Monday 2 September 2013

A Grateful Grace

It has been the most beautiful summer. I am not sure that I can ever remember one as bright, light, warm, gentle and happy. From the outside I am sure that my summer has been fairly uneventful: I looked after my parents’ cat, I was ill, I moved house, my parent’s celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, I walked the Chiltern Hill’s, basked in the sunshine, baked cakes, cooked meals, revelled in the love and companionship of my friends and family. In reality everything happened this summer, and I began to see light shining on the future.

Last year I wrote a post about a formal grace that had been traveling around my head: The eyes of all people look to you. It was a grace that made me happy, it was a grace that made me laugh. I knew the words and had applied them to my life. It was all about rooting around the fields and hedgerows, butchers, fishmongers and greengrocers. The beautiful harvest brought home to make home.

This year I am grateful for an informal grace, a grace said by a friend. It was a prayer for blessing, for love and friendship, for happiness and health. I am always envious of people who have the courage to pray freely, the courage to leave the script and say what is real, true and ‘on the mind’. Such is the nature of real prayer. Such is the nature of truly living in faith. I aspire to have this courage.

The summer holidays are a time for carefully prepared meals with those we love, heartily consumed dinners that follow long walks in the open air, up hill and down dale. This year I have enjoyed cooking beautiful meals and snacks for beautiful people. To be sure, I messed a few up: mea culpa. But, for the most part, I did my best, often working with those with whom I would eat, cooking together our sustenance, food gratefully received following days of work and pleasure.The end of August and the beginning of September, despite the return to school, remains my favourite time of year. I keep my habit of lighting candles at meal times, offering a quite prayer for those who help to prepare food, the farmers, packagers, growers; and those loved ones with whom I share the meal.

The tree in the pictures above is rather special. It grows at Chenies Manor, Buckinghamshire, where King Henry VIII and his daughter, Elizabeth I, sat under it during their tumultuous reigns. They probably thought it a very fine tree, for it was 500 years old then. Elizabeth lost a jewel under it - it has never been found. That’s right, this tree is over 1000 years old. It predates 1066 and the Battle of Hastings. It is a Saxon Tree. How much that venerable Oak will have seen, how many conversations it will have heard, how many picnics it will have looked upon. History sometimes baffles me. I cannot imagine such expanses of time. It awes me. Time for us is always either too long, or too short. We are never content....except in those last weeks of the summer holidays, when the body and mind has relaxed and recovered enough to help one feel at ease with the present. That 'feeling at ease with the present' is a gift, and one I long to hold on to and treasure as the term speeds along. I am quite sure the tree at Chenies was always happy to be in the moment, and always longed to just be where it was and grow with time, never regretting the past, never wishing its time away. I would like to be the same.

This year, on a quiet day, I made the best of all finger food one night: chicken wings. There was plenty, and the leftovers made for a beautiful picnic on a long walk in the hills the following day. This little delicacy was a last taste of summer, a shared happiness. It was warm and sticky, salty and full of pepper and spice. No need for a knife and fork. I am, as usual, indebted to Nigel Slater.

Chicken Wings - 12 Large
a large juicy lemon
bay leaves - 5
Black peppercorns - I heaped tablespoon
olive oil
sea salt flakes

Set the oven at 200C. Put the wings into a roasting dish, halve the lemon and squeeze it over them, then cut up the lemon shells and tuck them, together with the bay leaves, between the chicken pieces.
Put the peppercorns in a mortar and bash them so that they crack into small pieces. Of course, I do not have a mortar, so I wrapped them in tinfoil and hit them with a rolling pin. They should be knubbly, like small pieces of grit, rather than finely ground.

Mix the peppercorns with the olive oil and toss them with the chicken pieces. Scatter with salt flakes. Roast for 40 - 45 minutes, turning once. The chicken should be golden and sticky, the edges blackened here are and there - they should be nearly stuck to the roasting tin.

PS: You might be wondering about the Red Kite and the Boar. They are just creatures I have met hereabouts recently and I liked them. xx

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