Do me a favour. Dig out a copy of Be My Baby by The Ronettes.
I am blessed to be within walking distance of two of Britain’s Greatest Food Retailers, at the brow and foot of Donkin Hill in Caversham, which I refer to as Top and Bottom Coop. They’re very good on local and seasonal produce. Which is why, for the last few weeks, I have been coming home from the weekend top-up shop with bags of peas. Actual unshelled peas in pods.
Now. The humble frozen pea is, of course, a thing of simple delight that has a place in any time-conscious, thrift-aware chef’s repertoire. Simply presented alongside a shepherd’s pie. Folded into a pea and paneer curry. As part of a prawn-heavy paella (oh the pink against the green, I swoon into a Nigel Slater-style wafting fit at the joy of it all).
HOWEVS. Peas that you have podded yourself are a different prospect. The simple, mindful meditative state that comes from eviscerating the crisp crysalids is not an activity conducive to the mid-week supper grind. This is weekend activity. Ideally, it needs a big kitchen table, small children and a grandma to hand, sunlight streaming in through high kitchen windows.
I have none of those. Well, no, I have a grandma. She’s in her nineties, knotted with arthritis. If I showed her a pea pod, she’d spit in my eye. So I pod my peas in the front room, where the light is better. Up until this year, I can’t remember the last time I unzipped a pea pod. A simple process. Two bowls needed. Tug from the root end, taking off the stringy bit. The pod pops open with a pleasingly juicy snap. One skilful swipe with the thumb sends a spoonful of peas into one bowl. Another flick and the pods go into the other. Continue as required. The odd escapee will ping away under the sofa. Oh well.
A glass of wine and some loud rock and roll help the process along no end.
There’s a lot of waste with fresh peas. The pods take up twice as much volume as the precious legumes. These are, of course, eminently compostable, or you can simmer and blitz them to make a peapod purée that works remarkably well as a simple, delicate pasta sauce. Sieve well. No stringy bits needed here.
Growing peas always felt like a ball ache to me, but I’m very happy to give up a quiet portion of my weekend to the separation of a fresh bagful of English peas, and the contemplation of what to do with them afterwards.
If nothing else, my hands smell delicious afterwards. That’s a scent some enterprising perfumery should bottle.
Allendale is a pretty little village in the heart of the North Pennines, barely a spit and a whistle from the Scottish border. There’s history here–it was once a key centre of Northumbria’s lead-mining industry, and workings are scattered across the wildly lovely landscape. Continue reading The Allendalek
This morning, I went for a swim. TLC and I were on a weekend away at a posh hotel, and she urged me to give the spa facilities a go. Twenty leisurely lengths of the pool and a dose of sauna heat and steam room sweat opened up my pores and left me achy but glowing.
At one point I shared the steam room with a Spanish guy in budgie-smugglers. We exchanged a friendly nod, and that was it. A simple, normal moment of small luxury.
It had been at least fifteen years since I had been able to walk into a pool or spa area with any hint of confidence. Even a year ago, the Spanish gentleman would have looked at me with a mix of horror and disgust, and probably walked right back out of the steam room.
(TW: The following contains graphic descriptions of medical symptoms).
In which yr hmbl etc goes all rocky and metallic. Black Sabbath to Red Fang, Monster Magnet to Mastodon. Tis the season. Turn it UP.
DATELINE: 22nd July 2018
Reading, Berkshire, UK
We were somewhere on Route 285, perhaps just outside Fairview, and I was deep into a fugue state. As I watched the browning landscape scud past the window to a soundtrack of 80’s goth-wave, the last three weeks swirled in my head, events sparking into focus for a moment, then popping away like a soap bubble. Continue reading The Last Ride Of The White Buffalo
DATELINE: July 17th, 2018
Somewhere on Route 285, skirting the Carson National Forest, NM
The storm had tracked us since Alamosa. As we slipped south past the border, it shouldered in, riding alongside like a good ole boy with bad teeth and a worse attitude. It was pretty darn clear it was looking to start something.
The tail end of our trip south had lost its shine. Hawkeye had struck again. His ‘slight detour’ to dip a toe into a different state took us in a loop around some of the more desolate and depressing sites New Mexico had to offer. Dead or dying farmland. Vast junkheaps piled high with the ransacked corpses of old trucks, the exoskeletons of ruined farmed equipment splaying out thorny limbs like gigantic fossilised insects.
Every building we passed was empty, windows boarded up or kicked in. Scattered stands of graying lumber stood like waiting funeral pyres. The gateway to a ranch that we could not see had deer antlers knotted over the uprights, ugly-white as a bad dental job in the frantic light that pulsed out from the heart of the storm. The gateway to another had a mannequin strung by its neck hanging from a cross post.
I hope it was a mannequin. In the shadow-carved light, it was so difficult to be certain.
The storm was still with us, effortlessly keeping up the pace. Every now and again it would fling out a handful of rain, just to keep our attention up. This wasn’t the clean, warm Colorado rain we had come to welcome. This was dirty, greasy stuff, oil-spill and septic run-off, smearing the bug-strike across the Buffalo’s windshield without ever letting it clear.
The storm grumbled, thick and heavy as the snort from a Harley’s drivetrain, a deep pulse shaking us about like beans in a can. Anytime now, the fucker would pounce. Just at the point where we were furthest from help, it would clench its bruise-dark fists and pound us into the blacktop.
We found a way west. Route 64. According to the map, heading into the heart of the Carson National Forest. Months without rain had turned the landscape into a patchwork of khaki and tan, like camouflage, as if New Mexico was trying to hide from itself. The thirsting ground would have gratefully accepted the punishment of the storm. It was too busy toying with us to care about opening up.
The leading edge of the cloud front mutated, or maybe it was our change of course that shifted our perception. It developed a snout, sharp as a shark’s tooth. An eye-shaped meniscus bulged into being. Colourless as bone at the inner edge, deepening to the flat grey of dead flesh towards the orbit. Within, where a flash of blue from the early evening sky would have given us a faint glimpse of hope, there was only darkness.
No. Not darkness. Lightning flickered in there, actinic forks and nets of light, gone before they’d really registered. A complex pulse of activity, like the workings of some vast, inhuman mind made visible, all the better to inspire dread.
We felt it, alright. Barreling down a desolate highway with a malevolent weather system at our shoulder, dread was a default. The radio had gone dead. There was no-one else on the roads. There was no sign of habitation. No lights in the houses we passed. No livestock in the fields. This was abandoned country, dead land. Tierra muerte.
For a while, we wondered if the apocalypse had already happened and we were just a little late to the party.
Finally, we hit Highway 84 at Tierra Amarilla and could start working north. The storm, bored now, tossed one last bucket of dirty water at us and turned away, sulking south. Its dark eye closed, its snout flattened. Just a weather front now. Whatever demon had possessed it for a while on a an evening in mid-July in the New Mexico hinterlands was gone. At Chama, just south of the border, civilization began to reassert itself. A petrol station open for business. Houses with lights on. A dog in a yard, barking joyfully as we span past.
We broke the Colorado border at Chromo and the sun cast aside the last of the cloud. We were bathed in red and gold dusk-light all the way home.
A day later we would visit a town best known for its resident cannibal and bounce a deer off the Buffalo’s rear offside.
But that’s a story for another campfire.