Wednesday, 16 March 2016

A Cold Spring

Dear Nigel,

Spring is coming slowly this year, dragging its feet as if it hasn't quite the heart in it yet to paint the hedgerows with fresh buds, scatter wild flowers in the meadows and slowly unfurl new feather-like leaves to dust the tips of bundles of bare sticks. Every day I pass my favourite flowering current. There are tiny beetroot-stained buds now and the beginnings of leaves, but only the beginnings. I note its progress - slow - and hope each day to see a little more life rearing its head above the parapet.

The only life in the garden is the rhubarb which carries on relentless. We had a fresh crop of heavy snow two weeks ago - enough to close the schools - and it still took its opportunity to push through the white blanket. It has the muscles of a body builder in training, forcing every sinew to maintain its dominance. Even the weeds are pale and weedy, nursing colds and pretending to be delicate. Their treacherous hearts are hidden from view, for now. It is probably a good time to make a start and clear the ground. I feel its time is coming. And getting in there quick before all hell breaks loose will get things off to a good start. Perhaps tomorrow...

Today I am making breakfast. It was a hard night at the pub last night - even harder if you didn't get a drink and were hard at work fiddling until well into the wee hours. I always seem to wake up with something akin to a hangover whether I've touched a drop or not, and quite whether it is the intensity of playing or simply dehydration, I don't know. I make a mental note to 'drink more' - water at the very least.

I spy your recipe for an all-day breakfast toad-in-the-hole and check whether the ingredients are in stock. I go out to the farm shop for some black pudding and the best herby sausages I can get and am back within the hour preparing the batter. It is 'Sunday breakfast toad-in-the-hole' (page 56), although today is Saturday. The batter with its grain mustard seems based on that from an old toad-in-the-hole recipe of yours that I have made time and time again. It is still my favourite way of making it after all these years, and a teatime favourite of ours. This recipe, though, is about Breakfast with a capitol B, and having it and eating it all. There are four of us today -thank goodness - as this is substantial stuff and definitely 'the sort of heroic breakfast you need the morning after the night before.' I note your essential point before I start that 'when making any batter get the fat truly hot and sizzling before you pour the batter in.'

Rehearsals for 'Oliver' are well under way now. Sophie replays the DVD endlessly of the old film version of it with Oliver Reed as Bill Sykes and I realise where I've seen him before:- Under the bottom of my car last week as it perched high up on the ramps, giving me a stern lecture on why this bearing and that joint needed removing/fixing/or whatever, and me agreeing meekly. You would agree to anything Bill Sykes said, wouldn't you?... or Oliver Reed come to that, under that stern fixed brow and firm gaze of his.  How much?? Of course, Oliver - a pleasure...

A spot of sunshine and the sight of so many joggers and cyclists out reminds me that my excuses are wearing thin. I've used the 'black ice on the ground...and I might twist an ankle' argument for long-enough. My clothes tell me that the winter has left it's toll and a little exercise is needed to remedy the situation. It's a fine line between eating what you want, persuading yourself to eat what you need, and not denying yourself anything in the process. I head off round the village on my usual beat for fifteen minutes or so. Quite enough for one day. It doesn't seem enough, somehow, if you believe what you read in the magazines, but a couple of weeks of this and I can feel changes happening; now that the weather is changing too and soon it will be time to come out of hibernation from under those huge over sized sweaters that hide so much.

My best friend comes over in a new outfit of citrine green and teal blue. She looks fabulous. I say, 'Oh, I couldn't wear a colour as bright as that.' She tells me - honestly - that my wardrobe is boring and that I like to fade into the background where no one can see me. And she's totally right. But I feel comfortable and at ease with myself in the background. Is this not allowed? I have no desire to show off or be centre of attention or need others to bolster my self-esteem. Can I not remain in my favourite navy v neck jumper and old jeans? She has plans to take me shopping. I think she's been watching too many programmes of people jumping out naked and annoying the neighbours.

I have been reconsidering my intention to eat less meat for health, for my budget, but mainly to help the ecology of the planet. I open my 'Meat free Monday' cookbook, which Paul McCartney and his children help set up. The first recipe is a good place to start. It is for a sweet potato gnocchi with rocket pesto. The idea behind the campaign seems a good one and a practical one. If we all make a few small changes it adds up to a lot. Amongst the arguments put in favour of making changes towards a vegetarian lifestyle in the book, my favourite statistic is the one that maintains that about 634 gallons of fresh water is required to produce one 5.2 ounce beefburger, which would be enough for a four-hour shower. On those grounds alone I'm happy to have an omelet once a week, if necessary.

Love Martha x

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