6 months early

Yesterday was the last day of the recipe photoshoot for the book and it was up to me to bring the last few ingredients - medlar jelly, autumn olive jam, mizuna, salsify, chinese 5 spice mix and microleaves. The last of this little lot are just a few well chosen veg picked remarkably young - within a few days of germinating when no taller than 6cm. They are the suckling pig of the veg world, although less likely to get Paul McCartney in a tizzy.



Rocket, radish, fennel and in particular coriander are the perfect micros to try first. Each has its characterisic flavour only more tense and cleaner than when it's usually harvested. Sow them today, get them on a sunny window sill and in a couple of weeks (half that in summer) you'll be snipping little harvests that I promise will blow you away.

The coriander will take the longest to germinate. When it gets to that 6cm height, pull one seedling out, only one. Brush the compost off the roots and pop it in - chew it at the front of your mouth. It'll be like a mouthful of regular coriander only better. And what happens when you grow coriander normally? Sow it, nurture it, wait a few months get a good load one day and it bolts the next. Waste o' time. Grow it as microleaves and you'll never go back, I promise. What you can pick up between first two fingers and thumb is enough salad to go with any baked fish.



As for the photoshoot - apart from a sweaty commutersville trek across town from Hither Green to Acton - nothing could've been more relaxed. The truly talented Laura Hynd, with her assistant, has taken all the recipe shots and the mini-polaroids that she printed out as she took them are just amazing. Wait until you see them.

And then there's Debora Robertson, who took the original recipe list and made it into something a zillion times more gorgeous. Seven words: Jap An Ese Wine Berry Tri Fle. Having eaten a spacehopperful last week my belt buckle is pointing at my shoes, but it was worth it. I hope we get to work together on a thousand other books, or at least that she invites me round for tea a lot.

Both were clearly born to do what they do. I've written here and there about the mixed blessing of people so born to do what they do - I find them half inspiring, half paralysing. It makes me want to stop doing the pale impersonation of what they do. But whatever else would I fill my time with? Drink beer, play bass and pool is suspect. And I'm crap at all three. Apart from pool, which I always feel I can beat anyone at, even if the evidence suggest otherwise.

Jenny White,the stylist/person cooking the recipes, managed to cook 8 recipes many of which used ingredients she may not have seen before with less fuss than I create when making a sandwich. She cooked thme perfectly, which was even more special because after they'd been photographed we ate them. There is little better first impression that someone can create.



Also there were Simon and Nicola from Quadrille - we looked through spreads on their Mac. Spreads are what you see when you open the book - the two pages-worth. Some already had Laura's earlier recipe shots in. It looks wonderful already. It is moments like these that fast-forward life, make the reality of the book coming out very apparent. The same happened when the outline of it went onto Amazon a few days ago.

Which is when it hits you how much of a team thing it really is. I write a load of words, someone takes the crap ones out and puts them into a gorgeous design along with your photos and someone else's. Then I walk away and get all the credit for the good bits. It's all entirely wrong. It's also very exciting, although I'm sure I should be dreadfully cool about it all.

I'm getting some thank you's out of the way right now because this is the moment when the words I wrote have changed into something else. It has become a book because of everyone else's expertise and enthusiasm, although editing and messing around mean it's still 6 months from being published.

Soon I'll know all the pages and where the photos are: the book will become more normal to me, rather than the surprise it was yesterday. Hence a few thank you's now.

And besides, in 6 months time I'll be busy pretending it was all my doing alone.

Ouch

At last some time outside. The book went to the publishers last weekend, a few hours ahead of deadline. It's been a long stretch - more than twice as long as the last book in half the time. Now, start of March and I can get some hours outside to plant the many things that are arriving or have arrived.



On Saturday I had a walk around the forest garden, planning what to add and where to put it. The cornelian cherry I put in last year is starting to open its blossom, the giant sweet coltsfoot beating the rhubarb for vigour and it won't be long before the buds on the blue honeysuckle open.



I scribbled an inventory of the plants in the polytunnel which holds so many of the plants I have yet to get out from last year, even the year before and some I've dug up this year for relocating. The apricot is covered in about-to-burst blossom, the daylilies are ready to plant out and I counted the szechuan pepper plants (40 large, 35 small if you must know) and spiked myself in the finger with one of the prickles that had fallen into the compost in its pot. I'm not sure why but they hurt more than most other prickles. It's one of the special tier of pain at the top end of small tedious pains. It was the latest in a weekend of bashes, tweaks, cuts and scuffs that got me thinking about the nature of pain while reclining in an over-full bath.



I think there are three types of pain. Cut-yourself-and-it-hurts-straight-away pain; dull-dead-leg-disabling-sort-of pain, and; stub-your-toe-think-you've-got-away-with-it-but-give-it-7-seconds-and-here-it-comes pain. I've experienced all three this weekend.

Friday night I broke the first law of washing up - I put the sharpest knife into the washing up bowl along with other cutlery. I actually just wrote 'the sharp knife' but changed it to 'the sharpest knife'. There are some things that come with a certain upbringing, like turning 'the big light' on. When I was a child we had 'the sharp knife'. Pass me the sharp knife...watch out for the sharp knife...I'm off to sharpen the sharp knife. A bread knife and a sharp knife were all a household needed to cut anything. The sharp knife was always sharpened by my dad, only on a Sunday, always just before the roast whatever came out of the oven. He sharpened it on the concrete post that the garden gate was fixed to. It had lost its handle (the knife, and the gate come to think of it) but it didn't matter: it was sharp. Over the years it got smaller, in that way that I got taller - you didn't notice very often but when you did it was undeniable and mildly surprising. When he died the blade was little more than an inch long. I guess he was having slivers of lamb for Sunday lunch. I can't quite get the thought out of my head that his lifespan was attached to the knife's lifespan in some ridiculous way. Which is unfortunate as I have a sharp knife I've had for 15 years and it's handle is about to come off...I can't say I'm looking forward to the prospect of my handle falling off.

Anyway, one of the sharp knives, in the washing up bowl. Instant, millisecond pain - I'm guessing as evolutionary impulse stopping me from doing further damage to the second smallest finger of my left hand. It's safe to say that my otherwise sparkling flash metal guitar future will be on hold for a couple of weeks.

Saturday I caught the outside of my left thigh on the corner of the table. An early contender for Best Self-Dead Leg (South West region) 2010.



Later on Saturday I trod on a plug. A misfortune normally reserved for the first step of the day, this is a special sort of pain that gets to the very core of a person. Something about it makes a man talk. The CIA must've have used this at Guantanamo. Just a three-pin plug by the side of a someone's bed for a couple of days, they'll tell you whatever you want to know. It's only rivalled by pitta pocket palm pain - take a pitta out of the toaster and as you grip it you expel a jet of hot air from a hole in the rim of the pocket straight into the soft, vulnerable cup of your hand. You drop it, of course, and chances are it'll be your last pitta. Still second to the plug though.


(salsify)

Sunday I stubbed my toe on a table leg. This is one of those special pains that gives you a few seconds to think you've got away with it...although by now I know that the time from impact to pain relates entirely to the degree of pain to come - the longer the wait the worse it'll be. Like a hangover after you're thirty.

The worst I've had this sort of pain was in 1991 playing football on the local park. Ten of us shared a house that was due for demolition after a long summer of us living there. It had a huge garden aand gorgeous views across the Exe estuary. Another 10 or so friends moved into the neighbouring house about 100 yards away across the garden. Another 10 or so lived in vans in the car park. Most weekends the housedwellers would play the 'hippies' that lived in the vans at football - for the Cider Cup. Pete the hippy was unrivalled in goal. The cat. I was usually the other keeper, partly on account of being the only other who was any good in goal and partly on account of playing like I had a 50p piece for a forehead and Toblerones for boots. Games were usually played at midnight or so, after the pub had hut and with house and van lights for floodlights. Each team had their own themetune to run out to...I think ours still holds up as a theme to run out to play football to. Games were usually low on quality and high on giggling as you might imagine. After a series of draws we agree to play in the daytime in the hope of raising the quality and deciding who would hold the Cider Cup aloft once and for all. The date was set for the Park, Saturday afternoon.

It was actually quite a decent game, although off to a slow start given the previous evening's cider thanksgiving and the large breakfast enjoyed by all. Having said that, as with the Wembley pitch midweek, it was the same for everyone. I was acquitting myself well in goal, producing a couple of gymnastic saves to deny the hippies, although slightly slow off my line to come for the odd cross - for which I was rightly berated by our ginger central defender, rightly famous for what he could do with £1.73 of small change. With his coarse words ringing in my ears I came for a cross I shouldn't have. It was low and a little too far out. It was dropping perfectly for the hippy striker to volley. It was summer, the ground was hard, I wore tracksuit bottoms to soften the impact of pale West Country skin on dessicated earth. As I came for the ball, mistimed as my run was, I realised I had only the Peter Schmiechel option of spreading myself as wide as possible in an attempt to get something on the ball. My arse landed on the ground with my feet very far apart. I was still travelling forwards, causing the tracksuit bottoms to ride up and (how can I put this) lift and separate most effectively. He caught the cross perfectly, full on the volley, the balling travelling approximately two foot six before it clattered at maximum velocity into my now perfectly presented undercarriage. I immediately started counting. 1...2...3...4...Time slowed down. 21 grown men fell to the ground, in tears, howling, having evidently seen the funniest thing that had ever happened in the history of the earth. 7...8...9...no pain...10..11..then the world turned upside down. It took over half an hour to feel human again. And everyone was still laughing so much from my misfortune that we couldn't play on. Game declared a draw, the Cider Cup shared.


(rosa rugosa buds)

Where was I...finger and szechuan pepper thorn, very painful. Also up there in the rollcall of gardening pain is pruner's tip. No matter what grip I affect I always stub the tips of my fingers when squeezing the secateurs to prune off a branch. It makes me mad. It's a delay-pain, with a couple of seconds between stubbage and annoyance. I'm beginning to suspect that the delay inherent in delay-pain is to allow the about-to-be sufferer to find someone else to blame for their misfortune.

But there are two maladies that can afflict the gardener which while not painful are a little weird. Firstly, Wellysock - when your sock rides down your ankle into the toe-end of you welly. This has little to do with the quality of the sock and more to do partly with the looseness of the welly but more so with the sucking action inherent in the rubber wellington boot. Yesterday I bought some waterproof laceup short boots in the hope of innoculating myself against this tedium.

Secondly, phantom hat syndrome. I first wrote of this almost 5 years ago. My thesis awaits publication. In case you can't be bothered to click the link, some amputees are able to 'feel' their missing limb, and this 'phantom limb' may even experience 'pain'...phantom hat syndrome occurs when you've been wearing a hat all day, come in, remove the hat, go to make a cup of tea and you reach up to take your hat off clutching a mop of your own hair - the hat, although removed, has left a trace of itself on your head. For hours it can feel like it's still there, and making you feel incrementally idiotic everytime you reach to take it off.

Today is sunny. It's also cold. I'm outside for a change, with Trent, planting almonds, chestnuts, oregon grape, pears, oriental quince as well as pruning a few apple trees. I'll need my hat. And my secateurs. Wish me luck.

Go to Otter Farm | by Mark D