Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Come up and see my Magnolias

Dear Nigel,

Just as little pipe cleaner lambs start stumbling around on unsteady legs in the fields behind the cottage and the sap begins to rise once more, I have an offer I can hardly refuse. OK, so he didn't quite say 'Come up and see my Magnolias', but he might as well have done.

We are standing in an old Greenhouse and my new friend The Gardener is showing me a tray of tiny fragile seedlings, each no bigger than my thumb nail. I marvel each time at how something so very small can possibly grow into the twenty foot trees we've just be wandering beneath. They are all coming into bud now. Some, with fuzzy coverings, like the skin of a kiwi fruit, and others smoother and tipped with blood. The blossoms emerging are white, or pink, and some have been spray-painted pink on the shell and white on the inside. Some pink hussies are already out and waving their knickers in the air twenty feet above our heads. Other cream ones are more reticent and compact and sit composed on smaller  trees like a flock of starlings, each on its own spot, nodding heads in different directions and discussing the weather, no doubt. Everyone discusses the weather. Those golf ball-sized hailstones that rammed down on us on Easter Sunday, spoiling many an Easter egg hunt and confusing small children.

I am in the kitchen making soup. It is a green soup for Spring: 'a lovely fresh-tasting soup for a winter-spring day', like today. It is 'A spring soup of young leeks and miso' (page 104). The leeks and celery are softened in butter and the spring greens added later to preserve the green colour. A lemon adds the final bit of zing to whet the palate. The miso paste gives you your 'umami fix' which you crave after returning from a trip abroad. It is good that it lasts and behaves well in the fridge, becoming a new staple ingredient 'just as Parmesan used to be.'  Oh no, what has happened to the old Parmesan? It still languishes in mine. But then again, I'm still knocking out the old favourites for family members who refuse to try anything new, or different. In the battle of wills, often I prefer to make a rod for my own back and have two sittings, rather than sit and seethe at untouched plates.

The miso soup 'sustains and sets you up for the day ahead'. Almost an essential part of every Japanese meal, it becomes a routine comfort. Like a blackened pool - 'shining, calm, untroubled. A bowl of quiet perfection,' of contemplation and reflection.

I have been contemplating and considering lately the increasing phenomenon that is the rise of  the obsessive documentation of our lives. Sherry Turkle, clinical psychologist and Professor at MIT, writes about the cost of this constant documentation - i.e photographing and texting - of our lives, and how these interruptions 'make it hard to settle into serious conversations with ourselves and with other people because emotionally, we keep ourselves available to be taken away from everything.' As Arianna Huffington notes: 'By so-obsessively documenting our experiences, we never truly have them.'

To stand and hold the flower of a last remaining snowdrop and compare it tone for tone with that of a newly-emerging snowflake flower head (which take over once the snowdrops are spent). One, with a green dot on the edge of the tepals of each bell shaped flower, (as if a small child has sought to embellish nature with a felt tip pen), and the other with the same green applied delicately to the inner three. The surge of electricity which courses from a single flower head, up through the capillaries and veins of your very own hand and liberates itself towards the sun through the top of your head cannot be captured on a smart phone. Even words scarcely do it justice. Being there is enough. If the memory of that feeling isn't enough to embed itself into your very consciousness then no amount of down-loaded photographs will every retrieve it from your memory.

I read my children's face book entries and feel devoid of emotion, because I wasn't there. Life is to be lived in the present, to be truly lived. And I would rather have the excited voice of my older daughter on the end of the phone telling me in gasping breaths about the wonders of the Alps, than read a diary of events, blow-by-blow.

And so we sit down to supper and your lovely miso soup. And this is exactly what I have been talking about: I am instantly reminded of a recipe I used to make, perhaps thirty years ago, the recipe of which has long since bit the dust. I can't even remember what it was or exactly what was in it but the underlying taste is a memory that lies buried in this soup, and comes from nowhere to remind me of a time, long past, in my careless youth.

Love Martha x

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