Multiplicity

Our router broke and it’s taking three days to get a new one. Meanwhile, no wireless at home.

AHAHAHAH I KNOW. WHAT.

Today I was getting so desperate that I contemplated going to Coffee Culture and eating cake while exploiting their free wifi so that I could make this post and work on SECRET PROJECT. However, today I thoroughly munted my left latissimus dorsi and I am not putting a bra on again until five minutes before I walk to work tomorrow.

It turns out I can upload to WordPress from my phone. Oh brave new world, that has such functions in it, and yet we still can’t get a new router until tomorrow, WHAT.

HERE have some scattered non Food Bag images from the week.

Black legs red boots sleeping bag coat

I took a lot of bus stop leg selfies this week. This was on Wednesday, right before I got on the bus to go to the Nerd Degree podcast recording for July, wherein I said a lot of stuff about Star Trek that may not have been entirely, when viewed from a strictly essentialist position, true.

Let it not be said that MC Andrew Todd doesn’t know how to dress for the occasion:

Captain Andrew

On Thursday morning I tried to put sunscreen on my face, as recommended by all sensible women’s magazines, and there was a slight mishap:

Sunscreen no

On Monday there was a surprise M&M in my bed:

Surprise m&m

In Sunday I had planned to eat brunch, then look at art. Brunch was disappointing:

Disappointing brunch

When the hostess asked me how the meal had been, I, cheeks heated with the embarrassment of my own gall, told her the hollandaise had lacked tang. (Actually, it lacked any flavour beyond “yellow”, but I was trying to be usefully specific.)

Today I renamed my constant, ever-updating to-do list, in honor of the dearly departed The Toast:

Too witches to worry

On Saturday evening I marked the last of a pile at Orleans, by candlelight, with a glass of wine:

Marking in style

And Saturday’s breakfast was an enormous omelette. I feel Nadia would have been proud:

Omelette

These turning days

Countdown to term holidays – FOUR DAYS TO GO!

I may even get some marking done.

My Saturday was devoted to marking, housework, friend time and babysitting; my Sunday to brunch, art, and A SECRET PROJECT. I had a mild desire, but no pressing urge, to blog the second half of the week, and then my next Food Bag turned up (at the wrong house, but I worked it out) and it was time to start again.

So here: pictures. ALSO, are some of these turned around the wrong way for you? They frequently are for me, and even when I get them right on my desktop they’re wrong on my phone. If you know how to fix it, please tell me.

Wednesday night was a tasty lamb and roast vege salad. The most exciting thing that happened in its creation was that I ran out of baking paper and used foil instead; also that I added potatoes and carrots to bulk it out and got three meals out of a recipe for one. Nice, self, nice:

1 lamb and roast vege salad

Thursday’s Sunday’s roast potato salad with egg aioli had more interest in that it required me to grate hard-boiled eggs.

GRATE them! I never knew this was a thing that could be done with eggs. But it can, and it was delightful to carefully drag each egg against the grater and watch it crumble obediently through the holes. I have never grated anything with more ease; not even apples.

2 GRATED EGGS

And here’s what the whole meal looked like:

2 roast potato salad with egg aoli

On Sunday evening, I retrieved my food from the wrong doorstep (we have an idiosyncratically-placed mailbox, and honestly I was expecting this at some point) and opened the fruit box to find NO PINEAPPLE. Huzzah! Instead, there were dates, grapes (niiiice) and a disconcertingly sexy pear:

3 sexy pear

Tonight’s dinner was Fish with Smoky Colcannon Potatoes and Kale (Go On Karen It Won’t Kill You) and also Broccoli Salsa, I Bet You Didn’t Know Broccoli Could Be Salsa.

I chose to recognise this as a knowing nod to my Irish ancestry. Six years ago I visited Dublin for three days and ate a cobb salad at the Hard Rock Cafe in Temple Bar, and ever since I’ve felt very spiritually connected to my Celtic roots.

(I also went to a W. B. Yeats exhibition and detailed for my companion what a total Nice Guy he was. IF SHE SAYS NO TO THE FIRST PROPOSAL, WILLIAM, THAT IS A SIGN. YOU’RE NOT MR DARCY.)

All my cooking life, whether I have steamed it or tossed it in a stirfry, or thrown it into a quiche, I have cut up broccoli one way: I have taken the little tree of the broccoli head and turned it into tiny trees. Sometimes half or a third of a tiny tree, depending on the size of the mouthful I wanted, but the basic tree shape was still discernible.

This time, Nadia instructed me to “finely chop” my broccoli in preparation for weirdo not-salsa, so my tiny trees look like I fed them into a tiny woodchipper:

3 tiny trees

I was supposed to “smash”, not “mash” the potatoes. Wooden spoon, not masher. This could be fun on more frustrating days.

3 colcannon

And here is the fish and colcannon, looking not very like the picture at all:

3 fish and colcannon with picture

Actually, this is about half of it; this was a really huge recipe for one meal, and I put the rest aside for tomorrow’s lunch. I didn’t even eat everything on the plate. Yeats’ revenge!

Casting up my accounts

On Tuesday night my flatmate/landlady announced that we had a mouse infestation.

She’d found mouse droppings in the cupboard where we keep the pots and pans. Dirty mouse feet had climbed over my cooking utensils, probably for weeks.

I gagged. Then I took my leftovers, leftovers prepared with moused-up pans, out of the fridge and ate them anyway, because you’re NOT THE BOSS OF ME, MICE. (For the record, I don’t think that the mice were responsible for what happened next, because they HAD been there for a while. They are merely a decorative detail in the rich tapestry of disgusting.)

At school the next day, I was vaguely queasy in period one. At the start of period two, I grabbed my phone, raced next door and asked a colleague to keep an eye on my class while I went to the bathroom, where I spent some time 1) [excluded for decency] 2) crying 3) sitting on the bathroom floor, wiping mascara stains off my face, and sending an email asking for someone to cover my remaining period so that I could go home and be disgustingly ill in relative peace.

It wasn’t quite as bad as the moment where I saw my sister in the airport and knew that my dad was dead – nothing in my entire, privileged, extraordinarily fortunate life has ever been that bad – but it wasn’t great either.

There is so much to be happy about in my life at the moment: the Nerd Degree, my recent trip to WisCon, an increasing ability and determination to write something (anything), an increasing competence and ease with teaching, supportive colleagues (who got my classes covered and me home quicksmart), incredible friends who will talk about books, politics, strange vegetables and collage supplies with equal facility.

Hashtag-blessed-but-ultimately-ungrateful because I want to be able to tell my dad about all of it and I fucking can’t.

I will never be able to tell him good news again. He will never say, “That’s great, honey! That’s really great!” and then segue to a discussion of his golf scores. I had him for nearly 35 years, and I loved him for nearly every minute of it, and now he’s gone.

Hang on, I need to get another tissue. I’ve snotted right through this one.

Wednesday sucked. By Wednesday night my stomach had stopped expelling everything I’d put in it. I had been inconveniently hungry the whole time, and I was done with it: it was time to eat, and I’d deal with the consequences. I turned to Nadia, and looked for the simplest thing I could find.

Monday: Wednesday: Pan-Fried Salmon with Dill Mayo and Warm Freekeh Salad.

I ditched the mayo, because salmon’s pretty rich on its own, and I was planning to be less sensible than “a piece of dry toast and half a banana” but more sensible than “eggs and oil: a great idea!”. I also left out the onion in the salad because raw onion isn’t always pleasant in the aftertaste, and I’d experienced enough aftertaste for one day.

2 simple salad

My freekeh salad thus constituted boiled young wheat grain thing (new to me; delicious) with chopped baby spinach, lemon zest, lemon juice, and a few drops of olive oil. I was very okay with this.

2 nom salmon

Salmon is just so pretty. I feel like it’s far and away the prettiest protein.

2 salmon and freekah salad

And there was dinner! It took me about an hour to eat in careful bites, while I organised relief for the next day and rubbed my aching abdominals. (Honestly, if I wanted a punishing ab workout, which I never do, I would do crunches, which I never do, so you’d think my body would get the message.)

Two hours later my body made one last grudging protest against nourishment, but I could not regret this meal. Worth it.

Foreshadowing

This has not been a great week.

On Monday, I was very sensible. Self, I said, you have parent-teacher conferences on Tuesday night. The chances of you cooking anything at all that evening are minute. Cook your two meal dinner on Tuesday instead of Monday, and then you can eat delicious leftovers instead of a bag of chips, two apples, and half a pack of breath mints from your handbag.

Self, I replied, you’re very smart.

Tuesday: Monday: Parmesan-Crusted Chicken with Sofrito and Foccacia Bread.

This was the recipe that had wanted both olives and celery, which I got rid of by giving them to various grateful workmates. I did not miss them at all in the ingredient line up:

1 chicken parmesan ingredients

This recipe was one of those occasions where it felt like I did a ton of chopping and prepping and used a bunch of little dishes, and then everything came together in a glorious symphony at the end. Even without Nadia’s experienced advice, I am wise enough to get all my shit together before I cook, especially with several dishes on the go.

Here’s the sofrito mise en place:

1 sofrito mise en place

And here’s the chicken mise en place:

1 chicken mise en place

This recipe required a whole (little) block of Puhoi Valley parmesan cheese, which would have cost me a decent chunk of change at the supermarket, so I was delighted to use it, but a little puzzled. Did I really need that much cheese? It was going to be a LOT of cheese:

1 all the cheese

It was a lot of cheese! I used it all:

1 bye bye cheese

Unfortunately, I wasn’t wise enough to do the thing with the oven clock to turn the oven on, so I busied myself making Bad Collage at the kitchen table for twenty minutes or so. If this had been the most annoying thing to happen this week I would have been flying HIGH.

This meal, fortunately, came together spectacularly. Basil and tomato sofrito is about ninety million times better than basil, tomato, celery and olives sofrito would have been. I still can’t work out how to slice crusted chicken without losing half the crust, but I threw it on there and ate it anyway and it was just as good as you’d expect from a whole block of cheese.

1 parmesan crusted chicken with picture

There was enough left for the next night, AND a sandwich for the next day, which got several compliments in the staffroom. I felt organised and grown-up, which is not the best reason to do My Food Bag (that would be the food, which has ranged from “pretty good” to “this is one of the best things I’ve ever made”) but isn’t a bad side benefit.

1 chicken sammie

See? Nothing bad could happen to a woman with a sandwich like that!

These fragments I have shored against my ruins

When I was a kid, Dad would often, come Friday, look at the contents of the fridge, and declare it a “Bits and Pieces dinner”, which meant he’d scrounge up everything with some vestige of nutritional content that required minimal effort and throw it on a plate.

We loved Bits and Pieces dinner! It was the best time! Sometimes we got chicken nuggets!

It took me embarrassingly far into adulthood to realise that this wasn’t a special treat for our benefit, but the decision of a man, exhausted by a week’s work teaching kids, who was utterly unwilling to put effort into putting together a real meal for yet more kids who wouldn’t appreciate it nearly as much as a poached egg and some carrot sticks.

My palate has evolved a (very) little bit, but I share my father’s attitude to the end of the week. Or, in this case, Thursday, where I taught all morning, and had parent interviews all afternoon and evening. It took me perceptibly longer to walk home, bones weighted down.

On Thursday night, there was no way I was making the mandated Hickory Pulled Pork Tacos with Radish Coleslaw. With the aid of the Fruit Box, I made Bits and Pieces:

bites and pieces

Martini non-optional.

It would have taken about two minutes more to grate the carrot and chop the apple and pear into bits, cube the cheese, and toss that all together with some balsamic vinegar and the last dribble of my good olive oil. That would have made a delicious salad, and a great picture.

I super wasn’t interested in that two minutes. Frankly, it’s astonishing I had the energy to hack off slices of harvarti instead of gnawing bites straight off the block. I ate most of a carrot stick and bit that pear, not because I forgot to take the picture first, but because waiting another five seconds to eat would have been totally unbearable.

I balanced the hummus tub on top and took the plate back to my room. This was a poor decision:

sad hummus

The carpet’s disgusting anyway, but I did resignedly pause long enough to wipe the garlic chickpeas off the heater and scrub vaguely at the carpet. Then I had “dinner”. It was awesome.

For breakfast, I’ve been adding fruit to my usual peanut butter and toast sandwich. Friday morning was grapefruit.

grapefruit is sour

Grapefruit is gross. No more grapefruit, except in cocktails, which I should definitely have saved this for.

Last weekend I only did about three or four hours of school work, which means that I have a lot of planning and marking to do this weekend.

so much marking

Happy Saturday!

But, I could brighten the day by making tacos! Never a bad plan.

Thursday: Saturday: Hickory Pulled Pork Tacos with Radish Coleslaw

pulled pork taco ingredients

The pulled pork was pre-cooked (and pre-pulled!) in a wee vacuum-sealed bag.

I finely diced half an onion and grated half an apple and set them to fry.

frying onion and apple

apple matchsticks

I was to put the rest of the onion and apple in the coleslaw, only – hold onto your seats – CUT UP DIFFERENTLY. I’ve never tried to cut apples into “matchsticks” before. Nadia is clearly obsessed with matchsticks. I’m happy to indulge her unless I’m really hungry and don’t feel like screwing around. I also have vague concerns that she might be an arsonist, especially after she encouraged me to set my lamb on fire.

pulled pork in pan

I don’t mean to be indelicate, but this pulled pork looks like post-dinner.

lined up to make

I love this part of making tacos. It looks so organised and clear!

tacos with picture

There. Actually, by the time I ate, they were getting cold, and the hickory sauce wasn’t spiced to my satisfaction. But a perfectly acceptable lunch (and in two minutes, dinner) on a working Saturday.

The pleasures of competency

On Tuesday I had my observation lesson, where I 1) started a poetry unit I had lately conceived as “Love in Winter” 2) tried a new activity I had never attempted before, much less with this particular group and 3) watched a group of students who are on the whole disinclined to poetry nevertheless manage to recreate one of the greatest poems of the language with style, sympathy, and something that approached enthusiasm.

(I gave them all lines from Edna St Vincent’s Millay’s “What lips my lips have kissed”, and had them illustrate the image of their particular line. Working as a class, they arranged the lines/images in what order they thought they went. THEN, and only then, did we discuss what the poem “meant”. This was all much more successful than it had a right to be.)

After classes finished, I presented at the department meeting on why teaching speculative fiction is an excellent idea and entered a plea for more works by spec-fic creators of colour in the school bookroom. This was received with approval and applause. It was a good day to come home, triumphant and tired, and assemble my second My Food Bag meal.


Tuesday: Chicken with Creamy Mushrooms.

Ingredients

I’m familiar with all of these flavours, and thus felt more free to experiment. I immediately decided to include a SECRET INGREDIENT.

First, Nadia had me “dice pumpkin, 1-2 cm”

badly diced pumpkin

Enh, close enough. I set that to roasting.

Nadia then wanted me to slice my chicken breasts into steaks, and I had OBJECTIONS.

Nadia, one NEVER cuts the meat before the veges are all cut, because if one does that, one has to wash and dry the wretched cutting board and knife! And then be forced to do it all again at the end of the meal! I am willing to work for my supper, Nadia, but not TWICE.

Awash with righteousness, I hacked the ends off beans, diced onion, hacked unconvincingly at parsley and sliced mushrooms.

cut the vegetables FIRST

Then I flattened my palm on top of raw chicken (ew) and employed due care in slicing the breast in half.

successful chicken steaks

NO THUMBS LOST THIS DAY!

Fried the chicken, wrapped it in foil to rest, stuck the pan back on the heat, and added the SECRET INGREDIENT:

BACON

Bacon. Nnnnngh. After that it was a doddle. I chucked the mushrooms and onion in, added stock and sour cream, stirred until satisfied, and preened at how close the result was to the picture.

chicken and creamy mushrooms just like the picture

(ish)

Tender chicken, juicy beans, smoky, salty creamy mushroom sauce. I’d make this again any day.

But I will never cut the meat before the veges.

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

— EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY

And they did all eat, and were filled

My dad loved a nice piece of fish.

Pan-fried, or in the microwave for a minute, with lemon, garlic salt, and pepper. Mash some spuds, poach an egg, steam broccoli and carrots into limp oblivion, grind more salt over everything, and eat with joy. If he was going to buy fish at a restaurant, it had better be beer-battered with chips, or else pan-fried to his exacting standards. A second over the ideal cooking time would produce voluble scorn.

One of the enduring memories of my parents visiting me while I taught English in Japan is Dad walking with us through the wide streets of Hiroshima, complaining with increasing volume that all he wanted was a nice piece of fish, why didn’t any of these restaurants serve a nice piece of fish, it was all NOODLES and SOUP and RICE.

Me, pointing at an array of plastic sashimi dishes, arranged enticingly in a window: “Everything in that restaurant is FISH!”

He wasn’t convinced. We found a place that served steak.

I, also, love fish, but unlike my father, I am not confident in cooking it. I’ll eat smoked salmon on cream cheese toast for breakfast, or snack on sushi, or order fish and chips, and when I lived in Japan I bought both sashimi and cooked fish from the supermarket two or three times a week, but I can’t remember the last time I bought raw fish for the purpose of cooking it.

I might never actually have done that!

I’ve definitely contemplated it a few times, but I’ve always come up with a better plan at the last minute, one where I didn’t have to talk to a stranger and ask questions that revealed my ignorance about which fish was actually meant by a recipe’s direction for “any firm-fleshed white fish”. Like, how could I tell if it were firm without having to awkwardly make eye contact with someone? I didn’t think they would let me poke it.

Also, every recipe said things like “Cook until done (be careful not to overcook)”, which was profoundly helpful.


Monday’s recipe: Pan-fried fish with Sesame Rice and Miso-Dressed Salad.

Okay, so we’re doing this.

I got home late and starving, having stayed at work so that I could prepare an elaborate and risky lesson for a formal observation the next day, because what’s life without a little uncertainty?

Or a lot, you know, like just a lot of uncertainty, like endless oceanic forests of it, like razor-sharp uncertainty seaweed swirling up to catch your limbs and drag you under. What would life be like without that? Ha ha I’ll never know.

I ate a slice of cold cajun chicken pizza and a banana, and then, having probably ensured that I wouldn’t chew cardboard before dinner was ready, I got down to it.

Intimidating recipe

Intimidating recipe arranged on intimidating black stone plate: Nadia Lim. Mostly-drunk Negroni: model’s own.

Ingredients

The fish was a fillet of Blue Warehou, for those who know what that is.

I got the rice going – I was to add salt and sesame oil, then add black sesame seeds once it was all done. Noooo problem! I’m good at rice!

whisk until smooth

I had to stick miso paste, 2 teaspoons of lime juice (which I “juiced” by “squeezing” and “measured” by “not bothering”), some oil and something else I forget in a small bowl, then whisk until smooth. My whisk would not fit in the small bowl, but Nadia Lim used a fork, so I figured that would be fine. And it was!

So cooking was going great and every ingredient was an old friend, and then:

radish in the buff

RADISH. I was pretty sure I probably ate it. Nadia suggested I could either grate the radishes, or cut them into “matchsticks”. I grated each one until I was worried I’d hit the pads of my fingers, and then sliced up the rest.

grated radish is pretty

Grated radish is really pretty! Like mashed fairy wing!

even slices

Check out the incredible evenness of those cucumber slices. That’s how you know I’m nearly ready for Masterchef.

fish fries

YOU GUYS, I FRIED THE FISH. The timing said “1-2 minutes on each side, depending on thickness” which wouldn’t help me without a detailed analysis of the exact millimetre-to-cooking-minute ratio and maybe a helpful ruler printed on the packet, but in the end I only slightly overcooked it and I am going to count the whole meal a success.

my first food bag meal

It was delicious. The dressing was tart and salty, the fish firm and filling, the rice nice, and I definitely eat radishes. Also, I had plenty of rice and vegetables left over, which I accurately predicted would be great cold for breakfast.

vege and rice leftover

My first My Food Bag meal was a nearly perfect experience!

cleaning up

Oh, yeah. That.

Deliver (to) me

My weekend sure happened.

My sister stayed Saturday night on her way back to Oamaru, so on Saturday we spent a lot of time in my room 1) eating chocolate 2) watching Jane the Virgin and 3) farting. Then she went out with friends to watch the All Blacks play someone (Wales? I think Wales) and I stayed home to vacuum my floor with our disappointing vacuum cleaner. You know, sister stuff.

My flat has a washing machine, but not a dryer, and the laundry situation was getting dire. So while she was there, and driving, we also stuffed a bag and a laundry basket full of nearly everything that was lying on my wardrobe floor and took it to Sadie’s Laundry, who promised to wash, dry and fold it for me for “probably $25 to $30, love.”

This sounded very reasonable. I ignored the part where I had clutched the bag with my thighs and yanked on the zip to get it closed and decided to trust the expertise of the lady who had not seen just how much I’d managed to cram into the side pockets.

“Pick it up at about 1 o’clock tomorrow,” she said, which actually was a problem, because I had an all-day event on Sunday and also my sister wouldn’t be there to drive me across town and back. But the laundry smelled clean and cottony, and I was already imagining filling my drawers with neatly folded stacks of ready-to-go clothing.

“Sure!” I said.

The next morning my sister farted in my room one more time for luck, and then left to go and be fabulous and daring in Oamaru. I left to go to my all-day event – a One Day Project where various intrepid film people and actors (and me) planned to recreate three films lost to time based on their titles and whatever we could glean from Wikipedia.

I arrived a mistaken hour early, so I got to sit in my host’s kitchen drinking coffee and feeling shame and then walk around her house so that I could progressively stand in exactly the wrong place while she efficiently cleaned around me. It was less shameful when others arrived, and we started talking through the film concepts.

“This one should be like a fevered tone poem,” said the director. “I want it to be weird, lots of harsh lighting and dramatic reaction shots that escalate to hysteria, showing her final descent into sin.”

“I have to leave at noon to go pick up my laundry,” I said.

I took an Uber. Christchurch has Uber now. We’re very cosmopolitan.

There was a different expert lady at Sadie’s Laundry, but the clean and cottony smell was the same. “This was five loads,” she said, with an inflection that picked a fine path between appalled and impressed. “$56.”

“Oh,” I said.

“But I think $50 will be fine,” she said, graciousness itself.

“Oh,” I said. “Sure.”

Honestly, none of this should have been an issue or taken up any of my brain beyond a rueful acknowledgement (everyone makes mistakes about the time sometimes! the laundry takes as many loads as it takes and I have enough money to cover it!), but anxiety disorder means never having to say “no worries”. It’s all worries, all the time, about everything. I fretted about the earliness, and the laundry cost, and the ethics of Uber, and the selfishness of taking time out of a volunteer project to handle a life necessity all the way back to the film shoot.

Then I put on a heinous curly blonde wig, made up my face to look like I was dying of hectic consumption, composed myself in rakish array on a sumptuous drapery of lushly textured fabrics and acted the hell out of being a sneering spectator at a 20s brothel. It was totally worth it.

When I got home, seven hours later, I wrestled my laundry into the house over the neighbourhood cat that likes to pretend it lives here.

“No!” I said. “Go away!” Then, to the delivery man walking slowly up the driveway: “Not you: this damn cat.”

“Haha,” he said, unconvinced. “Are you Karen?”

I was! It was my first Food Bag!

MY FIRST FOOD BAG. It felt like a benediction.

gourmet fruits

The first thing I opened was the (additional) My Gourmet Fruit box. I do not think bananas are gourmet. I do, however, think they are delicious.

What is not delicious?

pineapple

Pineapple. Pineapple is not delicious. I took this sucker to school today and gave it to an office mate.

persimmon

I was WILLING to eat a persimmon, but I wasn’t quite sure how. I asked the internet.

persimmon twitter

The internet had advice. I peeled the persimmon, cut it into slices, and ate it. Nice, but more trouble than I am ordinarily willing to go to for tree candy.

Here is the MEAT BOX:

meats

teeny packets

And here are my promised teeny little packets of stuff!

I still do not understand why sweet chilli sauce is a staple and rice is not, though. As far as I was aware, rice is THE staple.

Taking Stock

Last Wednesday, Nadia Lim’s My Food Bag team sent me an email and I learned what I would be cooking from Monday to Thursday.

My self image doesn’t stretch to labelling myself a picky eater. I’m not vegan or vegetarian, I don’t have any known food allergies, and I will happily tell people hosting me that I will eat “anything.” I’ve eaten kangaroo, ostrich and fugu so I must be open to all flavours, right?

Except olives. And pineapple. And is that celery? I guess I can kind of pick around it.

While I was recently in the USA, I went to tapas-style dinner with a number of lovely people, including my BFF Robyn and the awesome author Nisi Shawl. They ordered a couple of plates of baby beets for the table, both enthusiastic about how much they liked beets.

“Karen has strong opinions about beets,” Robyn said, accurately.

“I will TRY the beets,” I said, because I wanted to be as cool as Nisi Shawl. I delicately carved a baby beet in half, put the half in my mouth, and felt my face shift. Robyn cracked up. I swallowed.

“It’s okay,” I said, and it was. I’d eat them if I was hungry. I just didn’t like it.

Anyway, one of the recipes included a couscous with beets. I narrowed my eyes at the screen. We’ll see.

I also learned that I would have to go to the supermarket after all. The appeal of My Food Bag, especially for someone who cooks for one, is that you don’t have to buy a bottle of something expensive but absolutely vital, of which you might use a whole tablespoon before never cooking that dish again. Instead, Nadia Lim gives you teeny little packets with enough ingredients for that recipe.

However, Nadia also expects you to have some stuff at home. I’m a competent cook with a reasonably well-stocked pantry, especially when it comes to tinned tomatoes and packets of 99 cent udon, but I was out of a few things.

staples

I had delicious Barrier Island honey left over from last year, where I went there to help imagine the apocalypse, but Nadia specified runny honey. I might feel comfortable defying Nadia later, but not on my first bag. Runny honey it would be. Next, chicken stock (fine), cornflour (fine), and sweet chilli sauce.

Sweet chilli sauce is a staple in my mother’s kitchen, but I’ve never been a big fan. I must be of an uncommon breed, though, because there was a supermarket shelf devoted to it. I took the first bottle I saw that didn’t say “exotic” anywhere on the label.

pantry 1

That’s my shopping basket. You will note two extraneous products.

The hair oil is because two weeks ago I walked into the mall hairstylist and impulsively got half my hair chopped off. This wasn’t because I am grieving, and grieving women often make drastic changes to their appearance. It was because I was absolutely opposed to going home and washing my hair in our sad and grubby excuse for a shower. The water pressure is best described as “old cat dribbles on your head” and it took forever to rinse the shampoo out. Anyway, I inevitably forget that shorter hair = more product. Thus, hair oil.

The chocolate macaroons are because I was going to a roleplaying session with friends that night, and it’s polite to take snacks. I ended up eating probably half the packet because I was cheated out of the KFC Tower burger I had intended to consume on the way by 1) the passage of time and 2) my need to catch the bus punctually.

The game went well, and we prevented Oberon from attacking a town in distress by bribing him with an iPhone 4 and an Instagram account, but an ability to make chocolate biscuits my dinner and then be unreasonably angry about it is another reason why My Food Bag appeals.

Help me, Nadia Lim.

Who was, who will be

You’re not supposed to make any sudden changes in the wake of a loved one’s death. The advice is not to do anything new, or rash, but to continue as you did before, as much as you can with what you did before.

It’s good advice. The problem is that before, I was a woman with a father, and now I’m not.

I knew he was dying. The actual death, though, was a shock. One morning I gripped his hand in Oamaru and promised to come back in two weekends to finish sorting out the stamp collection. It was a hurried goodbye. I had to leave. I had to catch the bus up to Christchurch. Anyway, I was coming back soon.

The next morning I got the call to come now. I flew to Dunedin, where a family friend was to pick me up and drive me back. Mindful of a friend’s advice, and not sure whether this was it, I packed my funeral outfit, just in case.

My sister was waiting at the airport.

“Why are you here?” I said, and then I started weeping, because I knew. Two women leaning into each other at an airport, hugging with bone-creaking force, sobbing into each other’s shoulders: strangers know what that means. They collected their luggage and dodged around us with gentle respect.

He died before I got on the plane.

In the days after my father’s death, knowing that I have a tendency to spend in times of stress, and refusing to feel guilt about that on top of everything else (I left and my father died), I gave myself permission to buy things that would make me feel better. I took $500 out of my emergency fund and placed it in spending. I bought books and games for my phone, Beyonce’s Lemonade, a new top for the funeral. I bought myself a massage. I bought the KFC Tower Burger* I’d been craving for three weeks.

I spent money to soothe my grief, and it absolutely worked. There is real, non-superficial, comfort in things.

It was autumn then. Now, it’s unmistakably winter. I hate these sullen mornings, where I wake up and inch my way to work in the dark over pavement slick with frost. I hate the damp cold that seeps through the cracks in my window frames. In any ordinary winter I shrink into myself and cut back on everything that takes effort. Thinking. Writing. Cooking, in the huge and icy kitchen.

This isn’t an ordinary winter. It’s a bad season for grieving. I want to be kind to myself, as I was when I was first bereaved, as others were to me. I don’t want my winter nights to be a drudge of soups and stews, or any of my weekends spent weaving through other harried customers in the supermarket. I want food to taste good and different. I don’t want to feel my body complain because I’ve gone too long without feeding it a fresh plant.

Last weekend, I signed up for Nadia Lim’s My Food Bag. I’m ambivalent about it. My first delivery is this Sunday.

I think this is a sudden change I can stomach. Let’s find out.

* Chicken fillet, cheese, lettuce, tomato mustard sauce, mayonnaise, and a hashbrown in a bun. It’s disgusting. I love it.