Last weekend it was Guy Fawke’s Night, an evening of fireworks, frozen noses, mulled wine and slightly too-charred burgers. The weekend before was ‘Apple Day’ at home. It is a busy time back in Blighty.
Apple day is a particular favourite in our calendar. An annual tradition of apple harvesting that comes at the same time as my husband’s birthday; we join the whole village picking all the apples we can in a day. The weekend always marks the true end of summer for me; wrapped up warm and shaking trees in windy orchards. Trudging home in borrowed wellies that don’t quite fit, laden down with our loot that my father will magically turn into cider over the coming months. We hug cups of tea and spiced hot cider from last year’s harvest, and kiss goodbye to the last of the summer sun as it dips behind the hills, ever earlier, in preparation for the darker winter months ahead.
But I am not in England. I am in Singapore. And I am homesick.
I look at photos of our trip home over the summer, and call to mind the wondrous hours of rummaging around in what can only be described as ‘Mr. McGregor’s Garden’. I try to conjure the vision of my son as he discovers again the magic of his grandfather’s vegetable patch;
His fingers are green. A lurid, almost neon ‘school-book highlighter’ sort of a green. The rubbed earth around the bottom of the ladder that he is climbing is strewn with the shells of baby broad beans, new season English peas and a pile of runner beans, saved for later. I run my fingers across the curly, twisted, spindly ends of the pea shoots that climb ever upwards, wrapping their tenacious tendrils around the crossed bamboo poles that stand proudly in this corner of my father’s beloved patch of the garden.
My head was instantly filled with recipes recalled and re-invented, twisting and turning, growing and changing . . . and my fingers were itching to play.
Homemade pasta with baby fava beans and fresh peas? Zucchini flower and pea shoot salad? Shaved baby artichoke carpaccio with Cedri or lemon juice and homemade ricotta. Melted onions on a pizza bianca with fresh herbs from the pot outside the kitchen door. The possibilities were endless. And I was still just standing at the garden gate.
Instead of a recipe, I am going to simply load up a few captured images of this, one of my most treasured of places. Every time we return it is different, changed, as only a truly biodiverse and polycultural garden can. This corner of the world is precious in many, many ways. But most of all because when I am on the other side of the world and so far away from the ingredients of my childhood I can come here, at least to a pictorial reminder of what insightful writer Michael Pollan would refer to as “real food”.
I have spent a bit of time studying nutrition recently. Navigating today’s ‘food rules’ is more than a bit of a minefield. No wonder we need experts to guide us – trans fats, beta carotene, polyunsaturated fats, omegas 3 and 6, antioxidants, carcinogens, proteins, carbs, mercury, What to eat? What not to eat? How should we avoid certain things? How to eat more of certain things? Good or Bad? Right or Wrong? By this point most of us have given up caring. It turns out, these days, perhaps you really do need a degree to eat.
I can’t help but wonder if we would need to pay professionals to tell us what we should eat, if instead we just ate the contents of Mr. McGregors’ garden. I have learned that food that doesn’t require labeling listing all its ‘nutritional attributes’ are undoubtedly the most nutritionally valuable. As a rule, in fact, food that doesn’t need to tell you what it is, is probably the best food of all. Meals that don’t contain more than 5 ingredients…when was the last time you had one of those? When was the last time you check the list of ingredients on that single packet of noodles, that splodge of sauce out of a bottle, that packet of something you just opened while you thought about what to eat? I promise you, most of us have eaten more than five ingredients in our pre-dinner snack.
With this in mind I would like to support a local Singaporean initiative – “Veggie Thursday”! It pretty much does what it says on the tin – and promotes the idea of eating only vegetables on a Thursday. There are a ton of reasons to do this – not least to support our ‘inner temple’. Whether you are swayed by Karma or Korma it is a great excuse to check some of the wealth of Singapore’s vegetarian Indian restaurants, challenge your recipe repertoire, and get into greens. Check out http://www.veggiethursday.sg/ for more information.
Tomorrow I shall be starting the day with coffee and carrot cake in honour of Veggie Thursday ( I am obviously bending the rules just a little – but I will use anything as an excuse for carrot cake) . . . Now, how bad does that sound?