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Vivi’s Kitchen Garden 148: Potato chitting, onions and being organic.

My seed potatoes have arrived so it’s time to start chitting….some of my onions have also turned up so they need a bit of a sort too before I settle down to watch the birds for the RSPB Big Garden Bird-watch…….during which my mind wanders to the subject of organic seeds…..

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In the Kitchen: Kale, rice & nuts pie (or Wellington).

A gorgeous, hearty pie for a chilly winter’s day. You will need (all measures approximate – jiggle them to your liking): rice – 2 cups, mushrooms – 2 cups, nuts – 2 cups, stock – 1 litre, onions x 2, peppers x 2, garlic cloves x 2, kale – a big handful (about 200 grams)…….seasonings of choice – I used juice of half a lemon, dill, nutmeg and thyme. Enough pastry for your pie dish. Makes enough for two pies… for now and one for the freezer.

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Vivi’s Kitchen Garden 145: Clearing the last bed, more sweet peas & shed problems next door.

Even on a chilly day it feels so good to get out there and get a few more jobs done. Clearing the last bed from last year was my priority but being there was also the perfect opportunity to see if I could help one of my lovely neighbours with her shed problem….we couldn’t do much about it there and then but we have a plan…..and I may just be making a call to our lovely friend Graham for a helping hand….

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Cooking in a Greek Nana’s kitchen.

It has taken me a long time to realise something about myself. I’ve been asking myself, in the last few weeks, why it took so long…..but sometimes it just does……sometimes we see things separately and they have little significance but then something happens to make us see the whole picture and realise it was there all along.

I have always said I’m not a foodie; I’m not the kind of person to rave about a weird, scarce ingredient or to eat at expensive, fine restaurants. No. I’m not a fine diner, nor am I a fine cook. I have always seen cooking as something of a chore, a means-to-an-end. I cook in order to eat. Until now.

I don’t need my food to be fancy-pants. I like it hearty, healthy and tasty….I have always made simple, quick food for myself and never felt I deserved a space in my kitchen. I don’t use or read recipe books…..these are only for artists surely….

But something clicked recently. Bear with me while I digress a little. I love to travel, not far, but I like to go someplace else from time-to-time. I love to travel by train…..I should say I really love to travel by train….and, occasionally, boat. I like to journey, I like to take my time getting there. I like to see the landscape change, the architecture change, the light change. I like to converse with my fellow passengers and form fleeting friendships. I like to snooze on a train and dream romantic endings to my encounters. I like to lean into the wind from the top deck of a boat and be the first to spot land…

I don’t travel far….only as far as the train will take me. I usually end up in the Mediterranean…which is probably why I travel in the first place…the chance to bathe in that sea without freezing…..bathing free of a wet-suit. West or East Mediterranean I don’t mind.

…and here we come back to food. I think I don’t like cooking but I do like eating and in the Med. I can eat like a princess. It is all my favourites: tomatoes, onions, beans, aubergines, chickpeas (think hummus and falafel), pasta, simple bread….my mouth is watering just at the thought of eating these things. And when I reminisce about my various jaunts to the Med. I invariably remember times spent in other people’s kitchens, other people’s kitchen gardens…..those strangers met on a train or a boat who became friends and invited me to their homes to eat, to break bread and drink wine with their family.

I always thought it was about the eating (so many delicious meals) but I’m starting to realise it was so much about the cooking, the time shared in the kitchen, the time fumbling for language, the time laughing, the time being hugged by someone else’s Grandma and having my, then skinny, cheeks pinched by her and being told I need to be fed. It was hardly about the food at all… was about the act of coming together and laughing together and working together…..

…and working with the most simple of ingredients; ingredients gathered just moments before from the garden…..or the evening before from the woods behind the house….or haggled for in the market that morning. I am beginning to recognise myself in this. I don’t need fancy food…my ‘peasant’ food will do me just fine…..but it should be cooked without haste, it should be cooked with joy and love, each moment should be savoured, each colour and texture and smell observed……it should be messy and as chaotic as life…….the cooking should be just as important as the eating.

I’ll never be a fancy cook but I think I am becoming an appreciative cook, a haste free cook, a cook who is in love with the meal before it reaches the table…and I am starting to read some cookery writers. The few cookbooks that I have I realise are like my beloved travel and exploration books…the lists of ingredients are like maps….I follow them and I am transported to another place. I am beginning to enjoy reading cookery books and am beginning to see my kitchen as a railway station……it’s just the starting point for a glorious journey…..and some trips down memory lane as I think about all the different kitchens I have cooked in alongside someone else’s mamma. I think I am going to enjoy this trip.

May all our train journeys take us, unhurriedly, towards beautiful adventures and may all our kitchen time evoke the most wonderful memories…..even on the greyest of grey days in an attic flat in London. Slightly west of the Mediterranean.