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Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Such Sad News

Words fail me.

I have just heard about the passing of Thomas Samoht, writer of the Westcountry Folklore blog; one of my favourite reads.

My heart goes out to his lovely wife and their young daughter.

A Dismissal, Of Sorts

I haven't been down to the beach this winter, quite as often as I'd like to. Partly because I haven't felt the call as strong as usual and partly because its been so damned busy down there. The mild winter we've been enjoying has meant the beach, *my* beach, has rarely been deserted. While it has sometimes been nice to sit and listen to the happy shouts and laughter of children building sandcastles or flying kites, it seems a little odd to see it at this time of year. It is far quieter than in the summer, obviously, but even so it has not been still, it has not been silent. Dotted here and there across the sand are family groups and friends joking, laughing, picnicking, all bundled up against the wind blowing in from the sea. My uninterrupted shore, my quiet time, has been hard to find this winter.

Yet still I went, when I could, to pick amongst the great line of tangled seaweed for bones and stones and shells. My kitchen window ledge is littered with driftwood and crab shells and tumbled polished bits of pot; a piece of broken plate, discarded and worn smooth in decades of ebb and flow. Bladderwrack hangs drying in the place of summer herbs and a winter sun casts tatters of colour across my wall from the glass floats hanging in my kitchen window. The sea, the shore, was not a distant thing to visit and admire, its spirit followed me home and sang to me. The shouts of long dead sailors and the crash of breaking waves, the gentle lap of warm tides and the roar of winter storms were familiar, soothing, expected, welcomed.

I would stand on the tide smoothed sand and wait for that one rogue wave to race further up the beach than any other, just where I stood, in welcome. And with my wet feet blessed I would, in that liminal place, feel the essence of the sea within me. I talked. She talked. Problems were cast to the waves and solutions rolled in on the breakers. Dreams were set loose on the tides and she ran with them, adding her might to them, holding them afloat to weather the storms.

And then one day, she said Goodbye.

'You are not of the Sea', she told me. 'You are of the woods, and hills and freshwater streams, it is there your task lies.'

Oh.


O.K.

I will always be welcome at the shore, I am told, and She will always listen. But there are no answers anymore. I need to seek those in steep, wooded valleys and high on the hills; no more can I feel the vast depths of the sea.

She is gone, but I don't feel empty. I don't feel alone.

Monday, 23 January 2012

Death in the Kitchen

A few nights ago I wasn't feeling too good. It was nothing really serious, just that aching, queasy, bleah kind of feeling that's impossible to put a name to. The thought of having to cook made me heave and the prospect of holding myself upright for any longer than necessary was not a happy one, so I admitted defeat and hauled myself off to bed for a very early night.

I know the Mad Druid checked in on me from time to time, and I was vaguely aware of him asking if I wanted something to eat. I grunted something from beneath the covers that I hope he interpreted as 'No thank you darling, but it was sweet of you to ask', but in fact was something rather less pleasant (which I won't repeat here, just in case he's reading this.) It was in that hazy state of not quite sleep that I slowly became aware, just on the edge of consciousness, of various clatterings and mutterings coming from the kitchen. This was rather an odd experience, and one which had I been feeling only slightly more 'with it', I would no doubt have put a stop to.

The Mad Druid rarely spends time in the kitchen. He might deposit the supper plates in the sink, or put the kettle on but that's about it. I am, maybe, just a tad possessive about my kitchen. He is only half joking when he tells people he has to go through passport control before he's allowed in. The kitchen is My domain. Mine, its all mine I tell you. *cackles*

And because it is mine, I can do what I like with it, put whatever I want in it, and I do. My altar is in my kitchen (the one I use most often anyway). There are jars of herbs (normal), flowers and thorns (less normal), dirt (odd by most people's standards) and bones (guaranteed neighbour deterrent) and that's just the tip of the iceberg. I have feathers and fancies, plants and potions, sticks and shells, bits and bones...did I mention that already?

Most of my dead things have come from the beach. Some are identifiable, some less so. All are welcome in my kitchen, their spirits have a home here. Collecting from the beach has its advantages, the bones are usually washed clean by the sea (OK, OK so I'm squeamish. Not a good trait for a witch but I admit it. Death I have no problem with, its the squishy bits I'm not so keen on. Go on, you can say it... lightweight! I know). It also means I can pass my collecting off as 'beachcombing'. Now isn't that all innocent sounding?  

I always show the results of my forays to my Mad Druid. He'll usually nick the driftwood for something he's making, admire the shells and seaweed, and raise an eyebrow at some long dead fish and ask 'what are you going to do with that?' The answer is always the same, I grin and say 'Kitchen!' To which he nods, with eyes that say 'Oh Gods, I hope it's not going in the stew'. I have never taken the time to explain, I guess I didn't think I needed too.

Which brings me back to the other night, when my feeble body forced me to bed and my husband to fend for himself. It's the longest he's spent in the kitchen at one time since we moved here 18 months ago. And as he stirred and waited and rummaged through the cupboards he had plenty of time to look around and soak up his surroundings. I think he got a bit of a shock because later, when my feeble stomach could finally face a little food and he ventured into the bedroom bearing tea and toast, the first words out of his mouth were not 'how are you feeling Sweetheart?' but instead....'What is it with you witches and dead things?'

And when I've finally stopped laughing I might just give him an answer.

Friday, 13 January 2012

Leftovers

There should be photo's to go with this post but I'm having problems loading them so I'm afraid you will just have to imagine the sticky mess my kitchen was in during my jam making session, and the yummy muffins (although if I'm honest about that, the lack of muffin photo's has nothing to do with the problems I've been having with blogger, and everything to do with having eaten them long before I thought about getting the camera out).

If there is one thing I hate, it is throwing food away. It is vulgar and unnecessary, and an unfortunate bi-product of our culture of over-indulgence. I grew up in a home where money was tight, meals were simple and nothing was wasted. I'm sure my Mum worried herself about providing for my brother and I and us not having the things she would have liked to give us, but you know what? I'm glad of that. It taught us that there are more important things in life than spending money. It also taught me how to rustle up something for dinner from nothing and how to make sure every penny spent was put to good use. They are skills I am very glad to have.

And so the thought of throwing away the sloes after making delicious Sloe Gin, pained me. It seemed such a waste. So I topped up the bottle with cider and watched the sloes work their magic once more. The Slider it created was thoroughly enjoyable (even though we probably didn't leave it as long as we should. Patience may be a virtue, but it's one I don't posses) and far too easy to drink. Which once again left me with sloes I was reluctant to throw away. After going through the handful of options I found on line I plumped for Jam, especially as I also had a few apples going soft and wrinkly in the fruit bowl. Stewing up the sloes and apples was easy enough, but then what should have been a relatively simple task of straining the stew through a sieve to remove the stones and apple peel became somewhat harder (and messier) when I couldn't find my sieve. It took well over an hour to do by hand, during which I somehow managed to cover the worktop, floor and me with sloe gunk. Despite guessing at the required quantity of sugar, I now have several jars of Slider Jam in my fridge which will hopefully see us through the next few months at least. Jam on toast is elevated from a humble breakfast, to a wonderful treat when you've made the jam yourself, and even more satisfying when the bread and butter are homemade too.

It wasn't just the sloes I needed to use up however. If you read my Holy Supper post at new year you'll know I made Rum Nicky in honour of the grandmother I never knew. For this I needed 12o/z of dates but having left all my grocery shopping until the last minute could only get hold of a 2lb bag. Now I'm not a huge fan of dates, they are not something I would usually buy, but they do take me right back to my childhood. My grandma always bought a big box of dates every christmas and the taste of them transports me back instantly to her cosy living room with a tiny tinsel christmas tree and black and white T.V. They were good days. And so having over a pound of dates sitting in my kitchen cupboard was just too much of a temptation and I often found myself absent-mindedly dipping in. Great for the memories, not so good for my waist line! I wanted to use them up, fast.

Having looked through my cupboards and the contents of my fridge I knew I also had a half of a large pot of natural yogurt teetering on its 'use by' date and a couple of over ripe bananas. (I like my bananas barely ripe and simply can't eat them once they've gone over though I know lots of people like them that way). It's been a while since I made muffins, so out came the muffin trays. I adapted a recipe I had for pecan muffins to the point where it bore no resemblance to the original and kept my fingers crossed. As the Mad Druid fell on them like a one man plague of locusts I think I can say they were a success. In case you want to try them, here's the recipe.

6oz (175g) Self Raising Flour
2oz (50g) porridge oats
1/2  teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
2 oz (50g) sugar
2 large tablespoons golden syrup (the original recipe called for 5 oz sugar but I was running low so used what sugar I had and topped up with syrup).
4 tablespoons of sunflower oil (recipe said 6 but I reduced that to account for the extra runniness of the syrup)
1/4 (150ml) pint natural yogurt (recipe called for buttermilk but I find yogurt works fine)
1 egg, beaten
2 mashed bananas
dates (I didn't weigh them, just used what I'd got left after snacking on them, I guess about 10 or 12 oz)
I prefer to use the old imperial measurements because that's how my grandma taught me, but I have included the metric for those more familiar with that system. I'm sorry, I couldn't give an equivalent in cups for my American readers as I've never managed to get my head around that system and am not sure how to convert.  *slaps own wrist* must try harder!
Preheat oven to Gas 6/ 200 C

Mix all the dry ingredients (flour, oats, bicarbonate of soda, sugar) and mix well.
In a separate bowl mix egg, yogurt, sunflower oil and golden syrup, bananas and dates.
Lightly stir the egg mixture into the flour.
Divide between muffin tins, then bake for 20-25 mins until golden.


I made 12 generous sized muffins but would easily have been able to stretch that to 18, had I been able to find my extra muffin tray, for a less calorific treat. As I said, they didn't last long but if you're more restrained than we are they keep well in the freezer and make an excellent, high energy snack for long winter walks.

Monday, 2 January 2012

Holy Supper- part two, finally!

When I first decided to participate in the Holy Supper Madness instigated by Ms. Dirty I expected it all to be fairly straightforward. I mean how hard could it be? All I had to do was cook a few dishes and share them with my dead. Simple, right? Wrong!

What started out as a simple plan for celebrating the Winter Solstice has led me a merry dance. I have been on a journey that has had more twists and turns than a Cornish country lane, more ups and downs than a roller coaster. It has been difficult at times and it has certainly been frustrating, but ultimately it has been fun, and it has been wondrous. The realisation that I knew very little about most of my family has led me to begin researching my family tree. I uncovered a few surprises and hit a few brick walls; it's an on-going project and will keep me occupied for many years I expect. I have had the pleasure of discovering my Great-Grandma's recipe book, and sampling its many delights and I have learnt that sometimes when plans go awry, they do so for a reason.

All the set backs in our plans meant we postponed everything until New Year's Eve, a date which has significance for both my mad druid and myself, and gave us an excuse to make two very special ladies the focus of our feast. The Mad Druid's mother left this world at the young age of 52; she would have been 84 on the 31st of December and my own grandmother died at the similarly early age of 56 on New Year's Eve 30 years ago. What better night to make them guests of honour at our feast?

And so it was that I spent the day of the 31st in my little kitchen, creating dishes worthy of our dead. My husband had asked for a sherry trifle for his mum as she had loved them, so for the first time in many years I made trifle, complete with jelly and sponge fingers and thick custard, just as we both remembered it from our childhoods, 60's/70's style, and I can't even begin to tell you of all the memories that brought flooding back! I made brandy snaps for my Grandma, she always made them for the holidays, they were something she only made for special occasions as it wasn't often she could afford to have brandy in the house. I loved to make them with her, curling them, still warm and sticky, around the handle of a wooden spoon to make a tube we could later fill with cream. I also made Rum Nicky, a Cumbrian recipe full of dates and ginger-and rum obviously- in honour of my father's mother whom I never knew and out of all my family is the one I know the least about.

Have you noticed that, so far, all I've made is deserts? And to think I thought I didn't have so much of a sweet tooth these days!

But the evening wasn't entirely sugar fuelled. I had hoped to make the Delicious sounding Hunter's pie from my Nana's recipe book but my finances were limited so that will have to wait for another day. Instead I made her chicken liver pate and farmhouse loaf, and some homemade butter to go with it. Together with the pickled onions my Mum made as part of our Christmas gift, it was very tasty and enjoyed by the living and dead alike. All washed down with my step-dad's homemade Sloe Wine, it was a joyful celebration indeed. I'm certain it was appreciated because as I was cleaning up the kitchen I found a shilling. The UK went decimal in 1971 but I vaguely remember being given a shilling each week by my Granddad as pocket money, in fact even long after decimalisation he still referred to a five pence piece as a shilling, a 10p as two shilling etc. He used to to hide our pocket money before we arrived each Sunday morning and my brother and I would spend hours hunting for it. It was such fun, for us and him. So you can imagine my surprise, and delight, to find an old shilling, as I was cleaning up, under the washing-up liquid! I think that counts as a big thumbs up from Granddad :)

We rounded it all off by going to see the fantastic firework display on the beach. For a small, and rather sleepy, little town this place really knows how to party.

And then home again to finish off my Sloe Gin.



Sunday, 1 January 2012

Rise & Root by Rima Staines

I've long been a fan of Rima's stunning work and her latest piece is no exception. Spread the word, Rise & Root is a wonderful message to start the new year with.