Saturday, 14 May 2011

Lovage and lager.

This week, I am too angry about the Conservative plans to ruin education to speak of them. I am also tired of arbitrating child disputes ("His leg is on MY BIT of the sofa!" "No, your ARM came over my bit!" etc. etc.) to even try to summon up some will to be topical. So I retreat, as I do in real life, to my garden.

When we moved into this house, I acknowledged that the back garden would be home to large plastic toys, trampolines, and battered, footballed plants and chickens. Plus husbands' van, car and implements. It's 250 foot of brave, hardy flowers and scared grass. But the front garden is MINE. I inherited gravel. It was two different colours (pink and white) admittedly, with a few sad shrubs, and it was north rather than south facing. It gets the sun afternoon and evenings, meaning I can prop a chair there and watch the world go by. It is 40ft square of MINE. I killed/demolished the following: boring red shrub, terrible sharp grasses that were pretending to be pampas, and some sad looking weilegias. In their place, I have let the forget-me-nots and lupins seed like mad, planted lavender, aquilegia, geranium, and mints. I fancied an old fashioned herb plot, so in went Rosemary, Sage, Hyssop (puts cats off) , Catmint (attracts cats), (cat stalemate) Rue, Fennel, Valerian, and Feverfew, all of which clump, self seed and look after themselves. I also added Angelica and Lovage. I had no idea what they did, what they were for, or indeed, what they looked like. I only knew they were old herbs that even the Elizabethans had used. Angelica was a sweetener pre-sugar, and I knew that the Romans had planted Lovage here. I knew this because I used to do 2 lessons a year with my year 7's cooking Roman food to Roman recipes (honey buns, YES. Fermented fish gut sauce, NO). I could never find any Lovage in the shops.

And lo, this spring, they emerged. Within 4 weeks, they were easily the biggest things in the garden. Now, the Angelica has overtaken the Lovage in height, easily 6 foot tall and 3 foot wide with huge football sized flowers, magnificent segmented leaves. It is an impressive plant. Cow Parselys' huge inbred cousin. The Lovage is smaller, only 4 foot tall, but it has yet to put up its' flower spike. It is a lovely, green/blue color, and no less impressive for its' modesty. I love them. People ask all the time what they are. They assume they are exotic, foreign. No, merely old outdated, unfashionable elderly plants. I love them for it. But I have no idea what to do with them. Just like particular relatives.

I have yet to find a use for Angelica. BUT: Lovage is more approachable. Early appearing (March! the earliest leaves you can find), and late leaving (November last year), it is a hardworking herb. The flowers are scented, leaving caper like buds which can be eaten. It has many uses. Medicinally it acts as a mild antiseptic when made into a solution. It makes a tea which is a mild diuretic (makes you wee) and is a liver tonic. It freezes well. You eat the leaves, like any herb, but you can also blanch and eat the young stalks, like asparagus. All this I found from the few references in my tomes. I found NO recipes. NO description of actual taste. The only recipes I had were from my edition of Apicus, the Roman who blighted my year 7 cookery class. So, when it emerged this Spring, I trod towards it warily. I picked a bunch (reckless! I only needed, like, 2 leaves), and retreated to the kitchen with the kids.

"Here, kids, squash these leaves and sniff them".


"Ewwww, you are trying to make me sniff CELERY!" (Celery is the DEVILS WORK in this house. Not only is it stringy and crunchy at the same time, it doesn't even taste of anything except horrid, as daughter says. This was going to be a tough sell.)

In taste it resembles a peppery celery, with a lemony chilli aftertaste, mixed with what I can only describe as a smoked mint. I think it would lend itself enormously to barbecue rubs in place of the ubiquitous celery salt. I have tried it in tzatziki (fabulous), minestrone soup (excellent) and in salads (fab). A little goes a LONG way, it is so strong you only need a teaspoon in a vat of soup to flavour it with celery inplace of 4 stalks of the real stuff. Once the leaves get old (round about now till Autumn) you need the merest smidgeon of them, in salads just crush them and wipe the bowl. That's how powerful they are. The scent remains on your hands the way garlic does. Frankly, after chopping a load, my hand stank. But in a good way.

I think i'll be using it in earthy type dishes; it'll suit green lentils and potatoes. So far i've added it to minestrone in place of the actual celery, and here it has worked beautifully, saving my kids the hassle of fishing the bits of celery out, without tasting too strongly. I have found a Sophie Grigson recipe for Lovage soup which I will try out soon. If any of you live nearby and want to try, come get some. Otherwise, if you have a patch that's empty, shade, part shade, any sort of soil, I urge you to grab a Lovage plant. And the lager? That's for me, now. I'm a lot calmer after typing herb love, and may be able to sup a few pints without resorting to smashing my local Conservative club (they won, again. Nobody here votes, apart from farmers and elderly people who do well out of them. The rest of us, the young and middle aged of the village, will just have to wait till we are 80 to get anything, seeing as all the youth clubs, day centres, toddler groups, and Surestart have gone. 80 is the average age of the local council). No, stop. Lager. And Lovage. Till next post. Herb it.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Let myself go? Or go for myself?

I have been pondering my make-up bag. Or rather, what is left of it. My mascara has given up the ghost, past even the "add a little water and shake hopefully" stage. I own two eyeshadows from my wedding last year, and one face powder from same. One liquid eyeliner, currently still working if you shake it hard enough and add water. No foundation. I was too tight to buy something full sized that I never wear normally, so I begged little taster pots from the heavily dragged up ladies in John Lewis cosmetics department in Cambridge for the wedding day. I moisturise with leftover baby lotion and E45. I use only oilatum soap to wash my face and nothing else. I do not tone. I do not scrub. I have no ungents, no salts, no hair accessories. I no longer dye my hair (see previous posts as to why: i'm BALDING!), and thanks to my thyroid, have no body hair to speak of that needs tweaking, trimming or waxing. In short I am an ad man's nightmare. Whenever I respond to the YouGov surveys on buying patterns for womens products, they always ask if i'm sure. Yes, I am basically, economically, not a woman. Apart from tampons. And yes, I do resent paying for them, but I simply am not prepared to do the rag/mooncup thing.

Flashback to aged 19. My make up bag contained cheap everything, but a lot of it. Tons, oodles, of eyeliners for that just-got-up-frankly-scary look. Lipsticks. Pink hair dye. A lot of attention was paid to matching eyes to tights or leggings, which were lurid.

Onto late 20's- late 30's. The work years. Proper foundation, eyeliner, nude lipsticks. But most of all suits with killer heels to give me enogh height to reach the top of the blackboard. And be taller than Year 7's. But I always put it on, because even when you are re-enacting the Battle of Hastings, control in the classroom is much easier if your nose is not shiny. The vicious gossip of Year 9 girls is a big incentive to look reasonable. At this point I was spending a fortune on Weleda organic stuff that made not one jot of difference to my skin. I wore suits that were natty and had an extensive wardrobe just for going out (as opposed to now, in which I have an extensive wardrobe for walking to playgroup, which is the same as the wardrobe I have for going out the two times I have been out since kids).

So what did it? Why stop now? Kids, of course. Now, it's them first, a barrage of "Get dressed! YES now! Put the chickens DOWN!" and arguing the toss about the sartorial desirability of wellies and tutu with daughter whilst son tries to sneak out without cleaning his teeth and pick the chickens up again. I run through the shower, whizz the teeth, blob the saddened mascara on, and i'm off. I only do the mascara to make it look like i've got eyes. My night time regime is to wash my face and then go to bed, thankfully, sometimes remembering to scrape the old mascara off. Now I spend nothing. My shampoo is Alberto Balsam. My moisturiser is what is left over from the baby lotion stock I failed to use on daughter. (Wonder if I can use Sudocrem?) I have had the same lipbalm for years ( a big pot of vaseline. Not glam, but neverending).
Is it slummy? Nobody cares. Kids don't . Husband doesn't notice the difference, he's frankly grateful for any romantic attention and wouldn't care if I looked like Prince William. If I smelt, it would be a problem, but i'm clean. My skin is, apart from hormones, better. Who loses out? Make up companies, is about it. I am really no different, only older. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe I should spurn the jeans and t-shirts and rush out and get a Kate-A-Like dress so I can be Be-Yoo-Ti-ful and snag a Royal. Maybe I should spend the housekeeping on lipstick and skincare and not beer and playmobil. But maybe, just maybe, I'm right. Maybe (whisper it) women do not need to have a bathroom full of ungents to be women. Maybe they don't need to spend the equivalent of the GDP of Burma to be pretty. Next time you are having an angsty moment about leaving the house without a full face on, and looking Kate-licious, take a look at the mums on the school run. I bet you, 50% of them are wearing minimal makeup, applied in a rush, and possibly even a pajama top under that coat. I draw the line at slippers, mind.

Below are some of the natural, cheap, cheap, cheap things I do. I have uber-sensitive skin, a result of thyroid medication, and anything with parabens in, I avoid, as they can exacerbate the condition. So, I do it myself, as it is pretty much impossibel to buy anything paraben free without spending a million pounds. They all work, I promise. Although you should avoid the last if you have a strawberry allergy.

  • Top cheapo money saving body-scrub: Olive oil, rock salt. Bit of essential oil if you fancy it. Can be kept in a jar by the bath for ages, and is very cheap. The Sanctuary chareg a fortune for this. It costs pence.

  • Top cheapo bathiness niceness: Oats. That's it. Shove some in a little muslin bag (or baby muslin), let it run in the tap, leave it in the bath. Lovely softness to the skin will result. Also great for excema.

  • Top cheapo facemask: Tumeric and oats. Soak oats in milk till they go squidgy. Add tumeric, 1/2 teaspoon. Spread on face. Look like monster. Wash off, with nice clean face underneath.

  • Top cheapo all round skin thing: 1000mg of Evening Primrose oil every night. This is the best way to better skin and hair. From inside. Although don't use me as an example because I have no hair and my skin is dreadful. But if I didn't take this, i'd be worse.

  • Top cheapo body moisturiser: Shea butter. Not the posh expensive stuff, the big block of pure stuff you can pick up wholesale. You can source the stuff at 15 quid a litre if you look, and a litre will last, as mine did, with a daily whoosh of it all over, for just over a year. (I'm 5ft tall. If you're 6ft, reduce that time. I am quite broad, mind). Better than little poncy pots of spenny smellies.

  • Top cheapo hair deep conditioner: an egg, a tablespoon of olive oil, 1/2 a cucumber, blended in a blender, bunged on hair, clingfilmed head. Leave for 15 mins. Rinse off with tepid water (you do NOT want to be washing scrambled egg out of your hair), and lovely soft shiny hair is the result.

  • Top cheapo facial moisturiser: One tablespoon each of Olive oil, coconut oil, vegetable oil. Two tablespoons of mashed/blended strawberries. Mix together, pop into a little pot, and leave it in the fridge for about 24 hours. It will keep for about 2 weeks, it really does work beautifully on your face. Unless you have a strawberry allergy.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A peaceful poo. Sort of.

In the past 4.5 years, I have managed to go to the loo, by myself, about 20 times. I am counting within that the time in hospital with ds and dd, post birth, when they were too little to move and a midwife sat with them while I staggered off and did a painful wee, the few times i've been out without the children, and my hen night and wedding days. Aside from that, I am always joined by two small people who seem to enjoy disrupting my attempt at a peace evacuation, and this had led me to patent my "Waiting Till the Last Minute Then Placating Them With Sweets" method, which at least allows me to do it in silence, if not alone, as they chew. If they haven't got a sweet to chew on, I can place a good bet on one of the following happening:

  • A fight. As soon as I am mid-movement, one of them will hit the other, safe in the knowledge that I can't get them.

  • One of them will suddenly say "I need a poo" and say this, increasing in pitch until I have finished. It's really relaxing.

  • They will ask questions about anatomy that I am really not ready to answer yet.

  • They will want to look at my final result and discuss whether it will get down the pan or not (charming, I know, but an obsession since an unfortunate episode onboard a Calais Ferry, where a large lady left behind a deposit we tried, and failed, to flush away, resulting in flooding that my son has never, ever, forgotten. )

  • One of them will insist on spraying deoderant and comment on stinkiness. Weirdly, they don't do this with their father, possibly because they can't get up the stairs without a mask when he's on board.
They never, ever, come to think of it, go into the bathroom with their father. Wise children.
All of this was having an effect on me in terms of lack of privacy. I don't want to have to Derren Brown with the tampons. I don't want to have a 4 year old saying "don't strain, mummy" in my ear. I want to sit on the loo and read my way through Second World War books, like husband. Some of you may be sneering, and saying, shut the door, you fool. Be strict. I have tried this. I have locked the door. I have explained about privacy. Son and daughter now get privacy. I am ordered to leave the room, and am summoned back by a stately "I've been!" to do the job. I , on the other hand, do not get the same rights. If the doors are locked, it's no holds barred fighting, shouting, screaming, yelling, weeping, in much the same way that being on the telephone transforms them into little beasts of a high decibel level. It's even harder to poo when it sounds like a massacre outside the locked door, and you hear one of them shouting "Please, Mummy, he's really hurting me".

So I was astonished yesterday morning to find an empty bathroom confronting me. No-one followed me upstairs. No-one stood outside the door. They just waved me off. In retrospect, I should have realised. Because now the ante is upped. Now it's not all about how they can annoy me for 5 minutes as I poo, it's about what they can do in the five minutes while I poo. Here (see picture) is the result of the first private poo I have had in this house. Yes, five minutes to get the chair, open the cupboard, get the paints out and give the toy cars a very interesting paint job. It's a one off, I thought. This morning, again, alone, I descended the stairs to find an entire packet of Shreddies inside my children (well, about 2/3 of a pack. 1/3 was trodden into the rug). This afternoon, I came downstairs to find them frozen, mid opening of the Cupboard of Joy, full of forbidden treats that MIL brings over and I confiscate, to ration out over the next Millenium.
Frankly, i'll have to be at work to get a peaceful poo.