April 6, 2014 § Leave a comment
For many years I was quite wary of baking my own bread. It was not so much the baking that instilled fears but the yeast. I had known some disastrously dense bricks in my time. For years my bread-making was limited to soda breads: quick cobs that rely on bicarbonate of soda and a dash of buttermilk. And then, three years ago, something changed and I have not looked back.
To my amazement I found fresh yeast in my local organic grocery shop. I had not seen any since I was a child growing up on the continent. The inch square putty-coloured blocks changed my relationship with yeast and kick-started a weekly bread-baking routine.
Fresh yeast smells more intense than dried yeast. Once dissolved in warm water, it releases a wonderfully ‘cosy’ smell. There is no other way to describe it. Watching my first batch of yeasted bread in over a decade rise was also a revelation. When I handled the dough after its first proving, it felt fluffy and springy. The finished loaves were crunchy on the outside and airy yet chewy on the inside.
Since this wonder putty coaxed me back into baking with yeast, I have tested dried granulated yeast and discovered it works just as well as the fresh stuff. The key to using yeast, even temporarily dormant dried yeast, is to not let it hang around. It is a living enzyme that loses its potency quickly. The best way to use a packet of dried yeast before its vigour fades is to make bread on a weekly or fortnightly basis.
As yeast is a living thing, it is also important to remember that the same recipe can produce very different loaves. The modern food distribution system has got us used to homogenised products. Some domestic cooks even adopt processes to emulate such consistency: e.g. heating the water to the same temperature every time, measuring out the mix of flour precisely… However, as temperature, air humidity and freshness (of both the yeast and flour) all influence the end product, I prefer to celebrate variation rather than aim for uniformity.
My basic bread recipe
- 750g strong flour – I use a mix of strong white flour, strong brown (or malted granary) and a little brown spelt flour, with an approximate ratio of 2 or 3 of brown to 1 of white flour. My mix depends on what I happen to have in the cupboard
- seeds – usually a small handful of linseed and about the same of sunflower seeds but I have been known to add fine pinhead oatmeal or pumpkin seeds depending on supplies
- 60g fresh yeast or 30g dried yeast*
- 15g salt
- 430ml tepid water
- a splash of olive oil, some recipes say 1 tbsp but I just work by eye
Put all ingredients (except the oil) in a bowl/mixer and knead thoroughly (with a dough hook if using a mixer). When the dough starts to come together but is still ‘craggy’, add the oil. Leave on a floured baking sheet to rise for about an hour, covered with a warm damp cloth. Knock the dough back, knead briefly and shape it into two loaves. Some people religiously use bread tins but as I am too lazy to buy any, I just form torpedo shaped loaves and bake them on an oiled tray. Bake for 20-25 mins in a hot oven, i.e. 220C or 425F (a little less if fan assisted) or Gas Mark 7. After the prescribed time, tap the base of the bread. If it sounds hollow, it is ready. If not, turn the oven off and let it continue to bake for 5-10 minutes in the residual heat. Leave the loaves to cool on a wire rack.**
These days I make a mix of plain and flavoured breads. Before adding the oil, I break off about a third of the craggy dough. I make a large plain loaf first and then add freshly chopped rosemary leaves or caraway or fennel seeds to the craggy dough before mixing in the oil. Due to my lack of loaf tins I tend to bake these flavoured loaves in terra cotta pots.***
Despite the bad press that carbohydrates and gluten have received in recent years in the West, there is a reason why bread (in some form or another) has been a staple in many cultures down the ages. Bake your own loaf and you too can discover what a joy a good, fresh loaf is!
Practicalities for novice bakers
* Fresh yeast needs to be dissolved in the warm water before adding it to the flour. There are two types of dried yeast: instant or fast action dried yeast that can be added directly to the flour mix or dried active yeast. If you are using the latter, add it to the warm water and wait for it to froth (about 10-15 minutes) before adding it to the flour mix. The water needs to be hand warm to activate the enzymes in the yeast but never hot as this would kill off the enzymes.
** If you do not have a wire rack, you can leave the loaf to cool on the top of a gas stove or the even the concentric rings of an electric one, anywhere where some air can circulate below the loaf so it does not sit in residual moisture whilst cooling down.
*** Many baking books and programmes would have you to believe that you need all manner of equipment for baking. Nothing is further from the truth. If you soften butter before baking bread or biscuits, you can get away with a wooden spoon or hand whisk the way generations have done before the advent of electric equipment. Use a cup or glass instead of pastry cutters to punch out biscuits. You can even use old tins (ones that are not coated with plastic) for steamed puddings (see Lavender & Lovage’s Spiced Mixed Fruit Roll).
March 28, 2014 § Leave a comment
It is that time of year when I feel very greedy. Hardly appropriate in Lent but there you have it. A sense of longing for what I do not have creeps in. It is hardly gluttony or envy, just a desire for a little bit more. And it is prompted not by the latest gadget or a desire for what my neighbour has but by the early spring sun and seasonal renewal.
After the grey drizzle of a mild but dark winter there are signs of life in the garden. The narcissi are blooming, the tulips have put on a growth spurt and there are young leaves on the rose and hydrangea bushes. The chard and winter cabbage are going strong as the winter kale runs to seed. Mint and chives are producing new growth. The blackbird is singing loudly, eager for a mate. The blue tits dance and dive round the bird feeder… There is hardly an abundance of crops and the hungry gap is still to come but the sap is definitely rising in both the garden and the gardener in me.
This week the postman delivered my latest order of vegetable seeds: runner and French beans, carrots, leeks and lettuce seeds. I have already potted on the tomato and spring cabbage seedlings and they are enjoying the gentle sunlight on the living room windowsill. I’ve sown my first beetroots and lettuces in modules and early carrot seeds in pots of sandy soil. I am willing on a liberal sowing of sorrel, mixed leaves and radishes and the potatoes have started to go into my array of large planters.
All this potential goodness fills me with joy but I cannot help wanting more. A supply of home-grown cut flowers to be precise. Previously I have grown calendula for pollinators and pest control and a small patch of lavender for the wardrobe but my heart longs for jugs of flowers.
It would be very easy to focus on the square feet of soil I do not have, the beds and borders for which there is no space in our little London garden. Or I can look on the bright side, thank my lucky stars I have outside space and stretch my creativity to devise ways to squeeze in a few pretty flowers. A hint of a cottage garden in our allotment-style backyard.
Mr M and I have already decided to sacrifice some of our limited seating area for another raised bed. As this will be a fresh one (i.e. new compost and less likelihood of pests and diseases), it will primarily be devoted to vegetables: French beans to the rear, carrots in the middle and spring onions and baby leaks to the front. As I have read that wispy Love-in-the-Mist works well amongst carrots, I shall add some dark blue Miss Jekyll, which should look stunning against a backdrop of white-flowered runner beans.
Our old raised bed has done sterling service over the last three years but it deserves a break and some replenishment. I shall leave the new crop of chard and this year’s garlic in the bed, but dig out the kale that served us well for over a year. In its place will go undemanding lettuces and radishes and a wigwam of sweet peas. I am hoping that these nitrogen-fixing plants will add nutrients to the soil as well as supply delicate fragrant flowers for our living room.
The back bed is home to this season’s brassicas (a couple of plump cabbages but mostly thin, tall cavalo di nero), a few rose bushes and spring daffodils. I plan to sow beetroot around the edge of the bed and add a couple of cosmos purity seedlings, verbena bonariensis (a tall, see-through plant that does not rob anything of sun light) and some stocks for their heady smell and cottage garden feel.
As the back garden is a busy plot, I shall to stick to whites, blues and purples, punctuated by the occasional shot of orange from the calendula and nasturtium I grow for pest control purposes. The front garden – all two by six foot of it – will be a much hotter affair! The bed already contains self-seeded calendula, to which I shall add blazing tithonia rotundiflora’, daisy-headed feverfew for that country look and ammi visnaga, a gorgeous umbellifer beloved by pollinators (and a welcome little extra from Higgledy Garden, my independent flower seed supplier).
Greed may be a sin but surely a desire for the gorgeousness of a cottage garden is not that bad, especially if it fuels creativity, spurs me to tend what I already have and allows me to share an abundance with neighbours, friends and the local wildlife!
Many of the flowers I plan to grow are bee-friendly.. A detailed list of pollinator friendly flowers can be found here.
*Kailyard is the Scottish word for a kitchen garden or potager. It is not only wonderfully descriptive but also an attractively austere word. The vocabulary of gardening and common names of plant are actually another dimension of the joy of gardening. How can words like fiddleneck, teasel and greater quaking grass not conjure up memories of lost histories and untold stories…?
March 22, 2014 § 4 Comments
In January I committed to keep going with the Wartime Wardrobe Challenge (with a few modifications). Another year of self-imposed rationing may seem like madness but I have experienced more upsides than hardships from living with a degree of restraint. Less choice and clutter certainly make life easier! Also, last year piqued my curiosity. British women put up with clothes rationing from 1941 to 1949! Although I do not intend to commit to an 8-year plan, I am interested in exploring what constitutes “enough” for a good life for a little longer.
Based on last year’s experience I have made a few tweaks to the project. As modern knickers involve considerably less fabric than capacious wartime ones, I shall equate three pairs of smalls to one pair of camiknickers (4 coupons).
I have also made a reluctant decision about knitwear. Last year I found it harder to limit the amount I knitted than the number of clothes I bought. I enjoy knitting: it relaxes me and is part of what makes up my ‘good life’! And like sewing, it is allows me to take more control over the supply chain of my clothes. Therefore, and as knitting your own woollies is the opposite of fast fashion, I have decided to discount my own cardies and jumpers from five to three coupons, but only for the first three knits so this discount does not become a carte blanche for unbridled consumption.
I reckon these two tweaks bring me broadly into line with the allowance adopted by Alexandra and Malin, two Swedish sewers who have devised a similar challenge. They intentionally opted for 75 coupons as they wanted a challenge that is sustainable over several years.
Planning and double-duty
As I shall extend this challenge for a couple of years, planning will be even more important. With my glacial internal thermostat, I know that most of my ‘budget’ will go on winter/autumn clothes. And by sticking to flattering cuts, fabrics and colours, I already have a useful capsule wardrobe to work with. On this basis, I reckon I can allocate one quarter of my allowance to teeshirts and knits and another quarter to trousers/skirts/dresses to maximise my existing clothes. I shall use about a third of the coupons to replace underwear, stockings, shoes or coats (as necessary), leaving about 12 coupons per year for emergencies and frivolities.
Wherever possible I shall favour double-duty garments. As my style tends to smart but rarely dressy, I have always favoured clothes that can be dressed up or down (like black trousers or jersey dresses), but I shall increasingly be looking for ones that work for different activities. Like long-line yoga teeshirts that look stylish under a cardigan. Or my new raincoat, a waxed organic cotton affair in a daring mustard yellow. This shade would not normally be my first choice but as I am increasingly cycling rather than taking the bus or train, this coat ticks the ‘relatively smart’ as well as ‘visible’ box (and avoids me having to buy a hideous fluorescent cycling jacket).
Applying the updated coupon chart, I have spent nearly a third of my allowance in the first quarter, mostly due to the raincoat (11 coupons). A further ten coupons went on a long-sleeved yoga/smart teeshirt and a merino mid-layer running top that also looks cute over jeans, once washed of course!
As I mentioned in my last Wartime Wardrobe Challenge post, for me the project was never about clothing per se. Clothes were just a good vehicle for starting a conversation about consumption, resource use, needs and wants… Like my fellow WWC deviser Nik, I am therefore delighted that other bloggers have taken up the baton, whether with formal projects or not, like Jackie over at Life during Wartime Challenge or Alexandra and Malin’s Sew for a Change.
Although I shall check in occasionally on the topic of clothes, I am widening my focus. After all, clothing only accounts for about eight per cent of an average UK household’s carbon footprint, compared to the big culprits: travel (27%), food (24%) and heating (13%).* Nevertheless, clothing is a good starting point and one that can segue into other areas. For example, did you know that wearing a thicker jumper (rather than turning up the thermostat) can be more effective at cutting greenhouse gas emissions than installing energy-efficient lightbulbs?!**
*Druckman, A. and Jackson T. An exploration into the carbon footprint of UK households, RESOLVE Working Paper, University of Surrey, 2010.
**Druckman, Hartfree, Hirsh, Perren, Sustainable income standards: towards a greener minimum? Loughborough University, 2011.
March 15, 2014 § 2 Comments
I like a good historical exhibition, especially one that focusses on the everyday. Swords, shields and other paraphernalia of war leave me cold; pots, shreds of fabric, cracked tools, broken toys and instruments… by contrast spark my imagination. They not only conjure up a past way of life but also conversations.
As I was inspecting the terracotta pots and brittle glass flasks in the Archaeological Museum of Thessaloniki last summer, I could hear a middle class housewife’s order: “Three urns of wine, no not those one, the quality stuff in the urns with the dancing nymphs”. Or a daughter pleading with her mother “for the special oil, the one in the tiny amber bottles rather than the ceramic pots”. I often wonder whether shoppers down the ages were influenced by the packaging the way we are today. Or did that only start in the Victorian Age with mass production and the birth of branded products…?
Looking around my bathroom, brands are barely in evidence, mainly because most of the products I use are ingredients rather than processed and packaged goods. Admittedly there is a tube of toothpaste and a block of Marseille soap, which is nominally branded but looses it ’72% olive oil’ stamp within days. Apart from these the bathroom cabinet contains grape seed oil*, distilled witch hazel, pinhead oatmeal**, cider vinegar, borax, bicarbonate of soda… and precious little branding.
The witch hazel comes in a brown bottle from an old-school pharmacist. Virtually all other products are bulk-buy items that I decant into recycled jars and bottles. Some of these are attractive, like an old blue Neal’s Yard bottle, with a handy pump, that I use for the oil. Others are mundane: I store the oatmeal in a squat and wide-necked tapenade jar; an old marmalade jar is home to the clay I use for washing my scalp/hair; a jar that previously contained preserved lemons now contains borax; and I use empty bottles for diluting cider vinegar for a conditioning hair rinse.
I adopt a similarly pragmatic approach in the kitchen. Yes, you will find Oxo cubes, Golden Syrup and other familiar names in the pantry but also a motley collection of recycled bottles and jam jars containing grains and home-made preserves. Large jars with wide necks are particularly prised in our home as marmalade, jam, chutney and mincemeat making define the seasons more than the temperature does. And gin, sherry and whisky bottles make super containers for rice and other grains.
When shopping, whether for cooking or cleaning goods, I like to go back to source, i.e. to basic ingredients, preferably organic and Fairtrade. Furthermore, any product I buy has to get over the nut-free hurdle. I may currently buy a particular brand of flour, tea, honey… but my choice is driven not by brand loyalty. It is the result of the complete opposite that branding agencies strive for: careful scrutiny of the list of ingredients, their origin and any processing information on the label… Yes, it means grocery shopping cannot be done on autopilot but in my mind, it should not be. What we put on or in our bodies is far too important.
And does the shape of the jar, logo on the tin or colourful packaging… add to a product’s effectiveness as a scouring agent or improve the flavour of my grains? Hardly. If anything, my pearl barley and couscous taste all the better for the hint of juniper and peat from the shamelessly recycled bottles…!
* Gentle vegetable oil makes a simple but nourishing moisturiser – it only takes a couple of drops applied to damp skin. Better still, a single drop on a little cotton removes eye make-up and moisturises eye lids at the same time.
** Medium milled pinhead oatmeal is a bit of an unsung bathroom hero. A teaspoon of oatmeal and a drop of water make a gentle face scrub for dry/sensitive/older skin but pop a spoon of it on a quarter of a lemon and you get a highly effective scouring pad that shifts limescale off the sink and taps in next to no time!
March 5, 2014 § 2 Comments
What do books, a CD, a film, potatoes and a legal battle have in common? They are all projects I have invested in.
As with most things digital, I was a latecomer to crowd-funding but it resonated with me for two reasons. First, for all the trappings of the Internet, it is not a new way of funding projects, especially in the Arts. Secondly, crowd-funding allows me to invest in a different type of economy and the kind of society I want to see.
Investment or payment?
In the past 18 months I have supported the production of a documentary film, a CD and two books. As a copy of each book, a CD and cinema tickets will drop though my letterbox at some point, my contributions could simply be called payment with deferred delivery. In some ways they are but in many ways crowd-funding is completely different to wandering into a shop and handing over money, or even pre-ordering an item.
Investing in a crowd-funded project help ideas that appeal to me see the light of day, like Leah Borromeo’s documentary Dirty White Gold, which “follows the thread of our clothing from seed to shop” or Letters to a Beekeeper, a book by Alys Fowler and Steven Benbow. Importantly, crowd-funding allows creators to produce the work they envisage, unconstrained by formats that publishers or producers impose to ‘make the product marketable’.
Take Paul Kingsnorth’s book The Wake. I have just received this beautifully produced book. How many publishers would have paid an advance to allow an author to tell the story of the underground resistance that followed the Norman Conquest, let alone pay him to do so in an invented language that resembles Old English? And how many would have gone to the effort and cost to produce a handsome coptic bound volume?
Supporting the production of a CD not only allows musicians outside the mainstream to share their music. It can also make the difference between an artist being able to pay guest musicians in a timely fashion or having to wait until the CD has been launched and enough copies have been sold. I know that in this day of downloads and streaming, many think music should be available for free or mere pennies. I however prefer a world in which everybody receives a fair and timely wage for their labour. I therefore welcomed the opportunity to support Maz O’Connor’s initiative to finance the production of her second CD This Willowed Light rather than hand over the cover price of the CD to a large corporation.
Investments with edible interest
Whilst some of the investments I have made deliver a fixed return, like a book or CD, others are more speculative.
Potatoes might not sound like an exciting product but the Sarvari Research Trust’s efforts to develop non-GMO, no-spray blight resistant potatoes caught my eye. In 2012 I contributed to a campaign to develop a new variety of Sarpo potato and this year I made a loan so the trust can produce more Sarpo seed potatoes and market them more widely.
In its latest campaign the trust welcomes donations or fixed-term loans, interest on which is partially paid in seed potatoes. When I learnt of this, I knew I wanted to invest by way of a loan but as with any formal transaction, I felt I needed to do some due diligence, especially if I was to encourage others to invest too. Being British, I felt a little awkward about approaching the small not-for-profit association with questions about its business plan and marketing strategy but there was no need. The campaign manager was only too delighted to share more information.
Due to the nature of the Sarvari Trust’s project, I feel considerably more involved in this investment than I ever shall with my pension plan! I enthusiastically read details of its marketing efforts, like last Saturday’s Potato Day, and am excited about every update on its fundraising efforts. The trust has already raised over £33,000 and is looking to get as close to £50,000 as possible by mid March!
My enthusiasm for the Sarpo Potatoes project goes well beyond the interest available on my loan. As much as I look forward to including “x seed potatoes” as income on my tax return, the main reason for investing in this project is a desire to support a business whose product I enjoy and values I support. A business that offers a positive solution to the problem of blight, i.e. seed that delivers a tasty yield in a natural way without adding to soil, water and air pollution.
Speculative but important investments
Then there are the highly speculative but important investment… like supporting Farm Terrace Allotment plot holders engaged in a legal battle to stop their allotments being sold off. Whilst Watford council maintains the sale is necessary to make the new ‘health campus’ more profitable for developers, the majority of the campus will be devoted to housing. There are even doubts about whether the campus will actually include any clinical facilities.**
Rather than being bulldozed by the council and developer, the committed plot holders are challenging the Secretary of State’s decision with a judicial review on the grounds that he did not follow his own policy when approving the sale of the allotment. As a gardener and passionate believer in allotments, I have followed this gutsy campaign closely and when Farm Terrace Allotment plot holders decided to use crowd-funding to cover the legal fees, I was happy to make a contribution. Having been a lawyer, I know that court proceedings are risky but this battle is not just about one site. The campaigners are looking to clarify the only laws we have to protect allotments against councils eager to sell off precious land. In my book, that is a battle worth investing in!
Crowd-funding may not be appropriate for every financial decision or business model but it is a lot of fun and creates a very different connection between you, society and economic activity.
* Photo courtesy of the Sarvari Research Trust.
** If you are in the UK and want to learn more about the legal battle for Farm Terrace Allotment, check out this BBC report (starting at 11.06 minutes).
February 23, 2014 § 1 Comment
Apparently it takes a month to learn a bad habit but three months to instill a good one. The last few years have been a time of habit breaking and making but I have been too focussed on the practicalities and effects of changing habits to worry about counting days, weeks or months. One thing I have learnt is that fun new routines make it a lot easier to break bad habits. The other is that distilling hopeful wishes down to true motivation makes all the difference to whether a new habit sticks or not.
For example, the smell of garlic sizzling in the pan has an uncanny way of waking up my taste buds and tempting me with the suggestion of a dry sherry or drop of wine. On a bad day it takes resolve to ignore them. That was until I moved my runs and workouts to early evening. Not only does my body crave water and food after a sweat-inducing sprint, spinning class or mile on the rowing machine, it physically cannot stomach the acidity of alcohol after a cardio session.
Similarly, whilst I am still very much a night owl, my bedtime has steadily shifted from well past midnight to crawling into bed by 11.30pm. Part of me still loves the idea of squeezing in an extra hour of reading or writing but I definitely feel healthier after an early night and these days, feeling healthy is the main priority!
Routines and systems are also important for galvanising habits into a busy schedule. Writing out a weekly menu and shopping list on Saturday morning directly influences how nutritious our diet is and how little waste we produce. Similarly, whilst I shall never be the tidiest soul on earth, simple, workable systems like a shoe rack and hooks on the back of doors means the house does not look like a permanent bomb site.
In the last couple of weeks I have been particularly conscious of the importance of habits, routines and systems. After a thoroughly enjoyable two-year interlude I have returned to work. My commute is certainly not the worst in the world and the hours are nothing like those I worked in law, but the days are still long and my energy levels are taking a hit.
New routines will inevitably develop to accommodate working life again. I suspect I will have to move mid-week runs to the morning and my blogging to lunchtime if I want to continue to enjoy these non-work activities. And as I am commuting nearly two hours a day, the laundry sequencing and holding patterns will need to be managed even more carefully to ensure a ready supply of clean, dry working clothes that still meet my strict environmental laundry credentials.
Although there is a reschuffle of routines on the horizon, I am definitely falling back on habits and systems to stay true to my priorities and values.
Now I am in the habit of putting (most) things back in their place, I am able to shave minutes off my morning routine, meaning precious extra time with Mr M and Dante before the working day. Thanks to the weekly menu, shopping list and my Sunday bake fest I can make a little efficient cooking serve multiple meals and provide us with plenty of wholesome lunches. As a result we can continue to avoid mayonnaise loaded sandwiches and over-packaged salads with meat or fish of dubious origins. And our system of bins, buckets and miscellaneous receptacles is proving to be a most efficient waste/resource management system, allowing us to limit our black bag waste with minimal effort.
Although adapting to my new reality will doubtless involve a triage of activities and a reassessment of priorities, the lost art of housekeeping will remain a fixture in my life! This does not mean the house will be spotless or that I am ripping up my views on the emancipation of women. Rather, housekeeping is the hub around which my health, ethical and environmental principles revolve (in the same way that home economics is the starting point for my wider musings on a sustainable economy). In this context, habits, routines and systems are hardly the dull processes for living life on autopilot but the pistons and valves of the engine that makes sense of and integrates many of my values.
February 2, 2014 § 5 Comments
Today Mr M and I enjoyed a very leisurely lunch at The Goring. This old-school hotel is our treat venue par excellence as its kitchen excels at modern versions of traditional British food and the subdued setting offers a level of peace and quiet which is rare in London. And as today is our sixth wedding anniversary, it seemed appropriate to head there to celebrate the occasion.
As readers of The Double Life of Mrs M probably know, Mr M is never quite in shot but always present in my meanderings through life. He is the gallant soul who witnesses my antics with a mixture of mirth and generous encouragement. After three years of blogging, however, he deserves a little more limelight. After all, how can I talk about six very happy years of marriage – despite the travails of life – without singing his praises?
So, without further ado, Mr M is the:
- supportive partner who allowed me to spend two and half years in foreign countries to pursue a career;
- compassionate husband who held me gently during the rawness of losing my beloved father and all the months of mourning that followed;
- kind-hearted animal lover who adopted two cats with me; grew attached to Zoë and Dante; helped make the painful decision to let Zoë go when she was terminally ill; and shared my delight when Dante (aka our “special needs” cat) blossomed into a loving mog;
- voice of reason who encouraged me to let go of the “responsible” career to explore areas of interest even though there was no certainty of what opportunities it would bring;
- enthusiastic guest who merrily throws himself into the clan gatherings with my (slightly) eccentric siblings;
- benevolent friend who ignores the squawky notes from my fiddle and congratulates me as I stumble haltingly to the last bar of a song;
- generous host who wholeheartedly welcomes my itinerant friends with a hearty meal and our bar of odd digestifs;
- accomplished foodie with whom I have shared hundreds of tasty home-cooked meals;
- knowledgable music-lover with whom I have sat spellbound in dozens of concerts as the last note lingers in the air;
- excited but slightly-baffled supporter who cheers me on as I drag my body across the finish line and praises my 10K-time as if I have just broken the 4-minute mile;
- optimistic gardener who, like me, considers a harvest of a dozen home-grown potatoes and a handful of kale a real treasure;
- gentle soul, who after six years of marriage, still cares enough about my feelings to not berate me for leaving puddles when I get out of the bath or shower but kindly observes that water runs off me differently than it does off him…