Monday, 8 February 2016

A touch of Snow

Dear Nigel,

At last the Winter has provided us with a bit of the real white stuff and there is a small window of opportunity, a blink of the eye, in which to sledge, throw snowballs, build a snowman and soak up the blinding light that is sunshine on snow under a solid blue sky. It is fleeting. Tomorrow it will all be gone, so every breath counts, every moment stretched and slowed and nailed down with photographs and smiles and footprints in the snow.

The dog enjoys it too; running and jumping like a puppy once more. But when it comes to crossing the stream to go and sledge she holds back and wants to go back to her bed; to her nice warm electric blanket that I have recently bought her; for she is an old dog now and her bones creak and stiffen when she gets up. She sleeps in a cold porch and the blanket has transformed her life. Now she lolls over the edge of the basket, stretched out with sunglasses on and reading the newspaper, a glass of pinot grigiot in her hand. She can scarcely summon up the energy these days to bark at the postman.

I am making a Roast Chicken tonight with your version of colcannon to accompany it. The recipe is 'Kale colcannon' (page 18). It is an altogether lighter dish than the traditional potato-based one, with a sweeter flavour, as it is a mix of kale and celeriac. It is simple and straightforward and warming but without some of the more off-putting virtues of the traditional dish. I like it very much, anyway, and I'm not a huge fan of the green stuff normally. The celeriac gives it a tasty edge. You use it with pig cheeks and apples and cider, but I have a chicken in want of some vegetables. It works just as well.

I am planning an expedition tomorrow - at least it feels that way. I am taking Sophie and Molly to see the Chinese New Year celebrations in Manchester. I have developed the art (very usefully) of turning almost any outing into a treat. When money is tight adding value to the mundane is like using a golden cheque book.

It is something I have got down to a fine art: The most sort after treat in our house right now is a single gold-wrapped toffee out of an ancient Farrah's Toffee tin which sits in the car. It is only available on a Tuesday after swimming lessons, and there is only ever one each. What started off as a distraction to get my children away from clamouring for stuff from those awful moving sweet and crisp machines you get at swimming pools (and which are such a huge rip-off), has become a much-sort-after event. The fact that it isn't ever offered at any other times somehow adds to its cachet - a technique that most advertising execs seem to employ with gusto. I must see if I can employ these tactics elsewhere as it could prove to be a huge money saver...

We are going by train, which to them is almost a treat in itself since the nearest train station from here is about half an hour away and we use it very rarely. We are meeting Hannah in Manchester and Tom is also coming over from his University in Sheffield. Nice to have four of my children in the same place at the same time. These things have to be engineered; they don't happen by themselves. Hopefully there will be some nice Chinese street food for them to try as getting a table at a restaurant is probably nigh on impossible during the New Year celebrations, even if my budget ran to it. We are going early so we can get a good position to see the traditional Dragon Parade. It is all under wraps, though, as there is nothing they like more than a surprise.

Sophie goes to a big Middle School now in a town about nine miles away. She is about the youngest and smallest in the school - perhaps that is partly why she has been offered the role of 'Oliver' in the forthcoming school production. She's pleased. I'm pleased; but I could see the ramifications playing out in my head. Both she and her best friend were up for the final audition for the part. Her best friend was excited and desperate for it. I tried to play it down, foreseeing the dangers ahead. Now there is tears and 'not talking'. I try and talk to Sophie about how her best friend might be feeling. It is not an easy thing for a child to do. All babies are egotists - they have to be in order to survive. A child's growth away from self-centeredness is slow and often painful. I sow the seeds and hope she will at least be tactful.

Tomorrow will be pancake day - a time for over-indulging and scoffing far too much, I suspect. Four pancakes doesn't really do it in our house, somehow. At no other time would my family expect endless pudding, but on pancake day tradition seems to dictate that people eat pancakes until they can eat no longer. Its biblical roots are fudged when it comes to the 'giving something up' bit and the lean times ahead between now and Easter: Convenient religion I call it. Sophie wants to fine-hone her cooking skills so we have agreed to share the cooking. There will be lemon and caster sugar, and maple syrup for those who prefer. I haven't heard from Will yet, but I'm expecting a phone call any time now...

Enjoy your pancakes,

Love Martha x

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