The one where I talk about being a type 1 diabetic

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The one where I talk about being a type 1 diabetic

For some completely unbeknown reason, I decided to sign up for a mindfulness course last year.

I wasn’t entirely sure I trusted myself t know what mindfulness actually was.

As well as that, I think, in my head, I had to potential to be some kind of ‘wellness’ type on Instagram, and all that lay between me and several thousand followers was a supportive pair of printed leggings and some deep and meaningful quotes.

So on the first night of this course, we leant about what it meant to treat ourselves with kindness, and we did a lot of thinking about our breathing. Everybody was lovely, and there was an excellent selection of tea available at break time, which was nice.

I have been type 1 diabetic for 19 years of my time on this Earth, and the next week, just before this class, I realised my blood sugar was a little bit high.

After 19 years, I can smell it, and taste it. It is the strangest thing, sort of like pear drops, or sugar puffs, or something.

After 19 years, I am also very good at ignoring it.

So ignore it I did.

And I hauled myself to the class in time for a meditation. Which suited just fine, because aforementioned high blood sugar is bone-crushingly exhausting, and so I started to look forward to sitting in a warm room surrounded by lovely people and have a nice cup of tea and think about breathing in and out for a while.

Except I couldn't concentrate, because I could still taste those pear drops.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, memories. 

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, annoyance that my blood sugar was interrupting my pleasant evening in the warm room surrounded by lovely people.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, thinking about the last time I had actually used a monitor to check my blood sugar, and realised it had been months.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, maybe that was years.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, remembering five trips to India, my blood sugar monitor safely at home in my knicker drawer.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, the memory of an entire marathon, run without checking my blood sugar once.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, thinking about swearing off mashed potatoes, just because they seemed to cause my blood sugar to crash, and I was too scared of the effort involved in trying to figure out the overwhelming task of balancing insulin with different carbohydrates.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, memories. 

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, memories. With this breath, very recent memories, of my summons to a diabetic clinic for the first time in 12 years. I needed to go, I needed my driving license approved, and I could bluff my way through that easily enough.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, the terror of having to come clean. To doctors, to friends and family, to myself.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, fear.

In breath, pear drops. Out breath, trying to be kind to myself.

I didn't say much that night, to the lovely people, in the warm room, with the nice cups of tea. I was far too busy trying to convince myself that being self-compassionate in this instance might be not doing that terrifying thing and just carrying on as I was.

By the time the appointment rolled round I had prepared my answers that would result in the golden signature on the driving license form. I drove to the Ulster hospital, I parked the van, I took a seat, I accepted a coffee from a kindly volunteer. I held out my arm for a blood sample, I peed into a paper cup, I smiled, I nodded.

A lovely doctor called me into a cubicle, and started looked up my records on her computer. The fact that this was a a health service computer meant it took some time, some time for silence in that room.

I heard her in breath and out breath.

I thought about pear drops.

I realised I was holding my own breath.

Somehow, in the next in breath, and the next out breath, and the next twenty minutes of that poor woman's life, I told her everything. I told her about the 19 years of diabetes, and the 12 that I had all but ignored it. I told her about the travels, and the marathons, and the wine-filled nights out, and the career in catering, and how scared I really was of this disease.

In turn, she told me what she knew.

A new blood sugar monitor was handed over (and lives in my handbag, not my knicker drawer, I promise).

A new night time insulin was prescribed (along with a new word for describing it, which I keep forgetting).

A new world of carbohydrate counting and insulin tracking was all mine.

And so, armed with my shiny new toolkit and full of enthusiasm for a whole new me, I threw myself into this world with the enthusiasm of an American evangelist.

I checked my blood sugar at least four times a day, I ate the right food, I did 30 minutes of high intensity interval training on top of my daily yoga practice, I drank water, I went on a massive learning curve.

I've learnt that I need to drink less alcohol. I've learnt to eat different quantities of certain foods. I've learnt that exercise changes everything, both in good and bad ways. I've learnt about how important 8 hours sleep is. I've learnt that my body reacts more favourably to a jam doughnut was better than it ever does to an 'energy ball'.

And, at my last check at my GP surgery, my long-term blood sugar reading is reflecting that. I have managed to get this disease under some kind of control.

And this, unfortunately, is where this lovely story takes a sour turn.

Because this is where the Hollywood moment should be; with all this exercise and single glasses of wine and lack of refined carbohydrate, I should be holding up a comically large pair of jeans I can fit into twice over at the very least, and at most I should be tasting myself as a ‘wellness’ expert in some printed leggings, showing off my newly toned abdomen with a look of glee upon my smug little face.

But I can’t.

The shiny new insulin that has my blood sugar so well controlled means that, despite being a new woman, there are more than a few extra kilograms under the print of those leggings.

I mean, there are also really strong muscles developing thanks to some sort of torture that goes by the name of a ‘walking press up’, and I can squat and lunge and run a mile in three quarters of the time I could way back when I started this whole thing, but I look a little bit like a burrito when I put those printed leggings on. It just seems so unfathomably cruel and unfair I have shed more than one tear about it.

So I did what any self-respecting person does in this day and age, and googled how the hell I could get rid of this new found weight, and amongst the juice cleanses and blogs telling me to do EXACTLY WHAT I HAVE BEEN DOING FOR THE LAST SIX MONTHS, I started to learn about counting carbohydrates properly, so I don't take too much insulin, and in turn, gain even more weight.

Which, bizarrely, if you like to cook, is 19 times harder than if you eat from packets.

Because the nice people who make the packets print on the side just how many carbohydrates they contain.

And so, a new fear started.

A fear about what I was eating.

To the point where I couldn’t blog about being a ‘wellness’ expert because I look like a burrito in my printed leggings, and I couldn’t blog about what I used to blog about because, well, I was mostly eating brown rice and Lidl oatcakes. 

Even for breakfast.

So I’ve put up pictures of the food I make for other people, and just kind of gone really quiet about the brown rice and Lidl oatcakes.

~~~~

Last week, I had a check up at the GP surgery.

I woke up really early, because I had a hell of a lot of work on that day, and had to make my weekly Facebook video.

I started to film (a really bloody delicious) lime and coriander salsa, and had a complete meltdown because it needed a smudge of sugar and I couldn’t work out exactly how many carbohydrates were in a quarter of a tablespoon and I’d forgotten to write down how much my tomato weighed and I couldn’t possibly eat it and now it was time for my appointment so I couldn’t even finish what I was doing, anyway.

I went to the nurse’s room.

I waited for her computer to come to life, and listened to her breath.

In turn, I listened to my own.

And as I offloaded six months of stress and worry and pressurising myself to be perfect in every way onto this poor nurse, she reminded me that it was trying to be kind to myself that has brought about the brand new me, and maybe I should try to remember that rather than reducing myself to tears over the carbohydrate content of a lime.

In breath. Out breath. Trying to be kind to myself.

In breath. Out breath. No pear drops.

In breath. Out breath. A wobbly diary of blood sugar monitoring, where I was able to pinpoint exactly what caused that high, or low.

In breath. Out breath. That coveted lower long term blood sugar reading. That I had worked so hard for.

In breath. Out breath. Thinking about those amazing friends who have fed me pizza or gone out for dinner and celebrated my single glass of wine.

In breath. Out breath. The realisation that I will never be a ‘wellness’ expert.

Thank god.

Because I am far more interested in cooking and eating burritos than I am in showing off how I look like one, no matter how lovely the print on my leggings.

I have been type 1 diabetic for 19 years of my time on this Earth, and that isn’t going to change.

I have been sharing recipes, and jokes, and the ridiculousness of my life for the last five of those years.

That isn’t going to change either.

And perhaps, after the rockiest of roads, being kind to myself isn't about trying to change or hide either of those things.

So I shall continue to look after myself, but I will stop hiding, and I will continue to share recipes and jokes, and the ridiculousness that is my life.

If we meet for a single glass of wine, or a meal where I am calculating the carbohydrates on the back of my napkin, I promise I will leave the printed leggings at home. I might even order a burrito.

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Sesame roasted kale

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Sesame roasted kale

One of the things that I must surely get asked the most, after hair-care products recommendations (Bleach London rose conditioner, if you are curious), is about making vegetables tasty.

It seems that a LOT of people out there just sort of boil the things, and force themselves to eat them out of a desire to feed their bodies vaguely appropriately.

Which is all very well and good, and all.

But what if I told you that vegetables can actually taste NICE?

That you don't need to hold your nose and force them down?

That all you need to do is roast the darn things?

Yes, that is right, roast your vegetables.

Nine and a half times out of ten it turns them into something extra-specially delicious.

This recipe works with any greens, such as broccoli or even beans, but this time round I used kale. It results in a side that has crispy bits and softer bits, and every single bit is really tasty.

I promise.

~~~

Grab a couple of large handfuls of kale.

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Rip off any tough stalks.

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Throw it on a baking tray with a tablespoons of soy sauce...

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And two tablespoons of sesame oil.

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Use your hands to mix well.

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Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

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Then bake for 15 minutes, stirring halfway.

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Serve, with the satisfaction that you have made greens taste good.

Enjoy!

Sesame roasted kale

Serves 2. Cooking time 20 minutes

  • 2 large handfuls kale
  • 1 tablespoon light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
  1. Pre-heat the oven to 180.
  2. Mix the kale with the oil and soy sauce in a baking dish.
  3. Sprinkle with the seeds.
  4. Bake for 15 minutes, stirring halfway through.
  5. Serve.

 

 

 

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Spiced sweet potato and coconut soup

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Spiced sweet potato and coconut soup

Spring is here, I have decided. Yes, there was snow with the first of the daffodils. Yes, I have regrets about a bare ankle. Yes, it is chuffing freezing.

BUT.

I have gone two whole days without wearing my Big Coat. You know, the one I got for actual Siberia yet have worn every single day of 2018.

Because it had been THAT cold.

Two days of no Big Coat is surely a very real indicator that the seasons may in fact be changing, if only a little.

If I were a proper blogger, I'd be showing you my best 'Spring' recipes, all light and zesty and featuring people their cute little legs off in cotton dresses, surrounded by 75 bunches of daffodils.

I veer towards the 'real life' blogger though, and lack of Big Coat or not, it is still freezing out there.

The cotton dresses will have to wait.

So here is a recipe for some soup; bound to warm you up on those Spring days you risk a bare ankle, and fecking delicious it is, as well.

Enjoy!

~~~~

Peel and finely chop an onion.

The onion needs to be finely chopped, but the soup gets blended, so do not fret about it being all nice and neat and even and all.

I sure didn't.

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Heat a couple of tablespoons of light olive oil over a low heat...

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And add the onion, along with two teaspoons of cumin...

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Two teaspoons of dried coriander...

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And two teaspoons of smoked paprika.

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Fry that all for 10 minutes, stirring regularly.

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Peel 500g of sweet potato. 

This can either be one massive sweet potato or several teeny tiny ones.

I shall leave that decision in nobody's hands but yours.

Or your greengrocer's.

Whoever.

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Chop the sweet potato into chunks.

The smaller the chunk, the faster the cooking time.

You heard it here first.

Or didn't.

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Add the sweet potato to the pot, along with a tin of coconut milk...

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And 500ml vegetable stock.

TOP TIP.

You can just add the boiling water and the lovingly hand-prepared stock cube to the pan.

I like to take pictures of the dinner-making process and post them on the internet for all and sundry to browse, so I went full fancy and actually mixed up the stock.

Notions, thats what I have.

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Simmer for 20 minutes.

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Then blend.

Ladle into bowls, and top with as much fresh coriander as you like.

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Enjoy!

Spiced sweet potato and coconut soup

Serves 2. Cooking time 35 minutes.

  • 1 onion
  • 500g sweet potato
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons dried cumin
  • 2 teaspoons dried coriander
  • 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1 tin coconut milk
  • 500ml vegetable stock
  • Fresh coriander, to serve
  1. Peel and finely the onion.

  2. Heat the oil over a low heat, and add the onion, stirring well.

  3. Add the cumin, coriander and smoked paprika and fry for 10 minutes, stirring often.

  4. Peel and chop the sweet potato.

  5. Add the sweet potato to the pan with the coconut milk and stock.

  6. Simmer for 20 minutes, or until the sweet potato is soft.

  7. Blend and serve, topped with fresh coriander if you wish.

 

 

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Celeriac and potato gratin

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Celeriac and potato gratin

Last weekend, I went to see my sister and it was a weekend of much joy and amazement.

Firstly, I got to wear my jimjams and sit on a sofa that wasn't covered in building dust.

Secondly, we ate and drank and made merry.

Most importantly of all, the boys in green got the Grand Slam and lifted the six nations trophy and I nearly cried with joy.

We went out for dinner that night, and continued the theme of eating, and drinking, and making merry and all, when my brother in law's face tried something new for the first time, and his joy and amazement at a potato gratin really and truly was the highlight of an excellent weekend.

So much so that I had to recreate the recipe when I got home.

I really hope it brings you much joy and amazement.

This one is for you, Brian.

~~~~~

Grab a celeriac.

Marvel that it looks like a brain.

Which is ironic, given that Brian gets autocorrected to brain QUITE A LOT.

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It was meant to be.

Cut off each end, then peel.

I find it easiest to do this with a knife.

I'm quite certain you could use a peeler, but I am very lazy and life is very short and I'm just not sure I am that kind of person.

Slice the celeriac thinly.

I'm sure you could slice your celeriac very evenly and all,  but I am very lazy and life is very short and I'm just not sure I am that kind of person.

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Grab some potatoes.

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Peel them.

Bizarrely I used a peeler for these.

I guess that is just the crazy, rock and roll existence I am destined to live, what with my multiple kitchen implements.

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Slice the potatoes thinly.

And if you are looking for a thinly sliced potato that is even, either come back to me when I've got the food processor out, or go read a different blog.

Get me, and my food processor chat, throwing my rock and roll kitchen implement names about, willy nilly.

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Butter a baking dish generously.

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Layer your potatoes and celeriac in the dish.

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Grab some cream...

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season it well...

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And pour it over the vegetables.

Please do not panic, it will not completely submerge the vegetables.

And this is OK, because if it did, you would be creating some kind of baked soup.

However, you do want to press down a bit so that the vegetables are covered by the cream.

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Throw that in the oven for a while.

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Then serve, with a mustardy green salad and whatever else makes your heart skip a beat.

Enjoy!

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Celeriac and potato gratin

Serves 4. Cooking time 50 minutes.

  • 1 celeriac
  • 800g potatoes
  • 500ml cream
  • 30g butter
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  2. Peel and thinly slice the celeriac and potato.
  3. Season the cream with a good pinch of salt and pepper and mix well.
  4. Use the butter to grease a baking dish.
  5. Layer the potatoes and celeriac in the baking dish.
  6. Pour the cream over the vegetables, pressing down to ensure they are all covered.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes.
  8. Serve.

 

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Spiced sweet potato fritters

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Spiced sweet potato fritters

For those of you who joined in the trials and tribulations of building our own kitchen, then said nice things to me when I completely lost the plot while we built our dining room, you will be pleased to hear that we have moved on to the next project; the living room.

Thankfully, this time, there is the ability to close the door on the absolute chaos therein, so this time my marbles remain intact.

So far.

I mean, I was the one in charge of the hammer drill, and cracked my way through two layers of concrete to get to the soil over the weekend, and I didn't even cry once.

Well, I sort of nearly did on Monday morning when my alarm went off at very early o'clock and I had to finish it all before 10am, but that was mostly because I was so physically exhausted I couldn't really move my arms or legs, and it was only nearly crying, and Mr P made me some coffee and I ploughed through, so marbles definitely intact.

Or so I thought.

Then I started looking at TVs, and housing for same, and where the hell they go.

Because there is not one aspirational photo of a standard 1930s semi-detached house in the suburbs that has a sodding tellyvision in it so I don't know where the hell the thing is supposed to go.

I thought I had figured out a compromise, albeit one that involved spending the best part of a grand on some designer tellyvision or other, then Mr P informed me that we don't just need a tellyvision, we need SIX FECKING SPEAKERS, and then I realised I could probably spend the best part of a grand on a tellyvision and have a repeat of the set-up in our last house whereby it took three remote controls, a solid five minutes and an honours degree in electrical engineering just to watch the news.

I mean, with all this DIY, people cross-reference Grand Designs and stuff to me all the time and it is completely lost on me BECAUSE I DO NOT HAVE A NORMAL PERSON TELLYVISION.

So I lie, maybe some marbles are lost already.

Anyway, while I was huffing and puffing with Mr P over centre speakers and threatening to put our house on the market and buy a new build and a giant TV to put on the wall, I made these fritters.

And, they were actually really good.

So i thought I'd spend some time on the internet not getting the rage at Instagram and Pinterest and the complete lack of TVs in any of the pretty pictures and share the recipe.

(especially the ones where they talk about bribing the kids with TV at the weekend or something and I scroll through three solid years of posts and can't find one anywhere and I'm like 'DID YOU HAVE TO BRIDE THE KIDS TO REMOVE THE JO MALONE CANDLES AND POSIES OF PEONYS FIRST BECAUSE I CANNOT SEE A TV ANYWHERE IN YOUR PICTURE PERFECT WHITE HOUSE, GIRLFRIEND)

I really hope you enjoy it.

Although if you are doing that in front of the tellyvision, it is probably best not to tag me in the post.

OK?

~~~~~

Take some sweet potatoes. 

As always with sweet potato recipes, I weighed these because those things come in all the shapes and sizes.

Unlike TV units.

PLEASE STOP BRAIN.

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Peel them.

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And grate them.

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Put the sweet potato into a bowl with some curry powder.

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Add two eggs. 

I really know you should probably whisk the eggs separately and all, but I just crack them on it there and mix well, because life is short and I am lazy.

Or spending too much time thinking about living room layouts.

Whatever.

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Add a generous pinch of salt.

This tiny little porcelain spoon came with some salt I got in Ibiza and I adore it, but then I found out that the looky looky men in Ibiza sell tiny little spoons to weigh out cocaine without using scales and I really hope that by liking aforementioned salt with tiny little spoon, I am not buying into some international life of crime or anything.

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Mix well.

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Form the mixture into four patties.

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Cover the bottom of a frying pan with oil, and place over a medium heat.

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Fry your patties for 4 minutes on each side, being careful not to flip them over too much.

They fall apart if you do that and it is not pretty so do resist the urge to poke.

Make a salad, or do the dishes or something or argue with your husband about centre speakers.

Or something.

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Drain and serve, with salad and a fried egg.

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Enjoy!

Spiced sweet potato fritters

Serves 2. Cooking time 15 minutes.

  • 600g sweet potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons medium curry powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  1. Grate the potatoes into a bowl.
  2. Mix in the eggs, salt and curry powder.
  3. Shape the mix into four patties.
  4. Use enough oil to cover the base of a frying pan.
  5. Heat the oil over a medium heat.
  6. Fry the patties for 4 minutes each side, turning only once.
  7. Serve.

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Trip of a lifetime; or that time we got the train to China...

Trip of a lifetime; or that time we got the train to China...

This ‘trip of a lifetime’ began on Boxing Day, 2017.

The punctuation of a year that has meant we have been so many things to so many people we simply have not had the time nor the space to just be us.

We finish packing and we tidy the house and we throw the Christmas tree into the back garden so we aren’t greeted by a carpet of pine needles on our return home.

We put on our recently bought outdoor coats, we sling on the backpacks, we check for passports, and printouts and carefully packed currency.

We lock the door, we walk up the Sandown Road, and we wait for the 4a bus. The bus that yes, will take us to Belfast city centre, but ultimately, will take us so much further than that.

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The first stop is Dublin. There are now three bus services to the Fair city, and so full of adrenaline and excitement and absolute exhaustion at having worked another festive season in catering, we actually struggle to pick one, but all of a sudden we are on a bus, drinking beers and marvelling at what is to come.

We spend the night in Blooms hotel, a cheap hotel near the bus stop. Boxing Night in Dublin city centre means most places we normally go are still closed for the holidays, so we find an Indian with gobi manchurian and dahl and Kingfisher beer, not quite knowing what is happening, or what to talk about, or how this even ended up being a thing we are doing.

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The next morning, I unroll my yoga mat on the cold tiles of the bathroom. A bus to the ferry, a cooked breakfast aboard a ship, a dash around a supermarket to pick up something for lunch on the train, and we are suddenly on the most crowded train of the whole journey. 

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I realise that, actually, this IS the holiday.

The holiday does not begin when we reach Paris, or Moscow, or even Mongolia. 

The destination of this particular holiday is in the journey, and this particular journey started with the 4a bus. I think at this exact moment, my shoulders start to extract themselves from the default position of around my ears.

We make it to London, and go to St Pancras station to get on a train I have wanted to get on for pretty much ever; the Eurostar.

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We play Monopoly, and drink coffee, and just a short while later, we are in Paris.

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We check into The Hoxton hotel, a design-led hotel that we have stayed in while in London, whose secret cocktail bar sets the bar for 24 magical hours in this great city; we drink coffee and eat croissants, we walk for miles, we stop for glasses of red wine.

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I have my phone stolen, and we have no time to even register what has happened. Our train to Moscow has arrived, and we have to get on it.

It doesn’t take long for my annoyance to give way to acceptance, and soon Mr P unpacks our picnic supper and I have one of those moments that I’m sure some clever Scandinavian has a word for; one of those moments of just being so completely content with my two-day train journey and my husband fighting me for the last of the truffled brie, and our great adventure, that at that exact moment, nothing else matters at all.

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The train takes two nights to pass through France, and Germany, and Poland and Belarus. We get off at every single stop, marvelling at the countries we are in, and giddy on life. The Russian carriage attendants watch us like hawks, making sure we are back on the train with cups of tea in hand before the train pulls away from each platform.

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The train pulls into a shed in Belarus, so the bogies can be changed to Russian grade. We drink the last of our French wine, hand our passports over to the authorities, and get ready for Russia.

I’m not entirely sure it is possible to be ready for Russia at New Year. It is their major festive celebration, and over our two days in Moscow we see fire-works and street parties and the greatest decorations of all time. After the clock strikes midnight on New Years Eve, we sign our lives away and zip-line down a shopping street. On the way home, we give tobogganing a go, before falling into a bar for a swift half that turns into two that turns into being so hungry when we get back to our hotel we end up eating soup in the lobby at 4am.

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I go to the Bolshoi ballet.

I have wanted to do this for so long that I felt tearful when picking up the tickets. By the time I sat in that box, with one of the world’s greatest ballets in one of the world’s most iconic theatres, I was weeping with joy. 

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Mr P meets me afterwards, and we go to a tap room he has discovered, and we eat nachos, and marvel at this quite extraordinary city.

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Soon, it is time to get on the train to Vladivostok. We are to get off four days into this cross country journey, and those four days pass in a blur of charades with the Russians, reading books, drinking tea and beer and taking station selfies in rapidly declining temperatures.

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At one point, I wonder if I am bored. 

I realise I am anything but.

I am lying on a bed, reading a book, with Russia passing before my very eyes.

It is quite magical.

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Four days later we jump off at Irkutsk, and are met by a tour guide to show us Lake Baikal, the largest freshwater lake in the world. 

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We go dog-sledding, and hike to a pretty spectacular viewpoint, and marvel at just how cold and how beautiful it all is.

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We spend a night in a youth hostel, the shagging teenagers a few bunks up reminding me a little too much of my own, misspent, backpacking youth. The train early the next morning comes as a welcome diversion.

Most of the first day of that journey is spent travelling alongside that beautiful lake. Even I give up on books, so transfixed by the beauty of the landscape, the waitress in the restaurant car offers me vodka to snap me out of it.

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The next day, we are in Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

We check into our hotel, and are upgraded to a suite, so we buy Russian champagne and pretend to live the high life. The next morning we are collected by Bert, who owns a smallholding nearby, and we set off on the ice road, eventually making it to our yurt.

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After dinner, walking back to aforementioned yurt, we have the moment.

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Looking up at those stars.

They were brighter than anything I had ever seen.

There were more of them.

They seemed closer.

It was as entrancing as the Bolshoi ballet, and as exciting as the dog-sledding, and it was just us.

Me and him.

Us.

Marvelling at this Earth.

It was, however, minus 30 degrees, so the moment really only did last for a moment.

We set an alarm for every 2 hours, stoking the fire with wood and nipping outside for one more gawp at that spectacular sky.

The next day we walked and we walked. We found a snazzy hotel and were the only customers the 17 working staff had seen for days, so we sipped wine and ate the complimentary peanuts and got really, really excited about one more night of star gazing.

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The morning after, we hitched a ride to the bus station to get us back to Ulan Bator. We met up with my friend for vegetarian food and stories of the Peace Corps work. We bought her and her boyfriend beers that seemed cheap to us, yet cost as much as their rent. We got upgraded to our suite again.

All of a sudden, it was time to go to China.

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My mind was in overdrive.

I had last been to China fifteen years before, teaching English as a Foreign Language in a city called Nanjing. My mother had come out to visit me and we had spent a couple of extremely happy days exploring Beijing.

How come now I couldn’t remember the details?

How come I had half a memory, yet couldn’t fill in the blanks?

How could I try to bring any memories I did have back?

We went to the Chinese restaurant car and the memories came with the first taste of that rice, cooked in a giant rice cooker. I am quite certain that many Chinese restaurants cook that exact brand of rice in exactly the same way, but that staple flavour of my diet brought it all flooding back.

Then, in Beijing, I realised that it would be impossible to remember; it is a huge, sprawling city that has evolved beyond words. So instead I enjoyed watching the locals perform their aerobic in the temple of heaven, I ate my way round the city on a food tour, I shrieked with glee as we descended from the Great Wall in a toboggan.

Basically, I made some pretty awesome new memories.

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But despite new security checks, and seemingly orderly queues, and possessions in wheels suitcases instead of checked tarpaulin bags, the chaos of Chinese train stations will never change, and I feel like Mr P gained a whole new respect for his wife when he realised that I had negotiated these stations every weekend for a whole year of my life, that I used used my basic Mandarin and naive charm that only comes with being out in the big bad world for the first time at 18 years old, and so 33 year old me used even more basic Mandarin and slightly less naive charm and got us onto the overnight train to Nanjing.

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Nanjing.

The scene of that year.

It was an era where personal technology was so non existent that I was able to check email once a week and had to use the business suite of a fancy hotel to print something.

33 year old me could afford to stay in that hotel.

And, again, it was one of those moments.

I stroked the fluffy bath robe and marvelled at the view and could not believe that I had managed to make this exact moment happen.

Except I need to talk about that view.

15 years ago the height of shopping sophistication in Nanjing was the display of Gillette razors in the local department store.

That view took in Louis Vuitton, Cartier and Tiffany.

18 year old me couldn’t afford the razors.

33 year old me couldn’t afford what had replaced them.

Some things truly never change.

I took Mr P to see the school, and when they were trying to find somebody who could speak English, they actually managed to locate my boss from back in the day, and she gave us free reign to wander.

I was able to show Mr P the places that did exist; the canteens, the classrooms, the tower block with my accommodation.

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As day turned to night, I was able to show him the places that never really existed; the places where the Ballymena bullies no longer mattered, the places where I realised I was actually quite a good teacher, the places where I tasted spicy mixed with sweet, and salty mixed with sour, the places where I felt almost delirious with happiness, way back then.

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Finally, we jumped on a high speed train to Shanghai. Once again, we scored an upgrade, and we were in a pretty amazing location.

Once I had checked out the youth hostel that I had once stayed in, which is now a luxury hotel, I was keen to let Mr P experience a China I had never seen, so we walked and walked and walked, we drank cocktails, and we met up with some of his work buddies.

We LOLed at the Bund tunnel.

We ate soup dumplings, and did some shopping, and jumped on a ferry.

We realised that over all those miles, all those journeys, all those beers, we had found the time and space we needed to just be us.

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And for that reason, beyond any other, it truly was the trip of a lifetime.

I really hope we get a few more.

 

 

Baked beetroot burgers

Baked beetroot burgers

I was sitting on my sofa, when I got the call.

I was drinking coffee, when I got the call.

I was wearing my new denim pinafore, when I got the call.

I was hoping business would pick up after Storm Ophelia, when I got the call.

I was trying to motivate myself to make these burgers, because they are the greatest veggie burgers I have ever tasted and I was so excited to share, and then I got the call.

The call to say that one of my parents was in hospital.

The call that took the clarity of the moments before and shook it up beyond recognition, where I might have been wearing that dress and drinking that coffee and sitting on that sofa but where that clarity became a massive blur.

I waited for Mr P to come home from work, and we ate toast for dinner, and we drove to the hospital, stricken with fear.

I sat in that room, surrounded by the people I love most in the world, and still everything was a blur.

The next day I went back to the hospital, and I listened to the consultants, and I clutched the information leaflet, and I focused on the complete absence of any truly terrifying words, and yet everything was still a blur.

The next day my brother and sister came home, and we drove to the hospital, and we listened some more to the consultant, and we heard about the incredibly positive outlook for treatment.

But for me, everything was still a blur.

The week passed, in some ways in tiny increments, jumping at every text message and every phone call. It was marked by times, and hospital visits, and calling the rest of the family to let them know what was going on.

But mostly last week passed in a blur.

A blur of phone calls, and hospital rooms, and driving to Antrim.

A blur of tears, and hugs, and coffee from paper cups.

A blur of family, and friends, and sleepless nights.

A blur.

There are two details that I can remember. The first is that consultant, handing over his booklets, and reassuring us all just how treatable this all is.

The second is every single person telling me to look after myself.

And I can’t change what is happening in those hospital rooms, so I am trying my very hardest to look after myself by appreciating what joy there is in my everyday.

That moment when I get a message from my tribe from awesome friends.

That paper cup full of slightly too much coffee, and even better if they have some of that delicious flakemeal shortbread to go alongside.

That long dog walk that I am forcing myself to go on every morning, because by the time I have climbed Redburn, the blur has cleared once more.

Those dinners with Mr P, from that toast of night one to these burgers, which are knock-your-socks-off good.

They haven’t fixed anything.

They haven’t cured anything.

But they have provided me with a meal to smile about, and I really hope they do the same for you; a moment of joy in the everyday.

Because focussing on these moments really does lift that blur.

I promise.

~~~

Grab a couple of beetroot.

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Peel and quarter them.

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The kitchen will look like there has been a massacre, but what price delicious burgers?

Cut half a pack of halloumi into chunks.

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Grab an apple.

This is my very own apple from my very own tree in my actual garden and it blows my tiny mind that this can grow there, so if you are picking your very own apple, just allow a couple of minutes to appreciate nature.

Or something.

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Remove the core and cut the apple into chunks.

Marvel once more that it looks like there has been a massacre in the kitchen.

Unless you are the type to wash your chopping board and knife between cutting jobs and if you are, I need you in the Little Pink Kitchen as some kind of super assistant for a while before passing you on to some kind of laboratory for testing of your efficiency to see if some kind of robot can be created based on this trait.

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Fire the beetroot, apple and cheese into a food processor and blitz well.

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Transfer the mix to a bowl, and add in a couple of teaspoons of cajun seasoning…

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An egg…

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And some flour.

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Mix well.

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Grease a baking tray.

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And divide your beetroot mixture into four, shaping into patties.

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Bake the patties for 20 minutes, turning halfway.

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Serve in buns, with avocado and some kind of chilli mayonnaise.

Because mayonnaise is life.

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Enjoy!

Baked beetroot and apple burgers

Serves 4. Cooking time 30 minutes.

  • 2 beetroot
  • 1 eating apple
  • 125g halloumi cheese
  • 2 teaspoons cajun seasoning
  • 100g plain flour
  • 1 egg
  • 2 tablespoons light olive oil
  1. Peel and quarter the beetroot.
  2. Core the apple and cut into chunks.
  3. Cut the halloumi cheese into large chunks.
  4. Blitz the beetroot, apple and cheese in a food processor.
  5. Tip the beetroot mix into a bowl, and add the egg, flour and cajun seasoning.
  6. Mix well.
  7. Divide the mixture into four and shape into patties.
  8. Grease a baking tray with the oil and place the burgers on top.
  9. Bake the burgers for 20 minutes, flipping over halfway through cooking.
  10. Serve.

Balsamic roasted potatoes

Balsamic roasted potatoes

The last two weeks have been really weird.

Like, even weirder than usual, if you are me.

Two weeks ago I had one of those weeks where nothing terrible happens but the whole week feels like wading through treacle.

And I spent a teeny tiny bit too much time on social media comparing myself to the rest of the world and their shiny, swishy perfection and their white houses and toned abdominal areas and smoothie bowls.

And felt even worse.

But then last week, I went for a spray tan (I am currently in Portugal on a hen and thought the tan might disguise the lack of aforementioned abdominal muscles).

And well, I follow the rules.

I wore a slightly scuzzy maxi dress to avoid marking my good clothes.

And on the way home I did not wear my bra because it was lacy and push up and likely to wash all of the tan off my boobs and well my boobs are one of my better features and I want those looking tiptop at all times so I did not want patches of worn off fake tan.

Except on the way home I remembered I had to give a talk in a school.

And therefore had to do that in a slightly scuzzy maxi dress, with no bra on, and with my coat zipped up to the neck.

I managed to pass myself with the pupils and the teachers and my own sanity, but then when I got home my elderly neighbours insisted on taking me to Hillmount Garden Centre for a coffee.

In my scuzzy maxi dress.

Still no bra on.

And I shared this whole fandango on my Instagram stories and I literally have never had such a good response to any of the rubbish I spout on there.

I was doing a cookery demonstration at a show on Saturday and two complete strangers pulled up the sleeves of my jumper to inspect and see if the tan was worth it.

Apparently it was.

Phew.

And I came to realise that real life is OK and being a slightly ridiculous person is OK and sometimes carrying your bra around in your handbag might not be OK, but you can totally style it out and who even needs or wants to be shiny and swishy and perfect?

So I thought I would share a potato recipe with you.

Because these potatoes are a perfectly normal side, but with a Mrs P twist, and every time I post them on Instagram, everybody goes insane for them.

I really hope you enjoy them as much as I do.

~~~

Take some baby potatoes.

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Cut in half.

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Place in a pan of boiling water.

It will stop boiling as soon as you put the spuds on but if you apply heat it will start boiling again as if by magic and sorcery.

Or physics.

Whatever.

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After 10 minutes, drain the potatoes into a colander.

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Throw them onto a baking tray.

Then fire on some olive oil…

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Balsamic vinegar…

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And salt…

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Toss well, then bake for 30 minutes.

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Remove from the oven, and serve.

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Balsamic roasted potatoes.

Serves 2. Cooking time 45 minutes.

  • 150g baby potatoes
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • Pinch salt
  1. Half the potatoes and place in a pan of boiling water.
  2. Boil the potatoes for 10 minutes.
  3. Preheat the oven to 180 degrees.
  4. Drain the potatoes and place in a baking tray.
  5. Add the oil, vinegar and salt, stirring well.
  6. Roast for 30 minutes.
  7. Serve.

 

Creamy garlic mushroom pasta

Creamy garlic mushroom pasta

I fell down a bit of an internet black hole the other day.

You know the type.

A quick scroll through Facebook while you drink and coffee, and the next thing is its two hours later and you are doing a quiz to find out what type of cheese you are and listening to your time capsule on Spotify and wondering about your life choices.

Anyway I ended up watching some video where they fed Italian Nonnas American-Italian food and literally could not stop thinking about Italian food and pasta for three solid days and sort of begrudged having to eat meals with my friends and family because all I wanted was my scrubbed dining table with a bunch of flowers and a pasta dish that had about four ingredients in it and a carafe of water and a big green salad and a linen napkin and I would savour every bite and it would be magnificent.

Today, at lunchtime, I managed to unlock that fantasy and the result was such a tasty lunch that I just had to share.

I hope you guys enjoy it as much as I did.

~~~

Put a pot of water on to boil.

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Anna Del Conte says it should be as salty as the mediterranean, and Ms Del Conte isn’t somebody I’d like to trifle with, so salt the water well.

Add some pasta.

I am a nerd and weigh my pasta because otherwise I end up with either two forkfuls or enough to half the neighbourhood.

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If you are using spaghetti, you need to do that poky thing so all the pasta is in the water.

For the uninitiated, that poky thing is merely posting your pasta with a wooden spoon until i is all below the waterline.

The pasta you see below needs a bit more poking action.

Cooking fundamentals with Mrs P.

You can thank me later.

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While the pasta is cooking, heat some oil over a medium-low heat…

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And slice some mushrooms.

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Add the mushrooms to the oil, and grate in a peeled clove of galric.

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Stir well.

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Cook that for 5 minutes.

Then stir in a couple of spoons of creme fraiche.

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Add a generous pinch of salt and a load of pepper.

I don’t have any Anna Del Conte quotes about pepper, but just be generous with the pepper, mmkay?

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Let that simmer for a minute or two, then drain the pasta…

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Mix in the mushrooms…

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And serve with a generous grating of hard Italian cheese.

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Scrubbed table, carafe of water, linen napkin and green salad totally optional.

But I promise it makes the food taste even better.

Enjoy!

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Creamy garlic mushroom pasta

Serve 1. Cooking time 15 minutes.

  • 75g spaghetti
  • 5 mushrooms
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 2 tablespoons creme fraiche
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper 
  • Salt to taste
  • Italian hard cheese, to serve
  1. Bring a pot of water to the boil and salt well.
  2. Add the pasta and cook according to packet instructions.
  3. Heat the olive oil over a low heat.
  4. Slice the mushrooms and add to the oil, stirring well.
  5. Peel and grate the garlic, adding to the mushrooms.
  6. Cook the mushrooms for 5 minutes.
  7. Stir in the creme fraiche, pepper and season well with salt.
  8. Simmer for 1-2 minutes, until the sauce is warmed through.
  9. Drain the pasta and mix with the mushroom sauce.
  10. Serve, with cheese to grate on top.

Honey chilli paneer

Honey chilli paneer

At the minute I am planning a return to China.

A return because I spent half of a very happy year teaching English as a foreign language in Nanjing Number One Middle School back when I was 18.

Which is fifteen years ago.

I’m not going to lie, I’m feeling pretty old right now.

I keep having snatched memories of the streets I walked and the street food carts I squatted at (I really wanted to say restaurants I ate in, but I was earning twenty quid a week and had to feed myself. Any restaurants I ate in were on the yuan of the bank managers I taught English to as a supplement to my paltry income).

I remember train journeys that lasted for ever (36 hours without a seat in -18 will leave you delirious with cold, it turns out), I remember visiting friends in other cities, I remember being the first white person most people I met ever seeing, and them being eager to touch my pointy nose, stroke my arm hair and marvel at my ability to use chopsticks.

But that was FIFTEEN YEARS AGO.

And there is so much I only half remember, really.

Was the hot bubble tea stand on the first or second corner before the Confucius temple?

What street was it where the English bookshop was?

Where was that river that the geography teacher who fancied me took me to? And more importantly, that hotpot restaurant he took me to afterwards, where we decided that neither my Mandarin nor his English were good enough to allow anything to happen ever? That hole in the wall cafe where the locals marvelled at the laowai and force fed us baiju we all ended up singing F4 songs and laughing about the whole thing until we cried?

I was trying to remember the youth hostel I stayed in in Shanghai and I was all like ‘IT HAD A VIEW OF THE BUND AND I GOT MY BELLY BUTTON PIERCED THE NEXT STREET DOWN AND HAD THE GREATEST BOAZI OF MY LIFE’ and I just couldn’t find it.

And then I managed to waste several hours online to and remembered it had been a converted military hospital, before finding out it was not loving its reputation as a backpacker’s hangout and is now a hotel than sort wants to be snazzy, but hasn't quite made the cut.

Fifteen years.

And because it has been 15 years, I am not claiming this dish has any kind of authenticity. The harshest of critics would probably call it ‘confusion’ cooking, this mash-up of Indian cheese with Chinese-inspired sauce.

But because it has been 15 years, I don’t care.

It has those Chinese principles I learnt all those years ago, of yin and yang, of balancing the spice with sweet, the crunch with sauce.

And it tastes, really, really good.

I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

~~~

Grab a block of paneer.

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Cut it into slices.

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Then cut those slices in half again, to sort of square them off.

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Sprinkle the paneer with cornflour.

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Heat some oil in a pan. 

I am lazy and hate using two different pans, so I used a little pan that would fit my sauce so I had to do the paneer in batches so I probably actually created more work than if I’d just used two pans and had to wash them both but those are my life choices and I guess I’m just going to have to live with them.

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Fry the paneer in the oil…

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Until nice and brown and crispy, then drain onto some kitchen paper.

Keep the leftover cornflour for later.

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Finely chop some garlic…

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And some ginger.

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Tip the oil out of the pan, and add a tablespoon of sesame oil.

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Add the garlic and ginger, stirring well.

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Add a heaped tablespoon of this stuff.

Those overhead videos you watch on Facebook but never actually cook will tell you to use sriracha.

Listen, I like sriracha as much as the next guy, but this stuff is the actual business, and possibly more addictive than crack cocaine.

You can also get it in the supermarket, or one called ‘chow chow chilli oil’, which is pretty amazeballs also.

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Add some soy.

It doesn’t have to come from catering-sized vessels.

I promise.

Add some black vinegar if you have been to an Asian supermarket recently, balsamic if you haven’t.

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Throw in some honey.

A breakfast club guest brought this for me that she got from her own actual bees? How cool is that?

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Add some Chinese cooking wine, and bring to a simmer.

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Then take some of your leftover cornflour, and mix with water…

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Before adding to the sauce and simmering for a minute.

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Tip the paneer into your sauce…

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Then stir well.

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Chop a couple of spring onions…

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Then sprinkle over the top.

Enjoy!

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Honey chilli paneer

Serves 2. Cooking time 15 minutes.

  • 226g pack paneer
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1cm piece ginger
  • 2 tablespoons cornflour
  • 2 tablespoons light soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons Chinese rice cooking wine
  • 1 tablespoon runny honey
  • 1 tablespoon chilli oil
  • 2 tablespoons black vinegar or balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sesame oil
  • Vegetable oil, for frying
  1. Cut the paneer into slices, then these slices in half.
  2. Sprinkle the paneer with the cornflour.
  3. Fill a frying pan with vegetable oil, until it is 1cm up the side.
  4. Heat the oil over a medium heat.
  5. Add the paneer in batches, frying until brown and crispy, reserving the cornflour.
  6. Drain the paneer onto kitchen paper.
  7. Peel and finely chop the ginger and garlic.
  8. Add the sesame oil to the pan and place over a medium heat.
  9. Add the ginger and garlic to the pan, stirring well.
  10. Add the chilli oil, honey, soy and cooking wine to the pan and bring to the boil.
  11. Mix two teaspoons of the leftover cornflour with 50ml of water and add to the pan, simmering for 1 minute.
  12. Add the paneer strips and mix.
  13. Chop the spring onions and sprinkle over the finished dish.
  14. Enjoy.