Thursday, 23 June 2016

All the Way to America

Dear Nigel,

If 'Fortune favours the brave', as we are told, then I hope for the very best for my bold and beautiful red-haired daughter, Hannah. Like the character in Walt Disney's 'Brave' she is the archetypal stroppy redhead - fiery, impulsive, yet intensely brave. As the middle one with two older brothers and two younger brothers, all very close in age, she soon learnt to hold her own amongst the boys, as a child.

She is twenty six now, and in the last three weeks she has left her home, her boyfriend, her job, her country and gone to America. With no responsibilities and savings in the bank she has chosen to leave a life that was making her unhappy and follow her dreams and travel.

When she first applied to work in an American Summer Camp we knew that there might not be much notice. The last three weeks have been a mad dash to London for her visa and the handing in of her notice at work. Last Monday I drove to Manchester and moved her life into boxes for storage in the barn. And the last couple of days were spent... making a cake - so very typical Hannah. This was for the people at Americamp who had been so helpful in getting her a place at a camp in Pennsylvania. The resulting cake was, of course, perfect (- not like the kind of makeshift Birthday cakes that I always made her, with ice cream cones for castle turrets and smarties on the Hansel and Gretel house).
So watch out America; here she comes.

The Summer here has been mixed. The grass is growing as we speak due to the lush rain which insists on falling at intervals and knocking the heads off all my cottage garden perennials. Patty's plum is lying in tatters on the ground, huge frothy peonies have been knocked down and beheaded and a beautiful bush of pale lilac geraniums looks as if a dog has been lying on it. This is an English Summer.

We take the opportunity to go to the Glastonbury of the impoverished. This particular folk and beer festival is a folk and beer and boat festival and centres on the little town of Middlewich in Cheshire, about an hour from here. A friend is mooring his boat there and we are coming to wish him Happy Birthday and spend the weekend camping. The nice thing about this kind of festival is that the whole town appears to be taking part. There are large cohorts of dubious morris men around, the pubs all seem to have live music playing (of various quality), but the focus is on the canal and the narrow boats travelling up and down it, through the locks, or moored up and turned into floating shops or makeshift cafes. There are three canals passing through Middlewich - The Shropshire union, the Trent and Mersey, and Wardle canals. The narrow boats on them are built to a design unique to this country and must be less than seven foot wide in order to navigate Britain's narrow canals.

It is hugely calming to sit outside a canalside pub and watch people drawing their boats leisurely through the open lock gates. The heavy oak gates are wound closed and the opposite ones opened to let the water level rise. Each lock gate is completely unique in itself as when the British canal system was constructed there was no standard template for lock gates. They were constructed using a variety of techniques designed to navigate the local landscapes, which makes it a nightmare when they need replacing. The lifespan of a lock gate is about twenty five years.

Watching the progress of boats is measured and slow. Boats come in and go out and you could sit there mesmerised for some time over a morning's bacon butty and a cup of coffee, letting the remnants of last night's alcoholic fug drain from your brain.

We amble slowly along the towpath talking to the boat owners as we pass. One is selling local Welsh cheeses (we are not far from the border here) and we stop to taste and buy a hunk of organic Caerphilly cheese. It is creamy with a delicate tang. The boat owners are selling kits for making halloumi at home, but I am not convinced. I have made cheese when I used to keep and milk my own goats - many years ago now - but I remember it took a great deal of milk to make a small piece of cheese, and these days I would rather go into a cheese shop and choose.

Back home, I am making supper. Tonight we are having 'New garlic and mushroom tarts' ( page 220). You have a head of roasted garlic left over from the day before. As I have not, I roast the garlic in foil in the oven as I cook the rectangles of puff pastry. The head of roasted garlic gives up its softened cloves readily. There is something very therapeutic about squeezing out the garlic as if it were toothpaste. With a little olive oil added it mashes to a paste 'the hue of old ivory.' Double cream stirred in thickens instantly and makes a dense-tasting spread to fill the hollows. It is mellowed by the addition of the sauteed mushrooms and balanced nicely by the addition of dill. I am getting to like this use of dill, of yours, in all its different connotations.

We both enjoy this supper very much and so I am also considering another idea of yours which is to pair the garlic cream with slices of goats cheese. I am considering making this recipe again some time soon, with its little boats of puff pastry filled with cream and topped with goats cheese rounds. I am looking for ways to persuade myself to eat less meat and I think this is a good one. I have made a couple of 'old-style' vegetarian recipes lately which were very so so. As a confirmed carnivore I need persuading to eat more vegetarian meals and taste comes top of the list. The days of the lentil rissole are long dead as far as I'm concerned.

Love Martha x

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