Giving it Beans – II

I began this post, I discovered when I had a moment to get back here, on what would have been my mum’s birthday.  I had intended to complete it a week or so later, keeping a promise to the Fairy Godmother.  That was a Wednesday in March.  As I write, it’s November and nearly a year since the fire.

March seems an age ago.  Gandalf was still a kitten.  Quite a fan club has our Gandalf.  Of our felines, he is The Queen of Tarte’s favourite.  Then there’s Selma who spent as much time snapping Gandalf as she did my Sunday Supper cooking!  A visit to Gandalf, never mind The Cats’ Mother, is a non-negotiable part of any of her visits to McGregor!

Fiona and Gandalf
Having a cuddle between peeling the spuds. Photo: Selma

Then there’s his Fairy Godmother who journeys to Africa at least twice a year;  her affair with Gandalf began with a chance sighting on Facebook.  Well, as they say, the rest is history, and prior to her last visit, she decreed that she would be having face time with her feline godchild.  Because the visits are frequently infrequent, she has a burgeoning social circle, so we all gathered at The Sandbag House.  All because of her tryst with Gandalf!

An adolescent Gandalf staring adoringly at The Fairy Godmother.  Photo: The Fairy Godmother

The Fairy Godmother is due to swoop in again at the end of the month.  She will discover that although Gandalf has grown up and given up doing the Charleston in his dinner, he has developed a few other habits.  Perhaps – just perhaps – the consequences are a little less messy.  They are equally annoying and endearing, but they do have serious implications for elements of the reptile population of our garden:  he has a penchant for lizards, snakes and skinks.  It’s Gandalf’s prodigious catching of the latter that on one occasion, seriously dented The Husband’s image.

That is an angry skink (aka a legless lizard) clamped to The Husband’s thumb.  So much for his being thanked for coming to the rescue.

So, ahead of the Fairy Godmother’s visit which, ironically, may (rain permitting) coincide with the first picking of this year’s crop of beans, here’s the recipe for her salad, a dish that I made up because we simply had to eat beans, mini-tomatoes and basil:

The Fairy Godmother’s Mediterranean Style Green Bean Salad


Three or four handfuls of young green beans (probably 300 – 400 g)
A handful of cocktail tomatoes, halved or quartered, depending on their size
A handful of black olives, pitted
(adjust the quantities for proportion and the number of people you’re feeding)
Half a bunch each of chives and basil
A dash or two of Vinaigrette

Top and tail the beans and blanch and plunge into cold water.  Cool, but don’t let them get icy cold – the warmth helps the flavours to “meld”.  Combine with the tomatoes and olives.  Lastly, add the vinaigrette.  Here, err on the side of what seems like too little:  this salad benefits from standing a while to let the flavours develop and the tomatoes will add their own juice to the dressing.

Finally, chop the chives and add the basil leaves, toss and serve.

And while I’m giving it beans, I am reminded that blogpal Ark says that his “missus won’t eat them [beans] once they have swollen in the pods … they are too stringy”.  Well, yes they can get stringy, and also could be a bit chewy.   I’m too Scottish to let slightly overgrown beans go to waste, and equally, I’m not into vegetable death by boiling, which was my mother’s way of addressing virtually any vegetable:  what follows is as close as I get to that (unless it’s by mistake).  Although this dish is not pretty – the beans lose their bright green colour – it’s more than palatable and is a good way of dealing with a late harvest.

Late harvest green beans – for “the missus”

In a heavy bottomed-pot,  sauté a chopped onion in butter and a little olive oil.  Top, tail and french cut the beans – a little smaller than you might normally.  Add them to the pot with a little water.  Cover and simmer until soft- probably about 15 minutes.  The liquid will disappear during the cooking.  Season with salt (if necessary) and pepper. Add a little extra interest with some garlic (at the onion stage) and chopped fresh thyme.

And so…quite a year it has been, this 2017.  As it draws to an end, for many in our circle, it’s been a year of inordinate challenge and change.  Hardly anyone I know has not been confronted with big decisions and life-changing events.

The learning:  to be like this couple and give it beans.  Fizz and her husband were our first international Sunday Supper guests.  They travel the world and have a decades-long love affair with Africa – even though she’s not too good on her pins anymore.  Life-loving, gracious and an absolute delight.