Please excuse me whilst I immortalise my birthday flowers. Some were bought for me, some I bought myself, all apart from the beautiful flowers next to the roses are at least a week old and all are supermarket flowers, which I make no apology for, supermarket flowers have improved incredibly in the last twenty years or so, and they are so affordable. I remember watching a documentary about the huge auction houses that exist for flowers, it’s totally computerised and is a huge business, quite fascinating.
I love to keep fresh flowers in the house and if I had more space on the allotment I would grow a few, I’ve even been thinking of getting half a plot to do that. But until then, I’ll enjoy the seasons bounty through the eyes of the supermarkets buyers and growers.
We are very lucky in our town in that we have a large and lovely greengrocers that has an avid following, meaning the produce is always fresh. I needed a few bits for supper and tried to entice my resident chef to come for a walk with the carrot on the end of the stick being the greengrocers. It would also help with the carrying back, but he was having non of it, still being very comfortably clad in his Jim jams. Well it is lockdown, there are no rules. But all of a sudden he changed his mind and I was ever so pleased.
We walked through the park on the way up to the town bellowing at each other as the wind had picked up and I could barely hear him. But once we turned into a residential area the wind died down and the sun almost came out to play. We gaily chatted about shops that were there and shops that had disappeared as we trundled up the town.
Once at the greengrocers we quickly decided on our vegetables for supper, some warm and ripe plum tomatoes to be made into a salsa, a couple of good sized butternut squashes, I only needed one but it was two for a pound and some lovely looking flat peaches, which if given the chance I can eat three or four a day while they are in season. A few treats for Mum which included a box of large sticky dessert dates and we were on our way.
We walked to Mum’s via the cemetery, some people think of cemeteries as glum places but I’ve always found them fascinating, there is just so much to see. Firstly we sat on my favourite bench and then we sat on Uncle Franks and Uncle Fred’s. We talked about names on gravestones and how unusual some of them were and if they were a character of a book what would they be like. We investigated a grave that had two gaily coloured windmills going ten to the dozen in the breeze, convinced it would be a child’s only to find it was a well loved grandma and grandad. We exclaimed with delight when we found longevity, the oldest being in their 107th year, and were saddened by when an all to brief a life had ended. Nearest to the entrance where the oldest gravestones are we admired the influences of Art Deco and Art Nouveau on the tombstones along with hints of Rennie Mackintosh engraved into big stone crosses. The use of the various coloured stones and marbles fascinated. We walked underneath the arches of ancient horse chestnuts, whilst we chatted and soon we passed through the beautifully ornate iron gates thickly coated with black paint having been painted so many times in over a hundred years and were back in the land of the living. A moment of precious time well spent.
My resident chef went off to start dinner whilst I spent a little precious time with my parents, a moment to remember.
Is there anything more satisfying than spotting the right piece to slot into a jigsaw puzzle. I don’t think so. You might notice that there are two pieces missing, that is because two Christmas’s ago one puppy dog called Rupert took a liking to the jigsaw pieces and munched a couple, so we had to put it away not realising that two had disappeared! So we never got the satisfaction of that final click as you put the last piece in, but it doesn’t matter. Hubby and I started this particular puzzle, hubby and son no.2 did large chunks and then son no.2 and I stayed up very late one night and had a marathon session on it, with much banter and laughter along the way. We left it in one piece to surprise hubby, I’m not sure if he was pleased or disappointed that he didn’t join in the fun. I’ve bought him a couple more jigsaws which includes one of London. Oh the joys of Lockdown!
To be honest I’d been dreading this birthday, not because of the year that I have become, but because of Lockdown. I thought it might just become another dreary day with nothing to do and nowhere to go and if I’m absolutely honest, I fear that my mental well being is not as good as it could be. I feel fragile and emotional and it doesn’t take much to tip me over the edge. There have been some really good sobbing sessions. I know that I am not the only one as many members of my close family and friends are also feeling the strain, so we just cling to the cliff face and hope we can all pull through.
So with trepidation afoot I woke at 4.00 a.m., which was not a great start. I tootled around the internet and at 8.30 a.m. I woke Chef, because Chef had said he was going to cook me a great breakfast. At 9.50 a.m. it arrived. I could have eaten a scabby cat at that point! I’d been awake for six hours. Apparently there were problems in the kitchen, which mostly pinpointed to a half awake Chef.
But when he presented me with this, Eggs Royale, a poached egg with smoked salmon, napped with a beautifully made hollandaise sauce on my own lightly toasted sourdough, all was forgiven. It was delicious.
The day then started gently, Son no.1 arrived (don’t worry he had still been isolating) and hubby had lit a fire as the weather has become cold and damp, and a little fire in the grate adds a warmth and cheerfulness to everybody. Son no.2 found a Christmas candle with a contraption that spins when the candle is lit and all of a sudden I could smell pine leaves and was looking around for the Christmas tree, such was the ambience of our mood.
The boys had sprawled and were eating junk food. Could I hear the sound of Christmas carols in the background, I think I could. There was even the smell of slow roasting meat coming from the kitchen that I’d popped into the oven a couple of hours previously.
Eventually we woke ourselves from our fug and went on down to the Abbey Fields for the now birthday tradition of feeding the ducks. We had such a great time. First a few family snapshots with my phone.
And then the feeding of the ducks.
Laughing uncontrollably as Son no.2 decides he’s going to take thousands of photographs…. It was so funny.
We then played pooh sticks on my favourite bridge, much to the cries of how can you have a favourite bridge, well you can. Then went on a little walk around.
And found two jackdaws nests and spotted a woodpecker. The jackdaws are doing really well, looks like there may well be several nests. You can just see a parent bird and a tiny beak poking out of the hole. I’m going to need my proper camera.
The brook with wild iris caught in sunshine.
A quick spot check on my parents to say Hi and then homeward bound.
At which point we were all starving. Fortunately I had planned a birthday menu that would yield maximum flavour with minimum input.
We started with ribs. These had been slow cooking for about five hours by this point and I finished them with a barbecue sauce.
They went down very well.
Next, pan fried salmon basted with a coriander and garlic butter served with lovely new potatoes and salad. It was perfection.
And to finish a homemade strawberry pavlova. A favourite over the years with the boys and today it made a comeback appearance and was lovely.
So from an unpromising lockdown position I have had the very best birthday of my life. There were cards and presents too of course, but these dim in comparison to the most loveliest of birthdays I think I have ever had. I feel so happy and content and loved. Has something good come out of Lockdown? Do we appreciate each other more? I think we might do.
I think this may well be the blue print for all of my birthdays, no more gallivanting around doing a day out or going to a posh restaurant in a city. Simple times spent with the ones I love and good but simple food is all I really want or need.
Remember the lillies a week or so ago, those small green buds, even I was worried that they would not bloom. So after a week or so, I resnipped their stems, fresh water and food and out they popped. Lillies give such good value for money don’t they and I love their perfume, it scents the whole room. The only downside, as I was reminded by my good friend Jenny, their toxicity to cats, lethal they can be. It’s always good to have a reminder to things like this.
I think I am in the middle of an awakening, quite a strong sentence considering my advancing middle aged years. But an awakening I am having. It all started with the sourdough, doesn’t everything start with sourdough these days, especially since Covid, but it did, truly it did. As I became a better baker and this evening I had some of the most delicious sourdough bread I think I have ever baked, and that I really wouldn’t buy shop bought bread again, except in a bread emergency or because I haven’t got the will to make something like tortillas as and when I want them. I came to realise that I am still buying commercial biscuits.
Now I am not a biscuit fiend, but as I explored these feelings more fully I realised that it is because I don’t like the biscuits on offer, with the exception of Hobnobs, but even they don’t seem to tick the boxes they once did when they came out 35 years ago. They seem sweeter, and have a less salty note these days, which is a shame because they were perfection.
To be honest I have been listening to this beat of the drum for a while, the call to make my own biscuits, but I know as an ‘O’ level student of Home Economics just how many batches of biscuits I burnt to a cinder as I was gaily ensconced in a side kitchen washing up, chatting and laughing with my lovely friend Jayne whilst smoke was billowing, yes black smoke billowing out of my oven. Along with the walk of shame home as to having to admit that I had burnt the biscuits… again.
The even sadder thing about it is the commercial biscuits sit around for months until they are taken up the allotment to either use as sustenance during heavy digging sessions or training aids for the dogs. That’s no way to treat a biscuit is it? It was time to tackle my demons and to master my disastrous teenage years biscuit time keeping, because the difference of two minutes can spell triumph or disaster depending on the heat of your oven, and explore the hidden delicious delicacies that may lie within the realms of the biscuit world.
I started with a Lemon Polenta biscuit, just from a recipe that I found online. The smell of the lemon as Son no.2 and I whisked the butter and sugar together into the whitest of clouds with the Kenwood was devine. We added egg yolks next and because we had whisked the butter so well, it gave not a hint of wanting to split. This was definitely a case of the student becoming the master as I would have stopped whisking at least 5 minutes before we did, but I was verbally whipped to carry on, and Son no.2 was right. Obviously cheffing in posh restaurants in the Cotswolds has had an effect.
After a good long rest they were cut out.
And baked. not too bad considering my past history! Then dusted with caster sugar.
And placed in a pretty glass biscuit barrel to enjoy looking at.
This new idea has gone down a treat with hubby and son no.2, who both murmured appreciatively as they sampled them.
All hail the young innovators, this breakfast is just the best.
A fried egg omelette attached to a tortilla by placing tortilla onto nearly cooked omelette and pressing down for thirty seconds and then flipping out of the pan and stuffing with veg of my choice and a little sriracha sauce to add a little spice to my life. Then folded into a wrap and munched.
Who knew I would buy into a trend. I’m not averse to the odd burger, there are times when a quick hot snack on the road is a perfectly acceptable solution to a problem of needing to feed, but not wanting to stop. Sometimes you hit gold, the burgers at Burger King at Euston Station are the best ever, seriously, I don’t know what it is but they are magnificent.
So on a rainy afternoon, with nothing to do and lunch having been delayed as we had been baking we noticed that our local Maccy D’s had just reopened that day. So just for shits and giggles we decided to play the game of hunt down the Maccy D. Call it lockdown madness if you will, but actually it was great fun. The finding out of the elusive reopen, the queuing, even the ordering was exciting – I don’t get out much, I can’t remember the last time I had a burger.
And then it came that big bag of warm savouriness swirling tempting smells as we parked the car. I mean to say taking a Maccy D home would not be an authentic experience!