We have baked a lot of things from Nigella’s Christmas book this week. And a few from Delia, but it seems somehow much more lush and decadent to do it Nigella-style, complete with frosted grapes and hundreds of tealights. Delia somehow seems, well, just a little bit STRAIGHT in comparison. Yule logs, Christmas tree cookies, sickly cupcakes and even sicklier cornflake wreaths for which you need asbestos fingers to deal with moulding burning hot marshmallow into festive shapes.
Baking is normally at the most a once-or-twice-a-month activity at Ashtree Cottage, mainly due to the utter chaos and hectic nature of the lives we lead. I moved to the country from London twelve years ago, leaving behind both The Mothership (Peter Jones) and lots of wonderful friends most of whom were and still are completely bonkers. The countryside offered (so I thought), a slower and less-propelled way of life.
What I hadn’t reckoned on was the walking. Or lack of it. Car to the station, car to school, car to shops, car to friends. It’s great if I want to walk around a field for an hour with no particular destination in mind, trying to train the ‘puppy’ to leave pheasants alone until he’s told he can have a go, but when it comes to needing to DO anything – the motor is the only way. My car operates on such a deep-litter system due to its being used so much that it even shocked the binman, who I did try to bribe to empty it out, but as he pointed out to me, it would’t fit on the tipper. Otherwise, he said, he’d have been pleased to have a go.
Other rural delights: a dead rat outside the backdoor
Bearing in mind that when I first moved here I called the RSPCA to come and deal with a rabbit break-dancing on the lawn (they told me to put a box on it and call them 24 hours later) this was a tough one to deal with. Twelve years later and many decapitated plants later, I’m kind of getting the hang of this pest-thing, and sneer as efficiently as a local whenever some townie mentions ‘Peter Rabbit’ and ‘fluffy’ in the same sentence.
Back to the baking: who are you, inquired The Pirate as he walked in to a particularly flour-filled kitchen, and what have you done with that person I know….
It was all due to….
Having spent so many years moaning that I missed the buzz and energy of the town (obviously not that much because I’m still here), the isolation that we can get here is lovely. Snowy woods mean that I can finally see the way (I have no sense of direction), and crunchy footprints are evocative of…. well, I don’t know what, but something, because it keeps niggling away at me that I know and love that sound. Maybe I was an Eskimo in another life.
So, we tracked. We did birds, horses, fox, and most excitingly, this three-footed thing:
We were so excited; we came rushing back and consulted all sorts of books. Finally, with the help of those Great Twitter-Trackers in the Ether, we established that it was, yes, a rabbit – apparently they bounce with their hind legs together. Well, I never knew that. So not as exotic as the suggested oryx, but still an adventure.
As there’s a lot of dependence on small independent businesses locally, we haven’t had the food shortages reported elsewhere. The farmer can walk to the dairy, and the dairy is only a mile away from the shop. Rosie in the pub makes the most delicious ham, and the newsagent has fresh bread daily from the bakery nearby.
So I’ve stopped grumbling about the ‘bad’ bits, and started to appreciate what we do have. Space, and this week, time.