The Best of Times

We have part of an apartment in the South of France, and have got to know a few of our neighbours since we’ve been going there, so this is how we became friends with the Old Couple Upstairs (affectionately known as the OCU)

The OCU live in their  apartment full time, and speak French with the occasion English word thrown in for our benefit – Wifi (pronounced wefe), Internet and cafe Anglais, which is how they rather insultingly describe my husband’s need for milky white coffee.  They are the type of French couple whose staccato language always sounds so lively that it borders on argumentative, and leaves you wondering – what are they talking about ? Well, this year we were there for their wedding anniversary, 54 years, and at the party, and the subsequent evening managed to piece together part of their story.

As an avid romance reader I’m aware that we tend to focus on relationship start up’s,  but their is so much joy in hearing how the relationship develops, like picking up a dull stone, and finding that the underside is cut through with stripes of colour.

Marthe and Georges met when they were 22 and 28, Marthe was the sister of Georges work colleague, and they didn’t like each other to start with, ‘he was a uptight wanker’ and she was ‘stuck up’ and ‘disliked his bourgeoisie attitudes’,  but he also though she was beautiful. So gradually their differences became less, and they fell in love. When they decided to get married Georges asked Marthe’s  Papa , who told them both ‘that she could a lot better, but he seems dependable’. A comment that Marthe brings up, at least every month, according to Georges.

The OCU  marriage has been turbulent, they had to move from the South of France to the outskirts of Paris when Georges Maman, who ran a hardware shop, became ill, and for 30 years they ran the shop, which Marthe hated. She left 5 times, but came back because ‘without each other life isn’t as good, the sun isn’t as bright, the joy is dull’.  I cry at the drop of a hat,  usually at Disney films, and at this stage of the evening, after a few glasses of champagne,  had been imagining Georges and Marthe as the couple in Up, so there were tears. When I explained why, Georges told me I was a big idiot, and that while Marthe felt like that, he took her back as it was his ‘duty to protect the rest of the world from her behavior when she drinks white wine’. My husband said that’s why he sticks with me as well, although my vice is rose.

I came back from holiday happy, and reminded that sometimes the love we have can be like romance novels, sometimes it can better- the romance of daily life.

Marthe’s papa was in the Resistance but I’m saving those stories for another time.

No apologies for the song, it’s one of my favourites – and we played it at the party.

 

You’ll never do wrong

Been in a bit of a weird mood the last couple of days, and when I’m like this a handful of things make me feel better.

Loud 1970/ 80’s music, I’m usually more introspective in my musical tastes – however I can’t help but feel happy while head banging and/ or miming with a wooden spoon.

Writing it out, sorry to all the recipients of some overly emotional emails,  most of you are used to it by now.  I can’t use this mood for poetry unfortunately .

Cooking. I love to cook.  my Mum was a terrible cook and as a child I was a rather faddy eater.  When following a recipe if an ingredient was missing Mum would substitute something she felt would taste similar, leading to the great coconut crumble disaster of 1984.

For a while we lived in a hotel when we first came to the UK, and for over six months all I ate for dinner was  prawn cocktail followed by Black Forest gateau. My Dad then worked for Birds Eye, which solved the cooking issues for a while, but there are only so many fish fingers a girl can eat. In my late teens I took a voyage of family discovery to Israel via Poland, and it was here I really learnt to cook.

Israeli food, especially the street food was unlike anything I’d ever eaten before, and even now the smell of a falafel or an aubergine roasting transports me back there, as does chopping pepper. I spent a few months working for a family friend, and all I did was chop peppers I am a dab hand.

On Tuesday I went to see a recording of Radio 4’s The Kitchen Cabinet, one of the panellist’s was Itamar Srulovich, who was so funny . Although I’d heard of him I’d never read any of his recipes. This was corrected swiftly (via the wonder of the Internet). Yesterday, needing to work through my mood I decided I would cook  carrot and butternut fritters; except when I got home all we had was a scabby end of a squash, but plenty of courgettes.  So in the spirit of my Mum I made an ingredient substitution.

The recipe (borrowed, and another apology – hope that’s OK)

Carrot and butternut fritters

The following recipes make about 25 small fritters: enough for 6-8 people as a generous mezze, or for 4 as a vegetarian main course with green salad and a dipping sauce. If you can’t be bothered with the dipping sauce, thick natural yoghurt is a delicious alternative.

Serves 6-8 to share as a mezze
carrot 1 large, peeled (about 150g)
potato 1 medium, peeled (about 150g)
butternut squash ¼, peeled and deseeded (about 150g)
onion ½, peeled (about 60g)
salt ½ tsp + another ½ tsp salt
eggs 2
tarragon 6 sprigs, picked and roughly chopped
freshly ground black pepper ¼ tsp
ground cardamom pods ½ tsp
wholemeal flour 3 tbsp
baking powder ½ tsp
vegetable oil for frying

For the chive sour cream
sour cream 1 small tub (about 170ml)
chives ½ bunch, chopped finely
lemon juice 1 tsp
mayonnaise 1 tbsp
freshly ground black pepper

Grate all the vegetables on a coarse grater (or use a food processor) and place in a sieve over a bowl. Sprinkle with half a teaspoon of salt and mix lightly. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes at room temperature to draw out the excess water.

Place the eggs, tarragon, remaining half-teaspoon of salt, pepper, ground cardamom, flour and baking powder in a bowl. Squeeze out whatever liquid you can from the vegetables, add them to the bowl and mix vigorously to combine.

Heat about 2cm of oil in a frying pan, and line a plate with some absorbent kitchen paper. Scoop little spoonfuls of the batter into the oil and fry for about a minute until they start to crisp up. Flip the fritters carefully and fry on the other side for another minute or so till crisp. Remove to the lined plate to absorb the excess oil. Repeat until you have used all the batter.

Mix all the chive sour cream ingredients together (I wouldn’t add any salt, as chives have a natural saltiness) and serve with the fritters.

It worked beautifully, I used 2 courgettes, and as they have a higher water content, weighted the vegetables down while they were being salted. I also used greek yoghurt in lieu of sour cream.

I also made a variant on the pistachio and apricot tabule using quinoa and bulgher wheat to go with it which was delicious. Needless to say I’ve ordered the book. And when I get back from holiday hopefully we’ll go and have dinner there.

k  book-cover

 

Thank you Rainbow, Itamar and my email recipients (you know who you are) and of course Mum (by association) for the restoration of my mojo.

 

A book by it’s cover

One day I will write about books again, this is not that day..

Over the last couple of weeks several things have been mulling round my head, my ongoing love of yoga, vegan food and how I deal with meeting new people.

When I was growing up my brother had a CB radio, and when he was out my friends and I would smuggle it into my room, and very quietly talk to other CBers. Sometimes they would try and set up meetings, we always ran away (probably wisely) I am still that person. If you substitute email/ twitter for CB radio, nothing really has changed. Apart from maybe I am little bit braver, and kinder than my 15 year old self, or at least I thought so.

I love remotely connecting with others, but actually meeting new people is slightly scary. However due to geography I have made the leap between being ‘virtually’ acquainted  and actually acquainted recently

At the same time I’ve started my yoga practice again, I had to stop a couple of years ago, when I broke my wrist, and never went back. But recently I have felt the need for a little more balance in my life and been to some really great classes. One of my teachers has emphasised the need to be generous with others and ourselves- and not judge or assume.  In yoga practice  that’s relatively easy, but in ‘real’ life?

Some time ago I came across some photos of someone I knew slightly but had never met and had to face a couple of unpleasant things about myself. Because of their appearance (my comment was – he wears his trousers wrong) I resisted actually meeting him. My avoidance techniques carried on for weeks, until it was either meet or sever what had been a very rewarding connection.

We met, he’s amazing and we are, I think, friends. When you think of yourself as open minded and accepting its hard to admit that you harbour such a prejudice as being superficial, but it’s just as difficult to forgive yourself – but I’m trying. Finally had the trousers conversation, and luckily enough B saw the funny side.

This song, we’re all the same – is sort of linked to what I’ve been feeling, and so good.

The best laid plans

Generally speaking I’m a go with the flow person, but when I make firm plans I like to stick with them. I also think that I’m lucky and privileged personally and professionally, but sometimes when things veer away from plan my spoilt brat side surfaces, while recognizing the ‘when life throws you lemons’ analogy I don’t think that it hurts to unleash the inner child, sometimes.

Last weekend was one of those occasions. The lovely Adrienne from Scuttlebutt reviews had stumped up for a ticket to the UK meet, and I was going to meet some of the gorgeous people I have been interacting with for the last six months. Disaster struck on Thursday afternoon, a project we’ve been working on reached critical mass and we had to get a proposal ready for Monday morning. Cue tantrum, and lots of whiny tweeting/ texting and emailing as my planned weekend was cancelled,  I was not alone in not attending, and during a rather pathetic tweet bleat (from me) about the lack of fairness, the conversation turned to books.

I asked the author I was talking to recommend one of her books, which she did, and I bought it (first book I’ve bought in the last 3 months to boot) Over the course of the weekend when I wasn’t working I was reading, with a brief foray to the pub.

The author was S.A Meade, and the book Stolen Summer. I honestly didn’t have any expectations, we had chatted on social media, and she seemed nice, so I ploughed straight in.

Stolen Summer is a delightful book. Evan and Colin are best friends, met at Uni, Evan a journalist and Colin an English professor meet up after Evan’s return from Afghanistan, prior to him going to Pakistan. While their professional lives are on the up, personally they limp from one lacklustre relationship to the next. Evan doesn’t really know why, but feels he’s missing something, Colin knows what he’s missing. One night Colin finally comes clean, he’s in love with Evan and has been for some time.

At this point, despite the beautiful lyrical prose, this could have been standard friend to lovers/ gay for you romance, but it so wasn’t. Evan goes to Pakistan, but rather than coming home after three weeks, he’s taken hostage. While in captivity Evan’s feelings for Colin are crystallised. The writing in this section of the book, revealing how Evan feels about the separation, his realisation that he might die was so touching, emotional and honest that I cried.

Stolen Summer is written from Evan’s perspective, and you really get to ‘feel’ his emotions, and yet at no stage was it one sided, Colin’s character came across just as intently. Evan’s journalism is crucial to the plot, his kidnap, captivity and the investigation into events in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Jordan is fascinating.

I enjoyed this book so much; I was torn between reading it greedily like I’d been deprived, and savouring the delicious prose so I ended up doing both, gulping and re reading.

On Sunday afternoon, after returning from work and a quick whisk to the pub by my husband I sat outside. My family happily engaged without me, but close to hand I sat in my old (un restored) rocking chair, the afternoon sun warm and mellow and finished Stolen Summer. A peaceful perfect moment.

I can’t praise SA Meade or the book enough, if you haven’t read it you should.

When I read something that affects me I have a mental playlist, and this was no exception. Having been to see Hozier the week before his music was fresh in my mind, and this song, especially with the visual seems such a perfect match.

Rewind, be kind

Last Thursday I went to the theatre to see the amazing Jamie Wood in O No! He’s a performer I’ve seen a couple of times and has a wonderful, physical style that includes the whole audience. The people I went with had no idea of what to expect other than the performance was about Yoko Ono and just before we took our seats I mentioned that he was quite audience inclusive. A look of object fear passed between them, ‘I always volunteer my partner’ and ‘I don’t do that’ were the comments made. They were imagining the ‘I need a volunteer to humiliate and take the piss out of’school of participation.

Nothing could be further from the truth, he is generous with his audience, so that you feel you are a real part of what he’s doing. We made art out of a paper suite, became clouds and formed an avant garde orchestra . There was a point where in the process of getting someone onto the stage, Jamie looked at him and said ‘you’re not into this are you’ the guy said no, and immediately was left alone.

Now many performers at this juncture would have either coerced the man onto the stage, or else made him a bit of a joke for the rest of the evening – but Jamie respected his view.

The including and kindness made me think, it’s become popular, and for some it seems easier to be sarcastic, snarky and often personal when responding to issues  that make us feel uncomfortable, or we don’t understand.

So this is a plea to try and be kinder and more generous with others. I don’t  mean don’t  challenge or disagree, but don’t make things personal and don’t be cruel.

There is another school of thought that uses ‘it is what it is’ as an excuse for apathy, which isn’t really a viable alternative.

I started writing this on the day of the Local and European elections, and watching the results come in has made me feel that now, more than ever we need to be kind and empathic to each other.

And I love this song