The Herbocracy

Sunday Brunch is my current favourite non-fiction programme (closely followed by Location, Location, Location).  My Sunday morning routine consists of settling myself on the couch for three hours armed with a giant cup of tea and some manner of bread/eggs/cheese/cold meat-based breakfast to graze at.  (Yes, I basically prepare an Enid Blyton-style picnic to enjoy in the comfort of my living room – for maximum effect I announce periodically to the couch cushions how spiffing the food tastes.) I love Simon and Tim’s ridiculously causal banter.  Also, since I bothered my bum to register at and make myself a ‘Scrapbook’, I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how easy a lot of the recipes actually are.  I generally mistrust things that look easy on the TV, having reached the conclusion long ago that the casual air of simplicity conveyed on ‘how-to-do-it’ features can only truly be achieved through copious scene editing, and industrial quantities of make-up to hide the stress, sweat and tears required to complete the ‘simply elegant, and elegantly simple’ creations.  Not so with Simon.  I trust Simon.  He’s honest and Northern.  Plus, if Tim can do it, then it must be possible for us mere non-chef mortals.  And also, they have awesome features, such as the Ugly Animal Preservation Society (newly appointed mascot of which is the Blobfish) and Warhorse.  Sunday Brunch is the best.

Now, Tim maintains that parsley is the King of herbs.  This got me thinking, because I don’t see parsley as a King.  Don’t get me wrong – I love and have massive respect for parsley – but I don’t see it as monarch.  It’s a solid, dependable worker herb.  I always thought of parsley as the worker-bee rather than the Queen-bee; the common soldier.  Then I thought, well maybe I’m not giving it enough credit.  Maybe I’m ignoring parsley’s leadership qualities.  Maybe it is a higher ranking herb than that.  But even if parsley did climb the hierarchical herb-ladder, I still can’t see it as a King.  Parsley would scorn the pomp and circumstance – ‘The pith o’ sense an’ pride o’ worth / Are higher rank than a’ that.’  So, after much thought and deliberation, I decided that parsley would be the common soldier, who through skill, hard graft and capability gets elevated up the ranks to become army General, trusted and relied upon by the King, and respected by all his men – a Russell Crowe in Gladiator kind of herb, if you will.

Here’s the rest of my herbocracy and society:

Basil:  the King
Basil has real presence – a strong, clean smell.  Basil would be a virile King, in his prime.  It is (allegedly) a resilient herb – easy to grow either outside or as an indoor plant.  (I say allegedly because I’ve never been able to keep a supermarket bought basil plant alive, but that possibly reflects more upon me than on the herb.)  Also, I have just this second realised that (like ‘basilisk’) the word ‘basil’ derives from the Greek ‘basileus’ meaning King, which absolutely vindicates my decision.

Tarragon:  the Queen
Tarragon has quite a unique scent – something special that sets it aside from the common herbs.  It has a sweet, subtle aroma, but also has a strong distinctive flavour.  Tarragon would be a kind and gentle Queen, but with the strength to rule her people.

Coriander:  the Prince
I had real problems deciding if coriander was a boy or a girl herb.  It has a fresh, young, sweet scent.  In the end I decided it would be a young princeling, maybe somewhat effeminate, perhaps slightly cosseted, but full of youthful cheer and exuberance, and adored by all.  (Except for Tim, who doesn’t like coriander.)

Thyme:  the King’s Mother
Thyme is a hard herb, and doesn’t have that fresh quality of the soft herbs like basil, tarragon and coriander.  It still has a sweetness, but it has that strength that comes with age and maturity.  Thyme would be the King’s mother, a strong guiding presence and a force to be reckoned with.

Parsley:  the General
See above.  ‘My name is Parslius Decimus Meridius, commander of the Armies of the North, General of the Seasoning Legions, loyal servant to the true King, Basilius Herbius.’  You get the idea.  Or if you don’t, you should go and watch Gladiator again.

Mint:  the fool
Mint might be my favourite herb.  I love the smell as you cut into fresh mint – it just hits you in waves.  I could sit and chop mint all day.  But I had real trouble deciding what character it would be; and I think that was because I was struggling to reconcile a seeming contradiction between the sugary sweet reminds-me-of-childhood association I have with mint, and the more rounded adult capacity of the herb in its natural form.  And then it hit me how closely that relates to ‘the fool’ – the performance of nonsensical entertainment and tomfoolery, thinly veiling a deeper insight and acute perception of the world.

Sage:  the wise woman / fortune-teller / apothecary
This one’s all in the name really, but sage really does have an appropriate smell of depth and wisdom.  I think sage has to be a woman – it’s got that sweet quality.  If you shut your eyes sage takes you that dimly lit room where the old woman sits with her books and her potions, existing on the boundary between this world, and a world of enchantment and magic.

Rosemary:  the milkmaid
Originally I thought rosemary would be the princess, but when I thought about it more that doesn’t really fit.  Like thyme it has that aged quality.  It lacks the freshness to truly fit the princess profile.  That said, rosemary’s scent is still sweet and fair.  Accordingly, rosemary is the milkmaid – young, sweet and beautiful, but slightly worn before her time by the constant work and weather.

Dill:  the street urchin ragamuffin
I’m not overly keen on dill.  The smell reminds me of gherkins, which I dislike, and which also remind me of McDonalds.  This may mean that I’ve been slightly negatively biased in my allocation of dill, but I do think this is an appropriate match.  Dill’s got that slightly vinegary aroma of the great unwashed, but if you can get past the gherkin association it’s not an unpleasant smell – a likeable scamp.

Chives: the crofter
Chives smell a bit oniony and if you eat them raw they have that slightly sharp acidic taste at first, which mellows into something quite pleasant.  Chives are the crofter – salt of the earth, working the land; gruff on the outside but with a heart of gold underneath.  Plus, chives have to be the farmer equivalent – you can just imagine a chive saying, “ooh ar’ combine ‘arvester”.

Oregano:  the stable boy
Annoyingly, I couldn’t lay my hands on fresh oregano – I’m guessing it’s the wrong season at the moment.  The jar of dried oregano I have in the cupboard has been sitting there for a long time.  I don’t know if that has affected the scent, but the oregano in that jar smells very much like hay.  Until such times as I can lay my hands on the fresh herb, therefore, oregano will be the stable boy.

Marjoram:  the troubador / travelling show
Again, this is based on dried marjoram, and I don’t know what the fresh herb is like.  Dried marjoram reminds me of something, but I can’t put my finger on it.  So, the decision to make marjoram the travelling show is two-fold.  Firstly, to me the smell is bold, exciting and characterised by an air of mystery as I try to understand the scent.  Secondly, I spent so long sniffing at the jar trying to work out why the smell is so familiar that I ended up distinctly light headed as a result.  That’s exactly the type of magic and illusion that comes with a travelling show.

So, that’s my interpretation of herb-land using all the herbs I know.  I know there are other herbs that I’m not familiar with, which will be missing from the list.  At some point I’ll work out a spice society as well, but for now I have to keep a low profile in Morrisons until they forget about the crazy girl standing sniffing herbs in the veg aisle.  Sainsbury’s have obviously encountered this situation in the past – they keep their herbs in sealed bags.  On the plus side, having been forced by Sainsbury’s to actually buy the produce, my kitchen smells like a herb-garden, which makes me happy.


Hello Internet

I’ve been toying with starting a blog for a wee while. I have slight reservations in that I was never able to maintain a diary, and my social media (Facebook) usage goes through sporadic phases, so I’m not sure how frequently this will be updated. We’ll call it an experiment, and see what happens. The timing though, is quite good. I’ve just the other week handed in my MSc Information and Library Studies dissertation, which was a study into individuals’ information sharing behaviour of things that make them happy – for simplicity’s sake, termed ‘happy information’. Am I glad the dissertation is finished?  Yes. Am I glad I did it?  Yes. Am I glad I picked that topic?  Massively – because although the dissertation was really hard work; although conducting and transcribing the interviews was really tiring; although I colossally underestimated how much data 30 interviews would generate, and how hard that would be to inductively organise into any workable format; I also spent three months talking to people about things they have shared that made them happy, and repeatedly re-listening to their stories, and that side of it was fun. It was interesting, heartwarming and hilarious. And although my study looked specifically at people’s motivations behind the giving aspect of sharing, as the interviewer I became a receiver of all this shared happy information – and that was a great position to be in. So, on the back of that I’m going to start blogging about the day-to-day things that make me happy, and share them with y’all. (I say ‘y’all’ – realistically, that’ll be myself and my mum.)

I said the timing of starting this was quite good – I mean that the notion of wanting to start a blog roughly coincided with doing the dissertation, which gave me an idea of things I could write about; which is quite good. The second reason that the timing is good is that today I woke up feeling fantastically happy. I’m not really a morning person, so my daily happiness doesn’t normally set in until there’s something to actively be happy about (something other than the fact that I’ve blearily awakened to encounter another day). So, I’m not entirely sure why I woke up feeling so happy, but it’s likely to be in part a residual happiness dragging over from yesterday. Yesterday consisted of making a serious dent in my to-do list (written in green ink for added awesomeness) with the resultant effect that items are being crossed off the list at a greater rate than additional points are being added (winning!); having a nice catch-up in town with a friend for lunch, before going to see my friends’ (really entertaining) play in the evening. So it was a good day. Equally good – if not better – was the spare time spent in town between lunching and catching my train.

I have new books. I have not one, not two, but FIVE new books. Waterstones’ ‘buy-one-get-one-half-price’ deal played me like a violin that’s been well and truly fiddled – and I know it, but I don’t even care. It started off that I wanted a slim volume that I could read on the train, but that would fit in my (reasonably small) bag. I was browsing and happened across the Translated Fiction stand. Based on the dual logic that the last book I read (The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson) was a) translated and b) very good, and that presumably people only go to the bother of translating books which are deemed better than average in the first place, I began to peruse the stand with interest. Now, my book-selection techniques are generally as follows: I don’t discriminate against books with unappealling covers, but books with awesome covers definitely catch my eye. This is also true of titles. Books I have heard recommended and subsequently spot are also of interest. I place good faith in authors whom I know that I like, comparisons to the writing-style of these authors, and positive critiques on books from these authors. Mostly though, I’ll be swayed by the back of the book description concerning the plot and general content or style. My book-buying spree occurred thus – first, on the Translated Fiction stand I saw a book with a hippo on the front (!!!) called ‘Down the Rabbit Hole’ by Juan Pablo Villalobos. The description seemed somewhat reminiscent of ‘Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas’ (in the interests of not misleading people,  I should point out that I misinterpreted a bit and it turned out not to be all that similar to Fear and Loathing, but I did enjoy it) and it was a very slim volume. Then I continued browsing and came across….. ‘Grimm Tales’ – a retelling of Grimm’s fairytales by Phillip Pullman! (!!!!) I did not know this book existed – I am so excited. That book was on buy-one-get-one-half-price. It’s also reasonably chunky, and so at this point buying books to fit into my existing bag ceased to be a concern. So then I was looking for a book to get half price, and inevitably found two and couldn’t pick between them (‘A Trick I Learned from Dead Men’ by Kitty Aldridge, longlisted for the women’s prize for fiction 2013 “pitch-perfect…blackly funny, moving”, and ‘The Vet’s Daughter’ by Barbara Comyns – “a small gothic masterpiece”). So, now having three books in the buy-one-get-one-half-price, I obviously had to find another one, and happened across ‘The Woman Who Went to Bed For a Year’ which my mum had mentioned during the week, but I hadn’t previously realised was written by Sue Townsend (i.e. the comic mastermind behind Adrian Mole). So that’s my five books. I’m so delighted. I spent far too much money, but since I don’t plan on leaving the flat until I’ve read these, I assume the funds will balance out accordingly.

The knowledge that I had a weekend of to-do listing and reading ahead of me most probably contributed to my good mood. I think though that what really made me happy was that when I woke up, my arms and my nose, and anything outside of the covers, was a bit cold. Through the curtains I could see that it was really sunny and a lovely looking day, but there was a wee nip in the air. Which means….? Autumn’s here. Now, I don’t not like summer – I like nice summer weather for doing things, I love wearing flip-flops, and I like long summer evenings – but now that autumn’s here I can pull on my snuggly jumpers and pretend to be a woolly mammoth; I can stomp about in my fluffy teddy-bear-esque slipper boots; I can curl up in my slanket (blanket with sleeves) while I sit on the couch; and soon I’ll be able to wear my brand new amazing turquoise woolly bobbly hat that I acquired from mum. I can legitimately run up and down the place announcing that Winter is Coming. Now I can make giant pots of soup or stew for dinner every night, with big hunks of crusty bread; and spend evenings curled up on the couch with huge mugs of tea. (To be honest, I do the latter anyway regardless of the seasons, but there’s an added satisfaction when you curl up with tea AND a snuggly jumper AND a blanket.) I think my body knew all this before I’d even gained consciousness this morning. I think that’s why I woke up feeling so happy.