11 Apr 2021

Sunday Small Talk #8: The Letterbox Food You Need In Your Belly

Letterbox food

Tomorrow is going to be a good day lads. The bookshop opens. The pub opens. Whether I have time to get in either of them, because I stupidly did not take the day off, remains to be seen but that’s not the point. It’s a new week and I will have the option to browse bookshops and drink in pubs again. We’re on the up.  


Before I celebrate the return of eating out though, I just want to give a little thanks to the letterbox food that has provided much needed salvation on birthdays, celebrations and dull Thursday nights during lockdown. These have been my faves:


Crème cookies 


Sending a box of these beauties does seem to now be the default Christmas/birthday gift between my friend and I, and I ain’t mad about it. We’ve loved them ever since we first visited the store and several boxes have been sent since that point. These huge, gooey cookies are just the best, they come in a gorgeous pink box and you have to order at least 6 in one go… shame... 


Pasta Evangelists 


Fresh pasta through the letterbox? With fancy sauces? What’s not to love? We bought a box for my birthday and I can confirm, it was delicious. Have so far resisted making it a regular subscription…


Franco Manca Pizza In The Post

 

One of my easy London catch-up-after-work restaurants, I have really missed those cheap sourdough pizzas in lockdown. I finally cracked and bought their letterbox kit for a random Friday night and, whilst not quite as good as in the restaurant, it was still very tasty and easy to make. 


Dishoom Bacon Naan Roll Kit 


You’re probably familiar with the famous Dishoom bacon naan roll but if not – bacon & cream cheese in a naan bread with chilli jam. Sounds slightly random, tastes bloody delicious. So easy to make at home and brings that going-out-for-brunch vibe back to a Saturday morning. 


Rick Stein At-Home Food Boxes 


This was one of my birthday presents for Gary and if you’re looking for something for a special occasion (or just fancy splashing out) at home, then I would recommend. It was about as close to the fancy-restaurant vibe as you’re going to get whilst still being at the kitchen table. We ordered the steak box which was so good but they do veggie and fish boxes as well, and they are all 3 courses. 


The Pudding Stop Letterbox Brownies 


One of our favourites when we lived in St Albans, I feel like I’ve been waiting for them to start doing letterbox brownies since I left. With a choice of chocolate brownie, salted caramel & peanut butter brownie, butterscotch blondie, raspberry & white chocolate blondie, caramel slice or rocky road, all in a letterbox-friendly box, these are a great gift to send someone (cough yourself cough). 



9 Apr 2021

Reading Recap: The Books I Read In March

 The Books I Read In March

David and Ameena – Ami Rao

I loved this book. David and Ameena meet by chance on the subway; he is American-Jewish and she is British-Pakistani and they begin a relationship amongst the backdrop of music, painting and New York City whilst navigating different backgrounds, politics and strong ambitions. Whilst their love story is at the heart of the novel, I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is a romance novel. It’s about art and culture, race and religion, and how our family history continues to impact us years down the line. We spend plenty of time with their family, friends, work colleagues and see how they form part of David and Ameena’s individual identities as well as their relationship. I didn’t always like David or Ameena but I think their flaws are what made the story so beautiful and human. I loved the lyrical writing and the way the city, the art and the jazz are just as intrinsical to the story as the characters. 5/5

Woven In Moonlight – Isabel Ibanez 

I think it was probably the beautiful cover (designed by the author herself!) that drew me to this book, that and just wanting a bit of fantasy to dive into. Based in a fantasy South America, Ximena is a decoy for the Condesa Catalina, the last remaining Illustrian royal. Her people lost everything when the Llascan King revolted ten years ago. Now he wants the Condesa’s hand in marriage and Ximena will go in her place to spy on the King, and help return Catalina to the throne. What follows is a story full of magic, mouth-watering food descriptions, great characters and a forbidden romance. I particularly enjoyed the idea of the main character unlearning the propaganda and prejudices she has been taught since a child. I did think it was a little slow in places and I think it could have potentially been better without the romance, but it was an enjoyable read. 3/5

Written In Starlight – Isabel Ibanez 

This is a companion novel to Woven in Moonlight (although I personally think you need to have read the first to understand the second), told from the perspective of Catalina who only briefly features in the first book. Banished to the jungle and ‘betrayed’ by her best friend, Catalina intends to find the mysterious Illari people, form an alliance and take back the throne. Unfortunately, I really disliked the character of Catalina and, whilst she does develop and improve as the story goes on, I spent most of my time rolling my eyes at her. I did admire the author’s boldness in taking a character who is incapable of looking after herself and very self-centred (and a touch racist) and have her grow dramatically over the novel but she just got on my nerves too much, personally. But I really loved the world of the magical jungle and the vivid writing that described it. Would quite happily read another book set there, just with a different character. 2/5 


Happy reading folks x 

28 Mar 2021

Sunday Small Talk #7: 365 Days Later...

A year of lockdown

So that’s it. A year of Covid. More of it spent in lockdown than not. I look back at ourselves this time last year and I wonder how they would have felt if they’d known they would still be living in lockdown a year later. Less enthusiastic about baking banana bread I imagine. 


What a weird, weird 12 months. I mused a lot on this in my 2020 reflections so I won’t repeat myself but it was hard not to write about anything else this week. I found myself looking at that 23rd March date feeling stunned that this surreal state of our lives was no longer some distant memory, some strange, awful thing that happened in 2020 that had thankfully gone away. To think that we’ve spent over 8 of the last 12 months in lockdown is almost too bizarre to contemplate. 


Whilst I did not underestimate the seriousness of the situation or the hell that those with Covid/NHS workers were going through, I – like many of us whose jobs could be done at home – found the first few weeks of Lockdown 1.0 a bit of a novelty. I’m a homebody anyway, we no longer had to commute and the sun was shining. There was always an undercurrent of worry about It All plus my job but on the whole, we were okay. It felt like we just had to have a few weeks at home and then normal life would resume. I realised I have spent most of the last year thinking like that, the novelty long gone, but still waiting for normal life. Still not accepting that this time would change things. 


Whilst I know that one day, we will be able to live life without thinking about the Big C, I am only just starting to accept that we won’t be able to snap our fingers and pick up where we left off. The time has still passed. The mental effects have still happened. We have adjusted and we will need to re-adjust on the way out. A year is a long time, plenty of time for our lives to have been completely overhauled, and I think I’m finally accepting that the after-effects of this time aren’t going to just float away. Some of these are good, but some bad, and I know it’s going to be important to be kind and gentle with one another as we all re-adjust. Some will do it faster than others. Some will want life to be exactly like it was before and some will be fundamentally changed. 


For me, I’m a little uncertain about what ‘normal’ life looks like for us. We moved to a completely new area in 2019, threw ourselves into an all-consuming DIY/renovation hole and when we emerged, we were in lockdown. Whilst I don’t regret our decision to move at all, I have lived here over 18 months and still don’t know what our life here really looks like outside of lockdown. I’ve also felt a shift in my priorities and learnt a lot about myself in the last year and I wonder how this will affect my decisions going forward. Whilst I’m keen to see how all of this eventually looks, the thought of coming out of restrictions makes me feel a little disorientated because I don’t know what happens after that. Although that’s not to say I’m not ready to jump out of these bloody restrictions with both feet. Bring. It. On. 


I sense the next 365 days could be just as weird as the last but I think I’m more ready for it than I was this time last year. 

14 Mar 2021

Sunday Small Talk #6: A Heavy Week For Women

A Heavy Week For Women

 Let’s recap shall we? What have we learned this week? Should a woman speak out on her experiences of racism, misogyny or mental health, she will not be believed. White, middle-aged men in particular will ensure they make it clear that they do not believe her. Loudly. Because of course, the world is really lacking in opinions of white, middle-aged men. A woman can do all the ‘right’ things whilst walking home alone and still not make it back to her loved ones. But it will be her fault. Not the fault of the man who murdered her. 97% of women have been sexually harassed in the UK (which came as a surprise to exactly 0% of women) but – just so we’re clear gals – it’s not all men.  

It has been a heavy week to be a woman. And no, this is not small talk. This is really Big Talk.  


I, like so many other women, have found this week difficult. The fact that the society we live in is blatantly misogynistic and a dangerous place for a woman is not new information but it is one thing for this to be something that lingers in the back of your mind and quite another for it to be reinforced across every newspaper, every damn news channel, every tweet sent with the hashtag #NotAllMen.  


Dealing with this on top of dealing with lockdown and living through a global pandemic separated from loved ones felt rather like the straw that broke the camel’s back. And I know I’m not alone in this feeling. I reached whole new levels of anxiety this week and come Friday, I realised I needed to remove myself from the news for a short period. Because that I do have control over. I can’t control this shit show of a week or the anxiety it has created but I can put a halt on the endless doom-scrolling and absorption of bad news, just for a moment. My mental health improved, but my anger remains. 


Why is it, in 2021, women are still not believed when they say they have experienced poor mental health, racism, abuse? Why is it, in 2021, that women can’t walk home alone without the risk of being raped, abducted or murdered? Why is it, in 2021, we still experience harassment on a daily basis? Why is it, in 2021, the murder of a white woman still gets more sympathy and attention than that of a woman of colour? Why is it, in 2021, when we lose yet another woman to the hands of a man and we publicly express our terror – men still take up the space, telling us how we should feel, behave, that it’s not all of them?  


(Side note – we are painfully aware it is not all men. What do you want, a medal for not having murdered someone? Congratulations on having achieved the bare minimum. Forgive me if I have slightly higher expectations from you. Please consider that maybe, just maybe, your offence and first instinct to protect your own reputation over protecting the women being harassed is part of the problem.)


Every woman I know doesn’t just have ‘a story’, she has several. We all do. It’s not all men, but it’s certainly all women. We are already doing everything we possibly can, and it’s not enough. The problems lie at the feet of men and so many of them are still using it to kick us rather than help us, from the ones taking our lives to the ones not calling out the sexist ‘jokes’. Following the death of George Floyd last year, asking ourselves the difficult questions came to the forefront of our minds. It was not a comfortable process but it bloody well shouldn’t be. So men, do the same now. Question your past behaviours. Are you aware of how you could be perceived? Have you checked your own ingrained attitudes? Do you call out your friends? Have you asked the women in your life about what they have to live with day in and day out? It’s time to do the work. Because if you don’t, we will continue to pay with our lives.  

12 Mar 2021

Reading Recap: The Books I Read In February

What I read in February

 I’m a little late writing this because the first couple of weeks in March have been intense. Thank gawd for books always being there for me to escape into. Here’s what I read in February. 


Delayed Rays of a Star - Amanda Lee Koe


It starts with a real photograph of three women taken in Berlin in 1928; Marlene Dietrich, Anna May Wong and Leni Riefenstahl and then the story follows their lives against the backdrop of the war, cinema and beyond. Marlene will become a Hollywood icon, Anna May Hollywood’s first Chinese American star and Leni a famous filmmaker, Hitler’s favourite - a fact she will spend the rest of her life running from. I knew nothing of these three women before picking up this book but I have done a lot of googling since, and was surprised at how nearly all of the novel seems to be based on truth in one way or another. Sometimes it felt a little heavy, not one that the reader could easily race through, and I personally dislike the lack of speech marks in novels, but mostly the writing was richly detailed and the story a breathtaking portrayal of three fascinating women and other smaller, but perhaps more memorable, characters living through key events of the 20th century. 4/5


Dear Damsels Annual 2020


I only discovered Dear Damsels last year (talk about late to the party) and I felt like I had some catching up to do so I ordered their 2020 annual. This was a gorgeous collection of work by talented women writers on a variety of themes, accompanied by bold and colourful artwork. I was genuinely sad to reach the end. 5/5


Let Me Know When You’re Home - Dear Damsels


Dear Damsels first publication: 15 women explore female friendships in all its forms in this wonderful collection of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. I loved this honest & joyous celebration of the complex and beautiful nature of female friendships. 5/5


Girl A - Abigail Dean


I read this in just a couple of days because it sucks you in from page 1 and races along. After her mother dies, Lex has to contact her siblings to decide what to do with the House of Horrors where they grew up and were abused. She is Girl A – the one that escaped and raised the alarm. Each chapter is dedicated to one of the siblings and the trajectory of their lives in the years since. Whilst the subject matter is difficult, this isn’t torture-porn and so it’s not difficult to read – the opposite in fact. It’s hard to put down, almost as though you’re reading a thriller and I certainly didn’t see the devastating twist coming. 5/5


The Bone Houses - Emily Lloyd-Jones


This would be the perfect horror fairytale novel to read at Halloween. Since the death of her parents, Ryn and her siblings have been scraping by as low-paid gravediggers. But the problem with being gravediggers in the remote village of Colbren is that the dead don’t stay dead. The risen corpses are known as bone houses and when mysterious mapmaker Ellis arrives in town, they start to attack with a new ferocity, and so Ryn and Ellis embark on an adventure into the heart of the mountains to try and end the decades-old curse. This was pure escapism with folklore, adventure and a very gentle slow burning romance that doesn’t become the main focus (yes please to more strong women and soft-spoken, kind men as romantic leads). 3/5


The Panic Years - Nell Frizzell


This book was on my pre-order list for a long time and I would highly recommend it to all women in their twenties & thirties. Nell explores the decision we all must make at some point or other; whether or not to have a baby. I identified with this book a lot, finding myself nodding furiously or laughing out loud at Nell’s recount of her own panic years. The only thing I would note, because it is written from the author’s personal perspective, I would say it leans more towards women who choose to have children in the end rather than those who actively choose not to. Whilst I still think it’s relevant to all women, I would love to see a similar book written by a woman who makes the decision not to have children. Otherwise, I loved it. 4/5


Favourite quote: ‘A trillion light particles strike our skin at every second outside on a sunny day. Eight and a half minutes ago they left the surface of the sun, but they had first to wander blind and torrid for ten thousands years inside that massive star before they could escape to its exterior for emission.’ – Delayed Rays of a Star


Happy reading folks x 

2 Mar 2021

The February Highlights

February highlights

We’re officially out of winter and that is a really nice feeling. Warmer weather, brighter days, lower Covid rates; we’re moving on up. Here’s the good stuff from the last few weeks: 


Happy birthday to me – here’s to the last year of my twenties. May it involve leaving the house. Photo diary of my lockdown birthday here


Wine tasting – some of the girls organised us a virtual wine-tasting, pasta-making night and it was so much fun. I did not know how much I needed to get drunk and silly; it was a joy. The hangover less so. 


Booking a holiday – I know, wild. We have cautiously booked a UK-based week away in the summer (with a good cancellation policy) and then promptly tried to ignore it so we don’t suffer the disappointment of 2020. Fingers crossed we might get away this year! 


The roadmap outta this hellhole – Again, approaching with cautious optimism but Boris announcing the plan for the next few months definitely made me feel just a touch lighter. Sure June is a way off and sure, what are the chances of it all going to plan… BUT, the idea that we may be back out in the world at least in the second half of the year is something. I definitely suit having something to work towards rather than floating around in this never-ending expanse of time, and so I’m clinging onto it. 


February highlights

February highlights


Watching/Reading/Listening


We’ve had quite a gentle month TV wise. Currently working our way through Only Fools & Horses from start to finish which, despite watching several random episodes over the years, I’ve never actually done. Plus, actually really loving Sandi Toksvig’s Extraordinary Escapes – it’s the kind of soothing, background TV I’m here for in these strange times. In less gentle but bloody marvellous TV, we are now officially counting down to the return of Line of Duty.


A belly full of food


New recipes included these mini egg cookies and these spring onion & parmesan scones, but our main highlight was making bao buns and gyoza at home for the first time. So good! And then there was the food received in the post – Biscuiteers biscuits and Crème cookies sent from friends, our first pasta evangelists box, Franco Manca pizza and the Dishoom bacon naan at-home kit… we really took advantage of celebrating by the mode of eating this month. 


Show and tell


I jumped on the apple watch train lads… please tell me it’s not just me who is now addicted to closing those rings? My life is being dictated by this device on my wrist.  


Tiny, happy moments


Bright sunlight streaming through the window. 


Dipping homemade gyoza in soy sauce. 


Funny birthday cards. 


Successfully flipping pancakes. 


A free aperol spritz cocktail. 


Putting a date in the diary with friends. 


The first hints of cherry blossom beginning to show.