Tonight we are having 'Lamb with tomato, ginger and basil' (page 123). It is a simple supper with thick juicy lamb steaks and a lovely fresh-tasting dressing on top. Just right for days like today when there are better things to be done in the garden than spending ages over a hot stove. I take the cherry tomatoes, fresh root ginger and basil and put them in the blender. The mustard seeds take little time in a hot pan to crackle and pop. With salt and olive oil it becomes a vibrant but balanced dressing. It tastes super fresh and reminds me, with a slap on the hand, that some things - usually all things - are better made fresh; when I take out the bottle of bought salad dressing from the fridge each time. I buy a good product, but tasting this I know there is simply no comparison whatsoever.
I go to the fridge to fetch the lamb steaks. It sits in the porch next to the coat rack, because the kitchen here at the cottage is tiny. As I close the fridge door I glance down to pat my old dog on the head and all I see are a line of wellies. The space beneath the Coat Rack is filled once more, and there is no nuzzling wet nose to greet me, no hopeful eyes wondering if it's time for a walk up the meadows.
It is two weeks now since I had to take Poppy to the vet for that last time. I'm getting slowly used to the sound of silence echoing around me. She was an old dog, supremely lively and healthy to the end; only her grey whiskers gave her away as being other than a lively pup. She loved to swim down in the river at Milldale and wander about with a stick the size of a gate post in her mouth, lolling happily in the sun until she had chewed it into twiglets for the crows to line their nests.
I knew her time had come when she suddenly came out covered in lumps all over, too many to operate on, even if that had been on the cards. When she stopped eating altogether I knew it was only time, yet still she woke each morning wagging her tail and wanting to be out in the fields. It's a fine line knowing where quality of life lies. I hoped each day I would know when the time was right - not too little and not too much. I hoped she would tell me herself with her eyes.
Animals teach you dignity, I think. They don't let emotion cloud their view of the world. As long as she could muster the strength she wanted to be out enjoying chasing the smells, reading the lie of the land - the hidden travellers, the unseen dramas.
And animals teach you humanity. I knew that the day had come when she came over to each one of us at breakfast to get a stroke. The girls said goodbye before they went off to school. Then she lay on the hearth rug with her chin on the floor and we talked; - about the dramas we'd seen through together; the pain and suffering that every family weathers at some stage of its existence. And through it all she'd always been there for me, helping me take one day at a time, building me up, bringing me back to life once more with courage and optimism and belief in the future. Molly's last words (and she's only eight) to Poppy were 'Thank You'. It says it all.
So I took her to the vet and lay down on the floor with my head on hers and stroked her ears as she drifted off into another world. The space beneath the coat rack catches me, now and then. Sometimes I go to open the door to let her out. And then I remember. The postman calls and I don't notice. There is no one to eat the scraps that the kids leave on their plates.
I take the lamb steaks and season them with sea salt and a hefty grinding of black pepper. I need the pepper, I think, right now. And wine to toast a good friend.
I am collecting together my recipes in a new book - a blank, unopened new book. Recipes for home use only which say 'This is the way we eat Now'. I'm fed up with deciding to cook something - a casserole I once made that was lovely, a particular pudding or cake, and then not being able to locate the recipe in my vast bookcase of cookery books, which I have a habit of accumulating. Not everything, but certainly favourites and ease of cooking.
I am looking for a recipe right now for a rhubarb crumble cake that contained both sour cream and ground almonds for density, but can I find it anywhere? No. So I am amalgamating several recipes to try and come up with the picture in my head. I have rhubarb in the garden threatening to take over and still bags of last year's sitting in the freezer awaiting a purpose in life. I think, perhaps, it would be nice to make a rhubarb cordial to have with something fizzy on a hot day, presuming there will be more hot days this year.
The garden is unfolding itself from its winter blanket and I have a promise of help that involves a spade and fork. The hostas are unscrewing themselves from their shoots and painted leaves are unfurling with every ray of sun. They sit happily in their pots, almost completely unbothered by slugs. I put this down to their hardiness in the face of adversity: I have cruelly left them pot-bound for some time and the lack of any moist soil, whatsoever, is probably the greatest deterrent. They sit by the back door only inches away from the stream. The slugs prefer to bypass the hostas and make straight for the cool of the kitchen. Sometimes, I come down in the morning and a crazy mad slug on speed has been in leaving a silvery trail on the dark carpet of the hall; then left by the way he came, with a contortionist's ease and a sneer that I might possibly catch him in the act. We're not done, that slug and I. I will be down one night and catch that contemptuous philanderer in the act, and then his days will be numbered.
Love Martha x