Tuesday, March 31, 2015
Had an EPIC stomp around the Marcite today. It was the warmest day of the year so far, at 22 degrees, and I didn't bother with either a jacket or even a cardie. I took a nice flask of green and gallium aparine tea, and used my backpack chair, stopping when the bells for Sext wafted up the valley from the Basilica, and joined in from afar.
Three hours, all the way down the hill, across the Nera and mucking about in the mud, wading over the little streams and peering into the depths. In one little pond, I saw lots of caddis fly larvae with their intricate little stone houses and a few water-skaters, but also witnessed something I'd only previously seen on Nature Shows on tv. I startled a spider as I approached the pond, and it ran across the surface of the water, its little feet bouncing off the water's surface tension like a trampoline. If I'd been just glancing the wrong way for an instant I'd have missed it. No more than a tenth of a second across to a safe blade of grass. Amazing!
Startled a few pheasants, and saw plenty of trout in the river. Took a rest in the shade of a willow in the middle of a big field to have a cup of green tea. Without another human in sight, I figured it was the perfect moment to make up a new song. "Happiness is a Damp Swamp" to the tune of the Beatles song Happiness is a Warm Gun, sung loud and through several verses improvised on the spot.
The nettles are up, and I collected two full shopping bags worth, mainly around the base of one of the old ruins where the nettles had grown up between the fallen stones and so had lots of sun. It made it a bit hazardous to climb over these loose stones, but it was fun.
Not only are they an excellent green leafy vegetable when steamed, full of ten times the nutrients as spinach, a decoction of the fresh leaves taken twice a day can treat seasonal allergies, which, as I moaned about earlier, have flared up ferociously in the last few weeks; I sound and feel like I've got a horrible deathly cold. Antihistamines work pretty well, but turn me into a zombie, so I'm going to try some Urtica dioica.
I started the seeds for chamomile, salvia and marjoram and will do the rest when I've finished my stories tonight. I've also bought the necessaries for finishing the stock I've been planning. A friend likes to serve prime rib for Christmas and I have had last year's bones in my freezer all this time, waiting for a new pressure cooker. Well, today's the day.
Stock is very misunderstood. People think that it's meat-flavoured water that you get from boiling the meat and the bones don't add much. But in fact, that's what used to be called "beef tea" which was popular for sick people in the 18th and 19th centuries because it was pretty insipid and you could digest it on a weak stomach. But with real stock, it's the bones that give you the goods, and what you've got at the end is not flavoured water, but liquified meat protein. Bones are spongey, and the cells are filled with this marrow stuff that is possibly the healthiest part of the animal. The way to get it out of the bone framework is simply dissolving it in hot water over a long time.
I do it the traditional way by saving in the freezer the odds and ends of vegetables. I've got a bag of frozen asparagus ends and mushroom stems, then toss in a whole onion or two, paper and all, an apple cut in half, a carrot and a few stems of celery, cloves of garlic and peppercorns. I also throw in a couple of whole cloves, but not too many as well as a handful of bay leaves and maybe a bit of orange peel. Fresh herbs should be thyme and marjoram, but not oregano which tends to be too strong. I also exclude from the veg any brassicas, broccoli or cabbage for the same reason. You also have to be careful to avoid anything that would disintegrate too thoroughly, so no potatoes. You're not making soup. Soup comes later.
All in the pot, and top up with water and let er go. Without a pressure cooker, I used to let stock go for at least five hours. Just on a very low simmer; no boiling. With a pressure cooker... we'll have to see.