Midsummer greetings

The sun apparently set half an hour ago on this longest day of the year. I am sitting in my still-light garden, tired after a hard day’s weeding and getting cold but don’t want to go inside just yet.

I can hear a train going past in the distance – last one of the evening I think. The garden is full of birdsong, just amazing. There are blackbirds – one of my favourites – I think there are some nesting behind a huge honeysuckle by the pond – and there are the budgies in an aviary at the hairdressers round the corner, and the rooks still cawing now and then as they settle for the night (see Rooks at bedtime). Behind me, in the house, Italy are playing Ghana in Brazil.

Happy solstice and midsummer to you all. I hope there are birds singing where you are.

All getting quieter now, as the light fades. Bedtime for birds – maybe for me too.

A short break

River at Maintenon

After a ten-day holiday in France, during which we had no internet to speak of, I am writing today to announce another short break. For the next few weeks I am writing up my portfolio to get accreditation as a family mediator and am putting an embargo on blogging until I have broken the back of that writing task.

So I leave you with a couple of the few photos I took on our holiday, from the chateau that is famous for having belonged to Madame de Maintenon, mistress of Louis XIV. I struggle to love French formal gardens, but this is a nice one, not too huge, with lots of water and a beautiful colour scheme in the planting of the beds (we saw even more beautiful plantings in the town of Chartres on another day). It was a nice day out.

The highlight of my visit however – apart from the general niceness of spending time with friends and catching up with family – was on a walk, when we came suddenly close to some deer hiding in a field of oil-seed rape. They turned to check us out, then ran off into the nearby woods, leaping high over the yellow rape so they looked like the model for those roadside signs (seen often in France) telling you there will be leaping deer for the next few miles. I have been as close to very tame deer at Dunham Massey in Cheshire, but these were not tame and they were wonderful.

Almost as wonderful was the cheese shop in the town of Rambouillet, a few miles from where we were staying.

If you are a regular reader you will have noticed that I have been posting less often in the past few months than I did last year. Over time the blog has been many things: a diary to keep friends in touch with our life in the new place; an introduction to rural Lincolnshire for those who don’t know it; a garden, food and cooking journal and a place to muse on connection to place and to people. In recent weeks I have been preoccupied with family issues, which I don’t write about here. And I have been turning over in my mind the question of what the blog is for and where it is going. No answers as yet, but watch this space (though it will just be space for a few weeks!).

p.s. And if you haven’t already visited the Facebook page, please do go and ‘like’ it. There are a few more photos there than appear on the blog posts, if you like that sort of thing.

p.p.s. I have this week been eating and loving the rose and rhubarb jam I wrote about in this post last year. Lovely stuff!

p.p.p.s. So exciting, the beginning of the long, light evenings. We ate out tonight, an unusual treat that was our Christmas present, and driving back after ten saw the last light in the sky – magical.

I shall return. Until then, go well.

Chateau at Maintenon

An Easter lunch

Eggs, hard-boiled

We don’t have any chickens yet but we know people who do. These eggs came from two different flocks of hens whose owners kindly donated them to us. Home-grown eggs are so much tastier – eating other people’s makes me all the more impatient to have chickens again.

We are off to France for a short holiday and so I have been trying to use up everything in the kitchen which won’t last until our return. Our very English picnic on the ferry will include these eggs, hard-boiled and an apple cake with allspice and ginger (very nice, though I say so myself).

Easter has been and gone, of course, but something about the pretty eggshell shades and being about to go on holiday makes me feel I am having my Easter celebration now. Spring is well and truly sprung and we will have a night’s camping on the way to Paris. Campsites always lift my spirits, as I wrote in this post last year.

Urban glories

Chorlton sunset 1

Bit of a cheat, this post, since the photos are not mine. A good friend took them in Chorlton, where we used to live in Manchester before moving here to the lovely flatlands. He kindly said I could use them here.

I loved them when I first saw them as they reminded me of sunsets here and sunsets back there. They made me think of moments on the street or at the allotments when I would see an expanse of sky or shining light after rain, when I would forget to be ground down by the traffic and the noise and remember instead to wonder at beauty.

They remind me that there are glories around us wherever we are.

Chorlton sunset 2

A nice day out

Maps for a day out

On Sunday we went out. We abandoned the weeding, watering, sowing and digging and instead had a happy series of visits around the Lincolnshire Fens and Wolds.

First a brief stop at Sibsey Trader Windmill, one of several working windmills in the area. I love them so much for so many reasons: old technology still working today, locally produced flour, handsome landmarks in this flat country. Our very own Heckington Windmill has been out of action for a couple of years, but the restored sails go back on this summer; I can’t wait.

We collected lunchtime sandwiches from the mill tea rooms, then we were off into the Wolds, to the village of Candlesby and a specialist herb nursery. We came away happy, with sage, lemon thyme, rosemary, black peppermint, sorrel and mace. A kind friend brought tarragon, fennel, hyssop, dill and lovage to my birthday last month and so the newly-built herb bed will soon be full.

Next stop, Strawberry Fields near Stickford in the fens where owner Pam kindly showed us around the fields of organic vegetables she supplies to retailers all over the country, including the lovely Unicorn Grocery, back where we used to live. So, any Manchester friends reading this, if you buy your veg from Unicorn, chances are you have eaten Strawberry Fields’ produce. On a quiet and sunny Sunday the scene was idyllic: acres of luscious green plants stretching away under a huge sky. A row of scarecrows, looking like workers busy hoeing, were a reminder of the hard slog that goes into growing this good food.

Our last visit of the day was in the fens still but with a view of hills, near the village of East Keal where the Wolds begin to rise out of the flatlands. We were meeting some piglets, one of whom we will eat later in the year when she has grown up. We talked to their owners about pig breeds* and pork and smallholding as we watched the piglets scoffing their dinner. They were cute and fun; and I am going to find it strange eating an animal that I have met in person, as it were. But if I eat meat, I’d rather know that the animals were well looked after while they were alive. And so it goes on, the debate between my vegetarian ‘good angel’ and my demon inner-carnivore.

Flour, herbs, lettuces, bacon: and all in the spring sunshine. What a nice day.

Piglets

* These are Oxford Sandy and Blacks. For more info see this Rare Breeds Survival Trust fact sheet.

Oh nettle, where is thy sting?

Nettles in field

I love the smell of nettles in the morning.

They smell of spring to me. I tried to think, yesterday, while playing in the field and kitchen, how to describe their scent. Are they lemony? Peppery? Soapy? None of these will do. They just smell, gloriously, like nettles.

Most of us, most of the time perhaps do not get so close to a nettle patch to catch their heady scent. But if, as I did, you go out with a pair of rubber gloves, nice and early while the sun is just beginning to drive off the dew, you can pick a bagful without getting stung and get a good whiff while you are picking.

Then back to the kitchen and a sinkful of scented green leaves (rubber gloves still on); blanch them and squeeze out the water (rubber gloves off at last), mix with cooked potatoes, semolina, flour and egg. This is the dough for potato and nettle gnocchi, which we ate in the evening with sage butter. I have made nettle pasta (brighter green than spinach pasta) before but it was my first time of making these delicious little dumplings.

Oh, and those nettles are very nutritious, and free, and you can make all sorts of things out of them. All very worthy, but I was just having fun.

Note:After reading the first version of this post, my friend pointed out (see comments below) that the nettles in the picture with the fetching white flowers are dead nettles, which look very similar to stinging nettles and grow in the same places but are unrelated and do not sting.

So I went back to the nettle patch for another look and indeed there is a fine mix of both urtica dioica (with stings) and lamium album (without). Luckily both are edible as I suspect both went into my cooking!

Nettles in kitchen

Making gnocchi

Possession

Field

Last year I wrote about the rooks we see and hear from our garden. Their constant presence, and that of crows in the fields around us was probably what prompted me to read Crow Country by Mark Cocker. It is a fascinating book in many ways but today I have been thinking of what he writes about his connection to both the place where he lives now and where he lived as a child.

He talks of feeling a sense of possession, of ownership of a particular, familiar territory. He describes what I feel about this part of Lincolnshire where I have fetched up. It belongs to me and I belong to it; ever more so as I learn my way around the back roads and through tiny villages. The shape of the land, turns in the road, particular trees are become familiar, even as the views, the colours and the light still make me shout in surprise and joy.

I remember feeling this way about London when I was a teenager and later, in my twenties, when finally I lived there. I revelled in my growing knowledge of the city, each confident step a claiming of it as my own.

I wrote a while back of imagining coming back to this place where I live now at some time when I no longer lived here, sinking to my knees and plunging my hands into the earth like an exile returned. I go further; I imagine that I could, just now, walk out into the nearest ploughed field, lie on the rich, cold earth and disappear, merge, become a part of it. And in that imaginary desire to become one with the dense clay there is such a lightness and a freedom. This connection, this relationship requires nothing of me but love. I possess and am possessed: equilibrium.