The Search for Honey

This is another story that tells of turning away from our habitual defences and the courage of trying something new. See what happens when we tread a different path : this is really the whole of psychotherapy.

 

At last I can wait no longer and I put on layers of clothing and open the door. I have to take off my gloves again to force the door which sticks and I hurt my hand getting it open. The wind near tears the door off and outside the bleak landscape is uninviting. My mouth is full of yearning and cursing; the hunger is insatiable now. My house was built long ago with wood from the tree of wilfulness and I leave it as little as I can. The tree still grows outside my door. Its fruits are bitter but I use the wood for the fire. It makes a poor fire but the wood is plentiful.

I venture out onto the hard beauty of the tundra and after a wearisome walk of some hours, encumbered by the thick clothes woven from pride, I find a small parcel of honey in a ruined building. I hurry back to the safety of my mean home where I give the honey to the children of my need and take some myself. The sweetness of giving the little ones honey gives way, when they are asleep, to the relief of filling my own mouth with what is left. The small fire has gone out. I fall asleep in the cold, bundled in most of the clothes I own, with sugar on my lips.

But sooner or later pride and wilfulness are not enough to keep the need at bay and I must brave the journey once more. Each time I must go further. Each time there is the fear that all the honey is gone. Each time the children cry harder.

And then, after years of such journeys a different thing happens. One day the needing takes me further from home, further into the cold than I have ever been before. The fear is great. I may freeze before I get home again to the cold comfort of the drafty hut and the smokey fire. I worry even more about the children.

My steps are heavy in my old boots and I pass the many ruined buildings where I have found sweetness in the past. These ruins are my friends and lovers of old and I pass them quickly for they hold nothing for me now. Their sweetness is exhausted.

After miles of slowgoing I can see another barn or such like ahead. Out here I am so far from the settlement that it is unlikely already to have been raided and my spirits lift with unbearable hope. My breath is short and my steps quicken. I do not feel the cold; I can see already the smiles of my children as I hand them the honeycomb later tonight; I can feel the stickiness on my tongue, the fullness in my mouth, the brief orgasm as I swallow. Don’t think about that.

And I am in luck. In a forgotten corner of this hay-barn is a jar of the sweetness I so badly need, the sweetness I do not know how to make. There is a relaxation within as I know that the need will shortly be assuaged, that my mouth will be full. I secure the jar in my top coat, tighten my scarves around my face, put on my gloves and step outside once more.

This way lies home. But see, the other way, the snows of make-believe autonomy and wilfulness run out and the bare earth is showing. I have never seen the earth before lying naked and unprotected by the snow. Here it is not frozen to stone as it is where I struggle every year to plant the terrible vegetables we must live on. Here there is mud instead. I am fascinated and I walk a little further away from home to see what I can find.

But the mud turns to mire. A man-made hell of unwanted rubble and shit emerges. Junk lies in dark oily puddles and there is scarcely anywhere to put one foot after another. I will never get my boots clean again. This is where I keep my blackest thoughts, thoughts of shame and murder and revenge and hope and self-harm. It is ugly here beyond imagination. This is why I live in the pristine snow where the suffering is less. 

I am pondering this long-forgotten decision when, beyond the mud, I see a fence. It has no doors or gates in it but it is a temporary fence such as builders erect around their work to keep out trespassers. The panels of the fence are not solid, nor are they heavy but every metre or so they are held in place by metal blocks of unimaginable weight. Each panel bears a picture of me and in every weight I see a refusal to forgive. I stand in the black mud and worse and contemplate the fence. Each weight had to be forged from the metal of unforgiveness and dragged into position. I remember each instance with an effort, each instance where I closed my heart with deliberation and turned away from forgiveness, away from the awful suffering of compassion. 

The sad work of erecting that fence took years and I called it growing up. 

Eventually I think to lift my eyes from the ground at last and I am overwhelmed to see, above the fence, the pink and gold domes of San Marco. The warmth, the pleasure, the plenty of Venice awaits there, within sight. I can hear music and laughter, like a party. Venice is like a party and I recognise that this is my heart, my journey’s end. The pink and gold domes sparkle in the sunlight with an inexhaustible supply of honey and I remember that within it is dark and private. Inside the cathedral there is the glimmer of the everlasting flame reflected in the ancient, gold mosaics which celebrate the deeds of the saints. There is the jewelled altar screen and an eternal holy singing and the smell of incense as the Blessed Sacrament is offered for adoration.

I begin to pick my way through the mire towards the singing. 

Damsons and Foregiveness

A few days ago Summer was fondly kissing us goodbye. Today a powerful wind and the threat of rain are thrusting towards me like Autumn with an outstretched hand and I rush down the garden to pick the wild plums or damsons before they are lost. Here they are having a wash in my sink and when they were clean I rustled up some damson jam which is my favourite. There’s no easy way to stone damsons but they are worth it.

damsons 2

Here’s the lovely syrupy mess they become after a short while in a pan with two thirds their own weight in sugar. For me the stones never float to the top so I resort to ladling the jam from one pan to another via a shallow dish where I can scrutinise each spoonful and fish out the stones. With ordinary plums it helps to count the plums first and then you have a target for the number of stone. With damsons I usually have over 400 and invariably lose count at some point.

This ended up in seven lovely pots and in time would all disappear onto people’s toast but good damson jam is such a great treat IMO that I decided it should furnish an old fashioned jam tart for supper.

My mother was a Pastry Queen and I resolutely did not learn to make pastry for the first thirty five years of my life because I wanted to be different from her. In fact I was in a giant sulk or tantrum, truth be told, which I should probably have chucked in when I was about seven but I dug my heels in because I had been hurt and because my will power (or wilfulness as she called it) was second to none. Of course I achieved my purpose of hurting her but I see now I hurt myself much more. Since then there has been reconciliation and forgiveness although much of it only after she died. Death is never an obstacle to forgiveness luckily but if you have an opportunity, dive in and do it sooner.

Anyway … my mother used to make wonderful individual jam tarts, lemon curd tarts, treacle tarts, all in miniature so that they appeared out of the oven in all their colourful loveliness and I didn’t know which to eat first. (My tantrum extended to not making pastry but it didn’t stop me eating hers!)

So here is the recipe for Damson Jam Tart but I guess you could use any really delicious jam and needless to say the finished article is good with Ice-cream, cream, fromage frais or any other unsweetened dairy. damson tart

Sadly I am not a pastry queen but I can at last do an acceptable shortcrust. It is heavy on the fat which means it remains very soft and breaks easily when you pick it up to line the tin. But it also means you can just squidge it in in pieces with your fingers and it all sticks together well.

I get my best results with Stork margarine rather than butter but others disagree. So this tart was simply

115 g Stork soft margarine

165 g plain flour

a pinch of salt and enough cold water to bring everything together.

Roll out as far as possible and line a greased loose-bottomed tart tin approx. 15 inches or 40 cms in diameter. Heat the oven to 180 degrees and do actually wait until it is hot! Put a circle of baking parchment inside the raw pastry and up the sides and fill with baking beans (porcelain or just dried beans). Give it 15 minutes in the oven and then remove the paper and beans.

Fill about half way up with really good jam and return to the oven until the jam is bubbling – about 20 minutes or so.

Eating What You Are

Over the disconcertingly long time that I have been giving this some thought, I have come to realise that our lives are all about eating in different dimensions. For physical growth we need food. For psychological growth we need food and the food we eat is our selves. What do I mean by that? I mean that in order to grow our work is to digest the defences that we put in place during our formative years. With support we gradually allow ourselves to feel things which were too big or conflicted for us to feel as small children. We allow those parts of ourselves which we abandoned to come back to life, to thaw out. We feel into what caused those defences to form in the first place. In my work I encourage sensing into the body which is where all those experiences are stored.

And what has this to do with food? Two things. Firstly the process of digesting our psychic structures is remarkably similar to our physical digestion. When emotional work allows insights to arise and awareness to increase it can feel as though you are digesting the old ways of seeing. With practice you can actually feel it happening. Secondly addictive behaviours around food are like every other addiction. They are strategies, albeit misguided, of delivering pleasure to the brain when it is in emotional distress. Usually they are accompanied by self-punishment AND THE PUNISHING FEELINGS RESULT IN MORE OF THE ADDICTIVE BEHAVIOUR. You will notice that I am shouting and with reason. The first step away from addictive behaviour is to challenge the self-punishing and bullying thoughts and acts and replacing them with love from you to you.

Clients often ask ‘How do I do that?’ and the answer is very simple. Your own internal bully is much the same as a bully in the external world and the same techniques work.

How to Deal with Bullying

There are more than two parts of you (the bully and the victim) there is also a wiser, more adult part that can step in. Make use of this. Treat that bullying voice which belittles you and goads you in just the same way as you would handle a bully in real life. Treat the cowering part as you would a frightened child. (There is excellent advice about overcoming bullying here.)

These conversations can take place in your head or somewhere you can shout if you need to. (If you run it can be a great time to have this out!) They need to become a second-nature routine whenever the voice starts up. Here are your strategies. Rotate them.

  1. Ignore – don’t listen. (Mentally) walk away and keep walking. Don’t play the victim and don’t reason or argue with the bully.
  2. Stand up for yourself – really get angry with that bullying part so that it isn’t the only part of you with any energy. Remind the bully that bullying arises out of fear and weakness not strength. Tell the bully where to get off.
  3. Tell someone who can help – locate that third, authoritative and wiser part of you that can mediate.

These are the internal processes, boringly simple, which can bring the bullying to a less damaging level. Don’t be put off by the simplicity. With practice this works.

And now for todays recipe which also works.

Blackberry and Apple Cheese

blackberry-apple-cheese-2

Just a quickie to make you feel that even if you live in a city centre you can participate in making lovely things in jars. I made a couple of jars of this one morning when I had some left over stewed apple and some supermarket blackberries and blueberries in my fridge which were going to go off if they weren’t used pronto. It is a good way of making very expensive berries go a long way.

1. If you need to start by making your stewed apple peel some Bramleys and core and slice. Put in a microwave dish with lid and cook on medium to high power for 10 minutes until blitzed.
2. Now see what berries you have to hand. Blackberries, blueberries or raspberries, red or black currants. Fresh or frozen will do well.
3. Weigh the total fruit you will use and put it in a large heavy pan.
4. Add the same weight in sugar.
5. Heat gently  until the sugar is dissolved and then bring to the boil.
6. Stir often and simmer as high as you can without it boiling over for 10-15 minutes.
7. Start testing for setting. If a droplet hangs down instead of falling off a clean wooden spoon, it is nearly ready for potting. If a droplet on a cold saucer forms a skin after a few minutes which wrinkles to the touch, it is likewise ready.
8. Sterilise your jars in the oven, the dishwasher or rinsing out with gin or vodka.
9.For a true cheese you should really sieve the jam before potting but it’s really just as nice with all the lumps and bumps.
10. Eat in cake, on scones, on toast or alongside some sharp cheese.
blackberry-and-apple-cheese

Crab Apple Jelly

A quickie to finish the recipe I started yesterday. If your fruit pulp has been left overnight you will have a pan of crab apple juice this morning and the first thing you need to do is measure it.

crab-apple-2

For every litre add 750g of sugar and stir over a low heat IN A LARGE ENOUGH PAN until is has begun to dissolve.

Turn up the heat until the liquid threatens to boil over and turn it down again to just below boiling. It will need to boil for at least 15 minutes and then you can begin to test it for setting. I use clean dry wooden spoons to dip in and see whether the jelly creates a drip that does not fall off the spoon (feathers). Others try the wrinkle test by putting a drop on a saucer and seeing whether it sets and creates a skin. My confession is that I still get it wrong from time to time and have to pour liquid jelly back into the pan and reheat. So nobody died and you still get to pot up beautiful jelly – don’t give yourself a hard time. The colour also changes – see how red the finished jelly is below compared with the pale liquid I started with (above).

When you’re sure the jelly is ready, pour it into a light plastic jug if you can and use that to fill the jam jars which you have standing by clean and sparkly.

Sterilising the jars.

There are many methods including a hot wash in the dishwasher and heating in the oven. My preferred method is to use alcohol. Pour a large shot of vodka into a jar, put the lid on and shake it,  pour the vodka into the next jar etc. (What you do with the vodka after that I leave to your own proclivities. On a cold morning it can spice up your coffee.)

crab-apple-3

Leave to cool a little before popping on the lids and getting creative with the labels. The final Mrs Tiggywinkle moment is lining up the jars in your larder and putting one on the table for your bread and cheese lunch.

This is Your Life : Feast Upon its Beauty

crab-apples

A long time ago now I had a dream about a spaceship that changed my life. The spaceship spoke to me and this was its message : This is your life. Its meaning will ever be hidden from you. Feast upon its beauty. On days (do you have these?) when I wake up with my fair share of nameless dread and meaninglessness I try to put these disturbing feelings into this context. It is all part of the beauty, the chiaroscuro of true nature, even the stuff we don’t like. Life, like great art, incorporates the dark side of our nature. The textures and tastes of my life, taken all together, create a richness and an infinitely varied experience that I could not possibly cobble together out of my preferences.

Because it is not a taste many seek out food manufacturers are beginning to remove bitterness from their products where possible, thus reducing the vast menu of complex flavours that nature offers. They would pander to our preferences – to our detriment, I think. (You have already heard my eulogy to radicchio and the castelfranco lettuce). Radio 4’s The Food Programme has in its archive an exploration of bitterness and its importance in our diet.  It is hard to choose what is rich and beautiful if it is not also sweet and pleasant but I think this is what psychotherapy helps us to do. We learn to love and tend to the infant within that wants sweetness in the mouth and fulness in the belly even as we experiment with the more exciting pleasures of adulthood and I don’t just mean the pinot noir. I mean the dangerous pleasures of autonomy.

Take a risk. It can be interesting to allow yourself to get hungry. What does it feel like? What does it mean to you? Hungry for what? Take another risk. Try something new. This is your life. Feast upon its beauty.

This morning old trees in my garden are bowed down with their tiny fruit and today I want to sing the humble crab apple. it is the day to make crab apple jelly, turning inedible sourness into a spoonful of something piquant which can cut through the fatty tastes of cheese and sausage. A good crab apple jelly can elevate a plate of cold meat or a dish of yoghurt with seeds, to the status of a feast. And if you’re not near a crab apple tree you can use supermarket apples instead or replace some of the apples with cranberries for a pinker jelly.

Crab Apple Jelly

It’s a two day process making jelly so I will share it with you over this weekend but don’t worry if you’re too busy for that. There is a half way point at which you can put the fruit in the freezer and come back when you’ve more time. Tip : put a date in the diary to come back!

Equipment

Jam jars, lids and labels

At least 4 wooden spoons

Large muslin cloth or a jelly making kit with a tripod and a bag. If you’re using the cloth you need to find an upturned stool or a hook somewhere in your kitchen from which to suspend it to drain into a large pan or clean bucket beneath. I used to use a light fitting that stuck out from the wall far enough (removing the shade and the bulb, of course!). Now I have graduated to a ready made jelly bag and tripod.

Ingredients

Equal weight cleaned fruit and sugar

Water

Method

First get out there and pick the crab apples, as many as you can lug home. Children will help for about two minutes but that’s okay. They like it when you’re outside with them. Then wash them (the fruit and possibly the children) and as you take them from the water throw away the leaves and twigs and damaged fruit. Once you have done this you don’t have to make the jelly today. If your children are helping they will have had more than enough by now. Stick the clean fruit in a plastic carrier bag and put it in the freezer until you have time and all the things you need are to hand. (Now, full of the virtue of having been outside picking apples,  you can watch that film or make little Hugo’s day by playing Monopoly.)

  1. Weigh the fruit that’s left and put in a deep and heavy pan. Small fruit need no further preparation. Larger varieties can be cut in half. No coring. No peeling. Hurrah.
  2. Add 750 ml water for every kilo of fruit
  3. Bring to the boil and simmer gently for about an hour until the fruit is very soft.
  4. Let cool and then strain through a muslin napkin or any fine rag you have available. Leave to drain through the muslin overnight and don’t squeeze the bag as it clouds the jelly.

jelly-bag

Tomorrow

Tomorrow, or on the day you choose to make your jelly, you will need sugar. Just granulated will do but you can also use the special jam sugar if you have it. How much sugar depends on how much fruit your starting with.  Have available in the larder the same weight in sugar as you had clean fruit, that should be fine.

A bientôt.