Angel Wings and Herb Tea

Life after loss; healing through creativity, writing and art


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The alchemy of food

Some days I’m just plain bored of cooking! Do you feel like that sometimes? I love cooking and place (rather too much) importance on the regular production of delicious nutritious meals….but…sometimes I just can’t be bothered.

I’ll be just getting my teeth into chopping a huge mound of ash logs up for the winter and … it’s that time of the day again. Or I walk into the house at the end of a long day out with cranky hungry children and not a clue what to rustle up, or we’ve all just snuggled up on the sofa with some knitting and stories (it’s that kind of summer in Devon) and ….well exactly. Sometimes I wish we could all just not eat for a day or two, just so I don’t have to think what to cook.

But then sometimes I build up to an enormous crescendo of baking, churning out bread pies, biscuits, quiches….just to make it worth turning the oven on. When I was a kid one of the greatest sins was putting only one thing at a time in the oven…I don’t think I have  really ever grown out of it, and of course it does make perfect financial and environmental sense!! And about three quarters of the way through the enormous crescendo, where everyone has decided to get fully involved, dinner is still a long way off and my tiny kitchen counter is a jumble of dirty dishes, chopped vegetables coated in flour, and four unfinished baking projects, I realise I’m not having fun anymore. I’m flustered agitated, snappy and  flushed and I just want to throw everything in the compost bin and run into the woods. The words, ‘I just need to get this finished now and would you please go and play?’ have been uttered, sometimes not so nicely, and with little effect.

It doesn’t feel very nourishing.

And neither was yesterday’s dinner, a pale unimaginative pasta that felt like wading ankle deep through mud, with some over steamed cauliflower and tofu. That was sort of how I was feeling when I was cooking it and it showed!

So I was surprised today to be making pasties, having torn myself away from the ash logs and the sofa, and quite enjoying it. It was late, Tansy and Leo were fighting over cleaning the rat cage out, and coming in periodically to drop rat cleaning rags into the sink near where I was working. I was tired and a bit grumpy. Conditions were not favourable. And I was uninspired by the thought of little cubes of carrot and potato going into my pasties yet again. Things were teetering on the edge of spiralling downhill rapidly when I found an enormous bunch of chard in my veg box and started chopping it and singing all twelve verses of Green grow the rushes oh! You don’t know that song? Tansy and Leo were involved immediately and all rat issues were forgiven and forgotten. But tell me just who were the Rivals and the Lily white boys? Or the Proud Walkers for that matter?

So the chard went in with some sauteed onions and some chopped celery….Hmm chard and goat cheese would be a better bet, a hint of nutmeg? A zest of orange? Some raisins and toasted hazelnut? Buttery short crust pastry. Suddenly I felt like I was creating a bit of magic. I was enjoying myself, I twirled Tansy round the kitchen…(mainly to distract her from her current wobbly tooth which was quite literally dangling by a thread and spitting blood everywhere) the spices and fruits married in the pan in a fragrant mellow nuttiness, the dough baked to buttery perfection, melting goats cheese..mmmm!

That’s how to prepare food!
You know it’s strange, everyone ate much more calmly tonight, everyone went to sleep quietly.

Have you ever seen the film Like Water for Chocolate? It was always one of my favourites, although I haven’t seen it for years. I have always longed to cook quail in rose petal sauce with as much love as Tita did.

 


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squirrel and lime leaf sandwiches

No really. Veggies read no further…

It was a fresh road kill that Tansy wandered in with a couple of days ago cradled in her arms (with her dad…she’s not quite old enough for solo foraging expeditions!) and it was the day after Hugh flourished a beautiful duck at me when he came in at ten at night.
We mourned the loss of two lives, the soft grey fur, the beautiful iridescent feathers and webbed feet, and blessed them and gave thanks for the fact that they would not be wasted.

We eat meat about once a week usually, and only organic and that feels right. Local, wild, killed anyway meat seems even righter. I regret not taking any pictures but we were so caught up in the moment that it didn’t even cross my mind.

A cold east wind blew up the valley so we plucked and gutted the duck inside in a flurry of feathers. Tansy and Leo chose beautiful feathers to keep and helped to pluck the downy breast feathers. They saw the scarlet, spongy lungs and the burgundy liver and heart, they saw the blood wash away, and the transformation between a soft feathered bird and an oven ready piece of meat.
I was glad they could see that.
They know in their bones what meat is. They know how to prepare it. They know it can be a creature that flies and runs and feels pain and has babies, and looks very cute when it sits in the trees outside and nibbles a nut held between its paws or dabbles upside down in the pond.

They are connected to the meat and there is something very special about that.

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We roasted the duck for Sunday lunch and later I made a risotto with the bones and the pickings of a foraging expedition around the wood.
Ground ivy, Herb Robert, Primrose, Dandelion, Lime leaves, Hawthorn, Ransoms, Bitter cress, Sorrel, Nettle, Water mint, Beech leaves, Violet leaves, Yellow archangel. It was a vibrant meal, I could feel the wild energy zinging around my taste buds.

These plant have strong tastes. Tastes that make a lettuce leaf seem like a soggy rich tea biscuit. They have grown in the rich nutritious soil of the woodland,  small and concentrated parcels of wild vitality and vibrations. Their potency and energy are palpable..a little goes a long way. That meal, it felt as if we were ingesting a little bit of the wild wood into our bodies and souls, the duck, the herbs…a special meal.

Hugh pan fried the squirrel the next night and actually, I lied, there wasn’t really enough left for sandwiches the next day but it made a good title and we did consider it (It was humous and Lime leaf really..try Lime leaves if you’re not used to wild foods, they’re mild tasting pleasant introduction to the world of foraging! Lovely in sandwiches or salads.) Leo was going to bed at the time of the pan frying and was quite upset at missing out, so we kept him a leg and he ate it after his porridge the next morning. I have never eaten squirrel and it was delicious, like a rich, dark, woody chicken.

Leo and Hugh skinned the squirrel  and are curing the hide, Leo wants it as a carpet for his Sylvanian sheep I think.

Now we are more settled, I have the energy and time to stop buying herbal tea bags and make my own tea. How crazy to buy boxed, bagged cut herbs when I can come back with  a basketful yards from my door!
I realised that last weekend.

Tansy had a high temperature and was glassy eyed on the sofa all day while I ransacked my herbal jars for fever brews. Lemon water tick, Echinacea, tick….hmm and old jar of last years Meadowsweet still humming with honey scented energy… Peppermint and rosemary in the garden, and Ground ivy in the wood. This was a new discovery for me. I knew the little plant well, quietly pretty with its small purple flowers yet so easily overlooked or mistaken for Self heal or Bugle, and I knew that it was sold in bundles on the streets of London in bygone days as a remedy for ‘clearing the blood’  Well it makes delicious tea too!
I bundled it into Tansy’s fever brew.. (the only time she raised a smile all day!) and had a sip. Mmm! Nibbling the leaf and wincing slightly at its strength gave me no indication of its potential as a beverage herb. I had been missing green tea, but that slightly astringent bitter taste is readily available all over the wood.
It’s Ground Ivy every morning now!

Even if there isn’t squirrel for breakfast!