A New Normal

It’s been just over three months since I started my new job and new life. I say new life because it is true — my (and H.’s) whole life has changed. I work 328km away from where I live, and spent 4-5 days a week in the north of England, 2 days a week in London. I have become a “valued frequent traveller,” according to Virgin Trains. You can say that again.

Academic roles are scarce. My job-hunting strategy back in the summer and fall was to apply for anything that looked like it might work. It’s a year-long contract, and I have no idea whether it will be extended. Given that uncertainty, it didn’t make sense for us to move as a couple.

This new life brings a lot of challenges, many of which haven’t even fully sunk in yet, since the job was so intense until the end of March (a “baptism of fire,” as my colleagues keep saying) that I am only really actually having a chance to process these changes now.

The biggest one I have noticed recently is that I don’t really live anywhere. I feel in perpetual limbo. I am not able to participate in anything that made me feel integrated into my “previous” London life — volunteering, attending events, regular meetups with friends. It’s more or less the same in Liverpool, though I am trying to change that now that my schedule is easing up a bit. I calculated that the longest period I will spend sleeping in one place for the whole of 2017 (including the summer) is 8 nights, which was at the beginning of April.

It takes an immense amount of planning and organization to live this life. Train booking (well in advance), packing twice a week, making sure I am constantly “on it.” Anyone who knows me knows organization is one of my strengths, but this kind of organization requires constant precision and accuracy. Forgot to book a train? Yup, that happened once. Pay £80 two hours before. Forgot to send yourself an important document that has a tight deadline? Yup, start again from scratch. Don’t have the right shoes/sweater/tights in the city you happening to be in? Improvise.

There are good things about this new life. I have made some fantastic friends. I’m in a challenging role and I am learning a lot. I have gotten to know a new city that I like. I can walk to work (after years of London commuting this feels like luxury). It is very hard being away from H. — we have lived together for over seven years — and the goodbyes are difficult, but they make the reunions that much sweeter.

And so, like with any big life change, my cooking and meals have changed dramatically. I hope to share that more over the next few months.

April 2017 Favourites

Happy May! I have been trying to post this for days now, but haven’t written more than a few words a day.

This is a big month for me — I turn 30 in less than a week!

◌ Thoroughly enjoyed and recommend both Sweetland and A Room of One’s Own.

◌ Nice list of bakeries in Iceland. H. & I tried Sandholt when we were there and it was excellent.

NYT climate issue is well worth a look.

◌ Tips for ‘deep-cleaning’ your attitude (aka taking a break).

◌ Did anyone else listen to S-town? I’m conflicted …. part genius, part banal.

◌ Can’t say I have ever sought out an eel pie & mash shop in London.

◌ Started watching Schitt’s Creek on a whim, and I love it. My only gripe is that it should be set in Canada!

◌ Wedding cake trivia.

Edinburgh
Edinburgh in spring

Chocolate & Coffee Cheesecake

Every year I try to make/bake H. something for his birthday, since he has a huge sweet tooth. 🙂 This year happened to be the first time that we weren’t together on the actual day (and the same will happen for mine, coming up soon!). As he is a huge cheesecake fan I decided to make this one a couple of days before I left for Scotland for a conference. Aside from cheesecake, coffee and chocolate are two of H.’s favourite things. 😉

I only made a couple of modifications to the recipe. Instead of 250g cream cheese, I used about 150g and substituted quark for the rest, which made for a slightly lighter cake. I also forgot to dust with cocoa powder, so mine looks shiny compared to the magazine’s photo.

This is a fairly simple but delicious cake. My only complaint is that it did not taste enough like coffee; if I make it again I will increase the quantity of coffee quite a bit.

coffee choc cheesecake

“Ravioli” with Cavolo Nero & Goat’s Cheese

This recipe caught my eye because it simply looked good in a recent edition of my delicious magazine. It also falls into a category — vaguely healthy-sounding pasta dish — that usually appeals to me. This one was unusual because it uses fresh lasagne sheets as the pasta — the “ravioli” aren’t really ravioli.

The sauce is made in a food processor with a combination of cavolo nero (boiled for a minute to make it soft, then water squeezed out), olive oil, garlic, lemon juice, and salt. The accompanying paste is soft goat’s cheese, walnuts (I used toasted almonds), sage, lemon juice, and oil, again made in a food processor. To assemble, you cook the lasagne sheets, and then “layer” the three components, beginning with sauce, then noodles, then goat’s cheese paste. Repeat. Top with Parmesan or Pecorino.

This unfortunately did not pack enough of a punch taste-waste for me. The sauce was a bit bland and watery. The recipe says to squeeze out as much water from the cavolo nero as possible, which I did, but I still found it lacking. I also found the noodles too thick. It was an experimental meal I guess — not a bad one, but one I won’t be making again.

lasagne ravioli

Early Spring Favourites

I missed February favourites, so thought I’d do an ‘early spring’ roundup. I hope to return to more frequent posting very soon. Happy spring! 🙂

◌ Two of my favourite things.

◌ Goop’s spring fiction guide.

◌ Seems very, very impractical!

What an experience. Take me there!

◌ I can’t stand the term ‘clean eating’ either.

◌ My cultural consumption has plummeted over the past few months with the exception of podcasts, which I have been listening to on my way to work: I’ve really enjoyed the short, fictional podcast Homecoming, starring Catherine Keener & David Schwimmer, among others. The Babysitters Club Club has really made me laugh, and I recently began  season 2 of Undisclosed, and I’m hooked.

◌ Love this feature on Alaskan fisherwomen.

Meal planning for one.

WOAH.

Leonard Cohen’s Montreal neighbourhood was also mine. Makes me nostalgic.

Amazing.

◌ Happy that Broadchurch and Line of Duty are back.

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Sea Bass with Ginger & Garlic

Current meal standards and expectations are very, very low. This is the only ‘new’ thing I have made in the past 7 weeks — I think that’s a new record for me, even in all of the craziness of the PhD. I started a new job in mid-January, which had meant a complete change in my personal and professional life. I’m lucky now if I manage to eat an evening meal, let alone make one from scratch or try a new recipe.

Most weekends, I travel back to London. I leave work around 3:45pm and arrive back home in the capital by 7:45pm. However, on the weekend that I made this, H. came up to visit me. The recipe had caught my eye in the Guardian magazine and I set out especially to make it — to try something new.

Regular readers will know that I don’t make a lot of seafood in the UK. I decided to make an exception for this and got the fish at a local fishmonger. This dish was, to put it simply, wonderful. Aside from the fact that the fish fell apart a bit– too much handling — it was spot-on. The tastes were wonderful. Ottolenghi is known for his big punchy flavours and this didn’t disappoint. Both H. and I agree we’re going to make it again. I followed the recipe carefully and would recommend doing the same. It is essential to have everything prepared before you start to cook.

sea bass

Kate, Lately

I have no food-related updates for you , so I thought I would try something different. Hopefully I will be able to share a recipe soon.

Relishing any moment I have to read for pleasure. These moments have been few and far between since I started my new job, which is a big change for me.

Remembering that this isn’t forever.

Reading George W. Bush’s memoirs (a little odd timing) and on page 2 of this novel.

Delighted that I have made two genuinely fantastic friends since my move up north — I live with one and one is a colleague.

Recommending the second season of the CBC podcast Someone Knows Something. Start from episode one. It is without a doubt one of the best podcasts I have ever heard, possibly the best.

Eating a lot of meals that require a minimum number of ingredients.

Grateful to have a new job that challenges me.

Loving that I am teaching feminism for the first time next week.

Checking Donald Trump’s Twitter feed almost obsessively. It’s a problem.

Choosing life. (Ha). Positivity & gratefulness.

Listening to (back episodes of) CriminalThis American LifeMatrimoney. I’m one ep in to the Babysitters Club Club and it is hilarious and so nostalgic.

Laughing with my sister, whenever we can. I miss her. We can always make each other laugh.

Looking forward to Saturday, the first day I will be taking off since I started my new job.

Planning lecture after seminar after tutorial after lecture.

Running 2 mornings a week before work. This is a new routine and I am proud of myself for sticking to it so far.

Working like I have never worked before.

Finding that H. & I are rock solid — as if there was ever any doubt!

Dreaming of summer in Nova Scotia.

Still thinking about donating blood — something I wanted to do for the first time at Christmas and haven’t done yet.

Ending my student life. My PhD corrections are officially approved. My full-time job is now teaching undergrads. My first paycheck arrives in 12 days (not that I’m counting or anything). Apparently I’m an adult!

January 2017 Favourites

Oh man. What a start to 2017. Personally, professionally, just generally…it’s been a tough one. Here’s a big list of links to inspire.

◌ First and foremost: 2017 wine buying guide.

Instant ramen hacks from Lucky Peach.

◌ An oral history of the first flight of Syrian refugees to Canada.

2017 in publishing.

◌ The world’s best mustards.

Toni Erdmann is one of the weirdest films I’ve ever seen, but it made us laugh!

◌ This article really captivated me: My President Was Black.

No-knead bread, 10 years later.

◌ One episode into The Crown and it looks like it’s going to be good.

◌ A year in dinners. If you are short on ideas for what to cook, start here.

An African road trip.

You might want to pass on the shrimp cocktail. “We cannot trace…”

◌ 10 hotels for sale in France. Just cause.

◌ Great collection of Filipino recipes.

◌ Really interesting: self-control and empathy.

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Gnocchi with Mushroom & Kale Cream Sauce

Welcome 2017
Happy new year readers! I’m starting 2017 off not with a ‘new year new you’ green smoothie or broth, but with some comfort food. It hasn’t exactly been an easy slide into 2017 for me, although I knew it wouldn’t be. My 2016 ended with a whirlwind of change: I got a full-time job! After 4 years as a student/very low-paid adjunct lecturer, I am very pleased about this development. However…the job involves me spending my weeks in the north of England and my weekends in London, which will radically change the way I live plan and cook meals. I start next week, and am currently in a stressful fog of marking, flat-hunting, and preparing for this new job. As ever, being in the kitchen remains a form of solace.

Obviously, the blog is about to undergo a bit of a change of focus, and probably less frequent posting in the short term. I will be cooking in a totally new way and the blog will reflect that. Hopefully you will still want to continue reading. 😉

The dish
Incidentally, I had never bought gnocchi until a couple of months ago (though have made it before). I picked up a couple of packages, thinking it would be a good to throw together on evenings when I didn’t have anything planned.

I can’t find the exact recipe I used online, but this one is similar. Although it has the taste of a dish that took much longer, this can easily be made in under half an hour. The sauce is made from sauteed mushrooms, cream (~150ml), stock (~150ml), thyme, sage, and salt and pepper. The original recipe called for spinach, but I used kale instead as I prefer a sturdier leaf in this type of dish. I also modified the cheese – the recipe called originally for 75g of Gorgonzola, but I used Stilton, and much less of it, and then topped with Parmesan.

Somehow this dish manages to be comforting but not too cloying or heavy, despite the cream. It’s a great one to throw together quickly — tasty, easy, satisfying.

gnocchi

 

2016 in reading

So far, I’ve read 40 books in 2016 (outside of those I read for work).

As with most years, I have a clear winner. The best book I read in 2016 was Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. This book absolutely knocked my socks off. I read it almost a year ago and I am still thinking about it. Any description of this book that I attempt won’t do it justice. Just read it. I came to Station Eleven in a bit of an unusual way; I had heard good things but never really thought it was for me, because I never read sci fi. What eventually persuaded me was Shelagh Rogers’ interview with the author: Shelagh explicitly mentioned not to discount this book if you think sci fi or dystopian literature isn’t for you. That made me investigate it further, and I am so glad I did. This is not only my favourite book of the year, it is one of my favourites, ever.

Runners up fiction
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Richard Flanagan This was another ‘wow’, for the way that Flanagan writes about war. I don’t think I have ever read such a heartbreaking tale of warfare. The story centres on an Australian POWs in WWII Japan. It is very well-deserving of all its accolades.
All My Puny Sorrows, by Miriam Toews — Brilliant storytelling by a fantastic Canadian writer. Sad, but so funny at the same time. Toews just gets better and better.
A Manual for Cleaning Women: Selected Stories, by Lucia Berlin — I read maybe one or two short story collections a year — not many — but I am so glad I read this one, because it’s the kind of book that makes you sit up straight, gasp, and really think. Berlin was an extraordinary woman. (Check out these sample quotes“Some lady at a bridge party somewhere started the rumor that to test the honesty of a cleaning woman you leave little rosebud ashtrays around with loose change in them, here and there. My solution to this is to always add a few pennies, even a dime.”)

Runners up non-fiction
Unfinished Business, by Anne-Marie Slaughter — I had the pleasure of seeing Slaughter speak at the LSE early in the year, and was so impressed and inspired by her ideas and tenacity. I am at a natural crossroads in my career, and spending a lot of time thinking about what I exactly want out of it, and how to combine it with family life, so this was well-timed for me.
The Battle of the Atlantic, by Jonathan Dimbleby — This book distills, very impressively, all of the naval action the Atlantic saw during WWII. It is written in a very captivating, engrossing style that hooked me from page one. I am still thinking about some of the stories.

‘Til  next year! Happy reading. 🙂