Part #1 – Den’s Story….
You’ll have to wait for Steve’s installment for any news on the garden.
Baking & Making
The squash harvest at MHF put our measley gains from the campsite to shame… Huge Turks Turban pumpkins that you can barely get your arms around, courgettes as big as my thigh, and a variety of other green & yellow squashes of impressive length & girth! And in the poly tunnel, I dicovered bucketfuls of green tomatoes left to go barmy too.
I have made a small dent in the bounty by roasting a few squashes & a huge courgette in a little oil with sage, thyme, onion & garlic. There were quite a few green tomatoes that were split or damaged – these were chopped & roasted with a little oil, garlic, balsamic and basil. When everything was squashy (!) and well cooked, I freed the flesh from the skins (though I didn’t bother doing even that with the green toms, whose skins were so thin), popped the garlic from their roasted sheaths and chucked it all into the food processor. Last night we had the pureed delight hot with our homemade burgers, I made pots of soup for Anita’s lunch and kept some puree for me to spread cold on my rice cakes. Yum!
The remaining kilos of green tomatoes are lined up on the windowsill like some bizarre decorations! November’s project will be to process them all – green tomato chutney ahoy!
Feelings & Musings
October has been a strange month for me – in the UK, missing Steve, Daisy, our land, our friends and Montenegro; and stepping into another world where grown-up networking and job-hunting is my main focus.
Thankfully I am with people I love in a beautiful place and some of the things that anchor me remain the same. I still take Daisy for a walk every day, although this Daisy is a black & white splodged terrier, accompanied by Mutley the chocolate labrador and Minnie the neurotic collie-cross. I still enjoy great home-cooked food – John is an outstanding cook who even stretches to puddings (his chocolate mousse is to die for). His passion is for bread & pasta-making though, so my gluten intolerance has saved me from a continual carb-fest (though he has made bread with 100% spelt flour which is very low in gluten and therefore had to be tasted!). I still enjoy a laugh with my mates over a glass of wine, though the wine is usually Rioja and far superior to anything we could get in Monte for the same price. I still retire each evening to a comfy bed with a good book, but I am very much missing Steve’s warm body beside me.
I am used to promoting our campsite, but I am unused to promoting me. I have had to sell myself to acquaintances old & new – appearing confident, skilled, in control… even when I’m not. At times it’s fun and challenging, at other times terrifying.
As well as a big shift in mental attitude, this trip is physically challenging. I had forgotten what it feels like to sit for hours at a computer or in a car. My back problems which are mostly a distant memory in Monte return with a vengance if I do not discipline myself to keep moving, changing position & having at least 1 long walk a day. I never thought I would say this but I actually miss the endless walking up & down steps that I must do unthinkingly every day back home! Different muscles are aching from walking on flat fields for miles in wellies in the mud though…
Erin Morgenstern’s ‘The Night Circus’ is, as the sleeve notes proclaim: “Dazzling” and “Enchanting”.
It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, fantastical romp and I mean this not in a flippant way; not in a “it’s a lot of silly nonsense & I don’t care about it” way… I do care about it. I care about Bailey and Poppet & Widget and Friedrick and Isobel and most of, I passionately care about Celia, whom even I am a little in love with by the end. Marco strangely compels me less – I care about him by virtue of Celia loving him and vice versa but he doesn’t get under my skin in quite the same way.
It’s beautifully written. Descriptions are not cumbersome or overdone but they are impressively over-the-top in a strangely acceptable way (it sounds mad; you’ll just have to read it to understand). The imagination that created these words is astonishing. I want to live in the world that Ms Morgenstern has conjured and she brings it to life so palpably that you can almost taste its deliciousness! *sigh*
The details in this book are divine – intricate ideas one can barely even dream about are aplenty here but it all works beautifully.
The ending (& beginning?) is very clever, very poignant. I finished it, reluctantly, but with the happy feeling that stories have to keep being told to keep the magic alive…
S J Watson’s thriller was a change of direction and pace, very slow to build.
It was an easy read but I sort of guessed what was going on from the outset and didn’t really care. It had moments of thrill but it lacked atmosphere and didn’t have me on the edge of my seat with wonder & suspense. I’m actually struggling to think what else to say about it so I guess that speaks volumes…
In between networking with ex-colleagues, attending an interview, applying for jobs online, emailing agencies & travelling about for the fun stuff, I’ve been helping things run a little smoother here at MHF. Whether it’s cooking, cleaning, walking the dogs or helping J with Rent-a-Hen business development stuff, I’m trying to repay the enormous debt I always feel to these lovely friends who have been so generous to us over the years. I am so lucky to have a comfy bed and a place to unpack my things for a month or 2, never mind having a home to be part of. J&A and the ‘kids’ (using the term loosely ‘cos they are sooo not – gorgeous grown-ups-to-be more like!) are so kind and welcoming. We eat together, rant & rave together, take the mick, watch X-Factor & Downtown, have some laughs & some strops occasionally too and I feel blessed to be part of this wonderful family.
We managed to fit some fun stuff in & catch up with friends before I left for the UK:
- A lovely boozy late lunch with T and Igor – delicious food, intoxicating bubbles and a real chance to get to know T’s future husband a little better.
- Had Nik over for dinner on one of the rare times he was actually in town.
- Managed to see most of the gang from ‘the other side’ at Cess & Marjan’s BBQ.
- A lovely do at Sladjana’s. The great hostess’ Chicken curry was divine; the wine flowed; the cake was too good to resist and we got into some interesting debates about the development of society as Shana read people’s coffee cups…
Now in the UK, I’ve been lucky enough to have some really good times with friends & family, including:
- A ‘girls night in’ with my Mum and sister Chris – an Indian takeaway, random alcohol from the drinks cupboard until Mum was tipsy and lots of gossiping!
- A reunion with 2 old school friends Becky & Paula, with kids & partners & all. Bex cooked a yummy Boeuf Bourguignon which we washed down with far, far too much red wine. I felt like hell the next day so good job all I had to do was crawl over to the Pettitt-Vines and drink tea. Nik took Hugo & Lil for a shopping trip whilst Mick & I watched the Grand Prix together and the rest of the day was a blur of good food, hot drinks, an open fire and a cosy glow from being part of the family for a day.
- A lovely day with my parents, incorporating a walk with Dad & Sammy in the morning and Mum & Sammy in the afternoon. I got them hooked on the BBC iPlayer too.
- An evening with the W-B’s, with Matt working his usual culinary wonders. This time it was lamb rack (pink & moist) with rich, creamy potatoes and crisp veg and this was on top of a delightfully fresh fishy appetiser from Charlotte. Bubbles for the starter and red wine with the main. Nowadays we’re sensible enough to stop short of overindulging as we all agree we’re too old for hangovers, but we still chatter on into the wee hours catching up with the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahhs’ in each others lives…
- Lunch in Richmond with ex-boss, now dear friend, Alison & her beautiful adopted daughter, Rose. It was wonderful to see the love between them, to see the joy they have brought to each other. Alison’s life has been transformed in the 4+ years since last we met and I listened in awe to tales of the incredible journey she’s been on.
- Sunday roast in Northampton with the Barnetts: the best crackling I’d had for years; apple crumble & custard that was crispy and soggy in all the right places and most delicious of all, time spent with these lovely friends.
- A ‘Homes & Gardens’ tour which began in Derby with ex-colleague & friend Edith admiring the incredible house she & her husband had designed & had built. It was striking, classically modern (if there can be such a thing?), spacious & brilliantly concieved. The plentiful windows kept the house flooded with natural light and provided stunning views, across fields to the front and into the garden at the back where purply trellis glowed against green lawns, punctuated by a riot of colour even in October. We then travelled on to Matlock for lunch Chez Carrie, to admire an equally impressive but totally different home: a renovation of 3 cottages. It was a heady mix of ‘ye olde’, traditional farmhouse cosyness and modern style and the attention to detail was stunning. I brought Pumpkin Soup (surprise, surprise), Edith brought Date & Walnut cake and Carrie provided endless cups of tea, fresh bread and stacks of yummy cheese. We gossiped, did some business networking and thoroughly enjoyed being together.
- Dinner in Churchover with Kate & Roly whose local pub has an Italian chef. I had steak in a rich sauce with chips and veg washed down with some cider. Then it was onto the village social club for a glass of Port with the locals and back to The Old Stores for more Port & giggles & gossiping. I slept like a log that night. Breakfast was smoked salmon & scrambled egg followed by a hearty walk in the country by which time we’d worked up an appetite for the Pumpkin Soup.
Apart from a few wet & miserable days, the weather’s been OK. A shock to the system after Monte’s mildness of course, but it could be worse! The fiery colours of leaves burning out and long walks through wide open fields full of horizons make the chilly temperatures bearable. We’ve had some cracking Autumn days with bright sunshine that zaps everything with a seasonal intensity: the skies are vividly cold steel blue; the green of the grass glows so deeply it almost makes you wince and shimmering about everywhere are the reds & golds & oranges of leaves going by…
Me & the dogs regularly see squirrels, rabbits, pheasants & deer on our daily walks, with a Kite or 2 hovering gracefully above.
There are so many photos I would love to have taken to visually share my October with you. However our sole camera remained in Monte with Steve so let’s hope he’s got some interesting pics for us!