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.

Advertisements

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.”

baked-potato-i_thumb4

 

*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.

20180528_131438_hdr

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.

pexels-photo-632722.jpeg

 

The Grand Scheme

In the grand scheme of things, I am nothing, I have nothing, and I give nothing. But who can stand far enough back from the world and actually see this grand scheme that people speak of? There may be some Grand Plan, some huge Ineffable Plan but who can see that?

There is nowhere on this beautiful round earth that we can stand on, and see the whole. Even if we travel to the moon and the stars, we cannot see the whole.

So if, in the Grand Scheme, I am nothing, have nothing, and give nothing, what is the point of me, or anyone?

We are never truly nothing.

Each and every one of us, when you zoom in from that highest point you managed to find that still didn’t show you the Scheme, when you fly down the miles and you see the wide Earth come hurtling back up to you with its curved, beautiful, light rimmed arms out, waiting for you, each of us becomes something.

We are ourselves, we are powerful in our own right, and we can give all kinds of things. Intangible things. Things that you cannot catalogue or number but those things will count for something, even if we cannot see that effect.

Our smile can light up a day, an hour, or a moment. That smile can mean the difference between going on, or giving up. The withholding of your smile can be as effective and as damning as the bestowing.

Our laugh can make someone feel included or special, that we found what they had to say of worth and amusing or it can deride, exclude and banish.

The look we bend upon someone can profess love or kindness, anger or hate.

The arms we hold out can push away, or embrace, hold down, or hold up.

A mere gesture can beckon, or repel. The simple crook of the finger can express desire, or lust or mean there’s a recrimination in the offing.

We are never nothing, we will never have, or give, nothing.

We may not see it, but then if we spend too much time and care looking for the Grand Scheme, we miss our own small scheme. Our microcosm world in the huge, babbling globe that we inhabit such a small part of.

In effect, in that microcosm, you are Everything.

Earth

Hello, this is me.

Well, some of me, anyway.

20180330_125141.jpg

I see you…

People keep telling me that I haven’t changed, but oh I have.

The lines are deeper, the hair is definitely silver underneath the dye – because I’m not ready yet to let it grow out gracefully – but the ‘tache is becoming lighter as more of it goes white.

Those lines though. The crescent around the corners of my mouth, the lines running from nose to the edges of my lips, the deeper shadows surrounding the eye socket, none of those were there before and yet here they are, staring back at me in the mirror every day.

To me, they are not things to hide. Even though I might have a moment of “Oh ffs, concealer maybe?” once in a while, it’s not really that much of a bother because that’s my face. It’s not just a collection of lines and pores and sparse brows and random hairs, it’s the picture I present to the world.

That picture has a life lived imprinted on it. Those crescents are smile lines, and to see them get deeper means, to me, that I have smiled and laughed a lot in my life. They are just going to have to get deeper, then, as I want to continue to smile, continue to laugh, and hang the skin related consequences. There have been times when it’s been extremely difficult to smile, but then I remember that I can smile at a person, and though it’s a brief or fleeting moment for me, a kind look can mean the world to another.

I am aware that my genes are to blame for almost everything that happens to my body, inside and out. I have other marks and scars, all reminders of things that happened.

I am grateful that my genes have given me mostly good skin, and a fairly good bone structure that’s under there somewhere. I’ve never been so desperate to see my cheekbones that I’d stop eating cheese, good butter and olive oil because of it, I admit.

My lived experience canvas hangs on the outside of a framework that has withstood a fair amount of battering. For someone who’s had a life threatening illness as a child, been in 3 motorbike accidents, had various tumbles on ice, a slipped disc and jarred hips that won’t quit reminding me they are there,  and plus hauled the MonSter (Relapsing Remitting MS) around since 1996, I think I’m doing very well indeed.

That isn’t because I am, or have done, anything special, or because I’ve lived a good life – though I really have – or a Christian life – ha ha ha – it’s just the luck of the draw. That’s all it is for anyone. We are what we are.

I do joke when people say I don’t look my age (47) that it’s all the olive oil I eat. Maybe it is.

I will never deny myself the feeling of warm sun on my skin, or the blast of the wind in my hair for fear of lines. I can’t imagine hiding away from the sun’s rays, but I am lucky that I have an olive skinned heritage. I don’t overdo it, because who wants sunburn, but I do sit in it when I can to soak it up and boost that vitamin D.

An avocado. Now. That is for eating, not schmearing on your face. I don’t eat them often, but when I do, olive oil and sea salt is the way that I go. I’m always far too grateful to have found a ripe one to even think about splotting some onto my wrinkles. My wrinkles might even love it, but they aren’t going to get the chance to find out. My lines are there for myriad reasons. An avocado is for lunch, my face is for smiling and laughing.

So here I am. This is me. I’m not going to hide the marks that life has left on me just because ‘beauty’ magazines and ‘society’ thinks I should.

Here’s to growing old, to collecting more lines, more experiences, more smiles.

Here’s to living.

Here’s to LIFE.

Not that one woman can, but that every woman can.

My post about International Women’s Day stuck in my brain. And then I found this in a book I was reading. As ever, Kerry Greenwood nails it.

“Not that one woman can, but that every woman can”.’

‘Miss Grigg quoted it,’ said Phryne. ‘What does it mean?’

‘In every generation there have been remarkable women. Marie Curie, for instance. Dr Elizabeth Blackwell. Women who have sacrificed everything—marriage, motherhood, even their lives, like Nurse Cavell.’ Mrs Charlesworth pushed over a tin of gaspers and held a light for Phryne. ‘But they could be ignored, for the purpose of changing how women are seen by the world of men. They assume the same position as saints, like Joan of Arc. Her heroism and martyrdom did not change the general view of women one whit. The saints and martyrs and remarkable ones are freaks, sports, something so out of the common that no notice need be taken of them. Am I making myself clear?’

Do you mean that the ordinary man on the train will not look across at a shop girl and say, “She is of the same sex as Queen Elizabeth”?’

‘Yes! One can look at a plumber, a labourer, and say without a great sense of irony, “He is a man, capable of the same heroism as Admiral Nelson or Saint Francis of Assissi”. But no one looks at a woman and says, “She is a woman, she is capable of the same heroism as Lady Godiva or Anne Askew”.

Our heroines are separated from us. So instead of trying to make Man accept us as daughters of heroism, we must raise all women to the level of heroines. “Not that one woman can do it”—because a woman, like a man, can do anything provided she sacrifices everything, including her life, to that one idea—but that “Every woman can do it”.

Every woman can be educated, can have a career, can be the breadwinner for her family, can run a household and go into parliament or medicine or the law, and when there are enough of us as doctors and lawyers and parliamentarians, when there are many women in public life, then Man cannot ignore us. We will take our rightful place.’

‘At the side of Man?’ asked Phryne evenly.

‘At the head,’ said Mrs Charlesworth fervently. ‘Look at the world, Miss Fisher. Does it seem well run to you? Women and children are hungry and ill-used all over the world. Men who played with toy soldiers as children grow up to play soldiers with real lives and create nothing but waste and devastation. But that war, for us, was good. It removed thousands of young men, broke thousands of hearts, and made women find out that they were strong. We could do many things which men had kept as their especial preserve. Fight fires. Drive trains. Mine coal. I remember driving a delivery truck. I only had to work nine hours a day. I got meal breaks and smokos. I had been looking after three children under five on my own on a soldier’s wife’s pension in a cold-water second-floor room in Richmond. On my male wages I could afford to hire two women to look after my children and still have enough left over to buy luxuries like butter. After a year I could afford to move into a house. Of course, after the war my husband came home, and I returned to the house. Such wild fancies as paying women a living wage only happen in wartime. But it was a very important experience, Miss Fisher.

I don’t think one gender is better at leading than any other, that’s not for me, with my limited world experience, to decide but this puts into words what I was brooding on for quite some time.