Wednesday, 30 September 2015

More haste, less speed

Dear Nigel,

There is a spider who lives in my car called Ariadne who is waging a small battle with me. Each morning when I get in I have to wipe away a web obscuring my vision out of the side window; and each night she replaces it with another one in exactly the same place. Were it not for the slightly pressing need to see out of the side window I might be happy to leave her in peace. She is an obstinate creature, my Ariadne. Perhaps we both are.

And they are everywhere at the moment. Spiders. Hanging out their washing in the morning dew, neatly pegged to the frames of seed heads and bare stemmed plants. Inside, they corner each window frame and take particular delight in lining each beam on a beamed ceiling. Me and my feather duster are waging war relentlessly inside so that we don't become a tableau like Miss Haversham's.

The mornings are misty, with a heavy fog down in the valley. It burns off by ten, but then returns in late afternoon. I am gazing at a particularly beautiful web today, hanging from a bush and outlined as if with liquid silver, showing off the weaver's intricate skill.

Back in the kitchen, I am cooking in too much haste. Supper tonight is 'Lamb steaks, creamed cannellini' (pg 375). The first mistake I make is to buy the steaks in the supermarket, I think. But I was shopping in a hurry today and there wasn't time to go to the farm shop on the way back.

I am looking at your steaks and then looking at mine, thinking 'yep, a poor do indeed'. These are the best lamb steaks the supermarket could come up with, but they are small and thin, and I would be most disappointed, were I eating out somewhere, to be served up a steak like this. Of course, the proof is in the eating. And, as it turns out, they taste fine. But all the same, if I make this again, I wouldn't want to feel that huge sense of disappointment.

The second mistake I make is entirely mine. I am rushing because there is homework and music practise and a hundred other things to be done. And so I fail to squeeze out the water from the spinach enough and the puree is a little too much on the runny side. It tastes fine, of course, and nothing that an end of bread can't mop up on the plate, but I am hearing my old home economics teacher saying 'could do better, girl', and I know it. So, a note to self in the book, a rap on the knuckles, but at least we eat well tonight.

I am particularly taken by the idea of pureeing the cannellini beans with the spinach. Never a huge fan of beans, this alters the texture completely. It tastes really good as the beans are cooked in a chicken stock before being pureed with the spinach. I can see that this one has a whole host of applications. You suggest butter beans as an alternative, and a rib eye steak. I think it might work well with sausages too. Cannellini beans have one of the highest protein content of any bean, and I can see it making a fine alternative to bangers and mash for those trying to cut down on carbs.

Sophie has started to learn the violin, and I had forgotten how excruciating it is to be in the proximity for anyone with 'an ear' for music. I can't imagine teaching the violin, myself. I grit my teeth and try not to show the 'pain' I'm feeling when things are just a fraction out of tune. Greatly out of tune I can cope with, but minutely, it's agony.

I think there is a good case to be made here to the old man upstairs for the mutation of genes to skip a generation, so that the parents of musical offspring are of the tone deaf variety. In this way, all would be satisfied. Tone deaf parents would obviously make the best audience as being endlessly appreciative and in awe of their children; and probably be the most encouraging to their offspring as well, delighting in a talent they themselves never had. Musical parents are also apt to be less patient when the penny doesn't sink in first time. This is why musicians always send their children to other musicians to learn. I am perfecting the encouraging grimace in Sophie's case.

There are about five violins knocking around in our family it seems, of various sizes, in lofts and under beds. Musical instruments are, strangely, one of those things that people don't like to get rid of. Charity shops are full of your old clothes, outmoded furniture and old Laura Ashley curtains, but rarely is there a decluttering of instruments. And luckily so for us right now as we are on a fairly tight budget.

Sophie collected some blackberries yesterday and we had them with apple for tea. Sometimes you can taste an individual berry and know that the time is just right. And that time it seems is now. They may be less juicy than the showy, cultivated, giant grenade-like things that the grocer sells, but they win hands-down on taste. They have an almost citrus fruitiness at times, in a truly ripe berry just before it turns and becomes watery and insipid. Gather them now and you have a feast in a handful.

The whole point about a blackberrying expedition is 'the journey', as they like to say these days. It is the day out, the getting scratched and prickled and hands covered in purple stain. Sometimes you come back loaded and other times, when someone else has got there first, you might find only a handful. And yet it fairly ceases to matter. The one tiny apple crumble with half a dozen carefully placed berries sitting on your table is a triumph to the hunter gatherer buried deep within your psyche. No matter if you have driven for over an hour to find a sodding bush.

Of course you could be lucky and your buckets and ice cream tubs will be laden. Don't sit back on your laurels, though, as I have done in the past: It's amazing how quickly a fruit mould will develop and ruin the whole lot in an instant. Less is probably more in this case, too. How many of us really have the time to knock out hundreds of jars of jam? Blackberries are too 'chewy' on their own. A shelf of jars is great to look at for a while; but after that while you must either eat them all yourself or find people to offload them onto. The two precious jars you might have eked out of your half-filled bowl is a more precious and treasured (and therefore savoured) thing than the third jar this month that you're still wading through come April.

Martha x

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