Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Bullace, Sloe, gin and Tories.

I am avoiding a "my son went to school" post because I would cry. I am not even posting a picture of him looking like a shrunken person in a uniform way too big, being all brave. I am leaving that till I feel able to cope without weeping. Suffice to say that this week, instead, I turn to Mothers Solace (aka Mothers Ruin), gin. And a jolly good reason for gin, the Tories (aka as a Mothers Ruin).

The soon-to-be-built on land at the rear of my house is my foraging ground. Last week, I rooted round the old drove road and picked up a good 3 ice-cream tubs of sloes and bullace. Apparently, the bullace has a sweeter taste, but really, they are much of a muchness. I have seen bullace that are red and orange, but most are basically sloe like. That is to say, small, purple/bluish  (with a blueberry lustre tinged with darker shades), slightly larger than a big blueberry, but more ovoid, and with a lovely blue bloom on until rubbed. If your sloe find has thorns and is a shrub sort of size, with fruit close to the branch (and usually, the thorns: buggerit), then it's a sloe. If your find is small tree sized, and thornless, with the berries in more of a cluster, then it's a bullace. You can usually find them alongside each other and in any good sized hedgerow. Some purists say you should wait until the first frost to pick, arguing that a sloe gin or brandy made with frosted sloes or bullace is of a deeper palate. I say, bugger that, it's got to mature anyway for months, and I need it in time for Christmas, i'm buggered if I can afford many Xmas presents this year, a small bottle of Bullace gin is your lot. So, I pop them in the freezer overnight and purchase a great huge bottle of cheap gin. I am not bothering with "posh" gin, although some people will tell you it matters. For me, the taste of fruit and sugar means I can overlook the quality of gin.

Next, get yourself a bucket with a lid, a big pickle jar, or if you are me, a MASSIVE plastic jar which once held over 1,000 gherkins (thoroughly washed and sterilised. Don't ask,it was once one of daughters eating jags). For every 75cl of gin, add 500 g of sloes or bullace, and 250g of sugar. Some people like more, some less, taste it in a month and add more if you want. Smoosh the defrosted berries with the sugar with the end of a rolling pin. Add the gin. Lid on, and shake. Shove it in a dark cupboard. For the first week or so, shake it every day. Then every week. When it's ready (when the sugar has gone, it's a nice gloopy texture and dark colour), decant it carefully through a jelly bag into your chosen bottle. Give it to someone you like or drink it yourself.

Where do the Tories fit in? Well, their recent "leaked" (for which, read : judiciously thrown out info to test the waters) documents on plans to woo female voters make me need a gin quicker than mine is maturing. Shorten the Summer holidays? For why? To urge mums back to work. It annoys employers. No need to ask *them* to change, natch. Fiddle about with benefits a bit more? Why not just give back the ones you've nicked? Or, how's this? How about you stop thieving money from the comprehensives to pay for "Free" schools, so every child can get a fair whack? How about you stop shutting down reading schemes, Bookstart, libraries, Surestart? How about you stop slicing school bus services? How about you stop cutting to the bone those public sector jobs that women actually do? How about you stop presiding over one of the biggest periods of female unemployment since the 1980s? How about you explain what is happening to those women who now no longer get child benefit, and thus to NI payments that were linked to that?  How about not penalising women who are carers, or mothers of the disabled? How about not shutting or cutting to the bone special needs services? Or services for the elderly? (It's mums who care for kids and elderly relatives, after all). And it goes on..... and on.... Tories. The party of really hating women and thinking that they're too thick to notice. Pour yourself a gin and have a think. If you were one of those women who voted them in, take a look. Better off? Thought not. Every woman is allowed an error. Well do I remember my mum voting for Thatcher because she thought she'd be better off under a woman. Nope. A Tory is a Tory, and even the women are men. Raise your glasses to a clearer sight next election. Before it's too late.

Monday, 5 September 2011

The long walk to school.

I live in the metaphorical big toe of the village/town. (I say it's a village, people who were born here say it's a TOWN). I am as far as you can be from where anything else is. My walk to school/playgroup/ a corner shop with something in it takes 40 minutes (what IS IT with the only "handy shop" by me? 2 copies of the Daily Mail and some year old packets of oregano is NOT A SHOP). And that is with one kid on a bike and another yardarmed into a buggy. Without those handy wheels, it's an hour.

And so I have been pondering the value (or hell) of the walk to school/playgroup.

I like it. In fact, I love it. Not only are my kids not going to turn into those little fattie kids that get out of the cars being driven up to the schoolgate by HUMAN DUVETS WITH EYES (Yep, that's what some of 'em look like), but I actively enjoy the walk. It is more than a walk. It is a period in the day that is, once we are out of the doors, (and we get there with much ravening and shouting) is a pause of quiet, of conversation, of wondering. We know the seasons. We spot the insects, the individual snail, the errant poppy. We know when each tree is budding, dropping, or letting growing something we can half-inch and eat. We spot the same people every day, the postman (or lady, and she is a lady), the lorry drivers, the tractor driver (we are rural), the same Suzuki GSX and Yamaha RX, at the same time every day. It gives us a sense of motion, of belonging, of, for the kids, security. This will happen, this is where I am , I know where I live.

More than that, it's when we chat. We discuss why red and black ants don't get along, why we don't have rings like Saturn, why a GSX is better (or not) than an RX. It's when thinsg pop up, who said what, why he/she is worrying, why do we do this not this? And it gives me leave to answer while we get to the wall that both children MUST walk on. It is on the walk to school that a "Mum, here is a flower for you" can happen. Or a sudden stop while they both look at an aeroplane, and I marvel at them.

On the walk, we discuss the hideous deaths that can await the unwary child on a ROAD. We stop,look, listen and then DO IT AGAIN because this is Fenland, and people drive crazy. Son has learnt to bike, daughter to scoot. They have both perfected the walk-semi-run that was the mark of my childhood with my nan, an epic fast walker. (My other half remarks that I am the fastest walker known to man). We overtake slow people.

Of course, the way back home when they're both knackered, is utterly, utterly, shit and 70 minutes of screaming, yelling nightmare that is onyl alleviated by the administration of flapjacks every 50 yards.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

Pre-School Detox, here we come, and no, it's not wee i'm drinking.

Oh, but i've been a lazy arse this holiday. Laying in until 7, letting the kids stay up till 8pm. Lolling round in pajamas until lunchtime, and sitting chewing the fat with friends while their and mine ran round screaming, flinging mud. Sometimes with an unreasonably early glass of wine. So this week is detox week. Detox from that enjoyable lack of time pressure, and practice hauling me and mine out of bed again, shovelling breakfast down them and shouting "Come ON! COME ON!". Back to the grind and no drinking on a schoolnight. Because i'll have to be up at 6 and out of the house by 8 which is no fun with a hangover, even a mild one (although i've never tried it still drunk.....) Plus, (whisper it) the 6 weeks off the 8 mile round walk to playgroup and back twice, sometimes 4 times a day, along with generous self servings of wine has resulted in my arse being not only lazy but bigger.
So, it's probably a good thing i'll be back to spending the whole day walking back and forth in drizzle soon. But really, what am I going to drink? Non alcoholic beer is shit, just as calorific with no pay-off in fun.  And I hate fake alcohol drinks, as much as I hate that vegetarian bacon that pretends to be bacon. Just don't even pretend, because we all know you really, really, want to get drunk/ eat pig. You can't fake it. So I have decided on proper detox drinking, drinking stuff that will not only taste nicer than non-alcoholic wine or beer, but will actually detox me by helping me. Alright, some have sugar in, but hey, I can't have NO FUN AT ALL.

First up is mint and lemonbalm cordial. This is delicious with tonic water and would probably be really, really lovely with gin, so i've made enough to last me out my month in purgatory,leaving some over for a gin fest afterwards. It is simplicity itself to make.

Get yourself 50g of mint and lemonbalm. I did 30 g mint, 20 lemonbalm. Smoosh it up with 300g of white sugar with  a pestle and mortar if you are feeling like you'd need a PROPER drink DAMMIT, or use a processor till you get mint/sugar pesto. Pour over 300 ml of boiling water, stir, leave till cold. Then sieve out the minty stuff, leaving you with a liquid in a pan, stir till any remaining sugar is gone, then bring to the boil for 2 minutes. Bottle, and cool. Add to tonic water and drink. Lovely. Lasts for a month in the fridge. My nan, and most similar recipes, added green food colouring, because, in truth, the cordial without it looks like wee, but I didn't have any, and I don't care what I drink. It's doing me good. Mint is great for stomach calming and menstrual pain, as well as being handy for stopping wind. Fab! And the lemonbalm is anti-viral, lowers blood pressure, and acts as a calming herb, being slightly soporific. It's also noted for its' anti-histamine properties., If , like me, you are hypothyroid, note that lemonbalm is known to reduce TSH levels, and as such, can be handy on those days when you know your synthetic thyroxine just isn't doing its' job.  And when you're done, don't throw away the green mush, which will have some sugar granules in it, most likely. Use it for a facial mask and then scrub, as mint and lemonbalm are good skin toners, and the sugar will be a gentle scrub. There, i've saved you money, and given you the chance to trick people into thinking you're drinking wee.

Next up is Tangerine Barley Water.This is packed with vitamin C and also has the added benefit of barley, which not only lowers cholesterol, but helps weight loss (apparently). Drinking barley water is an old cure for skin problems. It contains a lot of selenium (which is good news for autoimmune disease sufferers, as selenium is indicated in helping to reduce the severity of autoimmune attacks), and pretty much all your niacin requirements for a day. This drink tastes yummy with tonic water or plain water, and I imagine would make a lovely variation of the gimlet.........Ah. Gin. How I miss you and it's only been a few days.
This recipe makes a slightly concentrated version of barley water, so you don't need to use much. It keeps for a month after bottling, and all the usual precauations apply with regard to bottling stuff. Don't kill yourself with bad hygiene.

You will need 3 juicy tangerines, 1 juicy lemon. Take off the zest and put it into a bowl. Then squeeze all the juice into another bowl, and strain to remove pith and pips. Meanwhile, boil up 85g of pearl barley, boil for 2 mins, drain. Add 1 pint of clean water, bring to boil, and add thr zest. Simmer for 45 minutes. I like to add a cardomon pod to the water too, but this is optional. Then, you want that barley water, so strain it into a pan, and don't , like I did the first time, tip it down the sink in an idiot moment. Add 300g of sugar to it, dissolve. Then add the juice from your tangerines and lemons, bring to the boil, boil for 2 minutes, and bottle. Easy!

And it doesn't look as much like wee.

So, I embrace the sober life, for a few weeks at least, and if I don't lose some of my arse I shall be most put out.