Recycler Avec Ma Famille

Do your family recycle?

Does your family recycle? I don’t mean do you diligently separate your paper from your plastics from your metals, rinse them all and leave them kerbside in neat caddies every week, thought this is a VERY good thing to do. I mean, does your family recycle things between its members? Perhaps does your family cycle, as in rotate, things between its members is a more accurate question. This family does, in a big way, and I conclude that my little cottage, in the far South East corner of Surrey, acts as some form of homing beacon for all the family detritus in circulation. Eventually, it all ends up here. Usually, after a few months of contemplation, we upcycle, and find a new purpose for the item. Thank goodness the cottage has surprisingly generous attic space and a couple of sheds for storage. Permit me to share some examples.

Terracotta Tuscan Ovens

Terracotta Tuscan ovens. This particular sequence is one of our longest running. At 17 years old, I got engaged to my childhood sweetheart (no, of course it didn’t last, but we are still in touch and he is definitely one of this world’s good guys). We had a party to celebrate and though I don’t recall asking for presents, my very generous family and friends bought us various gifts for our “bottom drawer”. Nana Mary bought us a Tuscan oven which sat in its box for the next seven years as I finished Sixth Form, went off to uni, and came back, then headed to London and a succession of rented flats. I recall using it a few times to roast a chicken for Steve and Lily decades ago, but that’s about it. This Tuscan oven is still around, having an extended rest at the back of a kitchen cupboard. It might not have been in use very often, but on one of the occasions it was doing its thing it evidently caught my Mum’s eye because she hotfooted it to Lakeland Limited (probably still called Lakeland Plastics in those days) and bought herself her very own Tuscan oven. Earlier this week, Lily and I planned a pre-Lockdown 2 walk, exploring her new neighbourhood. Naturally, before our walk I had my second guided tour of her new house to see how she and Vince are settling in, during the course of which I had the opportunity to make many very helpful Mum-suggestions about what I would do if I was her (she loves that, as all daughter do). Opening one of the drawers in her kitchen to show me how Kondo-like she has been utilising her storage space, Lily spies the Lakeland Tuscan oven as asks if I want it because Nan gave it to her, she never uses it, and it’s just taking up space. I hesitate, I actually hesitate and for a moment thinking I’ll tell her to bin it, and then I just can’t. So I return home with a second (and never-used, by the way, not even once; it is in pristine condition) Tuscan oven. Thirty-six years, almost to the day, after acquiring the first one, I now have two Tuscan ovens. I’ve just done a quick calculation: between me, Mum and Lily, those two Tuscan ovens have done 15 house moves and have been used less then ten times. But fear not, I woke up with a start at 5:15 this morning with the genius idea of how to upcycle them: I will use the lids as seed trays and the deeper bases as planters next summer. Give me a bit of thinking time and I invariably come up with an upcycling idea.

Golden Creeping Jenny tumbling out of the recycled chiminea

Exhibit two is a cast iron chiminea purchased by Mum and Dad in, I would estimate, the mid 1990s. It stood proudly, and infrequently used, in the garden of my childhood family home. A year or so after Dad died, Mum understandably wanted to downsize and enjoyed a Goldilocks series of moves, first a couple of flats, which were too small, then a countryside bungalow, which was too big, before settling on her now-home, which is just right. During the “too small” stage, the chiminea headed my way, along the M4 and round the M25, in the back of someone’s car that was pulling a brilliant wheelie the whole way cos, let me tell you, that cast iron baby is heavy. In my garden for the past decade, the chiminea has been lit precisely twice. On the first occasion by Will (my son), on the afternoon he finished his GCSEs, when he used it to burn all his school notebooks (thank God he didn’t have to do any resits. The supreme confidence of youth, eh?) The second time was three years ago, on Bonfire Night, when we had visitors over for nibbles and sparklers and thought it would add to the ambience if we lit it. What a mistake. The thing belched like it was trying to turn us into Arbroath smokies. The garden stank of smoke for weeks. Never again. The chiminea has been upcycled to a distinctive planter for a golden Creeping Jenny, which tumbles from the main cavity like the contents of Ladybird’s/Vera Southgate’s Magic Porridge Pot. And Mum has since bought a new, just-right size chiminea for her garden; but it’s only for looking at, not for lighting.

Other notable examples include a dismantled pine-slatted wardrobe which seems to have journeyed from “our I”, my Mum’s cousin Irene, to our cottage, where, after 18-months seasoning in a shed, it has been upcycled to smart softwood edging for my new flower borders; Lily’s post-Japan bicycle, which lived for a while in the porch of her flat in Hither Green, and found its way to the cottage several summers ago, and has been literally cycled, very slowly, by me this summer, in an attempt to get healthier. My favourite item on rotation at the moment is a battered Fiat Punto. Bought by me and Steve eight years ago when we needed to replace our second “run around” car, Lily used it for work; Will learnt to drive in it and ownership transferred to him for a while; Vince (Lily’s boyfriend) then bought it off us to use for work; eventually Vince upgraded to a snazzier car and back it came to the cottage; then it went off to Bristol for Will to use while he’s studying there. No wonder the insurance company groans when I call to advise of a change of registered keeper and main driver. It’ll be back at the cottage when Will comes home for Christmas, and it’ll be lovely to see it, dents, scratches, “funny smells” and all.

We de-la-Haye Girls quite often end up sharing and swapping bags, shoes and clothes too!

You know what, I’m going to have to cook something in one of these Tuscan ovens before they are relegated, or maybe that should be promoted, to the greenhouse. Let the search for vegan recipes for Tuscan ovens begin.

Please do assure me that your family engages in similar rotation of chattels. ~ E

Bakestones And Brack

Celtic bakes with E.

The cooler autumn days have inspired me to bake. There is danger in this because if I bake, I invariably give in to the temptation to eat what I bake and I am still trying to undo the effects of too much early lockdown baking and eating in April and May. You know what they say: a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips and, believe me, as Shakira sang, but meant in quite a different way, “you know my hips don’t lie”.

A couple of fleeting moments over the past few weeks resulted in my baking taking a turn towards traditional, homely fare and two recipes with Celtic heritage. Both the bakes are variations on the customary recipes to enable me to exclude dairy, eggs and lard and to take advantage of a large quantity of dried fruit I acquired in July but about which I cannot speak publicly (enigmatic, I know, but sometimes silence is the deal we have to strike in return for receiving copious amounts of Italian peel, glacé cherries, stem ginger in syrup and many kilos of currants).

Inspiration for the first recipe came from rearranging the cupboard under the oven and happening upon my Nana Mary’s bakestone. In a rather lovely display of cross-family/in-law affection, this cast iron griddle was made for Nana Mary, my paternal grandmother, by my maternal grandfather, the chap of Mr and Mrs fame. I can’t really remember how or when, but it’s another treasure I inherited from my Nan. For the uninitiated, bakestones are, perhaps more accurately were, used for cooking Welsh cakes on the fire or cooker, indeed the Welsh cakes themselves, a type of fruited griddle scone, are often call bakestones because of the way they are traditionally cooked. They are certainly called bakestones in my family. They are also a treat I haven’t eaten for more than half a decade as, despite loving them, Welsh cake recipes contain butter, lard, milk and eggs. Sight of the blackened griddle in the bottom of the cupboard gave me a shot of pure hiraeth for Sunday afternoon’s munching warm bakestones at Nana Mary’s so I hefted out of the cupboard (it weights a (metaphorical) ton), washed and oiled it and set about researching vegan Welsh cake recipes.

Welsh cakes on the bakestone

Turns out there are reams of said recipes online and I needn’t have been depriving myself all these years. I followed a recipe by the fabulous Gaz Oakley – plain flour, currants, baking powder, mixed spice, salt, caster sugar, vegan marg and almond milk (though I used oat milk as that’s what was in the fridge) – doubling all the quantities to make twice as many because, you know, twice as many and all that. I then had a great half an hour griddling like a demon. I needed to have prep’d the bakestone with an oil with a far higher smoking point than the olive oil I used, so things got a bit fuggy in the kitchen. I singed my finger twice in my eagerness to flip my cakes and a few times I took too long on sugar-sprinkling duty and the griddleful of cakes next in the production line caught a bit too much colour on one side but I didn’t care. My bakestones tasted almost as good as Nan’s and I had the best time making, and eating, them.

A tin full of fresh bake stones and left over orange polenta cake

A day or so later, scrolling through my Insta feed I spotted a gorgeous looking bake my very lovely Dublin friend, Collette, had made. A couple of messages later and I had in my possession not only her beloved Mum’s recipe for Irish Tea Brack, but a copy of the recipe written in her Mum’s fair hand on paper now much-handled and stained by the teas of years of brack preparation by Collette while living in London, Sydney and Dublin. I felt very privileged to have this favourite family recipe shared with me.

Mrs McDonald’s treasured brack recipe

Mrs McDonald’s recipe required the pound of dried fruit to be soaked for a day in tea and sugar before flour, mixed spice and an egg are added the following day, everything given a good stir and baked for an hour. I used an egg replacement mix to bind all the ingredients and though I was a little worried that the batter seemed very wet, it baked beautifully, held its shape in slicing and tastes delicious. It is delightfully “substantial” and perfect with a cuppa.

Delicious Irish Tea Brack – worth a try for your tea BREAK!

Two traditional and homely bakes, with Celtic origins, successfully veganised over the course of a few days. And, mindful of the Shakira on my shoulder, whom I now paraphrase badly, I was wise, read the signs of my (wobbly) body, and stuck half of the bakestone and half of the brack in the freezer for another day. ~ E

The de-la-Haye Girls

How The de-la-Haye Girls came to life.

Sketching, painting, interior design and decorating. Playing the piano, playing the guitar and playing FIFA on the Xbox. Sewing, running, Hinching, rearranging all the furniture in my flat. Colour coding my iPhone apps. Learning Welsh, Japanese and Italian. In the last few months, if you name it, I probably tried it. Except for baking banana bread; I drew the line there. In the spring of this year, after the initial novelty of a life in lockdown had worn off, I found myself feeling all at sea, adrift and unsettled. My Mum, Emma – or E as I’ll call her now – had agreed that she felt the same way and a couple of days later, she floated an idea passed me.

We needed something to indulge our creativity. We both love to tell stories and are always jotting ideas down on paper. E takes the most beautiful photographs and I love nothing more than getting lost down an Instagram hole. And so, my brilliant Mamacita suggested the idea of a shared blog: The de-la-Haye Girls.

We agreed that The de-la-Haye Girls could be a window into our world, filled with all of our favourite things. Curated with love and a generous dollop of humour. Something we could create and nurture together – from a social distance, of course. It certainly trumps bingeing another boxset or packet of Bourbons.

We hope you’ll join us on the journey. Go on…who wants to attend another Zoom quiz anyway?