Six Months Sober Podcast with Janey Lee Grace
Six Months Sober Podcast with Janey Lee Grace

This week I reached another milestone in my sober journey – six months. Some said ‘boy, that’s flown’, but I beg to differ; it hasn’t flown.

There have been highs and lows, but one thing I am very sure of, is that going sober has been the best decision I’ve made in a very long time.

When Janey Lee Grace asked me to write a piece for The Sober Club blog, I was delighted. Does this count as my first published work other than my own blogs?

Later in the week she got back in touch and invited me to be interviewed for a podcast. A podcast? That would be a first! I’ve done the odd Facebook Live in my time (and in fact have one tonight over on The Bridge Cottage Way Facebook page at 8pm), but this would be the first interview style podcast I had done. In for a penny, in for a pound, I thought.

I was asked about my relationship with alcohol (it’s been a long one) and how this affected me. Janey then moved on to ask about the moment I decided to give up the booze and how this has been for me, ending with how I’ve changed as a result. Rather than me telling you all about it now, I’ll leave you to listen. Here it is:

Click here: Spotlight on Sue Reed, Six Months Sober

Janey has asked if you leave a review on the podcast, that would be awesome.

Rhubarb Cordial
Rhubarb Cordial

I’ve been making rhubarb cordial this afternoon to take to the Bridge Cottage Way virtual garden party. It’s delicious. Would you like the recipe?

Here it is:

Rhubarb Cordial

300g golden caster sugar

zest & juice 1 lemon

zest & juice 1 orange

slice root ginger

400g chopped rhubarb

500ml water

Put all the ingredients in a large pan and cook until the rhubarb is mushy.

Place a piece of cheesecloth or muslin in a sieve and pour rhubarb mixture through, having placed the sieve over a large jug or clean bowl. (keep what’s left in the sieve to have with yoghurt for your breakfast)

Pour into clean, sterilised bottles, and store in the fridge.

Serve in a ratio of 1 part rhubarb cordial to 4 parts fizzy water.

Will keep for up to a month, but it may well not last that long.

Cheers!

This was the module I was most looking forward to during my MA in Creative Writing at Newcastle University. Ann Coburn, our tutor comes with a great track record, being an accomplished writer of middle grade fiction herself, but also from Alumni like Chloe Daykin, a local girl, whose writing for children I greatly admire. Chloe recently won Gandys Children’s Travel Book of the Year at the Edward Stanford Travel Writing Awards 2020 for her book ‘Fire Girl, Forest Boy’, set in the jungles of Peru.

Fire Girl, Forest boy, Chloe Daykin
Fire Girl, Forest boy, Chloe Daykin

We got off to a great start and in the first workshop were told to put our protagonist in our hometown at the age he or she was in the story we were going to write. My mind went straight back down south to Worthing. I had a few rocky years during my teens, and my memory went back to one night in particular, when I’d gone on a bender after rows at home. I ended up on Worthing seafront, very much worse for wear. This was to be a gritty teen fiction about difficult relationships, alcohol and sexual abuse. I started doing my research and adding layers to the story. I researched Damian Le Bas and the travelling community and had them rescue my young girl and take them under their wing. I have always had a passion for flamenco, and my girl was to discover emotional freedom through dance. I struggled writing it though, and when the coronavirus hit, separating us from our family, it became one shade of darkness too many. It had to be parked for another time.

Worthing Pier
Worthing Pier

Lectures got cancelled and coupled with the lecturer’s strike earlier in the semester, and tutor absence due to illness, I felt that the module was fast becoming a disaster. Then one moonlit night, under the full moon, I watched a hare hop out of the little stone bothy in the garden and I had an idea. What if I were to bring my story up to Northumberland, leave my hometown and its tales of pain, and write a kind of ‘town mouse, country mouse’ story for middle grade children? What if my protagonist was a townie who was forced to come and stay with her bohemian grandparents in the country during lockdown as her mother was a doctor at a Newcastle hospital? I do believe my muse had just hopped across the moonlit garden.

Hare moon, Flower Moon
Hare moon, Flower Moon,

I’ve spent the past weeks writing three chapters of ‘Hare Moon, Flower Moon’ and have set in the time frame between the full moons of April and May. It has many layers, and I hope I have touched some of the issues that eleven-year olds will identify with. I have a tutorial with Ann Carson this week and she’ll give feedback on my first submission before I go on to finish editing my first three chapters. If all goes well, I shall continue to finish the book. I find I am loving writing for middle grade readers, and my love of the country and an alternative lifestyle are all helping me with my writing.

Here’s an extract from Hare Moon, Flower Moon. It’s a monolgue from Molly, and forms part of the prologue:

Why me? It’s just not fair. I’m old enough to look after myself. Does she not realise that’s what I’ve been doing for the past six months? Cook the tea Molly, put the washing on, Molly, run the hoover round, Molly. I’ve got a life you know. I’ve got friends. We have plans. Where are my hair straighteners? They were here a minute ago. I hate packing! What do I even wear? What am I going to do? Endless days of walks and reading, great! That’ll be fun, NOT! “Why not do a jigsaw?” Please! Give me a break. It’s only for a few days you say.  It’s the middle of nowhere! They live in a field surrounded by sheep. The house is freezing. Don’t get me wrong, I love them to bits, but small doses and all that. I know she’s got to work. I just want to stay here! You think I’m being selfish? You think I don’t know people are sick and dying?”

Flower Moon
Flower Moon
Do pigeons do pilates
Do pigeons do pilates

Do pigeons do Pilates?

Will this keep them off my peas?

My brassicas are in plastic pots

Tin foil flaps in the breeze

It’s time for us to build a cage

Keep caterpillars at bay

The butterflies may be beautiful

But my greens are here to stay.

               Lockdown life continues at Bridge Cottage with all its ups and downs and levels of emotion. I worried this week that I was over-sharing on social media. Was I showing too much of country life and the garden? Was I upsetting folk that are locked down in cities, in flats and apartment blocks without access to gardens or the countryside? I spent a couple of days away from social media to reflect, but I got lonely. I missed the connection. I missed having people to ‘talk to’.

Connection, friendship
Connection, friendship

I decided I needed to keep posting and chatting to the followers of my Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts, so I expressed my worries, and then shared a picture of my kitchen disaster when I took my eye off the ball whilst making dandelion honey. The comments came flooding in from folk who said they enjoyed my posts, reassuring me I wasn’t blowing my own trumpet, and I encouraging me to carry on.

Dandelion Disaster

Here at Bridge Cottage, we garden using organic gardening methods, and pest control sometimes means thinking out of the box. I came up with the poem at the top when trying to keep the pesky pigeons off my cabbages using old CDs strung up on string – I noticed they were pilates CDs, and the line ‘do pigeons to pilates’ stuck in my mind. I’m no poet; it’s just a bit of fun.

Plastic Bottle Cloches

Plastic bottles chopped in half do make good mini cloches to keep the frosts and rabbits off my brassicas. I’ve grown the seedlings in the greenhouse, then hardened off before planting out this week. So far, there are two types of kale, and a primo cabbage.
I took a look back at the old Bridge Cottage Way blog I used to write over on Blogspot – the photos made me smile, and the garden has changed to much. I love the photo of Tim with his cauliflower – here’s the link if you want to watch it too: A Wander Round the Garden in May. I see I was covering cabbages with pop bottles back then.

Pallet log store
Pallet log store

When Tim’s finished the log store he’s been building next to the sauna using reclaimed pallets and other repurposed bits and bobs, we will be building a frame to put netting over which, fingers crossed, will keep the pigeons and cabbage whites away from my greens.

How are your gardens growing? Have those with no gardens managed to grow anything in pots?

I’ve jumped on the bandwagon of those turning their hands to baking sourdough bread this week, and thanks to Gilchesters who delivered flour, and to The Boy Who Bakes for his excellent tutoring, I have managed to make a decent loaf. I am hooked!

They may need to widen the door frames when I come out of lockdown.

Past posts include:

Lessons in Lockdown

Looking at Leeks

Lessons in Lockdown
Lessons in Lockdown

I’m one of life’s busy people. There are never enough hours in the day, days in the week to do what I plan to do. I am never bored. That way of living has tripped me up during lockdown this past week.

It’s all very well, writing, gardening, baking, reading, cleaning, posting on social media, blogging etc but I go at everything hammer and tong and don’t leave any time for me, to look within, and be still.

Easter blossom
Easter blossom

I came a cropper this weekend, and everything got the better of me. It all started when I stuck some blossom twigs in a jar to make an Easter decoration on Good Friday. I miss the family, my three grown up children and my granddaughter so badly it hurts. It’s an ache that I feel deep in the centre of by being, in my womb. It was the same when my eldest son left home and went to University. I was a wreck, and would sleep in his bed, hugging his dressing gown, hoping to smell something of him. I wanted my family home for Easter Sunday, as I suspect so many did.

My family
My family

I needed something physical to do and decided to deal with this deep level of emotion by tackling a part of the garden that has become overgrown. It is a lovely spot, at the end of the greenhouse, that catches the afternoon sun, and a perfect place to sit and read.

I worked for six hours solid, digging, and pushing barrow loads of weeds over to the other side of our plot. I cried as I worked, howled for my missing children, and refused to speak to my husband who was trying to comfort me. The end result was great, and I was very proud of my work. I’ve sown borage, nasturtium and calendula seeds to make a blue and orange garden. It will be wonderful in the summer.

I also came a cropper in my sober journey, and whilst I didn’t cave in, I came very close to it. I am over five months sober, and thought as I was shopping on Saturday, I’d buy my husband a bottle of red wine to go with our planned Easter meal. He’s not given up alcohol but has had nothing to drink since lockdown began. I’ve not been tempted to drink for months, but from nowhere, the wine witch came sailing in on her broom stick.

“It would be fine to just drink in moderation,” she said. Just a glass with Sunday dinner, what harm can come of that. The force of the pull was enormous. I know myself well. I do not do anything in moderation and knew it would be a slippery slope.

I reached out to my friends in The Sober Club, and I was very grateful to Janey Lee Grace who talked me down. Janey pointed out that I was one of life’s busy people, and whilst I had many worthwhile pursuits, I was not going within. I was not allowing myself time for myself, to calm the chatter, to silence my overactive mind. She suggested I look at EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) and pointed me to some tutorials.

On Monday I really crashed, with a pulled muscle in my groin, an aching back and shoulders and the most incredible tiredness. I had to stop!

This morning I’ve downloaded Deepak Chopra and Oprah’s meditation app with a free 21 day course, with a few to committing to daily meditation. I also joined Beccy Owen and lots of others for a fabulous Zoom choir, with Beccy Owen’s Pop Up Choirs. It was glorious, and a lovely sense of community. I was an emotional wreck however, as we sang “I Shall be Released” and Bob Marley’s ‘Everything’s Little Thing’s Gonna be Alright”.

We can only hope and pray it will be.  

Stay Safe and Stay at Home.

Past posts you might find interesting:

Looking at Leeks, the Bridge Cottage Way.

Four Recipes for Wild Garlic and Nettles: Food for Free during Coronavirus and Beyond.

Dig For Victory

Wrestling Rhubarb

Don’t forget, you can follow me on social media, on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Several of my friends are growing their own veg for the first time, as they turn to being as self sufficient as possible, during these difficult coronavirus times. I’ve been growing my own veggies for yonks here at Bridge Cottage, so I thought I’d share some tips I’ve learnt along the way, plus some tried and tested family recipes.

Last year’s leeks, plus a photobombing daffodil!

Last year’s leeks are all but finished, but have provided some welcome fresh veg throughout the winter and early Spring. It’s the beginning of April now, and time to plant the seedlings in the veggie patch. Leeks provide a welcome crop throughout the year, and are a wonderfully versatile veg. I’ll pop some of my favourite recipes below.

Leek seedlings starting to grow
Leek seedlings starting to grow

Start your leeks off in a deep pot – they like to send their roots deep down, and this will help strong plants to grow. Just sprinkle on top of seed compost, and then cover with a fine layer. Pop somewhere fairly warm, a windowsill or greenhouse if you have one. I like to set my leek seeds away in March, but you may get away with it earlier if you are in warmer climes than Northumberland. Don’t be tempted to put too many in the seed tray, or you’ll end up with far too many and they’ll be all choked up. We’ve been a bit heavy handed with our seed sprinkling – you might want to give them a bit more breathing room than we have here!

Leek seedlings
Leek seedlings

Don’t worry if you’ve not done them as early as this; and April or May sowing will be fine too. I should add that we’re in the northern hemisphere here!

Planting leeks with a dibber
Planting leeks with a dibber

Once your seedlings are large enough to handle – you need a good bit of growth at the top, tease them gently apart, and plant out in the veggie plot using a dibber or stick to make deep holes (about 15-20 cm deep). Don’t you just love that word, dibber. It instantly conjures up memories of helping my grandad in his garden. I have my lovely son to thank for making me my dibber. If you don’t have a dibber, find a stout stick! Pop your seedling in the hole and fill with water from a watering can. Plant with enough space so you can get a hoe in between rows to keep the weeds down later on That’s all there is to it!

You will be rewarded with delicious, nutritious leeks to feed yourselves and your families.

Here are some tried and tested recipes the family have loved here at Bridge Cottage. They all serve a family of four, so scale down for smaller portions. We are meat eaters, so have included bacon in the Leek and Bacon pudding, but feel free to leave it out.

Top tip – when washing leeks, slit the tops with a deep cross and hold unside down under running water, teasing out layer to get all the soil out. Nowt worse that a crunch of grit when you munch!

Cheesey Leek Gratin

Ingredients

4 large leeks

25g butter

½  tbsp plain flour

Approx. 1 pt milk

100g cheddar cheese

2 handfuls breadcrumbs*

Fresh parsley, finely chopped (optional)

*(whizz up some stale crusts in a food processor – top tip: keep a bag in the freezer so you never have to throw away stale bread)

Method

Wash the leeks well, and chop into chunks. Sauté in the butter for a couple of mins until just tender. Stir in the flour, and then add milk a little at a time until you have the consistency of double cream. Add grated cheddar and season with salt and pepper. Pour into an overproof dish.

Mix the breadcrumbs with chopped parsley, season and place on top of the leeks. Bake in a medium over for 10 minutes, or until breadcrumbs brown.

Leek & Bacon Pudding

Ingredients

125g / 5 oz wholewheat flour

1 ½ tsp baking powder

50g / 20z shredded suet

2 chopped leeks

3-4 rashers streaky bacon, chopped

1 tsp mixed fresh herbs or ½ tsp dried

I medium egg

Method

Mix together flour, baking powder, suet, leeks, bacon, herbs and season with salt and pepper.

Mix with egg, adding a little milk if necessary, to make a soft dropping consistency (so mixture drops off spoon when held aloft)

Grease a 600ml/1 pint pudding basin and put in a piece of greaseproof or parchment paper to just cover the bottom.

Put pudding mixture in basin. Cover with greaseproof paper and foil and tie with string.

Steam for 1 ½ hours. If you don’t have a steamer, place a saucer in the bottom of a large pan, and cover with boiling water. Place pudding on saucer and put lid on pan, topping up water when necessary.

Serve with parsley sauce.

There are, of course, lots of other recipes for leeks – we love a leek risotto, or that old favourite, leek and potato soup. Feel free to tag me in any Instagram posts or on Facebook or Twitter with your own leek recipes, or let me know how you get on with these. You can also leave a comment using the box at the bottom of this page. Feel free to share any of my posts amongst your friends. The more we grown our own, and keep away from supermarkets the better!

Last time we talked about using nettles and wild garlic, and it has been fabulous to see all your delicious creations. I’m so glad the blue cheese, wild garlic and nettle scones were such a hit! They were just the comfort we needed here at Bridge Cottage in these worrying times.

I do hope you are staying safe and practising social distancing. Take care everyone, and til next time,

Cheerio from the Bridge Cottage Way.

Sue Reed author of The Bridge Cottage Way gives advice and encouragement as we dig for victory
Sue Reed author of The Bridge Cottage Way gives advice and encouragement as we dig for victory

I’ve always known wild garlic was delicious, but who knew nettles were so tasty? I’m trying to avoid going to the supermarket in the midst of this coronavirus lockdown and so am turning even more to the land, to see what is ready to eat in the garden. This is Northumberland, there is precious little ready in the veggie patch in early April, apart from some rocket and spinach planted in the autumn that is going to seed in the greenhouse, and rhubarb that is almost there but not quite.

The wild garlic is wonderful at the beginning of April, and I’m lucky that I don’t have to go further than my own garden to get some. You may well find some on your permitted walk; look for shady spots under trees. Nettles are a wonderful source of goodness, full of many nutrients, and the young tips can be harvested and used in cooking. They will sting you if picked without gloves, but once cooked, the sting disappears

I’ve used both in cooking this week, and thought I’d share six of my favourite recipes with you.

Blue Cheese, Nettle and Wild Garlic Scones

Ingredients

225g plain or spelt flour

3 tsp baking powder

Pinch salt, half tsp English mustard powder

50g cold butter

125g blue cheese (or any strong cheese)

2 tbsp washed & chopped wild garlic & nettle tops (chives work well too)

60ml cold milk

1 beaten egg

Method

Scones are best handled as little as possible. I use a food processor, but mixing by hand is fine

Sift flour, baking powder, salt & mustard. Grate in butter, cheese, & mix with wild garlic and nettles. Mix in egg & milk with clawed hand, adjusting amount of liquid to give a soft, slighty sticky dough. (Scones are better on the wet side rather than dry).

Tip onto floured worktop and handling as little as possible, knead gently then press down into a flat shape about 3cm thick. Cut into shapes, top with a little cheese or egg & milk from the jug you used.

Bake at 220 deg (200 deg fan) Gas 7 for 12 minutes.

Serve with butter. Delicious with some wild garlic and nettle soup.

Tomato, Wild Garlic and Nettle Soup with Blue Cheese, Wild Garlic and Nettle Scones
Tomato, Wild Garlic and Nettle Soup with Blue Cheese, Wild Garlic and Nettle Scones

Tomato, Wild Garlic and Nettle Soup with Orzo.

Ingredients

I small onion, chopped

2 stalks celery, chopped

Knob butter or 1 tbsp olive oil

Wild garlic & nettle tops (I use a colander or large bowl full)

I pint stock (chicken or vegetable)

450g tin tomatoes or passata

2 handfuls orzo pasta or any small shaped pasta

Method

Sauté chopped onion and celery in a little butter or olive oil for five mins on a low heat, then add stock, wild garlic and nettles. Cook for ten minutes, then blend with a food processor. Add the orzo and cook until soft. Season with salt and pepper.

If you don’t have tomatoes in the store cupboard, or haven’t been able to get any pasta, don’t worry. You can add chopped potato to give the soup some body, and a green soup with wild garlic and nettles is equally delicious.

Nettle and Wild Garlic Soup
Nettle and Wild Garlic Soup

Wild Garlic and Nettle Spanakopita

My friend in Greece says traditional Greek Spanakopita is made with lots of green leaves, wild fennel and sorrel as well as spinach. I found some red sorrel in the garden and used this with wild garlic and nettle tops, but spinach or chard leaves also work well.

We make our own soft cheese using homemade yoghurt. See the post I wrote in the old Bridge Cottage Way blog: Make you own Yoghurt and Soft Cheese

Ingredients

I pack puff pastry

I onion, chopped

Knob butter or I tbsp olive oil

I beaten egg

100g soft cheese

100g grated cheddar

Bowl full of leaves – eg wild garlic, nettle tops, spinach, wild fennel, chard

Nutmeg, salt and papper

Method

Gently fry onion for five minutes with a knob of butter or tablespoon olive oil in large saucepan, place washed greens on top, stir, and put lid on to wilt the leaves. Turn a couple of times, then drain using a colander. Chop roughly using a pair of kitchen scissors and leave to drain.

Mix beaten egg, cheeses, salt and pepper and a grate of nutmeg. Season with salt and pepper. Mix in wilted and chopped leaves.

Roll out half a pack of puff pastry and line a greased tin (mine is a square, 20cm x 20cm but a round one if fine too). Place mixture in and roll out rest of puff pastry to top.

Make a small cross in the middle to let out the steam, and brush with beaten egg or milk.

Cook in a hot oven, about 220 deg (200deg fan) gas mark 7 for about 20 minutes or until risen and golden.

Wild Garlic & Nettle Spanakopita
Wild Garlic & Nettle Spanakopita

Wild Garlic Pesto

This is so simple to make, and so tasty. It freezes very well to be used throughout the year. You can add nettles, and I’ve made rocket pesto successfully too.

This recipe uses pine nuts, but in these lockdown days, or if pine nuts are too pricey, use whatever you have to hand. Walnuts or cashew nuts are a great substitute.

Same with the cheese – parmesan is ideal, but I didn’t have any and am avoiding going to the shops for feat of Covid_19, so used come cheddar I had in the fridge.

Ingredients

Large bowl of wild garlic leaves, washed

Half pint olive oil

100g grated cheese

2 handfuls pine nuts, cashew or walnuts

Method

Place everything in a blender and add olive oil until consistency of shop bought pesto. Simple, and oh, so tasty! Serve with pasta.

I hope you enjoy some of these recipes from the Bridge Cottage Way. I’ll leave you with a photo of the bridge that gives this blog its name, and my patch of wild garlic.

Remember to forage responsibly to protect wildlife. Avoid any areas that are frequented by dogs and wash foraged leaves carefully! During coronavirus lockdown do not drive to nature spots to forage.

You may also like to read : Wild Garlic, Food for Free

Stay safe everyone, keep in touch either here or using social media and keep out of the supermarkets as much as you can!

In these dark days of the coronavirus, never has it been more important to grow as much of our food as we can. Many of my followers over on my Facebook page, Sue Reed Writes, have said they are filling pots and buckets, digging up flower beds, and starting their own veggie patches, many for the first time. Whilst I appreciate not all have access to a garden or yard, and garden centres are out of bounds, there is still plenty we can do, even if it is only sprouting seeds on a window-sill in a jam jar. (I’ll write more about that in a few days).

This may inspire you to get an allotment when all this is over, we loved our allotment when we lived on industrial Teeside. It was a community with dozens of surrogate grandads, where advice and plant swops were bountiful. My sister-in-law had an allotment, and rather than grow veggies on it, used it as a place to meet with friends and have barbecues. We can only dream of those times at the moment, but they will come again, take heart.

I’m an old timer and have been growing my own food since I was knee high to a grasshopper, learning from my Nana and Grandad, and parents, who, as wartime children, grew up with the habit of growing food in the garden. They were told to Dig for Victory, and I see that hashtag is now trending on Twitter.

My grandad was famed for his green fingers, and I remember the story of him putting in a stick to support one of his prize fuchsias only to have it turn into a peach tree. My fingers may not be that green, but I do have lots of experience, and am more than happy to impart that knowledge to you.

I wrote a blog for seven years, The Bridge Cottage Way, named after the house, we live in, and wrote about living as sustainably as we can, using what we have, and reducing the drain on the planet’s resources. There is a wealth of information there. Do give it a visit – the blog that is, not the house! I would like to revive this writing, and will write regular gardening posts here, as well as give tips about foraging and eating seasonally. I’ll also add recipes that I love. I do think that in these Covid19 days, we need to return to traditional ways of providing our own food wherever we can. I am certainly thinking twice before heading to the supermarket.

Sowing seeds
Sowing seeds

This week has been mainly about sowing seeds. Traditionally, peas should be planted on St Patricks Day, but it was far too cold to put them in the ground here in Northumberland, but I’ve put some in seeds trays in the greenhouse. I’m growing two varieties of peas, and two types of mangetout this year. I’ve just finished pruning last year’s summer fruiting raspberry canes, so will use the pruned sticks for pea supports. I’ve tyed the new season’s canes to the chicken wire for support. these are summer fruiting, with the fruit coming on the new growth. Autumn fruiting shold be chopped down as soon as they have fruited.

Pruning raspberries
Pruning raspberries

If you’re thinking that you left it too late to but plant pots or seed trays, try making your own using cartons and pots from the kitchen. I wrote about this on the Bridge Cottage Way blog, in Reducing Plastic Consumption by Making Your Own Plant Pots. There are also plenty of places selling seeds online, so don’t let Covid19 be the excuse for not growing! I went to ebay and found plenty of places sending out seeds.

I’ve put broad beans in the ground this week and have covered them in some black weed suppressant I had lurking in the shed. A black bin liner will do the job too. It’s not really to suppress the weeds, but to keep the frost off and warm up the ground. It’s still cold at night, so beware of setting off anything too delicate. Leave all those tender plant seeds for a bit, like courgettes, runner beans, cucumbers etc, especially if you live in colder climes like me.

Tomato, leek, and chilli seeds can be set away now, along with lettuce, beetroot, chard rocket and spinach. I love beetroot, and so does my mother. My husband says it is the food of the devil, so maybe it is a woman thing? Do you like beetroot?

What’s available right now? You may have seen some wild garlic on your permitted one walk a day, without even realising what it was, and what you can do with it. I wrote about Wild Garlic – Food for Free, the other week. Hugh Fearnley-Whittonstall has given us some recipes for using nettles, and I like to mix wild garlic with nettle tops. We have our own chickens here at Bridge Cottage, and a wild garlic and nettle tortilla or a quiche will be on the table at the weekend.

Rhubarb is ready in the garden too, and I wrote about that a while back in Wrestling Rhubarb. The rhubarb gin recipe is wonderful, although I’m now tee total, so none of that for me! There was a post about rhubarb too on the Bridge Cottage Way blog – It was called, ‘Seasonal Eating – April’ It’s worth a look for some great rhubarb recipes or just to see a fresh young face!!

Rhubarb season
Rhubarb season

Many are saying compost in in short supply, and I’ve just had a flashback to me collecting the tops of mole hills from the field where we lived in Upper Weardale many moons ago! This is a time to make the best of what we have, so be inventive, swop seeds where you can, and give any spare rhubarb you have to your neighbours. Keeping your two-metre distance of course and washing any donations thoroughly.

These are difficult days for us all, but I hope my posts will bring a bit of distraction, and inspiration as we navigate our way through the coronavirus.

Sending love to all from isolation in Northumberland.

Stay safe my friends.

There are three factors that have influenced the writing of this post about wild garlic. Firstly, with the coronavirus scare causing panic and fear, I have had a strong urge this week to be by myself, out in nature, breathing in fresh air and getting as much vitamin D as possible through sunlight on the skin to boost my immune system. There is a wonderful feeling to be found as the garden wakes up from its winter slumber, the rhubarb thrusts its ruby red stalks skyward, and the wild garlic leaves appear.

Wild Garlic at Bridge Cottage
Wild Garlic at Bridge Cottage

Secondly, I got issue 85 of Mslexia, the magazine for ‘women who write’, published here in the north-east, Caroline Sanderson’s feature about the pain of writing memoir with interest. In the ‘Writing for Children and Young Adults’ module of the Creative Writing MA I am undertaking at Newcastle University, our tutor has asked us to place ourselves as the protagonist back in the place where we were at the age of which we are writing for. My young adult novel is taking me back late teens, a time which holds many painful memories for me. Alice jolly, who wrote the memoir ‘Dead Babies and Seaside Towns’ wrote that ‘you can’t write a good memoir without spilling blood’, and I am bleeding.

To take a break from the blood-letting, other writing is necessary, and so to preserve my mental health, I return to The Bridge Cottage Way and share my love of foraging and food for free with you.

Lastly, I cleared out the freezer – a job I’ve been putting off for far too long. I found several bags labelled ‘wild garlic pesto 2019’, made this time last year, and in need of being eaten before I make the next batch. It is a heady concoction, full of flavour, that goes splendidly stirred through pasta, with a slice of salmon on the top. (see below for the recipe)

Wild garlic
Wild Garlic

Is wild garlic just a northern thing? It is typically found in sheltered woodland, often near a source of water, and can be recognised by its bright green leaves and pungent smell of garlic when walked on or when the leaves are rubbed. It grows in abundance along the roadside here in Northumberland, under the trees as you drive past Ridley Hall and Allen Banks, and along the bank side of our little burn. The leaves appear first, closely followed by the delicate white flower, as seen here, and wild garlic, or ransoms as it is sometimes known as, can be found growing from March through to June.

The smell of wild garlic for me, is evocative of the day we moved to Bridge Cottage back in early June 2003. As I drove along with a car full of boxes, marvelling at the beauty of the Northumberland countryside, a pungent pong wafted through the car window. It is food for free, and the year’s first foraged crops: seasonal eating at its best.

Here are some suggestions for cooking with wild garlic, The Bridge Cottage Way:

Pesto

Add a couple of good handfuls of wild garlic to about 200ml of olive oil, a handful of nuts (eg walnuts, cashew or pine nuts), 50g grated parmesan cheese, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/2 tsp sugar, and blitz in a food processor.

Add your pesto to pasta for a simple but tasty lunch or rub onto chicken. Wild garlic and chicken go very well together.

I like to make several batches and freeze in small bags. There is nothing better in the depths of winter, than to go foraging in the freezer and finding little bags of spring wild garlic pesto to use for lunches.

Salads

Wild garlic leaves can be added whole to salads or chopped according to taste. Use instead of spring onions for a mild, oniony taste, but with the added zing of garlic. They make an interesting addition to a cheese sandwich married with a touch of mayonnaise.

Salad dressing can also be made more interesting with finely chopped wild garlic leaves or add to mayonnaise or butter.

Tomatoes

In his iconic foraging guide, Food for Free, written many moons ago, Richard Mabey tells us that wild garlic goes handsomely with tomatoes

Richard tells us to ‘take advantage of their size and lay them criss-cross over sliced beef steak tomatoes’. I like to chop them finely and add to chopped tinned tomatoes for a quick and tasty tomato sauce that can go with pasta, or as an accompaniment to fish cakes.

Alternatively, make a simple tomato salsa, by chopping fresh tomatoes with finely chopped wild garlic, and fresh deseeded chilli, and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice.

Soups

Wild garlic can be used with young nettle tops for a healthy, delicious soup, or for the meat eaters amongst us, simply add to chicken stock and blitz for a delicious wild garlic soup.

I’m off to pick some wild garlic to use tonight with some simple mayonnaise to have with chips.

Happy foraging, and remember, – it’s free food!

In no particular order of importance, each with its own list of merits, I have four reasons to celebrate.

Firstly, I give you my milestone of one hundred days sober. Well, its actually 112 as I type this, but I celebrated my centenary on 12th February, two days after my birthday. How did I celebrate? It wasn’t by pouring a large gin or by cracking open the fizz – I bought myself a new jumper from the lovely folk at Celtic & Co. (The one I’m wearing in the picture with Daisy, below.)

Playing farms with Daisy in new new jumper.
Playing farms with Daisy in new new jumper.

               When I started my sober journey, I hoped that life would get better, but I had no idea just how good it would be, one hundred days along the road. My confidence and ability to cope with life’s ups and downs has grown, my anxiety over social situations is so much less, and I have so much more energy. My skin feels great, the dark circles that I had under my eyes (signs that my liver was screaming at me) are so much better, and I feel as if I have had a facelift. My hairdresser even remarked that my hair felt different. No more waking up with a sense of dread and wondering who I’d offended the night before! My app tells me I’ve saved over £600 too – maybe not saved, but ‘diverted’ to more healthy purchases. If you are sober curious and would like to talk in confidence, then feel free to leave to drop me a line.

One Hundred Days Sober
One Hundred Days Sober

               I wasn’t the only one to have a birthday recently. Daisy, my granddaughter was 2! It’s amazing how time has flown in the last two years, and I am so grateful my daughter lives close by so we can share looking after Daisy while she and Daisy’s daddy are at work. ‘Nanny, sing to me’, she says and we sing songs that my grandmother sang to me, we play making dens, we paint, we bake cookies and after all that, she’s a dab hand at making Nanny a cup of tea in her kitchen. I consider myself very blessed. We bought her a Playmobil toy farm (second-hand) for her birthday, and as we were leaving, she said ‘Dandad, thank you for my farm’.

Making nanny a cup of tea
Making nanny a cup of tea

               After almost thirty years of having one of my ‘children’ in the house, my youngest moved out. He’s done so well, and thanks to house prices being relatively cheap here in the north-east, has managed to save enough for the deposit on his first house. I am immensely proud of him. He’s moved to Greenside, which is a lovely village, on the outskirts of Gateshead, but surrounded by countryside and woods. An avid cyclist, he is now able to cycle to work and get out and about on his bike. I sobbed, and as I stood in his empty bedroom, said goodbye to that chapter of my life. Being a mum to my three continues but will never be quite the same again.

New Beginnings
New Beginnings

Tim and I went out the night John moved out, to Northern Stage, and saw The Ballad of Johnny Longstaff by The Young’uns. It was a fabulous production and told of the tale of a young man’s fight against fascism through song. It felt like I was on a date, and as we came home, it reminded me of the time we were newly-wed, before we had kids, although Tim declined to carry me over the threshold when we got back. We set about making John’s old bedroom into a fitness room, and with the help of my new book, ‘Feel Better in 5’ by Dr Rangan Chatterjee’, I have rolled out my yoga mat, and am doing five minutes of yoga in the morning, as well as some of the other ‘health snacks’ the good doctor recommends.

Feel Better in 5 by Dr Rangan Chatterjee

Last, but not least, the marks came in for my first submissions for the MA in Creative Writing I’m doing at Newcastle University. I got 64% and 67%, both Merits. There was some great feedback, and I have taken all the comments on board. I was happy to read that my writing was considered ‘interesting, humorous and evocative’. There is considerable room for improvement but considering I haven’t written anything for assessment since I bashed out essays for my teacher training qualification back in 1984 on a typewriter, I was pleased to get the two merits.

First submissions, both merits
First submissions, both merits

I’m now four weeks into the next module on the Creative Writing MA, ‘Writing for Children and Young Adults’ with a fantastic tutor, Anne, Coburn. I’m discovering a whole new area of fiction, and last night saw me reading well into the night as I wanted to finish the gripping story by Liani Taylor, ‘Daughter of Smoke and Bone’. But I’ll write more about my reading and writing plans for this module next time…..

Liani Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone
Liani Taylor, Daughter of Smoke and Bone

Thanks for reading! It’s been good to catch up.

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I’ve just finished reading Salley Vicker’s latest novel, ‘Grandmothers, bought for me this Christmas by my daughter. I’m a Salley Vickers fan, having first discovered her when I went to Venice for my 40th Birthday, and followed in the footsteps of Miss Garnet’s Angel. In Grandmothers, there was a lot of tender, well observed detail, that made the characters believable.  The detail may well have come from Salley’s own experience of both being a grandmother and remembering her own. My prose tutor tells us that remembered detail is very important to making characters believable, and with my paternal grandmother’s birthday this week on the 23rd January, I thought I would write a little piece by way of introduction to my grandmothers and jot down some of the detail from my memory of them.

               I had two grandmothers: Nanny Dora and Nanny Gwen, both living close to home where I grew up in Worthing, on the Sussex coast. They had both lived in the village of Durrington as single parents to my mum and dad, on the same estate, having both had marriages that suffered as a result of the war, but that was where the similarities ended.

Nanny Gwen
Nanny Gwen

               Nanny Gwen, my mother’s mother, with her love of lilac had a ladies dress shop in Hurstpierpoint when I was a small girl, and one of my earliest memories is of her flat with its sloping bedroom ceilings and single beds with purple patchwork quilts, one of which I proudly own. Nanny Gwen made little paste pots of jam, dainty scones and had beaded cotton covers for her porcelain milk jugs. She had a fluffy cat which my father, who detested cats, would throw his coat over when he arrived. Nanny Gwen was nervous of men and would hand a male visitor the newspaper on his arrival; a huge fan of the Royal Family, this was always the Daily Mail.

Her birthday was on 23rd December, and the family would gather to watch her open her presents, which were many, and the present opening ceremony to this small child who would be perched on the settee, alongside her younger brother and cousin, best behaviour expected, would take hours. With each new parcel. Nanny Gwen would look up, with watery eyes, and genteelly ask, ‘is it for me?’ taking her time to carefully slit the Sellotape with her ornamental embroidery scissors before remarking on the beauty of the wrapping paper and ribbon, and carefully folding it to be used another time.


               Enterprising and crafty, she would make Christmas and Birthday presents for us, although these were often the same year in year out. There is a limit to how many string tins, made from Lyons coffee tins, covered in pretty, sticky backed plastic and braid my father needed. We had a glorious collection of Nanny Gwen’s homemade waste-paper bins, made from liver tins collected from the butcher, and covered, you guessed it, in sticky backed plastic and braid. For those also born in the sixties, you will remember sticky backed plastic was quite a thing, especially for my Nan and Blue Peter presenters.

     I was given a variety of crochet ponchos with tassels, pom-poms on strings and matching berets. There was a handy bush on the way to school where these well-meant gifts could safely be stashed until the walk home, to avoid social suicide. Red, white and blue were popular themes, her being a devotee of the Royals.

The Seed Merchant, Copied by Gwendoline Ellen Dewar, my Nan.

               Nanny Gwen had beautiful handwriting, having learnt calligraphy skills, and I treasure both letters she wrote to me when I had left home and was away at college, and a picture she drew in pen and ink called ‘The Seed Merchant’, which hangs on my study wall. I’ve just come home from shopping in Hexham with a bunch of the new season’s daffodils, which I buy every year in memory of Nanny Gwen who did the same. The china cow was hers too, and although has been glued together on countless occasions is a much loved memento of this fine lady.

New Season Daffodils in Memory of Nanny Gwen
New Season Daffodils in Memory of Nanny Gwen

               Nanny Dora in contrast was rather more ‘down to earth’. She called a spade a spade and had would make her feelings about people known. She was not averse to talking about ‘that dreadful man’ when walking past a house, regardless of the fact his wife was pruning her rhododendrons within full earshot. Mrs Brown, of Mrs Brown’s Boys reminds me of my Nan. She was not course or vulgar, and would not have sworn, well, at least not in front of us kids, but she did wear a nylon housecoat, and would have a man’s hanky in her pocket. She was a smoker, up until Grandad died of lung cancer, when they both gave up, but until then, had smoked from being a teenager. She only ever smoked y the kitchen door to the garden, ‘nasty filthy ‘abit!’ I loved rolling her ‘shag fags’ with the little red rizla rolling machine, but we kept that from my Mum, who wouldn’t have approved. Desperate for her to give up when we were older, and witnessed her hacking cough, we would hide her Old Holborn and Rizlas, much to her vexation. ‘I’ll tan your backsides’ she used to say, but she never did.

Nanny Dora

               She had a glorious ‘telephone voice’ dropping her h’s and adding them on and would get words jumbled in a most endearing manner. A trip to London, to the Halbert ‘All, was rounded off with a meal at a Berni Inn, where she had a ‘hoppin’ great pork chop and a side saddle’.

               She was my best friend in life when I was growing up. ‘What’s that ruddy church gone and done to you now’ she would say, as she greeted ‘her precious’ with open arms at the doorway to her bungalow, smelling of face powder and stale tobacco. I loved the safety of those arms.

               We spent many a night having sleepovers at Nan’s – memories of eating crab and prawns on Cream Crackers, whilst watching the wrestling on a Saturday afternoon when Grandad picked at winkles with a pin, having come home with leftover scraps from Mac Fisheries. On rainy days we were allowed to heap the settee cushions on a pile and jump on them or would have drawing competitions – she always won! On sunnier days we played or helped Nan in the garden. She grew trays of bedding out plants in wooden kipper trays and we set up shop and sold these out the front of her house, along with tomatoes and runner beans from the greenhouse. I feel her presence sometimes, when I’m picking tomatoes in my own greenhouse. There is something so evocative about that smell.  

               The bedtime routine involved getting undressed in front of the roaring coal fire (everywhere else in the house was Baltic) having had a bath in two inches of scalding water and being sat on the loo until you had done your number two for the day. She would then tuck us up in bed, a mug of milk with skin on the top cooling on the bedside table, where she knelt and serenaded us with ‘I’m forever blowing bubbles’ pausing to cough and splutter, then kiss us, her face all whiskery and powdery. I loved my Nan so much.

               I wrote a short story about Nanny Dora, and the jug I own that was hers when I applied for Uni, and as I write, I have her photo by the side of my laptop. I miss her. I hope very much I can revisit my memories of both Nanny Dora and Nanny Gwen, and they like will appear as characters in a story. There is so much more to write about them. Now I am a Grandmother myself, I wonder if little Daisy will one day be reminiscing about the times she had at ‘Nanny’s house. I hope so.

Daisy Reading with Nanny
Daisy Reading with Nanny

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