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Days of wine and roses


It’s been the one of those glorious days when ‘cherubim and seraphim are casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea.’  Silence… a small white yacht gliding over the still shining water, scarcely leaving a wake, using the engine because there’s no wind for the sails… the islands we never normally see, floating on the horizon, palest purple against a lavender blue sky… an enchanted stillness, the only sound the cooing of the doves in the trees.

When I awoke this morning the sky was just turning pink, so early though it was, I jumped out of bed, dressed, and headed out to watch the rising sun across the sea. The dawn chorus was just beginning, so I turned around and walked by houses with curtains drawn and solitary gardens, thrush and blackbird seeming to pass me on from one song to the next.

Theirs was the longest and sweetest serenade, while the soft incessant cheeping of the sparrows filled the spaces, and the slow crescendo of the doves cooing began. As I retraced my footsteps back along a grassy track, I saw with pleasure that mine were the only footprints in the dewy grass. I never met another soul as I meandered around the sleeping village.

Back home I crossed into the cemetery and disturbed a couple of speckled hens who scurried  fussily back into their own garden next door, clucking agitatedly. I walked across to the end of the peninsula to get my daily fix looking out to sea through the grey gnarled branches of the ancient pohutakawas.

Later, I sat on the veranda feasting my eyes on the glittering water, with breakfast of toast and a boiled egg from the errant chickens. When I had visited their owner Kate the day before, she had given me a handful of newly laid eggs, and the one I ate now was so beautiful I could hardly bear to break the shell. It came from her oldest hen, she said, a black Arakan, a breed which presumably comes from Arakan in Burma, and this little black hen lays eggs of the same pale blue as the sky today.

During the morning I went to the next village to buy a birthday card for a man. No flowers then, and since most men’s cards are covered with the inevitable cars or golf clubs, I did some lateral thinking and came away with a card with a message: “ If you resolve to give up drinking, smoking and loving, you don’t actually live longer: it just seems longer.” My son-in-law will be delighted with this encouragement to enjoy these permitted pleasures.

Stopping off at the garden cafe down a long avenue of poplars, the vivacious young Indonesian proprietor greeted me as usual with: ‘Ah Miss Valerie, are you ready for your coffee today?” Since she always jumps the queue for me, and makes piping hot coffee I can forgive her the spinsterly ‘Miss’. I sat in an ivy- covered alcove framed with late wisteria blossom and white jasmine, their scents wafting over the smell of coffee.

Before getting home, I called in on Friend, to collect various things from yesterday’s rollicking party for 45 oldies who came from far and wide. Others were there too to collect their vases, or napkins or fish slices. “The sun’s over the yard arm”, announced the man of the house, which though it was only lunch-time, gave us the excuse to finish off the champagne from the previous day.

Then, we had sat on the terrace in the sun, looking out over the turquoise sea, the lawn fringed with white iceberg roses in full bloom, and red roses lining the long white table cloths.

We’d enjoyed a four course lunch, starting with a terrine followed by freshly baked ham, salmon and asparagus, the cheese course – big rounds of fresh Brie, fresh strawberries and blueberry tarts – each course accompanied by different wines and champagne –French of course! And finally the birthday cake, a pyramid of moist chocolate brownies and truffles. In other words a feast! And all made by friends.

At the end of the afternoon someone brought out a guitar. We sang ‘Blowing in the wind,’ ‘Michael row the boat,’ ‘Kumbiya, ‘He‘s got the whole world in his hands’… all the old favourites. I sang my heart out, and had to restrain myself from dancing.

But as a somewhat acid -tongued acquaintance observed to me, all the men were glued to their seats – and they all look alike, she said. “They all have white hair, and are wearing the same sort of blue and white checked shirts, most of them have walking sticks and a lot of them have paunches!” The women on the other hand, were younger, sprightlier, beautifully dressed and immaculately groomed.

That evening several of the guests came to dinner, though we couldn’t eat much. We sat on the veranda in the dusk, by the loquat tree covered in golden fruit, with a fat green and white wood pigeon rustling around swallowing them whole. We had wine and laughter and fun, discussed everything irreverently, and enjoyed the party all over again.

Days of wine and roses and golden laughter  …when I returned flushed with champagne from Friend today, I found another generous neighbour had called while I was out, and left a bag full of freshly picked broad beans hanging on the door handle.

They were so delicious that for supper, I simply ate a dish of the tender little green jewels glistening with hot butter, though the old chap had steak with his. And I’ve just returned from the field above the harbour where the two little white goats live. They feasted on the broad bean pods, and seemed to feel the way I do about them.

‘Gather ye rosebuds while ye may’, wrote the poet, ‘Old time is still a-flying’, and I’m dedicated to this advice…. my rosebuds may be different to other people’s ideas of rosebuds, but I’m picking them as fast as I may.

So I sit here on the veranda writing, watching the evening sky turn pink and lilac and pale turquoise over the still, silver water, the scent of sweet peas, a gift from a friend’s garden drifting through the house, and savour my blessings. I began with the words of a hymn, so I’ll end with some. These shining days are filled with rosebuds – moments of pleasure and goodness – friends and fun and flowers, chickens and birdsong and beans, ‘all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small’.


Food for threadbare gourmets

The strawberry season means Eton Mess for me! The first time I tasted it was just outside Eton, at a place called Datchett, at a rather grand dinner to entertain some visiting Argentinian polo players who’d been playing on Smith’s Lawn at Windsor. My best friend and I knew we were only there simply because they needed some girls to balance out the chaps. But we gave the food a lot of attention too.

The version I ate then was a variation, because the crushed strawberries and broken meringue were pressed into a big dish of ice-cream, and then re-frozen. Whipped cream was piled on  when it was served, on a huge carving dish. I like doing it this way too, using freshly made local artisan ice-cream. Really, the amounts are up to you… you can’t go wrong. As an added touch I sometimes whizz up a punnet of the fresh strawberries with some sugar, and hand that round in a sauce bowl, to drench the already sumptuous mixture in it! Food for the gods….


Food for Thought

He had picked it up, he said, on a beach; it was a piece of sea-washed wood in the shape of a human head. It was made of hard wood, shaped by the waters of the sea, cleansed by many seasons. He had brought it home and put it on the mantelpiece; he looked at it from time to time and admired what he had done.

One day he put some flowers round it and then it happened every day; he felt uncomfortable if there were not fresh flowers every day and gradually that piece of shaped wood became very important to his life. He would allow no one to touch it except himself; they might desecrate it; he washed his hands before he touched it. It had become holy, sacred, and he alone was the high priest of it; he represented it; it told him of things he could never know by himself. His life was filled with it and he was, he said, unspeakably happy.

From Krishnamurti’s Journal






Filed under birds, environment, flowers, great days, happiness, life/style, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, village life

We’re all born brainy !

100_0108When Catherine Windsor aka Kate Middleton drove away from hospital the other week with her day old baby she did an interesting thing. She waved to the ecstatic crowds with her left hand, but her right hand was resting gently on the baby’s stomach as he lay in his car seat for the first time in his short life. She was so tuned in to her baby that she knew instinctively not to let go physical contact with him, but to re-assure him with her touch. It was rather beautiful, and I wished that all babies could have had that gentle bonding with their parents, meaning I wished that all babies could be secure and happy!

I find it incredible that we all, from day one, possess nearly all the neurons in the brain that we will ever have – nerve cells to you and me – even though most are not yet connected in networks. And this connecting process is so rapid in the first year, that by twelve months, the baby’s brain is close to the adult brain. Sound, sight, touch, taste and smell are the senses through which from birth to one year we learn about the world, usually through playing.

From eighteen months to three years, when the brain is at its most active, children are like sponges, soaking up words, information and new skills. It’s amazing to me that between the ages of eighteen months and three, the toddler’s brain is twice as active as the adult brain.

And this is also when the structures of the brain that are sensitive to language and social-emotional responses develop, while motor development, or physical skills are developing at a rapid pace too.

When we actually look at what babies learn to do in those first few years of life, the range of skills, physical, mental and emotional is awe-inspiring. By the time children reach three to six years, they enter the fastest growth period for the frontal lobe networks, including emotional development, speed of processing, memory and problem solving. By six years, the brain is at ninety per cent of its adult weight.

And at the same time babies are learning how to be people! Modern research has shown that when babies are happy, talked to, sung to, cuddled, included, and have lots of eye contact, what are known in neuropsychology as the “ the hormones of loving connection” nourish the brain and stimulate the growth of connections in the regions of the brain to do with emotions. The simple things that loving parents do with their babies, help them to grow into considerate, loving and confident people from the very beginning.

This nourishment for the emotional centres of the growing brains makes babies feel secure and happy, and means they tend to be more independent, confident, more resilient, empathetic and caring. Babies who are comforted when they’re upset, grow up knowing that nothing is really a disaster, so they are the ones who don’t panic or go into despair when things go wrong.

Because they learned when they were little that everything passes, they can cope. Adults who didn’t get this sort of  supportive parenting tend to re-act to stress with behaviour like flying off the handle, losing their temper, blaming other people, or going into despair and depression -because they grew up with a lot of fear and no faith that life would support them.

Researchers now know that when a baby is left to cry, cortisol levels rise in the brain. If the baby is lovingly comforted after a stressful incident, the body absorbs the excess cortisol. But if the stress happens regularly the cortisol levels remain high and become toxic to the brain cells. Cortisol can cause damage to the emotional centres of the brain, and if this happens regularly children grow up prone to anxiety, anger and depression. The old advice to leave a baby to cry has meant many insecure and sad children, and sometimes, angry violent adults.

Enlightened child experts now feel that this deprivation of loving attention, comfort and understanding of a baby is responsible for many problems in older children – problems ranging from ADHD, depression, panic attacks, phobias, eating disorders, anxiety and substance abuse. So children and young adults with these problems are not innately troublesome or born with a pre-disposition to these problems. They simply didn’t get enough emotional food for the brain – those hormones of loving connection.

I researched this stuff for an article in a parenting magazine I write for. It blew me away to realise what intelligence and potential are already contained within those tiny wizened little day-old babies. It’s so easy to think that just because they can’t talk or communicate with us yet, that they don’t have the thoughts and feelings that research shows us they do. Maybe it’s we who need to work on our communication skills, rather than the babies, who seem to be doing huge amounts of unseen work and learning while we change their nappies and feed them and put them to sleep.

They are so hard-wired to learn and absorb and connect with our world, that as long as we cuddle and talk and sing to them, they seem to do most of the work themselves. Babies are such miracles of complexity and potential, and each single one, wherever it is born in the world, has all this potential and complexity. And yet at this moment we all know too, that only some babies will have the chance to become who they were born to be.

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

When I want to spoil my grandchildren – and that is all the time – I make them their favourite pudding. For one it’s chocolate mousse, for another a family favourite we call pink pudding, and for everyone – a lemon meringue tart.

I usually make the pastry case ahead, so all there is to do later is to squeeze two lemons and make up their juice to half a pint with water. Use some of the liquid to mix with an ounce of cornflour, and boil the rest before stirring it on the cornflour mixture. In a pan, boil it for three minutes, then stir in an ounce of butter, an ounce of sugar and the grated rind from the two lemons. Cool slightly, add three egg yolks and pour this mixture into the tart case. Bake in a moderate oven for about 25 minutes or until set.

Whisk the egg whites until stiff, gently fold in three ounces of castor sugar, and pile onto the lemon tart. Dredge with castor sugar and return to a cool oven until the meringue is set and slightly browned.

 Food for thought

If you have not often felt the joy of doing a kind act, you have neglected much, and most of all yourself.   Anonymous




Filed under babies, consciousness, cookery/recipes, family, great days, happiness, human potential, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Rise up children and be free


How to make yourself very, very unpopular!  Years ago I discovered that in the tug of war between the rights of women and the needs of children it can be dangerous to take sides. I gave up writing supportive articles about feminism, since there were already plenty of them, and started to defend the rights of children. It seemed to me then that children’s well – being was in danger of being forgotten in the rush for rights for women in this country.

To my amazement, the very active feminists around me ostracised me – crossed the road rather than acknowledge me if I met them in the street, and carried on a sustained campaign over the years of hostile letters about me and my articles in the local press. Many years later one of the most prominent and talented of these women, by then a mother herself, wrote a book on mothering in which she vindicated my stand, saying I was the only woman in NZ who had stood up for motherhood.

I say this as I gear myself up for what could well be an infuriated response to this blog by people who feel passionately about the rights of women. Because now I’m bothered about motherhood. It’s a fact of life that when women become mothers they have to give up lots of rights – the right to a night of unbroken sleep, the right to go to the loo without an audience, the right to have an un-interrupted conversation with a friend… the list of lost freedoms is a long one. But we all know that babies and children must come first.

So it bothers me to read that women are artificially having babies into their fifties and sixties, or when they don’t have a partner to support them and their child. I know from experience how hard it is to be a single mother, and to try to be both mother and father. And I feel sad for children who lose their elderly mothers to illness or old age before they are even adults. Children are stuck with what sometimes seem to me to be selfish choices and I don’t feel that all women have the right to have a child, if the child’s quality of life is at risk.

But even worse, is to read that in the US, Canada, Australia and Germany, women are not just being being sent on active service, but now to fight as front line soldiers. An enraged man wrote a blog that this was ridiculous as women were not physically strong enough to do what has to be done in the front line and under fire, he felt that men were being endangered, and he’s probably right.

But what bothers me is that many women serving now are also mothers, with their husbands also serving. Surely we all know now that parting a baby or a young child from their parents breaks the bonds of trust. Abandonment sets them up for all sorts of emotional problems and relationship difficulties both in childhood and in later life. And most people now too, surely know that this is one of the traumas that propels hurting teenagers into drugs and alcohol dependency, pregnancies and violence, and too often, broken relationships, marriages and unskilled parenting?

And if the mother is killed on active service – where does this leave the child, growing up feeling that his or her mother chose her career and the thrill of fighting over the commitment of mothering? Do the temporary caregivers love the child, and are they happy to discover that now it’s a lifetime commitment? If it’s elderly grandparents, were they looking forward to a peaceful retirement, or maybe coping with ill health?

For older children the parting from their mothers is just as traumatic. It more than bothers me to think of a child having to say goodbye to their mother, living with care-givers who may or may not love him or her, and going to school every day, either longing for a letter or text from their mother, or wondering if this is the day they’re going to hear that their mother has been wounded or killed.

I was six and a half when my mother walked out of my life forever, and I know how it feels for those children. The trauma was so great that I was forty five and on a personal growth course before I could bring myself to mention my mother again. What anger and grief vulnerable, broken-hearted little boys and traumatised little girls will grow up with, feeling rejected by a mother who left them behind. Little boys rarely receive again that tenderness and gentleness that a mother can give her son, and little girls are lucky if they find a loving stepmother who doesn’t prefer her own children.

We read of worrying numbers of soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq committing suicide, and the veterans who come home so deeply traumatized by their experiences that they never recover. Some become violent – thirty per cent of returning British soldiers are involved in violence on their return – others are so deeply depressed that they are unable to work, and unable to sustain their relationships.  How will it be for children if their mothers, as well as their fathers, come home in this state? Or so badly wounded that they can’t care for their children?

I wonder if when the policymakers, finding they were running out of men to send on active service, thought – ah, we can send women, and they will approve because they’ll feel they’re now truly equal, and we’ll get some brownie points – I wonder if they ever thought about the children, and the huge social problems they are cooking up for the future? Have they planned any safeguards for the innocent traumatised  children of traumatised parents?

Did they ever stop to consider that children do have rights, even if they’ve never been spelt out?  Though there is no mention of the rights of a child in the Bill of Rights, at least the Universal Declaration of Human Rights says specifically in Article 25 that: “mothers and children are entitled to special care and assistance… and should enjoy… social protection.”  Mothers should be exempt from any service which takes them away from their children, or which infringes on the child’s right to be loved and to feel safe. And for this reason, it bothers me that we imprison mothers… the long term damage to children when parted from their mothers is incalculable.

A boy who’d been adopted at birth, endured a cruel childhood and been returned to the welfare agencies at twelve, bewildered and maimed, was in our car going on an outing, when my little ones began singing a song they’d learned at school, with a haunting tune. The words were “Rise up children and be free… free your brothers, free your sisters, rise up children and be free…”  Sing it again, the boy cried, with a catch in his voice. I realised the words felt like hope for him.

I hope and I wish that mothers could rise up to protect their children, and refuse to be parted from them. Surely all mothers would support them? Yes, women have a voice – but do mothers and children? And is there any good reason why children should be emotionally damaged at home while their mothers are in a foreign country learning how to kill in wars that nobody wants?

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

People are coming tomorrow to inspect the old chap’s collection of Japanese antiques. I’ll have to give them morning coffee and something to nibble. I thought of hot scones, but can’t be bothered juggling with the butter and the strawberry jam and the whipped cream, butter knives and napkins. A cake seems a bit grand, and actually too much trouble for a business encounter, so I’ve decided on flapjacks – nice and chewy, comforting and sustaining.

Melt six oz of butter and stir in six oz of brown sugar, a pinch of salt and eight oz of rolled oats. Mix them thoroughly and press into a well greased tin. Smooth the mix with a knife and bake for about thirty five minutes in a moderate oven. When cooked and golden brown, cut into squares in the tin, and leave in the tin until quite cold. I like a quite thick flapjack, so they are moist and chewy, so I put this amount in a smallish tin. I often double the amounts, and I usually use half sugar to half golden syrup for a stickier flapjack.

It’s easy because you don’t have to worry about it rising, and it doesn’t go stale either.

Food for Thought

Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness and drama. With just this one agreement you can completely change your life.

Don Miguel Ruiz Mexican teacher and shaman


Filed under army, babies, british soldiers, cookery/recipes, family, great days, life and death, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized, womens issues

Zen and the Art of House Maintenance


I think house maintenance has a better ring to it than boring old housework… this way, instead of being a housewife I could even be called a house maintenance executive, or a house maintenance CEO.

But dressing it up in fancy names doesn’t get me away from the essential boringness of cleaning the bath, vacuuming the house, dusting picture frames and the rest. A recent survey in the UK reported that women spend a year and a half doing housework, men half that. This amounted to four and a half hours a week housework… pea-nuts… In my incarnation as a fifties- type housewife, I did at least two hours housework a day, not including the washing, ironing, cooking and baby care.

When I was first married in 1963, I did it all automatically, every day, and without thinking. Brought up by a dedicated exponent of house maintenance who when I was a child made me strip the bed to the mattress every day, and leave it to ‘air’ before being allowed to make it again, conditioned me to being a domestic automaton. It was a habit I found hard to break as an adult. But becoming a single mother and working full time put the brakes on vacuuming and dusting every day. And later the entry of duvets into our lives changed mine!

I once read that the late Jean Muir, an English fashion designer with a perfectionist ethic, had been taught to make her bed by the nuns at her school somewhere in the West Indies. She said it was then and there that she learned about perfectionism and attention to detail. I have this vision in my mind of a long, high-ceilinged, calm, white convent dormitory with a white robed nun, watching the creation of these little works of art – a perfectly made bed with a white counterpane – and making each child re-make their bed until it really was the best they could do.

I can imagine the atmosphere in a room like that, where everyone was putting their hundred per cent into what they were doing… when something like that happens in a room, it affects the atmosphere. When I did a series of personal growth courses for seven years, one of the things we had to learn to do on a gruelling two week residential course, was to ‘Zen’ our rooms. It was the same thing that the nuns were teaching the children.

We had to leave our room in the most perfect state of cleanliness and harmony possible. Few of us managed to achieve this state of indefinable perfection… and most of us were still mystified or defeated by the concept at the end of the course. But over the years it’s something I’ve come to understand and treasure, and it lifts mere housework or house maintenance into another sphere.

When I was a helper on another of these residential courses, and we were packing up to go after all the course participants had left, someone came in while we were having lunch, and said: “Have you seen Hut Number Ten’s woodshed? We all piled out, and one by one stood in the doorway, and experienced an indefinable sweetness… the wood was piled around the shed, and the shed was spotless… but no more spotless than anyone else’s wood shed. I decided that what made the difference was the love and commitment that had gone into stacking the wood and this left the woodshed in a perfect state of equilibrium. Nothing you could see or describe, but something you feel.

These days that’s how I feel about housework/ house maintenance. I want the place to feel ‘Zenned’, as we used to say. That’s difficult with my amount of clutter, but I know it has more to do with the way I feel about cleaning the house than what’s in it. Though there is also a sense of rightness about the things that are in the room… maybe a touch of William Morris’s dictum, “ have nothing in your house that is not beautiful or useful”.

Sometimes I move and do everything at half speed, which means that I have to stay totally present and conscious, and though I’m doing it slowly, somehow everything gets done in good time, and in far better shape than if I’d just done a quick tidy-up.

Sometimes I just do it with my whole heart, not cutting any corners, doing it as thoroughly as I can. And I find when I’m doing this, I don’t find it boring. Something about paying attention to the detail and doing it without resistance, changes the whole equation. If I do the vacuuming grudgingly, it’s a chore. But if I can make that leap of will and give up the resistance to it, it’s a different experience.

More than that, I find chaos or dusty rooms depressing. And sometimes I want my home to feel like sacred space. Needless to say I’m not consistent in my efforts. In fact sometimes I feel like Sisyphus forever pushing his stone uphill before it rolls down again… this is because though children, grandchildren, seventeen dogs and one cat can make a mess, none of them can compare with a husband.

Robert Pirsig in his  ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ wrote that: “Peace of mind produces right values, right values produce right thoughts. Right thoughts produce right actions and right actions produce work which will be a material reflection for others to see of the serenity at the centre of it all.” But I wonder if you work backwards if the same applies… by doing the right actions, do we discover peace of mind and all the steps in between?

And the right action seems to have a lot to do with detail. I remember our teacher on one of these courses saying how he had travelled from the US to Japan to do an advanced  course with Zen monks, and he was thrown off it on the first day… he had failed for not paying attention to detail… as I’ve grown older and fractionally wiser I can understand this.

God is in the details, and it’s in the details that the satisfaction and the perfection resides. I was reading Celi at www.thekitchensgarden.com  and her blow by blow description of feeding lambs and the best milk mix and best timing for their well-being was a most moving testament to the beauty in the detail.

This every moment of the twenty- four- hour – seven- days- a- week commitment to keeping the lambs alive and thriving, warm in their coats, and cherished in their sheltered corner of the barn, was a demonstration of how attention to detail becomes a labour of love – and maybe not even a labour – but a journey of love.

Unless Celi did this marathon task with love, I wonder if she’d even be able to keep it up, with feeds every few hours day and night, trips to and fro through the snow and the dark between house and barn, heating the milk- not in the easy micro- wave but in hot water – giving the four lambs colostrum from her cow which she milks, and keeping them hydrated through the day with endless sips. But when we do a task with love in our hearts, the love gives us the energy to do it.

It feels as though by paying attention to the detail, we are actually being a channel for love. And this is what can carry me through the washing up and the bed-making. It certainly carries me through the three meals a day routine of feeding an always hungry husband. I do find it impossible to cut corners and give him an overcooked fried egg, or a soup bowl with a splash on it. And though I don’t manage to keep up a constant commitment to Zen and house maintenance, at least I know the recipe for making it less of a chore and more of a commitment to beauty…. which somehow must make a difference to the world, since we are all connected.


Food for Threadbare Gourmets

Chicken mince was on special at the grocer- cum- delicatessen in the nearest village so I took some home for supper. Mixed with chopped onion, garlic  and celery, grated carrot, mixed herbs, salt and pepper, and fried in little patties, they’re good either hot or cold. We ate them with new potatoes and smashed peas, one of our favourites. Fry a chopped onion and some garlic. When soft, add lots of thyme, frozen peas and enough chicken stock ( I used a chicken stock cube) just to cover the peas. Boil until the peas are soft, and the stock almost disappeared. I used to just mash them with a potato – masher, now I whizz them in my new stock blender. Any left over goes into a green soup.


Food for Thought

“Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.”
Sir Winston Churchill 1874 – 1965 Leader of the free world against Hitler until the US and USSR joined in two years later.

He also said:” I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down on us. Pigs treat us as equals.”













Filed under cookery/recipes, environment, great days, life/style, love, philosophy, spiritual, The Sound of Water, Thoughts on writing and life, Uncategorized

Blogging and Eating !

I’ve put on weight since I started blogging. There aren’t enough hours in the day, so that instead of going for a walk I catch up on reading blogs – for as we all know – writing a blog is the quickest part.

But even walking doesn’t wear off the pounds gained by sitting still, gazing at the seductive screen, tripping the light fantastic across the blogs, there a ‘comment’, here a ‘ like’, there a ‘follow’.

This morning I read a story about a massively obese young man going on the Paleo diet when he was refused life insurance. He sat in front of a computer all day, and snacked. Eating like a caveman, he lost kilos almost immediately. Aha, I thought. The Paleo diet consists of meat, fish, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables and oils. No-no’s are dairy, grains and carbohydrates, salt, sugar.

But this morning I also got up early to go the Saturday morning food market in the next village, to visit one stall for a delicious round artisan wholemeal loaf, and then the cheese truck, where I bought two generous hunks of Brie and Havarti for half the price I’d pay in the delicatessen. So Brie for lunch with a nice glass of chilled Pinot Gris.

And this is the dilemma. I eat because I enjoy food and savour the infinite variety that modern man has access to, unlike cavemen. It seems to me that cavemen – or Paleos, if I want to sound up to date- ate a vegan diet if you leave out the meat. I’d be happy to leave out the meat, but that doesn’t leave much nourishment for the likes of me…

I have friends who’ve become dedicated vegans recently, or vegetable strong, I think it’s called – but I don’t like the beans you need to eat in order to get enough protein. I also find the food rather bland, and I love my flat white coffee and my hot cups of freshly brewed lapsang souchong tea with milk.  Sometimes my flat white or my lapsang are the only things that keep me going! Paleo food with no salt, would be hard to stomach – p’raps that’s why people do lose weight on it!

But I’d hate to live without the occasional delicious pasta supper, or a tasty risotto, and what are potatoes without a little butter? No heavenly aoli, or the odd pancake when I can think of nothing else… no scrumptious rhubarb crumble, or soothing crème caramel, no lovely kedgeree or curry… no boiled egg and toast fingers for breakfast, no tomato omelette when there’s nothing in the larder? No hot buttered toast when all else fails? No,no, Paleo is out.

So how am I to combine blogging with a diet that doesn’t put on weight? Organise my time better, and get a pedometer is one solution. But that still leaves a self – indulgent diet which isn’t doing me any favours. My thoughts go back to my war-time childhood, when no-one ever got fat, and dentists had no patients, while rickets and crossed eyes from malnutrition disappeared from poverty-stricken slums. All teenagers earned the description lanky, no-one even had puppy-fat.

We all ate the same food because that was all there was. Being rich was no advantage. Go shopping without your ration books, or lose them, and you could buy no food. Ration books were stamped when you bought the necessities of life, while coupons which allowed you luxuries like jam or a tin of salmon, bully beef and the like if there were any available, were cut out. When you’d spent your coupons for the month – no more luxuries – if you could call jam, or cocoa a luxury.

We had five ounces of meat per person per week, four ounces of butter, two ounces of cheese, one egg per week. So little sugar that we had golden syrup on our porridge. Tea was rationed, there was no coffee, no chocolate – an orange at Christmas.We also had a small allowance of dried fruit in December, so as to cook a Christmas cake – they thought of everything!

If the butcher made some sausages, word would go round, and there would be a long queue until they ran out, and many times we went home empty handed. Bread went on the ration during the hardships after the war, so you couldn’t even splash out on toast then. Orange juice was supplied for small children. Milk was plentiful, and free for under-fives, so we had milk puddings galore. I know about this, because when I was old enough to go shopping, I was sent out with the ration books. This went on until the end of the forties, and I remember the day sweets came off ration in 1953, when I was fourteen, and I gorged on Maltesers.

But this sparing diet meant no obesity and healthy people… should I be looking at eating like I did when I was a child? Would it be possible to turn back the clock? Could I ration myself to strong cheddar instead of imported camembert? Sausages, instead of smoked salmon? Water instead of wine? Would such a diet be conducive to my blogging lifestyle? You had to cook back then – no pasta for a quickie,  and no ready- made meals or frozen suppers to whip into the oven when blogging has got the better of me.

(I lost another frying pan two days ago, mushrooms bubbling gently away in cream and garlic with fresh chopped sage and rosemary, to have on toast for a light lunch. When I remembered it, the mushrooms were just charred relics, and the pan was crusted with burnt everything else, and being non- stick incapable of being scoured – c’est la vie for this blogger – at the screen I’m oblivious to the real world)

So it looks like a pedometer and some plodding, plus self discipline, of which I have very little these days. But at least blogging takes my mind off the problem!

Food for Threadbare Gourmets

I’ve just perfected a recipe for sea-food risotto after enjoying it in my favourite riverside restaurant. In fact, I think I’ve improved on it by adding the herbs which give it depths… and it’s still a cheap meal. The one extravagance is making sure you have a few ounces of moist, melting smoked salmon – not the thin bright orange slices, but the smoked hunks. I keep it in the deep freeze. I always have a packet of frozen shrimps and prawns in the deep freeze too.

So chop an onion finely and fry in a little oil and butter until soft. Add a cup of Arborio rice or similar, and fry for a few minutes.Pour in half a glass or so of good white wine, and let it bubble away. Then start adding hot vegetable stock in small amounts. Chop very finely a few leaves of fresh sage and a small spring of rosemary and add to the rice.

While the rice is absorbing the stock, get  half a cup of frozen shrimps or prawns or both from the deep freeze. Let them thaw. (I’ve also used a tin of shrimps if I have no others) Chop the smoked salmon. A small piece is enough for flavour. When the rice is cooked, pour in half a cup of cream, gently fork in the sea-food, and cover for about five minutes. Serve with freshly ground Parmesan and a glass of chilled white wine. Paleos stay in your cave, rub your sticks together and roast your dinosaur.

Food for Thought

The first pre-requisite for education is a willingness to sacrifice your prejudice on the altar of your spiritual growth.

Luisah Teish, African-American writer, teacher and priestess. She is an Oshun chief of the Yoruba-Lucumi tradition




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