Monthly Archives: April 2020

Z’s Easter

We are taking time to enjoy every meal, both preparation and eating, as well as using every scrap of food. The latter comes naturally to me, especially this year. It wasn’t exactly a new year’s resolution, but it was a deliberate decision to waste as little as I could help. Climate change isn’t much in the news at present, now that the world has pretty well shut down but, although I’ve had little difficulty in getting the food we want – thanks to local suppliers, who keep going steadfastly when supermarkets are overwhelmed – I am still careful and frugal when it comes to waste.

But I’m not frugal when it comes to ingredients. I buy what I want. And my expenses are less than usual in other respects, so I have no money worries. The retired are lucky in that respect. We have discovered that the ‘posh’ crisps from the deli are nice enough that we won’t go back to Walkers and their mayonnaise is almost as good as homemade. That bunches of local asparagus are eye-wateringly expensive doesn’t matter, the season is short and I’m glad that the grower is getting an income and has pickers.

All the same, two bunches of asparagus turned out to be 8 fat spears and cost nearly £6. So they have earned their worth. We had a salad Niçoise yesterday, with asparagus instead of beans, and I just blanched the top few inches of one bunch, and saved the cooking water. I also saved the brine from the tin of tuna. Why I bought tuna in brine rather than oil is a mystery, but it’s been in the cupboard for so long (not decades, it was not even out of *random date that is nonsense as tins last for years*) that there’s no telling. Today, I boiled the tough ends for stock and thinly sliced the middle bits from both bunches. I’ve saved the tips for tomorrow and made risotto from the rest, with some prawns from the freezer. Lunch was leftover Spanish omelette with a tomato salad.

I’ve been making bread and yoghurt for some time. There is leftover whey when I pot up the yoghurt, so that goes into the bread dough. I have one pint of milk a week delivered (I also have croissants, butter and orange juice, to make it worth the milkman’s while) and when I need more milk, I go to the farm and get a litre of Jonny’s fabulous raw Montbéliard cows’ milk.

Yes indeed, I know how lucky we are and I appreciate this good fortune. I feel rotten about the whole situation of course, for myself and for the worried and the bereaved. I can’t help anyone else and this gives me real distress. I so want to volunteer and I’m not doing so because I am not going to take the risk to me or Tim. I’m leaving it to younger people and that’s a lesson learned in itself. I’m older than I realised.

Anyway, darlings, a few tips to come on food frugality, if I can get round to it, to which you are most welcome to add. I miss my family so much that I’m feeling quite self-pitying tonight, but I’ll get over that because I am, I know, one of the lucky ones. We are all in the same boat, but some of us are on higher decks … and this metaphor will sink any moment now, so I won’t carry on with it. Back to the positive. Food and books for a while, how’s that?

Z does whatever Z wants

In times like these, indulgence is justifiable. I bought a tub of delicious Monty Bojangles truffles from the deli, for Easter, and it was broached last night. Any part of the Easter weekend counts, as far as I’m concerned, this year.

It was the autumn after Russell died that changed my outlook. One night, in late September, I was chilly. I wanted to light the fire, but that seemed just plain wrong before October at least. And then I thought, what if I died in the night (which wasn’t likely, but who knows?)? I would have deprived myself of a small amount of pleasure for no reason at all and it would be too late to put it right. So I lit the fire. Over the course of the next year, I think I lit the fire at least once (sometimes every day, of course) in every month. I felt cold or cheerless, I put a match to some sticks. It did me good.

Having said that, the weather has been fabulous for the last few days and we haven’t needed to light the fire at all. But that’s beside the point.


It’s the kitchen garden, mostly. There are weeds everywhere, of course – though a plant only counts as a weed if it’s in the wrong place – but they don’t matter unless they’re smothering the plants that actually should be there. They do, in this case. There are three main culprits and the way the garden has been cultivated has made matters worse.

Many years ago, the only problem was a small patch of bindweed in one bed. I kept it under control, though it couldn’t be eradicated. Then, one year, a load of manure that was delivered was evidently infested with thistledown, which merrily colonised the whole area. In the last seven or eight years, a third plant; green alkanet or bugloss, whichever you know it as, has also taken hold. The problem with all three is that they are perennials with deep roots and they seed as well. Wince, our gardener, doesn’t hold with digging and he brings his rotavator round, which just chops up the roots and spreads the plants to a bigger area.

Now, Wince, who is conscientiously obeying the social distancing rules to the limit, is not coming round, so it’s up to us to do the weeding. Luckily, I’d decided last autumn, to get on top of the situation – I intended to take this summer to do so, with a lot of smothering and not much growing, but that’s changed and I’m growing a full garden of veggies again. But, in the first instance, I’ve been putting down soaked newspaper and a layer of straw, and both of these have really helped. Raking them away, there are few weeds showing, whereas the beds I didn’t do are as weedy as ever.

I prefer a no-dig garden, in theory, but that’s no good for now. There are just too many roots that have to be removed. Rose and I are tackling them, but some areas are slow going. However, we’re both the determined types – though there’s a streak of natural and totally justifiable indolence in us too – and we’re going to get this done. Carrying on with the weeding all summer is not my forte. I rely on Lovely Tim to encourage me with promises of delicious food and wine as a reward.

Z likes greens

I was planning to take a year off from vegetable gardening. The kitchen garden is rather choked with bindweed and I wanted to smother it. I also wanted to grow lots of flowers. But hey, it seems the chin-up thing to do this year, growing your own veggies and so I’m back in business.

I think this must be somewhere in my genes or psyche or whatever deeply meaningful buzzword is current nowadays. I am practical by nature, love eating veggies and I know that what you pick yourself and eat the same day is more delicious than anything you can buy. I’m also very much into preserving food now – back in the day, I used to freeze the surplus. Yeah, right. You spend hours, in the heat of August, cutting and blanching beans and, the next year, you throw most of them away to make room for the next lot. Because, if you mostly eat seasonally, there is no time for green beans.

It’s all different now with chutneys and relishes. There’s no season for them – you make them when you have a glut and they usually are best a month or three later. Which reminds me, I made some quince vodka last October and we haven’t sampled it yet.

Having put in an order at the deli last week, I wanted to make it worth their while and I didn’t want to have to go to the supermarket. So I asked for posh crisps and posh mayonnaise. Usually, it’s the brand leader or I make my own, in both cases. But we like both of them enough to buy them again. I have no idea of the relative cost and it doesn’t matter – just how much mayo does one eat, after all? I reserve the possibility that, when the grandchildren finally come to visit again, I might buy the standard stuff. Though I’d buy whatever they want, frankly, because when they can finally visit after a gap of months, the culinary sky is the limit. Nutella pancakes at the very least.

When I say posh, I just mean it has the ingredients you’d use if you were making the same thing at home, of course. That shouldn’t be a luxury, but it often is. I read labels every time I buy something new and, as my local supermarket is the Co op, I’ve often found that their own brand stuff is surprisingly high quality.

Anyway, I’ve sent an order in to Simon Greens today and I’ll send one to Little Green Shop and the deli tomorrow. Paul the Fish called this morning and I made enough dal yesterday to last forever. Though Boy just returned the cat and I offered some of it to him. His other half is vegan, so it’s spot on.

Z hopes for springlike weather

The weather is due to warm up at last, which is a jolly good thing. We didn’t get much of a winter, but it’s been dispiritingly chilly with a cutting wind for too much of the spring so far. I’ve suggested to Rose that she gets Boy to fetch the garden furniture out of the barn, ready to sit out in the sunshine. We have two tables and lots of chairs, so we can still follow the rules and be separate, even if we happen to be out at the same time.

Today, Weeza introduced me to planking. I’ve vaguely heard of it but didn’t know what it was. You lie down, supporting the weight of your body by the parts of it that are touching the ground, for as long as you can. The particular programme she linked to was having your toes and elbows on the ground. It suggested building up from 15 seconds on the first day. I got too bored to carry on after a minute, which is a Day 16 ‘achievement’, apparently, so either my core strength is stronger than I think it is or the programme is really kind to the unfit. I then did it on my hands rather than my elbows, again for a minute, but it’s a bit hard on elderly wrists. Still, beats jogging any day.

It puzzles me that frogs seem to have abandoned my pond, as far as spawn-laying is concerned, unless it’s because newts have moved in. Newt tadpoles are a lot more aggressive than frog tadpoles. The eggs are laid singly, so I can’t tell if any are there. When this lovely spring weather arrives, I shall sit by the pond looking for tadpoles, which I love dearly. I have sometimes suspended a small piece of meat on a thread from a stick and dipped it into the water. The hungry tadpoles cluster around it, it’s a good way of feeding them if you’re the sort of person who likes giving amphibians a treat. And, that I can spend hours watching tadpoles shows that I’m not someone who finds staying home much of a problem.

Today, Z mostly washed windows

We’re all in various degrees of lockdown all over the world, which is an odd feeling. United in one sense, totally physically divided in another. Last night, Al organised a family get-together via Zoom, which worked well and will be repeated next week. Ro is kindly posting videos of his children on Facebook, which he doesn’t otherwise use, and we’re making more effort to phone – no one in my family or Tim’s is used to phoning each other much.

It is Al’s birthday today and Weeza’s is on Saturday. I posted cards and put money into their bank accounts. Seems rather a cop-out, but I can’t go shopping and most things are out of stock online that might be a cheery little treat. I did think ahead, however, and sent exuberant quantities of chocolate for Easter from Hotel Chocolat for each family. Since Tim and I would take a year to eat £30sworth (free postage, darlings), he is not getting such a treat, though the deli and the wholefood shops both do sell chocolate – but we are not indulging ourselves. We always eat well and that isn’t changing, but we haven’t eaten anything extra.

I need a new subject to blog about. I don’t want to ignore the pandemic – not often that you know you’re living through an age that will go down in history, but there are plenty of other people recording it and my feelings will bore myself, as well as you lovely people. I blog the personal stuff best – without any worrying indiscretions, of course, mostly because there are very few of them – but what haven’t I told you about? I am not sure. Any ideas?