Butternut Squash, Asparagus and Feta

 

Wednesday 20th May

My mother-in-law: gardener, counsellor, motivational speaker, cleaner, disciplinarian, theatre-goer, first aider, Excalibur designer…..These are just some of the roles she covered in her three-night stay with us. 

She thought she was just coming to tackle the garden, but that was the tip of the iceberg. 

“Could you pop down to Daisy’s school activity-cafe and design an Arthurian sword with her?”

Even though she claims not to have a creative bone in her body, she tackled this task, and every other, with true Collier (Senior) gusto; and moved seamlessly from one role to the next. 

Even the neighbour’s daughter was confused as to who or what she was: one minute she is gardener, donning Tom’s full waterproofs, hands caked in damp soil as she plants out a row of lupins; five minutes later (literally five minutes) she comes downstairs as theatre-goer ( Daisy’s debut performance in King Arthur) dressed in white cotton trousers, blue boat-neck top and beautiful silk scarf. 

I let out a loud “Wow!” as she enters the kitchen which startles Ellie, the neighbour’s daughter who’s hanging around. Her entrance coincides with a fight upstairs over which child is washing their hands first. The bathroom is the scene of 90% of their fights. If the original 1930s door we had put in, makes it until they’re teenagers, I’ll be amazed. The loud noise of foot against wood, combined with trying to serve dinner AND be out of the door to get actor to stage in fifteen minutes, nearly sends me over the edge.

“Nanna, sorry, could you deal with that commotion?”

Since having children I seem unable to call her by her actual name, Helen. In the first few years she protested loudly about this, but now she’s become resigned to it. It’s better than what my mum’s called though: normal grandma as named by Daisy from the age of two. It’s possible the normal bit could’ve been meant ironically? (Only joking, mum). 

I can hear nanna at the top of the stairs giving Ollie, in Daisy’s Blyton-esque vocabulary, a right ticking off.  There’s stern words and defiant shouts. Ellie raises her eyebrows at me, 

“Who is THAT woman?” she asks. 

I can see her mind whirring: Is she gardener? Or smartly dressed guest? And how come to gets to do the telling off round here? 

I usher Ellie out of the back door and down to the bottom of the garden where the kids use a gap in the fence to access each other’s houses. 

Nanna appears in the kitchen carrying Ollie. A sibling truce has been agreed. I could do with nanna here full-time. 

The next day, after she’s got her coach back to London, I return to an empty house and a pristine garden. The woman has worked solidly for two days in the rain. I rummage through the fridge and find some leftovers for lunch: some butternut squash and onions that were roasted in Harrisa pasta and red wine vinegar.

 I heat them up in a pan with some leftover asparagus. It doesn’t look like much, but adding some feta, olives, coriander and sweet chilli sauce when it’s on the plate creates a delicious dish. 

As it heats in the pan, I look out at the rows of lupins and lavender plants; the new pots filled with trailing geranium and beautiful little yellow flowers. At the front, the drive is lined with pansies and there is a pink hydrangea in a blue pot which reminds me of my grandma everytime I come home. 

I have enjoyed nanna’s visit: our rain-soaked trips to the garden centre where we try to fill a small VW boot with too many plants; her huge appreciation at every meal cooked and her speeches (largely aimed at Ollie) about gratefulness and finishing what’s on your plate; and I have appreciated the back-up she has provided in all its many roles and guises. Roll on the next visit, nanna! 

  

  

 

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