Birthday in Lockdown

Dear Readers, last year on my birthday I had a pizza lunch in a real restaurant with my work colleagues, dinner in our local French restaurant in the evening with my husband and a birthday trip to the cinema. I also had my 60th birthday very-special-holiday to Borneo, in the teeth of the pandemic.

This year, by contrast, I am very excited by my vegetable box delivery. I have treated myself to the ‘cooks special’ box, which includes weird and wonderful things that you wouldn’t normally see, such as these strange roots in the picture above. Does anybody know what they are?

Well, maybe this will be a clue….

Yep, it’s salsify. Beneath that uninspiring grubby interior lies the queen of root vegetables (apparently). Let me know if you’ve ever cooked it, I am on the hunt for recipes! Also in the box was this…

And here we have some chervil, which I shall need to use up at great speed because it looks very fragile. Maybe in an omelette? Again, all suggestions welcome.

And finally, these little chaps. Kumquats are tiny members of the citrus family, apparently favoured in the colder areas of East Asia because the trees are frost-hardy. Who knew? I have a Gary Rhodes recipe for chocolate pudding with kumquats which I shall find hard to resist.

Anyhoo, in case you thought all I got for my birthday was a bunch of fruit and veg (though that would have been very fine), it will be no surprise to regular readers that I also got some books.

My reading pile is getting higher and higher – I no sooner  read one than I add another two to the pile it seems. I am still struggling with ‘Wilding’ by Isabella Tree – it’s inspirational for sure, with lots of really valuable information, but maybe it’s not ideally suited for night time after a hard day sorting out management overheads and trying to nail currency conversions. Let’s see how I get on. I have certainly learned a lot from ‘Wilding’ but to me it reads more like a text book.

And my lovely husband got me a few more books in the British Wildlife series. How I love them! And how I’d like to head off to a salt marsh or a rocky shore. One day soon, I hope.

And finally, a lovely friend bought me the tea towel below. The giraffe is my totemic animal ( I was a tall skinny child and I identified with these lanky beasts from a very young age) so this is perfect. Much too nice to dry up with though I think.

And so, on a rainy day in North London in the middle of a pandemic, I feel extremely lucky. I have made my own birthday cake (oats, pecan nuts, chocolate, bananas) which is baking as I write this. And to top it all, I have new slippers. After ten years in the house in which I swear I didn’t end a single winter’s day without frozen appendages, here, I hope, is the answer.  There’s nothing like toasty toes to celebrate being another year older. Onwards!


34 thoughts on “Birthday in Lockdown

  1. Anne

    What a joy to receive so many books and such a colourful tea towel – I love seeing giraffe in the wild and those colours are enough to cheer you on a grey day. Happy, happy Birthday! I couldn’t read ‘Wilding’ at night but found it easier to read in the late afternoons. Have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. You have many happy hours of reading ahead of you: enjoy every one of them!

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you Anne! The first time I saw a giraffe in the wild (in the Kruger) I actually cried. I think I almost didn’t believe they were real until then….

  2. JC

    Happy Birthday dear lady! Sorry I had visions of being able to bake you biscuits and drop them over but homeschooling floored me. Love your presents – I’d be so happy with those too! The slippers look super cosy they should sort your feet out! I once made something with salsify and it was delicious but it took me so long to prepare the roots that I sort of understood why people don’t use it 😬. Interested to hear how you got on!

  3. claire

    Happy birthday! Books are my favorite birthday present,( especially natural history books) and I am just looking for slippers these days( they work overtime in this lockdown era)..

    . In today’s global culture, it is nice to see that we keep some local differences in fresh food… Salsify was very common in markets in France when I was a kid, now we mostly see them in tins, but they are not exotic to us . Will look for some fresh ones to morrow.
    Crosne (Stachys) was a classic Christmas food, not so common nowadays.
    Now we also find tuberose chervil ( Chaerophyllum)roots…( exotic here) and the latest root in our food coop is Yacon ( poire de terre In French, Smallanthus).( this one is very exotic here, even if locally grown).
    When I was living in London in the 1990s, I was always looking desperately for celery root( managed to find some on an organic food market in Smithfield) and salads others than iceberg lettuce. ( and sauerkraut) .At the time, parsnip was really an exotic food in Paris, swedes were considered only good for cattle. Not any longer! «  les légumes anciens » are fashionable…

    The usual way to prepare salsify is to boil them in salted water for 20 minutes. First you wash them, peel them with a potato peeler, putting them in cold water with lemon juice so they don’t get brown. Then boil them( not in the lemony water).Then serve them with butter and parsley , (or chervil?) or tomato sauce and grated cheese, or what you like best..
    Chervil keeps well frozen. When fresh, it is nice in salads, or with cream cheese and salt and pepper. My mother made a nice chervil soup with potatoes .( put chervil in some butter on a low heat, then add water, salt, and peeled diced potatoes).
    I like eating kumquats raw with the skin, but they will surely make a great cake.
    Have a nice birthday meal!

    1. Claire

      A mix of tarragon, chives, and chervil are called « fines herbes » here…used in omelette aux fines herbes for instance.

    2. Bug Woman Post author

      Thanks Claire! Some lovely ideas here. I wish I had more chervil, maybe I’ll have to grow some :-). Interesting about Yacon, have you tried it?

      1. Claire

        Not yet, but many positive comments on it, grated like carrots or cooked. None left when I decided to buy some, the 10 kilos have been bought very quickly. It’s from a school of agriculture 7 miles from us.

  4. FEARN

    Happy birthday Viv. As it so happens I posted about salsify’s sibling scorrzonera on Tuesday. (On Mal’s Edinburgh Allotment). Don’t get too excited. It’s the sort of thing they make a foam of on Masterchef!. I have read the Hedges book so will be interested in your thoughts – once you have had the opportunity to read it!

      1. FEARN

        Scorzonera (Scorzonera hispanica) is commonly known as “black salsify” which says it all from a culinary point of view. I have not grown salsify (Tragopogon porrifolius) for years, as I found it disappointing when trying to feed the family (who were unenthusiastic). I thought it tasted like mashed sweetcorn. It has taken some time for me to revisit the experience with scorzonera – which is spindlier and has a less attractive rougher black skin.

      2. Bug Woman Post author

        Ah thanks Mal. I roasted mine with some thyme in the end, and I know what you mean about ‘mashed sweetcorn’, there’s certainly a sweetness to it.

  5. Rosalind Atkins

    A very happy birthday to you! (And those slippers look lush!)

    As a debutant veggie gardener, chervil is one of the things I have had great success with, so I was delighted to find Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s list:

    10 things to do with chervil
    • Add some chervil to a creamy courgette soup, or sprinkle over courgettes sautéed in olive oil with a bit of lemon zest and a squeeze of juice.
    • Pound some chervil into butter with sea salt, black pepper and a little lemon juice to make a seasoned butter to go with steak or lobster.
    • In autumn, add it to mushrooms sautéed in butter and finished with cream.
    • In winter, add it to a celeriac and potato purée.
    • Stir some into mayonnaise to go with goujons of fish or chicken.
    • Add it to scrambled eggs.
    • Make a dip for radishes by stirring together some soft goat’s cheese and yogurt until smooth, and stirring in some chervil, salt and pepper.
    • Sprinkle it over roasted fennel.
    • Mixed with seasoned breadcrumbs and a little very finely diced shallot, chervil makes a good topping for grilled oysters.
    • For an easy potato salad, dress boiled potatoes while they’re still warm with a vinaigrette laced with plenty of chervil.

    He’s also pretty good for salsify, which is more common here than the UK, and really delicious. Try this article:

    As for the kumquats, it looks like you’ve got that sorted. Sounds delicious!

  6. Sue King

    When I was little I thought giraffes were mythical, like unicorns. Why not? After all, they are a bit unlikely. My astonishment on seeing my first at London Zoo is something I still clearly remember. It was on the same London visit when I was very disappointed to discover that Piccadilly Circus, wasn’t.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Shame about Piccadilly Circus ! But yes, giraffes are one of those unbelievable animals aren’t they, rather like gorillas, or elephants.

  7. Edith

    Happy Birthday! I have found that slippers in that style lined with shearling will keep my feet warm, and so I hope that yours will do the same for you. I was so sick of cold feet!!!🤩

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      Thank you Bobbie Jean. It was great of you folks in the US to organise an inauguration to mark the day for me too, very kind of you 🙂

  8. Emily B

    Happy Birthday! It sounds perfect for a lockdown birthday, books, tea towel and slippers. I have the same ones (different colour – yours are beautiful) and they are the best! Plus exotic fruit and veg – what more could anyone want?!

  9. Tom Raw

    I started reading Wilding a couple of times but never got far. Recently I got into audiobooks and had a go at listening to it (read by Isabella Tree herself). I loved it. It was at times genuinely thrilling and at others very moving. There’s also a lot of stuff about the economics of running a farm and of agricultural subsidies, but even that is quite interesting. Lockdown with two small kids at home left me little time to read, but with audiobook I can sneak a bit of “reading” in while doing the washing up etc.

    1. Bug Woman Post author

      That’s a really good idea Tom. I do feel that there’s a lot of really interesting content in Wilding, and the whole Knepp project has been very influential. Plus who could argue with getting Turtle Doves and Purple Emperors back?

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