Last Week At The Farm

Last Wednesday again found me at Frith Farm. I do need to do a post just on how I found this place and give some salient details. But for now, here is simply my weekly farm update.

It was spectacularly windy, and I regretted not having a long-sleeved wool layer on under my fleece. I did already have a wool tank top under my T-shirt. It’s August, and I want extra wool! I also would have loved a bandanna to wrap ’round my face, for the farm behind Frith was burning a wood pile that was sending, via the wind, billows of smoke around us the whole morning. You can’t see the smoke here, but the grasses do look quite windswept.

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It had rained all day Tuesday, so the ground was rather heavy and wet. We lifted mesh off a long bed of celery to have access for weeding. I felt like I was in a physical comedy scene, trying to keep a hat on my head with the wind buffeting me, carrying logs and trying not to drop them, the mesh flying around as we used the logs to anchor it down. I somehow lost two gloves in the process.

All the rain the day before had generated marvelous growth for the chickweed, and there was lots of it in the celery bed. I picked a large bag-full in literally sixty seconds, just quickly skimming the bed to get some out before I managed to get the chickweed all muddy. It’s so satisfying to harvest an abundance of delicious green material in so short a time. Four of us weeded the bed fairly quickly.

We then hoed a long bed just next to that one, to ready it for planting baby celery plugs that were anxious to get in the ground. Planting them was fiddly work in the mud and took the whole rest of the morning.

Lunchtime found us taking refuge in the greenhouse, just to get out of the wind. It was nice and warm in there! We were fairly quiet, sharing our meal and recouping from the morning. Wind can be tiring.

For the afternoon, we were back at the wood chip pile, shoveling the chips into wheelbarrows and moving those to the raised beds, to fill in the trenches between them. These are nice, long-handled shovels. I learned that most shovels in the area tend to be short, because traditionally, shovels were manufactured for use for mining. When mining went out of fashion, the shovels were still fashioned with a short handle, and people are generally used to them. They bend over, creating much more back strain than necessary. That made me think of how people do generally learn very visually. We watch others at their activities and mimic how they do their work. Even though we had long-handled shovels in front of us, we were bending over and using only the shorter half of the shaft. Funny habit. I had to consciously use the upper half of the handle and not strain my back. We must have had short-handled shovels when I was young too.

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A young fellow named Phil (who’d biked to the farm from Hull – it took him 50 minutes going against the wind) was cheerful, smiling and polite the whole time. It was lovely working with him. I commented on how he liked to make the work enjoyable. “Oh yes”, he replied. “You have to make it fun, and a challenge, to get the job done.” So very Fire and Wood of him, slight red-head that he is, with a good jaw. I would like to take pictures of all the folks at the farm for my face reading files – I hope I shall do that.

The raised beds had seas of water between them, from all the rain the day before. I was glad to borrow farm wellies to wear! The drainage is not good in that section of the farm, and the chips are an attempt to absorb a good bit of the water. Four of us did at least a dozen barrowfulls each, filling four trenches. The beds no longer looked very raised since we started this project. A work still in progress. When I left at three pm, Phil and Ben were digging trenches to drain any additional water away from the salad beds.

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Walking home, I couldn’t resist stopping at the plum trees again. I’ve filled nearly all the jam jars I have, but I simply can’t leave all those plums on the ground. I picked up a lot of yellow ones with the plan of trying a yellow-themed jam. By the time I got home, my children were pining for me. No jam until another day. The plums are okay to wait a bit.

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Death, dying and living

I woke up in the morning Tuesday thinking of the lawyer we had used for the whole post-death estate process when my mother had died. I hadn’t thought of that person for a long time and wondered why she was coming in to my early-am thoughts. Then I realized that it was the day before the anniversary of my mother’s death. So funny, how the brain works. Instead of thinking of my mother directly, my mind took me to the subject in a round-about way.

I’d always wanted to read The Tibetan Book of the Dead but never did. It was on my mother’s shelves for many years when I lived with her. Who knows why, but I was interested in esoteric subjects ever since childhood. I wish I’d read it earlier, believe that every person should have more of an education in the topic. A month ago I took this book out of the library in Beverley:

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They talk about the importance of studying death as well as life. Both are part of the same circle, same cycle after all. The author found it astonishing how Westerners ignore death, pretend it doesn’t exist, and says that puts us at a disadvantage. I agree.

I haven’t studied the book enough yet, but find it quite interesting. If we all felt more equipped and had knowledge of how to help our loved ones through the process that is surely going to occur at some point, wouldn’t that be beneficial? It’s not a large part of our culture, but the subject is certainly carefully and extensively explored in Tibetan Buddhism. I think we could learn something from them, that fluency with the language of death.

I’ll see what nuggets of wisdom and insight I can glean from this and how I may use it in my life. I’m thankful this book exists.

Maman

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Anniversaries are certainly a form of a Full Circle. In a few hours, the Earth shall have circled round the Sun six times since the day my mother died. Six years of getting used to the idea of my mother no longer being on this planet. The first three were incredibly hard. Death is never easy, but it came much more suddenly than anyone had thought, and for a long time I was reeling with the onslaught of many emotions – mostly grief, sadness, anger, regret.

Coming to Europe was partially an attempt at a Full Circle experience for me in regards to my relationship with ma mère. My mother lived in France for several years, and I hoped that being in England would allow me to travel to several of the many nearby countries. My mother did love to travel, though particularly to France. In the photo above, I believe she was on her way there from a NYC harbor. She preferred to travel by ship, not being keen on airplanes.

When we went to Paris this past April, I felt so very close to my mother while walking the streets that she loved. In my teen years she brought us to France several times, wishing to share her Francophile nature with her children. Every visit included a chunk of time in the capital city either before or after we spent the majority of the time in Angers, Poitiers, Aix or elsewhere. Our April visit also took us to other parts of France I’d visited with my mother – we came close to Etiveaux and drove through the Limousin countryside, wove by Oradour-sur-Glâne. Talk about the flooding of memories… I wanted to sing for joy, being there in the present, remembering being there in the past with ma mère.

Here she is on the beach of a little island called L’Ile d’Yeu, off the west coast of France. Those were beautiful days we spent there with family.

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I could write volumes about the wit, grace, talents of my mother, a woman of extraordinary warmth, intelligence and beauty. But for now I shall simply remember her, and celebrate the anniversary of her last day living on this plane. You shall live on with and through me, Maman. Je t’aime, tant.

 

 

Yellow Plum and Rhubarb jam

Yellow plums, you shall remain in your full, sunny glory!

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This past month, I’ve been cooking mostly the red plums, and any yellow ones that go in to the pot get stained by their red brethren. But I have seen a recipe for vanilla rhubarb jam and I think it shall do nicely with plums. We shall find out how it tastes and looks soon. The ones with stems look just like yellow cherries, so adorable. I didn’t even realize I’d used a yellow mug for the pits. How unconsciously artistic of me.

The recipe calls for a kilo of rhubarb and a kilo of sugar. I can’t do that, just can’t bring myself to use equal amounts of fruit and sugar. So, I took the stones out of all the yellow plums I had. They weighed in at 1.2 kg. After removing the outer fibrous layer of the rhubarb and cutting it up, I had less than half a kilo left. Together, I had 1.6 kg of fruit.

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I put all of this in to a large enamel pot with two vanilla pods. Certain things are so very different in supermarkets here in England. The baking aisle, for one. A basic supermarket here has tremendous variety of spices and flavorings available – perhaps I never looked for them, but I don’t remember Price Chopper or Hannafords in NY as having vanilla beans. Here, not only are they in stock, but they are not that expensive. Two beans for about four dollars. Speaking of variety, just look at what sugar options are available on the shelves:

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Icing sugar, Fondant Icing sugar, Royal Icing sugar, Jam sugar, Preserving sugar, Fruit sugar, Demerara sugar, Golden Granulated sugar, Golden Caster sugar, Brown Muscovado sugar, Light Muscovado sugar, Brown sugar, Light Brown sugar, Caster Baking sugar, Granulated sugar, Coconut sugar and agave syrup, and then they have all sorts of diabetic sugars and sugar mixed half-and-half with stevia that aren’t in the picture. Egads, what a lot of types of sweeteners! There could be an interesting cultural observation brewing here, but I shan’t quite formulate it just now.

Back to the project at hand, I don’t “do” white sugar any more, haven’t for years, so while I am intrigued by “jam sugar” and the other options, I usually go for honey, or the coconut sugar. The jam sugar has pectin in it, and requires a certain amount of sugar-to-fruit ratio for its use.

At home in New York I used a special type of pectin that could be used in low-sugar recipes. Normal pectin does require a high amount of sugar in the recipe. Actually, I almost never used pectin at all in my jam making, as I enjoy a bit of syrup liquidity rather than a jammy consistency through and through. The two jams I make most often are strawberry (my mother’s favorite) and apricot (my fave by far). I also started making wild River grape jam a few years ago when I discovered the grapes down by the Hudson River. Wow, intense and wonderful flavor in that. But I found all of those to be quite good without pectin.

The plums and rhubarb and vanilla cooked for about ten minutes, and I let them sit overnight for the vanilla pods to steep and release their flavor. Also, it was just late at night and I wanted to go to bed.

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There was a fair bit of extra liquid, so I drained that off through some cheesecloth. The liquid later became some more cordial, and the solids I then cooked up with about 600g of honey for the jam.

Here’s the yellow plum and rhubarb jam. Very small batch, only these two jars to keep and a bit for the fridge. Not as golden at the original plums, but lovely, and hopefully it shall taste good too. On verra.

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Sunny Laundry Day!

Just because I ranted a bit about the rain and offered rainy-day pics, I thought I’d follow up with a very quick post about the yang to that yin.

Today was a glorious sunny day! Fab for laundry and being outside. I did a good bit of both. I’m actually quite amazed at how hot the English sun is when it does shine. I was able to do and dry three loads in a very short time. LaundryDrying

There was plenty of bedding to ready for our first from-home house guests! We are so excited to have our Stuyvesant/NYC neighbor-buddies arriving tomorrow, by way of Amsterdam. We shall be playing tour guide for/of our new locale.

Happy sunny day to you all, xoN

Millet Pizza

This is a Full Circle meal for us – it originated in our Waldorf kindergarten days at Hawthorne Valley School. It was a very clever system in place there. Children went for between one and three years, depending on their age, and all veterans taught the ropes to the younger ones. Learning the ropes included learning to love the snacks. If the big kids liked it, the little kids ate it too, and generation by generation, each class learned to love foods that most kids in the general population wouldn’t gravitate towards.

Each day there was a different snack in the Rose Room kindergarten. On Wednesdays they ate millet pizza. Likely there were reasons behind that choice – everything is done for a reason in Waldorf school! Well, one reason was that millet is “the” grain associated with Mercury, the day that governs Wednesday. I remember being so surprised when it finally clicked for me, some time in high school, that so many of the words in Spanish were similar to French – the days of the week, for example. Mercredi or miercoles equals Wednesday. The day of Mercury. How had I never known about that before?

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Anyway, this could be a long and rambling post about language, astrology, all things Steiner, and get quite esoteric, but I shall just say that my daughters still love millet pizza. It’s a comfort food and a favorite meal for them. It ain’t easy to find millet here, let me tell you. But I was able to order a 3-kilogram bag of organic millet through Dr. Gwen since she orders food from the Suma co-op. We’ve nearly finished it.

Even though I’ve been making millet pizza for about ten years, nearly every one I’ve made in England has been met with quite a few complaints. The one I made this week was finally acceptable. Really good, actually. Here’s the recipe, using my American measuring cups – apologies to anyone wanting to use weight measurements.

1 and 1/2 cups millet, rinsed

1-2 Tbs butter

1 and 1/4 cups filtered water or broth, as you like

1 tsp sea salt

about 1/2 cup tomato sauce (they call it “passata” here – new word for me)

grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, 180 C. Rinse the millet with cold water very well several times, to wash off the saponins. You will need a small-gauge sieve to do this, or risk losing most of the millet down the sink. Put the millet in to a large saucepan over medium heat and dry fry the millet for a few minutes, until an aroma develops and a few of the kernels might begin to pop.

Add the butter and continue to cook, stirring for a couple of minutes to coat the millet grains with the melted butter. Add the water and salt, bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer, covered, for about 15 minutes. The water should be all absorbed.

Let the millet rest off the heat for a few minutes while you select and oil a casserole dish – any medium-sized, deep ceramic dish will do. Use a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to coat the bottom and sides of the dish well. Empty the millet into the dish and use a wooden spoon to press it into a flat, even “crust” that should fill about half the depth of the dish. The millet should stick together and not fall apart. Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the surface and then spread the tomato sauce evenly over the top of the crust.

Top with shredded cheese and bake for 5-10 minutes, until the cheese begins to bubble and smell delicious.

 

What I was doing “wrong” for so long is that I was making the millet very mushy. It was too wet, likely because I was soaking the millet overnight. My usual practice with grains is to soak them in filtered water plus a splash of vinegar or lemon juice. This is meant to inactivate the enzyme inhibitors and phytic acid present in grains that cause decreased absorption of important minerals.  I think it makes the grains taste better too. You can read all about it in the Nourishing Traditions cookbook, or on the Weston A. Price website. But I shan’t do it for millet pizza any longer, at least not with the millet I can get here – a good rinse shall have to do.

Rainy days, and LAUNDRY?

It’s a grey, gray, rainy day here. Quintessentially English, I suppose, though we’ve actually had very few of them so far. When they do come, I always seem to have some laundry to do and it just doesn’t dry! We have an indoor drying rack that we use when the outside line isn’t usable (I adore having the line – Nicholas just put it up a couple of weeks ago). This is our back yard, and I put the line up in the rain for this pic! I won’t show you our drying rack.

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My friend Krishna Kumari sent me a link to a good article about this topic, and more importantly about the difference between English and American psyches. I’ll quote some of the article – full piece is at: https://qz.com/1034914/it-doesnt-matter-where-brits-keep-their-dryers-the-point-is-they-dont-work/

I’ve found it to be the case that most houses I have visited here do not have a dryer at all. My conservationist side appreciates using the “solar dryer” that is already radiating heat every sunny day. And while it is England, we have had sunny days a good eighty percent of the time, so we’ve been amazingly lucky. But that isn’t normally the case, and I can’t quite fathom how people manage when there are a string of wet days.  In June we had a house guest who had been traveling for a month prior to her arrival. I offered to do her laundry, which I did. But then we had three whole days of rain. Everything was hung up on our drying rack and whatever surfaces inside that could be used. Damp, damp, damp. We finally folded the stuff up but it still wasn’t really dry.

The author of the article is writing not about dryers in general but about washer/dryer combos that don’t function properly and says her frustration is really about cultural differences. She’s struck by the fact that inefficiencies that would drive her, an American, crazy, are simply accepted by the English.  She says, “This acceptance is at the heart of many American immigrants’ frustrations about life in the UK. And it highlights a fundamental cultural between the US and UK that I’d characterize, broadly, as a British inclination to accept things as they are, versus an American inclination to alter and change them.”

She has got me nailed there. Good old Wood Element wants to change things that  “should” be different. If it’s wet and rainy a good percentage of the time, WHY live with damp clothes? with bathtowels and denim that stay stiff? I actually line-dry most of my clothes in New York, but towels just beg to be tossed in to the dryer, don’t they? An American would agree, but an English person likely not.

(Here’s another bit of local color – just at the end of our street! Not an amazing shot, but I was dodging the rain drops.)

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My English sister-in-law got a dryer for the first time only a few years ago and was quite excited to have it. But it never quite made it in to her house. It lived on her outside patio area for a while, and is now in a shed. It seems to simply not be a necessity, and she’d rather use precious indoor space for other things. She learned in her first several decades of life to make do without an electric dryer quite nicely. Fair enough. It does save energy, which I quite approve of.  She’s happy to dash outside to get clothes that catch a sprinkling, to use her banister for what needs it. Ah, and she has an amazing thing called an “airing cupboard” where she places any slightly damp clothes, lightly folded, and they dry in there over night. I wish I had me one of those.

Perhaps the acceptance is a good thing. I’ll write another post about this soon, but for now I’ll just copy one more quote from the article: “Americans’ relentless drive for change means that we are also prone to the feeling that whatever we have is never enough; that there’s something inherently distasteful about being willing to accept life as it is.” The English do seem to accept Life as it is. Perhaps it would be better if more of us approached the difficulties that come our way similarly. I think of Byron Katie and her method of “Loving What Is”; I think of Buddhism; I think of the Chinese Taoist concept of Wu wei. They might not be exactly what we’re talking here, but they could be related. Perhaps, perhaps. But I still would like a dryer on a day like this.

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This Week at the Farm

It was just Frith Farm in Beverley for me this week. Getting over to Nafferton is too challenging with summer holidays unless I’m very organized with the kids’ activities. It was a quiet morning on Wednesday, only one other volunteer working alongside me, a woman I’d never met before. She is a yoga teacher. I do meet all the right people at these farms, with interests similar to mine.

Ben had us harvesting onions all along a very long bed. It was like a treasure hunt – we could barely see anything among the grasses, simply because many of the green tops were getting thinner and the onions weren’t tremendously big. The ground had been very wet all Spring, so the onions got planted a good five weeks later than ideal. But the more we searched, the more we found. Each little onion seemed small, but as we kept pulling and adding, the barrow slowly filled. How satisfying to see a nice large pile all together.

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It was a good metaphor for me about how all the little things we do over and over do contribute to a much larger whole. My Wood and Metal wanted to ask – what more little things could I be doing every day to achieve my goals and desires? – they might not seem important enough to do on their own, but if done consistently, something significant can result. And, what little things am I doing every day that perhaps aren’t so beneficial that could be adding up to a really less-than-desirable outcome? Bears thinking about. I like how time gardening reflects human patterns.

And then, because the farm is not in sunny southern Spain, we could not leave the onions out but instead needed to put them in the covered hoop house to dry. The space was a little crowded for them but we arranged the bulbs in as much of a single-layer as possible. It felt like we’d just plucked them from one field only to create a new one –

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The afternoon was spent very differently. The yoga teacher left; two other volunteers and I, plus the two farmers Ben and Matt set to work moving a large pile of woodchips. We shoveled them in to wheelbarrows which we then wheeled over to fill the trenches between the raised salad beds. I’d had enough after a dozen or so of these trips – still getting over my summer cold and I didn’t feel so energetic. Plus it was quarter to three and I had a date with the plum tree.

I walked pretty slowly and spent likely an hour picking up the windfalls. What a windy morning it had been – plums were everywhere!

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I only picked the good ones, of course. Two types of red and two of yellow. These were the smallest, but the yummiest. I do hope I manage to process them all – I carted a good twenty or more pounds of them home. Wish me luck. And many thanks to these beautiful and bountiful plum trees.

Full Circle Moments in Flamborough

For fear of not expressing myself well, I have yet to write properly about my concept of “full circle” and my desire to explore it here in this blog. But I’ll give it a go and allow myself the luxury of not having to get it “right” or even terribly completely just yet.

It had been ages since we’d gone exploring as a family, and we took the afternoon to drive from Bridlington to Flamborough and see that part of the Yorkshire coast. We had lunch in a pub in town (jacket potatoes, steak and ale pie – nice English things) and then walked over to take a peek at the town “green” donated in 1964 by the Lord of the local manor. It was an impressively large area of grass and a play park, and this enormous relic.

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We really didn’t know where we were going, since we hadn’t researched the trip ahead of time. I was so glad to notice a sign to the “Lighthouse”. So we got back in the car and drove in that direction.

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As soon as we went down this road, I had a rush of nostalgia. Nicholas agreed with me that it felt like Long Island, the landscape so similar to that between Amagansett and Montauk as well as other parts of Suffolk County where I grew up. But I wasn’t homesick. It was an excitement for the present experience reminding me of the beauty of my childhood home, and for how the confluence of enviromental factors in very different countries creates a similar energetic. It was a Full Circle moment for me, which I was experiencing daily in our first weeks here. It’s been less often recently, and I would like to turn my attention to exploring both the ones I’m now noticing as well as some of the grander ones that presented themselves in our early days in England.

Cycles are part of Life – we have them every year with the changing of the seasons, every day with the rising and setting of the sun. We have themes that appear and reappear in our yearly and daily experiences – some of them happy, some challenging, many we take for granted. Noticing them and seeing how they are relevant to our current situation is important, I think. I will write about more of those in coming posts. But this one was fairly simple – the topography looked like home and made me think of my childhood. I’m not sure what conclusions I’m drawing, if any, about this being “home” now just as much as the Hamptons were in my past. But it bears thinking about what “home” means in general, what it’s like to change homes, how I’m relating to my current location similarly or differently to how I did as a child.

It was a picture-perfect day. Just look at these scenes…

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The cliffs are composed of chalk, and the sun glinted off them quite dramatically.

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There are a number of caves to explore, but we didn’t get to do that yet. I think a different part of Flamborough is best for getting down to the caves. The many colors of the water were deliciously gorgeous here.

And there are two lighthouses at Flamborough. One from the 1800’s that again really reminded me of Montauk Lighthouse –

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And one from the mid-1600’s a bit further in, recently renovated to the tune of a hundred thousand pounds to repair all the crumbling chalk it’s made of –

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Too beautiful for words, that sky…

What then really got me was that even Montauk Daisies are growing here! Just like home, wow… The coasts are so similar. I had never realized or noticed that before, though. Interesting.

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Plum Flaugnarde

Quite a few posts on plums, for quite a pile of plums remains in my kitchen. My long-time friend Abby from Camaje restaurant in Greenwich Village, NYC, emailed me many years ago asking if I’d ever heard of or made a “flaugnarde”. No, I hadn’t. I’d only known of the very similar dish “clafoutis” which is apparently is technically only allowed to be called that if it’s made with sour cherries still bearing their pits. Well, if it isn’t made with sour cherries, then it’s called this instead. Since that email, I’ve made dozens of flaugnardes, with berries usually. It’s kind of fun just to say the word, which is a little tricky – have to exercise certain mouth muscles that only move when speaking French.

It’s basically a baked fruit custard. I beat four eggs together with oatley milk (my family tends to not enjoy my coconut-milk confections these days, so we gave oat milk a go), a quarter of a cup of brown rice flour, some honey, and a dash of vanilla. Here it is, about to go in to the oven.

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Plum pits that I had boiled, then roasted in the oven are still waiting to be made in to bean bags, or something else – I haven’t yet decided.

When it came out of the oven, we walked over to my sister-in-law’s house for dinner. That is one reason why we came here, to be able to be near family. Ah, to be able to walk to where we wish to go! And we’re truly blessed to have such wonderful family here. We enjoyed this flaugnarde, along with a few other desserts, after a full English Sunday roast dinner. No pics of Sunday roast, sadly!

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