Treading the Primrose Path of Dalliance

The Captain and I have been boating very slowly along the Llangollen Canal taking in the Montgomery Canal en route.  I like the Montgomery Canal.  It’s very picture skew.  The Captain made the 18 year old and I go on a walk.  I am still officially convalescing which is a tediously slow business but I am vastly improved.  However, the Captain is keen to get me back to fully functional.  So he decided a short walk was in order.  “Don’t worry,” quoth he, “tis but a gentle stroll!”

About four hours and nearly ten miles later we staggered from the end of the abandoned canal section we had been walking with the promise of a pub lunch dangled in front of us the only the thing keeping us upright.  On reaching the pub we discovered it was closed.  This was bad.  But it did not detract from the delightful scenery we had walked through.  There were swathes of primroses, carpets of celandine and more than a smattering of dandelions.  All was yellow with the promise of green.

Earlier in the week I had adapted a cake recipe to take advantage of the copious quantities of primroses we were encountering.  They are such a pretty flower and so synonymous of Spring, but did you know they were edible?  They taste slightly of honey but should only be picked where they are plentiful and even then care should be taken to ensure plenty are left behind.  I had made some primrose syrup by following the recipe for Wild Flower Syrup after a weekend in Norfolk.  I crystallised some fresh ones by painting egg white onto individual flowers with a child’s paint brush and then dusting them with caster sugar.  Apparently they will keep like this for up to 8 weeks but mine only lasted 2 days.  Though that might be because we ate them!

The cake was delicious and very pretty.  It is an infitely adaptable recipe.  I have made it with wild flower syrup, elderflower cordial and I have plans for another using violets 🙂

Primrose Crunch Cake

175g softened butter

175g caster sugar

3 eggs

140g self raising flour

85g ground almonds

1/2 tsp baking powder

100ml milk

Handful of fresh primrose petals

For the Primrose Drizzle:

4 tbsp Primrose Syrup

4 tbsp granulated sugar

Crystalised primroses to decorate

Heat the oven to 160c/gas 3.  Grease & line a 2lb loaf tin.  Beat the butter and sugar till light and fluffy.  Beat in the eggs, flour, almonds, baking powder and milk until smooth.  Fold in primrose petals.  Pour into tin and bake for 45-50 mins until golden, risen and a skewer comes out cleanly when poked into the centre.  As soon as out of oven, poke skewer all over pricking holes into the cake.  Mix together the syrup and sugar and pour over cake, allowing it to soak in.  Leave to cool in tin.  Once completely cool, lift out carefully, decorate with crystalised flowers and slice to serve.

Back in the day – memoirs of a 1980s nurse training

Prompted by my friend Joy, I have started to reminisce about my youth.  Clearly a sign that I am getting old.  However, I have enjoyed reading Joy’s account of our training so, with her encouragement I have begun to set it down.  How far I get remains to be seen but while it remains pleasurable I’ll continue to write.

It was September 1984.  I had a long car drive to contemplate my decision to leave the North East of England and head to London to train as a nurse.  I’d had my offer at Kings College Hospital for nearly two years having secured it around the time I discovered I had failed Biology O’level.  Kings was alone among the London hospitals in not requiring a rudimentary knowledge of the reproductive cycle of a frog for its prospective student nurses.  For this I was eternally grateful, especially as I went on to fail my O’level a second time.

It was not unexpected that I ended up training in London.  I had only applied to hospitals there, much to the consternation to many around me, though my parents were endlessly supportive.  We had moved around a great deal as a family so applying to a local hospital made little sense if the only reason was to remain close to home.  Indeed, that sunny September morning when I set out with my parents and younger sister, we left our latest house of only ten days.  My application forms had been sent out from Newcastle-upon-Tyne.  I actually left ‘home’ from Hull.

Kings was my first choice for two reasons.  First of all, my cousin had trained there.  As wide-eyed sixteen year old, I had stayed with her for my interview.  She introduced me to several of her friends and took me to The Penthouse, the student union bar.  I sat in awe of this group of doctors and nurses as they drank and talked of their day.  The stories seemed fabulously exotic and exciting, the atmosphere heady and intoxicating.  With hindsight, it was just a group of overworked young people letting their hair down in the only establishment still open at the end of their shifts.  However, it made a deep impression on me and I desperately wanted to be part of the fabric of this place, rather than just an observer.  The second reason I wanted to train at Kings was the relaxed and friendly style the interview day adopted.  All the other hospitals I had been interviewed at were extremely stuffy in comparison.  In reality, Kings chose me.  I had no other offers.  Like I said earlier, the life cycle of a frog knowledge seemed to be a deal breaker for most.

Pulling up to main entrance, it was impossible not to be slightly in awe of the building, with its impressive façade.  My room was several floors up, the fifth I think, and thankfully next to the lift, which was just as well as I had a very cumbersome trunk that had to be got up there.  Several other girls and families were in the same situation and there were a lot of hot and bothered looking fathers around.  The room itself was tiny.  I could lie in bed and wash my feet in the overhanging basin without even having to sit up to turn on the taps.  Looking out of the window, I was surprised to see so many bulging carrier bags suspended out of other windows.  Not that they spoiled the view which was of more walls and more windows.  I later learned that the carrier bags served as make shift fridges which helped prolong the life of milk and other fresh things that tended to ‘walk’ from the communal fridge.

The other delight that was particular to my room was the intimate knowledge of the lift and its comings and goings I gleaned.  My wall was next to the lift shaft so every time a particular lift moved, I knew all about it.  I was soon au fait with everyone on my floor’s comings and goings.  What’s more, after having only been in possession of my room key for less than twelve hours, I managed to drop them down the lift shaft as my typical 1980s saddle bag style handbag upturned as I stepped out of the lift, and the contents including the keys plunged down the gap between the lift and the floor.  We had only just been warned of the perils of losing our keys and already mine was lost.  Thankfully, the porter on duty that evening had encountered clumsy student nurses before and took my flustered apologetic ramblings in his stride.  I was soon reunited with my key and promised to keep a firmer grip on my bag.  It was not the last time that particular bag caused me embarrassment.  I had a similar experience on a bus after a night shift only this time, having scrabbled to collect the contents, I missed a Lillets tampon which then proceeded to roll up and down the length of the bus every time we rounded a corner much to my acute mortification.  I did what I always do in such situations.  Pretended I was elsewhere.  It seemed best.

All this, and I had not yet spent a full day in my new job!

D-Day

That would be Decision Day.

Today I saw my consultant again.  As I walked into his room, he proved that he is still at the top of his game by noting, ‘You’re still ill, aren’t you?’  So shrewd.  It was a forgone conclusion that I would be needing more surgery, but he still felt the need to list all the reasons why he did not really want to do it.  Apparently my eyeball may sink into my skull; my vision may deteriorate; my scar will be more evident; my nerve damage could worsen; my issues with post-operative swelling will cause problems; the list went on.  I could not decide whether to glaze over with boredom or freak out in terror.  One snippet that snapped me out of my quandary was, ‘I’ve never actually had to do this before.  I have no idea how easy your orbital floor plate will be to remove.’  Oh goody.  When did the NHS decide that we were all equal partners in deciding our care?  I do not want to hear my consultant’s misgivings, dilemmas and doubts.  I want to hear that he has it all under control, that he knows what he is doing and that his professional opinion is both valid and correct.  I do know that I am in safe hands and I do trust him.  I just wish he had not chosen to share some of that information with me.  Then again, would I still trust him had he not been so open with me over the previous months?  I do not know the answer.  Perhaps it is just a crappy situation that has no right way of being handled.

Anyway, since there is no choice, I will be having an operation to remove my remaining pieces of metalwork.  At some point in the next four weeks, but probably not for the next two, the Captain’s dreams of being married to his very own Seven of Nine are going to lie shattered on the operating theatre floor.

However, there is an upside.  Several, actually.  First, it may mean that I really do start to get better.  Which, all things considered, would be quite nice.  But most importantly, it means that the Captain and I get to spend another week alone aboard Wand’ring Bark and I’ll be able to do some more towpath foraging.  This pleases me greatly.  I plan to make sloe gin at the very least.  Which will go rather nicely alongside the recipe I had published on British Waterways website recently.  Do have a read, I think the plums are mostly gone now but there are so many variations to try you need only be limited by your imagination and the amount of alcohol in your cupboard!

We’re going to be heading up the Staffs & Worcs Canal to the Caldon Canal.  I shall take my basket, my berry picker, my recipes and my imagination.  Oh and LOTS of gin 🙂

Back soon

I have been very absent.  I am sorry.  I have done a lot of home based foraging and cooking and have lots of recipes to share with you.  But I have been a bit overwhelmed with things domestic.  And things related to my face.  It has not been going too well and I am not exactly full of health and vitality.

I return on Tuesday to see my lovely Max Fax guy.  We have decisions to make, he and I.  The summer has established that I do not have sinusitis.  This I knew.  But the ENT bod still shoved a camera up my nose and thought I would enjoy watching the pictures on the telly.  What is it with doctors and cameras?  Can they not understand that if it is covered in skin, hidden behind tissue, cartillidge, muscle, fat or bone it is Not Meant To Be Seen?  At least not by its owner.  I had a similar experience once with my cervix.  I mean, seriously?!

The summer has also established that while six weeks of antibiotics lulled my bugs to sleep, they woke fully refreshed and ready to par-tay once I completed the course.  So I am back to feeling rubbish, hurting and not sleeping; with a red puffy face and slightly squiffy eye.  I have morphed into a weepy moany pathetic drip who I do not recognise and do not much like.

This post is really just to say that I will be back.  I have lovely recipes to share, and lovely foraging trips to talk of.  But for now, I just need to try to get on top of all the things I can do on the off-chance that I have yet more surgery soon.

So, as a fellow metal friend once memorably said: I’ll be back!

Of Marmalade, Absences and Birthdays

My kitchen has turned into something of a preserve making factory.  My new maslin pan has finally recovered from its encounter with the gooseberries and has been churning out marmalade in vast quantities.  This is something that is slightly against the seasons and not entirely in keeping with my inner forager.  But then again, as an urbanite, surely it is acceptable now and again to do a spot of foraging in Tescos?  No?

Back to the marmalade.  The school my daughter attends is having its annual Open Day soon.  Having threatened to overwhelm not only my family, but our whole neighbourhood in preserves, it seemed a good opportunity to get rid of some.  Of course, I will brush up on my sales pitch before the day dawns.  I watch The Apprentice.  I know how it’s done.  If ‘You look pretty, let’s get you naked,’ works for selling fake tan, how difficult can shifting a few jars of preserves be?

So I have been hard at it.  Paddington would be proud.

In fact, Paddington would be in heaven.  I have made Orange Marmalade with Whisky, Lime Marmalade, Red Grapefruit Marmalade and Lemon & Lavender Marmalade.  The lavender I pinched from my neighbour though it is a little early in the season.  I have been experimenting with the recipe and have not got it quite right yet.  It is beautifully lemony but needs more lavender.  Next batch.  When I am satisfied, I will post the results.  Of course, I did not stop there.  There has also been Red Onion Marmalade, Strawberry & Rose Petal Syrup, Cassis (not for sale!) and Blueberry Vinegar.  Then there were the herb jellies: Lemon Thyme, Sage and Mint – all from my herb garden.  I think that qualifies as foraging.  At least it does in my book.  As a townie, an urbanite and someone to whom gardening has always been an anathema, I declare it so.  I have a feeling there has been more too but my memory has now short circuited.  And I have almost run out of jars.  This is a disaster.  It has curtailed my activity more than anything else.  The Captain is quite pleased.  He thinks I was becoming obsessed.  Can’t think what gave him that idea.  Fortunately, I still have plenty of bottles …

So, while no recipes in this post, I think you can see why I have been a little absent.  I have been collapsing in a heap at the end of the day wondering why my eyes have stopped working and I ache all over.  The eyes not working mystery was solved today when I cleaned my glasses.  Marvellous improvement.  Must do it more often.

It is also birthday season.  One of my park-walking friends became the victim of my foraging/preserving mania today.  I put together a mini-hamper for her of various bits and pieces and it ended up looking like this:

It had all sorts of stuff in it, including: Chilli Vodka, Red Onion Marmalade, Compost Heap Jelly, Raspberry Vinegar, Elderflower Cordial and Lemon & Lavender Marmalade.  More on birthdays tomorrow!

Gooseberries – spawn of satan!

I have always disliked gooseberries.  But I am a grown up.  I make my children eat things they do not like.  It seemed only fair to make an attempt to love the nasty green spikey bushes at the top of my garden.  Besides, I have a recipe that uses the teeny tiny unripe gooseberries and mixes them with elderflowers before turning them into jam.  And I love elderflowers.  Seemed like a plan.

I snuck into the park mid morning and had to trek around three different locations in order to find real proper elder trees.  You may remember my fiasco a couple of weeks ago?  Actually there were lots everywhere but far from being over, they were inconsiderately not blooming.  I had to find some that were pointing in the right direction and in full sunshine.  Tsk.  As if I have nothing better to do.  Oh wait, I am convalescing.  Therefore I don’t.  I forgot.

Things only got worse when I began the actual picking.  I mean, have you seen the thorns on gooseberry bushes?  These are berries that were never, and I mean NEVER, designed to be picked.  I am now sporting some rather unattractive scratches the length of my forearms.  I need to get hold of total body armour.  Perhaps I could invent some specifically for foraging and then patent it?  Then again, perhaps it’s just me?  Do not answer that.

But shortly after that it all went horribly wrong.  I am not entirely sure what happened.  Except that making gooseberry jam is clearly dabbling in the black arts.  My beautiful shiny stainless steel maslin pan turned into a bubbling black cauldron containing a sticky tar like substance that bore no resemblance to the pale green jam in the recipe book.

So, gooseberries and me are not to be.