Tag Archives: bristol

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

Vintage Velo

This Sunday I had the pleasure of being the volunteer photographer for this year’s Vintage Velo bike ride. This was the fourth annual edition of the Tweed Run-style jaunt which is held each year as a fundraiser for the Bristol Cycle Festival. My bicycle Petal and I both got a bit dressed up for the occasion. You can see here Petal’s lovely bunting, which I made for her, in between snapping pics, at the ‘Bunt up your Bike’ stall near the registration area. She’s looking rather sweet, don’t you think? (There is no photograph of her rider, I’m afraid!) Bicycle with bunting Well over 100 cyclists donned their vintage finery and took to their two-wheeled steeds (of any and all vintages) to ride through the sunny Sunday afternoon to our mystery destination… Vintage Velo cyclists …which was the rather grand Kings Weston House to the north of Bristol. Kings Weston House I say! Kings Weston House interior All in all it was a lovely day, even if I did end up at one point stranded briefly behind a doubledecker sightseeing bus circling the Downs, after stopping to photograph my fellow cyclists. If you did want to see a photograph of me on the ride, you can ask the tourist at the back of the bus who took my photo as I pedalled to catch up to the group. I smiled very nicely! I do aim to entertain. Late afternoon, once I’d had taken in my fill of sunshine on the lawn, I departed for home, riding back along the Portway. I couldn’t resist stopping to snap a shot of our iconic suspension bridge. And our muddy Avon too. View of suspension bridge Bristol love!

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.

The made up garden

I have a very cobbled together garden. The veg patch gets too much shade and the neighbourhood cats like to use it as a toilet (leading me to punctuate the earth with random sticks in an attempt to make it uninviting to their paws/bottoms).Vegetable patch

But I do love my garden. It’s a good place for sitting with a cup of tea and watching the washing dry in the sun. And in the height of summer there will be greens and tomatoes, alpine strawberries and the buzz of bees everywhere. It lets me be outdoors and grow things and swear at cats (I love cats really) and get dirty fingernails and just make things up as I go along.

For example…

Today’s top 5 uses for the empty veg box crates I keep forgetting to put out to be collected by the veg box delivery person:

1. Petite shed for garden hand tools

2. Pedestal to create backdoor window box effect

IMG_1780

3. Trough for growing greens (nasturtiums and mixed lettuces perhaps?)

Growing box

4. Table for seed modules (dwarf sunflower and calendula)

Seed modules

5. Mini utility room greenhouse for germinating chillies, tomatoes, basil and lovage

Germinating seeds in utility room

 

Go slow, go sloe…

a handful of sloesFor many weeks I’ve been on a go-slow, drinking coffee each morning while reading about living and dying. Then on work days I’d take a bus, swinging past the Downs, shops, signs, sometimes juddering to a stop in road works. Resting. Today I rejoined the cycling to work contingent (and drank my coffee in the office instead, while starting Outlook for the day). I felt the goodness of cycling, being under my own power. Swooshing down hills, and smiling.

I passed ripe sloes the other day as I walked from the bus to the office. Today I went back to pick a few at lunchtime, expecting to end up with nothing more than a largish handful, but there were many, many, many. I picked and picked. I caught snatches of conversation from across the road where a woman and her kids discussed the scene: “Blackberries? No…elderberries.” “No, no,” I thought. “Sloes. The fruit of the blackthorn tree.” Then I heard an “excuse me” and there was the family, in the car in their drive, ready to pull out. Curiosity was expressed. “They’re sloes, like little plums,” I said. “You can make sloe gin with them.”

I think I spent over half an hour picking sloes. Later on I cycled them home, tucked up safe in a pannier. Tonight I have pored over them, removing stems and leaves, piling them high in a colander. Lovely, lovely sloes. I will make sloe gin with you.

I made elderflower vinegar earlier this summer, with elderflowers I somehow managed to catch. I was sure I was to miss them this year. But I didn’t, so made a bit of bottled sunshine, good on salads. The other end of the summer will bring the elderberries. I want to catch them too if I can, before they’re gone, and make a tonic to spice up colder days (and keep winter ailments at bay).

Sloes in colander

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.

Dear Brown Boots

Dear Brown Boots,

I miss you.

I can’t remember where or exactly when I bought you, although I know it was in a secondhand shop in the southwest – either of America or of England. I sort of think it was around five or six years ago, and I know for a fact that you were once with me in Arizona because my sister was there too and thought you were pretty groovy. (I think you and I were both a bit pleased about that.)

Dear Brown Boots, you zipped up the side and looked good with jeans.

Dear Brown Boots, you helped me feel brave.

Dear Brown Boots, can you remember, did I buy you when I left England for half a year, to spend time in the desert, to take a hiatus in the city of my birth? I know that you were there around that time. I believe we used to sometimes go to gigs downtown together. Did you come out that night the Kissers, from Madison, played at Plush and I danced and danced? Do you remember Rasputina at Club Congress?

Dear Brown Boots, you know, I could have used your chunky heels the other night at the Anson Rooms. I still enjoyed the band but everyone in the crowd seemed very tall.

I think I have given up looking for you. I know that you travelled with me to Bristol and we settled in first one place, then another, and a third. That last time we moved, I know you found a spot to safely perch. I remember you were here. And I know we continued, as we always had, to go out from time to time together. But now I cannot find you.

Dear Brown Boots, I hope wherever you are you are happy. I hope you are not being held prisoner, covered in dust.

I hope wherever you are, you still sometimes dance. I do.

 

Dear Brown Boots,

 

I miss you.

 

I can’t remember where or exactly when I bought you, although I know it was in a secondhand shop in the southwest – either of America or of England. I sort of think it was around five or six years ago, and I know for a fact you once were with me in Arizona because my sister was there too and thought you were pretty groovy. (I think you and I were both a bit pleased about that.)

 

Dear Brown Boots, you zipped up the side and looked good with jeans.

 

Dear Brown Boots, you made me feel gooood.

 

Dear Brown Boots, so did I buy you when I left England for half a year, to spend time in the desert, to take a hiatus in the city of my birth? I know that you were there. I believe we used to sometimes go to gigs downtown together. Were you there that night the Kissers, from Madison, played at Plush and I danced and danced? Do you remember Rasputina at Club Congress?

 

Dear Brown Boots, you know, I could have used your height the other evening at the Anson Rooms. Everyone seemed very tall.

 

But I have given up looking for you. I know that you travelled with me to Bristol and we settled in first one place, then another, and a third. That last time we moved, I know you safely found a spot to perch. I remember you here. And I know we continued to go out from time to time together. But now I cannot find you.

 

Dear Brown Boots, I hope wherever you are you are happy. I hope you are not being held prisoner. I hope you are not covered in dust.

 

I hope wherever you are, you still sometimes dance.