Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Yesterday's Tomatoes

Dear Nigel,

The change in the hour has left the evenings blacker than ink. The few street lamps in our village are up the other end and angled down to keep light pollution to a minimum. Nature sucks back its goodness and crisp and crackly leaves are left to tumble and fall in heaps on the ground just asking to be kicked. I decide to clear the greenhouse where skeleton strings of mainly green tomatoes hang suspended in mid air. It is always a satisfying job to see - order restored and decay removed. It is part of the ritual I enjoy of putting the garden to bed for the winter; like drawing out flannelette sheets and old hot water bottles from the depths of the blanket chest to mark the change in tempo as the year draws slowly to an end.

It is the hard structure of a garden that frames the view in winter. Over at the farm the willow arch needs pruning back and shaping once more. We started pruning the willow hedge that rings the front boundary the other week - a job that looked like it might take quite some time - when Les came by with his large machinery heading for the fields and polished the job off for us in minutes. It is good to know there are still corners of good neighbourliness around that come free and without expectation. All the more welcome and noted when the world feels as if it is heading into a new kind of dark age: The blackness of men's souls on show everywhere you turn in print and on screen. It makes you want to look inward for the good and create something that is real and nourishing.

In the kitchen I am 'doing something with mince' - an economy meal in lean times with Christmas just around the corner. It is your 'Lamb kofka' (page 393) but I am using minced beef, an alternative you suggest, because I am interested to know whether this will really work. Not that I doubt you, mind, but 'meals with mince' is usually enough to make me groan and I will go a long way to try and avoid its too frequent occurrence on the menu, if I can.

The anchovies are roughly chopped and added to the mince along with the ground ginger and coriander, the chopped thyme, rosemary and parsley, and a couple of tablespoons of toasted sesame seeds. I am not naturally a 'hands-in-there' kind of cook when it comes to mixtures of this kind, but there simply isn't a better way to amalgamate and shape the meat to thread on wooden skewers.

The taste is a revelation as we were both expecting that unmistakable taste of mince-dressed-as-mince; and instead it is interesting and quite pleasing. I think the saltiness of the anchovies and the spices carried the day. We think it is something that we will make again sometime, anyway. Not perhaps a show-stopper, but a good mid-week special that doesn't require too much hard work. However, I would just say that I had to remove my kofka from their skewers after they came out of the fridge. Maybe it is simply the shape of my raised-sided griddle pan but cooking was going to become an issue if I persisted.

We go for a walk around a nearby lake with the girls. It still feels funny to be walking without a dog out front. Never happy on a lead, our Poppy was always in and out of the water, carrying impossible-sized sticks and wagging her tail with the energy of a troupe of cheerleaders egging you on. I've hardly been without a doggy companion for the last twenty three years and it stil feels strange especially when we are out. Dogs provide the energy you wished you still had, a reason to walk alone, and an upbeat face when the gloom starts to settle like the mist. It is hard to match.

A flock of Canada geese graze on a nearby grassy bank, but as the light starts to fade and the walkers become more sparse they make their way back noisily towards the edge of the lake. The country park is closing, cars are leaving and nature is crawling back to take charge once more. The noise from the jet skier is silenced as he packs away his kit. Model boats on the far lake and a miniature railway are put to bed. There is a welcome hush though the light is low and distant runners look like washing on a line with only dayglo t-shirts and arms heading towards you. I feel the damp hitting my lungs. It is not a good time to be out if you are prone to wheezing. But the sudden silence is intoxicating; more so because of the contrast.

We are all so unaware of the background noises in our environment. Even when we come out for a bit of peace and a country walk, there is sound. I relish the two ends of the day and find myself listening intently to the silence. If there is a radio on I switch it off. Even the heating has to go. The washing machine can wait till later. The fan in the bathroom that is linked to the light is left in darkness. A kettle - too loud. The cat snores gently beside me on the sofa. This is the extent of noise pollution I will allow in that small piece of time that I claim as my own when the house is empty and my hearing is super-charged to hear a pin drop if drop it would. I love this time. It is mine.

Love Martha x

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