little red jottings

when a little red pen wanders off the page

Slow on the uptake

So, I’m halfway through my week of holiday and I’m not fully there yet with the relaxing because work and kids and lists, but I’m more relaxed, which is progress. And the kids are cool.

But the most amazing thing happened last night, which is that I discovered that you can order and pay for pizza online and set a time for when you want to pick it up. So when you’ve spent an hour at the sports stadium watching the 11-year-olds play futsal and the 6 and 7-year-olds roll around on the floor being animals (I mean, not like badly behaved, but like beavers or hedgehogs or puppies or something) and it’s been a long, hot day and no-one is listening and there’s still bedtime to deal with, you can just swing in by the pizza shop and let the 6-year-old run into the shop and emerge a couple of minutes later carrying one box of pizza with the shop man in tow carrying the other one. And then you can sprint down to them and take the shop man’s box and apologise and it’s all cool because he’s a nice person and it’s a warm night and you haven’t had to stand in the shop for twenty minutes negotiating with the kids about toppings and bases and sauces and yes, the dairy-free one needs corn on it, but no, not quorn because that shit is weird and yes, he’s dairy-free but also he would like fifteen kinds of meat and yes, the other one can have dairy but he’s vegetarian but also very fond of seafood so calamari would be awesome and trying to read the menu and decipher the combo options and price everything up and then wait agonised while the kids whine about being hungry and where’s my pizza and I’m so BORED because you did all of that already without the waiting. In fact, so genius is this system that the order you gritted your teeth through a month ago is recorded on the website, so all you had to do was find your password, delete your pizza because are you kidding, why would I eat pizza when I could have homemade minestrone instead and exactly the way I like it because everyone else is eating pizza and find your credit card because you can never remember the little three-digit number thing from the back and calculate a pick-up time based on the duration of two soccer matches and getting two children in the car and driving back through town. Which, comparatively, felt really fucking simple.

And this is why, at the grand age of 41, I still believe in trying new things and being open to change and finding out stuff that I really should know already. Because some of us just take a bit longer, is all.

Harvest and lists

20170219_122613You probably won’t be startled to learn that I’m a list maker. Some lists bring me joy (condiments, books, Christmas shopping), some give me a sense of order (chores, morning and evening tasks, cheap family meals), others either stem or generate a rising sense of panic depending on how long they are, their timeframe and my general state of mind (things to do, people to get in touch with, jobs to be done in the house or garden, groceries).

20170219_210119I usually list vertically, then scatter extra items around the page as I run out of room, but sometimes I mind map. I did that for parenting tricks, and it’s the list I like best on a fridge covered in the damn things. I used Wunderlist when I was running a business and I keep a task list at work, although it’s out of date within minutes and so long I have no hope of ever completing it. I usually cross things out as I complete them, but the other day I tried a line of Twink (the ribbon sort that runs out in a smooth white line), and that was more satisfying than I expected.

I’ve got a week of leave (well, with a day of work in the middle and an edit that has to be done in the first couple of days) starting tomorrow, and I thought a list might save me from the scurry of things in my head. I thought I could have a short, elegant list of things to do each day — exercise, eat something from the garden, read, write — but then it grew (see people, garden, do chores, prep for dinner) and then I added on random household chores I haven’t done for a year and for some reason thought I would enjoy packing into four short days of leave (wash the windows, organise the pantry) and then it didn’t really feel like a holiday any more.

20170219_210137So, I stuck that list on the fridge and wrote a short one for tomorrow, cleaned out the chook house, did the washing, wrote a grocery list, mended some clothes, lost my nut a few times, watered the glasshouse and drank too much coffee.

But another thread ran through the day, and I’m trying desperately to hang on to it because it felt calmer, more life-giving, better for body and soul. The Cat and I spent a happy hour this morning harvesting. We picked tomatoes, mint and broad beans, kale, zucchini and lettuce, and an armful of sweetpeas and roses — a gorgeous heap of colour and potential. The Cat was enthusiastic and excited, I was quietly smug, the kitchen smelled delicious.

I stuck the flowers in a jar and cooked the vegetables through the day. Lunch was tomato salad with mint and the last crumbs of a taut sheep’s feta, a lettuce salad* softened with pear and apple cider vinegar dressing, broad beans blanched and double-podded, then fried with bacon, some scraps of bread, a little leftover chicken. For dinner, I made a gratin with slices of zucchini in stock and a layer of oiled breadcrumbs on top. In a bowl with rice, it was a garden-storecupboard marriage of surprising grace and charm.

So, the lists did their thing, but the harvest helped more. Spontaneity within bounds, and all that.

  • One of the lettuces was a Venetian heirloom number, curiously strong-leaved, verging on tough, and with a slightly bitter edge. The other was some leafy thing I let go in the glasshouse.

Heat, and other things, Part II

So, today had coffee, sand, water, shags, albatross, terns, dolphins, sun, chickens, walking, hugs, Thai street food, a date, wine and whisky. Not bad for a small city.

Heat, and other things

20170128_101618Ian’s birthday, and a warm, still morning after too many weeks of damp and grey. Breakfast in bed, puppy-dog boys, a potter through the vege patch and our first zucchinis, already on the way to marrowhood.

We’ll go out in search of birds and water soon — no better way to celebrate another year.

A dinner of the many and a dinner of the few

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Of the many

Tonight’s dinner was a good one, a stir fry in which the experience of 20 years, a well-seasoned wok, the good sense of Nigel Slater and a pleasing selection of raw ingredients came to delicious fruition.

We met as student vegetarians, one of us with a wok and the other with an aptitude for slicing vegetables, and so the stir fry was an early feature of our culinary relationship. We learnt some tricks early — get the chopping done before turning on the heat, slice thinly and with an eye for the elegant line, wash the rice well before steaming it, do not peak at the rice while it’s cooking, keep the seasonings simple, come to the table hungry. Others took long to learn — use pretty bowls, use good knives, go for a variety of textures, crank the heat as high as possible.

But it is the latest lesson that has been most revolutionary. Cook each ingredient separately. For this, we have Nigel to thank. I hope he wouldn’t mind the first name, for it is how we refer to all our favourite food writers. “What would Nigel do?” we say, confronted with a spartan cupboard, a new vegetable, a cut of meat. We get our answers from other writers too, but Nigel’s pretty damn reliable. Anyway, he points out that the wok works best when it is not overcrowded, when things can move and flash and the sauce coats but does not pool.

So, that’s our new trick. I put the rice on and get everything sliced, then Ian takes over the frying. One ingredient at a time, a shake of soy for some, oyster for others, teriyaki for the meat. Bowls on the table, happy children, some leftovers for lunch tomorrow, a warm feeling in the tummy.

 

Of the few

dscn0400Strangely, the meal reminds me of another good one we had recently. We didn’t get our potatoes planted this year, or we haven’t yet, I suppose there is still time, but some came up anyway, the scattered progeny of the ones we missed last year.

I watched the plants grow without thinking much about it, making the mistake of thinking something accidental would be of limited value, and then we dug them up to make room for the spreading zucchinis. Well, what a joyous surprise that was! Red, white, purple, some whoppers, some tiddlers, all with the fine, earthy skin of the newly dug and a gloss when scrubbed like polished stones, curved amber, oiled wood. I weeded, Ian dug, the Cat took photos, the Rabbit harvested, the chickens ate the weeds, Stella kept us company.dscn0377

That night, I made a simple potato salad, nothing more than boiled potatoes, slivered green beans, a torn anchovy or two, a handful of capers and a mustardy lemon oil dressing. It was magnificent.
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Putting things together

20170123_122043I’ve done boot camp, Christmas, Trump, summer holidays, the return to work, gardening, adventures with children, movies, books, terrific whiskey, and a sleepover for 11-year-olds. Yesterday it rained and I had a cold, so I lit the fire, made hot drinks and retreated to the sofa. I wouldn’t describe it as restful, exactly — the children were tired and scrappy and stuck indoors — but it was a necessary grinding to a halt, of sorts.

It’s often hard to know what will save a day, but in this case, it was minestrone. I don’t always like minestrone, but this was a light, summery number with enough savour and steamy heat to restore just enough wellbeing for me to get to bed.

20170123_122942Ian made it, so I don’t know the fine details of the recipe, but here’s what I think he got right. The vegetables were sliced at angles, thin enough to fit well on the spoon, but large enough to offer definite taste and something distinct in each mouthful. There weren’t too many carrots, giving a layer of sweetness but not overwhelming the fundamental earthiness of the dish. The cooking started with bacon and ended with strong, fresh chard from the garden. I had extra tomatoes in my bowl, and a scattering of feta. The pasta was rigatoni, thick and knubbly. There were broad beans from our garden. The zucchinis were young and flavourful, with firm, peppery skin. The stock was light and hot.

20170123_122034The Rabbit was home sick today, so I had another quiet day. He made a Lego lawnmower — my role was to find the pieces and offer moral support. We succeeded, but only just. I left my work phone on, which was a mistake.

20170123_121854I reheated some of the minestrone for lunch, something I would avoid with a less robust pasta. Still, it needed a bit of tarting up for a new day, so I sliced in a couple of dusky Nigella tomatoes, a few shredded leaves of chard, some leaves of purple basil from the glasshouse. Feta again, of course.

The sun came out after that. We went to the gardens, kicked a ball, flew a kite. The Rabbit rescued his toy bandicoot from the animal rescue boat. We put ourselves together, not perfectly, but from what we had.

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Sample dialogue

Context: The Rabbit is writing a Christmas play. It’s about a group of sea creatures and a marine biologist.

One of the characters is a leafy sea dragon. The Rabbit wants to change it to a leaf sea dragon. The Cat feels strongly that this is not okay.

Cat: It’s stupid, you need to say leafy sea dragon.

Rabbit: It’s my play, I’ll say what I want.

Cat: Fine, then I’m not going to be in it.

Rabbit: Right, I’m going to take all your parts out.

Cat: Go on, I don’t care.

Rabbit: Oh, alright then, I’ll make it a leafy sea dragon.

Mama: Hey, you can give his part to someone else. Granddad could do it.

Cat: No, he couldn’t. I’m the ultimate kangaroo.

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Each of us, together

20161126_192610Well, that was a week. Ian went to Kaikōura to cover post-earthquake things, and all manner of bollocks descended on me at work.

Home was good, though — our new after-school childcare person is a footballer, so the boys are well thrilled. He is also a jolly good cleaner, so I am well thrilled too. The boys are used to being journo kids — they missed their dad, but flicked straight into helping-out, getting-on-with-it mode.

I kind of enjoyed the quiet and calm of the week, but realised within half an hour of Ian being home that the volume in the house had quadrupled and I had slowed to snail’s pace. I guess we had all been managing and looking after each other and that was good, but we need Ian to relax us and let things go. It was a good reminder of the ways we balance each other, of the dance we do as opposites.

The boys were pretty scratchy, but by the time we had eaten bento, driven round the harbour, played soccer, made a sandcastle, conducted watery experiments on the sandcastle, snuggled on the sand, driven round the best inlet in the city, seen baby stilts and a kingfisher and got home, we seemed to have made it back into ourselves again.

20161126_192514And then we each found our own peace. Ian tidied up and did chores. I planted 40 zucchini seedlings out, picked a salad of baby leaves and flowers, and cut back some lupins and sorrel that had gone to seed. The Cat watched soccer videos. And the Rabbit made things.

He started by cutting back sorrel, but was interrupted by his bowels, which we only knew about because he left the bathroom in a less than ideal state. Then Ian found him in the workshop with a large piece of wood in the vice with the words “side 1” written on it. “What are you doing?” Ian asked. “Making a run for the guinea pigs,” said Rabbit.

Later, we were having dinner. Ian was drinking wine, eating pasta and talking to me. I was drinking wine, eating pasta and reading a book. The Cat was calculating the value of our car relative to the weekly income of a professional footballer (low). The Rabbit was drawing circles and cutting cardboard. Five minutes later, he had finished a set of traffic lights.

20161126_190707“What’s your plan for the lights?” we asked. “I’ll shine a torch on them,” he said. Damned if it doesn’t work, too.

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Nothing left

I guess I’ll have to write about the US election soon, or maybe things closer to home, but in the meantime there’s Leonard.

You might like this and this.

 

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