Wednesday, 29 April 2009

Clean slates and baglust.

I've been a bit useless. I think if I had a more regular life I'd be better at the blogging thing. I do enjoy it, but I haven't had a great deal of time recently. Not enough time to think about things deeply enough. I've written bits and pieces in my journal, but nothing very much on here. I haven't read a great deal that has excited me and I haven't had any great cultural experiences. Mostly, I've been eating, sleeping, spending time with people I love and making things for people I care about. I'm making Carl a cookery book for his birthday. His email asking for it went as follows:

Subject: For myyy birthdaaayyy

You can get me some sex! Not, you know, directly, but through referred

I cook, occasionally, and most of what could be deemed impressive
knowledge has come from you (eg, frying veg with cumin or chilli flakes,
veg chilli, ubercrispycake, frying salmon...). But I keep having to ask,
cause my filing system is flawed, so I think to save the frequent
lunchtime emails to you getting the information again, here's what you
could do:

If you write down in a hardback notebook or something the recipes for
things that suit my particular cooking limitations...
including all the stuff I should already know but probably have
simplified in my head to be not quite as good as they originally were...

So stuff like:
veg chilli,

Anything else you can think of that's easy and doesn't take too long
(cause it'll take me twice as long as you) and can be carried out by
someone relatively clever but not at all good at multitasking and
generally mentally slowed by a day at work.

This will be an awesome thing you could do that no-one else can. :¬)



I can't work out whether this is a present for him or just him being nice to me. He DOES ask me for cooking things sometimes, and putting those things together in a good way is something I can do. I cook for and with him on a something approaching weekly basis [exciting aside: will be more often if we DO end up living together, but that's a whole other story...] - nothing very dramatic, just ordinary things that I like to eat, that fill me up and are reasonably healthy and (important) quite cheap. But I'm so flattered to be asked. I like that it means that Carl likes the food I cook, and the fact that he has gone so far as to ask me to write down my recipes so that he can use them himself has given me one huge warm fuzzy glow. For the record, the boy is a perfectly acceptable cook, he just doesn't really get excited about food in the same slightly obsessive way that I do. This is not a bad thing. Anyway. Thanks, Carl. :-)

I like making things that people enjoy eating and that I enjoy eating. Something of the mother in me, I guess. Or just something of the instant gratification of seeing people enjoying what I make. I love food, and I like to share things that excite me with my friends, so that they can be excited about it too. In reality, I don't know THAT many people that are excited by dried beans or peculiar Mexican herbs (at least ones that you can't smoke), but when I make them into things I like to think that people begin to see the point. And everyone can be excited by interesting sorts of chocolate and things you can do with that.

If I ask you if I can turn up at your house and cook you dinner, it really isn't me doing you the favour but me asking you for the favour. Just a warning, though, if I ever cook for you: I am possessive of my kitchen, even if it's your kitchen. I'm very, very bossy when it comes to cooking. Comes of caring about it, I guess. I'm better behaved than I used to be, which is a product of knowing more people who really care about cooking. If I'm in your kitchen getting in the way or genuinely being nagging or jumping to change things, REALLY don't feel bad about telling me to go next door and not get involved, or to attach me to the sink and the washing up by a short leash. That way, I can't annoy you by leaning over your shoulder and going 'I think it needs some chilli and lemon juice' (the two things I usually consider ANY dish to be in need of). Do not let me patronise you, I don't mean to, I just get over-enthusiastic.

I like the fact that I can cook something every day, so disasters get written over and I can forget about them and move on. Any cringeworthy mistakes can be anhilated with successes, or just by the sheer volume of non-disasters. This is important...I need to be able to overlay bad errors with better achievements. I'm dependent on past experiences for current self esteem. Does everyone have that? I'm fine provided the LAST thing I did, in any area of my life, wasn't one I'm ashamed of. There are many things in my life I'm ashamed of, but provided the LAST one in any given category went ok, then I'm ok. I'm stuck if the last thing in a category is the Last Thing, and I can't over-write it. THAT is the point when my self-esteem takes a permanent knock and I look to see if I can re-assign categories to overlap the one where I failed. Sometimes I can and sometimes I can't. In food, I can. Always. I eat every day, and I cook meals for people regularly enough that I can overlay food memories. At least in MY head, which is what matters for this purpose.

Moral: Things that could be regarded as repetitive can be incredibly satisfying. It's probably a life lesson, if only for me.

In other news, I have developed an obsession with this bag. I want the green version* but it appears to be out of stock. There's an offer for the People Tree in this Guardian article. Such things are dangerous. I thoroughly approve of the People Tree. They make beautiful clothing (they even have and outlet via Topshop), and they have ethics I'd love to be able to afford to endorse more in my clothing shopping - fair trade and responsibly sourced from organic cotton. Everyone knows garment workers are some of the most poorly paid in the world, and cotton is one of the world's most chemically treated crops. Wikipedia says that it uses 'approximately 25% of the world's insecticides and 10% of the world's pesticides', which is more or less what I've heard elsewhere. So if possible, I'd like to support the People Tree. BUT, I can't afford to until after the end of the month (cars are very expensive things, this month). And I have a SEVERE case of baglust. BUT, even after the end of the month, I mostly need summer tops, not new bags. *sigh*. But all of my 3 readers, YOU should all go and look at the People Tree website and see what you think. I reckon they're close to the most affordable of the ethical clothing outlets out there, not that I've conducted exhaustive research, and they're doing an important job.

*I ALWAYS want the green version

Thursday, 16 April 2009

If life was just about budgetting TIME, I'd be ok...

This article irritated me a little. The guy implies that it's a really difficult thing to do, to live on £10 a week. I grant that it's not THAT easy and that when I do my mental weekly sort-of budget calculations there are things that I automatically drop into the 'necessary' and 'luxury' categories.

# I don't have much in the way of transport costs, because I live close to work and I can get anywhere in the city on a bike in less that half an hour. I fill the car once a month, if that, and use it mostly for going to the supermarket or transporting tat around town. I have used a bus once in my entire time living in this city, as far as I remember - not a major fan. I have a bike. I like it. Even if it creaks. It costs me around £40 a year in parts and servicing, I reckon, maybe a little bit more. Literally, peanuts.

# I cook for myself. I love food (shock) and I cooking is something I genuinely enjoy. Someone who didn't would find all of this harder. I reckon the only pre-prepared products I buy regularly that are more expensive to make than to buy are bread, pesto and bacon. I might solve the bread thing at some point, but that will be more because I want to be able to make good bread rather than for saving money reasons. I'm prepared to buy bread.
# I try and buy meat with bones in so that I can make stock from it, for soups and so on. I don't buy much meat, at that. A chorizo sausage will last me a few weeks, as will a packet of bacon. Chicken thighs or a whole chicken represent several meals. Vegetables and pulses are great. Veggie chilli. Veggie curry. Stew made with two portions of meat that will feed six at least because of the quantity of leeks in it. Refried beans with a tin of tomatoes stirred through for chilli for 3.
# I'm getting better at doing this properly - the feeding myself with food I like without spending a lot of money. Fewer meals involve pasta and pesto than they did at college or when I was 18. I LIKE pasta, pesto, peas and bacon/chorizo, though, so that tends to feature once a week on a day I'm in a hurry or have run out of whatever the main dish I made that week was. I'm sparing with the pesto and the bacon though...they make many portions.

# I don't think in weeks, and I use the freezer. Is working by month cheating? Surely just better planning. I did a shop the other day that I hope will last me for two or three weeks, with milk top ups.
# I also share. £20 for two is much easier than £10 for one. It means £80 for a month for two of you.

# The glaring one for most people is booze. Or maybe it's that for me because I don't find going without alcohol most of the time I hardship. Any booze is a luxury. I usually have a bottle of whiskey or tequila/triple sec (for margaritas) around. I'm pretty certain I don't drink one of them a month though.

# Designating something 'luxury', and therefore allowing it to come out of a different area of budget is the problem bit. I tend to count more or less ANY meat in this category, and I do usually have SOME of that around in some form - even if it's a chorizo I use very sparingly that's in the back of the fridge. Exciting chillis. Unusual spices. Fresh herbs (that I haven't grown). Any booze, for me anyway. Good chocolate - I aim at one bar a week as a sort of staple that lives in the fridge at work, to prevent me going down to the café for stupidly expensive Wispas (mmm Wispas) with the other girls I work with. I do like to have it to cook with though - for hot chocolate, or brownies, or other baking. That's something else - baking. I have controlled myself a bit recently, but I DO love doing it. Not a necessity, but sometimes actually cheaper than having fruit for pudding.

# And then there are things that aren't food. The toiletries and house stuff - they're just necessary. Having my car fixed is, too. [I'm waiting with nervousness to see how much it's going to cost me this time. Arg.] Presents for people. There are times when they are necessary, to show how you value a friendship. They don't have to be big things - thought is most of the point, but it's nigh on impossible to do without spending SOME money. As is going out once in a while with your mates. That's not actually a luxury, though it's only fair to everyone not to make it too much of an expensive obligation if inviting people out for dinner or whatever. We need each other, and we're only any good to one another if we see one another and know what's going on in each other's lives. So going to London to see that crowd or cooking dinner for Carl or others or going to the pub with the choir are important things to do. Carefully. As is buying my wonderful girlfriend chocolate or flowers or a beer or some badges or, this being Traci, some exciting chilli of some sort when she feels sad and it needs more than just a hug, or I'm looking for a NEW way to tell her I love her. Once in a while, things like that need to happen. Hard to budget for. I guess that's why we have savings, and instant access ones at that. Which is why savings have a massively important place in any budget. I must bump mine up...

Monday, 6 April 2009

A potato salad

Another one not to forget. I had a craving. Sometimes such things just happen. Loosely based around something Elaine's friend Mary made the first time I met her, in Belfast in May nearly a year ago.

For one-and-a-half, without much else:
- 6 or so thumb-sized baby new or charlotte potatoes
- 1 dessertspoonful of mayonnaise
- 1 smaller dessertspoonful of plain yoghurt
- A small half teaspoonful of green pesto
- 8 or so slices of pickled green jalapeños, finely chopped
- 3 teaspoons of capers (it would have been better if I could have got them just in brine or salt...mine had vinegar in too) - these would be the making of the salad if I'd got REALLY good ones...
- 1 inch of chorizo, cut into half centimetre dice (so that's a piece about the size of the top joint of my thumb)
- Black pepper
- a drop of olive oil

Boil the potatoes until cooked but still firm - unpeeled and uncut, so they don't get soggy. Meanwhile, mix the mayo, yoghurt, pesto, chillies, capers and black pepper. When the potatoes are nearly done, fry the chorizo bits in the oil until crispy and then add the whole contents of the pan to the rest of the dressing ingredients. Combine and taste. I find it unlikely you'll need salt, but you never know. When the potatoes are cooked, slice into bite-sized pieces. Use a few bits to mop up the chorizo oil in the pan (don't waste it!) and then add the still warm potato to the mayo mix. Stir to combine. Eat, with gusto.

Wednesday, 1 April 2009


And I am more. Bigger. Stronger. Greater. Because of it. And it isn't air or puffed up fur like a pet wanting to look big. It is solid being, layering around me like the folds of an onion. And I am alive and brimming. Bursting with it.

But I am not one substance, any more. Not a pure element. An alloy. A pure one.