31 Jan 2021

The January Highlights

January highlights

Congratulations lads, we survived approximately 8482 days of January. February feels like progress: one step closer to moving out of lockdown, one step closer to brighter weather, one step closer to seeing people again…


The utility room – as you may have already read, we are currently renovating our utility room. I say ‘we’ – Gary is the one actually doing the labour and having a battle with the plumbing. I sort of just tell him what I want, make cake and occasionally have my face sprayed with water… it’s sort of a team effort. I’m excited to have it finished, both so that we can actually start using the room properly 18 months after moving in and Gary can have a break from swearing at the piping. 


That brief moment it snowed – I mean, sure, it didn’t really settle where we are but for that afternoon where soft, heavy snowflakes were drifting past the window, I was here for it. 


Belated Christmas presents – Not for one single second am I happy about the fact that all our Christmas plans were thrown into disarray at the last minute and I couldn’t see my family at Christmas for the first time in my life but I gotta admit, parcels full of Christmas presents arriving on miserable January weekdays has been a small silver lining. 


The Hotel Chocolat Velvetiser – This was an unexpected Christmas present and oh my it’s a game changer. I’m not sure I can ever drink any other hot chocolate again because nothing will compare. 


January highlights

Watching/Reading/Listening: The Serpent is a bit of a slow burner but we are now invested; like everyone else, I am loving Jenna Coleman’s outfits. Also, Taylor Swift released a SECOND surprise album and it has been on continuously for the past few weeks. Loved reading Supper Club by Lara Williams - check out my book reviews from this month here


A belly full of food: new recipes tried, tested & recommended in Jan include – charred leek lasagne, whiskey and rye blondies & red wine sausage pasta from Midnight Chicken, tandoori chicken & sausage casserole from The Roasting Tin Around The World, Deliciously Ella’s vegan chocolate orange cookies, Nigella’s old-fashioned sandwich loaf & The Mother Cooker's kale pesto


Show and tell: This jumper is the warmest, cosiest thing I have ever bought. I came downstairs wearing it and Gary told me I looked like a teddy bear. I’ll take it. 


Tiny, happy moments


Freshly baked, still-steaming bread 


Phone calls with loved ones whilst walking in the sunshine 


Wednesday nights with two hours of Love It or List It and Grand Designs ahead 


The Greatest Showman soundtrack booming whilst tackling the inbox 


Gavin & Stacey reruns


The first sip of wine on a Friday night 


Hilarious videos from the internet providing daily giggles


A taste of Spring in the air 



Hope you are safe, happy and – most importantly – not losing the damn plot wherever you are dear reader. Lockdown is tough but keep looking for the light on the horizon. 


27 Jan 2021

Reading Recap: The Books I Read In January

January book recap


I half-heartedly started this year by claiming I was going on a book-buying ban until I’d made a significant dent in the to-read pile currently overflowing on my bedside table. What with the current dismal state of affairs, I can’t promise I’ll stick to this but, equally, it’s not like I don’t have the time to read right now. I’m actually kinda sick of all this bloody empty time we currently have but that’s a moan for another day. Here’s some lovely books for you. 



Tiny Moons: A Year of Eating in Shanghai - Nina Mingya Powles 


A gorgeous little memoir that is guaranteed to leave you feeling very hungry. I’d advise reading with snacks. The author documents the year she studied at a university in Shanghai through the food she ate. Living far away from her family in New Zealand, she finds solace from her loneliness in food. She explores how our lives are shaped by what we eat and how the rituals of food and the people we eat with are intrinsically linked with our memories and history. Every moment and story in this little book were so vivid, and I completely devoured it. 5/5


‘To enjoy food as a young woman, to opt out every day from the guilt expected of me, is a radical act of love.’


In The Kitchen: Essays On Food And Life 


In the mood for more food-related reading, I delved into this collection of essays from thirteen different writers who consider the subjects of cooking and eating and how they shape our lives, and the possibilities and limitations of the kitchen. It felt poignant to read this at a time when food and cooking is the most varied part of the day. Some essays were more memorable than others; Joel Goldby’s essay on the UK tradition of buffets made me laugh out loud. On the whole, it was a lovely little gem of a book and one I shall re-read for sure. 4/5


‘That’s where I saw a man put four hash browns and a single crumpet into a bowl and eat it. My theory with breakfast buffets, more than any other buffet at any other time, is that they reveal the deepest and darkest crevices of you, your true and real nature.’


Heartburn - Nora Ephron 


Are you starting to sense a theme here? Originally published in 1983, Heartburn is a semi-autobiographical novel about a food writer who discovers her husband is having an affair when she is seven months pregnant with their second child. It is a fictionalised account of Nora Ephron’s own divorce from her second husband Carl Bernstein. It is a funny and painfully well-observed monologue about an awful situation, intertwined with little recipes and notes on the healing power of food. I personally don’t think it’s one to desperately push into people’s hands and insist they read but it’s funny and entertaining, and I imagine will particular speak to those who have experienced a similarly messy divorce. 3/5 


‘In the end, I always wanted mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Nothing like mashed potatoes when you’re feeling blue.’


January book recap


Supper Club - Lara Williams 


This book was an absolute joy to read, and I would particularly encourage any 20/30 something woman to pick it up. It explores the passage of time between post-education and early thirties, and loneliness, toxic relationships and learning to take up the space you deserve. A group of young women seek to reclaim their appetites and bodies by starting a supper club. As they eat without restriction, they rebel against the notion that women should minimise and compromise themselves to make space for others. The story was painfully moving but it’s the gorgeous and vivid writing that really makes this book. Another one to read with snacks, the descriptions of food are just mouth watering. 5/5


‘Delia Smith calls it ‘tart’s pasta’. Italian American restaurants call it ‘whore’s pasta’. But Nigella Lawson calls it ‘slut’s spaghetti’, and that’s the one I prefer. Because there is nothing more terrifying that a woman who eats and fucks with abandon.’


Life In Pieces - Dawn O’Portor 


This is just the right book to read in yet another lockdown if you’re in need of cheering up. Based on her diaries/blog from Lockdown 1.0., this is full of funny and relatable observations about life in lockdown, and trying not to lose one’s sanity as the world seemingly falls apart around us. 3/5 


‘Well there goes another day of total bollocks.’


Skin - E.M. Reapy 


An interesting exploration of the relationship we have with our bodies, this follows the travels of Natalie who is extremely uncomfortable in her own skin and disillusioned with her life. She travels to Bali, New Zealand, Dublin, rural Ireland, Peru and Amsterdam to try and find her place. At first, I found her quite a frustrating protagonist but as the story unfolds, we watch her development beginning to take place and you see her gradually becoming more confident and comfortable against the beautiful different backdrops of her journey. The novel was almost divided into short stories - split by country - and it did sometimes feel like things were left unfinished or weren’t properly explored. I also occasionally felt like the characters and dialogue could have had more depth. It lacked in places but overall, I enjoyed the story. 3/5


‘Travel forced me to be my own friend because it was too fucking lonely not to be.’ 


Happy reading folks x 

24 Jan 2021

Sunday Small Talk #3: Letters From Long Ago

Letters from long ago


We drove to York this week for my Grandma’s funeral. As we drove up the motorway in the dark, I watched a train speed along in the distance. I could just see the square lights of all the carriages shimmering through the dark. I miss being on a train. At this time of the year, it makes me think of visiting family and friends for the weekend, speeding along in the dark on a Friday night. Arriving to dark and damp train stations knowing that I will soon be in a glowing warm living room with some of my favourite people. I do miss people, and the world. Of course, thanks to the bastard that is Covid, we couldn’t stay with family in York and so we’d booked a small studio flat on the river instead. It had a big window with a lovely window seat. In the morning, I opened the curtains to find a big flock of geese floating right outside. If we had been away from home for different reasons, it would have been nice to be somewhere different. Even just eating my dinner on a different sofa felt like a novelty. 


Letters from long ago

After the funeral, my aunty gave me some of my Grandma’s diaries and letters to read through; I’d heard about them and wanted the chance to read them myself. What I wasn’t expecting when I opened the old-fashioned suitcase was piles and piles of letters written by my Grandma and Grandad when they were young. After my initial surprise at the number of them, we pulled them all out and started putting them in date order where we could, based on the postage stamp on the front of the envelopes. 


And so for most of the weekend, with old episodes of Location, Location, Location in the background and heavy snowflakes falling past the window, I read words that were inked on paper more than 60 years ago. The paper smells old and yet I swear I can also smell my Grandparents. The majority of the letters were written when my Grandad was away on National Service 1958-1960 and they wrote to each other every single day. It was like sinking into some kind of romantic historical novel, only occasionally I would suddenly remember that I knew the characters in it and I knew how the story would end. They are in incredibly good condition, even so, I’ve vowed to type them all up so the words are preserved properly. I also think it would make a really good story one day, just need someone who likes writing to take on the challenge... 


Hope you’ve had a good week. Most of my social media feed seems to be full of people having a whale of the time in the snow. I am NOT AT ALL jealous that the snow hasn’t settled where we are and I can't build a snowman... 


Letters from long ago

17 Jan 2021

Sunday Small Talk #2: Thinking About Food

Thinking about food

I’ve realised that the only real variety in life right now is what we watch and what we eat. Sometimes I have to remind myself that this is not a conscious choice; that I’m not deliberately choosing to become a recluse, only leaving the house to walk the same freaking route I’ve been walking since March. That there are other things in life that provide variety and that we will get them back one day. 


But for now, I mostly think about what we’re gonna eat and what we’re gonna watch. Because in the January version of lockdown this, apparently, is what gets me through the day. Buckle in folks, this is gonna be a wild blog post. 


So the highlights of my working week? A new lunch that I liked so much I ended up having three days in a row: fry off some garlic, broccoli, kale, spring onions and cashew nuts. Throw together with whole wheat giant couscous and green pesto. It does not look appetising but is very tasty and hits my main goal in life which is to mostly eat things covered in pesto. And we re-watched The Night Manager. I can remember watching it the first time round snuggled in Gary’s bed in his shared house in Dulwich which feels an age ago. Anyway, it’s has been long enough that we could no longer remember what happens, only that it was Very Good. And it really is isn’t it? Sort of breathtakingly, this-is-what-television-is-all-about good.  


Thinking about food


This weekend, Gary continued with the utility room renovation and is currently At War with the plumping. The water is periodically turned off but I have yet to be sprayed in the face again so we’ll call that an improvement on last week. Whilst he has become more and more frustrated at the pipe work, I’ve set up camp in the kitchen. I am currently slightly addicted to Nigella’s old fashioned bread loaf recipe and it seems to be what I’m drawn to doing every Saturday morning. It involves sour cream (or gone off milk) and kneading for 10 second intervals x 3 in a little oil. Don’t ask me; it works though. I speed up all the proving time by putting the dough in the boiler cupboard which is about as far away from the kitchen as you can get in our house so catching me traipsing up the stairs with a bowl full of dough has become pretty standard around these parts. The dough rises beautifully sat in that toasty cupboard though. And the resulting bread loaf is just heavenly. Don’t accuse me of exaggerating, it really is. 


Is it me or is lockdown harder this time around? Is it the weather? The fatigue of having done it for months on end last year? I’m weirdly nostalgic for lockdown 1.0. The novelty of not commuting and us both being at home, the glorious spring weather, the enthusiasm for virtual socialising... didn’t know how lucky we were did we? 


The Covid rates and deaths are horrifying right now though so I’m not moaning. We all should be at home, even if it means screaming at the wall (FYI I’m not quite at that stage yet). I’m trying to be hopeful for a bit of freedom around, say Easter? So, what, 75 more days to go? Deep breaths everyone... 


And on that joyous note, I’m going back to the kitchen. I’m making vegan chocolate orange cookies (a Deliciously Ella recipe) and it’s sunny outside so we’ll take that as a good day. 


Hope you’ve had a good week. 


P.S. Sunday small talk is basically me sitting down every Sunday and writing down thoughts that come into my head. I have no idea how long this series will last but it’s a routine I’m enjoying in lockdown so expect a few more… 


11 Jan 2021

Sunday Small Talk #1: Eating Blondies In Damp Slippers

Lockdown diaries

I keep shaking my fists in front of me as though there is someone stood right there who is pissing me off. There is no one there. Except, occasionally, my husband. But he is not pissing me off. (No really, by some miracle given that we have spent every day of the last year together, he’s not). You know that meme of the little girl angrily shaking her hairbrush? That is me. My pent-up frustration at the state of everything is turning me into the angry-girl-meme. 


My moods are unpredictable. It could be PMT, could be lockdown; hard to tell these days. I’m either shaking my fists and making the kind of noises kittens make when they think they are roaring or over enthusiastically dancing around the kitchen whilst snacking on hummus. In those moments, I sort of prod and poke and hug Gary whilst he’s trying to make his beans on toast, whilst he looks completely bemused. 


“Do you think I’m a lunatic?” I say, usually after a particularly weird dance move. 


“You have lunatic tendencies,” he replies. 


I have never experienced a period of life where my moods have been so contradictory; I am both restless and lethargic, creative and unmotivated, a homebird with itchy feet, exhausted and an insomniac. I lie awake for hours unable to shut my brain up; it whizzes around at 100mph. I can think of memories of my Grandma, have a new idea for a story and wonder what’s it like to be in hospital with Covid all in the space of 30 seconds. It continues for hours. When I’m awake, I talk about my Grandma’s funeral with my mum, Trump supporters storm the Capitol and a major incident is declared in London, and so my inability to sleep feels inevitable. 


There is nothing very weekendy about weekends at the moment but I’m glad wine and lie-ins are still around. I decide to make whiskey and rye blondies because I saw the recipe and immediately thought that baked goods with alcohol in them sounded like an excellent idea on a foggy Saturday morning in January. Meanwhile, Gary decides to crack on with the utility room renovation which involves things with pipes and u-bends that I do not understand. I occasionally get roped in to help lift things or give my opinion on the location of the tap. At one point, my job is to check if the pipework leaks whilst Gary turns the mains water back on. The first time I do this, I just look at the pipe, nothing happens and I go back to browning the butter. The second time I do this, water comes spraying out of the pipe. I am unprepared for this turn of events despite the fact that I am crouched in front of the pipes for this very reason. I react calmly by shrieking and jumping whilst the water sprays across the washing machine.  


“TURN IT OFF. GARY TURN IT OFF!!” I yell whilst trying to catch the water with a washing up bowl as it sprays in all directions. Turns out he forgot to turn the valve off, which effectively means he told me to crouch in front of the pipes, left the room and flicked a switch which guaranteed water was going to spray in my face. I reckon he just wanted a laugh. 


I eat my blondies with damp slippers. When they dry, I realise that getting sprayed with water has really shaken up the monotony. I sleep much better that night. 


6 Jan 2021

Habits, Goals & Hopes For 2021

Hopes for 2021

As the first week of a new year goes, it’s not been the best. My Grandma died on New Year’s Day and we’re now back in national lockdown for the foreseeable. So far 2021 is really failing on the promise to be better than 2020 and my every instinct is telling me to get under the duvet and stay there until June.


At the beginning of every year, I always make a bit of a plan for the fresh year ahead: think about things we want to do, set a few goals, plan holidays, book leave etc. Between Christmas effectively being cancelled, the grief for my Grandma and the prospect of spending several more months in lockdown, it has never felt more pointless to do this and yet… I guess somewhere buried underneath the hide-under-the-duvet-urge, there is some semblance of hope? Hope that by next Christmas, life will be more recognisable again. And I guess it’s that which has made me peek out from under the duvet and take in the fresh year stretched before me.


More often than not in troubled and not-so-troubled times, I bring in order and purpose by making a list. Can’t help it, love a list. Some of my previous new year lists almost look slightly indecent when read back now; all the travel and weddings and socialising we assumed were a given eh? For 2021, I have three mini lists: habits that I want to continue or adopt that will keep me sane and healthy, particularly during lockdown (after two other lockdowns, I have learnt the hard way what I need when cut off from the world). Goals that I can (hopefully) continue to work towards regardless of whether or not we are under restrictions. And hopes for things we might be able to do again later on in the year.


Habits

01. Read every day. Something I pretty much already do anyway but I would like to dedicate more time to it and treat it as more of a priority because it brings me a lot of joy and calms my mind like nothing else. 

02. Go for a walk every day. I go for a walk most days at the mo but whilst in lockdown, I want to make sure I get outside every day without fail. Fresh air is so needed. 

03. Eat plant-based 5 days a week. I want to up the amount of meals that are plant-based/vegan which is something we are already doing but setting a bit of an goal makes me more aware of it and to make more conscious choices.  

04. Continue going for a run 3-4 times a week. And when I say going for a run, I do mean on the treadmill in the garage because running is infinitely improved if you can watch tv at the same time in my opinion. 

05. Breathing exercises. I will never not be amazed at how calming a deep breath can be and I’d really like to try out more breathing exercises on a regular basis and see if it helps me feel calmer amongst everything. 

06. Write a blog post once a week; I blogged a lot less in 2020 partly because I was somewhat distracted by the whole apocalypse thing and partly because I didn’t feel like there was much to say. But part of me regrets not having more of the calming feeling writing gives me in 2020 as well as more of the year, strange as it was, documented in my little online diary. I hope to rectify that in 2021. 

07. Monthly check-ins. I do this at work at the beginning of each month, sit down and make a note of key dates coming up, tasks I need to complete or be aware of on the horizon, that kinda thing. I started doing it for my personal life at the beginning of last year and then the C-word threw everything off and I sort of stopped. But this month, I sat down to write out key dates, goals, tasks, ideas and recipes to try for the month ahead and just having it makes the dark locked-down month of Jan feel less aimless. 

Goals

01. Cook, cook, cook. I baked a lot in 2020, like alotalot. I guess it became somewhat of a coping mechanism. And all it’s done is increase my appetite for being in the kitchen so, as well as baking, I want to experiment more with cooking, trying at least one new recipe a week. Although it will probably be more; I read recipe books like novels at the mo I swear. 

02. Run a 5k within half an hour. Not entirely sure how this has ended up here but I guess it just gives me something to work towards when running in the freezing cold…? Oh and I’m a slow runner (asthma problems) so I guess I’d like to slowly increase my pace a bit. 

03. Compile blog posts into a book. I really want my blog posts in physical form for memory sake so this is a long overdue task. 

04. Complete the first draft of the novel, novella and collection of essays I’m working on. Good to be a bit ambitious eh?

05. Finish renovating the utility room and garden. The next big tasks we have on our house to-do list. The utility room was started and then paused back in November thanks to Lockdown 2.0. but we hope to get it finished in January, and we then hope to overhaul our garden in the Spring. 

Hopes

01. See family and friends. Visit all of them. Stay overnight. Hug them until it gets awkward.

02. Host guests: for the weekend, for dinner, for literally anything.

03. Help my mum & step-dad move house (to live near us!) 

04. Go away for a weekend break.

05. Go on a proper (probably UK-based) holiday.


Here's to a new year. It can only get better... right?