Wednesday, 12 March 2014

H is for Hankering

Dear Nigel,

I may have a bone to pick with you this time, Nigel - in fact several bones as it happens. I have a hankering to make your recipe for 'Ras el Hanout Chicken and Spelt' (page 189), but when it comes down to going out shopping I find the ingredients a little elusive to say the least. The pearled spelt I eventually track down in a health food shop, but the chicken wings are unavailable everywhere I go. Perhaps in London with its ethnic diversity it's a different matter but in Ashbourne, anyway, there is no demand for them is seems.

I am beginning to think I might have to substitute a few chicken drumsticks but I can just imagine the comments coming back...'that chicken never flew'...etc Eventually I track some down but even then the butcher says it is for a special order otherwise he wouldn't have had any in either. That said, by the time my guest and I sit down to eat, I know exactly why it has to be wings. There is a claggy stickiness to them that is just so moreish it is worth the hunt. The pearled spelt is a new one on me but it seems to take on the rich flavours as it plumps up, and makes a nice change to normal rice. Another quick and tasty recipe with a waft of Morocco on the plate.

I saw my first Spring lambs this week playing in a meadow, all cotton woolly and new. When they jump it is as if they are tiny puppets on strings being lifted vertically in the air on all four feet. It feels as if it has been a very long winter this year and the first couple of days of real sunshine almost seem unreal. It is warm-enough to eat in the garden on Sunday for the first time. There is lots of over-enthusiasm for these first few rays of sun. Everywhere, it seems, there are tons of pale bare flesh being aired as if a tropical heatwave is on its way.

The good thing is the weather has dried up some of the mud in the meadows and we are less in danger of losing our wellies trying to cross the stile. The rhubarb is shooting up and the flowering currant is about the burst forth. There is an air of Spring around even though there is often a low-hanging mist in the early mornings. As we are high up near the moorlands here it's not surprising. The sun burns it off by mid-morning and the air of mystery surrounding it is lost. The tabby cat stretches out on top of the woodshed as if she is ironed flat with a leg at each corner; maximum surface area soaking up the heat like a little solar panel. She is in her element, drunk on sunshine, with a Cheshire cheese smile going from whisker to whisker. Don't wake me, she says.

My Tom has been away for his University interview, dressed in his suit all dapper, without the apron strings of his mum to tie him down. I think, should I have gone with him after all, despite his protestations? But no, that would be for me. He wants to be independent and confident, without me clucking round him. They offer him a conditional place; perhaps now he'll put some work in...

John has been rotavating the vegetable patch again and a path is going down tomorrow he tells me. Usually by now the seeds are bought and planned out on paper. Why am I being so tardy this year, I ask myself? It is as if I have forgotten a part of myself I left outside last summer and have yet to reclaim and make mine. I start from the house working outwards. The windows wide open, the paths being swept. I remove all the gravel I threw on there to make traction in the ice which never really came this time. It is looking more as if someone lives here, someone who cares. The harsh sun obliterates the windows with their crust of winter grime - another job to do. There is a cleaning woman inside me desperate to get out. I'd better make the most of her - she doesn't come this way often. The vegetable patch can wait a few more days. I hack off some of the dead stuff in the flower bed that I should have done away with last Autumn but didn't. It has ceased to be sculptural and now just looks dank. Every tweak is an improvement. Spirits lighten as fresh winds blow in and the washing dances on the line. Spring is nearly here.



  1. I am astonished that you can't get chicken wings. What are they doing with them one wonders. Here in the Middle East there are trays and trays of them. Very economical and great for a base for stock or a barbecue snack. Pearled spelt is another matter!

    1. Hello Sally,
      It's funny how food is still so localised these days when we're all apparently eating more diversely. Even the woman in Waitrose told me that they'd had them in at one point but taken them off again because of lack of demand. Shame because they tasted lovely and the whole meat for the meal came to 75p so you can't argue with that.
      Take care,