Oh good grief. It’s February. Nearly halfway through February by the time I finish this post. I don’t know that I can go back and do Round Ups from October, so I shall not let Perfect Be The Enemy of the Good and I’ll just charge ahead.
I’ll Round Up the last quarter with January in stages and then move on to new material.
Delightful living conditions
Over the last few months I have made a real effort to stay on top of housework and keeping the place nice. I’m a big fan of descaling (shout out to white vinegar!) and general bleaching (shout-out to Domestos!) and, I’m happy to announce, that the bottle of Zalo (“one drop is enough”) washing up liquid from Norway is finally finished. I sued more than a drop, because that is what cleanliness requires. We’re onto the ever reassuring Green Fairy with the red top for the moment. I use that on everything. I’m not one for single-use cleaners. There’s not much you can’t do with bleach, Fairy up liquid and white vinegar.
I also excelled at replacing weird lightbulbs, looking up things on youtube and making small repairs to things that weren’t worth getting a handyman out for.
When Advent rolled around, I busted out the Christmas decorations and festooned everything in tinsel and corralled the many many angel decorations my mother has given to me through the years into a sort of display above a radiator. I made a point of pulling out the festive-but-not-cloying candles and having the place smell of incense and fir. It was quite lovely. In keeping with tradition, and to ward off bad luck for the rest of the year, I had all the decorations down by the sixth of January. It struck me then that I have two boxes of decorations, back from when I had a three storey house to decorate and, actually, some of this tinsel is getting a bit ratty. Before I put it all away, I went through and had a good old cull of dead tinsel and brown (why?) glass teardrop baubles that never stay in the box. It was nice to have a proper look at everything again before wrapping it up safely: the fancy fragile glass baubles I bought on sale after Christmas one year in John Lewis for decidedly less than the original fortune they would have cost; the little yellow wooden horse that was on the tree when I was a tiny girl; the thick bruise coloured tinsel that goes with nothing, but I can’t bear to part with and the wide variety of angels my mother has sent – the tiny smiley ones with neon orange hair and a harp that reminds me of my sister , the delicate glass one from the fancy shop in Belfast, the clunky ceramic one with a sparkly halo, the wire silver one that sheds glitter all over the house.
Reassuringly, I have seen a lot of people since the end of September. I’ve had dinners with people, afternoon tea with people and spontaneous (for me) visits to people’s homes. I made a real effort in the last months of the year, despite the fact I was travelling so much. To be honest, there were moments when it seemed a bit too much. But, when I came home after every evening out when faced with the pile of laundry growing by the day, or the epic stack of paperwork winking at me on the floor, I wouldn’t have traded that time with my friends for organising or sleeping.
What I have found, in the months following Brexit and Trump, is that I have now very firm boundaries in my head for what’s acceptable. Life is short, my free time is precious and the time I do have to spend with people I want to spend it with people I enjoy, and who enjoy me. An old friend who I loved very dearly took me out to the ballet and a fancy meal and while it was a delight to see him and catch up, I was horrified at what he thought was okay. He thinks Brexit is better for him (as a white middle class man in middle England), but not the country, so voted to leave the EU and didn’t think much of Hilary and claims Trump will actually make America great again. I was so shocked I actually cried.
This was someone I held very dear, with views I find abhorrent. He’s not a terrible person and I know why he thinks the way he thinks, but the evening had a melancholy, final air to it after that. I knew it would be the last time we spent any meaningful time together. It’s not that I don’t think we should engage with people who see things differently from us, but that sometimes, it is better to let someone go than be hurt by who they are now. My opinions, and the fervour with which I hold them, won’t change his mind.
This makes it sound like I have somehow grown to have reserves grace. I have not. Once I left him (and his very young used-to-be-his-intern girlfriend), I immediately texted a former girlfriend of his to confirm that she had dodged a bullet of epic proportions.
In other, better, friend-being activities, my best friend from home got engaged to her lovely man just before Christmas. The very night she told me, I went home and ordered two wedding planning books to be delivered to her. Not because she needed to GET ON IT, but because I knew she would be overwhelmed with questions from well meaning people and lists of things she “had” to get organised and these two publications would be perfect at calming her nerves, giving her space to feel her way and provide practical lists as well as published evidence that she didn’t actually need to organise chair covers if she didn’t want to. Finally, my years of reading wedding blogs at lunch have paid off. Plus, I am going to be a bridesmaid now at age 33 and I feel I may just ace that. I’ve studied for this test. I’m ready.
If I’m your friend, here’s what I bring to the table: constant chat, a wild accent, care packages, unnecessary post, undeclineable snacks, a willingness to clean your house when you can’t, a wicked enthusiasm for culling, the ability to justify any decision you make and well-meaning but misplaced comic lines.
On the hostessing front, I wouldn’t say I have upped my game, but I have become slightly more relaxed. Fritz has been to stay a few times and hasn’t starved while he’s been here. I call that a win. I’ve had a few low-key mid-week suppers with Carrie and not stressed that everything is perfect. I’ve had the girls round for Book Coven (book group had a re-branding!) and stopped quizzing them every five seconds on whether they need everything.
Granted, so far I haven’t made anything that has had multiple elements that needed to be ready at the same time. I tend to do things in one roasting tin (as my ex-boyfriend once disparagingly remarked. True, it’s in one pan, but it’s never contained floating bones or surprise gristle, so I’d wager that’s preferable) or two saucepans. I’m never doing anything with gravy or a carving fork. It’s rare that anything I make can be burned. But that’s something I can think about.
Confident in the kitchen
Quarter four was when I rediscovered bacon. I don’t quite know how that came to be, but suddenly I was eating a packet of bacon a week and frying it in butter and putting it in everything. My god, bacon is delicious. It may have been around the time I realised I don’t eat enough protein and that bacon adds more to a dish than just meat- it’s salty flavoursome goodness. Not that I want to start on the bacon bandwagon. There will be no bacon jam or bacon soap in this house, thank you very much. One of my favourite things is to mash an avocado (and I used to hate them!) with salt and chilli flakes, stir in some chopped baby plum tomatoes, throw in some chopped fried bacon and smear it atop a slice of sourdough bread that had been heated in the buttery-bacon-fat frying pan. It is, without a doubt or a caveat, delicious.
Quarter four was also when I ramped up hiding vegetables in my food like I was feeding a fussy toddler. The reason for this was to up my vitamin goodness and also to be able to cut back on the other things I usually make a meal with. More vegetables means less room for cheese. Or, at least, that’s a theory that a person could have.
Just before Christmas I got food poisoning, which obviously ruined Christmas. It also left me a little afraid of food, because everything I ate made me so stunningly sick. Then I went skiing (“skiing”) in Südtirol, where every meal was CHEESE and FRIED SOMETHING and WINE (sure, we’ll just work out how to get down the mountain LATER with these things strapped to our feet). When I finally returned to London I was craving vegetables like I never thought possible. The days are long, I have very little time and I’m loathe to buy ready meals any more – with the exception of soup. For me, making soup is the most boring thing in the kitchen. Plus, you have to clean the blender afterwards and I oddly resent that. I resent cleaning machines. I am furious that even when you take them apart, they always feel like you could have cleaned them a wee bit better.
Anyway, frozen peas are now my go to. There’s very little I won’t throw a frozen pea into. Frozen peas, baby plum tomatoes, frozen spinach. They were actually all the ingredients of a frittata [sidebar: I cannot remember the word frittata. My brain has to go throw a rotation of tortilla-tostada-paella-burrito before I reach frittata. It’s ridiculous and irritates me every time] I made last week. It was good. Oh! And eggs. Eggs are my new emergency protein.