What do we do around here?

 

I had this blog all ready to go and then the referendum happened. Overnight, the world had turned upside down. At least that’s what it felt like to me…that sense of vertigo…when you don’t quite know where you are any more.    It took me a few days to get back some semblance of my bearings.  Mainly, I feel sad for the country and the inevitable difficulties it will face.   I feel particularly sad for the most disadvantaged people.  What the whole thing has catalysed in me is a profound desire to do something for someone else.  I was telling my trainer Lina about this as we were doing laps around the field  at the Aberystwyth University Sports Centre and she told me they were in desperate need of of some assistance where she works.  So I decided to volunteer for this local organization that works with learning disabled people.  My application is in process. I will keep you posted. 

Back before it all happened I was checking out one of my favourite websites: www.notsalmon.com and discovered this ‘grounding tool’. Look around you. Find 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.  What a lovely, light -hearted approach to managing stress and anxiety.

Alternatively, you can move to rural Wales.    The dormer window of the bedroom is fully open. I can hear a rustling in the hedge between the back garden and the field beyond.  A loud rustling.  Or is it munching?  I spot the source behind the hedge. I can just see the white of their coats flashing through the bushes. A small herd of cows enjoying a mid-afternoon snack. I can smell a pot of Beef Bourguignon bubbling gently on the stove- wine, carrots, garlic, thyme.  I can just about touch the soft elusive breeze that wafts through the cottage carrying with it the scent of fresh hay, grasses, earth.

Here is something I wrote when I first came.

Every time my car pulls into the back garden and I switch off the engine, the utter sense of peace, beyond silence descends. The absolute unchanging nature of life here from year to year, no new roads, no new developments brings a reassurance beyond words.

So now I am just starting down the hill from the cottage for my daily walk. My neighbour who owns the farm land around the cottage is sitting on his quad bike in the middle of the road.  He is making some ju ju sounds and is shaking a plastic bag in the direction of the lane to the left. I can hear a few moos and sure enough as I move a few more steps down the hill, I can see a small herd of black cows and calves clustered in the lane-obviously unimpressed with his bidding. I stop for a quick chat.  My neighbour is 88 years old and is now suffering from macular degeneration.  This is on top of the Addison’s disease he has had since his 30’s, the heart condition that emerged later, and of course the inevitable hip replacements.  So he apologises for not recognising me right away. However, he is going for shots on Friday at Bronglais hospital in Aberystwyth or Aber as it is known around here.  The shots may help.

I ask about his wife, who is 80 and had major heart surgery around Christmas.  He asks after my dear husband.  The requisite medical bulletins having been exchanged, we get down to business.  Could I stand guard on the hill while he gets his bike up behind the cows and tries to herd them down the road? He doesn’t want them going up.  So can I stand guard to make sure they go in the right  direction?  Ok… I wait a few minutes. No problem really as it is a glorious summer day, with just a slight breeze.   There are no cars on the road. It’s silent.  Then my neighbour is back. The cows have decided to go into an adjacent field.  ‘Nice to see you.’

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Walking a little further down the hill I reach a T junction.   The little sign with the arrows points right to Llangeitho, straight ahead to Lampeter and backwards to Aberystwyth.   My neighbour’s oldest son and his family live in the white house on the corner. A former school teacher, he and his wife have a building business which also allows them to help me out with various and sundry things around the cottage from time to time.

A few minutes later, having passed some of the most glorious scenery anywhere on the planet, I head down another hill.

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This one is a 10% gradient and it feels like 45%. At the bottom sits the home of three brothers. There was an incident a few years ago when the county council sent an officer out to insist they move the fence adjacent to the road. One brother was having none of it.  He got out his cross bow and the officer left in short order.   I understand the brother spent some time away after one or two further incidents. Invariably one or other of them is out busying himself on a piece of machinery or in the shed. We always extend to each other very brief cordial greetings about the weather conditions as I continue without pause on the three  mile trek. 

The next leg involves the navigation of a very small, deeply rutted lane. Always the source of some seasonal harvest, branches for kindling in winter and early spring, wild roses in summer, rose hips in autumn.  I pass the home of my artisan neighbour and her husband, the one who makes in felt the gorgeously whimsical local scenes. In spring, summer and autumn they are busy in their pristine garden, built on a slope, lavishly filled with every imaginable flower and shrub.  Most of what I know about local floribunda, I have learned from their garden. 

Then a right turn, and I am about to embark on the dreaded 11% incline-upwards.  But not before I pass another neighbour’s dwelling.  A retired policeman from the former Rhodesia, his ‘compound’ hosts a menagerie of the wild and wonderful- guinea fowl, runner ducks, geese, alpaca sheep, and a three legged dog.   Many displaced and some thriving. Such is west Wales. 

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Right across the road from the house is a holly tree which partially overhangs the road and a field. It’s the only berried bush in the area that I have been able to find, so I always help myself to a few branches around Christmas.  And, right in front of the house, is a lilac tree and again, my neighbour has graciously invited me to help myself ‘as long as I don’t load up the back of a pick- up truck as some have been known to do.’

Then….and there is no escaping it…The real work of the walk begins.  I have tested out an infinite number of ways to ease the inevitable pain.  Here are a few: stopping every few minutes to ‘admire the view’; focusing only on the next step; focusing only on the middle distance; weaving from right to left and left to right; following the curves.  You get the picture.  What seems to be most distracting from the anguish is if I am in the middle of resolving a particularly intense current or possibly even past issue, usually an interpersonal one.  Then I have a tendency to keep going, resolutely straight ahead, perhaps even a bit too fast. Of course, being a consummate hypochondriac, I’ve been known to be so breathless as to become quite terrified that I am going to expire on this luscious but deserted hill top.  So far- as you can see- it hasn’t happened.  And there are absolutely incredible rewards. The banks in spring form a bluebell ‘carpet’, followed shortly thereafter by stalwart, upright foxgloves, lining up like lavender sentinels along the way, not to mention red campions, little yellow butter cups, white daisies, tiny violets.

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And today has been a ‘mid -range’ day.  I’ve been considering what finishing touches I might put on my latest painting.  A ‘painting’ colleague found the picture in an art magazine and brought it into the studio where we paint a couple of times a month. We each did our own version.  I find it really really helps to work alongside someone.  I have learned a lot from her.

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 I have been thinking hard too about a book I’ve been reading -‘Capital’ by Thomas Piketty and wondering what, if anything, the individual can contribute to resolving the age old tendency that Piketty identifies: wealth accumulates wealth. ‘How can we reach a fairer distribution of resource?’ is the central focus of Piketty’s work.

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   I haven’t quite reached the solution when I am back at the T junction. I turn left, up what now feels like a very small hill, and, after about 5 minutes I arrive.  There- silently, benignly waiting, sits the cottage.  The Beef Bourguignon has bubbled its way to perfection.  It’s time to taste!  All is well in west Wales. 

I am not going to keep you waiting another minute for the recipe:

This comes from one of my all time favourite cookbooks: Long Nights, Log Fires. Not just a whole range of terrific recipes but wonderfully evocative pictures that  envelope you with warmth and welcome.

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Boeuf Bourguignon (attributed to Fiona Beckett)

Serves 6
Ingredients

900 g braising beef or steak
3 tablespoons olive oil
130 g cubed pancetta (I use smoked back bacon)
3 white onions finely chopped
2 large garlic cloves finely chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons plain flour
450 ml full-bodied red wine
4 carrots chopped into one inch chunks (my addition)
1/2 cup beef broth (this is also my addition)
a bouquet garni made from a few sprigs of thyme,
parsley, and fresh or dried bay leaf
25 g butter
250 g chestnut mushrooms cleaned and halved or quartered if large.
2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley
salt and freshly ground black pepper

a large flameproof casserole

Directions
Pat beef dry. Trim off any excess fat and cut into large cubes. Put one tablespoon oil into the casserole, set over medium heat, fry pancetta or bacon until lightly browned. Remove from pan with slotted spoon. Add beef in 2 batches and brown in fat that remains in casserole. Remove. Add remaining oil to pan and fry onion gently for 25 minutes until caramelised. Add garlic at the end. Cook one minute then add flour and cook for another minute. Add wine, and broth and bring to a boil. Return the beef, pancetta, and bouquet garni and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer over lowest heat for 2 to 2 1/2 hours until the meat is just tender. The instructions suggest leaving the casserole over night but I hardly ever do this.

Next saute the mushrooms in butter until lightly browned (about 5 minutes) Add to casserole and simmer another 10-15 minutes. Salt, pepper, chopped parsley. Served with mashed potatoes or boiled new potatoes.

 

Enjoy!

Anitaxx

Boeuf-Bourguignon

 

 

 

Where am I anyway?

Llanglinhangel y Creuddyn.

Don’t worry. I can hardly pronounce it myself.  What’s important about this idyllic little village nestled in a valley about 7 miles east of  Aberystwyth is Yffarmers.  You can take a peak here:http://yffarmers.co.uk/

I was having a Badly Chopped Carrots health moment, but it wasn’t entirely in my head as my poor husband confirmed a slightly ‘odd’ feeling himself around midnight.  Several nights ago, he had made a reservation for Ffarmers, one of our four favourite neighborhood eateries. However now, one of the ‘roommates’ in my head said: ‘Oh, you’d better not go. You’d better go back to bed’. But how could I let my kind hearted husband down? After applying the usual accoutrements-face cream, make-up, perfume that cost most of my monthly income, I didn’t actually look sick.  Another ‘roommate’ said: ‘Well, give it a try. You can always turn around if you start feeling really poorly.’

We arrived.  The pub/restaurant, all wooden tables, shiny plank floors, candles lit on every table, is ready for a Saturday night in the Welsh countryside. In fact, a birthday party is already in progress in the room at the back.  A couple of rosy cheeked children chase each other around some of the tables. A family sits at the bar, with a stuffed spotty dog flopped on the counter.  On the wall behind the bar, the orange painting of a hare in full run, ears flying back, still presides over all.  Books about Aberystwyth, local churches, rivers and streams sit on their shelves beside our little table.  

The waitress arrived. Why not have a small glass of Chardonnay while we select from April’s menu? ‘A few sips won’t hurt’ says one of the roommates. Pork rillettes with apricot salsa, guinea fowl supreme  with a reduced , shallot sauce, small perfectly browned potato coins, crisp , cool, cucumber slices in a nestled amongst a few fresh leaves tossed in a light vinaigrette. A warm slab of chocolate brownie with a drizzle of caramel, a sprinkle of sea salt and a ball of home made vanilla ice cream.  The place filled. Smiling waitresses swung through the kitchen doors, circling each other in a Welsh gavotte, as they ferried armloads of delectable treasures from table to table. Life had miraculously shifted from clenched discomfort, grinding worries about mortality, to a soaring and all pervasive sense of well-being.  The dessert lady would be happy to write out the recipe for the brownies. ‘Industrial portions, you understand. You’re American?’ she asked. ‘The measurements might be different’  Well, actually, I am Canadian, by birth and passport at least.

You have to bake it until a crust forms on the top but it’s still wobbly. 

Do you remember your gooseberry almond cake with the ginger ice cream?’ I asked. She smiled and nodded with surprise.  ‘Well, I’ve been making it ever since you gave me the recipe two years ago.’

By the way, the clocks moved forward last weekend. (Ok. I am a little late with this post but bear with me…  I wanted you to see the best of springtime in Wales…or if you live here…be reminded of what has just passed through). The countryside is lavishly strewn with daffodils and gorse making our 45 minute sunset drive to Ffarmers one of shimmering gold.  

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…and…I couldn’t resist bringing some of this exuberance inside. (I don’t think anyone will notice these are missing!)                                                                          
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Meanwhile my neighbor who lives just down the road, is using her light filled and sleepless nights to conjure up with felt on slate, these luscious and whimsical depictions of our small world.  She’s called this one ‘under the rainbow’ 

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I’ve just finished my latest pear painting which now hangs over the kitchen sink. I know some of you will recognize it…again.

 

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I’m reading ‘At the Existentialist Cafe’ by Sara Bakewell. This is a superbly readable gallop through the lives, loves and liberties of existential philosophy’s formidable crew of creators. An exacting approach to  life. But oh, so liberating. 

The idea of my ‘room mates’ in the head is borrowed from ‘The Untethered Soul’ by Michael Singer. A life-changing book.

And finally….I won’t keep you waiting another minute. Here is my adaptation of:

GOOSEBERRY ALMOND CAKE WITH GINGER ICE CREAM 

Ingredients

125 g butter softened

200 g caster sugar

3 large eggs, beaten

75g plain flour sifted

75 g ground almonds

3/4 teaspoon baking powder

350g dessert gooseberries, topped and tailed

35g flaked almonds

1 tablespoon icing sugar for dusting

Directions

Pre-heat the oven to 190C/170fan. Beat the butter and 125g sugar until pale and fluffy.  Add the eggs a little at a time, beating well after each addition. If the mixture starts to curdle, add a tablespoon of flour. Fold in the rest of the flour, the almonds, and the baking powder using a large metal spoon. Scrape into a buttered 20cm spring-form tin.

Toss the gooseberries with the remaining 75g sugar and spread them over the top of the cake. Bake 20-25 minutes. Sprinkle on the almonds and bake for another 10 minutes. The cake is ready when a skewer inserted its centre comes out clean. Leave it to cool in the tin and then carefully remove the ring and the base. Dust with powdered sugar just before serving.

I always serve this with an improvised ginger ice cream. I use Cornish Honeycomb Ice Cream (but frankly any good vanilla ice cream will be fine). Dice some ginger from a jar of ginger in syrup and scatter over the ice cream. Pour a little syrup on top.

Can you believe these innocuous little berries can turn into something so delicious. These are just starting to appear in my garden…but truthfully…they are everywhere…Help yourself.

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and…

 

 

Enjoy!

Anitaxx

 

WE HAVE TO START SOMEWHERE

I came from southern California to a cottage in Wales for three months to mend a broken heart. That was sixteen years ago.  Two months ago, I started to work out at the local university gym. Here I received my first introduction to the world of cross trainers, stationary bikes, treadmills, and rowing machines….and…oh yes…40 pound weights.  Last month I turned 70. Two years ago, I left full time work and took up painting. 

This potted history may give you the impression that anyone can change their life…anytime…and that certainly, I am in control of mine.  But when I realized that I was more preoccupied with my badly chopped carrots, than the gorgeous dinner of tender, medium rare lamb chops served on a bed of golden crusty potato cake that I had prepared- in which those badly chopped carrots played a teeny weeny minor role-well…I knew I had to do something. When ironing became my default hobby, it was clear that something had to be very very different -right now. 

This blog is my way of taking stock of my life, how I got here, what has helped me, and where I’m going.  Even I can see, when I am not having a badly chopped carrots moment, that my life has been, still is, pretty interesting. If you decide to take this journey with me, I hope some  of what I share will give you a boost too. 

So who am I? It’s the big question isn’t it, for most of us.  I am a counselling psychologist by training, with a doctorate in leadership. Of course, I now know a lot less about leadership than practically anyone else on the planet. As you can see from this very choppy backstory, I am a dilettante, or is that a renaissance person with a very strong neurotic streak? I have a penchant for focusing on badly chopped carrots.  I also have a lifelong passion for the domestic arts, interior design, ( have survived two major renovations), home decor, and most of all, anything to do with cooking. I have a deep and abiding longing to be creative. Most of all, I yearn to develop and enhance a real lightness of being in myself and in others.  If you stick with me, as I hope you will, prepare  yourself for a melange of life story, daily living in rural Wales, home decor,  words of wisdom (maybe), psychological insights (for sure), paintings, photographs, social commentary, favorite websites, influential books, new discoveries of all kinds. Above all,  you will find here, recipes and menus, not just for today, but for life. 

Here’s a preview:

Summer rising

Chicken Chianti

Salmon with avocado sauce

French new potato salad

Char grilled courgettes and aubergines

Gooseberry almond cake with ginger drizzle ice cream

MOST IMPORTANT: I WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU-WHAT HAS HELPED YOU, SPARKED YOU, LIFTED YOUR SPIRITS!

SEE BELOW,  THE VIEW FROM THE COTTAGE.  THIS IS RURAL WALES.

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