The vegetable patch is starting to take shape and tiny seedlings are sprouting up in neat rows. I am late getting started, and I know that, but there is much to be dug over and stones removed before I can get down to business. It is blissfully absorbing to be working under the hot sun and creating order out of the weeds. I come home with a couple of pots of lovage and pineapple sage to add a slightly established tone to the almost bare soil. I am told to sprinkle coffee grounds round my seedlings to deter slugs, so I may give that a go.
My second son, Chris, is flying over from Frankfurt for a conference this week, so David and I are going up to London to see him. It is often the case when one of your children live so far away that it is easier to meet in a third place than have them drive two days out to the sticks and back. We are taking him out for lunch at 'Moro'. I have had Sam and Sam Clark's cook books for over ten years now. I love their Moroccan-influenced food, and some of my favourite vegetarian recipes come out of 'Moro - the cookbook'. Now, eventually we get the chance to eat what we have cooked (as it were). I am taking Chris his Birthday presents and cards as he will be in Brazil watching the football for his Birthday (- his girlfriend is from there). The little ones have made him cards with pictures of footballers with outsize feet on the front and their quaint childish spellings on the inside. He will treasure these most of all, I know, - far more than the little designer something I bought him in the Paul Smith shop in Nottingham. And that's the way it should be.
Inside, once more, out of the blistering heat, I am staying in the cool of the thick stone walls of the cottage and slowly and meditatively stirring risotto. It feels the right thing to do. I'm all salad-ed out and my face drops as I eye yet more mixed salad leaves in the fridge. I want something a bit more substantial today and I somehow think my guest will be less than impressed with another dressed salad. He has quite conventional tastes and has driven a long way to see me. He is eyeing the stove keenly to see what I might be making. It is 'Risotto' (page 225) made with a simple homemade chicken stock and some pancetta. There is a reassuring plainness to it which makes a contrast to some of the dishes of late. Perhaps I was thinking of my guest when I chose this dish - it somehow encapsulates his whole personality.
The village is living up to its name at the moment and is entirely surrounded by meadows of buttercups. Slowly, slowly, we are watching the changing palate of colour. The red clover is just coming out, the dandelions have had their day to be replaced by the buttercups, and by the roadside great swathes of cow parsley echo the hawthorn blossom above. This is my favourite time of year of all. The children come back from fishing barefoot in the stream bringing with them red campion and forget-me-nots and stuff them into child sized milk bottles on the windowsills. Bedtimes are getting later with the sun and the birds are singing longer into the fading sunset as I'm out with my watering can in the welcoming coolness of the evening.
Social events, it seems to me, can be as easy or as complicated as you want to make them. This last weekend there was a Beer Festival here at the Youth Hostel in Hartington. The Hostel itself is a bit special anyway, being an old Elizabethan Manor House set in very pretty grounds. But the weather was also glorious, the music ambient and the alcohol flowing freely. All we did was add friends and family and a large picnic with a fabulous raspberry and cream cake (if I say so myself); and it was 'perfick' as David Jason used to say. Sometimes the best times are the simplest of all. The children ran around in floaty dresses with long hair flying and butterfly face paints on their faces; and the older boys conked out on the blankets with their bottles of beer and soaked up the sun behind their hangovers and sunshades. It was good to catch up with absent friends and feel the grass between my toes.
This risotto is having a wonderful calming effect on me. The constant stirring is like therapy. A little taste and I decide, on second thoughts, to take some cooked chicken out of the fridge as you suggest, to make the dish a little more substantial. I put my guest to work stirring the risotto as I lay the table. People, I find, like to be able to help with the preparation of a meal, and when there are things to discuss it is often better to have something to do with your hands to help the conversation flow better. Eating, of course, has much the same effect.