Bowl in hand, I wander slowly along the hedgerow, seeking out the freshest (and cleanest!) nettle tips and a handful of the brightest Jack-by-the-hedge leaves. Cooked briefly, the nettles lose their sting and taste like spinach, and Jack-by-the-hedge certainly lives up to its other name of garlic mustard.
Never mind that my ultimate destination is the little veg patch at the bottom of the garden where I’ve planted lettuce and radish and have my eye on some juicy thinnings. Never mind that these fresh greens are destined to be mixed into a bowl of spaghetti and cheese gathered from the supermarket and not from the wild. (But if there was such a thing as a spaghetti tree I would plant it, and a cheese tree would be worth its weight in gold!)
Never mind, then, that my meal won’t be authentically prehistoric. Even with the modern additions, collecting these leaves from the hedge connects me to a way of life that feels right and stirs up echoes of a past I’d like to visit.
But I think I’d want to come back to the present too, if only for the cake!
I may be chopping an onion but these are tears of happiness. Everything is back to normal.
A few days working away from home could seem quite attractive sometimes: no meals to cook; no cleaning to do; the ability to focus on the job at hand without feeling torn in several different directions; the possibility of whole conversations without anyone mentioning computer games or Greek myths or superheroes.
And it’s true that the return home can be a bit shaky. Aside from the happiness of seeing the family again, it’s a shock to have to deal with the unpacking, the mountain of laundry I seem to have brought home with me (I’m sure I didn’t wear that many clothes), the meal that everyone is somehow expecting me to produce for dinner, the two school trips requiring packed lunches that we all seem to have forgotten about, and whatever this week’s boyish obsession happens to be.
But it’s the routine and the regularity and the sheer normality of home that makes it such a special place to be. Once the bags are put away and everything’s settled down, there is something very right about standing in the kitchen, in my usual spot, watching the knife in my hand slice through the shiny skin of a red onion. I’m home. This is where I should be.
Some years I’m inspired by the glowing red globes of the tomato mountain spilling out of the greenhouse and into the kitchen, and I happily cook up pots of delicious tomato chilli jam. (Fantastic with sausages, cheese – pretty much anything, in fact.)
This year, despite the glowering and the threats from the tomatoes every time I walk into the kitchen, the cupboard remains bare of any tomato-related preserves, and I’m refusing to feel guilty. Everything is seasonal, and I’m sure my kitchen goddess persona (ha ha) will return another day, another season. For now, she’s frolicking in other pastures. Or something.
A friend told me recently that she’d been inspired by my blog. Delighted as I was, I laughed out loud when she said she’d been inspired to not work at home! She’d had her season of doing that and now she needed to go out to work and leave the domestic stuff behind. And I completely understand that. While I’ll not be leaving my haven of domesticity, I’ll let the preserve-making slide and enjoy the late sunshine instead. This season won’t last forever.
I look out at the abundant harvest waiting in the garden: French beans, courgettes, carrots, beetroot, and more.
I walk to the freezer drawer and take out fish fingers, frozen peas, frozen sweetcorn, and frozen bread (home made, but not by me).
Some days we can’t even look up at our ideals, let alone reach for them.
And that’s ok. Tomorrow is another day.
Besides, nobody complains about fish fingers with the same ferocity as they complain about beetroot.
Not secrets of success. Not ways to ‘make it’. Those secret things you do during your working day that you keep to yourself. Like writing a blog when you should be doing ‘real work’…
Do you secretly drink a dozen cups of coffee every day rather than the six you admit to with pretended shame?
(I don’t drink coffee – because I don’t like it, not through any sense of virtue – but don’t ask about my tea consumption. I wouldn’t want to have to lie to you.)
Do you sometimes make yourself a delicious lunch that nobody else in the family would eat, just because you can?
(I’m waiting for mine to cook as we speak…check back in a day or two and I’ll let you further in to that particular secret.)
Or maybe your secrets are less fun:
Being unable to refuse work even when you don’t want it and don’t have time for it?
Working every hour of the day and skipping lunch because you took on too much and won’t give in?
(I’m much too greedy ever to skip lunch but lunch is too often a snatched affair swallowed in five minutes between jobs. But one of my secrets is that I always read while eating it, even if it’s just a page or two. I like to think it keeps me sane. Mostly it just makes a mess of all my books.)
I’ve shared some of mine. What are your little secrets?