Oh divine pleasures of taste and smell, I salute you! This week’s recipe from Guardian Feast encapsulates the gloriousness of carefully thought-through vegetarian recipes. Every element of Yotam Ottolenghi’s dish delivers flavour, aroma and texture, culminating in a mouth-explosion of deliciousness. And, with a plant-based yoghurt instead of cow’s milk, it would be easy to veganise.
It’s been a bit wild in our household recently. We went hot foot from Covid self-isolation to my niece’s wedding in Suffolk. It was a heart-expanding weekend celebrating love, friendship, family, hope and the future. I am so glad we were there to witness my niece and her partner’s commitment to each other and to partake in the communal breaking of bread and raising of glasses that sealed the deal.
In truth, the journey back to full health post-Covid – even with a double vaccine – is not totally straightforward. Smell and taste are slovenly in returning as are full energy levels – particularly since I’ve now developed pleurisy. But I’m sick of being poorly so am ignoring my scratchy lung and weary body.
Grateful thanks to my friend Barbara for dropping off Issue No.190 of Guardian Feast which I missed out on because of all the wonderful wedding shenanigans.
Bring on roast cauliflower with yoghurt and red pepper sauce which The Husband dubs ‘a microcosm of all things Ottolenghi’.
Yotam has a magic touch when it comes to marrying sharp-sweet-crunch-soft-fragrant-umami. But, dear reader, the magic moment was harvesting and preparing the mint: oh, hallelujah! I could smell its joyous scent! Such sensory delight after weeks of stunted smell brought a tear to my eye.
As ever, Yotam has you frying, toasting, mixing, crushing – but, the brilliant thing is, it’s all easily doable and manageable in the 25 minutes the cauliflower takes to roast. Turkish pepper paste would perhaps have furnished the dish with a hint of sweetness not found in my substitute tomato paste. However, ‘mild Turkish pepper paste’ was not available in the local shops here in Berwick. Next time.
About five days into our Covid-ridden self-isolation, The Husband and I congratulate ourselves that we’re continuing to survive on garden produce, store cupboard items and what’s in the fridge – we haven’t even run out of milk yet. However, none of this really matters as two key elements of life have gone missing in action.
We asked friends to drop by a copy of yesterday’s paper. It’s as if Rachel Roddy is mocking us in her taste and scent-infused column in Guardian Feast Issue No.189 about pizzette fritte – little fried pizzas. She writes:
‘Frying dough – like grating lemons, opening a new packet of coffee or cheese snacks, chopping herbs or grinding spices – is one of the great smells.’
Rachel’s right, of course, the smell of toast, grilled bacon, sweet blackberries, toasted nuts and seeds, all up there too: mmmmmmmm… but the simple truth is, Covid has taken our olfactory sense. We can’t smell anything. De nada. No taste either.
The first time I really noticed the lack, was after a particularly robust fart. I know we all think our own gassy expulsions are either fragrant or odourless, but I’ve lived long enough with mine to know that they are vicious incendiary devices. However, The Husband brushed close by without his customary ‘Oh!’. And so began the listing of all the things we could not smell or taste: that’s everything. A sort of never-ending no-smell I-Spy. When you’ve been banged up together for a week, you get your kicks where you can.
It is all very weird and quite distressing. But also interesting.
We still get taste groups: sweet, sour/bitter, heat (spice), salt, but that’s it. We can taste the bitter back taste of coffee but not the pleasing aromatic beany earthiness; we get the spicy punch of our Thai prawn curry but no hint of the sea or richness of coconut.
What is scary is that you can’t do the sniff test on on-the-brink items in the fridge. You also can’t smell burning (as The Husband discovered when he burnt his potato waffles – he’s working his way through his crime-buys from Iceland). The aroma of your cooking is absent as is the taste-as-you-go option – no matter the deliciousness of the ingredients.
Of course, we are by no means alone in our unhappy state – and it’s a salutary reminder that many are permanently without their sense of smell and/or taste. The eldest stepson suggests it’s a good year to release an unsatolfactory cookbook – and I’m sure there are clever people who are already on the case.
The Husband and I agree we can’t live on crisps and jelly tots. But what to do with our zero powers of taste and smell?
Yotam Ottolenghi’s peanut butter cornflake brittle has several things in its favour: it’s crunchy, sweet, salty and it’s a great use of the desultory pile of cornflakes left by the departing grandchildren last week. The only substitutions are desiccated coconut instead of flakes and salted peanuts instead of unsalted – but that’s probably a positive in the circumstances.
This is a cracking granola-esque snack which would be nice crumbled on your morning fruit and yoghurt. It’s got a great crunch and very satisfying mouthfeel. It certainly brightened up our bitter coffee water. Very easy to make and definitely one for the cupboard in future.
By yesterday (Saturday) evening, all I could think about was Rachel’s little fried pizzas. The very idea of them made my mouth water. They had to be made: we have basil coming out of our ears, four ripe tomatoes, parmesan and plenty of flour. Yes, it would use some of our dwindling milk supply, but needs must! I set to.
All that tomato, olive oil, garlic and basil, you know it’s going to be good. And even if you can’t smell the dough frying or taste the full nuances of flavour with Covid palate (no basil or garlic zing), these are satisfying, fun-to-make bites. Rachel says the dough usually only puffs on one side – not mine – dough balls of delight! After juggling the unctuous sauce onto the first few, The Husband devised a press-and-plop method which worked well.
A bit like making Japanese gyozas (which we’re very fond of doing), these little darlings are a communal effort – particularly the tearing off of plum-size pieces of dough, flattening them and the sauce distribution – oh, and eating them while they’re piping hot with a glass in hand. Student Daughter has already put in her order for them when she’s allowed back home. Bring it on!
It’s 4.30pm on Saturday. Earlier, we waved goodbye to all our children and grandchildren after a truly brilliant week together. The first time we’ve gathered as a full group in two years.
Beds stripped, sheets and towels on the washing conveyor belt, broken Lego binned and forgotten drawings and toys gathered up. However, our true focus is the final prep for our annual Open Garden day – it’s on Sunday: tomorrow.
There are 17 gardens around Berwick opening to raise funds to support the beautifying and upkeep of our local parks here. It’s a great occasion – all the more so because we couldn’t do it last year – full of socialising and gardening knowledge-sharing.
I get a text. Not a Love Island text calling me to the firepit – although, when I read it, it feels a bit like we’re about to go up in smoke. We’ve been exposed to coronavirus. We’re back home from the local walk-through PCR testing station by 5.30pm. I’m beginning to feel a bit coldy and achy. The Husband says he’s fine, but I think that sniff of his is suspicious.
We have cakes defrosting, the makings of 40 bacon rolls, a friend’s jam and more cakes arriving on the Sunday morning. The garden’s not perfect (it’s been a bit neglected by us and rampaged by the grandchildren in the very best of ways!) but it’s still looking good. But what if we have coronavirus?
I take the decision to pull out of Open Gardens.
Our PCR tests come back positive on Sunday morning. We take stock of the mountain of cakes and bacon. We slump in front of the telly all day, catching up on Love Island, watching people stroll past our window in the sunshine clutching Open Gardens trail maps. We’re groggy, fluey and lethargic – and a tad sorry for ourselves. We eat cake and bacon rolls.
By Tuesday I’m not sure I can eat another piece of cake or another bacon roll (The Husband’s not so sure!). I flick listlessly through Guardian Feast Issue No.188, even though I honestly cba to keep up with my ridiculous plan to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Feast during 2021.
However Meera Sodha – angel Meera – catches my eye with her fennel and courgette pistou soup. It looks so green and healing. Just thinking about spooning it into my body makes me feel better. Plus I have courgettes growing in the garden and a total abundance of basil. Okay, so we don’t have fennel. And we can’t nip out and get any. I never quite got round to sorting home delivery from any of our local supermarkets. At the beginning of Lockdown 1 it was impossible to register, let alone place an actual order, so I gave up. I find some sad celery in the bottom of the fridge and fennel seeds in the cupboard which I decide will do.
I use our ‘compost bag’ plus a shrivelled carrot to make veg stock. I’m not going to say that my compromises delivered the perfect solution. Fennel is clearly a signature ingredient in this soup. Hey-ho – as I so often say – sometimes you just have to use what’s on offer.
Whatever I lacked in my store cupboard, Meera’s soup made up for in healing benevolence. The perfect food for feeding the coronavirus-ridden body and soothing the angst-ridden soul. As we slurped it down, The Husband and I gave grateful thanks that we are both double vaxed and that we are not suffering the full and awful impact of the illness that so many around the world have had to endure.
I’m celebrating my love of the food columns and supplements in The Guardian by trying to cook at least one recipe from each issue of Guardian Feast in 2021. Find out a bit more about that here.
After such a long period of breath-holding it’s almost too scary to believe that we may be at a turning point with coronavirus. It’s times like these when a good dose of comfort food steadies the nerves and warms the heart – and distracts from something we almost daren’t believe in. Lovely, reliable food.
We’ve found that some issues of Feast don’t inspire us to rush immediately to the kitchen (although there’s always something to be tackled, of course). However, other issues have us racing to the hob before Saturday coffee – and offer such rich pickings that we plunder them again and again. So, for lashings of calming comfort, we returned to Issue No.162 and Felicity Cloake’s perfect keema – which had already gifted us Tamal Ray’s chai-spiced mousse with caramel pecans and several other recipes including Rachel Roddy’s magnificent pork, bread and bay skewers.
I’m still one foot down so The Husband and eldest daughter remain firmly in the cooking seat. The Husband has been creating all sorts of deliciousness – including the skewers pictured above – but is determined to guest blog about his endeavours. Last night it was the eldest daughter who stepped up to Felicity’s perfect keema challenge. She allowed me to meddle lightly in the prep of chilli, ginger and garlic before ushering me back to my foot-up observation point.
We agree with Felicity’s keema preference of lamb over beef – and fattier over lean – for this spicy, fragrant feel-good lip-smacker. Eldest daughter would have liked to add lamb bone marrow for an even richer vibe but none was available – next time. Total cooking and prep time about an hour.
The only hiccup was the realisation that we were low on fresh coriander. Oh, and that mint sauce was our only source of mint. Hey ho, in went the fresh coriander bolstered with frozen and The Husband persuaded eldest daughter to tip in a tablespoon of mint sauce. Perfect keema? Yeah baby! One of the fabulous things about this recipe is the pop of intense flavour delivered by those whole cardamom, coriander and cumin seeds. The final masterstroke was serving the keema with coconut rice (shavings from a block of creamed coconut cooked in with the rice) infused with cinnamon. The daughter had made enough keema and rice for five peckish people. We three wolfed down the lot.
Here’s to lockdown ending and staying ended – and taking comfort in comfort food for the sheer and simple joy of it.
I have loved some things about lockdowns – although like everyone else, I ache when I think about the human cost of the pandemic. I feel a bit lost and a bit demotivated and a bit sad and a bit – but ENOUGH OF THAT. Counting your blessings doesn’t solve all the downsides of anything but – just like a brisk walk – it can offer a moment of escape, uplift and re-grounding in things that matter and offer bite-sized chunks of positivity and/or pride.
I have in a past life liked to think of myself as someone who would rather buy a new shirt than sew on a button
Technology has been a huge blessing during these times of little or no contact with those we love and those we work with. I’ve gone from hating Zoom to embracing its idiosyncrasies and awkwardnesses – from that little moment when people are signing in and haven’t quite got their facial expressions sorted, through the tricky lulls in conversation and the over-speaking, to the bamboozling protocols around backdrops, right on to the frayed leaving the meeting as the ‘byes’ dribble on.
My friend Millie runs Berwick’s food upcycling café Northern Soul Kitchen and asked me way back in April 2020 (before lockdown 3 was even a twinkle in the eye of Mr Johnson and his buddies) if I’d think about making a video using leftover food as part of a food waste promo. ‘Yes, of course,’ I said. Then I realised. My daughters mock the little clips I send them. Time for a bit of YouTube training.
My movie about turning leftover couscous into cheesy veggie cakes was (only in my eyes) a triumph – judge for yourself, it’s on the Berwick Slow Food website. I believe my second movie – re-purposing leftover chip shop chips into a Spanish-esque omelette is even finer. My crowning glory of film creation is about Sri Lankan meal in a book: We don’t write recipes down – another lockdown project raising funds for Sri Lankan charity The Jasmine Foundation. You can see that video here. For me, upskilling and experimenting with apps and media that I probably wouldn’t have attempted pre-lockdown has not just been fun, it’s been a great confidence booster.
Limiting visits to shops and supermarkets and trying to be more sustainable has turned our minds ever more to using every scrap of food (see couscous cakes above!) and making do and mending in ways not thought of or avoided like the, ahem, plague pre-pandemic. I have in a past life liked to think of myself as someone who would rather buy a new shirt than sew on a button.
The most poignant thing I’ve recently tried is darning woollen socks and jumpers. I say poignant because I remember vividly my mum taking her battered blue sewing bag from the dark oak dresser and settling to sew and darn at the kitchen table. She did this on what felt like a daily basis. I also remember despising Mum a little for undertaking something so menial and ‘womanly’. Oh, the ignorance of youth. Sorry Mum.
It’s strange to have waited all these years to darn – especially since every home I’ve ever lived in has been haunted by invisible moths quietly unravelling anything woollen. There’s something deeply therapeutic about restoring gorgeous woollen garments and getting more life and love from them – and thinking of my dear old Ma while I do it.
It feels as if coronavirus has snatched away our ability to plan and to be spontaneous. Focusing on small, accessible, doable things is somehow reassuring. And taking a moment to acknowledge and think about the things we have done during this last year that maybe we wouldn’t have done without lockdown gives some sort of rhythm and reason to these strange months. Yes, how I long for an impromptu cuppa with a friend, to go to my niece’s wedding, to hug loved ones (even strangers!), to go to parties and dance till the sweat runs, to sing loudly in church, to buy a pint in a pub, to visit people who miss me and who I miss… soon, soon, soon.
You’ll be able to enjoy all the joy of Christmas – including singing carols – when the final Berwick Advent Window is opened on Christmas Eve at 6pm at The Parade, Berwick-upon-Tweed.
Northumberland County Council has given the greenlight for a drive-in celebration of Christmas as part of Berwick’s Advent Window Trail. The pre-ticketed free event (order tickets by emailing email@example.com) will take place in the town’s Parade Car Park – between the Parish Church and the Church of Scotland at 6pm on Thursday 24th December.
As well as the opening of the final Advent window, families will be able to join a crib-style service of the Christmas story and carols from the safety and comfort of their cars. The fun service is a joint production from many local churches and will present all the warmth, love and hope of the traditional Christmas story of the birth of Jesus – including angels, shepherds, wise men – streamed on a large screen erected in The Parade car park. And because they’ll be in their own cars, those who attend will be able to do something that churchgoers have missed out on for most of this year: sing together.
Those who cannot attend by car can enjoy the experience of the service and the opening of the final window from their homes (visit the Parish Church website and the Parish Church’s YouTube channel) – and the window will be in situ until the New Year along with the rest of the Advent Window Trail round the town.
If you wish to attend the drive-in event, don’t forget to pre-book your ticket by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Further information available from:
Rev’d Tom Sample: 01289 298521 or Rev’d Tracey Usher on: 01289 783083
This year windows around Berwick are lighting up with the timeless themes of Christmas: love, joy, fun, thankfulness and celebration.
Christmas 2020 is set to be different and probably quite challenging for many. The creation of Berwick’s very own real-time Advent calendar in windows around the town offers residents and visitors the opportunity to mark the days to Christmas in an entertaining and safe way.
Twenty-three shops, businesses, private houses – and even the Police Station – will host an Advent window. Each window will be ‘opened’ during December – one a day from Tuesday 1st December through to Wednesday 23rd. And there will be a touch of extra drama on Christmas Eve when the final window is opened.
Schools, churches, businesses, community groups and property owners will all be involved in the decoration and creation of the windows. The themes for the windows are inspired by Christmas songs and carols. Each window will have a visual link to Berwick in the design.
Window dressers have agreed to keep their displays in situ until the New Year – so there will be plenty of time to enjoy the full Advent Trail.
As well as enjoying the fun and spectacle of the windows, children can enter a competition to spot the Berwick link in each window. There’ll be prizes for winners in the age groups 3 to 7 years and 8 to 12 years. You can pick up an entry form from many of the participating retailers around town.
The Maltings’ Christmas Light Show
It’s been a tough year for the arts across the country and Berwick’s own wonderful arts centre The Maltings is no exception. The Maltings is presenting its own Christmas light projection on the Theatre buildings as part of the Advent Trail. The Maltings is also streaming last year’s sell-out Panto ‘Aladdin’ on youtube here and ‘Christmas with the Hobs’ (details here)
The Unveiling of the Advent Windows
Jennie’s Wool Studio, Bridge St.
Foxton’s Wine Bar, Hyde Hill
‘Away in a Manger’
Holy Trinity School
Robertson’s, West St.
‘Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer’
Tweedmouth West School
‘God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen’
Thistle do Nicely, Walkergate
‘Mary’s Boy Child’:
St Mary’s School
Berwick Community Trust, William Elder, Castlegate
‘Good King Wenceslas’
Berwick Visitor Centre, Walkergate
‘We Three Kings’
‘I Saw Three Ships’
‘I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas’
Geek Hut, Guildhall Alley
‘Let it Snow’
Spittal First School
Lime Shoe Company, Marygate
Under the Clock Cafe, Guildhall Alley
‘It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas’
‘Once in Royal David’s City’
Pictorial Photography, Quayside
‘Ding, Dong Merrily on High’
Greaves West & Ayre, Walkergate
Gemini Jewellers, Marygate
‘It Came Upon a Midnight Clear’
1 Greenside Ave
Police Station, Church St.
Holy Trinity School
Edwin Thompson, Hyde Hill
‘The Holly and the Ivy’
The Camera Club
‘Santa Clause is coming to Town’
Newcastle Building Society, Hyde Hill
‘Little Drummer Boy’
‘We wish you a Merry Christmas!’
Baptist Church, Golden Square.
‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’
Parade Car Park
‘In the Bleak Midwinter’
The organisers and supporters – thank yous!
The small group which has organised the project would like to say a big ‘Thank you!’ to all who have helped and supported this project: to those who have lent their windows; to those who have agreed to help decorate windows; to Stephen Scott and The Chamber of Trade; to all in the Tourist Information Centre; and to those involved in the Welcome Visitor Project. Without all this support the Advent Windows Trail would not have been possible.
At the back end of 2019, I had an idea about a little book project. I was inspired by a sketchbook created by inspirational live illustrator Katie Chappell from her travels in Asia (see below). How about trying to make an illustrated book of my Sri Lankan friend Dewa’s wonderful cooking?
Dewa’s a feeder and loves to cook the food she watched her mum cook when she was a girl. But her husband’s not keen on curry or spice – so the opportunities to do what she loves to do are a little limited in our northernmost part of east England.
When the quirky Mule on Rouge café first opened, I was helping to organise events for our local Slow Food group here in Berwick-upon-Tweed. I chatted with Mule proprietors, Sion and Zoe, and agreed that Dewa would do a pop-up evening meal to celebrate national curry week in October 2018. It was the start of a beautiful and happy partnership. Dewa now pops-up regularly at the marvellous Mule, creating magnificent Sri Lankan meals which have been translated into takeaways during lockdown.
But how to create something that captures Dewa’s food and Katie’s illustrations – and what might it be? Katie suggested we get together in my kitchen. Dewa to cook, Katie to draw, and me to sous chef and simultaneously jot down ingredients and quantities. Because, as Dewa tells me each time I ask for a recipe from her: ‘We don’t write recipes down.’ At the end of the agreed day in January, we ate Dewa’s wonderful food with gusto (and with the yoghurt and cucumber she prepared especially to soothe our delicate palates because, as she explained: ‘We don’t eat that in Sri Lanka.’). Dewa ladled leftovers into pots for us to share with our partners and families. Katie cycled off with her share of food nuzzling a sheaf of sketches. I deciphered the notes I’d taken.
Then lockdown intervened. Katie wrestled with a massive live illustration workload (her clients include Google, for heaven’s sake!), the launch of a fabulous new initiative with other local artists (The Good Ship Illustration), and having a life. Despite the heat of Dewa’s food and our delight in the day, the project went tepid. After a bit of toing and froing and umming and ahhing, we thought that a graphic designer might help us ‘throw the illustrations into layouts.’ And really, this lazy thought turned out to be the masterstroke of the project. Local graphic designer Daniel Cox turned our sketches, words, and ingredients into a meal in a book – picking up instinctively on the free-flowing feel of the day and the heat and joy of it too.
And there we have it. Our very first meal in a book: ‘We don’t write recipes down.’ It’s art, food and fun in one small but lovely package. All printed by local printer Martins. So, genuinely cooked-up in Berwick-upon-Tweed. The book is priced at £6.99 (plus a £1 contribution to postage for buyers outside the local Berwick-upon-Tweed area). We are donating all proceeds to Sri Lankan charity The Jasmine Foundation. The charity supports women in rural communities through education, training, sports and welfare as well as health and hygiene initiatives. Coincidentally, this wonderful charity was co-founded by Jessica Mason and her husband Sanas Sahib and Jessica grew up and went to school in and around Berwick. So a genuine 100% Berwick-upon-Tweed production.
If you’re interested in a copy, visit the ‘We don’t write recipes down’ Facebook page.
The book premiered at Dewa’s pop-up takeaway at The Mule on Rouge on Friday 14th August 2020. There are regular pop-ups at the Mule so keep an eye on their social media feeds.
I’m updating this post on 10 November 2020. It’s such a wonder to say that we’ve sold over 200 copies of our little book and donated £600 of profits and donations to our Sri Lankan charity. Just brilliant.
There’s a little stand-off going on between the Husband and me. Except he may not realise it. He has a higher long-grass-on-the-lawn threshold than I do. Which means that I usually end up mowing the green stuff. Last time I hauled the mower out, he popped up with a cup of tea for me as I’d nearly finished. ‘That looks nice,’ he said. ‘You can do it next time,’ I said. Not altogether graciously. After all these years, you’d think we would have resolved the thorny issue of whose turn it is to mow the lawn. But we haven’t. It lurks in the air around us like a mysterious unmentionable secret.
The daughters don’t seem to have any problems with unmentionables. I confess I didn’t know that a ‘shart’ was a shit-fart. I’ll be careful not to let the word accidentally drop into conversation – I assume one doesn’t have much control over the deed. My young women continue to alternate between hugging and biting each other, and seem to find each other endlessly fascinating. With 14 years between them, lockdown is probably the most concentrated period of time they have spent together since one was a toddler and the other was in the thick of GCSEs and A levels. It’s a bit of a gift really.
Recently the daughters were discussing the pictures we have. The youngest asked if the Husband and I had allotted them to particular people in our Wills. Turns out she’s got her eye on a couple. We all found this hilariously funny (I think drink may have been involved). When the eldest daughter pointed out that first dibs on the spoils should be hers because the youngest could enjoy them after she was gone (they’re both ignoring the existence of the older brothers – if you’re not here and all that…), the youngest’s laughter began to turn to tears: ‘I’ve just realised,’ she sobbed. ‘I’ll probably be left all alone. You – you can’t die before me…’
Early on in lockdown, when the human tragedy of people not being able to be with their loved ones during the hardest and most emotional of times: serious illness, birth and death (except, possibly, Dominic Cummings), a little game circulated. The idea was to name the five people you’d invite to your funeral (the UK-government-imposed limit). Like ‘Snog, Marry, Avoid’, it’s quite compelling. Clearly, it’s in bad taste. However, it’s in keeping with the kind of dark humour that many of us embrace when events are frightening and uncertain and beyond our control. Let’s face it, a good dose of laughter is a bit of a tonic. Although, the coronavirus pandemic has perhaps emphasised that, as a society, we’re not really geared up to have the conversations around death and dying that might help with later heartache. Often, talking about dying is seen as tantamount to wishing someone gone, or it’s viewed as morbid rather than practical, or as taboo rather than an essential part of life. So we skirt around it and think about easier things: like, say, divvying up the goodies.
The Husband and I walk up the garden pretty much every morning and evening – and several times between. Yet still neither of us says ‘the lawn needs mowing’ because, to do so, would be to claim the doing of it. We both love how the garden looks when the lawn is mown – so how come we can’t agree how to deal with the mowing of it between us? Maybe it’s a conversation that might throw up perceived imbalances in other parts of our relationship? Whatever: the silence on the subject continues. Although, the Husband has just read this and said in a hurt tone: ‘I will do the lawn next time.’
The four of us have recently embarked on a ‘final meal’ game. So much food we love and one meal to craft from it all. I mean, how do you actually choose? The eldest daughter is a mince fan and started off claiming mince would be part of her last supper. However, she seems to have moved on. She’s now having a seafood platter (including oysters, lobster, crab and everything else crustaceous and from the deep), followed by roast goose and all the trimmings, then all the cheeses with truffle honey, rounded off with a chocolate fondant. The Husband is determined to slip a bacon sarnie in somewhere and foie gras – we suggest a starter platter with tidbits of all those things he can’t shoehorn in elsewhere. Me? I might go for calves liver, and either a game pie (suet crust, of course) or seafood linguine – to include crab and lobster and a sauce, created from the shells left from the daughter’s seafood platter, to make a super sea-tasting bisque sauce. Like the eldest, I’d have to have all the cheeses with pickled walnuts, Normandy salted and unsalted butter, a bread basket to include sourdough oh, and some of my homemade rhubarb chutney. And for pud, I’d go for lemon syllabub with fresh-baked shortbread biscuits. The youngest daughter is happy as long as her meal involves sushi, pizza and a hot pud – possibly a chocolate brownie.
All of this we can happily talk about and explore for hours – remembering favourite restaurants and the memorable meals we’ve enjoyed that have informed our palates. And, yes, you’re right: the final meal game is another ruse to distance and diminish the whole death thing.
When my Dad died, I was 26. My eldest daughter was just over a year old. Dad’s death felt brutal and totally unexpected to me – even though there had been warnings. I now realise, I was broken by his loss. I had not contemplated how it might feel not to have him around. Maybe, this was a gap in my emotional education. Maybe it’s just the way I responded to the death of someone I loved at that stage in my life. Probably some of both. Certainly, in those days, it felt like the death of a loved one was something you just had to grin and bear as life hurtled on around you and you fell apart.
Crank forward 26 years and, finally, I began to engage with death in a positive way. I don’t want to harp on about having had cancer (if you’re interested, you’ll find more about the cancer year here), but being diagnosed with bowel cancer led to a more pragmatic engagement with life and death. The Husband and I even wrote our Wills (the children will still have to scrap over the house contents!) which, until then, had felt too complicated to do. A year later, I helped nurse my dear Mum as she died.
Three things I learnt: Firstly, nursing a loved one through dying and into death is exhausting physically and emotionally, but (for me) a privilege and pleasure. The support of a decent end-of-life and palliative care team is invaluable and should be a given (but isn’t). Second, if the loved one has spent time preparing for their death by ‘putting their affairs in order’ and talking about their funeral etc with you, it’s a real gift from them to you. Finally, our own death preoccupies us a lot – we joke about it, worry about it, and push thoughts of it away. But, in reality, our death will impact on others more than it does on us. It’s just the way it is.
Back in the garden, the lawn has had a stay of execution. The Husband (and I) had all last week to mow the darn thing. It was sunny and dry and the perfect weather. This week has begun with a wet and wild northern hoolie. So, when the rain stops, which one of us will get the mower out of the shed and slog up and down, as per? Or will we discuss the elephant in the haystack?