Friday, 25 March 2011

Life as it is Right Now

Life is undergoing some changes right now. Good changes. Actually, no: awesome changes.

Last week I finished my job. I was really sorry to leave it as it was better than I ever imagined work could be (even awesome work such as being a vet or a farmer, or owning a bookshop-cum-wholefoods cafe), and there was an uncomfortable (yet also very enjoyable) week of insecurity to follow, while I waited to find out what was to become of me. Anyway, as luck would have it, I'll be back in the office on Monday morning, this time with my foot firmly on the first rung of that all-important ladder - on Monday I will be an Assistant Publisher, finally!

As awesome as this is, and as un-awesome as the insecurity has been, I've had an amazing week of 'time off'. I've cleaned the house from top to bottom, washed every piece of dirty laundry in the basket, baked a perfect loaf of bread, made a batch of my special chutney, experiemented with various bulgur wheat salad recipes, sat in the sun with a glass of ginger beer and a writing pad, ran 12 miles, read loads of my book, bought some new running shoes and, today, went for my first lone bike adventure!

In fact, I was just catching my breath at the top of a hill when I got the phonecall with the good news. I wonder what the lady in HR thought I was doing, answering the phone so breathlessly?!

I set out at 7am this morning, bag packed full of carbs and maps, for a day of cycling in the hills. I went out to Pickering - a lovely market town famous for its steam railway - via Malton and Castle Howard. I stopped on various benches and grassy verges to eat many delicious snacks and drink litres of sugary liquids. I switched on my suspension and headed over fields tractor-style, pretending I was some awesome off-road biker girl (off-road is so much cooler than on-road, I reckon). I shouted out in pain when climbing long hills, and whooped for joy when speeding down the other side, high on the fresh air, the sugar and the new-job euphoria. It was if the world was my own today, shared with a few cows and an absolutely beautiful horse.

I got home and promptly ran a steaming bubble bath, where I soaked for ages while reminiscing about the day. I covered 70 miles - my longest ride yet. In August we will be racing 100 miles; after 50 miles today I couldn't even start to comprehend doing that all again, I was so tired and wind-burnt and achey. The race will not only be longer than today, but there will be killer hill upon killer hill to endure. I did learn something important today, though: when about to give in, drink Lucozade. I never thought I'd touch the stuff, but wow, that orange gloop is powerful!

Amazing carrot cake bars - recipe courtesy of Jenna

Must. Buy. Padded. Shorts.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

One of These Days

One of these days I will wake early to catch an early morning run before breakfast. I will enjoy real, fresh ground filter coffee at weekends, with a book to keep me company, rather than the morning news.

I will own a smart diary, and it will be filled with all of the dates I currently keep in my head, written with a smart propeller pencil. This will be stored in my handbag, along with my purse (always containing enough change), a pack of mints and a tub of lip gloss (no more than one year old).

One of these days I will arrive at work without a drop of mud on my trousers, hair in place and ready to take on the world. During the commute I will read all the things I've been meaning to read, laughing out loud at all the right moments.

My life will be drizzled with the best extra virgin olive oil, usually accompanied by a bed of the freshest, spiciest green leaves (currently loving watercress and rocket, but who knows what else is out there). The wine rack (there will be a wine rack) will be filled with interesting new world wines, brought back from our travels to Chile, South Africa and New Zealand. There will also be ciders from France, and probably still a bottle of champagne leftover from my 21st birthday.

Wine will be a staple in my daily life, along with plump green olives and homemade bread (both drizzled with olive oil). Opening a bottle during the week will no longer be controversial or 'a bit too wild'; instead this will be the norm - any leftovers can be frivolously added to a risotto, or a pasta sauce.

One of these days we will print out the amazing photos from the Lake District, all in sepia or black and white, and these will be framed and hung up around the back wall in the lounge. We will sit quietly reading together on the couch, or writing letters on smart paper while Brahms sounds from the record player.

Our board games collection will go beyond Twister and Pazazz, with a vintage Scrabble box, Monopoly and Trivial Pursuit. We might even get a draughts board, who knows. My knitting basket will be filled with exciting projects - socks, cardigans, maybe even a Fair Isle jumper - and these will not all be for me, but will be planned out and completed in time for friends' birthdays.

I will have a chutney recipe for every occasion, all personalised with my own 'special ingredient'. The recipe won't be shared with anyone, until my own children take an interest in chutney-making, when it will become one of those special family secrets.

Every meal will involve fresh herbs, plucked straight from the garden. I will make my own vegetarian pesto, and sprinkle fresh homegrown coriander on everything I eat. There will be wooden chimes in the garden (the ones that make that lovely clunky sound), and two fat guinea pigs in a run, happy to eat all of our vegetable peelings.

I will attend a yoga class in the evenings, and will make yoga-ing friends to meet up with at the weekend. We will share wine or tea, and sit for hours discussing environmental issues, or whether there really is a place for feminism in our society. I might even join a book group.

One of these days I'll stop drinking nasty sachets of hot chocolate in the evenings, and will instead stick to calmomile tea. I'll fall alseep with a book, still wearing my glasses, in silk matching pyjamas that haven't been burned by my old radiator. And they will be comfortable and won't cause static, so I'll never have to resort to my old t-shirt and four-sizes-too-big bottoms that I love so much.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Tasting Springtime

As suddenly as the daffodils began to spring from the green verges around the city, my senses stopped wanting the warming, comforting foods that I have been craving week-in, week-out since November. Melted cheese, soft root vegetables, warming cumin and turmeric and chilli in everything that passes my lips - my tastebuds are no longer quite so interested. Instead I find myself drawn to vibrant colours, sharp tastes and that delightful crunch of fruit and raw vegetables.

The first cucumbers of the season, peeled and chopped into thick wedges. The pungent aroma of fresh coriander scattered on warm bulgur wheat, seasoned with flaked sea salt and groud black pepper. Radishes and celery soaked in white wine vinegar, creating a delicious contrast in sharpness on the tongue. Flat lettuce drizzled with extra virgin olive oil and scattered with sunflower seeds. Slightly over-ripe Conference pears, chopped and topped with sour natural yoghurt.

As my eyes, ears and nose tune in to the new colours, sounds and smells of spring, my tastebuds seem to be asking to be in on the action, too. Sharp vinegar and smooth olive oil, spicy radish and mild cucumber, sweet pear and sour yoghurt: it seems to be a time for contrast and unsubtlety in texture and in flavour. I'm quite excited to see where this is taking me; allowing my senses to determine how and what I eat is the essence of how I cook. I'd almost got bored of being in the kitchen - the same ingredients and meals every week had started to cause a sort of apathy which was starting to worry me! The greengrocer's is getting an evermore exciting place to visit, and there will undoubtedly be some kitchen adventures to come in the weeks ahead! Now I want fresh, crunchy ingredients as oppose to soft, warming ones; I already feel that spring of good health that comes from eating well. There's something so holistic about spring: as my senses discover the goodness that is around me, it is somehow internalised with how I eat, and reflects externally in how I feel and how I see myself. I feel so alive right now, so hyper-aware of everything I encounter. I wonder if I feel this way every March, or if there is something extra special about this March in particular?

Monday, 21 March 2011

Pink Rhubarb and Almond Tart

Rebecca requested that I share the recipe for the rhubarb and almond tart mentioned in my last post. I haven't posed a recipe on here for ages and ages, and all of a sudden I have three amazing recipes that I want to share. One is a soup, one is a pasta dish, and one is this delicious tart. It would make sense to post them in that order - starter, main course, pudding - but the sun is so bright today, and the sky so blue, and I can't think of anything more perfect right now than the idea of sitting in the sunshine in my newly tidied yard, sunglasses on, a great book to read, and a slice of cold rhubarb tart with a dollop of sour natural yoghurt. It's a shame that Daniel has already coveted the final slice; maybe this will be a test of my real life priorities?

I wanted to have a go at making my own flaky pastry. And I wanted to make something light and fresh, rather than a full-on pie. I found a recipe for a rhubarb tart which I liked, but this recipe didn't bake the tart itself, and if there's anything I like more than a fresh fruit tart, it's a baked fruit tart. So this is a combination of four recipes, altogether: two styles of rhubarb tart, and two styles of flaky pastry, all blended to create one fabulously tangy and not-at-all-sweet, crispy, bright pink rhubarb tart.

It's not an easy, whip-it-all-together-in-20-minutes sort of pudding, I must say. But for me, the joy isn't only in the eating, and the slightly intricate and methodical nature of this tart was a brilliant addition to my Saturday afternoon: I felt as if I were crafting something.

First of all, you need to prepare the pastry.

For the pastry:

4oz butter, wrapped in foil
6 oz flour
200ml water

Put all of these ingredients into the freezer for about 40 minutes.

Now, time to prepare the filling!


4 indecently large sticks of rhubarb
1 cup sugar
1.5 cups water
Sprinkling of ground almonds
Handful of whole or flaked almonds

1. Chop the rhubarb into long sticks (about 7cm in length).
2. Heat the sugar and water in a saucepan until it is bubbling. Then add the rhubarb and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, until the fruit is soft but not falling apart.
3. Drain the rhubarb in a colander. The juice can be boiled down to a syrup, which is delicious drizzled on ice cream!

40 minutes should be just about up by now, so take the pastry ingredients out of the freezer:

4. Pour the cold flour into a bowl, then grate the butter into the flour - it will look like grated cheese. The foil will stop your hands from warming the butter, but if it gets a bit soft, dip it in the flour - this will make it a bit more grate-able again!
5. Using a spoon or spatula, mix the butter and flour together to form a sort of bread-crumb mix. It should sort of look like grated cheese covered in flour...
6. One tablespoon at a time, add the water to the mixture and mix with a spoon/spatula until it starts to come together. Bit by bit it should form a ball, until you're left with one big ball of pastry. It's ok that you can see big gratings of butter in there!
7. Wrap in cling film and return to the freezer for another half hour or so.

Now prepare your main course! Or sneak spoonfulls of hot rhubarb syrup from the pan! Or phone your Mum for a quick catch up!

8. Remove the pastry from the freezer and split the ball in half. Put one half back in the freezer for a later date!
9. Roll it out on a floured surface so it's pretty thin, and big enough to put into a pie dish.
10. Gently place the pastry in the pie dish and squash it into the sides, patching up any missing pieces with extra dough. Now prick the bottom with a fork.
11. Sprinkle ground almonds over the surface of the pie, then carefully place the rhubarb sticks on top. Sprinkle with flaked almonds, or if you don't have any, crush whole almonds in a pestle and mortar and sprinkle those on instead!
12. Bake at 190c for about 35 minutes.

Inspiration mainly taken from here and here.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Moments, VII.

Is it just me, or did spring burst out of hiding this weekend?

Rising early on a Saturday, spotting the blue skies peeping through the curtains,
Clearing the yard in the sunshine, jacket hanging from a nail on the wall,
Walking home from the shops, arms laden with rhubarb, bedding plants and a vintage coffee pot,
Mud in my fingernails, mud in my hair, digging and raking and sowing,
Veggie sausage sandwiches oozing with tomato sauce after a morning of garden graft,
Browsing flower markets; vibrant sounds, smells and sights of the city on a Saturday,
Mastering the art of flaky pastry: pink rhubarb and almond tart with ice cream and sticky rhubarb syrup,
Pink grapefruit juice running down my mouth and arms, marmalade on toast and a morning paper,
Dancing to jazz in our dressing gowns,
Plump lambs lazing in the sun as I run through bright long fields,
Coffee just the way I like it, served in my favourite coffee mug, while filling in the census at the kitchen table (do I have a religion? are we classed as partners? is there a comma missing in that question?),
Finally signing up for this after months of procrastination,
A sunshine-filled chickpea soup, finishing the weekend the way it began.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Lessons Learned from Being a Half

Only six months ago today, Daniel and I spent our first night in our shared home. It feels like another century! Not many days before that, we hurried along to the estate agents, eager to catch them as early as we possibly could before we headed off to the Lake District for a dramatic few days' holiday . The lovely estate agent indulged our excitement completely, and taking the keys to our new home I felt more like an excited child in a toyshop than someone who had just made the most grown up and important commitment of her life so far! We hurried to our new house, running between the rooms in delight and awe at the adventure that was ahead; the house really was, and still is, a dream come true, and back then with its bare rooms and fusty smell, it was a real-live blank canvas for us to start painting a life together.

In the spirit of this little landmark I've been thinking about what has changed, or come about, during the time we have lived together. The changes haven't been big or even obvious, but day by day I've noticed some small shifts in the way I, and we, work.

I've noticed that...

...I am, as it turns out, incredibly lazy. Faced with a few days alone in the house, I suddenly realized that I had no idea when the rubbish and recycling should go out, or even what to do with it. boyfriend is an amazing cook! Give him a big kitchen, space to create chaos and a spice rack and you will have an incredibly tasty and fantastically healthy meal within the hour. Never offer to do the washing up as a compromise for his cooking efforts, though, and don't expect to find a spare plate, bowl or fork to eat the meal with.

...when disasters are shared they become adventures.

...I have more bad habits than I cared to realize, made all the more noticable by Daniel's surprising lack of bad habits. with someone else means you can benefit from another lifestyle aside from your own - orange juice, weekend papers, a LoveFilm subscription and novels by authors whose names I can't pronounce are just some of the wonderous newcomers into my life these days.

...having someone to laugh with is, at times, just as important as oxygen and water.

...this is not giving up any sort of independance, and it is certainly not becoming a half of someone else. It is becoming a half of something much bigger, stronger and tidier than I could ever be on my own, and that is simply awesome.

...for some reason I really care which way the teaspoons are put into the drawer. This is troubling, but not as troubling as the time Daniel put the teaspoons back the wrong way. is much more fun when it's shared with someone else.

...once the romance has been turned down to a simmer, something even more wonderous starts to appear. Like in the beautiful passage from Captain Corelli's Mandolin, it's as if we're unfolding into "an art and a fortunate accident", where everything is comfortable and warm, and it doesn't even matter if my pyjama bottoms don't match my pyjama top. You could almost call it taking things for granted, but actually I think it's more like the roots metaphor from the same passage: "roots that grew towards eachother".

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Moments, VI.

The excitement of the big screen, the rustle of popcorn in the dark, laughing along with so many strangers (we may be the last people on Earth to see The King's Speech, but it was worth the wait!),
Early Saturday morning news; sitting in silence at the breakfast table as the world waited for the worst,
Running through desolate farmland, no sign of life for miles; foot cramps, bruised toenails and an awesome sense of satisfaction,
Catching up with an old friend, chatting as if it hadn't been almost two years,
Sweet potato chilli, cooked to perfection, with a glass of cold cloudy perry to knock me off my feet,
Grapefruit and pancakes for Sunday breakfast: flour and honey all over the place,
One of those lazy pyjama Sundays, sugary coffee and noses in books,
Walking arm-in-arm in the sunshine, hearts beaming, planning our life in the country,
Observer Food Monthly and a sweet pear (I read the supplements while Daniel sticks to real news),
An hour of yoga; struggling to bend today, struggling to balance today,
Looking forward to a hot bath and a pedicure, malted drinks and a sleepy Sunday evening.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Fill in the Blanks - FRIDAY!

1. My biggest accomplishment in life thus far is running a half marathon. Not the actual running of the actual half marathon, but the accomplishment of getting there, to that place where I could run for thirteen miles without walking a single step. That place where I could only be fit, healthy, happy, self-assured and wild enough to do such a thing. Getting to that place was really, really tough, but so worth it.

2. My favourite place to sit in my house is at the kitchen table, on the seat nearest the stairs.

3. My fashion philosophy is smile, wear the right sized clothes and lay off the foundation.

4. Something every girl should have is the self-confidence to naturally be.

5. If you look in my backpack right now you'd find my wallet, some hand sanitizer, a pen, a carrier bag, my keys and my train pass...

6. My favourite music right now is the Mountain Goats - I'm going to see them in May!!! Otherwise I'm absolutely loving the new Wild Beasts record!

7. My favourite part of my body is my back, and my feet. And my skin. I like most of it, actually, except my hands. Not in a vain way, just in a 'it's all very useful' way!

Take part here, and have a great weekend!!

Thursday, 10 March 2011

What I've Learnt from Working

Six months ago yesterday, I handed in my Master's dissertation, and that was that: time for the real world. In six months I've learnt more about life, about myself and about the way the world works than I ever thought I would. It's been hard, but much much more fun than I'd ever have imagined (that's not actually saying a lot, I must say).

I've learned that...

...each one of those 24 hours we get per day is precious.

...sleeping is not a waste of any of them, unless it's the weekend.

...I know less than most people around me, and if I want to learn I have to listen. matter how hard you work at university, and no matter how amazing your academic qualifications, it doesn't matter one bit: no one will ask, and no one will thank you for telling them.

...I'm not as thoughtful as I once thought; a token birthday text message is now a victory in effort and kindness.

...friendship is incredibly hard without the running availability of email, Facebook and mobile phone usage. really does matter what people think of you.

...early nights are awesome.'s ok to wear your favourite skirt as office wear; saving the best clothes for the weekend means too many things will just never leave the wardrobe.

...melodrama, immaturity and pessimism are simply not acceptable in the workplace. Grin and bear it or go home.

...sitting down all day is exhausting; snacking is essential if such levels of exertion are to be maintained. actually isn't fair at all sometimes.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Not Running but Walking

A quick update to say hello, happy Pancake Day, happy Women's Day and happy National Pie Week! I hope to celebrate them all, seperately, at some point this week!

Life has been a huge tizzwozz of obsessing over jobs, running, cooking, ironing, and trying to fit in some time for myself around it all. On Sunday I was planning to do an impromptu half marathon: my Dad was running the Haweswater Half Marathon in the Lake District, and I got myself a place on the reserved list. Come Saturday, I decided I needed some space for myself, to be slow and take in the world a little. So, instead of running shoes I packed my walking boots into the car early on Sunday morning, and had an amazing day ambling around a lake, climbing up fellsides, eating picnics in the sunshine and allowing my senses to run wild with the early spring.

As much as I wanted to run when I saw how amazing the route was, I'm so glad I left my running shoes at home on this occasion. Walking was what I needed to gather myself and slow down a little. The Haweswater Half is on my 'To Do' list for next year, instead ;-)

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

March, At Last

"You're listening to BBC Radio 4. It's half past five on Tuesday the first of March."

I was so happy to welcome March into my life yesterday morning. When I heard the above words just as I was sitting down to breakfast yesterday morning, I could have danced for joy: now it can really begin.

It's been a long, cold and tough winter. Since early November I've enjoyed hardly a since milligram of natural light during the week. I always feel that February is there simply to prolong the beginning of spring: it's not even a full month, as if it's been slotted between January and March just to make up time, to allow snowdrops to bloom and birds to return to their native country, all ready for the real unfolding of nature in March. Those 28 days allow exactly the amount of time to bring spring right into place on March 1st, and that's exactly what happened yesterday morning.

For the first time since early November, there was a slight hint of light over the rooftops as I left the house for work. Walking down by the river I was stunned by the chorus; the birdsong has been beautiful over the past week or so, but yesterday it was as if the sky was filled with a sea of invisible birds, all singing different excited melodies to create a dawn symphony that literally made me stop in my tracks. The sun rose on the horizon, paralleling the river and turning the morning mist a pinkish colour as it hung above the water. Everything was tinged with the pink sunrise: the city walls almost came to life, and even the distant passing lorries were rendered beautiful in the dawn light.

It was one of those times of overwhelming euphoria at the somple harmony of the world. One of those times when everything wells up inside you and you just know that you are in the right place, making the right choices. One of those times when it's ok that life isn't perfect and never will be: everything is fresh and ready for the taking.

"Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh."
Philip Larkin