It’s a simple yet sublime pleasure, and just thinking about it can make you feel a little calmer, a little more content. Imagine: You bring out one of the good rocks glasses (or your favorite mug or a special occasion tea cup) and pour a couple fingers of amber liquid (or something dark and strong or just some whole milk). You drop the needle on the jazz platter (or pull up a blues album on your mp3 player or dig out that mixtape from college). Ensconcing yourself in the coziest seat in the house, you crack the spine on a classic (or find your place in that sci-fi paperback or pull up a biography on your e-book reader). And then, you go away for a while. Ah, bliss.
In this series, some of NTSIB’s friends share beloved albums, books and drinks to recommend or inspire.
Bethany Weimers’ debut record Harpischord Row came out last year, and was (is still!) an exquisite folk-pop gem. The first song, Silver Moon, remains one of my favorites:
Also really lovely: this acoustic rendition of Desire:
She’s currently hard at work on her next record, which I can’t wait to hear. Meanwhile, here she is to share a favorite book, record, and summer-in-a-bottle drink:
Good Read – Paula by Isabelle Allende
Until a few minutes before sitting down to write this, I had been going to sing the praises of my most recent unputdownable read – The Cazalets Chronicles [by Elizabeth Jane Howard] – an epic family saga; a perceptive exploration of character; and a lively portrait of pre- to post-war England. It’s a great story, one which I devoured. I recommend it.
But I happen to be staying at my parents’ house for the weekend and I happen to be standing in my old bedroom, staring at the rows of books that are stored here until one day I once again have enough space in my own home.
On the top shelf, tucked between a book on orchestration and a battered Penguin classic, and half hidden by a box of old Christmas cards, I spy the letters ‘Isa…’ and ‘Alle…’ peaking out. Oh. A surge of warmth rushes through me. Ever since her book ‘Daughter of Fortune’ was recommended to me by a university friend (thanks Greg!), Isabelle Allende has been one of my favourite authors, never failing to captivate and rarely failing to leave me feeling uplifted.
This book however is not one of her straight fiction books. For many years it sat on my shelf unread, fearful that the subject matter would prove too heavy. Yet when I finally felt it was time to delve in, I found one of the most beautiful, loving, life-affirming and brave books that I’ve had the privilege of reading.
Sad and tragic too, how could it not be, but what’s stuck in my mind in the four or so years since I read Paula’s richly woven tapestry of histories, is something – that I can’t quite articulate – something profound to do with humanity, to do with hope, to do with healing and I suppose simply – love.
From the opening page: “In December 1991 my daughter, Paula, fell gravely ill and soon thereafter sank into a coma. These pages were written during the interminable hours spent in the corridors of a Madrid hospital and in the hotel room where I lived for several months, as well as beside her bed in our home in California during the summer and fall of 1992.” Isabelle Allende.
A very special book.
Good Listen – In Puget Sounds by D. Gwalia
D Gwalia was a name I’d heard around the Oxford music scene for a few years before coming across his album In Puget Sounds for the first time last summer. I knew nothing about him and had no idea what to expect. Listening online through headphones it stopped me dead: an unexpected musical epiphany. Wow. I felt like this was the voice my ears had been born to hear.
D Gwalia could sing One Direction and I’d probably love it; he’d imbue the words and tune with a mysterious, ancient, powerful, yearning melancholy. Suffice to say I went straight to Truck Store (my local record shop), bought the CD, then returned home and listened obsessively and incessantly for weeks. Expect something beautifully crafted, dark and wallowing.
Good Drink – Sparkling Homemade Elderflower Cordial
Strange that an unexpected weekend stay back home has ended up guiding my book selection, as the drink I had already decided upon is also one with close associations.
Outside my parents’ house is an elder tree. Now, in the early days of autumn the berries are starting to droop and even birds seem to have had their fill. But three months ago the view from the front door was thick with white lacy flowers – elderflowers – and the air was intoxicating.
Spring had burst into summer with ferocious intensity and everywhere, both city and countryside, triumphed in vitality after our exceptionally long hard winter.
I must confess that I’ve yet to play the role of elderflower picker or cordial maker, but for many years I’ve performed superbly in the role of elderflower drinker and enthusiast. For me homemade elderflower cordial is one of life’s little pleasures. So what is it I love so much about this simple drink?
Well for starters the flowers have to be picked on a sunny day. Imagine: rainy cloudy weather for days and days and then suddenly… SUN. Harvest time. Elderflowers at their best; the warmth of summer captured in a bottle. Then there’s the fact that the drink’s main ingredient, found in abundance certainly round these parts, can be foraged for free.
And what about the cordial maker? Pretty sure that along with the flowers, sugar, lemon, water and citric acid, whoever makes the drink throws in their own bit of magic – this summer’s was brewed solely by my mum, other years’ concoctions have been a joint effort with my sister.
And lastly: the taste. I find it hard to describe flavour but I’ll go with delicate yet deep, sweet, slightly lemony, summery, aromatic. Diluting the cordial with sparkling water as I usually do gives an added tingly excitement to every sip. Yum.
Every year my family share the majority of the cordial in the weeks after it’s made and there’s a certain sadness when the last drop goes – farewell summer, welcome autumn. But hidden at the back of the freezer in a small ½ litre bottle is one final gift from those summer months to be opened at the halfway point.
On Christmas Day in the depths of winter, we’ll share this treasure, this liquid gold, and remembering that the solstice has now passed, look to spring just around the corner.
A quick internet search will bring up a wealth of information about making Elderflower Cordial and plenty of recipes. Sophie Grigson’s is apparently the one my mum uses, so perhaps that’s a good one to start with. Also please make sure you know what you’re picking and only use if you know it’s safe! The European elder tree native to Britain is the Sambucus Nigra but there are other varieties elsewhere in the world and they might be toxic . . . I don’t know.