Tuesday, 28 March 2017

Life in the Greenhouse and FREE glass

Dear Nigel,

There's something about the word 'FREE'...really free that is just lovely. Not 'free', but we're going to charge you a massive delivery charge, or 'free' but please make a donation you think is appropriate, but 'free' as in - we made the effort to store this glass, we made the effort to put up the sign, and we want NOTHING off you in return. How refreshing. How lovely. And doesn't it make you want to pass that feeling on somehow? I've never tried free-cycle myself but I'm guessing that the feeling is the same.

So, we are out visiting someone else's garden, looking at the early Magnolias and Rhododendrons. David takes one back for the hall. We've filled up looking at the treetops alive with giant mopheads and are winding our way back home. There it is again, that sign: FREE glass - a whole large greenhouse dismantled. The farmer seems more than pleased that good honest stuff won't end up needlessly in a skip. The greenhouse at the farm can also be mended, and the large glasshouses at the
hall will always be in need of more glass.

It is the new economy. We live in an era where we are sucked into being consumers, often whether we want it or not. To be content with less, to spend less, to desire less, is not allowed. There is a whole army of media out there convincing us we are wrong, making us feel inadequate, failing. Yet when we do, often as not we are dissatisfied the minute our consumption high has worn off. We are addicts looking for our next fix, comparing ourselves to others, letting others erode our sense of self.
We need to reclaim our individuality, our right to be different, to be unique. Our truth is as valid as any other. Often more so, being honest.

So back to the Greenhouse, where the tiny seeds we sowed only a fortnight ago are pushing up against their glass covers, thrusting towards the sun. They are reliable vegetables like leeks and chard and courgettes. The friable soil here is easy to weed and we are lifting out the last of last year's crops, adding it to the day's dinner, and preparing the ground for this year's offering. There is an honest therapeutic effect in this. And Free sunshine - as long as we look after it with care and treat it with respect.

And I am learning more and more each day about the change in climate. Once, it was just a small voice at the back of my mind reminding me to recycle plastic bottles and cardboard. The deeper I look, the more concerned I become. And what concerns me most of all is the way that mild-mannered scientists who dare to flag up their research findings, are being vilified and threatened in their own homes. It is like the worst days of McCarthyism. I google this to find Wikapedia has a definition for McCarthyism which is 'the practise of making accusations of subversion or treason without proper regard for evidence.'

This is what I believe is being perpetrated by climate-change deniers. We like to think we live in a society that regards free speech as important. We may not agree with it or like it, but we allow it. Our default setting is for honesty. We tend to believe things automatically. And any 'expert' claiming to be a scientist is treated with gravitas and respect initially. Even if he is simply an actor and his research credentials are nil. And this is what the other side - the climate deniers - are putting up against legitimate, independent research. We are being manipulated in ways we barely comprehend and our emotions tugged. We recently watched a wonderful, thought-provoking documentary called 'Merchants of Doubt' (available on You Tube) which was simply eye opening. I like to think that I will be perhaps a little more sceptical next time, but the mind is so easily fooled.

Back in the kitchen I have found an up-to-date recipe for the perfect Cauliflower Cheese. It is one of those old stalwarts that perhaps you used to make, and then it lost favour, and now you no longer make it. Until now. This is midweek vegetarian meals for a new generation. It is tasty and quick and doesn't deserve it's tarnished image. Try it. I will be making this one again. The combination of Gruyere cheese and creme fraiche and mustard makes a lovely topping to the roast cauliflower. Thoughts of slimy cheese sauce couldn't be further from your mind. It takes a bit of 'reinventing the wheel' mentality to replace one image with another in your own mind; but I promise you, if you try this you won't be disappointed.

Having a fluid and flexible mind is a fine thing, and one which is devilishly difficult to obtain. The more adamant we are that we are questioning, thinking individuals, the more entrenched we have often seamlessly become as we age, and no longer realise it. Children are the most flexible in their thinking. Often, when dealing with an obstinate toddler this can seem not to be the case, but they are capable of leaps of understanding and thinking, mental gymnastics, whilst we who are so bogged down in our own doubts and prejudices are often incapable of making that leap of faith that leads eventually to a higher understanding. Obviously, I am talking here about a simple vision of Cauliflower Cheese, but it applies equally to our understanding about climate change, or many a new progressive issue.

love Martha x

Cauliflower Cheese

1 large cauliflower
2tblsp olive oil
4tsp maple syrup
salt and pepper
350g creme fraiche
50g Gruyere cheese
2tsp Dijon mustard
1tblsp Parmesan (grated)
1tblsp chopped chives (fresh)

1. Heat the oven to 180 degrees centigrade.
2. Cut the cauliflower into florets. Place in a large bowl and toss with the the oil and maple syrup.
3. Season with salt and pepper.
4. Place in a roasting tin and roast for 30 mins. until tender.
5. Put the creme fraiche, mustard and grated gruyere cheese in a bowl and combine.
6. Tip in the roasted cauliflower and mix until coated.
7. Place in a fresh roasting tin and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.
8. Cook in the oven for 15-20 mins. until golden.
9. Sprinkle with chives and serve.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Plastic lambs, Crocuses and ...More Green Soup

Dear Nigel,

I knew that Spring had finally sprung when I saw my first lamb this week, standing in the middle of a grassy field in its pristine white coat looking like a plastic Britain's model circa 1968. It seemed completely out of place to me as I drove past avoiding the deep mud-filled potholes and churned up verges everywhere. There has been so much rainfall here lately. Down by the Manifold Inn there are several large duck-sized pools where people like to camp in the Summer months near the bridge over the river, iconic country Inn on one side, village shop on the other. The car looks like a paint balling accident only hours after being washed. I walk about only in my wellies at the moment; the mud is knee deep in places.

David sends me photos of the swathes of crocuses out at Renishaw Hall, where he is Head Gardener. Here, there is only a bank of snowdrops on the other side of the stream from my kitchen window and the sturdy reliable thrust of new rhubarb breaking through the earth with all the vigour of a well-defined bicep. I make a mental note to seek out last year's bags in the freezer to use up before I am inundated with copious amounts. Would that we eat a lot of rhubarb and ginger jam, or trout with rhubarb, or something, but we don't. Crumble is the preferred option, and that is for Sundays only. We've weaned ourselves off puddings on waistline grounds - mine not his, unfortunately. How lovely it would be to have the sort of constitution that required you to eat more of the things you love. The very slim people amongst my family and friends all have that rather annoying habit of either being rather in love with their emaciated shapes or claiming to only like savoury stuff. Unfair; most unfair.

I take a friend out for lunch for her Birthday. We go to a quirky secondhand bookshop with its own vegetarian cafe on the top floor. Scarthin Books in Cromford is my kind of place. There are new books and old, an artist in residence and the dish of the day is homity pie - and very good it is too. There is a community of people who meet for philosophical discussions, babies being changed somewhere out the back and the sort of displays angled to entice, so that you are led to books that might interest you, rather than have to go and search for one by someone whose name momentarily escapes you. I've come here with friends, with children, with my partner; and sometimes I've brought myself here alone and lodged myself somewhere behind a curved door full of books that becomes invisible once shut. Once, libraries used to have that feel to them. I remember ours (in the little village of St. Bees in the Lake District, where I grew up) was a single room below the pub, with warm, fogged up windows and a small librarian and small shelves. It felt cosy. These days I want a library or bookshop to sell coffee. I want a comfortable seat and time to while away. I am a demanding punter, I know, but I've tasted the good life in book places and seen that it can be done.

Scarthin books, then, sits on one side of a picturesque mill pond. Two swans nearby were busy making a fuss about their precocious youngster, who probably started learning the piano at three, and eating olives and pasta with black truffle shavings (- whilst proclaiming their virtues extremely loudly -), whilst the couple on the next table struggled to get their offspring to choose between fish fingers and chicken nuggets. (Or is that just me?) With pictures flashing through my head of swans and broken arms, we left them to their precious little darling and headed over to Cromford Studio and Gallery - a lovely, vibrant art gallery housed in an old bakehouse, where Martin Sloman works and teaches and loves a good chat; especially on a lovely sunny morning like today.

I am starting to compile 'stuff from the Peak District' for a chapter for a book which I've been invited to submit to a local publisher. This is up my street too: Things I know about the Peak District - I have a hive of useless but potentially useful stuff (to some people - walkers and visitors and the like) from years of getting to know the area like the back of my hand. Like a ball of wool I cross and recross its boundaries in all directions, adding to the ball like Ariadne's thread. My friend is constantly amazed that our journeys out usually involve me commenting on this gate and that path, the pub in this village, the post office in that, the view from over that hill, the renovation of that barn. And I am constantly amazed that I have so many friends who live so close yet rarely venture out even a couple of miles to some of the best walks in the country. Do we all have such treasures on our doorstop we never stop to gaze upon, whilst focussing all our efforts and energy in planning the next holiday to somewhere far away where there is something amazing we 'simply must see'? My older daughter, Hannah, is a case in point. Before she toddled off to China for a year, she would come here from out of the city, moan about how boring the countryside is and then swan off to America to take in 'this AMAZING scenery.' - Hills and trees; we've got them here too, you know?

I am sending you a bowl of Green Soup - more green soup, actually. This one is 'Lettuce and Spring onion'. It needs some pepping up (- more lemon juice, I discover). I seem to be wading through tides of green soup, in a new year's austerity programme of both body and pocket; and a succession of vegetarian curries, on the look out for those one or two which will become the regular curry-to-go-to for a midweek meal when I just to cook without thinking, and eat. But first I have to do the thinking - which one - and plant it firmly in the memory of my hands, the automatic shopping list and the taste buds of all concerned, so that it fits easily into family life.

Hoping Spring is coming to where you are too,

Love Martha x