Self-care

I have started this post so many times in my head, and it is not clear why exactly I find it difficult to sit down and write, given that this is all I want to do. Now that I have finally settled down to write, I don’t know what to write about.

I have been out and about lately; the days of working entirely from home seem to be over, and though at first I resisted this and was so aggrieved, I have to admit that my room had become an isolating prison which I needed to escape from. I spent three days last week in the office, and it was nice to be around other people. The introvert in me is shaken.

When I first thought about writing this post, it was because I was in a much better mood than I had been and was practicing self care (aka eating like a rabbit). I therefore wanted to write about the little acts of self-care that had made me happy.

I came across a BuzzFeed India video on YouTube and then went down a rabbit hole of their videos which largely centre around Indian food. Needless to say, I developed a severe craving for Indian food, particularly Parotta- a supposedly delicious South Indian bread. It looked so good (and stressful to make!) in the videos that I had to have it. I spent the weekend surfing through the food delivery apps searching for Parotta. I eventually found one place and placed an order. Of course I couldn’t just order the Parotta on its own, so I added some lamb biryani and butter chicken- which were also on my cravings list thanks to Buzzfeed India. Well I was on my way to pick up my order (I ain’t paying no delivery fees) when I received a call from the restaurant with the devastating news that they were out of Parotta and would I like some naan instead? Ugh. The only reason I made the order was because I wanted the parotta, now I was stuck with the rest of the order. I went to the supermarket and saw “Paranthas” which are the North Indian version of Parottas. Listen, I only found out about the South India/North India divide (?) a couple of years ago when an Indian colleague mentioned that she was staying with a South Indian family. India is a big country with a billion people so it should not be surprising that there is a vast level of diversity, but it was still interesting to learn about just how diverse India is, especially when it came to food. We are used to saying “Indian food” “Chinese food” without any thought that these popular food items are not representative of the whole country. Anyway I bought the paranthas and went back to pick up my order. There the man told me that I had to call 24 hours in advance if I wanted parotta. I am not surprised because it took an age on YouTube (it has to rest for 8 hours at some point). I went home and tried some of the biryani and found it to be so dry; I tried the butter chicken and did not like it at all. I chided myself for getting carried away by YouTube and now being stuck with food that I did not want. The naan was delicious though. The next day however, I decided to use some of the sauce and yoghurt that came with the rice, and eh voila that made all the difference. For the butter chicken I watched another buzzfeed India video, one of the girls ate a butter chicken wrap, which was the first time it occurred to me that it did not have to be eaten with rice. Just like that the order was saved. I enjoyed the rest of the biryani with the sauce and enjoyed the butter chicken with the parantha. That made me happy.

What else did I do that made me happy? Oh yeah, I went to see a play. I had to go into London for the first in person work training in over two years. I was not going to waste a trip into London so I also made arrangements to see a play and when I checked and saw that the National Gallery was just minutes away from the theatre I added that to my plans as well. The training was dull, but there were nice snacks and lunch was good (never thought I would enjoy tuna but the tuna croquette was excellent) so I was happy. The training ended early so I had time to explore- I spent some time at the National Gallery until it closed and then walked around taking in the sights and looking for somewhere to eat before the play. I settled on Chipotle because I like burritos and was running out of time to eat so just did not need any fuss. The burrito was alright, but the play? It was excellent. Muy bonito. I chose to see Dear Evan Hansen and will maybe do a separate post on it. All in all, I was happy. Happy that I chose to do something fun on a weekday. Happy that the play was so good and worthwhile. Happy that I got out of my room. I also really liked my hair and outfit that day so I was feeling myself all around.

This was maybe two weeks ago now. I should have written the post when the feelings were still fresh so as to capture the feelings. My spirits are still relatively high, but the familiar anxiety and irritation is creeping in. But that’s for another post.

Baby’s day out in London

For someone who only has three friends, I have actually been quite social lately (by my standards anyway). I spent the whole of January and February in my room, only leaving to replenish my groceries and toiletries. In the last week of February, I finally ventured out of my house and off to London I went. I had booked myself a ticket to finally see Cirque du Soleil. I had the chance to go years ago when I was in university, but I couldn’t find someone to go with me (actually, I don’t think I asked anyone) and I didn’t feel like going by myself. I regretted it afterwards. When I saw that Cirque du Soleil was back in town, I decided to go see it, come rain or shine. None of my friends were interested so I booked a ticket to go by myself. This was booked back in 2021, so I was just waiting patiently.

A friend of mine had a birthday in early February and I did not get to spend the day with her, so our mutual friend (and some of her other friends) decided to do a surprise dinner outing. Luckily, it was on the same day as the circus show so I only had to make one trip into London. My show was at 3:30pm, and I was hoping for dinner at 6/7pm so I could be safely back home before it was too late. Alas that was not to be. First we had to decide on the restaurant, and this took a while because we needed a pretty place that was also available to book. Covid restrictions have been removed and everyone is outside! We decided on a restaurant and the friend booked it for 9pm. NINE O CLOCK IN THE NIGHT TIME! Oh my Lord. I saw the message and just put the phone away; a case of see no evil. I attempted to salvage things by booking a Japanese BBQ place for 7pm but it was decided to stick with the original booking. The restaurant was selected because it was “pretty” which is really the primary criteria in booking a restaurant for a birthday dinner. I searched for reviews online and saw a few comments about how the food does not match the decor. I collated these comments to send to my friend to let them know that all that glitters is not gold and to sway them away from this place, but in the end I decided to just go with the flow. You have spent the whole year so far alone in your room, go out and spend the whole day outside. So I smiled and said see you there! and prayed not to miss the last train back home. One thing about me? I will go back home.

The day arrived and I had a mixture of excitement and the familiar nervousness I always feel when I have to leave the comfort of my prison room. I made it to the show in good time and was pleased to find that I had a really good seat. As always I was so happy to be out and about in London, and I took as many pictures as I could.

Before the show started, I thought of a play on words: Cirque du So’lame! and hoped that would not be case. The thing about having expectations is that they are often not met. The show was alright; there were times when I wondered why I wasted my money, and there were jaw dropping moments when I literally clutched my non-existent pearls. I got the impression that this show was much more tame than other cirque shows, and I was a little thankful for that. The performers put themselves through so much and I have seen enough headlines about unfortunate accidents and deaths at shows like this and I was a bit nervous for them. It was interesting to me to see that the performers were also nervous. It never occurred to me that they would have nerves, I just assumed they do this all the time so they are basically superhuman. Watching them take a deep breath before flying through the air was actually endearing. The contortionist was really good (and surreal!), and the best part for me was the one when they flew in the air from one moving ledge to the other. There was juggling and some other alright stuff; there was a whole scenario featuring the clown with a whistle that went on for quite a while. I did not get it. At all. The audience seemed to get it though, judging from the laughter. Maybe it’s because he had his back to my section but it was a waste of my time. All in all, it was alright and I’m glad I’ve finally seen the show.

The show was over at 5:30 ish and I had a lot of time to kill. Thankfully, the line for the toilet was long and that easily killed a good amount of time (sort this out Royal Albert Hall!). As I had a fair bit of time, I took my time and moved in a leisurely manner. I stopped in a few places, including Waterstones, and then made my way to Oxford Street where I could easily waste a few hours. Whenever I go to Oxford Street, I need to have a crepe or bubble waffle. The last time I was there I had a bubble waffle and ever since, crepes (my erstwhile favourites) are no longer suitable. Oxford street is huge and confusing, I felt lucky to be able to find a crepe place and I did not want to lose it while searching for the bubble waffle place so I settled for a crepe. I should not have. It did not taste good. Still, that held me until the late night dinner.

I painted my nails on the bus. Not sure why I even bothered.

I did a fair bit of window shopping by myself, and then walked over to the restaurant at 8:45pm to meet our mutual friend who had arrived early. The restaurant is tucked in and I kept missing it.

The sign is so tiny. I expected a huge sign to match the fuss.

On getting there, we discovered that the reservation was actually for 9:30pm! I sighed deeply, and we went off to do more window shopping. Time flies, and we were soon all gathered together to celebrate our friend, who got emotional at some point.

The food was alright. The food I ordered was not photogenic, although that could be because of the poor lighting and poor camera quality.

The atmosphere was nice enough, but it did not make up for the fact that we were eating so late. I feel that it would have been better at the Japanese BBQ place, as we would have been more relaxed and spent more time together. I had to get the last train at 11:40pm, so I literally ran out of there and all the way to the tube station to get to the train station. I was a mess. I spent more time recovering from the run than I spent running. It turns out one of the guests had her last train cancelled due to someone jumping in front of the train, and so she had to pay for a taxi home. Yikes.

Still, my friend was happy , and so was I. It was nice to leave my house and interact with others.

Even in my haste, I managed to get some birthday cake which was baked my our mutual friend. I had this for breakfast in bed the next day.

It felt good to leave the house, and the next week I was out of the house again for a fun weekend in Birmingham. I’m a real Popular Polly these days. Yay.

Pancake day

I am hungry AF at the moment but not in the mood to cook anything. I am tired from work and still have a lot to do so I decided to write this post.

As part of my choosing happiness and doing whatever it takes to make me happy extravaganza, I decided to partake in Pancake Day. I was also going to give up social media for Lent, but that’s neither here nor there. Unlike the past couple of years, I will not be fooling myself into giving anything up for Lent as it usually ends in failure (though I did actually manage to give up Instagram last year for Lent). Back to the story.

Pancake Day was looming: I was in a bit of a funk, as I often am these days, and was debating possibly making pancakes. I didn’t have any of the required ingredients at home and I was not looking to leave the house. As luck would have it, I had to return a dress I bought and the retailer offered to pick it up and sent over a postage stamp for me to print out. I don’t have a printer so that was annoying, but I quickly got over it and decided to wake up early the next day (the day of the supposed pick-up), and go into the office to print it out. That also covered my exercise requirements so it was a win win. On my way back I did what I always do and stopped by all the shops. Of course all the shops were celebrating Pancake Day and had the catchy displays and advertisements. I had the option of ready made pancakes and pancake mix and after a little delusion about trying to get plant based sugar free pancakes, I bought a pancake shaker mix and moved on. I didn’t have high hopes as I had used a shaker mix twice before and the pancakes were mushy rather than fluffy as I liked. Still, if at first (and second) you don’t succeed, try again. So I did.

On the plus side, I now knew that this pancake mix was more of a crepe consistency rather than a fluffy American type so there would be no disappointment. The first pancake turned out mushy as usual and I rolled it up into a ball and ate it like that- I really just love dough. I was ready to roll my eyes again but the second one turned out well, and the third, fourth and so on. I was quite pleased. At the last minute I decided to make some eggs to go with the pancakes, threw in some blueberries and even considered adding “ice-cream”. Ice cream is in quotes as it is vegan ice-cream which I usually like, and this one has three of my favourite things: cinnamon, toffee, and hazelnut so I expected this to be the most delicious thing ever. However, I only took two spoonfuls before I gave the tub away. It did not taste like ice-cream at all. I realise now that it is made with almond milk, whereas the vegan ones I’ve had have been soy based.

Some pictures:

There’s really no point to this post: Pancake day was two weeks ago on the 1st of March; and I did not really do anything special. However, it was a little act that made me happy that day, and I am for little acts of happiness these days. I have also been pushing myself to write more, so finishing this little post feels good too.

Cinny cin cin.

Well darlings I must have peaked.

Why you ask?

I woke up one Sunday morning and made some cinnamon rolls.

There are few things I love and crave more than cinnamon rolls/swirls/bites you name it. I love them so much I even remember the first time I had them: I spotted them at the checkout counter at Ikea and they were cheap enough for me to just toss them in the basket. I have craved them ever since; sometimes walking thirty minutes to the nearest store that sells the same brand I found at Ikea. Otherwise I satiate my desire with local brand treats.

However it never occurred to me to make my own, not at the start of my sudden interest in baking or even while looking for a new baking challenge. Then one day YouTube recommended this cinnamon rolls recipe and I watched it out of curiosity. To my utter delight I found that as with most recipes, it seemed simple enough. I made up my mind to skip my usual weekly banana bread and attempt the rolls instead.

The first challenge was getting the sugar. Weird right? I just popped over to the store expecting to pick up some brown sugar and get to baking. I got to the store and there were a thousand different types of sugar and a hundred different types of brown sugar. Did I need Demerara or cane sugar? Light brown or dark brown? I stood there in the aisle rapidly searching google for the answer. Eventually I gave up and went home to do my proper research. A week later after visiting three stores and buying brown sugar cubes, I finally got the right kind of sugar (I bought light and dark brown just in case).

The rule with brown sugar is to always use light brown unless the recipe specifies dark brown. Oh and demerara sugar is for coffee.

As I always do, I woke up early on Sunday morning and got to work.  First off, I love yeast. I am so amazed by the things it does. The dough was so sexy and I am proud of my kneading skills. I was a bit worried because the recipe called for the dough to be wet (in order to get fluffy rolls) and I don’t like sticky dough. The recipe also used a mixer and I was a little worried my brittle wrists were not up to the task but it turned out beautiful.

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Grease the bowl a bit. Not sure why but all the recipes suggest this. The dough looks better I guess

I left it for about two hours to rise.

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After the punchdown

Roll it out into a “rectangular shape”. This was as close to a rectangle as I could get it.

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Spread with butter and the cinnamon sugar mix. I find it truly amazing that these cinnamon rolls only require one tablespoon of cinnamon. I foolishly expected cinnamon to be the chief ingredient.

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Tempted to just make a cinnamon pizza

Roll it all up!

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Yum yum

Cut it up as you want. The recipe used a string to get perfect shape but ain’t nobody got time for that.

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A work of art

This requires double proofing which is a pain as I have to wait longer for my babies..

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…but on the bright side this means even bigger cinnamon rolls!

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After thirty minutes of additional proofing. I love yeast

After 20 minutes in the oven.

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I took a ton of pictures but none of them could truly capture the beauty of MY cinnamon rolls. wp-15910404997783351433454276592498.jpg

I was a bit reluctant to do a cream glaze as I typically hate the dried glaze in store bought cinnamon rolls but I decided to go ahead and follow the recipe to the letter and I don’t regret it. Philadelphia soft cheese plus sugar plus vanilla equals yummy goodness. I did not have a pipette so I just brushed the glaze over the rolls.

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My friend made a naughty joke about this and now I cannot unsee it.

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Amore mio.

The rolls are every bit as fluffy as the recipe promises; they are so fluffy and delicious that I’m considering using the recipe to make bread. It should work right? The glaze is utterly delicious and the biggest challenge now is trying to make the rolls last the week when all I want to do is to devour them in one bite.

If at the start of the year someone had said that I would be making my own cinnamon rolls, I would have laughed and rolled my eyes. However this lockdown has brought about strange, miraculous changes, a rebirth almost. I don’t see how I can top these cinnamon rolls though. It’s back to banana bread for me next week.

Adios!

Puff puff

I had some yeast and some flour, so I decided to tackle an old nemesis-Puff Puff. How do I describe puff puff? It is deep fried dough, basically the Nigerian version of a doughnut. Different cultures have their own version of it; from New Orleans beignets to Emirati luqaimat. It is a childhood favourite and I have fond memories of eating big fat juicy oily puff puffs. Naturally as I became an adult and moved away from home, I tried to make my own, and naturally I failed.

The first attempt was a few years ago and at the time I assumed the problem was that I had never worked with yeast which made the whole issue of rising was a hurdle to overcome. Instead of big fat juicy puff puffs, I ended with hollow burnt nonsense which put me off of trying. Following my recent success with bread, I was encouraged to give puff puff a second try. I found a recipe online and it seemed so unbelievably simple (even simpler than I remembered) that I was feeling pretty confident.

I woke up early and headed to my new favourite place- the kitchen (well second favourite after my room). I mixed together the flour, sugar, yeast, nutmeg, salt and warm water, taking care not to make it too runny or too doughy.

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I then covered the bowl with kitchen foil and an old tshirt and set to rise in a pre-heated oven which had been left to cool.

All this took 10 minutes max which made me suspicious, was it really this easy? While the batter was rising I had nothing else to do so I decided to make some bread. Yes I am now a woman who casually decides on a whim to bake some bread. The ingredients for the puff puff batter and bread dough are almost the same; the main difference is just the consistency. So I followed the bread recipe I used before and left the dough to rise.

By this time the puff puff batter had been rising for about 45 minutes, as suggested in the recipe. As always when I peeked I could not tell if the batter had risen or not, so I had to refer to my pictures. Of course it had risen given all the bubbles but I left it a bit longer, a little over an hour in total.

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So far so good, I thought. Surely things must go wrong now. I suspected that the trickiest bit was going to be the frying. In past attempts I had not used enough oil as I am quite miserly with my oil, and it quickly dawned on me that it was the oil not the yeast that was the main problem. I got a big pot, poured as much oil as possible and then let it heat up. I did not have an ice cream scoop or any similar instruments needed to get the round shape so I used a spoon.  I tried to do everything right and still ended up with this:

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Burnt offering. Painful flashbacks.

Not only was it burnt, even worse was the fat that it was not fat and juicy at all! It was hollow which was my biggest fear starting out. Once again I rang everyone who could help (well my mum and friend) who then advised that I needed a lot of oil at a medium temperature. I transferred the oil into a smaller pot to make it easier to deep fry and resorted to using my hand to make smaller balls.

That was the secret to success! The resulting product was much better, it was not fat and juicy as I wanted but it was not burnt and it tasted good.

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Look how pretty!

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In summary for puff puff you must remember the following: 1) A lot of oil is needed for deep frying 2) The oil has to be at medium temperature 3) Find a way to make the round shape. Usually hand is best.

By this time the bread dough had risen to an acceptable degree and I had preheated the oven at 150 rather than 175 and started to bake the bread. At this lower temperature, I baked it for almost 40 minutes checking on it regularly.

 

This turned out even better than the previous attempt. The greatest baking trick that I have learned in my baking career of one month is brushing freshly baked bread with melted butter. It instantly transforms the appearance from drab to fab. Melted butter is real life photoshop, who knew? I mean look at this.

 

So ends the tale of the bank holiday morning when I woke up to make puff puff and bake bread, just because. I am that woman now and I am all the happier for it, Here are more pictures.

 

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Till next time!

 

 

You never forget your first time…

…of baking bread that is.

 It was a nice Saturday morning and I had absolutely zero intentions of leaving my house. I was going to laze about in bed all day, only getting up to get more snacks. Then my friend sent me a link for a bread recipe and I was hooked. The bread looked so luscious and the recipe looked simple enough. That was enough to get me out of bed at 10am on a Saturday to go searching for yeast. I went to three stores and eventually found some fast action yeast in the store closest to me. 

The recipe also called for some “bread flour” which of course I assumed which was a fancy way of saying regular all purpose flour which you intend to use to make bread (ugh my mind!). But no, there is actually such a thing as bread flour, strong bread flour in fact which is what I picked up. It is amazing to think that a month ago, I had no flour and had never baked anything, and now I have plain flour, self raising flour and strong bread flour; I have baking powder, baking soda and yeast! By the end of the year I will be on Great British Bake-off.

Back to the bread!

Of course once I purchased the ingredients I was much too exhausted dah-ling to do anything else so I left it till the next day. On Sunday morning, I got up bright and early and got to work.

Listen baking is so easy- just follow the recipe; but it is also so hard if you are a complete novice who has not built up the requisite baking IQ. First off, it occurred to me that the recipe called for active dry yeast and the pack of yeast I had said it was Fast Action yeast. So I asked google who confirmed that they are indeed different types of yeast. The basic difference is this: active dry yeast needs to be activated (which is why the recipe mixed it with sugar and water first) while fast action/instant yeast can be added directly to the dry ingredients. Whoopee. 

The recipe called for the following: *3/4 cup water + 2 tbs *2 teaspoons Active dry yeast *300g bread flour *50g sugar *1/2 teaspoon salt *3 tablespoons butter.

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All the ingredients required for my first ever bread!

As it was my first time, I decided to start small so I halved the measurements. This was no easy feat seeing as I only have a measuring cup so again off to google I went to convert cups to grams and grams to cup. I managed to somehow figure it out and I mixed all the dry ingredients together.

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I was so excited at the thought of making my very own bread.

Then I slowly added the water, trying my hardest not to repeat the famous flatbread batter mistake. You can therefore imagine my despair when the dough once again threatened to be more batter than dough. I managed to get it out of the mixing bowl and I put it on the chopping board. The dough was unmanageable and kept sticking to the board which is when it dawned on me that perhaps a chopping board was not the best place to knead dough. I kept adding more bread flour to the mix while a little afraid that I might damage the recipe by getting the proportions out of wack.

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Doesn’t quite look right. I was a teeny emotional at this point.

I had sent my friend (who is a great baker) a couple of messages at this point. It was barely 8am on a Sunday so there was no assurance that she was awake but thankfully she was. We decided to video call so she could guide me through it. It was her to told me to knead on the kitchen counter instead- I share a kitchen with flatmates so this was quite an unappealing idea, but I wiped down with area with anti bacterial surface cleaner and waited for it to dry. Then I floured the surface and my hands before plopping down the dough and it made such a difference. I added some butter to the mix and then proceeded to knead for God knows how long. Time went by quickly as I was on the phone with my friend. Eventually I ended up with a sexy ball of dough.

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Ah! much better. So smooth, so beautiful.

I divided the dough into three as directed in the recipe video and then flattened each one with a rolling pin, before rolling them tightly (You will need to watch the recipe video to understand what I mean).

One of the dough portions was too big for my pan so I cut it in half and had four instead of three. I arranged them carefully and lovingly into the heavily buttered container which I covered with a dark cotton shirt and put in the microwave (not turned on) to rise. 

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Ordinarily I would have set an alarm and gone back to sleep for about an hour. But it was fast action yeast so I thought it might work quicker so I just stayed in the kitchen and watched it like a hawk.  I checked on it about thirty minutes later, and it did not seem to have risen at all to me, until I compared it to the first picture and realised that she had indeed risen. I was quite pleased.

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I left it in for another 30-45 minutes (could have been more really. Time is really an illusion at this point) and I nearly passed out from delight when I checked on it again. and saw that it had indeed risen. 

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She has risen! Hallelujah!

It was now ready to go into the oven. Per the recipe I preheated the oven at 175 degree celsius and put it in for 20 minutes.

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Go with God my child.

Twenty minutes later (after peeking a few times to the chagrin of my friend), I had bread!

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Sure looks like bread.

I was advised to let it bake a little longer so I put it back in the oven for another 10 minutes (the original recipe called for 20-30 minutes so I thought I was good). When I took it out again, it was a bit burnt on top which miffed me a bit but hey I had bread!

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I brushed each section lightly with a copious amount of butter and it dramatically improved its appearance like an instagram filter. 

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See how it shines.

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It actually looks like bread. I cannot believe it.

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You sexy thing!

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It took me hours to make the bread, mainly because I stood there like a dunce and waited for the dough to rise. By the time the bread was ready it was mid afternoon and I was dizzy with hunger. I then proceeded to devour the whole thing in ten minutes. Yes all my hard work was gone in ten minutes and it was worth it.
I am so proud of myself and I cannot wait to see what I’ll do next. Milk bread? Brioche? Chocolate chip banana bread? I have lots of flour and I am excited to use it. So weird that I used to be intimidated by cooking/baking but really it ain’t nothing but a chicken wing.
Toodles.

 

 

 

What is the first thing you are going to do once the lockdown is lifted?

Absolutely nothing.

This may sound sad as heck, but I am honestly having the time of my life being stuck at home. This may not come as a surprise seeing as half of this blog is about me moaning about being an introverted loner and all introverts have been banging on about how they have been self isolating from the womb so this is a piece of cake. But by God I am in total bliss. Not only do I get to stay home all day every day, I no longer have to come up with excuses or explanations as to why I chose to stay home all day every day. There is no pressure for me to do something fun on the weekend or on the public holidays. I don’t have to wake up early to catch the 8am train to work, neither do I have to trudge back home wearily at 7.30pm. My feet have not ached in weeks and my spirits are high.

Best of all, I have been cooking. Before the lockdown anyone remotely acquainted with me would have laughed out loud if you told them I was cooking everyday. Cooking was this exhausting banal task that I did not care for. Fast forward to today when I cook every single day, sometimes multiple times a day. A dear friend remarked: “Who knew it would take thousands of people dying for you to discover your inner chef?
That has been the one surprising revelation- I actually like to cook. I spent all this time thinking I hated cooking meanwhile I was just lazy and unmotivated. All the time and energy saved from not commuting has been channeled into trying out familiar and new recipes. Now I am no longer intimidated by cooking and I just take it step by step; Decide what I want, look up a recipe online, get the required ingredients and follow the steps. Eh voila! When I settle down to eat I am full of pride for this thing that I have created.

I have been off from work these past few days and it has honestly been so delicious. Not only do I not have to leave my room, now I don’t even have to do anything at all. Normally I would have driven myself mad stressing over how to spend this time off and putting undue pressure on myself to make the best of my time off, to really live, but now I can joyously indulge in the nothingness.

The other day I was eating banana bread (which I baked, of course) and watching a movie on my phone and I felt so overcome with happiness that I had to pause the film and just bask in the feeling. I am dreading the day that the lockdown is lifted and I have to return to my dreary routine. Will I have the desire to cook when I am returning home late in the evening? Will I want to do anything but sleep on the weekends?

In many ways this feels like a rebirth, and I am determined to hold on to this. Sure things could be better; I could have more space or at the very least a living room, I would like a kitchen all to myself; and it would be nice to be with family and friends. However things could also be worse; I have a room, I have food, I have entertainment and I have my health. All thanks be to God.

Once the lockdown is lifted I will like to have more brunches/lunches with friends, see more plays, have more sleepovers. Apart from that though, there is no pressing activity that I am longing for. I don’t party, my family is not here, and my friends live far away so I never saw them that frequently anyway. The main thing is for this atmosphere of fear to be removed, and of course for people to stop dying from this virus.

What are you looking forward to doing once things go back to “normal”?

It’s my birthday and I’ll cry if I want to

My birthdays are usually nerve wracking and depressing because I never truly feel celebrated which consequently makes me sad. I don’t care much for attention on most days but on my birthday I want to be feted by my friends and family, to drown in love the whole month day, to wear a beautiful dress and be the belle of the ball. I have this idea of what I want my birthday to be, and also what I think a birthday should be and then I stress myself out and feel sad when I am alone on my birthday.

Three years ago, my birthday fell on a weekday and I took the day off. Of course I made no plans, despite talking incessantly about all the things I wanted to to. I had no one to do anything with because well it was a weekday. I was sad and emotional over what a failure my day was. Eventually at about noon I got dressed, put on makeup (my bright red lipstick), wore my oversized fashion sunglasses, faux fur coat and just went outside. Immediately I got out I felt much better. Though it was chilly enough for a coat, it was also deliciously sunny. I got on a train and went to a nearby city, visited a couple of museums, had lunch by myself at a Caribbean restaurant and then ended the day with a play (where I lost the battle against sleep). It ended up being a good day which I would have wasted by moping around. Looking back I was rather childish. If I wanted to be celebrated by others, I could have planned a weekend event and invited them to it no?

Two years ago, the familiar dread that heralds my birthday started again. I had spent a weekend in Paris with my friend and even though I tried to tell myself that was my birthday gift to myself, the fact was that I was not in Paris on my actual birthday so of course I was worried about the day. Listen, I nearly drove myself into insanity. I thought I had to have an event and invite my colleagues to it but of course I was stressed because 1) I was not particularly close to most of them and did not care to hang with them 2) I was almost certain they would want to come or find it awkward seeing as we were not close 3) I could not figure out what event they would be interested in (karaoke? escape room?). I was stressed the fuck out. I would be having a good time thinking about nothing and then thoughts of my impending birthday would infiltrate my mind and hello stress. If I sound like a nutter it is because I am. Eventually my birthday came around and I got dolled up, stopped by Krispy Kreme and bought three packs of doughnuts and took it in. Everyone was delighted to have doughnuts and they regaled me with a rousing rendition of Happy birthday. Later that day I had a last minute dinner with a few friends which was lovely.  They bought me a cake and a party hat and I felt so loved and happy. The next day my dear friend got on the train with her daughter and came to spend the night with me. She brought a card and presents; we hung out and it was delightful. The birthday ended up being amazing.

Last year, I decided to save myself the stress and start planning my birthday from the moment the clock struck midnight ushering in the new year. It dawned on me that I am the only one responsible for making sure I have a good birthday. Of course I must have always known this, but still on some level I seem to have expected some magic to occur and for me to be surprised with a fantasy day. It is ridiculous to expect other people who have stressful lives of their own to be preoccupied with me and my birthday, especially as I am not preoccupied with them and their birthday.

Armed with this new understanding, I decided to put together a plan of everything I wanted to do and then make it happen. See I have this nasty habit of over analysing everything and trying to predict people’s reactions. There were things I wanted to do but I worried myself sick thinking about whether my friends would be willing to do it or whether they would be willing (or able) to spend a lot of money celebrating my birthday. Eventually one of my friends said “just let us know what you want to do” and I did. I wanted to have a sleepover with my friends, have a nice meal in this fancy restaurant, and do some fun activity after. I told them this much and they did not complain or object. Those who could make it did and they were willing to spend whatever amount.

The day before my birthday I went out for dinner and a movie with one of my friends. I went to one of my favourite restaurants and saw a movie which I had been looking forward to watching. I went home happy and ready to usher in my birthday.

On my actual birthday, I took the day off from work and treated myself to a nice brunch and spa session. I got my nails done a pretty pink colour and felt so beautiful. Then I packed my things and headed off to my friends place for a sleepover. She ordered me dinner and we watched a silly film on Netflix.

The next day was my actual celebration- I wore the most beautiful dress and headed off to Sketch London, a place I had always wanted to visit in part due to its glorious pink room and surreal toilets (yes toilets). The food was delicious and we took lots of pictures. We then roamed around Oxford Street, eating street crepes and window shopping until it was time for our other event. Then we headed off to Swingers for some indoor golf which was a riot. Finally we sat and had dinner before heading back home.

The next day I packed my things to head back home but before then my friend and her boyfriend treated me to a nice lunch in a Lebanese restaurant. It ended up being an absolutely fantastic weekend- I did everything I wanted to do. I bought the dress I wanted, looked how I wanted, ate what I wanted and I definitely felt loved and happy. That was the best birthday in a while and I felt spoiled the whole weekend. I got back home on cloud 9, happy as can be and pleased that I finally had the birthday of my dreams and I made it happen.

My birthday this year was in lockdown and it was quite alright. Of course the stress of doing something was eliminated, thankfully. I woke up early went out to get myself some flowers and ice cream, made myself some brownies and had a virtual party with my friends. It was lovely.

What have I learnt from this? There is no standard birthday template; think of what you want to do and invite people to join you (if you want). Also important to note is that you do not have to do something! You can stay home and read a book in silence if that is what makes you happy.

It is so easy to feel unloved and sorry for oneself when really all you have to do is reach out. Sure it would be nice for people to spoil you but your happiness remains your responsibility. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and make yourself happy!

In writing this, I have looked back on my life and realised that while I have had some doozies, I have also had some pretty great birthdays where people showed up for me. But of course it’s easier to remember the bad/dull times.

 

There’s nothing to fear but fear itself…

From the title, you might be expecting a philosophical babble about conquering fear. Yes but no; this is a recipe for Macaroni and cheese. Hear me out.

I have a love-hate relationship with cooking (emphasis on the hate). It is not even the actual act of cooking, but everything else-putting together a recipe, sourcing the ingredients (so expensive), having to do it multiple times, and worst of  spending all that time and effort only to end up cooking something that is not edible. So I have often abstained from cooking save some intermittent bursts of optimism when I find myself in a cooking frenzy.

One thing that I have been trying to cook, and that has always seemed a bit intimidating is mac and cheese. I did not even fully realise this until I started writing this post. The first time I tried to make it was during one of my cooking frenzies- I don’t think I had even ever had mac and cheese at that point, but I just wanted to cook it. I dislike Macaroni but I love cheese so I thought I would for sure love cheesy macaroni seeing as everything tastes good drenched in cheese. I don’t remember how it tasted, but I remember thinking it was too cheesy and M&C is not for me. I took it to a potluck the next day and one of my friends ate it all with her hands, probably because it was the only non-spicy option. Anyway seeing her eat it all made me very happy but I didn’t eat it myself. Then I sated my craving with Krafts mac and cheese before I just had enough of the whole thing and did not eat it again.

Fast forward a few years and it’s Thanksgiving. I am staying with a friend and we decide to celebrate it. She makes a roast with all the trimmings and I offer to make mac and cheese. I google an easy recipe, and under the watchful eye of my Master-Iron-Chef friend the mac and cheese comes out edible, nice even.

Few years go by and I am spending Christmas alone with my sister. We get some chicken from Nando’s (hold the tears please) and I decide to make some mac and cheese to go with it. I did not pay attention to the recipe, and my bechamel sauce was lumpy as heck but I closed my eyes and just mixed everything together and threw it in the oven. Needless to say it was completely inedible.

Another couple of years go by, and it’s March 2020. The world has gone to hell in a basket and everyone is stocking up on food and toilet paper. What do I do? Go to the store and get ingredients for Mac and Cheese of course, what else? This time was different; I was going to kill it. A friend had given me what was essentially a cookbook for dummies, and in it I found two recipes-one for mac and cheese, and one for cheese sauce. I read both of them over and over till they imprinted in my brain. For the first time, I was not just following a recipe. I actually understood what needed to be done, and it is easier to understand once it has been broken into its components. It is really quite easy you see;

First the Mac;

-Buy Macaroni
-Boil it according to the packet instructions
-Drain and set aside

Then the Cheese

First is the Roux; Roux is equal parts flour and fat mixed together and is used to thicken sauces. For this you will need flour and butter (which serves as the fat).

Then the Bechamel sauce-This is formed by adding milk to the Roux. The danger with this is that the Sauce will be lumpy and the solution is to use warm milk, add it in slowly and stir until your arms fall off. JUST KEEP STIRRING UNTIL THE LUMPS VANISH!

Then the fun part-the cheese sauce. Add all the cheddar and Parmesan until the sauce is thick and gooey and cheesy.

Then add the macaroni to the cheesy mixture and you have your mac and cheese.

If you need measurements, you would probably be better off reading a proper recipe then.

Some people eat it like that, others like to bake it in the oven- in which case sprinkle the remaining cheese on it first.

That’s it! For years I read recipe after recipe online, terrified to make the mac and cheese. And when my bechamel sauce inevitably became lumpy I gave up in despair. No more. I have mastered the Macaroni and cheese and can only get better from here on.

*Lemony Snicket voice* I wish I could say this story ends on this happy note but alas you know how life goes.

The mac and cheese was delicious and I was overjoyed at my success. The recipe book said to then put it under a grill for 5 minutes. Now now I thought that was a bit weird-surely it takes more than 5 minutes to bake mac and cheese. But I did it all the same. The cheese on the top turned brown pretty quickly which I thought was a good sign-but actually didn’t taste good so I scrapped it off. But the whole things was muy belissimo and I gobbled it down hungrily and licked off every scrap of cheese. I did not eat as much as I would have liked because I wanted to have leftovers for the next day.

Well the next day, I returned from work with joy in my heart and a skip in my step and rushed over to warm my mac and cheese. I sat down to eat,  took one bite and nope! It did not taste good. It was more congealed than cheesy and I was a little disheartened.

Just as I was about to go to sleep, it hit me. The recipe I used said to grill the mac and cheese for 5 minutes, most likely because she and her family of four were going to gobble it all down that evening. What I should have done was bake the Mac and Cheese for about 40 or so minutes rather than just put it under the grill. My cooking IQ is improving! I am so proud.

The lesson still stands and it applies far beyond cooking– sometimes the fear is just in your mind. Look at the task before you, break it down into its components, familiarise yourself with each one, and then tackle them. And if at first you don’t succeed, erase all evidence that you ever tried  dust yourself up and try again.  Despite the leftover mishap, the success of my Mac and Cheese has given me the confidence to cook more. Yesterday I decided I wanted some mashed potatoes and chicken for dinner so I just went and made some. Whereas in the past I would have toyed around with the idea for days trying to summon the energy to make it happen, before eventually getting takeaway from Nando’s. I am actually excited to cook now, to try new (simple) recipes that I can add to my food rota, and to create a food rota. Now is as good a time as any, seeing as we are all stuck inside till thy kingdom come. Thanks Covid!

 

Don’t worry, be happy.

Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. 

-Matthew 6:34 New International Version (NIV)

I found myself relying on this verse a lot recently. These days I am constantly stressed and anxious, and I have touched on it here.  It is interesting how much about myself I am realising the older I get. Everything I am experiencing now I was experiencing years back but did not realise at the time. For one, it took me a while to realise I was dealing with loneliness, or indeed that loneliness was something that one could “suffer” from. Now my new revelation is anxiety. A few years ago, while I understood being anxious, I did not truly understand anxiety as a disorder, and I might even have chuckled at the suggestion that anxiety was a real serious condition. I had moments back at university when I would wake up in the middle of the night, worried about an exam I had. But I never thought that it was a disorder, same way I never thought too deeply about loneliness.

I have just come off a couple months of intense stress and pressure which tested me to the max and led me to think this was more than just being anxious.  I googled anxiety symptoms and there is in fact a generalised anxiety disorder with symptoms that completely fit my profile. The heart palpitations, constant restlessness, fatigue, trouble sleeping for more than 6 hours (even on the weekends!) and the persistent feeling of unease as though there is something I have forgotten to do. As usual I just attributed these to stress, and perhaps cancer (everything is a carcinogen) but not anxiety because that is not a real thing. A friend of mine had gotten a doctor’s note for anxiety which gave her extra time in our exams, and suggested I do the same. I was going to but ended up not going, partly due to laziness, but mostly due to me feeling like a fraud-I don’t really have anxiety and the doctor will know that I am just doing it to get extra time in my exams. Then one day I woke up yet again at 4am, my heart thumping hard, unable to fall back asleep and riddled with worry over the forthcoming exams, I realised “damn it, I really do have an anxiety disorder”.

I still haven’t seen a doctor, mainly because I cannot get an appointment on the NHS, and also because I have been trying to manage myself.  To be honest, I am not sure what the doctor can do for me, especially as I won’t take any drugs. The first step is realising there is a problem, and I do feel better knowing there is a name for it.

The stress is drastically reduced for now,  which has greatly improved my mental and physical state. I may have to revisit the stress briefly in a few weeks when exams results come out, but for now I am taking it slow and not letting life get to me. If there is one thing I have learned, it’s that things are rarely as deep as they seem. Relax, take it easy.

I am a big fan of quotes; I love finding words that relate to my situation. They help greatly in soothing me and making me feel better. This is a common theme of this blog, and I often post my favourite quotes. During these past exams, rather than looking at quotes from writers, I decided to turn to the bible (I always get more religious in exam season). As with most people with dormant religiosity, I only call on God in times of stress. Even though I feel guilty about it (are you agnostic or not?), I have come to realise it is not the worst thing. People turn to different coping mechanisms; be it drugs, cigarettes, sex, alcohol, food, religion etc. In the aftermath of the exams, I turned to prayer and worship which made me feel incredibly better. I really should have done that sooner, and maybe that would have helped me manage my stress better. Full time religious people may not look too kindly on flip flop Christians who only remember God in bad times, and rightly so. However for people who have been raised in religious homes, it is difficult to fully discard of it even when we no longer truly believe. I do believe it is possible to have doubts about religion (and even God) and still get a lot of comfort from religion (and God). This probably deserves its own post, but I have experienced a seismic shift and I am thankful for it.

The bible is chock-full of inspiring quotes that I often overlook in favour of quotes from prose and poetry. Chapter 6 of the book of Mathew covers worry, and I found it quite helpful. In addition to the verse above, other bible verses that helped are:

“Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?” Mathew 6:27

“The pain you are feeling does not compare to the joy that is coming” Romans 8:18

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest”- Mathew 11:28

“When you have done everything you can do, that’s when God will step in and do what you can’t do”.- 2 Corinthians 12:10

“For I know the plans I have for you declares the lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.”- Jeremiah 29:11