All may look dormant out there but in fact, the countryside is busy making its own splendour.
Often considered the bleakest time of the year in the northern hemisphere, (and what could be bleaker than recent events of which I will say no more!) here in the Welsh countryside, there is always a surprise or two to shake things up. A quintessential white winter’s day can give way almost immediately to another sort of experience. The extraordinary colours, when I have finally bothered to look and see, are quite simply, breath-taking. Of course, green is my favourite colour and as you can see, there is an almost infinite variety out there.
As you know, I am working on the project ‘Pathways to Well-Being’- Simple, everyday things we can do to lift the spirit. Looking, seeing and of course, appreciating are among those simple things. Over the past few weeks I have been asking myself what all these discrete, small activities and experiences have in common that so make a difference to me. I have more and more recognised that there are two or three keys to what helps improve my sense of well-being in dramatic and lasting ways. One key is viscerality. The extreme example for me, is the experience of a very good massage. I have had two or three experiences that have been transformational and have had a lasting impact, not minutes or hours, but months and years. ( I relive the effects of them even now as I tell you about them). The first occurred when I was caring for my very elderly and very ailing mother. I was having palpitations that were lasting all day every day. Fortunately, my mother lives in the centre of Canada’s capital city, Ottawa and right across from an Aveda salon. I booked an appointment and explained a little of my circumstances to the masseuse. The love, care, skill, the music, were such that I left with a soaring sense of well-being. The palpitations were gone and did not return. Another key is that something needs to be distracting. Distraction can be momentary of course, but really, I am talking about the distraction that some kind of project, or focus can provide. There is nothing more powerful for getting out of those Badly Chopped Carrots moments than an abiding distraction, a long term commitment to something. Or course, being visceral and being distracting are not discretely different experiences. They are tied together. The massage was definitely distracting! Finally, and I know I bang on about this-connection– to understand and to be understood deeply and caringly by someone else.
Our culture does not necessarily lend itself to authentic connection. I came across this article a while ago and it captures for me the sense of perpetual bewilderment, confusion, alienation, second guessing caused by being at the other end of communication at a personal level that is not truthful or straightforward. The article is commenting on British culture but the problem of obfuscating communication is more widespread than that.
By Damien McGuinness
BBC News, Berlin
30 October 2016
If you read the full article, you will see that it is written as a political commentary but it is in fact so much more than that. For those of you who may not have the time or inclination to read the full thing, I have copied some of essentials here.
Theresa May had her first EU summit in Brussels last week. But her after-dinner address to other leaders was greeted with a frosty silence and even Germany appears to be losing patience with London. Could a different understanding of some very simple words be part of the problem?
There’s one thing about the German language that if you’re British, you never really quite get used to.
It’s how to say yes. And how to say no.
An English friend of mine, Jessica, once told me a story which sums up the problem.
When she was at school in London she was about to go on an exchange to stay with a family in Germany, and the teacher sat them all down for a talk.
“Now girls,” the teacher explained, “when someone offers you something to eat, and you want it, you say yes, not no.”
These well-brought-up young ladies would usually say: “No, I couldn’t possibly” to that plate of biscuits the first time round, and wait to be persuaded before giving in with a gentle: “Oh, go on then.”
“In Germany,” the teacher went on patiently: “No actually means no. You won’t get offered again.”
Crazy, Jessica remembers thinking. Obviously the school had had experience of pupils coming back famished.
In British English, of course, no means yes, yes means no … and “maybe,” “possibly” and “would love to but” can mean either.
A group of British people trying to decide where to go to for dinner will say things like “I’m easy” or “I don’t mind” – even though everyone blatantly does mind.
This is all quite straightforward to Brits, and the subtext is clear. In Germany it’s baffling.
And I suspect it’s a cultural difference which partly accounts for the communication problems we’re seeing right now over Brexit.
Last year David Cameron tried to persuade German Chancellor Angela Merkel to let the UK have a special deal to opt out of free movement of people, while staying in the single market.
She said no. And she meant, well, no. Not “no-but-ok-if-you-push-hard-enough-maybe-yes”. Just no.
In the rough-and-tumble world of confrontational British politics, we’re all used to hearing things which sound like one thing, but mean another.
Politics needs to be exciting in the UK to keep voters and journalists interested. So rhetorical bluster and the odd showy, overblown promise, with a bit of backtracking later, is often forgiven, especially if you’ve managed a witty gag or two along the way.
In Germany – where the tradition of consensual, coalition-building means co-operation and compromise are more highly valued than macho posturing – not saying what you mean is not forgiven. It’s seen as dishonest, confused and ineffective.
The German political debate would send most British voters to sleep. Whereas to German sensibilities the British debate looks bafflingly inconsistent.
In fact, that’s the word that explains the whole point: you hear the German word “konsequent”, which roughly translates as consistent, a lot here.
And it’s a highly prized virtue. It means you’ll do what you say, and live by the consequences if you don’t.
So my remaining friends from the former Tuesday group have agreed that ‘straight talking’ is our motto. We all need feedback, positive and at times ‘constructive’. When it is delivered in a balanced, caring, clear way our relationships are enhanced. We are enhanced both individually and collectively. Of course finding out why we don’t talk straight, finding that balance, finding the language of appropriate delivery, this is all a part of the life long journey.
Well, that was pretty heavy.
I want to mention a few other essentials in Pathways to Well-being. Beauty. I know beauty is different for each of us, but take some to recognise what your ideas of beauty are. Beauty is not a luxury. It is not an indulgence. It is an essential Pathway to Well-Being.
My sister-in-law worked for many years for Canada’s International Development Agency. She forged life long links in Nepal and pondered for many years how best to continue to be of service. She decided to set up a business in Ottawa where she lives, to sell stunningly gorgeous hand made fair trade objects which she has brought back from recent trips to Katmandu and beyond. Here are just a few of them.
Almond tea from Mecca.
Food. Food has it all. It’s why I love cooking. Viscerality, distraction, connection beauty.
Menu for a Mid Winter Night
February 1st 2017.
I’ve just returned from Aberystwyth, grocery shopping and coffee with a friend at the Café Nero. It’s 3:30. The last grocery parcel is unpacked when the lights go out. It’s been really windy but the lights don’t usually go out around here. When they do someone pretty quickly manages to get them back on. The message from the electric company is 5:30. Oh oh. I am going to have to make something fast and simple for dinner tonight. Now you know I am a pretty diligent follower of recipes. This one is absolutely, completely, fully one I have created myself. We loved it. Light and richly mellow for a deep winter night. I hope you like it to. By the way, the lights came back on at 4:15. Bravo to Western Power.
Salmon and Salmon Pasta
120 grams smoked salmon chopped into 1 inch squares
120 grams skinless salmon chopped into 1 inch squares
4 scallions (green onions) chopped about 1/8 inch thick
1 tablespoon olive oil
½ cup white wine
Juice of half lemon
2 -3 tablespoons fresh dill
½ cup coarsely shredded parmesan cheese
1/3 package of white and green pasta.
Heat a large cast iron or other heavy fry pan on medium high. (I use a Creuset. In truth any heavy pan will do. I don’t think it even needs to be a fry pan. )
Throw 2 scallions in and saute lightly.
Toss the fresh salmon chunks in and sear on all sides. It takes a couple of minutes only.
Add the juice of half a lemon and scrape up the brown bits which have started to accumulate.
Throw in the last two scallions.
Add ½ cup of white wine. (I used very left- over Prosecco.) You can use more but you should bubble it down until there is still some liquid in the pan but its starting to get slightly gelatinous.
Add the smoked salmon and stir around until it just changes colour from bright pink to soft pink. Any more and it will start to dry out. Not good.
Add grated parmesan. (I know the young Montalbano would be horrified. Fish and cheese don’t go together in Sicilian cuisine-but hey…it tastes really good and adds a bit of body and tang. )
Add the fresh dill very roughly torn.
Meanwhile you have boiled a large saucepan of water and cooked the pasta for about 4 minutes, one minute or so less than the package suggests.
Drain the pasta.
Add the almost cooked pasta to the pan and stir until everything is evenly distributed.
Made up salad
I have a small rectangular white dish (a Matalan purchase I believe)
It lends itself so well to an artful arrangement of ‘mixed vegetables’.
In this case:
3 or 4 sliced juniper flavoured, cooked beetroot.
One small sliced avocado.
A handful of mixed colour tiny tomatoes sliced. (yellow, red, purple)
Balsamic vinegar (to taste)
Extra virgin olive oil
A bit of salt.
Roughly torn basil leaves.
…and now the piece de resistance….Ina’s Apple Tartlets (a variation of the on-line variation of the tart in her Back to Basics 2008 book). This is so easy and fun to make!
Damson Apple Tartlets
1 sheet puff pastry
3 Granny Smith apples
1/3 cup sugar (approximately)
3 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, diced into small squares
1/3 cup warm damson jam or preserves (I made this last summer)
3 tablespoons rum (I made a mistake here. Usually I divide recipes in half but I added the full amount of rum here. It was truly wonderful)
Pre-heat the oven to 400F/200C/180Fan/
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper
Cut the sheet of puff pastry into 4 squares. (For me, this is the most inspired part of the recipe. I am not sure why…but having the individual ‘tartlets’ makes it all very special and I think it allows each piece to gather the candy like sticky parts that melt onto the sheet as they cook.)
Peel, cut the apples in half and then into wedges about ¼ inch thick. Toss them in the sugar. (I think this works better than sprinkling after you lay out the slices and it means you leave the pastry at room temperature for less time)
Place overlapping slices diagonally across the pastry and use one slice along each side in the corners of the pastry. (you can see this layout in the picture)
Bake 40 minutes until pastry and apples are starting to brown.
Some juices will leak out and caramelise as I have already mentioned but that just adds delight.
Heat the damson and rum together and then brush onto the tops of the tarts.
Remove tarts from the parchment paper (they peel off very easily) and set onto a wire rack to cool. I know these look more ‘rustic’ than beautiful. But wow…delicious!