Category Archives: Uncategorized

Salad from under my feet, and other small wonders

It’s amazing how good a daisy leaf tastes. I had no idea until last Sunday afternoon. I went on a local foraging walk and found out just how much of the common plants we walk over, through and around all the time are not only edible but tantalising to the taste buds and highly nutritious.

I’d already considered myself a forager. Every year I know spring is beginning to show its face when the first wild garlic appears. Actually, it’s often the smell of wild garlic that you notice first. This year I went with a gaggle of friends to gather bags full of the pungent leaves. I think we may have overdone it somewhat (not that the wild garlic minded – it’s rampant), but some of us later reported having more wild garlic than sense! Never mind, it’s great stuff and a real wild food milepost in the year.

I also try to gather elderflowers every June, to make cordial or champagne or flower-infused vinegar. And then in autumn elderberries (and also sloes). I just finished off my last bottle of elderberry cordial from a batch I concocted a couple of years ago. It’s reputed to protect from colds and other illnesses, and I believe it works. A friend tried making elderberry vodka. This was unfortunately comically vile. It became the focus of a party game last summer – who can make a cocktail that makes this liqueur palatable? So wild food is ripe for experimentation.

On Sunday’s foraging expedition, the guides took us to a green space near the start of the Bristol and Bath cycle path. Very much an urban, everyday sort of place. Every few steps we’d stop and there would be perhaps five different plants growing near our feet that it’s possible to eat, and/or make a tea from, and/or treat an ailment with.

We tasted garlicky, mustardy foliage (that would be the garlic mustard, also known as Jack-by-the-hedge), the lemony freshness of daisy leaves, the feathery bitterness of yarrow (whose leaves can also be used to staunch bleeding), the celery-like crunch of thistle, which we stripped first with a knife to remove the prickly bits. We also found and gathered nettles, dead nettles, dandelion leaves and flowers, wild chives, hawthorn leaves, lime leaves and flowers, willow twigs, burdock, herb Robert, cleavers, pineapple weed, plantain, chickweed, cow parsley and the buds and young leaves of blackberry. We also learned about a few things NOT to eat, including the highly poisonous lords-and-ladies.

Later we took our gatherings back to Trinity Community Garden, which was running this event, where we tried nettle soup (delicious and made, if I recall correctly, from nettles, potatoes and garlic and was served with lemon juice and lots of salt and pepper), dandelion flower fritters and wild garlic pesto with fresh bread. There were also flasks of teas to try – cleavers, nettle and dandelion.

I continue to feel inspired, and this weekend I may go on a little forage on my own and see what wild salad I can bring back from a wander in one of the green corners of this city.

wild food nettle soup


Life in the (illustrious) UK

After years of being very much eligible but also very much not bothered, I’ve now embarked on the process of becoming a British citizen. The other day I just suddenly got the urge, like really truly got the urge rather than my usual train of thought on this topic, i.e. ‘I could do that, yeah uh should look at that again, oh what difference does it make, don’t want to jump through all those expensive hoops anyway, BAH!’ It just feels like the time is right and the mood has well and truly struck. Maybe I’m finally so entirely embedded myself in UK soil that to carry on not having the vote or the passport is just rather…boring.

So the other day I made a list of each step I need to take – each hoop I need to fling myself through – to become a naturalised UK citizen. Top of the list are a number of actions involving the infamous Life in the UK test. I have already ticked off action number one: buy a copy of the Life in the UK test handbook. Next two actions? Study said book and book said test. Step four: pass the bloody thing (after coughing up the requisite £50 exam fee of course).

Life in the UK handbook

The test book is full of (awkward) British cheerleading and propaganda. There is a sizeable chapter called ‘A long and illustrious history’. I have no issue with further familiarising myself with British history. What I do object to is calling centuries of bloodthirsty squabbles over land and religion ‘illustrious’. But, whatever, right? To simply get on with the process of studying this material, I find myself reading passages out loud and providing an (in my opinion) ever-so-dry-and-witty commentary. I don’t know if this will help me to memorise the salient points or not, but it’s a way forward. There are other chapters that are slightly less challenging – for instance ‘A modern, thriving society’, in which one learns what a bank holiday is and finds examples of the many fine ways that the British public spends its leisure time (betting and gambling receive their own subsection here).

Leafing through the pages ahead, I see that I shall shortly be receiving education on government, the law and my role. I will learn, in language suitable for ESOL Entry Level 3 or above, how to be a good citizen. However, I think it’s obvious that by refusing to take the Life in the UK handbook seriously I am already clearly demonstrating my readiness to be inducted into official Britishness. So bring it on.

Finding my way

When I first moved to Bristol I could barely get from my front door to the local shops without a map. For a time, everywhere I went – and I went everywhere by foot – I carried with me in my bag a Bristol and Bath A-Z (that’s ‘A to zed’ for the uninitiated).

Someone I work with, a new arrival to Bristol, was asking the other day which of two routes (displayed on Google Maps on the PC screen before us) I thought was the best for getting to a particular location. I thought one would be quicker but might require her to wend her way through a few streets and so I asked, ‘Do you have an A-Z?’ I almost instantly laughed out loud, conceding that she would obviously just use her phone to find her way and would have no need for a paper book of maps. To be fair, it was only 8 years ago that I came here, but I guess that’s a long time in some ways. I’m only just getting my first smart phone this very week (it so happens), so the way I look at such things is probably a bit skewed anyway.

I still have my A-Z and I still use it from time to time. I like how it’s been softened and dog-eared by the years, the corners of certain key pages are turned down and there’s the occasional sticky note on a page with scribbled instructions for getting to somebody’s house. I’ve lived and worked on a number of different pages in this book and I’ve visited many more. People used to stop me in those early days of my Bristol life and ask me the way to somewhere. I’d usually say that I didn’t know…but that I did happen to have a map. Together we’d have a look and find the elusive destination on one of the pages.

I learned this city on my feet. I used to walk off in some direction or another just to get lost and then, when lost enough, I would find myself again using my book of maps. It didn’t always work and sometimes I’d stay lost longer than planned. I once dragged an unsuspecting brother of mine, visiting from the US, along on one of these ‘lost with a map in hand’ escapades. But eventually my feet did, and usually do, (somehow) find their way.

Words I thought were amusing when I first came to England

On 1 October 1996, I landed in England for the first time.

It’s a long story as to why I’m still here. But in my first months, as a study abroad student at Exeter University, I wrote pages and pages of journal text. Mostly prose, snatches of poetry and song lyrics, quotes from novels. (I was twenty years old and an earnest English major.)

There were also lists. Lists of the contents of rolls of film, lists of pubs I’d visited (I was twenty years old and American.) And lists of the amazing new vocabulary to be found in the United Kingdom. I present you with an actual listing here.*

  • fruit machine
  • football
  • ring
  • telly
  • biscuit
  • coach
  • minibus
  • for let
  • MP
  • lie in
  • knickers
  • pants
  • shag
  • bonk
  • snog
  • hire
  • sacked
  • pensioners
  • full up
  • bedsit
  • track suit bottoms
  • sod off
  • bugger
  • take the piss

An eclectic lexicon to say the least. Try reciting the list like a bit of a performance poem and it’s even better.

I was twenty years old and then, as now, I liked words. All sorts of words…

*The original text, which is labelled “glossary – more words and expressions and stuff”, also defined each of the terms. It was a true work of scholarship.

OMG, it’s The Bachelor!

At the urging of one of my most hilarious friends, I last night watched the first episode of the new season of ABC’s The Bachelor.

In the important pre-show briefing between friend and I (carried out by telephone between a hotel in Chicago and a backyard deckchair in Tucson) I learned that there would be much ridiculousness, high levels of “boy craziness” and that a post-show debrief would be essential.

So I tracked down the show that evening and within moments was scrabbling around for pen and paper with which to capture just a taste of the truly amazing content. Here are some of the sparkling gems…

“I’ll be disappointed if Ben doesn’t eat some cow balls.”

This was from Amber, a big game hunter and a woman with clearly defined culinary views. I think she knows what she wants from a relationship.

“It’s really hard to have a conversation with him when he’s blindfolded and being fed different kinds of…candy!”

From across the room comes this objection from a contestant who probably wishes she’d thought of blindfolding the amazing Ben and feeding him something (presumably not cow balls).

“Rode in on a horse? She makes us look bad!”

Such are the whispers, bordering on outrage, that were to be heard after the entrance of a horse loving contestant on, you guessed it, a horse. How dare she?

“I’m at the point in my life where I’m a model…”

This is a comment from deep thinking contestant Courtney, reflecting on where she is in life. She also makes it clear during the evening that she has no need to feel jealousy as she is – has she mentioned? – a model.

Courtney may be above jealousy, or so she says, but there is plenty of it on display from everyone else. One contestant gets so overwrought that she spends the second half of the episode bawling in the bathroom and is late to the all important Rose Ceremony. The drama!

“He’s so real!”

And we mustn’t forget that our beloved bachelor Ben is from the get-go absolutely adored by each and every of the 25 contestants. No one says “well, he’s cute but I’d like to get to know him first.” No, they are all oozing phrases like these: “He’s so real!” and “He’s so sincere!” (Ladies, I saw the bit after the episode where we’re shown “highlights” from the rest of the season and, well, good luck with that. He appears to sincerely and really like several of you, possibly all at the same time but I couldn’t really tell.)

What a tragedy that I will not be able to watch what happens next, as we don’t have ABC in the UK and I don’t think or Hulu will let me in from overseas! I’ll never get to find out firsthand whether Ben ate some cow balls.

I think I’m going to have to go away now and cry in the toilet.

Yoga and my bicycle

English: Yoga 4 Love Community Outdoor Yoga cl...
Image via Wikipedia

I guess there are always things you will miss when you travel away from home, even if you’re visiting another place that’s ‘home’. Two things I have been missing while away from Bristol for the holidays: yoga and my trusty bike (whose name I now think is Petal, though she doesn’t always answer when I call her). Ah, to cycle in the warm sun on flat roads! Ok, Bristol isn’t entirely made up of hills and isn’t entirely devoid of sunshine, but you know, it’s December, or January (depending on the time zone) and, well…some people will know what I mean.

Anyway, no bike here. But yoga, yes. My brother and his girlfriend wanted to find a class while in town and thought, correctly, that I might be similarly inclined. They researched what was on offer and I awaited their findings. The class they turned up was a 90-minute Bikram Method class. Was I still interested? Now, I had never been to a Bikram class before, though I’d heard tales from those taking up introductory offers in Bristol. Lives being taken over during the introductory month! Sweat and money pouring out everywhere! Was it strangely regimented or something? If I tried it, would I keel over and be expelled from the class (like so much student sweat)?!

Ah well, nothing ventured, nothing gained. Reviews of the studio in question suggested that there would be “no shouting”. This we found encouraging. In fact, not only was there no shouting, the place we went to, Yoga Vida, was really welcoming. There was a lot of sweating, of course, but there was also encouragement and humour. And I felt great doing it and felt great afterwards. Yoga, I said I’d missed you!

Awww, a happy ending to this tale. How nice. Another thing I’ve missed of late is writing this blog. So here I am again. Watch out.