Getting lost south of the river

Map

My London dwelling daughters have settled south of the river in Camberwell & Tooting respectively. Last weekend was a first proper foray into South London.

For someone who is both a fairly frequent traveller and a geography graduate – I am embarrassed to admit to a dreadful sense of direction. Or more accurately, I never quite succeed in making the connection between reality on the ground & maps. Whether they are of the paper or Google variety – I struggle to join the dots.

It’s a conundrum because I love maps – reading them and pouring over the detail of the symbols, the cartography and notation. Have even been known to choose an OS map as bedtime reading.

Unfortunately, when walking or running I need more obvious visual references to stop me getting lost and am much more likely to arrive at my destination by following simple instructions like take a left at the big red sign or right at the Wheatsheaf pub.

A perfect example of this disconnect was when arriving at Balham underground station I failed to locate the Balham Travelodge – even though the hotel is pretty much on top of Balham station!

As is often the way – opting for the wrong underground exit and surfacing I saw the hotel entrance beaming out at me from the other side of the road.

Scotch bonnet peppers
Brixton Scotch bonnet peppers
Brixton market butchers
Boiling fowl 3 for £5

Brixton road crossing

Brixton sign
Brixton ‘Stay in Peace’

This lack of map reading ability does mean that I often make interesting discoveries unintentionally, and as long as I am getting lost in daylight hours, I see this failing as a good thing- and a serendipitous way to get to know a new place.

Vegetables at Brixton market

When venturing out later in the day and in darkness, fortunately Transport for London do keep you informed via electronic bus displays.

On Saturday & after a most excellent evening of pizza & wine – I was dispatched safely by my daughter onto a number 45 bus. And with tables turned, I was given detailed instructions of where to get off, & advice to use Google as back up.

South London wining and dining
Pigeon pub, Blackbird cafè, legendary Theo’s pizza

With tables turned, on arrival above ground – my girls have texted to see I have arrived safely & I must update via WhatsApp that I am back in the hotel in one piece.

Parakeet spotting
River Thames
River Thames
Ruskin Park London
Ruskin Park

Brixton, London Tooting Common London

Tooting Common

Cloud and blue sky

Happy to report that regardless of being directionally challenged & inclined to a wee snooze on the tube – I survived my first time south of the river & by Monday was slowly feeling I had the measure of another slice of London.

Christmas cake baking – and running of course. Day 3

IMG_2451Today I decided to bake a Christmas cake. I used to get a bit hung up about baking the Christmas cake on a set day in November, but I decided it does not make any difference to the flavour so I just bake it a few weeks before Christmas whenever I can find some spare hours.

Making the cake is pretty straightforward – especially since I have started using a recipe recommended to me by my friend Sally at fitnaturally. Sally got this recipe from her neighbour and friend – Mrs Williams – sadly no longer around – and it is both the easiest and nicest Christmas cake recipe I have tried. I also like the thought of Mrs Williams skills in baking being shared far and wide, and enduring. That’s the lovely thing about baking and passing on recipes.

So Mrs Williams Christmas cake recipe is kind of an ‘all in one’ method – where you put the fruit, sugar, butter and spices into a pot then heat them up.

Then you add all the other ingredients to the cooled fruit mixture, give it a good mix and that’s it!

I find the hardest part of baking a Christmas cake is lining the tin, and with the long slow cooking, it is important to line it properly.  But though it is a fiddly job – it is an enjoyable ritual of sorts – wrapping the cake in its jacket of brown paper and string. And there is something very comforting about the gathering of ingredients, the preparation and then the aroma of Christmas cake baking that gets me in the festive mood.

Before baking the cake – I went on my day 3 run with Alison. Today we went on another of our weekend routes where we run from Colinton to Stockbridge. It is around 6 miles and pretty much downhill all the way following the water of Leith – so lots of running through woodland. We then get the bus or a lift back, so it’s an easy 6 miles.

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We could run there and back and many runners would do this by way of a longer Sunday run, but I am not training for any race at the moment and one thing I have realised over the years of doing run streaks- is that there is no point adding in extra mileage if you don’t have to.

IMG_2453

As it was, we had a very enjoyable social run rounded up nicely by a breakfast of fried egg roll and coffee at the Water of Leith bistro.

IMG_2591

Day 3: 6.01 miles

December total : 14.32 miles

Weather : fresh and sunny 4 degrees

Food for free ramsons reminisences

Earlier this month I made wild garlic pesto with my daughter and thought it a very current thing to do. Foraging,making food from scratch and connecting with nature definitely seems in vogue right now.

The day before we had taken a walk to collect the wild garlic from a woodland path and then, with a 21st century twist to our attempts at wild survival,had Googled to verify the plant type lest we pick anything deadly and then referred to Google once more to find a recipe.

Was very enjoyable to first harvest the leaves, then make the pesto together – even if the pine nuts, pecorino and olive oil were neither free nor foraged locally. But satisfying still to make food with a tiny connection to the land and to enjoy a bit of mother – daughter bonding over a shared food discovery at the same time.

After our pesto adventure I  came across my ageing copy of Richard Mabey’s book -Food For Free – given to me as a school prize for Modern Studies in 1976. Prize winners were free to pick their own book and my choice of this guide to feeding yourself from nature’s larder was, I imagine, something that fitted with me going through something of a mildly hippy phase – along with dressing in cheesecloth and listening to Bob Dylan.

In the mid 70s at the school I attended my favourite teachers seemed to me very modern and liberal – certainly after my village primary school. My teacher of Modern Studies,with her views on the Russian revolution and questionable power of the media certainly appeared to be interesting, worldly and cool to my 14-year-old self.

Choosing the Richard Mabey book coincided with a rather fogeyish interest I had at the time around the disappearing skills of food preservation and cooking and wanting to know more about how things were done in the ‘olden days’ – quizzing my  farmer dad about how to preserve food, make butter and making a reasonably successful  attempt at crowdie – basic cheese making.

With the benefit of hindsight I could say  this was me reacting to the change  I saw in eating patterns and dominance of factory produced ready meals – Vesta curry, Findus crispy pancakes  and the like, but I don’t know that I was trying to make a social comment  or that I was ahead of the curve, more likely I was just a bit of an odd child.

Is interesting now as with a renewed interest in food provenance and craft skills  more prevalent to think of that curiosity and my childhood experience. Many things I took for granted growing up in the countryside  around freshly grown food and a kinder approach to farming now seem to pop up on lifestyle and food programmes,  magazine articles as a return to a better way to live and eat. Reassuring I suppose to know that while food trends and fashion ebb and flow the fundamentals of good taste, heathy food and craft survive.

These days I no longer live in the countryside so my foraging is of the urban variety and I am really just a dabbler in  trying to find food for free, but through the small act of gathering wild garlic and making pesto with my daughter, I felt I had gone some way to rekindle my latent hunter gatherer.

jar of home made pesto