Hazlenuts

Birthdays, books, beer and berries

Sorry these posts are a little few and far between at the moment – autumn is always a busy time of year (new school year, hedgerows to be harvested, and a big ol’ birthday to boot), but here are my musings from the last few weeks!

New books – the aforementioned birthday has provided me with a whole heap of delightful bookery to get my teeth into (sometime literally, often more metaphorically).

Birthday books and cards

Birthday books and cards

Most excitingly, and without even asking for it, I have a brand-new literary biography to linger over, in the shape of Philip Larkin: Life, Art and Love. Having dropped some not-so-subtle hints to my husband whilst in the Watermill at Aberfeldy, I have also been furnished with Leon’s Fast Vegetarian (and made my first dish, Sri Lankan pineapple curry, from this evening) and a translated Reeds in the Wind, a book I first heard about on our honeymoon to the homeland of its author. A treasure trove indeed.

The previous post mentioned The Hedgerow Handbook: have now managed to collect lots of nuts, sloes and hips which are awaiting transformation. The sloes are mid-fermentation in the gin, the hips are in the freezer, and the nuts are only half-shelled…it’s a tedious process, but well worth the marvellous autumn walks to collect them.

SSBBF stash

SSBBF stash

Two brilliant friends of ours also organised themselves an amazing birthday party this weekend: they hired a bunk barn, bought 10 barrels (and several bottles) of beer and cider, and invited 30 friends to celebrate their 30th with them.Now these are people who don’t mess about – they branded the whole thing as the SSBBF, with beer tankards, beer mats, and beer list to match! It was a great weekend of celebrating with friends and family from near and far.

Reading on the hoof

Reading on the hoof

…and I’m back! Scotland furnished me with a whole heap of exciting new books to get my teeth into (metaphorically, of course, but I am one of those people who reads in the bath and writes in the margins), so here’s a quite overview of my recent acquisitions:

IMG_0612The Hedgerow Handbook, Adele Nozedar – a gift from the aforementioned lovely friend, this came accompanied by a massive jar of delicious beetroot and orange chutney. I love foraging, preserving and – of course – ingesting, so this book will enable me to do those more safely, more successfully, and more enjoyably. It has beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, and is handily sized to fit into a small rucksack or large jacket pocket. You can read much more about it here. It’s not the sort of book you can ‘read’ like a novel, it’s more like a poetry anthology that you dip in and out of as the mood (or need) takes you. Some of the recipes sound bizarre (Himalayan Balsam Curry), some delicious (Rose petal Turkish Delight) and all interesting. Nozedar gives a history of the plants and their uses, as well as practical recipes and tips on how to find and identify them. The perfect present for autumn!

On the Black Hill, Bruce ChatwinOn the Black Hill, Bruce Chatwin – another gift from the lovely AND generous friend, this one I devoured in a few hours on the long journey to Inverness via Blairdrummond. A name I vaguely new, but an author whom I’d never read, Bruce Chatwin cuts a rather mysterious figure; he died, tragically prematurely, of AIDS at the age of 49 in 1989. On the Black Hill is the tale of two twins and their lives on a farm in Wales, whose lives roughly span the 20th century. The brothers are bound together by love, hatred, biology and duty; their tale is hypnotic in the transfixing madness, stubbornness and inscrutability of its characters. The book embodies all that is cruel, beautiful and inevitable about the farming life, telling the story of a century as it charts the life of this remote family. Thoroughly recommended; now to find something else by him to read…

The Time by the Sea, Ronald Blythe – this appeared in the ‘Sale’ box of the wonder that is The Watermill in Aberfeldy.

Time by the Sea (and my duvet)

Time by the Sea (and my duvet)

The Time by the Sea is Blythe’s autobiographical rememberings of Aldeburgh in the 1950s, peopled with such luminaries as Benjamin Britten, Imogen Holst, Peter Pears,  and Elizabeth Garrett Anderson. I have high hopes for it as I love, love, love Ronald Blythe’s Akenfield, set in a Suffolk my father’s family grew up in but which has now almost completely disappeared. It was made into a hugely popular film in 1974 by director Peter Hall, and charts life in a Suffolk village through the 20th century without pathos but with a clarity which makes you look anew at the world around you. If you can’t lay your hands on a copy of the book (and don’t want to pay for the film before you’ve seen it!), you can watch a snippet of it here:

The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver – another Watermillian find, this one is by the author of the brilliant Poisonwood Bible. IMG_0615I haven’t read anything by Kingsolver for years, but this one features real-life characters  including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo fictionalised in the story of Harrison William Shepherd. For a full review, have a look at what the NYT had to say.

Also, long car journeys have been perfect for long sessions in thrall to Radio 4 – here’s one of my favourites, a snippet from the fantastic Listening Project: Peter and Amy – Ronnie’s Recipes (The Listening Project)