I saw Saffron as I left the Supermarket last week. She was helping her daughter load up groceries at the till, wearing shiny wellies and a tea cosy on her head, even though it was bone dry outside. I thought perhaps she was trying to ward off radon gases coming through the soles of her shoes or something. It was always something with Saffron.
So, I'm preparing lots of small dishes tonight; lots of raw, organic vegetables and a dip which she probably won't touch on the grounds that the organic,free range eggs might have come from a farm where 'live stock' was kept, destined for a short life and murdered.
I'd always assumed lentil-crushing extremists like Saffron had disappeared with the '70s. Even the happy hippies I know are quite happy to swallow their own principles when a few toxic air miles will take them away from their jobs to somewhere hot for a couple of weeks. But I think Saffron's principles stem largely from an almost OCD compulsion with cleanliness. The first time I met her, at a slightly run-down toddler group housed in an old church hall and run by a very lovely (and extremely unlikely) old man and his wife, she was discussing cows milk and how it was full of pus and hormones with another young mum. I was doing the rounds, offering her a cup of tea - with milk - from the no doubt tannin and limescale-coated old tea urn. It was not an auspicious start.
We met again because we are both of that generation of mothers who appear to have two families. I often think of mine this way because it suits the way I think now. And, that I have changed so much since I had my first baby nearly thirty years ago. We are not the same people, that young mum and I.
Saffron's older daughter was friends with one of my older sons, Tom. Often, Skyla would slope into our home with her floppy hair and dark-rimmed eyes; and she and Tom would reappear again at dinner time looking starved. And well she might be. Skyla loved nothing more than something out of a packet (rare) or a simple spaghetti bolognese. Her mum made something green which wasn't quite soup and wasn't quite stew. It sounded very healthy, though, and full of iron.
I have been making more juices myself, lately, in a bid to try and get well quicker. My current favourite is Red pepper, carrot and apple. I think Saffron will like this, anyway. I make it usually late afternoon when I'm starting to flag and it perks me up within minutes. The diet of pain killers and anti-biotics I'm on is making me constantly tired. But this helps.
Saffron is Canadian. Her accent is light and almost anglicised. She has dark, tightly-curled hair and that kind of pale white skin that is akin to the underbelly of a fish, I always think (though I'm sure there must be a more prosaic way of putting it. 'Shall I compare thee to the underbelly of a fish' is probably not what we're looking for here). She has small fine features and an almost impish prettiness.
Her family are diverse and scattered and don't seem to have the close, unspoken ties that mine do. Mine rarely claim to be each other's best friend but often seem to link up or meet with some end in mind - even if the motive is just to 'borrow' something from one another. I find it disconcerting to meet these scattered individuals of Saffron's who seem not to know what each other are doing, or even where they might be living. It bothers me.
Saffron is working in a health food shop. She makes soup for the cafe. I hope it isn't the green stuff that Skyla moans about. She tells me her father is very ill in Canada and she wants to go back to see him before he dies, even though they've been estranged for many years. She's started thinking about her roots, about the things she's losing. But she doesn't seem to notice the other things around her that are slipping out of her grasp. Skyla looks to me as if she's been taking something she shouldn't. Her eyes are hooded and sort of fixed. I worry about her. She's changing schools but the reasons seem all wrong somehow. It's as if Saffron is caught in the detail and she's missing the bigger picture. We've all been there at times; I know I have.
So tonight's dinner has an ulterior motive: I want to try and make her see the cards she's holding in her hand before they're blown away. Sometimes things are so very fragile. Perhaps there are many other things which I don't know about going on, but for Skyla's sake I have to try. Teenage angst is hard-enough when you live in a loving, secure environment.
I'm making a simple crumble for pudding. I need something heavy and weighty to count against all the raw stuff. The topping is mainly oats and the stewed apple beneath is as comforting as it gets. I taste a spoonful (...well, essential if you need to know how tart the apples are) and a couple more - obviously with a clean spoon - it is allowed. I've often thought that if you put your heart and soul into your cooking, to relay a message you can't say openly, that somehow it should get through and the answer would simply come back to you. 'Yes.' Don't you think?