Island Blog – Garlic, Gratefulness and Fairies

In the afternoon sunshine of yesterday we set off to the Fairy Woods to gather wild garlic. I had a recipe for pesto and was keen to make it. Popz on his quad, me on my feet, Poppy trotting alongside, we wound our way through the violets, primroses, wood anemones and sorrel, between the mish-mash of ancient trees, all pushing out green. Turning down towards the shore we couldn’t avoid squashing a carpet of Celandine, faces pointed towards the sun, yellow as new butter, petal perfect. The ground was crunchy, old leaves drying, finally, and as far as we could see, a wide stretch of emerald green wild garlic leaves fluttered in the breeze. I knew I had to find 150 grams and made, as it turned out, a good guess. As we wandered back home, seeing absolutely nobody, we reflected on how this lockdown is a blessing for us. And how it must be a prison sentence for so many others. It’s good to be grateful, good for the health of the person with a thank you in her mouth.

In South Africa, nobody is allowed to go beyond the perimeter fence of their own garden, reserve, township or flat. Anybody found on the streets is at the mercy of the police. One person from each household is allowed to shop alone and once a week. All sales of alcohol and cigarettes are banned. I don’t think that sort of lockdown would make me all that grateful, although gratitude is not something we feel because we have everything. Sometimes our everything is someone else’s nothing much, but we can still find a thank you, if we trouble ourselves to think and reflect and, to a degree, compare our situation with another’s.

This slowdown lockdown time is giving us opportunities to check ourselves from the inside out; to question why we feel this flash of discontent or loneliness or self-criticism. What is it that brings these feelings? Have I felt this before, even when lockdown was not in place? Chances are, I have. So let me poke around through my memories, remembering how good they are at lying. Let me stop when the feeling comes and turn to say ‘hallo’. Let me look this feeling smack in the eyeballs and ask it what it wants from me now, now that I don’t need it at all. There is time for such work these days and, if we are canny, and if we have remembered our dreams and hopes for our own future, we have the chance to find an answer. Ah, so this thing that you do that annoys the bejabers out of me and always has……yes, that thing, the one you have no intention of stopping, even supposing you consciously know you do it in the first place, which you probably don’t.

So, instead of allowing that irritation to rise in me, I will consider a different way to live with this thing in you. How about I am so busy doing my own thing that yours is just a whisper in the winds of change? Or perhaps I will notice and reflect on my own habits that I know irritate you; if I have the humility to go there, of course. It takes courage to go there. Many of us don’t bother. We want everything, not just something and there’s not a lot of gratitude in that. In fact we prefer, if you don’t mind, to grumble about ‘your’ irritating thing, to growl at it, to let it control us, for that is exactly what we are doing.

Well, poo to that. I know that I do spend much time poking about inside myself, and that for some I am a bit of a laughing matter, but it is my thing. If I want to rise from this slowdown lockdown not only intact, but elevated and forever changed, which I do, then I must adopt an attitude of non-judgemental humility and that non-judgement must apply to me too. This way gratitude lies, even for those who cannot walk as we do every day into the Fairy Woods, even them. A time of reflection is laid out before us now, like the Celandine and, if we turn our perfect petals to the light of the sun, we can all come out on the other side of this as better humans.

We never did see a fairy.

Island Blog 108 Left Over Right

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Last night we had Leftovers for supper.  Actually, to be honest, we often do.  I have never been that sort of a cook who follows recipes, noting down what I might need in order to cook a certain dish and then trotting off to buy it.

Is this, I wonder, because I am too lazy/impatient to don my prescription specs and follow a recipe?

Could be.  I remember once thinking I was dutifully following one cake recipe when I was,in fact, following two.  I did wonder at the imbalance and curio-factor of blending two unlikely bed mates into one cake, but the wild and colourful in me rose to the occasion with a skip of excitment.  The cake, or cakes, arrived as one rather wonky lump, listing dangerously to one side and quite impossible to present on any level surface. I make up my own recipes now.

Back to last night.  Well, first I must open the fridge.  I creep up on the door and swoosh it open suddenly.  This is an old tactic and can often prevent anything escaping.

Aha!  I say with a cook’s gleam in my eye.  Opportunity presents itself and I grab it quick and hold on tight.

Next, onions.  I always need onions and garlic and I rarely run out of them because they lie artfully arranged in a nice basket from Portugal and in full view.  Any old vegetables, chopped, julienned, grated, diced, depending on what lies floppily inside the salad drawers.  Olive oil, infused with whatever I can more-or-less identify as herbs in the herb garden.  I know I should know which is which, but the voles have shifted the labels around.  Big pan, light on, favourite wooden spoon ( I never cook with metal weapons) and off we go, but to where is quite another thing.

As each ingredient is added, the house fills with tempting aromas that  join together in a rising sound wave until I turn down the heat.  As one animal now, it simmers and softens into a harmonious chorus.  Now, what would lift this dish?  I taste a little and let my instinct guide me.

What?  Mint you say, and dark chocolate and fresh nutmeg?

Never doubt that voice.  It’s not a left brain thing.  This could be casserole or cake.  Just don’t argue.

I comply and taste again.  Delicious.

I notice 3 old bananas hanging on the banana hook, all in a big brown huff.  What can I do with you I wonder?  I check the fridge – a tub of elderly natural yoghourt, lemon juice, and in the drinks cupboard which is still called that even though it isn’t any more, I find a teaspoonful of banana liqueur.

I chop the bananas and fry them in butter, adding a spoonful of wild honey and the liquer.  Whizzed up in the whizzer to a fine  puree, I add three serving spoons of yoghourt.  Meanwhile some almonds have been toasting in the oven.  I pour the mixture into two glasses, top with toasted almonds and pop them in the fridge, which is empty again.

Or is it?  One woman’s empty fridge is that same woman’s chance to shine. It’s all about self belief and no 24 hour shop down the road.

In that famous parting line from Fanny Cradock’s tv series, spoken with such confidence and encouragement into a thousand homes by her husband and assistant, Johnnie…..

May all your doughnuts look like Fanny’s.