Sunday, 17 January 2010

Making tracks

At last the snow has just about gone, but for a few grubby clumps in the Glebe field and the sad lopsided remains of a once-proud snowmen and a ruined igloo... And not before time. Snow can do strange things to a person – enforced confinement compels us to fill our time with things we wouldn’t think of doing under normal circumstances, and it’s all too easy to lose track of what day it is.

I’ve spent a good few hours gazing at a Farrow & Ball colour chart this week, idly wondering how on earth they came up with names like Savage Ground, Dead Salmon and Mouse’s Back, speculating on the likelihood of getting away with repainting the kitchen in Elephant’s Breath without my husband realizing, doubtless to the detriment of more pressing tasks. I’ve done an awful lot of rummaging through old recipe books and tidying out cupboards – I’ve sorted out my sock drawer, scrubbed the grout in the shower… Desperation for a change of scene has propelled me over the field in my wellies for a shopping spree at Debbie’s shop, where I spent a good 20 minutes perusing the magazine racks and came home with the second issue of Crochet Art, which is absolutely no use at all without a crochet hook or the first issue if, like me, you’ve never succumbed to the urge to learn to crochet before. I blame Gizzy. “It can’t be that difficult,” she told me as she rearranged the Duchy Originals behind me while I dithered between that and Country Living.

Although it was lovely while it was fresh and white and new, snow does begin to get on your nerves after a while. I no longer find it surprising that the Inuits have 64 different words for snow – I think I may have come up with one or two new ones myself. The children enjoyed it, though, both the small ones and the big ones – an abiding memory of this winter will surely be the image of our wonderful blacksmith, Hector – a grandfather himself – all six foot something of him, whizzing down on a sledge through the powdery snow from the top of the hill behind his forge with a great big smile on his face.

By the weekend, the snow had vanished, almost as quickly as it had arrived. The river now is full of snowmelt, brimming and lapping over the banks, eddying and swirling over the wiers, sending the watervoles scurrying from their bankside holes and transforming the willows where the kingfisher lives into something that looks like a mangrove swamp.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Working from home

What is it about extreme weather conditions that brings about the urge to make do and mend, become more self-sufficient and cobble together thrifty meals out of an unlikely assortment of ingredients? At least for some reason it does with me. After a lightning dash into Malmesbury yesterday to find the Co-Op looking like something from the pre-Perestroika Eastern Bloc with shelves empty of milk and bread and a few sad looking tins of things like butter beans and jars of Picalilli, I grabbed a few ill-thought-out impulse items and drove back home as the grey, slushy road behind me turned to impenetrable white. Thank goodness for Debbie and the Village Shop.

The Met Office is advising people not to travel, unless it's a life-or-death emergency, said a voice on the radio. I looked at my tins of tomatoes, my jar of mayonnaise and the packet of two sad Little Gem lettuces I had bunged in as something of an afterthought - well, I suppose we might be still stuck snow-bound by the time it comes to salad-weather - and wondered whether this was life. Or death. Meanwhile, I realised we only had a couple of days worth of dog food left.

There are other irritations to contend with. School is closed and my husband is working from home. I'm not sure whether this shouldn't be 'lurking' from home - I feel (possibly irrationally) that my visits to the biscuit tin are being monitored, and apart from anything else, it means two extra mouths to feed and the cold weather seems to make everyone hungrier. I busily rummage through the freezer and unearth several tupperware boxes from which the labels have disappeared - if indeed there have ever been labels - and come up with a clever idea for frozen-pea soup with crispy bacon croutons. It's a miniature triumph, albeit one that results in several bowlfuls of washing up. It is then that I discover that 'working from home' also means an implicit exemption from washing-up duties.

The dog needs to go out, but I remember the radio warning, concluding that technically, I suppose, dog-walking is travel, and not life-or-death. My husband looks at me with an expression somewhere between disapproval and dispair, dons another few layers and takes the lead.

I put the radio on for company, only to find it has inexplicably re-tuned itself to Geoff Boycott in Durban. Geoff is pondering why everyone in snow-bound Britain doesn't just get on a plane and fly out to Cape Town for a fortnight of blue skies, balmy evenings and the seductive thwack of leather on willow... Silly me, what was I thinking? I supposed the small matters of a dwindling post-Christmas bank account and a total lack of interest in cricket were just piffling details...

* * *

Halfway through the afternoon (and many hours of washing-up later), the dog comes back shivering and encrusted with several large snowballs that need to be cut off with scissors. Then Alex bowls in, fresh from a morning of igloo-construction with a couple of friends who drip noisily through the kitchen to the sitting room where they commandeer the TV and the PlayStation. Tea, cake and biscuits are demanded, and as the sky starts to look a bit dusky I suggest it might be a good idea if the friends think about going home, then the idea of a sleepover is mooted. A small Homer-like yelp inadvertently escapes my lips; we have three large potatoes, a jar of horseradish cream and the Little Gems (which I'm saving in case we're in danger of succumbing to scurvey). Plus the remains of a tin of Quality Street - just the round penny-shaped ones that get stuck in my teeth, for some strange reason. And the Mystery Freezer Food, of course.

Mention of the Mystery Freezer Food thankfully sends both boys scuttling back to their homes. One is a vegetarian and doesn't want to risk the (admittedly strong) possibility of it being something mince-based, and the other has sampled my cooking before. Another freezing day has (almost) been survived. The forecast is for more of the same tomorrow.

A quick browse through an old copy of BBC Good Food and I realise I have the ingredients for Chocolate Hazelnut Torte. Tomorrow's lunch sorted.

* * *

The pic is of the triumphant pea-and-bacon soup, although I'm afraid you can't see the bacon because I'd eaten it. I had to wait until my lurking-from-home other half had left the room, or he'd have thought me very odd taking a picture of my lunch. The bacon, I'm afraid, was just too tempting...