The witch’s cauldron

Hubble bubble. Toil – and so much trouble.

It’s been a while since I penned a post.

Titles sit alphabetically festering in my file. Symbols, waiting to lead into eloquent cries of woe. Painful shrieks of angst. Or even, you never know, stuttering odes to joy.

Too much turmoil, anyway, to stuff into a fewer-than-a-thousand-words-long post.

Which is why I’m resorting to … food.

Don’t we all? Sometimes?  When the going gets tough and the lure of toast, cake, cheese or chocolate – or sausages – becomes overwheming?


That’s right. Sausages.

I’ve been inspired by a silly picture going around Facebook which, yesterday, made me snort out loud.

Shared on Facebook by one James Young (not one of my 'friends')

Shared on Facebook by one James Young (not one of my ‘friends’)

Then, last night, I cooked one of our favourite one-pot meals.

And in my head I was back there: Swaziland.

Yes, no matter how far time removes me from those turbulent times, still, a sausage, takes me back.

And if you’re sniggering, please stop. It’s not a euphemism.

I occasionally think about doing a campfire cookbook. Recipes for those days when you’re stuck in the African bush, remote from anywhere, with limited food, cast iron cauldrons and an open fire.

But the market for that, let’s face it, is likely to be small.

And then there’s the other equipment you’d need.

Okay, so at Kalambo Falls, Zambia, I had none.

No, I lie. I had a kitchen.

Aka, vehicle with tailgate. Great kitchen… not.

Sierra Exif JPEG

Chopping onions on an inverted plastic lid seems a good idea doesn’t it? It’s not, well, not if the lid is convex by nature and becomes concave as you chop … think about it

(And, yes, that diversion was just so I could use this old picture, again)

And before we move on:

Sausage tree in the Luangwa Valley Zambia at the end of the rainy season

Sausage tree in the Luangwa Valley Zambia at the end of the rainy season

But going back to Swaziland…

It helps if you have caravan to hand with a battery-operated fridge. And if it’s working.

Then, if you have water, you can whip up iced coffee, with Coffee Mate. Which I did.

But that was a once-for-all-time occasion. And, let’s be honest, designed to impress You-Know-Who.

Mostly, I had an old Coca Cola fridge. It didn’t work, except when engineer Al came to stay for two weeks.

Elderly Al from the US of A was a quadruple-bypassed star.

The thing ran on paraffin – which we had – and his magic touch got the temperamental beast going.

Sadly, his magic wasn’t infectious – and soon it was back to being an insect-rodent-baboon-proof metal storage space, perfect for fresh fruit and veg.

Most evenings out in the bush, in our camp at the foot of the Lebombo mountains, under the shooting-star skies, we ate meat.

Day one, fresh meat in the cool box was still safe to eat.

Maybe chicken, as curry with tinned peaches.

Or chunks of culled wildebeest, with potato chunks and tinned waterblommetjes. South African waterblommetjebredie.

Day two and ‘one I made earlier’  would defrost in time for dinner. Impala goulash, or Wildebeest bourguignon. Cooked in a proper kitchen, many bad-road miles -and a lifestyle – away.

Impala. Far too pretty to eat I know, but they do make a nice roast haunch of...

Impala. Far too pretty to eat I know, but they do make a nice roast haunch of…

More boxes of pre-cooked wild animal concoctions would be stashed in a freezer on the Wildlife Reserve. We’d pick up one on our way homeward from digging.

Each evening, while Dudu, my Swazi helper and I prepared the meal, a certain tall Texan was in charge of snacks.

Tinned sardines on Provita biscuits, with a dash of hot pepper sauce. Or the best guacamole, ever.

Great nets of avocadoes sat waiting to be mashed and mixed with chopped fresh tomatoes from our safe metal store.

Tex and a helper would chop onions finely and create –  yum – a new taste sensation.

Guacamole hadn’t reached England yet, then.

Day three, if we’d brought Russian sausages, might be Cassoulet day.

And that’s the recipe I’m sharing today.

Not Cassoulet as you may know it, but to me, always the best.

(Pssst! there’s quite a nice picture at the end, if you want to skip the food)

Lebombo cassoulet (this version serves four,  if you have 24 hungry diggers to feed,  scale up!)Simple food


2 small/medium or one very large onion, peeled, halved and sliced

Oil or other fat for frying

1 small white cabbage (any cabbage really, but these work best), quartered, core removed and sliced

1 or 2 tins of cannellini, haricots or butterbeans (depending how much you like them/ whether this is your entire meal)

Sausages – depends what kind they are and how much you like them as to how many. I use whatever comes in the pack in the UK for 2 of us, usually three each or, in the case of the low fat ones, four. If you had four Russian sausages or boerewors you might burst

Apple juice/cider/white wine ½ pint

Stock (veggie/chicken) or water ½ pint

Black pepper

Dijon mustard

Caraway seeds

Bay leaf

(Possibly cornflour to thicken)


Fry the onions slowly in the oil or fat in the cauldron, till soft, over a pile of embers and ash at the edge of the fire. Add the sausages and move to hotter coals so the sausages brown a little.

A kitchen spoon and a spoon for stirring a big pot of mealie meal stodge

A kitchen spoon and a spoon for stirring a big pot of mealie meal stodge

(You can move coals and embers around into little depressions to create different temperature cooking areas but do be careful, use a spade/shovel with a long handle. By now if using a cauldron you will understand why African wooden spoons tend to be long…)

Add the cabbage and stir for a minute or so, then add the stock and wine/juice/cider.

Add caraway seeds to taste (I use about 2 teaspoons for us). Add the bay leaf.

Drain the beans (and rinse if you can but don’t fuss if you can’t) and add to the pot. Stir carefully. Put on the lid and move the cauldron to low heat.

Leave for 10 minutes then check the liquid. Add more if it’s evaporating too quickly. Check now and again.

After 35-40 minutes it should be done. If the cabbage looks tender and the sauce looks well combined it’s probably there, but as long as there is liquid in it you can leave it longer if you like.

If you’ve used fatty sausages then the sauce should by now be quite thick. If it’s not – or if you’ve used low fat sausages – you may need to thicken it. I use a little cornflour – 2 or 3 teaspoons, mixed with a little water. Stir into the pot over the heat until it thickens.

Now add mustard to taste – I use two teaspoons. Stir, serve and enjoy!

And be grateful for that hob, that kitchen, that sink and that running water. No matter how humble, believe me, it’s a blessing.

A print by a man called Austin, bought from the shop of a dear and sadly deceased friend in Malkerns Swaziland, showing Swazi women and typical Swazi huts - but no cast iron cauldrons, sorry

A print by a man called Austin, bought from the shop of a dear and sadly deceased friend in Malkerns Swaziland, showing Swazi women carrying Swazi water pots approaching typical Swazi huts – but no cast iron cauldrons, sorry

Posted in Simple Food for Simple Folk (like me), Socks, spoons, stones and sunsets, Travelling, Zambia | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Young girls picked them, every one

For the last few days I’ve been wondering what I can do, if anything, to make things better in this mad, mad, post-truth, us-and-them world.

And I think I have a solution.

That’s quite a claim to make, I know.  And I might, of course, be lying.

But aren’t you the tiniest bit intrigued?

It’s become a bit of a preoccupation, pondering how to make a difference.

So many people, so perturbed by the world around us, gasping, hopelessly, online.

Because it does grind you down, all the online obsessing over Trump, Brexit, Syria, refugees, terrorism … et cetera.

And it’s hard to tear free.

One more meme, one more blog post. Just one little editorial – and a peek at a US satirical show.

I find myself wanting to see Trump fail – but also feeling a frisson at each bold, new departure from previously accepted norms of American presidential behaviour.

‘Ooh, look what he’s gone and done now!’

The world-wide protests, at first, felt reassuring.


Articles have been proliferating, penned by people who seem to know, saying protest doesn’t work. Each outburst is a flame, singeing the big man’s sensitive ego.

More dangerous still, it distracts attention from other worrying things.

Decisions sneaked through. Obscured by slapstick Tweets, or signed-with-a-flourish-executive-orders.

‘The Origins of Totalitarianism,’ by Hannah Arendt – a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany – is the new must-have tome for the worrying class.

Might it really be happening?

An end to enlightenment?

A forced march to totalitarianism?

And if it is, how do we stop it?

Well, let’s assume hostile protest is not the way. What then?

If you haven’t seen this heart-melting video from a Danish TV station watch it now:

Add to that sentiment my in-house academic’s frequent references to hunter gatherer societies. Groups where there was no hiding from shame – or from shaming. Behaviour regulated by peer group pressure.

And that Hawaiian Huna philosophy I discovered when blogging about the Women’s Rally.

Can’t we start to make things better, simply, by being differently?

I can’t do this thing alone. I need friends.

In fact, I don’t just need friends I need enemies.

I need apathists.

I need old people and young people.

I need men and women, black, white, purple – whatever the hue.

I need gays and straights and transgender people.

I need Jews and Christians, Muslims and humanists, Quakers, Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs and atheists …

I need everyone in the whole wide world.

I need we not me.

And we need a bigly idea 😉



That’s when a song started playing in my head. From the summer of love. 1967. Two, actually:


I thought of flower power. Of love, peace, harmony – and dope.

Sorry. I meant grass.

Which brings me back to flowers.

It was the poet Allen Ginsberg who coined the term ‘flower power’ and, man, that dude wrote some heavy sh-t. This, for example, about Plutonium, our ‘radioactive Nemesis’:

My oratory advances on your vaunted Mystery! This
breath dispels your braggart fears! I sing your
form at last
behind your concrete & iron walls inside your fortress
of rubber & translucent silicon shields…

I’m no aficionado. I looked him up for this post and read his Plutonian Ode.

But it struck me he created, in the concept of flower power, a similarly invincible, fragile – and thereby extremely powerful – antidote to seemingly un-fightable power.

Google ‘flower power guns’ and you can track down images that should make you believe you can do anything.

A young American man feeding a flower into the barrel of a gun. (My husband’s economics professor was there.)

Pentagon march 1967. Image Mark Riboud

Pentagon march 1967. Image Mark Riboud

A young woman in Prague holding a flower before the bayonets of invading Russian soldiers in 1968 (scroll through, it’s worth it):

The flower power movement’s strength was in its very fragility.

OK so it didn’t, ultimately, work. Or last. Nice idea, lousy implementation – especially for women.

But now is different.

Now we have the World Wide Web.

Now we are all part spider.

Every time a finger swipes a screen or pounds a keyboard, our sensitive limbs can feel the trembling of the virtual world.

And I’m not saying that flower power is the solution, but it could be a start.

What’s that?

I said I had THE solution?

No, you said that, I said A solution.


But I do feel there’s a crack in the wall, where the light gets in.

That Danish video shows our boundaries are far weaker than our common humanity.

So how do we break them down?

Start small.

Start individually.

Talk to other people. Don’t assume they’re wrong. They may be, but understand why they may feel the way they do – and remember we’re all human. All weak.

Instead of anger, wonder why. Instead of swearing, admit you just don’t understand why that prat overtook you in a 30 mile-an-hour zone.

Begin to feel differently yourself and it will have a knock-on reaction.

Trust me, I’ve been trying it. It (mostly) works.

You’re probably thinking, huh, what a let-down. A wishy-washy stupid solution.

But humour me. Watch this beautiful video. Feel the love and optimism. (And envy the fab clothes!)


John Lennon urged peace and non-violence – and some will say, yeah, and look what happened to him.

We do need to argue. Respond constructively, when freedoms and rights are threatened.


And so I write in hope.

I also write as someone who, as a pre-teenage child, was terrified of nuclear war. The doctor prescribed a tranquilising medicine. I still remember its milky colour and grainy texture.

And I still fear what happens when we don’t learn.

Please, watch this video of Marlene Dietrich. I defy you not to be moved.

And as you wipe away the tears, ask yourself, can we learn, this time, not to pick all the flowers?





Posted in Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments

Are people made from trees?

If Norse myths are to be believed then, yes, we are – and there are plenty of less credible stories around in these days of Trump triumphant.

But I’m off politics. For today.

So, staying with tales of yore…

From the 17th century Icelandic manuscript AM 738 4to, now in the care of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland.

From the 17th century Icelandic manuscript AM 738 4to, now in the care of the Árni Magnússon Institute in Iceland.

In the Nordic mythic universe, not only is our world a great ash tree –  Yggdrasill, the tree of life or world tree – but we humans are all derived from lumps of wood three gods found when out walking.

Those gods were far from lonely.

They had dwarfs and giants, monsters and elves for company, plus the dreadful offspring of Loki – an assortment of creatures you really wouldn’t want round your dinner table. Or anywhere else in your vicinity.

Mischievus, shape-shiftin Loki also from an Icelandic manuscript (via Wikipedia, creative commons)

Mischievous, shape-shifting Loki from an Icelandic manuscript












But they went ahead and created humans.

I haven’t read enough, yet, to work out why. I’m not sure I’d have created us.

But I love trees.

I love them so much it hurts when I see one being felled, for some apparently trivial reason, by a fellow human being.

At the sound of a chainsaw I go running to the window. Anxiety rising as my mind races.

Is it a tree? Which tree? Where?

I’m usually relieved. A joiner cutting timber, or a tree surgeon, properly trimming a branch or two.

For the last three years I’ve lived surrounded by trees. Our small garden augmented by a bosky bit of the golf course round us.

A sliver of moon over the front of our house, the trees on the right inhabit the golf course and these weeping birches are probably my favourites.

A sliver of moon over the front of our house, the trees on the right inhabit the golf course

Birch trees and pines.

Holly, hawthorn, rowan.

Even little oaks. Probably sown by jays, who make a habit of burying acorns.

I’ve watched these trees, through the seasons and the hours.

Fizzing frothily green in the cool of middling spring.

Lush, fresh and fulsome in the heady months of summer.

Gold, brown and red in the warmth of early autumn.

Bare-branched in the scalpel light of frosty winter days.

These trees live in the ‘rough’. A thin strip of land, outside our fence, that separates us from the men (and occasional women) out hitting balls with sticks.P1020891

Amid the weeds and brambles, the pretty fox, Shy Reynardine, basks on a sunny afternoon.

The pine tree branches quiver, even on the stillest day, as red squirrels spring to the peanut feeder, meant for the little birds.img_0572



A flash of red and white, followed by tapping, alerts me to the woodpecker’s head-banging presence.

And in summer butterflies dance in the sunbeams – and feed on treetop nectar.

It’s a magical place.

I swear fairies hold their pageants here, after the world turns dark. When the bats flit and the Little Owl’s out hunting.

And, who knows? Perhaps the grass has been flattened by the passage of mythical beasts. Of unicorns, bearing elves.

But, last week, something clouded my vision.

I was having a very domestic week, since my work-in-hand is out being read.

I was getting stuff done 😦

One day, back from town, I traipsed upstairs to the kitchen to put on the kettle. And heard a chainsaw.

I hardly dared look.

I went to the balcony that overlooks our little back garden – and the rough.

There I saw warriors in high-vis yellow armour. And helmets. And goggles.

One of them wielding a chainsaw.

Three trees were already dead.

A bigger one, right behind our neighbour’s fence, still stood, its pretty shape proud against the grim grey sky.

I pulled open the door. Stepped out onto the balcony.

‘You’re not cutting any more down are you?’

‘Yes. That one.’ The pretty-shaped one.

‘And some of that one’s going too.’ A branching birch that was a blaze of gold last autumn.

I felt hollow inside. My trees – but not my trees. Gone.

No chance to save them, to ring a man and plead for their lives.

But like the idiot I am, I rang anyway. And some time later a man returned my call.

‘It’s all right,’ he reassured me. ‘It’s part of a managed plan.’

‘But we had no warning,’ I said.

‘If there’d been a health and safety issue, we’d have warned you,’ he replied.

I could almost feel him patting me on the head and saying, ‘there-there’. And I bet he was thinking, it’s none of her business, they’re our trees, after all.

Can trees, really be owned? Who owns the rain that waters them, the wind that makes them strong, the worms that till the soil?

But I wasn’t thinking that then.

‘Imagine you’re me,’ I blurted out. ‘The trees inspire you, you write about them, they’re…  Can’t you put yourself in my place?’

‘No,’ he said, ‘to be honest, I can’t.’

‘Well, then,’ I said. ‘Imagine you’re a painter who paints those trees and you come home to find they’re gone.’

Like David Hockney, I thought, but didn’t say. I suppose the felling of ‘his’ Yorkshire trees was part of another ‘managed plan’.

Images copyright David Hockney as published in the Daily Mail Online (sorry) - he was going to paint the trees through the  seasons and had done summer and winter.

Images copyright David Hockney as published in the Daily Mail Online (sorry) – he was going to paint the trees through the seasons and had done summer and winter.


There’s more felling to come, apparently. But the plan doesn’t have a timescale he would – or could – divulge.

So now I live I a different world. Anxious at what’s yet to come.

If you love trees you’ll know how I feel.

But if you’re ambivalent, you may be wondering, why the fuss?

Well, I sympathise with that.

There is no war on our doorstep. No famine, nor dread epidemic.

We are not – yet – threatened with prison, simply for speaking our minds.

We have a roof over our heads. A garden, no matter how small.

We have.

We are.

Such important words, for humans.

And for all that we have and are able to be, I am grateful.

But I realise now that the Norse myths have a point. We may not be trees, but we share something profound.

Our roots may keep us settled, fed and growing. But their security is an illusion.


This was the view from my study(that's the balcony above, jutting our from our dining room) last autumn on the first frosty day of winter. There wasn't a breath of wind and suddenly the leaves started falling, straight down, in a golden shower. It put me in mind of Zeus and Danae so I hope there wasn't a maiden sitting beneath them as they fell ;-) I'm sure the gaps the felling has now left will look better in spring when the leaves awaken. I hope.

This was the view from my study (that’s the balcony above, it juts out from our dining room) last autumn on the first frosty day. There wasn’t a breath of wind but suddenly the leaves started falling, straight down, in a golden shower. It put me in mind of Zeus and Danae so I hope there wasn’t a maiden sitting beneath them as they landed 😉 I’m sure the gaps the felling has now left (I can’t bear to take a picture) will look better in spring when the leaves awaken. I hope. In spring hope is eternal isn’t it, or something like that? 😉


Posted in Britain now & then, Lancashire & the golf coast, Thinking, or ranting, or both | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 23 Comments