Despite the ridiculous heat in our office, I’ve been having a really nice time at the new job. Ok, yes, it is now busy busy, but I’d absolutely rather that than have nothing to do, which always makes me feel unneeded, and me feeling that I am not needed is a sure fire way to paranoia and Imposter Syndrome

I’ve been having some lovely chats with A, our resident Cypriot, who is utterly adorable and who I suspect I’d fall for a little bit if I wasn’t old enough to be his mother. I tell you, there is something about long, dark eyelashes on a man with a Cypriot accent. It helps that he is one of the nicest people too.

I can’t really reminisce about Southern Cyprus itself, as we never went there while I was growing up, but A and I were nattering about foods (Cypriot olive cake), how his uncle always told his auntie off for putting cinnamon in everything (she did it anyway) and also little traditions we both never really understood.

Owning gorgeous, amazingly embroidered tablecloths, that you were given when you got married, and which you put away in a drawer and never used, buying only plastic ones for actual use and handing those other beauties down to your daughter when she married.

The little flame that burned constantly in a small cabinet. Neither of us had any idea why that was done, but it just was. If anyone can tell us why that was done, I’d be very grateful.

It made me feel less of an outsider looking in, as we had *shared* memories. He treats me like a fellow Cypriot, not a halfling. He understands why I don’t speak the language, and has never chastised me for it – some Cypriots need to learn from him – and yet he drops words in here and there for me so perhaps I’ll gradually learn by osmosis. He’s asked his parents to bring me some black eyed peas over, and some hard anari cheese. It’s so good grated on pasta. His freezer is full of it, apparently, and he is moving house soon, so he’s going to have to get rid of some of it somehow! I think we may have to have a cookout. The pair of us already have the urge to barbecue at lunchtimes. The struggle is real when you have charcoal cooking in your blood. I’ve probably got smoked blood by now…

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Long Live Us

What is the true measure of immortality?

For me it’s not to live on in physical form forever, because that way Madness, lies but simply to influence past your own end. If your words and actions can carry on helping people as a legacy that’s better than hanging around too long and not really living anymore.

I’ve another version of that Forever Young idea to share. I visited my sister recently. She’s my foster sister and she has known me pretty much all my life. Watching me grow from a small curly headed tot, into a large curly headed woman, with every mishap and crisis along the way.

Now here is the thing.

My sister went blind quite a few years ago after a stroke, so the image she has of me in her mind is the me from the past. She won’t see my hair turn fully silver if I ever let it. Or see the ravages of time across my face, the gradual changes as I go from approaching middle aged into elderly, if I’m lucky enough to get all the way there.

I honestly can’t remember how old I was the last time she physically saw me but whatever age that was that is the age that I shall remain. I hope I was having a good hair day.

I know that sounds a bit flippant but believe me I would give anything so that she could have her sight back.

She’s managing wonderfully, brilliantly in fact. She does more than many fully able people I know and as far as I am concerned she is an absolute marvel.

She still cooks a lot and her will has never, ever been damaged by all the things she has been through. If Jacqui Karavasilis née Dean can do it then so can I.

I’m writing this out longhand at the moment so I can transcribe it – even though it’s tricky with weird muscle fillips and numb fingertips – but I know it wouldn’t stop her so why should I give into a minor inconvenience?

She has been my constancy. Even during times when we both lost touch I didn’t doubt her love for me. I just said “things happen” and boy do they.

We are more alike than me and my blood siblings that’s for sure. She always comes back to me, and me to her, unlike those other ‘real’ siters.

I sat next to her last week at her daughter’s 30th birthday party. I cuddled in close and laid my head on her chest as she put her warm arms around me.

“Love you Pebbles*.” she said.
And all was right with my world.

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Jacqui at my wedding, supervising us! (That’s her son Miltiadis on the right.) Yes I had enormous glasses. It was 1999.

 

 

 

*Yes, Pebbles. After the baby from the Flintstones.

TAKE UP YOUR PLACE AND SPACE IN THIS WORLD

We have but this one life. This one, and this one only. What went before and what comes after is a matter of so many arguments it doesn’t bear thinking about but we are only conscious of this one, so let’s go to it.

On Monday of this week, a light went out of the blogging world.  Lots of my friends from that world have lost one of their own, and are recovering from being hit hard by that loss.

There was this sudden explosion of sentiment from others on my timeline and fab posts from Mummy Barrow made me go and see for myself. Kate sounded like an amazing lady. This is the fund for her funeral, and for her beloved boys. https://www.gofundme.com/funeral-fund-for-mum

@witwitwoo – Kate Sutton – is someone who I now really wish I’d known about before she passed, because my goodness she sounded like a wonderful and inspiring person to be around – but as of now I’m looking at all the glorious photos posted with the hashtag #bemorewitwitwoo and loving the strong, beautiful women being as positive as they can in the wake of their loss, braving the OMG I can’t, and wearing their bikinis and swimsuits with pride.

So, from me, even though I didn’t know her, but in honour of those who did, and who are going to miss her dearly:

Wear your sleeveless tops, who gives a toss about bingo wings. Those arms give comfort, hugs, love.
Wear your bright colours, your swimsuits, your jeans, your strappy tops. Buy yourself those shoes/trousers/cookies/books you covet because there’s only one YOU, one life.

Have cake, eat vegan, go veggie, be a carnivore – do what YOU WANT because what others think DOESN’T MATTER.

Dance, sing, go to the seaside, sit on a swing, let yourself love and live. Colour your hair, go pink, blue, green, purple – why not?!

Why should we consider ourselves less than anyone else?

Why allow our low self-esteem, probably caused by others,  get in the way of who we are, of what we want to do?

Do it. Just do it anyway.  I know it’s hard, but we earn or take our own places, nobody awards them to us.

This little girl grew.

She grew, and grew, and got taller than her classmates, wider and broader than the others at dance class. The teacher said “SHE’S LIGHT ON HER FEET FOR A CHILD OF HER SIZE.” and she never went back because she was ashamed.

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But she grew more, in size, in age, and in mind. Life threw curve balls, lots of them, but still she grew and the shame fell away. 

She lost people, dear people, but she gained strength with each loss, and gained more people along the way.

She met things head on, and sometimes she ran and hid. But back she came.

TAKE UP YOUR PLACE AND SPACE IN THIS WORLD.

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Be big, bold and sassy. Do not apologise for your breadth, for your width, for your broad shoulders, your magnificent round backside or your big hair. 

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Life is way too short to give a flying fig about what other people might think.

Tut back at the tutters, smile widely at the haters.

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Love you. Love YOU.

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Thank you, and No Goodnight.

Losing Tony Bourdain this week was a shock. A visceral punch right into the sternum, knocking the wind out of my day as I just sat and stared into space after I got a text telling me the news. Office life carried on around me for an hour or so in a muffled blur as all I could do was search the news sites in the vain hope it was this elusive ‘fake news’ or a jolly jape by one of those websites that frequently make up celebrity deaths.

It wasn’t. It was as real as anything I could physically rest my hands on.

He’d left us. He’d apparently made that choice that many do, when the Too Muchness of life shouts in your ear that one time too many.

Part of my brain yelled “But how? WHY?!” knowing that we’ll never really be able to know or understand fully. But when you look back at his life, he’d done nothing but fight it. He’d conquered many things, tamed the more destructive forces in his life.

He’d stayed as long as he could. He’d lived his life as fully as anyone could possibly do, crammed in every experience he could, talked and listened to hundreds of other humans, always attentive, always making it about them not him. The life of a young chef is fast, fast, fast. It’s demanding, and draining and exhilarating; dirty, filthy, hot and grindingly relentless. It’s camaraderie, a team, whilst probably also wanting to punch people because you’re stuck in a small sweat box of a place with people yelling at you from all sides, all vying to be the best at their thing but it pumps with adrenaline, whilst existing on hardly any sleep and probably not that much food, either.  It’s not an atmosphere that encourages asking for help. You have to hold it together for the team, keep it all business on the line. Yes he survived it all, and loved it all the way, too, but there were near misses. Heroin and cocaine are not forgiving masters, but he broke free of them.

To quote Jeremy McLellan:

“If someone were to die at the age of 61 after a lifelong battle with MS or Sickle Cell, we’d all say they were a “fighter” or an “inspiration.” But when someone dies after a lifelong battle with severe mental illness and drug addiction, we say it was a “tragedy” and tell everyone “don’t be like him, please seek help.”

Sorry, but that’s bullshit. Anthony Bourdain sought help his entire life. He struggled for decades. He saw a therapist. He quit heroin and cocaine. He went to rehab. He did this for decades. That’s HOW he made it to 61. For some people, 61 is a miracle. I know so many people who didn’t make it past 31 and I’d do anything to have 30 more years with them.”

So I say to my friends and family and wider circle of IG pals who also deal with such things, who live day to day, making each of those 12 hours count; Thank you.

Thank you for staying.

Thank you for fighting.

Thank you for being a part of my life and attaining enough value in yourself that you keep on doing that.

Thank you for finding things that give life meaning. For trying therapies, the antidepressants, the hobbies and long walks, the cats and dogs, the gym and the yoga studio. The deep breathing, the Rescue Remedy, that square of dark chocolate every morning just to see if it helps, the salt lamps and the blackout blinds.

Thank you for your fight, and for making it, day after day.

Thank you, and here’s to you, for doing all of that. You are winning, you are being. No matter how much of a failure you feel, you’re a star, as bright as any other star in those velvet black skies.

Here’s to YOU.

Bourdain says cheers Photo credit: Harper’s Bazaar.

Who are we?

Who are we, to write about food in such indulgent and fawning ways? Who are we, to speak of an excess or an abundance; to be so full that we might have to roll home; to be so sated that we ‘will not eat for days’; to be so praiseful of a piece of ham that happens to be acorn fed, yet so scornful of the versions sold in German origin supermarkets?*

Yes, we are people who love food, all kinds. Yes, I cook from scratch every night because that’s the way I was brought up, and it feels wrong not to. A takeaway, though very gratefully received, feels to me that I have somehow missed out on something. There’s a bump in the road that I can’t put my finger on.

Many people are the same, for myriad reasons. Health concerns, special diets, illness aftermath that needs bolstering. Or the dreaded weight loss bunnies that know every calorie and carb count of every meal they eat.

Others have to cook from scratch because that is the way it’s done in their world, and if you don’t go to market and get it, you don’t have it. If you don’t grow it, or tend it, or milk it, it’s simply not there.

The beautiful products of Mymouné are a foodie’s delight, showcased by Nigel Slater, but that business started because of a war. Nobody in the region could get to their places of work, so the founders started to make products all taken from the land they could get to. It continued, as people realised how good they were but it started from that place of helping others and necessity, not something to fill the stockings at Christmas or look pretty on a shelf.

We have so much, these days, that there’s a food choice overload. I remember when a salad was Webb’s lettuce, cucumber, and garden tomatoes. Hard boiled egg and a slice of ham, too, if you were feeling flush, and pickled beetroot if you were adventurous. Careful now. These days I can buy so many types of lettuce that I have the luxury of getting really peeved at the existence of Rocket.

I am grateful beyond measure that I am in the position to afford good, wholesome food. I am also hugely lucky that I can cook, and cook well. I enjoy it, in fact I love it. It’s my relaxation, my way of shutting the world out but oh my god I feel like the luckiest person alive that I have the privilege to do that.

We’ve had long days when Iceland was the shop of ‘choice’, well before they improved. Only one of us was working, and so Iceland and Kwiksave were the best places to go. Not once did I feel ashamed of it, and we did not suffer from malnutrition because I had that food knowledge and cooking skill to see us through.

Ridiculously fortunate to have access to food, fuel, cooking facilities that I did not have to share. I had more than just a microwave, or a single hot plate. I didn’t have to be wary of other people taking what was mine, and I had more than three minutes of access to that microwave.

Many people out there in the non bunting bedecked UK (you know the one, where it was better in the mythical old days when farmers had pure white sheep and all the light was golden) do NOT have all that I had. They have come here, or were born and grew up here, and found themselves in dire straits for whatever reason. They make do. They live. They survive and feed their families. This trend of ‘from scratch is best’, whilst gladdening my cook’s heart, also saddens me as much as it alienates whole swathes of people. Even in our local market, an old market that’s been there for decades, half a kilo of carrots will cost you £1.50, so why get those when you can get a near kilo bag of frozen for £1.00? Or get this:

New Meal Deal: For £5 shoppers can get hold of a massive family feast which includes three pizzas, two garlic bread baguettes and a 1.5 litre bottle of Pepsi.

Carbs. Filling carbs, and fizz. It feeds the lot of you, and it’s only a fiver. Easy, tasty, quick, and tummies get filled.

People do what they need to do, what they have to do but also many will do what they want to do. However much the government and (some) food writers say X will cause Y and wag angsty fingers, people will be people. They’ll have that bag of chips, or that kebab on the way home, or that ready meal curry, and enjoy it. Or at least feel full afterwards.

My joy in food and cooking is not universal. I never expect it to be. To others, my cooking based brain is weird, and probably very boring.

Oh yes, I can wax lyrical over the new season Jersey Royals, and the freshest sparrowgrass, but my brain does poke me and say “It’s only a potato Lees, shut up and eat it.”

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*I’m not. I eat it, and enjoy it. I savour it as much as any other. I have seen chefs tear it down vehemently, well, I don’t care.

Three Kitchens

During the course of writing this cookbook of mine (which still sounds very weird to say, I admit, because I’m just a cook, not an author dammit) I realised that I don’t solely have my kitchen at home.
I move between three, mainly. To be honest, I will cook in any kitchen you put me in given half a chance, but the three main kitchens – Harold Hill, Croydon and Bexhill – are the ones where I have left my mark. Otherwise known as…ingredients.

I do realise that ingredients can be scary for some people, as they do not constitute a dinner until you’ve faffed with them a lot, and sometimes you just want a quick grab, eat, go moment. That’s cheese and crackers for me, and as long as I’ve got those I’m happy, but I do understand that isn’t the case for a lot of people, so ready meals come in handy, and that’s perfectly fine. I just happen to love cooking and then sharing it with people, and so for me to do that, ingredients need to be present.

Common to all three kitchens are; bottles of extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, strong and plain flour, rice, lentils, stock cubes, butter, sugar, spices. Oh and tea. That goes without saying, so much so that I nearly forgot to say it. Also Good Knives. One chef knife, to crush, chop and shred, one sharp little peeler to deal with recalcitrant potatoes and cheeky parsnips.

I have measuring cups in all three, too. Soon there will be a set of scales in each as well. Nothing pricey, just cheap ones, but they are very useful, and help to avert the frustration that arises when you really, really want to bake and only have cups. I have a hatred of measuring butter by using cups. Sorry Americans, but there you go.
Obviously, there are pans, but two of the kitchens already had those before I came along. Although I might just have added some along the way.

I was wondering this week if it would ever be possible to have a Live Action app created, so that I know what’s in each kitchen at the press of a button. There is a limit as to the number of things I can keep in my head, even though I try very hard, and because of how I cook – take what’s in the cupboard, create something – it would be useful to know what’s there. But anyway, that’s not going to happen, not in the near future anyway.
On occasion, it has felt a little like that first meal you try to cook in a holiday kitchen. You’re not sure where anything is, or how old the things in the cupboards are, but you have a go anyway and end up going out for dinner sometimes, but you go via the supermarket – because it turns out that the pasta went out of date on 2006 and the tin of tomatoes was dated 1984. We get there in the end.

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Tomato Rice supper, 15 minutes plus cheese grating.

When I Grow Up, I Want To Be…

If I’m honest, and I usually am, I’ve never actually known what I wanted to be when I grew up. Some kids have the yen right from the start of dearly wanting to be a train driver, or an astronaut, or a chef or a parent, or Grand High Poobah of Associated Incorporated, but not me. I never, ever saw myself being a mum when I grew up, I knew that right from the get go. I hated those crying baby doll things my classmates cooed over, and I never wanted to have a real baby of my own because they both horrified and confused me. My maternal instinct, if I have one, is mostly for my peers, my friends. There is a Tiger Mama in there, but it’s not for kids of my own. When people ask me if I have or want children, and they do because people seem to think it’s a thing that a woman should have to be complete, then I can say with total truthfulness that no, I have never, ever wanted them.

“Oh you might change your mind one day.” is the classic response of the momentarily stunned. I’m 47 mate, if I haven’t changed it by now, I’m hardly likely to.

My life is quite complete with my amazing mum, my lovely husband, my very floofy cat, my brilliant closest friends and my packed to the gills kitchen. You work out what order they come in.

A Gypsy once told my Nan once that I would be a singer, and I am, but not a famous one. I’m a cook, but not a great chef, I’m a writer but not a grand author. I’m a PA, but not a high-flying EA, or PA to the stars. I have a job, not a career, but I’m happy. I’m settled. I’m being the best me that I can be and will continue to do so.

I have a new job. One where the HR department, my line manager, and the people I work with, treat me like an adult so, therefore, I feel like an adult.  It’s subtle differences, but they make massive differences in the curls and whorls of my brain. I asked about working from home, and boss K said “I have no problem. You’re senior enough that I really don’t mind.” To him that was a brief statement but to me that meant a huge amount, given the hassles I’ve had over the years at Old Job.  Someone thinks I’m ‘senior’. Oh my heart! Maybe I hadn’t done a good enough dye job…

But if you treat someone as a responsible adult, then mostly they will feel, and behave, as one. This is my manner with children. I expect you to behave with respect, because you are a human being in this world the same as anyone else. If you disrespect me, or my surrounds, then I’m not sure I should respect you either, and I will tell you so.

I had, and have, huge respect for my mum, both as a parent and as a person. I never forget that she’s not just Mum, she’s Linda too, with the hopes and fears and feelings that entails. A lot of children either forget that or were never told it. Mum had a life before you, and she still has a right to that life now. She’s a PERSON. My mum always spoke to me as an equal, none of this baby talk nonsense. and for that I am infinitely grateful. I think it stood me in good stead. I learned a lot about how to behave. How to be adult, and to be practical about things even though I was still just a child was a grounding experience, and oh boy did I need those skills going in to my teens.

I never did the coming home later than I’d said thing, or staying out without telling her, because I knew there was a person at home, waiting and worrying. What right did I have to make her scared, just because I wanted an extra hour out? I had my nights out with my friends, I certainly never lacked for fun, but I always told her where I was going, who I was with, and I was home when I said I would be.

Oddly, though, it’s taken me until the age of 47 to feel like a grown up, albeit with the heart of a child, still finding wonder and magic in almost everything I can.

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