. And you admit to a little pre-planning in the making of a slaw ( love that word) with a spicy mayonnaise slashed with lime juice and using leaf coriander instead of lettuce. The pork meat is teared to shreds and added to the slaw and the skin and fat turned into crackling and added to the baps on top of a handful of coriander and a mound of pork and slaw. ('Pulled pork baps with carrot an galangal slaw' is on page 125).



  1. How fortunate your children are to have such a loving family who live in a home with an open-door policy. More fortunate are those who are welcomed in time of need. Thank you for caring for those little birds. : )