Monday, 30 July 2012

Tales from the kitchen

Last week was a busy one in the kitchen . I'm not really sure what inspired the flurry of activity but I was certainly a little driven by a lack of food in cupboards and fridge. The end of the month often means having to be a little more inventive with the staples; hence, for example, many flatbread/pittas were made out of sheer necessity. These lovely bready ovals are made with only flour, water and a little salt. Rolled out thinly and chucked onto our tava for a couple of minutes each side, they were super quick and easy. You don't need a tava though, a frying pan will do and making the dough is no more complicated than mixing up a few handfuls of flour with enough water to make a kneadable dough. We took some out with a pot of houmous for a simple packed lunch and had another batch rolled up with cheese, carrot, celery and mayo.

I've also been making tons of Soulemama's leftover oatmeal muffins of late and with the arrival of our one precious pot of bilberries they were enhanced further by splotchy blue goodness. These muffins have been a real hit with all of us. The kids obviously love them because they're muffins but I love them for being able to transform a load of unappealing leftover porridge into something considerably more appealing. I've made some with blackcurrants from next door's garden, I've made them with chocolate chips and now they've been bilberried. Again, they're nothing more than flour, butter, sugar, eggs, milk and some leftover porridge.

And so, onto possibly the most luxurious but even more simple bilberry syrup; just bilberries and maple syrup heated in a pan for a little while. I thought it would keep for a little bit and enable me to hold onto those precious berries for longer but it was just too delicious. We ate it with a few humble pancakes and dollops of natural yoghurt for breakfast. It was good. Really really good. Needless to say, there's none left.

I'd love to hear any kitchen tales you have to share...

Berried treasure

At this time of the year, in this part of the world, we are lucky enough to have our hillsides covered in bilberry bushes. It's not the easiest berry to pick but is arguably the most rewarding. This is maybe our fourth year of searching for these elusive little blue fruits, so I think we can call it a family tradition by now. There are photographs from the picking expedition of three years ago in which I am a couple of days away from giving birth to Monty, a huge and heavy presence in the undergrowth, walking and bending in an effort to get labour started.

In an effort to keep everyone happy I suggested the boys just ate what they found rather than having to put some in the pot. Instant gratification is really the only motivation for berry picking when you're three and five respectively. The two of them rolled and laughed together whilst picking, giving me a couple of hours reprieve from the almost constant bickering they're engaged in a lot of the time just now. It was great to see them at peace and enjoying each others company so much. They gorged themselves on berries and, when they tired of that, they climbed trees and made houses in the brush. All very wholesome and idyllic...

Bilberries, if you've never come across them before, are a lot like blueberries but smaller and tastier. They've got some lovely alternative names like windberry, whinberry and huckleberry, and the traditional way to eat them around these parts, so I'm told, is in a 'mucky mouth pie'. They're delicious in muffins and full of vitamin C so definitely worth the very fiddly and time-consuming process of getting enough to carry home. Finding them can be sometimes difficult - particularly if the deer have got to them first - but when you lift up a branch and discover a cluster of little blue orbs it really does feel like finding treasure.

Visiting nature's larder, rather than the local supermarket, is immensely satisfying. It can be an ethical minefield choosing and purchasing food for the family and if you're trying to make sure everyone's getting a good range of fruit and veggies it's pricey too. A punnet of blueberries is likely to have been flown halfway across the world and costs us a pretty penny at the end of its journey. Gathering one tub and two bellyfuls of bilberries from up the road costs us and the earth nothing and yet has given us more than just mucky mouths - it's given us a morning of outdoor fun and a little bit of family harmony, just when we needed it most.

Do you have bilberries near you? What do you make with them? What other wild foods do you and your family like to gather?

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Woods Not Yet Out

closed and containing everything, the land
leaning all round to block it from the wind,
a squirrel sprinting in startles and sees
sections of distance tilted throught he trees
and where you jump the fence ,a flap of sacking
does for a stile, you walk through the webs, the cracking
bushtwigs break their secrecies, the sun
vanishes up, instantly come and gone.
once in, you hardly notice as you move,
the wood keeps lifting up its hope, I love
to stand among the last trees listening down
to the releasing branches where I've been -
the rain, thinking I've gone, crackles the air
and calls by name the leaves that aren't yet there

Alice Oswald

Sunday, 22 July 2012


Amongst a week full to the brim, my baby turned three last week, so unnerving the way time plays its tricks on us again and again. One minute they're in your arms, the next they're charging around and, before you know it, they're talking about starting Kindergarten. Without you. He seems so ready to grow, this bold and loving boy of mine, so confident of his next move that it calms me. I don't grieve the loss of his babyhood because to watch him growing with such surety is a joy.

Of course, there are moments of a sweet sort of sadness for me. My world is changing along with theirs. We said goodbye this week to Monty's beloved Sally at our Parent and Child group, and I will miss that peaceful and regenerative space hugely. Eli also said goodbye to Kindergarten and comes home to me full time from September. These are the things that mark our journeys - endings, beginnings and birthdays.

We celebrated on the day of Monty's birthday with hot chocolates in a cafe and a rainy visit to the playground. On Saturday we had a party, with games and food and cricket in the park. Lots of wonderful people were there; it was a day of sunshiney goodness. Grandparents, uncles, cousins, grown up friends and little friends were all present to share Monty's birthday, to celebrate his little life and show their love. Growing up is what we're all doing one way or another and we know it isn't all ukuleles and birthday cake, but if we look about there will always be plenty of company to celebrate our triumphs, listen to our woes or to just help us have some very happy birthdays.

Monday, 16 July 2012

Playing away

After a weekend of switching off I'm back in my life contemplating how to slip off my beaded sandals and slip back into motherhood. Having waited five years to leave them overnight, going away without the boys for the first time ever was perfectly timed. I was definitely ready for a mini-separation and they were pretty laid back about me going. As soon as we were on the road I felt the responsibilties of family life fall away. With a good friend at my side, we drove towards the sea.

We pitched our tent looking out to the bay and exclaimed a fair bit at our good fortune. The sun which had surprised us on the trip out was setting, leaving a brooding sky suspended over a dark sea. High on a heady mix of sea air, freedom and friendship we meandered into town for an evening of music, beer and good company. Unfortunately, so carefree were we that we forgot to take notice of our route and spent a considerable amount of time at a very late hour wandering about clueless as to how to get back to our campsite. Thanks, however, to my companion's calmness and positivity in the face of my growing panic, we were soon back at base.

What followed was heart-sharing, sunshine, another friend arriving, coastal walks and the deep peace that comes from totally letting go. I took every opportunity to lay my bones upon the ground and breath in the warmth of the sun and the vastness of the sky. No worries or hurries, just connection and ease. The god of good times was smiling on us and we were granted the sublime combination of heavenly weather and breathtaking surroundings.

Oh, and we ate bread...lots of bread - from French sticks to pain au chocolat fried on a grill pan, we didn't hold back. Crazy times...

When motherhood first happens many of us are overwhelmed by the realisation of what it really means to be completely responsible for these little souls who've landed on our laps. Although the initial shock passes, the responsibility remains; being able to step away even for a brief moment felt like a gift. I felt a lightness and a sense of self that is sometimes difficult to locate when deep in the work of mothering.

I am infinitely grateful for this time away, for the space and rejuvenation it offered my poor weary brain. The challenge for me now is how to carry that into real life, how to remember to breathe and let go when all around me is crumbling. When those moments of awful challenge face me, I'm hoping I can meet them a little more patiently and with a little more grace when I recall the sea, the sky and unzipping our tent each morning to the dazzling light of the day.

Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Torrents and tribulations

We're coming to the end of the school year and for many families there will be big changes ahead. For us, there will be a huge shift as Monty starts Kindergarten in September and Eli and I begin our home education journey. I'm trying to get to grips with how I'm feeling about all that in the midst of very unsettling times in our valley and lots of general end-of-year, beginning of holidays, busy-ness.

The further flooding in the valley has been surreal and worrying. I found it difficult to tear myself away from images of the roads becoming raging torrents, bringing with them rubble, rocks and mud. The sheer volume of water that poured downed from the hilltops was incredible. This was the road outside our house.

Amazingly, the town seems to have picked itself up again. The roads have been cleared of their earthy detritus and the smell of saturation has lifted along with spirits, helped by the appearance of the sun yesterday. It'll be a long journey to full recovery and we're all praying for a break from the rains to allow businesses to get back on their feet.

In amongst this apocalyptic weather I've been planning for Monty's third birthday along with planning my first night away from the children. With the weather we've been having, neither feels as straightforward as it should do for July. I'm so looking forward to my time away - for a long time I couldn't imagine leaving the children overnight but I'm definitely ready for a little low-key adventure. Camping under current conditions may prove challenging but being near to the sea with good friends will make it completely worthwhile, I'm sure. I'm anticipating lots of reading, walking and long chats in cosy pubs.

Next week will be an emotional one, saying good-byes to people, places and a way of life. We'll all be taking big bold steps into the next stage of our lives. I'm grateful for a chance to stop and gather my strength before moving on.

Thursday, 5 July 2012


A sense of community, being connected to those around me in meaningful ways, is essential for my spiritual and mental well-being. I am hugely thankful, therefore, that I live in a place that seems to ooze connectedness on so many levels. Today was rich with the sense of belonging, from many meetings and greetings at the market, through celebrations in the village park, to our Wednesday communal meal with friends.

Our little village boasts three totally different schools - a primary, a Montessori and a Steiner school and all three were involved in today's grand unveiling of a new sculpture in the park. Many of the children have contributed in some way to the little space next to the woods, suggesting designs for the play equipment and the giant wood carving, planting in the little garden or making wind chimes to hang in the trees. Prizes were given out for special contributions and all the children were treated to a bouncy castle and piles of cup cakes, whilst the adults were treated to pasties and cava. Whilst we were there, the trees were further adorned with little clay goblins, this is Eli's happy chap...

It felt good to be standing in the rain together, admiring park art and watching our children mingle in the mud.

We then zoomed to consume yet more food and communal spirit at our mid-week meet-up at Holme St. I took along some bunting bits...

A few of us decided in the depths of winter that it would be really helpful for us to gather and share a meal in the middle of the week. Any parent who is going it alone, or who has a partner at work full-time, knows just how long the weeks can sometimes feel . It can also get a little lonely unless there are opportunities to share the journey with other families; this Wednesday afternoon get-together helps us do just that. The children play and we prepare food whilst trading tales and news. It also eases the pressure of the daily 'what are we going to eat tonight?' angst. Some weeks I might manage a more elaborate meal but other weeks i might just take a plate of chopped carrots. It doesn't matter, we always have enough between us. 

Eli and Monty love coming here, I think it might be the highlight of their week. It seems such a beautiful and simple way for us parents to receive and offer support while giving our children's friendships space to deepen. It would be great to see our group and others grow, not just for families and friends, but for whole communities. In an increasingly isolating time for many people, creating ways to find each other, helping everyone feel like they're a part of something and valued can only be a good thing. Allowing each one of us, however we're feeling, to find strength and hope in the simple act of coming together.