More cookery

A couple of weeks ago, a friend posted to Facebook that she had a couple of free Abel & Cole codes going. I had been lamenting that very day that I missed fresh vegetables and loved the idea of having an organic box delivery but could by no means afford one, so I jumped at the chance. I then ordered a far larger and more expensive box than I would have gone with if it hadn’t been entirely free, and eagerly anticipated its arrival. It came on Wednesday, and with its blue potatoes and British chard did not at all disappoint. For dinner that night I made chili chard rice with buttered nuts and feta cheese, and it was reasonably delicious.

Thanks to a string of dates with various people* I didn’t get to cook again till yesterday afternoon, when the three of us lunched on spiced tomato soup and soda bread. This was excellent for several reasons: firstly because we were all in the house at once and I got to cook for us (I really, really love cooking for my two housemates, but we rarely want to eat all at the same time), secondly because it was completely delicious despite the fact that I’m not generally a big soup-eater, thirdly because it meant I actually ate a real meal before going to a party (I am usually too disorganised) and fourthly because I got to show off beautifully and I still love showing off. There is something immensely satisfying about seeing the looks of ‘oh god we might die of hunger we shall not eat till next week’ on people’s faces when you announce that you have on a whim decided to make a fresh loaf to go with lunch, and then forty minutes later presenting them with light, airy fresh bread, still warm from the oven in no time at all. Thank you, Jack Monroe.

I’m essentially trying to use things up in the order I think they’ll go off in – chard first because fresh and leafy, then the tomatoes – so I suspect that the broccoli needs to be next and I shall use it tomorrow. What is your favourite thing to do with broccoli? I am tempted to simply fry slices of it in butter and serve it with macaroni cheese. I make pretty decent macaroni cheese (the trick is to make a good roux, which I have quite the knack for these days) and I haven’t done so in an age.  I’m very open to suggestions, though. I might then turn the other head into pesto, if I get round to picking up some nuts.

* Thereby making my life sound a great deal more exciting than it probably is

In which I am not a very good mythological being

Today, I had a small timing accident at Surrey Quays overground station. It’s happened to everyone who lives in London: the person in front of you has some kind of problem with their ticket but you don’t notice in time to fall out of rhythm, so you swipe your Oyster card anyway and then they go through on it, thinking the problem is solved, and you’re stuck on the other side unable to get out. Resigned to a dull conversation, I went to explain my predicament to the nearest guard.

“I can let you through”, he says, “but first you have to answer three questions. You answer my questions, I let you through. Okay?”

Oh god, I think, I’ve found a jobsworth. I sigh internally and prepare myself to justify my entire journey to him so he knows I’m not trying to jump.

“First question: why are you so beautiful?”

My heart sinks even further. Not this again, for fuck’s sake. I muster a smile and shine it at him brightly. “Thank you”, I reply. “That’s very sweet.”

“No, no! Don’t just say ‘thank you’. Answer my question: why are you so beautiful?”

“Um. Good genes, I guess.” I wonder if I should be telling him how inappropriate this is, but the truth is I just want to get through the barrier and go home. My bag is uncomfortably heavy and my boots are hurting my feet. He would, technically, be well within his rights to make a fuss: check the CCTV, go through my Oyster card history, blame me for not paying enough attention at the barriers.

He laughs. “So you get good genes and I get bad ones, is that what you mean?”

“No! Aha. Oh. No. Um.” My heart is hammering a little because I feel trapped, obliged, and I don’t like it. The balance of power here is not in my favour, and not just because he’s clearly stronger than I am.

“And your eyebrows. I love your eyebrows. Do you shave them off?”

They always talk about my eyebrows, for some reason. I nod. “Yes. Yeah, I draw them on.”

He grins broadly at me and leans in closer. Our faces are far nearer to each other than I want them to be, now. “Next question: how many boyfriends have you had? I am sure you must have had…a thousand.”
Somewhat against my better judgement I seem to be playing his game, so I answer without thinking: “Oh, five or six.” This is bullshit, of course – the true answer to that question is a hell of a lot more complicated, but I don’t fancy getting into a debate about the definitions of a relationship with this man. Nor do I fancy coming out and having to explain that some of them were girlfriends instead.

“You are lying! A woman as beautiful as you, she must have had a hundred boyfriends. So then, my last question.”

I briefly contemplate pointing out that he’s had three already, but come to the conclusion that it would probably just prolong the experience even further. I’m feeling deeply uncomfortable at this point. But I nod anyway, and wait for him to continue.

“How many boyfriends do you have right now?”

I laugh, a little nervously. “Just the one”, I say.

“How long have you been with him?”

Are follow-up questions fair game? This man has clearly not read very much mythology. I kind of wish I was a dragon or a sphinx or something so that I could actually do something useful about this. All I say, though, is the truth: “A year. It was our first anniversary yesterday.”

He shakes his head. “I want to kill him so I can be with you”, he says. He’s smiling to show that it’s a joke. The only think that surprises me about this ‘joke’ is that it is by no means the first time someone has made it to me.

“On balance, I’d rather you didn’t”, I say. “I’m rather fond of him.”

“I could buy you so many more beautiful dresses, so much more jewellery than he does! I would treat you so well.”

Unconsciously I find myself checking my ears for earrings: the ones he gave me for our anniversary yesterday, the ones he gave me for my birthday last summer, the ones he gave me for Valentine’s Day this year. I adore all three pairs, and am forever obsessively checking to make sure they’re secure and aren’t going to fall out. I consider making some kind of slightly underhanded joke about how I’m quite sure that TfL doesn’t pay him more than my boyfriend earns, but it’s both irrelevant and bitchy so I refrain. “I’m very happy where I am, actually”, is what I say out loud, “and I’d quite like to go home.”

He leans in again, thwarting my attempt to take a step or two toward the barrier. “Can I come with you?”

I twitch a little. He’s actually getting slightly sinister now. “I’m sure that’s at least six questions”, I blurt out. “You said three, remember?”

There’s a horrible pause where I try not to think about all the things he might be about to do, and then he laughs loudly in my face. “Funny and beautiful!”, he says, and finally swipes the nearest barrier to let me through.
I stammer out a thanks and try to leave the station as quickly as possible. “I will see you again soon!”, he calls after me, and unfortunately he’s right – we’re at the station I use the most often.

This broad category of thing happens to me at least once a week, but it only gets this bizarre on about an annual basis. Sadly, today I didn’t manage to acquit myself quite as well as I feel like I did with the creepy Tesco employee back in 2010, but you can’t win them all.

They’re slightly radioactive, you know.

This was a LiveJournal post that I made all the way back in 2010. But I wanted to link to it from a post I’m about to make to this blog – and really, who uses LJ these days? – so here it is, for your edification &c. I promise you that my father doesn’t pay my bills any more [grin]


“Excuse me, ma’am”, says a cheery voice in a navy blue uniform, “but do you have a Tesco Clubcard?”

“Yes,” I reply, trying not to break my stride. “I do.” I’m distinctly relieved that for once they’re touting something I can truthfully say I already use.

“Do you use Clubcard Vouchers to pay your gas and electric bills?”

Reluctantly, I give in and stop walking. “I don’t, no.”

“Why not?”

“I don’t pay the gas and electric.” This is also true, but I know as soon as I say it that I should have gone with ‘I don’t spend enough in Tesco to cover them’ instead. Which is no less true, and would have ended the conversation faster.

“Who does?”, he asks. “Your husband?”

“My father”, I tell him. This too is a mistake. I’ve shared a personal detail. There’s no going back now: we’re in this for the long haul.

“Lucky you!”

“Yes”, I agree, hurriedly. I fear I am in for a jovial ‘youth of today’ rant. “I’m a student.” This detail usually ameliorates some of the embarrassment of the previous revelation. Everybody knows students are broke.

“Oh! What are you studying?”

“English Literature and Creative Writing”, I reply. I know what’s coming next.

“Are you a writer, then?”

“Well – I write, yes.”

“Novels?”

“Sometimes.”

“How many have you got published?”

“Er. None. Yet.”

“Oh. You’re not very good, then?”

I stammer something nonsensical with a lot of ‘um, er, ah’-ing.

“I’m only joking with you!”, he laughs. “What sort of novels?”

“Fantasy, mostly.”

He looks shocked. “What, like” – and here his voice drops to a whisper. “Dirty books?”

“No, no”, I smile. “Magic. Time travel. That sort of thing.”

“Oh!” He looks a little disappointed. “Like Harry Potter?”

“Er. Um. A little bit like that, I suppose. But for grown-ups.” I avoid the word ‘adult’. That way madness lies.

“You look a bit Harry Potterish.”

I smile again, feigning ignorance of his point.

“I knew a gothic once. He had a coffin instead of a bed. I thought, that’s a bit weird, innit? Isn’t that a bit weird?”

“I have a normal bed”, I assure him, and instantly wish I hadn’t.

“Do you have a boyfriend?”

“Yes”, I reply, with ringing certainty. It’s the first out-and-out lie I’ve told him, but I refuse to break the golden rule of women conversing with strange men. When that question comes – which it inevitably does – always, always say ‘yes’.

“Alright, alright!” He throws his hands up in mock surrender. “I weren’t offering.” There is an awkward pause.

“I really must be going,” I say. “I need to find the baked beans.”

“Black ones?”, he asks, grinning broadly. I don’t get it for a second. “Is everything you eat black?”

My basket is full of brightly-coloured fruits and vegetables. “Um. No, I just eat…you know. Normal food.”

“Why do you draw your eyebrows on like that?”

“I like the way it looks.”

“Why not just pluck them really thin?”

“Er. Um. I like them like this.”

“Do you need help finding the baked beans?”

“Oh, er, no, thank you. I know where they are. Thank you.”

And then comes Inevitable Question #2: “What’s all them scars on your arms?”

I look down with an expression of surprise, as though I’d forgotten they were there. Which I do, most of the time. “Oh, those”, I say. “It’s a very long story, and it involves a porcupine and a banana.” He looks at me as though I’ve gone utterly barmy. “Trust me”, I continue in darkly confidential tones. “Porcupines really don’t like bananas. They’re slightly radioactive, you know. The bananas, not the porcupines. Not unless they’ve been eating bananas. And then…” I gesture to my forearms with my eyebrows raised ruefully.

In the ensuing confusion I smile apologetically and take my leave, to spend the rest of my time in the supermarket carefully taking circuitous routes through aisles so as to stay out of his line of sight.

In which I do not have pie.

Lesley’s week-one meal planner includes what looks like a completely delicious big Sunday lunch for proper grownups and families and the kinds of people who get up in the morning-time and make pie. What actually happened this weekend was that I got in from a party at 7am, fell asleep face-down on my bed still fully dressed, woke up at two in the afternoon and staggered downstairs to make myself raisin pancakes, got about halfway through, realised I felt too much like I was actually literally about to die to continue, put the remaining batter in the fridge, crawled sickly up the stairs and slept right till Best Mate came to make sure I was alive at a quarter past ten in the evening. Now it is twenty to six (how the goddamn hell did that happen) and I am eating pasta, peas and grated cheese while wondering slightly forlornly if I will ever be a real girl. It will be dawn soon. Whoops.

Bloody good party, though.

Oh. my. god.

I am eating these raisin pancakes for breakfast right now and they are possibly one of the nicest things I have ever put in my mouth. I didn’t make them on Monday because I didn’t have all the ingredients then so this is my first time eating them and now I want to have them for breakfast EVERY DAY FOREVER. I made the batter with semi-skimmed milk instead of water and cooked them in butter instead of vegetable oil but they were still really cheap* and dude – dude – there is a breakfast party in my mouth and all the raisin pancakes are invited.

On Sunday morning we are going to have a house full of tired and hungover people – the three of us plus two guests – and now we are all going to have raisin pancakes for breakfast. I have decided. That is a thing.

Seriously you guys. These pancakes are the freaking bomb. Next time I think I will add a little mixed spice to the batter for ENHANCED DELICIOUSNESS. Lesley, you are some kind of crazy breakfast genius. It would never have occured to me to try and make pancakes without egg but I like these WAY MORE than I do “normal” pancakes. And I like normal pancakes a lot.

* Partly because both the milk and the butter were bought by Best Mate and are technically hers and I am a thieving thief

As an aside

I’ve not been getting a huge amount of comments on this blog yet – lovely as though it is to get the ones I am – but I do seem to be garnering rather more likes and follows and pageviews and internet cookies than my comment numbers would lead one to believe.  Which is wonderful. Somehow, however, they are not quite from the sorts of people I might have expected. Hello, people I might not have expected, it is lovely to have you here and you are endlessly welcome. However, here are some things that you might want to know about me and this blog before we go any further:

  • I am fat, and that is okay. I do not intend to try and stop being fat. It’s very nice that so many diet and weight loss blogs are following me now, but I wouldn’t want them to labour under the misapprehension that I am attempting something that actually I think is pointless, expensive and dangerous – not to mention part of a foul culture of bullshit.
  • I am ardently, stridently, proudly and determinedly a feminist*. I am pro-choice, and pro-equal-marriage, and pro-people-being-happy, and pro all those other fun things that come along with being a feminist. I’m totally  willing to enter into a discussion about these things with someone who vehemently opposes me on them if they really want me to, but I’m not sure how much good it will do any of us.
  • I’m both a pagan and a witch. In the context of this blog that isn’t relevant, and I won’t be mentioning it much. It’s wonderful that I now have a couple of overtly Christian followers, and you are very welcome here. I just thought you might want to know that, in case you were a) unaware and uncomfortable with the idea or b) suffering from the delusion that you might be able to somehow convert me. Otherwise, we’re all good! :-)

* Also, I like adverbs.

Welcome to the new year: same as the old year.

I really love new Year’s Eve.

Like, I really love New Year’s Eve. I love New Year’s Eve in the same way that kids love Christmas or their birthday. In fact, I love New Year’s Eve more than that, because I love Christmas and my birthday like a kid does too but New Year’s Eve is even better. It’s my favorite day of the year, which is actually kind of depressing when you think about it too hard so er, don’t do that. Because I want my love of New Year’s Eve to remain unadulterated by nihilism, even though I just realised how nihilistic it actually is.

One of the most nihilistic things about my love of New Year’s Eve is that it is – every time – the start of a brand new shiny year, unblemished by the flaws and failures of the twelve months that have inevitably preceded it. It’s a whole clean slate; a brand new bedroom that you haven’t made messy yet, an essay you have yet to get dug into and not get a first for, a notebook that you’ll fill with scintillatingly wonderful notes and plans and ideas and somehow your handwriting will no longer look like a drunk spider and you’ll magically be able to draw.

Digression: All through my teens, I kept diaries. Pen and paper diaries, because I am still old enough to have done that. In my head they were always going to look like this:

Image

And instead they were always just page after page of my awful messy borderline-dyspraxic scrawl, with the occasional attempt at a shitty drawing that was worse than the attempts made by my sister who was back then still basically a toddler. She’s fifteen now and a really really good draw-er and I bet her secret private diaries all look amazing. Except they probably don’t exist. I bet she just has a password-protected tumblr. Jesus, I’m so old. Okay, end digression.

The point is I always make New Year’s Resolutions, because there’s a whole big shiny new year for me to do stuff in and be a proper grownup and not fail, and that’s a remarkably tempting idea really. And now it is October, which means we’re well into the final quarter of the year – which has always meant something to me for some reason too, I do seem to get ridiculously romantic about the passage of time – and that means I can start looking back at 2013, which is now a little raggedy around the edges and not very shiny-looking any longer, and try to figure out what sort of a hash I have made of it.

  • Resolution One: Get my working life in order, and start building some kind of Actual Career.
    Well…sort of. I mean, I’m in a much better position right now than I was at the end of last year: I’m not on the dole any longer, and I have been getting enough writing work to scrape by on since April. That said, I am a long way away from being what you might call “self-sufficient”. I wonder if I can somehow find another £500 a month by the end of December? That would be nice. That would mean I didn’t have to rely on anything except my own competence any more, and I would like that. However…I do not know how to do it. Hmm.
  • Resolution Two: Start doing more exercise.
    Dear holy actual god, I had forgotten I wrote this. If anything I am less active than I was when I was thinking these things up and I’ve actually gained about 10lbs over the course of this year. Can we please just gloss over this one?
  • Resolution Three: Try not to get dumped. Getting dumped sucks.
    [laughs] Yeah, so when I wrote these I was at the beginning of a new relationship which was the first one to have happened after the end of one that had significant uprooting-and-complicating effects on pretty much every area of my life. I am pleased to report that I have not yet been dumped, and that The Boyfriend does not seem to have any impending plans to so do.
  • Resolution Four: Do a special thing for every one of the eight festivals.
    Ugh, I feel really rubbishy about messing this one up. It was all going great – we did Imbolc, Ostara, Beltane and Litha – and then I was too disorganised for Lammas and too broke for Mabon. I’m really sad about it, actually, because they were a lot of fun to sort out and it really meant something to me to not be crap with them. It’s Samhain soon enough, though, and I am determined to not screw up for that and Yule. And then next year I can be a completist about it all. Right?

On the whole, I think I’m going to count 2013 as a “tentative win with room for improvement”, I think.

Darling, is this how you omelette?

For most of my life, I didn’t like eggs. I got over it because it was ridiculous (what do you mean, you’re a vegetarian who doesn’t like eggs? what about this GORGEOUS DELICIOUS OMELETTE I have inevitably made you?) but it does mean that I never learned how to cook them.

Today did not get off to a good start. Last night, despite going to bed before midnight, I was tossing and turning till gone 3am and then this morning my alarm didn’t go off because of a battery fail incident and so I woke up at one in the afternoon, spitting feathers about how my BEAUTIFUL ORGANISED WEEK was RUINED and I would NEVER AMOUNT TO ANYTHING because I COULDN’T EVEN GET OUT OF BED IN THE MORNING. Nonetheless, I shambled off downstairs and into the kitchen, determined to try and see this through.

Day 2: Breakfast. for each person, 1 egg fried, boiled, scrambled or poached on 1 slice of toast with spread, followed by a 2nd piece of toast with spread and marmalade.

Did I mention that Best Mate has had a baking phase? There were fourteen eggs in our fridge this morning. Fourteen is a lot of eggs for three scatterbrained and disorganised adults with studenty lifestyles only one of whom ever really cooks at home much and she never cooks eggs. So I decided to have two of them on my two bits of toast, instead. And then I ran into the perennial OH GOD HOW DO YOU COOK EGGS problem.

Back when I was living in Edinburgh and attempting to Broaden My Food Horizons, I decided one evening that I would cook an omelette for my then-boyfriend. I looked up a recipe online and off I went. Ten minutes in, I called for him to come into the kitchen.
“Um, darling? Is this how you omelette? I don’t…I don’t think that this is how you omelette”, I said, dubiously.
He chuckled and rolled his eyes at me in fond exasperation – a common expression on the faces of the people I have relationships with, for some reason or another – and pointed out that it wasn’t how you omelette and it was too far gone for even his mad skillz to turn it into one*, but it was a perfectly decent example of scrambled eggs. So he and I split them between us and they were completely delicious, and all I had to do this morning at one in the afternoon when I’d only been up for five minutes and was really really cross was perfectly replicate a mistake that I made about two years ago while a tiny bit drunk. Easy, right?

I cracked two eggs into a bowl and added a bunch of crap that felt like the right kind of thing to add. Salt, pepper, mixed dried herbs, a splash of milk, a load of grated mature cheddar cheese. Then I mixed it all up with a fork, melted some butter in a frying pan, threw the eggy mixture in and poked it dubiously. What resulted was dry and spongy and really really really salty. Overbuttered toast was supposed to help but actually made the whole thing somehow worse.

Downside: I apparently do not know how to cook eggs yet and only ate half my breakfast.
Upside: Weirdly, I am feeling pretty full nonetheless.

* That particular boyfriend of mine had an excellent line in rescuing cooking that had Gone Wrong. I choose to believe this to be unconnected to the fact that he and I used to do a lot of cooking together.

I have deviated at the first hurdle!

Now that my shopping has arrived, I am noticing a few things. Like: I’d forgotten that Best Mate is having a cakebaking phase and every egg in London is now in our fridge. And: dear holy actual God, that’s a lot of carrots. As many of which as possible I should probably eat this week. And then I realised that the first carrotty meal in the planner is Falafel with Carrot Salad, which means that I will actually end up cooking for all three of us because everyone loves falafel and using up the pita bread tonight and asking Best Mate to pick up some hummus on her way back from work because I could make it but I’ll be busy making falafels and it’s a sneaky way of keeping my own cost down while making everyone dinner ;-)

I’ve made falafels once before, using Jack’s original recipe, and they were a huge hit here in Goblintown* even though they had very little structural integrity and squished down into paste as soon as you put them in the pita bread. They were pretty delicious though. So I am already being a rebel; I suspect I shall make modified-Jack-falafels and serve them with Lesley-carrot-salad and pita bread and hummus. Because there are going to be three of us, and I am terrible at following rules, and also it’s only ten past four and I am already bloody starving.

I shall keep you all posted.

* That is the name of our house. Yes, I know. I choose to attribute it to the tendencies of our token male resident to sneak around biting people and cackling, though in truth I think it came from Best Mate’s freaky-looking cats.

In which I decide to start following someone else’s menu rather than getting off my arse and designing my own.

As anyone who knows me will doubtless have heard countless times before, I am a little bit in love with Jack Monroe. (I do sometimes panic that she might be a little sizeist, but that probably has as much to do with my neuroses as it does with her opinions!) She’s revolutionised the way I cook and eat, and is undoubtedly one of my personal heroes.

The other day, I noticed a few links from commenters to one of her posts that made me suddenly wonder why I’d never tried to find any other blogs posting incredibly cheap delicious recipes in the  UK. I now have a whole list of them bookmarked, and one of them – Thrifty Lesley – has MEAL PLANS. Three of them, actually, but the third is brand new and wasn’t there when I was doing this on Friday. I am probably the only person I know who gets actively excited by the thought of finding £1-a-day meal plans on the internet. I squeeed aloud.

So anyway, I got all excited about this and instantly decided to put together a Tesco order that would do me for the two that were there, because there was bugger all real food in the house and I’m in a rut of not cooking at the moment and I really urgently need to get more of a handle on my accursed finances. It’ll come on Monday and then I’ll have probably the best part of a month’s worth of DELICIOUS FOOD for a satisfyingly small amount of money*. I’m not following the plans exactly, for  a whole host of conveniently bullet-pointed reasons:

  • I spend two or three nights a week – and sometimes more – in Feltham at my boyfriend’s flat, where for obvious reasons of being in his home I’m eating his food instead. So the “week” of eating is actually more than that for me.
  • I’m a vegetarian, and some of the recipes contain bacon and various other flavours of dead animal. (Though not many of them, because meat is expensive yo.) I also dislike olives intensely – and am mildly allergic to them, though nothing like as seriously or severely as I used to be – so I’ve left those out. Because they are ungodly disgusting and evil ;-)
  • The recipes are designed for two people and there is only one of me. Except where there isn’t. I’m basically doing a dinner or two a week for three adults, and everything else just for the one. And I don’t want to quite cut everything dead in half, because…well look, I have what you might call a Healthy Appetite, alright? If you were trying to be polite and didn’t want to offend me. Also because if I do let myself be hungry on the basis that it won’t kill me I turn into a raging bitch queen from hell, and my poor long-suffering housemates don’t need that shit.
  • I’ll have to rearrange some of the dinners to use up the stuff that goes off first, because I’ve bought ALL THE THINGS all at once.

I’ll kind of be making a lot of it up as a go along, but I am intending to blog about it on account of how the entire world desperately needs to know what I have for breakfast every morning. It’s okay, guys: you won’t have to wait too long for your next exciting update on What Abi Puts In Her Mouth!**

* I have been blessed with a fairy godmother again. When did I get so lucky? Somewhere in my youth or childhood/I must have done something good…

** I’m not planning on telling you everything that I put in my mouth. This is supposed to be my Professional Writer Lady blog, after all.