The Earth. It’s tempting, for this week’s WordPress Photo Challenge, to choose lush woodland, productive farmland, dramatic peaks, crashing ocean breakers, or a charming cottage garden crammed with colourful flowers, and on Earth Day, show it at its striking best.
Instead, I want to take you to Colsterdale in Yorkshire. The soil is thin, acid, peaty. Bitter winds scythe across the hilltops, bending to their will those hardy trees that make it to maturity. Brackish ditches lurk below the juncus grass to catch out the unwary hiker. The hills, though beautiful, can look barren, apart from the heather which blushes an extravagant purple every August.
But Earth is clever. This unpromising countryside nurtures thousands of sheep and lambs. Curlews, plover and geese wheel through the sky. Songbirds spring from the heather. There is so much hidden wildlife that much of the area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
William’s a London child. His commute to nursery passes railway tracks and city streets, as well as a walk through a rather nice park. The animals my grandson sees on his daily round are dogs-on-leads, cats and urban foxes.
We wanted Yorkshire to offer him something different. On his very first afternoon, we visited two-day-old lambs in the field at the end of the road, wobbly on their legs and clinging to their mothers. Later we’d visit older lambs, confidently running and jumping across a public footpath as William wandered among them.
Then it was off to the duck pond. Two Mrs. Moorhens had a chick each, so light that even pond weed could bear their weight: were they walking on water? Mrs. Mallard had eight balls of fluff scuttling from land to pond to rushes – constantly on the move.
The next morning, good friends Gill and David invited us over. There were puppies to pet, dogs and a cat to stroke. And then there was Reggie, their grandson’s very own Thelwell pony. Reggie turned out to be far too scary to ride, but perfectly good to take for a walk.
Then William was put to work, collecting eggs. He didn’t break very many as he dropped them none too gently into his collecting basket. Afterwards he fed the hens. And we went home for scrambled eggs on toast. Thank you William. Thank you Gill, David and the hens.
William’s collecting eggs….
…. and feeding the hens.
Late one afternoon, William and I went for a walk in the woods and saw rabbits, a dozen or more, grazing the grass on the other side of the fence.
I wonder if it was one of them who left the chocolate eggs that William found in the garden when he went hunting for them on Easter Sunday?
Well, he’s a fine rooster, and just the kind of handsome fellow you want illustrating an Easter-tide post, doing his bit to father the next generation of fluffy chickens. Not surprising at all to find him here. All the same, these gaudy colours are quite eye-opening, quite a surprise. So this cockerel can do duty this week in the WordPress photo challenge: surprise.
I knew I couldn’t let this day pass, unrecognised. This is the day when, exactly a year ago, my son-in-law Phil died. I want to remember that. But I also want to remember how proud he would be of the way his family has made a go of their unwanted new lives together, despite the grief, the empty place at every family gathering. Ellie’s successfully relaunched their business: the new website went live late yesterday. The boys started at high school, and are doing well – they’re sporty and busy. Ellie’s out to prove that she’ll see her own cancer kicked conclusively out before the end of 2017, and she’s got the bald head to prove it. Brian the dog declines to grow up,and recently ate his bed – again. Luckily, he’s lovable with it.
Phil would be proud of all they’ve achieved. I am too. They’re doing well. But there’s still a Phil-shaped hole at the centre of their family, and I guess there always will be.
Death in a digital age is a funny old business. On Facebook Memories, a photograph has just flashed up to tell me that three years ago today, we were on a family day out to Liverpool, which we all enjoyed, save for the gnawing feeling in my stomach that my husband’s difficulty swallowing was not good news. Two years ago this week, or so it tells me, our little family was on a wonderful holiday, which we’d booked to celebrate our wild assumption that the whole shitty cancer thing was behind us. One year ago this week, my husband was lying in a hospice bed in our sitting room, dying.
Messages, wall posts and photographs have popped back up on my phone from this day last year. We’d told our wider circle of friends, through Facebook, a few days after my husband had been given a couple of weeks left…
Wild garlic is the ingredient du jour these days. Good Lord, you can even buy it in the shops. Just as you can buy dandelion leaves in France. It even turned up in my veg. box last week: which was faintly annoying, as I can have as large a haul as I want of the stuff, simply by stepping out of the door and taking a two-minute walk to the woods.
It was fine though, as it made sure I tried this recipe from one of my favourite food bloggers, Linda Duffin, aka Mrs. Portly. A recipe for gnocchi? Good. With wild garlic? Excellent. But fried in butter and oil before serving? Wasn’t that a little odd? No, it wasn’t. It changed those gnocchi from comforting nursery fodder into something altogether more satisfactory to accompany a fine plate of local sausages and some barely cooked purple sprouting broccoli. Don’t tell Linda, by the way, but I steamed my potatoes rather than baking them. It was absolutely fine.
Linda’s asked me to cut and paste her post rather than reblogging it. I hope this won’t dissuade you from exploring her site. You’ll find some recipes you’ll want to try out within moments.
Wild garlic abounds at this time of year … everywhere except in my neighbourhood. I am planting some for next year but in the meantime I have to forage far afield to find it. There are alternatives though if it’s equally elusive where you live.
You can replace it with three-cornered leek, which often grows wild where garlic doesn’t, or steal a few leaves from any domestic garlic bulbs you may have growing in the garden. I haven’t tried it with the green part of spring onions but it’s worth experimenting.
You don’t have to pan-fry the gnocchi (in which case try brown butter, a few fried sage leaves and grated parmesan) but it’s a lovely way to eat them, either as a side dish, or on their own with a good tomato sauce.
We ate them with seared venison fillet and purple sprouting broccoli, steamed and tossed with a mixture of butter, lemon juice and zest and anchovy.
Any leftover gnocchi can be frozen, uncooked, in a single layer. Transfer to a sealable bag and when you want to eat them, cook from frozen, straight into boiling water.
A note on foraging: it’s not illegal to pick flowers, fruit, fungi and foliage in the UK provided it’s for personal rather than commercial use. There are exceptions to this: local by-laws may forbid foraging and for obvious reasons you can’t do it at Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
It is illegal to uproot a plant and it’s sensible to pick a leaf or two from lots of plants rather than to denude one. And bear in mind that while foraging isn’t classed as theft, you may still be committing the civil offence of trespass. If in doubt, ask the landowner.
Bake the potatoes until soft. As soon as they’re cool enough to handle, scoop out the middles and push through a ricer into a bowl. Allow to cool.
Blanch the garlic leaves in boiling water for a minute, drain very thoroughly and chop finely. Add to the potato along with the eggs yolks and stir with a fork to mix.
Season well and add three-quarters of the flour, stirring with the fork again. Form into a dough and add more flour as necessary until you have a soft, pliable but not overly sticky dough. You may not need all the flour. Try not to over-work it or your gnocchi will be tough.
Dust your work surface lightly with rice flour. Divide the dough into four and roll into sausages, about 2cm in diameter. With a sharp knife, cut into 2.5cm sections.
You can either use these as they are, as little cushions, or roll them over a floured fork to make indentations. These ridges are supposed to help sauce adhere but honestly, I don’t think it makes much difference and unless you are deft and experienced, there’s a danger of over-working the dough.
Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and drop in the gnocchi in batches. Don’t overcrowd the pan. They’re about done when they bob to the surface, around three minutes. Give them another 20 seconds then taste one: it should be cooked through and not floury. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain well.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil with a good knob of butter in a heavy-based pan and fry the gnocchi on each side until golden brown. Eat straight away.
Once, three hundred and twenty million years ago, a Norwegian river tumbled its way across the landmass then connecting it to Scotland and turned towards Yorkshire, pushing sand and grit before it. Over the millennia, those sands aggregated to become millstone grit.
More millennia passed. Temperatures in Northern Europe tumbled: an Ice Age. Glaciers ground and eroded the relatively soft stone which had been dumped so many centuries before. Seeping water froze, thawed, froze again, splitting the rocks. Cold strong winds buffeted away at rough edges. Those rocks assumed strange shapes, balancing improbably in the landscape.
Time moved on. Man arrived, farming too, and industry. But this little patch of Yorkshire, known as Brimham Rocks remains itself, untamable, unchanging, offering a feeling of security that some things remain constant for those of us lucky enough to live nearby this weird and fantastical playground.
I’m pretty fed up. I was sickening for something down in London, and once I got home, The Virus took a grip. Goodness it’s malevolent: and it’s not letting go. The only consolation is that I’ve got through an astonishing number of books, including Min Jin Lee‘s Korean family saga Pachinko.
This is the story of several generations of one Korean family with roots near Busan, who emigrate to make a new life in Japan following the repressive occupation of their own country by the Japanese from 1911. It’s a compelling family saga taking us from 1911 to 1989; from poverty to economic stability, with sacrifice and hardship as constant themes.
How could I not be interested, since Emily’s just returned home to Spain from a year in Busan? And yet the world in which the book begins is not one she or we would recognise. A time traveller from 1911 or 1930 London, Liverpool or Leeds would find a lot that’s familiar in those same cities today. A time traveller from Busan? Not a chance.
The story starts in Yeongdo, which is now part of Busan, but was in 1930 a fishing village on an island set apart from the mainland.
‘…..the market ajummas squatting beside spice-filled basins, deep rows of glittering cutlass fish, or plump sea bream caught hours earlier – their wares arrayed attractively on turquoise and red waxed cloths spread on the ground. The vast market for seafood – one of the largest of its kind in Korea – stretched across the rocky beach carpeted with pebbles and broken bits of stone, and the ajummas hawked as loudly as they could, each from her square patch of tarp.’
Well, I doubt if the market is still there – it certainly won’t be on the beach. Instead, the immense Jagalchi fish market is on the nearby mainland, together with ajummas, certainly, but these days it’s all plate-glass buildings and the ephemera of modern port life.
Jagalchi Market – outside ….
…… and inside
As for Yeongdo. No longer is it an island fishing settlement, with small wooden houses surrounded by productive vegetable patches. I can’t find any pictures, so instead must rely on Min Jin Lee’s word pictures of empty beaches, densely wooded hillsides rich in edible fungi. Those hillsides still exist – but look down over the settlements and the docksides below. And Yeongdo is linked to the mainland by a bridge. Sunji and her family wouldn’t recognise a thing.
Apart from my photo of an ajumma selling fish, all other images are from Wikimedia Commons