Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Gooseberries for a Fool

Dear Nigel,

Summer has taken a sideways slant and the dull cool days send me back in to the kitchen to cook. I have been making soup in a vegetarian cafe in a quirky little bookshop in Cromford. It is a lovely place to work and has a great feel about it. Everyone who works in the kitchen seems to be a writer. The other staff all pop in for their lunch and to discuss the book group, or the Bob Dylan Society, or the Philosophy group. It's an interesting place to be.

Back home I'm working on more vegetarian recipes. We eat less meat these days - flexitarian, I'm told, by my new friends from Friends of the Earth. Partly, it is an initiative to do my bit to help the planet: Friends of the Earth tell me that livestock production causes almost 15% of all climate changing gases. Every meal in which you substitute vegetables for meat counts. It's not an either/or approach - just as every plastic bottle recycled instead of binned makes a difference. The world is made of small things and small deeds, but collectively we are strong and we are many. And partly, too, it is because vegetarian food is healthier and I generally feel better for it. But I am interested in taste, primarily, and new flavours, and am not interested in meat substitutes - I would rather eat meat.

Today I am making a salad of 'Bean, Fennel and Feta'. There are toasted pine nuts to add crunch and more protein and a zingy fresh dressing made of lemon juice, Dijon mustard and olive oil. I am doing what we do in the cafe and keeping the salads in plastic boxes in the fridge - so much nicer to be able to have three different types on one plate, along with salad leaves, tomatoes and pepper slices. The salad keeps well for a few days.

Bean, Fennel and Feta Salad.

200g french beans
1 head of fennel
1 bunch of flat-leaved parsley
100g feta cheese
100g toasted pine nuts

11/2tsp Dijon mustard
50ml lemon juice
100ml olive oil
salt and pepper

1. Boil a large pan of water. Add the beans (topped and tailed first) and blanch for 4 mins.
2. Set aside to cool.
3.Finely shred the fennel using a mandolin, or sharp knife.
4.Whisk the dressing ingredients together.
5. Put the beans, fennel, chopped parsley, crumbled feta cheese and toasted pine nuts in a bowl.
6. Toss with the dressing and season well.

The Gooseberries are swollen and plentiful on their prickly stems outside. I pick and pick (studding my thumbs with pricks of blood) and still there is more to come. They freeze well, top and tailed, and will be there at a later date to make coulis for a Fool and one of the best ice creams I have ever made - Gooseberry ice cream, perhaps with a little elderflower cordial to beat off the tartness. It is nice to be able to take Summer into the Autumn and serve with friends.

Food is how we show the people we love that we love them. Every mug of rich soup to take to work, every vegetable curry waiting on the stove is a labour of love, when a pizza from the freezer would be so easy, it seems. But if we can invest just a little of ourselves in showing we care, then somehow, somewhere, the world is a better place for our being there.

The other week, it seems, we were away in Scarborough, looking out over the huge sweep of the bay. Gingerly, we climb out of our roof-top window and perch on our balcony-which-is-not-a-balcony, to feel the wind on our faces and hear the steady rhythmic lap, lap, lap of the waves below. Red Valerian, my favourite flower (which clings on to life in all the most unlikely places) is flowering on either side of the railings. And a hummingbird hawk-moth - the like of which I have never seen before - hovers nearby, slipping its long proboscis in to feed and gorge on nectar from the tiny deep pink flower heads . It hovers only inches away from our faces, paying us no attention at all as it busies itself in its work, its wings, like an electric toothbrush, a haze of blur surrounding it.

Little speed boats come in, go out, round and back again. The funfair stands lit up over by the lighthouse, and strings of pearly lights loop along the coast road. Children write their names in the sand below, and a comic seagull walks past imitating that nodding walk of Basil Fawlty, daring us to laugh at him. Not funny, he says. Not funny. The sun has been hot and has burnt the top of my shoulders. The fish and chips we bought in the bay lies heavily in our stomachs as we dust the sand from our feet and smell the raw night air, fresh with the tang of salt, which will lull us to sleep with the steady lap, lap, lap upon the shore.

It all seems such a long time ago now. The wind has changed, sending flower petals, stringless balloons and dust towards an uncertain future. Politics jangles. Towers burn and tempers flare and nothing feels solid anymore. I reach out to touch and my hand closes on nothing. I head to the kitchen to make Hummus, to eat with pitta breads, warm from the oven. There is comfort to be had in the solidity of warm food.


1x400g tin of chickpeas
2 garlic cloves (crushed)
2 lemons (juiced)
2tblsp tahini
salt and pepper
olive oil to dress
pinch of hot paprika

1. Place the chickpeas and the liquid from the can, garlic, lemon juice, tahini, salt and black pepper in a blender or food processor. Blitz until smooth.
2. Pour into a  bowl and drizzle with olive oil and then sprinkle over some hot paprika.
(Keeps well in the fridge for a few days with clingfilm over it).

Molly moo's Birthday falls on the weekend of a small music festival near here at Stainsby in Derbyshire. Older than Glastonbury festival, itself, Stainsby is run on a shoe-string by volunteers and is TRULY not-for-profit. It has a lovely, caring, family feel to it, which we so loved last year. And so I thought that this year it would make a lovely Birthday for my baby girl, just turning ten years old this Summer. We will have bunting around the door of the tent and a cake with candles kept in a coolbox until the time. She will no doubt have flowers in her hair and face paints on her cheeks and be running around in the willow circle with her hair streaming out, chasing the other children in their games. This is Summer. And before the Summer's out it will return once more, bringing smiles to the children's faces. Snowy Bear will come and Rudolph, tucked inside sleeping bags to ward off the night. And the music will play until the last star has left the sky, chased away by the morning crow, and it is time to bed down and drift away on a cloud of possibilities and new beginnings.

Love Martha x

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